Sunday, July 22, 2012

Telling the children

I first noticed the news early Thursday when I checked my email before waking the kids - Yahoo had two stories on it, which seemed excessive, but (I processed slowly), yes, this actually did seem kind of a big deal. Biggish. I still didn't think about telling the kids until M. called from Canada, to make sure we were all right  and for reassurance, to touch base, the way people do in the wake of something awful.

"Why'd dad call?" Helen asked, sensing a shift in tone right away. It was a perfect segue. I bailed.

"Just to let us know when he'll be home," I said. "Dinnertime tomorrow, yay!"

I thought again about telling them as I drove to camp, except that it didn't seem quite right - oh bytheway here's this totally disturbing thing that will freak you the freak out, have a good day at camp & don't forget sunscreen, love ya, bye! - so I didn't.

I admit also that I couldn't figure out the right tone. Matter-of-fact is my default mode, and it would work in this situation, except just the fact of giving an event attention in the bright sunshiny morning before heading off to camp elevates the telling from matter-of-fact to Big News in Hushed Tones, which is the parental conversational mode I find most difficult.

So I bailed, which, I realized immediately afterward, meant that they were thus going to find out from other kids or their grandma. Normal Big Events this would be fine/ unavoidable, but I was belatedly understanding that this might not be a Normal Big Event.

Si heard about it in camp - he's doing a middle school basketball camp where the coaches pride themselves in showing impressionable preteens the right path to manhood, and they took it upon themselves to bring it up and have a group discussion and probably do some prayer, which I appreciate, even though that's not the thing we do at our house.

Helen's camp didn't bring it up. She first heard about it when she and Si turned on the TV at grandma's, looking for cartoons, and stumbled immediately into Hour Nine of the Live Coverage. It didn't maybe help that grandma wanted to keep watching, like just fifteen minutes - it was on every channel!  "Helen was very upset," she reported later. Uh, you think?

So: parenting fail. I think she'll be fine - yes, she screamed when someone selling Dish TV knocked on the door after dinner, and at bedtime she didn't want to be farther than arm's length from me - but such jumpiness is normal, and would have happened however she'd found out. This thing is seriously disturbing, after all. I don't think I'm going to be blithely entering a movie theater anytime soon, and I wouldn't be surprised if seven-year-olds around the entire Denver metro area were a skittish about movie going for months.

Still. I skim over the articles like "Theater shooting aftermath: Tips for Helping Children Cope" and mostly what I think is, this doesn't apply to us. Even though actually, this time, it kind of does. I get irascible when the Grandma calls at 9:30 at night to remind me that what the networks are saying is to remind kids that this is an isolated incident, very rare, and that it's still safe to go to movies, "So be sure to tell her that." (Appreciate the thought, but I'll come up with own language for reassurance, thanks.) I hug the kids and ask how they're feeling ("Fine," says my noncommunicator, manfully. "I'm skeeeered," says the other, maaaybe playing up the dramatic excitement of the situation and the chance to sleep on mama's floor just a smidgen.) I remind them that they're safe, even if they are sleeping on mama's floor and not in mama's bed. I limit news coverage to None. We read extra chapters in Ramona, where things like this don't happen.

In the end, I don't worry so much about what I can control, or even the big obvious things that I can't. I'm going to lose more sleep fretting over the sadness of the people killed than fretting that something like this could happen to us, for example.

No, I worry about what I still have trouble with: the fact that other people are going to interrupt my reaction and my kids' reaction to what's going on and bring their own brand of tragedy processing to the table. Some people are going to be process-by-talking-about-it (Hellooo, MIL!). Some are going to be process-by-dismissing-it (Helloo, FIL!). Some people are going to be process-by-trying-to-control-the-narrative, which is what upsets me the most. It's like that time in kindergarten when my best friend kept telling me these horror stories - child crushed to death by a circus elephant, school bus overtaken by bees - and then insisting that they were not only true but local. Every time I talked to her I got more upsetting news about The Way The World Is, even though we were living in the same world. It took me until high school to learn how to avoid people like this, and even now I have trouble processing when someone I work with or do kid things with has a really opposite opinion of how the world operates.

But for now this isn't the issue, I don't think. For now it's fine to stick with my small-but-sturdy toolbox of coping mechanisms - listening, avoiding, and remembering that things are mostly good most of the time - and to let the kids who need it sleep on the floor.

Friday, July 13, 2012


M. and I had a taste of the empty nest this past week, and this is what it was like:

1. Tuesday: salad for dinner, and no one wept, argued, or fell off the dining room bench in despair.
2. Wednesday: dinner at India Castle, ditto Tuesday, plus no one sulked because we didn't eat at Noodles or a place with baseball on the bar TV. Also, because we were so happy and relaxed, or because we were new, or because we did not have two complaining leprechauns with us, we got complimentary dessert AND complimentary brandy. I've never even HEARD of complimentary brandy, outside of circumstances involving waiter-caused dry cleaning bills.
3. Cheese and bread for dinner, plus we got to watch Parks & Rec and I could hear all the jokes.

I also got to work in the garden until dark two days and went for a run on another. Also, while I did not waste time cleaning, what little straightening I did stayed that way, in its straightened state, for multiple days. Weird. I didn't know that could happen.

I also got a little weepy by Thursday anytime I read a story involving a parent and a child. Not even sad stories. Just any stories. I started crying as I drove home from work listening to Blood, Bones and Butter (mm mm good) and she talked about her work in a kids' camp in the Adirondacks. Crying! Honestly.

But the good news is the leprechauns come home from South Dakota today, and I am sure within three minutes I will be longing for these past three days with an intensity that will make my teeth hurt.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Relief trucks on way

We've officially reached that moment in summer when I stop believing that fall will ever come, or snow, or cool weather, and it will be hot, gray and grim until forever. This would be depressing except that my inner response seems to be, oh well, better keep working, then - which is kind of a relief, to just give up on the idea of reaching for the stars, or blissfully idyllic autumn runs, or homegrown ripe apples, and just put my head down and do what needs to be done.

So it's kind of hard to believe that the high tomorrow is supposed to be 75. I hope it doesn't lead to a sense of wild imbalance or unsustainable hope.

One thing that has been a backdoor relief for some of us - for me, mostly - is that the crackling dry city combined with all these fires has led to a complete and total moratorium on home fireworks (and a near-moratorium on commercial displays). Silas got weepy about it - "I just don't want to have a fourth of July without fireworks," he said, sobbing, and my heart broke a little, because we *could* have dragged ourselves downtown, in the traffic on a work night, to the lacrosse game at Mile High Stadium, where there would be fireworks, except that we cruelly opted for sensible. Meeeean, is what we are. Especially since I felt nothing but triumph in my heart about getting to opt out of the "highly illegal vs. but it's so fun" debate this year.

Anyhow. It kind of comes back to something I've been thinking about a lot this summer - I wrote about it on the Get Born blog, but imperfectly - this disconnect between what we want for our kids and what they themselves want. One of the commenters on that post made the excellent point that one of hard things about parenting is finding out that "children are people--real, flawed, normal people." When they're beautiful babies who have everything yet to learn, it's easy to think they can be anything; then they start growing up and it turns out that they actually have no desire to chase the gold ring, or the brass ring, or however the saying goes. Silas is never going to be an aggressive competitor, the one who gets down the mountain the fastest, or who stays at the gym the longest, or who cranks out the most perfect score on the most important test - and this should not be a surprise, since neither are his parents. He's going to be someone who gets pretty close, since he is smart, and he does have kind of a talent for throwing a ball - and he'll like being that close, and maybe even feel that he's entitled to be there, since he's smart, everyone says so - but then when it comes to consolidating his gains and closing in for the gold, he'll abstain, and go off to play his iPod touch instead. Just like me, only for me it's a good book and an afternoon spent puttering around the yard.

The difference seems to be that I feel like my lack of ambition is a calculated choice, and is furthermore sustainable, as in it's paid for by a job. Whereas one could argue that I and all the other parents who urge their kids to improve their freestyle stroke or practice reading for one hour a day or work on their endurance are deeply insecure about their children's ability to become functioning adults.

Or maybe it's that we want our kids to become a certain kind of functioning adult - I would be so very depressed if Si chose to support his video game lifestyle by becoming the manager of a Chick Fil-A, for example, even though the salary he'd most likely pull down is not much different from M's salary as a professor.

I ought to point out that I would also be disappointed if he chose to support his video game lifestyle by becoming an investment banker. It would be a different kind of disappointment, however. One mixed with pride and bafflement (you do what, again, son? invest in...banks?)

I get confused, though, about how much of that choice is my business. I assume, I think, that Silas would find that managing a Chick Fil-A as depressing as I do, and I am trying to steer him toward a path that avoids it. But what if he would actually like managing a fast food joint? (shudder) It's no berth on a major league baseball team, sure, but I think we need to agree that there's going to be some kind of Plan B for that dream. What if his satisfactory Plan B is different from my idea of a satisfactory Plan B? What then? How do I parent that? I have no earthly idea.

If anything, I feel like I'm steering him toward the investment banker option. He's good at math, and I know enough about schoolish things to encourage him in this pursuit and encourage him in improving his math scores and math savvy - mostly by taking advantage of various school and community math-burnishing options. But where do these lead? What if they lead toward investment banking? I don't even know. I just cheer on the sidelines and push him in the community-sanctioned directions and I'm not even sure what the community is sanctioning.

You know what I mean? Parenting is the blind leading the blind, man. And then getting crabby when the follower doesn't end up where we wanted him to go.