Saturday, June 5, 2010

Happiness Is...

Happiness is...watching my boys play.

My God, they have the capacity right now to entertain themselves for hours.  Now if only they had the ability to playfully entertain themselves in absolute silence, my life would be truly perfect.

But no.  The play is generally noisy and exuberant and physical and, did I mention, noisy?

Of course, when we are outside the decibel level is less of an issue.  Last Saturday I went with a friend and her 6 year old daughter to Foster Beach in Chicago.  Within 23 seconds of hitting the sand the kids were off and playing and that is pretty much the last we saw of them for 3 hours.  They built forts and trenches, buried toys, ran through the shallow water, turned cartwheels, chased seagulls, collected feathers, watched kites and made new friends.  Captain Underpants played solo for a lot of the time - incredibly content in his own little world while his younger brother scampered around the beach my friend's daughter.  There was no sand throwing, toy snatching, whinging or crying.

As I sat on our beach mat, feeding grapes or tortilla chips to cherubic open mouths at approximately 37 second intervals as the kids went swooping past (similar to feeding a nest of tiny birds) I marvelled at their imagination and incessant energy.  At their complete and utter joy and satisfaction in running around in minimal clothing, without restriction or guidance or limitation (apart from the obvious: Try Not To Drown Yourselves Please).

I felt really privileged to witness this simple example of truly living in the moment, without a care in the world.

Not that I joined them, mind.  Ooh, no.  I have waited many a long year to be able to go to the beach and merely be a spectator to the action, rather than elbow deep in grainy, dirty sand (Chicago's beaches are great but they are man-made and the sand isn't the finest) building 20 million sandcastles scheduled for instant destruction.  Surely now I have earned the right to simply be a sidelines voyeur?  To watch as the games I have painstakingly played with them over the years are now replicated without me?

In the afternoon we drove to a friend's house for a barbecue and as the number of children present multiplied, so did the resulting chaos.  You could have landed a jumbo jet on the roof and I don't think we would have noticed, they were making so much noise.  Initially I felt a little irritated that the boys were being so boisterous, a reaction that I soon recognised as being caused by embarrassment more than anything else.  Why was I getting so tetchy exactly?  They weren't being unnecessarily unruly or naughty - they were just being very, very, very LOUD.  The shrieks and laughter, chasing dinosaur roars and fleeing screams set my teeth on edge.  It was hard to curb the urge to tell them to Calm (the fuck) Down.

Instead of pulling them to one side and hissing at them through clenched teeth to 'play more nicely' (whatever the hell that means) I just let them be.  For several hours they barely paused for a breath.  They ran and jumped, hollered and laughed while I sat chatting, glugging my lemon drop and gorging on perfectly succulent ribs.  It was brilliant.  There was no finer example displayed of the sheer joy of the simple act of PLAY.  It was a reminder that, despite my current stresses and concerns, my boys are predominantly happy.  Irrepressibly happy.  Uncontainably happy.  And that reminds me to be happy too.  Even with all the self-doubt I have over my single parenting skills, it seems to me a reflection that I must be doing something right.

And the bonus?  Boy, did they sleep well that night.

Happiness unexpected compliment.

On the Bank Holiday Monday I took the boys to McDonald's for breakfast, as they had been badgering me to go for days.  They're not really interested in the food, let's be honest, it's simply an excuse to nab a new toy - even if it is a piece of plastic Happy Meal tat that will be forgotten about by the time they get home.  As I am a lightweight in the badgering department I acquiesce and drive them to their favourite McDonald's with a play place.

There is the usual stampede and clamber all over the toy display while I order food, before we all settle down on a row of tall bar stools to eat.  I sit in the middle of them and, instead of being their usual ants-in-their-pants fidget bums, they are relatively calm and relaxed.  We sit for 5 or 10 minutes, not long really, and I take full advantage of giving them opportune snuggles, kisses and hair ruffles.  At one point Captain Underpants smooches into my lap and I squeeze him tight and nuzzle his face and neck.  Sod the Egg boys are far more edible than that McDonald's crap.

Pretty soon they scamper off to the play place and, as I am tidying up the debri from their meal, a man approaches me.

"Excuse me - are they your children?" he asks.

Bit of an odd question, I think, and tell him they are.

"Are they adopted?" he asks me.

Even stranger question, I think.  They're not exactly mini-me's but I like to think there's a passing resemblence.

"No - they're my boys", I tell him.

"What a wonderful, loving mom you are."  He tells me.  "You are so loving to your children.  It's not often you see that nowadays.  They are very lucky boys to have such a loving mom.  Watching you with them has really made my day."

Now you tell me...can you really get a finer compliment than that?

Just as well he hadn't been present 45 minutes earlier when I was screaming, "there will be no trip to McDonald's unless you both quit messing around and get your shoes on Right. This. Second.  I'm NOT in the mood to ask you again, I'm telling you right now..."

Not sure he would have been quite so impressed with that familiar episode in our day.


Happiness is not...dwelling on the fact that the boys are currently in Disney with their dad and her - and not me.  That's just a bit of a pisser, despite the fact that I am in 5* luxury in Barbados with my friend and her children.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Our Gun Laws Are Strict Enough? I Don't Think So

I have read with horror about the gun massacre in Cumbria, while sitting on a lounger on an immaculate sandy beach in Barbados with the surf roaring in my ears.

And I read with interest that David Cameron is stating that a knee jerk reaction to the UK's current gun laws is not the answer - that we already have one of the strictest gun policies in the world.

That may be so - but in my experience that hasn't prevented guns being legitimately in the hands of a person who has proved themselves to be a potential threat.

The person I am referring to is my ex step-father.

I lived with him over 25 years ago, at which time he possessed a gun licence for, I believe, two shotguns.  They were stored in a gun rack in the bedroom.  I don't remember them ever being under lock and key.  I don't recall if they were loaded or where the cartridges were, which is probably just as well given my own fragile state of mind at the time.

If I were being kind I might describe this man as being paranoid and delusional.  The reality of it was that he was an alcoholic schizophrenic with violent and paedophile tendencies, who terrorised my mother, my sister and I for years.  I am grateful now that, in the moments of his deepest drunken rages, he didn't load his guns and kill us all - but I still wouldn't have put it past him at any second of any given day.

In fact the only time a gun was ever brandished in the home as a threat (that I remember) was when I pulled one off the wall and hit him with it.  It was in the middle of the night, on one of the many occasions he was beating my mum to a pulp, and seemed to me the quickest and most effective means of getting him to stop.  It worked.  He left the house and drove off in our family estate to God knows where, careering wildly along the road.  Externally the doting family man who adored his step daughters.  In reality, a tortured, unhinged madman capable of anything when he'd had a drink.

During my late teenage years I often fantasised about having the courage to use one of his own weapons to kill him - there would have been a certain poetic justice in that action.  However, the thought of a life long prison sentence proved to be a sufficient deterrent.  Despite my fear and hatred, I still didn't want to sacrifice my own life for his.

Yet now I wonder if he is still a danger to those close to him or society at large.  And if he is still a registered gun owner.  It sickens me to say that if I ever read he has gone on a rampage and killed either people he knew or complete strangers, it wouldn't surprise me in the least.  I believe he lives in Lincoln.  I am relieved that I don't.

How many guns are in the hands of people like this in the UK today, I wonder?  What action, or series of actions, would it take to make this seemingly social person flip?

In order to prevent people from being a danger to society, can gun laws ever be strict enough?

Not in my mind they can't.

I currently live in an area of Chicago populated predominantly by communities where drugs and guns are commonplace.  A young boy was shot dead by a fellow student at the local High School last summer, no more than 100m from my house.  The house on the corner, probably 5 doors away, is home to two convicted drug and gun dealers who have just been released from prison after serving their sentences.  I am cautious in my neighbourhood and it is certainly not an ideal environment to raise my two boys, yet I am rarely afraid.  Maybe I am being naive but I tend to think that if I treat my neighbours with respect that they will return the favour in kind.  I also believe that the guns are predominantly used in gang related interactions and, unless I am unfortunate enough to be caught in the cross-fire, we will be safe.

Still.  I am cautious.  And careful not to create enemies.

As an aside, it would interest me to know the percentage of registered gun owners in the UK who are women.  I can't imagine the percentage is high.  I understand that men have an inherent instinct to be hunters - yet personally I would ban all gun use and get them to take up kickboxing, or paint balling, or laser tag instead.  As I said.  I am inherently not a hunter but a nurturer.  I am inherently naive.  I don't understand the fascination with guns and the desire to use them as sport to hunt wildlife.  I am sure it must be thrilling and obviously provides a certain satisfaction - personally, I get that from tracking down my must-have shoes in a 50% off sale.

My choice of deadly weapon will always be the stilletoe heel instead of a bullet.  I am sure the death toll would have been a lot less if that had been the case for Derrick Bird.