Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Momiversity: A Mother's Reckoning

This week my kids are enrolled in a Summer camp program for 2.5 hours each morning. Hallelujah!

It's not actually enough time for me to drive home so I decided to just camp out at a nearby Starbucks and catch up on all the parenting books I never had time to read.

My classroom for this week.

And then I thought, I should blog about what I read cuz that greatly enhances my comprehension. And so I bring you this new series of blog entries: MOMIVERSITY

Today's book review is actually not one of typical parenting advice books - it's a memoir by arguably one of the most "failingest" moms in history (no, not me, surprise!) - Sue Klebold.

Remember the Columbine shootings? Sue's son, Dylan, was one of the two shooters. Sixteen years later she revisits every detail and reveals private moments and diary entries from her and Dylan's journals, trying to put the pieces together and answer the question - HOW?

How could I not have known what my son was planning?
Indeed, how could I have absolutely no idea whatsoever, not even a tiny hint?

And how could I resist such a juicy read? Part anti-parenting manual, part mystery novel, part horror show. Total catnip to me. And I devoured it. All 280 pages of it.

And in the end, after all that sturm und drang, I really can't say I came away with anything conclusive. Any real answers.

Sue talks about her deep guilt and regret. Her genuine befuddlement and lack of foreknowledge. Her happy home life. Her total lack of any kind of concern over Dylan whatsoever because he was her "sunshine boy," her easy child that never caused her any worries at all.

Even just 3 days before the shooting, Dylan went to his senior prom and had a really happy, jovial time just being a regular teen.

Is Sue just blinded by her need for self-justification or genuinely so obtuse and unaware that she lacks the psychological capacity to see the problems surrounding Dylan's upbringing?

I don't think so. It doesn't appear that Sue is any more obtuse or oblivious than the average, reasonably loving and attentive mom. In fact she seems more loving and attentive than average and in all respects, their home life was as good as anyone can hope to provide for their kids - good suburb, happy marriage, good friends from childhood through adolescence, etc.

So then how? How did this happen?

Sue's catchall answer is not that helpful - brain illness.

Brain illness is her adopted terminology for what the rest of the world still calls "mental illness." But because there is a stigma attached to "mental illness" she prefers to use the term "brain illness."

Dylan was suffering from suicidal thoughts as early as 2 years before his eventual death, as evidenced in his journals, which Sue read posthumously. He was deeply and madly in love with a girl at school that "didn't know he existed." He felt worthless and hopeless. An "unsalvagable" and summed his life up in these words "the most miserable existence in the history of the world."

But on top of his suicidal desires, was a psychopathic friend, Eric Harris, who tried to interest at least 2 other of his friends in a mass shooting at his school. No one took the bait, except Dylan.

Layered on top of this was a culture of extreme bullying at the high school. And Eric and Dylan being frequent targets of such bullying.

And there are all the pieces: suicidal intentions + psychopath best friend + steady diet of shame and humiliation + brain illness = mass murder / suicide.

Okay, fine, but how could she NOT have even a whiff of that? How could she have no inkling what was going on with her son?

This is the question that haunts me.

My parents had no idea how I thought or felt, but I always chalked that up to the fact that they weren't interested in my inner life. As long as I brought home good grades, that was all that mattered. But Sue Klebold was not an Asian immigrant parent - she cared deeply about her sons inner life, she was an artist herself and wanted nothing more than for her son to feel cared for and loved.

She talked to Dylan about all things, big and small. She asked how he felt about them. She did everything she could to nurture his inner life.

And yet she knew nothing.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Sue received many letters and a good proportion of them were from people who said essentially:

We don't blame you. My parents didn't know what I was going through as a teen. That I was raped / bullied / suicidal / etc. No one knew. I kept it a secret for years, decades.

And then I realized the chilling fact of the matter: there is a point when we as parents will no longer know what our kids don't want us to know about them. And that point probably comes sooner than we'd ever imagine.

One of Sue's journal entries was written in response to her reading about Dylan's suicidal thoughts for the first time: Dylan was so loved. But he did not feel loved...

Ultimately the question of "how" is still largely unanswered in my mind, but with the little light that has been shed, I am groping toward my own understanding of how to parent...and I'm realizing that parental love is not enough. Children need more from us than just love.

There is also the matter of Truth.

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