The Perfect Storm


There’s a storm comin… yeah, they say it’s a killer hurricane called Sandy, but it’s also an election that’s going to decide the fate of the country, and there’s also a battle for the soul of my son.  Perhaps that’s a little overdramatic on all fronts, but that’s how I perceive it right now. It’s kind of a perfect storm in my own mind, actually…

Let’s start with the election. It’s topical, it’s on everyone’s mind here in the United States, or at least it’s on everyone’s TV and in many of our inboxes. Personally, I feel as though I’ve been getting spammed like crazy by the democratic party, even though I support its candidates. There’s a desperation to these missives that’s been filling me with anxiety, even as I realize they are designed to spur me into action. Yes, I’ve clicked donate more than a few times, succumbing to the relatively painless gesture of giving $5 here, $6 there. I feel as though it’s the least I can do. For even though I realize that our political system is rife with the corruption of big money’s influence, I am frightened by the embedded belief of the benefits of unfettered capitalism combined with an increasingly dangerous influence of the religious right that characterizes today’s version of the Republican party.

Here’s something I shared on Facebook recently that articulates my position:
I object to the notion that free market and business models are the answers to everything. I believe there are certain things that benefit all of us that it’s good for people to contribute to – like public television, like roads and bridges, like police and fire departments, like public parks and other natural landmarks and treasures. And yes, Medicare and other publicly funded insurance programs, social security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other safety net programs. Because they’re not defined by the people who abuse them. They are defined by the overwhelming good they do for the people who need them. And it’s bullshit to reject that. Because everyone has needed or knows someone who has needed help at one point or another. It’s hypocritical and mean and short sighted to think that any of us is immune from ever needing that kind of assistance. Relying on churches and charities and the kindness of strangers isn’t enough.

That’s why I reject the idea that less government is the answer. People who are so busy trashing government conveniently forget the ways they benefit from government programs and services on a daily basis, which are not run by monsters, but are run by other human beings, many of whom are also trying to make a difference and help other people as they do their jobs. And, the fact is, as much as anyone would like to miscast the idea as socialism or communism or some other ridiculous notion that is code for, I don’t want anyone taking something away from me, we ARE all in this together. We share the planet, we share our communities and we have to live together and help each other. And I’m sick of the idea of privatizing every damn thing in the world as an answer to our problems. We are better than that, and humanity deserves more compassion and creativity from all of us. ALL of us.

Which makes a great segue to the next part of this essay. My son. His mind is being taken over by video games. Or more accurately at the moment, I-phone apps. I had resisted the call of the hand held gaming device for over three years. Back when he was six, I told my son, you can have a DS when you’re eight. Well, his eighth birthday showed up and I was not ready to let his attention be stolen by a portable hypnotizing machine. Gifts in the form of a Wii, and later a secondhand I-phone came to him from an uncle, and I let them lie fallow for as long as I could. The Wii remained un-hooked up for over a year, until an older cousin finally did us the favor of connecting it. Still, the phone remained hidden away in a dresser drawer. The drumbeat grew louder, and the pressure mounted as children in every sphere of my son’s life continued to acquire one device or another.

Finally, at the age of nine and a half, when even his six-year-old next door neighbor received an old I-pod Touch from her older brother, it seemed that my insistence on keeping him hands free was bordering on deprivation. I gave in. I activated the old I-phone so that he could download some inexpensive games on it, and participate more fully in the ongoing conversation about Fruit Ninja, Plants vs. Zombies, Angry Birds, Radiant, Flick Home Run and Slender-Man.

Within seconds of acquisition, I realized that I was going to have to inject and enforce some major limits into our new normal. Absolutely no gaming before all homework and chores were completed to my complete satisfaction, strict time limits on game play, and close monitoring of where the device was being used, including no bringing it to school, etc. This was going to take some real effort on my part.

Sadly, I realized we had entered a world of electronic enhancement of the worst aspects of my son’s personality (emblematic of most kids his age) – a tendency to want to do fun things instead of work, fulfillment of instant gratification in favor of long term goal achievement, and a desire to connect with friends over the coolest, latest thing, as opposed to doing anything your parents tell you to do. In short, I was screwed.

Within the first week, I witnessed him rushing through haphazardly completed homework and household chores, so that he could get back to his little charged up friend, dazed responses to my questions whenever I tried to talk to him as he played, almost losing the phone at a crowded Halloween party (that would have been it) and a reversion to old patterns of behavior that he knew were not acceptable in my eyes. After several days of this, losing patience with him over yet another transgression, I took it out of his hand, angrily slammed it down on the table, and cracked the casing.

There’s a lesson in all this. You can’t piss mommy off endlessly and expect nothing to give. Talking had not worked, yelling had become too exhausting, and I don’t do spanking, so the anger was finally directed at the object of my frustration. Somehow, there’s a lesson in this consequence.

That was last night. Today is better. We’re both cooled off a bit. In fact, we had a nice evening of cuddling together in front of an old episode of Once Upon a Time (love it) and just enjoying each other’s company. And although it seemed at first that the games would no longer work properly, today things seem to be back to normal, or at least at an acceptable level. It’s a mixed blessing. I almost wish the damn thing had broken down completely.

Which brings me to the final leg of this essay. The storm. It’s almost upon us. The mayor has ordered the transit system shut down as of 7pm this evening, school is cancelled for tomorrow, the supermarket shelves are rapidly emptying, if not already emptied, and the winds are starting to pick up. I have one more meeting this afternoon, then it’s home to hunker down and await the inevitable loss of electricity and hopefully nothing worse. I already survived a tree toppling onto my house during Hurricane Isabel in 2003, so I know it can get bad. I also know that when nature stops us in our tracks, we have nothing else to do but slow down, get quiet and be with one another.

Sure, we’ll fill up the gas tank and charge the phones and clear the porch of all things likely to become projectiles in high wind, cook up some soup and perhaps rely on the stocked up crackers, peanut butter, canned food, water and candles, and then prepare to hunker down and make the best of it.

What will come out of all this upheaval? When the winds die down and the waters recede, what will be left and what will be our next steps? Do we really need a disaster like this to get us thinking about what’s important to us? What does it take to make us understand our true, human connections to one another? How do we maintain that contact, past the divisiveness of the elections, the ongoing isolation we feel as we get caught up in our own electronic devices, the anxiety over our own safety and security in the face of increasing uncertainty over, well… everything?

Can you feel this? Everything is changing. Everything. Get ready people.
Photo courtesy of NASA


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