Sunday, November 30, 2008

This violent world...

We have a list of the things my son is afraid of these days, updated daily, practically by the hour. On this list are:

Frankenstein
Vampires
Witches
Mad Scientists
Monsters
The Headless Horseman
Aliens
Ghosts
The Grim Reaper
Someone Shooting Him
Going To Jail
Not Waking Up In The Morning
The Dark
Meteors
Dinosaurs Walking Around Downtown
Falling Airplanes
Barking Dogs
People Walking Outside Our Home
Cloudy Days
Sunny Days
(and as of an hour or so ago) Zombies

This list is titled "Things To Not Fear." Each time he speaks to me or his father about one of his recent anxieties, we look at the title of the page, remind him that this is a page listing things one does not need to fear, and we have him put a little check mark next to the fear in question. We have a separate sheet of paper, titled "Things To Fear," upon which we have listed items like touching fire, broken glass, crossing the street without looking. We review this as well.

My son has always been someone we would call cautious, trepidatious. This characteristic revealed itself from his earliest contact with the world outside the womb: he is the child who would hang on to my legs before venturing out, the child who we never had to worry about rushing ahead of us down the street. Instead, he is the one with the magnifying lens, stopping every few feet to examine a new leaf, an interesting insect. As I am someone who always seems to be in a hurry, jam-packing my day with sundry activities, he has taught me a lot about slowing down, about noticing and appreciating things that are, you know, supposed to be influential to writers. It has not always been easy to take my natural pace down several good notches, and I have not always done it with grace, but in my more generous moments I see how much this little soul, looking through the bushes for robin's eggs, studying tracks in the snow, has changed me for the better. He has helped to reconnect me to the better days in my childhood, and he has helped me to see that there was, in fact, happiness there. He has also helped me to see the value of taking things in at a deeper level.

This recent stuff, though, has been one of the more challenging things that I've gone through as a mother. My son needs nearly constant reassurance that his life is not being threatened by Something Out There. In keeping with the pastel purple childhood recommended by Rudolf Steiner, since my son was born, we have steered away from television, from most media, in fact; I don't even listen to public radio, so much am I trying to protect my son from news about car bombs and terrorism. Somehow, though, all that ugly stuff has started to filter into his world. It was inevitable unless we wanted to raise my son in a very cloistered, isolated way, which we do not. Still, this recent spate of anxieties, which seems to be him trying to adapt to this violent world and creating a generalized internal fearfulness in response, has been a bracing blast of cold, hard reality into our generally pretty free-spirited home. How it has taken hold of our son and entered our home, I am not exactly sure, though I do suspect a large cause has been being exposed to all the other kindergarten children, kids who can talk about shooting others and going to jail and falling airplanes with a jovial grin. Not my son, though. He takes it all very seriously.

When my son was discharged from Children's Memorial Hospital, where he had been sequestered for six days after he was born, the first thing we did after changing him into the purple tie-dye onesie we had picked up for him a few weeks before at a Madison hippie shop, was put Bob Marley on the car radio. I sat in back of the car with him as my husband drove, squeezing his tiny hand in mine, staring at this alien being with the big, soft eyes, and sang along, "Don't worry about a thing, 'cause every little thing is gonna be all right..." The very first thing I felt he needed after six long days of hospital sounds - of beeps and intercom pages and crying babies - was beautiful, peaceful reassurance. And for me, nobody quite does beautiful, peaceful reassurance like Bob Marley. Given my childhood, that so much was spent under a malevolent, threatening dictatorship, raising my son in a protected, gentle way was absolutely imperative to me. I know there are parents who vehemently disagree with this approach, implying that those who do are raising coddled, unrealistic children, and maybe they're right. Maybe I should have been exposing my son to the ugliness of this world early on, and maybe I am to blame for his current state of struggling to process it all. I am willing to accept that this is so, but I am unwilling to sacrifice his childhood so he, at six, can digest violence better. I am asking myself a lot of questions right now, and this is pushing me to be the best mother of my particular son that I can be, knowing that being a mother is an active, adaptive, dynamic role. I return, again and again, to walking the path that is uniquely our own, one of joyful engagement with the things we value: creative expression, community, independence, non-violence.

I guess what I am saying with this post is that I'd like the violent assholes of the world to just, you know, cut it out. We were eating dinner last weekend at our favorite Indian restaurant, and the radio was playing loudly in the kitchen. He heard about Mumbai that night, of the killing of Americans in the hotels there, in the restaurants. I tried to distract him but he'd already heard enough. He stopped eating and sat silently for a moment. "Mom," he said, "I don't ever want to go to India." Now India, the birthplace of vegetarianism and Gandhi and satyagraha, is a boogeyman to my son, too.

I know that we'll get through this. But in the meantime, really, could all the violent people of the world just take over a little island together somewhere?

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