Fear, Grief, Kids

The hardening of Batman.
Week 1:  The last Batman movie, The BatmanPOW (because now he requires an article to sound more important) is pretty dark in almost all aspects, from the actual lack of lighting in the film to the character himself. As someone said, he’s the “emo Batman” with his smudged eye make-up and the lonely, gritty life he leads. A digital production company decided to take the “original” Batman, Adam West, and put him in The Batman’s trailer. They titled it, “The Batman but with the Goofy Batman.” It’s an entertaining watch to see the original Batman in tights with familiar visual sound effects “BAM!” “KAPOW!” etc. in the mean streets of Gotham City. What it made me think about, though, was Batman’s progression from campy entertainment to dark and violent justice. What does this say about what viewers want to see and what filmmakers create? Do we all want the latest version of Batman to be haunted by his past while ruthlessly killing his foes or would we occasionally like to see some ridiculous dancing and ludicrous situations? I vote for men in tights and silly lines, most others (including my brother, a dedicated fan) would vote otherwise. Do a quick search for “Adam West in the Batman” to check it out and see what you think.

Cause of death? Misinformation. 
Week 2: According to the FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, “misinformation is now our leading cause of death.” He was referring to the wealth of questionable information on-line and in the news that people read, believe, and then make poor decisions based on. Interestingly, he put part of the onus on reporters. He said, “People are distracted and misled by the medical information Tower of Babel, but journalists like yourselves play an important role here and your work has a tremendous impact on public trust.” One would think that reporting truthful information would be journalists’ number one goal, but as we have seen with so-called news programs that label themselves as “entertainment” when in legal trouble, it is hard to trust any one source. Truly, it comes down to the individual’s ability and desire to use critical thinking, to check multiple sources, and not believe everything you hear (or read or see). That definitely seems to be lost in our current society, and apparently death can be the result!

Instinct.
Week 3:chicks  We recently got chicks (baby chickens, that is) as we do almost every year. What is so incredible about a chick is its instinctual ability to survive almost immediately upon hatching. It begins to peck for food, drink water, and seek out the warmth of the heat lamp from the moment we receive them. They don’t technically need a mother hen (though it is nice for them to have one for the protection) because they inherently know what to do from the very start. Humans, and probably most mammals, don’t have a fighting chance, not from birth anyway. We need the care of someone to survive initially. We have instincts too, of course, but as time goes by, we usually explain those away with our thoughts and emotions. A chick’s simplicity – to eat, drink, sleep, poop, repeat from the very start – is admirable.

What makes a shooter.
Week 4:  The incredible and heartbreaking number of shootings lately has been hard to take. Why it continues to happen is the part that bothers me the most. Gun control of certain types of weapons is obviously an issue, but it’s only part of the solution. We should be asking why someone thinks it’s acceptable to kill multiple people in a rampage (especially kids), how they got there, and what we can do about it now as a society.

Turns out, two professors, one of criminology and one of criminal justice, have researched that topic and wrote a book about it, which came out last year (Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic). From studying and researching mass shooters, their personal histories, and the shooting sprees, authors Peterson and Densley found some commonalities among them. They note a “consistent pathway” for would-be shooters. “Early childhood trauma seems to be the foundation, whether violence in the home, sexual assault, parental suicides, extreme bullying. Then you see the build toward hopelessness, despair, isolation, self-loathing, and oftentimes rejections from peers.” This build-up often leads to suicide attempts. “What’s different from traditional suicide is that the self-hate turns against a group. They start asking themselves, ‘Whose fault is this?’ The hate turns outward. There’s also a quest for fame and notoriety.” The last two shooters (at the time of this writing) were 18-year old boys. 18. What could’ve been done for them during their short lives to help them become young men who were looking forward to their futures after high school instead of plotting to kill themselves and take many others with them? The answer to that is multi-faceted and, of course, costly which unfortunately involves the government and politicians. And that’s where many of us lose hope and feel helpless about anything changing anytime soon. Sometimes, prayers and a desire for change can only get us so far, sadly.

 

 

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Fear, Gratitude, Kids, Parenting

Instead of covering subjects and topics in-depth as I have in the past, I’m trying something different. These are my observations from each week last month. It makes me pay attention, and ponder even more…

Ah, to NOT be a kid again…
Week 1: I realized this week that, although youth may rule here in the West, I am grateful to be an adult and have already gone through many life experiences. My daughter had a lunch meeting with her school principal to discuss the drama club and its needs (she was invited by an upper classman). She fretted over what to wear, what to say, what to eat. In essence, she was nervous and intimidated by authority (which, thankfully, still has some influence). She got through it all fine, as I knew she would, but it made me appreciate not having to been a teen or young adult worrying about dealing with older people or authority figures. I’m well into adulthood, phew!

Who are the meanest commenters? ADULTS
Week 2:man computer As it turns out, the age group that should act the most “adult” – doesn’t. Surprised? Recently, I was listening to a younger podcaster interviewing an even younger food blogger (both considered Instagram “influencers”). They agreed that, when receiving comments/feedback from their posts, TikTok users are the least mean, IG is second, and Facebook and Twitter have the meanest and nastiest commenters. Who typically has accounts to these two outlets? ADULTS. Come on, FB and Twitter adults, grow up and be mature (or maybe that’s not a thing anymore).

Your idea of what’s best for your kid versus what is truly best for your kid…
Week 3: As parents, we often think “we know best,” but do we always? If you’re living in Ukraine and your city is actively being bombed and you decide to leave, then yes, you do know best. But if you have an idea in your head about what your kid’s life is “supposed to be like,” but your kid disagrees (or worse, is too afraid to tell you), is that the best thing for him or her? It’s a fine line that we walk all the time. To think that we, as parents, know everything about our kids’ lives and can control them until they’re eighteen then set them free to make their own sound decisions is setting us up for disappointment. The first question to ask when making decisions for your kid is, who is this serving? If it’s you and you have no idea what your kid wants, I would re-think it, or better yet, ask your kid.

Nukes and more nukes
Week 4: Did you ever find out information that you wish you didn’t know? Ignorantly, I did not know how many nuclear weapons were out in the world (13,000). I had a vague idea about which countries had them, but found out that Russia and the U.S possess skeletons-bomb90% of them. The other countries are China, France, U.K, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea (that’s in order of the most to the fewest). The more startling fact is that scientists think it would only take about 100 of these nukes to make life on Earth unsustainable (due to air quality, lack of sunlight to grow food, etc). That’s it, 100! And yet, being the ridiculous Earthlings that we are, we have 12,900 more than necessary. Surprising and yet not surprising, no? Let’s hope they stay un-detonated.

That was the month of March in a nutshell.

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Fear, Kids, Self-awareness

Thquarantine count3is pic is my daughter’s running total of the start our COVID “adventure,” when things went funny and we all went into hiding. For her that’s when school ended and distance learning began. (She says it won’t be over until we can go to the movies, still not open yet, and not wear masks.) That was 108 days ago. I dashed her plans of having a  “quarantine party” on day 100 though; I told her those two words don’t mix well.

So here we are, over three months after the coronavirus changed our daily lives, and what’s different? From completely sheltering in place and hoarding food and toilet paper to, as of right now, getting our haircuts again, going to more stores, and not living in constant terrified fear of “getting the virus.” And yet, I can’t help but feel like my family and friends are in some kind of weird quarantine limbo. The infection rates are increasing, but no one I know has had it yet. We see the numbers go up, the red dots fill in on maps, but it’s like we’re all waiting. And waiting. For what? To get it? To not get it?

In the meantime, we can do nothing but speculate and question the future. What will life be like in a few months? Will school start as it normally should? Can my husband ever go back to his office? Or will we all go back to how life was in March?

And the question that is most on my mind: how are we ever going to fully avoid this virus anyway?

And guess what, there are no answers. We are back to the “wait and see” mode of living, and let’s just say it, it stinks! Us humans don’t handle uncertainty well. We like to have concrete plans and a solid vision of the future, even if that’s unrealistic because no one can predict what may or may not happen tomorrow (we still like to believe we’re in control of our fates).

So, here are some helpful tips that I’ve been trying to help deal with this big question mark time in our lives:

Focus on the now. As difficult as it is to not think about next week or next month or next year, we must try not to. We just don’t know what will happen. We can only look at right now, the present moment. That’s often easier said than done, but know that it’s an ongoing practice, not something you’ll figure out and be done with forever. Every time your mind lingers to the future, bring it back to now.

Accept unpredictability and change. Lately, I’ve heard many people say, “I just want to go back to normal.” Hallelujah, I do too. But the fact is, we can’t. Not yet. And, I hate to say it, but we may not ever. I don’t like the uncomfortable feeling that comes with such an acknowledgment either, but the sooner we learn to accept change (even if it’s just agreeing that it’s happening), the easier it will be. After all, there’s that saying, “the only constant is change.” Each year I realize how true that is.

Control what you can. Focus on the things that are within your control, even if it’s just the little things, what to eat for dinner this week, what to wear the next day (assuming that’s worth the effort!). Make routines for yourself or your family to create some structure. It helps.heart-hedge

Until then, we’ll keep at it. And hopefully, see y’all on the other side of this virus.

 

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Fear, Self-awareness

You know how “some days you’re up, some days your down,” during a “normal” week or month? But how about now, during this zen-stonesvirus shut-down period? I’ve noticed that some moments I’m up, and the next I’m way down. There seems to be no telling when I’m in a “good” mood, “bad” mood, or just feeling in a funk.  Usually, my mood is fairly consistent, mostly “even,” but not these days. I noticed that last week when I was doing okay one day, excited about spring and the garden we’re preparing, but the next day I was sad, angry, and feeling hopeless. Yesterday was another one of those days. Why? I wondered. What has changed? Almost nothing, I realized, and that’s part of the problem. Here are a few reasons why you, or other friends or family, might be feeling the same during our self-isolation:

We have no definite answers, timelines, or end dates. Since the world is dealing with an entirely new virus, we have no clear idea on when we might be able to get “back to normal.” Here in California, no definite dates have been given and most of us feel like we’re in limbo, waiting (then a press conference happens and we are told to wait some more). It is hard to wait and wonder week after week with no end goal in sight.

We don’t know what we’re going back to. We all wonder, will life resume like it did before or will our response to this virus change our lives as we knew them. There is no real way to perform social distancing in certain places like concerts, fairs, or sporting events. Are these things going to be indefinitely cancelled until we can get a handle on the situation? Can we ever go into skilled nursing facilities or places where the vulnerable live (like my mom’s situation)? Will a restaurant have three tables in it so everyone can sit far apart as we are served by wait staff in a Hazmat suit? Is talking through a mask and trying to read someone’s facial expression by the look in their eyes the “new normal”? I hope not.

We also wonder if our lives have permanently changed. Many people have put their plans on hold or don’t have question marks2jobs at the moment. Some may not have jobs to go back to. My good friend is in the final stretch of her education and finishing up her internship. She has not been able to complete it. Her plans of getting a job, moving, and starting her career have been temporarily altered. She wonders if this carefully crafted plan will happen at all.  And she’s terribly disappointed.

What this all adds up to is Fear and Uncertainty of the moment and the current time. And those two buggers can change our moods in an instant. I stayed in my sad and bad mood all day yesterday, but I tried not to change it because I had to go through it. It was hard to allow myself to simply be depressed and frustrated and sad. No one likes feeling that way, but trying to change it will only delay it, or make it worse when it comes back (and it will, it always will). These times are hard, and that’s coming from someone who is fortunate enough to be doing okay. So, here’s what I did:

I noticed and accepted my mood and feelings in that moment. There’s that saying, you must “name it to tame it,” and after some contemplating I figured out what I was feeling (beyond just saying that I’m in a crappy mood). I also told myself that I’ll get through this time, we all will. This is a moment in history, a sad and painful one, but most likely, the majority of us will come through okay. For some it will be with great loss and grief, but as a whole, humans aren’t going anywhere. Finally, I remembered that my mood will likely change again. I won’t stay in my bad mood or my “glad” mood permanently (and sometimes just going to bed helps!). It will change, just like this situation will. Rolling with it, day after day, that is the real challenge.

rainbowA few quotes from the days of reading books to my children when they were small still ring in my head. This one, by Kevin Henkes of Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse, is from Lily’s teacher in a note to her after she had a very bad day and got in trouble. He told her, “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” Yes, it will.

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Fear, Grief, Parenting, Self-awareness

Let’s face it, it’s hard to find many positives in our current shut-down society (if you live in zipper cloudCalifornia anyway). We’re starting week three of shelter in place, only going out for food or necessities, and for my family, homeschooling. These are trying times, indeed. By Friday, school is out and we need that break – from each other. Despite the inconveniences, and hardships for many who aren’t working right now, we can try to find the good, even if we don’t really feel like it (and I can tell you that no one in Target yesterday felt like it, not even a smile could be had). Here they are anyway:

1) We have time at home. By now we may not really want that time at home, but for lots of people, they’re almost never home. Either working, socializing, taking kids to various practices, there are many who are seldom at their own places, but this avoidance of the virus gives us the chance to just “be home.” That can be good if we take advantage of the opportunity to catch-up on the rest that our fast-paced society never affords, clean-out some overflowing closets or cabinets (you’ll just have to wait to donate that stuff), or read those magazines or books that have stacked up. If you’re like me with kids at home, this luxury isn’t always the case or easy to accomplish, but you have the chance now to carve out the time (maybe with the help of a spouse or partner), so do it. We’ll be back to the never-ending race before we know it.

2) Time for kids can play. With no school, except our homeschooling which does not encompass an entire day (unless it’s a day where arguing, pleading, and negotiating is at work), my kids have lots of time on their hands. We still try to limit screen time so they don’t end up coming out of this thing even more zombie-like, and it’s challenging to combat the “I’m booored!” complaint, so they often end up going outside. They have ridden bikes with the neighbor kids (far apart from each other), created a “secret hideout,” and have witnessed spring come to life outside their windows then went out to see it (in real time, people). As tough as it is to have the kids home all day (and trust me, I feel it), we aren’t rushing to the next practice or lesson, and I’m not scrambling to be in two places at once. And while they might be missing their sports right now, they just might appreciate them more when they go back to them (so maybe there won’t be so many complaints over practice? Fingers crossed on that one).

3) Finally, and so important, dogs are happy because their families are home. It might be a small token of gratitude, but I know that our two dogs are so glad that we are all here (all the time). They aren’t waiting around for us to get home, they are happy to accompany us when we go on walks, and they are content to nap next to us while we work (which is what theyCody do most of the time we’ve found). So, even if you don’t own a dog, know that those who do are happier and that’s good (as we know, cats could care less).

To wrap it all up, here are a few coping strategies to get through this time with no foreseen end date:

– Try to remember that this is all temporary. True, that is hard to do when we don’t know any real facts or have a window of time for a goal, but know that it will end and that we will go back to our lives, possibly altered a little, but we will go back.

– View being at home as “safe at home,” not “stuck at home.” I saw this on a Facebook post, and it really is a good way to shift yTPour view for the better. Feeling stuck gets me anxious, frustrated, and clawing at the cage to get out. Feeling safe gives relief and calm. I’m reminding myself of this often.

– Appreciate the simple things. It might sound trite, but try it, you’ll feel a smidgen better. For example, I got toilet paper at Target yesterday – an 18-pack no less. Score one for my family! We won’t be using the leaves I’ve been picking each day. (Kidding? Maybe, maybe not.) Also, here in good old California, we have electricity! Anyone who lived here in the fall knows that power outages for days on end are NO fun. Having lights, heat, hot water, that’s something to appreciate (for real).

Good luck, everyone, stay “safe at home.” This will all be a “remember when” moment some day, really!

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Fear, Self-awareness, Self-improvement, Technology

I recently bought the book, How to Break Up with Your Phone, by Catherine Price. I felt like I was spending far too much time looking at and preoccupied with that screen in my pocket when I could be doing many more productive things (like writing for instance, or reading, or even, dare I say it, doing nothing!). The studies that Price present are astounding and frightening, like a New York Times analysis that calculated that Facebook users were spending collectively 39,757 years’ worth of attention on the site, every day; or that as of 2017, Americans were spending an average of more than four hours a day on their phones. We really are becoming a nation of phone zombies. My family is no different. I try to limit my kids’ screen time, but it’s probably far more than what is recommended.

What is really interesting in the book is how much the phone (looking at it, checking it, scrolling endlessly) is simply a habit. She describes Charles Duhigg’s definition of a habit (from his book, the Power of Habit, it’s a good one), which is “a choice that we addiction-phones2deliberately make at some point, and then stop thinking about, but continue doing, often every day.” And how habits are loops made up of three parts: the cue (or trigger), the response, and the reward. In the case of the phone, it could be me bored while waiting in line somewhere (cue or trigger) so I check my phone (response), and find that I have email I could read (reward). And so it goes. First in situations of boredom, then in times of avoidance (say, when I don’t want to hear my kids complaining), and finally, just because. How many times have you looked at your phone simply because someone else did? Or checked your email or texts, thinking you heard that little ding, but it was just your imagination. (If you can believe it, the term for that is phantom ringing syndrome.)

I haven’t finished the book yet because it is broken up into two parts that take a while. The first is just information about how hooked we have all become, the second part is a 30-day plan to break up with your phone (I’m about halfway through) with tasks to do each day. She recommends small daily changes like turning off notifications so you’re not constantly checking every email when you hear the ding, or installing an app that tracks your usage so you truly know how much time you look at your phone, or even just pick it up.

It all accumulates into taking a complete vacation from your phone for twenty-four hours, meaning turning it off completely and putting it away for a full day and night. For some people, that’s seems impossible and anxiety-producing. For me, I’m not so sure. At first, I think,phone addiction “No problem,” but then I seem to think of reasons why I might need it on (my mom for instance, or some excuse I think is “important”). In the end, it’s just silly anxiety running the show and making me think that the world will end in those twenty-four hours simply because I (the all-important legend in my own mind) don’t have my phone on (in reality, I guess, it is the phone running my show). I will post a follow-up when I complete my thirty days of phone withdrawal and let you know how it went!

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Fear, Kids, Parenting, Technology

My oldest is ten – a “tween” she has told me numerous times. I cringe at the word. There is something about it that bothers me, but what else do we call this enormous group of kids ages nine to twelve? (My mom used to call me a “pre-teen” and that would really bug me). Regardless of what my daughter is called, she is growing up in a time very different from mine in ways I never noticed until recently. Part of what helped me see this is the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. It’s about girls – from those starting puberty all the way to high school and what they face on a daily basis in their “girl world,” from the pressures to look and act certain ways to the cattiness to navigating the sometimes frightening on-line world. These issues aren’t limited to just girls, however, boys must deal with them too. Here are three that I noticed that both genders face:

1) Privacy or lack thereof – In today’s world of social media, YouTube, and other ways to post ontween-line, there is a price to pay for being able to see anyone you know on the Internet – our privacy. Our kids today have been born into a time in which pictures are constantly taken then uploaded for the world to see. In turn, they will do the same, and it’s not always the super cute pictures of them as babies with a sleeping kitten, they’re pictures that can be humiliating or shameful – pictures they wouldn’t want anyone seeing, and now almost anyone can. Wiseman points out, “When you were a teen, your most embarrassing and humiliating moments weren’t up for public discussion and entertainment….She’s living that moment in public. There’s no protection. There’s no privacy. This is her regular, ever-present reality. Your daughter is growing up with a different definition of what’s public and what’s private.”

Even if you block your child from any social media platforms (and right now we can because tweens are technically not old enough), that can’t stop others from posting images of your kid. You can do your best, but it probably won’t work 100% of the time. And children probably won’t want to be blocked from it either; they want to participate. They want to be part of the group, but in doing so they are giving up the right to having a private life. Right now I have three more years until I must deal with the onslaught of social media and raising a girl – phew!

2) Media definitions of the “right” image. This idea isn’t new. Ever since ads of any kind could be viewed (from early newspapers to full color magazines), we are told what looks good and right. For quite some time it’s been blond, blue-eyed, skinny, and tan – that’s the definition of female beauty that has been touted (think Barbie). For boys/men: tall, muscular, tan, and naked of body hair. Now take whatever the prevailing image is and multiply it by 1,000 because our kids don’t just see these images on television or magazines, they see it in on-line ads, on YouTube videos, even games. Then they try to replicate it or feel bad about themselves because they just don’t physically fit the bill (who does?!), and as they get older their appearance matters more and more.

3) Ads and more ads. We’ve all seen countless commercials from childhood to adulthood. How many times did you see a commerciadigital makeupl when you were a kid and need that toy (I’m thinking Barbie again or He-Man in my brother’s case). This isn’t new either. But kids who play on-line, get free apps, or just use mom’s phone while in line at the grocery store, see double that, usually for other games (my eight-year-old son thinks he wants every game he sees advertised in other games). According to APA.org, “advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year to reach the youth market and that children view more than 40,000 commercials each year.” Think about all those opportunities for “I gotta have that,” “I need that,” “I’m not good enough or cool enough unless I get that.”  It’s overwhelming! Again, if your tween is going to be a “normal” kid (and yes, he or she probably really wants to be) then an on-line world is inevitable – thus, so are the ads.

So what can we do about this new  digital landscape that feels like a place to prey on our kids?

1) Accept it and try to manage it. You don’t have to like it, but know that this is our current world and it won’t be changing any time soon. (Otherwise, you’re spending too much energy fighting something that cannot be changed, and that’s exhausting.) Unless you plan to live in the mountains of Tibet, facing the digital world is inevitable, so accept that it is a part of all of our lives, regardless of age.

2) Try to teach your child to be empathetic, to show him or her what it feels like to put up embarrassing photos, and to be resilient if it happens to them (let time pass and the hype will die down). According to Wiseman, that also means not posting pictures of your kids that they might interpret as embarrassing, even if everyone else would think they’re cute.

3) Teach them to be accepting of his or her looks and body regardless of whether it fits the “norm” or not (and that often starts with parents liking their own body image).

4) Help them to see what they have, so they don’t think they need every product or game that is advertised over and over again.

Unfortunately, none of the above is easy! But I keep trying and I’ll be sure to share any tips I learn along the way.  Just because the world our kids live in is different from ours doesn’t mean it’s all bad or terrible; it’s just that, different.

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Fear, Kids, Parenting

Lockdown drills aren’t really new, unfortunately. Students have been doing them for a few years now, but what kids havelementary-schoole to know and what to do in a shooter situation is becoming more real and more of a possibility.

As a person who grew up pre-Columbine, before anyone even thought or had any notion of shooting up a school or other places (besides the sniper at University of Texas before my time, which seemed like an anomaly), the practicing of drills to protect children from someone wanting to take out people in numbers seems unbelievable. How can that happen? I question. How does it happen? And then, my denial side says, It wouldn’t happen here.

And that’s the statement most of us use to block out the horrifying idea of such an event occurring at our kids’ school. That denial, and even naiveté (because we live in such a nice, safe, little community I like to believe) is unrealistic and possibly detrimental. We can’t live thinking that nothing bad will ever happen to our kids (at school or otherwise), but we also can dwell in the fear of bad things happening all the time. We brain-heart balanceneed a balance.

Unfortunately, right now that balance means teaching our kids to barricade the doors if there is a lockdown, hide out of sight, and practice these drills until they know it well so that, hopefully, no one gets hurt in a real situation. And yet the protective mother in me can’t help but tell my children when they ask, “what do we do if we’re walking from another room and the classroom door is locked?” “Get the hell out of there,” I say, “Run off the campus and keep running.”

They’re astounded by my use of a “curse word” (yes, they’re young), but I couldn’t help it. It was my gut response to try and keep them safe when I can’t. Because more than likely, if anything were to happen, I probably wouldn’t be there. Most of wouldn’t. And that’s probably the hardest part. We’re reliant on our own children and the school’s staff to perform what they learned correctly, under stress with the rush of adrenaline,  and hopefully escape the fire (in this case, gunfire). So all we can do is teach them the best we can, have hope that such a terrible event never happens to them in their lifetimes, and have faith that we will get through whatever might happen (or not happen). Oh, and just breathe.

Some third graders’ responses to doing a lockdown:
“It’s scary.”
“What if that really happens here?”
“I don’t want to do a lockdown!”

“I take thirty seconds to use the bathroom so I know I’m safe!”

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Fear, Grief

It is hard to believe that it has been sixteen years since 9/11. Those of us who were adults or young adults at that time still remember exactly where they were when the horrific news was broadcast. I was getting ready for work in our small, crappy apartment. I had the news on the TV in the background and caught images of the Twin Towers broken and aflame as I got my purse, ready to leave the house. I went closer to the television and thought that must be from some other country, not here in United States. And then, as I drove to work and turned on the radio, the two goofy DJs who I normally listened to with their practical jokes and bad sexual puns were quite serious this morning. They relayed the little information they had: it truly happened; someone had attacked US soil in a massive way in New York City and Washington DC.

When I got to work, which was in a construction trailer on a job site, the usual joking or complaining of guys who filed in and out were very quiet. Many were huddled around my desk radio listening for whatever news they could get. This was no joke; this was no prank; this was real and none of us quite knew what to make of it.

History books talk about how the Great War (WWI) change the lives of everyone forever with the modern inventions of trench warfare, the machine gun, and mustard gas. They also write about how D-Day and World War II continued to make our lives different so that no one could go back to the “way things were.” The United States especially felt that with the attack on Pearl Harbor. For Americans living in the twenty-first century, 9/11 was the day the world changed for us civilians. Suddenly, we were not invincible; we could be affected in very large ways by people who wanted the Western world to end. They had not succeeded fully, but their attempt was significant and they accomplished their goal of inflicting great pain, worry, and anxiety about the way we live our everyday lives.

I remember watching President George W. Bush standing at Ground Zero and making a speech. And although I did not care one bit for that president at that time, I do think he held the country together well during that moment in such crisis.

Remembering those who gave all.
Remembering those who gave all.

We were all scared and confused and utterly flabbergasted about what happened. I remember thinking that some of his words were actually helpful (even if he didn’t write them). But unfortunately, as what often happens when a tragedy occurs, within a few days time the finger-pointing started. Who is responsible for this? Who’s fault is this? Who dropped the ball so that these men could board planes and crash into the Towers and the Pentagon? Who is to blame? That is what many people want to know in the end because they think it will stop their pain. If they have someone or some entity to accuse and can prove it’s their fault, then that will alleviate the grief. But it ends up just being a distraction in the steps to accepting the pain and the realization that this tragedy happened, could possibly happen again, and what we can do to avoid that.

Since that time, sixteen years ago, thankfully nothing to such a scale has occurred again. But little by little we are experiencing more and more small, but still tragic, incidents in Europe and here in the US. It is still incredibly sad and frightening: the faces and the organization may have changed but the problem still exists. Rooting out the culprits and sticking them on some island prison or killing them outright does not solve the problem. It just morphs into something or someone else who has the same sentiment. While they continue to truly believe our way of life is wrong and we are evil, we will always be in danger.

I think we would be better off if we took these key people, made them live in the United States (under extreme security measures obviously), and showed them that the majority of us aren’t all that bad. For the most part, we are compassionate, empathetic, and caring human beings who are living everyday lives like everywhere else in the world.  (We could also expose them all to some terrible stomach flu with it coming out of both ends, then pretend we cured them; they would be thankful after that, if anything.) Then they would go back to their countries and tell others, including and especially future generations, “Those Americans, they’re okay. They were nice to me and I can eat solid foods again. Let’s not destroy their way of life because it’s just different from ours, not bad.” That is where people seem to get stuck, in the differences. If we’re from the United States, or Europe, or from North Korea for that matter practicing whatever religion, we are all just human beings. Homo sapiens attempting to continue sustaining life on planet earth. Why any of us feel the need to end the lives of fellow humans in the name of whatever god or country or whatever moral rules they feel are being broken still continues to be incomprehensible to me.

And that is part of the reason why 9/11 is still a day that sticks with me and always will. Besides the fact that the country did change that day and has changed since, we’re still in the same fight, still at odds with others who don’t want us around and, likewise, we don’t want them around. Where does it end?

In the words of good old Gandhi, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” Or, in the words of a very different person from a smaller, still violent, historical event: “Can’t we all get along?” I continue to hope so.

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Fear, Grief, Parkinson's Disease

Anyone who has read my previous post about my mom (Letting Go of Knowing Why When Loved Ones are Sick) knows that she has Parkinson’s disease (PD to those of us now familiar with it). PD has all the terrible symptoms  one thinks of: with tremors throughout her body and “freezing up,” or the inability to walk because that connection from her brain to her feet just won’t work sometimes. But the hardest part of this illness, at least to my brother and me, is the dementia and the decline of her cognitive functioning. Like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s causes a person’s mind to slowly slip away. Lately, it’s become worse. The progression of the disease, along with a urinary tract infection that led to sepsis and put her in the hospital, seems to have made her “good days” become far fewer than her “bad days,” when she mumbles incoherently or thinks her walker is the portable commode.

My brother and I usually try to make light of her condition, attempting to find the humor in things, like when she kept referring to the physical therapist as the “power girl” (“when is the power girl coming over?”) or when she asked me very seriously if I had in my “possession two pounds of white See’s candy that looks like pajamas,” (I answered “No, sorry, I don’t” to that one). We don’t laugh at her or her condition, but we cope by finding humor in the absurdity of it all and marveling at the frightening and amazing human brain.

Yet, in other instances, we need to talk her off a metaphorical ledge and try to bring her into our current reality, like when she calls very concerned saying, “Dad died, will you take me to the funeral?” and I have to tell her that her dad died over twenty-five years ago. Then when she questions “well, who died?” and I tell her “no one died, Mom, you’re okay,” she is never fully reassured by this, and neither am I. We don’t know how we can help her, and unfortunately, there is not much we can do at this point, except talk to her and visit her. This brings me to the title of this post, “Progressive Disease Never Gets Easier – and I’m a Wimp,” because it is becoming harder and harder to visit her and try to act like everything is normal and okay while I’m there.  In my previous post I wrote, “So, instead, we will continue to visit her regardless of her current state that day. We’ll stick by her, even when the disease takes it all, not knowing the reason why and just letting the idea of fair gmom_julieo… As we painfully watch we will hope that our presence will make it easier on my mom, the one, in the end, who is suffering the most.” Those words seem hypocritical now because I don’t look forward to seeing her and it’s hard to show-up with a smile. With two busy young kids in sports and other activities it is easy to let time slip by with practices or games and realize that I have not visited my mom in awhile. That fact makes me feel guilty, which makes me avoid the visit, which makes me guiltier, and so it goes.

We’ve all seen or read about families who leave their parents or loved ones to rot away in a nursing home or retirement place, never visiting, or doing so once a year for twenty minutes. I always thought they were uncaring jerks and questioned how people could do that to “their own parents!” but maybe now I see why a little more clearly. Maybe it’s just too hard and they can’t face seeing their loved one turn from a “normal” person to a nearly unrecognizable shell of who they once were. It’s agonizing to watch and too painful to accept, so they don’t. They hide, pop up once a year, and retreat back to their own world where this reality doesn’t exist. I get it and oftentimes would like to do the same, but I don’t. And yet, I could do more.  My brother calls my mom once a day and drives up to visit her once a month regardless of what is going on in his life. His strength and fortitude far exceed mine.

But pain is no excuse, at least not a good one. Just because it’s difficult does not mean it’s acceptable to avoid it. The truth in this situation is that I can’t come to a full acceptance of her progressive disease because the disease keeps changing, so once I accept it, the disease has progressed and my mom can’t remember what day it is; a short time later, I must now accept that she thinks See’s candy looks like pajamas. It does not stop until the disease stops, and then she is no longer here. There is no good answer or solution; and it seems near impossible to look for a bright side or some positive way to view it all. Sometimes, I’m realizing, it’s best to keep your head down and keep moving forward, to show-up while staying the course, be it a progressive disease or a marathon with an unknown end.

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