God didn’t create pollution

A few weeks ago our eldest son told me that he and two of his friends didn’t believe that God created the world. Given that we’ve never actually talked about how the world was created, I was intrigued to learn more about what he was thinking and what they were talking about.

Because why would God create diseases and stuff, Mama?

Like especially LICE? he asked.

And sometimes people get cancer and DIE, he confirmed, shaking his head.

We are really lucky to have never experienced an outbreak of lice in our household to date and I’m hoping this post doesn’t jinx it. On the other hand, we are grateful to have lived through cancer diagnoses in our immediate family at their most benign stages: treatable and liveable.

And seriously why would God create polluting stuff? and polluting things like the environment? he asked me.

I suggested that perhaps we humans actually are the ones who are polluting stuff, not God.

Eyes wide open, he appeared to get that message right away.

I told him that I don’t really know how exactly the world came to be, or why there are diseases, or why some people have to hold signs up asking for food, or why things sometimes go wrong in the human body.

I’m technically an agnostic, but I whisper toward faith once in a while, and I found myself taking God’s side during this conversation.

I do not believe that there is a universal power that does anything to make us hurt on purpose.

Doesn’t mean we can’t help one another out, though.

The past several months have been jam packed with work, kids, work, kids, work, and kids. We escaped to our close friends’ gorgeous property recently, and watched our children run, play, argue and laugh. We mediated only when necessary, glasses of wine in hand, beneath a sun-sparkled blue sky kind of weekend that is most appreciated in the Pacific Northwest. During the two-day respite, however, I worried about contracts and data collection and research and meeting agendas. I also held my sweet 10-week-old baby goddaughter in my arms, and she captured my attention enough that that the worries I hold dissipated for a while.

There’s not much that can break in on a happy baby snuggled warmly in your arms.

In my day-to-day experience I am in the weeds, reviewing details and content and constantly dialoging on specific themes and ideas that will get the job(s) done, and figuring out how to resolve issues that prevent said job(s) from success. But our oldest son offered me a broader reflection with his questions. I didn’t know exactly what to tell him, so I asked him about what he’s thinking and listened to him question, speak, and pause as he absorbed my own thoughts and questions.

He’s doing great this year, and I, too, am doing rather unexpectedly well in the new math of second grade.

Preschool, on the other hand, continues to, um, keep me wide awake. Our littlest son has got his own opinions and is not shy about sharing them. He uninvited me to his own 5th birthday party, but we worked it out (no Mama, no party). I hope that I make it to see him into second grade.

I haven’t published anything to this blog since last November, and I welcome your comments on this post. For long time readers, you’ll know that this is a special time of year – about six weeks between the anniversaries of the unexpected loss of a close family friend and the death of my middle sister at age 28. I tend to get wound up as the weeks approach the anniversary of such great loss. Thank you for reading, and hanging with me during the weeks ahead.

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Sucker punched

I am sitting in the airport reflecting on the senseless bits and pieces of the day thus far.

This morning my eldest and I rushed into the classroom to check on the baby chicks that began hatching two days ago in an incubator in his classroom. A small group of students was huddled together reading books with their teacher.

One of the girls immediately announced that a baby chick had died.

The teacher shook her head.

All of them, she said.

All of them? I repeated, incredulous.

One I can understand. I almost expected one not to make it given their vulnerability and diminutive nature.

But all fifteen?

I felt sucker punched when I realized that this engaging and heartfelt project had ended so abruptly and harshly.

Like the children, I thought “it’s not fair!” and “why did they die?”

There is no good reason.

My son was angelic as he kissed me goodbye, but not before insisting I stay to look at a dinosaur book for a few minutes. His eyes were wide open when he was told that the fledgling chicks died, and then he changed the subject as we left the room. I inquired about how he was feeling, but he wasn’t ready to go there. So we read the dinosaur book and I headed to the office.

I was too distracted to listen to the morning story on NPR, but I did check my Twitter account at a stoplight.

Today is not only the First Day of Summer, it is Daylight Appreciation Day.

I know this because Ellen DeGeneres tweeted about it this morning (and yes, I follow Ellen because she is awesome and I have a crush on her and no, she is not yet following me).

Ellen thinks it’s really silly to have Daylight Appreciation Day, but I think it’s wonderful. Ellen has obviously never endured 40 consecutive days of rain and gloom and clouds like we do in the Pacific Northwest. The power of the sun is like nothing else. Sun increases our productivity and intellectual capacity, boosts the immune system, and reduces anxiety and depression.

The sun is a hurculean presence in our lives.

If I had known it was Daylight Appreciation Day, I would have done something special to celebrate!

The good news is that I still can.

I recently discovered a marvelous blog called Inherit the Spoon that weaves together tales of food, food justice, and family. I couldn’t resist clicking on the link called “Good Night Gorilla” because that is the name of one of my youngest son’s favorite books. We call it the “Banana Book” because he likes to point out the sunshine-colored fruit on every single page. It turns out I’m not alone, because somebody else’s kid loves it so much that he is addicted to this book.

I love it when unexpected commonalities refresh my own experience in parenting.

and

I hate it when unexpected loss darkens my day.

Today I will appreciate the daylight till it disappears beneath the horizon, and I will mourn the gentle spirits of the baby chicks.

I am filled with gratitude because I have two children for whom I can find the strength and patience (most days, anyway) to read and re-read Good Night, Gorilla at least 32 million times before crashing into the sofa with a glass of wine and a book.

Enjoy the light, readers.

Regress, re-program, repent

My son’s teacher emailed me this morning to ask if there was anything unusual going on at home because today he engaged in some behavior that was way, way, way over and done with, so far away in the past when he was a power-struggling three-year-old, and now he’s almost five, and growing in leaps and bounds….

And…

he is screaming? hitting? freaking out at preschool?

WHAT is going on?

No, there’s nothing unusual going on at home. In fact, it’s been a great week at home. Our eldest has excelled in swim lessons twice this week and he’s super excited because – in fact – he is learning how to swim! Watching him jump and bob in and beneath and over the cool water of an indoor pool guided by a young, engaging teacher has been pure delight.

So what?

And why?

And how?

How can I make it better? How can I make it easier? How can I teach my baby-turned-big boy to release his demons in a healthier and less dramatic way?

Hours from the incident, things were probably just fine at school, and the one of his teachers indicated that he found his way out of an angry patch. But in the meantime, I had to continue working when all I wanted to do was run to my car and go to him, pick him up, and hug him to pieces.

At home, I didn’t scold or even question much. It’s not that helpful to belabour the process with extended inquiry. Anyway, I already knew what provoked him – something ridiculously simple that generally isn’t a big deal, but for some unknown reason it was today.

He didn’t get to sit in the chair that he wanted to at lunchtime.

I didn’t go too deeply into that.

Instead I brought him home, looked in his eyes, and opened my arms.

And I listened.

Listened with my head, and listened with my heart.

Because I’m a mama warrior. I am heart and strength and defense and compassion and challenge — all in one body, one mind. It is my job to protect, teach, defend, grow. I think I’ll form a group of mama warriors — because I know there are a lot of us out there.

Though he didn’t say anything too revealing during our dialog, that’s ok.

Hitting (even when provoked) is not ok, of course, and I presented that in a very clear manner.

But mostly I let him know that he is loved, and it’s ok to be mad, but you’ve gotta figure out a way to deal with it in a Buddha like way.

Or if you must be Rocky – punch a pillow.

Either way, I missed my baby-turned-big boy today, and I questioned the whole working mom thing.

Through a child’s eyes

This morning my son’s preschool teacher shared something with me that he told her in the classroom.

He said, “You know something that’s so sad? My mom had a sister who died. She was riding her bike and she looked both ways, but there was a truck and a bad guy who had a mask and he just ran into her and she died, and now she’s an angel and she’s looking over all of us. She’s looking out for me.”

I am grateful that this woman took the time to capture his words and send me a message about the conversation. It both surprised and touched me that he is processing a difficult subject in a gentle and fairly accurate manner (minus the guy with the mask, this is basically what happened to my sister in June 2005).

From the time when he could ask “why”, Miles has been on a lifelong fact-finding mission.

Not only do I have to negotiate screen time, procure, promote and prepare an array of healthy food choices, support gross motor development through spontaneous soccer matches in the living room, and help my preschooler learn to read and write through home-made dot-to-dot and tracing games, now I have to help him figure out why on earth someone like his mama’s younger sister could possibly be dead.

And so I take a deep breath.

I talk openly and often to our boys about my youngest sister and her family who live across the country, but I infrequently talk about my middle sister. This could be because since she isn’t here to hold and play and be with them, and they’re too young to understand the complexity of an unexpected and senseless death. However, there is a framed photograph of my sister displayed prominently in the living room, and both boys are occasionally taken with it. They admire its sparkly frame and the pretty young woman in the colorful summer dress.

I remember the day the photo was snapped – it was during my bridal shower in my parents’ home. My sister was not yet married a year and eager for me to join her in married life.

Recently, Miles wanted more specific information about his aunt. Our conversation went something like this:

Mama, this is Aunt Liz” (pointing to the photograph).

Yes, she’s your Aunt Liz.”

Not Aunt B. Aunt B’s not dead” (Miles used to get the two of them mixed up).

Right. Aunt B is cousin Lexi’s mama and lives in Virginia.”

Ok. Why did Aunt Liz die?”

It was an accident.”

What happened?”

I pause. I really didn’t want to go there, and I’m not sure what’s age-appropriate at this point and the last thing I want to do is traumatize my child.

I respond, “It was very sad”.

Persistent, he demands to know: “But what happened?”

Finally, I say:

She was riding her bike. She got in an accident.”

You mean she didn’t look both ways?” he looked horrified.

No, honey, I’m sure she looked both ways. It. Wasn’t. Her. Fault.”

He looked relieved to know that she had looked both ways before crossing the street.

So what happened?”

Eventually I explained vaguely that there was an accident involving a truck, but quickly wrapped it up by saying that his Aunt Liz is a kind and loving spirit who watches over him, and isn’t that a very wonderful thing to know even though her accident was very sad. He seemed to get it, and was quiet for a few minutes before moving on to the next compelling thing which was to ask me to read him a superhero story or watch him make a map (maps and compasses are his current obsession).

It’s a very strange thing to talk openly about death in what feels like almost a cavalier manner. It’s unfamiliar to simplify and even reduce the impact of what in reality was and is such a life-changing and devastating event in order to preserve the innocence of a child. And yet, it also feels natural to talk about her absence by taking a non-threatening approach with my almost-five-year-old and responding to his questions.

I think the right thing to do is to respond to his curiosity in a tender, honest and loving manner rather than do what feels easiest which is to ignore it and change the subject. I believe that my sister would share this approach since she did not tend to be evasive around challenging topics (and that’s the truth). And by exploring tough subjects, we may discover something about our children that we may not know. If they have fears or worries or misconceptions, I think we should be open to finding those out and helping them navigate through those deep and muddy waters.

Readers, I welcome your thoughts on explaining difficult situations to your young children. Do you alter your language? Do you modify the experience? Or just tell the plain hard truth? Are they satisfied by a few honest words, or do they suspect there is more than what you’re letting on?

Does the story linger in your heart long after your child has left the room?

It does in mine.

4.5 years young

I’m linking up with Wordless Wednesday tonight to present a few select images of the past several weeks.

Costco run. Big brother, big carts, big everything. Boys love the churros.

 Who is behind the mask?

He looks angelic. Looks can not always be trusted.

 He has superhero powers.

 He has moves.

I am paying special attention to my eldest son today.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is, but I do know how to pay attention. ~ Mary Oliver