your son isn’t here right now, Mrs. Torrance

I had our biannual conference with our fourth-grader’s teacher last week. My husband didn’t even come. What was the point of him taking off work to hear once again that our son displays malice toward none, good sportsmanship toward all, and penmanship almost freakishly neat? Connor is nothing if not predictable.

And indeed, this past week’s conference reconfirmed my son’s good humor, conscientiousness, and respect for all his teachers. Which made it, well, sort of a surprise when this occurred last weekend:

DAD: Connor, put those dishes in the dishwasher.

CONNOR: Why do I have to do it?

DAD: Because I told you to.

CONNOR: (under his breath) Shut up.

Pause.

DAD: What?

This wasn’t the sarcastic sort of I-couldn’t-have-heard-that-right “What”. My husband was being literal: clearly he misunderstood. Because our son had never spoken those words to an adult in his entire life.

Perhaps he had been addressing the dishwasher?

But our son did not respond.

David looked at me. I looked at him. We looked at our ten-year-old.

ME: What did you say?

Connor still wouldn’t answer. We had heard right, after all

DAD: Young man, if you think that that’s an acceptable way to speak to your father, let me tell you—

And then he stopped mid-sentence. Because our darling Boy Scout of a son? Was SMIRKING.

Now we were completely thrown. David stammered. I stammered. “Get to your room,” we said, and “good luck getting screen time this weekend,“ we said, and a few other choice phrases of parenting that seemed suddenly, newly, feeble.

When we heard his bedroom door slam behind him, we were dumbfounded.  Something’s going on, we whispered to each other. That’s not him. Is it? Was that some blood sugar thing? WHO WAS THAT KID?

Two hours later, my husband had gone out and Connor had returned to his sunny and chatty self. There must have been some tiny momentary rip in the universe, I told myself. Or maybe it was just my imagination. Just to finish shrugging it off, though, I asked:

ME:  So Connor. Can I assume you’re done talking to your parents like that?

CONNOR: (shrugs) We’ll see.

ME: “We’ll see?” Are you KIDDING me?

CONNOR: I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

And he walked out of the room.

I swear to God, it was “Danny isn’t here right now, Mrs. Torrance.”

It was that moment about halfway through anyway horror movie when the female protagonist realizes she hasn’t been imagining things, after all.

shelley-duvall-GC

Which is always followed by another twenty minutes where nothing bad happens really, only now the female protagonist cannot shake the feeling that sh*t’s about to get REAL.

This was five days ago. No sign of the demon since then. I just had a fellow mother tell me yesterday that my son is “so polite it’s almost disgusting.”

And I nodded politely. But my eyes were all Shelley Duvall when she said it.

Parents of pre-teens, please tell me: is this how it all begins? With flashes of the dark unholy so quick you wonder if you imagined them?

Something tells me it’s about to get real.

unthinkable. again.

Six months ago, I got up early to hide the NYC newspaper headlines before my kids could see them, before they could learn there was evil in the world great enough to harm two innocent children.

Four months ago, on December 15th, I turned off the television and hid the front pages again.

This morning I did it again, with the heaviest of hearts. Another child, eight-year-old Martin Richard, taken away from his parents for reasons that will never make sense to any of us.

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As I typed those previous sentences, my ten-year-old looked over my shoulder at Martin’s photograph and asked me who it was.

“A little boy who really loves peace,” I said. How can I tell my sweet son, who cries over spelling tests (for which he knows all the words), about this strange new world that we live in, where children can no longer feel safe?

I don’t mean that I’m avoiding the coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings myself. I’ve done nothing all day but look at pictures of Martin, of his family, and reflect on how the unthinkable could possibly have become their new reality. This from the boston.com metro desk:

At the Adams Corner General Store, Dotty Willett, a cousin of the boy’s mother, said that when she first heard the news that a child had died in the explosions, her heart broke to think of the poor family. “Then I found out we were the family,” she said, her voice choked with emotion.

Those of us parenting young children in 2013 can imagine that happening for any of us, all too easily.  David Wheeler, parent of 6-year-old Newtown victim Ben Wheeler, told us just last week:

It’s going to happen again. Every time, it’s somebody else’s school, it’s somebody else’s community, it’s somebody else’s town. Until one day, you wake up and it’s not.

It doesn’t make sense that this could happen, ever. But now it feels like it’s happening all the time.

I know I can’t keep all three of my kids in the same bubble. My five-year-old doesn’t have to know anything about this, and if I have anything to do with it, won’t have to. But that ten-year-old… I knew someone would be talking on the school bus this morning, and I wanted him to have some baseline version of the truth from me first.

“Something bad happened in Boston,” I told him this morning, after not changing the TV channel quickly enough when he entered the kitchen.

Yes, it was a bomb. No, they don’t know who did it. Hopefully they will find out. No, they don’t know why.

The whole time I was telling him, I was trying so hard to hold it together, to not show him how sad and scared I was. But even greater than my fear of scaring him was my fear that this would  fit into his developing world view all too easily. Over at The Broad Side, Joanne Bamberger wrote today about her own daughter’s seemingly nonplussed reaction:

I don’t know how to process the fact that our kids — or, at least, my kid — takes the initial news of a horrific tragedy like the one in Boston as something that is just a matter of course in her life as she knows it.

I couldn’t tell my son who this beautiful eight-year-old child was, and see the devastation on his face. I also couldn’t face the possibility of seeing any sort of acceptance in his eyes, that this is how we live now.

It just can’t be.

Have you told your children about what has happened in Boston? How do their ages affect what you think they should know?

Here are a few ways to support the Richard family- Bill and Denise, and their children Jane and Henry- in the coming days and weeks:

  • send a sympathy card to them c/o St Ann Parish Neponset, 243 Neponset Ave, Dorchester, MA 02122.
  • send a check to The Richard Family Fund, Meetinghouse Bank, 2250 Dorchester Avenue, Dorchester Ctr, MA 20124.
  • leave a message of support on this Facebook page.

 

It’s going to happen again. Unless we take action. Here’s how to start.

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Almost four months later.

I can’t believe that there’s still any debate about what needs to be done.

I can’t believe that these children’s deaths haven’t been enough to change the conversation.

If we can’t enact sensible gun controls in this country now, then when? They deserve a vote. That’s so incredibly reasonable, so nothing to ask- and even now, we’re supposed to accept that Congress will pander and dither and give us half-measures that will change nothing?

I have the privilege of knowing Francine and David Wheeler, the parents of Ben Wheeler, who died on December 14th. After having this unthinkable tragedy thrust upon them, they have been speaking for all of us- for all of our children- with incredible clarity and grace. They are in Washington, DC this week. They were on 60 Minutes last week. Here’s what David said then.

“I would like every parent in this country—that’s 150 million people. I would like them to look in the mirror and that’s not a figure of speech. I mean find a mirror in your house and look in it and look in your eyes and say ‘this will never happen to me, this will never happen in my school, this will never happen in my community,’ and see if you actually believe that. And if there’s a shadow, the slightest shadow of doubt in what you’ve said? Think about what you can do to change that. It is going to happen again. It’s going to happen again. Every time, it’s somebody else’s school, it’s somebody else’s community, it’s somebody else’s town. Until one day, you wake up and it’s not.”

I don’t need that mirror: it’s the certainty that this could have happened to any of us that made THIS tragedy so different for anyone who is a parent. When any one of us brought our children to school that next Monday, we were terrified. (At the time, I thought I was alone in feeling that way. So I wrote about it. No: not alone at all.)

As time has gone by, I have felt increasing frustration that there’s nothing I can *do* to make things different this time, that the donating and the marching- and the tears- are not making a difference at all.

But the only change that can’t occur is the change that is never sought.

This week, Francine has asked everyone she knows to share this message. Here’s a way to change things. Today. It will take you less than half an hour. I’m going to do it as soon as I publish this post.

The time has come. Please pass this on to your friends and family, and ask them to either write and/or call their Senator over the next 7-10 days. We expect the discussion on the bill to start Monday, April 8th and go for 2 weeks. 

You can call or write or email multiple times — as many requests as you are comfortable making. 

Use this template for a letter to Congress.

Use this template for a phone call to Congress (all you do is call one central number and ask to be connected to your rep’s office.)

 Below are key States we would love to get engaged into the Senate voting process:

  • Alaska
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Maine
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • West Virginia
  • Arizona
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Arkansas
  • Montana
  • South Carolina

Please take a moment to consider and understand how important you are to this process.  We are the foundation of the government we’ve elected and we can make our voices heard.

Please join me in doing this: for Francine, for David, for Nate, for Ben.

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doing Disney World: waiting in line is for suckers

When last I posted here, I pledged that I would have a hot, inefficient, and imperfect trip to Disney World with my three children, sprinkled with managed expectations.

castle

How it turned out: not hot. Quite imperfect. And– despite my pledge– completely and totally efficient.

Disney World is probably not the right place to cure oneself of overplanneritis, because the truth is, the better you plan, the more you’ll see. Things like Fast Passes only work because the majority of Magic Kingdom-goers do seem to wander about, getting in line for whatever ride they happen upon next. Ninety minute wait? With three cranky children in tow and no place to sit down? Oh well.

Perhaps I would be a better person if I could happily tolerate ninety minutes in a line, but I’d seriously rather stab a knitting needle in my eye. And my kids are no better. And so, yes, I admit it, my absolutely favorite part of our trip to Disney World was gaming the system to maximize times on rides and minimize waits in line. Here’s what worked:

  • go early. Going late probably works too– I wouldn’t know, since we were all in our beds by 9:30 every night. But if your kids are up at dawn like mine are, you can ride Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom three times in a row before the families with teenagers have their teeth brushed back at their hotels. Oh, and you’ll park ten steps from the entrance- another major boon. Go early.
  • eat early. If you’re on rides by 9 a.m., you’ll be ready for lunch at 11:30- while the restaurants are just starting to fill up. You’ll be leaving when the 12:30 crush is just arriving- and that means all the lines for rides will be shorter.
  • plan ahead. A little. Before we entered the parks each day each member of our family came up with one ride or attraction they really wanted to experience. We got those five things done. Anything on top was gravy because we’d already done what we wanted the most.
  • get this appwhich not only tells you the current wait time for each ride, but also predicts which parks will be the most and least crowded on any given day. Walt Disney World has its own app, and it will get better- but on this trip I only used that one to make dining reservations. The unofficial “Lines” app may be one of those “free” apps that then costs you $11.99 to use with anything nearing full usefulness- but it’s totally worth it.
  • don’t wait in line for the parade. People stake out seats an hour before it starts- but we happened upon one as it was starting and stood directly behind those people, who had been wilting in the sun for some time. You’ll be able to see it fine.
  • use Fast Pass early and often. Only chumps wait an hour in line for a ride that has Fast Pass. My husband and I took turns being Fast Pass couriers- the rest of the family would get in line for a non-Fast Pass attraction, the other would dart across the Magic Kingdom to get the passes for Splash Mountain or whatever, then join the rest of the family in the line where they’d been waiting. It sounds crazy to criss-cross the park like that, but doing it without the kids is easy. (And despite my childhood conception of the Magic Kingdom as absolutely enormous, it is in actuality one-seventh the size of Central Park. Get some exercise.)
  • use the Ride Swap whenever you have a Fast Pass for a ride with a height requirement. This allows parents to ride one at a time with just the children who are old enough to ride. But the money part is, those kids get to ride twice, once with each parent. All you have to do is ask.

It might not be possible to do Disney in a laid-back way. Or at least, it’s not possible for me. But I did get to savor moments like this.

meeting rapunzel

Maggie met “the REAL Tangled.”

And that’s why any of us are crazy enough to do Disney in the first place, right?