I have been struggling with this one for days. At times, I have felt too preachy, at others like I was rambling too much. I’ve decided to let the words fall where they lie and go with it.
This past Friday, my wife and I were working from home. The boys were at school and we were all in our daily grind. The television was off and I was patently ignoring the internet, so it was around lunchtime when I first heard about Newtown. K yelled down to me from the office upstairs and I was sure that I had to be hearing her wrong. She came down and we flipped on the “news” and watched the story unfold in mute horror.
I was faced with thoughts of mortality far too much last week. My parents are both aging, and both have suddenly decided to take on conditions that make them seem far older than they are in my mind. You always hear about how a parent should never have to bury their child, but they reverse is pretty terrible to contemplate in its own right. With thoughts of chronic conditions and diseases whirling around in my head, the news from Sandy Hook hit me like a truck. I was now contemplating mortality in both directions.
We decided to leave the house, go shopping for the boys and decidedly not listen to the radio. K tried to keep her mind off the topic by talking to me. Sadly (or luckily) my mind wasn’t forming whole thoughts and I wasn’t much of a conversationalist. We grabbed lunch, bought wrapping paper and finished our lists. It was a lovely day, really, but the dark thoughts prevailed.
We decided we needed to say something to the boys and started formulating a plan of how to inform, but not terrify them. Neither of us really had an experience with this. Our schools had had fire drills, K had been to schools that had hurricane or tsunami drills and I had spent a few years with earthquake drills, but never anything like this. I honestly wasn’t sure what a lock-down drill would entail.
We headed home, calling ahead to tell the nanny that we would be taking the boys out to dinner. We got home and gave the boys some very long hugs (much to their chagrin). The nanny mildly chided us for leaving the TV on CNN when we had left, but told us that he had quickly changed the channel and that as far as he knew, the boys hadn’t heard about the day’s events at all.
Off to dinner we went. We caught up on the day, played some cards and then gracefully broached the subject. K asked the boys if they knew what “lock-down” meant and when they confirmed that they did not know the term, she started approaching the idea gently. “Imagine a wild turkey was loose in the hallways at school…” she started. The boys thought this pretty funny. We talked about why you would stay in your classroom, do exactly what the teacher told you, etc. We asked for some other ideas on why you might have such a drill. M was, as always, quick to the extreme. “Maybe someone came into the school with guns and started shooting everyone?” Yup.
So, with that door now kicked wide open, we explained to them what had happened that day. Why people were so upset about it (besides the obvious), and did our best to assure them that their school was safe. M created a scenario of a gunman disguising himself as a child and sneaking in in the morning, but we did our best to ensure him that the principal was at least capable of determine child from adult. But, in my head, the thoughts spun wild again. Their school has essentially the same security set-up as Sandy Hook, and that had clearly not worked. We tried to steer the conversation to the safe and wind down any talk about the day’s actual events before details were demanded. They agreed that they would always listen to their teachers in any kind of drill, no matter how weird the instructions were. That if they were scared they would try and hold someone’s hand instead of crying, etc. All the things you should never have to tell your child.
Over the weekend we spent as much time as possible with them. We read advice from other parents and got some really great insight from the Boston Children’s Museum in an email they sent out to their members. We tried to avoid the news and the internet. We wondered when we would hear from their school, and K admitted that she was nervous about them going back today. I couldn’t disagree.
We started today like any other day, hoping the boys might not be thinking about our dinner conversation and they dressed and ran into school like any other day. When we hadn’t heard from the school, K sent an email asking whether or not the school would be talking to the kids, offering any insight to the parents, practicing lock-downs, etc. A few hours later we got an insipid email from the principal that essentially told us they would be avoiding the subject all together, but would be creating “quiet drills” to be practiced annually.
Now, for my preachy side. The next idiot who mentions that Newtown was “God’s will” is going to get a swift kick to the brain. It was not God’s will and the absence of the Ten Commandments or the Gospels in school had no effect on whether those kids died or not. It’s painfully ironic that the same people who chide the “left” for making this an issue about gun control have no issue when their talking heads make it an issue about religion.
What Newtown is, what it should be, is exactly another reason to talk about gun control in America. The argument that more restrictive gun laws won’t have any effect is ridiculous, almost to the point of lunacy. More restrictive gun laws are exactly what we need to prevent nut-jobs from collecting arsenals. More intelligent gun laws are exactly what we need to ensure that a criminal record is not the only thing that prevents your dumb ass from getting your hands on a gun. And what’s wrong with talking about it? Why can’t we have a conversation that might possibly end with fewer people having guns? Are the 31 school shootings since Columbine not enough to make you see that something is wrong? What is it you’re so afraid of that you can’t even discuss the issue?
The idea that came to me this morning is this. If you are going to rest on the Second Amendment to own all your guns, you need to know what is says. If you think it starts with “the right of the people to keep and bear arms…” you are not entitled to your gun, turn it in. It starts with “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” So, my suggestion is this, since we no longer have a militia, and the Amendment is, in fact, moot, let’s use a little cy pres and put the amendment to good work nowadays. You want to own a gun? You want to contribute the security of the free-state? Good, join the Reserves. Join the National Guard. Once you’re signed up, your firearms license is free. Otherwise, pack it in.
Another angry, and sad, parent, signing off.
One thing you learn very quickly when your kids go to school is that you lose control of what they get exposed to, or invited to. This has led to plenty of unexpected announcements about dances, parties, sales, sports, choir and most recently the Boy Scouts. Ordinarily we can ignore these one-off events by being busy (sometimes legitimately!) or explaining to the boys that just because their friends are going to something, they don't have to unless they're actually interested.
Sadly, this was not the case with the scouting announcement. I was able to ignore the first flyer, accidentally throw away the second, but the third finally planted the idea in their head. I asked why they wanted to join and they explained that "it's cool." Not a very good reason, but they would not let up. All their friends (i.e. 3 other kids at school) had joined.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was a cub scout. It was not your usual scouting experience, though. We were living in Rome, Italy at the time and I joined a den that was based at the Overseas School of Rome. I was take a bus from my school to OSR and do my meeting there. My father was deployed when I became a Bobcat, so my mother pinned my patch. It was deemed weird by many in the meeting, but it seemed perfectly natural to me. I worked on my assignments, learned to tie knots, knew my hand signals despite not knowing how to ride a bike, did swimming, etc. I remember some of my badges and beads being hard work, but generally, I enjoyed it. there was no den at my school when we moved to Naples and I never looked to rejoin when we moved back to the US.
In further disclosure, as an adult, I have lost all respect for the organization. Their 2004 "Youth Leadership" policy made the organization look like fools as their lessons of being a responsible citizen of good character were thrown out the window in favor of bigotry. Their further assertion that only members of organized religions can live up to their ideals set them on the course of further irrelevancy in modern America. When the sex abuse scandals started breaking and the further revelation was made that the organization had covered-up for abusive members and leaders, I was done.
The fact that my children wanted to join scouting posed a serious dilema for me. Can I prevent them from doing something based on what I believe? Should my 6 and 8 year old be exposed to my politics, or denied something because of things they don't understand? They mostly wanted to join to be with their friends and I struggled with exposing them to the darker side of the Boy Scouts. In the end, I caved and we went and signed up.
What happened to the Boy Scouts, though?
Our first meeting was chaos. No agenda, no schedule and we built wheelbarrows out of wooden kits, but were only able to do it because another father had the tools that the leader lacked. We were then hit with 5 or 6 upcoming events that the boys could attend and earn badges or patches or something. No times or days, just left to some unknown schedule that we could agree to or not. We needed to read a chapter in the manual for another badge and go to church on some unknown Sunday to earn another.
This was teaching us citizenship, building character and fitness? Show up and get stuff? Events every weekend and a couple of nights during the week? Where we were supposed to find the time? What were we actually learning? And who is supposed to be doing the teaching?
Ironically, the first lesson I was supposed to work on with the boys was about child abuse and personal safety. I guess the BSA can provide unique insight on that?
I'm honestly not sure what to do. I cannot find a happy medium when it comes to scouting. The boys are bored so far and there doesn't seem to be much impetus by the organization to engage them. I am torn between a total lack of respect for what the organization has become and allowing my kids to do something with their friends.
According to the manual, we just need to "do our best."
Well, I became a parent today.
Wait, you might say, haven't you been a parent for, like, eight years? And, I would say, well, sort of.
Sure, we did child-birth (okay, I was present at child birth). We've done sleepless nights, dirty diapers, bottles, binkies, teething and tummy-time. I have been the unwitting victim of a golden shower, worn spit-up on my shoulder like a rank insignia and planned my days around nap-time.
I survived Elmo, Baby Einstein, the Wiggles and Boo-Bah. I know what all the flavors of baby food taste like and have seen them move towards me at sneeze-velocity. I knew one change of clothes was never enough when leaving the house. I knew to always check behind us for socks when walking through the grocery store.
I have bought clothes and shoes on, what seems like, a weekly basis and known that they would like not survive the month. I've seen the dog ridden like a horse, slept on like a bed and fed the better part of a child's dinner. I know the difference between the need to pee and the next chapter of 'bathrooms of the mall.' I have announced in crowded restaurants that if you let go of your penis, it won't go anywhere, and then been made to swear to that fact.
We have learned to catch, ride a bike, read a book and play card games. I have mastered the art of interpreting a child's drawing and smiling at their school concerts. I have gone from losing on purpose to becoming a graceful loser at video games.
But, today I crossed the line. Earned my stripes. Survived the crucible.
I walked the boys to school this morning. We're still struggling to get back in to the routine, but each morning is a bit easier. Today was school picture day, so uniforms were optional. We arrived on time and said our good-byes. M gave me a kiss and ran inside. C went to do the same and that is when time slowed down and I began to have an out of body experience.
C still had some of breakfast on his cheek. I could see it, and I know that if I didn't do something about it, it would be memorialized in our 3rd grade pictures.
I watch as my body moved in slow motion. My hand rose towards my mouth, making a fist with thumb upright. My mouth opened and my tongue headed straight for my thumb. I knew what was coming next, but was only an observer, powerless to stop it. I licked my thumb and applied the time-tested parent-spit remedy to C's cheek.
To his credit, he didn't flinch. The spot was removed and he was off for school. I swore I would never do it, but it happened like a reflex. I breathed a heavy sigh as parenthood slowly fitted itself finally on to my shoulders.
So, the school routine is almost back in swing. School started yesterday, but we have three half-days this week. Why we even bother and don't just start next week like all the other schools around us? A mystery.
At any rate, I was able to work my schedule so I could be home today to pick up the boys and take C to his 8 y.o. check-up. Pick-up was routine, home, changed out of uniforms and sat down to lunch.
Our routine lately has been to play cards after dinner. My mom taught the boys War, I have taught them Rummy and they have learned Daddy, Trash and something akin to Hearts at camp. So, today, we discussed school and played a hand of Rummy.
It was about half-way through that when the train of thought derailed in C's head, and the following occurred:
C: (taking a bite of his sandwich) Ow!
Me: What's the matter buddy?
C: Miracle Whip.
Me: Miracle Whip hurts?
C: Yeah, it got down in between my teeth and burned me.
M: I hate that. That's why I don't eat Miracle Whip.
Me: I don't think the Miracle Whip burned you.
C: It did, it was so cold, it burned.
M: How can cold things burn?
*Insert a brief conversation about cold burns and the difference between them and heat burns. We then segued into rug burns. The boys stare at me blankly as I explain. Perhaps a reference to a Water-Bender or Pokemon may have helped, in retrospect.*
C: This would be cool. Imagine you were taking an ice cold shower that was so cold your feet went numb. Then you got out of the shower and scuffed your feet on the rug and got a rug burn. But, because you can't feel your feet, you don't know you had rug burn. But, then you could feel the rug burn, so you put ice on your feet and got frostbite!
C: Yeah. And then you could just use your thumb and two fingers to grab the ball and make a basket!
*both boys return to eating silently*
*both boys give me a look of pity*
M: Would you like to play cards now, Dad?
Me: Yes, please.
[Note: This is the point where I ignore the fact that I haven't written in weeks. Writer's block mixed with vacation and summer craziness is a killer...]
So, at what point does the crust on bread become evil, and when does the evil subside? I only ask because we used to love crust. Well, okay, we didn't love it, but we didn't hate it. In fact, up until about a year ago, I don't think we even knew that bread had crust. Now? Crust is the enemy.
I don't remember ever hating crust myself. Nowadays, I love the crust on bread, all the hidden flavors, etc. I asked my mother about it recently, but she couldn't recall whether I went through a crust-hating phase or not.
We have been exceedingly lucky with the boys and eating. They love food, have wild palates and don't generally turn their noses up at much of anything (unless they think it will annoy us). We started each boy off on the right track, plain cereal before flavored, vegetables long before fruit and when they were ready, they always ate the same thing as we did for dinner.
C only had one weakness, and even that started as a joke. It was mushrooms. We jokingly (neither of us like them) cut up some cooked mushrooms for him one night, and then for about a year he wouldn't eat a meal without them. M never latched onto the fungus, though. Pizzas in our house are still half mushroom, half cheese. M's thing was vegetables, though. For the longest time we thought he was going to be a vegetarian. Fruit was okay, meat and chicken were right out, it was vegetables of bust for him. Neither was a bad thing, really.
Each has adapted their tastes. Indian, Middle Eastern, you name it, they love it. Talapia is a go to food. Olives (provided they are not Calamata), peppers, lobster, shrimp, you name it, they inhale it.
But not crust.
"It's burned!" "It has seeds that hurt my teeth!" "I think it's evil!"
You name it, we've heard the excuse. Nothing I can say will convince them otherwise. I tried showing them that rolls are covered in crust. No dice, rolls are exempt because they are delicious. Pretzels? Nope, delicious (and salty) exemption again (and they can be dipped in either peanut butter or Nutella...). Crust on toast is almost acceptable, but not quite. In their minds, all bread should be crust free. I refuse to cut the crust off their sandwiches, but I know they're not eating it. The trash cans at camp are likely filled with discarded crust. We dabbled with crustless bread, but there always something off for one boy or the other. C didn't like the taste of the bread shaped like goldfish, M didn't like the rounds that had "seeds."
So, for now, we have the pointless debate about crust. They demand it be removed, I demand they eat it. I don't, neither do they.
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