The Red Shirt Nation

“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” ~Albert Einstein

Another mass shooting in the news today, this one in Florida. There are no words to describe my sadness, disgust, anger, and frustration over this never-ending story. One stupid man killed four people before giving himself up to authorities. Why do we as a country put up with this? Is it really because we believe the right to own a gun supercedes the right to feel safe moving about in our society, to go grocery shopping, to attend school, to see a film or concert without worrying it might be the last thing we do? Is it really because we think this is a “mental health” issue and not a gun issue at all? I think it’s fair also to say that anyone who would arm up and go kill other people has some mental trouble. But I don’t think you can claim this person was insane when he was sane enough to put on body armor before cowardly murdering unarmed people, including a mother and her infant child who was found dead in her arms. An eleven year old girl was shot multiple times and is expected to survive, but you can only imagine what this will do to her mental well being. The Florida guy claimed he was on methamphetamines. Being hopped up on drugs might be another explanation for his murderous shooting spree. But the bottom line is this keeps happening because as a nation we don’t seem to care about it. Mass shootings and gun deaths are just part of what we get as part of our Freedom Package in this country. You’re free to own as many guns and as much ammunition as you want. You’re also free to be gunned down at any point by a fellow citizen. Brilliant.

I scrolled past fourteen news stories on the CNN app, including one about how Tom Brady had Covid at one point (yawn), before finding the report about this shooting. We are so used to this shit that it’s hardly news anymore. It’s simply what is. We see the story and there is no surprise, shock, or outrage. We just shrug. And half the population says, “Well, it’s just a mental health issue,” while the other half of the populations says, “I’d like there to be some change around this, but we can’t get by the gun lobby so I guess we’re stuck.” Stuck, indeed.

2021 is on track to be the deadliest year for gun violence yet. I’m sure the reasons for this are myriad and complicated. Can we do better? I’d like to say yes, but so far we can’t get our spineless leaders in Congress to work together to make any changes (including something like putting more money towards mental health care) that might start to put a dent in these endless tragedies.

So, I’m left with this conclusion. As a nation, we are sick. Only a sick population would believe that there is not one good goddamned thing we can do to ameliorate this preponderance of gun violence. Only a sick population would accept that we or someone we love might be next. Only a sick population would decide putting kindergarteners through active shooter drills makes more sense than trying to reduce gun deaths. We are seriously ill. We are the only ones who can make us better. We are simply too fucked up to do it.

What A Wonderful World

A glimpse of our wonderful world
A glimpse of our beautiful world

On the way home from school today, Joe began talking about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. He was curious if the shooters had been found. I told the boys about the attack shortly after picking them up yesterday because I knew they would hear about it anyway. Today Joe garnered more information about it while watching a youth-focused version of CNN at school, and he needed to talk about it. Joe is a facts-based person. He seeks to understand things, and sometimes his understanding leaves him concerned. He processes news differently than his brother, who is far more touched by the emotion of human tragedy. For Luke, it’s not the fear of something happening to him, but the sadness of something happening to someone else.

When they were very young, we shielded them heavily from the news. Our ban on television reporting began late in August, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Joe was 4 then, and I knew that any video of flooding after the levees broke would send my safety child into a panic. I pictured him poised at the top of the stairs, climbing to higher ground for the rest of his natural days. Steve and I began taking our news in primarily via the Internet, where we could quietly absorb the stories and determine what to share with our children. When a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater in nearby Aurora, Colorado, we carefully explained what had happened to our boys as soon as we could because we didn’t want them hearing about it from anyone else.  Two years later, Joe is still hesitant to see movies in the theater, and he never saw one iota of television news coverage about the story. If he had, I imagine he’d never want to leave the house. (On a side note…that would save us a cool fortune in dining out costs.)

Today as Joe was talking about the news from France and Luke was trying to understand how anyone could take satire for anything other than satire, I stopped them. I reminded them that the world is full of good things that never get reported. We only ever hear bad news, which is why we spend an inordinate amount of time online trying to get cheerful by watching videos of cute animals or cute children. We’re constantly bombarded by the bad, the ugly, the scary, the repulsive, the unexplainable, the ridiculous, and the pointless. The news continually pits us against one another in a contest to determine who is the most wrong and who is the most righteous. Imagine if the news were instead filled with stories of people shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor or friends pitching in to cook dinner after someone’s surgery or a teenager buying a meal for a war veteran seated nearby. Small acts of peace, friendship, gentleness, generosity, and goodwill occur every day in a frequency we don’t see. So instead of allowing the hope of those good things to penetrate our lives, we become consumed with negativity and pessimism about the world that is presented to us.

Bad things do happen. Extremists murder journalists. Children get cancer. Soldiers leave and return in coffins. But if we spend our time in this life focusing solely on the tragedy in this world and looking for answers that will never come, we change. We become fearful. And with each act of violence and hatred, we lose a little bit of our souls. I work every day to show my children why life is worth living and why you can’t let the bastards get you down. When I got home, I showed the boys photos of the vigils in Paris where locals held signs that read “Not Afraid.” We need to be brave, I assured them. Everything is going to be all right. We can never make sense of the dark, but we can light a candle and pass it on.



Tonight’s Bedtime Story: Mama Bear And The Bully

Joe and his best buddies doing the sack race

Our son Joe is a sweet kid. Everyone who knows him tells us this. He’s sensitive, open, and honest. He wears his heart on his sleeve. He shares too much. In other words, he’s bully meat. While he hasn’t yet come home with a black eye as a result of some attack, he does get pushed around. Literally. Of the fourteen children in his small class, he is one of nine boys, the quietest one. He is the one who likes science and who doesn’t catch a football well. He’s a bully’s favorite meal.

There are several boys in his class who regularly give him a hard time. I watch these boys with a wary eye every time I pull up in my car in the pick up lane. I scan the group of kids waiting to be picked up, and I look to see how Joe is faring. I’ve gone out of my way not to rush to pick him up because I think he needs to learn to stand his ground. Two of the boys who pick on him simply do so because he’s different. I understand that mentality even though I dislike it. The third boy, the one who bullies Joe the most, pesters him just because he can. I don’t believe that he dislikes Joe. I think he bullies Joe to fit in and try to be popular. He’s a kid who hasn’t had the best of situations in his life. While that doesn’t excuse his behavior, I remind myself and Joe that it does explain it.

Tonight we were at the Back-To-School barbeque at a local park. The boy in question was relentlessly chasing Joe. When he’d catch up with him, he would roughly drag Joe around by his shirt. He was also doing “boy” things to him, like trying to put a crawdad on him because he knows that would not sit well with Joe. It’s hard to watch this as it’s happening but, I know that because he’s 11, Joe is quite sensitive to parental embarrassment. I have stood back and not intervened so far because I’ve been respecting Joe’s wish that I not get involved. He’s afraid that if I stand up for him he will just get teased more. I understand that, so I’ve bitten my tongue.

As we were leaving the barbecue as a family, this bully came up to Joe right in front of us and began shoving him around. I thought he had lost his mind. Does he not see us right here? This went on for about ten seconds. Then the kid looked over his shoulder and directly at me, a challenge. I stared him down. He kept hold of Joe’s shirt and taunted him verbally. Finally, I’d had enough.

“That is not cool, Mike (not his real name). Knock it off,” I said using my Big Voice.

He acquiesced and released Joe. Then he ran off to join the other boys. Joe came running up to us and as soon as he was away from Mike I could see he was holding back tears. When we got to the car, Joe was full on upset.

“Why did you tell me it was time to leave? He was grabbing my arm, and I was about to pop him in the face before you stopped me. Why did you stop me when I was finally going to pop him?” he asked.

“I didn’t think you were really getting ready to pop him,” I replied. “If I had known that, since we’re off school property, I most certainly would have let you done it. In fact, if I had known that was a possibility, I might have videotaped it so we could relive the moment later,” I joked.

“Everyone picks on me because they think I’m a weakling,” he said. At not quite 70 pounds and 11 years of age, Joe is the oldest and the smallest boy in the class.

“No, Joe. First of all, not everyone picks on you. There are only a few boys who are rough. Beyond that, I don’t think Mike picks on you because you’re a weakling. He picks on you to feel important and brave and in control. I don’t think it has anything to do with your weakness. It has everything, however, to do with his weakness. Listen…I saw the fist you made. Mike has no idea how close you came to popping him in the nose. You are not weak at all. You are strong because you have self-control and you haven’t popped him yet even though you really wanted to.”

Joe thought about this for a moment.

“Well…I still wish I would have had a chance to pop him,” he said.

“Maybe next time.”

After tonight’s display, though, I’m pretty sure there won’t be a next time. I talked to Joe about it and I’m going to visit with the principal about what I have seen and what happened tonight. I’m going to leave Joe out of it, but I’m going to be a tattletale because it’s time for this behavior to stop. If it doesn’t, I’m positive that Joe will eventually deck this kid, and I’m not quite ready to home school Joe once he’s expelled. Now, I’m not generally an advocate of violence, especially between kids. Truth is, though, that Mike is lucky that there were other parents around tonight. Joe wasn’t the only person who wanted to pop him. And, unlike Joe, I’m bigger than him, stronger than him, and I wear metal rings. I would have made an impact. You don’t mess with a cub when Mama Bear is around.

Toy Guns Don’t Kill People, Crazy People Do

This morning I got a comment on one of my blog posts that made me shake my head. Tricia, a young mom from Western Australia, told me that she had gotten an angry email from another woman when she wrote a blog suggesting that toy guns are a part of growing up. The woman who emailed told Tricia she was encouraging people to raise murderers. I immediately thought Tricia should have told the woman to go sell crazy somewhere else. What the holy hell is wrong with people?

Now, I’m no child development expert, but I did look around a bit today for information on the subject of children and imaginary violent play. There are no studies that link pretend gun fights to an increased likelihood of adult violence. There was one study that actually suggested that boys perform better in school when they’re allowed to engage in this type of imaginary play. Honestly, if every boy I knew as a child became a murderer because he played with toy weaponry, I’m not entirely sure there would be a living soul in the western United States.

I understand our natural tendency to want to curb violent play in our children. As a new mother of two boys, I decided I would not purchase toy guns for our sons to play with. Round about the time they were 5 and 3, though, they started using their fingers to pretend to shoot each other. Apparently, keeping the guns out of their hands was not going to hinder their notion of gun play. While my sons do not own guns that shoot anything other than Nerf bullets, they do enjoy shooting at each other. We’ve never been parents who wrestle with our boys and our boys do not wrestle with each other, so perhaps this “shooting” helps them act out their natural aggression in a harmless way? I’m not sure. All I do know is that whether or not I had wanted them to talk about gun ships, war, and killing, it seeped its way into their lives. They seem no worse for the wear because of it. They are not violent boys. Joe will cry when the neighbor boys steps on ants in our driveway. (For the record, I don’t think that crying makes him a sissy, either.)

I do understand that we are hypersensitive to guns after the recent killings at the movie theater in Aurora, and I am not entirely comfortable with actual guns myself. But, toy guns are not real guns, and I am clever enough to understand there’s a difference. I’m not handing my boys semi-automatic assault weapons loaded with live ammunition to play with. I’m simply allowing them an outlet that encourages their style of creative, imaginary play. As long as boys have been boys, there has been cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians. It seems to be a rite of passage. Why get worked up over it? I’m not sure purchasing Nerf guns for my sons turns them into murderers any more than handing a young girl an Easy Bake Oven will turn her into the Julia Child. Heck. I played Charlie’s Angels with my sisters when I was growing up. My gun fingers neither turned me into a murderer or Farrah Fawcett.

To the woman who found it necessary to berate my fellow blogger, Tricia, I would simply suggest this: find something else to worry about. Perhaps a new hobby would help relax you? I’d suggest knitting, but that involves needles and I wouldn’t want to turn you into a heroin addict. If the new hobby doesn’t work, then Xanax might. I have no personal knowledge about Xanax, but I’ve heard it works wonders when you’re a bit overwrought. We all need to relax a bit and not become too worked up over things that have no root in day-to-day reality. We do the best we can with our boys. Sometimes their incessant chatter about bullets and battles makes me uncomfortable, but that’s my problem not theirs. I don’t believe that their toy guns will lead them to violence in adulthood. After all, toy guns don’t kill people, crazy people do.