Monday, December 24, 2012

To Be, or Not To Be Santa?

It was the perfect present.

First of all, it was big. Say what you want about size not mattering, but when you're 2 and it's a present under the Christmas tree, the bigger the better.

Second, it was a push-toy with a grocery basket. Perfect for JJ who is convinced that he is 40 years old and perfectly capable of doing his own grocery shopping — not to mention dressing and feeding and bathing — thankyouverymuch.

(And maybe — just maybe? — Malachi will learn to stand or push on it? — no, banish the thought.)

Third, it was collapsable so it can lay on the floor with Malachi AND it has three large easy-to-push buttons that play music, including his favorite — the alphabet song.

But finally, and most importantly, it was $4.99 at Value Village.

Like I said. The perfect present.

So I covered it in striped red wrapping paper and fussed with the bow. In a flourish, I added the tag and wrote:

To Malachi and JJ

and then paused.

What to write in the from?

I am a huge fan of the truth and, conversely, am not a big fan of lying. Especially to children. And especially to my own children. I believe that there is a way to explain just about anything to just about anyone.

So I always assumed that I would not perpetuate the myth of Santa. It's silly and manipulative. I can certainly understand that it would be useful to have a way of encouraging children to be good during the stressful holiday season. I also think it would be a really great way to skip tantrums in the store by rerouting them into having to petition some far-away, unknown man — who is totally and completely not me, so don't even try — if they really want something. And who doesn't like munching down on all the best Christmas cookies on Christmas Eve?

But much like a lot of things that would make my life easier right now — television, junk food, credit card debt — I feel like I will pay a much bigger cost in the end.

So, both my husband and I agreed that we would just not tell them about Santa and, simple at that, it wouldn't be a thing.

Well, now — in the third Christmas since their birth — my kids are old enough to at least loosely understand concepts like Santa and I've found that it is very much not as simple as that. Books, movies, toys, songs, games, malls, Santa is EVERYWHERE.

When it becomes an active discouragement rather than a passive ignorance, it feels a lot different. What am I supposed to do? Watch a movie together about how painful it is for Santa when we don't believe in him ...  and then turn to them and say: "That was a fun movie, huh? But you know, Santa really isn't real, so even though the movie says Santa will suffer if you don't believe, you really shouldn't believe."

And what do I tell well-meaning adults, including family members, who ask them about Santa?

"Bah humbug! How dare you lie to my kids! Grinchy-grinch. Grinch-grinch-grinch."

I thought of all these things as I sat and looked at my perfect present. But then I thought about how many times — from nutrition to cerebral palsy treatments, to starting a business — I go against the grain, try so freaking hard to do the right thing in spite of what everybody else is doing.

And I thought of the ecstasy of seeing those mounds of presents magically appear Christmas morning. And I thought of the exciting stories my dad would tell of hearing jingle bells on Christmas Eve.

And I thought: This is not a fight worth having. Put down your sword, Shasta. Put down your sword and pick up a Christmas cookie. It's time to relax.

What about you? Does your family do the Santa Claus thing? Why or why not? I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Friday, December 14, 2012

How Our Reactions Might Alter the Course of the Next Mass Shooter

I have had the great misfortune to be close to two mass shootings in my life.

The first was the Thurston High School massacre in 1998 when I was 14 and the shooter, Kip Kinkel, was 15. From the open study hall of my own high school, 10 miles away, I sat and listened to continuous coverage during my three free periods in the middle of the day. It was there that I first discovered how strange people's reactions to this type of tragedy can be.

A boy not much older than me stood up and rather brusquely turned off the radio that everyone else was listening to and said something to the effect of "turn off that crap." I was surprised that not only did he not want to glean as much information as possible about the situation — my own reaction — but that instead of just leaving, he chose to impose his desire on the other several dozen people there.

The latest shooting was Tuesday, at Clackamas Town Center, a scant three miles from my house. This is a place I frequent quite often with my two-year-olds, especially on rainy days like that day.

Again, I found myself in information-gathering mode. Not only did I look at the Facebook statuses of my friends but I figured out how to search ALL of the public Facebook statuses for Clackamas Town Center and read many of those. Most of the sentiments were prayers and well-wishes in one form or another. Some of the things I read turned my stomach. But as I read more and more and more statuses, patterns began to emerge in how people reacted to this bad news.

The reactions that bugged me — reactions that, to be honest, I myself experienced during the aftermath — were ones that I'm going to call Statements of Separateness.

Such as: This bad thing won't happen to me because I don't shop at malls. 

Or: Thank goodness the people I know are safe. 

Or: If only people would listen to me that nobody should have guns, this wouldn't have happened.

Or: If only people would listen to me that everybody should have guns, this wouldn't have happened. 

And, particularly: The shooter is a "nut" or an "asshole" — an "other." Nothing like me. Nothing like anybody I know and love.

Here is one thing I know for sure: The victims, the families of the victims, and, yes, even the shooter, are not so different from you or me as we want to believe.

Here's another thing I know. The issue in these particular cases is not really gun control. If you look into the details of spree killings, almost none of the gunmen would have been deterred with much less than a full repeal of the Second Amendment. They either stole their guns from law-abiding citizens or were themselves, up until that moment, law-abiding citizens.

And though I think mental health services are woefully inadequate in this country, neither is the issue mental illness.

This article in LifeScience reveals that mass shooters are unlikely to be psychotic because to carry out such a scheme it takes precisely the organization and focus that the mentally ill lack.

So what is it? Why does this keep happening? What is missing in the lives of these erstwhile normal human beings to feel so removed from humanity that they want to lash out at anyone and everyone?

Perhaps we need to look beyond the gun debates and the baseless self-assurances that completely random tragedies like this couldn't happen to us or the people we love.

"Many mass shooters, rather than wanting to be alone, have a history of struggling to connect," sociologist Kathleen Newman said in the LifeScience article.

What if...

What if instead of focusing on how different we are from those involved in this tragedy, we concentrated on how we are the same? What if we showed compassion? And not just to the victims and their families...

... what if we showed it to the shooter himself?

Can you even imagine? 

I admit, I struggle to. After all, those could easily have been my babies in the line of fire.

But I also can't imagine how Clackamas shooter Jacob Tyler Roberts was able to conceive of a Separateness so complete that he truly hated anyone and everyone.

It makes me wonder what would happen if somebody could conceive of a Connectedness so complete that he or she truly loved anyone and everyone.

A Connectedness on a scale as unimaginable as these killing sprees.

Is that even possible?

Update 12/14/12: I wrote this before the even more horrific elementary school shooting this morning in Connecticut. I decided to keep the above the way it is for I have no words after what happened a continent away. My deepest condolences to everyone involved in the senseless violence here and there. 

Monday, December 03, 2012

KATU News does a story on Dark & Light!

KATU News Reporter Emily Sinovic did a wonderful job on this piece about our family and the story behind "Dark & Light: A Love Story in Black and White." Check out the video!


By the way, you  can look at the full book and order your copy in our book store!


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