All That I Don't Know
Last Wednesday, halfway through that terrible week, I took my son and his friend hiking. I needed to be outside, to disconnect from the news, to work my muscles and remind myself that this grief, although it felt as though it had landed on my doorstep, didn’t belong to me.
Because it feels as if it does. It feels as if these tragedies that keep happening, keep popping up on the internet, are just a breath away from those that I love. Boston especially — I’ve walked down that street, I know people who were at the Marathon, friends of friends were injured. The muscles of my heart feel as if they’ve been working too hard these days, as if they’re damaged. I understand the definition of heartsick.
Today I went back to the hill where I hike. I went alone, but it was raining and cold, not weather for cheering up. So I stopped in at the preschool at the base of the hill, where my children went to school, and I sat on the floor and I watched the teachers. I watched as they mediated an argument between two children who wanted to play with the same toy. I watched as they explained, over and over and over again, why the blocks couldn’t be stacked past a certain point. The teachers wiped noses. They passed out snacks. They praised the children when they used kind words, and reminded them of those words when they didn’t. They did all these things with patience and grace, in the hopes of making the world a better place one small child at a time.
There was a sign at the door when I came in, a reminder to parents that the school is a safe place for little ones, as much as any place can be these days. It was a reminder for me, as well.
So here’s what I have for you this week. My family is going through a retro phase for our weekend movie nights. We’ve been watching Leave It To Beaver, a few episodes every time. I thought my children might find it hokey, but they’re fascinated by the trouble Wally and Beaver find themselves in. And despite the stereotypes on the show, there’s something comforting about a world where parental authority and confidence is so absolute, where no one ever gets hurt and adults know the right answer to every question.
In last week’s episode, Beaver and Wally had a run in with Lumpy, a mean bully of a boy. Beaver and Wally try to thwart him, to no avail. At the end of the episode, Beaver asks his dad: “So you just can’t beat a guy like Lumpy?”
“Sure you can, Beaver,” the father replies. “Sure you can. You beat him simply by not being like him.”
On this rainy day, it helps to remember that.
Aww…you mentioned James ;o)! You should have added a picture of them walking hand in hand…such a show of innocence and beauty!! Thanks again for taking him!
I’m always leery about posting pics of other people’s children, but I’ll remember for next time. And the pleasure was mine!
Recent events have made me think of those psych experiments that wouldn’t get through today’s ethics committees–the ones where the subject is invited to “teach” an actor via negative reinforcement (shocks), and where many chose to administer them in lethal doses rather than argue with a labcoat-clad individual.
In all cases, the ones who resisted or refused had been through some kind of prior ethical rehearsal. (i.e. members of the clergy.) They’d figured out what they stood for in advance, and did the right thing when it counted.
I wish the Marathon bombings hadn’t happened. But since that’s not to be, perhaps your kids, mine, and we parents will grow similarly steadfast and principled.
Anyway, hugs to you and yours.
Jan, you might like a book called “Opening Skinner’s Box” which talks about some of those experiments, and why some people run toward danger while others run away.
Thanks, Liz! Will see if my library carries it. I’m being overrun by psych books right now. 🙂
I dreamed about my dad last night. It’ll have been twenty years since he passed in September. He was very Ward Cleaver, in many respects. He was our rock. After WW2 he quite drinking–a complete teetotaler. He was our rock. One of the kindest men I’ve ever known.
One Saturday night when I was about fourteen, my sister (nine years my senior and fresh out of college) brought her boyfriend home for an overnight visit. I went to the dining room to sit with my mom, younger sister, and the houseguests. There was sudden burst of laughter from the family room. I explained that my dad was watching Mary Tyler Moore, and that Ted Baxter (whom my dad looked a lot like) always cracked him up. My sister apologized to her beau, and said something like: “That’s about as exciting as it gets around here on Saturday nights–when Ted is featured on MTM.” My dad cackled again, causing all of us to laugh. The boyfriend (who I learned was raised by a struggling single mom) looked around at the house and my siblings and replied, “I wish I’d grown up with this kind of excitement. Your dad’s got it all. Ted Baxter is just the frosting.” I’ll never forget it.
Great reminders, yours and Ward’s. 🙂
Your dad sounds like an amazing guy, Vaughn. And I hope our kids remember us the same way that you remember him. I’m sorry you lost him so early.
I beg to differ. As an American, Bostonian, human, parent, et al, the grief DOES belong to you. It belongs to you, to me, and to all of us. As my life long friend, your grief is my grief. Your enemies are my enemies. And in the words of Big Pappi himself, “THIS IS OUR FUCKING CITY.” To that end, we share its ups and downs.
I’m always glad to have you as my friend and at my back.