April 2013 archive

Our Default Setting – How Getting Egged Helped After The Boston Attack

Confused.  Dismayed.  Stressed.  Distracted.  Sad.  So very sad.

That’s how I’m feeling right now.  I’m sure we’re all feeling some or all of these things right now.

Lingering above my head, there’s this new overarching cloud of grief for the victims of the attack in Boston.  And still swelling below my feet is an older, yet freshly planted lower level of despair for the victims of the massacre in Newtown.

And in between there’s my mind, and my heart.  On a daily basis my heart is breaking and mending as it feels the impact of terrible news stories both in my city and around the world, followed by moments of happiness that I witness in my own home.  On an hourly basis my mind is confused feeling both sadness on a global level and at the same time joy on a very local, personal level.  Its hard to reconcile my own emotions as I process devastating images of a family who has just lost so much, then turn around to see my own child’s beaming smile and bright, alive eyes.  Grief and guilt pulling one way, gratitude and grace pulling another.

To say its been a rough go lately doesn’t do it justice….doesn’t begin to do it justice.  But lately it has been a rough go.

Having lived in Washington DC during 9/11, the anthrax mailings and the sniper case the following year, I’ve been through these times of it being a rough go before.  We all have.  I’ve felt nationwide tragedies and personal tragedies so the ebbs and flows of these emotions are familiar.

Sadly I know that the surge of these current emotions will, with time, recede to a dulled version of those same emotions.  And while they will always be there, never being replaced or going away, eventually they will co-exist with the emotions we like to describe as “normal” emotions.  These emotions feel something like happy, nonchalant, care-free and relaxed.

Isn’t it a wonderful privilege that here in this country, we consider the emotion of carefree happiness to be our normal emotion?  Like its the default setting, the way it should be.  Everything else is an interruption of how we are supposed to feel.

As an adult having gone through some life experiences I now know reality.  And I know that this carefree happiness default setting will unfortunately be interrupted at times by personal and world tragedies.  I know that during those times I will stumble and fall to the ground in despair and somehow, at some point, bravely work my way back up.  But even with that knowledge, it doesn’t make these events any easier, does it?

My children have not yet learned this difficult lesson.  They’ve been told about loss and felt it to a smaller degree when a pet goldfish died or a favorite toy train has been lost.  They know what a sad event it was when their baby sister died and how we’ve made her a part of our family love story.  But I don’t believe at this point they have yet felt the paralyzing fear and anguish that comes in events like the one in Boston this week that make us stumble and fall to the ground both as a society and as individuals.

My husband and I have talked to our kids about horrific events with the appropriate tone.  We’ve explained a bit about 9/11 to our oldest son and after educating ourselves about how to do so, we discussed the school shootings in Newtown.

But this time our children have seemed more concerned and have more questions about the Boston attack.  Perhaps because they’ve been to road races, either participating themselves or standing on the sidelines cheering on their parents as we run by.  Perhaps because the idea of a school shooting is just too much for them to grasp….or (gasp!) perhaps its too easy for them to grasp since they practice lockdown drills and its a common conversation for them like fire drills and tornado drills.  Perhaps because this time it was a bomb and the word bomb is something they only associate with war zones, not the streets of the city they visited last summer to see their mom’s old apartment and office.  Perhaps because the images from Boston on Monday were gruesome.   And while I made conscious efforts to limit their exposure to these images, those images were there from a sunny spring day on a street in Boston.  And thankfully, those images were not there from a dark winter’s day inside a school in Connecticut.

Perhaps or perhaps not.  But I know in my heart that part of what is contributing to their concern is the timing of the Boston attack. In the last week or so its been a rough go for us in our small community.  Two weeks ago I explained to the kids that despite what we’ve learned about litter, they shouldn’t pick up water bottles on the ground at our local park.  At a place where they feel as comfortable as an extension of their own backyard, a report surfaced that water bottles were being filled with Drano causing chemical burns to young children or anyone who opened them.  A few days later, last week we reviewed the stranger danger talk when reports circulated of two adults attempting to lure children to a van by offering candy and the chance to create a phone video.

Our kids seemed genuinely confused and almost angry!  Asking questions like “why are so many bad things happening right now?” and “why would someone want to hurt other people?” followed with a quieted statement that my son muttered to himself (which I knew meant it was really bothering him), “they don’t even know the people they are hurting.  Why would they do that?”

I realized that until now I’ve been prepared to talk with with my children about sad things happening, but not bad things happening.  I’ve considered myself to be pretty open with communication and equipped to provide thoughtful responses about grief and loss.  But it wasn’t until this last week that I knew I was not equipped to talk about evil.

Its not only that I don’t want them to fear evil.  Its that I don’t want them to know evil.  I don’t want them to ever feel the forces of evil either aimed at them, or against someone else.  I don’t want the energy of evil to permeate its way into my household and my children’s happy, carefree default setting.  Bright eyes, contagious giggles, uninhibited glee.  This is how they were made and as parents none of us want any outside force to stain that or take that from our children.

So when the Boston attack came on the heels of the local events described above, I grieved something else.  I grieved the end of my children’s innocence.  I morosely thought to myself, This is it.  This is the week my kids stop being kids.

This morning my son called me to a window at the front of our house.  Trying to gage whether or not this was an emergency and if I did indeed have time to leave the lunches I was packing and the dishwasher I was unloading, I hollered out, “Why?  Is it good or bad?”.

“Well both” he answered.  I braced myself and headed upstairs to the window where I found an egg shattered on it.  We had been egged!  Not full fledged egged…just one egg likely tossed by a neighborhood teenager on a night of mischief.  While I few nagging thoughts made me slightly worried, I really didn’t feel that we were personally targeted or threatened.  Even so, a weight started to fall all around me.

Great.  Not this week!  How will explain this one to the kids?  Someone decided to throw an egg at our window, knowing it would do damage.  What is the right way to talk though pranks and how they can hurt feelings?

But to my surprise, the kids started jumping around delighted, concluding that surely the Easter Bunny must have been the one to put this egg outside our window!  In a swift second our household was literally springing with silliness and joy and giggling and dancing and excited chatter.  My children’s first instinct was that a smashed egg on our window was the act of goodness, not the act of evil.

I took a step back, witnessing this gleeful chaos and thought to myself how I want to freeze it.  I want to preserve it…this innocence, this pure happiness.  I never want it to be spoiled for them or to change for them.

But of course, and heartbreakingly so, it will change as they grow and both personal and world events occur.  My only source of peace in that reality comes with knowing that this week my children experienced their own small level of sadness and trauma.  And while it was interrupted, they returned to their default setting.  They returned to their happiness, and it returned to them.

The Power of I Don’t Know

“What’s for dinner tonight?”
What does your nose smell? Chicken or salmon?
“Who invented radiation?”
Lets look it up on the Internet.
“If a shark and a colossal squid were in a battle, who would win?”
What did that book at the library tell you? The squid, right?
“Where is California?”
Look right here on the map, see?…over there on the west side of the United States of America.
“Do I have swim lessons tonight?”
Remember, you have swim lessons on Monday. Take a look at the calendar…what day is it?
“What’s 4 x 4?”
I bet you can figure that one by taking these pennies and making four piles of four. How many are there?
“Did the Blackhawks win last night?”
The score should be on ESPN any minute now.
“How did the baby get inside of her tummy?”
It starts with love….well sometimes there’s love, and then there’s some other stuff you should know about male and female bodies….let me show you this book.
“Why are there only dinosaur bones left and not their skin?”
The bodies decompose. Remember when we took that trip to the Field Museum and learned about archaeological digs?
“Where are my sunglasses?”
Where did you last have them…in the car, or in the garage?
“When people first came to the United States from other countries, how did they find each other?”
What was that story we heard during your field trip to the Swedish American Museum last year?
“When do sea turtles lay their eggs?”
When we were on vacation in South Carolina we saw a sign about this on the beach. Do you remember what it said?
“Is this Daddy’s favorite song?”
Yes, its Bruce Springsteen so it probably is. But we should ask Daddy, lets go ask him.
“How will I see my best friend in Heaven if he’s Muslim and I’m Christian?”
I don’t know.  I believe you will see him.  But I don’t know.
I don’t know. I really don’t know.
All day long, day after day, our children are turning to us with questions seeking information, wisdom or guidance…and sometimes just pestering, or stalling before bedtime. Its a natural role for us and a natural role for them. It begins with pointing out their belly buttons or toes while we change their diapers. Later it progresses to identifying the color of the shirt we’re slipping over their squirmy toddler head and then to teaching them to count out the coins in our wallets, and to know what the big and little hands on the clock tell us. Its a running dialogue of instruction that stretches over years.
For as long as our children have been alive, we’ve been their guide, their camp director. We point things out to them along the way, and foster their sense of curiosity. Gently guiding, never pushing. We provide clues, offer resources, show support and encouragement to try one way, then try another. We know not to to give the answer, rather we give the gift of learning how to find the answer.
It feels good to be put on to this pedestal of knowledge. Understanding that it won’t always be this way, I’m glad that at this relatively young age my children still think that I have the answers to all of their questions. There’s control in this position.
But the truth is I don’t have all of the answers. And even with amazing resources in my community and at my finger tips, there are some questions that don’t have easy answers. Google can’t tell us everything and neither can Siri.
There are questions that I can only answer with one very honest phrase, “I don’t know.” And that’s ok. Because sometimes I really don’t know. I can help my children form a hypothesis and talk through various possibilities with them. But if I am completely forthcoming, I don’t know.
Some may say that I don’t know is the easy way out, apathetic or giving up. While that may be true sometimes, we need to appreciate that there’s power in I don’t know. There’s a lesson in I don’t know.
I don’t know is brave. I don’t know is confident. I don’t know means I can admit that I don’t know it all.
I don’t know means that I’m willing to work collaboratively to come up with an answer together. I don’t know means I can turn to others to enlighten me, to teach me, and share a lack of certainty with me.
I don’t know means that sometimes I can learn more from the process than from the solution.
I don’t know means that I still have work to do. I don’t know means that I am yearning, seeking and hungry to find the answer. I am still growing when I don’t know.
I don’t know means there are some things that are bigger than me. That some things are bigger than all of the experts and books and wiki entries. I don’t know means that some things are bigger than all of us, bigger than humanity.
So yes, I don’t know is a surrender. Its a surrender to a trust that comes with knowing that there are some things we don’t need to know. Some questions we can’t and won’t ever answer. I don’t know is acceptance and understanding that some things can’t be known by the mind, and only partially known by the soul.
While there is reason to celebrate in our wish to know and our strong desire to get it right. There is both peace and power in being able to appreciate the I don’t know.
So I will help my children to know how to fiercely search to find the answers to their questions….and I will also help my children to know when they don’t know.

Root, Root, Root for the Home Team

Baseball.  America’s favorite past time.  Both in and out of the ballpark, baseball is special.  The sights, sounds and smells of spring, followed by summer….and for a few fans, fall.  The bat making contact with the ball and the roar of the crowd, either in person or over a crackly radio station, can evoke feelings of nostalgia, innocence and youth.

All over we hear stories of how love for a team can cross generations.  Bond father to son, grandfather to grandson, brother to brother.  While I enjoy baseball and so do my daughters, I believe that for my husband, brother, son and father it’s something else.

Just the nature of the game forces an ease among these men that they don’t often indulge in.  With nine long innings they are lulled into the rhythm of a sport which gently unfolds play by play.  Still nursing their busted brackets, at this early point in the season, April baseball is a welcome change of pace from the frenetic nature of March Madness basketball.  Seasons aren’t yet spoiled, injuries haven’t yet happened, trades not yet made.  Bright and shiny uniforms.  For baseball fans, April means beginnings, April means possibility and April means hope.

When our first child was born, both my husband and I would have been thrilled for the gift of either a son or a daughter.  We had a son and I can’t imagine it any other way now.  As he grew from a newborn to infant during his first spring, I had huge, overwhelming moments of gratitude for his health and our newly defined family.   But I also had smaller, sweeter moments of gratitude over those first few months.  One such moment was watching my husband quietly transform to a father.  That’s the thing about parenthood…it happens with one big birth moment, but it also happens with all of those subtle moments of nurturing, caring and sharing yourself with another.

As a new dad, my husband would sing to our little guy and coo him.  Without a collection of traditional more mother-focused lullabies at the ready, my husband would offer “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to our son.

Take me out to the ballgame.
Take me out to the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks.
I don’t care if we never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team.
If they don’t win, its a shame.
For its one, two, three strikes and you’re out
at the ‘ol ball game.

My husband threw in a couple of little twists which always amused my son as he grew a bit older and as a young toddler knew which part of the song was coming next.  My son’s name is Jack, so of course there was always emphasis on the “cracker….JACK”.  Later when we learned that Jack is allergic to peanuts, my husband would add a “yuck” after the “buy me some peanuts” part.  And “root, root, root for the home team” was always replaced with “root, root, root for the Red Legs”.

My husband grew up in Ohio as a Cincinnati Reds fan.  His allegiance crossed generations and was one he shared with his maternal grandfather, his dad, uncles and brothers.  As child during the famous Big Red Machine era, he was just a year old when in a game 7 victory, the Reds won their first World Series in 35 years.  Family legend has it that my in-laws and possibly my husband went to those games.  We have a 1975 National League Cincinnati Reds pennant hanging in our basement, right next to the World Series pennant from the following year.  More than twenty-five years later my husband’s buddies gave him a Reds hat with the team’s autographs as a gift when we got married.

So we had a son and I knew my husband was excited to share his love of the Reds with him.  On top of singing to Jack, I’d hear my husband whispering stories of the Reds championship games to him, or telling him about the famous Reds announcers Marty and Joe.  He talked a lot about the Big Red Machine and Sparky Anderson and just parts about Pete Rose.  As a baby Jack had pajamas covered with the Reds logos and a “Baby Reds fan” bib.

When Jack was just fifteen months old we moved to Chicago and a little over a year later when he was two-and-a half my husband thought it’d be fun to take our toddler on an adventure. The Reds were playing the Cubs at Wrigley in an early September game and we could get reasonable tickets at the end of the season.  What a historic and incredible ballpark for Jack to experience his first game…..his first Reds game.

Caffeinated and energized we took on a task that now seems rather daunting.  Instead of driving we decided it’d be more fun and authentic to take public transportation.  Lets just say there’s nothing easy about doing this with a two-year-old, but again, my husband thought it was worth it for his son to see his first Reds game and this scenario was more realistic than a six hour drive to Cincinnati.

Commuter BNSF line to the El red line.  Two train rides and we had arrived.  The Friendly Confines gave us a hospitable welcome with warm fans, and a sunny day.  Jack ate two hot dogs and sat through seven innings.  In Chicago, we declared a parenting victory as my husband’s hometown team, the Cincinnati Reds, came up with an away game win.

Fall turned into winter and while “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” continued to be sung in our household, baseball wasn’t such a hot topic anymore until six months later, the following April on Opening Day.

Six months on the developmental milestone scale of a two-year-old is a quite a long time.  In this time, our son went from toddler to preschooler.  He had opinions and preferences of his own and was able to communicate those with us more and more as his vocabulary increased.  Jack grew his passion for all things trains, spaghetti and the color red.

My husband interpreted Jack’s choice of a favorite color as a sure sign that he was a Reds fan.  When a unique opportunity came up for us to be in Cincinnati with my brother for the Reds’ Opening Day, we hopped on it.  We parked the car, and to say we were walking up to Great American Ball Park doesn’t do it justice.  My husband was absolutely giddy with delight.  We skipped to Great American Ball Park.  My husband hoisted Jack up on his shoulders talking a mile a minute about the significance of this day, pointing out Cincinnati landmarks, and telling stories about how he listened to the Reds on the radio with his grandpa when he was a kid.

Like a scene from a baseball movie, it was a glorious sun soaked moment.  One of those big parenting moments…the day you take your son to Opening Day and root, root, root for the home team!   With a joking tone, my husband looked up at his son, perched on his shoulders and said, “hey Jack, what’s your favorite baseball team, Buddy?”

Without hesitation Jack answered, “the Cubs!  Go Cubs!”.  What!?  Jack was reminded that Reds had the same name as his favorite color and that Daddy’s favorite team is the Reds.  A three-year-old Jack persisted with “the Cubs”.

My husband laughed a bit nervously and asked, “Jack, remember your first baseball game…we saw the Reds play at Wrigley.  Why do you like the Cubs?”

Confidently Jack responded, “because the Cubs have trains”.

“Trains?  What trains, Jack?”

“At the baseball game, we took two trains.  The Cubs have trains.  The Reds have cars.  I love trains.  I love the Cubs.”

And that was it.  The big moment when my son gave himself a lifelong distinction as a Cubs fan.  It was also one of those small subtle parenting moment when you realize that this whole time while you’ve been singing “root, root, root for the home team” together, your child may have had an entirely different home team in mind.

It makes perfect sense.  My husband grew up in Ohio.  My son is growing up in Chicago.  Of course one might be a Reds fan and one is a Cubs fan.  Today, many parents are raising their children in a different part of the world than where they grew up.  While they might not share the love of a particular team, the love of baseball crosses generations.

Together my husband and son attend at least one Cubs/Reds game every summer.  Or one Reds/Cubs game….depending on who tells the story.  My husband teases Jack when the Cubs lose and vice versa.  Over the years, its become a fun-loving banter and friendly rivalry in our family.

So while I enjoyed seeing my husband make that transformation to fatherhood in those quiet moments so many springs ago as he’d sing a hushed “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” to our baby son, I realize now that the big transformation has happened quietly over the years.  We give our children our roots to take hold, but they grow in their own direction.  Because that’s what parenthood is all about….teaching your child how to feel strongly about something, love something, have passion about it and celebrate it.  The tricky part is to not tell them what that something is.  That’s the lesson for us parents:  to simply trust that our children will discover their own something, in their own way.