“A Mother’s Reckoning” by Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine killer.

I knew I had to read it. I favourited the NY Times tweet with the intention of getting into it when I had time to click on the link: “Readers respond to “A Mother’s Reckoning,” the memoir by Sue Klebold, mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold http://nyti.ms/21bYr0z  

It had happened in 1999, the most horrific school shooting in the USA in history. I remember watching the horror story unfold on CNN. It was easy to try to make sense of the unimaginable tragedy with the “mentally ill white boy raised by naive idiot parents who didn’t do their job” dismissal that I was going to use again and again to explain the all too frequent occurrences of mass shootings in the USA. 

But here was a well written and reasoned review of a memoir penned by the mother of one of the teen-aged killers, a boy who took his own life too and I was intrigued. I suspended judgement long enough to be curious about her own processing of the events that took place and the role of her offspring in them, and by extension, therefore,  her own role in the tragedy.

I bought her book.

And last night, waking up drenched in sweat (that’s happening more and more frequently these days…did somebody say perimenopause?) I quietly exited our bedroom and took up residence on the couch with the book. I am only a third of the way through, and maybe I’ll do a full review when I finish the book. But I’m compelled to share my thoughts at this stage:

Sue Klebold is extremely articulate. This may seem like a trite observation to do with the horror story that she’s writing about. But it is important. Her use of language and choice of words leave you with no questions as to what she’s trying to say. It allows for the reader to enter her space and mind and form their own conclusions. She’s not looking for absolution. She’s not looking to unburden herself. She’s not trying to protect her son. She is simply adding extremely valuable data to a conversation that is mandatory in today’s society

We do the best we can as parents. Sure there are horrid parents:abusive, substance abusers, mentally ill persons incapable of nurturing the ones in their care, etc. etc. But most of us try to do the best we can with our children, hoping and praying that they turn out healthy, happy and fulfilled. Listen, we don’t get a manual with each child. And we act and react with filters brought about by our own experiences, dreams and fears. It’s all we can do. And for most of us, our imperfect actions come from a place of perfect motive, that of love for our children. And yet in Sue Klebold’s case, what she got was a son who took lives and dreams, and shattered families including his/her own. Why? Why? Why?

Love: it keeps us going. In the weeks and months following the shooting at Columbine, as Sue Klebold tried to understand, to mourn, grappling with grief and guilt, as she navigated her forever altered existence through the fog and haze of a mind and soul trying desperately to cope, close friends and family supported her with love, practical love. They reminded the Klebolds that they were loved. They cooked for them. They shielded them from the understandable hate directed in full force towards them. They helped them screen calls. They took them into their houses. They helped her mourn the son she lost. They attended without judgement as she faced the inevitable guilt she felt. 

I found myself crying, having to put down the book at least 3 times to sort out my own reactions to what I was reading and to wipe my eyes so I could go on. I wept with regret for the mistakes I have made as a parent. I wept hoping and praying that God Himself would compensate for my own human weaknesses and mistakes that I made in tending to the blessings and gifts he had bestowed upon me in the form of my children. I prayed for wisdom. I wept with the complete understanding of what True Love is, myself having been buttressed from below, above and around at a very difficult time in my life by love devoid of judgement. Without love my own story could have had a very different ending.

And so I read on, intrigued by her own story. It is a tough story to tell and I am glad that she has done it.

This is harder than I thought it could ever be.

This is harder than I thought it could ever be.

People are who they are, and try as you might, you can’t get into their heads and make them act the way you want them to act.

When “people” is your child, desire becomes urgency.

You oscillate between “how did I get this so wrong” and “how did this person come from me.”

I see way more than she possibly can…I’ve been here longer. I’ve been here before.

I want to prevent her from wasting time, from making missteps.

I want her to be happy.

I also see what she doesn’t seem to see…in herself.

I see her tying herself into knots, needlessly.

I see her spinning around and around and around in her head, beating herself, doubting herself.

What role did I play in getting her to this stage.

I want to jump in and fix it, unravel the knots, turn her around and say: “Go this way. This is the best way.”

I wish there was a manual that outlined steps and outcomes. I’d follow the prescription to a tee just to avoid this angst, this turmoil, this pain, this anger, this sadness.

How do you know when to be tough and when to be nurturing? Too tough can result in snapping. In breaking.

Too much coddling and the seedling will never withstand the conditions in the open field.

I simply don’t know.

Have I caused irreparable damage?

Have I inspired or depressed?

Have I destroyed rather than created?

This is harder than I thought it could ever be.

about things Daddy told me….

Daddy is an imposing figure: 6’ 4 ¾” and at least 230 lbs, 230 lbs that he carries very well.  Sean Connery looks like my father.
I am the eldest of six.  My mother was a nurse, but for most of my life, she was a stay at home mom.  She is a phenomenal woman.  She raised six children and continues to provide love and support to all of us even though most of us are married with our own children. Daddy was an army officer, and spent a great deal of time outside the home on assignment and on duty.  
If I had to choose one word to sum up to describe Daddy it would be “dutiful”.  He was a conscientious provider, protector and supporter.  He was (still is) a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian and he did his best to pass on his beliefs in word and deed to all of us.  And even though Mummy did the day to day nurturing and raising of the children, a lot of what I am today, how I feel about myself and my approach to life are as a result of things my father said to me.  I found myself telling my own daughter about one particular thing he once told me this week, and I started reflecting on things my father said.  Tomorrow is celebrated this side of the world as Father’s Day, and I thought it would be an appropriate time to share with him, and you, the impression he made on me with some of the things he said to me.

I was about 14 years old.  We were at the pool.  We spent a lot of time at the pool.  I loved the water….had been swimming since I was little. That day, there were strangers at the pool.  Daddy noticed me sitting in the shade watching everyone else enjoy themselves.
“Why aren’t you swimming?  You love the water” he remarked with concern.
I squirmed. I tried to evade his question.  You see…I was fat, and very, very self-conscious of my beyond average body type and size.  I eventually caved and mumbled something along the lines of “I feel funny swimming with all these strange people around….”
He said: “What? What?  Listen: you swim! If anybody looks at you for a second longer than you like, you can tell them to GO TO HELL!” 
I was shocked!  My father, the Preacher and the Soldier, gave me permission to tell anyone who made me feel funny to GO TO HELL.  Man!  I didn’t swim that day.  But I felt all warm inside.  Daddy was on my side.  It wasn’t all that bad.  I’ve never forgotten that.  I dealt with body issues well into my 30s, but I never forgot the day that Daddy gave me permission to tell them to go to hell.
We have such great memories of all the hikes that Daddy took us on.  He used those opportunities to teach us the finer points of map reading and field craft.  My poor navigation skills today are in no way related to my upbringing!  We climbed Catherine Peak, Mt. Horeb, Clifton Mount and Blue Mountain Peak. 
“Look up there.  That’s the skyline.  Do you see how easy it is to see the trees that are on the skyline? In war you never stand on the skyline unless you are waiting to be rescued.  The enemy will pick you off before you know what ‘s happening.”
I have never forgotten that.  Do your job. Don’t jockey for visibility unless you are very clear in your mind why you are deliberately putting yourself out there. And when it is time for you to be seen, stand up tall on that skyline and wave for all you’re worth.  Enough said.  You get it.
“I like the way you walk, Kelly”
“Huh?  What do you mean?”
“I like the way you walk. You walk like you mean business.  You stride!  I like that”
I wasn’t aware that I had a walk.  I wasn’t aware that I strode!  But Daddy was.  And he was impressed.  And that was enough for me.  To this day I walk as if I own the land. In another life, I was responsible for a warehouse with over 60 men.  I used to assemble them all together on a regular basis to keep them in the loop and to give them the opportunity to give me feedback as to their own issues.  I’d walk into the middle of the assembled group and chair that meeting.  After I left that job, I was told that the female security guards who were posted in the warehouse, and who remained at their posts during those meetings would say that they loved how Ms Mac would just walk up… just stride up!… and stand up and take charge.  They said that they felt so inspired after those meeting, even though they knew I wasn’t speaking to them…that it was so awesome to see a woman take charge in the way that I did.  Selah.  Daddy told me that he liked my stride. So I kept striding.  I stride on today.
I was 16 and trying to decide what to do with my life.
“You’d make a fine officer, Kelly”
What? Who me? You’re crazy!  No way!      
And I had no desire to leave my very strict and regimented childhood just to enter another strict and regimented life in the military.  But I was touched.  And I’ve never forgotten.  You see, to my mind, Daddy was THE BEST OFFICER IN THE WORLD.  He was so handsome in his army uniforms…all of them, any one of them…from his number ones to his fatigues.  He was so capable.  I saw him on parade.  I heard him on the phone.  I saw him with the men when I visited his office, when they come to the house, when we visited various military bases across the island.  My own daughter remarked that I’d be totally scary as an officer when I told her what Daddy said. Well I never became an officer, but that the best officer in the world told me that I’d make a fine officer…well… it meant that I was pretty good, and I’ve never forgotten that.
And there’s so much more that Daddy taught me. He remains one of my biggest supporters (he thinks I can sing!).  He once told me and Little Sister: “You girls could rule the world!” and I think he really meant it!  I’m told that you named me Kelly. We now know what Kelly means. There can be no retreat, no surrender. 
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!  Thanks for being the Father you are. I love you.

the Back Story

I was tired.  I wanted to get home.  I had struggled for the past couple of days with thoughts of my role on the team…of feeling like I don’t fit in…of feeling under utilized.  These are heavy themes for a forty five year old woman who is facing up to the possibility that she is not being all that she can/could be.  I was always the youngest and brightest in the room. Now I’m just another middle aged woman in middle management. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.  And sure, the story is far from being over.  But in the meantime, this place that I am in sucks. And I am ready for a change.  But am I really? Will I have the courage and energy to make the change happen?  Because I KNOW change is possible, but I also know that I have to be an active participant in it.  Indeed, I may have to play the lead role in making it happen.  But I repeat, that’s a whole ‘nother story. 
So I was tired.  I schlepped me and my knapsack and my handbag down the aisle to 18F and sure enough, there she was sitting in 18F. I mustered a smile and said: “I think you’re in my seat”.  She flashed her cheap, long, jet black weave, batted some long, obviously fake eyelashes and clicked her long, bejeweled, multi-coloured tips on the arm rest: “Eeh hee? A your seat dis? Bwoy, mi just grab a seat enuh. A weh mi fi sit now?” I prayed silently: “Baby Jesus give me strength, because mi naw gi up mi window seat, and mi nuh have di skills fi tek on dis gyal yah now.”
“Let me see what seat you got on your boarding pass den nuh?” I said in as friendly a manner as I could. 
“Mi get 18D”.
“Oh, cool!” I chirped brightly.  “You’re in the aisle seat right here.”
“Mek me come out so you can come in” she said side-eyeing me. “Yuh look like yuh need di space fi come in yah so”.
“Bitch, watch your mouth” I chuckled silently, knowing full well that Latisha, Laquanda, Ladasha or La-SUPN LIKE DAT scored 100 with that reference to my, ahem: “full bodied physique”. LOL! “Yes, thank you. I need all the space I can get”. 
I squeezed in (yes I did) and Miss Thang placed her narrow, blinged out behind in the 18D. She kept looking at her phone. She kept jumping up out of her seat, looking towards the front of the aircraft as if she was expecting someone.  She kept rummaging through her bag.  She kept clicking those acrylics.  She fingered the huge gold plated, crystal encrusted 3D heart thingy that hung from a cow chain around her neck. She made a call and I heard references to late flight, missed earlier flight, di bag dem, blah blah blah as I tried to tune her out, wishing that we about to land in Kingston rather than just taking off from Miami. By this time, she had now taken her seat and was keening back and forth with her arms around her belly, head gently bumping on the seat in front of her.  I paid closer attention to my kindle and pressed as far as I could into my seat.  Lord.  This was going to be a long flight.  Sigh.
18E arrived, and he slid into his seat with ease.  Miss Thang and 18E struck up and easy conversation.  She was so hyper and looked as if she needed to just talk.  She couldn’t keep still. He borrowed her phone and made a call. Turns out that he saw a pic of his woman come up on her phone when he entered the number and he was positively mystified. Well I confess, so was I!  See, by this time I knew that they didn’t know each other and I too wanted to know how come! She explained that: “a one app me download, and once di person yuh call deh pan Facebook, dem pitcha come up and dem location too…even if yuh and dem ah nuh fren!”  Well, at this point, I was positively mystified!  So mi just join in di niceness too and start probe Miss Thang for information about the app.  So we’re all now friends.  We cuss the attitude filled flight attendant girl who refused to make eye contact when giving out di likkle free drink dem. She says that if she copped an attitude like that on her job at the nursing home, she wouldn’t have no work.  “When me ah clean up di old white people dem, and dem stinkin shit, yuh tink me can skin up me face? Hell naw! Me haffi grin an’ bear it! If dem old people could look afta demself and nuh shit up demself, den I wouldn’t have a work!” Me and 18E nod sagely, and agree that customer service is critical and that Miss AA could stand to do a refresher course.  
So we’re all getting cozy and bonding and then Miss Thang makes an announcement. “Mi ah go see mi Baby!”
“Really? When last were you home?”
“Four year now since me come home”.
“Wow! So how old is your baby? Boy or girl?”
“She a 6”
I quickly do the math. “So that last time you saw your daughter she was only 2! A baby! She couldn’t even talk! Dang, Gurl!”  Yes…I said “Gurl”. We were like that now.
Tears filled her eyes. 
“Yuh haffi do wha yuh haffi do.  Mi miss har. Mi di have a likkle problem wid mi green card but mi just pay one lawyer man fi straighten it out, and see mi yah now.  Todeh ah har birthday too!”.
At that point, we were simply two mothers. Two women with children that we loved.  I said to her: “I bet yuh never sleep last night.”
“How yuh know?” she looked at me with incredulity.
“Because I have children too.  And I can only imagine how you are feeling”.
By this time the tears were right there. And we looked straight at each other. Listen. We do the best we can for our children.  That best looks different mother to mother, situation to situation. But the motives remain the same.  She described that she was surprising her daughter and her sister and how she felt nauseous. How she hadn’t slept for the past two nights, filled with anticipation, anxiety and joy all mixed up together in one complicated mass of emotions. How she missed her earlier flight because she had to repack her overweight bags, filled with birthday gifts and clothes and stuff.  How she paid American $350.00 to carry all her stuff. How she is so grateful to finally be able to do this.  How she missed her daughter’s father’s funeral due to her green card issues when he was shot and killed last year. Her jumpiness and skittishness all made sense to me now.
I was sincerely moved.  I noticed her gorgeous smile. I was drawn in by her unpretentiousness. I was made comfortable by her frankness.  I connected with her authenticity.  I looked into her eyes and understood. Mother to mother.  Woman to woman.
“There are the lights of Kingston” I pointed out to her, wishing that I had let her keep the window seat.  After all, seeing your home after 4 years is something to get excited about. She literally jumped out of her seat, leaning across 18E and we both bumped heads looking through the window, squealing loudly with joy.  I saw a few heads turn in thinly veiled disgust.  But at that point, it really didn’t matter to us.  
We knew the back story.  And that’s the thing.  There’s always a back story.  Assume that.  Don’t let’s be so quick to rush to judgement. To label people.  To need to put them in box before we decide if we can let them into our space or not.  Perhaps we should instead suspend judgment.  Simply accept until the person provides a valid reason to do otherwise.  The back story counts.
“God is good” I said to her. “May God go before you and smooth your path and may your reunion be more that you imagined it would ever be.  May God grant you the Perfect Two Weeks back home”.

That was it.  We said goodbye in the Customs Hall.  I was anxious to get home too.  I hope she’s hugging up with Baby Girl, flashing her hair, dressed up to the nines and unapologetically letting her joy hang out.  This is Chapter Happy of her Back Story.

my children: A Mother’s Reflections

We’ve been compiling a list of “Interesting People we’d like to have at a Dinner Party”. To qualify, you have to be an original thinker. You have to be articulate.  If you have a personality quirk or two, all the better!  No, I’m not going to release that list here and now, but I’d like to talk about 2 people who have already qualified.  One is Little Master and the other is Miss World.
After a lie-in, I got up refreshed this morning and ready to enjoy Sunday.  Only Little Master and I were up.  Our body clocks are in synch in a kind of “early to bed, early to rise” kinda way.  The other inhabitants are the exact opposite.  So still in our PJs, we jumped into my car.  Destination: Red Hills for the Sunday papers.  En route I had a most fascinating convo with this 9 yr old.  Essentially he lectured me on the importance of brand in gaining market share.  He spoke at length (and oh so eloquently and knowledgeably too!) about Nintendo, Sega, Sony and the like and the fact that Nintendo has managed to remain the preeminent gaming system because of their “lovable mascots”. 
I couldn’t refute him as I am oh so ignorant of all things gaming.  But he cited facts, history, trivia about home consoles, arcade consoles, lawsuits and Atari, 16 bits, 64 bits, target audiences and the like.  Amazing how our children have their own personalities and thoughts.  Who would’ve known that Little Master would become/is becoming an authority on all things gaming.  And Nintendo has an avid fan and admirer right here in Coopers Hill, St. Andrew, Jamaica.
Miss World now does not wear her heart on her sleeve like Little Master.  She is our go-to person for all things tech.  She taught me Blogging 101, Twitter 101, how to rip audio from video, where to get great MP3 files, how to create a playlist, what a meme is and on and on.  She still keeps me clued in to the norms and rules of social media, rolling her eyes and sighing when I’ve violated one of the many in my tweets or when I’ve used a current term inappropriately.  I find out what’s going on in her world through her tweets and blog.  Man!!!  I am laughing here just reflecting on how my almost 17 year old is her own person.  Yes, sometimes her tweets border on PG13.  Yes her blog posts are peppered with choice language.  But if you know me well enough, you know that I have a pretty liberal stance on language: there is no such thing as indecent, only inappropriate, and at the same time I try to challenge her on being articulate in Standard English.  Without apology. 
  But back to Miss World’s mind.  She is her own person.  She is expressive. Funny as all hell in a dry, irreverent, disrespectful kinda way.  I crack up at her running commentary on twitter, while trying to be Serious Responsible Mummy as I admonish her: “remember that what you put into cyberspace remains there forever, Missy!  And be kind!!!”.  She is nearing the stage to decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  And not unlike me when I was her age (shhh…nuh tell her, do!) she doesn’t know what she wants to do.  I have to confess, these days my chest tightens when I think about the future where she is concerned.  I worry about if I’ve done enough to prepare her for life “on the outside”.  I worry about mistakes she will make.  I think about what I’ll do to the perpetrator of her first heartbreak.  I want with all my heart for her to be able to use her God-given talents to contribute to the world and to make a living and to be happy all at the same time.  Ah boi….
My two are wonderful people.  I just hope I am doing enough as their steward right now, preparing them and equipping them.