Broken Dreams

Aniya Allen’s funeral was June 2, 2021.  Six years old, the newspapers said she wore a sparkling tiara in her small pink coffin. The second to die of three young children caught in gun violence in Minneapolis this May. One is still in hospital. On a local television news show, young Minneapolis school children talked about being afraid to play outside or go to the park or to see friends. They asked, begged, demanded that older kids and adults put down guns and give peace a chance and kids a chance to grow and dream. 

Unfortunately these two families are not the only ones who have lost their very young children to the senseless and unexpected gun fighting of young men with disagreements that should have been resolved with discussions, even strong words, maybe fists. Not guns shot in an alley. Not a shootout on a street corner where parents drove home from grocery stores or taking a child to McDonalds. These babies cannot be replaced, these families’ broken dreams cannot be rebuilt.

According to Brady every year 7,957 children and teens are shot in the United States. More than 1,600 will die from gun violence. Gun sales in the United States grew over 65% increase in 2019 and continue strong in 2020. Like icebergs, there is no true tally of general U.S. gun possession that accounts for arms purchased illegally or stolen. 

A child’s funeral is about the saddest gathering on earth. Eulogies for a child describe their smiles, their bright eyes, their wonderful laugh, their love of sports or dancing or swimming, their helpfulness, of pride in being a big sister or brother. All the ways a young child’s life should be talked about when families gather for birthdays or holidays, but not in a solemn church or temple service while mourning the one resting in a small pink coffin.

We have all lost Aniya Allen and Trinity Ottoson-Smith and the other 1,600 children and teens dead because of gun violence.  So many broken dreams.

Middle School Dances Are Not Just For Kids

IMG_5199They are for adults, too.

It’s my reward for living with two squalling 10 month olds who I swore would always be 10 months old. I could not see the day that I would be standing with the two of them at their first middle school dance.

Middle school dances are also for the adults who volunteered in kindergarten and all through elementary. These same kids that we chaperoned on the apple orchard field trip and to Wood Lake Nature Center are now looking at each other with different eyes. And, if we are lucky enough, we’ll be able to discern who is looking at who.

Antonio showing his id and getting his bracelet.

Antonio showing his ID and getting his bracelet.

Middle school dances are also for adults who volunteered in the community as Cub Scout and Brownie leaders, supervised playdates to Edinborough Park, Children’s museum, and the Children’s theatre. All these places that our children are too old to go to now (almost).

It’s our due to see their faces clean, to watch them carefully choose their clothes even if it’s their favorite black hoodie.

Middle School dances are also for adults who never went to a dance in middle school or high school. You can pretend that you’re supervising the dance floor when really, all you are doing, is checking it out.

Don't let her face kid you. Crystel is excited that I'm at her first middle school dance.

Yah, she’s kidding. Crystel loves me at her dance.

If you are a Police Reserve Officer you can roam the halls with the middle-schoolers, duck into the karaoke room, the Wii dance room, the gymnasium with the four different inflatables, or stop and watch the donut eating contest.

Then go back to the dance floor.

Middle school dances aren’t for standing in one place.

They’re for watching, observing, and hanging out.

And, if you’re fortunate like I was, those same Cub Scouts and those same kids you chaperoned will smile and say, “Hi.” And, though you are much older, you’ll remember their name. And, let them use your cell phone to call their grandma to pick them up.

Antonio with friends

Antonio with friends

And, you’ll be asking your own kids about the kids who didn’t come.

Cause it was so much fun.

 

Why We Read The Books We Do

f306a4206f3db95e9d87a8b4aaf37eb6[1]“Guess what I’m reading,” 12-year old Crystel says.

First, I try the vanilla genres, “Fiction, non-fiction, memoir, science fiction, fantasy?”

She shakes her head no every time.

What else is there?

“Dark Romance,” she says. Her eyes light up.

Oh, my, I think. “Books let you read anything you want,” I say, thinking of Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James and wondering what she IS reading.

I have a 1 ½ hour round trip drive to work thus my book reading has become books on tapes. Jody noticed Fifty Shades in the car. She raised her eyebrows.

“Don’t push Play when the kids are in the car,” I said.

Fifty Shades ended up too spicy. I returned the trilogy to the library. How much flavoring can one take? Jody’s happy if I hold her hand.

12-year old Antonio reads Pokémon from back cover to front. “I like reading different stories about Red the Trainer,” he said.

Recently, he’s been downloading the series onto his IPod to read.

I’ve not read a single page of Pokémon. I don’t enjoy graphic novels. It reminds me of the funnies. In my family of 14, the funnies were prime reading material on Sunday mornings. I avoided any tussling by turning my back on the colorful newspaper that would be shredded by noon.

I don’t read fantasy or science fiction either. Give me the real stuff. Memoir, non-fiction, and fiction based on truth.

One evening, Antonio held up a thick book. “Look what I’m reading,” he said.

The heftiness of the book surprised me. What could hold his interest that long?

He laughed. “It has lots of pictures in it.” He had found Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick in his school library. Not that he went to the libary on his own volition. He needed a book for reading prep.

“Ta dah!” I’m sure he exclaimed after perusing the pages.

I asked if the illustrations reminded him of his own pencil drawings. “Nope,” he said. There goes that elevated thought.

After finishing Wonderstruck he found The Invention of Hugo Cabret by the same author.

Antonio doesn’t know (or care) that the book won the 2008 Caledcott Medal, the first novel to do so.

With 284 pictures within the book’s 526 pages, the book depends as much on its pictures as it does on the words.

Selznick himself has described the book as “not exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things.”

“Guess what page I’m on?” Crystel says in the car, on the couch, in her bedroom, as she makes her way through her dark romance.

“How did you find this book?” I asked her.

“When I was on Utube I clicked a thing on Ellen and Twilight.”

“I learned enough about the characters that when I went to our school library and saw the series, I picked it up. They didn’t have the first book, Twilight but they had New Moon. I read a little from the middle and there were no words that I didn’t know. And this cat is so cute. I’m reading Eclipse now.”

The four Twilight books have consecutively set records as the biggest selling novels for children.

Even so, I’m not interested in reading the series. It’s not my genre.

Is the lesson here that parents can model reading but not the genre?

I’ve Never Had Something Not Burn

I’ve never had something not burn.

I was thinking of this when I was going through all these papers that we have collected throughout the school year that the kids have brought home from school. All year long they bring home math and spelling sheets, art drawings, more math and spelling. At the time you can’t throw anything away because it is a piece of art or they got 5 out 5 right or 8 out of 10 or maybe even 1 out of 10. Regardless, you have to keep the school papers because in the moment it is actual work to them and if you toss it in the trash you risk having your message be that their work isn’t important. Even if you place the papers carefully in the recycling bin, hiding them under the Sunday paper, you are still THROWING their hard work out.

The question is what do you keep?

I have no frame of reference. Our barn burnt down when I was in 3rd grade, our house burnt down when I was in 7th grade, and I burnt my back when I was in10th grade. You see what I mean when I say I’ve never not had something burn?

Jody has been the one that will pack decorations away after a holiday, storing them from year to year. To me, it is all temporary. It could go poof.

blog clothes 008But, I’ve gone along with Antonio and Crystel having memory boxes. We have stored away the infant clothes they were wearing when we first got them at seven and eight months old. Favorite baby clothes and shoes are also tucked away.

Sometimes it was the kids telling us that an item or piece of clothing should go in their memory box. For one, it was a way of knowing Mama Beth wouldn’t give it away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce, I made the mistake of giving the neighbor girl one of Crystel’s outfits that no longer fit her. According to Crystel it was her favorite though I couldn’t recall the last time I saw the dress on her. Seeing it on some other little girl must have jarred her memory. Much like if they would find their homework papers in the recycling bin.

Another time I stocked a classroom store with toys, pens, and other items from their playroom. During school, a classmate said to Crystel, “Isn’t that yours?” It was a group of small colored pens. Crystel hid them behind other toys so none of her classmates would see them. When I got home, she greeted me with, “Mom, how could you? How could you? I was saving those pens for college.” I had to call the teacher and ask for them back.

Sifting through their 4th grade school work, I wondered why I didn’t remember ever bringing home this much paper from school. Then I recall the trash barrel we had on the farm. When the wastebaskets needed emptying it all went in the barrel and you burned it. Poof. I grew up in a family of 12 children. Can you imagine the load of school papers that came home? The trash barrel was always lit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven though I didn’t grow up having a memory box, keepsakes, journals, etc…. I do see their value and each year I’ve journaled and kept mementos for the children. I’ve enjoyed it as much as them when we go back and look at how they have grown.

Recently, I read how a much asked for graduation present of high school and college graduates has been to receive a quilt made of t-shirts, sweatshirts, and other clothing worn by them throughout the years. I brought this idea up to Jody, Antonio, and Crystel during breakfast one morning. Looks like we already have a good start.

Looking at the blue bins, full of papers, it occurs to me that it is time to pass the baton and have them decide what is kept. I have set their bins aside for the first rainy day. I’ll stock up on glue, tape, scissors and two new notebooks.

The Importance of Friends

Oliver and Antonio

Oliver and Antonio

Before Antonio’s soccer game, I told him that we wouldn’t be able to stay after the game. He groaned. Two days ago we stayed late giving him a chance to play with his friends on the field. They took turns shooting the soccer ball into the net with one of them guarding. I enjoyed watching his fun and he relished playing with his two friends.Every parent wants their child to have friends and I was delighted watching Antonio with his.

Today, after Antonio’s soccer game his friend Oliver asked if Antonio could stay and play. “My parents will bring him home,” he said. Antonio’s eyes shone when I said, “Yes”, and he quickly became so immersed in his soccer playing that he couldn’t hear Jody saying goodbye to him.

Nattie, Crystel, Ally

Nattie, Crystel, Ally

Antonio is interested in soccer this year because that is what his friends are doing during recess at school. I was shocked when both he and Crystel said they wanted to join the spring recreational league. For years, they had shown no interest.

His coach this year, remembered Antonio when he was four years old playing soccer at YMCA.

I sighed.

“Antonio was more interested in sitting on your lap then playing soccer,” I said to the coach.

The next time he played soccer he was six years old and he would come off the field during a play and say, “Crissy you go in for me.”

Crystel and Gabby

Crystel and Gabby

“Antonio she not only isn’t on your team,” I said. “She’s not even signed up for soccer.” Still, no one seemed to care when she bounded on the field taking his place.Children’s friendships are important to parents. Once in a while a parent will comment that they hope their children keep the same group of friends throughout all of their school years. “It’s a great group of kids,” they will say.

Jacob and Antonio

Jacob and Antonio

I must confess that I wasn’t prepared for the mother who wondered if Antonio would date her daughter-espeically since her daughter and Antonio were only in preschool. I’m sure she meant it as a compliment, but I hadn’t taken that leap in my mind yet.

Now that the kids are ten years old, I allow myself to wonder about that occasionally.

I am interested to see who they gravitate to in their friendships and in their ‘special’ relationships. They were both born in Guatemala and are being raised by two white women in an English speaking household. Are they drawn towards Hispanics or whites in their friendships? Who will they choose for a partner?

Tinsae and Antonio

Tinsae and Antonio

Both Antonio and Crystel are attending a Spanish dual language school. This helped them be comfortable around Hispanics. I used to have to remind them that they were brown and Hispanic which is why they needed to learn Spanish.

This past winter when the cold seemed like it would never end and they were whiny, I asked them if they would like to move to a warmer climate. They both immediately said, “No.” Their friendships have become that deep.

I have been happy to observe that they have friends who are of mixed races, white, Hispanic, and African American. They are friends with children from divorced families, families with only one parent, and children from families who have two parents.

In other words, they are perfectly normal.