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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“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!”

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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

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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.

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And I Love You So

 

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(My daughter and I six years ago.)
And I love you so,
The people ask me how,
How I’ve lived till now
I tell them “I don’t know”I guess they understand
How lonely life has been
But life began again
The day you took my hand

And yes I know how lonely life can be
The shadows follow me
And the night won’t set me free
But I don’t let the evening get me down
Now that you’re around me

And you love me too
Your thoughts are just for me
You set my spirit free
I’m happy that you do

The book of life is brief
And once a page is read
All but love is dead
That is my belief

And yes I know how loveless life can be
The shadows follow me
And the night won’t set me free
But I don’t let the evening bring me down
Now that you’re around me

And I love you so
The people ask me how,
How I’ve lived till now
I tell them “I don’t know”

(Don McLean)

Innocence Lost – Handgun Safety

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Brooklynn Mae Mohler

March 29, 2000 – June 4, 2013

I was up all night with my sick, five-year old girl. She finally relented to sleep so I got online. I couldn’t sleep anyway. I Googled an old poem I wrote after my brother died. I do that every few months or so just to see where it has traveled, but always dread what I will find because it’s a poem about grieving. I received an email just yesterday from a woman whose husband was killed in a homicide, asking if she could read it as his funeral. The poem is both a source of joy to me, knowing it helps people, and a source of sadness, hearing stories of untimely deaths.

Last night it led me to a woman whose daughter, Brooklynn, was accidentally shot in the back by her best friend because her friend’s absent father didn’t properly secure his handgun. I could barely read the description in one of her blogs of the day it happened, discovering her body, etc. Horror beyond words, and yet this poor, sweet woman said my poem “provided solace” for her in her “darkest, most agonizing moments.” This is why I write. This.

I was feeling frustrated last night not only because my daughter was sick but because I needed sleep so I could work today. Maybe I was led to that page to give me some perspective. My girl just had a little cold. She woke up this morning. I held her a lot tighter last night as she slept, savoring her every breath, while I prayed for Brooklynn and her family.

Hundreds of children are shot accidentally every year in America due to improperly secured handguns. The man who left the handgun sitting around that killed Brooklynn was not punished for the easily-preventable loss of this beautiful, vibrant, 13-year old girl.  Stupidity and bone laziness are not crimes, I suppose, but why he didn’t get charged with child endangerment or involuntary manslaughter is a mystery to me.

One of their main messages is to ask a simple question if you let your child play at their friends houses – ask their parents, “Are there any unsecured guns in your house?” Please visit the site below and do what you can to help her courageous parents as they promote handgun safety awareness, and push for laws punishing irresponsible gun owners for the lives that are lost because of them.

http://justiceforbrooklynn.com/our-story/

Link to the poem –
http://justiceforbrooklynn.com/2016/02/how-we-survive/