Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Parenting from Authenticity When Everything Is Not OK

Taliesin, age five.

When I was a teenager, hammering and whining at the bathroom door where my mother was retreating from my rage, she called out from inside our small bathroom, "Emily, if you keep this up, the shit will really hit the fan".

Whoah. She actually swore. And what an expression! I pictured poop from our toilet, flying up to the fan and getting chopped; scattered in all directions. I imagined how awful that would be, and knew this was a big hairy deal. I would have to badger my mother another time. I had no concept, back then, of SHTF, go-bags, memes or fake news. I had no concept of Internet, or the rising tide of terror that my own kids would grow up in. You know: actual crisis. Like in 2021. Or is this just mini-crisis on the way? When do we get to authentically declare SHTF?

I long for the days when I worried that my kids would be traumatized because their birthday party was cancelled, or their great-grandparent died. I mean--that was traumatic, for sure, but these days the trauma is next-level. It's existential. I don't even know where to turn, sometimes, as a parent. It's like a video game that everybody else is winning but the more we play, the more we realize we won't make it. We just keep losing hearts. When my kids' grandfather died, and my son was hauled out of school in a crazed panic just to look at the pallid empty face of a man he loved, that must have been the BIG boss of childhood trauma. Right? Was it? Then the family fell apart and the kids lost their aunties, their cousins; their grandmother. Maybe losing Grandpa was just the mini-boss. Such personal loss is huge for kids; it's huge for us parents, and then... there's the Bigger Boss.

We rounded the corner and suddenly wildfires are burning entire towns (again) and there's evidence of thousands of children's graves on the grounds of supposed "schools". That would be the MEGA Boss for sure (or Boss Rush?), but we're battling it on top of severely depleted emotional strength and health stats, as our kids carry ongoing covid fears, pervasive stress around housing and food security, unending news of climate-change disasters around the world, and social/political crises increasing, everywhere. It's not going to get any better. This is the Battle Royale for our kids' hearts, and we need to ask ourselves whether we're going to exit the game or persevere.

Oh wait. It's not a game. We've been fooling ourselves. All this shit is real.

I often feel like it's my job to explain the hardship away; to help my kids navigate these experiences with documented evidence that Everything's Going to Be OK. I personally tend to catastrophize, so when I catch myself doing that, I try to turn it around and provide evidence of hope. Like I'm the one with the knowledge and can heal all the world's ills by just explaining them away. Or just by buying stuff or experiences to temporarily distract and blind us from the apocalyptic fire coming down around us. Whoops there I go again. It's just that I didn't know it would be this bad! Even in my direst catastrophizing moments I didn't quite expect things to be this extreme, this quickly. I was blinded by others trying to minimize the horror. I blinded myself, in constant efforts just to persevere to the NEXT Big Boss, and I have tried to blind my children.

Well that was a bad idea. My children are not blind! They weren't sold on life-as-a-video-game. They were begging us to stop war and climate change since they were very little, and we didn't. Just like our parents, back in the eighties and nineties, we kept buying them stuff and more stuff like somehow it could bury the fears. We kept sending them to schools and camps and socially-condoned experiences of childhood like if we just pretended it was all still OK, then it would be. We dragged them head-first into the very consumerism that's killing us just to hide us all from the truth. And all that time our kids were watching us. They grew in that reality. Some have knitted soft fluffy blinders to their eyes and walked right into the mirage we gave them; others have rebelled and are now leading marches without us. Most are just somewhere in the hazy smoke of youth trying to figure out which way to turn. And watching us turn away. Just like our own parents did, we have given up on our children. Like we could just Exit Game.

How many times have I been angry with my own parents for not making the changes necessary to save my world when I was young? Because honestly, we knew what the problems were back then, and they were still buying bigger cars, right? Now we're the parents. And how many times have I said, "we're doing all we can," or "the problem is too big to be solved by consumers" or how many times did we just buy our kids new clothes instead of fixing the old ones because their social lives mattered more than the climate--just today? That's me, sitting in my privilege, because I hope to be one of the lucky ones when the shit hits the fan.

So the shit has been hitting the fan for years now, and we regularly talk about packing a "go-bag" in case of social collapse or fire. I look in my kids' faces and calmly explain how, because we live on an island, our go-bag for wildfire will include life jackets for us and the dog, a floaty for the cats in their carrier, a whistle and sunscreen. Should we pack masks for the smoke, or flippers so we can paddle away from our home more quickly? My kids look at me with half-rolled eyeballs, because all of us know this isn't much of a plan. Because there can't be a plan. No video game prepared us for this. Our kids know we're feeding them a sham of security. They know. It's time for us to stop the charade and look this life in the eye.

But HOW?! 

We've been parenting from a place of fear; of deep insincerity. We've been downplaying the catastrophe of climate change for generations, now, because as each of us grows into adulthood, we become swept into the delusion our parents clung to; shackled to the same false hope that if we just climb a little higher, we'll come out on top--maybe get a ride on a spaceship--and survive the coming hardships. Maybe our kids will grow up to befriend Elon Musk and it will all be OK. We know that's a pile of shit, and even SHTF doesn't describe the sewer we've walked ourselves into. If we want to parent from a place of authenticity, we need to stop this fantasy, now. We've hidden this truth from our children, because we assume they can't handle it, burying it in toys and games and TV until we end up raising them into the same delusion we carry, ourselves. Our children are already handling the truth, and it's time we did, too. Let's face this truth now:

If we want our children to survive until old age, we all have to stop consuming, now. Jobs will disappear, money will disappear, entire industries and things we're accustomed to having in our lives will disappear. People will die. Our plans and dreams will die. And our delusion will disappear. It's going to be bloody hard. But easier than SHTF. We have no choice. And that is real.

I want to live in real. No more hiding. I mean to make some changes in the way I live, and thus make it easier for my children to follow suit. We know that living globally is part of the problem. Even when we're not traveling, our food and consumer products are produced using cheap labour and resources that always mean someone else is paying the price. Global capitalism is a foundational concept behind colonialism, consumerism, and carbon emission. It exists because of our privilege, and the more we live and consume globally, the more privilege we gain. But we don't need it--not the privilege or all the stuff it affords us. 

I'm sitting here today in the pale blue haze that is the remnant of inland fires, drinking tea. I know those are particles of people, houses, animals, forests and whole ecosystems drifting by outside my window. I know that remediation of the catastrophic time we're living in means staying home, and simple, even when it means sacrifice. I am trying to see my way through this very real circumstance not like a video game, but like a slow meditation of simplicity, connection, and hope. I'm thinking that this cup of chamomile tea, grown right outside my front door, might be a more suitable pleasure than store-bought distractions. I'm thinking that the gentle curve of my children's faces should be the thing I look to for positive distraction from crisis. This feeling of living in the moment--this deep appreciation of what is real--is, to me, what being in a place of authenticity feels like. I feel some of the heat of my own anger dissipating, and I want to do better for my children than the status quo.

Dear children, I will no longer behave like everything is OK. I see your open eyes, and I will keep mine open, with you, because I am learning courage from you. I will become comfortable not having all the answers. I will say "I don't know", in all honesty, and I will learn to be OK with that. I will no longer buy things to soothe your fears or take morally ambiguous jobs just to fund our morally ambiguous purchases. I will no longer drive or fly you out of our community for life-experiences. I will build this community into everything we need, just here. I will cry with you when we all feel hopeless, and I'll work every day to laugh, as well; to build and grow reasons to be hopeful. I will look at this world, my place in it, and your growing faces with hope, resilience and humility. Because those are the gifts you have given me, and I want to give them to you, as well.

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