Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What to Hope For

As I was flying home tonight on my E-bike, listening to The Last Season, I was struck by a statement the author made about the subject of this biography and adventure story. It went something like this: "Randy (the hero of our story) was who he was because of his father."

Now it is true that Randy grew up in the Yosemite Valley with a father who loved the outdoors and had him scaling peaks at age 8 and identifying wildflowers and developing environmental ethics before he was old enough to drive, kiss a girl or accurately aim his piss in the pot. And Randy grew up to be an expert mountain wilderness Ranger.

"Randy is who he was because of his father"--This might be absolutely true, but it could also be the College Logic 101 Course fallacy in reasoning: just because A and B occur together does not mean A caused B. Was Randy a typical 8 year old, lying on his belly marveling at the wildflowers on the top of a 15,000 foot peak that he just struggled to climb?  I do not think so. I have known and raised a few 8 year olds, and a hike up a 15K mountain is not the way to bring out curiosity in wildflowers. That kid was clearly primed from the get go to want to do this, to want to love this, to want to be obsessed with this.

So I would say Randy became who he was because Randy was who he was. And I think his father probably just opened that particular door in his mind, through sheer, dumb luck (as Professor McGonagall would say after Harry Potter et al defeated a "fully grown mountain troll" in the girl's restroom).

It is on my mind as my son was sentenced to 13 years in prison the past week. Now I know for some, this will be "what he deserves." After all, he was addicted to drugs and committed a crime. Thankfully, no one ended up being hurt in the crime. Sadly, our DA sees it fitting to make an example of my boy, still so young, having recently celebrated his 19th birthday while in jail awaiting sentencing.

So as a parent what is it you hope for? Is it that your child will be in a wildly successful profession, making lots of money and providing you with beautiful and even more talented grandchildren? Is it that your child wins the science fair? Or runs faster than everyone? Or scores the most points? Or goes to the most prestigious college?

I have wished for all of these things, to be honest, even if just for a few fleeting moments before I came to my senses. I am, after all, the most type A person in my family and pretty competitive.

We as parents, do we "make our children who they are" like the author of the book I am listening to while risking my life on Highway 101 commuting home from work on my E-bike, which, by the way can do 28 miles per hour in a headwind, suggests?

My son would be the first to say no to this. He has expressed to us his love and sadness about choices. I am not so sure though, I just keep trying to think about the "what-ifs" and the "if-onlys".

A couple of things about at risk boys in American society I have observed:
-I am all for girls' rights and empowerment, but I think our boys are being disempowered.
-Boy are expected, in our town, to be tough, or stoners or thugs. If you are smart, you are not looked up to by your peers.
-I do not think this is unique to our town.
-If you are restless, bright and impulsive as a young boy in elementary school, you are pretty screwed, because schools want you to act like a good "girl"--sit quietly, speak when asked to, do not fight or or do things that make people uncomfortable.
-Not sitting still as a boy does not equal attention deficit disorder.
-We need a more flexible education system to tend to the needs of our boys and young men.

So what do you hope for when your beloved child is heading into the system of the American penitentiary? We have been given advice for him about how he should act, how he should "bulk up" to look tough, how he should avoid stockpiling commissary, how he should not reveal too much of his story to anyone.

I don't know. I am just thinking I should keep telling him the same thing I have been trying to tell him for his whole life. Which is have compassion, know you are loved, and do not give up.

Now about girls, I am one and have 2 daughters. There are, of course, many struggles. You have to look a certain way, be compliant and "good", and perform 10 times better than your male counterparts with the real likelihood of getting paid way less in your professional life. So my treatise on the empowerment of boys is not to discount our girls.

Which comes to my final point. Our very survival depends on holding each other up, not cutting each other down. Will putting my son in jail till age 30 make life better for anyone? What will it be like for him when he comes out? Do people addicted to drugs need to be put out of sight? Do we hate each other that much? Do we think that success in life is about money or fame or academic prowess?

Or do we actually know, deep down, that we want each other to be whole and well? I would say yes, even though so much evidence to the contrary exists in our daily news stream and in the very sad case of my young son. I think we are built for compassion. I think we are built to maintain community.

I just think we have a long way to go in putting this into action.

I hope for healing for my community, for my family and really for our country which seems just a tad off course. I do not actually think my own son is more of a danger to society than our current president.

Agree or not, there it is. I was taught to look at my fellow beings with compassion, by my parents. And so, am I what I am because of my parents or did they just happen to open a door for me in my mind and heart?

Try not to run over me on Highway 101. Hug your kids. Ask them to be compassionate and kind and to treat themselves with respect and love. And everything else? Just icing on the cake.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jennifer,
    So hard, so heart wrenching, painful, and sad, and there it is exactly as you've described. I've also observed that schools and community are not geared to boy energy and they suffer for it.

    I do know of other boys from good families who ended up with sentences similar for crimes where others were hurt and they've managed to get educated and skilled while incarcerated and seem to be heading to a better place. I am hopeful that Ben will have possibilities along these lines as well. Time heals and takes care of so much, regardless of the situation.

    And I totally agree that you maintain your stance of love and compassion, always. It is our only true hope. Parents take on too much blame and too much credit. There's no going back or reruns, only next and next, and Ben will have many choices constantly even in his restricted situation.

    Love to you all,