Coincidence: God’s Sense of Humor?

Okay, this is too weird not to share. 

My eldest daughter has reached that age where her teeth are falling out.

1408463928000-114266845

Her first lower incisor came out and she took it to school to show to some friends. This is big news in the first grade world, as is how much dough they took the Tooth Fairy for. Of course, there is no agreed-upon amount between parents so some kids end up feeling like their teeth are more valuable than other kids’ teeth. 

nate-boo-boo-lip

Anyway, she was having a little picnic on the front lawn of the school with some friends when she realized she had dropped her tooth. Tragedy strikes! She started crying because she was really depending on that Tooth Fairy moolah. About a dozen parents and even more kids started looking for it. After five minutes or so, the father of one of her friends found it so there was a happy ending. I told him I didn’t know how to thank him, he really saved my little girl from a lot of heartache, blah yada etcetera.

A few days later, he told me his daughter had lost the exact same tooth. My daughter and his daughter and all their friends were doing their usual picnic on the lawn when she lost her tooth somewhere on the lawn, too! Everyone started looking for it and I found it, in exactly the same spot where my daughter had lost her tooth several days before! So I got a chance to repay her dad, after all, and in exactly the same way. Talk about a tooth for a tooth!

There are hundreds of kids at the school, the front lawn is vast, and over a dozen people searched both times. What are the chances? I can’t help thinking coincidence is one of the ways God entertains Himself, that old prankster. He probably told the Tooth Fairy all about it. 

adngpx

 

 

 

Mister Rogers Gets a Twenty Million Dollar Grant from Congress – with a POEM.

Everything about Mister Rogers was as warm and magical as his show was. He knew how to communicate effectively with children and adults because he did it without bluster, ego, machismo, or any of the other qualities that seem to define many celebrities today. He did it with kindness and love as pure as the driven snow. He emanated goodness. He was a strong enough man to allow himself to be soft. That’s why this tough congressman loved him and didn’t feel embarrassed to tell him he gave him “goose bumps.” Most men are desperate to stop being so damn strong all the time. Mr. Rogers spoke to children in a way they understood, and he spoke to the child in all of us world-weary adults, too. I wonder what he would say about the condition of childhood in America today if he were still alive.

What do you do with the mad that you feel?
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong
and nothing you do seems very right?
What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag
or see how fast you can go?
It’s great to be able to stop
when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong
and be able to do something else instead
and think this song . . .
I can stop when I want to.
I can stop when I wish.
I can stop stop stop anytime.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
and know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside
that helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a lady
and a boy can be someday a man.

17 Children This Time

2077A606

I don’t expect very many people to read this. It’s going to be long. It will take a while to vent about this latest mass murder of our children by another recent child who decided being a monster was preferable to whatever he was experiencing. 

I was bullied terribly in school. I moved fifteen times before I was fifteen years old so I was perpetually “the new kid”, being tested over and over at each new school by children modeling unbalanced, cruel behavior they had probably learned from unbalanced, cruel parents or other relatives. The problem was I had no violence in me. I was born without an aggressive instinct or the need to dominate others to make myself feel strong, as children should be.

I don’t know why I was so passive. My father was a great provider and could be very loving, but there was also an insecure side of him that told stories of old fights in his youth on the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland, as if he were describing some happy event. My older brother wasn’t naturally aggressive, either, but his desperation to win over my father was so strong, he begged him to teach him how to box in the back yard and would get into fights at school on an almost weekly basis. When he would come home with another black eye, our father would say he shouldn’t do that (because he knew he was supposed to) but then he would ask what happened and his eyes would light up when he told him he won. The message was clear – violence is manly. 

God in heaven, it took me a long time to shake that belief. It took me a long time to realize that violence is not strength and compassion is not weakness.

When I was thirteen, again the new kid at a new junior high school, I was in P.E. class playing ping-pong when our ball jumped off the table and was picked up by a kid I didn’t know. I walked over and asked him for the ball. He didn’t give it to me. I asked him again. He said, “Why don’t you try to take it?”, then looked at his friends and laughed. When he looked away, I took it out of his hand, said thanks and walked away. He yelled “Hey!” and punched me as I turned around, all for taking a ping-pong ball that was mine to begin with. His equally disturbed friends then targeted me and the bullying began. The usual stuff – name-calling, knocking my books out of my hands in the halls, bumping shoulders, etc. Eventually, another one punched me for some made-up offense. 

Being a sensitive kid, I had not yet built up the rage necessary to learn to fight and walk around guarded, so I just took it. The truth is I was also scared. I didn’t understand these kids who so easily punched other kids in the face, and even seemed to take great pride and glee in it. I remember thinking I was glad it was they that were able to do that and not me, even as the cuts were healing and the bruises were yellowing.

I had taken an experimental sojourn into the world of bullying earlier in my childhood, sort of like trying on a costume. Fortunately, the costume didn’t fit me and I knew it right away. A classmate in fourth grade named Ward had told on me for talking in class and I punched him in the stomach by the bike racks after school. It was so against my nature to be cruel, I made myself physically ill from the guilt I felt about it. I tried to apologize to him the next day but he walked right by me. 

My best friend in sixth grade lived with a neglectful mother and had a father who was ex-military and stricken with the worst case of short-man’s complex I had ever witnessed before or since. The problem was he wasn’t short to me then, and seemed very manly. He was always bragging over beers about some poor, probably passive guy he had just pummeled, and would tell my friend to beat up a bully at school or don’t ever visit him again. He never spent a minute of quality time with my friend, but he was so desperate to connect with his father, we would walk across town to visit him where he lived with his new family. Of course, he would ask my friend to “make a muscle” and tell him about any fights he got into at school, beaming proudly when he said he won, just like my dad did. My friend became a bully. I didn’t. But then, my parents were together, and my father was a hell of a lot more loving, with a great sense of humor that balanced out the bad stuff. My mother was also more loving than his was. I just caught more breaks, and they saved me from becoming angry, bitter and resentful – all the precursors to psychotic.

I was bullied so badly at the new place we moved to when I was a very awkward thirteen year-old, I pretended to be sick to avoid school, or when I did go, I would walk toward the school until my mother drove away, then turn around and walk around town all day, returning home eight hours later as if I had been in school all day.

The stress a bullied child feels, to their minds, is equal to the stress any soldier feels going into battle. It’s all relative. A child who gets a giant zit on his/her nose on prom night is just as stressed as someone waking up in a hospital with a leg missing. Emotions are bigger to children because the world is new to them – life is new – and they are experiencing them for the first time. They don’t yet have the equal parts benefit and curse of experience and the comparative boredom that accompanies it. Some kids, anyway. A blessed few are somehow given that magical blend of wisdom that insulates them from the nonsense of high school cliques and head games. 

Despite all the bullying, though, the thought of murdering someone never crossed my mind back then. Not once. It wasn’t that the stress wasn’t there. It wasn’t that I didn’t hate them. So what was it? I have plenty of theories I could pontificate about, but what would be the use? Very few people will possess the required attention span to read a long post like this, and those that do are probably not going to be troubled enough to contemplate such horror and steered away from it by something I wrote. Nor will this post influence government policy. This is writing as pressure relief. Narcissistic in a way, because I don’t know what else to do. 

I have two daughters – four and six years old. I read to them and pray with them every night. My wife and I sleep in the same room with them. There are two beds side-by-side so the room is basically one big bed except for the dresser, which is bolted to the wall in the event of the California earthquake everyone says could strike at any minute. When I take them to school, I wait until the doors close and lock before I leave. I’m usually the last parent there. Some call it paranoia. I call it heightened awareness. I wish I didn’t have to worry, but how can’t I in a world with so many people hoping to become famous not by accomplishing something great but by becoming a monster. 

I couldn’t sleep last night, thinking about those seventeen kids who went to school yesterday morning like any other day, waved goodbye to their parents, then ended up being murdered by somebody most of them probably didn’t even know. I held my girls a little tighter and prayed harder that they would be protected from the craziness of this world when I can’t be with them. I kissed my youngest daughters little hand as she slept. It smelled like a cookie she had eaten earlier that evening. 

So here’s my list of why mass shootings happen. All equally irrelevant and uncorrectable. 

  1. Absent or disinterested parents.
  2. Overworked teachers.
  3. Mean classmates.
  4. Complacent social media platforms and friends (who don’t report threats.)
  5. Violent movies and video games that inspire real-life experience, the way a drug dosage must be increased to achieve the same high.
  6. The general kindness in our culture, or lack thereof. 
  7. Celebration of the wrong things – celebrity and wealth vs. kindness and service to others.
  8. Incivility of speech and action. Look at the comments under any news story on the internet, even the most seemingly benign ones, and it doesn’t take long to find one with someone (usually operating under a nickname) verbally abusing someone else. Where did this lack of civility and respect come from? Certainly not from America’s Judeo-Christian background. People are getting uglier, meaner, less tolerant.
  9. The Internet. We tell our kids not to walk down dark alleys at night, but let their minds wander through a virtual one every day.
  10. Mental pollution. Watch any movie, documentary or home video prior to 1960 and you will see a different America populated by people whose minds had not been polluted by craven, ungodly imaged of depravity and violence, or the total degradation of the female that we call pornography. We accept these things as a natural part of modern life, but how natural are they, really? We’re all taking part in the largest mass experiment in history – to see what the effects of the constant exposure to depraved, violent imagery is on the human mind, particularly the adolescent mind. Have you ever wondered what your mind would be like if you had never seen a single, simulated murder? (The average American witnesses thousands of murders on TV, in movies and in video games before the age of 18.) Personally, I envy those who lived before 1960 for how pure their minds and spirits must have been. Childlike, as that word used to be defined. Many of them had survived world wars, which only made them even more committed to kindness and moral purity. Those who have seen the worst of humanity are most likely to celebrate the best of it. 
  11. Overpopulation and the lack of accountability it causes. People think they can treat anyone and everyone like dirt, blend back into the crowd, and never be questioned about it again. The human mind is better suited to life in small villages and feels small, insignificant and unimportant in giant crowds.
  12. Guns. The weapon of choice of the Florida killer and the Vegas killer was the AR-15 assault rifle, to ensure the largest number of murders. No civilian needs to own one of these to protect his home. The necessary evil of pistols in this increasingly violent and psychotic world is enough for anyone.
  13. More federal funding for mental health and mental health awareness.
  14. A greater emphasis on compassion from every conceivable angle – arts and politics – even with those we disagree with politically. The greater the divide is between each other, the easier it is to justify doing harm to others. 
  15. Pharmaceutical drugs. In the old days, kids were just called wild, spirited, or hyperactive, but the drug companies needed to name these conditions diseases, syndromes and disorders because you can’t sell a drug for something that doesn’t have a name. As a result, kids who are just different and will probably grow out of it are labeled so the pharmaceutical industry can sell them a drug. These drugs often causes “thoughts of suicide” – the TV ads for these drugs often say so – but you never hear “homicidal thoughts” for some reason, even though a lot of these homicidal kids were medicated. I don’t wonder why. It’s because Big Pharma has a stranglehold on us, in more ways than one. Any industry billions of dollars run through is rife with corruption. Some kids benefit from medication, but most can do without it. We are turning our kids into medicine cabinets and letting drug companies convince us that’s what they need – not time, love, spirituality, being heard. Nope, diagnosing them with some disorder and popping pills into their little yaps is much easier for today’s working parents.
  16. Severing of attachment to one or both parents through divorce, or just never having one to begin with because the parents are too self-centered to bother. A feeling of abandonment and isolation is possibly the root of all evil. My friend Amy Chesler taught me that. Her brother felt that way and ended up murdering their mother. Kids often act out the anger they feel at being cast aside. 
  17. Removal of God from school and just about everything else. It’s healthy for kids to believe their actions matter, even when nobody (mortal) is watching.

Okay, I’m putting the soapbox away. And that’s what it is. I mean, who cares about some little blog post? The kid who is developing a murderous rage or just the desire to be famous – to go from feeling like an insignificant nobody to a horrible somebody – will probably never read this blog. They’ll probably never read anything because that would take time away from playing Bulletstorm or Dead By Daylight.

Someone once argued with me that people have always been violent. For instance, the Nazi’s never played video games. Neither did the Japanese fascists. Most Muslim fanatics never did, either. I argued that the people they’re referring to were adults, and children didn’t start becoming mass murderers until recently. When children start to act in ways that have been the unfortunate domain of only adults for centuries, we are in deep trouble. Common sense tells me filling the minds of children with depraved images isn’t very good for them.

A quick Google search of “violent video game images” immediately demonstrates how psychologically unhealthy the world of “entertainment” has become over the past fifty years. 

images

10-Most-violent-video-games-punisher-featured

We’re supposed to be leading and guiding them wisely, not letting greedy corporations sell psychologically damaging products to them. We’re dying at the altars of freedom (“creative expression”) and profit. The people who make these games would make a movie or video game about eating babies if they thought they could profit from it. Who will care about the minds of our children if we don’t? Certainly not them.

charlie-higson

original

 In my late 20s, I saw a robbery victim murdered. He died in my arms. I put pressure on the wound but couldn’t stop the bleeding. He was shot in the chest and his windpipe was obliterated. With his dying breaths, he looked at me with the same question in  his eyes that all victims of violent crime ask – “Why me?”

For several years after that, I carried weapons and threw myself into my martial arts training so that I could kill anybody who would do such a thing to someone else if I ever crossed paths with a monster again. I was finally angry enough to be violent. The fact that the bullied kid still existed in me didn’t help. The kid was now a two-hundred pound black belt who hated thugs or anyone who looked, dressed or acted like them.

It took concentrated effort to purge that rage from my soul so I could be happy again. I still have resentment for anyone who could do harm to others and I’m willing and able to stop them but I don’t allow them to pollute my thoughts or disrupt my peace anymore.

I own two guns in case the craziness of this world comes to my door. I’m overprotective of my daughters because of my past, rising crime, and mass murders like the one that happened yesterday. That includes what I allow or don’t allow to enter their minds. The bubble of innocence will pop soon enough. I’ll protect it as long as I can. 

But again, no matter what I think, those seventeen kids are gone and they’re never coming back. Seventeen kids with heartbroken parents whose worst nightmare came true yesterday. Seventeen kids who, just ten years ago, had hands that smelled like cookies.

Maybe the lesson to be learned from all this, if there is one, and if we’re capable of learning as a culture, is to be kinder, more attentive, to reach out to troubled people, to report suspicious comments or behavior. A few lines from two now obscure songs come to mind –

“Oh, people, look around you, the signs are everywhere – you’ve left it for somebody other than you to be the one to care.” (Jackson Browne)

“I’d like to change the world, but I don’t know what to do, so I’ll leave it up to you.” (Ten Years After) 

After the massacre at Sandy Hook elementary school, I posted the poem below. I don’t know why I persist in thinking words will help me or anyone else. Again, I suppose it’s just pressure relief. For what it’s worth, here it is again – 

The Open Window

The old house by the lindens
   Stood silent in the shade,
And on the gravelled pathway
   The light and shadow played.

I saw the nursery windows
   Wide open to the air;
But the faces of the children,
   They were no longer there.

The large Newfoundland house-dog
   Was standing by the door;
He looked for his little playmates,
   Who would return no more.

They walked not under the lindens,
   They played not in the hall;
But shadow, and silence, and sadness
   Were hanging over all.

The birds sang in the branches,
   With sweet, familiar tone;
But the voices of the children
   Will be heard in dreams alone!

And the boy that walked beside me,
   He could not understand
Why closer in mine, ah! closer,
   I pressed his warm, soft hand!

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

old-young-hands-12968332

An Introduction to Karma

(Warning: Scary images.)

My parents loved going to the movies. It was like their church. They particularly liked horror movies. This love of voluntarily terrifying oneself was passed along to my brother and I. You see, we were taken to most of those movies . . . as children.

I suppose it would be called a “parenting fail” these days, but we loved it. Nothing was more fun than sitting on swings in the playground at the base of a forty-foot high drive-in movie theatre screen, stuffing our faces with hot dogs, popcorn and Milk Duds, and watching Dracula get a wooden stake pounded into his chest. Man, what a rush! We were too young to know or care about the effects such viewing had on our prepubescent minds. Oh, sure – we would get the Heebie-Jeebie’s back home when we had to walk through the hall at night to go to the bathroom, but that was about it, until one night.

In an amazing feat of poor judgment, my father decided my brother, at thirteen years old, was ready to see the granddaddy of all horror films, The Exorcist. I wanted to go but I was only ten. It would be three years before I was worldly enough to see possessed children vomiting into the mouths of priests.

giphy

My brother left the house that night eager and rosy-cheeked, and returned gaunt and pale. I asked him how the movie was but he just walked by me silently. My mom asked my dad what was wrong with him. He said, “Ah, don’t worry about it. Kids are resilient.”

After a week or so, he returned to normal and started talking again. Our parents went to a party and left us alone. We decided to play hide-and-seek. He went upstairs to count and I hid behind our enormous Magnavox television set. And not just behind the TV, but behind thick curtains behind the TV. Of course, the TV was on. It was always on.

In the days before flat screens, TV’s were monstrous things with ventilation hole-riddled, pressboard panels at the back that heat belched out of like dragon’s breath. Well, it turned out to be the best hiding place I had ever chosen because my brother couldn’t find me for at least an hour. He actually looked behind the TV but didn’t find me because I was such a waif of a child (his nickname for me then was “Pale and Frail”) and I was making myself flat like an Egyptian hieroglyph behind the curtain. Exasperated, he finally decided to pull back the curtain. When he saw me, I was a sweaty wreck, badly dehydrated and on the verge of heat exhaustion. The excitement of being discovered made me laugh. It seemed perfectly innocent to me, but to him, still reeling psychologically from The Exorcist, I looked and sounded like a small, demented demon. I’m not sure what I looked like exactly, but I think this is pretty much what he saw.

5540960

To my surprise, he screamed, but not just any scream. It was one of those primal screams only accessible when the mind is pushed to some heretofore unexplored extremity. He turned and ran, still screaming.

Now, the right thing to do would have been to go to him and reassure him that I was still his little brother – but where’s the fun in that? Every mean thing he had ever said or done to me (and there were plenty) rushed through my mind.

“An opportunity like this might never come again,” I thought. “We’ll see who the pale and frail one is!”

I chased him around the house screaming maniacally and scratching his back until he locked himself in the bathroom and begged me to leave him alone.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you revenge doesn’t feel good. It was awesome. For the rest of the week, I glared at him like one of the tots from Village of the Damned until he asked our parents to make me stop.

original-22555-1443022412-4

I was heady with my newfound sense of power. However, I was about to be introduced to another kind of power – KARMA.

A few days later, in yet another astounding demonstration of irresponsibility, my parents decided it would be a good idea to let both of us watch The Legend of Lizzie Borden starring Elizabeth Montgomery. Though already quite the horror aficionado for a ten-year old, I found this movie particularly disturbing, for two reasons – she looked remarkably like my mother, and I was used to watching Elizabeth Montgomery play the sweet and perky Samantha in the TV show Bewitched.

I lay in bed that night wide awake, unable to stop hearing a song in the movie, sung eerily by children – “Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

Man, oh man. Sleep was completely out of the question. I was afraid to blink. I lay there for hours until exhaustion finally overtook me. I awoke in the middle of the night staring at the wall. I rolled over to get more comfortable and momentarily opened my eyes. When I closed my eyes again, I realized I had just seen the silhouette of a woman standing by my bed, the edges of her hair and nightgown illuminated by pale moonlight from the window.

12

“Dear God,” I thought, “Lizzie Borden is in my room.”

I was too scared to open my eyes again. I hadn’t looked at her long enough to see her hands but I was certain an axe dripping with blood was in one of them, an axe she was about to give me forty-two whacks with. I turned to the wall again, hoping she might leave if she thought I was sleeping. She didn’t. I could hear her breathing. I let out one of those screams only dogs can hear and pulled my blanket over my head because, as every child knows, a blanket can withstand any attack.

“Ah, who am I kidding?” I thought, “It’s a blanket! It can’t stop an axe!” My mind raced, “I’m a goner! And still so young! How did she get out of the TV? I wonder if she got my parents yet. Oh, just whack me already and get it over with, Lizzie! Whack away! Why are you just standing there? God, if you care about me at all, make her leave!”

dona-leonora-672x300

I started reciting every prayer I knew – “getting right with God” as they say – when a hand touched my shoulder. I screamed. Then Lizzie screamed! I screamed again. She screamed again, too. I started to scream a third time, then thought, “Wait a minute. Why is Lizzie screaming? Axe murderesses don’t scream!”

I reached for the light on my bedside table and pulled the chain. It was my mom. Seems my dear mumsy had chosen that night, of all nights, to stand by her little boy’s bed and watch him sleep. It should have been a tender moment, but it was the longest, most horrifying minute of my life, before or since.

Once her heartrate slowed down and I realized I wasn’t going to be chopped up, we both had a good laugh about it. My dad did, too, as I slept between them in their bed that night, and the next night, and for the next two weeks.

 

For the Children

Like everyone else in America, I’ve been thoroughly disgusted and saddened by the couple who starved, tortured and abused their thirteen children for over a decade. I won’t mention their names because I think anyone who commits such atrocities should not be awarded fame, however twisted, after they’re caught. They even smiled at each other in court yesterday when the judge told them they couldn’t talk to their children for three years. Thankfully, it looks like they’ll spend the rest of their miserable lives in prison.

As a parent of two daughters, it’s unfathomable to me how not only one but two parents can do the things they did. I feel guilty when I raise my voice to my girls even a little.

When my first daughter was born six years ago, I wrote and sang 15 songs on a CD in her honor called Great Big World. Of course, the songs apply to both my girls now. I’m working on a second CD for both of them.

One of the tracks is below. I hope it provides a little therapy to anyone as troubled as I am by all the child abuse stories we hear about these days. I know I need regular therapy, and it usually comes in the form of music.

This song is also for all the children unfortunate enough to be born to parents who don’t appreciate the miraculous blessings that they are.

The Lost Country

bridge-child-net-photography-pride-shadow-favim-com-100579

I like to write about childhood, for different reasons. There were times when everything was perfect, like when I was 7-9 years old and my family lived in a serene (then) and beautiful neighborhood in Santa Monica, California. My best friend lived a few houses away, my piano teacher lived on the opposite corner, my babysitter was just down the street, and my first crush, a blonde, freckle-faced cutie named Linda Coss, lived at the bottom of the street in the only pink house in the whole neighborhood. Flowers perpetually smiled through the white picket fence surrounding her garden, and bluebirds and butterflies circled above her room constantly. (In my memory, anyway.)

We moved fifteen times before I was fifteen years old. Some kids are given the tools to be okay with that. I wasn’t one of them. Perpetually the new kid, and very small in stature (one of my older brother’s nicknames for me was “Pail and Frail”), I got bullied a lot. I resented my parents for disrupting my life every year or two because they were unhappy, and blamed them for everything that went wrong. I was like a sapling getting yanked out of the soil every time I started putting down roots. As a result, I grew more confused and angry as my teenage years came along, eventually developing severe shyness and low self-esteem. The bullies had accomplished what they wanted to do to me.

When I got out of high school and got my first car, I would often drive to that old neighborhood and walk around. Of all the neighborhoods we lived in, that was the one that felt like home to me. It was where my “wonder years” happened. But it wasn’t the same, of course. Everyone I knew as a child had moved. Other people lived in our house. I resented them, even though we moved out over ten years earlier. My brother had become a heroin addict, my father was cut down to skin and bone by cancer, my high school girlfriend had an abortion that killed me spiritually, and I had no college or career aspirations. In fact, I had no idea what I wanted to do or be. This all caused a desire as overwhelming as it was unrealistic – to go back to the time when everything was still ahead of me and my family, when no mistakes had been made yet. I was like a ghost haunting my own life too early.

As I got older and started writing, childhood was one of my favorite subjects. It still is. They say writing is living twice. Maybe that’s why. I’m still trying to find what I lost, fix what was broken, and relive the moments when everything was perfect. Moments of pure joy, like when I saw Santa Claus fly right over my house while laying on my front lawn. I even heard the reindeer bells. Or my best friend Dana and I sitting in trees and rooftops with walkie-talkie’s, pretending the neighbors walking below were enemy spies. Or making gelatinous bugs and snakes in our Mattel Thing-Maker oven, then scaring the girls on the street with them. Or watching Sci-Fi movies in chair-and-blanket forts while stuffing our faces with candy. Or my teenage babysitter Shirley arriving with a handful of toys and puzzles for my brother and I to play with. As the saying goes, “God was in His universe and all was right with the world.” 

While reading a book by Gail Carson Levine called Writing Magic – Creating Stories That Fly, I came across a perfect description of the desire to somehow access childhood again through writing. She wrote:

“I used to think, long ago, that when I grew up, I’d remember what it felt like to be a child and that I’d always be able to get back to my child self. But I can’t. When you become a teenager, you step onto a bridge. You may already be on it. The opposite shore is adulthood. Childhood lies behind. The bridge is made of wood. As you cross, it burns behind you. If you save what you write, you still won’t be able to cross back to childhood. But you’ll be able to see yourself in that lost country. You’ll be able to wave to yourself across that wide river. Whether or not you continue to write, you will be glad to have the souvenirs of your earlier self.”

I’m a father of two girls now, three and six years old. They are bringing the magic back to me. Before I became a dad, I used to be annoyed when parents would say “Really? Wow!” to their young children with false enthusiasm in response to something nonsensical they had just said. But I get it now. Today, my youngest daughter said to me, very excitedly, “Jelly Bean has a tail!” and I found myself saying, “Really? Wow!” Still not wanting to be one of “those” parents, however, I asked her to explain the comment. But her answer confused me even more.

I concluded that saying “Really? Wow!” is actually a very wise admission, a surrender to the fact that children live in a world grown-up’s are not allowed in. As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet –

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Not wanting to give up so easily, I asked my daughter if I could go with her to her world, to visit Jelly Bean and see his tail. She said, “Yes, daddy!” very exuberantly. We walked across the room, sat down and played for a while, despite the spaces between us – between her innocence and my world-weariness, her perfectly unfettered joy and my comfortless logic. But still, all I could do is watch her in wonder and envy at the delicious irresponsibility and frivolity of her life, a frivolity I encourage and protect. The bubble of childhood will pop soon enough, and always too early.

In his song Too Many Angels, Jackson Browne wrote:

There are photographs of children
all in their silver frames
on the windowsills and tabletops
lit by candle flames.
And upon their angel faces,
life’s expectations climb
as the moment has preserved them
from the ravages of time.”

I did not begin to let go of my childhood until I had children of my own. How could I when only my life concerned me? Their effortless ability to save me from endless reminiscing was and still is my salvation. Their future is more important to me now than my own, or my past. I’ll still visit it in my writing, but with far less aching melancholy because now, anytime I need to see what joy is, I just have to find them and watch them play. I will not allow my restlessness to uproot my little saplings. I will not allow any unhappiness I feel to disrupt theirs.

My Girls

They bring out the best in me. They sharpen my focus. They motivate me to pass the point where I stopped before. I want them to be proud of me and the work I do, but they are the reason for all of it. And if I were to fail as a parent, nothing else I ever accomplish would matter much.

IMG_1796