Saturday, December 15, 2012

Talking to Children Who Don't Care

In the aftermath of great public tragedy, we are drawing our children closer, debating whether or not now is the appropriate time to talk about gun control, wondering what it would be like to be in that circle of tragedy, giving thanks for our lives, our children's lives, feeling guilty for petty complaints but having them none the less. Our conversations as we react to tragedy are many, but the conversation that strikes me the most is the one about how to talk to our children about tragedy

I realize that thinking about how to talk to my children is a privilege, a privilege that as of yesterday, too many parents will never get again, and by exercising this privilege, I'm hope I'm not undermining or diminishing their losses in any way.

You ask, how do we talk to our kids about tragedy, and I wonder, do our kids care?

My kids don't care.

Yesterday, for my kids, is not the day they tried to understand great tragedy. It's not the night they went to bed worried about the world. If they remember yesterday, they will remember it as the day they finally found out about Gangam style or the day they beat Bowser or the day they learned about Jamestown.

They don't understand.

Maybe it's because they're too young, maybe they need to be eleven or sixteen instead of nine and seven and four. Maybe it's because they lack sensitivity, maybe I ruined their sensitivity by being too macabre or reading too much original Grimm or losing my temper too often. Maybe they would care more if I had watched the news and cried all day instead of watching the news for 20 minutes, carrying a heavy heart, and reading some articles after they went to bed. Or maybe developmentally, they are just not at a point where they have a lot of empathy yet.

Some children care. Some children, I'm sure, care very deeply, and the parents of those children probably need to discuss how to talk to their children, but to put it quite bluntly, my kids don't care.

We had conversations.

How did he get in the school?
He just walked in.
Was he going to see his mother?
No, he was going there to kill people.
But it matters, like if he said he was going to go sing the kids a song, he could hide the gun in his guitar case, and then, papapapappppppppp. Otherwise, he'd need to use a pistol. What kind of gun did he use?
I'm not sure, something powerful.

(Note, that conversation was before I learned what had happened to the shooter's mother)

Conversations like these are why I typically avoid discussions of tragedy with my children. Eventually, however, these things come up--the Holocaust came up during dinner with a friend, 9/11 came up when we were researching the world's tallest buildings--but I avoid these conversations because my children lack the ability to understand the severity, the seriousness of these events. When child soldiers come up, they ask to move to Burma. They think it sounds cool. They're not equipped to know any better.

I try to remember my reactions to the news as a child. I remember Ollie North and the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Apartheid--all of which happened when I was older than my children are--but the only crime involving a child that I remember is the kidnapping of Jacob Wetterling. Although I was twelve when he was kidnapped, I'm not sure that I cared that much. I cared in the reverential way we were supposed to care, I worried about strangers in the way we were supposed to worry about strangers, but did it really hit me emotionally, no. Did I really wonder how he felt, how his mother felt, was I capable of empathy, not really.

Like myself as a child, my children get, to a certain degree, the seriousness of tragedy, but they don't get it. They don't feel it. They don't wonder how those involved felt.

They cannot be empathetic yet (at times, yes, they can but not like an adult and not consistently), but lack of empathy is only one of the reasons I avoid these topics. I avoid them more because I don't want their minds and memories and souls to normalize these events.

Yesterday's news was not heavy on their minds. It didn't come out in their play. It didn't come up while they were falling asleep when their concerns and dreams often float to the surface of their mind.

If they remember the tragedy of yesterday at all, they will probably remember it as just another massacre in a string of massacres, a string of tragedies that are just normal in this country.

Connecticut, Oregon, Minneapolis, Wisconsin, Aurora..  that's at least five since this summer. I'm not sure whether or not they actually know about all of these massacres, but they've heard about enough of them.

They've heard about enough of them that they probably think it's commonplace, enough that if I'm not here to remind them to be reverent, that they will just forget, that it won't matter, that they won't care.

So the question for me is not how do we speak to children about tragedy, but how do we raise children in a place where tragedy feels so commonplace?

I read once that if children learned about endangered species before they were allowed to fall in love with nature that they would become apathetic to the idea, that they would assume there was nothing they could do about possible extinction. If on the other hand they were kept from this fact until they were about nine, they would be more inspired to pursue change.

I'm not sure if that's true, bu the jig is up, they've heard about extinction and terrorism and genocide and child soldiers and grade school killings.  

And I don't know how to balance the knowing with the lack of caring.

Many people yesterday said it was a day to grieve rather than politicize, others said it was a tragedy not to talk about gun control.  I don't have the answers about which conversations are appropriate and when, but it's always important to talk about change. Maybe if we talked about change enough after Aurora, we could have prevented Connecticut, maybe we couldn't have.

It's a complicated conversation--gun control, mental health, food additives--there is no easy solution or we would have found it already, but it's critical to talk about change, and that is what I want for my children.
I want them to pursue meaningful conversations about change. I don't care if they agree with me--there's more than one answer, more than two sides to this debate.

I just want them to care enough to talk about it.

Now, they are glib about tragedy because they are young, but I worry that as they develop empathy that they will continue to be glib about tragedy because it's so seemingly common.

Taking to them wasn't difficult because tragedy doesn't bother them yet, and I can only hope that one day it will.

I can only hope that when they learn about violence or unrest, they will want to act differently, to make a change no matter how small. I can only hope that they won't take violence for granted and forget to care, that they won't become infected by it.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Worst Summer Ever

I swear I only write in this blog when my mood is low. My positive energy is wrapped up in other things.

Actually, I was in a fabulous mood yesterday, but due to the understandably glum mood over the forest fire, I didn't feel like I could announce that I had just stuck my soul-mate flag in some woman and was totally feeling fabulous.

The kids, however, are not feeling fabulous. This is the worst summer ever. They waited all year for summer, and then, what...  all the neighborhood kids went to camp (which we know is just a less guilty way of saying summer daycare.) This fact has boy two in tears for at least fifteen minutes at least once a day. They are not sated by the idea of organized play dates because that is just not the same as rolling out of bed, ringing doorbells, and playing cops and robbers in the street with a big band of neighbors.

Although many kids are gone, the neighborhood is not totally empty. There's the nice fat kid who lives with the adult with the face tattoos. There's the other nice kid who is staying at the house that I've frequently seen cops wearing white gloves search. But as lovely as those kids are, they aren't being that nice so alas, here are the kids watching TV, bored while all of our favorite bits of the mountains burn down, and the town is covered in a blanket of smoke.

Friday, May 11, 2012

What I've Learned from Unschooling

Recently, an unschooling list that I'm on passed around the question "what have your children learned without school or curriculum?". I never answered the question, but I spent some time thinking about it, and this is a partial look at what I came up with....

Just so you know where we are coming from, we embrace a pretty standard version of unschooling (unscripted, child led, non-coercive learning), and recently we've started radically unschooling a lot of things (namely media which I'll write about in a separate post.)

So, what have the kids learned while unschooling...  Sometimes, it seems like the only thing they've learned is how to give themselves erections while watching cartoons, and they haven't learned a few very important things like how to read or how to mix me drinks. Most of the things that they have learned are things that fall into the life lessons category. The scholastic things fall mainly into the categories of natural science, math, history, literature, geography, and rhetoric.

They have learned (and I can not be sure if this is related to unschooling or is just a function of their personalities) how to pay close attention to things happening around them, and they know how to apply these observations. For instance, as I was bubbling through trying to explain rear wheel drive to boy two, boy one cut me off and explained it perfectly. Apparently, he had noticed rear wheel drive in action while watching semis and while noticing how his bicycle worked.

However, I wold like to focus on what I've learned.

The first thing is that our life is not necessarily going to look like what I thought it was going to look like. I didn't choose unschooling because I thought it was the best method. I choose it rather because it was the method that appealed to our particular personalities the best. However, at the same time, I was in love with the Well Trained Mind so I really thought that our days would like like a combination of that and the activity pictures in a natural toy catalog. In the morning the kids would ask me to teach them Latin, then we would talk about world history (in an orderly fashion), then they would paint pictures, and finally, they would have a gentle jousting session with some organic wooden swords while donning silk capes.

Clearly, I was high when I had that vision because that's just not even remotely close to anything that would ever happen here. However, just because our life doesn't fit into that particular box doesn't make it any less amazing, productive, or useful. (I can't go into how an average day looks here, but you can friend me on FB if you're curious, and you'll quickly get the gist.

The second thing I learned was not to disparage my kids interests because they can be the gateway to a lot of learning even if it doesn't look that way at first. Take for instance, boy one's two favorite things: money and Pokemon. I have let both of those interests annoy me at certain points (because he's obviously supposed to be painting or having gentle silk wrapped sword fights), but when I take a step back, I can actually see how much he has learned from both of those topics.

Money....  thanks to hours spent counting it, he has perfected his ability to multiply quickly by sums of 5, 10, and 25. Thanks to saving allowance, he has perfected his ability to add, subtract, and mentally track expenditures and goals. While talking about his obsession, we've covered the following concepts: employees, owners, investors, interest, mortgages, rent, lobbyists, taxes, profits, revenues, business expenses and more.

Pokemon...  hours with this game have added to his social skills (attributing social skills to Pokemon might be questionable, however, as he spends hours every week playing this game with kids who say things like "What song should I play, your choice?" to their opponent even though they are wearing headphones), how to amuse himself for hours on end (playing the game against himself or sorting cards), how to organize and keep track of 480 different cards, how to memorize things (each card has one to two different attacks on it), how to think logically, how to think ahead and plan an attack. The game is also math heavy. Within a minute or two last night, he dealt with 20 X 5 and the concept of 30n with the possibility that there is a fifty percent chance that n may =0.

It's not a perfect science, and of course, there are days where I'm sure that none of us had learned a damn thing  (as opposed to public school where kids are learning something every second--that's sarcasm), but I can confidently say that most of the things they learn, they don't forget because they are truly interested in them, and they know how to apply them. They don't get locked into a system of binge, purge (aka test), and forget, and I generally think that's a good thing.



Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Be The Change You Wish to See

A long time ago, I realized I was the only person in the room comfortable with making dead kid jokes. Right now, I'm the only person in the room with three large and unexplained purple ink spots on her ass. However, I'd rather these unexplained inky ass spots to the time I thought the fat girl in the cubicle next to me was stinky and then realized that I had unexplained human crap on my shoe that I must have trod in at home.

You may remember about a year ago that I posted something about how I didn't have friends for the two years we lived in the suburbs and how I was just starting to make them. A year later, a have a healthy cache of friends and a larger group of friendly contacts, and I have noticed that I hear one sentiment over and over. Over and over, I hear, "you're the only one I've ever said that too" or "you're the only one I can talk to about that."

I'm not sure why this happens. It can't be because I'm nice because as covered previously, I am not. It can't be because I'm not judgmental because I am.  So it must happen because I am the one with purple ink on her ass and crap on her shoes.

I don't know if I can effect any meaningful large scale change in the world so I've decided that this is it...  I want to see a world where people can freely express their grief at accidentally buying a dildo that was a shade larger than their husband, where people can freely share their fantasies about accidentally running over their weird kid, where people can freely share their stories about getting knocked up by a Mexican twice their age, or whatever they current secret is.

So share, share freely because it's amusing....  (and possibly insightful or stress reducing or something that exists on a higher plain than amusement but amusement is good too).

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Because yesterday, I vomited a bunch of odious spew onto this blog, I thought I would say some nice things, and since I have been doing yoga, taking homeopathics for my crabbiness, and doing other peaceful shit, I reckon I can say some nice things.....

Boy two spent all of his $60 of birthday money on food (lunch at perkins, two cakes, brown sauce from the cupboard and some candy). This isn't a new thing because he frequently spends his money on sausages or other food stuffs. The remarkable thing is that he shared everything that he bought. Lunch at perkins included his lunch, boy three's lunch, a chai for me, and a $5 tip for the waitress, and the rest of the items were shared freely between his brother's. He's a sweet kid.

Boy one, although he can be the most annoying of the lot of them, is also the most consistently helpful, and he's smart which always goes a long way in my book....  Family Guy is pretty inappropriate for an 8 year old, but when he says things like "God was really mad in that episode. It was like Egypt, ya know the Moses story" and then proceeds to list the plagues, I can look the other way from the inappropriateness of the show, and it's kind of fun to hang out and watch it together because there are references that he gets that I don't, ones that I get that he doesn't ...

Boy three....  well the youngest always has the mother's blessing, but he woke me up too early so I've only had 4.5 hours of sleep, and he smells like poop so we'll just say something nice about him another day.

The man says that people with the "my kid's an honor student cheerleader basketball superstar boy scout prom queen with mid level management potential" or whatever bumper stickers are all wrong. He says if he had a bumper sticker, it would say, "My kids make me fucking laugh." And for once, the man and I agree.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

I Hate My Kids

These boys are being totally odious (that's my new word...  OED says it means hateful or repulsive...  so thanks to the boy's who have warranted its constant use for today).

I just told boy one that I would pay him $1 to hang the clothes on the clothesline because I'm busy, and he's cash hungry. Then, boy two who shrinks away from most work decided to stop watching his documentary and get involved in the laundry. Laundry fight ensued which ended with boy two cutting my clothesline in half with his new multi-tool.

That being said, I hate working from home, and I hate that when the work is good and I feel compelled to stop everything and work because I get paid per word, and when the articles are such that my wage goes from an average of $15 an hour to $40 an hour, I gotta make hay and ignore. Really, couldn't they find something to do? I'm not picky....  just a few minutes ago, they were seeing if lighting vodka on fire in a pan of wax would create a fire that would melt the wax...  that seems more constructive than cutting the clothesline of a woman who doesn't have a fucking dryer.

Annoying little jerk faces they are.

Next week is spring break, I'm going to pray that our house is full of public school kids who will keep boredom and crabbiness at bay.

Venting done. I feel so much better.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Little Buddy

I have monikers for most of my friends: the midwife, the museum director, the vegan hippie doctor's wife, yuppie, the dentist, the Catholic convert, the officer's wife, the cute little Orthodox one, the world's best damn Evangelical housewife and so on, but two friends I have had so long that I have no monikers for them...  

One is arriving at the airport today. She has loaned me more money than any other friend. She was the first to hold all of my babies, and she has generally been pretty kick ass for most of the twenty five years since the third grade. 

Our childhood took us through the usual junk together. We colored pictures and taped SOS messages to her cat. We read teen magazines. Her house was the first one where I ever locked myself in a closet for five minutes with the boy the bottle was pointing at. 

At sixteen, I resigned form the popular group for various reasons (mostly because I was having my love affair with Jesus) so we drifted apart for two years. After high school we both went off on our respective journeys, but when I moved back to Minneapolis from London when I was twenty three, she was there. I was working at the coffee shop which seemed to be a magnet for everybody I had gone to high school and college with. They were all working on PhDs or vet degrees or doing their post docs, and I was wearing a Starbucks hat. There were many fun conversations..

Boy from High School: I thought you would be a math genius by now.
Me: Would you like a flavor shot with that?

It was awesome, but when she sauntered in with her hippie skirt and ordered her soy chai latte, my Starbucks hat seemed not to matter. We became fast friends, and the adult portion of our friendship became arguably more important that the childhood portion of it. 

I had moved back to Minneapolis and left the man in London. In six months, I was going to meet him at our wedding, and in the meantime, it seemed necessary to get drunk eight times a week (twice on Sundays) so she helped me with that goal. Our friendship was sealed at a party when she started fumbling over the lyrics to White Snake's Wasted Rock Ranger. Because I had gotten that single for my twelfth birthday, I was able to swoop in with every other word for the world's best drunken White Snake duet ever. ever.  

Five or six years later, she called because she had just learned that my dad had died the day before. I told her not to come over... 
Her: I've already called in to work. I'm on the way, dude.
Me: Don't except me to fucking cry in front of you, and don't touch me or anything.
Her: I know you, dude. I'm just coming to kick it. We can do whatever you need to do.

Since I had lost my dad the day before and my youngest son was seven days old, it only made sense to go look at apartments to rent. While she and I were poking around another little Victorian a few blocks away from our current place, I realized that I just couldn't stomach another over-priced small place with a mice infestation and no dishwasher so I turned to her and said, "Fuck it, dude, I'm moving to Colorado."

Twelve weeks later, she helped us clean our apartment, and she was the last person I said goodbye to when I left St Paul. I'm sure this week will be full of long conversations and way too many uses of the words fuck and dude, but it will be awesome. She's seen me in labor. She's seen me in curled bangs. More than once, a phone call from her has kept me sane. It doesn't matter how horrible the kids are or how dirty the carpet is, she won't judge me. 

I'll never move back to the Midwest. I may have said once that I'd be tempted to go just so I could see the Evangelical housewife once a week, but there is a more compelling reason now. I can only assume that my friend is going to start breeding soon, and I will be so sad to miss it. I wish I lived closer so that I could go hang out and hold her babies and watch her take care of them becuase she will be a pretty kick ass mother, but oh well, we'll have to content ourselves with the week. 

(I just realized the title makes it look like this post might be about my period...)   


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

God knows his Shit and I Hate the Wii

Remember that time I walked into the glass patio door three times because I was admiring my reflection in my awesome size five mini skirt? Then, I almost immediately gained 30 pounds because as God says in the bible, "Pride goes before a Fall."

The other day, I let my mom buy the kids a wii for Christmas. The only reason that I did this was becuase I knew it would get us in and out of Toys R Us quickly and on to the shoe store so that I could search for the prefect brown boots. I also knew that the faster we shopped, the more time I would have to indulge myself with lunch on her dime. As God also says in the Bible (sorry I don't have the verse and book on this one), "Greed will kick you in the arse".

Apparently, God really knows his shit. This Wii is killing me. I didn't know that anything could make little crazy d-bag number one any crazier, but this has done it. Before he used to cry for hours because his syrup got absorbed into his pancake or because the smell of cheese was following him. Those seem so normal now. Now, this stupid box seems to be making him uber-crazy. I hate the damn thing. I'd spill a cup of water on it like I did to the DS, but we were dumb enough to buy insurance for it. Dumb. Don't Get One. Ever.