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Every year, summer sneaks up on me. It always seems like winter lags on, reluctant to leave. We have chilly spring days, followed by one teasingly hot week, followed by the cold again. I put away our winter coats, only to have to take them out again.
Then, somehow, it’s summer again. The scorchers are here to stay, and the sweaters that have made a pile on the chair in my room need to get washed and put away until the fall. Schools let out, flooding my FB feed with last day of school and prom and graduation pics. Summer is here.
But it’s easy to remain caught up with everyday chores and routines and responsibilities. All of a sudden I realize it’s the longest day of the year. Summer is in full swing, and if I don’t stop and look around, I might miss it.
Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it?” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
It’s almost the end of June and we haven’t made it to the beach yet. I’m working out possible vacations in July with my fertility testing (yep, that’s starting up again). I’m working on my summer bucket list (strawberry picking: check; zoo: check) so that I won’t miss anything.
Last year I mourned the end of summer because I felt like I had let it slip by. I hadn’t fully embraced it or been present for it. I hadn’t been mindful. And before I knew it, it was gone.
When you were young, didn’t it seem like summer lasted forever? I remember being bored, as day after hot and lazy day passed by. But like everything in life, summer seems sped up now that I’m an adult.
In the midst of everything I have going on right now (writing, fertility treatments, preschool evaluations, LM’s hearing stuff), I’m going to try my hardest to be present. I’m going to try to take the time to enjoy the season.
Every time of year has its traditions, but summer seems the most timeless of all. I’m not sure why this is; maybe it has something to do with the natural, organic way it seems to affect people. Christmas is wonderful, but let’s face it, grownups made up the traditions of trimming trees and opening presents. But let kids loose in summer, and they do what kids have been doing forever: running in the grass, digging in the sand, catching lightning bugs, playing outside late into the dusk, swimming in lakes and the ocean. There’s a natural inevitability to it that the rest of the year doesn’t possess.
I love the way the summer encourages us to relax and take it easy. I need that, because I can get a bit caught up in all the to-do’s of life. Summer reminds us to let them go, to sit back and relax. And as LM grows older, I can’t wait to see him more fully enjoy the summer.
So welcome back, summer. I promise to try to be present while you are with us. I promise to take advantage of your sunshine and your long days. I promise to realize how lucky I am to be able to watch my son discover your charms. I promise to fully embrace you, and to encourage my child to do the same.
Do you love summer? What’s on your bucket list this year?
I hate bringing up tragedies involving children. I constantly go there in my head, worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Getting blindsided by these terrible stories have made me want to stop reading social media, and even watching television. So I really hesitate to talk about the most recent tragedy on this blog. But I think it’s important not just because of what happened and the lessons we can learn from it (i.e., you’re never safe from gators in Florida), but because of our reaction: Blame.
Blame Disney for not having better signage — although I agree that would help. “No swimming” to me means “The water is gross” or “There’s no lifeguard here” not “You may be eaten by a wild animal.” Plus, gators could attack people who are at the water’s edge. Why were there even “movies on the beach” when alligators could be lurking on said beach?
Blame the parents — why were they letting their kid wade in the water at 8 o’clock at night? Why weren’t they right next to him? Well, maybe they were right next to him. I couldn’t stop my kid from falling into a coffee table and needing 12 stitches when I was right next to him. I doubt I could have stopped a four to seven foot gator that was faster than it looked. As for why they were out so late, blame the movie night on the beach for that.
But didn’t they think about the gators? They were from Nebraska. Without signs or some kind of literature distributed to guests, how would they know? What’s common knowledge for Florida residents or people who travel to the south frequently might not be on the radar of midwesterners. This is supposed to be a safe place. The happiest place on earth.
But none of this is really the point. We could debate all day long how this could have been prevented. No doubt those parents will be thinking about that for the rest of their lives. Woulda coulda shoulda. Hindsight is 20/20. Disney will make the appropriate corrections, and those parents will replay the night in their minds. “If only we had done things differently,” they will ask themselves.
So why the endless debates? Why, after a child gets into a gorilla pit and a $15,000 Lego exhibit is destroyed by a kid and a child is killed by an alligator, do we — the internet, strangers — feel the need to play the blame game?
I thought it was about sanctimommies. But I think it’s actually bigger than that.
It’s actually not about the parents of the child at all. Like any bullying, it’s not about the victims. It’s about the bullies themselves.
Bullies appear confident, arrogant, full of swagger and self-assuredness. Bullies can be mean, but they are always sure they’re right. Bullies are strong.
Except they’re not. Not at all.
Bullies are scared. Bullies are cowards. Bullies bully because they lack confidence, and bullying makes them feel like they have power over something. Bullies know, deep down, that they are not right. Bullies have no self-awareness. They bully to feel better about themselves.
Bullies aren’t just kids. Bullies can be grown-ass adults who are scared shitless that something like this could happen to them. But instead of facing up to that, they deny it. They say they are sure, 100 percent positive, that such a tragedy could never, in fact, happen to them. That their parenting skills and abilities are so much better than these people’s, or the gorilla mom’s, or the Lego parents’, that they spew all over the internet how they would have done it differently. But deep down they must know it’s not true.
It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.
What’s more, it’s easy to pretend that everything in life happens for a reason. There is perhaps no platitude I hate more. Maybe it works when you’re talking about things that were unplanned but had positive outcomes. But you know what it doesn’t work for? Death.
Death, especially when it affects the young, is tragic and horrible and doesn’t make sense. You can try to look for an explanation, but there is no rhyme or reason to it. It affects good people and bad people. It isn’t just doled out to people who deserve it. It’s chaotic and unpredictable.
Kids themselves are chaotic and unpredictable. Side note: my son is now very into dinosaurs, so I showed him the parts of Jurassic Park that aren’t violent (pretty much only the baby velociraptor being born and the sick triceratops). But watching further in after he’d gone to bed, I realized how much I related to Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) theory of chaos, particularly as it applies to children:
I love kids! Anything can and does happen.”
Dr. Malcolm gets it. You cannot say with total certainty what will happen to your children. This is why parenting is so terrifying. You can watch them. You can try to follow all the rules. You can feed your kid all organic and make sure his car seat is buckled properly and teach him how to cross the street and obey the no swimming sign.
Except maybe one time you make a mistake. You misinterpret the no swimming sign, because that sign is not very clear. And something tragic happens. Because you are human. Because you erred. Because you were not infallible.
For the rest of us, we don’t want to believe that we could have been that parent. So if we can find someone or something to blame, it will protect against it ever happening to us. If it is everyone’s fault but our own, nothing tragic will ever befall us or our kids.
But life — and death — doesn’t work that way. The world does not follow set patterns. Bad things happen to good people. Horrific tragedies don’t make sense. We spend our life hoping and praying that one doesn’t happen to us. But it could, and we have to live with that.
Where is God in all this? Funny you should ask. I have no idea. But I certainly don’t believe there is some big plan that we’re all a part of. Because death is never a good thing, unless maybe the person was old or suffering. How can the death of a child be part of a plan? I’m reminded of a quote from the fantastic movie Rabbit Hole, about a mom (Nicole Kidman) whose son is hit by a car and killed in front of her home. She goes to a support group, and a fellow parent who’d lost a child (funny how there’s no one word for that, like there is for widow or orphan) says that God must have needed their child to be an angel. Nicole thinks this is bunk:
Why didn’t He just make one? I mean, He’s God after all. Why didn’t He just make another angel?”
Look, I’ve been through six miscarriages. I’ve held my tiny baby of 17 weeks gestation in my arms. Like those who can see thestrals in Harry Potter, I’m a member of that unfortunate club that has known death. So I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about what bad things mean in the universe. I’ve tried and tried to come up with an explanation. Brighter minds than mine have spent their whole lives trying to figure that out. So what did I discover?
Nothing. Not a damn thing.
Basically, shit happens. Sorry, but it does. The world is full of chaos, uncertainty and horrible things. As much as the blame-gamers want to find a cause, because then they can protect themselves against it, it just doesn’t exist. We are human and we make mistakes. Accidents happen. Obviously reasonable safety precautions should be made. But beyond that, we’re on our own.
Does this sound really, really negative? Maybe. But for me realizing this was freeing, to accept that I don’t have power over death, that no one does, maybe not even God. So I can just live every day fully and realize that each day is valuable in and of itself. Nothing is guaranteed, so I try not to take anything for granted. And while I still see danger and tragedy lurking around every corner, I’ve come to realize that I can only do my best and spend the time I have here wisely.
Strangely, this outlook has allowed me to see not only the tragic things in life for what they are (meaningless), but the good things in life for what they are (meaningful). I can appreciate the birds chirping and the flowers blooming and the wind blowing while I sit outside and watch my son play. Things that seemed mundane and ordinary are special. Tradition and family and love — these are the things I’m trying to focus on now, not all the negative stuff. We simply don’t have the time on this planet to do that.
I’ve stopped trying to figure it out. I’ve stopped trying to find blame. It’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there.
What do you think about placing blame when tragedy occurs? How do you find meaning in the universe when bad things happen?
OK, OK. I know we don’t need yet another post on the boy who fell into the gorilla pit. But on the heels of that, another story of an unruly child, this time a boy who knocked over a Lego sculpture worth $15,000, has come out.
Cue the sanctimommy outcry, yet again: “Who was watching that child?” “Parents today need to mind their kids and teach them rules!” “Kids are out of control!”
The media has now realized that any story of a child misbehaving will sell, which means they run more of these stories, which means that it appears we have an epidemic on our hands.
Remember the song “Kids” from the musical Bye, Bye Birdie? This is how it goes:
Kids, I don’t know what’s wrong with these kids today
Kids, who can understand anything they say?
Kids, they are disobedient, disrespectful oafs
Noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy, loafers
And while we’re on the subject
Kids, you can talk and talk till your face is blue
Kids, but they still do just what they want to do
Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?
What’s the matter with kids today?
This song was written in the 1950s.
Every generation thinks there is something the matter with kids today. The only difference is that lately, we’re blaming the parents. Parents, says your friendly neighborhood sanctimommy, should have the superhuman ability to control every single thing their kid is going to say and do at every moment of every day.
One might argue the internet is to blame for the rise of the santimommy. Anonymous commenting has allowed us to hide behind our computer and spew all the pent-up aggression from our actual, real lives. But the ironic thing is that even with Facebook commenting, which reveals your identity (and now you’re often even required to be logged in through Facebook to comment on a post on another website) the problem persists. We know who the sanctimommies (and daddies) are. They’re no longer anonymous. And they’re continuing to do it anyway.
This shows the breadth of the parenting experience. While one mom (um, me) might say, “Yeah, I could totally see my wild child doing that” other parents who, presumably, have demure, malleable children say, “My kid would never do that.”
This irks me. So what if YOUR kid would never do that? Do you think that’s because of your awesome parenting? It may be because you lucked out and have a kid whose instinct is to follow direction.
Now, this is not to say that there are not parents who don’t look after their kids. Yes, of course there are parents who are not giving their kid the attention that they should. But how do we know what happened in these incidents? Were we there when the kid got into the gorilla pit? Were we there when the kid knocked over the Lego sculpture? No. So why are we jumping to conclusions?
I have also heard a few parents, who I know personally, say that there’s no way “it only took a second.” This boggles me, because, uh, yeah, it only takes a second for a kid to dart away. Then the panic ensues. While you are frantically looking for your child who was just by your side a moment ago, he has snuck to the front of the crowd, and the people are blocking your view so you can’t see him climbing over the fence. In those minutes you are looking around, your kid is on the other side, through the bushes and down into the moat.
Why people are questioning how quickly it could happen is a mystery to me. It takes a second for a kid to slip out of sight. What follows is that they’re getting into mischief while you’re running around like a crazy person trying to find them. Even more understandable is the Lego exhibit. One whack of a kid’s arm and the whole thing could topple. I can’t even stop LM from knocking over other kids’ towers when they play with blocks.
So whether your own kid would do such a thing is not the point. The point is that other kids may, and can. But what about the notion you should watch your kids? Let me tell you, when you have a strong-willed kid, it’s hard. If I am not physically connected to him, I can’t even turn my head for a moment. This is stressful. There have been times I forgot to get my keys out of my bag before we left wherever we were, and then I was stuck because I couldn’t reach in without letting go of LM’s hand or turning my head away in a parking lot, which I knew wouldn’t be safe to do. This created some awkward maneuvering.
OK but if that’s what your child is like, shouldn’t you just be prepared to be attached to them? Shouldn’t you just get a leash? Maybe, yes. I take all the precautions I can. But we are human. When you have a child like that, who, as much as you try to teach him the rules insists on pushing every conceivable boundary, it’s exhausting. I am already working that much harder than the parents of the so-called “easy” children. I’m not infallible, and I’m tired. If I make a mistake, I just hope it doesn’t have the kinds of dire consequences as these stories did.
And chances are, a lot of the sanctimommy parents have had those moments—but luckily, nothing bad happened, so they’ve forgotten. And then, somehow, these reasonable, nice people turn into assholes, blaming and judging and getting on their high horse like they are the Perfect Parent. Honestly, I am at a loss at this attitude. What gives you the right to assume what happened at the zoo that day, or at that Lego exhibit? Why are you playing into the media’s contention that unsupervised children are now suddenly a huge problem? Why don’t you realize that this is the same argument that’s been presented about children since the generation gap began in the 1950s?
I have to tell you, I live in constant fear of what my kid might do. Remember my post about the tragedy that didn’t happen? I see these things in my mind’s eye. Sometimes I’m scared to go outside with LM because he’s unpredictable. I can’t trust him. And I’m trying my damnedest to teach him the rules, so don’t you dare tell me I’m a neglectful parent. You just don’t know how hard it is.
The most insightful take on the gorilla incident came, not surprisingly, from The New York Times. The Well Family editor, KJ Dell’Antonia, writes:
For parents who are raising a risk-taking child, the story gives us pause. We know most trips out of the house require extra precautions. Closed doors and barred gates are like beacons to some kids, just waiting to be breached or climbed.
Who does that sound like to you? (Here’s a hint.) She goes on to quote an expert:
Those are children who are more likely to react to their environment, to become highly stimulated and to struggle with impulse control. “They’re high energy, they’re intense, and they’re very committed to their goals.”
This is LM to a T. So while all these other parents are saying, “How could this happen?” I know only too well. I just pray it never happens to me.
Would you admit to being a sanctimommy? What do you think about strong-willed children? Do you still blame the parents for their actions?