“Mom, I Know What Happened with the Twin Towers…”

Cue the sucker punch to the bread basket.  We stopped for a quick bite after finishing up some Christmas shopping tonight.  So we share about our day.  And it was over some fries and burgers that this came out of Cub.  “Mom, I know what happened with the Twin Towers.”  Oh, are the kids talking about this in school?  Keep calm, Mama.  But I can’t.  The knot in my stomach is creeping by it’s fingernails up my throat.  So I do what any logical person would do to push that knot back down: I cram more fries in my face.  As fast as I can, really.  Gross?  I know.  But I can’t stop.  “No, no one is talking about it, I watched a video about it in the library at computer time.”  You did… Were there other videos?  The fries are barely keeping the panic at bay.  “Oh yeah, there’s ones about the nuclear bomb and Nazi’s.  I think the bomb is also called a Nuke.”  Okay, okay.  Okay.  We’ll talk about this later when your brothers aren’t sitting right here.  Who wants to tell about their day?  “I want to hear more about the nukes!” said my five year old with such enthusiasm that the fries were no longer cutting it.  After a few long pulls on the chocolate shake, I successfully change the subject.

So that’s how it went down.  I binge-ate and my kid knows about the largest and most horrific act of terrorism our country has seen.

As we drove home, the boys sang along to a Miley Cyrus song and argued over which superheroes are the strongest.  You know, normal, annoying shit kids should be talking about.  Meanwhile, I tried to process the conversation and my feeling about it.  Because I am a social worker and we social workers just love to process.  Why am I so upset about this?  I knew he was going to find out at some point.  He should know.  It’s a huge part of our history.  And that’s when it hits me.  It’s not really part of our history because it’s hasn’t really been long enough to be history.

I remember that Tuesday morning.  You remember too, don’t you.  A glorious fall morning.  I was serving serving coffee at a small cafe.  My second year of college had just begun.  Pink shirt, black pants- which were probably a bit to tight but really brought in the tips.  The radio blares Hotel California.  The phones rings and it’s my soon-to-be-husband.  Two planes flew into the World Trade Center.  My mind sort of stops for a minute.  Why?  How did the pilots manage to crash their planes into two buildings right next to each other?  I hang up the phone.  Thinking, thinking.  A customer bursts through the door.  They bombed the Pentagon too, turn on the radio.  My hands leave fog marks on the stainless steel counter.  And the rest of the day is a little blurry.  Customers come and go.  We don’t tell people to have a good day.  In fact, we don’t really say much of anything.  We just sort of make eye contact.  Like the kind of eye contact where you just want to tell someone, I know.  I feel the same way.  How could this happen?

Then came the death tolls and the shaky video footage.  And the screaming people running down stairs.  The brave souls who entered to get strangers to safety who never came out again themselves.  All the cable channels were shut down.  You know it’s bad when Food Network is offline.  The only thing we Americans could watch was the news.  And holy shit, did we watch the news.

Recounting all of this during my drive home brought me to tears.  This is not history.  This is now.

And that’s just it.

When my kids ask about slavery or civil rights, colossal mistakes in our nation’s past, I can say things like, We know now.  People acted out of stupidity, ignorance and fear.  But how do I explain something to them that exists today?  Seriously.  Someone please tell me how I am supposed to make sense of terrorism to my child?  Please.  Still to this day, men and women (and in some cases children) strap explosives to their bodies and go to schools, town squares, places of worship and marathons, with the intention of taking their own life and as many other lives as possible.  This isn’t history.  This is now.  Right now.

As we sit on his bedroom floor, I finally muster up my courage.  Tell me about the Twin Towers.  And he does.  And asks if it’s true.  Yes, honey.  It’s all true.  But what I don’t understand, says my gentle, thoughtful eight-year-old baby, Is why would those men do that?  Like a dump truck of bricks, this shakes me.  To my core.  I don’t know.  I can’t understand why anyone would hurt another person.  I can’t imaging something that would make that okay.  Me either.  Does it make you feel scared?  Yeah.  And sad.  Those people died.  Yes.  There were many people in those buildings when they were hit.  Oh.  I meant the men who took over the planes died.  I am sad for them and the other people who died too.

This is the silky, fluid innocence that I can literally feel slipping through my fingers.  Sad for the people who died in the buildings but also for the men who died trying to murder others.  Why can’t this world be filled with kind souls like this child?  Oh wait, it is.  We shape them.  Society shapes them.  We can’t protect our children from the terribleness of the world, the complicated sticky mess of a society in which we live.  And that makes me feel powerless but we also need to remember that innocence, kindness and empathy don’t need to be cultivated.  Those attributes already exist.  I believe to my core that humans are born good.  I could have said, those men deserved to die because they killed others.  Hate breeds hate.  I don’t want to raise him to hate.

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So maybe the answer is that I need to be honest: I can’t make sense of this because there is no sense to be made.  He seemed to grasp this tonight.  This is the first of many, many conversations which will test us as parents.  I am not in the business of handing out advice but what I can say is that being honest with my kids seems to work.  It feels vulnerable and raw and like I don’t have all the answers but I think it also propels my children to process things that they don’t understand.  To mull them over for a while.  That it’s okay to not have an answer as long as you continue to devote thought to it and talk it over as you work your way through.  I am just a Mama who is terrified of failing at this Mamahood gig.  So I process.  So I throw my plea out to the universe hoping that I am able to find my way.  That I can be the Mama they deserve.

Peace, Mamas.

Who the Hell is Plastic Man?

Which book do you want me to read you tonight?  I ask without even having to guess.  Batman and Friends!  Woo-hoo.  I am so sick of reading this book.  Every night.  Every night we read Batman and Friends.  Every. Damn. Night.  Do your kids pick the same books to read over?  It can be physically painful to read a book over and over every night.  My anxiety is already through the roof because I want to walk out and shut that light off- of sweet Jesus how I want to shut that light off!- but no.  And then to read the same book?  Again?  Does Guantanamo have Batman and Friends?  Maybe they should look into that.  In my opinion it could be more effective than water-boarding.

So tonight following the showers-teeth-brushing-jammie-pick-books-fuck-show we are laying in bed reading… Batman and Friends!  It’s tonight, on my forty-eighth reading of the damn book that it occurs to me: Who the hell is Plastic Man?!  Is this guy for real?  He’s wearing plastic pimp sunglasses and has a stripper costume on.  Seriously?

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Initially, I was required to gain vast knowledge about tractors and construction equipment.  By the time my Cub was 18 months old, I could tell you the difference between a backhoe, front loader, skid steer, straddle-carrier, forklift, knuckle-boom loader, skidder, grapple truck, log-feller, and so on.  Next it was tractors and farm equipment.  I knew my Kaboda from my Massey Ferguson; my Husqvarna from a Cub Cadet.  I could name implements (yes, that’s what they are really, called) like combine harvesters, plows, round hay balers, hay rakes, row-crop planters, harrows and disks.  And then came the John Deere.  The 8020s, Model C, Johnny Poppers, Waterloo Boy, Spoker D and the Lindeman 420 Crawler.  I knew articulated and styled versus unstyled.  And now we have moved on from tractors and discovered superheroes.

So back to Plastic Man.  Now I am not here to break down (or build up) any gender stereo-types here but as a female product of the ’80’s, She-ra was my superhero.  I did on occasion watch He-man but didn’t really get into Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or Green Lantern.  I knew who they were, I guess but my knowledge was peripheral at best.  It wasn’t until I was gifted three boys that my understanding of superheroes has be broadened.  Significantly.

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Who the hell is Plastic Man, you ask?  Well according to Wikipedia, Plastic Man started out an abandoned 10 year old criminal, cracking safes.  It wasn’t until he was shot and fell into some kind of chemical bath and nursed back to health in a monastery that he found his new Plastic Powers and began fighting crime.  Wow.  Who makes this shit up?!  He also has a sidekick, Woozy Winks.  (Seriously folks.  No joke.)

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So now I am an expert on tractors, construction and logging equipment and Plastic Man.  Now who’s the Princess of Power?

Peace, Mamas.

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

My little Mooch has turned into a bit of a fibber.  I know it sounds naive but I am shocked he’s turned to lying.  My oldest, Cub, has never been a liar- almost to a fault, if that’s possible.  So I was quite shocked last week when I popped in to his kindergarten class and the teacher approached me asking if we were “all packed”…  For what?  For your trip- and are you really going to swim with sharks?  That’s so exciting!  Ahh… No.  And what the hell are you talking about?

At first, it just started with little things, like what someone had said.  But today it was down right lying.

Mooch: Today on the bus, a big kid got on the bus and said Little kids have to sit in the front! and pointed at me.

Me: Really?  Who was he?  What did you say?

Mooch: Well, I told him to Zip it.

Me: Wow. What did he do?

Mooch: He walked away.  Oh and you don’t have to ask Cub about it because he was there…

Me: What do you mean by that…?  If I ask him about it, would he tell me the story the same way?

Mooch: Um.  No…  He actually didn’t hear anything.

Me: So he didn’t hear this but he was sitting in the same seat as you?

Mooch: Right.

Me: Riiiight.

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What the hell kid?  He’s such a little fibber!  I know kids fib because they are insecure and looking for praise, acceptance and admiration.  Right now, this poor bug is trying so hard to fit in with his friends.  It’s hard to see him so insecure right now.  He’s always been my kiddo who was so sure of himself, easily befriending anyone who showed interest.  I still remember the love note I wrote to him on the eve of his kindergarten registration… It’s happening… And it’s heartbreaking to see his self-esteem plummet.

We talked up kindergarten so much.  He was so excited.  You’ll make so many friends!  You’re going to have so much fun!  Kindergarten is going to be a blast…  In hindsight, maybe we talked it up too much.  (Damn hindsight!  Where were you a couple of months ago?!)  I think he’s feeling let down.  And I think I caused it.  We wanted him to be so excited about kindergarten that we talked it up constantly.  We didn’t leave out the parts about how something new can make us nervous, or that it will take some time to get used to a new school with a new teacher and new friends.  We did say those things too but I think we played up the fun factor and he was really excited… Only to be disappointed.  Kindergarten is hard work.  It’s not easy to make new friends.  It’s tough to listen and focus for hours on end.  It’s a challenge to remember where your backpack/lunch bag/coat/ homework folder are supposed to go.  It’s hard to belong.

The fibbing is a symptom of a much larger ailment brewing.  Insecurity is ugly.  And right now this virus is coursing through his veins.  Telling his class about going on a vacation to swim with sharks made him feel special.  Made him feel cool.  Maybe made the other kids like him… Is it sick that I want to go with him and sit with him when he’s lonely?  Hold his hand when he’s scared, hug him when he’s been hurt?  The thought of him needing these things from me and not being there to provide them, is about the worse feeling imaginable in all of Mamahood.  I want to be there every second to say the right thing and make sure he’s always okay.  I know it’s irrational.  I know there are some Mamas who would say that we both need to suck it up.  But I don’t care how bat-shit-crazy it sounds.  I wish I could be by his side in case he needs me.

I need to trust that I have done my job well.  And that’s hard- especially when I lay in bed, feeling like I have failed in some capacity about fifty percent of the time.  How do I know I am doing the right thing?  Parenting is such a tough job.  And I am so scared that I am fucking up these perfect little souls.  Like I am unintentionally ruining them.  I need to trust that I have done my job well.  And I need not own my poor Mooch’s feelings of insecurity but empower him to be the amazing little human he was born to be.

Tonight, I overheard him tell his brother that he wished he was a fast runner like another kid.  I took the opportunity to say the following:

If you want to run faster, challenge yourself to run faster- but only if that’s what you truly want.  People are best at the things they love.  If you love to run, you will be fast.  And if you love to draw, you will be a wonderful artist.  Please don’t try to be anyone other than who you are.  Because you are such a gift.  And others will like you for you.  

Silence.  Breathing in the moment and thinking that I may have filled his little heart with hope and love, I watched him.

Mama, Graham said that some ladies have a lot of hair in their pits and some don’t.  Can I see yours?  My pits?  You want to see my pits?  Yup.

Seriously.  I give up.

Peace, Mamas.

Love is Free

I’m going out on a limb here but I think everyone should have an opinion on something.  If you don’t have an opinion you can’t really be relevant.  So here goes.  I had a conversation with someone today about parenting.  But I think it goes deeper than parenting.  Read on.

A man disclosed to me today that he was struggling terribly with his sixteen year old son.  The child is in an alternative school setting as he was removed from a traditional school setting due to violence and complete disregard for rules and authority.  It’s true that traditional school is not the right placement for all children however, I feel strongly that the school failed this child.  Nevertheless, the child has been exhibiting violent behaviors, cutting and most recently drinking.  The father stated that he came home to find his son sleeping and when he awoke him, he found that he was heavily intoxicated.  I asked how he had disciplined his son to which he responded I gave up on discipline a long time ago.  My wife doesn’t back me up and if we can’t be a united front, it’s never going to work so I just stay away from it.  Me, probing: Don’t you feel like he was testing you? Like he wanted to see where your hard line was?  If you didn’t draw the line at drinking, do you think he may push that line further the next time?  Maybe… maybe.  But he was so sick, I don’t think he’ll do it again for a while.  He already smokes.  And I know he’s gettin’ into pills too.  Ah, what can you do.  Kids.

I’m not sure I mentioned this before but I am a social worker.  At my past job, I assisted people experiencing homelessness with finding housing, obtaining medical, mental health and substance abuse treatment, creating resumes, repairing credit and provided support with transitioning from years in prison.  In my current position, I oversee a wellness program for seniors, people with disabilities and families who live in public housing.  I have seen poverty.  Motivated addicts, coached offenders, supported parents who have lost their children or are in the process of getting them back and made reports for them to be removed.  And what I can surmise from all this I have bared witness, what I can draw from these life events which may appear critical, is that they are chronic.  They are part of a chronic cycle that was learned, from one generation to the next.  Passed down like a quilt or a recipe, these cycles of abuse, poverty and drug use are to blame for the generations of dysfunctional behaviors which will follow.  These cycles are powerful.  This life we know is not fair to humans who are born into a field which is not level.  These cycles take such incredible strength to overcome that it can seem nearly impossible.

Sounds discouraging right?  That generations compounded by poverty will just continue over and over again.  Well here’s the kicker: Love is Free.  Love, patience and time do not cost a penny.  This man, sitting across from me today need do nothing more than to go home to his son and prove to him that he cares.  Tell him he loves him and that he’s not going to stand by and watch him give up on life.  The father has not been provided the skills to do this because his father didn’t give a shit either.  It’s a total cop out to say that but it’s true.  Love is free.

I am often struck by a quote from Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world.  Well here’s the change I wish to see in the world: I want it to be better for my kids than it was for me.  I want the world they grow up in to not have nuclear bombs, ethnic cleansing and genocide.  I want them to know only of kindness to humans and respect for this earth we share with plants and animals alike.  I want my children to recognize when a fellow human needs help.  And help.  I want them to find partners they love and make babies and love them.  Really love them.  No small feat.  But I would dare to wager that many, many parents want the same thing for their children.  Even the gentleman I spoke with today.  He is a good person.  He works hard.  He’s lost hope that his son can see and appreciate the wonderful things in this world.  Just as soon as he remembers how to care about those things, he can inspire his child to see them to.

So Mamas (and Papas) be that change.  I’m not a person who judges.  And I certainly don’t claim to have things figured out- and I very seldom give advice without being asked but I am right here and now telling you- begging you- to see that good in the world and challenge your children to find it too.  Because my kids have to live in this world with your kids.   And my grandchildren have to live with your grandchildren.  Be that change.  And love your children.  Give them your time.  Grace them with your patience.  It will not lighten your wallet but it will make our world that much richer.

Peace, Mamas.

Little Boys are Murderers

Sweeping the mudroom this morning, I stumbled across a mass grave.  Of ants.  Let me start by saying that it may come as a surprise that although we live in a 143 year old farm house in a small Vermont town, we have never had a problem with insects (mice, of course but no bugs).  Until we updated our kitchen and uncovered some kind of colony of black ants.  For the last couple of months, we have used ant cups, gel cups and spray.  But to no avail.  The little suckers just keep coming back.  Our plan is to hire an exterminator to bomb the creepy bastards once it’s warm enough to open the windows without wearing our snowsuits- which in Vermont is typically June.  In the mean time, I have children to keep the problem somewhat under control.

Their method of extermination consists of picking each ant up and pinching its wriggling body between their fingers.  Most of the legs stop moving before they toss it back down.  Sometimes the legs continue to spasm for a few seconds but by this time, the boys have lost interest in their suffering victim and moved on to the next.  Of course the corpse is left behind (or tossed into the mudroom, thus the mass grave) with zip remorse.  Zip.

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Now all of this is gross, cringe-worthy and there’s nothing sanitary about it.  But what’s most disturbing about is sometimes they smile while doing performing the execution.  Even my two-year-old.  And once I started thinking about this, I was comforted by the realization that all boys are murderers.  This insecticidal ideation seems to be ingrained in their minds from a very young age- or as I believe, at birth- because surely this is not a result from my parenting.  Surely.  Nope.  I even remember my cousins (four boys- bless you Aunt Kay!) seeking out and murdering anything from insect to arachnids to small reptiles- well except for the nature-loving one who wore moccasins, purples Umbros and toted a stuffed kitty around until he was… well never mind.   But the rest were murderous.

Further distressing is that my husband seems to almost encourage this savage behavior.  He at least suggests the carcasses be disposed of outside (most of the time) but he doesn’t tell them to cease this beahvior.  I think I am the only one who cares.  And this is another reason I stand by my claim: This isn’t my fault.  This happens because boys are torturous, head-hunting babarians.  This uncivilized streak seems to be limited to bug-squishing so as long as I can count on table manners, I think I can overlook this.  But for God-sake, can’t they drag the bodies to the side of our property, dig some shallow unmarked graves and dump them there instead of the mudroom?  Having said that, I’m confident I am raising upstanding, contributing members of society.  I think.

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So It Was a Bad Night…

I’m not sure bad night really captures the essence of disaster that went down this evening.  It. Was. Bad.  And it really began the moment I walked through the door.  Complaints.  Complaints about dinner.  About homework.  About brothers wielding swords, eyes getting poked, arms being scraped.  To walk in the door to negativity greeting you with a kick in the shins kind of sets the mood for the next few hours.

My oldest is my complainer.  Nothing is ever fair.  Ever.  He’s seven and very smart.  But can also be a little negative.  My expectations are higher for him (we put all our faith in the oldest, right?  I am just hoping my other two won’t be playing video games in the basement when they are 30…) and because of this, nothing is fair.  But tonight, it was more about him being in a shitty mood and taking it out on everyone.  He has a bit of a cough so for the first 20 minutes or so, I chalked the attitude up to post nasal drip and fatigue.  And then came the name-calling, talking back and general meanness toward his brothers.  And me.

We barely got through dinner.  His meatball sucked.  His spaghetti was too long.  He didn’t get to share about his day first.  His brother was sitting to close to him.  Buddy, what’s up tonight?  Stop saying that to me!  Why do you always think it’s my fault.  He’s the one looking at me like that.  Really.  Finally got through dinner.  Consequences racked up by meal’s end included: no video game time tonight (or tomorrow, but that was just dumb- who takes away privileges for the next day?  Dumb.), and threats of a cancelled playdate.  But to no avail, the attitude continued.

Homework.  He didn’t want to do it.  Refused to sit at the table.  Threw the pencil.  Crumpled the paper.  That. Was. It.  I yelled.  That’s it!  No outside time.  No homework.  You can do it in the morning.  Straight to bed.  NOW.  He went stomping up the stairs, claiming that I didn’t love him.  That no one loved him.  That if he fell off a the edge of a cliff, no one would care or look for him.  I do love you.  I don’t love your behavior tonight.  You must be feeling really frustrated and angry.  And I’m really disappointed that you made these choices tonight.  (For those of you who don’t know, I am a social worker for my day job so I can empathize, paraphrase and use ‘I statements’ like a pro- yes, I am well aware of how annoying this can be.)  He stomps up the stairs and yells over his shoulder to me: Wimp.  Wimp?  How am I wimp?  I want to tell him that was a ridiculous thing to say but I resist the urge to further infuriate the fuming dragon.  Door slams.

All is quiet.  I finish picking up the table and decide to go up for a chat.  I knock on his door.  Waiting.  “What.”  Said as more of a statement than question.  Can I please come in?  I’m ready to talk.  Are you?  The door creaks open without an answer but clearly it’s an invite.  Breathe.  We sit down on the bed.  What’s up honey?  Help me to understand why you are having such a tough night.    Nothing.  Is everything okay at school?  Did you have any disagreements with friends?  No.  Were there any parts of your day that made you nervous or sad?  Well, we needed to finish writing our book by today or we have to finish it during free choice tomorrow.  Did you finish?  No.  Everyone else is done and I’m not.  I don’t think I will even be done tomorrow.  I get it.

We connected.  He’d had a really stressful, upsetting day.  He feels insecure.  He carried that like a boulder on his adorably delicate back all day and all evening.  Let it out.  He cried.  Said he had been looking forward to free choice all week and now, the last day before vacation, he’s not going to get to play with his friends.  His tears rolled down his soft innocent cheeks as my eyes filled and I tried to swallow that ache in my throat.  I’m sorry you had such a bad day.  It’s okay, he says and buries his forehead into my chest.  Breathe.  Can you read to me?  He asks.  Sure.

He had a bad day.  He lashed out.  I yelled.  We talked.  I understood.  He forgave me.  It was a tough night.  I’m so glad I took the time to talk it through.  I didn’t give in and he couldn’t go outside after dinner or have his video game time.  He will have to finish his homework in the morning before school.  And he will miss his free choice tomorrow.  But now I have a reason for his angst tonight.  God, I adore this child.  He can be a tough kid sometimes.  But he makes me want to be a better Mama.

Peace Mamas.