Thursday, May 15, 2008

We Bonded Over German Atrocities

In the blogosphere, I’m a humor writer. In the real world, I write about education reform and have a history of involvement in social justices issues. Having agreed to blog for human rights, presents a bit of a problem for me--in tone. And consistent tone is everything.

So I’ve decided to defer to other bloggers on issues of torture, forced labor, and invading countries for oil and do what Meg does best: write about my dysfunctional family and somehow in a panic at the last minute, tie it to human rights.

Turns out, it isn’t that difficult.

Mother’s Day. Early. Sleeping Comma Early. Grade Schooler jumps into bed and begs me to come downstairs.

Repeat 3X.

I abide. Am given coffee and a handmade poem. Then am quickly led to the computer where Grade Schooler has placed an order for $139.00 worth of World Wrestling gear. Now, I didn’t move into an expensive suburb to have my son become a wrestling fanatic (thanks kid down the street), but I agree he can order some of it with his own money. Husband disagrees and we get into an argument.

Five minutes later Daughter presents me with a lovely calligraphy of the Chinese character ‘Happiness.’ She begs to go out to breakfast. When I tell her I don’t want to get dressed, wait in line 70 minutes and spend my 1000 calories on the grain and yeast of the pancake variety, she takes the gift back. No kidding.

My Happiness was gone.

Teenaged Son wakes up. Asks to go to Starbucks. In one of my weaker parenting moments I agreed to let him stop taking Adderall and substitute it for caffeine. But not the $4.00 a cup kind.

Grumbling continues.

Because it is Mother’s Day and my job is to make everyone happy, I agree to bagels and coffee before driving the family out to see my mother. While eating, I’m yelled at by teenager for trying to explain the word “minimalist” which describes the decor of the bagel shop (and our family's ability to converse in a positive way).

While driving to my mother's, I’m yelled at by Daughter to turn my music down, by Husband for some minor driving infraction, by Grade Schooler for not letting him get the wrestling gear and by Teen for once again trying to explain minimalist.

We all put on happy faces for Grandma.

We return to an evening of homework hell and more pleads for wrestling gear. See how easy it would be to write about Human Rights for Moms of Spoiled Brats, here? But I'm not. SO HANG WITH ME.

I get a whopping headache, which leads me to open a beer, which leads me to a wonderful idea on how to save my Mother’s Day.

Hey teen, I say. When you’re done with your homework, want to watch a DVD with me?

Sure, he replies, always ready for the potential of movie violence.

I put in The Pianist. The true story of a pianist surviving the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi invasion of Poland. Teen, currently studying WWII, is riveted. It doesn’t long for him to leave the La Z Boy and plop down on the couch next to me. I begin to tickle his legs (as close to cuddling as it gets with Teen) and we talk about the movie. He doesn’t even mind my explaining words such as Underground Resistance.

Because I try to keep some semblance of bedtime, I stop the movie halfway-thru and promise we’ll watch the rest soon.

Monday night while he’s doing his history notes, he says, Mom, can we watch the rest of the movie, now. I can’t get it out of my head.

We watch it, and he says seated throughout the long credits. Afterwards, we talk about human rights.

On Tuesday morning, while drinking his coffee, Teen still wants to talk. We discuss how naive people can be to follow a leader blindly. I ask him what he thinks of our troops in Iraq.

In spite of The Pianist being a true story, I know it is a movie. Yet, in the basket near the TV, I have another film, a documentary called The Devil Came on Horseback. It the true story of a former US marine who witnesses and photographs the atrocities of the Janjaweed militants in Darfur. The bleak photos in it are of real, charred bodies.

I also have the documentary God Grew Tired of Us which chronicles the resettlement of the Lost Boys of the Sudan in the US.

And other movies: Schindler's List, Amistad (about the slave trade), El Norte (about illegal immigrants from Guatemala)...

And Books: Dave Egger’s What is the What, an account of a Sudanese refugee during the Civil War. And Uriza Holthe's When Elephant’s Dance, about the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during the Second World War; The Life of Frederick Douglass; Huckleberry Finn; The Kite Runner; Number The Stars; Scholastic's We Are Patriots (My America series)...

It's all part of my grand agenda--for it's never too soon to begin talking with kids about human rights and viewing in some form the consequences of the loss of them. And because the list is endless, showing the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, or reading aloud a single passage from What is the What can be effective.

So in the end, my Mother’s Day was saved.

And after Daughter cooled down, I got my Happiness back.

For more on Human Righst, check out:

Amnesty International ( is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. They work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity.


Suzie said...

Wow that is an amazing story. Teenagers are scary and you connected and he learned something so valuable. I got goose bumps.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes parenting is more about what you let through than what you keep away, which is an over-looked responsibility in a lot of homes. Kudos to you for working it into your family's life in a way that isn't preachy. We all might have been better off back when there was one TV and your parents were using it to watch the news, so you learned something now and again just by accident. Keep up the good work!

Momo Fali said...

See? You get the TV involved and any kid will listen. My daughter wasn't at all interested in discussing slavery, until they watched a movie about it at school

CableGirl said...

Phenomenal post!

I honestly believe it is never too early to start talking with children about the importance of human rights and individual thought.

For years I taught undergrads modern (and medieval) European history. Every year when we got around to talking about Nazi Germany or Stalinist USSR nearly every student said such a thing would be impossible now or here. I thought it my mission in life to convince these kids that, yes, it is possible. It is entirely possible if you do not take the time to thoroughly analyze what you are told or you just blindly accept propaganda. It is entirely possible if you are willing to allow, even temporarily, that the rights of individual humans are not as important as the "greater good".

Sogeshirtsguy said...

great post. Way to keep trying to connect till something landed. Also great to see your compassion for those less fortunate.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Amazing post. This is also such a wonderful way to reach teens. My DS goes to Community High School (which you should check out some time when you're up here), which is an open campus public school. They have many unusual programs, one of which is called "Not School as Usual Day" where the school comes together to learn about an issue and then discuss it in their forum groups (Forum is kind of like homeroom, but oh, so much more). This year they looked at Zeitouna and the situation in Darfur. Glad you got your Mothers Day back. Your daughter's calligraphy is stunning.

Alice said...

Great post. I know the US isn't perfect, but seeing what happens around the world, we really do have it pretty damned good. GirlChild and BoyChild got tough love one night after disparaging their food. So I showed them a pic of starving children in Africa. Eye opening for them when they've never seen anything like that before.

It's great that you and your son were able to discuss the movie and I would hope for the same for myself in the future.

MamaGeek said...

Ah, how true. It is NEVER too early to start educating the youths on something so genuinely important.

what's a donzer said...

This was so awesome. Seriously - what a great way to open up conversation, and the perfect day to do it, too.

I am seriously not trying to sully the beauty of this post, but when I first read "The Pianist", my mind went to "The Piano" and the dirty scenes with Harvey Keitel. But, then you cleared it up and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Great post.

ksd said...

Can I send my kid over? Maybe she'd watch a movie with you -- she's not too interested when I'm involved. Love the dolls in color!

Jo Beaufoix said...

That was fantastic, really, really good, and it made me realize that not only do I need to start teaching my children about Human Rights issues, but there is also so much more I need to know as well.

And thanks for the lovely comment over at David's. You're a star. :D

Lilacspecs said...

Wow. It's such a good thing that you're doing. I believe very strongly that kids in America are exposed to all the wrong kinds of violence in the name of entertainment while being sheletered from all the true and affecting forms of violence in the name of political correctness. It's good to know that there are still parents that choose to educate their children.

Blogget Jones said...

Wonderful, wonderful story. I can so identify with how hard it can be to "connect" with a teen. I have a 16-year-old son, who tends to think the worst thing in the universe is being told he can't go to his girlfriend's house when he's been yelling at me. Adolescence is so not a pretty thing....

My daughter is nearly there, too. She's almost 13. They studied Africa in school and had to choose a project topic. Among all the pretty posters of animals and landscapes was my daughter's neon orange beacon on the subject of child soldiers. I was astounded, and thankful to see her lack of fear in talking about something not-so-pretty.

All that to say, you're right -- it's never too early to encourage this kind of awareness. And BRAVO to you!

:o) BJ

jt said...

My oldest has her moments when she retreats from teen hell, and starts telling me about how her school is helping with this that or the other thing to try to make a difference. It always blows me away, and I encourage her as much as possible. I'm hoping they will help her continue in the right direction on how one looks at the world.

Jen @ Daily Mish Mash said...

This post is so inspiring. I wish my parents had taken the time to do something like this. Your kids are lucky to have you as their mom (even if you didn't buy the wrestling stuff).

Manager Mom said...

Your mother's day sounds like mine. I had a lovely day pretending to enjoy all of my mother's day gifts.

I was friends with Dave Eggers in college, he was my boyfriend's roommate. So I loved Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius on a couple of levels, both literary and because I know most of the people and was there for most of the events in the book. But I have been having trouble getting through what is the what... it's great, but just so darn heavy...I can barely find time to squeeze in the Us Weeklys.

Shauna said...

That is the all time best mother's day ever! You really crack me up. you want a pro-bono makeovr for you page? I will use the header you have and just put your page together? let me know - email me at ksmccallaghan at hotmail dot com

Shauna said...

pro bono is such a funny word. hope you are laughing like a 4th grade boy when you read it.

Red said...

Great story, thanks for stopping by my blog and for the comment.
Have a great weekend!

Jake Titus said...

Happy belated Mothers Day. I truly enjoyed this post from beginning to end.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Hey Meg!
I'm so sorry I didn't get back to you about drinks before the Ark show - I'd LOVE to, but I have another commitment that night, darn it! Maybe if you're up another time? We also get down your way occasionally. Take care.

Sandy C. said...

Well said and very well done. I really enjoyed reading this post. You are right it is never too early to start educating on something so important.

Bee said...

My greatest fear is that children will grow up desensitized. My husband was like that when I married him and he has changed in the 7 years we've been married. He no longer sees people suffering as their problem.

I'm happy to hear people are still trying to instill in their children that they are not the only ones who inhabit Earth.

West Coast Diva said...

I think it's great you connected with your child over a great movie.

You know my birthday and Mothers Day were within a few days of one another this year and my husband and son say -- "Okay it's your birthday and we are taking you out!" I was excited for a millisecond when I heard "Okay Japanese or Mexcian" I said "Sushi sounds okay?" And then it was -- "Speed Racer or Iron Man"

I smiled and said -- "Now I get it.

And I did:)

Great journal I shall continue to read:) If you don't mind!

jennifer said...

I came by yesterday and read this post - loved it - and didn't comment.

Saw your comment over at Mariposa's and thought I would encourage you to "double dip". I don't think it is too much to participate in more than one theme and I would love to see your collections.

Hope that you had a lovely weekend.


curlylocks said...

Brilliant!! in writing and in thought

you amaze and inspire


Barb said...

One of your best.

Barb said...

One of your best.

Sandi said...

I found you through Ask and love your blog. I love the book What Is the What, but refuse to watch The Pianist because Roman Polanski is a convicted rapist and pedophile hiding in France.

Former Fat Chick said...

I am afraid if I talk to them about human rights, they will think they have rights- hhaaaaaaaaaaaa, and they are already a BIG pain