Monday, October 5, 2015

Are You Hopeless or Hopeful?

I had a post written and ready to go Thursday morning but, in the wake of the shooting in Oregon, publishing it didn't feel appropriate, nor particularly sensitive.

So, instead of me polishing off a post about my son's potty training or how close we are to the birth of our second son, I sat and read story, after story, after story, about yet another shooting at another school.

Like millions of others I read these stories and wondered just what the hell is wrong.

I thought a great deal about the people in my life who all seem to feel the same way: that no matter what your political stripe, something has to change, that the status quo is unacceptable.

Then I thought about all the people out there who don't feel this way.

Your gun laws didn't work? Welp, at least we tried. 
I considered the millions upon millions of people who don't want to see change, because they say they're scared.

They say they're scared that change could lead to all sorts of consequences like being vulnerable to homicidal home invaders, or becoming the victims of an overreaching government.

There are mountains of statistical evidence to help allay these concerns and there are countries where gun ownership flourishes — but gun violence does not — that serve as examples. But this fear is powerful.

This fear is so powerful that millions of people believe that gun rights have dwindled under their current president. They have, in fact, flourished. As have gun sales. 

This fear helps stoke an industry which generates $42 billion in annual economic impact in the United States, according to a trade association for the U.S. firearms industry.

$42 billion. Perhaps that figure answers many of the questions surrounding the nature of the gun conversation. That's a lot of money and no doubt there are some people in that industry who don't want to see one penny of it go away.

So, that industry spends millions to sway public opinion, shape the conversation and force it through the narrow keyhole of "rights." Somewhere along the way, one's right to be free from the fear that their kid's classmates might be packing a gun is forgotten.

And that industry spends money so, when a school shooting happens, they're ready to jump and convince us there's just nothing that can solve this problem — except to make sure there are more guns.

Suggestions that a different law, or a group of citizens, or a group of elected legislators acting on behalf of citizens, can affect change are shouted down. "These shootings are happening in places with strict gun laws" and "it's unconstitutional," we are often told while other obvious truths are ignored.

One of those truths is that it's acceptable for some laws to inhibit one right in the name of another. The old adage still holds: we don't see free speech advocates pushing to repeal the law against yelling "Fire," in a crowded theater.

"Criminals don't follow gun laws," we are also told. (Strange logic if there ever was such a thing. Since when does the possibility of a law being broken mean we don't write laws?)

For folks embracing this fear and this logic, 294 mass shootings in 275 days is apparently an acceptable way of life. Worse still is that these folks are resigned to the idea that there's nothing we can do to change things.

As I've aged, my circle of friends and family has grown to include folks from across all political stripes and backgrounds. I know people who proudly call themselves conservative. I know folks who call themselves liberals and I've got even more friends and family who think those labels are B.S. and they don't fit neatly into one of two boxes.

I've got friends who hunt; they've got multiple guns and they're as left leaning politically as you'll find. I've got a branch of my family tree with a safe full of guns and they never hunt. My dad owned an old shotgun. I've got friends who hate guns, won't go near them. One of my best friends is a cop, and he leaves his gun at work each and every night.

But, no matter where along the political spectrum these folks fall, I think we all believe that there is a middle ground between the right to be free and the right to be free from fear.

The persistence of gun violence in this nation isn't simply a question of laws or no laws. It's a question of whether we, the people who live here, find the status quo acceptable.

I am hopeful that most of us do not and even more hopeful that we're moving toward a solution.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Confessions of a Callous Father

And now, more evidence that I'm an insensitive, narcissistic, inconsiderate, Hun.

His mother would never be so cruel.
The blog earlier this week in which I detailed how my meager effort at self improvement was derailed by my mercurial, temperamental son, might just be the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back in favor of this argument.

You see, in an effort that happens about as frequently as the Winter Olympics, I tried to get in some exercise early in the morning before work and before my family woke up. The idea was to get up, get going and lay the groundwork for the day ahead.

This attempt was derailed when I arrived home after a run and my son, sans underwear but bearing plenty of furious anger was there to greet me. My plans for using this extra time went up in a blaze of tantrums and tears.

I chalked up the boy's behavior to simply acting out. He's three. His behavior isn't always going to be logical. Firmly in my mid-30s, I might be living proof that behavior in grown men is rarely logical.

Mrs. Blackwell told me — after I wrote the blog detailing my son's exploits — that when he arrived at school that day his teachers determined the boy was actually running a temperature.

Of course, her attention is about to be
a bit more divided. (She looks beautiful,
doesn't she?)
The boy had a fever, he felt terrible and there I was, of no help whatsoever. Unless of course you consider judging and making oneself the victim a "help."

The boy has strong verbal skills but, at this stage of life, it's not always about being able to articulate. I forget that fact — frequently.

Being able to communicate is not solely about having the words to convey what you need to say; it's also about having the experiences to draw from to help you know what you might be describing.

So, in this case, the boy felt terrible but, perhaps this is the first time he can remember having a fever. And the symptoms of a fever aren't exactly easy to describe for the sufferer. There's warmth of course.

But, there's also the general sense of discomfort, a queasy stomach, fatigue and, quite likely, a headache. So, if you're the boy and this is the first time to your memory that you're encountering this phenomena, what do you say?



"Dad, you idiot, feel my head; something isn't right,"?

Or perhaps you just do what he did, which is say "Hello," to your dad and then ask him to leave you the hell alone while you weather the storm.

It's not the boy's fault that his father is a solipsistic, mental dwarf.

Instead of investigating the source of the boy's anger and his crying, I got impatient and chalked it up to the easiest conclusion — he's three and he's acting out.

I believe this is what parents call a "teaching moment" and, true to form, it's me who's being taught.

Seriously. It's been 22 years since they made the playoffs.
Fantasia can wait. 
And, now that I've learned my lesson, the spoils go to my son who, because his father operates off guilt like dry tinder feeds a fire, is getting extra special treatment since my callous neglect scarred him for life.

"Oh, you want chocolate milk for breakfast? Well, sure, that makes perfect sense."

"You want to watch Fantasia? OK. The Blue Jays first march toward the post season in 22 years can wait, I suppose."

"You want to go to the park at the top of the steep hill, instead of the one right next to the house? Well, of course! Anything for my perfect little guy."

Yep, that's my big takeaway from this ordeal. Do everything your child asks you to do and they'll end up perfectly well-adjusted.

Or at least they'll be the kind of kid who doesn't wait for a fever before throwing a tantrum.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

An Early Morning Run Gone Wrong

In a rare fit of inspiration, I woke before dawn one recent morning and went for a run.

It was still dark, the sky full of stars, the air was crisp and crickets were still chirping, before the birds got in on the act. It was perfect and almost enough to distract me from the fact that I don't enjoy jogging.

For me, this is about as accurate as it is funny. Runner's
 nausea? Yes. Runner's phlegm? Sure. Runner's stench?
Check. Runner's high? Nope. Not once. 
So, to divert my attention from the unpleasantness of the task at hand, I focused on how happy I'd be that I'd done this.

For the remainder the day, no matter what happened, I could tap this little pool of equity and say I'd done at least one productive thing for myself.

In exchange for losing a little sleep, I was buying myself a one-day reprieve from the usual self loathing I administer as punishment for my lack of activity.

It was early too, so I'd be arriving back at home while Mrs. Blackwell and the boy were still sleeping.

And, while they sawed logs, I could prepare a nutritious breakfast, get the boy's clothes laid out and have the family ready to hit the ground running — and I'd have it all done before 6:30 in the morning, long before I had to be at work.

These incentives fueled me as I rolled from my oh-so-comfy bed. They prodded me to my stick contact lenses into my sleepy eyes. The made me put on my running shoes and they helped me lift one foot in front of the other.

When I got home and walked up my driveway, I thought: "Well, that stinks but it was worth it."

But, as I entered the pitch darkness of my home, my little boy was there to greet me and remind me that it wasn't worth it.

His first impression was a cute one. Standing at the top of the stairs, holding his blanket, he whispered, "There's daddy."

It was then that I noticed he wasn't wearing any underwear and that, ladies and gentlemen, marked the beginning of the downhill slide.

He walked down the stairs and quickly curled up on the floor next to our couch.

He's under there somewhere. Waiting to pounce in a hail of
tears and groin-seeking kicks.
I followed him. He didn't look comfortable so, I attempted to lift him onto the couch. He responded by starting to cry — loudly — and to flail — vigorously.

He was upset so I sought to mitigate and ameliorate.

"What's wrong buddy? Do you want breakfast?"

"Noooooo. I doooon wan bwekfusst anymoh!" he cried back.

"Ok. You want something to drink? Orange juice? Apple juice?"

"Noooooo. I doooon wan any juuuice."

He was apoplectic and, above all, very loud. He was going to wake his mother who hasn't enjoyed a full night's sleep since sometime in June.

I'll pause here to say that he's done this before and it's not for any good reason and there's really nothing we can do except wait it out and not justify or encourage it in any way.

So, with my attempts to placate him falling flat, I withdrew. I did nothing and kept my fingers crossed that he'd quiet down.

In short order he went back upstairs but instead of going to his room he found his mother, who was indeed awake. She invited him to crawl into bed with her, he did, and for a time he settled down.

Sensing that this might be a temporary state, I made haste and began getting ready for the day. I was right, his calm was temporary; I got out of the shower just in time to see my cell phone go sailing across the bedroom.

The boy, no doubt in a fit of frustration at being unable to hack my lock screen, tossed the phone. Thankfully, it landed on a pillow.

Pretty sure the boy thinks Mr. Starr is being ironic.
Mrs. Blackwell was now in the midst of her morning routine and because getting up and jogging is about as far from routine as I get, I was lost, stuck between a combustible three-year-old and vague recollections of what I should be doing to get ready for my day.

The abundant free time that I'd imagined would be at my disposal had evaporated.

I left the boy alone again and he quieted down, again. I approached him to see if he wanted breakfast again and he blew a gasket again. This was the pattern established by 6:45 a.m. It was loud. It was frustrating and, outside of the six minutes he took to eat breakfast, it continued right up until I strapped him into his car seat to go to preschool.

It was then — magically – that he decided all was well. He grew quiet.

He asked to hear "Track 24" on his favorite CD, a compilation of Motown classics.

And what exactly is "Track 24" you might ask?

It's called "War" and by God that's exactly what it felt like I'd gone through.

And to answer that question "WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR???" well, I'm still figuring that out, though I can say with certainty now that one could replace "war" with the word "jogging" and it would be equally true.