Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Gun Dilemma

My husband grew up around guns; they are a part of his family's traditions and history. His mom owns a treasured rifle passed down from her own father. He and his brother grew up watching and then helping their dad clean his own guns, viewing them more as heirlooms than tools. They were not even remotely toys. I have watched the members of his family pass around somebody's new gun to admire it, and as the gun is passed around, I have seen each person carefully open the chamber and check if it's loaded, even when they have seen the three or four others do it before them. Safety is never a question.

My upbringing was different. Although I grew up in the same rural area, only a few miles through the woods from him, I never saw or held a real firearm until I met him. He taught me how to shoot at targets, and I'm pretty good at it. I'm fairly sure that unless I am starving, I will not ever shoot at a live creature, but I am okay with him hunting, since I know he is highly respectful of the life he is taking and values much more about the hunting experience than a lust to kill something.

Until we had kids, that was all we really needed to think about in regard to guns. They were always kept safely, and I never worried about them. But when we decided to have children, the discussions began. How many locks is enough? How early should the kids know about guns? What do we teach them about handling them, and when? Most importantly, should we have them in our home at all, once we have children?

I have read and participated in a number of forum discussions about this--guns in the home. Some parents view that as an absolute red flag for whether or not their child can visit another child's home. Many have written that they do not care how well the guns are stored; there is just no way their children would be allowed at my home. And I can respect that. After all, I can see being extremely uncomfortable with a family who has an unpredictable dog, for instance. And I would always want to know if a family my children were visiting unsupervised had dangerous items in their home, such as guns. Still, it makes me sad to think that for some parents, the simple fact that we own firearms (well, to be precise, David owns them!) would make our home off limits for their kids.

The reason for this post? Our new daycare provider does own firearms, and I asked her how they were stored. I thought about how warm and caring her personality is, how safe and cozy her home feels. The guns, as it turns out, are locked in a safe in the basement, which is closed off to the children. I feel perfectly comfortable with that. Some parents wouldn't, I guess.

I'm not going to lie and say that I like the guns. I'm still far enough removed from that background to have a lot of hesitancy about them, especially the handguns. (David has several of these, as well.) I'm also seriously disgusted by the majority of the information...ahem...propaganda that David receives from gun-promoting organizations, especially that frighteningly powerful NRA. Being a gun-owner and a liberal democrat are at odds in a way, perhaps evidenced by Senator Obama's unfortunate comments that are causing him so much grief with the press. (Personally, by the way, I have no issue with his comment, other than it's a bummer it came out of his mouth the way it did. I know what he's saying. Sure, it's an elitist sentiment, but whatever. I digress into politics, and my brain is not quite prepared to head down that road this evening.)

We go a little overboard with safety in this house in regard to the firearms. They are locked in a full-size safe that is bolted to our closet floor. Inside the safe, the ammunition is removed, and the guns are fitted with a trigger lock or a padlock through the action. The ammo is locked elsewhere.

I do worry about Jabberwock and Monkey finding the keys, finding the combinations, putting together the pieces in a covert operation when left home alone, some afternoon when they are both teenagers. I worry about them having access to a gun during a tough time as emotional adolescents, full of anger and angst. I worry about them showing off to friends, having accidents. But then I think about my husband's family, the reverence with which they handle their heirlooms--the caution, the respect. I know that most likely my children will be safer around guns than a child who has never seen one before. They will have the knowledge and guidance to use them properly.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Super Stress!

Feeling a bit mundane for only my third post ever, but seriously a lot has happened/is happening over the last 24 hours, and I'm just feeling a need to save my sanity by making a list.

These are the things that have been giving me super stress:

Item #1: Last night (Sunday night), I opened my son's lunch box to make his lunch for daycare this morning. Inside, I found the bill, which I was expecting. I also found a complete and total shocking surprise--a note saying that last Friday was the last day that our lovely provider can do daycare, due to a serious medical condition. Uhhhh...yeah. Meaning I had nowhere to bring my children today. I want the world to know that I have the utmost respect for this woman; I truly am in pain thinking about (speculating about) whatever tragic news she received from her doctor. I feel for her family, and for the loss she must feel giving up all of her daycare children, whom I know she loves immensely. I feel helpless, as I would like to help in some way, but I don't even really know what is going on. I also completely, totally understand that she was unprepared on Friday for discussing whatever it is with each parent, as she was in the middle of trying to hold on and get through the day.

Still, I really, really wish that she had said something along the lines of, "Hey, you should check out Jabberwock's lunchbox as soon as you can. I put a note about something important in there."

That said, today I ran around like crazy, all by the grace of my wonderful boss who let me come in early, leave halfway through the day, and miss a very important meeting with some honchos from the state department of education about something that I totally forgot to prepare for because I was busy trying to figure out what the heck to do with my kids. (Unlike my soul mate's boss, who told him he must have this figured out by tomorrow, no exceptions.) In the end, all is well. I got a great recommendation for a new daycare, I called five minutes before the other two groups of parents that were scrambling like me, I met with Michelle today and really liked her, and she has openings for my boys starting tomorrow morning. I am going in early to hang out with the kids and help them transition, and then I am going to breathe a big sigh of relief and hope that Jabberwock will be able to recover from this strange and sudden disappearance from his life of a person who has partially raised him for the last three years.

Item #2: About twenty minutes after I found the note in J's lunchbox, I got a call from my mother. Currently her brother, my uncle, is lying in intensive care with some freakish disease that suddenly struck him down in the middle of a normal cold. His optic nerve swelled up, and he lost all sight to his left eye. Then his brain was swelling, and he suffered from an excruciating headache. They told him he had viral meningitis, then encephalitis. Steadily, he has gotten worse. Now they are discussing Lyme disease and other possibilities. He's on a Lyme-fighting antibiotic and a powerful anti-viral. He has lost the ability to walk, and at the last update was pretty much paralyzed (a palsy, I'm told) on his left side and his optic nerve is twice the normal size. They don't know what to do. He and his wife and daughter are all alone in Ohio, far from all family. Again, I wish I could help in some way.

Item #3: My midterm grades are due tomorrow and I am blogging about it instead of correcting papers.

Item #4: I have to create sets for our play that opens on Thursday. Currently, I have about 1/8 of the set completed.

Item #5: I have not had a chance to exercise today, nor does it look like I will get one, unless I do not sleep.

Item #6: I keep writing my blog instead of working.

Item #7: I am avoiding making my lunches for tomorrow.

Item #8: Instead of being able to make sets tomorrow, I must attend a benefits meeting, at which they will be telling me how my super good but awfully expensive health insurance package is being discontinued in favor of a less expensive and thoroughly useless health insurance package.


Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Only Thing We Have to Fear...

My son Jabberwock is deathly afraid of dogs. Heights. The coffee grinder. Automatic flush toilets. And a host of other things.

Through much of my life, I have also battled a parade of fears, and I think I have triumphed over them all, at least from time to time. I wouldn't say that I have any fears that would qualify as phobias, but I have struggled with anxiety since I was very young. When I was a kid, I remember being absolutely terrified of going into the ShortStop for a gallon of milk. My mom was exasperated at me for balking at this seemingly simple task. As a mom now, I realize that sending me in after that milk was keeping her from having to wake my infant brother and pack him up out of the car seat, haul both of us out into the freezing Minnesota winter, stand in line juggling a baby, a purse, and a gallon of milk, and then turn around and get everyone settled back into the car, a process bound to take a bit more time than me just running in. I was nine years old, and this gas station was a place we stopped frequently, probably several times a week. Most of the cashiers knew us. I can remember, though, gripping the front seat of the car and turning my face away from my mother, tears trying to squeeze out of my eyes as I shook my head, refusing to go in.

Like my son, I have a fear of heights. When I am a certain distance above the solid, comforting ground, my hands and feet go completely numb. My heart beats irregularly. Even when I watch someone on TV who is mountain climbing, my hands go numb. They start to sweat profusely.

My biggest fear is and has always been losing someone I love. To say that this fear has gotten worse after becoming a mother is a severe understatement, but I've really always had it. If I were to psychoanalyze myself, I suppose I could come up with some kind of anxiety disorder, some abandonment issues, who knows. But I can remember lying in bed at night, thinking, and suddenly it would occur to me that my dad was going to die. He lived in another state, so I really didn't know him all that well, but it would just occur to me that he was dead or dying, and suddenly I would be crying, weeping really. I was so afraid that it was true. Or instead of my dad, it would be my best friend who died. Now, of course, it is my children. Out of the blue, my brain shows me hideous images of the horrible things that could happen to them, and it hits me right in the chest, a sledge hammer of fear.

I don't know how my son got his fear of dogs. I don't know where my own fears come from. But as I've gotten older and examined my life, I see how some fears pass from parents to children. I see how afraid my own mother was at times in her life, and I see how much she has conquered those fears today. It gives me hope for myself, and for my sensitive little guy, too. I will say that I almost never pass up an opportunity to climb up high enough to make my hands go numb. I look over the edge of cliffs, ignoring the sweaty palms and racing heart, willing myself to conquer my fear. I haven't figured out how to face down my fear of loss, but I bravely love in spite of the fragility of it all.

Lastly, here's a lighthearted poem I wrote about a time when my mother conquered her snake phobia, for the love of her grandson, and Jabber offered me some words of wisdom about facing those fears.


My mother
smiles a nervous smile
and breathes
softly, steeling herself.

"I can do this," she whispers,
as my son smooths a cobra sticker
onto the hem of her shirt.
"Thanks, honey," she gasps,
and she takes a tentative
glance down--

the snake sits coiled
and indifferent
my son's eyes are searching
his grandmother's,
seeing more than she intends.

"It's not a snake," he offers.
He smiles, an enchantment
an enigma--
"It's just rope," he announces,
"With a head and stripes."

And that's how I am trying to see all fears, with the wisdom of a four-year-old. Not a snake at all. Just rope, with a head and stripes.

And here's my youngest son Monkey, who at sixteen months, is completely fearless.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Notes from a Knew-It-All

(If you clicked this link looking for virgins, you are out of luck...all you'll find here is an exhausted mother of two and a reflection on the realities of motherhood!)

Tonight I was put solidly in my place by someone whose head barely clears my sternum.

There was shouting, there were tears, there were threats and bargains and even a guilt trip or two. There was throwing of toys. There were exasperated sighs. There was a kindling of anger so hot it nearly burned me as it poured out through my dagger eyes, my dragon's fire breath.

"You know it might make things better if you'd apologize," advised Dad.

"I'm sorry!" Little Man shouted, insincere of course, as he flung his small body across the bed.

And then it happened. Words, not mine but my mother's, and her mother's most likely, made their way out of my mouth. The words themselves aren't important. It's the sound of them that matters--that bitter, angry sound that shows my son I am Out. Of. Control. Over what?

Before I had children, I knew so much about them. Teachers always think they know it all about parenting, anyway, but I was especially sure. I always treated my students with respect. "You can't take it personally, no matter what," was my standard advice to student teachers and substitutes, and it's true. Keep the emotion out of it, keep your tone respectful, offer choices, de-escalate, no blaming, focus on the desired behavior. I was smug as I held and snuggled my oldest child as an infant, knowing I'd be so much better at parenting than other moms. My child would never be yelled at, never spanked, would only know love and attachment.

And it's true that most of his life has been just that. We do have a lot of conflicts. He's four, and willful, intense, and dramatic. I'm thirty-two, and willful, intense, and dramatic. Plus I have a messy house, which makes me irritable. For many of our conflicts, I'm so grateful for all my teaching experience, for all the books I've read about how to talk so my kids will listen, for all the hours I carried him in a sling, breastfed him on demand and snuggled with him in my bed. All these things that I have determined will make me the greatest mother ever actually work.

And then there are times like tonight. Faced with my four-year-old son, who is throwing himself on the floor in a frenzy of thrashing and wailing because I sent him to bed early for dumping a basket of books on the floor while I was trying to get him to clean up (yeah, it was really that mundane), I would rather be standing in front of a whole classroom full of rowdy eighth graders ten minutes before bus call. There's no way to keep myself from taking it personally when my own child screams at me that he doesn't like me anymore, even when I know on an intellectual level that he really does. Or even if he doesn't, it's for his own good. Heh.

All I can say is, thank God that at that moment, with my mother's words streaming out of me and my whole brain telling me that what this kid deserves is a "damn good spanking," my son suddenly started crying in a whole different way. This was an "I'm in pain" cry, and instantly my anger evaporated into concern.

"MY EYE!" he shrieked, hopping up and down on the step-stool. I examined him and found that one of his long, beautiful lashes was stuck in the corner of his left eye. My voice was calm and soothing as I carried him into his bedroom, where there is better light. By the time the eyelash is removed, we are both calm enough to share a story and an apology, a goodnight kiss and a lullaby.

I used to know it all. Then I had kids. Now I just apologize a lot, and try to remember.

C'mon, could you be angry at this face?