We All Were Children After All

Orangeberry Books

I’ve never understood people who say they don’t like kids. They were once kids after all. Did they like being so easily dismissed by grown ups?

Not to mention I thought we were raised to avoid gross generalizations. There aren’t that many groups left you can publicly and happily state you don’t like. And what is to be gained from dismissing an entire group? You miss out on some interesting individuals that way.

Anyway, recently I met–in a cyberspace sort of way–a woman working on an anthology of stories from childhood. Dr. Niamh Clune is part of a new publishing venture that this week is coming out with their first book: Every Child Is Entitled to Innocence.

The proceeds will go to Child Helpline International, an organization that works to establish global helplines for children.

Perhaps you’d be interested in the book or at least passing this news on. You could friend Orangeberry on Facebook if you like, tweet, or participate in their Light-a-Candle campaign.

Somewhere between the time I was three and a stranger shot our family dog and ten years later when a strange man appeared at my bedroom window, I learned the world isn’t a safe place. We can’t protect children from every heartbreak in life–and if we did how would they learn empathy and develop as full human beings? But too many things children don’t need to experience, and I wish all us grown ups would give more thought to that.

And the American family is?

my kiddo skates fast

My students–who come from all over the world–were asking me about American families. Why do we make our kids leave home at 18? Well, I don’t think we make them leave, but we do seem to have a different attitude about children leaving home. I had a hard time answering their questions though. My own experience growing up and leaving home wasn’t typical (what is typical?) and I can’t represent every population and all the views…

I have to remind my students that Americans aren’t all like me. So often I ask them, “What comes to mind when you think of an American?” “Blond.” Sigh.

But that is something else all together. The last few days they’ve wanted to ask about families. One student believes that American parents are fine with their kids getting hotel rooms and that kids take drugs because their parents do.

It was a long conversation and I know I failed to explain the half of it. How on earth do you explain the American family?

Magic Pixie Dust & Other Ways to Act like a Grown-up

My next art show is January 20th. My spring semester starts January 9th. I’m not prepared for either.

If I could give up washing dishes, laundry, walking the dog, and parenting, I might feel okay with these dates–and I might not have this headache.

But no pixie is going to sprinkle my apartment with magic dust and announce, “You now have the gift of extra time!”

Bills will not pay themselves. (Shocking, isn’t it?)

I don’t need to live in a spotless apartment (please, never stop by unannounced), but I do rather like eating off clean plates and wearing clothes that don’t smell. (I’m a conformist.)

The thing I’ve learned about art shows (at least, my art shows) is that they do not pay for themselves. From a budget perspective they are foolish endeavors… why go through all the bother?

I know plenty of people who when deciding where to live and what to study and what job to take look at the money. They have a lifestyle they want (above the basic food-and-shelter), and they act accordingly. Often these people have lovely houses in nice neighborhoods and they do things like take trips and go shopping for new clothes.

When I’m in these people’s houses I feel I’m from another planet and my brain is incapable of figuring out how these people manage it. They have matching furniture in the living room!

Okay, I’m rambling when I’ve got plenty of work to do.

If you know how to juggle everything and live like a grown up, please let me in on the secret.

Trouble with Tribbles and Lieutenant Uhura

We made a tribble.

My son loves the original Star Trek. He wants a model Enterprise, and he spent some time this evening trying to draw one. My son never takes half an interest in anything. He has his Star Trek action figures (though from the recent film, not the series), he has a Star Trek calendar, he wants to find a pattern to make an origami Enterprise (no luck there yet), and he wants a Lego Enterprise as well.

Tonight we made a tribble. More accurately, we took one of the torn up dog toys, salvaged the good parts, and stitched it together into a ball-like shape. Tribble! My son fell asleep with it, but I took it away and put it on a shelf lest the dog try to take it back.

But as we were working on other projects this evening, my 8-year-old son asked, “Why didn’t they give lieutenant Uhura more stories where she can be the hero?” While I struggled with how to answer this, he added, “Aren’t there any where she’s the hero?”

We’ve been going through the old series on Netflix, and I can’t recall if Uhura could be called the hero of any of them.

How do you explain a problem in the world without sounding…well, I don’t know, but I want to sound sane and reasonable when I talk to my son…nor do I want to end up sounding condoning of a way of thinking… It’s complicated!

But I told him that in those times women just weren’t given much to do in stories, and African-American women certainly weren’t. And times haven’t changed much. “How many shows do you watch where you see a black woman get to do much of anything?” I asked him.

He thought about it. “Not any.” He thought some more. “That doesn’t make any sense. That should change. I like Uhura. She could save people. She’s always helping.”

Indeed.

I looked for a video of Uhura that showed her fighting (she does!) but mostly all I found were videos that focused on the kiss between her and Kirk or on how sexy she was. This says something about the state of things in 2011. Oh well, She did have a lovely voice, and this little song she sang to Spock, stuck in my head for years–not the words, but the tune.

Uhura is cool.

Can’t I Just Ignore the Question?

My son woke up around 7am the other day–which he usually does when there is no school–and instead of coming to wake my husband or me up, he turned on the TV. The TV is set to come on to the Science Channel.

How dangerous can the Science Channel be at 7am?

Well, the show my 8-year-old son happened across was a forensic science show and they were investigating murders. One murder–my son later told me–was about a man who killed a taxi driver. This was sad, my son thought, but since he can easily avoid being a taxi driver, it didn’t worry him.

The other story was about the murder of a mother and daughter.

My son didn’t tell me the circumstances but their story–and I assume there must’ve been a reenactment–kept him from going to sleep. “It’s okay during the day,” my son said, “but in the dark it’s different.”

This lead to questions about why murder happens, how murderers choose their victims, and what would keep something bad from happening to us.

As for the last question, my simple answer of, “We live in a nice area,” was answered with, “But bad things happen in nice areas too. Just because it looks nice doesn’t mean anything.”

Well, true. Terrible things can happen anywhere. But this is not something I’m eager to tell my child.

Sigh.

We talked about why people kill–which I don’t claim to have an answer for but I have to say something. We talked about emotions out of control, the influence of drugs and alcohol, greed, and a lack of empathy for others.

We talked about how murderers choose victims–and I can’t be sure of this either, but I tell my son that people are most often hurt by people they know, people they have an emotional problem with, but also criminals choose people who won’t be missed or seen.

This is a terrible conversation but he has questions. To say, “This is not something you should think about” feels false and unhelpful because my childhood taught me that these things are possible…just unlikely. And we talked about that. Life is unpredictable but certain things are unlikely.

I told him that we can’t live our lives afraid of all the terrible possibilities. We wouldn’t live if that were the case.

What can an 8-year-old be expected to understand?

So I told him an extremely watered-down version of a story about a student at my school. My point was to tell him that even though this young woman had been through many difficult things, she came to school, went out with friends, laughed, and was thoughtful and friendly. Here is someone who has every reason to live in fear, and yet she doesn’t.

Then my son and I decided he needed to read something funny before bedtime.

I certainly needed something funny.

My Novel Is Not My Baby

I can neglect my novel for weeks at a time and not go to jail. I can edit what my novel says. And I can be reasonably confident that other books on the shelf are not going to push my novel off the shelf to its death.

No matter how complicated a novel is, it can’t match the complications of raising a baby all the way to adulthood.

Maybe, however, parenting is easy for you.

That’s nice.

So, this evening my son decided to spend the last of his birthday gift certificate at a local toy store. Fine with me. He’s 8, by the way. And after a couple years of looking at things in the dollhouse section, he decided to spend his money on a table and chairs and some dishes for a dollhouse he hopes to get in the future. He is fascinated by all those tiny bits of furniture.

He asked me what I thought of these things, and I told him I thought they were cool. Which I do. I liked them when I was his age as well.

Now I support my son in whatever his passions are (You want to have 60 snails race up our front door? Well, okay… You want to spend all day Saturday testing origami boats in buckets of water? Sure…) and if he wants a dollhouse and we can afford it and he’s willing to put his allowance towards it and it won’t get in the way of the dogs, then that’s fine by me.

But I don’t live in Perfectlandia, and I know that it is entirely possible that one of his friends might come over and say something…less than cool. Will he stand up for himself or shove these things out of sight, feelings hurt and money wasted?

Everything I know about him and I can’t answer that question. I want him to like what he wants to like and not be hurt–even though plenty of times in life it feels impossible to do either. But for now he and I share a work space, and we can put these things on a shelf and say they are mine if we need to.

Which may well be teaching him to lie and to hide himself.

My mother used to say–in certain situations–“Tell them your mother did it” or “You can tell them it is your mother’s idea” or “Put the blame on me if that will help.” She meant it sincerely, though I only took her up on that once… “My mother won’t let me.”

“Oh, moms! That’s too bad,” came the reply. But I was off the hook.

It is hard in this day and age when we say we want our children to be themselves and to be happy, but we also know how hard a path that can be.

Well, I think it is hard. I could be wrong.

Do you find it easy?