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/

A Child’s Grace (poem)

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A Child’s Grace

My father was saying Grace one night.
I looked at our table, covered with food.
I was usually happy at dinnertime
but this time I fell into a serious mood.

He said, “Dear Lord, we humbly thank You
for nourishing our bodies with this meal”
but then he said “while some go without”
and I wasn’t sure just how I should feel.

“While some go without.”
The words rang in my ears.
I thought of what that meant
and my eyes filled with tears.

My mother noticed my sadness
and asked, “Honey, what’s wrong?”
But I had trouble finding words
for a feeling so strong.

Then I said, “Mama, I’m worried
I haven’t been thankful enough
for all the food on our table
and this house full of . . . stuff.”

She told me, “It’s okay, dear.
That means you have a good heart.
But to show God you’re thankful,
you just have to start.”

My father looked in my eyes,
smiled, stroked my hair,
and said, “God’s listening now.
Will you continue the prayer?”

It was a big night for a child,
moved by such a strange mood.
I wanted to show I was grateful
and for much more than food.

I said, “Thank You, dear God,
for peanut butter and jelly.
I’ve never known how it feels
to have no food for my belly.”

I said, “Thank You for my life
And for my little brother.
Thank You for my home,
and my father and mother.”

“Thank You for water.
Thank You for fish.
Thank You for the ability
to dream and to wish.”

“Thank You for my family
and all our pleasures and joys.
Thank You for my bicycle
and all my other toys.”

Thank You for fruit,
for honey and bread.
Thank You for the fantasies
that dance in my head.”

“Thank You for my books
and the adventures they hold.
Thank You for creativity
and tales yet to be told.”

“Thank You for my health
to walk, run and play.
Thank You for my parents
who show me Your way.”

My brother kept peeking,
worried I’d talk until dawn.
The list of my blessings
just went on and on!

I thanked God for the TV!
I thanked God for the phone!
I thanked God for everything
I was so lucky to own.

I just kept on thanking
and when I was done,
I’d said thank you for
everything under the sun.

For beaches and mountains,
for flowers and trees,
for dogs and dandelions,
for bunnies and bees.

For rainbows and kites,
for clouds and warm sun
for endless summer days
devoted only to fun.

For school and for teachers,
for all the lessons I’d learned.
I thought I’d covered it all
and left no stone unturned.

But I still wasn’t satisfied.
Something still wasn’t right.
We all sat in the silence
and I closed my eyes tight.

Then I found what was missing
and said one more prayer . . .
“Please, Lord, give all I have
to poorer kids everywhere.”

And with those last words,
a great peace filled the room
and a sweet scent flooded in
like a meadow in bloom.

Everyone could feel . . . something,
even my little brother.
“That was beautiful,” said father.
“I’m so proud of you,” said mother.

In giving thanks for my blessings,
I felt God’s loving embrace,
but when I wished for others
I discovered true Grace.

We were all hungry by then
and our dinners were cold
but how full and how warm
were my heart and my soul.

Mark Rickerby (c) 2015

Related story –

http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/boy-5-makes-diners-cry-as-he-says-grace-with-homeless-man/story-fnq2o7hp-1227360850445

My Toddler’s First Fib – And It Is a Doozy!

My 19 month-old daughter has not only started fibbing but fibbing in the biggest way possible – blaming Mickey Mouse for damage she intentionally caused. She has a little hobby when she can’t sleep of picking the leather veneer off the backboard of the bed. Below is the video of her interrogation before being taken downtown and booked for vandalism.

https://www.facebook.com/mark.rickerby/videos/10153629711931350/?pnref=story

UPDATE: Turns out she was telling the truth! Mickey Mouse confessed, has taken a few of the seven dwarves hostage, and barricaded himself inside the whale on the Pinocchio ride at Disneyland. Fortunately, he is unable to fire a weapon because of the giant, white gloves he wears, so his only defense against the SWAT team is to throw lollipops. One officer was struck in the neck by one of those giant ones they sell at the gift shop, causing a small welt. I will keep you posted as the situation develops. I feel terrible for not believing my toddler, but who would have guessed? Mickey Mouse, a common criminal!

Upon further research, I learned that Mickey Mouse actually has a rap sheet as long as the monorail. Here are a few of his past mugshots –

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What Did the Baby Just Say?

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Can some explain this mystery? When I accidentally say a sentence containing a word I don’t want my 18 month-old daughter to know or use, why does she always notice that word the most? For instance . . .

Example 1:
Mommy: “Hi, honey. How was your day?”
Daddy: “Great until some dummy almost killed me on the freeway.”
Daughter: “Dummy. Ha ha.”

Example 2:
Mommy: “The contractor won’t finish the work until he gets another thousand dollars.”
Daddy: “What? That turkey said his price was final.”
Daughter: “Turkey. Ha ha.”

Then, of course, I get “the look” from my wife. (Also known as the Stink Eye.)

I already gave up the most satisfying bad words when my first daughter was born 4 1/2 years ago. I’m not sure if I can live without less satisfying ones like dummy and turkey.

I think I’ll just stop talking. My wife won’t mind.

Toward Healthier Children – Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psycho-Social Development

Erik Erikson was a psychologist who profoundly influenced my thinking since I first heard of his “stages of psycho-social development” in college.

People who are considered geniuses often do nothing more than chart the obvious. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” 

Because of this, most of us intuitively know what these stages are. After all, we lived them, or some of them. The sad part is, kids who don’t successfully navigate the early stages have a progressively harder time meeting the subsequent ones successfully. I know I did. This is why it’s important to go back and repair any damage. i.e., “do the work.” Even just identifying where we stumbled is useful. We can’t relive those days, of course, but we can have compassion for our former selves, understand why we felt the way we did, maybe even give ourselves what was denied us then, and in so doing, finally move on.

Having a charted course also helps us help our children navigate these stages. This philosophy has been put many ways by many people.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” (Benjamin Franklin)

“It’s better to prevent falling than to help up.” (Anonymous)

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.” (Frederick Douglass) 

For most of us, falls are inevitable. No parent is perfect, and even if they were, there are 101 influences out in the world, not to mention random chaos (usually in the form of physical or psychological bullies) that also shape who we are. The crapshoot of getting good teachers or bad also molds children. 

If you’re over forty and your parents were members of the “greatest generation” who lived through World War II, they probably never read a book on parenting or child psychology in their lives and you were under-analyzed as a result, often when a bit of scrutiny might have been helpful.

If you’re under twenty, your parents probably read so many books on parenting and child psychology that you were over-analyzed as they (with the best intentions, God bless them) played armchair psychologist. So, when you got hurt as a child, instead of “walk it off” or “stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about”, you might have heard, “Okay, let’s think about what just happened. How did it make you feel when Timmy tripped you and made you split your lip on the sidewalk?” (When all you really wanted to do was walk it off and not make the event even bigger and more noticeable to everyone around you.) 

As a child, I once incubated a fertilized hen’s egg. It was a lot more work than I thought it would be. I thought all I would have to do was put the egg in the homemade incubator and then wait for it to hatch. But I had to come home from school every day for 23 days (the gestation period of a chicken) and flip the egg over, then again at midnight, to keep the bird embryo from adhering to the bottom side of the egg. The mother hen does this instinctively. Then I was awoken one night by a high-pitched chirp. I jumped up excitedly and turned on the light to see a tiny, yellow beak breaking through the shell. I was so excited. Again, I underestimated the length of time it would take for the baby chick to come out. I had only seen it happen in movies, and of course, they can’t show a two hour process in a movie that’s only two hours long, so movie chicks just pop right out. Not so in real life. It was a marathon. I wanted to crack the shell open and help the bird but I had read somewhere that if I did, the chicken would probably not survive. Not just be weak, mind you – it would not survive. That first challenge actually determines its ability to survive, it’s strength and courage, for the rest of its life.

For humans, the eggshell is the entire span of childhood. We parents even use shell analogies when talking about shy children:

“Wow! She has really come out of her shell since last time I saw her!”

“He’s very shy, but we’re hoping he’ll break out of his shell soon.” 

We can’t force that shell open, as surely as we can’t force open the petals of a flower. Anyone who thinks parenting is not an art, has never been a parent. As with all things, there’s a happy medium.

A time to ask our children to express anger and frustration and a time to distract them from it, thereby lessening its impact and making the event that inspired the anger more forgettable. 

A time to help and a time to stand back and watch. 

A time to prevent a fall and a time to let them take a risk and experience their own consequences without throwing pillows in front of them and making them afraid to take chances later. Knowing the difference is where the art comes in.

There is also value in looking at these stages and identifying the ones we didn’t make it through as well as we might have.

Did you feel trustful as an infant? Did you get fed when you were hungry and held when you cried? Or were you neglected and develop a feeling that you couldn’t trust this world?

Did you feel autonomous as a toddler, or did someone in your life make you feel shame and doubt? There are adults who will do that, even to a kid. Maybe especially to a kid, because they’re helpless and can’t knock their blocks off.

Did you feel resourceful from age 3 to 5? Did you build elaborate palaces with your blocks and Lego’s, or was there someone there who made you feel guilty for being alive? Again, there are adults who hate everything they either never had, or lost. Their seething bitterness compels them to stomp all the good right out of a child’s heart.

Did you feel industrious from age 5 to 13, or were you already developing an inferiority complex from all the garbage that unhealthy adults already piled on you?

Did you have a firm sense of who you were from 13 to 21? Failing early stages causes failure in subsequent stages. It’s the worst kind of domino principle.

Did you have a healthy love relationship(s) from 21 to 39 or did you spend too much time alone? 

Did you (or will you) have purpose and love your work from 40 to 65?

If you’re over 65, do you feel peaceful in the knowledge that you were a good person and you did your best (integrity), or are you kicking yourself for mistakes (despair)? It’s pretty easy to spot the elderly people who are in despair. They’re the ones who yell “Get off my lawn!” when a kid dares to set foot on it. Or just the ones who are sad, living in houses where sunlight struggles to enter through cracks in closed curtains.

I don’t mean to be bleak, but every stage has an opposite, and to begin to do the work, we need to identify the problem and admit there was one. Most of us are probably somewhere in the middle. We got what we needed but have a little work to do because of what we didn’t. Others struggled through childhood and have a lot of work to do. Others were abandoned almost completely, in every way, and grew to become very frustrated adults.

Identifying where we stumbled (or were tripped) is the beginning of knowing where to begin repairs. We can’t fix it until we know what’s broken. So in the interests of doing the best job possible with our little balls of clay (preventing damage) and the ball of clay of our own life, here are a few maps –

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As a parent, I have remembered what was missing from my childhood by watching them reach out to me for the same things. And giving them the love, praise or just time that I didn’t always receive, I not only prevent the need for future healing in them, I heal myself. It’s good to break chains. The next challenge is not condemning our own parents for what they did wrong. They could only work with the tools they had, tools that were given to them by their parents. The healthier activity is to increase the number of tools in our own toolboxes. 

Wishing you and your children trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, identity, intimacy, generatively and integrity! 

More details on this theory – 

 Stage 1:

Trust vs. Mistrust
Birth – 1 Year of Age
– most fundamental stage of psychosocial development
– based on quality of caregivers
– success is based upon a feeling of safety and security
– failure is based upon inconsistent care and emotionally unavailable caregivers
– failure will result in fear/belief that the world is unpredictable and inconsistent

Stage 2:
Autonomy vs. Shame/Doubt
Early Childhood
– develop a greater sense of personal control
– control gained through making preferences in food, clothing, and toys
– success results in confidence and being secure with oneself
– failure results in inadequacy and self-doubt

Stage 3:
Initiative vs. Guilt
Pre-School Years
– asserting power through directing play and other social interactions
– success results in a sense of capability and an ability to lead others
– failure results in a sense of guilt, self-doubt, and lack of initiative

Stage 4:
Industry vs. Inferiority
Ages 5-11
– children develop a sense of pride in accomplishments and abilities through social interactions
– encouragement from parents and teachers is necessary for success
– failure results in doubting one’s own abilities to be successful

Stage 5:
Identity vs. Confusion
Adolecense
– focus on exploring independence
– develop a sense of self
– personal exploration must be encouraged
– success will result in a strong sense of self and feeling of independence and control
– failure with result in unsure beliefs and desire and insecure/confused feelings in the future

Stage 6:
Intimacy vs. Isolation
Early adulthood
– develop close, committed relationships in order to develop secure and committed relationship in the future
– strong sense of personal identity is needed
– less committed relationships will result in emotional isolation, depression, and loneliness

Stage 7:
Generativity vs. Stagnation
Adulthood
– focuses on career and family
– asks questions about whether or not one will have a family and career
– success will result in a sense that you’ve contributed to the world
– failure will result in a feeling of being unproductive and uninvolved in the world

Stage 8:
Integrity vs. Despair
Old Age
– reflecting back on life
– success will result in a general sense of satisfaction and wisdom
– failure will result in regrets, bitterness, despair, and a feeling that your life has been wasted

The Healing Power of Children

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In his song The Things We’ve Handed Down, Marc Cohn sang to his unborn child, “Will you be a sad reminder of what’s been lost along the way? Maybe you can help me find her in the things you do and say.” The “her” he refers to in that line is his mother, whom he lost suddenly at an early age. He sang about her again in the song Saints Preserve Us, an intensely pain-filled song.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvd6kXIfAl0)

Grief is perhaps the oddest and most complex emotion. At the moment of death, when the world is crumbling around us and we can’t imagine life without that person, we are certain we’ll never be happy again. That feeling persists for a time, often a very long time, but then, as if by magic, it gets a little easier. We catch ourselves laughing, or having several sadness-free minutes. That realization is often followed by guilt, as if we are somehow betraying our lost loved one by allowing ourselves to be, not even happy, but just “okay” again. It’s a relief, like not being physically sick anymore. We take normal health for granted until we lose it and start praying to just stop throwing up or feeling pain. The same is true of the heart, except that after losing someone, there’s a new normal. The old world dies along with that person, and we slowly build a new one. 

I was in Vancouver one year, helping a friend make an independent movie. We were driving through a canyon between Vancouver and a town called Cache Creek. At points, this canyon had very high, vertical, rock walls on either side. It was beautiful to drive through in daylight, but ominous and claustrophobia-inducing at night. I was given the task of picking up an actor (Paul Jarrett) in Vancouver and left a little late, so I had to drive through the worst part of the canyon in the pitch black of night. The darkness started to play with my mind. I had both of my parents then but started having very dark thoughts about how I would handle losing them. Like anyone we love, they defined me so much, I didn’t know who I would be without them. Paul, who was a little older than me, asked if I had children. At the time, I didn’t. He said, “Start your own family. It won’t make it easier to lose your parents, but they are the best possible kind of distraction from the pain.” He was a wise man.

I now have two children, one and four years-old, and Paul’s words returned to me just this morning. I lost my brother and only sibling when I was 34 and he was 37, and my father last December. Suffice to say I have more than my share of sadness at the moment.

Since my father died, I have been feeling my brother’s death more intensely than I allowed myself to before because they were so intertwined in my mind and memory. So much falls away as time passes, and all we’re left with is memories. 

I was playing hide-and-seek with my eldest daughter this morning. She was looking for me and I saw her come around a corner very furtively. It reminded me of a photograph from 1965 or so of my brother coming around a corner in exactly the same way. I had always been amused by that photo because he looks so timid, as if worried someone was going to jump out and scare him at any moment. He may have been playing hide-and-seek with our father or mother when that photo was taken. It was then that the sadness hit me, right in the middle of a game. The sadness of how far my brother fell from that state of perfect innocence.

None of us can avoid that fall. It’s inevitable in this world. We all must grow up and “put away childish things” as the old poem says. But my brother fell a lot further. He started using marijuana at the age of thirteen and went right up (or down) the ladder to harder drugs, until he died of an overdose. He had spent eight years of his life in jail for drug-related offenses, had very few teeth left, and was covered with menacing tattoos. Only I remembered the fair-haired boy who built sand castles with me in the sun at Venice Beach. 

My daughter found me in the closet where I was hiding. She laughed as she always does. I smiled but couldn’t seem to muster a laugh. She noticed and her smile dimmed. I always hate that. I don’t want her to know about death yet. I even told her my father moved back to Ireland. As far as she’s concerned, he’s still alive and skipping through the shamrocks over there. She’ll learn about death and the other harsh realities of life soon enough. I picked her up, walked into the other room, and sat with her on the floor, her arms around my neck. I smelled her honey hair, savoring that hug, but unable to stop thinking about my brother, wishing his life would have been different, wondering how and why he could have gone from a curious, happy, fun-loving child to a drug addict, convict and overdose statistic.

I’m pretty good at hiding my emotions. I didn’t cry so I don’t know how she knew something wasn’t quite right, but my 18 month-old toddler also came over and put her little arms around me, too. I was now swallowed by hugs from my two girls, just when I needed to be. She’s a loving child so this isn’t unusual, but it was just what I needed, just when I needed it. I could feel the scale inside me, one side holding sadness and the other love. They teetered back and forth for a moment, but the love side eventually won, and I was able to get back to the business of living, and loving my children without sadness tainting happy moments. Emotional instability is a terrible burden to hang on children. I will not let that happen. As Lee Greenwood sang, hearts aren’t made to break, they’re made to love.

Happiness and inner peace don’t win on their own. We need to allow them to win. If we don’t choose them for ourselves, who will? They’re the greatest gifts we can give ourselves, and our children.