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.
I'm a day late, but I had some thoughts on the 30th anniversary of MTV this morning during my commute to work. The Boston Globe had a great collection of the first 10 videos to air on MTV which set the Wayback Machine into overdrive for me.
It was the fall of 1981. My family and I had been living in Rome, Italy for a few months while my dad attended the NATO Defense College, our first of several years in Europe. The house my parents had always dreamed of buying was being put on the market and my folks were being offered first refusal. So, once dad returned from Turkey (after frantic calls from my mother), we were off for a visit home to Boston.
At this point in time, I considered myself a victim. I had no TV. Gone were the days of watching Woody Woodpecker and Scooby Doo when I came home from school. There would be no more reward of Mork & Mindy for cleaning my plate at dinner. We were living in a furnished apartment in Rome with no TV, and even when we moved to Naples the following summer, our TV remained in storage back in the US. Small consolation was the fact that there was no English language programming in Italy at the time anyway (though the advent of the SEB years later would sting terribly...). The biggest treat was when our neighbors across the street would go on vacation and lend us their TV and betamax. (I still have a fond place in my heart for The French Connection, High Anxiety, Chariots of Fire and Gallipoli.)
So, home we came. But, no salve would be immediately forthcoming for my television withdrawal. My grandmother's black and white set only got three channels, and even then, was only turned on for the evening news. But, fear not 8 year old me! One weekend my mother and I went to the North Shore to visit my aunt and cousins. It was here that I was introduced to... cable television. Whoa. More channels than the dial on our old TV could handle! Color! Terrible programming that didn't matter because it was TV!
And then, it happened.
My cousins were somehow able to convince me to turn off the Atari (another miracle of modern science!) and watch some "MTV." I had no idea what the 'M' stood for, but thought that it could only be good. The channel came on and a collision of color and sound hit my brain. A flag emblazoned with the MTV logo changed colors while a guitar riff roared. the next thing I knew Pat Benatar was on the screen and "You Better Run" seized control of my brain.
Needless to say, I was hooked. The Buggles told me that video killed the radio star, which if MTV was any indication, was just fine with me. I felt bad that some woman wouldn't dance with Rod Stewart. I better, I better, I bet that The Who were awesome. I didn't have brass in my pocket, but Chrissie Hynde made me, made me notice. It was weird seeing some of the bands that only knew through listening to my sister's record collection, but I didn't care. I was an MTV junkie. I was never going back to Europe. A week later an Army C-130 would drag me across the Atlantic, while I slowly went through withdrawal in my bucket seat. But, that time sitting in a bean bag chair and watching MTV would stay with me throughout.
Well, MTV never made it to Europe in my time, but trips home became more interesting. When we finally moved back to the US in 1985 MTV had become a staple of cable television and people thought my love of it was a bit odd. VH1 had launched as well, but I was (at that time) well out of their demographic (though sadly that doesn't appear to be the case anymore...). We finally got our own cable TV in our house in NJ, and a VCR! I could record MTV, Star Trek at 11 pm on WPIX and some of my favorites on Nickelodeon (provided my mother didn't change the channel while I was at school).
When I was living in Egypt in 1997, my roommate and I sprung for cable television and MTV International caught us up on everything we weren't missing in the US music scene. I had never liked Indian music before, but it was far better than what was coming out of America at the time (at least in video format...).
It's disappointing what MTV has since become. As Viacom desperately tries to stay one step ahead of what's hip, but falls 13 steps behind, MTV has receded into an anachronism. I would never let my kids watch it now, except maybe as punishment or as a warning of what too much hair product can do to the human brain.
But, in the fall of 1981, MTV changed my life (and my taste in music) for the better.
Back from a brief hiatus that involved some work craziness, three days of cleaning out the basement and attic (fun!) and an anniversary trip to Vegas for K and I. Anyway...
So, the boys have been going to camp this summer and appear to be loving it. We drop them off first thing in the morning and they come home in the evening happy, tired and filthy. In between, they swim, hike, play games, do arts & crafts and go boating. Not a bad deal. The brochure we read about the camp mentioned archery too (which I foolishly mentioned to the boys), but that appears to be reserved for older kids (much to my kids dismay).
They are enjoying the swimming most of all, I think. The boys are water babies and love to be in the water. The have swim lessons in the morning and then have free swim in the afternoon. It's all in a lake, unlike their past pool lessons, but they don't seem to mind. The camp has a structured system of lessons and tests each week to show what each camper has learned. There is a segregated deep end which a swimmer must pass a test to be allowed in to. We needed to stock up on bathing suits, though. Swimming 5 days a week on two bathing suits each wasn't going to cut it. Thankfully, a sale at Old Navy helped out there. Sadly, the remainder of the day at camp seems to be cutting short any long life these suits may have. Did I mention they come home filthy?
The games they play sound familiar, but have all been updated since I last played them. There's 'Doctor Dodgeball' where certain players are doctors and can bring tagged players back into the game. 'Drip, drip, drop' is an update of duck, duck, goose that involves either dripping water on the person's head, or upending a cup of water on them. 'Fishy, fishy, cross my ocean' is apparently the new name of Sharks & Minnows? 'Capture the Flag' is still around, but sounds a bit less cut-throat than I remember.
We slather the boys in sunscreen in the morning and they each have to carry a can of spray sunscreen with them at camp. I questioned the spray (just doesn't seem to cover as well), but it was explained that the counselors can only help kids if they have spray sunscreen as they're not allowed to help kids rub anything on. Time marches on in disquieting ways. At any rate, they both have tans to die for. M less so than C as he prefers wearing swim shirts to going topless, but they are each darker than I have ever been. C enjoys telling people than I am jealous of his tan (I am). I enjoy telling people about the day-glo butt he has as he runs to his room naked after his shower at night. We have had some minor sunburns, but otherwise the SPF 50 seems to be working well.
They are exhausted each day. We pick them up after camp in the evening and if we can't entertain them or feed them immediately, they begin to drift off on the couch. M has crashed pretty hard some days, but they each roll into bed at night and are asleep almost immediately. Most mornings we have to wake them up, though weekends are still fair game for alarmingly early mornings. We're ending their camp terms a few weeks before school starts so they can recover before classes start. I sometimes wonder how they don't fall asleep in the shower each night, but they're filthy and shower they must.
Have I mentioned they come home dirty? Filthy, really. We need to buy C all new white socks for gym class as just about every pair he owns have come home a dull shade of brownish grey. Try as we might, the color won't wash out. Clorox has even given up on saving these things. No explanation has been forthcoming as to what happens to these things. Their bathing suits, even the new ones, are starting to discolor. Their backpacks are likely not going to make it to school this year, their lunch boxes already gave up the ghost. Sneakers will be sacrificed at month's end. The dirty I can handle, it's the dirt I wonder about. They bring home dirt. Sand, I guess, but not beach sand, lake sand? Tiny gravel is what it looks like to me. It is in their hair, their pockets and well... their butts. Practically every day, they have sand up their bathing suits, between their cheeks, making it hard for them to sit. I have asked how it gets there, but to no avail. Somehow, the sand just gets in there and the don't seem to notice until they get home. This is a new one to me.
My one issue with this camp is the rogue black hole they seem to have roaming around sucking things out of existence. We have now lost four water bottles, a shirt, some Pokemon cards, our membership card and just today, a sock (but just one). These things just magically vanish. Sometimes they briefly reappear, but the black hole sucks them back in quickly. There is a lost and found box, but no luck so far on our lost items. I know I expect too much from a 5 and 7 year old to track every step of their day, but really? How do you lose one sock? How do you go to camp with a water bottle D-clipped to you bag, but only come home with the D-clip and the top of the bottle? Mysterious.
At any rate, it sounds better than my memories of camp, so, mission accomplished.
So, C and M were playing outside today. I hear a resounding yell of "snack time!" from outside and glance at the clock. C comes running in, "dad! Can we have some snacks?"
"Actually, buddy, it's lunchtime," I reply, "give me a minute and I'll make some sandwiches."
C walks out of the dining room and I start hearing noises from the kitchen. M comes inside, announces he is not hungry, but wants a snack. More noises, now coming from the refrigerator. "What are you doing out there?" I yell.
"Making a sandwich!" comes the reply. I glance over my shoulder and see C on a stool, sandwich trappings set up on the counter in front of him. Okay, I think. "I'm making one for M too!"
"Okay," I say, "that's very nice." I am impressed. Lately C has been showing some responsibilities around the house. Nothing major, but making lunches, bringing in the trash cans, doing dishes, etc. He seems to be taking to helping his brother out too.
"I'm making one for you too!" he yells to me. Wow, this has only happened once before. I don't really want PBJ, but that is his speciality (i.e. all he makes) and I won't complain. "M!" he yells "your sandwich is ready!"
There is some clanking and the sound of more silverware coming out. A plate scrapes on the counter, the peanut butter gets put down and then... "Oh." I hear, very quietly.
I am typing out an email, so I call over my shoulder, "what's up buddy?" The reply comes back, "Daddy? Do you like a lot of jelly on your sandwich?" I don't look up, C is known for his jelly sandwiches, so I just call back, "not really, buddy, more PB than J."
"Oh." is the response. Again very muted, somewhat concerned.
This is what greeted me as I got into the kitchen.
Clearly, my kids study at the school of Louis C.K.
The primary lesson was delivered on The Daily Show last week.
"A fart is funny," Louis explains, it comes out of your ass, smells like poop and makes a little trumpet noise. "You don't have to be smart to laugh at farts, but you have to be stupid not to."
Clearly this explains our fascination with farting, announcing that we have farted and laughing hysterically every time we fart.
It makes sense, I just wish it didn't.
My kids are color blind. They can see just fine, all their colors are there, but when they look at people, they see... people.
I don't mean to sound surprised, this is how we've raised them, but the simple ease in which in comes across has had me thinking. How do you maintain this innocence? Is there a way to keep their view of the world this clean? Sadly, I think the answer is no, but how would I love to?
We live in rather homogenous area of Boston and I honestly don't remember C ever asking us about people's skin color when he was younger. In fact, the only related memory I have is of my very embarrassed wife trying to keep a straight face after C has asked a very well built, handsome black man if he had a penis (it was our gender exploration period...) in the middle of a supermarket.
M has an Asian boy in his class and another classmate, one of his best friends, is "brown." That's how he described him on the first day of school. We naturally had a visceral reaction to hearing him describe a person by their skin color, but honestly, that was the only thing he could think of that made his friend any different than any other boy in the class. "He's just a boy dad, but his skin is brown," he explained.
There is obviously something different for us as adults in describing someone by their skin color and not meaning, or trying to not sound like you mean, anything by it. For kids, it seems to just comes naturally. Just this week, I picked the boys up from camp and M told me about the boy he made friends with. As we walked down the sidewalk he gestured to two boys sitting on a wall and indicated that one was his friend (he didn't remember his name). I went to ask which one and had to hesitate, both boys were sitting, both were in brown shorts and red shirts, both were wearing backpacks and both were playing games on phones. I could have referred to one as blonde, but for whatever reason, M refuses to process what blonde means and always says no if you ask him someone is blonde. His left and right are still weak. So, I was left with the white kid or the "brown" one. M came to my rescue by volunteering the information, "he's the brown one."
"Oh," I said, "the brown one." I must not have suppressed my chuckle well enough because C piped up with "it's just his skin, dad." I was torn between being embarrassed by my son thinking he needed to explain this to me or being proud that he knew enough to explain that to someone.
On a recent trip to Florida, M explained to the flight attendant that he probably wasn't Mickey's cousin because he (the steward) was brown and Mickey was more black. The very Latino gentleman laughed hysterically. "I'm brown!" he repeated. "And you're not a mouse," M concluded.
The boys watch a show on Nickelodeon called "Pair of Kings," I know very little about except that there are two brothers who are supposed to be twins. My boys think it's funny, but are in no way concerned that one brother is black and the other white. "They're brothers, dad" C explains "they don't have to look the same." Yeah dad, keep it straight. Color is just color.
As enamored as I am by their color-blindness, I know it will be put to the test some day. Some event, or some person, will show the ugliness that others can harbor. My only hope is that I can enforce their color neutral view of the world long enough, so that when that veil is parted, they simply shrug off any challenge to the notion that color is simply color.
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