Working in news, you have to be detached, even jaded.
You must be bitter, hardened and borderline soulless.
People cope by making dead baby jokes and cracks about crackheads.
I am just as guilty as the next guy.
But, there are days when the stories we cover feel absolutely unbearable. The weight of cruelty crushes your spirit. The injustices, the death of innocence piles up and blinds you to the good in the world.
Today was one of those days.
An unthinkable crime. A father clutches his 5-year old daughter to his chest, lifts her up, then throws her off a 60-foot high bridge into the frigid water to her death.
I first read the headline when I woke up at 5:30 a.m.
It was easily shoved into the back of my brain as I worked out, showered, got dressed and drove to work.
Then, I arrived at work and had no choice but to listen to the coverage of the story. I could feel the tears begin to well up.
Then, I see the first pictures of the little girl. Her name is Phoebe and she’s a cherubic little blonde.
Then, I hear the owner of the daycare she attended talking about how she was terrified of water.
Now, I can’t STOP crying.
The terror she must have felt. Did she survive the fall? Did she struggle to swim? What went through her mind when she realized her own father had just sealed her fate?
MAKE IT STOP.
I could say this makes me want to rush home and hold my children. It does, but it doesn’t make up for the gnawing sorrow in the pit of my stomach, the grieving for a child I’ve never met.
The worst thing I’ve ever had the urge to do to my own children is drop an F-bomb in front of them.
This is unfathomable.
I did see a wonderful post on Facebook where a man similarly darkened by the cloud of gloom suggested everyone use it as an opportunity to post one thing they love about their child.
Just one? Impossible!
I love that my son randomly pets my arm while we sit together on the couch, then looks at me out of the corner of his eye and smiles so I will know that it’s no accident.
I love that my daughter asks every night if it’s my turn to put her to bed and when it is she shouts “Yesss!” and runs to hug me.
I love that my son really believes that if he wears Batman pajamas that he IS Batman.
I love that my daughter demands we call her “Flash.”
I love that my daughter wants to cook me with every night and when that’s actually a realistic option, she squeezes my legs and says, “I love you, mommy.”
I love that my son comes to his sister’s defense when we say she’s being naughty. “Alma’s not bad. Alma’s good!” (Even when she was in trouble for hitting him.)
I love that my daughter asks me if I’m “okay” when I lose at a game.
I love that my son doesn’t just give you a half-assed hug when you ask for one. They’re long and warm and heartfelt.
I love that my daughter is under the impression she can run incredibly fast when in reality it’s more of an awkward sprint.
I love that my son can’t sit still for more than a few minutes before asking, “Wanna play ball?” or “Want punching time?”
I love that my daughter asks a million annoying questions and when you finally give her a real and complicated answer, her eyes get big like her mind just got BLOWN.
I love that when she asks my son for a turn politely, he hands over whatever is, no matter what it is and without argument.
I could go on forever… and now I feel, only slightly better about the world, but fantastic about MY world.
Lately, I can be seen shuffling around like a homeless schizophrenic, mumbling to myself over and over, “It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase.”
For the past few weeks, my daughter has transformed into the kind of girl nobody wants to hang out with.
She has pretty much ruined every holiday event or special occasion.
There was Christmas where I watched in horror as she shredded open gift after gift barely pausing between to assess the present. When she finished she whined, “I want more presents to unwrap.”
I tried to convince myself it was just some kind of OCD obsession with the thrill of unwrapping.
She practically cried when I offered her Cinnamon Buns for breakfast, then downed two of them within minutes, sending her off on a sugary high, shrieking and bouncing around the house like a crackhead kangaroo.
She spent hours in separate “time outs.”
I asked her what her favorite gift from Santa was. (Santa, you know, the “guy” who bought all the presents, wrapped all the presents, decorated the tree and stealthily stuffed stockings when “he’d” rather have been sleeping.) Her response: “The kitty, I guess, but it was the wrong color and I didn’t get the doll carriage I wanted.”
This sent me off on a tear-filled, mimosa-fueled afternoon followed by a splitting headache and sweaty nap.
On New Year’s Eve, we used the Netflix fakeout countdown for the kids during which my daughter whined that she wanted to watch Batman instead.
Afterward, we partook in the Cuban traditions.
We were each eating our 12 grapes when Alma proceeded to drop 2 of them, 1 of which was never located. A slimy grape is currently curled up in our carpet maliciously awaiting a middle of the night barefoot run for a glass of water.
She refused to put pants and shoes on with her pajamas, despite the fact that it was super cold outside, because she wanted to “be Tinkerbell.”
We walked around the house with our suitcases in order to ensure a 2015 filled with travel. Of course, our neighbor walks out in a vest and tie on his way to celebrate New Year’s the way normal adults do. I can only imagine how ridiculous we looked traipsing through wet grass and dog shit with our luggage, wearing pajamas.
We get back to the front door and Alma starts fake-crying because she was under the false impression we would be walking around the whole neighborhood.
We go to dump our bucket of water out the front door to wash away all the crap that’s happened in 2014. Alma is throwing a fit because she wants to do it herself even though the Popcorn bowl is so heavy, she would end up on the sidewalk in the puddle.
Last night, I managed to sneak out of work early because we had short newscasts on New Year’s Day. On the drive home, I am cheerful despite writing about sons decapitating their mothers and boyfriends nearly strangling their girlfriends to death. There is no traffic, it’s not too hot and I am arriving home before the sun sets.
So, we decide to take the kids out for pizza. After the 30 minute drive, we discover the restaurant is closed. Alma commences whining about how all she will eat is pizza, so we end up at chain Italian restaurant that shall remain unnamed.
I always planned to be the kind of parent that would NEVER let their children play on computers at the dinner table… until I ended up the kind of parent with kids that jostle me perpetually, ask “why” repeatedly and don’t allow me to eat a single bite of food without arguing with me about something.
So, I let Alma play with her Leapad. Instead of enjoying herself quietly, she’s demanding that I watch what she’s doing, take part in what she’s doing and talking over the Comicon, Dungeons and Dragons playing waitress who is trying to take our order.
Halfway through our overpriced, undercooked pasta, the little boy in the booth behind me stands up and projectile vomits spaghetti all over the floor.
The C-team staff starts to mop it up and then leaves little wet spaghetti pieces on the floor right next to me and the stinking mop and bucket right behind my husband.
My main resolution this year was just to detox, not for the entire year, but long enough to avoid feeling pickled post holidays.
January 1st and I’m making a Moscow Mule so I can suffer through putting my daughter to bed.
We’re coloring together and she’s wide-eyed and crazed, intentionally coloring hard and outside the lines.
She stays up too late on her computer. I take it away and tell her to sleep.
When it’s finally time for me and the husband to go to bed, he turns off the hallway light and I heard Alma yell, “MOM! MOM! Turn on the light! I can’t see!!!”
She says it like we’ve offended her sensibilities by turning out HER light when SHE is trying to stay up until midnight the day AFTER New Year’s Eve.
I cry myself to sleep while browsing Facebook, looking at people wearing their fun New Year’s Eve hats, drinking champagne, their children grinning and still joyously and gratefully playing with their Christmas loot.
It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase. Until… it’s not.
I’m about to tackle an incredibly touchy subject.
While passions run high in the wake of the Ferguson riots and now the Garner protests, it’s nearly impossible not to have some level of awareness of racial tension.
It’s clogging social media, sucking all the attention away from positive news stories and making everybody just feel frickin’ uncomfortable.
I don’t have some profound take on the issue. I am no expert. But, I have acquired a pretty comprehensive collection of personal experiences.
Let’s begin with my fundamental Christian beginnings.
At the first church I can ever remember attending.
My very first memories of a best friend.
Her family went to our church. Her mother was black and her father was white. I was friends with her because she was nice. (and very pretty)
My brother had a black friend from the neighborhood that came with us on a family camping trip.
I’m not trying to say, “We’re not racist! We had token black friends!”
What I’m saying is that the song we sang in our church preschool wasn’t just a catchy little diddy.
“Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
It was a mantra. I pictured those kids. The red and yellow peeps I had never seen were always perplexing, but I grew up believing there was absolutely no difference between me and anyone of a different skin tone.
Accepting others, even when they are different from yourself is not something my parents just taught us. It’s something they put into practice.
My parents had black friends. We had black friends. It was NORMAL.
There were also ample opportunities for me to deny my upbringing and become racist.
One of my first elementary school crushes was on a black kid who teased me mercilessly. (Clearly, he was in love with me.) He got expelled for bringing a gun to school. (I still thought he was AWESOME and misunderstood.)
Another little black boy was obsessed with my long hair. He would sit behind me in 4th grade and pluck it out strand by strand.
It was annoying.
I was flattered! He liked my hair!!
In middle school, I had a crush on a black kid in gym class because he had a six-pack and could do several back handsprings in a row. He was a total badass. Isn’t that what all girls are looking for?
While my friends were writing their wedding vows to the boys from NKOTB, I was equally enamored of Christian Bale from Newsies and Michael Jordan.
My middle school was rife with racial tension. I was once walking down the hallway when a gaggle of loud black girls started hollering behind me. I glanced back to see what the deal was and one of them said, “What the f&^k you lookin’ at white bit&h?” They proceeded to (as a group) shove me onto the ground.
An overhead view of our school cafeteria would’ve revealed something resembling a black and white cookie. It was split down the middle, Black kids on one side, white kids (and others) on the other side.
Somehow, I always ended up on the border. The girls from the black side frequently threw school lunch food at my hair. I had to rush to the bathroom to drag tangled spaghetti noodles out of my hair, more than once.
That could’ve made me racist, but thankfully there were always OTHER black kids around. Perfectly decent, lovely human beings.
She would never know it, but one of those people was Fontaine. We weren’t close friends, but in retrospect her impact was pretty profound in my life.
At a time when I felt harassed and humiliated for being white, she was sweet, smart and treated me like anyone else. She would be my science class partner without batting an eyelash.
It was no big deal. Which made it a big deal.
I went to a high school in Southside St. Pete. If you know Tampa Bay, then you know exactly what that means.
I was 16 years old when the race riots broke out in the wake of a black teenager being shot and killed by a white officer. People set fire to businesses, looted stores and even beat a newspaper photographer, all within blocks of my school.
But, I was there the next morning ready for class.
Some black kids wore black power tee-shirts and the richest of my white pals were noticeably absent. That was it.
It further solidified my belief that even if I was white and they were black, it wasn’t a “me” versus “them” situation.
I knew plenty of ghetto people during high school and college, the vast majority of whom were white.
The guy who was hopped up on cocaine, rested an axe on my shoulder and whispered, “I could kill you right now.” He was white.
The guy using scales to measure drugs with the gun in his waistband. White.
The crackhead who called me a bi*&h for hanging out on a porch during some rave party at a house because he didn’t want the cops to show up. White.
I ended up staying in a house in the heart of Southside St. Pete for many weekends over the course of a couple of years.
Black girls would glare into my car as I drove down the street, some stopping in the middle of the road as if daring me to hit them. I had a car. They didn’t have bumpers. This never made sense to me.
In an area where gunshots and sirens were the nightly soundtrack, I was given shifty looks every time I walked the dogs.
I never chalked it up to “all these black people.” It was “all these ghetto people.”
I could hang out in Pinellas Park and feel equally uncomfortable about “all the ghetto people.”
While I was treated like some kind of outcast in St. Pete, my best friend in college was a guy I called “big black Steve.” He called me “Ofay.” Although we haven’t seen each other in years, he’s still my friend.
I have encountered plenty of racist white folks and they all seemed to have one common denominator. They were from wealthy, exclusively white suburbs. Their lack of exposure seems to be the biggest problem. They just don’t know any black people, so they make assumptions. Shitty ones.
I knew a (rich, white) guy in college who once said, “I think I want to date a black chick next.”
I asked, “Who is she?”
He said, “Oh, I don’t know any black chicks. I just know I want to date one.”
It told him this was reprehensible.
I knew a guy who used to say, “There are black people and then there are ni&&ers.”
I said, “There are good people and there are bad and they are all just people.”
In conclusion: I feel like there are many factors that contribute to someone’s likelihood or improbability of being racist.
It’s your upbringing, your parents putting their beliefs into practice, exposure to people of all races and the common sense understanding that a handful of people will never represent an entire group.
It’s why I love the daycare worker who braids Alma’s hair all the time, the little Asian kid named Andy that’s Huck’s best friend at school, the crapload of Indian kids that live on our street and Doc McStuffins… finally a character of color with her own entire goddamned Disney show.
The most important thing I will ever do in my life is raise a little girl and a little boy to grow up to be good people, ones who don’t even consider the color of someone’s skin as a factor.
I think it’s a safe bet.