Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Post-Newtown musings

  • Newtown, Connecticut. 20 gorgeous children, 7 adults. Kindergartners and first graders, for crying out loud. :( 
  • I was having breakfast with my teammates at work that morning and there was a TV set on the restaurant wall, tuned to a 24-hour headline news channel, sound turned down. I saw a headline flicker by about a school shooting in the States. I shook my head, but it didn't really register -- school shootings in the States being sadly not unheard of -- until later, in my cubicle, browsing some news online.  
  • Most Canadians don't understand America's fascination with guns. Guns are nowhere near as prevalent here as they are there, and are nowhere near as deeply embedded in the culture.
  • But -- they ARE around -- and there is a vocally pro-gun segment of the population, particularly in rural areas.
  • We have our own tragic stories of mad gunmen, school shootings and mass murders. To name a few:
    • In 1967, when I was six years old, an entire family -- two adults and seven children --was murdered on a farm near the small town of Shell Lake, Saskatchewan, about three hours from where we were living at the time. Only the baby survived. I don't think I knew all the specifics until years later, but I remember the prevailing atmosphere of fear (mass murders were practically unheard of then, nevermind in rural Saskatchewan), and how my mother barely wanted to leave the house until the killer was caught, several days later. To this day, if you mention his name or the subject generally, my mother will visibly shudder.
    • One of my coworkers was a student at Brampton Centennial Secondary School in 1975 when one of Canada's very first school shootings took place. A student and a teacher were killed, and 13 other students injured before the gunman committed suicide.
    • In 1978, one student shot another -- allegedly for ridiculing the rock group KISS -- at a high school in Winnipeg.  I was 17 and living about an hour away at the time, and we often drove by that school on our way to the mall, so I remember it quite clearly.
    • On Dec. 6, Canadians marked 23 years since 14 young women engineering students -- targeted specifically because they were women -- were gunned down at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal.
    • There was another shooting in Montreal in 2006, at Dawson College, where one person was killed and 19 injured.  
    • In general, though, the reason these stories are so memorable is because they are so rare. 
  • I grew up in small rural Prairie towns where -- even in elementary school -- the boys would talk endlessly about hunting and trapping. Several of my uncles and cousins hunt, and while my dad never has, at least in my memory, he did ask for -- and get -- a BB gun on a recent birthday, to scare the crows away from his precious garden. I chipped in with my mom & sister (he's hard enough to buy for at the best of times and rarely asks for anything specific...), but all the while muttering, "I can't believe I am actually buying my father a GUN. For a PRESENT."   
  • I myself asked for -- and got -- a toy rifle for my 3rd or 4th birthday, so that I could be like my hero, Chuck Connors, "The Rifleman." (Not exactly the common gift of choice for little girls in the early 1960s, I know, but my best buddies were three brothers who lived across the street and so -- for a couple of years anyway -- I was a little tomboy, learning to skate on the backyard rink my dad made for us in a pair of their oversized hockey blades.)  Anyway, somewhere in my mom's photo albums, there exists a black & white snapshot of me, dressed in a crinoline and Mary Janes, and proudly brandishing my new rifle. (!!)
  • Somewhere along the way, though, I lost my appetite for guns. I used to get nervous just being at my aunt's house & eyeing my uncle's rack full of rifles, mounted on the wall.  
  • This might seem petty in the face of so much pain -- but did any other loss moms or CNBCers out there find themselves wincing over all the comments prefaced by the words "as a parent" (including from President Obama), and the comments and Facebook posts from people instructing us to "Hug your kids a little tighter tonight" and "I couldn't get home to my kids fast enough."? 
  • My gut feeling is that, even if we don't have children here on this earth, those of us who have lost pregnancies and babies can relate to those grieving parents right now just as well as (or dare I say, better than?) parents of living children who have never experienced the loss of a child.   
  • I have also had my ALI hackles raised by all the references to how the "moms of America" must unite for social change (a la MADD -- as a New York Times columnist suggested).  (a) While the stats do show that more women than men are in favour of gun control measures, I'm willing to bet there are plenty of dads/men out there who are horrified by what happened and willing to make their voices heard. And (b), obviously, just because I am not a mom doesn't mean I don't have a stake in this too.
  • And then I read this opening paragraph for an opinion piece by Salon's Joan Walsh: "As parents, we can feel the stabbing pain of newly bereaved Newtown mothers and fathers, but we don’t have to be parents to feel that loss." Bless you, Joan! : )
  • As I mentioned in a comment on Stirrup Queens, some local parents are up in arms because their children were told about the shooting in Connecticut by their teachers. They say they don’t want their kids to know about what happened. While I understand the instinct to protect your children, especially the younger ones, from harsh reality, I am not exactly sure how they expect to do that. Kids are so media savvy these days -- the media is saturated in coverage of this event right now -- and of course, they talk among themselves — not that they always get their facts straight. I think it’s much better that they hear it (or at least a true but edited version) from an adult -- preferably their parents, but teachers may be put in a position where they have to answer questions too.
  • Case in point (I may have told this story here before):  in October 1970, when I was 9 years old and in Grade 4, a radical Quebec separatist group called the FLQ kidnapped a British diplomat (who was later released) & also kidnapped & murdered a provincial cabinet minister, Pierre Laporte. (Google “October Crisis” & I’m sure you’ll find lots of information -- here's Wikipedia's entry.) Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister at the time, invoked the War Measures Act, which severely curtailed civil liberties, and there were troops in the streets of Montreal & Ottawa. It was a very tense couple of months. I was living far away from the action, in a small remote rural community on the Canadian Praries, and there was no Internet or CNN ratcheting up the news coverage, but there was still a lot of fear, and a lot of wild stories circulating on the playground. One of my friends told us that Laporte had been beheaded -- and I believed her. Her dad was an RCMP officer -- he would know, wouldn’t he?? (It wasn't true. I didn't realize that until years later.)
  • Melissa at Stirrup Queens brought our attention to a blog post by Dyke in the Heart of Texas, challenging us to remember one of the young lives lost at Sandy Hook (and not the gunman).  Kathy at Bereaved & Blessed has also embraced this challenge.
  • If I remember one name from Sandy Hook, it will probably be Ana Marquez-Greene. As this article explains, Ana spent spent about half of her far-too-brief life in the city of Winnipeg in my home province of Manitoba, and only recently moved back to Connecticut. Her father is a jazz musician who taught at the School of Music at my alma mater, University of Manitoba. Her funeral will be this Saturday. :( 


  1. : (

    The girls' PreK Christmas concert was last Thursday night, so all Friday, while I was following the news and trying not to let the girls see my sorrow and anger, video from the concert was frozen on my screen.

    You know the 6 degrees of separation theory? I've lived in the Midwest all my life, but I'm 3 degrees removed from two of the children. Avielle was my best friend's high school boyfriend's little cousin. Olivia was a friend's high school classmates' daughter. But I'm thinking of them all.

    You might remember that a few years ago my brothers gave my dad a handgun for Christmas. D. and I are a little tense about this holiday with my family.

    BTW I ordered my own copy of Dave Cullen's Columbine book. It should be here tomorrow.

  2. I thought about that "as parents" comment from Obama as well when I watched the prayer service. It irked me because obviously one does not have to be a parent to be profoundly affected by this loss--and particularly because one of the teachers (Victoria Soto) who died protecting her students was a young, single woman without children. Clearly parenthood is not a measure of her capacity for love and sacrifice, just as it shouldn't be for anyone else.

  3. Ana Marquez Greene precisely who I had in mind given her connection with Canada. Can't help but think that useless thought, what if they had stayed here?

  4. I'm so glad I wasn't the only one cringing at the "as a parent" comments. I felt like I wasn't allowed to feel sad because I hadn't had a child.

    There was a murder in my high school growing up and a friend was paralyzed when another "friend" shot him while playing with his father's gun. I don't need to be a parent to know what that pain is about.

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful thoughts. :)