Monthly Archives: September 2015

Noteworthy – 9/11/15

  • I took the kids on a walk in the woods. It took us about 45 minutes to go half a mile and in that time we had a scraped knee, a fall in the blackberry bushes resulting in bloody hands, two screaming freak outs about spiders, and a bee sting. Ahh, nature.
  • It’s hard to be encouraging about your daughter starting 6th grade when you know it was the most horrible part of growing up for you and everyone you know. I’m not supposed to say, “Good luck kid, it’s going to suck,” or “My God, some of those girls look so mean!” but that’s what I’m thinking. Poor child, she doesn’t even have a mom who can lie convincingly.IMG_1919
  • Does trying to be all things to all people count as exercise? If so, I’m in great shape this week.
  • Late summer corn chowder with bacon. I had to make adjustments for all the members of my family to eat it, pureed for Felix, red pepper removal for Lola and lots of hot sauce for Robert, but I thought it was delicious all the ways.IMG_1252
  • Watermelon. There is no worse snack for a kid who doesn’t yet know how to slurp juices in while eating. I don’t care how good it is, a watermelon will never be worth the sticky aftermath. Everyone thinks I’m kidding when I say I don’t want watermelon in this house ever again but I’m not. The ear protection is for fashion only.         IMG_1929
  • Kid quote of the week from Lola: “What language do the Babushkas speak?”
  • As I sit here writing my little guy is at his first day of drop off preschool. I’ve been so excited to have this time and now I’m twitching around the house full of anxiety. I never expected to be such a neurotic mother; it still surprises me after all this time. Push, pull. Push, pull. Like a heartbeat.       IMG_1261

To comprehend the incomprehensible

This is a long one, with no pictures, but about something that has been on my mind. Kudos to you if you make it through. And I’d love your thoughts in the comments if you have any wisdom to impart.

I read a news story a couple of weeks that just wrecked me. I feel haunted by the horribleness of it and I have to vigilantly push the details out of my mind. There is so much bad news, always, and especially of late. We hear so many sad stories, but from time to time there is one that just cuts me to the quick. We all have our triggers, the things that work their way into our core and cause an actual physical hurt. For some people it’s stories of domestic violence, for some it’s animal cruelty. For me, it’s children who are hungry. And other stuff too, but that’s the big one.

I remember my family eating dinner in front of the TV news when I was probably about eight years old and seeing pictures of starving kids in Ethiopia. I can still feel the way my stomach churned and my mouth went dry and bitter, my body’s reaction to something so horrific. And the shame. The shame of sitting there with my baked chicken thighs watching people starve on the screen in front of me.

That feeling of nausea and shame still rises up upon hearing some piece of gut-wrenching news and I had it the other day. I won’t go into the details because I know that many people have a hard time when bombarded with this kind of information, but I will talk about it in a general way because it has brought up a lot of questions for me in regards to my kids and how to talk with them about atrocities both close to home and far away.

The story I read was on Humans of New York. If you haven’t ever seen Brandon’s blog, I highly recommend it, even though it can be incredibly sad at times. He takes very moving photographs of ordinary people, in New York and around the world, and pairs them with snippets of interviews with that person. He has an rare gift for getting people to reveal the most personal parts of themselves and I’m struck whenever I look at his work by the fact that every one of us is ordinary, and also extraordinary. Everyone has pain and tragedy and beauty in them and it’s inspiring to see that captured in such an artful way. He was traveling in Pakistan last month and did a whole series on people who are entrapped in modern day slavery there. He also interviewed a woman whose organization works to end bonded labor. One story she told about a family that she had helped was what had me in such a state. I wasn’t the only one, Brandon set up a fundraiser for her organization that raised two million dollars in three days (that is the good news here).

My husband, bless his heart, is as sensitive as I am when it comes to this kind of thing. We usually try to protect each other from news that we know the other one can’t bear to hear, but I did tell him about this one while we were on a walk the other evening, and we both burst into tears. While we were hugging each other in the street, Lola rode up on her bike and asked what was going on. I told her that we were just talking about a sad story that I had read and that I didn’t want to tell her about it because it was too terrible. She pushed a little and I told her that in some places in the world slavery still exists and that I had heard about an amazing woman in Pakistan who is like a present day Harriet Tubman, trying to help people be free. That was the right amount of information for her at the moment, but it has me wondering how and what to say about the horrible things that happen in the world.

If I could pick one quality for my kids, it would be compassion. I think compassion is  the only thing that can really lead us to peace, globally, and within our own selves. When I see my dear ones tenderhearted and full of empathy, I’m as proud of them as I could ever be. But for those people with sensitive souls, and that is most of us, it’s detrimental to have no way to turn it off. I struggle to balance being an informed citizen of the world and protecting myself from knowledge that only causes me grief. We have so much access to information these days, but my ability to process it seems stuck a few hundred years ago, when we only knew the news from our own immediate area. How do we compartmentalize atrocities that we have no control over? Do we really need to be desensitized in order to live our lives without being constantly wrenched? And how we can possibly ask our kids to hold that kind of information when, as a grown woman, I struggle to hold it myself?

I’m baffled as to how I can help ease my daughter into this part of her adulthood. I want her to understand the privilege/responsibility/life lottery conundrum without just being filled with guilt. And I want her to be prepared when she hears some horrible story and I’m not there to hold her while she cries. I definitely feel like she is not ready to handle this kind of information but at some point in the next five years she is going to have to. Do I wait until she finds it on her own and deal with the aftermath then or do I start introducing the horrors of the world a little at a time?

All this has been floating around in my head for a week or so now, and then today I read this from Anne Lamott. She has been snooping around inside my head and then written about the things on my mind much more eloquently than I ever could. (She has done this before, and I have to say, Anne, it’s a little disconcerting.) Her writing is always insightful and charming and smart, but being a staunch agnostic, I don’t have her faith that God has our backs. I wish I did, and I wish I could tell my children to pray and have faith and that would be good enough. But that feels like a cop-out to me. A God that had control over such horribleness but allowed it to happen is not a God who is going to do anything because we pray.

The part of me that is full of shame wants to feel sick and guilty and foul as payment for winning the life lottery. And yet, to indulge in that is so very selfish and ugly. So what can we do? Donate money to whatever tragedy touches us? Yes. But it will never be enough to stop the suffering in the world. Suffering will continue as long as there are beings here to endure it.

I stood at the kitchen sink the other night, peeling carrots, and sent my best hopes for healing and peace to the family I had read about. A prayer, you could call it, I suppose. I looked around at my healthy children, my steadfast husband, my beautiful house and my table that has never once lacked for food and I cried some tears of gratitude. The only conclusion I can come to is this: small acts of goodness or love in our own lives work to shift the balance of good and bad in the world. Trying to tip the scale toward kindness might be the best we can do.