The Climate of Violence We Live In

Icy Branches

Growing up I read fairy tales featuring ogres and ferocious creatures, yet I knew they were not real. Besides the hero or heroine always won, often through trickery and clever alternatives to violence. I grew up protected from discussion of ugly or violent happenings. I’d hear, “Nicht fur das Kinder,” (not in front of the child) Then I would be sent away so the grownups could talk.

As a mother I brought up my children to work things out peacefully. There was no fighting allowed in our back yard or the combatants were sent home. Before TV and its depiction of worldwide conflict and violence, American children were not directly exposed to war and cruelty. Sadly, while there have always been violence, cruelty and destructiveness in our world, only recently has it been so blatantly displayed. Today’s youngsters will never remember a time of peace.

Watching the Olympic Games, I found it inspiring to see the athletes of today carrying on its tradition of peaceful competition rather than conflict between countries. Unfortunately, despite peaceful athletic competition, today’s youth is growing up in a climate of violence. Most newspapers feature that. Good news is often buried somewhere within the paper almost like a footnote. What has the acceptance of conflict as perhaps the only way to resolve issues done to young minds and hearts?

Yet it is not only the immediate media we encounter daily that contributes, there is also the tenor of our language. We speak of “fighting” bad conditions, disease, and what we dislike in the world. Killing is a casual term for stopping or eliminating: “kill” that article or image. The majority of video games seem to be about fighting and destruction. Comic books and illustrated novels have similar themes. When I was growing up there were curbs on the ugly and the dreadful. There was a comic code whose job it was to protect the young.

Now there seem to be no limits and no safeguards for young minds. When I was young we had bomb drills in our schools, yet the war was far away and no immediate threat. Today children have drills to rehearse for someone coming into the school and shooting them. How can this make them feel? A friend spoke of their child in college as being potentially unsafe in his school. No one ought to have to go through life feeling fearful, yet that is how things seem to be today.

Fear and anxiety separate us from one another. Love and acceptance bring us together. While no one person can make more than a small difference, whatever any of us can do to generate peaceful acceptance of each other’s differences and live in cooperation with each other contributes to a happier world. Where conflict resolution is taught in schools, violence greatly diminishes. Let us do what we can to encourage a climate of peace. Youth no longer bathed in violence will be free to see the world differently and react toward it accordingly.

I welcome your comments and/or questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Expectations

kathys-christmas-wreathsI remember one Christmas my parents gave me four or five board games. The difficulty was, I had no one to play them with. My parents didn’t play children’s games; we lived in the country and there were no kids in the neighborhood; and my schoolmates lived in other towns. Gas being dear—this was during WW II–people did not drive their children around for play dates. My usual Christmas presents were clothing or things I needed. Great Aunt Alice gave strange presents—one year she gave me a wood burning kit that was difficult for me to figure out how to use. I looked forward to stocking presents; they were more fun. Best of all was when I got old enough to play Santa along with my parents and participate in filling their stockings.

I had a small book of the poem by Clement Moore that I always enjoyed rereading at Christmas. Eventually I knew most of the poem by heart. “The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” These verses have given us all an image of Santa and how he does things that has remained with us through many generations. We expect that he will wear a red suit, come down the chimney, arrive on a sleigh with reindeer, and so on. Cookies and carrots for the reindeer are part of our expectations for his Christmas Eve visit. Presents under the tree on Christmas morning are another. Does Santa always wear a red suit? Or can Santa dress in ordinary clothes?

“Santa Claus is coming to town,” as the song goes, and, some warn you’d better be good or else. “He’s making a list,” as the song goes. There used to be talk of Santa leaving a lump of coal or something else that is undesirable in the stocking of children who were not good enough to deserve toys. One of the original Santas—St. Nicholas, provided dowries for young ladies who otherwise would not have been able to get married. Some cultures used to include a kind of negative Santa called Black Pete, who tagged along to punish or otherwise be unkind to those whose bad behavior merited it. Must gifts be a reward or can they simply be a sign or love from the giver?

The advertisements on television create enormous expectations. The shining allure of the latest toy or newest communication device creates desires that may lead to major dismay if they are not forthcoming. What may be lost in the light of all these expectations is the unexpected, unadvertised gifts that this time can bring: the peace of loving hearts gathered together and the good will that comes from sharing. The opportunity to participate in the love and merriment that is part of the holidays is the real blessing, the actual present to be gained at this time. Those who are too focused on their expectations may well miss out on this, the real gift of this season.

Tasha Halpert

 

 

Birthdays are for Celebrating, by Tasha Halpert

Flag on Steps, Maine -15  As a child I didn’t like going to birthday parties. They often played a game called musical chairs. I hope no one plays this any more. For those who haven’t, 2 rows of chairs is lined up back to back. The children march around them to music. When it stops everyone grabs a chair and sits. Each time, one chair is removed and someone is “out.” The last person who grabs the last chair wins. I never won and I thought it was a mean game. I loved celebrating my own birthday at home.

On each birthday in the family my mother would put flowers around the breakfast setting of the birthday person. There would be presents, and special food for dinner. I didn’t have many friends so instead of a party I would be taken to the movies or out for some other special treat. I made my presents for my parents’ birthdays, usually little books or a home made puzzle.

July 4th, also called Independence Day, marks the birthday of the United States of America, the day the Declaration of Independence became official. It is celebrated with gatherings, fireworks, parades and other opportunities for fun. Some might say there is too much strife and dismay to be celebrating. Terrorist attacks, murderous rampages by vicious people who take out their rage out on innocent victims, and other dismaying occurrences sadden and frighten them. Yet this is no reason not to celebrate.

When I was growing up there was a polio scare every summer. we were frightened of the beach, or other places where there were crowds. When I was in the 6th grade one of my classmates caught it and lived out his life in an iron lung. There seems always to be something to fear. Plagues in Europe, epidemics in the US, and even savage attacks by hostile tribes. When in history has there not been a threat to survival?

Every birthday reached is to be celebrated. Within the past several years too many friends of ours have died, many much too young. One never knows when there will be no more birthdays. This is all the more reason to mark each and every one as a special occasion. Young children love their birthdays. The child in us, the part that never grows up enjoys every aspect of a birthday celebration no matter how many years we accumulate. There is much to rejoice over and be thankful for in every year of life. We do well to focus on this.

Stephen was born on the 3rd. of July, and we always gather with as many friends as can make it to mark this important day. This year on his special day he will celebrate 75 years of life. A mere hundred years ago this would have been considered an tremendous accomplishment. It is, yet nowadays with good habits and good care he can expect to celebrate many more birthdays. This year when he blows out the candles on his cake he will wish not only for himself but also for his country, a peaceful, prosperous new year of life. May it be so.

The Three Bite Rule

When I was growing up there was no such thing in my family as not eating what was put before you, or of getting up from the table before you had finished what was on your plate. The “starving children in China” statement was applied whenever I protested. I learned to swallow pieces of liver as if they were pills, with gulps of milk. However I was unable to cope well with the frequent soft boiled eggs, and finally my mother stopped giving them to me. I have memories of sitting at the table staring at the egg in its shell in the egg cup in front of me. That was one battle I won. Not until I was an adult did I learn to like soft boiled eggs and I never did learn to appreciate liver.

My mother built her cooking around my dad’s taste, so much of what we ate was pretty standard. She believed in providing nutritious food, and though plain, it was. Despite the fact that she really didn’t like to cook, she understood that providing nourishment is an important aspect of caring that nature has built into mothers, and she did her best. All too often family members, like me as a child, do not express appreciation for the family cook’s labors in the kitchen. Though it didn’t occur to me as a child, as an adult I personally think they might be grateful someone has taken the trouble to make a meal for them to eat.

As regular readers of my column know, I have always enjoyed cooking. I find it satisfying as well as enjoyable. One aspect of this is that I prefer to prepare meals from scratch. Some might be surprised to learn I don’t own a microwave, nor do I wish to. I even like chopping food by hand rather than using a machine, peeling my fruit and vegetables, and doing all the hands on work that is required to use completely fresh ingredients rather than prepackaged ones. I do not claim that this is particularly virtuous on my part. It is simply my preference.

This is because putting myself into the meal is part of my joy in the creation of it. My energy goes directly into the chopping, the peeling, the mixing and the stirring. This is my purposeful contribution to the health and welfare of those I love and fix food for. I am fortunate to have an appreciative husband who enjoys whatever I prepare. I had one once who wasn’t and his influence on our younger children made quite a difference in what they were willing to eat. He was a meat and potatoes man and we were on a casserole budget, so complaints were often made. Yet being hungry he still ate whatever it was.

I tried to make interesting meals, and I used to tell my children they had to eat three bites of whatever I served them or I would make them eat the whole thing. Fortunately young children are not logical and none of them ever figured out how if they wouldn’t eat three bites, how could I get them to eat the whole thing? I even did this with their playmates and guests. Today one of my delights is to introduce people to foods they may not have experienced–at least not the way I prepare it. However, I don’t tell them they must eat three bites or I’ll make them eat the whole thing.

Tasha Halpert

Salad and casserole 3

And God Bless the Caterpillars by Tasha Halpert

And God Bless the Caterpillars

LLisa's butterfly My dandelion headed five-year-old is saying his prayers. He includes the caterpillars in their jars on the window sill. We had filled the jar with what we hoped was the appropriate leaves for food and twigs to climb, and each night we prayed for them. The time was 1968, and my son was one of five, active bright friendly loving children.

The caterpillars munched, spun cocoons on the twigs, and were quiet. We waited in vain for butterflies to emerge. Together we concluded that caterpillars did not do well in captivity and perhaps it was better for them to go free. Lessons on many levels were learned from the experience. I don’t know whether my son remembers the caterpillars, but he is now a grown man with a strong sense of curiosity, a fine capacity for observation and a desire to do some good in the world. The eager child lives on in the man.

One day the family visited someone who had guinea pigs. Naturally the children were fascinated and the pet shop that sold us our first pair agreed to buy back progeny. I was delighted at the opportunity to give the children a first hand lesson in biology, and all went well until we elected to do a breeding experiment. Unfortunately our breeding program coincided with a glut of guinea pigs at the pet shop. My living room filled up with boxes holding a total of fifteen furry squeakers and any time the refrigerator door opened, a chorus of squeals filled the house.

In the process my oldest daughters found out first hand that one cannot always rely on original solutions but must plan for contingencies, and of course they had graphic experience in where babies come from! Now that they have had their own children, they have fostered the same sense of adventure in their offspring and have carried on the same love affair with nature.

Nature is a great teacher of many things, and the care with which it is arranged has a significant message for us. We are part of the cycles of emergence, growth, and return to the whole. We circulate life energy the way a tree does. Once we believed we were in charge but this conviction is eroding with our recognition of the results of that belief. Our attunement to the part we play in the natural order of life seems to me to be more important than ever to our growth as healthy, positive human beings.

Parenting seems best learned by experience. Children are resilient. With goodwill, grace and good luck most of us will succeed in raising well adjusted children. Doing what we most enjoyed with our youngsters often results in happiness for all, but observing and participating in the processes of nature can easily and quickly return us to the joys of childhood as well as bring us pleasure in the present.

Looking together at snowflake crystals, searching for seashells, tenderly weeding small gardens—the days of my companionship with my children are cherished memories. I learned as much from them as they did from me. Nature is a great teacher and I am grateful to her for the lessons I learned as well as the beauty I have received. I am proud, too, of my children for their positive attitudes and approach to life, much of which was learned at Mother Nature’s knee. And I say with my son, God bless the caterpillars, God bless them all.

A Very Special Easter Bunny by Tasha Halpert

I have many memories associated with Easter, dating back to my childhood and continuing on through the years between then and now. In the days when ladies wore hats to church, as a child I wore a straw hat with a wide brim and a ribbon tied around it that hung down my back. My father would always buy my mother and me corsages, a gardenia for me and an orchid for her. I loved the scent of the gardenia. However, there was no Easter basket, candy, or hiding of eggs. After church we usually went to my Great Aunt Alice’s for Easter dinner.

When I was married and had two young daughters of my own I used to sew Easter outfits for them–little spring coats and pretty dresses. We always hid candy eggs around the living room. When my daughters were old enough to do some independent purchasing, they planned a special surprise for their parents. They walked to the local candy store and spent their own money on Easter candy, although not for themselves. Then on Easter morning they got up early and created an Easter egg hunt for their parents.

I will always remember coming down into the kitchen and seeing the foil wrapped eggs gleaming from their hiding places. Then two little voices called out “Surprise!” Bright in my memory are the two dear faces wreathed in smiles. “The Parent Easter Bunny came and hid eggs for you to find,” they told their father and me. What fun it was to discover where the eggs were hidden. What a pleasure it was for them as well to create this wonderful experience. It continued for some years, and each Easter their father and I looked forward to it.

Time and tide move us onward. More children came along to hunt for eggs and enjoy the Easter celebrations. The girls went off to college and began their own lives. Later on when they were married and grown, one lived too far away to celebrate at Easter with us. However the other lived close enough to drive over. We would go to a very special candy maker in the vicinity. Together we picked out candy for the grandchildren, and she took it home for the Easter Bunny to give them on Easter morning. Although I didn’t get to see their faces when they discovered their gifts, I had the pleasure of participating in their happiness.

Throughout the Western hemisphere, Easter is in part a religious holiday and in part a celebration of the coming of spring. Since before recorded history human beings have honored this time. Archeologists have found red dyed eggs dedicated to the German goddess of spring in Europe. There are many traditions from every where in Europe that are part of the way we celebrate today. Most spiritual paths and religions have their own spring celebrations. The dear Easter Bunny is a precious reminder to us that the days have grown longer, the trees will be budding, and life emerges joyfully in the new season.