Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Marinette Shooting and the Culture of Fear

The headline last night -- "Armed student reportedly holding high school classroom hostage in Wisconsin" -- took my breath away. I live in Wisconsin. And I still desperately want to believe that things like that don't happen in Wisconsin.

But they do. As you now know, a 15-year-old male student held about two dozen students and a teacher hostage for almost five hours yesterday in Marinette, Wisconsin, a town of about 11,000 on the Wisconsin/Michigan border. The student fired shots in the classroom, but ultimately released all of the hostages. No one was injured, except the gunman, who shot himself when law enforcement officers stormed the classroom. The student died today.

No one was injured...seems like such a false and fake thing to say, doesn't it? The entire town was injured. Every single child in that room will be affected for a long, long time. Parents' hearts stopped last night as they waited to see what would happen. And somewhere in Marinette, a family is dealing with the worst possible grief tonight.

Tonight, his family is simultaneously grieving his death while trying to make sense of his actions -- while the world clamors to know what they knew when. They're dealing with grief and guilt and misunderstanding and hatred. They're wondering if they did enough, if they said something wrong, if somehow they could have prevented the whole fiasco. They'd do anything, I'm sure, to turn the clock back to tomorrow morning.

Most of us would, I think. Most of us would like to turn the clock back to pre-1999, pre-Columbine. Or maybe even pre-1997, pre-Paducah.

My oldest son was born in 1997. He has never known a world where students didn't shoot one another in school. Think about that. School shootings have, in some way, always been a part of my boys' world.

So has terrorism. My oldest son was not quite 3 when the Twin Towers fell; his brother was only 1. We were watching Sesame Street when we heard the news.

And while all of that has seemed far, far away, last night's situation thrust reality in my face. Violence is everywhere. Anger is everywhere. Depression is everywhere.

Fear is everywhere.

Our children are growing up in the culture of fear.

After one of these events, we talk about the human costs, the kids that die and the kids that kill. We talk about gun control and anti-bullying measures and resolve to make things better. But do we talk about the cumulative effects of fear? Do we talk -- at all -- about what it's like for today's kids to grow up in a world where violence may show up on their doorstep at any minute?

I realize that violence is a reality for far too many kids today. I realize that an insecure environment is nothing new for children in many parts of the world and even here in the USA. It's just that no one feels safe anymore. Not even residents of Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin.

On some level, our children have come to expect random, extreme violence as part of life. In their world, it's entirely possible that the grandma in front of them at the airport is concealing a bomb in her brassiere, or that a class will end abruptly in a spray of gunfire.

What does that knowledge do to a developing brain? Will our children suffer from an inability to connect, to trust?

I don't know the answers. But I do know that succumbing to the fear will only make things worse. The only way -- the ONLY way -- out of this mess is to connect, to redevelop human connections.

When my children ask about Marinette, I will answer their questions. I will continue, however, to nurture their belief in the human spirit. I will continually point out all the wonderful and amazing people in this world who are working to make this world a better place. Just last night, I got an email from a neighbor who is organizing a fundraiser for a local couple who was recently diagnosed with cancer. (Yes, couple. Both husband and wife are staring at months of treatment and mounting medical bills.) A small-town fundraiser might not seem like much, but it's an example of people caring, people connecting. It's tangible proof that much good remains here in the world, despite the scary headlines.

I don't want my boys -- or yours -- to get lost in the culture of fear. Let's nurture their connections instead.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


The turkey is in the brine, the pies are on the front porch and my sister, thankfully, is bringing the potatoes. My home is not clean; it's presentable. The boys helped me vacuum and dust (the downstairs) and the toys -- well, the toys remain scattered at best.

But tonight, I am giving thanks. Tonight, I received an email from a former writing student who shared an essay she'd recently written. I won't divulge the contents of the essay, because she's currently in the process of submitting it for publication. I will tell you this, though: her essay told the story of help from unlikely places, of how we are never alone as we think.

Her theme resonated with me. My family has been challenged like never before over the last two years, but we have never been alone. Every step along the way, we have been held up and supported by the love of friends and family. Friends, family and even strangers have provided words of comfort and hope; financial, physical and technical support, work referrals, companionship and more.

My 74-year-old father split wood in the heat of summer so that the boys and I would have cheap heat this winter. Tonight, my home is heated not by wood, but by my father's love.

Numerous writing students, including the essayist, have shared their hearts and hopes with me. While I was officially their teacher, I learned more from them then they may ever know. I learned the power of voice, of truth, of honesty. My students reminded me that writing is a way to infuse our lives with meaning, to find deeper meaning in the deitrus of our everyday lives.

The women in my life have proved to me, time and again, just how strong women are. From writer-mamas to the recently single, they have taught me the power of persistence.

And my boys -- my boys! -- continue to amaze and inspire me. Daily, they fight and struggle. Daily, they drive me crazy. But just as I'm about to give up hope, they do something incredibly kind, compassionate and thoughtful. The most recent example? My boys are chipping in to buy chickens for a family in a Third World country. Instead of buying presents for one another this holiday season, they've chosen to help a family less fortunate than ours.

Somehow, the message has sunk in. Somehow my boys have absorbed the lesson of these past few years. Somehow, they've realized that the world is a much better place when we help one another.

Tonight, I am thankful for all who have helped me.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


As many of you have noticed, I've been absent for a stretch. I'll be honest: my life has been in a state of transition. My divorce was finalized at the end of September and I've been concentrating on rebuilding my life. But my blog, I've realized, is part of my life -- and part of yours too. So I promise you that I'll be back soon. I'll be taking some steps to revamp the blog (this background has GOT to go!), making this a perfect time to solicit your feedback.

What would you like to see more of on Blogging 'Bout Boys? What would you like to see less of? Book reviews, guest posts, video clips? A Q & A section? A Readers-Give-Advice section? Are there any topics you'd like to see addressed?

I want this blog to be an Internet home for parents of boys. I want to share information and ideas to help us raise and educate our sons. So, how can I help you?