Escaping the Tragedy and Listening Through the Tears

It’s been snowing and raining since Sunday, and my daughters and I made a snowman after school yesterday. It’s perfect snowman making snow, thick, heavy, and moist. The kind that holds a lot of moisture and sticks together. It reminds me a lot of the snow we had growing up as a kid, we called it “heart attack” snow because shoveling a driveway and sidewalk of the stuff was sure to induce a heart attack. It’s a very southern New England kinda snow. Very Connecticut snow, actually. I was lucky this weekend. We wrapped filming of my latest film, The Green Knight. The lead up to a shoot is always busy and hectic, even. Not a lot of time to do much else but prepare and take care of my girls, usually. I’m often very preoccupied. However, on Friday, when I heard the news of the tragedy in Connecticut, I was stunned into inactivity like the rest of the country, I think. I grew up in Connecticut. I have six nieces and nephews who attend school in Connecticut. One brother is a superintendent of schools, the other is a police officer. Before my wife and I moved to Vermont, my wife taught elementary school in Connecticut. I have a friend who lives with her husband and three sons and teaches in Newtown. To say the news caused me great consternation is an understatement. However, I don’t think I was alone. I think the rest of the country felt very much the very same way. I wanted to immediately go to my daughters’ school and pull them out for the day and hug them. Cuddle them, not let them go. I almost left, but caught myself. It wasn’t the right thing to do, it wouldn’t have been the right example, or the message I would later want to send to them. Like I said, I was lucky. I closed the news windows in my browser, shut down Facebook, and poured myself into my work. When it was time to pick up my daughters, I hugged them tighter and longer than usual. Luckily though, I do that often, so my kids didn’t pick up on it. They didn’t notice the extra moisture to my eyes when I let go of them either. We went to the barn where my daughters take riding lessons and did our Friday chores. We went home. I made dinner, and they played. I listened to their giggling and cherished it more than usual. And for the next three days my family was able to forget and delve into our movie. Our film productions are always family affairs. Wives, brothers, children, and friends who are more family than friends now, all participate. It sounds cowardly, but I was able to escape into my movie and my youth. I was able to play a knight who defies death, forgetting – momentarily – about real heroes, princes, and princesses who were unable to. While so many families mourned, while one brother spoke at an all faith gathering, I played fantasy. Forgetting about the reality of true villainy and monsters while I masqueraded as a honorable knight. It was… cowardly. On Monday morning because of the snow, my wife had a snow day. My girls did not, however, but we kept them home from school anyway. Not because of what happened on Friday in Connecticut, but because of the long busy weekend. They were tired and there was fresh snow on the ground. It was a good day to be a kid, but we still needed to talk with them about what had happened Friday. I needed to speak with them before I left for set and our final day of shooting. I told them we needed to talk and they turned their attention to us. I told them a very bad person, did a very bad thing, in a school in Connecticut on Friday. They asked what, and I told them he brought a gun to school. They asked did people get hurt, and I said yes, and some even died. My youngest daughter asked, “kids?”, and I said yes, and teachers too. They thought about this for a moment. My youngest asked who did it. I gave her his name, but then I said something that I pray they hold on to. I told them that person’s name doesn’t matter, what matters is that they understand that on that day there was only one bad person in that school. Just one, but a whole school full of good ones. Hundreds of good and brave students and teachers, and there were thousands of good people in the surrounding town, but only one bad one. I went on to tell them that just because bad people do bad things, we will not stop being good. We will continue to be brave, continue to treat people rightly, and not stop loving our family, friends, and neighbors. No matter how many bad people there are, we won’t stop doing good and loving. We won’t. Not. Ever. I hugged my wife and daughters a little bit tighter and a little bit longer before I left for set. I got to ride an enormous gentle horse and pretend I was a hero for one more night before our production wrapped. I came home, and kissed my girls goodnight as they slept in their beds. I tucked hair behind ears, smiled at sleeping faces, and breathed them in. I then sat on the couch and began to read. I read about the tragedy. I read about the victims. About the children. I reread the profiles of all the victims. I needed to put them to memory, remembering the smiles, their stories. Everyone of them were my daughters, whether they were a boy or a girl, they were my children. So similar and so innocent. I went to bed when I couldn’t read anymore. When I couldn’t bear to think about and emphasize with the parents in Newtown anymore. I tried to be brave for them, I tried to live this tragedy with them as much as could, but I couldn’t bear it any longer. The next day, after we finished our morning routine, and my wife left with my daughters for work and to drop them at school, I sat down and began reading again. I read about the heroes. Every one. It was hard to wait to pick my girls up, hard not to race the short drive to their school and take them home, but I couldn’t. I needed to let them be at school, be assured they were safe, that their school is full of good people. It is, I know it is. Brave teachers and good students. I have trusted them with my girls for the last three years, and I won’t let one bad person stop me from continuing. However, I waited and it was hard, but I picked them up at dismissal. After my girls and I finished our snowman, and I began to bring in firewood while they continued to smooth and sculpt him, my thoughts drifted back to Newtown. I stacked wood into my bucket and then under my arm as I began to hear it from around our house. Singing. My daughters began to sing Christmas carols as they played in the snow and perfected their snowman. And I began to cry. I cried for the children and their teachers. For their parents, siblings, and families. I cried for neighbors and the millions of parents and people watching from afar. But, mostly, I cried because had it not been for the horrific tragedy in Newtown, I might have never noticed that moment. I might have worked through it. Busied my self with chores or work, and missed that beautiful moment. Through my tears I did something I haven’t done in a very long time, I said a prayer. I prayed that if but for a moment, the world would only listen to the beauty of a child singing.

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I Get It…Now.

I get it now.  Finally.

When I was a kid, growing up with bright red hair wasn’t easy. It’s tough to remember just how red it was as it fades with age.  I mean, it was a really deep dark oxidation red.  A burnt umber that would have made Bob Ross sigh in delight and approval.   Besides the typical teasing of being the odd looking kid in the neighborhood, there was an inordinate amount of hair touching that occurred back then too.

Now, before you start getting any weird ideas, we lived next door to a series of homes with older residents.  When I think back on it, my neighbors seemed really old to me.  Like Gandolf and Dumbledore old.  When I really think about though, they probably weren’t that old, actually.  They might have only been my parents’ age, and my parents then my age now.  Funny to think on it, really, because my parents seemed so much older to me then.  They were so…grown up.  So mature for how I feel now.  They seemed, for the most part, to be really with it.  Solid. Somehow I just don’t see my daughters looking at me that way. Now, or ever, really.  I certainly don’t look at me that way.

Did my parents think this same thought back then?  Did they feel grown up?  I certainly don’t feel as old or grown up as they seemed back then.  And, now, they certainly don’t seem as old as my neighbors seemed to that little ginger-haired boy back then (Hi-5, Mom!).

However, those wizened older folks really, I mean really, liked my hair.  It was so weird and uncomfortable for me back then.  I really didn’t like it when they touched my hair and squeezed my cheeks. I hated my hair as a kid. I felt it was the bane of my existence, the sole source of my teasing.

However, like my hair, I grew to appreciate my neighbors – liking them even.  I once scared the Ba-Geezus out of my Mom when I disappeared for probably only short amount of time that – I’m sure –  seemed like forever to her.  When she finally found me, I was in my neighbors’ home, sharing some cookies and milk.  As a parent now, I realize what a horrible experience that must have been for my Mom, but at the time I just couldn’t see what the fuss was over some cookies and milk.

“It was just cookies, Mom!”

So, I get that too, I guess.  I understand that crazed anxiety over a misplaced child, something no one should ever experience, and no one else will ever understand unless they’re a parent who has felt that – hopefully only – momentary panic of a lost child.  But what I’ve been feeling of late is what I think my neighbors saw in me, and especially my hair back then as a child.

I get it now as a look at my girls.  As I said before, I don’t feel old, but when I look at them they energize me.  I understand now what they meant by, “drinking in my youth.”  As a kid, I worried it was some scary vampire thing – and not the silly sparklepire kind.  That they really were soaking up my youth somehow.  Funny, but scary to a little kid then.

I get it now, though.

It’s that feeling of energy, of being alive, when I watch my girls.  Play with them.  Cuddle them.  And, now as they’re getting older and so much smarter than their old man, talking to them.  I love talking with my girls.  Listening to their thoughts, imaginings, and hearing their explanations for our world.  They amaze me.  They make me feel young.

They give me purpose.

So, I think I get it now.  Maybe my old neighbors didn’t think or feel these things all those years ago.  Maybe they just really liked red hair, I don’t know for sure, I was never smart enough to ask them what they meant.

However, when I’m with my girls, they make me feel like that ginger-haired boy all over again.  I need to pause and let their youth wash over me, soak it in, and remember to see just how wonderful a thing it is.

 

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Offbeat Families

I’m a guest blogger today over on Offbeat Families.  Please check them and my post out!  Thanks!

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DIBBS

I instituted a new rule in our household this past week.

DIBBS.

I know, some of you might now be wondering what kind of household do I preside over, but bear with me a moment. I was driving home after picking up my daughters from school earlier in the week. And like sisters do, or maybe just siblings in general, they were bickering on the way home. It ranged in topics, but pretty much covered anything my youngest daughter thought would get a rise out of her older sibling. I tried to stay impartial. Let them work it out amongst themselves, and learn to solve these disagreements civilly. Honestly, I was just trying to block out the the din of squabbling and listen to Matt Kearney on the CD player.

However, I was inevitably drawn into the disagreement. “Dad! I said I had to use the bathroom, and she said she’s going to use it first!” My oldest intoned from the back seat. I looked in the review mirror to confirm this was not some ruse, some prank, or attempt at punking their father. Were they really fighting over who got to use the bathroom first when they got home? Yes. Yes, they were. And they were dragging me into it. Serves me right for only having a home with one bathroom.

“Well,” I said. “Who called DIBBS?” Stunned silence momentarily followed.

I have to admit, these moments of self satisfaction that I feel while parenting makes it all worth it for me. Okay, the girls themselves – just being themselves – makes it all worthwhile, but these moments really are the icing on the cake. I know I should reserve these moments of proud parenting for graduations, honor rolls, sporting championships, and other civic honors, but, no. These are the moments I feel proudest of my parenting skills. Honestly, I don’t know if any other parent is ever as proud of themselves during these moments as me. If so, I should start a group just so we can share these awesome moments.

Anyway, the moment quickly passed, and my oldest asked, “What’s “dibbs?””.

“Well,” I said, “DIBBS is what you call when you want to stake claim to something.” Again, rapt silence and attention. “So, if you want/need the bathroom first, you call dibbs on it. If the new American Girl catalog comes in the mail, you call DIBBS, so you can read it first. If there’s only one brownie left, you call DIBBS. Well, you actually share, but you call DIBBS first, so you can get the credit for sharing. Make sense?”

Silence.

“I CALL DIBBS ON THE BATHROOM!” My oldest shouted from the backseat. “I call 2nd DIBBS!” My youngest proclaimed.

And, since the DIBBS Proclamation has been passed in our house, a new sense of order and agreement has followed. Never in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated such cooperation and acceptance. All the time and effort trying to teach communication, sharing, and reasonable compromise, and a 30 second lesson on DIBBS brings balance to the Force. Who knew? Order 66 wasn’t even this effective.

It’s left me looking forward to the retirement of car seats and front passenger seat riding. Oh, I can hardly wait to introduce the SHOTGUN Decree.

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Mark’s Angry Rant

*Disclaimer: In this particular blog I make clear my feelings on politics, woman’s rights, rape, and stupid old men. My language, at times, may be colorful, possibly even harsh, and certainly not acceptable in polite company. I’m not starting a debate or dialogue with this blog, I’m just allowing myself this one rant. So, if you’re easily offended, I suggest you change the channel for the time being.*

I admit, I allude to my political leanings quite a bit, but rarely do I come out and make blanket statements on my blog or on my social media pages. It’s not what I use them for, and my mother always taught me there are three topics you should never discuss in polite company: Religion, Politics, and Sex. However, on this blog, I’m going to discuss all three of them (sorry Mom!). Today. Right now. Keep reading.

Anyone with a penis, especially an old geriatric one, should refrain from giving an opinion on what woman should do with their bodies. I’ll go one step further, if you have a penis, you shouldn’t get a say in women’s reproductive rights. You don’t get to decide what is acceptable female contraception. You shall not utter a word on abortion rights. Thou shall not produce a single syllable on what constitutes rape. Ever.

Just shut up already. No one wants to hear your thoughts on what you think “legitimate” rape is, or your thoughts on the science or divine intervention of conception. You are not a scientist, and last time I checked, no one has a direct line to God, so keep your thoughts on the matter to yourself. They’re about as helpful and enlightening as a lightning bug in a hurricane.

In other words, just because you have a dick, doesn’t mean you get to act like one. Or better yet, just keep it zipped, no one is interested.

Has anyone else noticed that this continued railing against woman’s rights and “defining rape” is being done by a bunch of dumb, old (exception Paul Ryan), men? Enough is enough.

So, let’s start with Politics. Why are we still arguing over the bodily rights for half of our population? You don’t see woman railing against men’s rights? Or, maybe they should. How about mandatory prostate screenings, exams, and internal rectal ultrasounds for every Viagra prescription? How about vasectomies for every man with a child they don’t support financially, or more importantly, emotionally. You get the picture, right? You don’t see female legislators out there pushing for laws against men’s reproductive rights? You don’t see legislation dictating men to have unnecessary or invasive procedures. So let’s stop this assault on controlling and oppressing women.

Now, Religion. For the sake of argument, lets ignore the obvious that our country was founded under the principles of religious freedom and one’s rights to worship or not worship as they see fit. In that light, my God would never intend for anyone to be raped, and worse, become pregnant from rape. However, it happens. For those dumb-old-men-politicians who are not clear on this, please see my previous blog, Talking the Talk, which should clear up how that works for you. My God also granted us Free Will, for good or ill, to decide for ourselves our path through this universe. And with that Free Will, we decide how to conduct ourselves. How to treat others, and how to live our life. So, let’s just spell it out then. If contraception, abortion, premarital sex, masturbation, or scientific facts and logic are against your religion than, by all means, don’t do or condone it. However, just because your religion doesn’t condone it, doesn’t mean you can force it on everyone else. You don’t see anyone trying to pass legislation prohibiting the consumption of pork, do you?

And, lastly, Sex. If one of the people involved doesn’t want it to happen, it’s rape. There are no gray areas. There is no fine line. If one person is a minor, it’s rape. If one person is unconscious, it’s rape. If one person has any misgivings at all, it’s rape. Rape is rape, it doesn’t need any other defining terms before or after it. Rape is not something to politicize. It’s wrong no matter what side of the aisle you stand on, there’s absolutely no spinning it.

So, why are we still debating and arguing women’s rights? We shouldn’t be. Woman are perfectly capable of deciding when and with whom to have sex, what forms of contraception to use or not, and whether or not to have a child. The last thing they need is a bunch of ignorant, backwards, politicians telling them how to live and conduct their lives.

So I propose, as a population of adults and – supposedly – evolved individuals, we decide right now to never argue or debate women’s rights again. Ever. It’s done. Finished. Fineto.

Good? Excellent. Now, go vote.

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Halloween in the Park.

Halloween in Hyde Park is Rockwellian.

It is one of my favorite events and times in our village. I was enthralled with our very first outing with my oldest daughter. She went as an ear of corn, still in the husk, her blonde ponytail acting as the silk sprouting out the top.

Halloween night in the village is wonderful, friendly, and so unlike my childhood experiences.

Most of my Trick or Treating memories as a child are from the late 70’s and early 80’s. At that time, in my hometown, hospitals offered free x-rays of your Halloween candy bags. Seriously. You could bring your loot down to the local hospital and they would zap it to see if there were any razor blades or needles stuck in the candy. My parents had to search through our bags at the end of the night to make sure nothing had been tampered with, or worse, homemade. Those particular goodies were tossed in the trash without question. It was a time when there was a rash of scares, poisonings, and gruesome tampering of treats. Maybe some of the stories were urban myths, or media hype, but the fear and anxiety was very much real.

During that time I was still young enough to be escorted about the neighborhood by my Mom. The kids just older than me who still trick or treated – before they were too old or cool to bother – who ventured out un-chaperoned, had to be wary of bands of even older kids marauding the neighborhood. It was a fairly common occurrence to pass a small group of kids crying and lamenting they’d been mugged and their candy stolen.

Please, don’t get me wrong, though. I loved Halloween as a kid. Both my Mom and brothers helped make my costumes. Never did my Mom pick one off the rack at the store, every single one was handmade. Make-up, paper mache, and cardboard were the mediums of choice. Many of my costumes went on to be handed down years later to cousins and friends to be reused they were so good. My favorite was a Frankenstein’s Monster with a complete paper mache head (I looked out through a small hole in the shirt of the costume). It was a great costume. Still one of my favorites.

However, my excitement was tempered by a very real expectation of the dangers of our world. By warnings not to eat any candy until my Mom and Dad sorted through it all, and gave it the “all clear.”

So, you can imagination my apprehension at my first time taking my daughter trick or treating, and my elation at finding such a friendly event and experience awaiting us. Large groups of children and adults alike walking the village, laughing, joking, and fraternizing. Streets lit by streetlights and front porch lights alike. Homes welcoming and excited to greet the children and hand out candy.

My daughters love it. I love it.

So, as I take a break from making bows, arrows, leather quivers, and belts to write this piece, I get to give back to my daughters the wonderful handmade costumes my Mom and brothers made me. Admittedly, usually my daughters don’t always choose the costumes I would most like to make – I’ve had my share of faeries, kitties (black, at least), and princesses, but at least they let me craft the costumes for them. Granted, I wouldn’t mind a Jedi, wizard, or superhero some Halloween. This year, my mother-in-law has come to my rescue and made two amazing dresses for my daughters that I never would have been able to make for them myself. It wasn’t easy to relinquish this tradition of mine, but her creations are beautiful, and my daughters love them. I see the excitement in them that I felt when I was a kid, parading my handmade costume around the neighborhood.

It’s this excitement I hope I safely harbor here in the village and for the remainder of their trick or treating Halloweens. For me, it exemplifies childhood and innocence. There’s something to this simple little tradition of walking amongst your neighbors, going door to door and greeting friends and strangers alike through the cool autumn night. Something about taking on a persona not your own, performing and pretending, and stepping outside yourself for a night. I’m not sure what it is, but there is something ethereal about it, something other worldly that our other holidays just don’t share.

Then again, maybe it’s just the candy…

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The Reality of Monsters

When I was a kid, I shared a bedroom with my two older brothers. I was, am, several years younger than they are, so I had an earlier bedtime. I guess, like most boys, we weren’t the neatest of kids. Our dirty laundry piled up on the floor of our closet, where it would often over flow (read teem) fairly quickly. Usually making it impossible for us to close the door, forcing it to remain ajar. I didn’t like the dark much as a kid, and my mom would leave our bedroom door open a crack and the hallway light on, to act as my nightlight. It did a very nice job of lighting the room just enough so I could see the closet, the open closet door, and the monsters waiting within its dark confines for me.

As I got older and my roommates moved out, I was no longer scared of the dark or the occupants of my closet, but my over active imagination was ever present. I can still get my heart racing or imagine things watching me in the dark. The difference now is that I kinda like it. I enjoy being out, in the dark, at night. There’s something mysterious, magical, and…well, spooky, about it.

So it comes as no surprise that my youngest daughter has begun seeing monsters in the shadows and hiding places of her room at night. She, without question, has the bigger of the two imaginations between my daughters, and always has. Her older sibling has never been bothered much by the dark, or monsters lurking under her bed. As a matter of fact, she would prefer no nightlights and the door closed – keeping the hallway light from spilling into their room – so she could more fully enjoy their glow-in-the-dark constellations on their ceiling.

However, her little sister insists on the door being open. And even that added light and comfort does not always chase away her fears of monsters. Often enough, she’ll persuade her older sister to climb into bed with her, and we’ll find the two of them cuddling in the morning.

Many nights, more often than not, I am beckoned to her bedside to reassure her. I say, “I am just down the hall. You have nothing to fear. I am here and will protect you . I always will,” I tell her. “There are no monsters lurking in the dark.” I say these things. Even though a very big piece of me cringes. I promise her she is safe and that there are no such thing as monsters, but even as I say it, I feel the bitterness of the lie on my tongue.

It is a lie not because I won’t do everything I can to protect her, but because there are monsters in our world. Real ones. Ones that make those of faerie tales, make believe, and my imagination seem almost Disney-esque in their villainy. They are the monsters that steal our children as they walk home from school or to the park, that intercept college students on their way back to their dorm rooms, or shoot 14 year old girls in the head for blogging about their right to attend school.

Maybe it’s a small lie in the scheme of things. An Easter Bunny or Santa Claus fib to quell my daughter’s fears in the middle of the night. But…it is a lie, none the less. One that never sits well in my heart.

What concerns me more than the lie is my own inability in keeping the promise I make. There is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my girls. No one I wouldn’t protect them from. No, that’s not what I fear. It is that I cannot be with her, them, every minute of every day. That is my fear. I fear the shadows for when they are alone, and I won’t be able to keep my promise. I am sure that many fathers have made similar promises to their children only to lose them to these monsters in our world. The thought has made me mistrust the night once more. Made me sleep less soundly and not trust the darkness. Maybe this is just a part of parenting, but I don’t like lying to my daughter, and I can’t abide the feeling that the monsters now have an upper hand.

It has become a scary world to me once more now that I have my own children. However, in the last week I found solace in realizing we’re not defenseless to the monsters in our world. Malala Yousafzai reminded me that the courage and strength of one child is more powerful than all the hate and evil in this world.

So, as my daughter crawls into my bed or calls me into her room to defend her from the monsters lurking in the shadows, I’ll remind her from now on that the monsters fear her more than me. That her strength and goodness is her light, her shield, her weapon against any monsters in this world.

And I’ll remind myself that it is mine too.

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