Sunday, December 16, 2012

A 9-Year-Old Boy's Questions about Guns

Immediately after I heard about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, I wanted to scream and throw things and throw more things. I felt sick and sad and yes, angry.

I was driving and physical anger wasn't a real option, so instead I cried. I cried when Obama talked about children who had their lives ahead of them. I cried and listened and cried.

As a country, we are left with another hole. Sadness and more sadness. Gaping holes in our hearts. Swiss cheese holes of loss and sadness and loss and sadness. So many holes now that I wonder about our ability to mend.

I am sad and I am angry. I am angry because it doesn't have to be this way and absolutely nothing has made this clearer for me than the conversation about the shootings that I had yesterday with my nine- year-old son.

I knew that I had to talk with Cole about the shootings before he discovered the news on his own. I knew that he would read or hear about the news, and I knew that it would devastate him. I carefully approached the subject, not exactly knowing where to begin, because let's face it--this is an absolutely shitty conversation to be having with a nine year old.

I told him that there had been a shooting at a school and what follows is Cole's very earnest and very serious attempt to make any sort of sense of what happened.

Cole: How did someone get into a school?
Me: They used force. This is a person whose brain wasn't working right. We call that mental illness.
Cole: How did he get a gun?
Me: There was a gun at his house.
Cole: Why do people own guns? What do they do with them?
Me: (Realizing that Cole has never had any experience with guns - hunting, etc.) Some people hunt, some people go to a shooting range, some people have guns for protection.
Cole: Did he have more than one gun?
Me: Yes
Cole: Why would people want more than one gun?
Me: That's not an easy question for me to answer.
Cole: How does a person get a gun?
Me: They get a license and they buy one at a gun store, much of the time.
Cole: If his brain wasn't working right, then why could he get a gun?
Me: That's a good question (I later find out that the guns were registered to the killer's mother).
Cole: Why would someone want lots of guns?
Me: There are different types of guns.
Cole: What do you mean?
Me: Some guns do different things.
Cole: What does that mean?
Me: Some are small, some are big, some shoot slower, faster (It hurts to say all of this).
Cole: What does faster do?
Me: (I ask him because I can't say it) What do you think it does? (This is a devastating conversation to have with a kid.)
Cole: More bullets.
Me: (Pause, pause, pause, pause. Feeling angry. There is no fucking way that I can explain anyone's need to own semi-automatic or automatic weapons to my son. There is no way. Do you hear this senators and congressmen? Do you hear this NRA? There is no way.)
Cole: I don't really want to talk about this anymore.
Me: You are probably going to be hearing about the shootings in the next few days. Please, please come to me with questions that you have. I will do my best to answer them.
Cole: Okay, Mom.
Me: I love you.
Cole: I love you, too.

At this point Cole runs off to play with Legos. He never asked me how many people died or how old they were. He never asked me if something like this could happen at his school. I am very grateful for this, though I believe that he will ask these questions in the next few days--so the relief is only temporary. He did ask me what happened to the gunman. I told him the truth. It was terrible to say.

I continue to be angry. Very angry. Why am I having this conversation with my son? What do Cole's questions reveal about our country's obsession with the right to own guns? Multiple guns? Semi-automatic guns?

It is messed up, to say the least.

We need to change.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Footloose Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving.

Why must I start this post with a PGO?

(For those not in the know, PGO was coined by my father  in the late 1980s perhaps as a result of living in a house with too many teenagers or "almost" teenagers or "just were" teenagers. It stands for Penetrating Glimpse into the Obvious and its purpose is to call out stupid comments by people in a kind and comical way. My dad is a very kind person.)

Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day we give thanks, though I think I should probably focus on giving thanks on days that do not have pie or multiple pies. I'll call it giving thanks on pie-free days. Who wants to join me?

Thanksgiving is not a joke. I am thankful for all sorts of things. I swear on pie that I am. My life is full of lovely people--big and small, kick-ass music, needling teenagers, art and more art. Science. Technology, even.

I am also thankful for nostalgia. Grab wastebasket. Stop reading. I warned you...

Here's one reminiscence for which I am particularly thankful on this Thanksgiving Day, 2012:

This past Sunday I took my six-year-old daughter and my nine-year-old son to RMHS's production of Footloose.

There are a couple of things that you need to know about my relationship with Footloose in order to fully understand the nostalgia with which I approach this experience.

I was 13 when the movie starring Kevin Bacon came out. Having spent a lot of time with high school freshmen lately, I understand the terrible movie infatuations of freshmen.

Not only was I 13, but I was also growing up in Salt Lake City, Utah where dancing was allowed, but smoking, drinking and having sex were forbidden (at least in my house). So when Kevin Bacon performed his sizzling, beer-bottle throwing, smoke-blowing gymnastics routine (I just learned today that he had three stunt doubles--oh--the horror!) and later, the town minister changed his views about dancing, I was smitten.

See for yourself. He is was

And surprise, surprise. There's a little piece of Utah history wrapped up in Footloose. Parts of the movie were filmed in Utah, specifically that dance scene. Geneva Steel, baby. Lehi Roller Mills, baby. Somewhere in Utah, baby. Give me your best high-pitched, enthusiastic 13-year-old girl scream.

Footloose reminds me of a lot of beautiful things. Like slow dancing (They maybe should've outlawed this at East High School dances in the 80s), pimples, Kenny Loggins and more Kenny Loggins.

On this Thanksgiving Day, 2012, I am thankful for my memories of Footloose and the fact that my children, though somewhat confused by the story line (four days later Thea is still trying to tell me what it was about), sat next to their misty-eyed, reminiscent mother for nearly three hours, only complaining that the musical was too long but once.

Bless their hearts sweet mother of Jesus.

Thank you, world, for giving me the gift of motherhood and thank you, kids, for tolerating me as your mother. I wish that I could assure you that things like Footloose and misty eyes, and bad singing didn't have to be a part of my job as your mother. You are probably wishing that Spotify and YouTube were never invented because of what people like me do with this information.

I am sorry. No. I am not sorry. I am thankful. Today is Thanksgiving.

I am thankful for the unconditional love of my children. Yes, Aidan, I know that this is embarrassing, this public outcry of love and thankfulness and that it's somehow connected to some of the lamest music you've ever heard. But I'm still not sorry--only thankful.

I complain sometimes (ok, a lot) and I'm grumpy sometimes (ok, a lot), but holy crap do I love my family--my husband, my children and my cats. I wicked love you.

I also love my extended family and my Rhumb Line family and family by association or disassociation.

Thank you, Footloose, for bringing it home.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Monkey Wrench Lorax Cole and Hobbes Gang

I found this story in Cole's writing notebook from school. I have been given permission to share it. I feel closer to John Calvin, Thomas Hobbes, happy endings and my kid.

In the Jungle
Written by Cole Cunningham
Age 8
June, 2012

Deep in the jungle the tiger is sleeping and then a great rumbling sound growls. At first the tiger (Hobbes) thinks it's his stomach. But it's not. Then a big hacking, coughing, sputtering, maniac machine came through and with 1,000 blades of pure steel it chopped down almost 1,000,000 of the 1,000,000,000 trees.

 Let's go back 30 minutes. The conductor of Oil Co. says, "We'll get rid of this stinkin' forest and get stinkin' rich," he said to the co-manager. Soon, Hobbes was getting agitated. So were the other animals. They formed a secret plan. Let's see how it worked.

The first part of the plan worked perfectly. Some people were crossing the river to find more trees to cut down. But alligator overturned their boat and the piranhas nibbled like crazy so that those people wouldn't find any more trees.

Hobbes heard the news and did the end of his plan. When the big machine came through foliage the pumas and ocelots distracted the driver while the tigers let the air out of the tires. Infuriated, the conductor called the police and told them everything but instead of caging the animals they arrested him and his colleagues.

Hobbes lived a very happy life.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

This I Believe

All seniors at RMHS are required to write and then read a 3-5 minute "This I Believe" essay. Click here for more details about NPR's revival of Edward R. Murrow's 1951 call for essays. Click here for Edward R. Murrow's 1951 introduction to 'This I Believe'.

In an effort to help my class of 14 very reluctant readers and writers with this process I decided to write my own essay. I thought it would be easy. It has not been easy. Here is my first but probably not final version of my "This I Believe" essay.

Jane S. Cunningham

I believe that it is difficult to write an essay about what I believe because beliefs change. They morph like The Wonder Twins, saving the day or the hour or the minute. When they return, it might be in the form of a cheetah or a stallion or an iceberg.

I see how beliefs change as I watch my five year old's beaming face as she discovers an under-pillow note from the tooth fairy or my son's all-encompassing belief that Legos will save humanity. My 10-year-old daughter believes in the power of mystery novels as I did when I read Nancy Drew at her age.

Growing up Mormon in Salt Lake City, Utah came with many already created beliefs. No assembly required. And while I began my life with these beliefs, I have not been able to draw an invisible thread through the religious beliefs of my childhood to now.

It has been a struggle to determine what I should believe and what I can believe and what I want to believe--which is why I look to my children as guides. They are both lightning rods for issues that matter and reminders that sometimes a simple belief, though it may change later, can be just as necessary and satisfying as a complex one.

Thea, my kindergartner, carries around a pink turned grey stuffed animal whose electronic voice box stopped functioning after the twentieth spin through the washing machine. This bedraggled yet well-loved cat provides entertainment, comfort and joy beyond measure. Pink Kitty dresses up in jeweled fuchsia ball gowns and attends all kinds of parties. She sometimes has to go into time out when she misbehaves. Thea believes in the power of Pink Kitty.

When I asked eight-year-old Cole what he believes, he said without hesitation, "I believe that all people in the world are connected." And Aidan, my oldest and an animal lover said, "I believe in being nice to cats, not leaving them outside in the cold all alone."

Adults often get mired in what they are supposed to believe--as if there's a checklist that must be worked through. Some live in cliches. Children's beliefs are different and in many ways more honest than grown up beliefs.

Children believe what they want to believe.

I want to believe in unicorns. And mermaids.

I want to believe that it is vital and necessary to believe in something. Believing in something is the invisible thread that connects me to my own childhood and my own children.

For them and myself I believe in love and second chances and imagination and small acts of kindness. I believe that a scar can be a sign of bravery and healing. I believe in music making and art making--art with a little "a" not a big "A." I believe in giraffes and dust bunnies and circus peanuts (mainly because they remind me of my dad even though they taste like sawdust).

I believe that beliefs change depending on who and what and where and how--not in a flip floppy dying fish I don't believe in anything way--but with admittance that some beliefs must change as we change.

I believe that this last line is not the end of my essay. This, I believe.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Summer Singing

It is true that summer makes me sing.

Not in the shower, or with the radio.

More like sun singing, green and purple.

Moxie singing. Pesto songs.

Fiddle sounds flutter out of her window and into mine.

Trill. Skip. Moths and butterflies and ladybugs and birds.

And singing.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Bob and Poison Ivy

by Cole

**Note. This story includes drawings. I so want to scan all of the drawings, but for now, it's just the story. The comments regarding the drawings are made by me (unless in quotes).

Aside from a few spelling/punctuation corrections this is exactly how Cole wrote the story.


*Drawing. Bob saying, "It won't hurt," with all sorts of bumps protruding from his body.

Page 2

Bob was an ordinary man. He liked pizza and going on adventures and rainy days. He went into the woods and touched a leaf. He did not know it was poison ivy.

*Drawing. Bob saying, "It's just a leaf, right."

Page 3

Then Bob's finger started to itch. So Bob called the doctor but all the doctor said was that he should be on a liquid diet.

*Drawing. You should see Bob's face when the Dr. tells him to go on a liquid diet.

Page 4

So then he had to explain it to the doctor. But then he remembered that he was on a liquid diet. And that he ate a turkey for dinner last night.

*Drawing. Bob having lots of funny looks on his face.

Page 5

So Bob said that he ate a turkey. The doctor was so mad that he pulled his beard off and hung up. So Bob went on "Itch" dot com. Itch dot com showed bug itches, instalation (I'm not sure what this is) itches and last but not least plant itches. It showed a plant that was familiar to him; he also remembered he had touched it.

*Drawing. Bob sitting at his computer, straight-faced, visiting itch dot com.

Page 6

It said its name was poison ivy and if you were allergic to it you would have blisters and before you got blisters it would itch a lot lot lot.

Page 7

Well apparently he was allergic. His hand kept itching and it started to get wrinkly too.

*Drawing. Bob looks gigantic and very, very itchy.

Page 8

One week later a blister appeared. It looked green and ugly and it didn't itch anymore. But he didn't know how to get it off.

*Drawing. Four squares showing how Bob cannot get the blister off. Bob has an exclamation point over his head.

Page 9

Bob called the doctor again. He said he was on a liquid diet which made the doctor calmer. Bob talked to the doctor about the poison ivy. He said that it would go away in a week.

*Drawing. Bob on the phone with funny expressions on his face.

Page 10

In a week the bump went away. So Bob was up and running into trouble.

*Last drawing. Scanned for my personal viewing pleasure as I adore the ending to this story.

Kid Stuff

My children are in Maine with their grandparents and I am taking the time to go through the world's largest paper pile--paper accumulated over the past year--or maybe longer.

I am finding things that I have not seen before. Little sketches, stories, poems, pictures, notes. A year's worth of children being children.

A year's worth of pink kitty drawings.

I have been laughing out loud. And crying out loud. And doing other things out loud.

I have been invigorated, inspired, illuminated, awed, soured (like a pickle, not milk), surprised.

I am profoundly thankful for the teachers, friends, and humans interacting with my children; you are a gift.

My children are a gift and I am grateful.

Over the next few days I am going to try to post found things that I love. My favorites...and then I will shove everything into a folder or box or file or cabinet. I will freeze moments in time. I will let go and live.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Baby Learns to Crawl

A few days ago we noticed a loose tooth in Thea's mouth. Bottom right. A little wiggly.

Thea is four and has expressed great enthusiasm for having a wiggly tooth like her older brother and sister.

But four seems a little young for a wiggly tooth.

We went through all of the things that it could be:

1. Sucking two fingers, regularly.
2. A bump to the mouth.
3. Sibling rambunctiousness.
4. Alien abduction.
5. Pink Kitty (Pink Kitty gets blamed for a lot these days).

Of course it took us forever to realize that it might be that she is losing her first tooth.

Why would she lose a tooth? How could she lose a tooth?


A quick look behind the loose tooth revealed the cause: a big girl permanent tooth making its way into the world, rearing its bumpity little head, causing parents to hide tears of sadness--I mean joy.

Thea is genuinely happy about the prospect of gaining a big girl tooth in the place of her silly old baby tooth. She is genuinely happy about her first visit from unicorns and the tooth fairy.

But I'm not as easily convinced that this tooth thing is a good thing.

It means one thing: I'm losing my baby. She is being replaced by a girl. A big, big girl, a teenager, almost. And there is nothing to be done about it.

Do you hear that internet? Nothing.

She will grow and I will mourn and hold on to the bits of baby that are left, cat whiskers, for example.

When she stops drawing 100-whiskered cats, expect another ridiculously maudlin post from me. You might not want to be around, say, when I write about her first day of kindergarten (September, you've been warned).

Love you baby girl.

Love you. Always.