My son is a toddler. Two and a half years old. I refuse to call it the ‘terrible twos’, and instead call it the “trying twos” as a reminder of what we’re all experiencing. It’s a trying time for him – to carve his place in this world, and trying for us parents – to be patient and compassionate and to stay out the way when the urge is to ‘complete the task’ or soothe the tears. It’s okay to cry, and sometimes, it’s ok to let that be, or to soothe.
I call it the ‘trying twos’ because when you flip the script you also alter that old saying and knock it on its side.
About a week had passed and my son and I were stuck in a rut. There were nightly tears when I stopped our playtime and said it was time for bed. I read and attempt to practice RIE (Resources for Infant Educators) and mindful parenting. I often turn to the founder of RIE Magda Gerber’s wisdom when I’m stuck in a parenting moment and yet here I’d let almost an entire week pass. I’ve done my best at creating ‘yes’ spaces and I talk with my toddler in a conversation of adult emotional albeit simplified, detail. For some reason though, these ideas are hard to incorporate when I’m overly tired, or stressed, or in a hurry. It’s as though I’m hardwired to dictate as a parent (time to do this, let’s go, hurry up) and it takes real effort to think before I act and speak with the kindness I want us all to share with each other.
The night things really came together, I played with him, spoke to him and let him know that soon, after the ‘train ride’ we were on, we would tidy up and head upstairs to read, have a bath and go to sleep. He listened. He went to sleep that night without having cried, without whining, without telling me to lie down beside him, and I tuned into the news of the day – another mass shooting in America.
Fourteen dead. The same number of women killed by Marc Lépine at the École Polytechnique December 6th, 1989. Lépine claimed he was “fighting feminism.” Fourteen. The number I would explain to my child as an actor in a high school docudrama performed in 1990, when asked, “How many is fourteen?” “One plus one plus one plus one..” and so on, I replied. The impact of Lépine’s actions has never left me. And now, twenty-six years later, I’m wondering how I will explain any number of deaths to my son. Deaths by guns.
The nights I get things right, are the nights I think twice about raising my voice, when inside there is turmoil and rage for wanting things ‘to run smoothly’ to, ‘go as planned’. Parenting, like so many lessons in life, continues to ask me to slow down, to be present. Parenting asks me to let go of the lists and plans in my head, to be open and willing and accept the present state of not knowing and play.
“There are steps we can take to make America safer,” American President Obama said after the shootings in San Bernardino on Wednesday December 2nd, 2015. He didn’t suggest what those steps are though; he is perhaps not able to be so honest as to what it will really take. It will take a lot of courage in educating ourselves and our children to be strong, emotional, supportive and understanding beings for each other.
The nights I get things right, I am a very present parent, focused on listening and guiding with kindness. I still get things done, not through pleading or begging, or saying it’s so, but by listening, supporting, laughing and slowing down. Owning a gun if you live off the land, are a farmer, a rancher, or a law enforcer, makes sense. Otherwise owning a gun is nothing but a sign of fear. We can all be intimidated by the notion of other at some time. It is indeed, a whopping of an emotion. Think about how you felt when you met someone you really liked. There was an element of fear there. Of nervous energy about the unknown. Or that first time you played a sport, rode a bike, got on a plane, ate bugs.. insert whatever you want here, fear is a naturally occurring emotion. Does owning a gun erase your fear? No.
It’s hard to listen when you are afraid. It’s hard to listen when you ultimately disagree. It’s hard to listen when you don’t understand what someone is going through, is trying to say, or is speaking a different language. It’s really hard to listen with a gun in your hand. A gun in your hand closes your ears and your heart.
How can we disagree in our beliefs, in our religions, and still stand beside one another? A gun ends a conversation before it begins. One of things that RIE encourages is creating a safe space, a yes space for infants and children to walk/lie/climb and play without restrictions. No sharp edges, nothing that will spark an adult to say ‘no, put that down’ or ‘don’t touch that’. We do this, I think, to instill a safety that allows for uninhibited play and learning that embodies a sense of well being that hopefully paves a path to inspired, intelligent, emotionally open adults. How can we create this kind of space and build communities with guns hanging out of our pockets? Guns that shut people up. Guns that say, I have more power than you, when really all that gun is saying is, I am so afraid. I am afraid, listen to me. I am afraid.
How can we create communities where we put an ounce of understanding and acceptance in each other’s minds instead of bullets in one another’s hearts?
The nights I get things right, are nights I will continue to strive for. As a mother of a son I will do my best to ‘get it right’ by allowing for any anger or fear, or rage be heard and understood in a way that encourages open palms and the word yes instead of no. Words that take what a gun represents, all that violence and fear and says, ok, I hear you. Let’s flip it, let’s somehow try to make something work and live, let’s live for fuck’s sake, together.