“Have a Great Day at School! Don’t Get Killed, Honey!”

Am I a lazy parent because I sent my sons to school knowing there’s a decent chance they will be shot and killed, but all I can do is hope for the best?

Because resignation is the feeling I had this morning reading more about last week’s “child murders children story.”

Do school shootings now occupy the same class of “terrible, unpredictable, unavoidable” as car accidents – they happen, but there’s nothing to be done besides crossing one’s fingers and not dwelling on the negative “what ifs”?

I know there are actions to take. Groups to support in their tireless efforts. Women Against Gun Violence. The Brady Campaign. The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. There are messages and memes to share on Facebook. But what does that amount to? The gun that the Washington state football-player-Homecoming-Prince boy brought to school was bought legally and registered to someone in the family. Distraught over a breakup, it seems he texted his friends to join him in the cafeteria and then vented his sorrow with bullets. We can imagine that if there were no gun at home, he’d have punched a hole in the wall, or even someone’s face, and lived with his sadness until things got better.

I join the groups and I share the buttons, but look: even legal guns wreak havoc! So is the solution to accept that this is the way things are, or to radically change the way things are…or to believe in slow change? Slow change doesn’t seem to be working.

Do you want to keep crossing your fingers every day that it’s not your kid who gets shot?

Do we end this tyranny of guns? Share your concrete suggestions. And please be civil to each other.

Good Deeds and Good Eats

I am always drawn to non-profits that promise to help educate girls in parts of the world where that is not the norm.

This one — She’s The First — does just that. It popped into my world today thanks to Goodreads.com.

It doesn’t hurt that their fundraising idea involves cupcakes (or at least it can involve cupcakes if you’re into that sort of thing. My 30-Day Sugar-Free Dare has concluded — with only one piece of pie to my name! — so now I’m free to spread the word and the baked goods.)

Our family is thinking about charitable giving more lately, as part of our son’s Bar Mitzvah preparation. Every kid is encouraged to do something for others. With so much need, it’s hard to choose where to devote your limited attention and resources. So far he’s considered projects addressing childhood obesity, global warming, and disabled children. So, yeah, we’re narrowing it down.

In honor of his taking on this philanthropic responsibility, I’m going to do more, too. Check back from time to time to see what we turn up. And tell me, what organizations do you support that you’d like to share with other readers? I’d love to hear.


Obama’s Reelection, Prop 30 and Legos

It wasn’t only the candidates who put on turbo-powered overdrive in the last hectic week. My kids got in the game.

Saturday brought us to the Obama HQ in Santa Monica. We made phone calls into Iowa that no doubt gave Obama the decisive edge there. The boys grooved on the energy in the buzzing room filled with volunteers, diving into the experience pumped up on abundant bowls of Halloween candy. Were it not for a small case of the stomach flu, we would have been back again Monday after school, Aaron enjoyed it so much.

The campaign talk was heavy among second graders at Palisades Elementary school, with Emmett reporting the following high level debates at the cafeteria tables:

  • Friend A said “Romney care means ‘Love of America’ and Obamacare means ‘revenge.’ (Someone’s got Fox News on at home.)
  • Friend B said “Obama’s going to win because everyone in China is going to vote for him. I told him, ‘Dude, only people in our country can vote.'” Dude, how’d you get so smart?

Emmett wasn’t always an Obama fan. Even earlier this year, he told me he didn’t like Obama. I’m happy for him to have his own opinions. Curious about his reasons, I asked him why. He explained, “Because he wants everyone to go to school.”

Indeed, my second-grader was conflicted about Prop 30, the measure to raise taxes in California so that our schools wouldn’t lose 6 billion dollars this year. He couldn’t process the notion that having summer vacation begin in April was a bad thing. He couldn’t bring himself to pull that lever, and left his brother to vote with me yesterday, while he went off with his (Romney-supporting) buddy to play Legos.

I’m not sure exactly when he decided to support Obama, but last night at 8:30 he shouted, “I’m so glad Obama won! BOOM!” It might have been the friendly competition with aforementioned Friend A.

The truth is that both of my children can like whomever they want. I explain the reasons I vote the way I do, and I do hope to instill in them my values. But the most important value I hopeto instill in them by bringing them to campaign offices, and taking them with me to vote, is the value of participation. I want them to know that their opinion matters, their voice has value, their one vote can make a difference, elections are important, and that these kids have so much to offer the world.

I Voted!
Next time, thoughts on raising boys to be feminists…BOOM!

It’s all Greek to me

No Torah Study for me today. After last week’s Jewish Journal article in which I gushed about Rabbi Bernstein’s Friday morning ancient-history-philosophy-religion-mythology-spirituality-and-parenting seminar, I felt sheepish to miss today. I had wanted to go, but at the last minute the second graders needed one more driver for their field trip. I hadn’t said yes the first time the call for drivers came out, because the idea of an 8-12 field trip seemed too much of a commitment. But I had a car, I could make the time, so I raised my hand and said I’d do it.

Thank goodness. I was headed to the Getty Villa with fifty second-graders. Talk about ancient-history-philosophy-religion-mythology-spirituality-and-parenting skills. Have you tried to corral rambunctious seven- and eight-year-old boys through a palace of priceless sculpture?

The morning was filled with many pleasures, however, not least of which was the drive. It was the first time I’d needed the third row of my Toyota RAV4. This is a big deal to me. I chose this car in anticipation of our move to Venice. Guessing that parents wouldn’t relish having to drive their kids from the old neighborhood to our new house, I bought a practical, 3rd row SUV so I could take everyone. This was instead getting a wildly impractical but super fun convertible, which would seat just us four! I repeat, I gave up a convertible in order to ferry many children. And this is the first time I have ferried. Bitter? Not at all.

Listening to the five boys in my car was another highlight. It wasn’t the topic (Lego Ninjago, which was pretty funny) as much as the passion they brought to it. And their jokes. And the screeching laughter. Their excitement was electric. All it took was being out of their normal, run-of-the-mill classroom environment, on an adventure. Leaving behind routine is implicitly awesome. That’s why I love travel.

Finally there was the Getty Villa itself. Our docent, Rick, carried a children’s book of Greek Mythology with him, which he read from to make the art come alive. He told them the story of Herakles slaying a lion, strangling it with his sheer strength, then brought them to the statue of Herakles holding a lion skin, a statue which inspired J. Paul Getty to build the whole museum.

Second graders reenact the lion slaying.

He sat the kids in front of an ancient stone mosaic floor with a Medusa in its center, and then he read the story of Perseus slaying Medusa. Now that stone mosaic meant something. The same with a sculpture of sirens. Yeah, these may have been cool to look at for a minute or two, what with their bird legs and feathers on the bottom, female bodies on top. But add to that the story of Orpheus sitting on a boat and playing his instrument (the original “guitar hero” in Rick’s words) in order to drown out the sound of their tempting, dangerous singing and thereby save the lives of the sailors, well, now the kids were hooked.

I loved hearing how much my son knew about the Greek myths. He raised his hand to answer all sorts of questions: “What power did Medusa have?” “What did a siren do?” “What is a sickle?” I give thanks to author Rick Riordan for writing the Percy Jackson books, and to whomever wrote and illustrated the Greek Mythology comic book Emmett has been reading in the school library. I give thanks for school libraries.

(This sounds like a good time to plug Proposition 30. And 38. Field trips. School libraries. Books in schools. Please vote for them. If you want to phone bank for them, call me up and we’ll go together.)

I give thanks for the opportunity to see him in his element, to get out of my own normal, Friday routine and experience some surprise, and to be reminded of the power of stories to capture imaginations. Which is, after all, what Torah is all about. Our stories — heros, villains, folly, morality. The human experience of the supernatural.

Okay, then. Chew on that. Class dismissed. Have a great weekend.

Playing Hooky: What Killer Whales and Floor Hockey Have in Common

“We went whale watching and we didn’t see any whales, Papa!” Emmett reported to his grandfather this morning, a day after our family played hooky to catch the grey whale migration. Whale watching was high on the list of “stuff to do in 2012” that Emmett came up with as 2011 faded into its final midnight. And while I get queasy from looking at a boat moored to a dock, whale watching sounded cool, and I did not want to miss seeing Emmett and Aaron seeing their first whales.

Their Dad’s January birthday seemed the perfect opportunity to look for gray whales moving toward warmer waters to have their babies. No matter that the birthday fell on a school day — all the better! I am a proponent of playing hooky – with one caveat: I can’t shush my inner voice that says there ought to be some kind of enriching element to it. God forbid we take a day to goof off. (Not all moms are so serious. I have a friend whose mom took him out of school every time a new Star Wars movie came out, so they could be at the very first screening on the very first day. That is ultra cool. I am who I am.)

That said, I’m getting better. Rather than sending the boys to school for two hours before our expedition, as we’d planned, I let them sleep in. (I warned them they’d better remember how nice I was being, even as I heard my words detracting from said niceness.) We spent the morning playing 2-on-2 floor hockey. Kids beat parents in a nail-biter, 15-14. Then it was off to Long Beach, for a three-hour tour that left all of us a little woozy by the end.

Back to this morning. “You didn’t see any whales?” Papa asked Emmett, puzzled.

“Nope.” Emmett smiled, his too-big-for-his-face front teeth separated by a gaping space, a beautiful smile that will someday be ruined by a well-meaning orthodontist and parental co-conspirators.


“Weren’t you on a whale watching boat?” Papa pressed.

“Yep.” That smile again.

“What did you see?” Papa continued the friendly direct examination.

“We saw all kinds of sea animals!” Emmett exploded. “Sea lions, two kinds of dolphins, and the most rare kind of animal ever seen in the water …” he paused for dramatic effect… “ORCAS!”

He looked at me for confirmation. I nodded, adding “The naturalist said she’d only seen this kind twice in 25 years.”

“Wow. But, aren’t those whales?” Papa asked Emmett.

“No…they’re dolphins!” Emmett shouted his punchline. Then he lowered his eyelids, gave a lips-closed self-satisfied smile, and turned to go find his brother.

The absence note I gave his teacher this morning said, “Please excuse Emmett’s absences on January 18 due to illness, and January 19 due to a home school field trip.” (I didn’t mention the floor hockey.) I wasn’t sure how his teacher would take the “field trip” excuse. For a fleeting moment I considered saying he was sick both days and leaving it at that. But honesty, and I confess, a measure of pride, held sway. It’ a good thing, too. The first thing his teacher said to me this morning was, through her broad smile, “Was Emmett well enough to go whale watching yesterday?”

“Yes,” I replied, my own broad smile covering my relief. Without me knowing, he’d outed us days before, his anticipation for the whale watching too big to contain. As big as the whales we didn’t see.