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Monthly Archives: February 2018

A Sensitive Subject

For some reason I can’t quite remember, I found an hour or two to myself on Christmas Eve of all days. Presents were wrapped, someone else was responsible for Christmas Eve dinner, the table was set, and the Sunday New York Times was sitting on the end table waiting to be read. it turned out, that that Sunday Times contained a little lump of coal in the form of an article about the advent of sensitivity readers at publishing houses. I shouldn’t be surprised that there are 1 million ways to offend potential readers or that publishers might want to keep one or two of those readers, but I was suddenly very grateful for all the classic works of literature that, having survived government censors, had the good sense to be written before sensitivity readers existed. 

Then I thought about my own kids’ book (and future book ideas) and all the ways it might possibly offend people. 

The pictures are black-and-white and red all over, so some people might get offended by the predominance of red or the fact that the starring role in the book is played by kid with really bad hair. Or some sensitivity reader might worry that I’m insinuating that mom is with bad hair can’t get their kids to clean their rooms. 

 But as I thought about the ending of my little book about a kid who has his own idea about the definition of a clean room, I realized the people with whom I’m really gonna be in dutch are the millions of moms who are also trying to get their kids to clean their rooms. OK, so maybe I’ll only be in dutch with the moms who still have kids under 12. And I can whittle down that number to the number of moms who read my blog who haven’t figured out the magic formula for getting their kids under the age of 12 to clean their room. So that’s like, five or ten moms at least.

I don’t want to scare you because the book does have a happy ending, if you’re the kid with the messy room, and I do want to go on record that I am not endorsing the non-cleaning of rooms. I do find myself in the controversial situation of being willing to support a flexible definition of the term “clean room“.

This last week, was winter break and, after ordering Thing2 to clean his room two days in a row before he was allowed to invite friends over for “get together’s“ (formerly known as “play-dates” which, out of sensitivity to our resident tween, has been dropped from the approved household lexicon), I realize I’ve been a bit insensitive to him on this sensitive and highly controversial subject. 

Thing2, now getting better at making the room look clean (at least to the casual observer), will stuff a few things end of the bed where they were less likely to show and spend the rest of his energy putting away all the shards of paper from his last homemade light saber, organizing his props for his next special effects project, and finding a place for all the disassembled electronics he rescues from the trash.

When he’s done, the room still looks like hazardous waste site, but in all fairness, the madness is the result of a creative but methodical and investigative spirit. What looks like a shambles to me is for him a laboratory of life.

I’m a huge believer in encouraging the creative spark in everyone, especially in my offspring. That laboratory is why he comes to me at the end of the day to show me the special effects space movie he’s just made or the book he’s just “published”. So even though even a domestic anti-goddesses such as myself sometimes has to draw a line between the dirty socks on the floor to establish benchmarks for distinguishing the a laboratory from a trashcan with a bunkbed in it, the laboratory is part of what makes Thing2 grow.  

It’s also why, at the end of a book about a little boy who has his own idea about how to clean room, I decided to let that idea win out.

Breathing Room

At the beginning of this year, Thing1’s autoimmune disorder hospitalized him with an intense flare up and, not to be left out of the fun, promptly Thing2 contracted Influenza-A that, along with a lymph node inflammation painful enough to prompt two separate diagnoses of appendicitis earned him an overnight ticket to the pediatric ward. As a result, almost every week of our 2018 calendar has been dotted with nights in the ER, overnights at the hospital and follow-ups at various doctor’s offices. Last Thursday marked my first day off in weeks that didn’t include a rush to the ER or a four hour round trip drive across the state to a specialist, and I didn’t know what to make of the unexpected breathing room.

For weeks, the voices in my head that run an internal dialogue about art and literature and school shootings and the homeless population and, you name it have been replaced with instructions. Log when you last gave Tylenol or ibuprofen. Call for the new prescriptions. Did T1 have 32 ounces of water or 16? When did T2 poop? Check his weight. Call the insurance company. Call the doctor. Call the insurance company. I wasn’t numb, but I was a robot. Calculating but not thinking, especially if it meant engaging in worry which is all too natural for me (it could be an Olympic sport).

The robot didn’t have much extra processing power for art or writing, and February was burning away without any pictures to show for it. Even a conversation with a fellow artist about drawing in the down times at waiting rooms didn’t get my pencil or brush moving.

There was breathing room, but for some reason, I was afraid to rake that first breath.

A few nights ago, I decided out the iPad to work on a page for Dweezil’s To-Dos, a book about a little boy with too many projects (don’t ask how I get my inspiration).

Inking and coloring over the scanned drawings is methodical. Robotic. It’s not particularly creative a lot of the time. It’s basically just drawing lines – filling in the space between points.

It’s not creative, but it is meditative.

In the meditation, however, the robot slowed down. I inked and colored page 6 six different ways, and the machine started to power down. My eyelids felt heavy, and the iPad fell from my hand. The thud of the Otterbox on the floor jolted me awake again, and, rebooting, I took in a gulp of air and opened a file to start page 7.

Scars

The picture on the 27” screen had just switched to views of the Oregon area as Kindergarten Cop went from a loud, violent sequence to a more lighthearted part of the movie. The room was dark and shots of green hills and blue sky made the console TV look like a window to better places in the world than this house where I knew I should not be. I was thinking about grabbing the purse I had just bought at the Indian artifacts store in the mall and leaving when the front door banged open.

Afternoon sun poured into the hallway next to the front room making the mustard and gold shag carpet look clean for just a moment before two stark shadows darkened it purple. The shadows moved barely 2 steps before morphing into two very young men pointing guns at the seven people in the room. To this day, I don’t know the types, but I can remember black cylinders pointed at us as we were told to give them our valuables.

I tried not to look at one of the thieves as I handed him my purse strap. He took a wallet from the man sitting next to me next. Another girl at the gathering asked if she could get something out of her purse first, and, I knew we were all going to die.

Only an hour before this nightmare began, she had pulled from it a handgun to boast of the recent gift from a boyfriend. I knew I should’ve walked out of the party immediately. Now I stared down at the beer-stained shag carpet, realizing it might be the last thing I saw because i’d lacked the fortitude to do the right thing at the right time.

The boys/men unwittingly spared all of us shouting “No” and grabbed her bag. It took less than two minutes for them to collect our valuables, and then they told us to lie down on the floor. There had been other robberies in the area in the last few weeks that had ended with fatalities, and I wondered if it would be better to be shot in the head and die instantly or in the back and be paralyzed.

The boys apparently having chosen their target because they knew the house’s tenant was also engaged in criminal activity (the full extent of which I later discovered) and would not be calling the police, left without firing a shot.

Two hours later locksmith had made a new key for our cars. Knowing our assailants had my license and apartment keys, I drove to a friends house, and hid in their basement TV room for a month. For years I told no one I loved what had happened since I knew I was to blame for having stayed in the wrong place with the wrong people.

That was over 25 years ago, but those two minutes changed the trajectory of my life. They changed forever the way I dealt with people, with crowds, even with jobs. I stopped trusting anyone, especially myself. For years, every decision was made out of fear that sometimes metastasized into hate for the world. The Big Guy and the arrival of Thing moved me in a more positive direction, but I lost a lot of years and productivity to fear and hate.

I think about that impact every time word of another school or church shooting comes across the news. The people on the receiving end of this horrific violence have all been in the right place. They’ve been at school opening their minds or in their places of worship opening their hearts when some hate-filled person decides to take revenge on the world around him. And, as we have seen on the news, everyone in the presence of that violence is touched by it. It doesn’t matter if the bullets actually hit them, they will be scarred by them.

Some survivors, such as Emily Gonzalez, an eloquent and passionate advocate for the right of her contemporaries to go to school in peace, take of their post-ordeal trajectories in ways that become beacons of hope. My guess, however, is that even those with the strength to channel their pain into something productive will carry the wounds on their psyches for the rest of their lives.

Some scars may fade into tiny lines, blending in with those normal lines we all acquire. The psychic wounds inflicted on the children in this country may be increasingly common, but they are not normal. There are kids in war-torn and impoverished parts of the world who are acquiring far worse and more frequent wounds to body and mind, but that should not be the benchmark.

As I write, I’m watching 11-year-old Thing2 take apart an electronic toy to build a lightsaber. He’s at the beginning of his Age of Discovery. I know this is when his spark will be fanned into a flame. I also know he will acquire a few mental and physical scars over the next few years. That’s part of growing up. But, every day now I think about all the ways to protect Thing1 and Thing2 from the scars that should not be part of any childhood.

I know I’m in good company as more than one conversation with other parents over the last few years has evinced a common fear that any morning school drop off could be the last. We laughed nervously at what statistics tell us is our paranoia. Then a day after Parkland we heard news of a narrowly averted but similar shooting at a school two towns away. The conversations have since turned in earnest to school security, regulating certain guns and would-be owners, and even leaving the schools for homeschooling.

As I’ve entertained homeschooling for T2 and online college for T2 I realized my experience is still exercising its impact, trying to straitjacket their potential. That the fear isn’t irrational doesn’t make it less damaging to their futures, but I genuinely don’t know how to keep them from experiencing that fear while our country seems willing to normalize schools, churches, malls and theaters as war zones.

My personal feeling is that this issue won’t be resolved with a single magic pill. I don’t believe better school security or improved mental health support or better background checks alone will fix this, I think the answer will involve a combination of many solutions, but none of them will happen until we decide that all our children’s futures are worth working together.

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