Friday, January 30, 2015

The Fish Who Lived

Last year my teenage daughter bought her younger brother a Betta fish for his birthday. It was the perfect gift. My son was going through some difficult transitions at school at the time, which were triggering all sorts of past trauma. The fish, named Captain America for his reddish, blueish scales and heroic demeanor, formed a sort of living, healing connection. And also the fish tank had a nightlight. To ward away monsters.

Fish = love. Fish love.

Then the fish died. Er...I mean...took a nap. Because death triggers all sorts of trauma-related issues that we were not prepared to add to our already stressed situation. So I zoomed the sleeping fish to the pet store and got a replacement reddish, blueish fish along with about a gazillion water testing and treatment products to ensure the most optimal environment for Captain II. Crisis averted.

Until that fish also promptly died.

Seriously! "I cannot handle dead fish right now!" I calmly explained hysterically yelled to the pet store worker. We decided to move Captain America III (the neighborhood pet store was out of reddish blueish Betta fish, so we had to cast our nets wider) out of the filtered, lit, decorated tank into what was essentially a large vase with a few rocks. "It's like a vacation condo," I told my son. And, "Yes, he does look a little smaller. But it's probably just because his tank is a little smaller."

Captain III eventually moved from the vase to the fish tank (thoroughly cleaned and redecorated. We determined there was something wrong with the gravel in the original setup) and now to a tank with a built in vacuum that Grandma gave him for Christmas. Captain III celebrates his one-year anniversary with us this weekend. Just yesterday my son said, "Wow, I already had another birthday. Captain's lived a long time. I didn't think fish lived that long." He has no idea.

Captain III has seen my son through more transitions this year - from changing schools to the death of our old dog, Scout, to just this month a tragedy in the family of his beloved teacher necessitating a substitute for several weeks as well as the sudden illness of an indestructible friend.

Just this morning, as we fed Captain III a couple of Betta bites I marveled at the healing that has transpired this year, and how he has managed these current triggers with a sense of confidence that hints at a growing knowledge that no matter what happens in this world, he is loved.

So I nudged an extra Betta bite into the tank and thanked God for his healing power shown to us most graciously through the fish who lived.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Rally Cry for Respect

In these last months there has been a great hue and cry about the importance of showing respect, especially to law enforcement officers. I am in 100% agreement with this injunction. Law enforcement officers deserve our respect and admiration for a myriad of reasons. So do teachers and cashiers and pharmacists (my sister could tell you some stories! Whew!)

I’ve loved the two football teams for which my son has played, and one reason is because several of the volunteer coaches are police officers. Several times a shift has run late and they’ve come to practice in their uniforms. My son has the uncanny ability to suss out the power dynamic in a situation faster than any kid I’ve ever met. (And the hubris to step into any perceived power gap and take the reins of control for himself.) But when a large, muscular football coach in full police gear commands this bitty baller to drop and give ten, it’s clear who holds the power. There is no other response than, “Yes, sir!”

My kid being told to "guard the corner and stop getting sucked in!"
Both the coach and the chain crew are law enforcement officers. 

This builds respect. Because it also builds relationship. And here’s where I see the mandate that “people should teach their kids respect” breaking down. 

‘Cuz, y’all, can I just get a witness that it’s a daily, consistent, difficult battle teaching my child respect, and I’m living in a comfortable, fair, middle class world and surrounded by dozens of people supporting me in that effort - from his law enforcement football coaches to his teacher and classmates to his friends and my friends and family members to the high-fiving security guards at church. We’re working the program and he still gets mouthy and defiant and doesn’t always listen to directive.

But what of those parents who can’t or won’t teach this respect by reason of generational poverty, addictions, crime, abuse, injustice or fear? 

According to Bruce Perry, MD, PhD, Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy, “We know that our biology predisposes us to mirror the actions of those we see around us... These facts are wonderful when what we are considering repeating is loving and nurturing, but they are frankly terrifying when we think about the violence and the increasing number of simulations of violence that surround us and our children.” He continues, “The mirroring systems of our social brains make behaviors contagious. And again, this is wonderful when what you are practicing is sports or piano or kindness, but not so great when what’s being repeated is impulsive, aggressive responses to threat.”

So what are we to do? Are we to shake our heads at the Michael Browns of the world and tsk, tsk their fate because, well, they should have learned respect.

How are they to learn?

This seems a pivotal moment for those of us carrying the banner of respect - a moment either to make a different or to shake our heads. What if all those believers who shout, “Yes! People should learn respect!” step in to mentor youth? To model and teach respect?

Organizations like: Big Brothers Big Sisters, Every1Reads, (seriously, y'all, teachers are on the front line in this directive), Kentucky Refugee Ministries, UspiritusOrphan Care Alliance,  Boys' and Girls' Club, Portland Promise Center, just to name a few that come immediately to mind, are all desperate for volunteers and financing. They could all benefit from our desire that children learn respect. Respect comes from relationship. Who better to build those relationships than believers? Who better to stand in the gap for oppressed and downtrodden youth? Who better to build bridges and create relationships for “such a time as this”?

This is too big a moment to just talk the talk and lament the state of society today. If we want children to learn respect, then we need to show the way.