We don't listen to broadcast radio when Wyatt is around because we think he deserves to feel like the world is good and that that he is safe. With the news, either we don't know what will be reported, or we can guess what will be reported, and we don't want him to hear it. Take this weekend for example. How could we explain to our five-year old the terror attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando? Or references to the shooting in San Bernardino? Or Sandy Hook Elementary? Or any of the other recent mass shootings? I can already imagine Wyatt's questions. So we just won't go there, yet. But it won't be long before Marc and I will have to try to explain what is going on with people, guns, and some people with guns in our country.
I wonder whether there will be a meaningful shift in United States gun policy anytime soon. I haven't given up hope (or voting, or contacting my representatives), but if 20 dead six to seven-year old children didn't spur a change in policy, I don't know what will. Because I'm not sure what more I can do to support legislative changes, I've also been thinking about how to raise a person who can help defuse hatred, stop violence, and end oppression. So far, I have identified three qualities to model for Wyatt, with the hope he'll take them on and make the world a better place. They are: Civic responsibility, empathy, and gratitude.
Civic responsibility is a relatively easy one compared to the other two. For example, we already take Wyatt with us to vote in every election, we participate in volunteer activities in our community, and we do our best otherwise to be "responsible citizens." As he gets older, we may get more involved in organizations and issues, but I feel like we're off to a good start.
Empathy is more challenging for me than civic responsibility, and it is the key to bridging differences and connecting with others. I've been working on my empathy skills through parenting classes. I've also become aware of the lenses through which I see the world, and I continually work to adjust them. I used to read a lot to educate myself and gain new perspectives, but lately, I've moved to reaching out in real life to new friends and...listening to podcasts. My favorites in this realm are: Show About Race, Embedded, Code Switch, 99% Invisible, 2 Dope Queens, and More Perfect.
Gratitude is just as important as empathy. In addition to improving one's outlook on life, I believe it's an antidote to entitlement. I think gratitude starts with politeness and thank-you notes— taking a moment to appreciate a kindness—and it grows from there. I've been cultivating a gratitude practice over the past year, and while I'm much less consistent than I once was with my 5-Minute Journal, I now regularly notice more things throughout the day that I am grateful for. Marc and I also tried to start a gratitude practice as part of our family dinner time: "Three Things I Liked About Today." But Wyatt quickly decided he didn't want to play, and let me tell you, there's very little joy that springs from a practice that is punctuated by whining and pouting, so we have put that particular activity on hold for now.
There are so many ways to feel and show gratitude, and it benefits us to find them. Sometimes it's as simple as giving someone a smile or a wave, and sometimes it can be a larger effort. Wyatt's and my most recent project was for our friend who's a checker at the grocery store. According to both of them, they are "best friends." They connected upon first meeting, and now I text her when we're coming to the store so we are sure to see her while we are there. She has been so generous—I can't even begin to explain all she has given us, in addition to the new Spanish vocabulary words she teaches us each week. Unfortunately, she has been having trouble with her feet recently, and foot trouble is no good for someone who is on her feet all day. Wyatt and I concluded that while we couldn't do anything to heal her feet, we could make her some slippers to warm them and to show her how much we appreciate her.
Wyatt selected the yarn for the slippers himself. I would have never, ever chosen the colors, but I should have. The contrast worked beautifully. But then I did what a knitter should never, ever do: skip the gauge swatch. In my defense, I had made slippers from this pattern once before in what I thought was a comparable yarn. But the yarn wasn't comparable after all. The first slipper turned out about twice as big as it should have been. It was loose, floppy and unwearable. But rather than ripping it out, I decided we should try to save it through wet felting. Wyatt and I had hand-felted soap before, and after I did a little research, I felt like a (controlled) felting job might give us a winning slipper. Fortunately, the felting worked, and the resulting slipper was far better than the plain-old knitted version. So I moved on to knitting the next slipper, and then Wyatt and I felted that one, too.
We took a bucket of hot water, a bucket of cold water, dish soap, some gloves, and a couple of old bath towels. The slipper went into the hot water, we rubbed it with soap in the direction we wanted the slipper to shrink, rinsed out the soap, and then plunged the slipper into cold water. We repeated this process for about 40 minutes, until we had a slipper that was just the right size.*
Once the slippers were dry, we wrapped them in Christmas paper and a big bow (at Wyatt's insistence), and we hand-delivered them to our friend at her check stand. She later texted me a photo showing that they fit. Not bad, right?
Obviously, handmade slippers won't change gun policy or bridge the wide political rifts in our country. But the slippers represent care, and caring matters today as much as it ever has. While the news flies fast and furious and the hatred so prevalent in this election cycle swirls, I plan to turn up my empathy and gratitude, and to exercise my vote in November. With any luck, some of these practices will rub off on my kid.
*Thanks to Wyatt's birthday twin, Addie, and her parents for this amazing Bowie Tee. It's his favorite.