Tell Them You Understand It’s Difficult

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What it is about my cousin Janet is this – she isn’t a chicken shit, in a nice way I mean.  She is free of the retarding hang-ups and fears that prevent me from saying things that desperately need saying, and from getting off my ass when it needs some air.  Who knows, maybe she’s got a Mr. Hyde side that I’ve failed to see for fear of spoiling the image I have of her.

I don’t remember how it came up but during a visit a few years ago she mentioned that she had recently seen a woman with a facial deformity at the grocery store.  The deformity was severe and the woman kept her head down to hide herself as much as she could.  Janet continued her shopping but made her way over to the woman and gently began a conversation. They spoke for a few moments, and then Janet told her she understood it must be difficult for her, and that she just wanted the woman to know this.  The woman paused for a moment, and then began to cry.  But through her tears she managed to say that Yes, it was very hard. And she thanked Janet for her words.

“I would never do that,” I thought.  It was too far into someone else’s business.  I was afraid even at hearing story though I had never bothered to define what I was afraid of.

A year or so later my daughter was born.  She was born with a cleft lip and palate, which in the first six months alone required two surgeries plus she had to wear a NAM device (below) to keep her nose from sinking down into her mouth.  Even a small change from “normal,” a line on the lip or mild tilt in the nose, makes the human face look so different.

For parents the time goes particularly fast and before I knew it she was three and in preschool.  Three, despite its tantrums, is an amazing age.  At this age kids speak their minds.  Her classmates would often walk up to me or my daughter an ask “what is that on her face?” sometimes pointing to her cleft scar.  When the child’s parent was present they were horrified.  They’d begin to apologize to which I’d say there was no need.  Their child was doing what they were supposed to do.  They saw what everyone else saw – a scar and a tilted nose.  And they wondered what others wondered – Why is that? What is that? So they asked a question.  Unfortunately, older kids and adults don’t ask questions or talk about, let alone to, people that look different because we’ve been taught that it is intrusive and inappropriate.

Last year I finally got up the nerve.

One of my daughter’s preschool classmates was developmentally delayed.  For most of the two years they were in class together I never took the time to ask this girl’s mom anything about her condition, let alone acknowledge that there was one.  So at a playground birthday party one weekend I saw the mom sitting on a wall at the edge of the park as her daughter played on a swing.  I took a deep breath and went over and sat down next to her.

I prefaced that I hoped what I was about to say would not offend her.  I told her I thought that parenting for her must be difficult, and noted how much progress I thought her daughter had made that last year in preschool. Truly, this girl was now talking and interacting with a personality that I didn’t see at the year’s beginning.

She nodded her head, and the corners of her lips began to quiver as she fought back tears.  I started to apologize just like other parents had done when their kids asked about my daughter’s cleft.  And much like I had done to those parents, this mom held up her hand to refuse my apology.  She told me that indeed it was difficult, and she thanked me for what I had said.  I saw her again the next week at daycare and she stopped me in the parking lot and told me again how grateful she was for what I had said.  That brief discard of my fearful sensibilities allowed a moment for a few simple words, and they were still ringing in her ears days later.

 

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Sugar and Spice. Snakes and Snails. Kabblammo!

Let’s ease back into this Childish Man blog with something kind and supple. How about GUNS. (I intend to avoid the tired Second Amendment vs. Gun Violence discussion and hope your comments will do the same.)

A few weeks ago I began looking for a movement, an effort, something to which I could dedicate my energy and help “make the world a better place” not only for myself but especially for my kids. Nothing gets me emotionally bothered quite like framing an otherwise out-of-mind issue in a way that seems to threaten children. “Is your attic infested with Brown Recluse spiders? Your kids may be in danger!” Next thing I know I’m climbing up there with a flamethrower.

So my mind listed for me some choices that included collecting belly button lintsquirrel taxidermy, sous-vide cooking (sous-vide from the French meaning “eat raw food out of a Ziploc”), and gun control. I see now that this was a set-up from the beginning.

At this point I had little more than an opinion that guns are basically dangerous.  Clearly I needed to be more self-righteous before stroking a check to the Brady Campaign, marching a downtown street with a painted placard, or yelling obscenities from the balcony of a legislative chamber of my choosing.

As I often do, I began my research with some YouTube demagoguery. I watched videos of NRA hit man Wayne LaPierre. And then some tear-jerking clips of moms talking about their gun-murdered children. After a day shifting between rage and uncontrollable sobbing, followed by a few hours of bad whiskey sleep, it was time to sober up with some concrete numbers.

Before I continue, I must admit to being under a self-imposed news blackout for most of my SAHD (stay-at-home dad) days. With my battering ram of an 8-year old son who needs constant attention and a 5-year old daughter that is frequently in or recovering from yet another surgery (something I will get to in future posts), I don’t feel like spending my remaining time on news from Crimea or even from a few miles away.

Keeping in mind my blissful ignorance about gun statistics, and my general awareness of the emotional sensitivity that dominates the gun issue – the sadness of gun control advocates, the Obama-fueled paranoia of gun show retailers, and the mutual contempt that both sides seem to have for each other – I expected the statistics would blow away the competition in a manner of speaking.  Or at the very least that gun death numbers, when compared to other causes of death in children, and the relative sizes of the associated campaigns to save lives in those areas, would be fairly equal. To my surprise, they aren’t even close.

I’m not going into the numbers because, unfortunately, it isn’t terribly interesting.  I will let you visit the CDC WISQARS database and search the numbers on your own (and see the dreadfully formatted summary table below.  Sorry.  Click on it for a larger image). It is my conclusion, and perhaps it should’ve been all along had I cared to look, that if I am truly concerned about the safety of my kids I should be far and away more concerned about car safety, suffocation, fires, and drowning than about guns. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that any parent worry about or fear cars let alone anything else, rather that a healthy concern represent the risk. Unfortunately I don’t see passionate pleas from a Million Moms nor dollars flowing through lobbyists and political campaigns concerning the kids who die from burns or from drowning, things that kill children in greater numbers than all circumstances involving guns combined – intentional, unintentional, or suicide.

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For the record, I don’t like guns. I don’t own any. And I don’t want any. In my life and  in my community, no matter how often gun rights advocates tell me otherwise, they are unnecessary. I feel sorry for the victims of gun violence and their parents, families, and friends. But I also feel sorry for people who live in a shadow of fear of their fellow man, a shadow so dark that they spend hundreds if not thousands of their dollars on weapons, and even more lobbying for expanded “freedoms” to take guns into more places, like churches, bars, and airports.   The fear conjured by both sides is, to me, unjustified.

I have recently become a fan of Dr. Aaron Carroll, a pediatrician and health policy researcher at Indiana University School of Medicine. He summarizes what I said beautifully, though it only touches briefly on violence, and I recommend at the very least that you see the video below about risks and our fears about them. In fact, I recommend that you subscribe to his HealthCare Triage videos as well as to his articles on the WordPress blog (www.theincidentaleconomist.com). I’ve found some great stuff here to help me temper my little crusades about washing hands (anti-bacterial soap) and even drinking milk.

Thanks for reading!

CM

Hello, Again

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I’m back and hopefully I’ll stay awhile.

But, I am changing the format of this blog. If you’ve read CM (The Childish Man) in the past you know I used to pull stories from my strange life to make you laugh. I hope some of them did. But within a few months I learned that writing humor is exceptionally difficult.

Humorists like James Thurber and David Sedaris and others put humor in their writing almost constantly. Rarely does a paragraph go by without a shock, bizarre metaphor, or at least a tickle. And although, from my experience, some of these bits come up easily, most of them require a finger down the throat, by which I mean not only that it’s unnaturally difficult but also that it burns afterwards. Whether self-deprecating or judging others, humor can get nasty and raw and this is often done unintentionally. It just comes out that way. This, along with the temptation to embellish didn’t sit well with me.  So I quit.

So now I want to write about my life and other topics with humor as a tool instead of an objective. I am still a self-emasculated Childish Man who also happens to be a husband and stay-at-home father of two. Therefore, this blog will cover parenting, but that’s not all.

Having been at home for five years now, I want to get back to some kind of work, though I don’t know what. The fear of job searching at age 43 after years of meal planning, laundry, and baseball/soccer practice logistics scares the shit out of me and it deserves attention. To say the least, it has been challenging to think about my life in terms of its outcome (“being happy” or “making a difference”) as opposed to its inputs and processes (“I cleaned up vomit today” or “I successfully avoided the temptation to drive into a fucking telephone poll”).

Perhaps I should make no promises about what this blog will become. At the very least, maybe we can all get through it.

Kill Them Softly, Tarzan

People break into two groups.  When people in group one hear the name Tarzan they think of the stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs, that strapping lad Johnny Weissmuller who played Tarzan in the movies, and that strange yodel.

bo derek tarzanPeople in group number two think of Bo Derek‘s boobs.  In fact, for group two even a minor element of the stories – cannibalism, how to build a treehouse, English nobility – can evoke images of Bo and her firm ta-tas writhing in mud, water, sand, or bed sheets, and who could forget the writhing in honey!  She really is the seminal figure in writhe-acting.

Until a few weeks ago, I was most definitely in group two.  But despite my fear of ruining these adolescent memories, I read Tarzan of the Apes at the insistence of some friends

Although I wasn’t impressed, I must admit that parts of it were fascinating to me, much in the way I imagine a paleontologist would feel being the first to discover a fossilized tyrannosaur vagina – these parts gave a clue about what our ancestors were like way back when.

Early in the story, for example, when Tarzan’s parents are abandoned on a beach, Tarzan’s mother says to his father, “I am but a woman, seeing with my heart rather than my head [but] I will do my best to be a brave primeval woman, a fit mate for the primeval man.”

And later there is the issue of Tarzan’s killing of men and beasts.  The narrator is understandably forgiving, adding that Tarzan really didn’t kill out of hate, or at least not that often, saying, “When Tarzan killed he more often smiled than scowled.” (Chapter 20) And then, as if to legitimize killing under any circumstance he says, “smiles are the foundation of beauty.”  Maybe I would have seen this, too, as an artifact of a long gone culture that so blatantly de-valued life if I hadn’t seen it alive and well while at a Christmas party.

The hosts of this party had decorated to a maximum.  There were three decorated trees but still many ornaments left over, so they were placed on side tables throughout the house.  There was also a display of back-lit snow globes arranged like an altar of votive candles in a cathedral.  Feeling like I was “in the presence,” I did what anyone would do.  I gently laid my hand on a globe in which was trapped a drowning and weary Santa hefting his bag up over a chimney top, and I said a prayer.  I need to address this to a saint, don’t I?  Dear St. Lucy (I took a chance and hoped there was a St. Lucy somewhere), please bless this buffalo chicken dip and warm chardonnay to the nourishment of my body.  Thank you.  Later on I found out that there is, indeed, a St. Lucy.  She’s the patron saint of bleeding from the eyes.

As I wandered back through the kitchen listening for a conversation I could join, I noticed a sign with colorful script lettering – “Rules for Our House” it read, or something like that.  But soon I realized it was, more or less, the ten commandments, though not the way I remembered them.  There was “Don’t put anything before God” and “Bad language will get you in trouble” and “Don’t obsess about all that cool stuff your neighbor has.”  Those were all fine I suppose.  But coming in at number six was “Don’t get your thrills from killing other people.”  I didn’t think that was quite right, so I read it again, and then again, just to be sure that it said what I thought it said.

Don’t get your thrills.  That’s a whopper of a loophole, I thought.

I don’t know.  Maybe Tarzan had it right.  If you’re going to kill someone just give ’em a smile, but only a little one – better not enjoy it too much.  Then get on with your life.

NRA Chief Quits, Finds New Passion

Wayne LaPierreIn a shocking letter received by the newsroom at thechildishman.com on Wednesday, the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre announced he was stepping down from his post, effective immediately. “I’ve been with the NRA a long time,” he wrote. “But, well, this is just too damn easy. I mean, we outspend the gun control advocates over at the Brady Campaign a gazillion times over. I’m just spit-balling, of course. And, honestly, what else is left to do? Americans own about 200 million guns, privately. That’s about one gun per American aged 20 to 80.”

At times, in the letter, LaPierre even taunts gun control advocates. “We gotta voucher muthafuckas! That’s right. Some aristo-crackers about 225 years ago wrote that we could have guns, as many as we want. And can you believe lawmakers and judges have not only continued to uphold this interpretation of the vague language in the Second Amendment, but they’ve actually started letting us walk around with guns hidden under our coats? I mean, that whole concealed weapons thing started as a joke. ‘There’s no fucking way they’re gonna let us carry firearms shoved in the back of our pants,’ we said to each other when the idea came up at a happy hour. ‘But I’d be pretty jacked to walk down the street knowing I was locked and loaded in front of all my piss-ant neighbors who were none the wiser,’ I added. ‘I guess there’s no harm in trying.’ Un-fucking-believable!

Third Amendment“But I admit,” he continues, “that my heart just isn’t in it anymore. So it is with great excitement that I announce my new endeavor – the Third Amendment Foundation (TAF). For too long the Second Amendment has stolen too much thunder and taken too much glory. My brothers and sisters, no more! There is a threat, right here in your town, that is virtually hidden. And that threat is the government’s infringement of your right to not have military servicemen quartered in your home. Oh but that doesn’t happen! you say. Wrong! Let me tell you a true story.

“Just a few months ago. I was living happily in my home and a nice, fit twenty-three year old blond woman friend who shall remain nameless, was living not far away in her home. Her husband was serving in Iraq or some other fucking place. And since she was lonely I often kept her company. Well, lo and behold, this guy comes back from overseas and now he’s, like, living there and shit! But wait a second, I thought as I do on occasion. This guy is an active member of the military. And she says she doesn’t want him there any more. She wants me! This isn’t right.

“So I pulled out the Constitution and actually started to read the Amendments. Wow. I should’ve read it before because there was some really good stuff in there, though I hoped there wasn’t much more since my head was starting to ache. Luckily, there it was, this poor bastard Third Amendment languishing between the gun-loving Second and the you-can’t-touch-my-shit-without-a-warrant Fourth. And that was it for me. I knew I had to do this. For my friend. And, oh yeah, for all those other fuckers out there.”

LaPierre makes it clear in his letter that he is not “quitting to spend more time with my family. Honestly. Doesn’t everyone know that just means the guy is banging his secretary or neighbor? Something I’m absolutely not doing.”

LaPierre ends the letter with a hand-scribbled post-script: “Oh, and sorry about that few days of silence over the weekend. Our servers were being all slow and crap, so I kinda took one of the AR-15s hanging on my office wall and tried to correct the situation. A few hundred times. And then again with my grenade launcher and flamethrower.”

Your Holiday Horoscope

horoscope-chart2Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 21) – You will wake up with the phrase “mature self-expression” on your lips.  And by the end of a day playing hookie from work, you will have finished your masterpiece…a 15-foot high snow erection on your front lawn.

Capricorn (Dec. 22 – Jan. 19) – A sudden and extreme hunger this week will cause you to pull into a nearby drive-thru and, once and forever, disprove the adage that even a bag of Krystals will make a turd.

Aquarius (Jan. 20 – Feb. 18) – Your talent for ad-libbing holiday songs with words like “poop” and “fart” will earn you a solid fan-base among your seven and eight year old relatives and neighbors.

Pisces (Feb. 19 – March 20) – If anyone else jokes to you about that stupid Mayan prediction, you’re going to fucking lose it.

Aries (March 21 – April 19) – Something compels you to transcribe every 23rd word from Section A of tomorrow’s paper, to reveal:  Powerful deranged squirrel won’t finance black honey martyr.  You assume John Boehner is the squirrel and, well, we’re totally fucked.

Taurus (April 20 – May 20) – Because your family expects you to be the son-of-a-bitch you usually are around the holidays, you will go to the opposite extreme this week and agree with everything they say.  But you will still come across as a son-of-a-bitch.

Gemini (May 21 – June 20) – Despite being heavily sedated, you will still be able to feel your chubby nurse tweak your nipples.

Cancer (June 21 – July 22) – You begin to worry if your sign has something to do with your immediate health.

Leo (July 23 – Aug. 22) – While distracted by the smartphone you bought your spouse for Christmas, you will mistake the statue in front of your office building as one of your stupid co-workers giving you the finger.  But you will become surprisingly proficient at texting with your nose before the surgeon removes the pins from your knuckles in early March.

Virgo (Aug. 23 – Sept. 22) – Your only resolution for the new year is to answer every question with “fourteen,” which will, despite your innocence, land you in a state penitentiary for the next 20 years.

Libra (Sept. 23 – Oct. 22) – Tired of a world filled with moochers and copycats, you will stroll out to your favorite cork tree and sit there under its shade, just quietly smelling the flowers.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 – Nov. 21) – Look to your left.  Sucker!