Although I have several faithful people to rely on, I still prefer to do things on my own. I’ve always been this way, even if I am anxious and worrisome as a result. My mother was a strong, independent woman and I always admired her for these reasons. I try to exemplify these positive attributes of hers even if it stresses me out, and it earned me the nickname of “worry wart.” Thus, I am the woman who left the hospital two days after my c-section. I am also the one who decided it was a good idea to take my toddler and newborn to brunch just three weeks into being a parent of two. As I packed them to go the words of my girlfriend who had become a mommy twice over not long before ran thru my head incessantly, “I didn’t take them out by myself for at least a couple months.” Was it really that bad? I would soon find out; the three minute drive was over and I couldn’t turn back. As we piled out of the car, I started to sweat.
A quick disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on this subject. I have no impressive degree from an Ivy League school. However, I grew up in a household in which one of three of its members was filled with a hatred so compelling it sparked violence. Thus, Id like you to consider my theory on the subject as a result of a twenty-two year case study. So, why did my brother come out the way he did?
I am a firm believer that no one is born with the desire to hurt others. We, as humans, naturally need each other to survive. Some of us may be more genetically inclined to be aggressive, but our relationship with others is purely social. So, why is it that some can ruthlessly murder others while others dedicate their lives to improving society? I believe the difference is simple: attachment.
I have been told Jesse seemed “different” as early as the age of three. This was the age my father left our family. This was the same year I was born. The same year my mother was forced to become a single mother. All of these factors would change someone. I have a child who is now three. I feel the incredibly strong attachment we have to each other – if I left her now, I am sure it would effect her infinitely. It would cause a little piece of her to disappear – her confidence, stability, and feeling of security in the world would lessen.
But would it cause her to hate others indefinitely? To lash out and desire to hurt people? I don’t believe so. But, imagine the pain she would feel if she was faced with several other experiences similar to this. Times when other people abandoned her or let her down. The more isolation she feels, the less empathy she would possess. This was my brother’s case.
He was short, he was teased, he was never really accepted by his classmates. He was ostracized for characteristics that were out of his control. He had been diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome as a young child, his tics making him seem even less “normal” than he already was. His behavior became more deviant as time went on, as his laundry list of diagnoses increased. He began to get into fights at school. He was angry and volatile. His school did nothing; this was not in the hyper-sensitive days of late. Back then it was “kids will be kids,” and “Do you think he’s cut out for school? Maybe he should get his CHSPE.”
So, in short, as he entered young adulthood and attempted to find connections, everyone but my mother told him he wasn’t worth the trouble. Mom believed in him infinitely. She knew he was capable of so much more than what people had begun to expect of him. The pressure to meet my mother’s standards despite everyone else’s grew too much for him, and he attempted suicide. Twice. As a middle schooler, I watched the trials that both my mom and brother were going through. I watched society tell her what she was doing wrong. I watched society tell him how much less value he held because he was different, and how he ought to behave to fit in. It was nearly unbearable for me to witness; I cannot even begin to conceive how hard it was for both of them.
And after twenty-five years of being told he was different, feeling little connection to those around him, and being attached to nothing but his desire to make people feel as little as he had all his life, Jesse killed my mom. But, quite often people like Jesse hurt strangers. They pack their cars with guns and their minds with plans, and execute others while they’re at school, sitting in movie theaters, or celebrating their freedom. Because people like Jesse, who have never really attached to anyone soundly, often feel the need to show others just how awful this isolation can feel. That’s where the hatred comes from.
So, what can we do to change this? The solution does not lie in any one person’s control. It is not solely our government’s job to outlaw guns. It is not only about how a parent has failed their deviant child. It’s less about guns and parenting, and more about love. Whether you’re Christian or Jewish, Muslim or Islamic, Atheist or Greek Orthodox, our duty as humans is to help others. To open our hearts to others and aide those in pain and in need. Allowing people to feel part of the human race or tribe, rather than an anomaly or a member of a smaller, less important faction, that is what will end the hatred.
As the Red Hot Chili Peppers sing, “Red black or white, This is my fight, Come on courage, Let’s be heard, Turn feelings, Into words.” Let’s start a dialogue that allows the pained to be heard and the isolated to feel accepted. Then, and only then, will we see the hatred begin to melt away. And until we can open our hearts, stay safe, everyone.
On our “nature walk” this morning (i.e. checking out our neighbor’s gardens as we make our way to the local Starbucks) Charlotte says, “Mommy, we have to stop and smell the roses. They are so byoo-fit-tull.” At first I chuckled at the sound of her sweet, little toddler voice attempting to pronounce a large word. But after a moment’s thought, I stopped and stared at her, in awe of the the moment we were sharing. I realized I was witnessing my daughter learn an important life lesson. A powerful, positive message that life isn’t always about the destination, but the journey.
But as we continued our walk, I realized the joke was on me. I was the student in this situation. I had been rushing her along, dreaming of some caffeine and a quick, hot breakfast. She had been the one to remind me of the beauty that surrounded us. Beauty that would be much more exciting than a jolt of coffee, because I would be sharing it with one of my all-time favorite people.
Needless to say, we stopped and admired the roses. And the cattails. And the bird on the wire. And the large oak with the cavernous knot. Charlotte had pointed it out and said, “Mommy, this looks like a cavern.” Excuse me? Now I’m learning vocabulary from my two year old?! At that point in our quick jaunt to The ‘Bucks, I couldn’t help but ponder all the other things I’ve learned from my children. So, it’s now nap time, and I feel compelled to create a short list (because even though I could go on forever, my tiny bosses won’t allow it).
- As I said before, life is short. Stop and smell the roses. Before we had kids, people warned me that time would fly by. They told me that once our babies were here, they’d be teenagers in a blink of an eye. As our oldest turns three, I realize that this is beyond true. Juggling a family, work, a household, and friends easily consumes day after day. When I had my second, things started happening at hyper speed. The special moments I’m given now will be fleeting memories soon. I try to live in the moment and enjoy them while they’re still here.
- Forgiveness. I am a master grudge holder. I can dwell on a rude comment for days. But, that’s not possible with a child. When they act irrational and erratic (which is almost all the time), you have to help them through it. Then get over it. Those times that I do allow her tornado of a tantrum effect my attitude, she’s totally called me on my shit. “Mommy, give me a smile,” or “Don’t worry, Mommy, be happy.” And of course, in that exact moment, I have to show her that getting over conflict is easy, because my behavior will be a road map for her behavior later on in life. I’m not perfect, but she often reminds me that I don’t have to be. I just have to be patient.
- How to be a better driver. It’s awful, I know, but there are times I get in the car and with all the things I’ve had to remember to bring, I initially forget to put my seat belt on. The dinging reminder my car emits often doesn’t register amidst the cacophony that is two young children. But, my daughter’s very bossy, “Mommy, you forgot your seat belt,” is a much clearer reminder of why I should use the belt in the first place. Charlotte’s even gone so far as to remind me to “Put both hands on the wheel, Mommy.” Thank you little lady. Now, let me see your driver’s license (but, really, I love this about her).
- Patience. Well, most of the time. Nobody’s faultless, and hearing your own name fourteen times in a row within a seven second time period will drive any self-respecting person crazy. But, if your child is learning how to put their shoes on all by themselves, you have to take the back seat. I figure that as a parent, I’m automatically late 47.8% of the time anyway. It’s in the job description. So, I either wait the fourteen minutes it’ll take her to put her shoes on, or I let her go shoeless. Either way, patience is a virtue. Goosfraba.
- Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. Having children proves the validity behind John Lennon’s theory. I can plan to attend my friend’s birthday party, but a double ear infection and several nights in a row of not sleeping will throw a wrench in that. Once I entered into parental territory, my children had to become of utmost priority. Until they can take care of themselves enough to ensure their survival, it’s all on my husband and I. So, no matter what I foresee in my future, if my child’s child’s needs don’t jive, I’m out of luck.
- There is beauty to be found everywhere. And friends, too. Little kids marvel at the wonders of the Universe constantly, the wonders that we no longer appreciate. That spider web underneath my chair isn’t marvelous, it’s annoying. And clingy. But if I take a moment to stare at it as my daughter does, I notice its amazing design and beauty. And while she and I are staring at the spider web, whoever joins us is our new best friend. Oh, we just met you two minutes ago and you haven’t yet exchanged a word? Who cares? Kids will hug despite their unfamiliarity. This is the most refreshing thing about parenting. Seeing the world with an innocent lens is refreshing and eye-opening.
- I am so freaking lucky. I’ve mentioned in prior posts how trying my childhood was. It does not escape me how lucky I am to be able to provide my children a foundation much more solid than my own. Even when we’re annoying each other our worries are small in the grand scheme of things. And we have so much fun every day of our lives. Not many people can say this. For this, I count my many, many blessings every day.
*As seen in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America*
“Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith
be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.”
The sound of the helicopters reverberated against the mountains, filling the
canyon with a deafening noise. It was almost one in the morning, but the normally quiet
streets were bustling. I was standing outside my house, tears streaming down my face. I had been crying for hours, but it felt like a minute; I had no concept of time. Earlier that night, I had returned home from work to find my mother lifeless. She had been killed during a heated argument with a family member and her killer had fled, leaving me to find the grisly scene.
In those excruciating hours, friends and family arrived and filled our suburban
street. I cannot recall everyone who showed up; their faces meld together in my mind like
a collage of love. All I know is that I eventually made my way to a neighbor’s home; the
owners were longtime friends of my mother’s, and they had graciously opened their
doors to the circus outside.
I sat on their couch, being comforted and awkwardly hugged by people coming in
and out. They said all the right things, but their words sounded empty and my heart ached
too much to believe them. Eventually, a man I had never seen before entered the room
and sat down with the crowd that had gathered.
“Hi Amy. My name is Detective Michael Valento,” he began. “I’m here to bring
you and your mother justice.”
Justice. It sounded like such a familiar concept, one I had been brought up to
believe was around every corner in America. Our country was built on justice and
fairness… but nothing about that night seemed just or fair to me. Despite fully knowing
its meaning, in that moment I couldn’t fathom ever feeling that justice had been served.
My mother could not be brought back to life.
“Th-thank you,” I replied. I didn’t know what else to say.
A few months later, Detective Valento was a regular part of my life. Our phone
calls became an almost weekly occurrence. Each time we spoke Mike vowed that he
would do everything in his power to ensure my mother’s killer would be sent to prison as
expeditiously and as permanently as possible. I believed him at the time, but as the
months wore on, and the number of hearings grew, I lost hope.
Despite my emotional struggle, I grew to know and care for Mike. He was a kind,
gentle man with a heart of gold. His intentions were of the purest, and he symbolized the
hope I once had. He was a wonderful advocate. He continued to call me often, checking
in to see if I was okay, asking how my wedding plans were going, updating me on
everything that was happening.
Alas, the months turned into years, and very little happened. Justice and the
American way were not prevailing. My hope morphed into anger. I was angry my
mother’s killer hadn’t been accorded his punishment. I was angry my mother was gone. I
was angry that a system I had been reared to respect was so clearly failing. My mother’s
murderer was playing the system, and he was getting away with it. Or so I thought.
One particularly hard day, nearly four years after my mother’s death, I came close
to losing it. I had been in court all day and I was mentally, as well as physically, drained.
Mike had been in court with my fiancé and me, sitting by our sides the entire time. I
turned to him and pleaded, “When will this end? Why is he being protected? Why hasn’t
he been convicted? Life needs to go on.”
Mike thought carefully for a moment. He looked at me kindly and said, “I know it
doesn’t seem like it, but this is all for you and for your mother. You have to understand
that our legal system, although at times seemingly imperfect, is protecting you. If we
didn’t cover all of our bases right now he could appeal and possibly be free one day. So,
for now, we must be patient. I know it’s hard, but in America good things come to those
who wait.” Again, my heart was so heavy I couldn’t quite grasp his words, but this time I
accepted the situation. I waited patiently for another year.
Five years and two days after my mother’s murder, a judgment was delivered. My
brother was given a sentence of fifteen years to life. I was as relieved as I could be.
Justice had finally been served and I could begin to repair my own life, which had been
shattered that horrific night. I remember as we fled the courtroom for one final time,
Mike had leaned in for an embrace.
After our hug he pulled back and said, “See. I told you all would be right in the
At that moment my heart filled with warmth that it had not felt for a while,
warmth ignited by someone who had been a complete stranger a few years ago. This
man, despite knowing nothing of the content of my character, dedicated a large portion of
his life to fight so I could regain control of mine. Mike’s actions showed me the
camaraderie and strength America instills in its citizens. His upstanding dedication to his
country and position of service helped change my life for the better.
Detective Mike Valento of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
exemplifies everything that is right in our country and with our police force. And
although there is no reason left to carry on a relationship with him, my adoration, respect,
and gratitude for him will never diminish. For, it’s men and women like Mike who gave
me my strength, hope, and life back, and I can never be thankful enough.