Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why I'm Not Telling My Child About Sandy Hook

All weekend I have opened my mouth to tell my five-year-old daughter, in age-appropriate terms and at just the right moment, about the shooting in Sandy Hook, CT, a town not so far from our own. The moment wasn't ever right, and tell me, what are the appropriate terms with which to relay a massacre of schoolchildren to anyone, no matter their age?

From my daughter's school administration to friends who work professionally with children to peers with kids the same age or close as mine to bloggers and psychologists,  all sorts of sources are urging parents to "frame the conversation" ourselves, to not let school, classmates, the cashier at Trader Joe's, CNN or whomever do it for us, for her.

But my husband and I don't think we should be the ones to introduce this idea that is sure to evoke anxiety. Does this mean we're putting this burden on someone else, or are too afraid of our own feelings and can't deal with her emotions, never mind our own? No. Are we shielding her from inevitable knowledge that the world is a sometimes scary, often unpredictable and, on occasion, desperately sad place? No. (She gets that, having already experienced death, natural disaster and creepy Halloween displays.)

What we're doing is opting not to clue her in to the fact that the building where she spends five days a week, with its cubbies for outdoor shoes, easels, picture books, planet Earth rug, window-box gardens, lovely, kind teachers and first friendships -- this place called "school" where she will be for the bulk of the next 13 years of her life -- is less than the second-safest place in her still-new and small (for now) world.

Are we keeping her from information she may glean tomorrow morning or next week from a source other than us, at the risk that it may be delivered in a confused or confusing manner? Yes, we are, and on purpose. Because we are her parents and she is five, and thus -- regardless of the cred her fine educators and Sesame Street and in-the-know older neighborhood kids carry -- the information we convey has the weight of authority because, let's face it, we are the authority at this point in her life. If we of whom she was born tell her, in even the most general and positively spun manner, about this tragedy, then we aren't just received as the bearers of bad news; we're the bad-news makers.

(What's that saying, "Parents don't just push your buttons; they installed them"?)

Were she a kindergarten student in the next classroom over just a few towns away, yes, we would have had this conversation Friday. But we wouldn't have "framed" it for her, under those horrible and graphic circumstances, either.

We choose not to frame it for her now, because we have the choice not to -- because unless the danger is eminent or personally relevant, at no age is it appropriate to needlessly scare or introduce a sense of being unsafe to a young child...especially where it may not be introduced otherwise. And if it is, we will listen to her concerns and her questions, correct any misinformation, attempt to make sense for her of information that is all too correct, and reassure her that we are safe, she is safe, and everyone in her world is doing all they can to keep it that way. Which feels comforting and right to hear, at any age.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

One Tomato at a Time

Apparently, a key to homesteading is being home enough to do it. When I returned to work full-time a year and a half ago, I was able to maintain our gardens, chicken coop and home projects largely on weekends and with a bit of attention during the week. Michael, out of work with an injury, was home more than I, and our shift of most roles happened fairly organically. He's been working more these days, and I've had a bumper crop of freelance work lately, which have had a positive effect on all aspects of our lives except our modest homesteading efforts.

There are cucumbers in the garden bigger than my cats; withered tomato plants have collapsed under the weight of their unpicked fruit. Some tomatoes lay disemboweled on the ground nearby, as if having hurled themselves in protest of the shameful neglect. All will likely be lost to a frost tonight, unless I manage to pick it.

Worst of all, we forgot to close up the coop last night, or maybe the last three, and all that's left of Kiki Jones is enough feathers to know she flapped mightily in alarm before making her great escape, or was mightily shaken by whatever abducted her. Do raccoons eat chickens, or just steal their eggs and scare the feathers off of them? I suspect the hen harasser and a recent home invader may be one and the same.

A couple weeks back I woke up to find muddy paw prints on the kitchen floor, walls and counter that were far larger than those possibly created by any animals supposed to be inside our house. Said creature had also torn open a box of -- wait for it -- animal crackers, ripped the limbs from a decorative, desiccated sea star, and shed longish black hairs on the windowsill below the cat door, its obvious point of entry. Since the door had been set to "in only," I had to assume George or Rosemary Cooney had either 1) jimmied the closure or 2) was still in the house. I hadn't heard a racket in the night ... but I've slept through two fires and a hurricane in my life so that might not be an appropriate measure. No one else heard the rampage, either, and we're all in pretty close proximity to the kitchen.

Then a few nights ago I was up late and heard the bell of a cat collar. As we'd already undressed one of the kitties for the night and left her collar on the windowsill for tomorrow's outing, I knew it was feline #2 coming in for the night, and went to the kitchen to lock the door behind her. Instead, a raccoon had poked its head and front arms through the flap, where it was hanging out, shaking the collar with one paw like a tambourine. "HEY!" I yelled. It looked up at me casually, stared at me for a good 10 seconds while it finished its jam session, then slowly retreated, making off with the rhythm instrument.

We moved the cat door the next day to a less accessible window for those creatures not adept at vertical leaping. The kitties firmly believe they are in this category and loudly complain as they hover on the outside stairway that runs by the kitchen window.

Death, neglect, invasion, protestation...all of a tedious, low-grade variety, with comic relief courtesy of the Cooneys. Frankly, everything feels out of whack right now. Michael and I are tag-team parenting and homemaking, we haven't had a date in...I don't know how long. We're still playing catch-up, barely covering our expenses. As a family we share maybe a meal or two together each week, after years committed to converging nightly at the dining room table. The stepkid's grades are down (but at least this has spurred his dad, he and I to check in on Sunday nights about school and schedules for the week ahead). Stellina has to have oral surgery in two weeks. I can't stand the thought of my five-year-old, with her tiny impacted Chiclets, undergoing general anesthesia followed by a good deal of discomfort. But it's doable. We can do all of this.

The day is predicted to be sunny and in the high 60s before tonight's much lower temps. Michael is working all day. If I opt out of attending the stepkid's football game, my daughter and I just might be able to put the gardens to bed, and attend to the hens, and even play on the trampoline quickly filling with fallen oak leaves.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


Not all is staid and routine in the 'burbs! Recent local Craigslist job postings:


Jul 4 - Part-Time Skateboard Teacher Wanted - (New Haven CT) general labor

Jul 4 - Pregnant Actress Needed for Local Zombie Film - (CT) tv/film/video/radio

Jul 3 - PEZ candy hiring part time retail associates - (Orange, CT) retail/wholesale

Friday, March 16, 2012

Beauty and the Abuser

 I brought Stellina to see Beauty and the Beast a few weeks back, newly released in 3D (though we opted for a glasses-free screening). It sounded like a dreamy, ideal mom-daughter date on a cold Sunday afternoon. I ignored the quite loud and incredulous inner voice that begged to differ. I reasoned that it's useless to try to fight the Disney princess influence; rather, I've matched every dress-up costume with a drawing pad, encourage puddle stomping, and have introduced her to Pippi Longstocking and the feminist anime oeuvre of Hayao Miyazaki.

And indeed, Stellina swooned at the news, then donned her "Belle" outfit (a hand-me-down from a friend, it's the tiny tulle gown that started it all a couple years back), post-haste. At the theater, she perched at the front of her seat, butterfly boots crossed at the ankles, shimmery yellow skirt fanned, popcorn bag the same dimensions of her torso on her lap. It was some unparallelled (or nonpareil, in concession-stand parlance) cuteness.

The film started out promisingly enough. Belle is a book-smart young woman who longs for a life beyond her village, respects and admires her solo parent and isn't impressed by the brawn and swagger of the town hunk, Gaston. While beastly, he isn't the Beast of the title, the cruel prince who mistreated the wrong old lady, who in turn turned him into the tormented Sasquatch he'd remain unless relieved of the spell within x number of years by experiencing, yes, True Love. Along wanders Belle's Dad, seeking refuge from a storm at the Beast's castle (as the sorceress had years earlier). Does the raging ape, having learned his lesson, offer the elderly gent a room for the night? Of course not. Worse than turning him away at the door, he imprisons the guy. Soon enough, Belle bravely sets out, a one-woman search party,  fighting off wolves and fierce weather -- so far kicking some serious (fairy) tail. When the Beast encounters her, does he think, "At long last, someone who could possibly break this spell and restore me to my former and less hirsute self, if I impress her with kindness toward her Pops and put them up in my super-swanky, not to mention enchanted, digs?" Alas, no. The Beast agrees to let the father go only when Belle offers herself up as a hostage in exchange.

What follows is basically the Disney version of the Patty Hearst story but with dancing teacups. The Beast continues to act like one (despite the admonishments of his servants-turned-animated home furnishings, who would like very much to be returned to human form, along with their boss); Belle softens to his brutish (and brutal) ways, in classic Stockholm Syndrome fashion. Oh, but he IS changing ... as demonstrated when they learn Belle's father is sick, and he allows her to leave. Releasing the prisoner to go it alone again in the hostile wilderness: gallantry at its finest. God forbid he use his cursed stature for the sake of good, for once.

And she goes back! She goes back to defend the Beast against Gaston and his mob of hunters, rather than let the two horrible suitors take each other out, as justice (and common sense) would seem to beg.

If you've never suffered through the film, you can still guess the ending, with its nick-of-time life-saving, shape-shifting kiss, and subsequent wedding.

 (Fast-forward six months past the credits: Belle's at home alone, pregnant. The prince is down in the village, getting drunk and screwing the twins who were hot for Gaston in the opening sequence. All the servants quit within weeks of the royal wedding. After regaining his handsome looks, scoring a prisoner-bride, and discovering the village tavern, their employer had become beastlier than ever. The cook-turned-teapot-turned-cook begged Belle to leave with her, but she refused. He comes home in a blackout; when she inquires as to his whereabouts, he commences to beat her to death with the candlestick formerly known as Lumiere the maĆ®tre d'.)

Suffice it to say I spent 1-1/2 hours whispering an alternative/corrective narrative into my girl's ear, stuff about bravery and kindness and choices about our behavior, and not putting up with abuse from anyone, anywhere -- not even in fairy tales.

P.S. Last weekend we went back to the multiplex for the smart and gorgeously animated Secret World of Arrietty -- no running commentary needed!

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr