the dark things in the world

When my son was about 12, a friend called and asked if he could babysit.

I froze up, silent.

He got it very quickly. “Um, we often come home really late, staying out until 3 am, so would it be ok if he stayed the night and we brought him home in the morning?”

“Yes,” I said, with relief.

What was I worrying about? Alcohol. I knew he and his wife drank far more than I approved of and the thought of them driving my son home drunk was NOT ok. I think that sometimes they took a taxi home. I hope so. I suppose they could send my son home in a taxi, but by having him stay the night, he would sleep too. Their children were five and six years younger than my son.

So I would take my son there, or they would pick him up, and he’d go to sleep when the kids did. I don’t know how late my son and the kids stayed up in that house. I do know the household reminded me of my childhood home, where the adults stayed up and partied. I did not party in high school at all. I didn’t want to. I was not interested in drinking alcohol illicitly. I could perfectly easily have drunk it at home: my parents were too tuned out by then to notice. I knew what people were like when drunk: why would I explore that with my peers? My father would break things in the house when he fell, there were burn marks in the floor from cigarettes, my parents would scream at each other at 1 am. I kept my head down and did very very well at school: I wanted out, even though it was not conscious. I loved my parents. Home was chaos and I escaped into books and schoolwork.

Parents need to think carefully about babysitting. Do they know the family? Do they need to drive their child to the house and pick them up? Once I went to babysit and the family had two enormous St. Bernards. The male growled at me. The owner said, “Don’t worry, he will attack anyone who tries to get in the house.” I was quite terrified of the dogs, and the male trailed enormous strings of drool into my lap. That night at 1 am I found Monty Python on cable and wondered if I’d wandered into another universe. We didn’t have cable, so it was surreal. I didn’t tell my parents about any of it. These were not people we knew: friends of friends.

Parents need to be careful as well to tell teens that adults can behave inappropriately and that a normally nice adult might behave badly when drunk. Many babysitting friends told me about the father of the kids they were sitting making sexual comments or putting a hand on their knee driving them home. This is not ok and teens need to be warned. They also should be warned about signs of drinking and inebriation and have taxi money or be able to call for a ride if they are not comfortable with the adult driving them home. And if the adult makes any sort of inappropriate remark or touch, they should NOT babysit there again ever. I would tell the offending adult why, though I think that would often get an angry or denial reaction.

I have various friends with 9 year olds. One parent made a comment that they don’t want their children to know anything bad about the world until they are ten. Another didn’t want their child to know what the term domestic violence meant.

I disagree. I would respond saying, “If your mother doesn’t want me to discuss that, then we will leave for her to talk to you about it later.”

How can we shelter our children with the magical childhood until ten and then send them to babysit at twelve? How can they recognize an adult is impaired or inappropriate behavior unless we talk about it? I have been asking adult smokers what age they started smoking for years: most of my older men started at age 9. The other day a woman said she’d tried cigarettes by age 7. Our children are not stupid, they hear things, they try to puzzle it out with each other: they deserve honesty from the start.

For a small child, that may mean a very simple explanation. My mother died of cancer when my daughter was two years and six months. By age four she had processed it to where she asked me “How old was grandmother Helen when she died?” I said that MY grandmother was 92 when she died, but grandmother Helen was 62. She asked, “How old are YOU?” I said, “I am forty. I hope to live as long as my grandmother, but none of us know how long we will live.” She studied me for a while and then went off.

They say that small children can’t process death. Clearly my daughter could! Maybe children can’t because we do not talk to them about it. We aren’t respectful. We try to hide all the dark things in the world, we try to keep them in a fairy tale. I feel angry on behalf of our children. To me it feels like parents lie: they will not tell their children what is going on. It’s not okay. And how can they handle the dark if no one will discuss it until they are ten?

 

Adults can be pretty weird sometimes, right? The photograph is from this year’s Kinetic Sculpture Race.

deep

today goes deep

I let it

when someone says “You are too emotional.”

it means “I am not comfortable with your emotions.”

it is them not me
I could care less
what they think
what they feel
whether they are comfortable with my emotions
they will be on my shit list
until they learn

I am comfortable with my emotions

today goes deep

I let all the darkness rise
grief
anger
disillusionment
humiliation

and my small child

is wild
with joy

this day is yours
small child

I am with you today
all day
you I the Beloved

no shoulds today
no list
nothing that you do not want to do

food
music
warmth
church
beach walk

I will not clean
I will not pay bills
I will not sit with fools
who say I am too emotional

we can laugh
or cry
or rage

would you like to smash a plate?

no
says small child

food
warmth
outdoors
birds
deer
music of the spheres

here
dear one

we go deep

early

Driving to work yesterday, I pulled over and took this photograph. It was so beautiful in the early morning.

Yesterday evening I walked downtown after work. Our local Kiwanis is working on a memorial for all those lost at sea. I started thinking and wondering if we have a memorial for those lost to drug addiction, lost to domestic violence, for lost innocence.

This photograph is for all those losses.

 

Herd

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: herd.

I am reading Dopesick, newly out this year, by Beth Macy. I am wondering what make people try addictive substances. At what age and why? To be popular? Herd mentality?

I’ve interviewed my older smokers for years, asking what age they started. Most of them say they tried cigarettes at age 9. Nine, you say? Yes. Parents then look horrified when I say that they should start talking about drugs and alcohol and tobacco by the time their child is in third grade. Recently a woman told me that she tried cigarettes at age 7.

It’s not just talking to your kids, either. It’s modeling as well. What do you model for tobacco, for alcohol, for prescription medicines, supplements and over the counter medicines? Do you say one thing but do another?

I am 100 pages in to Dopesick. The most horrifying new information is that more people under age 50 have died from opioid overdose then died in the 1990s from HIV and AIDS. Also the failure of history: we have had morphine available over the counter until addiction swept the country. Then heroin. This round is oxycontin. And I checked the index: no mention of kratom, sold from southeast asia. It is related to the coffee plant but it works as an opioid. It has been illegal in Thailand since 1943. I think they figured out that it too is addictive a long time ago.

I was an introvert, a smart girl, a geek before there was a word. I did not party and was not invited. I went to Denmark as an exchange student. I tried a cigarette there and decided that I couldn’t afford it and it tasted awful. I drank beer there, but was careful. I did go to a party where I was offered a bowl of pills: no. I was cautious and became even more cautious when I returned to the US.

When and what did you try first? And WHY? What makes us try these addictive substances? The evidence is piling up that the younger we try them, the more chance of addiction. And certain substances addict very very quickly.

Who chooses not to be part of the herd and why?

speaking up 4

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: sequelae. We don’t know what the sequelae to the Supreme Court vote is yet. But I am not going to stop speaking up and I hope more women speak up. And girls. So here are two experiences when I was a girl.

I start grade school in upstate New York. I am at the Northeast School. I don’t remember tons about it, except that it has ramps instead of stairs. I am failing to learn to read with phonics, which make no sense to me.

In first grade, I need to go to the bathroom. My teacher gives me a hall pass. This is not a kindergarten privilege.

Outside the girls’ bathroom are two boys. They are older than me. I don’t know them.

“You can’t go in unless you show us your underwear.”

I am wearing a dress. I stare at them.

“Show us your underwear.”

I go back around the corner and wait. Hoping they will leave. They don’t.

I need to go. I go and lift my skirt for a second, humiliation as they laugh. I hurry in to the bathroom.

I go back to the classroom.

I never go to the bathroom during class again. I am careful. I go before class starts and at lunch.

And I’ve never told anyone until now. And this was a grade school. How were the boys acculturated to behave this way already in grade school? And does this still go on? All the girls in my daughter’s school quit wearing skirts by second grade. Jeans only.

We move before fourth grade to another town.

The boundaries for the school districts change before sixth grade and I am bussed to a new grade school.

On the bus, a boy starts harassing me. I don’t know him.

“Show me your underwear.” he says. The other kids are watching.

I don’t answer, glare at him with scorn.

Each day he escalates.

“Show me your underwear.”

I pull a pair out of my bag the fourth day. “There. Now you’ve seen some.”

The other kids laugh, but it’s not enough. He keeps hassling me.

He starts reaching for my skirt from the seat in front of me.

I’ve had it. I play flute. But I also play piccolo.

The next day he starts up, “Show me your underwear.” He reaches towards my skirt from the seat in front. I have my hard piccolo case in both hands. I smash his hand as hard as I can, against the bus seat.

He screams and pulls his hand away, clutching it.

The bus driver looks in the mirror. He doesn’t slow down or stop.

The boy never bothers me again. And neither does anyone else on that bus.

____________________________________

I took the photograph when school started this year. This is our “city” bus. The Redhawks are our football team. I can’t think that football is good for us, but I thank the adults for this support for the high school students…..

Music gives me hope: this.

Container dream

I dream I am at a concert in a park. Or some very big event. With my significant other. It is a beautiful day, the sun is shining, the grass is green, there are rolling hills and trees. People are arriving.

There is a gasp of horror. There is a large box, like the hold of a ship. We hurry to look in: there are three open containers down inside, tops removed. They are full of children. Smuggled? Immigrants? The containers are surrounded by water. My significant other and I drop our things and climb down the long hold ladder into the water, which is cold, filthy, and comes up to my thighs. I’ve kicked off my sandals. We are wading to the containers. An ICE agent in a black uniform, bullet proof vest, belt with tools and guns, and riot helmet, blocks me and says, “You have to be wearing shoes to help.” He is handing out plastic stretchers. He can’t see my feet. Yes, I know it’s dangerous and my feet could get cut, but this is probably sewage and dangerous even with shoes. We should really be in hazmat gear but the kids could be dying. I just look at him, silent, and he hands me a stretcher.

Enough people have come forward, into the water, that all the kids have been placed in one of the containers. None of them are dead. They are being lifted out one by one, to ambulances. Now the hold is surrounded by rubberneckers. I climb out and find my purse and camera and shoes. I am grateful no opportunist has stolen them. The ICE agents are telling people to back off and give them room to work. The news crews are there and a Washington State politician says, “This is Washington State, we will take care of these children, we will not see them separated and incarcerated, I will see that they are returned to their parents.” Good luck, I think, but at least there are tons of witnesses and cameras and news crews.

I need to find somewhere to scrub my legs down with soap and to find my significant other. It’s getting more crowded.

I wake up.

And what I notice is that the water did not stink and was not full of lumps of floating excrement. As I wake I hope that I won’t catch something horrible and die….usually my dreams have full sound, color and smells too. I wonder where the children were from, and why, and whether they had some sort of sanitation….