Tag Archives: children

Where We Find Our Children

"This vehicle has been checked for sleepi...

(Photo credit: fedira)

I slept with my amethyst rosary wrapped around my hand last night.  I curled up in my son’s bed, hoping I wouldn’t alarm him, but knowing that if I were him, I would be alarmed.

But he was asleep, breathing deeply as though he was absorbing all the life from every corner of the house.  I would have given him all I had.

When I was 17, in 1999, Columbine happened.  The Monday after, we all went to school, but looked a bit harder at those around us.  I told my mother not to worry, that she was crazy, smoking cigarettes one after another, inhaling hard as though she could suck away all the smoke and horror so far away.  She could not stop staring at the screen, watching trails of students running from their lives, any one of them or every one of them, one of her four children.

When I looked at my mother after Columbine, I knew she was right to worry, or at least that she was normal.

Yesterday, I didn’t hear the news until 2:30.  I hadn’t turned on the TV all day.  When I heard about it, my son was at preschool in Brockport‘s Ginther School, and I was in my kitchen, on the phone with my mom, who said, “God, are you watching this?”

She told me in brief, and I turned on the news, knowing I had to get all I could, grab my own sense of it because not five minutes later my 4-year-old and his best friend would bound through the door with Spiderman backpacks and light-up shoes and zippers and gloves and hats and I would be a parent, calming myself so I could handle the chaos of fun, the lightning fast chirping and questioning and squeals of kids being just what they are, what they should be, breathing, running, vibrant kids.

By the time they came through the door, exactly the way I’d expected, I’d seen and heard enough to be changed, to hope the red of my eyes and nose would go away before the boys would notice.

I turned off the TV.  I was scared, let alone these innocent babies.

We all are children at our core, after all.

This past week, absentmindedly, I had The Morning Show on, not thinking about how horrifying the news could be until the report came on about the mall shooting in Oregon.  My son sat across from me with a buttered english muffin, licking the butter off before biting into the bread itself.

He stopped chewing.

“Why is he naughty?  Why did he shoot?”  Johnny asked.

I wish I’d been paying attention to the TV during the lead-up instead of fixing my coffee.  I had to say something when I couldn’t comprehend it.

“I don’t know, Johnny,” I said.  “I just don’t know.  Some people are not nice,” I said.

“Well, will he go to jail?”  Johnny asked.

“Yes, Johnny,” I said, not going farther into the story than I had to, shielding him, as much as I could, from all the death.

I wanted to save him from this horror.

He would ask me about the mall shooting again after lunch.  Again, I’d shift away.

Is this what it is?  What we imagine: the pulses racing, the terror inside, the prayers we know they’d be saying if they could think about anything other than survival.

Yesterday, Johnny and his friend, Sam, clomped down the stairs to ask me to help them construct the train set, to get it back on track and make the engine run.  I did what I could, listening to them consider how to piece it together.  I looked to their innocence to negotiate my own thoughts.

When I came down, my husband whispered updates to me, turned the TV down low, and we distracted Sammy, our toddler, somehow too young to be scared, with trucks.

I’d just read the latest piece of fiction, “Creatures,” by Marisa Silver, in The New Yorker about a couple whose son is expelled from preschool for biting his classmate.  I thought, when I read it, these poor parents, their poor son, and I wonder today, how I’d read it, what might change, where my son might appear in the text, where the story would write itself from the end.

My sister-in-law came over last night for coffee, and we talked about the news as though it was just that–news, but we knew how much more it was.  We said we were sad the way everyone in America said they were sad, the way we all feel it in our guts and not in our brains because our brains can’t touch it.

Then we agreed that we should do anything to prevent this, as anyone in America would give their right arm, or more, their own lives, to prevent this from happening again.

If only we could be superhuman.

When Johnny came to the kitchen with his older cousin, he wore his blue Transformers helmet.  Every time he laughed, the noise escaped the awkwardly large dome like a robot, as though he was some machine, but from below it, I saw his shoulders wobble and peeks of human skin.

Later last night, I folded my sons’ laundry–their mini socks, their small pants with worn knees and shirts thin at the elbows from bending and jumping and dancing.

Later last night, I picked up their toys, tucking them in drawers and stacking their books on the table.

Later last night, I gasped at every moment my children entered my mind, and soon, gasping was all I could do.

We find them everywhere, and after they come, we are not only ourselves.

If only.

Backyard Casualties

That day was so bright I wore sunglasses to avoid laugh lines at the crook of my eyes, but then removed them for fear of round tan lines from my forehead to my cheeks.
I watched my son, Johnny, regardless of shades.
How could I not?  He approached everything with curiosity and lush.  However I stepped, he stomped. What I said, he yelled.  If I cried, he wailed.  

Before Johnny, I used to drink a glass of pinot grigio on the bench by the pond in my backyard, where I waited for my husband, Cory, to come home.  Then, after only four years, I was at a loss for that blanket of sun, my feet tapping the crisp leaves, the calm of the koi fish lulling in the water, without my worry that I had become responsible for them.

We drained the pond for my fear of Johnny drowning, and Cory's dismay at maintaining its cleanliness, the “balance” of algae and bacteria in the water for the koi.  It was some kind of science.  After, though, we had a hole of tarp, dying lily plants, and occasional puddles for bugs to wade in.
Because of the pond that had once burrowed into our dirt, Johnny had a high number of snails and toads to marvel at.  The creature’s displacement was pretty evident.  These nomads hopped and slugged around our yard, searching for some place to live.
Finally I had bought a yard-plaything to attract Johnny from the pond wreckage and the edges of our yard—rows of trees and poison ivy, gatherings of mosquitoes and gnats.  For forty dollars at a garage sale, I bought a large plastic jungle gym, with holes like swiss cheese, and a slide faded to pastel green from someone else’s heavy afternoon sun.
Johnny was apprehensive at first, as he sized up the height of the slide, circled around the gym, peered in the holes under the platform.  Finally, he giggled and crawled through into the shade and out again.
“Johnny,” I said. “Try the slide.”
“Yeah,” he said and walked over, anxious to climb up its incline.  There were two snails lazing in the very middle, having claimed their resting place.  “Mommy,” he said. “Look!”  He plucked the snails up between the chub of his fingers and threw them down.  Then he stomped on one, and laughed.
“No,” I said.  That’s it, I thought.  I’ve raised a snail-killer.  “Don’t hurt them.”
He stepped on the other snail and delighted in its crunch.  When I squealed again, he hung a finger from the corner of his mouth, and stared up at me.

“Why?”  Johnny asked when I told him not to stomp the snails.
“Because,” I said. “That snail has a mommy and daddy snail.  They will look for him.”
“Oh,” Johnny said.

More than two years before, when we still had the pond, I saw my first blue heron--at least the first that made any impression on me.  Its wing span flapped prehistorically, and at first, its size frightened me.  It would take flight as I pulled in the driveway, having perched at our pond hunting our expensive koi pets.  Cory draped orange plastic netting over the length of pond after we found the heron nipping at our large gold koi one morning.  I admired the heron from the kitchen window, and was sad that we were being unfriendly.  It was the gap of scales and flesh the heron's beak tore from our largest fish, as he lost grip of the heavy meal, that made him my enemy.  Cory took the weighty fish out of the pond since the front of his face (do fish have faces?) was missing.  I tugged at the sides of my skirt, and gritted my teeth to keep from crying over a pet I hadn't even named.  Cory's long arm threw the fish, still floundering about, to the ditch next to our yard.  I swore the other fish never swam the same after.  

The summer after Johnny's snail stomping, we played with the toads, since his touch was gentler, and more precise.  He had a creature cage for caught insects or toads.  This way, Johnny could poke and prod and scrunch his nose at the things.  He sometimes jerked his head back if they darted against its sides too hard.  Like everything, even hot dogs, toads lost their appeal to Johnny.  I set the cage down on a chair and ran after him while he slapped wildly at his Spiderman ball, rolling it through the grass. 

The next week, I told Johnny we couldn't close the toads in the cage, so he threw a tantrum, pounded at the ground.  I debated showing him the perished toad I had mistakenly imprisoned since the last time we played in the yard, how it had starved probably some time around Wednesday.  I kept that secret to myself, and let him scream at the grass beneath him so all the ants could hear.  

Later that afternoon, Johnny was gathering the snails from the walkway parallel to our back door.  There were four of them spaced out over ten feet of cracked field-stone.  Meticulously, he lined them up, similar to how he lined up his matchbox cars on the windowsill. 

"Johnny, whatcha doing?"

"The snail family wants to be together," he said.  The tips of Johnny's nails were little brown grins, bobbing up and down as he picked the snails up and moved each forward, and forward, and forward, his own version of checkers. 

"They are going for a walk," he said.