Family, School

what’s popular. white elephants

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It’s amazing how this one word, popular,  can create such havoc.  I usually attribute this word to tweens and teens as they navigate through the social strata in middle school and high school.  But discovering the deadly shootings at UCSB; an area I was supposed to be camping near this past Memorial Day weekend, I gritted my teeth.

I watched an almost seven minute YouTube video of the 22 y/o gunman talk about popularity and being a loner.  His day of retribution against women and humankind had arrived last Friday,  leaving seven people in its wake.   This was his way of dealing with disappointment.  When life dealt him lemons he didn’t make lemonade.  Instead, he chose to cut down the entire lemon tree.

As a parent and member of society I am scared.  Has our society become this?  Loners and suicides and deadly shootings?  What should be an anomaly has become the norm.  The final act to be trending and popular.

How can we redefine popular?

Again I am driving and my kids notice my silence.  My SUV is lined up behind other cars at the back gate of the junior high my son attends.  When asked what was wrong  I spoke of the senseless deaths at the UCSB campus last Friday.  They listen as I talk to our school front office through my car speakers.  As a parent I try to remain immune to the fears of random acts of violence.  I think that my community, my values will keep my kids safe.   This won’t happen to me.

But it can.  Because one of those victims attended my children’s same schools, her family home within a mile of my own.  The same church.  Our community reels as I listen to the front office’s talks of purchasing candles for a vigil.  After dropping off my sons I drive by the park where her vigil will take place this evening.  I am not isolated in my bubble; safe.   None of us are.

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Mental illness.  It doesn’t get the attention like heart disease, cancer, AIDS.  It is swept under the radar.  When are we going to do something about it?  It is the white elephant that always is in the room.  We talk of tighter gun control, the black market.  But the stigma of depression and mental illness needs to be lifted.  Discussed in our schools.

My boys just went through an outdated, uneventful presentation of family life aka sex education.  What we really need are counselors proactively in our classrooms, talking about mental illness with our kids.  We need forums for our parents with medical professionals and law enforcement, to learn how to catch the warning signs.      We already have these forums for sex and drugs in our secondary schools Only then can we make these random acts of violence unpopular.  Only then can we affect some kind of change.

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I am pretty pissed off.    Angry for all  the families who have lost their children in this senseless manner; even the gunman’s parents.  It’s easy to point the finger at them for not reining in their son; for not cutting him off financially.  What if YOU are the parent of a child diagnosed with mental illness?  When these tragedies happen each and every one of these parents cringe.  They worry, could this be my son next?    This isn’t about some single, affluent, white male with access to guns.  If you believe that, then you have your head in the sand.

Mental illness is not going away.  Sheltering our children and nation from these issues propogates the stigma it carries.  We need to address the white elephant in the room.  I share this with my boys; the angry mom in the SUV.  The white elephants are never popular.  My girlfriend’s daughter has learned to deal with life’s disappointment; wearing the shirt above.   She’s discovered how to navigate through what’s popular.  It’s time to change the momentum for our children and affect change.

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Family

steering wheel convos pt. 2

red ribbon

I sat at my work desk as my sons walked home from school; talking to their Dad on the cell.  I had been looking online at the upcoming events at my son’s junior high; the message scrolling across the screen.  Yesterday during a Red Riboon Week assembly to “Say No to Drugs,” a child approached the displayed police motorcycle; firing a rifle.  Two students were taken to the hospital.

This is too close to home.   The message is scrolling across our district websites.

And so I must embark on this conversation again; gun safety.  This Tuesday I had asked my sons what they would do if they were confronted with a gunman on their campuses.   Their elementary Red Ribbon assembly was on Monday with a K9 unit when the news of the middle school shooting in Sparks, Nevada broke.

Should the parents of the 12 y/o be liable for his actions by having the gun accessible? (see article below)

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/23/should-we-blame-the-parents-of-the-nevada-school-shooter_n_4151476.html

Who is to blame for an elementary student walking to a police motorcycle and discharging the rifle?   Police officers must carry loaded weapons; ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice.  I pondered aloud why he had a loaded gun on an elementary school campus and the hubs reminded me.  The cop LEGALLY CAN have a loaded rifle.  Think how the police officer feels!  The rifle was secured and locked on his motorcycle and he was doing community service for local children.  In response to this incident the police department removed all rifles from their motorcycles.

As a child I was given a healthy dose of respect, as well as fear, for police officers.  Would any of my boys walk up to a gun and have the urge to shoot it?   So many questions.  But what are the solutions?  Maybe we need to update our Red Ribbon message.  Say No to Drugs and Guns.  The frequency of shootings is increasing, and becoming more common place.  The current administration in DC is trying to take guns off the streets.  But still there is accessibility; pushing the purchases of guns underground.  The black market for gun sales is doing well.

But is the question more about accessibility to guns or the deteriorating morals of our society?   If we take knives out of our kitchens, will we decrease stabbings?  As parents and members of society we need to teach and uphold respect for life, property and the pursuit of happiness.

Over the summer the hubs, father-in-law and eldest son attended a local gun show.  Our son was wide-eyed and instructed, both by his grandfather and father, to look but not touch.   Aisles of ammo magazines were visited by a small demographic of the population; exercising their right to bear arms.  This son is currently learning about these Constitutional rights in the eighth grade as he writes essays on taxation laws and the Second Amendment.  While the gun debate carries on I think of how to keep my three sons safe; to fear guns.  My hubs believes the exact opposite; to teach them a healthy respect for them.   To learn to use guns properly in defense.

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Just as we fight the war on drugs by prevention, like Red Ribbon week, so we need to have better outreach for our sons.  The research shows that all the shooting incidents are done by BOYS and males.  Whether it be: lack of a consistent male figure or parent, retaliation for being bullied or just anger at the world; we need to find a way to reach these guys and to offer them a better choice.  When you are the person behind the trigger you are aware of the power you hold in your hands; that you can do harm.  It has been documented that workers in the meat-packing industry who eviscerated cows, on a daily basis, became desensitized to the carnage; the pools of blood.   And so the trigger is dispassionately depressed; this act of desperation the only way to be heard.   A parting statement.  And then the shooter turns the weapon upon himself.

Are boys hard-wired this way?  When the girls in the kindergarten sandbox played pretend tea; boys were chasing one another; fashioning guns with sticks.  They wanted to be the heroes.   Whether it be Legos or blowdryers, my sons chased each other throughout our home; shooting each other down.  Don’t do that, I’d say.  Guns are not safe.  No matter that their own father carried a pistol on his military missions; should his aircraft be downed and defenseless.  Guns are the epitome of masculinity; power.

At the steering wheel, today,  I talk about gun safety.  To never, ever touch or reach for one.  To have a healthy respect for the destruction it can do.  To value life more than anything else.  To have the maturity and proper gun training to know that the choice to pull the trigger is life-altering.  And unless someone threatens you or your immediate loved ones harm; no property or belief should ever, ever make you play God.   But most importantly I want my sons to know that our “big ears” are here to hear them; for better and for worse.  I will take the bullet for them.  In a heartbeat.

Family

steering wheel convos

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It is cold; definitely not an Indian summer morning.  Driving into work, with Bruno Mars crooning through my speakers, I pondered how much of my life is spent driving in my car.  Is it a bad thing that my favorite time of day is when I drop my kids off at school and I have my SUV all to myself; music blaring?   Normally I rush from one minute-to-the-next with deadlines and schedules.  My morning drive to work is always s-l-o-w.

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Mind you, I awake without an alarm at approximately 5 AM.  The still quiet of the morning hours fly by and as I shout to my children like a master sergeant to enter my vehicle, backing out of the garage, all the important details of the day get relayed to them in chronological order.  The schedules and assignments due are hurriedly confirmed in the short five minutes it takes me to pull into the junior high and elementary school parking lots.

Yesterday as I watched streams of junior high kids weave amongst cars toward the back gate, I gripped my steering wheel and asked my eldest what he would do if a gunman was at his school.  The Sparks, NV middle school shooting was on my mind and before I even knew it, the question was uttered from my lips.  He looked at me with the deer-in-the-headlights look.

Why?  What happened Mom?

When the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting occurred last December I filtered what I would say to my children; shocked like the rest of the nation.  Did I ever think I’d be casually talking about school shootings with the 13, 11 and 8 year olds in my vehicle?  Absolutely not.  But the shooter, on Monday, was a 12 year old; not a disgruntled adult or older teen.  My children are always targets…all of our children are.  My girlfriend’s 13 year old worries, frequently, about being safe and Americans’ easy access to guns.

The schools have disaster plans and drills but I wonder if any of it sinks in.  And so I asked the question again, my car falling silent and all eyes and ears on me.  In the short time it took for me to turn into the drop-off zone I relayed my message.  To seek cover and drop to the ground.  If you can run to a classroom and lock the door, do it.  Don’t draw attention to yourself and don’t try to be the hero.  If you are on the playground get as low as you can go.

Like an earthquake drill? asked the youngest; the great shake-out drills from last week still fresh in his mind.

When Sandy Hook occurred  my immediate response was that all the video gaming and shooting games make it easy for kids to think this is normal.  Our children are exposed to  violence, daily, on games like Halo or Call of Duty.  The research negates this train of thought, stating kids realize video games are fantasy.  Games allow them to escape reality and pretend to be the hero once-in-a-while.  A whole chapter is dedicated to this in Rosalind Wiseman’s Masterminds and Wingmen.   My older boys, under the watchful eye of my hubs, own both games.

I was saddened to hear of the fallen teacher in Sparks, NV; a former Marine who has served in Iraq.  How can he protect his country’s freedoms overseas and not be safe within its borders?  All of his training could not have prepared him for his death on home soil, his neighborhood.  By approaching the shooter he allowed the other kids on the playground to flee for cover; saving  lives.

By then I was sitting in the elementary school parking lot looking at our playground and pointing at places to hide should our school ever be a victim to this atrocity.   The kids wanted to know MORE; surprising since I had always thought this topic was taboo with too much information.  My girlfriend related a story how her son got detention for using inappropriate language and how it would appear on his permanent record.  But what of the bullying?  The playground heirarchies that adults dismiss as, “kids will be kids.”  Why is it easy to look the other way for inappropriate physical and mental behavior but bring down the hammer for one bad word?  Although not confirmed, early reports stated the 12 year old shooter had been bullied in middle school.

This complete conversation took place in fifteen minutes.

As I pulled away from the curb I realized that MOST of my meaningful conversations with my children do not take place at family meetings at the dining table; nor sitting atop quilts in bedrooms.  The times my kids are most unguarded and receptive to what I have to say is on the short drive to school.  They are fed.  They are awake (for the most part).  And most importantly, they are away from all electronic devices and that annoying, “What Does the Fox Say” song by Duo Ylvis.  Only my car stereo is on and I still have control of it!

Not less than thirty minutes later the elementary school’s phone number came across my car stereo screen.  Whilst playing on the playground two friends threw rocks to get my youngest son’s attention.  My child happily picked the rocks up and lobbed one right back; which promptly landed in another classmate’s eye.  When the call came from our beloved principal’s office I asked if he understood why he got in trouble.

But they threw rocks at me, Mom. came his reply, and I was in the middle of my game!

It was my son’s choice to playfully throw the rock back; the rock he should never have picked up to begin with.   The consequence?  Apologies to all parties involved, a playground ticket, a visit to the principal’s office and a letter of written apology.  My son is still learning what his moral compass is; right and wrong.  The choice between giving up playing his game and doing the right thing resulted in consequences.   So this morning in my car, I reminded him.  Make a better choice today.  And don’t throw any stones.

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It was a gift to realize WHEN my sons hear me.  I have learned that, instead of getting louder; I speak more softly.  Or I don’t speak at all.    Now, each morning, as I back out of my driveway and appear distracted with driving; my “big ears” are open.  When I don’t pepper the kids with endless yes or no questions or how was your day/ what did you do with the expected fine and nothing I find that they fill the silence.  They have asked me to turn my stereo down to be heard in the confines of my car.  All that driving, from one-place-to-another actually DOES count for something.  My steering wheel has become my biggest ally.

It can be yours too.  Take the time.  Big ears.  Just drive.  Steer them in the right direction.