Morgan the Writer

Recently our two granddaughters spent the afternoon with their grandmother for what is known in our family as “Gramma Day.” It’s a casual weekly get together time after school with “just the girls,” as the girls themselves like to remind me. Their afternoon with my wife, Betty Ann, almost always concludes with a meal that the girls enjoy at our house before Grampa, that’s me, takes them home in time to get ready for school the next day.

Morgan the Writer

Morgan, as a seven year-old first grader, loves to read and just lately has discovered the art and satisfaction of writing stories. This particular day she was walking around the house with her little spiral notebook and had it sitting near her plate as we all ate supper. As I was about to leave the table and begin clearing plates, Morgan said, “Grampy, can you sit with me? I want to write another story.”

Just how much my granddaughter has ever paid attention to the fact that I too love words and stories, I cannot say for sure. But all that mattered Morgan's storywhen Morgan asked me to sit with her is that my answer needed to be yes and it needed to be right then. And there we sat, at the dining room table, notebook out, pencil in hand and one little thinker with the eraser on her cheek and staring at the ceiling waiting for the words to come.

One word to another

I knew this stance, this feeling, instantly. And as one word and then another came I watched her facial features change as her eyes lit up and her pencil found the paper. There is a kind of certainty, of absoluteness, in watching young writers press their words upon a page with so much force that dents in the page that follows. And for Morgan on this day the story was about her life and world, of family and home and their dog named Bella.

Drawing of Morgan's dog BellaAnd what was my role and what did I have to offer? Mainly presence, encouragement and most importantly to stay out of the way as the writer shaped her words and the story took its shape. Every few moments Morgan had the word and not the spelling. I watched her pause, sometimes caring to correct and sometimes not. Been there, done that,” I said only to myself. Knowing that nuggets of inspiration travel at the speed of light and as quickly disappear, I watched, silently, as Morgan harnessed all that came from a place that any writer knows and from feel, to think, Morgan got it down on paper.

Morgan the Writer
Morgan the writer

That’s how pages fill and spill onto the next. Age doesn’t matter. “My story’s going to be two pages long this time, Grampa,” she said. And so it was to the very last sentence and conclusion, in big bold letters that read, “The end.”

Text and images by K. Lee

Supporting children following the mass shootings in Orlando

Supporting children following the mass shootings in Orlando.

I have had the privilege of working with children, teens and their parents for nearly four decades within various programs and agencies. For three decades I was employed in the public sector as a youth advocate providing counseling, support groups and crisis response as needed to children of all ages. As a Quaker and Friends Minister, this same work began before and continues still, providing pastoral care and outreach to people within and beyond my wider faith community.

Personally, it always saddens me to know that I needed to “update” the content of this article with each new tragic event over the years, from Columbine, Virginia Tech,  San Bernardino, to the lingering horrors of Newtown, just to name a few. And now, following the mass murders at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando Florida on Sunday, June 12, our nation is reeling once again.

Following  such tragedies, especially when the sheer magnitude of the crime grips our collective conscience nation-wide, I update and repost what I know about methods of helping young people cope with parents and others who work with youth and offer some approaches to the typical concerns that we all have for our children. Hopefully, what follows below will prove helpful.

Parents:  Honor the emotions and real questions that come from your children, and resist saying or telling them more than they have asked about or what they may need to know or need to hear right now. It’s important to be honest with answers, especially with older elementary aged children, but don’t go overboard. When beginning a conversation, “zipper questions,” such as, “so what do you know,” or, “what have you heard,” and “what are your thoughts” are good places to start.

These days many of us, children and adults alike, silently worry about being caught in a public place when a shooting or mass tragedy takes place. Such thinking, sadly, has become instilled in our collective psyche, awareness and oftentimes fear. Our children feel this too, and at times will talk about it openly. As a parent, if you sense that your child has a heightened awareness and fear of something happening at their school, at a camp or other recreational venue that they frequent, it’s best to offer some assurance as needed. In the event that your child expresses fear of something happening at school, I believe that it is helpful to continue to affirm what we know as a statistical fact, that schools as a whole are safer than many if not every other place, and that your child will be taken care of and kept safe by the adults in their respective schools. To say anything less only instills fear, uncertainty and worry that does not add to their safety or emotional well-being.

Monitor media INTAKE

Monitoring media intake by children after a mass shooting is especially important. Most experts recommend not allowing children to watch any of the video coverage of the tragedy at all, but to choose a good time that works for your family to encourage a quiet discussion about what your kids may know already, and what may be on their minds, etc.

We too, as adults, benefit by apportioning  our own exposure to the endless videos and first-person accounts on TV, on our phones and other devices where social media may be exploding with not only news in real-time, but with personal and politically based reactions that frequently neither adds knowledge nor promotes healing. Doing so, by osmosis can help our children, too. Print media is often a better place to get the facts without the ever-present hype and drama that TV inherently provides.

While young ears are listening, I suggest that now is not the time to engage in outspoken dialog with other adults about the pros, cons and political ramifications of gun control and gun violence, where God was, or wasn’t, our security in other public places and the psychological profiling of “could-be” offenders, all of which is swirling about on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media outlets at this time. There will be plenty of time for those important discussions in the weeks and months ahead minus the understandable raw emotions and frequent speculation of presumed facts we all feel at the moment.

Because of the sheer number of lives lost in Orlando and with the knowledge that so many were young adults, Latino, and members of the LGBTQ community, the carnage has understandably gripped the hearts of people everywhere. It has also traumatized whole communities of people who have socially, politically and racially been discriminated against in the past. Parents of teens should especially check in with their sons and daughters, who verbally say little, but may be hurting inside for themselves or their friends.

It may be helpful for us, as adults and as parents to understand and expect that numbness, sadness, anger and fear will be present within ourselves and even our children. Making meaning of death is never easy, and making sense emotionally of such a horrific act, within our own selves, is nearly impossible. Finding ways to honor the lives and memories of those lost, even if by remaining aware of the funerals and prayer vigils in Orlando and elsewhere, can help, with time, to bring some sense of closure for us as parents and for our children. Everyone will hear about “how it all happened,” but parents can help their children who may be most affected to process too by sitting with them and explaining how theSupporting children following the mass shootings in Orlando .Man holding candle, How Prayer Can Help Orlando community as a whole comes together, grieves together, and honors and remembers the lives lost with funerals and memorial services.

Families connected to a faith community may find solace and comfort in both worship services and by the pastoral care that may be available through clergy and other faith leaders. This is an important resource not to be overlooked, which is available to both parents and children.

One of the challenging variables here is for children and teens riding the school bus to and from school for the first few days following a highly publicized tragedy. It is hard to know and impossible to control what other students might say that your child could overhear. It’s important for parents and after-school care providers to provide time and to listen closely and get a feel for how their child is doing upon arriving home after school.

Supporting Teens Specifically

Here’s what I’ve shared with many teens in the past on the heels of a national tragedy:

  1. Be gentle with yourself, this is hard stuff to make any sense of. Talk with your parents, a counselor in school, a teacher who you know that will listen and help.
  2. When horrible things like this happen, it can make you really sad, angry and sometimes scared too. These are all natural feelings. Journaling and writing poetry helps some teens. Doing artwork helps others. Consider listening to music that you find soothing, that helps you chill, seems to help many teens too.
  3. Be careful online. There are lots of people pushing their causes, their politics and their point of view right now on Facebook, YouTube and Tumblr. Some of these people are angry and many others have their facts wrong, too.
  4. Remember that when we discuss things like death and violence online that some other kids out there likely have lost loved ones too, and all this is really hard for them to handle. If you’re their friend, reach out to them privately and let them know you’re thinking about them. It really helps.
  5. It’s true; nothing can bring these people back. But what you can do is this: To honor the lives of those lost, consider doing something that helps others in your community. There are lots of ways to volunteer and help others, you just have to do it! It can help you to feel better too.
  6. Keep in your head that it’s never okay for anyone to think using guns to commit violence is okay. If you see or hear of anyone, anywhere “talking stupid” do yourself and the world a favor by telling an appropriate adult right away. It’s always import.
  7. Remember, talking with a parent, your parent, is still (usually!) the best thing you can do first. They’re old, they’ve been around for a while and believe it or not, talking with them can help you to deal with all this.

For all of us

In closing, I am reminded of the words of the late Fred Rogers, when asked how he could remain so positive and upbeat about the goodness in other people. He said that when bad things happen in the world, it’s important to remember also all the many good people who show up to help, to rescue, to protect who they can and to help the survivors to heal. That sounds like pretty good advice to me.

Resources to consider:

Below are a few good online resources that parents and others who work with young people might find useful to consider.

Mayo Clinic: Tips for talking with children and teens about mass shootings

American Psychological Association: Helping your children manage stress after a mass shooting.

National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Talking to children about the shooting.

Text and image by Kevin Lee

 

 

Some days we just need to hang on!

Some days we just need to hang on!

Some Days We Just Need to Hang On!, Image of child hanging on to a branch, Finding Inner Strength

Commentary

This was one of those shots that you just can’t anticipate or even plan for. The child was happily climbing in and out of the tree, and in fact spent more time sitting on the bigger bough and looking out at the field beyond.

Then all of a sudden she swung off of the bough she was sitting on, grabbed the smaller limb, and instead of letting go she just hung there waiting for her body to stop swinging so that she could let go and drop straight to the ground. She didn’t even know that I had taken the picture until ten minutes later when I showed it to her.

Funny thing though. As soon as I saw the image in my camera I knew what the title needed to be when I posted it up.

Image by Kevin Lee

Salt, Life and Light

Salt, Life and Light is a reflection on the wonder of life unfolding in young lives on a cold March day along the seashore.

Salt, Life and light

March winds blew characteristically cold and strong, sweeping dune grass and longer shafts of late-day shadows in a symphony of sight and wind-song there near the ocean’s edge. They came trudging, noisily, over one dune and up the next, a pack of life and confidence, nineteen in number and headed straight for the water’s edge. For years I’ve led groups of young people to the seaside, most especially to Horseneck Beach and each and every time my heart leaps with wonder, watching and feeling as the wind and water pulls us home again.

Twelve year-olds pick up all sorts of seaborne treasures and junk, especially when they live inland beyond the salt air and moans of foghorns, gulls and rising tide lines. One girl spots her treasure and breaks rank from all the rest to claim it, good or bad. It’s an old lobster trap. dented from rolling in the pounding surf and gift wrapped in a tangled layer of seaweed, barnacles and pebbles.

“I want this for my room!”, she says. “Can I have it?” By the time I can even respond she’s already grabbed hold of the frayed, rotted rope and pulls it out of the heap of rotting kelp, broken shells and piles of smooth round stones. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s trying to take it away from you,” I replied.

Treasure finds treasure

“Cool!” And with a mile-wide smile she turns and tugs with new-found energy and heads for the long walk back to our cars. I figured she’d haul the smelly thing just so far and then get tired, abandon it and that would be the end of it. I was wrong. Instead it became her mission and the entire focus of a smaller band of cohorts who would keep her company… not help her pull it mind you… as she hauled her treasure homeward. The sun was setting quickly now and the wind was picking up speed.

I slipped back and watched this girl, an energetic, bright five foot wonder make her way up and over the dunes, dragging her new-found treasure through the sand, her loyal scouting party on either side all chatting madly as they walked. They kept their pace and I deliberately slowed mine, until the wind and ocean’s roar behind me made it difficult to hear them. They rounded up, over and down another dune, and for a brief time all I saw were sneaker prints in the sand and the steady skid marks of one old lobster trap headed for a brand new home.

It was then that it struck me clearly. I knew this mission. I understood the quest and why it was important. Besides, who am I to say anything? I could fill a dump truck with all the stuff I’ve hauled off of the beach over the years. I felt pretty good too that I was helping her in my small way to collect her own lifetime of seaside treasures.

I paused to wait for stragglers who had scrambled up a dune and stood there saying “goodbye,” by  leaning into the wind. Their shadows stretched out beyond them and faded into the beach grass below. In a few short minutes we left the dunes and sand and circled around the cars. With juice and snacks in hand, gulls overhead and one old lobster pot in the trunk we piled in and made our exit. The moment seemed right and the day well lived.

Kevin Lee

New Footprints have arrived!

New Footprints have arrived is a snapshot at the wonder of new life and the years that follow.

A few weeks ago the world made room for new life at precisely 9:01 PM, October 28, 2007. New Footprints have arrived!. His name is Joshua James Vieira and he comes complete with all the tools to make his way across the planet, all in due time. He is also my grandson, blessing number four.

New Footprints have arrived!

New Footprints Have Arrived!, Joshua Vieira one day old feet

What is it about newborn toes and fingers that seem to hold the essence, hope and wonder of all of life itself? I held this little wonder, fresh from our daughter’s womb, even as his primary goal was to wiggle, suckle and sleep.

Ah, but the photographer in me was itching just as much to capture these early moments that seem to roll on by too quickly. Little feet, barely dry even, outstretched, moving, just because they can!

Time Travel

It is now nine years later. The grandchild tally has gone from four to six! I have lost more hair and have since retired. We are so blessed by the growing “footsteps” in our lives…all six, and all living close by too.

New Footprints have arrived! boy sitting in tidewater at beach
The tide won…!

And the image on the right is also Joshua still moving and taking in his world.

Kevin Lee