Processing Tragedy & Bad Guys

“Hey Mama, did you know that aliens don’t have brains. Just like bad guys don’t have brains. Hey, did you know that a bad guy went into a school and killed a lot of kids and teachers with a big gun …?”

These heart-stopping words came out of my five year-old’s mouth at the dinner table yesterday. It was one of those moment when all the air is sucked out of the room with a deafening whoosh. This wasn’t the first time she had talked about that ghastly, tragic day—just two months ago now. The first time was when she came home from school the following Monday and independently offered up her simplistic recounting of the facts of that day, parroting what had been told to her and her classmates during the special Open Circle they had held.

In truth, I am still furious that her school openly discussed it with the kindergarteners. I had emailed her teacher to say that I did not want her to participate—but the email reached her too late and the deed was done. Or rather the damage was done.

Or was it?

The school had all kinds of justification for talking about it with the children and they handled it very well. The acknowledged only the facts and the sadness. They did not try to rationalize or explain. They reassured the kids of their safety, the procedures in place.

Rationalizing and explaining was left to us parents (as if we have the answers.) My five year-old, in fact, had no questions. But my eight-year old, whom we proactively told ahead of school that Monday and the Open Circle so that he wasn’t blindsided by facts or gossip, had questions galore. How? Why? What about me?

With every fibre in my body and soul, I loathe the fact that my kids are aware of such inexplicable acts perpetrated by one sick, evil person. I shudder and feel like gagging every time I replay that conversation my husband and I had with our eight year-old. I did not want to do it but felt like the school forced my hand, as well as all the parents who opinionized on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. I’m not yet done with processing that.

But what shatters my heart the most is those words, uttered from the innocent and beautiful mouth of my youngest. They shocked and scarred me the first time she spoke them. But hearing them pop out of her, out of context, two months later concerns me even more, making me gasp for air. Maybe it was just word association? Maybe, by recapping the facts (masked as a question “Hey Mama, did you know …”) she’s seeking corroboration that the story is not fiction? Maybe she’s just showing off something that she learned at school?

Or maybe it’s been lurking in her mind ever since. Maybe this is how she is processing it, even two months later. Maybe her world will never be the same, now that she knows.

Why should a five year-old have to know these things? Why?

I don’t have any answers.

For the Love of …. Doing Nothing

I love doing nothing. It’s right up there with eating. And watching TV. And sleeping (which, I guess, is just doing nothing with your eyes closed.) I long to do nothing.

Back in my single, pre-kid days, I excelled at doing nothing. I practiced long and hard. Put in a lot of time and effort, mastering the art and skill of doing nothing. It was lovely, indulgent, righteous. I also did a lot of stuff: partying, studying, working hard, traveling, moving to new countries, making new friends. But there was always the option of doing nothing.

These days, there is not a lot of time available for doing nothing. Kids school, kids activities, kids play dates, school vacation, domesticity, family and a career all have this horrible way of getting in between me and my favo(u)rite pass-time. Society imposes this crazy requirement for being busy, as if a full schedule is the key to fulfillment. I beg to differ. The schedule is what causes the most heartburn in my life, especially as working parent. The schedule is one of the few things my husband and I argue over. Who is picking up which kid? Who gets to stay home to cover the kids’ early release days/snow days/sick days/school vacation day? Whose meeting is more important? Whose schedule/employer is more flexible?

Because the weeks are so crazy, we try as a family to do nothing at the weekends. We try not to pack these precious two days with outings, activities, errands, parties, play dates and socializing. However it doesn’t work. There are always errands, parties, play dates and socializing. But that’s cool. As long as there are a few hours tucked away, reserved for vegging out on the couch watching a movie, hanging in the backyard, lazing in bed, taking a long bath.

There is however a really, really fine balancing act, I’ve found, between organizing stuff for the kids to do and letting them play freely. Here’s what can happen when you let them do nothing:

a. They play quietly
b. They get creative
c. They break stuff
d. They break each other
e. All or some of the above

It is currently day three of school vacation week. I’m trying to perfect a formula that mixes a variety of planned and spontaneous activities with free time for doing nothing.

So far, the kids have only broken one piece of furniture. The house looks like a tornado blew through it. Laundry is piling up.

It’s not exactly the kind of doing nothing I’d like to be doing on vacation. But it’s fun.

p.s. I’m not including a picture because I can’t be bothered to search for one.

Sweet Dreams

I didn’t realize, before I became a Mother, that I had the power to send you to sleep. That my words, proximity, sounds and rhythm held soporific powers.

As an infant, I would lull you to sleepyland with shushes, rocking, swaying.

As a toddler, I’d soothe you as you’d fight sleep tooth and nail, armed with fairy tales, lullabies and cuddles.

As a pre-schooler, I’d remove all specter of monsters and then rub your back in circles, over and over, until sleep snuck in.

As a kindergartner, we’d read, snuggle, have whispered conversations till you’d simply dismiss me, ready to welcome the excitement of your dreams.

As a second grader, you pretty much take care of business yourself, after a quick peck on the cheek, reading independently, falling asleep with your books askew on your pillow.

I have to admit that I miss the days of shushing, swaying, lullabies and stroking of backs and foreheads. Knowing that my touch, my presence was the drug you needed to transcend you from consciousness to a land of hopefully sweet dreams. It’s been an unexpected and heady privilege.

Good Night,Sweet Dreams

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TV or No TV (Or Just Less TV?)

(This post originally ran on the Framingham Patch.)

I love good TV and when I find a show that I love, I’m all-in. Over the decades, there have been many shows I’ve truly loved: Friends, The West Wing, Ally McBeal, ER and, more recently, 24, Law & Order, Greys Anatomy, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Homeland, Downton Abbey. And many more in between. In fact, I’ve loved many of these shows and their characters so much so that I follow and often tweet with them on Twitter, which makes me feel ridiculously happy. (Yes, I know these are not real people but, please, indulge me.)

Here's me chatting with the West Wing's  much revered CJ Cregg

Here’s me chatting with the West Wing’s much revered CJ Cregg

Back when I was a kid, I watched a lot of TV, like most kids do today. Saturdays, in particular, you’d find my brother, sister and I lounging around watching Noel Edmands’ Swap Shop in the morning and Doctor Who in the afternoon. And much more. Until the day that my Dad decided we watched too much and it was, in his opinion, harming our grey matter and ruining our chances of future brilliance.

He took away the TV for a whole year; locked it up in a cupboard. Twelve months later, we kids were social outcasts, unable to join in the conversations at school about whatever were the latest goings-on on the popular shows. It stunk, big time.

When Dad eventually returned the TV, much to our jubilation, watching it came with terms and conditions. Dad and demanded we sign a “TV Charter”, which listed the rules that were to govern our TV watching. I remember, in particular, one clause relating to when we were allowed to watch TV mid-week during the day. “Only if genuinely ill and in bed,” the charter stated.

Did Dad’s extreme measures make an iota of difference to the amount of TV I watch? Not one teeny bit! I’m still a TV fiend.

Fast-forward to present day. I read in emarketer that, according to Nielsen, 2- to 11- year olds average 23 hours 34 minutes per week watching “traditional” TV. That’s almost one whole day per week spent in front of the tube. (By comparison, the time kids spent online was just shy of 2 hours per week.)

Even before reading this, I was feeling concerned by the amount of TV my kids were watching, even though we were limiting it to 30 mins each evening mid-week and longer on weekend mornings. The problem wasn’t so much what they were watching but their stroppy behavior when asked to stop watching and the spiraling moods as bedtime closed in.

Three weeks ago, after displaying some particularly bad behavior, we banned the TV in the evenings for a week as punishment. The first night the kids complained vigorously. “We’re so bored,” they moaned. “There’s nothing to do.”

The second night, we discussed their options for evening entertainment before they had a chance to start complaining (they built forts.) By the third evening, there was no discussion, they headed straight for their books, crayons, and toys and played. And guess what? Bath time and bedtime were less highly-strung, more relaxed and everyone went to sleep calmer and happier.

We’ve so enjoyed the transformation that we’ve decided to make it half-permanent. No TV in the evenings Monday to Wednesday. Honestly, I don’t think the kids have even noticed. My son heads straight to his books, my daughter to her Transformers. It’s a beautiful thing.

And, best of all, I can catch up on emails, blogging—and tweeting with my imaginary TV friends!

Everyone Has A Story

Life flies by, days mesh together, events and people skim past, barely breaching our periphery. We exist in a state of self-centeredness, driven by a compulsion for the security of routine; barricading ourselves from those who are seemingly insignificant or who have the potential to precariously tip the balance of control one way or the other. Avoiding those who irritate, their presence a friction, rippling the order.

I’ve been victim to this; I am a victim of this. Grasping to the routine, to the known. Head-down in the daily business of my life and my family’s purpose. It’s an addictive comfort, until it consumes you and, all of a sudden, you realize that days, weeks, months have passed; nights thick with insomnia.

And then, boom, something happens. Be it as big as tragedy, as delightful as serendipity, as random as reading.

You are shaken awake; your eyes prised open, heartbeat racing, high on perspective.

Suddenly, it’s not about you anymore. It’s about everyone else.

And this is how it should be.

whim

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