The Apocalypse is now… and the kids know it.

It’s Monday, and the 2018 Climate Conference in Poland (COP24) is in full swing. Seems as good a day as any to talk about the Apocalypse. I’ve been hesitating on this writing, because I understand that a blog post about the world as we know it going down in flames is… a bummer of sorts. But I need to share some things with you.

I think we humans are trained to expect the Apocalypse to be beyond obvious. We are excellent at denial. Unless we can actually see a meteor hurtling towards us, or a tidal wave engulfing the Statue of Liberty, we will act like everything’s business as usual.

statue-of-liberty-tidal-wave-apocalypse
Image via yournewswire.com

But seriously, isn’t it getting harder and harder to dismiss how badly we’ve f*cked things up, as a species? It’s biblically disastrous out there. The world is a fury of burning and flooding at the same time. Humanitarian crises are so ubiquitous and interminable that they become background news. Conscious bigotry has never been stronger. In the US, there are now so many guns that kids are getting killed by stray bullets, inside their own homes. And with all of our knowledge and progress, there are still innumerable humans who think we can afford to throw garbage around – both literally and figuratively.

flooding US 2018
Flooding in southeast US, 2018. Image via climatesignals.org.
The Holy Fire in Lake Elsinore, California, August 9, 2018. Image by Robyn Beck via The Atlantic.

This post has been brewing for a long time, but especially since October when I started working with my Grade 5/6 class on our Remembrance Day assembly contribution.

This class is a relatively small, calm group of kids who live in a nice, safe, pretty neighbourhood. The average income around here is very healthy, as is the proportion of highly educated parents. It’s a tight-knit community, very supportive. I’m lucky to teach at my school, and this group of Grade 5/6s is frankly lovely.

The sad part is that, as a group, they are not optimistic. They don’t think the future is rosy. They live their lives and have fun and get silly and run around, but they don’t see their adulthood as an exciting realm of possibilities. They’re not even sure how much adulthood they’re going to get. One girl has already sworn off of having children, because she doesn’t want to inflict the world on them.

These are 10- and 11-year-olds. They are smart, they think a lot, and they can see that we’re in dire straits.

We began talking about Remembrance Day from the perspective of why we commemorate it. Most of these kids have not experienced war first-hand, but they understand that they wouldn’t want to. They are grateful for sacrifices others have made – that their families, for the most part, have not had to make. They can imagine the awful things people have gone through. They want to show respect.

But… what has all the suffering been for? Has it earned us the peaceful world that so many humans have imagined and wished for?

Is the world at peace? I ask my students. No, obviously not, they reply. They know that wars are still happening all over the world. They also know that peace is about more than a lack of wars, and that even our part of the world cannot be called peaceful. Not right now.

We started writing about it. Here’s a list of things they worry about, in their words. (I’ve alphabetized for your convenience.)

Why the World is Not At Peace:

  • abduction
  • abuse
  • animal abuse
  • anxiety
  • bad environments
  • bullying
  • cancer
  • child abuse
  • climate change
  • corruption
  • cyber bullying
  • depression
  • drugs
  • drunk driving
  • equity problems
  • expensive child care
  • food
  • gun laws
  • land
  • littering
  • low income rates
  • hackers
  • homelessness
  • homophobia
  • money
  • no food
  • no schooling
  • North Korea
  • not awareness
  • not proper rights
  • overpopulation
  • people being mentally unstable
  • people not believing you
  • police getting off easy
  • politics
  • poverty
  • racism
  • rape/hiding it
  • sexism
  • shootings
  • starvation
  • suicide
  • terrorists
  • trash/pollution
  • Trump
  • violence
  • war
  • young marriage

It’s no wonder that anxiety and depression form the latest children’s health crisis in the western world. (And this list doesn’t even mention water supply, the issue I think is most likely to screw us all for good.)

When I was a kid in the 1980s, I worried about a lot of stuff too. (Most of the same stuff, actually. Things haven’t changed as much as I hoped.) I knew the world was dangerous and not within my power to fix. Sometimes this knowledge loomed large over me, and I struggled. But I never felt hopeless. I never stopped planning for a good – better – future.

Folks. IT IS NOT OKAY WHEN KIDS LOSE HOPE. They are built to be hopeful creatures, and they deserve to be. And we need them to be.

I think a lot of the problem stems from kids’ knowledge, confirmed every day on every branch of social media, that adults are not only human but A) a lot of them are assholes and/or idiots and B) they don’t know how to fix things. The whole role model situation is a total snafu. If you can’t esteem the available leaders, then nothing and no one is safe.

Although I was shocked at the cynicism of the discussion we had, I did my best to lift things up a bit. Yes, it all seems overwhelming and insurmountable. We talked about the value of attitude, of small steps in the right direction, of cumulative effort. When everything seems doomed, it’s better to do something than nothing.

Here are some ideas they came up with to improve things:

  • be nice
  • check in on people
  • don’t litter
  • don’t vote for Nestlé
  • end war
  • fix the government
  • have a better attitude
  • have better laws
  • help people with no food
  • help places with no good water
  • kick out Trump from presidency
  • LGBTQ+ President
  • listen
  • make a treaty
  • meet in the middle and try to figure it out
  • more homes for the homeless
  • more school safety
  • more women’s sports on TV
  • no guns
  • proper jail sentencing
  • protest
  • raise awareness
  • raise incomes
  • ride a bike
  • stop bullying
  • stop polluting
  • vote for better candidates
  • we can share the money
  • woman president

I love how simply these things are put. Some of them truly are simple and feasible. And of course many of them are dauntingly complex and subject to infinite interpretation. Things like “fix the government” and “proper jail sentencing” could be debated until the end of the world.

Here’s one so meticulous it made me laugh:

  • show people what they’ve done over the years in a slideshow but adding every little detail in public

And another that didn’t make me laugh at all, because I know it was seriously written:

  • last resort leaving Earth and live on the Moon

As though we’d be any better behaved on the moon. Sigh.

Right now, Sir David Attenborough is doing his best to tell changemakers that THIS IS SERIOUS AND REAL, ALREADY. As did Mark Ruffalo and Cher and co. in the Liberatum film “In This Climate” and Leo DiCaprio in his film “Before the Flood.”

These UN climate change conferences have been going on since 1995 (hence “COP24” – 24 years of talking about this problem and watching it get worse). In October, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told us the outlook was considerably worse than previously thought… And we talked about that for a few days – and moved on.

It feels like forever that people have been saying We need to do something, we need to fix this as other people deny the whole thing… And here’s us, as a species, still squabbling about stupid stuff, as though selfishness and hatred were sustainable options.

This is not fair to the kids. Sean and I know that our children are taking in practically everything we say (when we’re having our own conversations – not when we’re asking them to do things) – and it’s a huge burden on them just knowing things about the state of the world. They fret and worry, and we try to say less when they can hear us. It’s not that we want them to be oblivious, but at six and nine, they need time to build up the good anticipation that will help them to persevere as the shit continues to hit the fan.

On the bright side, things we do to change the world for the better are often overlapping and symbiotic. They can improve many layers of a situation. As Rebecca Solnit pointed out ofter the IPCC’s announcement, climate action is human rights. There is still a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario for our species on this planet, and we owe it to everybody to shoot for the latter.

I promise that my next post will be less depressing.

***


 

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Such Outrageous (Good) Fortune

I mentioned I’ve been absent from school twice within the last two months, for a week at a time. There are only good reasons for this, and this is what I wrote (and didn’t manage to post) when I came back from the first one – a rare and wonderful reunion of my dad’s side of the family in the U.S.

I’m feeling really grateful, for so many things.

  • Being given permission to attend a family reunion in North Carolina for a week, even though teachers are really never supposed to do vacation time outside scheduled breaks.
  • Our spacious new minivan that made the trip possible. (Toyota Sienna.)
  • My kids being, overall, very well-behaved and good sports about the 12-hour drive (plus stops and a teeny bit of getting lost).
  • My dear sisters, Auntie Em and Auntie Beth, who were part of the minivan crew and made the long driving time totally do-able. (In fact, when the kids look back on those long drives, they insist that they were fun… And they actually kind of were.)
  • The gift of hand-me-down Bakugan toys, from a thoughtful friend, that made both car rides way more cool.

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  • The advice of my friend at bearandlionmama.com, who has a lot of great tips about road trips that were helpful (especially the cookie trays!).
  • Sean being an excellent driver, such that we arrived safely and I didn’t have a nervous breakdown, despite my unexpected and uncharacteristic bout of anxiety during my own driving stint in the West Virginia mountains. (Tunnels through mountains = not great for claustrophobes.)
  • The fact that my two aunts somehow managed to buy houses that aren’t just in the same town – they’re RIGHT NEXT DOOR to each other.
  • The beautiful Smoky Mountains.

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  • Tromping around in the mountain woods.
  • Gorgeous weather, like a sweet slice of summer. (While we were still having intermittent snow back home.)
  • The best screened-in balcony-porch you’ve ever seen.

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  • Being given a bed to sleep on that’s actually more comfortable than our own bed; on our second night there, I had the best sleep I’ve had in… probably more than seven years.
  • A whole crew of family I don’t just like, or even just love – rather, family I am totally inspired by and adore to pieces. Including every one of the relatively new additions.
  • Finally cuddling my birthday buddy!! And getting a lovely baby-fix – without craving another of my own. Well, hardly at all.

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  • Getting to hug and kiss my sweet grandma every day, hear her voice, and know that at 97-and-a-half she’s still a good listener and inclined to make sassy comments on a regular basis.

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  • Fascinating, wide-ranging intergenerational conversations, especially leisurely ones over breakfast while we ogled the baby and drank amazing coffee (one of the cousins does coffee for a living, and we all reaped the benefits).
  • The interactions between the four smaller people – ages almost-one, three-and-a-half, almost-seven, and almost-eleven. They were all so good to each other and had so much fun, age gaps notwithstanding.

cousins chillin

  • Delicious homemade meals every night, made by different folks so no-one had to do too much.
  • Having time to play two whole games of Cities and Knights of Catan, plus lots of Anomia, Dutch Blitz, Exploding Kittens, and one grand game of Taboo. Lots of laughing-till-we-couldn’t-breathe.
  • The opportunity to visit the Cherokee village and walk around the grounds (which seemed mysteriously open even though the village itself was closed even though its website said it was open) and then visit the nearby Museum, so as to have an idea of the real history of the area.

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  • Seeing horribly grainy video footage of our clan talent show from New Year’s Eve 1995, to remember how young and big- and long-haired – and talented, of course – we all were.
  • Watching my children playing with their grown-up relatives, who seemed happy to get down on the floor to play, or participate in endless rounds of bounce-catch. (Thank you!!)
  • Both of my dog-scared kids getting to know little Tucker, who helped them loosen up.

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  • Getting to see arty Asheville, including the coffee bus and Woolworth Walk and the used bookstore and Real Buskers!

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  • The fact that my kids have aunts and great-aunts who do real art, super-fun full-on art, of a type that I never accomplish with them at home.

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  • My Hubbibi being willing to put the kids to bed basically every night, so that I could spend more time with my relatives.
  • Being reminded of what it feels like to be at loose ends… having whole days with no set plans, to just loll around and chat and listen to birds and have drinks and hammock and strum and sing and look at old photos. What a crazy feeling.

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  • Getting to celebrate the baby’s first Passover on our last evening in NC, with real matzo ball soup and extra-hot horseradish, and the short version of the sermon with genuine Hebrew singing.
  • Spending a whole week immersed in beauty and clan-love. It really doesn’t get any better.
  • That lady at McDonald’s during breakfast on our trip home who kindly got AB a separate plate when she was starting to melt down because of a syrup incident, and then also got us a lot of napkins when she spilled her milk. And smiled at us and seemed not at all perturbed by the perturbations.
  • Being so fortunate in our home that, even though we missed everyone, coming back across the border was a joy, and coming into our house was comforting. Even E, who had cried about leaving, said, “It’s nice to be home.”

Dear clan – thank you so much, for your hospitality, your generosity, your wonderfulness in general. We miss you and love you lots and lots, and are already looking forward to the next visit. Even two weeks after we got home, E still said that whenever he mentioned North Carolina, he felt sad that we left – but I know both kids had the time of their lives. And me too.

***


 

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Is “a bit of fresh air” really worth it?

Let’s take a walk!

What could be more invigorating, more wholesome, more beneficial for body and soul? I can take the kids, we can all get some fresh air, and the baby can have a nice lung-cleansing nap.

On Wednesday I took my children for a walk around the neighbourhood. We have been graciously handed down a “sit-and-stand” stroller from a friend, so I could put A on the front in her car seat, and E could choose to sit or stand at the back, or walk.

We’ve done this a few times, and it works fairly well. E is happy and keeps his eyes open for tire swings and other interesting facets of people’s houses and yards. For instance, when we passed the house with the gaudy hot-pink garage door, he exclaimed, “That’s a SO beautiful pink garage!” and then proceeded to repeat pink garage, pink garage to himself for the next block or two.

on a walk with a preschooler
Wide-eyed at the environs.

Plus, A is ridonculously cute in her fuzzy snowsuit thingy.

baby in the stroller
Getting sleepy on the ride.

The stroller is rather large and unwieldy, but it’s worth a bit of straining around corners to have both children contentedly bundled and riding.

By Friday, it had turned snowy. That tipped the balance: given the number of households likely to have cleared their sidewalks (not many), I was not willing to try manoeuvring the behemoth on snow.

That is how Friday afternoon found me lugging the singleton jogging stroller up from the basement. That thing corners like it’s on rails… relatively speaking, of course. I should ask my son to just walk, so we don’t need a stroller – he actually has pretty good endurance – but it’s harder in the snow. When he poops out, I won’t be able to carry him on my back. The whining that would therefore ensue is not an option today. (I know you feel me, mamas.)

Strap on the 3.5-month-old in the baby Trekker. Find a hat that fits her fast-growing head. Don my sister’s voluminous blue second-hand Coat of the Nineties, because it is big enough to zip up around the baby. Situate folded receiving blanket where it will (I hope) absorb the most drool.

Help three-year-old with coat, hat, boots, mittens. Equip him with a snack. Let him clamber into the stroller. Opt not to do up the safety straps because frankly, this kid has gotten huge.

Navigate out the door. Lock door with one hand while preventing stroller from tumbling down stairs of front stoop with other hand.

Whew – it’s chilly. That’s a windchill. (It’s -13C with wind – that’s 9F for the Yanks.)

After we’ve passed about six houses, I stop and awkwardly put the plastic weather shield on the stroller so that E doesn’t freeze. It’s wrinkly, ripping at the seams, and generally disreputable from being bunched up in the storage basket. Between that and the highly fashionable coat I’m wearing, I allow myself a giggle at what an awesome mom-picture I must make.

A is gazing as far up into the trees as the head support for the carrier will allow. She has, of course, positioned herself such that she’s drooling onto the coat. Actually, she’s sort of licking it dreamily.

Well. Getting ourselves going was a production, but now it’s pretty! Lovely and white! Not to mention invigorating!

Until we turn westerly. I realize too late that any road we take heading vaguely west enables the wind to blow the cavernous hood off my head, so that there is no barrier for A’s face. She gasps as the wind steals her breath, and pieces of my ears begin to crumble away in icy chunks. I shield her with a mittened hand, steering with my other hand, as she complains. Good thing the stroller is so light and lithesome. Kind of. With a 35-pound kid in it.

The whole nap idea is not working out as I’d hoped. Instead of sleeping, baby fusses periodically as we change direction, taking the shortest possible route home.

She finally falls asleep about a block from our house, on our own street where the trees shelter us. I ask E, “Hey buddy, you doing okay?”

There’s no answer. I peek over the shade. My son, who has not had a regular afternoon nap in well over a year, has also fallen asleep. Or frozen in place, I suppose.

I do an extra lap of my street, trying to make the most of the situation. The longer E naps, the more it will screw up his bedtime. The shorter A naps, the grumpier she will be at dinner hour. I’m sure I could figure out the optimal length of time using calculus – if I remembered any.

In my wish that E will awaken cheerful and enlivened when we arrive home, I am sorely disappointed. His circuitry has somehow gotten stuck on whine mode in his sleep.

So that settles it. We’re going to make popcorn for dinner and then commence hibernation. It’s way more fun to hang out all day in our pajamas anyway.

baby girl and big brother
Yay pajama party!

All you mamas and daddies with three or more children who EVER get out of the house as a group… I bow down to you. You have my eternal admiration.

***

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Toddler Tracks: Everyone Poops

I would like to apologize for my neglect during the last week-and-a-half… but I know you’ve heard it all before. Like election promises, it’s starting to sound hackneyed. But just know that when I’m not writing to you, I’m thinking of you. And I miss writing to you.

E has really been enjoying the book featured in this video, ever since he received it as a gift a few months ago. He knows it so well, we’ve discovered he can do his part from across the room, not even looking at the pictures (which are awesome, by the way).

Here’s the text, just in case you can’t tell:

Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi

An elephant makes a big poop  A mouse makes a tiny poop Continue reading “Toddler Tracks: Everyone Poops”

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Toddler Tracks: Lit Fan, Media Junkie, and all-around Weirdo

I’ve realized a large percentage of what E says on a daily basis is a quote from something. Usually a book. Here are some examples:

  • “Crank, crank, up the ladders. Slide the pole. Hose, people, firemen!” (From The Fire Engine Book. These aren’t verbatim excerpts… but we get the gist.)
  • “Nice to meet you. Seahorse. Crab. Nip on toe.” (From Lorette Broekstra’s Baby Bear Goes to the Beach.)
  • “Bump, clump. QUIET DOWN THERE! Out of clothes, past the moon. Mama! Papa! Stir it, bake it!” (From Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen.)

Then there’s the more esoteric “Litany”, by Billy Collins. You see… there’s this kid we love to watch at our house:

E was fascinated by this right away. He started asking to see “bread knife” whenever one of us had their computer open. Soon, we realized he was remembering bits of it. He could fill in the blanks if we started each line for him: “You are the bread and the…” “Knife.” “The crystal goblet and the…” “Wine.” “You are the dew on the morning…” “Grass.” “And the burning wheel of the…” “Sun.” Then, the other evening, we were driving home from an evening with friends, and E was talking to himself in the backseat. Suddenly Sean realized he’d overheard “Boots in the corner” and “Cornflowers at dusk”. (E worked quite hard on the word “dusk” for a minute or two.) He’s really taking it ALL in. Continue reading “Toddler Tracks: Lit Fan, Media Junkie, and all-around Weirdo”

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Baby Bits XVII

Here are more photos from yesterday – I got photo-happy all of a sudden.

E eating carrots

Here’s E eating carrots in the kitchen. They took a realllly long time (he’s only got eight teeth). Continue reading “Baby Bits XVII”

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LAST DAY.

Technically, this would have been my first day of work, but since my principal was kind enough to condense my schedule, I will only be going in three days a week for now.

  • It’s hot today.
  • It’s surreal to think I’ll be at school tomorrow.
  • It will be REALLY hot at school. Top floor, 90-year-old building, no air-conditioning.
  • I’m kinda looking forward to seeing my students. 🙂 Continue reading “LAST DAY.”

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My Least Favourite Parenting Question

Okay, folks. Don’t take this as an accusation if you’ve ever asked this question of a parent – I may have asked it myself before becoming one… but please, don’t ask me if my baby is sleeping through the night.

I know why people ask: they want to inquire about how things are going, out of politeness and concern for your well-being… they know it’s a big hurdle in the scheme of parenting, and they’re probably hoping you’ll say, “Oh yes! Little Jimmy sleeps like an angel every night! We get LOTS of sleep in our house.”

However, the vast majority of moms I know who currently have babies or small children (and I know quite an impressive number) have encountered difficulties with respect to their baby’s sleep habits at some time or other. And if these difficulties include nighttime sleep, chances are… they hate that question too. Continue reading “My Least Favourite Parenting Question”

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Highlights of a Weekend at Camp

I was clerking spring Committee Meeting at Camp NeeKauNis this weekend, and other than lack of sleep on Friday night (I never sleep well my first night in a strange bed), it was full of those moments I relish:

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How do you recognize a baby’s first word?

E has been doing a lot of verbalizing recently. It’s sophisticated language, full of complicated syllables that seem quite significant, especially when accompanied by his earnest nodding. I can’t help but wonder what he’s saying – or if it’s like when you’re a kid and you write lines of scribbles because it looks like grown-up cursive writing to you, even though it can’t be read. Are these his verbal scribbles, and he feels like a big person when he talks like this? And out of all this, how do you know when your baby has said his first word, if lots of things sound like words? People talk about baby’s first word like it’s cut-and-dried, like you know exactly what it is, but I don’t feel that confident.

Here’s why I ask. It was a rough night. Continue reading “How do you recognize a baby’s first word?”

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