Short list, long post
A Brief List of What Has Improved Since Charlie Started at Hippie Do As You Please School
There. See you again in six months!
...Perhaps I'll get more specific. But first I'll have to work hard to cast my mind back to where we were at the end of second grade. It's a little hard to remember, because human consciousness mercifully retains only the outlines of past agony instead of actually recreating the sensation of repeatedly dropping an anvil on your foot every time you recall it. Just, K through 2 were hell on a pedicure, is all I'll say about that.
This year is different. Instead of tears, anger, and outbursts in the morning, we have...okay, tears, anger, and outbursts, but those are mine and occasioned only by five-year-old Ben's insistence on putting his boots on before his snow pants. (That's not true. I don't cry. No, at times like that I merely lean on the newel post, wearily wait for the storm to pass, and think about adding Drāno to my second cup of coffee.)
This year, Charlie's happy to go to school. Once he's there, he's involved, engaged, productive, and — this is the part where the tears do well up — a part of the community. Not the bullshit kind of community, where the teacher stations him next to the class's most compliant student and tells him to watch, learn, and do juuuust like she does...thaaat's right..., but the kind where, when he walks down the hall, kids call out his name, tell him his glasses look cool, and want to work with him on projects. What's even more remarkable is that he wants to work with them.
He's come a very long way socially, too, and while I can't say that that's entirely due to a change in schooling, since he's another year older and presumably more mature, and since we also compel him, over his protests, to serve time at a Weekly Hateful Social Coaching Gulag, I do see positive changes that have their roots in HDAYPS. If I had to guess, I'd say the most obvious factor is the council meeting — the school's community-based, consensus-building method of conflict resolution.
All right. Now back away from the precipice, if you please. The idea isn't quite that hippie-do-as-you-please. As with so many aspects of this particular HDAYPS program — and surely others, but they're beyond my ken — there's a thoughtful, consistent set of principles quietly at work, giving heft, if you will, to the loincloth.
Here's how it works. When you have an issue with someone and ordinary methods of problem-solving have failed — meaning you've already tried to work out your differences directly with that person; you've enlisted the help of a teacher or older student to achieve resolution; and you've asked the person to stop the problematic behavior — any student or teacher can call a council meeting.
When a meeting is called, everyone in the school drops what they're working on — do you know how hard it is for me not to suggest six to ten hilarious examples? — and gathers. By vote, the group selects a moderator, who then guides the meeting, asking questions like, "Who called this meeting?" "Why did you call it?" and "Why didn't you stop when she asked you to?" Interested parties raise their hands to speak; people discuss how the behavior or issue at hand affects the community; brainstorming sometimes takes place; and usually the person who called the meeting is asked what they need in order to feel that the matter has been resolved — an apology, for example, or a rule change. There may be motions made and voted upon, and eventually the meeting is adjourned. ...You know, so the kids can get back to making unicorn bridles out of fair-trade hemp dyed with windfall nutshells and festooned with Tibetan prayer flags LOOK YOU PEOPLE I AM NOT MADE OF STONE.
And there's a lot that can be taken from this. What I see Charlie internalizing is the recognition that one person's behavior has an impact on his community. That people have opinions — often strong ones — about the way we act. That those opinions influence whether they want to spend time with us. These are things he's been told before, of course, but never really heard. Now it seems he's listening.
The other thing he seems to be developing is the confidence to take responsibility for his actions, to accept that he's accountable to others besides himself, and to trust that nothing really bad is going to happen if he owns up to making a bad choice once in a very great while. The council meetings are teaching him that, by example if not directly. (His sole council meeting star turn thus far has had to do with blurting in class. "Of course it did," I said to his teacher, interrupting her mid-sentence.)
His learning is evident when he talks about the meetings he's attended, just in the language he uses. "Wasn't very considerate of the people who were trying to concentrate." "Weren't going to play that game with him if he chose not to follow the rules." "Didn't know it was bothering so many people, but it was." "Asked us to help by reminding her if she does it again."
And I could go off on a whole long angry sputter about how his public school disciplinary experience suggested pretty much the opposite of every single one of those things, but how 'bout I just skip that anvil because, hey, look! my toes have healed.
There's more to school than belonging, certainly, and other reasons we send kids there beyond fostering emotional self-actualization: academics, right? Those achievements and abilities we measure with tests, grades, and standards...?
And that's where I feel on shakiest ground when I talk about HDAYPS. What can I say? I fight my own prejudices every day when I don't ask, "But what are you learning?" I've seen enough of Charlie's work product to know that he is doing what anyone would recognize as traditional academics — but not only that, or even primarily that, and certainly not in the quantity he did at public school.
So how will we know that he's learning? This is the question I ask myself often, worrying at it like a hangnail I must...keep...picking. But it's not really the right question for me to ask about Charlie, who, like most kids, can't help learning if you get out of their way. He'll learn. The more relevant question is what exactly it is he needs to learn.
To give that question rhetorical zing, I could put any handful of things in inflammatory opposition to each other. What's more important to learn: which animals are indigenous to Africa, or the rewards of successful collaboration? decimal division, or that his curiosity is precious and worth celebrating? writing in cursive, or his own inherent value to his community — and the value of each of us to one another?
He needs to learn it all. It's all important. It's just not all important right now. The way I feel about it is similar to how I felt about giving him ADHD meds: you have to turn down the static before he can receive the teaching. What's important right now, we think as we grope our way through it, is that Charlie feel good about learning.
And he didn't. I feel very small admitting this, but since exposing one's own ass is basically what the Internet is for, I'll go ahead and confess it: I had no idea how deep an impact his negative school experience was having on the rest of his life. He never articulated it as such, but in retrospect I see that he must have felt terribly anxious. I mean, maybe post hoc ergo propter hoc and all that cautious Caesary hand-waving, but once that pervasive stressor was neutralized, everything else improved. He's sleeping better. He's more helpful at home. He's more patient with Ben, more flexible, more cooperative, and more receptive to correction. Why, he's become the easily-manipulated designer-baby accessory child we always dreamed of!
He is also doing better by his own measures. He sees that his gifts are appreciated. He feels respected, encouraged, and coached instead of hectored and disapproved of. He gets to work on what's important to him, at least for part of his day. He looks forward to tomorrow instead of meeting it with dread. They let him use a glue gun, y'all — do I need to say more than that?
Wait, turns out I do need to say one thing more. At our most recent conference, Charlie's teacher told us, "I'm so glad he's in our class." Another teacher stopped us in the hall to say, "I love your son." Until it was relieved by a few simple words, I didn't know how deep my own anxiety ran. Now let me borrow your loincloth — I've gone all teary again.
Plague of locust
The last swim of the summer took place in our neighbor's pool. After the standard boyish frolic (gleeful pantsing) and the requisite motherly threats (baleful warning), Charlie and his friend H. grudgingly hauled themselves out, toweled off, and prepared to trudge back home. But as they walked past the pool filter's reservoir, H. spotted a grasshopper, floating, apparently dead.
"Let's take it home," he suggested, and Charlie was quick to agree: "Yeah! We can cut it open!"
My lifted brow was eloquent enough that he hastened to add, "And look at it with a magnifying glass." (You know, Mama: For Science!)
Back at my house, they repaired to the den, where they busied themselves with the corpse.
Or did they?
Apparently they did not. Oh, they were busy, though not with a magnifying glass but with magnets and Snap Circuits. No, it's the corpse part that was in question, because the next thing I heard was an excited squawk: "Come see! COME SEE! COMMMMME SEEEEEEEeeeeeEEEEE Mama oh MAN come SEE!"
So duly I come'd see, to find that they had — well, they had done this:
Do you see that poor creepity bastard moving?
Despite my gentle suggestion that maybe, just maybe, the grasshopper had only been mostly dead, the boys were convinced that they had successfully reanimated it — so sure that they were practically sketching out a plan for selling a goddamn franchise. I have to hand it to them, though; they were reasonably pragmatic about its long-term prognosis. When I offered Charlie a container with some holes poked in the lid, Charlie declined, opting instead for what seemed to me a reasonable standard of care, expectant management. "He's not at that stage yet," he told me, in the same somber tone someone once used of him. "It's not well at all," indeed.
Still, the grasshopper clung to life long enough to be moved to the mobile step-down unit, a nice glass jar stuffed with damp green leaves. He did well enough there, flinging himself against the lid with increasing vigor until I suggested that maybe it would be a good idea to discharge him to the competent care of his family. "You've given him a second chance at life," I urged. "Shame to make him waste it."
We turned him out of his jar into the rainy evening. I don't know what Charlie was thinking as the grasshopper sprang away; I was only hoping he'd hurl himself far enough into the bushes so we wouldn't find his frizzled husk tomorrow. I didn't really worry about Charlie being sad or disappointed. I was mostly just terrified he'd want to hook it back up to his homemade AED.
So all this suggests a few possibilities, aside from my concern Charlie will now think that this is a perfectly good way to perk up any living creature who's looking kind of, you know, peakèd. One of these two disturbing things is true: Either I let my kid electro-torture a living creature for his own idle amusement...or it was really dead, as the boys insisted, and they brought it back to life.
It could conceivably be, as a friend suggested on Facebook, that Charlie and his friend "metaphorically rolled away the stone from in front of the tomb door and let the resurrected grasshopper out. A whole new branch of grasshopper religion just cropped up and they'll probably be handing out pamphlets on street corners by lunchtime."
Sure! Why not? It could have happened. I believe! Look, if I have to choose between recognizing myself as a parent who blithely lets playdates go vicious, or hailing my son as the new grasshopper god — well, I think I just got religion. Now let us all bow down before Charlie and lick his sacred batteries.
Who walks in the classroom, cool and slow
If I'd been blogging it all along, cataloguing it day by discouraging day, I wonder if it would seem inevitable. I'm a little bit afraid, instead, that this comes out of the blue: Charlie's changing schools. After three years at the public elementary, this fall he'll go to what I self-consciously call Hippie Do As You Please School.
We've known since October of his kindergarten year that he needed lots of structure and support, and I'm grateful to say that he's gotten it: the 504 plan; the occupational therapy; the physical therapy; the daily social learning; the kindness and heroic forebearance of teachers, staff, and students. (Thank you for pretending not to notice when I tear up in meetings. Thank you for telling me you like my kid — that feels like a gift. Thank you for not shoving back when there was any way you could help it.)
And he's come a long way. If you could stand the six-year-old version of Charlie next to almost-nine, you'd be amazed at the difference. And then you'd sternly tell the younger that wedgies aren't funny, to keep his hands to himself, to stop making that noise, my God, it's boring a hole in my brain. And then you'd have to stop almost-nine from a decisive response — Hey, Charlie, stop hitting yourself — because if The Highlander has taught us nothing else, we know there can be only one.
He's really doing great, our kid. So the obvious question is why we'd want to leave that behind. I guess the briefest way to answer that lies in the comments that bookend his school years so far. As we first started exploring the problem during kindergarten, the principal summed up our concerns: "Some of Charlie's light is going out."
And we ended the final team meeting of this past second-grade year, Paul, discouraged, observed, "All we ever talk about is getting Charlie through the day."
Now, of course that's a prerequisite to learning, right? You can't get an education when you can't move past the bullshit your brain's churning out. And the hard work of his team, coupled with Charlie's growing maturity, our own determined efforts, his determined efforts — God, my kid works hard — and a little pill I like to call You Can Take Our Methylphenidate When You Can Pry It Out of My Cold, Dead Claws That Will Probably Have Big Chunks of Skin Under Them from Fighting You off, You Bastard
...Sorry, I just got lost in a pleasant reverie. Clawed-up Christopher Lambert break.
As I was saying, a lot of factors have helped him reliably — mostly — get through the day, to the point where we feel that shouldn't be the team's main focus. We feel he's ready to take on more. See, Charlie, well, he's smart. I don't want to go all special-snowflake on you, but, daaaaamn, is my child beautiful, delicate, and possessed of a magnificent crystalline structure unique only to him and visible only with a microscope. And we're finding, to our chagrin, that the school has no real plan for letting our snowflake...not melt.
(I could do this all day.)
In our state, in our district, at this school, there's no real vehicle for gifted education. No mandate, no money, despite all the good will in the world. Although the team has made a good-faith effort to differentiate in class, it's not enough. Plans to ship him off to other classrooms for higher-level learning have foundered for various reasons. And although he has great ability in its purest sense, he also makes what I'd describe as errors of attention — answering one problem in the space meant for another, or not answering a question at the end of a longish worksheet — which prevent him from demonstrating the kind of administrative mastery that satisfies a formal school curriculum. He's not failing, not by a long shot, but that doesn't seem like enough.
The upshot of all of this is that Charlie spends his time at school, the biggest part of his day, feeling dispirited, unmotivated, and unseen. His significant gifts go unappreciated and undeveloped. He notices it, and he feels angry. And although I understand (and have myself succumbed to) the temptation to roll your eyes and mutter, "Suck it up, kid," this past spring I bucked my own substantial prejudices long enough to start asking myself, Wait, why exactly should he suck it up?
I accept that, irrespective of the talents, the love, and the efforts of the individuals within it, the public school's first job is to see that our child performs as well as his cohort. By contrast, our job as his parents is to help him perform as well as he can. If there's an environment where he might feel excited about what he's learning, why shouldn't we try it? If there's the chance that a different model could let him feel invested in his education instead of alienated by it, why wouldn't we look into it? If we can let him know that that matters, we're listening, we care — well, I can't see much that we have to lose by trying Hippie Do As You Please School.
This has gone longer than I thought it would. (You've gone old and gray by now, my love, but you still look really good.) I promise I'll be back to talk specifically about HDAYPS, to answer any questions any few remaining readers have, to react defensively to even the slightest perceived criticism — hahahahaaaa, as if a blogger would ever do that — and to freak the fuck out over my own significant ambivalence while there's still time to change our minds.
Passeth all understanding
Elementary school art classroom
Helping with Charlie's school's Peace Tiles project
Okay, everybody, come sit in a circle. Circle. No, circle. That's the round one...So now that you're all seated, let's talk about what represents peace to you. ...Nice. The way you describe that, I can almost see it. A swim in the lake on a hot day sounds soothing. Good one -- I like fireflies at twilight, too. Oh, yeah, snuggling in front of the fire with a pet...sunsets...sure... Ah. Well. Yes. I, too, have always found hard-boiled eggs to be...peaceful...I guess.
Now we're going to start on our collages. At each table there's a stack of magazines, and we have paper, paint, fabric...all sorts of...sure, I'd be happy to help you find some pictures related to your peaceful idea. Let me just look here. You know, I can't seem to find any pictures of semi trucks, but...oh, you found one of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Way to be flexible! That's like peace on wheels right there. ...Meaty peace.
Ah, I see you're already cutting some stuff out. What was your peaceful thought? Oh, right, the ocean -- when you said that in the circle I could just imagine myself sitting on the beach with the waves lapping at my toes, too. I...huh. I didn't imagine sharks, though. Wow, you sure found...a lot of them. Yeah, the red paint is over there, but I really think the picture already looks exciting enou...well, okay, now, isn't that vivid. ...Yeah, you'll want to let that dry.
Oh, yeah, there are a lot of pictures torn out of that National Geographic, huh? Well, I'm not exactly sure why. I guess someone else wanted to use them in their peace collage.
I agree, it's really cool how that snake is completely misshapen by...whatever rodent it just swallowed. So do you think that's...peaceful? Well, but even though it swallowed the...armadillo?...whole, without chewing, it's still...right, nature in general is something that makes us think of peace, but...wow, you certainly did a careful job cutting around its fangs.
I'd add the dripping venom later. Not today.
But seriously, folks, I'm here till recess
Speaking of trying hard, Charlie and his class were charged with the task of doing a report on notable women for women's history month. Charlie's choice surprised no one, though his title did strike me as maybe a little too hip for the room:
Marie Curie: Radiation Lady
The "trying hard" part wasn't the research he did, grumbling the entire time. It wasn't the exquisite restraint Paul exercised in getting him to organize his notes into some semblance of coherence. It wasn't the long self-sacrificing dive I took — "NOOOOoooooooooooooooooooooo!" — between him and the laptop to prevent him from adding "Gangnam Style" as the soundtrack to his slides.
No, the "trying hard" was how resolutely I stood in my refusal to let him add to his scripted talk, "So really, when you think about it, she was actually kinda asking for it."
If ten years of blog posts here have taught us nothing else, by now we've all learned that I'm sometimes an asshole. Do not worry: despite how seldom I post these days, I'm in no danger of forgetting that. Parenting reminds me regularly.
I've been fretting a fair amount about how Charlie doesn't want to do anything hard. In that he is truly my son; I never wanted to spend time practicing things that didn't immediately come easily, either. You know how they say that the things that make you crazy in other people are actually things that bother you about yourself? Not completely true — pretty sure I'm not the one who comes into the office in the morning and turns on lite jaaaaaazz — but, sure, okay, a little bit.
Anyway, it had kind of been eating at me, this worry that my kid was never going to buckle down and do anything tough, to keep after something and master it, to learn the value of good old American stick-to-it-iveness, the pleasure and reward of hard work. Yes, like his Puritan forebears! Who soberly toiled their whole lives long, seeking only to amplify the glory of God, with the Xbox only on weekends.
Now, first of all, what an asshole stance that is. Don't we all mostly just want to do what's easy and fun? Do I expect my eight-year-old to be magically different from — better than — almost every other kid in the universe? Is it reasonable to think he should be innately better at that shit than I am after 42 years of practice?
So that's bad enough. But the real asshole part is that it recently struck me, shortly after a parent/teacher conference, that I've had it all absolutely wrong.
We have these conferences regularly as part of Charlie's 504 plan to check in on which accommodations are helpful, which need adjustment, and exactly which awful thing I should dwell on every night at 4 AM for the month until the next conference. Over the last three or four months there have been some real improvements — some slow but perceptible changes in his ability to participate in the class, in his self-regulation, in his impulse control, in his capacity to just...hold it together. To get through the day.
The result is that with the help of meds and some classroom supports, Charlie is mostly managing himself, to the extent that there are no longer insanely detailed behavior charts sent home — seriously, at one point there was a chart for which facial expressions he was using, like, "Oh! Hey, good work: I see you were merely 'mutinous' today!" My heart no longer races fight-or-flight-style when the phone rings during the day. (My palms do not sweat. They glow.) Among his peers, his behavior is rarely...let us say notable. Even a quick note from the teacher is unusual these days.
And after a couple of months of this gradual progress, after a conference where we were actually able to focus more on his learning than on his hyperactivity, his impulse control, and his oh-my-God-stop-with-the-armpit-farts-the-entire-class-has-moved-on, it suddenly occurred to me: none of that comes naturally to him. None of it is easy. Forget riding a bike or stepping through a tae kwon do pattern or improving his handwriting; every day of his eight-year-old life, he is practicing something hard.
Dear Mom (writing about Mom) writing about Mom on the iPhone
These days I don't usually get too exercised about mom-on-mom atrocities. You know: the mommy wars. Momtroversy! Hand-to-hand mombat! ...OkayI'llstopnow.
...Momnia Brawlia in tres partes diviOKAY.
It's not so much that I feel that hot-button topics don't apply to me, because Marissa Meyer and I have a lot in common and I plan to give her a call next time I feel like getting my peasant on, see if she wants to bump panniers or something. It's more, I think, that I feel comfortable.
I don't have a lot to fight over, not a lot I'm ambivalent about. I don't feel the urge to argue about what goes on in my life. The need I might once have had to defend a position is satisfied now by living it. When it comes to caring what other moms do, or what others think about me, I'm as disengaged as one of Marie Antoinette's cows, as immune to controversy as her pretty pink sheep.
So it surprised me to get so annoyed about a piece that was making the rounds last week, the one about the mom on her iPhone. Yet get about it so annoyed I did do. First of all, don't call me Momma. I spell it Mama, and it's pronounced I'll thank you not to patronize me. Second, I found the sanctimony of it repellent. Third, the implication that every moment is golden and not to be missed strikes me as disingenuous, although I do agree that watching a four-year-old stick his finger up his nose all the way up to his elbow is more gripping, in its way, than anything a smartphone can easily serve up, possibly with the exception of a video of same set to K-pop. Fourth — and this is the biggie — I reject the notion that I should always be available as an audience, that my kids should be entitled to endless applause, and that they should get positive reinforcement for expecting it.
Now pretend there's a paragraph here explaining what I don't mean by that last. I mean, look, I'll gladly watch you twirl once. I'll even watch you do it twice, to verify that in fact your twirling only improves as you work to hone your talent, which is, I agree, prodigious. And if you're Ben in your pink sequined skirt, I'll even give you three more times, because, child, you are hilarious. But beyond that — well, anyway, are we good here? Okay, moving on.
So that post made me crotchety, and I know I'm not alone in that, as I saw several rebuttals posted in a much more timely fashion than this one. (What. I was busy having my farthingale rewired, installing new rebar in my stomacher, and getting my wig sprayed for silverfish.) I was glad to see so many dissenting opinions, because it seems to me that sistermothercommunityhood is only powerful as long as we're willing to call each other out on our bullshit. But I was chagrined to see so many of them miss what I felt was the point.
The responses that disappointed me all boiled down to this premise: What if the trope on the bench with the phone were doing something important? She could be answering e-mail from work, so as to keep the job that puts food on the table. She could be scheduling therapy appointments for her child, who has, I don't remember, scrimshaw or something. She could be organizing a fundraiser to benefit cancer research. She could be reaching out for emotional support from her 60,000 Twitter followers. Don't judge her: she's righteously busy.
And, you know, she could be, this entirely fictitious lady on her entirely hypothetical phone ignoring, imaginarily, her theoretical children. Plenty of people manage to be respectably productive on a smartphone, even in the presence of children. Me? When my kids are around I find I can't work, so fragile is my focus. (It's not you, boys, it's me.) (And you.) (But mostly me.) (...Andalsoyou.) And when I'm on my phone, it's Scramble city, sweetheart. Or Facebook, or HootSuite, or texting snotty things with a friend about, seriously, the four cans of soda her son was given during a recent playdate. ("Howler monkey on PCP?" "ADHD lemur on meth.")
The thing is, I'm usually not busy with something important when I'm ignoring my kids. I'm generally dicking around, and why is that not okay? Why do I need to justify doing something just because it's fun with phrases like "self-care" and "recharging my batteries"? Oh, wait. Huh: I don't! It is okay to just screw around, to put my own desires in front of my kids' now and again, and I wish more people would thrust a fist into the air and declare it. I'm fucking off and I don't care.
I mean, we still get to do that, even once we have kids. If you're uncomfortable with the baldness of that assertion, you can dress it up if you want to, acknowledge that during interludes of benign neglect we're simultaneously teaching our children something valuable: that other people's desires are important, too; that you're not always the focus of every eye, and you mustn't expect to be; that when you need us we'll be present, but not every second you merely want; that if Momma — shudder — looks away for a minute, you'll still be fine. You'll thrive.
All true. All true even if the reason for my benign neglect is not that I'm organizing an airlift of humanitarian aid or spearheading an adult literacy program or singlehandedly keeping special needs primates off street drugs and Dr. Pepper. The same thing is true even if I'm merely scowling over my phone, wondering why SHIT and SHAT are words in Scramble but SHITTER doesn't count.
And, whoa, 950 words later I find I must still have something to argue about. Hey, good thing it's something important, like what anonymous strangers think when I'm tuned out with my kids.
Posted by Julie at 09:50 PM in I've learned a lot...but I'm not sure it's worth it. | Comments (69)
Out with the old
Gone bad wrong
Every time something bad happens, some disaster — a shooting, a storm — that doesn't discriminate in its violence, people tell each other, "Hug your babies tight." The message I get is that we're supposed to feel a renewed gratitude to be able to draw our children close when others can't. And I do, but I also feel uncomfortable with the admonition. I do hug my babies tight — and for all I know, so did Nancy Lanza.
Where we fail most grievously, I think, is not in loving and accepting our own children, but in loving and accepting those beyond our immediate circle, and beyond our tiny radius of comfort. Did others see Nancy Lanza struggling, and did they enfold her and bear her up? Did people in the community try to reach Adam, insofar as he could be reached? Did they — did we — give the family all the practical assistance the system could bring to bear?
I don't know the answers to any of these questions about how hard we worked, how seriously we took our commitment to each other. That we didn't help them enough, though, seems at this point obvious. I don't know if anyone could. I just know we need to try, all of us — keep trying and do better.
Charlie saw the news on the muted TV screen at a restaurant Friday night.
I told him what had happened, although the chyrons on CNN spelled it out pretty boldly. He didn't ask why, which struck me as strange. I explained anyway, saying that most of us understand certain hard and fast limits about how to handle what hurts us, but that when something has gone bad wrong in our mind — "gone bad wrong," oh, how else is there to say it? — we no longer play by those rules.
He nodded, grasping the metaphor. "Then we make up our own," he suggested. "And then it goes really bad wrong."
An eight-year-old has an intuitive understanding of the consequences of unchecked mental illness. Is it safe to say the same about those entrusted to safeguard our public health?
In the wake of the shooting a friend on Facebook posted a picture of herself at age 5. It's a way of sidling up, I guess, to absorb the meaning of an incalculable loss to so many families and friends. To look at our own kindergarteners and ourselves when we were the same age, to imagine what it would be like to get that call one morning, or to consider — oh, it sickens me — the fear they surely felt. To blend the edges of where we end into where those in Newtown begin.
I've seen pictures of some of the victims, and although I could describe them with a handful of appropriate adjectives — glossy-haired baby-toothed pink-cheeked smiling, God, smiling — the only way I really see them is loved, loved, loved.
I also saw a photo of a young Adam Lanza, age undetermined. You know the one: chin ducked down, slight smile, blue polo shirt buttoned all the way up.
I feel like what I'm about to say is dangerously profane. I feel equally strongly, though, that we need to say it and hear it, while we're still blending our edges to try and understand each other: I can't stop thinking that he was once five, once went to kindergarten, once sat through having his hair combed. Once smiled for the camera.
The children of Sandy Hook Elementary were beautiful, as were the people who fought for them, and those who protected them and kept some safe from harm. And so once was Adam Lanza, before someone — we — failed him.
I saw a photo this weekend of an art teacher setting up wooden angels representing the children who were killed.
I know better than to believe that there was one for Adam, or even to think there should be.
But I also know we have to do better by each other. We have to. We have to. We have to.
Posted by Julie at 09:52 AM | Comments (71)
A dream is a wish your heart makesDidgeridon't
Charlie's been practicing his accents. Unhampered by ever having heard, say, a real live Australian, he nevertheless lets out long strings of conversation that make him sound like Crocodile Dundee and Eliza Doolittle had a baby and taught him to talk by playing "Electric Avenue" on repeat. And then grafted on an extra tongue, removed many important teeth, and replaced his epiglottis with a swim fin. And then stabbed the poor kid in the brain stem with a souvenir icepick. Feyncegggh soom oice enh yo tay, meeight?
Sure and begorrah, kiddo, is all I can say to that.
...Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone
As Ben played happily with his dog school, he noticed I'd slipped in a cat. "No cats allowed," he boomed, and enforced this new rule with vigor.
The cat. Down there. To the left. On the lonely side of the fence.
I'm totally going to fuck with him by gradually removing the dogs and replacing them with Lego Gollums.
...I was not compensated in any way for writing the following review, which will shortly become obvious
I took the boys to Walt Disney World for a surprise trip to celebrate Charlie's birthday. If you're looking for expensive ways to find out your children don't give a shit about theme parks, well, friends, look no further. Five stars!
I don't know; I sort of lost my mind. (One night Paul told me there was a special on JetBlue — kids fly free to Orlando. "Should I take them, you think?" I asked him. He said, "...Someone has to go with them?")
Shortly after booking the trip, I was fairly gripped with remorse, but airlines have rules about these things, including HA HA FUCK YOU NO WAY LADY YOU'RE GOING, so the morning of Charlie's birthday found us getting up before dawn, casually revealing to him that he didn't have to go to school that day, and then trundling off to the airport. Normally I like JetBlue, but, y'all, they let a lady onto the plane wearing a Buzz Lightyear hoodie. I don't mean it had a logo on it, or a tasteful low-key portrait on the front; I mean this, in grown-ass-woman size:
...which she naturally wore hood-up. Given current TSA regulations I assumed her LASER button had been disabled, but since you can't be too careful these days, I spent the duration of the flight nervously searching the flight safety card for info on what to do in case of a giant plastic lady toy sweatshirt space attack. (I mean, when I wasn't watching HGTV on my seatback TV screen.) Alas, I searched in vain. One star, JetBlue, for your cavalier approach to passenger safety. Five stars, Lady Lightyear, for keeping the galaxy safe.
We stayed at the Dolphin — nice hotel, notably devoid of any egregious Disney magic. I like to think I paid extra for that. Otherwise, it was fine: the requisite number of beds, hot and cold running television, and numerous opportunities for my children to come to blows over who got to push the elevator button. My only complaint is that although the JetBlue promotional package included free dining for the kids, I was disappointed to notice that the menu offered no bottlenose, not even on seafood buffet night. Three stars, but only because I was eventually able to get a whaleburger from room service.
As for the parks themselves? Well, everything at Disney is very well done, clean and efficient and carefully planned to deliver a satisfying — if somewhat sterile — guest experience. Charile was left largely unmoved, though, by almost everything but Mission: Space, which he liked well enough that we did it three times. Ben was most struck by the three nanoseconds on the Little Mermaid ride that featured the Sea Witch, a flash of terror that he continues to relish and relive weeks later, allowing me the pleasure of his company at the gently starlit hour of fuck-you-mouse-o'clock.
So it was fine, but overwhelming, I think; by three o'clock each day, Charlie asked nicely if we could go back to the hotel then, a request I was happy to grant — good God, I didn't need another trip through It's a Small World, after all. Not when the first had been such a delight: I swear on Walt's frozen corpse that the man behind us in our boat was singing along the whole time...in accents. As we rounded the curve to France, for example, he started singing, "Eet's uh smohl world ahhhftair all! Eet's uh smohl, smohl, wohrhrhrld!" But that wasn't enough. Then he'd embellish it, replacing some of the lyrics: "Eet's a world of fromage and a world of berets..." et ainsi de suite.
I froze in my seat when he started this, thinking, Surely he's not going to... Ah, mais oui, and don't call me certainement: he did. And it got better, by which I mean it got worse. As we sailed on through Indeterminate Asialand, he changed his lyrics to, "Ching chong, ching chong..." I'd been darting meaningful looks over my shoulder the whole time, but at this point I stopped, afraid to see whether he was making slanty eyes with his fingers. But when we entered the harbor at Generica Panafrica, and he began — forgive me, forgive me — chanting, "Ooga booga, ooga booga," I really did turn and stare openly. I don't know what I'd expected, but in my everyday life I'm so insulated from overt bigotry that it startled me to see just a plain old normal-looking guy there, seeming mildly surprised to be whirled upon. One star, park planners, for not installing a "You Must Be at Least >This Racist< to Ride in That Guy's Boat" sign at the entrance. Five stars, Imagineers, for figuring out a way to make my head explode in a crowd-pleasing cascade of sparks at no expense to Disney.
I don't know, so many people love going to the parks, but the charm of it largely eludes me. I confess I was secretly pleased to see the same was true for my kids. They had a lot more fun playing on the hotel's "beach," and I use the term loosely, than they did at the parks, and in fact we did it every evening and one afternoon. (I had more fun, too, once I discovered the poolside bar would make me a cocktail to go.)
I love that I have kids who get excited about landscaping — "Look, Ben! Look! It's topiary!" — and armrests — "This seat has a place where I can rest my arms!" The animals at Animal Kingdom left Ben momentarily speechless, but then so did the little shampoo bottles on the hotel bathroom counter.
I will recommend one experience without reservation and mostly without snark. There's this thing, this one ruinously expensive activity among many, that kids do at the parks: they exchange Disney-themed enameled pins. I knew about this from the last trip I took there with Charlie, so we went prepared; Charlie had a lanyard from before, and I'd bought Ben an assortment of pins, weird, obscure, and cheap, from eBay. (Seriously cheap. They must add extra lead to those...and pass the savings on to you!)
The idea is that you see someone with a pin you like and you invite them to trade with you. Last time we did it, Charlie was extremely reluctant to approach anyone, so I expected the same this time. But it was different. I'd see a kid with a lot of pins and suggest he go over and say hi...and he would! Overhearing the resulting conversation, the "What's your name?" and the gruff "Pleasure doing business with you," the normal-kid normalcy of it — that alone made the trip worth it.
...Okay, no, it didn't. (Do you know how much whaleburgers cost at that place?) But it did make the trip great when otherwise it was just good. Five stars, Charlie. Five stars, social learning program, to which I give much of the credit. Five stars, Blinc mascara, which didn't run even a little.
...It's not about me, except the part of it that is
On his birthday in November, Charlie turned eight. I'd say I don't know where the time went, but that's not true: when I look at him and Ben I see every second of it. I've changed so much myself, am still changing every day. When women talk about the birth of a child, they say they became a mother. It's not some finite thing, though. I just keep becoming.
The thing I couldn't know while we were still trying to have children is that what you think you wish for is different from what you'll be thankful for. There is no happily-ever-after, not exactly. Or rather, the happily ever after and the sadly — the good, the hard, the unendurable, the amazing, the can't-face-another-day and the please-let-this-time-pass-slowly — all coalesce in a slow unfolding of luckily ever after.