Your Brother’s Keeper

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.  ~Mother Teresa

My middle son, and I 
Today is the International Day of Peace. First declared in 1981, the United Nations resolved to observe this day, September 21, every year for the purpose of fostering peace throughout the world. I took my children to the state capitol this evening to participate in an event honoring the day, which included music, dancing, & speeches among other things. It was hot, the baby was tired, and my youngest boys were more interested in digging for worms & eating the complimentary snacks, than focusing on the event itself. This year’s gathering was focused on the youth, which is wonderful , as I think it’s crucial to empower the up-and-coming generation if we truly want to foster any kind of real change in the world. I was hoping the younger nature of the crowd would draw my children’s interest, but after a long day at school, the last thing they wanted to do was listen to dialogue about international relations. I knew it was time to go when my teen starting throwing raisins at the baby, who was busy trying to stuff wood chips in her mouth. As I rounded up the other two (who had now moved on to a game of “kick the stale loaf of bread around the capitol lawn”), I felt pessimism overshadowing my otherwise sunny mood.
What is peace anyway? In this age of social-networking, Skype,  & text, I marvel at how disconnected we are. How often have you walked into a room and seen a group of people together, each separately engrossed in their own electronic communication devices. Be it texting, typing,  or swiping…it seems like we are all so busy staying connected, we forget to acknowledge the here & now. Can peace be fostered in an age where people are more comfortable hiding behind screens, than reaching out to one another in real-life? There’s a saying that goes, “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.” Good point. Nor can your extend your hand if it’s grasping an iPad. I know technology is not going away, so I worry quite a bit about how I can encourage my children to make meaningful connections in this wireless age.
Several years ago, on my way to my youngest son’s daycare, I came upon a large group of visibly agitated high school students who were loitering in the parking lot near the campus. The street was busy, as there were parents parked all along the road waiting to pick up their teens—and students on foot were homeward bound. As I waited for the light to turn green, the swarm of loitering teenagers parted for a moment to reveal two boys in the center of the group, tossing their backpacks to the ground and exchanging heated threats.  I watched helplessly and the bigger of the two took a swing at the other, knocking  the smaller boy off-balance, long enough for two others to leap in and began fighting as well. The kid was getting jumped. I anxiously glanced around, hoping someone would step in, but everyone just stared, some even looked away-perhaps too uncomfortable to watch what was clearly an unfair fight. Two thoughts raced through my head; 1) That boy is somebody’s son, and 2) If it were my son getting jumped, I would want someone to intervene.
The light turned green, but instead of going straight, I flipped a U and drove straight into the parking lot, where the bloodied boy was now on the ground getting stomped on. Honking my horn, I threw the car into park and jumped out with cell phone in hand. For a moment, the entire crowd of kids turned to look at me, but my adrenaline was in full swing and I screamed for the kids to get off the injured boy, “The cops are on their way!” I yelled. At first mention of the police, the group began to break up, giving the battered kid a chance to get up and re-join his friends, who immediately ushered him into a nearby car and drove away. The other students dispersed as quickly as they had gathered, and within minutes the parking lot was quiet. I stood there for a moment, before getting back in my car. Perhaps it could have been worse. Someone may have had a gun, I could have been hurt….but the fact of the matter is, I would not have been okay just driving away from that scene…
Ambrose Redmoon once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.” I am not a confrontational person, nor do I like conflict. But If I see a situation in which a person’s rights, safety, or well-being is being violated, I will not hesitate to confront it in whatever way I can. When my boys are at each others throat, I always remind them that they are their brother’s keeper. As they transition from my home out into the larger world around them, I can only hope that they will remember to respect& honor their brothers and sisters throughout our community. Peace thrives when we remember that, differences aside, we belong to each other. Each & every one of us. 

From Baseballs & SoCal

My biggest boy, at bat.Parenthood can wear on you, and last week was one of those weeks…I recently returned to university to continue coursework on my early childhood special education credential, my teaching career resumed after a long and lazy summer, and  my boys returned to school. There was a lot going on, and to top it off, my 1-year-old’s molars were coming in —plus the kids were all crankier and more defiant than usual. On Thursday evening, after a day so tightly scheduled with meetings and paper work that I literally had not had a bite to eat since the early morning hours, I happened to score a large, juicy white nectarine from grandma’s fruit bowl on my way out from picking up the youngest boy. The first bite was succulent and sweet and everything that a nectarine is supposed to be… but before I could take a second bite, my little squeals, “Oooooo Mommy! Where’d you get that? I’m so hungry for it, can I have it?”  I turned to him and briefly considered shoving the entire fruit into my mouth before he could ask again…but, as only a parent would do, I handed the coveted prize over to my son, and watched as he devoured it loudly, complete with “Mmmmmmm’s and Yums!”  As I silently sulked over my loss, I contemplated the possibility that our children may not ever appreciate the constant, unrelenting sacrifices we make for them from day-to-day.  By Friday, amid the chaos of a full house, I found myself wondering if the Himalayan monks were taking new recruits, as a lifetime of solitude (and silence) was sounding rather enticing.
It seemed I had been giving all week, with little return.  That night I settled against my pillow and questioned whether or not my children were taking anything valuable away from our everyday existence together…sure, I do my part to make sure they are read to, well fed, disciplined and instructed in character education & spirituality–but lately it seems I spend more time acting as a totalitarian ruler of my very own (albeit) small country. In between all the re-directing, scolding, managing, & supervising, are the quality moments the moments they will remember?
Saturday morning, while tidying up the aimless stack of papers that was taking over my office area, I found my answer. A paper slid out from my eldest son’s 8th grade language-arts portfolio…and words he had penned months earlier spoke to me, offering instant comfort and reassurance….
 
 
I am from baseballs and So-Cal
I am from skateboards and baseball hats
from picture frames and family gatherings
Bookcases stashed with novels,
Diplomas hanging in frames on the walls,
I am from colorful blankets, weaved to perfection,
From Christmas tamales, and burritos
The countless cousins and relatives, from Nana’s pistachio cake.
I am from baseballs and So-Cal,
“Do we have to leave?” and Ventura beaches,
From “Get an education” and “Don’t ever put yourself down,”
And from stories of children playing in the orchards.
I am from the towering pine trees surrounding my neighborhood,
the park where I spent most of my childhood.
The asphalt and green summers,
When the next day seemed so far away.
 
 
And with that, I found the inspiration to put aside the past week . His poem, a simple, yet powerful example of the ‘little things’ my children are taking away from this big life of ours.

Fantastic Four

America likes excess…big cars, big homes, big families. Well…that is, as long as long as the big family has their own TLC show. In all actuality, the average size of the American family is declining right alongside the housing market. In fact, the latest census data reveals that the average number of children per family household in the United States is less than one: it’s .94!
I know, I know, judging from the recent wave of multiples shows, one might assume the opposite. The doomed “Jon & Kate plus 8”, “19 & Counting” (or is it 20 & Counting? I lost track), Table for 12, and the series of bizarre Octo-Mom interviews lead the casual observer to conclude that large families are the next big thing. And after strolling through the tabloid aisle in the grocery store, I could see how one would come away with the impression that families with multiples are living large (sorry, I couldn’t resist!) Television shows, marketing deals, donations and college scholarships  are just a few of the perks showered upon America’s high-profile multiples.
I have to admit, I enjoy following stories of multiples.  And I also admit it’s partly due to the fact that I get pleasure out of watching Kate sweat through an airplane flight with six tantrum-ing toddlers, knowing that when my children wake in the morning, I will have only four–not eight–hungry little mouths to feed.
I’ve been mutiple watching for years… In November  1997, the year my oldest was born,  the  McCaughey septuplets graced the cover of nearly every popular magazine & tabloid. In 2006, soon after my 3rd boy joined our family, the Gosselin sextuplets became a media sensation. As I comfortably cradled my singletons during these times, I read with fascination about the trials & triumphs of raising multiples, and secretly felt relieved that I only had one crying infant to contend with. 
 In 2002-the year my middle son debuted-the local news ran the story of a nearby family whose multiple births were not the result of fertility drugs, but rather a 1 in 11 million chance miracle. Ornsee Khamsa, a 22-year-old married mother,  welcomed four daughters into the world, with little fanfare from the national media. On the girls’ 7th birthday, a local media outlet reported that Khamsa has since celebrated many personal successes. The Laotian immigrant did not have a high school diploma, or a driver’s license when the girls were born.  She has since obtained both, and  is now  a certified nurses assistant.
Today, I got to witness another set of accomplishments from the Khamsa girls. My middle son was being honored at an academic award ceremony on the first day of school. He, and many of his other classmates scored exceptionally well on California’s standardized STAR test, and were to receive medals in honor of their achievements. As the names of his classmates were called, I watched in awe while all four Khamsa girls (who recently began attending our neighborhood school) bent their heads as their teachers draped metals around their necks. Against all odds, these beautiful sisters are thriving…and I could not help but feel proud as they smiled at the auditoriums applause. I searched the audience, wanting to get a glimpse of their amazing young mother. As the class took their seats, I found myself wiping my eyes–and in that moment I think the tears were not for the children, but for the courageous, hard-working mother who got them there…