(Some language as always will be a little salty and slightly NSFW. Just so you know.)
A lot of parenting is filled with not knowing what to do. This past week defines that in ways to horrific to really comprehend. I don't know what to do. Crushed and gutted and still shaking my head in confusion, sadness, and anger days after the violent insanity in Paris, I don't know what to tell my kids.
That's not entirely true. The five-year-old will definitely not know anything. Right now, he's having enough fear and separation anxiety every day he's being dropped off at kindergarten so we're not going to throw in the fact that someone with a gun or a bomb or a knife or a car or whatever might take him out into the mix. That's definitely too much for five. (Hell, it's too much for grown-ups to be honest.)
But for my nine-year-old, it's a different ballgame. Last year, one of the books in his class library dealt with 9/11, so it's definitely on their radar. Plus (and this is thing that really hits me hard), he's got two French classmates in his class. One of the students is one of his best friends and while this kid's totally Americanized and into Minecraft and Terraria, his parents are fully French with the dad always at school waving around his long French hair, cool accent, and the whole she-bang.
The other kid in the class is a girl who just moved here this year from Paris. Fresh from France, I've spoken to her mother a number of times through the year and found out that her daughter came in speaking virtually not English. So with this girl still not fluent in English, I can only imagine how tough it would be not only to be the new kid at school but to be the new kid in a new school where people don't speak your language.
In addition to overcoming that, to find out the horrors of home in a way that makes no sense to any one, it must be devastating. So my nine-year-old's probably going to know. Or not.
I don't know what I knew when I was nine, what news I found out. Looking back at the news of when I was nine, I don't think I knew there were other terrorist attacks in France at that time, that time by a dude called Carlos the Jackal. (By the way, if you have a nickname like that, please understand, it's a top indicator that you are probably an asshole.) I might have heard about Carlos the Jackal later, but not at nine. I might have heard of the Chicago Tylenol murders. That was a big deal. And maybe when the embassy in Beirut was bombed. But I don't think I really knew. In fact, Spock dying in Wrath of Khan probably damaged me more than anything in real life.
But in the end, I just don't think I really knew about what was going on in the news. I don't think my parents sat me down and explained how the world is a scary place. Of course, this didn't happen probably because those things seemed far removed. They could have been event on different planets, but with us all in connection with each other it's not the same as the 80's.
What I remember most as a kid was John Lennon getting shot. I remember being an insensitive dick to my mom who was rightfully upset about it. I remember Reagan getting shot, too. But those incidents - while being huge events - didn't really scare me because those both occurred to famous people. Not regular ones.
The only thing that could possibly match this fear now back then would be the threat of World War III and the delightful thought of thermonuclear war.
Throughout my childhood there were constant talks of how the Soviet Union would bomb us and that we in Nebraska would be particularly at risk because we had SAC (Strategic Air Command) in our state. Not only that, there was a TV movie called THE DAY AFTER that scared the crap out of everyone when I was in elementary school. I didn't watch it because I was and always have been a coward. And a true coward knows not to expose one's self to things that will make you more scared.
Yet I still heard from other kids the night after about THE DAY AFTER. And what I heard and how we were all going to be obliterated in a nuclear winter chilled me.
For a day or two.
Because the greatest weapon against cowardice is ignorance. And I can ignore like a champ. (Like how I'm ignoring the fact here that I should say that I ignore better than some sort of big ignoring thing and I'm ignoring that I should do that.)
So really for the rest of the 80's, I never really thought for a second that I was gonna get done blown up by the Russkies. I even went and saw a movie with a young Joaquin Phoenix (then known as LEAF Phoenix) called Russkies. I even went to the Soviet Union in 1989. I was more scared of never having a girlfriend than a Cold War heating my insides out.
But now's not then.
We've had 9/11. We have school shootings. Mall shootings. College shootings. Movie shootings.
And I can't really bring myself to tell my kids, to tell my oldest son that this is the world, here you go, pal. Good luck with this turd of a world we've given you. It used to be that we could blame the Baby Boomers, but my generation ain't helpin' much either.
What makes this tear me up more than anything else is that most of the horror was at a rock concert.
I love music. More than maybe anything - movies, books, whatever. And I could have been there at a concert like that. I've never wanted a superstar athlete for a son, but I have desperately hoped some day my kids will feel what I feel about music and go to concerts with an unfettered glee, especially as there are few happinesses I've had greater at a show than seeing the Pogues live.
So I have to figure out what I want for my kids and I've come up with two things.
One, I want the Doctor from DOCTOR WHO to be real and come in and save everything. To show us the error of our ways with wit and intelligence and no guns but a sonic screwdriver. To materialize the TARDIS and solve everything while showing what idiots we really are. Then maybe take me and the fam on an adventure, possibly against the Cybermen.
But that's not going to happen. So, instead, I'll try to teach my sons to live as best they can in this world. To know how to live with fear. To always live with hope. To live life as best you can with what it is.
Violent and peaceful. Dividing and uniting. Mean and kind. To be more of a decent man than an asshole. And realize that life is unbelievably messy and unpleasant. That there are so many tears in it. And so many laughs. And most importantly that at times life can be truly sublime and extraordinary.
Because they are my sublime and extraordinary.
Recently, I'd DVR-ed and watched a bunch of French films off TCM before any of this tragedy happened. And these films actually worked on me in splendid ways.
I watched a couple Godard short films. The first I saw was All the Boys Are Named Patrick - which I watched first because I clearly love myself too much and it had my beautiful name on it and I'm a terribly wanky guy that way - and it instantly reminded me of the films of Whit Stillman, whose stuff I've loved forever and deeply influenced my first play Four Guys Eating Out. The other film - Charlotte et su Jules - was funny and dealt with the end of a relationship in a clever and charming way that made it far more timeless than it probably should have been.
I also viewed a few films by Agnes Varda. The short films Diary of a Pregnant Woman and Du Cote de la Cote led me into her work, but then I watched her feature Le Bonheur, which dazzled - yes, dazzled! - me with the colors and story about marriage and fidelity in ways that you'd expect from a French film. Truly captivating and darned visually sumptious (I just wrote "visually sumptious" and feel like such a pretentious wanker of a turd).
Thanks for reading. And if you have any thoughts on how and when to tell your kids about tragedies like Paris and Beirut and everywhere else, feel free to share.
Also, while we're busy fixing the world, something that doesn't exist but should are elves that come in and clean waffle irons.
Recently I remembered, one time when my oldest son was quite young, he was helping at breakfast. Proudly, he brought me my cereal bowl and proclaimed, "I didn't wipe my penis on your bowl this time!"
So proof people can change. And that things can change. And we can all hope to have cereal bowls of peace, untouched by dicks.
(Wow, went a long way for that one. And although I'm glad my son doesn't do that any more, I kinda always wish I didn't know he didn't do it to begin with.)
the T stands for peace