Sunday, October 25, 2015

Can Halloween Be Any Scarier?

I knew seeing a police man stationed close to the entrance of the store was not a good sign. At first we thought there must have been a commotion inside. As soon as we swung the doors open though and stepped in, and seeing that the cop was trying to be as unobtrusive as possible yet still visible, I figured he was just there as a deterrent. It is the last weekend before Halloween after all and things can get a little crazy at costume and party stores.

Actually, crazy is a pretty accurate word to sum this all up. 

When we got to the 'wall of fear', it was packed. What's the wall of fear, you may ask? It's the store's wall displaying pictures of all the children's costumes they're selling, from which kids and parents select their costume of choice and take note of the merchandise code so that a sales attendant can grab the package for you from the back storage room. It's not the costumes that I find scary. It's the prices! Costumes to be worn once, all averaging $30 a piecethat's scary. And crazy!

Then the line for fitting was also crazy. If my son didn't bother with a first and second option, I would've insisted not bothering to fit. After 11 years of living here in the U.S., I can finally say that I'm now comfortable with the idea of returning merchandise when absolutely necessary. (It's crazy too that it's taken me that long).

When we finally made it to the fitting 'room', I realized that you can hardly call it a room because it was more like a box. Stepping in there with a child and unpacking costumes with a million components inside the packages was hell! There was nowhere to rest anything on and things just kept falling to the ground which meant you'd have to pick them up. But have you tried bending over in a 3' x 4' space while with another person in it? After 10 minutes, I just wanted to scream and knew I've had enough. If I spent another five minutes in that store, I would've ended up attacking everyone with the overpriced ninja swords laying around before I committed harakiri!

Can you really blame me if I'm not a big fan of Halloween? To me it embodies the height of capitalism with businesses taking advantage of people's desire to participate in a tradition. It's mostly about profit and commercialism. It's not even a real holiday!

I grew up in the Philippines and we celebrated All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day. People went to the cemetery to visit loved ones who have passed. Families gathered and prayed. There were no costumes and candies and expensive decorations. I think only those who lived in exclusive, gated subdivisions participated in that but only minimally. At least up until I left the Philippines 11 years ago, Halloween was never celebrated to the extent that I see here in the U.S. 

I'm sure the children have fun. I'm sure the children pressure their parents to give in and the parents (like myself) feel powerless because no one wants their child to feel left out. Adults and children alike don elaborate costumes for one night for the thrill and fun of it. Are we really that desperate to escape from reality and be something else for a few hours even when it means spending unwisely? Or maybe the costumes allow us to be more of who we think we are or who we authentically are deep down? That we need one designated day a year for that and have to spend money on costumes to accomplish something so important is a really scary, crazy thing, if that were the case.

One thing is certain. Even though as Americans, we're really not celebrating anything significant on Halloween, businesses will continue to have a lot to celebrate with this 'holiday', that's for sure.  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Our Parents in Us

As my husband and I stood outside my son's classroom waiting for the start of a school affair, papers hanging on the wall caught my eye. On display was a class project where the kids had to come up with synonyms using the letters of their name. Immediately I searched for what my son came up with and though it's obviously not perfect as you can see below (e.g. spelling), I am intrigued and fascinated by the thought process behind it.

First of all, I completely agree with the adjectives he chose to characterize himself. But more importantly, I'm actually impressed by his choices and happy that he didn't choose Nasty, Nutty, Neurotic or Narcissistic. Or even Anxious, Absurd or Abused (by a recovering perfectionist mother). 

What screamed out to me, and what I find most amusing, is that it's become obvious how he feels defined by being organized, or at least aspires to be. And look at that illustration he came up with! It's him sweating it out in the organization process. Papers, markers, toys, games and crayons all in their rightful spots...and contained in bins no less! What sense of accomplishment indeed!

There is one question I'm left wondering about after seeing my son's project. I'm now left thinking of how much of this is true for him, independent of what he knows I want him to be. In other words, are these qualities he truly believes he possesses or qualities he tries to possess because his parents approve of them? He could have written 'nervous', 'obedient', 'adorable' or 'affectionate' and 'happy' or 'helpful'words I easily associate with him. But he chose what he chose and it makes me curious.

Consequently, isn't it also worth asking ourselves how much of who we are or have become as adults, truly and authentically represent us and not just qualities we think we have, simply because we still aspire to possess them for the sake of having our parents' (or any other significant other's) approval?

If you say you're 'ambitious', are you truly that or are you pushing yourself to be that because it's what you've been taught to aspire for?

If you say you're 'compassionate', is that who you are to the core even when no one is looking or judging you? And is this something you freely chose?

Are you really 'funny' or did your family assign that role to you and you never really wanted it in the first place?

Or maybe we all somehow turn into versions of what our parents wanted us to be and end up internalizing their ideals.

I understand that we are all products of our socialization, especially the socialization process we received through our families. I understand that we become who we are because of what we learn, what we see and that it's all these things layered on to us and eventually define us.

But I still wonder how much of ourselves are simply reflections of our parents' desires for us. How much of myself can I claim, with utter certainty, as completely devoid of my parents' fingerprints or echoes of their voices. If we were all to make a list of five qualities we believe define us, how many of these can we say are independent of our parents' aspirations for us? In addition, which trait do you wish to drop or disassociate from, if only you could, because it's really more just a reflection of what people expect from you rather than something that you feel is authentic to you? Are there any?

I don't have firm answers to these questions yet, and am still mulling over them. 

What are your thoughts? I would love to read them.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

No More Routine Response

I am terrified.

If you live in the United States, and assuming you've not been living under a rock, I'm sure you understand why I feel the way I do. You probably all the more understand this sense of terror, the anxiety and anger if you are a parent.

On October 1, another mass shooting happened at a community college in Oregon where 8 students and a teacher perished. Nine others were injured before the gunman, also a student, shot himself. 

The following day, Friday, an 11-year old boy accidentally shot his 12-year old brother at a target shooting outing. A man who was with the boys at the time left a loaded gun on a picnic table when the younger boy picked it up and fired the weapon, fatally shooting his brother in the head. 

A day after that, on the evening of October 3, news surfaced of yet another 11-year old boy shooting an 8-year old girl just because she wouldn't let him play with her puppy. The girl is dead. This was in Tennessee and just felt a little too close to home. 

Insanity aside, my husband and I wondered what it is that might explain the shocking rise of gun violence in our society. My Sociology background makes me most certain it can't be explained by a single socio-cultural variable, although I firmly believe that easy access to guns accounts for a lot of it. 

And it's not the amount of mentally unstable people out there that terrifies me now. What terrifies me is that I see hints (to say the least) of the type of parenting that engenders the kind of behavior that makes an 11-year old think it's acceptable to hurt another human being because he didn't get what he wanted. 

What terrifies me is that I see around me, on an almost daily basis, adult and parent behavior that could explain why some gun owners refuse sensible changes to existing gun control laws simply because of their desire to protect their right to own guns. Their guns. Their rights. It doesn't seem to matter that there are other voices out there, other more important rights to protect. What's theirs trumps all other cards on the table. 

I'm well aware that I've ranted quite a bit on this site about parents behaving badly in school, specifically in school pick up lines. But if you think about it, it is this same sense of entitlement that potentially creates who we now call 'monsters' or 'evil' after they pick up their guns and shoot innocent and defenseless lives.

It's okay to teach our children that they are special, as long as we don't forget to add that everybody is too, in their own ways. What's not okay is to model behavior that teaches our children that our needs are more important than others'. Or that we are better than everybody else and can get away with anything. 

It's okay to help out our children in times of need. What's not okay is to forget to teach them that actions have consequences, or forget to demonstrate to them how the choices we make create ripple effects and that we are all connected

I'm terrified and I know a lot of you are too. But none of us can afford to let this sense of terror paralyze us. Don't give in to routine responses anymore as our President astutely stated. That would just be tragic and morally irresponsible. 

I decided long ago that I would avoid, as much as I can, any political discussion on this blog. But I can't do it this time. I need to challenge my own routine responses even on this site. If I want to remain authentic, I need to be able to write about what rings loud and true inside me, and at present this is it. I don't want to be numb. Neither do I want to feel and yet do nothing, say nothing. I hope you will not give in to your routine response either if it translates to passivity or indifference. 

Speak up and take a stand. And I hope you will stand up for the right to live, the right to go about your daily lives without the crippling fear that you or those you love will succumb to senseless gun violence. It doesn't make sense that in the U.S. more preschoolers die from gun violence each year than police officers on duty. We can't keep saying that the status quo works because clearly it doesn't. 

Say NO to routine responses, and YES to stricter gun control laws. Change needs to happen at every level. We need to look at not only policy or legislation, but also how we live our daily lives within our families. How are we raising our children? What values are we teaching them? What behavior are we modeling? Are we creating monsters who are disconnected from the world around them and don't fully understand the meaning of humanity? Ask yourselves these questions.

There are a lot of questions to answer and a lot of introspection that needs to happen. But it must be done if we want something to change. In the end, all of us are responsible for each other. Let's not forget that. 


*People magazine released contact information for all 535 voting members of the House and Senate on this link. Please take the time to contact your state representatives to let them know how you want them to act on this issue. Feel free to share the meme and hashtag above (#NoMoreRoutineResponse) on social media.