Cat’s in the Cradle

“And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me
He’d grown up just like me
My boy was just like me” –  Harry Chapin, Cat’s in the Cradle

You may wonder why I am teary, angry, sad and mute as I walk by you, my son.  You may think you know.  You’re probably wrong.

All day, every day, I see you on the couch – eating, sleeping, staring at a TV screen, talking with strangers online.  You’re unshaven, unkempt.  No passion for anything, no ambition, no friends, no life.  You’re ill, in pain, you can’t, you say.  Can’t go to school, can’t work.   Can’t engage anyone, anywhere.

All I can see is your father all over again.  Scruffy beard, smelly.  Lying on a couch, ill, disabled, staring at a TV screen, eating there, sleeping there, talking with strangers online.  Ignoring you, ignoring me.  No friends, no passion, no ambition.  Can’t work.  Can’t go to school, inert.

I have no idea how to help you, save you from his lifestyle of emptiness, of blank space.  You spent many years watching him, seeing him on that couch day after day after day.  I didn’t realize you were learning how to be just like him.  Your mind taking it all on board. “This is how to be a man”, it decides.  Becoming the “man of the house” when he left, taking over his spot.

The future is not pre-determined, and this is where my hope lives.  The truth is that I cannot save you, I can only show you.  If you can see the path, you can leave it, choose another, make a new path.  You can save yourself.  The first step is to see, my son. See the pattern, learn, understand.

You, at 16, are so much more than he ever was – bright, talented, compassionate, kind.  You are the strongest person.  You’re Lieutenant Dan.  Right now all I want to do is drag another freaking couch out of the house and light it on fire.  Shake you, scream “No!  Not this!  This was never the best of him!  Don’t be this, please, God.  Be the best parts of him.  The parts that were active, industrious, curious, determined. Be interested in rocks or planes or history or fixing things, something, anything. Be the best of him, version 2.0, improved.  Not this. Not this. Not this.”

You have always been the Boy Who Could Fly.  There are so few who can be.  Please fly.

This.  This is why.

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Slaying the Dragon

Today was the first day of school here.  My Facebook feed is flooded with pictures of happy kids and teens, often holding up signs saying things like “My First Day of Kindergarten!”  In most of these everyone is smiling, except the teens who have the “WHY do I still have to do this?” look on their faces.  They’re in living rooms, on porches, at bus stops, getting on buses.  Proud parents sharing their joy:  “He’s gotten SO big!”  “_____ couldn’t wait to get back!”  and so on.

Sigh.

My day started with a teenager so anxious he was nearly feral.  Every step happening with prodding, cajoling, negotiating.  Forget the bus, in the car.  Hysterical sobbing mixed with claims of “I am done” and “I feel empty inside.”  Confessions of imagined crimes proving he’s a Very Terrible Person.  There is no hope for him, nothing helps, he declares.  Railing against the failure of a parent he believes simply does not care about him, nothing he could do would matter, why, Mom?  Clenched fists controlling the anger that is fear’s bodyguard.  Afraid he will lose control and hit someone, getting him expelled from a school he loves and claims to hate.

No cute first day pictures here.

In the end, we got to the parking lot.  Stayed a while.  Talked with a teacher.  Heard that he was not the only one – only about half the kids even made it in, and it was a half day.  His school teaches only kids like him – bright, creative, talented and devastatingly anxious, depressed, afflicted.  They understand.   We go again tomorrow, in stages, this time maybe into the building.  They are good at this, and it’s not my first time at this rodeo either.  By next week he’ll be on the bus, I know this even as I fear it won’t happen.

This is not how I imagined it would be.

I remember, when he was a tiny person, wondering what the world would do to him.  Very early in life he was unusually compassionate, kind, happy.  When he was about four I remember him finding a perfect crab shell on the beach. He was delighted.  His friend Jacob was envious, angry. Why couldn’t HE find a shell like that?  It’s not fair!  Tearful, angry face, stomping feet.  We adults were doing our usual – this happens, sometimes you don’t get what you want, calm down.  Ryan, seeing his friend so upset, walks over to him, hands him the treasured shell and pats him on the shoulder solemnly.   He walks away.  Tears evaporate, Jacob is thrilled to have the shell.  Five minutes later the novelty has worn off.  He crushes that perfect, delicate shell and tosses it aside.   Ryan, distressed, comes for a hug.  This is all I can offer.  I cannot bring the shell back, and the gift, once given, is treated as the recipient chooses.  Over and over again things like this happen.

I suppose this is called building ‘resilience’, the world hardening his shell for him, and I understand it’s necessary.  What isn’t often seen are the bruises inside.  The wounds where the shell isn’t hard enough.  The sadness and fear and anger about what another barrage will mean.  He sees it coming, dreads it.  Throws up all his defenses.  Struggles.  Sometimes pushes all the way through, sometimes retreats and regroups, preparing for another go.

For me, when the challenge comes, I pray that once, just once, it will bounce off him.  That he will have mastered his world and will challenge it, instead of it challenging him.  Sometimes I indulge in wishful thinking – this time there won’t be an assault, there won’t be defenses, this will be no-big-deal and he will be fine.   Then, feeling the hope evaporate as the battle begins, fighting my own fear and anger and despair.  Being strong, because strong is the only choice.

It’s like watching that shell getting crushed and discarded over and over, taking something fragile, beautiful and perfect and shattering it.  Then, picking up the pieces and assembling them into a whole again, still beautiful, if not as perfect as when it was new, reinforced so it’s not quite so delicate.  Cracked in places, healed in others, tiny pieces lost forever.  Putting Humpty Dumpty back together so that he can once more go slay the dragon that is his world.

 

 

 

The Unlocking of Joy

It’s been more than a year now since I ended my marriage, the final release of something that had been pulling away for so many years.  The time when I realized that yes, I can do this on my own (something anyone who knows me will think laughable, given how capable I appear to the world).  Not only that, that it was necessary and healthy for me.  It’s been…terrifying. Freeing.  Calming.  Overwhelming.  Like a coiled spring when first released, the energy of release was tremendous: feeling as if I were spun glass, feeling giddy joy, feeling overwhelming sadness.  Never, though, did I feel fear, which surprised me.  I thought being on my own, with my son, would be scarier than it is.

Sometimes when you’re bound, as I was, you don’t realize right away what was stifled.  For me, that was joy.  This is not happiness, though they are connected.  You can be happy, but without joy.  Joy is the soul singing to the universe.  Joy can be scary, for when we are consumed with it we are vulnerable.  For me, being bound meant controlling, suppressing joy, experiencing only tiny, carefully measured bits.  The day Mom wanted the “rose” on her last birthday cake.  Submerging myself in music.  Laughter pouring from me.  When I was bound, there was a price to pay for much of this, and so I was careful with my joy.

Being unbound, releasing myself, began a period of time where I began to explore, to discover, the parts of me that I had hidden, that had atrophied, that felt almost lost to me. Remembering how to communicate with my soul, to understand myself, sometimes in ways I had never connected to before, ever.  It’s been…marvelous.

I release Joy so much more easily now. I revel in it.  Being vulnerable in my joy does not frighten me, for the worst has been done to me and I have not been broken.  There is such incredible power in this.  Sailing across the dance floor, not caring whether I was the best or the worst or somewhere in between, just being in that moment.  Not only experiencing music as me, also experiencing others’ music in a connected way – share with me one song that means something to you, just one. I will listen to it and understand you better from that.  One weekend of listening to others’ songs, it was incredible.  I feel such gratitude that others would open to me this way.   You see, when I am vulnerable in my joy, others also become willing and vulnerable.  It is the coolest feeling to be entrusted with this.

Unbinding myself, it’s like breathing fresh air on a cool day.  Releasing that which bound me was terrifying, and so very, very worth it.

The Boy Who Could Fly

For the longest time, I told myself, my son, everyone, that it was all about what he wanted to do. That whatever he wanted, my son, I would support.

It was also about doing what I ‘should’ do. I’d make sure he had what he needed to be successful. Do the best by him. Do what the experts say. Help him understand, accept, even love the way he’s wired. Make sure he has a physical outlet, a creative outlet, he is a Warrior and that’s what Warriors demand. That’s what a good mother does, right? Sees her son’s dreams and helps him follow them? Makes sure he has the tools to sustain himself, to teach him how to leave and be able to create the life he wants for himself, because we showed him how.

So when he stopped going along with the program, my instinct to simply override and push through took over. This was the right thing. This was the best thing, for him, I’m just being a good parent to him. Ignore the hostility and the digging in of the heels, he will get over it and he will see that there is power in flight, and that he should never, ever abandon it. So few in this world have that fearlessness, that joy, he must not be permitted to waste this.

I wanted to believe that my drive is selfless, all for him. That’s not 100% true. I loved to see him fly. I would sit for hours on hard benches, in dusty gyms, in all weather, just to watch. When he flies, it’s a thing of beauty, an alchemy of grace and strength. To see him float, to watch him soar, that made everything worth it.

He was always interested in flying. From the time he was a baby, in one of those motorized swings, it had to be on the highest, fastest setting or he would not tolerate it. He fell asleep zooming back and forth, back and forth. When his father would toss him in the air, when his cousins would play ‘catch the baby’ he would laugh with pure joy. Again! Higher! Pushing him so high on the swing the other parents would gasp with fear, him laughing the whole time. I learned not to flinch, to push down my urge to say Stop! He could get hurt. Of course he could, and he did. That is the nature of flying, and the unbreakable pull of gravity. He seemed to be charmed, though, as injuries were few.

He started in gymnastics with the idea that it would give him an outlet for his boundless energy, good muscle memory and some skills he could apply to other sports. Gymboree, then Little Gym, then “Big Gym.” We didn’t expect that he would reject all other sports introduced to him: swimming, baseball, tennis, soccer. It was then that it dawned on me why: He couldn’t fly through the air on a field or court, and that is what he wanted to do most. Be on the bar, on the rings, and any chance he got on the trampoline.

It never occurred to me that a time would come when he wouldn’t want to fly any longer. How could that be? There was so much joy, fearlessness, freedom in the flying. I selfishly ignored the signs he was grounding himself, believing that the joy that was once there hadn’t left. That I could, once again, watch him float, twist, flip and soar.

Then, today, from his coach. “I think he has lost all interest in the trampoline.” I was not prepared for how sad I would be, how much I will miss this time, how I want to scream that it’s not fair to take this away from me, except it never was mine to begin with. It’s his, to do with what he wants.

It amazes me that what was once full of joy is now ‘boring’. Something so central to him, now not interested. I don’t know quite how to process that. It frightens me that there is no new joy, no new passion filling that place once held by the need to defy gravity. What that means to who he’s becoming. What happens next. How this creature of the air lives with both feet permanently on the ground.

Also, to grieve, as well as to acknowledge my truth – that it wasn’t always just about what he wanted. I wanted it too, probably more than him. This gift was never mine. I have always been a witness to it, and what a great experience that was.

I will miss this more than I can express in words.

The Power of Accountability

I’ve spent a good part of the last few days ruminating on current events. Black Lives Matter. All Lives Matter. Blue Lives Matter. Don’t take sides, but be defensive and outraged at different viewpoints. What’s behind all this?

Then it came to me. Accountability. Transparency. Consistency.

See, there’s been a problem for a very long time: Convictions of innocent people. It’s been going on for decades, either because of poor representation, poor police work, poor handling of evidence or maybe all of these. There are organizations dedicated to exonerating the innocent and there is a registry as well. Numbers vary depending on who’s doing the research but it happens.

Is that the Police’s fault? No and yes. There are officers who have behaved poorly. Knowing that there are ‘dirty’ cops out there, cops who would not be truthful, would plant evidence, would “lose” evidence exonerating a person creates an element of mistrust. They are not always on your side, and more often than not they don’t get caught.

Is it the victim’s fault? We say we shouldn’t blame the victim, but then we say oh, well he was a felon, a bad guy, look at him, he’s homeless, he’s been arrested a zillion times, to the point that with Phil Castile, having a lot of traffic violations somehow makes him a ‘bad guy’. Well, he was speeding in the past. Driving without a muffler. Really? But we like to find comfort in that the person who was killed was somehow deserving of it due to their character, that they were bad apples and the world was better anyhow.

Now we live in a world of video, where anyone can use their phone to record, even ‘live broadcast’, We’ve watched in sheer horror as people are chased and gunned down. Thrown to the ground. We’ve watched as they, completely incapacitated, have been shot at close range. We’ve watched them say “I can’t breathe” until they died. We watched as a man was chased down and shot in the back, then evidence planted by his corpse, followed by a falsified report that would have been accepted except for that video. On and on, and in more cases than not, exoneration of the officers involved. Innocent. How can that be?

With each finding of innocence, not guilty, there is a sense of empowerment. I did it, I was right, it’s OK to shoot in this situation, we will be found innocent. Society, our community, says this is right and OK, so we will keep on. They are given a certain amount of impunity, indemnity, an exception from the law that others would not get. They are getting away with murder.

This is not good.

More than anything, people want fair treatment. We learn this as toddlers.  “That’s not fair!”  We learn that rewards and punishments should be based on behavior and should be consistent, transparent and unbiased. You get the gold medal because you’re the fastest. The A because you answered enough questions correctly.  When someone is being seen as being treated as ‘favored’ or ‘unfavored’, resentment begins to grow. When things are handled unequally, outrage results.  Why did you give him a gold medal when I was faster?  That is unjust.

When those who are supposed to restore fairness do not, when they become a big part of the problem, things fall apart. Because if we can’t just those we give our power to use it wisely and come up with just, fair treatment, then we look to take that power back and resolve it ourselves.  That is also learned in childhood and carries through life.  Revenge, it’s often called.  Vigilante justice.  Settling the score. Righting a wrong.

It was, sadly, only a matter of time before someone would become unhinged, say here and no farther, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t and it doesn’t matter because the cop can kill in cold blood and be found innocent, so that’s it. They can kill us without reason, we kill them without reason. Dallas was that place, and I fear it may not be the end. Because “Lives Matter” and taking sides creates conditions for combat, for battle. This is how wars start. I fear the end.

The only way to truly end this is to demand transparency and accountability. When you kill someone, whether you are a police officer or not, you must be held responsible for that, and there must not be a different standard no matter how ‘tough’ your job is. Doctors whose patients die to often are charged with malpractice, can go to jail, lose their license. Pilots who make too many errors in flight or who crash an airplane due to error face charges, go to jail, can lose their license. We need the same standards for our police.

People make mistakes. People react badly. People have pre-conceived notions that drive behavior. That does not mean they are not accountable, no matter what their role. Our officers are not military. Their job is not to eliminate combatants. Their job is to protect and to serve. They are supposed to be peacekeepers. Let’s make sure they get back to this role. Require transparency. Require accountability. Think creatively. Stop, please stop choosing sides and shouting. It solves nothing and costs so much more.

** Full disclosure: I have been employed as a dispatcher for a university police department. Police work is not alien to me.

What Do Bernie and Donald Have In Common?

What? How could Bernie Sanders, longtime Senator from Vermont and voice of social democracy and Donald Trump, icon of capitalism possibly have in common?

 

  •  They are both political outsiders. Sure, Bernie’s been the Senator from Vermont forever, but until now nobody’s listened to him.
  • Every time they win, everyone tells tell us they can’t win.
  • We are regularly told we are stupid, crazy, throwing away our vote, and that the election of this candidate will mean the end of everything as we know it.
  • The Traditional Party Power Structure is either not understanding or ignoring what the voters are truly expressing in these votes.
    • We are tired of the status quo
    • We don’t trust any professional politician anointed by the status quo
    • We are tired of being screwed

I am glad that Bernie and Donald are in it, because as long as they are, people are forced to confront issues they’d rather not.

Issues like the fact that there is little to no middle class left standing.  That a High School Diploma is basically worthless and that in order to actually get a job beyond minimum wage, you either have to have hundreds of thousands of dollars or you have to borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a college degree.

That even that degree is no guarantee you’ll get a decent job.

That unchecked influence of unfettered dollars influences the few at the expense of the many.

That democracy is not a zero-sum game.  You can create equality and support a middle class.  To do that, though, you have to stop engendering fear and hate and start creating policies that allow both.

Policies that restrict the amount of tuition a taxpayer-supported college can collect from a student.

Policies that restrict campaign contributions.

Policies that fund long ignored infrastructure maintenance and improvement, which itself provides an ecosystem of good jobs and growth.

Policies that support rather than punish the poor.

Policies that allow us all to have dignity.

First they ignore you.

Then they laugh at you.

Then they attack you.

Then you win.

and I don’t give a hoot who did or did not say that.