To Allie: Year 2

Dear Allie,

The changes that life brings when you have a second child are subtle.  The main difference is you get a lot busier and time seems to fly.  It’s hard to believe that you are 2 already.  The baby in you is a shadow, and you are well on your way to a little boy.

For whatever reason, I think I believe that in many ways you’d be a lot like your brother, because nurture would be more powerful than nature, despite other parents telling me what surprises await.  They were not wrong.  Although you share your brother’s happy disposition, you are so very different.  While your personality is still emerging from you at this age, I can feel myself falling love with a boy who has so many special and unique qualities. The first thing I love about you is how much you already love me!  I’m not going to pretend you don’t love mommy more but compared to Dhyan who pretty much went into hysterics if mommy wasn’t near by the fact that you run up to me yelling “Daddy!” and give me hugs is amazing.  The fact that you let me put you to bed is amazing.  You are just so happy when both of us around.  Sometimes you run back and forth between he both of us going “Daddy!”, “Mama!”, “Daddy!”, “Mama!”  You are a sweet and loving child.

You’ve spent a lot of time on my lap this past year.  I know it’s not the most productive thing, but at the end of day at work, you would sit on my lap and watch music videos or nursery rhyme song cartoons.  It started off with music videos this kept you entertained for about 9 months, but suddenly you transitioned to more animated stuff.  In the last month or month and half I noticed that you started to become scared of some of the cartoons where someone is falling or perhaps in danger of falling.  There is a Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme video that sends you into hysterics whenever it comes on. You cry, “Bam! Bam!” which is your word for falling down and start crying and I have to fast forward over it. You are none too fond of monkeys jumping and falling off the bed either and cover your eyes with your hands.

You have two very funny things that you do that just warms my heart.  Even though you’ve gone long past the object permanence stage, you seem to think that you disappear when you cover your eyes.  Frequently you will play a sort of peekaboo with us.  We could be chasing you and then you’ll cover your eyes as if it somehow makes you disappear.  It’s so funny.  We then proceed to pretend we can see you and then suddenly you’ll remove your hands and laugh delightedly. The other bit of silliness is how you’ll pretend everything is a hat.  From fruit, to books, to balloons.  Your word for hate is wowwy. I have no idea where you got the idea that this was the word for hat, but that’s what you’ve been calling it for months now!

In general, your language skills are a bit bizarre.  While you speak several recognizable words in English and Polish, and started speaking well before Dhyan, many of your words, while consistently used, do not resemble the actual word in Polish or English.  You also seem to have entire conversations at times in gibberish and we can’t tell what you’re saying at all.  All I can say is that I’m sorry and that I’m sure it was all very interesting and important. The sounds of your voice, whether I understand you or not is like music to my ears.

You are also much more of a naughty boy than your brother was.  You have the best of mischievous grins.  One that I secretly appreciate, even though I must outwardly scold.  Speaking of which I’ve never seen a human more unphased by a scolding.  There are times when I’ve yelled and given you the scariest of faces that would have sent fear into the little eyes of your brother and made him stop whatever he was doing.  Your reaction is to look at us deadpan at best, amused at worst until we are finished and then wait until we look away to continue what it is that you were doing! Honestly I was a bit worried for a moment? Is this the reaction of one with a criminal mind? Someone who is remorseless of their wrong doing?  Alas you are far to sweet to be such a person. You give hugs when someone is crying, and you give love to us and the kitties. You get worried about Humpty Dumpty falling. You’re just a little anti-authoritarian, I can’t really be upset about that.  And I also think your reaction goes along with the fact that you are just a more laid back kind of personality.  While happy like your brother, you have a laugh that is much more about just having fun and have no need to control the situation. You are content to just watch things happen and keep on laughing. In this way you are very much like me.

There is a quiet intelligence about you that I love to see. You figure things out quickly, and you love looking up at the sky just like I do.  In this way I also feel close to you. Though it may to early to really gauge what passions will drive you, your mother is a geologist and looks down like your brother, you and I, I think we’ll be looking at the sky together. I guess we’ll see, but I can’t wait to see more of fills you with wonder.

As always, these letters are not only meant to be about my views of you are me as a parent, but also to let you know how I am at this stage of my life.  Personal reflections are difficult right now, because this letter comes are a time where we are experiencing a unique moment in human history.  Right now a virus called COVID-19 or the Corona virus is moving throughout the world population.  It is a new virus and humans do not have an immunity to it. The country of your birth is being hit rather hard right now and the leader of this country could not be worse for this moment in time, although it is easily arguable that we should never have such a leader at any moment in time.  Beyond that, on average the world is not prepared. These things are part of nature, but modern medicine has kept up with such viruses until now.  We are practicing something called social distancing, quarantining ourselves, and many businesses are close to limit how close we come in contact with other people. This is causing a lot of economic hardship for many as well.  There will be a great deal of death, especially to those who are old, and it will take time to recover as the global economy has slowed down significantly.  We do this so that hospitals will not be overwhelmed with patients and we can save more people. We do this because we value human life above all other things.  Still there is a great deal of fear, anxiety and men who crave power, and so there is discord in the better angels of our nature.  I hope the discord is not so great that we can come out of this better than we might and that we learn the right lessons.  Your 82 year old grandfather is with us right now and cannot go back to Poland as many countries have closed their borders to slow the spread of the virus and thus are not allowing many flights in and out.  I believe he is safe with us, but if something were to happen, I want you to know that he came to help us take care of you while we were working and that he takes great care of you and loves you very much.  I hope you will see him next year.

But for a 2 year old boy all you see is mommy and daddy get to be home with you more often and there is a great deal of joy. While at times you might sense our anxiety, this is a happy time for you and we are glad also to have more moments with you and watch you grow. Before I go, a couple of things.  First, your brother really wants to love you and you very often push him away out of jealousy.  This is normal, but I just wanted to know that he loves you so much and desperately wants to be close to you. Second, I want to ask one small favor of you. Could you please sleep through the night?  That would be wonderful.

Happy Birthday Allie!

All my love,
Daddy

To Dhyan: Year 6

Dear Dhyan,

Each year I think the thoughts will flow easier, but I find myself this year less able to encapsulate what this year has been like. You seem to have changed immensely and yet it was hardly surprising I suppose in retrospect.  You started pre-school at the beginning of the year, did that for 3 months, then went to Poland with your grandfather, and was there 3 weeks with just your grandparents, before your mom and Allie joined you for another 3 weeks.  You a blissful summer under the sun, and then began school and I’ve never seen you shine so brightly.  I know being able to be around and play with other kids more consistently has been enjoyable for you.  I am sure there are going to be hiccups navigating the social waters, but I have no doubt you’ll find your way so long as you remain kind.

It’s been a very big year for you.  It’s weird to think how you can be afraid to go by yourself upstairs to your room, but you have no problem going across a big ocean far away from your parents.  The latter taking far more bravery than the former.  It’s interesting the things we are frightened of.  Most of it largely unreasonable.  I missed you terribly being without you for 6 weeks, but I also couldn’t be more proud.  I am glad you got to really experience your mom’s home country and got to speak the language in a place where everybody speaks it.  You made friends with Polish children, you ordered things in Polish.  It’s wonderful!

And now, in just one semester of kindergarten you’re reading and writing skills have improved dramatically.  I am greatly enjoying watching the world open up to you.  What used to be some random assort of symbols, you recognize now as letters and words, and it’s wonderful to see those eyes widen with recognition and excitement that you are reading.  We had our first parent/teacher interview and your teacher had nothing but wonderful things to say about you.  She did mention that you do get a little bit silly, especially when there is someone to goof around with. I was just happy that you’re the same kid at school that we see at home.

What was also nice this year is that I did get to spend much more time with you.  While you still prefer your mommy, I can tell that you look forward to our time together and I enjoy your company so much.  I love the questions you ask, and the way you look at the world.  You are such a kind and fair boy.  It is the one greatest wish for my children, and it feels like you are already there.  Now I just have to figure out how to keep you on that path.

Now here is my one problem with you.  Why can’t you just sit down and eat a meal?  I don’t understand why you are out of your seat more than in it while we’re eating.  I don’t know why you always have to go to the bathroom during meal.  I don’t understand how it can take an hour to eat.  Everything else Is easy with you until the parents vs. Dhyan meal times.  I sense this is distressing to both us.  Perhaps that’s why battles wear on because we don’t know how to communicate with each other properly.  That being said, you will find a whole exciting world awaits you after meal time when you don’t use all your free time eating.

But if that’s the worst of it, I think it would be manageable.  With all the growth you’ve had over the past year, I start to see you more clearly in your future and I worry about what security I can provide you in your life. My job has become less stable, this country grows ever more divided and corrupt, that the world seems more inclined to lean towards authoritarians and xenophobes, and the harm we are causing our planet continues as too much political capital in the countries that could do the most, pretends that it’s not even happening.  I feel like I should be preparing you for a harsh reality, but those joyful moment with you give me strength each day. And in the end maybe that is what’s most important.  Without enough joyful moments, maybe it’s not possible to know what is worth fighting for.  In any world where people are needed to make things better, they are going to be bright, creative, kind, and vigilant.  We need good people to look up to. I hope I can raise you to be someone who has qualities that makes people feel better when they are around you.

The quality that continues to emerge most strongly in you, is your creative ability.  Especially in terms of design.  Your mother has this quality in her abundance, but it was never my forte.  It makes me feel sometimes I don’t know how to guide you.  It makes me worry that there is some greatness I you that I don’t know how to make sure rises to the surface.  But I guess that’s why there are two of us raising you, and maybe what’s really the most important is just making sure you feel completely loved.  I hope that a large part of you becoming who you are meant to be is about giving you that loving environment that makes you feel free to be that person.  That being said, I love that you love math and that is one area that I am enjoying exploring with you, because I share the same love of numbers and patterns.  And I love watching Brain Games with you.  Understanding the brain is such a big part of understanding ourselves.  I hope you continue to have this interest, because learning about the brain has had a profound impact on my life.

I love you more each day Dhyan.  It’s hard to believe this is possible sometimes, but as your complexity grows so does my love for you.  And so, as in the past, the fear of losing you grows too.  I guess I’m glad these things happen gradually, because it means I only have to get a little bit stronger every day.  This fear is something I can only look at from a distance. It is too big to engage in it for any serious length of time.  It is so large that it actually becomes a helpful reminder that losing yourself in what might be ruins any chance you have of enjoying and making a difference in what is.  That’s one of the few truths I know that I want to make sure you understand as well.  A realization that has come far later in life than I wish it had.

Happy birthday my sweet young man.  I look forward to watching you grow another year, and I just want you to know that you teach me things too, and I also grow.  I also want you to know that every time you love someone you change too.  It doesn’t matter whether they are a child or an adult.  I am so excited to be on this journey of life with you.

Salvation Army sneaks Creationist Literature to Children at Science Fair

Yesterday I took my son to a science fair here in our small city of Washington, PA called STEMfest.  It was the first time that such an event has occurred in the city, and after talking with one of the organizers I was pretty excited that this was something I could take my 5 year old. It was your typical science fair for the most part with local tech companies, universities and private high schools doing science demos and activities for kids.  For some reason the Salvation Army was there, but they seemed to be just there out of the goodness of their hearts.  They had little plastic cups where they helped the kids make slime.  Kids love making slime and then put it in a little ziploc bag.  I noticed that they also had slightly bigger Salvation Army plastic bags which I thought was just an extra safeguard in case the slime leaked out and didn’t get the other take home stuff from the event wet with slime.  However, something else was lurking in the bag.

Fast forward to this morning and my son is taking out stickers in this:

 

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Notice the cover indicates is meant to lure kids into believing this contains scientific information.  A bible resides on the science lab desk and somehow a cross appears in the atom symbol.

The pages inside don’t get any better by making their religious nonsense appear to be part of things for which we have scientific evidence.

 

At least they are promoting women in science right?  You can see the attempt to legitimize bible verses and religious rhetoric as scientific.  They have the gall to call this a Time Traveler Guide, but Day 1-5 is Creation, Old Testament, Visitation, Preparation, and Celebration. Inside is also a plastic transparency like thing where you are supposed to use a flashlight to find various scientific items, bible verses and symbols in a science lab.  A page of stickers, and then finally this exercise which asks the kid to “Complete the timeline with correct daily drawing sticker”

 

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My son was playing with stickers in the book before I saw what this was.  Fortunately he can’t read yet and constructed this according to his own logic, which I think you’ll like.  He says to me that “fire creates trees and then new leaves, leaves cause clouds and then rain, rain causes evil kings, and evil kinds lead to death.” We watch a lot of nature shows so he know forest fires lead to new growth and he knows trees give off a lot of moisture and creates clouds and rain in rain forests.  The evil king thing though remains a mystery.  🙂  Anyway, I told his explanation makes more sense than what this is actually trying to tell you.  This booklet is made by “Answers in Genesis”.  Which, as many know, is a particular dishonest Christian fundamentalist organization trying to push the Bible as being literally true (except for the parts that make no sense).

I am definitely going to complain to the organizers.  Despite this being a conservative county, I don’t expect they knew this was going on.  Given the one organizer I had talked to prior to the event, I don’t think the organizers intended for any booth to hand out religious literature.  The fact that such anti-science creationist nonsense was being snuck to kids, I’m sure (I hope) will come as a surprise.

My dad always had a soft spot for the Salvation Army as when my parents were starting out life together and didn’t have much money.  Salvation Army was helpful to them and was willing to marry them, as many other Christian pastors wouldn’t as they rejected a mixed marriage.  As a result I will still thrown in some money when they are asking for donations around Christmas time.  No longer.  The disturbing part here is how deviously the Salvation Army hid what they were handed out while sucking kids in with a fun activity, and how the booklet itself misrepresents religious claims as scientific with images meant to trick and indoctrinate children.  It’s simply appalling.  So be aware parents when taking your kids to a science event, you may find a wolf in a scientist’s clothing.

To Aleksander: Year 1

Dear Allie,

I will begin at the beginning.  I write this letter on a Thursday evening a day before your birthday.  It is a Thursday evening that you were born, and it was around this time of 7 pm.  It is both a measure of being more relaxed at a second child being born and also having to care for your older brother that I arrived to see your birth just in the nick of time.  No two births are the same, and yours was proof of that.  No Cesarean, no long wait after labor had been induced, not even enough time for the epidural to kick in on your mother.  I arrived at the hospital and navigated it’s labyrinthine halls to get to the delivery ward, still wondering whether I should have stopped to get that coffee first, figuring it would be a long night.  I waited for a nurse for a few minutes at the nursing station to find out what room your mother was in.  When one finally came she informed me that she was pretty sure my wife was in labor and making a few screams and that I better get down there right away.  I did a somewhat unimpressive jog to the room.  When I opened the door…well it’s hard to describe.  It was a sea of pure femininity.  Numerous nurses stood at the periphery, a doctor stood like a catcher in baseball staring down the birth canal, one nurse on either side holding your mothers legs.  She was screaming in pain, trying to push you out. I stood there somewhat stunned. Quite sure that I was minorly responsible for the present scene due to some past action of mine, but had done little since to earn a place there.  Your mother, was apparently too occupied to notice me, but I assure you I took no offense.  A nurse near the door deftly assumed I was the father and led me through the war zone over to your mother.  Some sort of bloody liquid spurted out of your mother against the doctor’s scrubs.  A nurse stood aside and helped me get a hold of her leg (your mother…not the nurse).  It was at this moment your mother was aware that I was there.  She gave me a glorious smile and all of a sudden she made me feel like I belonged.  She is good at that.  After 3 pushes you came into this world.  I clapped off the dust from my hands, wiped my brow and congratulated myself on a job well done.  Really though your mother was just amazing.  It was beautiful to see, and despite the fact that I saw one life form exit out of another, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  At the end of it all was you, to hold and love.

For 4 years we had only your brother to love, and the love seemed so overwhelming that I actually wondered if I could feel that kind of love for two children.  It sounds like a silly thing to wonder, but I was worried that it wouldn’t feel the same, that I wouldn’t feel as connected, or that my love wouldn’t grow each day in the same way it did with Dhyan.  You’ll be pleased to know that my worries were unfounded.  It is different, because, well, you’re different, but it’s still intense and it’s still wonderful.  I’ll admit that I don’t get the same thrill in watching your firsts as I did with your brother.  There was certainly a sense of wonder watching a baby grow from birth, and that fascination isn’t quite the same with you.  There was something more academic about it all with your brother, which for me is a thrilling experience, but it somehow all feels more personal with you.  You are a wonder in of itself, because I can tell you look like me in features, but you are this light brown hair and blue eyed version of me which just amazes me.  It’s like watching myself with a blue twinkle in my eye.  It’s surreal.  And I also realized a few months ago that really the biggest part of the sense of wonder I felt with your brother is that I was able to watch him unfold with no basis for comparison.  With you there is.  It’s so easy to compare you to your brother at a particular age, but I realize that’s unfair in many ways.  I vowed on that day to just let you unfold as you are.  No comparisons necessary.  I think I’ve been doing a pretty good job and I hope I can keep it up.  You deserve the freedom to be who you are without the context of your brother.  I don’t need you to be more or less like your brother.  I just need you to be you.

I want you to know that I feel a draw to you that I can’t put my finger on.  I do feel there is more of me in you somehow.  We’ll see how time bears this out.  You have this infectious smile and laugh, and a laid back, easy way about you.  You crawl to me when I come home, even when you mother is home and that’s a pleasant surprise, because your brother was always for mommy only as a baby. 🙂  I feel so close to you already, and your personality is only beginning to show.  I am so anxious to meet you, I just can’t wait to see what surprises you have in store.

My favorite memory of you in this first year, is how attached you are to certain music videos.  You seem fascinated by them, sometimes smiling, but always engaged.  I have such fond memories of you sitting on my lap, sometimes erect and alert and sometimes laid back and cuddly.  You have your favorites and playing a different video from the 13 or so songs you like, usually gets you fidgety and unhappy, but play one you like and you’re quiet as a mouse, content.  I love just having you in my arms while we watch music videos.

You also are fascinated with looking up.  When you were a few months old you were very fascinated looking up at the leaves in the tree.  Now it’s lights, fans, ceilings.  You have this gaze upward that fills your face with fascination, excitement, and wonder.  You love when I spin around holding you in my arms, you look up watching the world spin with you.  I love watching that smile on your face.  I don’t need you to be a meteorologist like me, but I do hope you always like to look up in wonder.

I also am more starkly aware of how long each phase lasts having had your brother and in that way I have come to appreciate each moment more with you.  And since I don’t plan to have any other children, I know these moments won’t come again.  Whether it’s cradling you in my arms, singing you to sleep, or comforting you through the pain of teething, it all feels like something more to savor.  You have just started to walk these last few weeks.  The joy on your face and the sounds you make while doing it just delights me to no end.  Soon that too will pass and you’ll just be walking as if that’s what you always did.  I know from experience that when I sit down and write this letter next year you will be so much more than you are now.  I can’t wait for you to unfold this next year.  I can’t wait for the bloom of spring and the warmth of summer.  I know you are going to love it!  Thank you for being more than I could have hoped for and filling a heart to heights of love I never knew it could reach. Happy Birthday!

To Dhyan: Year 5

Dear Dhyan,

As I write this post, it should be clear that I am now the father of two as it is the evening of Dec. 26th and this is getting done at the last minute.  Usually I’ve started writing these a couple weeks ahead of time as I always want to put some good thought into it and also because I’m just excited to talk about how amazing you are and how you make me feel.

Before your brother was born I was thinking to myself how I would be writing two of these, but wondering how they would be different?  Should I do a combined letter? Is there really something that I want you to know about me that I didn’t want your brother to know?  Now that your brother is here it seems so obvious the different ways both of you excite me.  I also started thinking at what point would I no longer feel the need to write these letters?  After all, if the goal is for you to know who I am at this point in your life, at what age have you figured me out?  And at what point should I just be telling you everything I’m thinking to your face instead of writing it in a letter you might read years later?  I imagine that time is not now, but I am at awe at how perceptive you are. You have a great ability to see things for what they are, but still enjoy it, love it, have a passion for it.   I love that at about you.  There are few things about me that are important enough to me that I would want you to have it, but that is one of them.  The ability to find wonder in the world we live in.  So who knows how many more letters there might be, but probably less than I think.

             You pretending to be a fern.

That being said, the truth is I really don’t understand why you are the way that you are.  I always thought that parenting would be like this constant verbal reinforcement of good values, and how to practice empathy, and that it would be a struggle that you would see come to fruition only years down the road.  And maybe it’s that too, but right now it just feels like you are just suddenly amazing and I don’t know why.  I can’t link it to something I’ve done or told you.  This year you’ve already taken the first step towards understanding charity and I couldn’t be more proud.  Understanding that there’s a way to help people and animals who are in peril is important.  But more than that you are beginning to see your own good fortune and that’s the first step in having gratitude for advantages in your own life.  But I don’t need to tell you these things it seems, somehow you will just figure it out.  I do worry about making sure you have good values, but you keep surprising me by seeming to have them without much effort.  My greatest wish for you and your brother is that you’ll be kind people.  Yeah, you may face challenges greater than I had to face, and people might argue that toughness is more important.  But I don’t feel toughness has to be sacrificed for kindness.  Both are possible, and in general I think people have the wrong idea about what toughness really is.  Kind or unkind there are tough people in this world, but also a lot of people pretending to be a lot tougher than they are.  I feel the reason they pretend is because there is just not enough kindness. So I feel I’m justified in making that my most important goal for you.  And you already are kid. You even make me reflect and look inward and how I can be a better person in this world.  I hope I can be a good guide, but I have no doubt that this will be a journey where we will both grow as humans…together.  I’m so excited for the journey you are going to take me on.

This year you became a brother.  I really didn’t have any doubts you would be a good one.  You are so sweet and loving to your brother.  The only thing I worried about is you getting impatient for your brother to be a playmate.  But you’ve been so patient and understanding both towards him, and towards us as we often have to take care of the baby over playing with you.  When Allie was new, when he’d cry you’d always cover your ears. You hated to hear him in distress.  You still do of course and you even get very flustered at times when you can’t make your brother feel better.  It’s hard for adults too honestly, we just have more psychological tools to fall back on.  But it actually makes me feel more at ease that Allie already has a brother who is so worried about him and loves him so much.  I know, within your ability, you will also do your best for Allie and that means a lot to both your mother and I.  Your brother already responds to you so much.  He’s going to look up to his brother, and I have no doubts you will take that responsibility seriously.

This is the part of the letter where I talk about the year, by the numbers.  Literally. You have shown a great interest in numbers this year.  As a person who loves math, I couldn’t be more excited.  And while your actual math has improved, I’ve more enjoyed your questions which aren’t really aimed at necessarily solving math, but just about numbers in general.  Like how big they are, how they are sequenced, or how they are written.  You sometimes just sit there and ask me to add numbers together.  You’ll be like “what’s 100 plus 17?”  and I’ll say “117”, and then you’ll say, “But then what is 1 million plus 17?”, “Then I’ll say one million and 17”.  You won’t even respond, it’s like you are just processing it all, looking for patterns.  The time I was the most impressed was after telling you very little about multiplication, you suddenly announced that 6 time 2 was 12.  I was stunned.  And for some reason you had decided to count two nobs sticking out of a light fixture 6 times, and just realized how multiplication works.  I have no idea how smart you are compared to other children, but I do feel confident in saying you are a smart boy.  The kind of smart that will serve you well whatever situation you find yourself in life.

It seems I have talked mostly about how amazing you are.  Honestly you are more amazing than I can let on.  I suppose that’s always going to be the case, since I don’t want to give you too big of a head, especially since I might just be heavily biased.  🙂  But I guess I should say a few words about where I’m at right now, since that was the point of these letters.  The truth is, if talking about you so much is any indication, I’d say that I am probably certifiably a dad right now, because talking and thinking about someone constantly is just what you do when you’re in love.  And I’m in love with my boys. 🙂  There are worries in life right now.  The politics in this country are still a shambles.  My job situation isn’t great right now, and I’m a bit worried about that.  Life might have some big changes in it at some point nearer in the future than I thought, but it’s still not that near.  Nevertheless there is sort of a different mindset you get in when things are less secure.  You and your brother are a big part of what keeps my strength up.  I also don’t want to lose precious moments with you, even when there are legitimate things to be stressed about.  Maybe even more so because there are legitimate things to stress about.  Love should always be a light in the darkness.

Before I go, I just wanted to say that it was awesome that we had our first road trip together.  It wasn’t planned that way, but Allie got sick and mommy had to stay home.  It was a great time and I’m going to enjoy having trips with my sons in the future. 🙂

Also, so you know, you are still a clown and can make me laugh like no other.  I will not be shocked in the least if you become a comedian.

All parents say how quickly the time flies with your children, and it would be easy to say that 5 years have flown by.  But truthfully I’m try not to bemoan the loss of the littler version of yourself because I’m just always so excited to see who you are becoming.  I accept the fact that you must grow and no force in the universe can change that.  Why waste time on wondering where the time went, when the present is to be enjoyed?  I plan on just enjoying the journey of being your dad. 🙂

When Insanity is Normal

I’ve started a new case for my volunteer work.  So I don’t repeat myself too much, you can read a previous post about what I do and what my observations have been as of about 2 years ago.  But this new case has made me realize something else.  I can’t name names but let me give you a taste of what’s going in the case.

A 24 year old woman had her kids removed from her because upon the birth of her last child, she and the newborn tested positive for cocaine.  Her partner also tested positive for cocaine.  The partner is the father of the youngest two, the oldest, who is 5 has a different biological father, who until recently hasn’t been involved because the mother actively tried to keep him out of her life when he remarried.  The father of the youngest two was reported as having sexually molested a 3 year old girl.  He claims he didn’t do it, but the child’s story was detailed enough that he is on record as a known perpetrator.  This father is 32, the mother 24, which is a bit of an age gap, given that their first child happened when she was only 22 and he was 30.  He has 3 other children of which he has lost parental rights to all 3.   There was evidence that often the oldest who is 5 was locked in a room with her 1 year old brother and was at times the primary caretaker of him.  Since her children have been removed from she and the father have continually tested positive for cocaine.  If they are unable to keep clean they will lose parental rights to their children.  Currently they both live in their car, and have no home.

The children upon being removed were originally placed with the maternal grandmother.  The story of her life involves her baby brother dying of SIDS when she was 5.  She has cleary had undiagnosed mental illnesses throughout most of her life from PTSD, to bi-polar, to clinical depression.  To give you a sense of the situation she has been recommended to receive mental health treatment from 9-2 pm…Monday through Friday.  Upon the death of her brother she began being extremely violent towards animals, and pushed her sister onto the driveway as her mother was backing out who then ended up running over her sister (luckily this only result in slight injury).  She has 4 children through 3 different fathers ranging from the age of 26, to the youngest being 12.  Her youngest daughter was actually a twin, but she was with an abusive partner while pregnant, killing one of the twins.  She believed that the birth of a daughter would soften this guy (who was also a cocaine user) but not surprisingly this did not happen.  Her oldest son has 3 children, her oldest daughter (the mother in my case) 3 children, her 18 year old daughter is pregnant.  Recently, the partner she has been with now for 10 years was accused of sexually molesting her 18 year old daughter since she was a young girl.  This turned out to be true, and this maternal grandmother apparently knew about it and didn’t do anything.  The maternal grandmother’s sister also hit her niece badly causing child services to remove the niece for a time from her sister’s home.  It would be too lengthy to give more details but this maternal grandmother has exposed her kids to some broken people, has moved back and forth from different states, has at times not had her own home, and has clearly suffered through some nightmarish experiences.

I know that most of my readers will read those last two paragraphs and be like “WTF!?”  Some of you might feel anger, some sadness, probably both.  Overall, if you’re like me you will recognize this as an insane situation in which can hardly connect to.  This is chaos, and my intuition is helpless as I observe all this because it is so foreign to me.  I cannot fathom how this is real, human life.  But what I’ve come to realize is that this is normal for them.  This is just how life is.  This is how life is for much of their family and friends as well.  You might say, how can a mother let her daughter be molested and not do anything about it?  The only answer I can come up with is that through generations of poverty that the tolerance for deeply troubling behaviors and people is high given that this all seems like par for the course.  And poverty is at the heart of this at the heart of this tale.  Now that’s not to say that there wasn’t a period of prosperity in the maternal grandmother’s life, but the people she imported into her life, because she grew up with no parent recognizing her mental illness, because the behaviors of her own parents seemed normal, has kept a level of dysfunction in the family that would break most of us if we had to tolerate it for more than a day.  I remember my first visit to the maternal grandmother’s home.  Two of her other grandchildren were there along with her son and daughter in law.  The place was a mess with laundry everywhere.  It was a small two bedroom trailer, in which the 3 grandchildren she was fostering, her 12 year old, and her and her partner lived.  I felt claustrophobic and wanted to leave and try to pretend that people didn’t have to live like that.  And that’s not to say that people don’t have it worse.  All I’m saying is that for so many families, all this is absolutely normal.  This shouldn’t be normal.  In talking to the maternal grandmother I actually found her to be fairly prescient, places importance on school and education, and seems to at least have good intentions for those in her care.  What’s not clear is that she necessarily always understand what good care actually means.  If anybody expects people to just reason their way out of the situation, theysimply don’t know what they’re talking about.

Thankfully at the last hearing a couple days ago.  The oldest daughter got moved to her biological father and his wife. Both seem like really good people.  The two youngest children have been placed with a foster family who seem really nice and nurturing.  They understand that re-unification with the parents can happen, but are also willing to be a permanent home should the parents not be able lose their addiction.  There is some stability there and there are all sorts of hardworking people trying to do what’s best for the children.  Children are innocent and born into these situations.  It’s easy to condemn the adults, but when you learn more about them you just realize that they were just like these children and born into impossible situations.  I do this work for the children, but my heart breaks for the adults as well.  Most of the time they just get judged by the rest of society and forgotten.  When the mother had her visitation reduced at the last court hearing and found out she wasn’t going to get any special time with her children at Christmas she was in tears.  Despite the fact that she isn’t capable of being the parent her children need, the pain in her voice, in her face, and the intensity of her sobs made it clear that what little love she had in her life was slipping away.  I am not saying this is an excuse for giving her her kids back, and I’m glad Pennsylvania always tries to give parents a path to get their kids back, but I can imagine the pain I would feel if the same was happening to me.  It still broke my heart.

I appreciate all the people who dedicate their lives to helping children and families in these situations, but it’s really just all not enough.  We have to do better.  We have to make these kinds of things priorities for our politicians and raise awareness of what poverty is really like.

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For those of you interested in volunteering for the organization I work for it is called CASA.  You can check out the national website, but you’d have to see if they exist in your county if you wanted to volunteer.  But if you just want to donate to them some time that also helps.  There may be other service providers that help children in your area as well that could use your support.

Discussion: Innocence and Knowledge

Unexpectedly, I am finding one of the hardest parts as a parent is to decide when should I tell the truth about the realities of the world.  I see the innocence and joy in life my son has, and it breaks my heart to tell him anything that speaks to the suffering that takes in this world.  There is a part of me that wants to preserve that innocence for as long as possible, and yet there is also part of me that wants to prepare him so he has the courage to face it.  I think overall I lean towards the former, because who am I to destroy such unadulterated joy in life?  Pain will find us all, and when it happens I’ll be there.  There is no rush.

But last night I started thinking, why can’t we all be more childlike and experience that joy?  What really causes us to “lose our innocence”.  I don’t think it’s death in of itself.  I don’t think sadness in of itself is what prevents us from experiencing a lot more bliss.

In trying to answer this question about loss of innocence, I started to think what a strange story the Garden of Eden is in Genesis.  The fact that eating from the tree of knowledge is what is referred to as the “fall of man”, the end of paradise (and innocence).  I don’t think knowledge as a whole is a problem.  For the most part knowledge makes me less fearful, less confused, and more likely to course correct in my life.  Life of course can’t be 100% bliss, but I imagined a world in which the only sadness we would experience would be when someone  we love died of natural causes, or natural disasters.  We might experience pain through breakups or moving away from home.  It is a dynamic world and there is an impermanence to all things.  I think such a world would be a more blissful experience, much more child-like.  What really causes us to lose our innocence is finding out the horrible things we do to each other.  That is a weight to bear that changes you forever; for which there is no going back.  If any biblical story in Genesis is going to represent the fall of man it should be when Cain kills his brother in anger (albeit anger due to God’s dissatisfaction with a vegan meal).  Anyway, I don’t really intend to get into a discussion about the Bible, only that as a parent the story struck as very odd even if I believed it was true.

For as long as I’ve been aware of the larger world that we live in, the only things that really break my spirit are is the harm that humans cause each other.  I’ve never sobbed and felt the world was a horrible place because someone died in a flood or of a heart attack.  I am curious as to what other people think about innocence and the loss thereof.  Could we be living in greater bliss than we are?  What does it mean to you “Loss of innocence”?  If you are a parent have you cried tears of happiness at the purity of your child’s joy, and have you also wept when you’ve watched them realized the horrors people commit against each other?  Any thoughts you might have on this topic are welcome.