When I was a kid, my parents had several Simon and Garfunkel albums that my sisters and I would listen to endlessly. So many of the songs felt melancholy, and one, in particular, haunted me even though I was only 8 or 9 years old.
“7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” is a beautiful version of the Christmas carol Silent Night, overlaid with a news broadcast from a single day in 1966. As the song progresses, the news begins to overtake the carol, and I remember being horrified hearing that several nurses were stabbed and strangled in their apartment, and that the U.S. would be at war for several more years.
The juxtaposition of the magical beauty of Christmas, to my 8 year old self, with the horrors of the outside world made a deep impression on me. This might be one of the reasons why, even now, I can’t listen to Silent Night without crying.
Today was the children’s Christmas pageant at our church. The children had several rehearsals this week – each the noisy jumble any event with two dozen children is. I’ve sat through enough play/pageant/talent show rehearsals to know that as chaotic as even the dress rehearsal can be, it all comes together beautifully for the performance.
The church was abuzz this morning with excitement, not only that of the children, but of their parents, friends, and extended family as we filed in and took our seats. The minister began the service by announcing that we would have a moment of silent reflection in remembrance of last year’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, with a ringing of bells, one for each soul that was lost one year ago.
I sat in the pew with my angel Gabriel on my right and my lead shepherd on my left, tears streaming down my face. Twenty six is a lot of bells. I cried for the parents who were about to go through a second Christmas without their beloved children. I cried for the family of the beautiful girl in Denver who was shot this week by a classmate and remains in critical condition. And I thought about the birthday party my daughters would be attending in the afternoon. A laser tag party.
Now, in our family the use of toy guns is non-negotiable. My husband served for several years as a police officer, and he is adamant that our children never, ever think of guns as toys. Our daughters have never had water pistols. We don’t allow them to play violent video games. We are less concerned about their watching a movie with suggestions of sexuality than one with gratuitous violence. When we lived in the Pacific Northwest over two decades ago, one of my husband’s fellow officers almost drew his weapon on a teen boy who had a toy gun. This year in Northern California, sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a teen with a toy gun.
So when our ten year olds received an invitation to a friend’s laser tag party, I felt very conflicted. I wanted them to be able to help their friend celebrate her special day. I didn’t want them to miss out on a social activity that all of their other friends were attending. I didn’t want to imply judgement on other people’s parenting by my disapproval of their party venue. But I felt uncomfortable with the idea of laser tag. The laser tag facility is very clever in their marketing, describing the activity as “combining the classic games of hide-and-seek and tag with a high tech twist.” But the reality is that my girls would be running around “armed” with some sort of device by which they would “shoot” their friends. I sought the advice of my sister and of my oldest daughter who said, “mom, you’re over-thinking it.” My husband, too, was surprisingly ambivalent.
This parenting business is challenging. And we certainly don’t claim to be perfect at it. It was so easy when they were little. As they get older, we just do the best we can, knowing we’re making mistakes along the way. Sometimes the answer is crystal clear, and other times it is not. As we told our oldest daughter when she was in middle school and introducing us to all kinds of new parenting decisions, “sometimes we’ll say yes when we should have said no, and sometimes we’ll say no when we should have said yes, we’re just trying to figure this out as we go along.” The younger kids are at a laser tag birthday party today, and I still don’t know if we said yes when we should have said no.