Sunday, December 30, 2012

David Brooks Says It's Our Fault

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Great episode of Meet the Press, featuring an interview of the President by David Gregory, as well as commentary by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Chuck Todd, Tom Brokaw, John Meacham, and the inimitable David Brooks.

This video was recorded just as our nation approaches the so-called fiscal cliff when most Americans' tax rates will increase if Congress doesn't work out a deal.

I enjoyed President Obama's calm, measured tone.  I came away from the video thinking, OK, cliff might be overkill.  More like a ditch.  We might twist our ankles but it's not going to kill us.  What are we, a bunch of whiny-butt worry-warts?  Our grandparents, and in my case my old-ass dad, lived through the Great Depression when things were much harder for most people than they are now.  I mean, yeah, it's a bummer to cancel cable because we can't afford it anymore, but I can watch the same shows online.  Online.  Because I live in this amazing society where high-speed internet is pretty commonplace anymore.  Middle-class people can afford it without blinking a strained eye.  Sure, things are sometimes tough for my family.  We worry about how we're going to pay all the bills.  But I'm not making Katie's and my dresses out of feed sacks just yet.  Although now that I think about it, Will would look killer in a feed-sack man skirt.  

It seems like the definition of middle-class changes with technological advancements.  When my mom first got married she felt like she was rich when my dad bought her a dishwasher that she could roll across the floor and hook up to the sink to, get this, automatically wash her dishes.  Nowadays I sit on my ass blogging while my whisper quiet, energy efficient built-in dishwasher washes my dishes.  If I'd get off my ass and load the thing.

Are Americans today more spoiled and lazy than generations before us? 

After watching the video, what do you think of David Brooks' suggestion that the blame for the shambolic state of the nation lies not with the do-nothing Congress but with everyday Americans who want to bankrupt their children to spend money on themselves?  David Brooks thinks Americans who whine about paying higher taxes or having their social benefits cut are a bunch of spoiled, self-centered brats.  Do you agree?  Or am I misinterpreting what he's saying?  Here's the direct quote, my emphasis in bold.

Mr. Brooks: "But in some sense, the Republicans are being shambolic and they’re making fools out of themselves. But in another sense, they are reacting favorably or rationally to the incentive structure they are with in. The big lie in this whole thing is that we have got the sensible country with the dysfunctional Washington. The reality is we have a country of people who want to bankrupt their children to spend money on themselves, and they will punish any politician who prevents them from doing that. And therefore they will punish Republicans if they-- if they cut entitlements. They will punish Democrats if they cut entitlements. So what you saw today was the president shifting the attention from debt reduction to tax cuts, which is the easy thing.  So, I think the problem is centrally in the country, and the politicians look like idiots because they are responding to horrible incentives."

I don't know.  I'll ponder it while I watch on our flat-screen TV the DVD about Depression-era hardship and heartiness, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, with my six-year-old and her brand-new $100 American Girl doll.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Katie's New Pretend Sister: Stella Sarah Carleton

Santa brought Katie her first American Girl doll.  It's not one of the historical dolls that comes with a name and a story already in place.  Katie's doll is from a newer series called "My American Girl" which features customizable dolls that allow you to create their story.

Me: "What are you going to name your American Girl doll?"
Katie: "Stella Sarah Carleton."
Me: "Ooooh.  That's a great name.  What made you decide to name her that?"
Katie: "Because you wanted to name me Stella but Daddy didn't.  And Daddy wanted to name me Sarah but you didn't.  So my new pretend sister can be Stella Sarah!"

I can tell this new sister is going to be the diplomat of the group.  Welcome to the family, Stella Sarah Carleton!

Monday, December 24, 2012

God Is Everywhere

When I got home from work on the Monday after the Sandy Hook Massacre, after we sat in our chair and talked about her day, Katie went into her room to play with her Legos.  After a few minutes, she came out into the kitchen with her hands behind her back hiding something and announced she had made her pretend sister Bacca's Christmas present.

"Oh yeah?  What did you make her?" I was in the kitchen loading the dishwasher so that I could finally check it off my list of things to do, yesterday.

"This!"  Katie whipped her arms around from behind her back and held this up for me to see:

Huh.  I wonder where she learned about that?

Turns out it was her pubic school.

Guess what, Mike Huckabee?  God goes wherever He pleases.  We can't keep God out of schools.  God resides within us all, whatever our political persuasion.  God resides within us all, whatever our religious affiliation.  God resides within us all, whatever our lingual orientation.  God is the creative energy within us all.  Some of us might not call it God or think of it as a Deity, but few can deny the interconnection between human beings and that despite the struggles we all face, if we pay attention to God or our Inner Voice or our Self or our Guide, whatever you prefer to call it, love is always the answer.    

Guess what, Mike Huckabee?  You might stir up conflict by saying that horrible events such as the mass murder at Sandy Hook happen because liberals keep God out of public schools, but you're wrong. God is in public schools.  God is everywhere.  For one thing, at the beginning of the school day, children who attend secular schools might not gather in prayer like you want them to, but they do stand together in class reciting the Pledge of Allegiance:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Yes, they are instructed to say, "One Nation under God."  They are instructed to stand and place their hands over their hearts as they chant these words in unison.  I saw it myself.  Last year when I volunteered as the reading helper, several times throughout the year the teacher called upon children who were not following along to stand up and say that we are a nation under God.  

Another example of how God is not kept out of public schools is this: we can't keep teachers and educational personnel from wearing symbols of their religious affiliation.  We can't keep our teachers from teaching our children about their faith.

I asked Katie to explain to me what Bacca's present is.  

"It's a cross," Katie explained.

"What's a cross?"  Of course I know what a cross means to me, but I had never talked to Katie about it.  I wanted to know what she knows.  We went to a church a handful of times a couple years ago, mostly to let Katie experience some amazing live gospel music, but we quit going when the leaders began asking for donations to send the pastor and his wife on a cruise.  I like my Jesus poor and shirking comfort, so it feels weird that my charitable donations would go to sending these people on a luxury vacation rather than using the money to feed hungry people in our city.  Religion would be great if it didn't so often get in the way of helping needy people.

"A cross is a sign of Jesus," Katie said, stroking her finger over the plastic Legos material of Bacca's present.  This made me smile.  I have a certain soft-spot in my heart for plastic Jesus symbols.  I keep a Buddy Christ figure on top of my stove.  He guides me while I prepare meals for my family without burning down the house.

"Oh," I said.  "Who told you that?"  Could she remember this from her minor church experience?

"Miss B," she explained.  Miss B is her first grade teacher at her secular school.

"Did Miss B bring a cross into school?" This story was getting juicy.  I couldn't wait to post this on Facebook so I could annoy a few conservative friends.

"She had it around her neck.  She wore a necklace and it had a cross on it."

"Oh," I said, more satisfied.  That explanation made sense.

"I asked Miss B what it was and she said it's a sign of Jesus.  So I thought I'd make my sister a sign of Jesus for Christmas since it's Jesus's birthday!"

It reminded me of the other day when Katie brought home this picture she drew during "free draw" time at school:

"Happy Birthday Jesus" by Katie Carleton

So no, Mike Huckabee.  You can't keep God out of public schools.  God goes wherever He pleases.

Later Katie found  in her bedroom a small wooden cross with a hole drilled through the top.  I think it had once been a Christmas tree ornament, but it long ago lost its string and usually sat with the broken bulbs and other Christmas tree rejects in the holiday storage box.  Katie must have saved it since the storage box is back in the basement until after New Years when we take down the tree.  

She held the wooden cross up and announced she was going to make a necklace out of it.  

"Oh, nice idea.  What are you going to use for the part that wraps around your neck?"  I asked.

"Some thread."  She spun around and went back to her project.  She came back a minute later with some thread.  "Mom, I can't get the thread to poke through the hole."  She handed it to me.

I threaded the cross for her, then handed it back.

"Will you tie it in a knot around my neck?"  She asked.

"Yes, Honey, turn around."

I don't like taking my kid to a church that takes people's money and gives it to people who don't need it, but I'll gladly help my kid wear a simple wooden cross if she wants to.  Just because religion often puts me off doesn't mean I'm anti-Jesus.

When I finished tying the knot, Katie spun around so I could see it on her.  It's beautiful.  She traced the cross with her finger.  Then she broke my silent daydream by asking, "Mom.  Why is a cross a sign of Jesus?"

Oh.  Uh.  Um.  Great.  I just had to break the news of Sandy Hook to my sweet, innocent six year old a week ago.  Now I have to explain execution by crucifixion?  Parenting is hard.

"Because Jesus died on the cross," I said, remembering that wording from the answers my own mother gave me when I had questions about Jesus when I was Katie's age.  I never liked church.  It was so boring after they kicked me out of the nursery when I was seven and made me sit still with the grownups in the pews.  But I always liked my mom's Bible stories.

"What does that mean?"  Katie wanted to know.

Good question.  Uh, um.  "Well, the people in power didn't like Jesus so they executed him--"

"What's executed?" Katie interrupted.

"Murdered by the state.  The leaders in charge of the area where you live kill you because they think you've done something wrong."

"What did Jesus do that was wrong?" Katie wanted to know.

"Nothing.  But they didn't like Him because He was telling everyone He was the Son of God and that we're all God's children and that we should love each other instead of fighting each other and that we should take care of people who can't take care of themselves.  And the leaders didn't like hearing those things because it made them feel weak and they wanted to be the ones in charge of controlling people."  I felt pretty good about my ability to haul that story out of the cob-webby closet in the back of my mind.

"Were the leaders jealous of Jesus?"  Katie wanted to know.

"Yes, they were.  Kind of like the Wicked Queen wanted everyone to admire her and not Snow White," I explained.

"Yeah, only the opposite because the Wicked Queen dies and Snow White lives, but Jesus died on the cross."

"Yeah, but his soul lives on in our hearts.  Three days after he was executed Mary Magdalene, who was a student, a follower of Jesus, went to visit his tomb to cry and pray and think about Him.  But she saw the tomb stone had been moved and Jesus's body was no longer there.  Then, as she walked along a path, she saw Jesus appear as an angel, and he assured her that he was in Heaven with God and at Peace.  He said we can all live in Heaven with God and all our loved ones when we die if we believe in Love."

Katie smiled and traced her wooden cross with her finger.  "Mommy, how did Jesus die on the cross?"

Oh great.  She wants details.  Well, the Disney fairy tales she watches are pretty gruesome in parts.  I guess she can handle the Truth.

"Well, they nailed his hands and feet into the cross and then hammered it into the ground so his arms were raised and he hung in a position that made him slowly suffocate and all the air was out of his lungs and he stopped breathing."  

"Was he in pain?" Katie wanted to know.

"I think so."

We both made disgusted faces.  "I know.  It's horrible," I said.

And then I remembered my favorite part of the story.  I picture it just like the scene in the made for TV movie Jesus of Nazareth, which I saw on TV when I was Katie's age, back when people would complain about the bad influence on kids watching too much TV.  When she's ready to see it, I'll share this clip with Katie: 

I quoted my favorite line for Katie, standing there before me, wearing her small wooden cross.

"When Jesus was dying on the cross He said, 'Father, forgive them.  They know not what they do.'"  My eyes instantly teared up, as they always do when I remember that part of the story.

"Why are you going to cry, Mama?"  Katie asked.

"Tears of joy, Sweetie.  It makes me happy to think that Jesus was still loving and forgiving even when He was being killed.  He believed in love and peace and forgiving people for making mistakes."  Tears now fully rolled down my cheeks.

Katie grabbed me and hugged me tight.  "I love, Jesus, Mama!"

I do too.  It's His followers who provide me with lots of practice in the art of forgiveness.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Flight Into Egypt

Flight Into Egypt by Edwin Longsden Long

When the angel of God spoke to Joseph in a dream, urging him to take Mary and Jesus and flee to Egypt, I'm sure glad Joseph listened to his internal Voice.  Doing so ensured his son would be safe and grow up to light a peaceful path for all of humanity.  Sometimes stepping back and assessing a bad situation from afar is the right course of action.  I'm glad Joseph didn't stay and try to defend his family from Herod's soldiers, risking his son's life during the Massacre of the Innocents:

Matthew 2 (from

New International Version (NIV)

The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”  When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”  After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

The Escape to Egypt

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[c16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.”[d]

The Return to Nazareth

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” 21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.  

When I feel helpless raising my child in this too-often violent world, rather than focusing outward, obsessing over the news and stockpiling weapons, I prefer to focus inward and reflect upon the message God has planted inside me.  So far I have never been instructed to take up arms in defense of my child.  Only to wrap my arms around her and hold her and love her and teach her the way of nonviolence.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Love Is the Answer

The NRA held a press conference this morning in response to the Sandy Hook Massacre.  You can read the full transcript here.

My view about the Second Amendment is complex.  I am, after all, the person who named her blog This Ambiguous Life.  I support the rights of my fellow Americans to bear arms if they choose to do so even though I personally hate guns.  Our founding fathers intended for citizens to be able to form militias to violently defend themselves from a corrupt and tyrannical government if they needed to.  Therefore it's a direct conflict of interest for the government to ban the sale of weapons to individual citizens.

I still hate guns.  I'm a child of  the dawning of The Age of Aquarius, born in 1970, after Dr. King showed our country we can use nonviolent resistance to oppose our government, just as Gandhi did before him, just as Jesus did before Gandhi.  I know, I know.  They all got murdered.  I never said the life of a peace activist is easy.

Still, their sacrafice was not in vain.  When good people die it opens our eyes.  Remember, infants were slaughtered right before Jesus was born.  Maybe we'll open our eyes anew after losing the good people of Sandy Hook?  I hope their death helps propel a new way of thinking about the slaughter of innocents.  Even the innocents of our so-called enemies.  Children who are treated like dogs.  Like foreign dogs.  American dogs lie around on the couch all day licking peanut butter kongs.  American dogs are treated better than the children across the world we kill with drone attacks.

When I oppose my government murdering innocents, instead of raising arms, I sign petitions like this one.  It's not in my nature to shoot my way out of an argument.  In this day and age, the keyboard is mightier than the assault riffle.

I understand the concept of self-defense, and if my good brothers and sisters feel the need to defend their beliefs with weapons, to fight firepower with firepower, that's their right as American citizens, although I will continue my work to spread the Good News of love and nonviolent resistance because I believe it's the only way we can ultimately end human suffering.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the big three peace prophets:

Prior to reading Gandhi, I had about concluded that the ethics of Jesus were only effective in individual relationships. The "turn the other cheek" philosophy and the "love your enemies" philosophy were only valid, I felt, when individuals were in conflict with other individuals; when racial groups and nations were in conflict, a more realistic approach seemed necessary. But after reading Gandhi, I saw how utterly mistaken I was.  Gandhi was probably the first person in history to lift the love ethic of Jesus above mere interaction between individuals to a powerful and effective social force on a large scale. Love for Gandhi was a potent instrument for social and collective transformation. It was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking. - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind. - Mahatma Gandhi 

There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for. - Mahatma Gandhi

But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." - Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 5:39 NIV) 

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” - Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 22:34-40 NIV)

Love God.  Love people.  It seems so simple.  So why doesn't it stick?  Why have people, upon hearing this Good News, not heeded such good advice?  It is my life's calling to seek answers to that question.

I do not think more guns is the answer to our violent world.  In the NRA's statement this morning, Wayne LaPierre made these statements:

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.


For the sake of the safety of every child in America, I call on every parent, every teacher, every school administrator and every law enforcement officer in this country to join us in the National School Shield Program and protect our children with the only line of positive defense that's tested and proven to work.

I do not agree.  For one thing, the shooter's mother was his first victim.  She had an arsenal of weapons in her home.  A lot of good they did to protect her from violence.

More guns is not the answer to violence in our society.  Love is.  And if, like most sane human beings on this planet right now, you question how love has had anything to do with the atrocities of the Sandy Hook Massacre, I say, look here, here, here, here, and here.  Keep on looking for love.  We must not let violence turn us blind to it.

Sandy Hook Heroes: Firefighters for Daniel Barden

Daniel Barden was seven years old when he was shot dead at his elementary school.  He was one of the victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre.  When he grew up, he wanted to be a fireman.  When.  Not if he grew up.  We as a society have yet to change our ubiquitous kid-question to, "What do you want to be if you grow up?"  We still have this crazy notion that kids should be allowed to reach adulthood unharmed.

Firefighters from as far away as New York came to Daniel Barden's funeral, forming an honor guard as they would for any comrade.  Take a look at the photos accompanying this article.  Words do no justice, as is pointed out in the article here: 

As Daniel's parents, brother and sister arrived at St. Rose of Lima Church at 10am, the firefighters somberly formed an honour guard along the road, silently offering support to the heartbroken family.

Thank you, Firefighters.  Your strong, supportive silence during this unspeakable horror is heroic.  It's no wonder kids still look up to you and want to be like you when they grow up.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Snow Day!

Katie's school is closed today due to inclement weather.  Katie didn't quite know what to do at first when I announced, "Snow Day!"  Her school didn't have any snow days last year, so she doesn't yet understand that the proper response to your mother telling you it's a snow day is to run around the house like a giddy maniac shouting, "Snow day, snow day, snow day!!!"  Instead, she just stood there and stared at me blankly.

Her blah response could be due to disappointment because we're going to miss the class winter party, but she didn't say so.  I had signed up to be the "party captain" so I'm kinda bummed about missing it.  Once Katie saw our dogs outside frolicking in the snow, though, she got excited and wanted to go out and play.  At 6:50AM.  That's more like it!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Easy Bake Oven Will Now Come In Black, Silver, and Blue Thanks To Efforts of a Thirteen Year Old Girl

Good for Hasbro!  They listened to thirteen year old McKenna Pope's plea to start offering the Easy Bake Oven in colors other than just pink and purple.  She also asked that they put boys in their ads so boys wouldn't feel discouraged from playing with the toy.  Hasbro listened to her.  They are now going to offer the oven in black, silver, and blue as well as pink and purple.  I wonder what color Pope's little brother is going to pick out?

Hooray for equal opportunity baking!  And thirteen-year-olds who have learned the power of petitioning.

Sandy Hook Heroes: 600 Monsters Strong Foundation

Photo source: Facebook

Look what these badass crafter heroes are doing.  Hardcore knitters and crocheters are teaming up in the group 600 Monsters Strong Foundation to send all 600 children of Sandy Hook Elementary School handmade stuffed monsters.  Here is their mission:

The 600 Monsters Strong Foundation strives to bring monster-friends for children affected by gun violence and other traumatic situations through the generosity of crafters worldwide.

Crafters, unite!  Visit their website if you're interested in donating your own stuffed monster creations.  For more information, check out their Facebook page.

Members of 600 Monsters Strong Foundation, you're my heroes!

Sandy Hook Heroes: Lutheran Church Charities' Comfort Dogs

Photo source: Facebook

Who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  (2 Corinthians 1:4 NIV)

The Comfort Dogs have come to Newtown, CT.  These are specially trained golden retrievers from Lutheran Church Charities who do the important work of consoling people.  Furry grief counselors.  They traveled 800 miles to attend the funerals of two victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting.  Here's my favorite part of an article about their good work:

"A dog doesn’t ask you to talk about your feelings when you still have no words for them. A dog never says the wrong thing. And though a dog can’t change the most unimaginably terrible thing to happen in the life of one small town, a dog, stalwart and true, can ease the pain in a way that’s pure and tender and unlike anything else."

Please consider financially supporting this trip and mission to the families affected.  Donate here.

Here is LCC's Mission

Headquartered in Addison, Illinois, Lutheran Church Charities (LCC) was founded in 1947 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit ministry to help support Christian human care ministries of the Church. LCC works throughout the United States and Internationally in bringing the Mercy, Compassion, Presence and Proclamation of Jesus Christ to those Suffering and in Need. LCC works with and in partnership with our churches. LCC is a RSO (Recognized Service Organization) of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. We operate with a Dollar In – Dollar Out funding process where EVERY dollar given for a cause goes directly to that cause or need, with LCC acknowledging the gift and overseeing that the money is used as intended.

Comfort Dogs, you're my heroes!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

I Always Like the Criers

Katie was sitting in my lap in our favorite worn-out old rocking chair.  She's much too big perhaps.  Sometimes my legs fall asleep under her weight.  But the pins and needles are worth the connectedness I feel when my six-year-old sits on my lap in our chair.  The chair my body once fed her in.  The chair my arms rocked her to sleep in.  The chair we sit in when she's done something wrong and we need to have a serious talk.  The chair we read together in.  The communication chair.

When I was in about second grade my mom pushed me off her lap.  I was infatuated with a Hungarian family up the street.  I was best friends with one of the girls, and I loved ringing the doorbell to their house to see if my friend could play.  It seemed like I was always walking in on some family love fest.  From both her mom and dad.  They were the kissiest, huggiest family I had ever seen.  I wanted that.

My friend, who was a year older than me even, would often sit on her mom's lap and talk baby talk.  Her mom would talk baby talk back to her.  It wouldn't last long.  Then my friend would hop off her mom's lap and get back down on the floor with me and our Barbies.

One day I worked up the nerve to try it at home.  My parents were not affectionate people.  They were raised in the days when so-called experts recommended mothers (no mention of fathers) put their infants down and let them cry it out, never hold them for too long or else you'd spoil them.  I don't know how, but my mother somehow learned that this is bullshit and used to tell me, "I don't think it's possible to spoil a baby."  But older kids were a different thing.  She kissed me and occasionally hugged me, but it never felt like it was ever enough.  I admit, I was an exceptionally clingy child.  Mom must have felt overwhelmed by my need for constant validation.  

My dad is another story.  His dad was an alcoholic who died at the age of 48.  He used to beat my dad with a belt.  Then Dad was drafted into the army where he helped clean up after World War II.  When he was twenty-two he found his dad dead in the shower.  He and his first wife lost three babies.  My dad has suffered through many atrocities.  He put up a shell.  It's breaking a little now though.  A few years back, on the phone with him before he was about to have his second open-heart surgery in twenty-one years and I was worrying he might die, I blurted out without thinking, "I love you!"

"I love you too," He said without hesitation.  It was so weird.  But good.  It was the first time we said those words to each other.

Now when we talk on the phone, which granted isn't much, we tell each other we love each other.  It's still weird, but less so.  It's a tremendous breakthrough for our relationship.  I'm proud I reached out to him and led the way.

Mom tells me she loves me and we write back and forth via email regularly.  When we see each other now, she's way more huggy and kissy.  I don't know what happened.  Life, I guess.

My parents are both much more affectionate now, in their old, softening age, but also as our society as a whole becomes increasingly pro-affection.  But when I was a kid, I saw my parents kiss only one time, and that was when my dad was leaving for a six week business trip.  My mom kissed my dad on the cheek.  I was shocked.  So was my dad.  It was winter and we had the central heating on which caused the house to get really dry.  When Mom's lips touched Dad's cheek they gave him a little shock.  He swatted his hand around her head as if to shoo off a fly.  That was the one time I saw my parents kiss.

So when in second grade I decided to sit on my mom's lap and talk babytalk with her, she looked at me like I was crazy and shoved me off her lap.  "You're too big for that, Becky!"

I jumped up.  Heartbroken.  Too big?  I developed anorexia three years later, by the age of eleven.  I did not want to grow up, develop breasts, get big.

My mom hardly ever scolded me.  She didn't have to.  I was effortlessly self-critical, even as a young child.  My mom could look at me with just a touch of disappointment in her eye and I'd stop whatever it was I was doing and often cry.  I was a big cry baby.  What's this "was" talk?  I still am.

So what.  I've learned to live with it, be proud of it even.  Crying is not a sign of weakness.  It's strong.  It shows I care.  What's wrong with that?  I think an occasional good cry is good for my soul.  Somehow we get past the way we were raised and say bullshit, that's not how I'm going to do it.  I'm going to try it this way.  Like Mom did when she felt against expert opinion that it's impossible to spoil an infant.  Like I do when I stop worrying at the back of my head that someone thinks Katie's too big to sit on my lap.

I had just gotten home from work and I was eager to hear how Katie's first day back to school was.  She'd been sick with a fever the previous week.  And I wanted to hear how school was the first day back after The Sandy Hook Massacre last Friday.

After Will and I talked it over, we decided it would be better for Katie to hear about the shooting from us rather than finding out from one of her classmates on the playground.  So earlier that morning, I did the difficult parenting task of talking to Katie about the horrible events.  I tried to keep it short and offer plenty of reassurance she is safe.

"Honey, before you go to school I want to tell you about something that happened, in real life.  It's a story that's in the news and a lot of people are talking about it.  I want you to know if you have any questions about it you can ask me or Daddy or any of your teachers at school.  But if your friends tell you things about this story, they might not be true, so ask us if you have any questions, OK?"  I was crouching down in front of Katie, who was putting on her socks and shoes.  All by herself.  Not tied--velcroed--but still she's self-sufficient.

Katie's eyes grew big.  "OK," she replied.

"OK.  Waaaaay waaaaay waaaaay across the country in a state called Connecticut, way out by the Atlantic Ocean, there is this school where a man who had something wrong with his brain hurt some kids and some grown ups there.  But he is dead.  He shot himself in the head with his gun and he won't be hurting any more people."

Katie stopped me.  "Did he kill children?"  She wanted to know.

This is so hard.

"Yes, Sweetie.  He did kill children.  And he killed himself.  He had something wrong with his brain.  But he's not going to hurt anyone else anymore.  But I wanted you to know about it because some of your classmates might know about it from seeing the news over the weekend and I didn't want them to scare you by telling you something that might not even be true.  So ask me if you have any questions, OK?"

"OK.  Mom, I think Rita will know about it because she still has cable."

Was my kid really just now making yet another dig about the fact that we ditched cable over a year ago despite Katie's protest that we needed it?  Now?  When I'm telling her this horrible story?  That is awesome.  I'm so glad she's more concerned with her own kid problems of not being able to watch Nick Jr anymore.  That is what childhood worries should be.

Katie seemed fine with the information.  I dropped her off at the school and prayed for the best.

That evening, in our chair, I was elated to be so close to my girl.  I missed her all day, an undercurrent of maternal worry flowed through my entire body while I was at work.  I was glad to be home.

"So tell me about your day," I began.  Katie was picking at one of her fingernails.  She no longer allows me to clip her nails and insists on peeling them off herself.

"We talked about the thing you talked about this morning," Katie knew to get right to the point.  Her empathy level is amazing.  She nearly always feels the emotional intensity of anyone around her.  I've given her plenty of practice over the years.  Having a mom with posttraumatic stress disorder has its perks.

"Oh, you did?  I was wondering if you would.  At an assembly?"

"No, in class.  We had a drill," she explained.  Will had taken a seat on the couch to our right and Katie looked back and forth at us.

"A drill?  What's a drill?"

"Ms. B shouted out Code Red and we all had to go to the safe zone and be really really quiet so we could hide from the bad guy."

My six-year-old knows the drill for when a shooter arrives at her school.  I long for the good ole days of running into the hall, crouching down, and placing our hands over our heads to shield them from the nuclear bomb.  Or maybe it was a tornado.  I never could remember which disaster it was we were preparing for.  But, no.  Never did we have a drill where we pretended to be hostage to a disturbed person with an assault riffle.  In elementary school.

"Wow.  That sounds like a really good plan.  Did it feel like a good plan to you?" I asked, trying not to sound too bright.  I didn't want to overdo my acting.  Inside I felt terrified.  But I had to be big and strong for my baby.

"Yes.  It was hard for everyone to be quiet though," she explained.

"Yeah, I can imagine.  It's hard to be quiet when you're six or seven."

"Yeah, Stone cried," Katie reported, her voice quick and clipped, like she was spitting out the words.

"Stone, cried?"  I knew this Stone boy.  He was in Katie's class last year too, when I was the reading helper.  I saw him every Friday and he read to me and we sometimes sat next to him in the cafeteria when Will and I would visit Katie during lunch.  I always liked it best when Will came along so there would be an extra pair of ears to listen to Stone talk.  He's a sweet, sensitive kid.  But man can he talk about Hulk Smash, his favorite thing on earth.

"Yeah.  He cried.  He was scared.  He didn't knowed about it."

He was probably at home all weekend playing Hulk Smash, the sweet kiddo.

"What did the teacher do when he cried?"  I have my own selfish reasons for this question.  Since my own first grade teacher thought I was a cry baby, I'm always curious about others who are prone to cry first and talk later and how their teachers react to them.

"She...she..." Katie struggled for the word.  She patted my shoulder, cocked her head to the side, and said, "There there," softly.

"Your teacher comforted Stone?" I asked.

"Yes!  Comforted.  She comforted him when he cried," Katie rested her head against my shoulder.

"Do you think he feels better now?" I asked.

"Yes," Katie said, accusingly.  Like, why do you care so much about Stone?

"I like that Stone boy," I explained.

"Why?"  Katie wanted to know.

"I don't know.  I always like the criers," I said.

Katie laughed and I realized how funny that sounds.  I smiled.  "It's true.  I do like criers.  I was a cry baby myself when I was kid.  So I have an affinity for them."

Katie's jaw dropped.  She didn't even ask me what affinity means.

I continued, "I was a big crier.  My first grade teacher wrote on my report card that I cried too much.  But I didn't.  I was just a sensitive kid."

"That is rude!" Katie remarked.

"Yeah, my teacher was kind of mean," I explained.

"Why was your teacher mean, Mommy?"

Oh it's Mommy now?  She's lately been taken to calling me just Mom.  "Well, she was old-fashioned.  She liked to do things the way they thought you should do them a long time ago.  But now we know that crying isn't a bad thing that needs to be stopped.  It's just a way of communicating when you don't have words for something that hurts."  I didn't know who I was speaking to at this point, the first grader in my lap or the first grader inside me.

We sat for a moment without saying anything.  Just hugging each other.  Finally I asked, "Do you feel like your school is a safe place?"

"Oh yeah," Katie assured me.  She gave me a little squeeze.

It may or may not be.  While reading over the school's lockdown procedures, it dawned on me that any of the things they do they did in Sandy Hook too, and yet twenty kids and six school employees are dead.  So whether it's true that Katie's school is as safe as it can be is a hard question to answer.  But what's important is that my kid feels safe there.  Day to day anxiety is not conducive to a good learning environment.  For their assistance in partnering with Will and me to raise as well-adjusted of a kid as we can, I thank the good teachers and administrators at my daughter's school.  I think we're doing the best job we can.  Even us criers.

The Onion Makes Me Laugh Til I Cry

I don't think banning assault weapons will keep them out of the hands of deranged killers since most of them don't seem too concerned with following the law.  It just creates a black market for a deadly object.  

Now mind you, I hate guns.  I wish humans weren't quite so creative when it comes to inventing ways to kill each other.  But I don't think laws can change criminal minds.  And restrictions impede on the freedom of those who follow the law and use guns wisely.

But, ugh.  It's so easy in our culture to use guns unwisely.  We are too quick on the draw when our tempers flare and too slow to figure out ways to talk out our differences with each other.  Can't we address that issue?  Can we now start treating mental illness as a real illness and get more Americans the treatment they need and we deserve for having to live amongst them?  Our nation needs to go to therapy and figure out a way to cope with itself.  

I recommend laughter therapy.  That's why I read The Onion.

So yes, I support the Second Amendment.  But dang I love The Onion's take on the should-we-bring-back-the-assault-weapons-ban issue:

''Right To Live Life In Complete, Stunned Horror,'' Added To Constitution

No kidding.  I can especially relate to this part:

...the measure also permits Americans to suffer panic attacks anytime their loved ones go to work, school, malls, or virtually any other public location. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, Sun!

"The Planets and The Moon Singing Happy Birthday To the Sun" 
by Katie Carleton, 6

Bacca Is a Superhero

Today Katie informed me that Bacca is a superhero.  In case you're not a regular reader of my blog, Bacca is a doll who my six-year-old only child, Katie, pretends is her little sister.  Bacca is four years old.  She was born on August 1, in China (it says so on her tag).  She's in first grade even though she's only four because Katie performed her big sisterly duties so well Bacca can already read, so they let her come to school with Katie.  (To get around school rules of no dolls in class, there are two Baccas: Real Bacca and Imaginary Bacca.  Imaginary Bacca hides inside the small pocket of Katie's backpack and Katie carries her to school because Bacca gets too tired walking herself.  Bacca's smart, but she only has four-year-old legs.

But apparently those wimpy legs don't affect Bacca's ability to be a superhero.  Katie was holding Bacca up in the air like a toy plane, making wwwssshhhhhhhhh noises.

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Bacca is flying.  Bacca is a superhero!"  Katie explained.

"She is?  I didn't know that.  All this time and I had no idea," I played along, smoothing the sheets on her bed so I could add the blanket I found at the bottom of her closet.  I'm so backed up on my laundry my kid has to sleep with two of her old baby blankets until I get around to washing a big blanket.

"Yes, see, this is Bacca's cape."  Katie flew Bacca back a bit so I could get a better view.

"The veil to your play bridal gown?" I asked.

"Yes!  It's Bacca's cape now!" Katie exclaimed.

"Cool.  What are her special powers?"  

I thought this question might stump her or at least take her a few seconds to come up with an answer, but Katie blurted out, "Bacca's special power is turning toys alive."  Katie wanded her free hand across her room, deliberately, as if it were full of magic.  Bacca remained slumped over Katie's other palm as if she were simply exhausted after all that work rescuing unliving toys throughout planet.

Katie continued, "That's how Bacca turns herself alive.  She uses her special powers."

The story of Bacca has been evolving ever since Katie learned how to talk.  Bacca's life is like a six-year-old's soap opera.  Her experiences and her emotions mirror Katie's.  The acting is about the same of that I've seen in most soap operas, overly dramatic, cheesy, and easier to listen to and giggle at from the other room than flat out watch for any length of time.

While I was tidying the living room, moving this pile of crap over to that pile of crap, I found what's treasure to a writing mother's heart: a book written and illustrated by Katie Carleton:

Cover: The Story of My Sister by Katie Carleton

The story began in China where she was born.

One day she ran away to see the Indians.

So she can speak Indian.

To be continued.  

Evidently Katie takes after me in my inability to stay focused on a story.  I'm going to keep it on her art table and see if she picks it back up sometime and finishes the story.  Until then, it's stored inside her head if I ever want to hear the story one more time.

Sandy Hook Hero: Abbey Clements

You must read this fantastic article.  It focuses on the heroes of Sandy Hook and not the gunman.  Morgan Freeman would be proud.  Or maybe not.

The article states, "If anybody wanted to know the kind of people who become teachers, they need only read of the bravery of the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School."

Isn't that the truth?  Has Mike Rowe done an episode of Dirty Jobs where he tackles the role of public school teacher?  If not, he should.  I can think of fewer tougher jobs on this planet.

Here's my personal favorite heroic story from the article:

"Trying to calm the children, [Abbey Clements] attempted to muffle the haunting sounds of gunshots and screams broadcasting over the intercom and read them stories." 

Now that's a badass teacher.  Reading to her students to keep them calm in the midst of all the chaos?  That takes some nerve.  No one should ever make fun of bookworms again.  Remember the superhero jokes that spread across the internet when Mayor Cory Booker rescued a woman from a burning building?  This was my favorite one:

@MilesGrant wrote: When Chuck Norris has nightmares, Cory Booker turns on the light & sits with him until he falls back asleep.

Looks like now when Chuck Norris has nightmares, Abbey Clements can read him stories until he falls back asleep.

Abbey Clements, you're my hero!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sandy Hook Hero: Robbie Parker

As the mother of a first-grader who attends public school in our violent society, news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting feels personal.  I feel the same emotional roller coaster stomach drops as I did during the four months I watched my brother drink himself to death a couple of years ago.  Senseless.  Helpless.  Life is so fragile.  If we're lucky enough to live into old age, we realize how ironic it is that just when we start to figure life out, we're dead.  For others whose lives have been taken far too young, as survivors we can't seem to stop asking why.  Why?  Why---

I've been teary-eyed off-and-on all weekend, but I've had to continue to perform in my roles as librarian, wife, and mom.  At work I see random kids walking with their parents to find a DVD on the shelf and, after catching one of the parent's smiling eyes, I nearly burst into tears at how grateful those parents must feel this weekend, having their child so near they can watch a movie together.  At home I try to think of something else to talk to Will about so I don't drive him insane with my worry, but the only other thing on my mind this weekend has been our sick kid.  So yeah, the best part of my weekend has been wiping snot from my child's nose.

It's been a really fucking awful weekend.

So how is it that this amazing dad, Robbie Parker, whose daughter was gunned down in the Sandy Hook massacre is making statements that make me feel better?  Wow.  Did he really just give us a sermon on helping others and striving for compassion the day after his six year old bright light was blown out?  That is a man of faith.  I need some of what he's believing.

This is what he said to the family of the man who shot their daughter:

I can't imagine how hard this experience must be for you, and I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well.

This is what he said about his daughter, Emilie Parker, and her legacy:

She always had something kind to say about anybody.


This world is a better place because she has been in it.

What an amazing tribute to a person.  What more could any of us want from this life than to be known for saying kind things about others and to make it a better place?  Robbie Parker, you are my hero.  And so are you, little Emilie.