Monday, September 7, 2009

Family Meeting

At dinner with friends who don’t have children, my partner and I were talking about the family meeting we’d held earlier that day. The meeting had been fairly productive, and had not disintegrated too quickly into name calling and stomping out of the room. We were pleased, overall.

Our friends thought this was quite amusing. A family meeting?

“You’re joking, right?” asked one of our companions.

“Oh yes, it’s funny alright,” my spouse said, “The only family meeting we ever had growing up were the ones where the back of my dad’s hand met our face.”

My own parents never hit me without making a formal announcement of my impending spanking.  It was never heat of the moment. But I recall so many painful "family meetings" from my childhood.

One sprang to mind: All of us gathered around the Buick parked in my grandparents' Florida driveway.  It was early morning, a couple of days after Christmas.  Dad threw a protracted cuss-word-filled tantrum over how the suitcases wouldn’t fit in the trunk because we'd packed too much stuff and we were greedy ungrateful children with too many goddam presents.

Is it more evolved to sit down with one’s children and offer everyone a chance to have their say? Or is it better to lay down the law, back it up with some shouting, be prepared to pull off your belt?

I was walking home from the grocery store today and as I rounded the corner I heard a child crying full out.

“You hurt my feelings!” she wailed, as her mother leaned over to see what was the matter, “You hurt my feelings bad!”

“I’m sorry,” the mother began, kneeling, “Tell me, honey.  What did I say that hurt your feelings?”

I continued walking, happy that this child's mom was trying a gentler way. So often, when I witness a kid pitching a fit, I cringe as I watch the parent jerk her arm, or pluck her up and drag her outside, or slap her right there in the doorway to Best Buy:

“Quit your crying right now. Quit it. Or I’ll…”

photo courtesy of Flickr, author Crimfants

Friday, September 4, 2009

There but for the Grace…

We decide that, thirteen and entering 7th grade, he’s plenty old enough to ride the bus by himself.

So, we arm him with a cell phone and instruct him to call upon reaching the bus stop three blocks from school and upon exiting the bus three blocks from his tutoring appointment.

I force myself not to ask for him to check in upon leaving school, upon embarking on the bus, upon disembarking from the bus, upon reaching the math tutor’s, upon leaving the math tutor’s to walk the five blocks home. Don’t want to worry the kid unnecessarily.

I come home. So does the dad. The big brother drags in from high school. It’s Friday afternoon and we’re – uncharacteristically – sitting in the living room chit chatting. We’re speculating about how the younger son is doing with his bus trip.

I’m checking the Chronicle’s website for a movie listing. And there’s the blazing headline:

A boy's horror on his
first solo Muni ride

Sure enough, a darling eleven year-old boy – riding the bus alone for the first time – was stabbed by a crazy man. The kid was on his way home from baseball practice.

According to the report, the boy’s mother “made sure her son repeatedly called her from his cell phone to give progress reports on his ride home.”

“Oh my god,” I choke, “Can you believe this?” I read the lead paragraph.

The dad has the bad taste to ask if it’s our son in the paper. I can’t help but almost laugh.

There’d be no almost-laughing if Hatim, the sixth grader who was attacked, hadn’t undergone surgery and wasn’t now listed in good condition at the hospital.

“It was like something you see on TV – only it was in this life with my child,” the mother was quoted as saying.

I hugged my boy extra tight when he got home.

They haven’t caught the creep who did it yet, and the surveillance tape on the bus came out blank.

Moon Rings

He never said so emphatically
but I knew just the same
that he didn’t love me and never would.

I was still determined to love him
and the moon lit up that night with
a ring around it confirming the sad truth.

So many moons,
and rings
and nights washed by waiting

If you’re reading this
don’t think you’re him:
You’re not.

image A 22 degree halo around the moon, as seen from Boulder, Colorado by Hustvedt

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's a Jungle Out There

Adrian Monk. Hottie. We love him. Quirky, lovable, detestable, strange. We’ve watched – or at least my sons have watched – nearly all the episodes of the tv show Monk.

Obsessive compulsive disorder. That’s what the character “Monk” and one of my sons have in common.

When my little guy was first diagnosed I would never ever ever have shown him an episode of Monk, which – if you’re not familiar – chronicles the comical life of a San Francisco detective who has a severe case of OCD.

Yet somehow, one day, when I wasn’t thinking clearly, when I was tired, when I was hungry, when I was just trying to get home, when I was trying not to rent another action or fantasy dvd ala Lord of the Rings or Iron Man or Alien vs. Predator, I grabbed a box of Monk.

Granted, my son had his OCD relatively under control at that point. But still: Here’s a guy who had been paralyzed with having to put his jacket on a certain way, having to sit in his desk a certain way, having to look under the bed a certain number of times before going to sleep at night. Here’s that same guy laughing his head off at a fellow who touches parking meters as he walks down the street, who wishes for square-shaped tomatoes for his BLT sandiwches, who needs an assistant to stand by and supply him with hand wipes so he can get through a normal day.

After regular visits with Adrian Monk – and a bunch of cognitive behavioral therapy – my son can laugh at Monk and himself. And he notices when I group my M & Ms into symmetrical piles of three. No three with the same color. All of them arranged like three-leaf clovers in my palm. Eaten only in threes. Eaten only after inspection and proper disbursement.

Hmmm. Wonder where he got that OCD?