Reading The Hunger Games With My Son

  My son Nico is not an avid reader. Sure, he reads, but like many 13 year-old boys, when given a choice between X-Box, AirSoft, or a book, he’ll take shoot ‘em up games– live, or virtual– any day. This used to distress me because I was such a huge reader when I was his age. But, then I realized it isn’t so much that he dislikes reading, as much as it is he needs to find the right book, a book which appeals to his age and interests. He found such books when he discovered the fantasy world of the Madeleine L’Engle and Greek mythology in the Percy Jackson series. His fondness for fantasy has grown and he now enjoys reading science fiction. In fact, he was so thoroughly engrossed in his most recent literature assignment, Fahrenheit 451, he couldn’t put it down and he would read well past the day’s reading assignment. I was thrilled to see him enjoying the book, even if I never really appreciated science fiction myself.

Why then wasn’t I equally thrilled when I saw him devour the entire Hunger Games triology over Christmas break? Perhaps it had something to do with the subject matter. The series is set in the future, in post war country called Panem, where people living in areas called Districts, are starving and oppressed by the people living in the wealthy region called the Capitol. Each year, one boy and one girl from the ages of 12-18 are randomly selected from the Districts to be Tributes, and participate in the Hunger Games. The games require that the Tributes hunt down and kill each other. All the citizens of Panem think this is fine sport, and the games are broadcast throughout the Districts and the Capitol.

Can you see how I would be less than thrilled about the subject matter? Well, apparently I may be just about the only one who isn’t excited about this book series, since the Hunger Games series’ popularity is parallel to all the Twilight hype and Harry Potter hysteria of recent years. And as most popular series go, the books have been turned into a movie, which opens this Friday. Nico has been so anxious to see the movie he asked if he could go to the midnight show. There is no school for him on Friday, so I relented and said he could go with a few of his friends who are also fans of the series. There is just one catch, I have to go with them. That’s right, late Thursday night until early Friday morning I will be in a sold-out movie theater with Nico and a few of his friends watching The Hunger Games.

I decided I should at least find out for myself what all the hoopla is about so I am reading the books myself. I am halfway through the first one, and I am enjoying it. It’s a gripping, easy read. I can understand why it’s so popular, even if the subject matter is so dark I find it disturbing. Still, I wanted to see what Nico found so appealing about the series, so the other day while we were alone in the car I asked him.

Me: I am halfway done with the book and I am enjoying it. What is it you like about it?

Nico:    I like the action and the fact that it takes place in the future.

Not satisfied with such a simplistic answer, I decided to delve a little deeper into Nico’s thinking.

Me:      What do you think the author is trying to say with the message of the Hunger Games? Do you think he is making a commentary current society, about the way first world countries oppress other less developed nations? Maybe it’s a commentary about the way first world countries or those in positions of power dehumanize others who live in poverty, or third world countries, making it easier to turn a blind eye to the starvation, war, and violence?

Silence.

But, that did not stop me. I pressed on.

Me:      How do you compare the fantasy world that exists in Panem to the world that existed in Fahrenheit 451?

The empty silence reverberated through the car. Nico just stared at me. His eyes glazed over and then rolled into the back of his head. He seemed exasperated, but he began to answer my question anyway, even if it was in a tone I usually reserve for my kids when I scold them for leaving their dish in the sink.

Nico:      First of all, Mom, the author is a woman, not a man. Her name is Suzanne Collins. Panem is not a different country. It’s the USA, in the future, after a nuclear holocaust. The Districts are not other countries. They are part of the same country. See, my friend created a map based upon his reading of the books.” Then, he proceeded to show me on his iPod Touch, a map which depicted the country of Panem and its Districts, and the Capitol.

I had no response since I couldn’t help but feel chastised and impressed at the same time. He pressed on.

Nico:      I liked Fahrenheit 451, and I guess you might say that they are similar because they both take place in the future, and the culture is pretty violent too. Only in that book, people weren’t starving. They just couldn’t have books. And there didn’t seem to be any rules on the road. That’s how one of the characters in the book dies, by getting hit by a car when the car’s driver is going fast and loses control.

Okay then. I haven’t read Fahrenheit 451 before so I didn’t even try to respond. It struck me, as he “analyzed” the stories, that perhaps I was reaching too deeply, trying to find the message in these stories are violent, and still entertaining. Maybe, I should just let him enjoy the books, and be satisfied he is so willing to accept them as fantasy and not as commentary. Right now, he is content to read them, think about the characters and lose himself in the story. Oh, and wait for the movie to come out on Friday.

 

A Weekend Without Kids

Today it’s Juan’s birthday and it’s also Valentine’s weekend, so it was a perfect reason to get away–without the kids. We used to do this a lot more when our shared custody schedule permitted a weekend without kids, and before Diego was born. Lately, the kids’ schedules have prevented us from getting away. Last year, Juan and I were only to get away for a single night’s escape all year. Boo hoo. I know that this sounds like a first world problem, and many families don’t have the luxury of being able to get away at all, so I apologize if my complaints really sound self-indulgent, but for me, getting away with my husband without the kids is really important.

Dedicating time to each other, without the kids around, in my opinion, is one of the best things we can do for our kids. A good relationship between parents, contributes to a stable, happy home. My older kids have already lived through divorce and I know I don’t want them to have to experience it again. Not that Juan’s or my previous marriages ended because there were no getaway weekends without the kids, but for Juan and I, in our marriage, the occasional weekend away helps us to re-connect and re-charge. We get the chance to enjoy each other’s company, relax and take us away from our normal weekend routine, all of which can be wonderful, but also exhausting.

This weekend we got away to an adult locale–Las Vegas. I have been here several times before. It is only a 4-5 hour drive from my hometown, so getting here is fairly easy. We even brought the family here a couple of times and really enjoyed it. Vegas is still pretty much an adult playground, but there are a number of family friendly sights and shows. In past summer visits with the kids we spend days by the pool and evenings taking in a show or walking to see the hotels and sights. This weekend, however, Juan and I are enjoying the very adult offerrings. We are not real gamblers, but the shows, shopping, restaurants and bars give us more than enough ways for this town to take our money!

I can’t believe this place? Doesn’t anyone know there’s a recession? Well, Juan and I do, so even though we are here on a very indulgent getaway, we are still trying to economize where we can. I’ll write more about that in my next post. Right now, I am walking to Walgreens’ to check out the wine selection. (The bar at our hotel is charging me $15.00 a glass!) Then, we’ll have our own happy hour, take a nap, and head to a restaurant for a celebratory birthday dinner.

Looking and feeling relaxed during our weekend in Vegas.

 

 

When Being the Mother Isn’t Enough

I was 35 years-old when I became a mother. By that age, I had gone to college, finished  law school and started my second career as a litigation attorney. I was was at a point in life where I was ready to assume the responsibliities of motherhood. I was ready. After enduring 36 hours of labor and an unplanned c-section, I was anxious to leave the hospital and be with my baby.  I wanted to get home get my “mothering on.” My husband at the time, was a a part-time musician, and had a regular Saturday night gig at a not-too-local nightclub. It was noon Saturday when we arrived home with our precious bundle, Nicolas.  I had decided to breastfeed my baby, but after three days my milk had not come in and Nico was still only getting the nourishing colostrum. The lactation consultant visited me before I left the hospital and sent off with words of encouragement. I thought I had everything under control, so why should my husband miss his regular Saturday night gig. “Go,”  I said. “I got this.” Besides, since I was Nico’s only source of food, I could handle it.  So, my husband went off to his gig and I was all alone. With a newborn.

Around 9:00 p.m. all hell broke loose. The colostrum which had so far satisfied Nico, was no longer enough. He wanted to eat. I wanted to sleep. He needed a diaper change. I needed a shower.  He needed to sleep. I needed to eat.  Then, it happened, my milk came in. I had heard stories of this experience but nothing prepared me for the feeling. Suddenly, I was in so much pain as my breasts filled with milk. I had not thought to buy or rent a breast pump, because things had been going so well at the hosptial.  All of a sudden with the milk filling my breasts my baby could nor get his little mouth to properly latch on. He became more frustrated. I became more uncomfortable. He cried. I cried.  It was midnight and I was exhausted.  Nico wailed and I became desperate.  I got in the hot shower. The warm water helped me to relax and the milk flowed, and the pressure in my breasts eased. Nico was able to latch on again and nurse a bit, but we still struggled. And struggled. It was 2:30 a.m. by the time my husband came home.  He seemed shocked to see me and the baby still up. The look on my face must have said it all, because he immediately asked what I needed. I think I cried. So much for getting my mothering on.

I bring this up now because whenever the parenting road gets a little bumpy I think of that first night. How I felt so confident that I could handle it all. How, in my certainty that I was all my baby needed,  I thought I could manage. That first night home was an eye opener. It made me realize that even though Nico needed me to be his source of food and comfort, I needed help too. Nico would need more than just me alone.

Thirteen years later that little baby has grown into a loving, mostly responsible teen.  I have managed so far to get through the toddler years, survive the awkward tween years and am currently muddling through the moody teen years.  I have learned a lot along the way and I realize that I have to learn more, especially when it comes to parenting a teen boy.  Obviously our anatomy is not the same, and his experience as an adolescent boy is not something I can even remotely relate to. Right now I am in uncharted waters. Waters that involve realizing that my son, is growing into a young man, perhaps sooner than I am ready for. His younger brother noticed it too the other day. Diego told Nico, “Hey, it looks like you have a mustache.” Not quite but it was there. That unmistakable shadow on his upper lip. I have grown used to hearing Nico’s voice crack and now settle into a deeper sounding register. I see how he’s given up playing Legos with his younger brother, preferring instead to play video games with his buddies up the street. And girls. Although, he won’t admit it to me, there are girls. At least one. I have tried couseling him on “age appropriate relationships” but I fear he may be hearing “blah, blah, blah,”  instead of  my words of womanly wisdom. Perhaps this is where I need to let go a bit more. Let him know that I am always available to talk to him,  but encourage him to seek the wisdom of his father and step-father’s experience. Maybe, like that first night home, I have to  allow others to help me, and that will help my son. Maybe, getting my mothering on, means allowing others to fill in those spaces where mothering isn’t enough.

 

Smells Like Teen (Christmas) Spirit

My kids are now 7, 13, 13 almost 14, and 16. When my teens were little Christmas was a no-brainer when it came to gift giving. The biggest challenge was restraint. When the Toys R Us Big Book would arrive with the Sunday paper, or the weekly Target ad came out, my kids would circle items on their wish lists. I think most kids from divorced parents may say that Christmas is one of the few times, where divorce and remarriage works to their advantage. With three or four sets of grandparents, multiple aunts and uncles from all sides of our extended families, and two separate parenting households,  Christmas was just a toy bonanza for my kids. Beginning in December I would start fielding calls and emails from various family members, keeping track of who I told what to buy for whom.

Now that Nico, Erica and Olivia are in their teens, Christmas gift giving is still hectic, but it’s more expensive.  Gifts on their lists range from Uggs priced at $200, to Mac laptops, priced at over $1000. I hate to disappoint, but those gifts are just not happening. Sure, I can ask for family members to contribute towards these things, but with so many different family branches and varying degrees of financial resources, I just don’t feel comfortable with this. Besides, in addition to all my responsibilities, being the manager of a gift registry is something I just don’t have in me. Christmas came way too quickly this year. This year, I am stuck reaching for ideas, cajoling my kids to give me some kind of affordable gift wish list so that I can pass along the information to family members, and save a bit for myself.  I would like for my kids’ Christmas not to be a total bust and I’d like to be able to support the many relatives who want to gift them something, and experience their own joy in giving.

So, with only 10 shopping days until Christmas, and only two affordable items on Nico’s list (Hunger Games and plaid shirts), I was happy to see him looking through a catalog the other day. The catalog was from ThinkGeek.com, a site that we purchased some items from last Christmas, and which gifts he really enjoyed. When he was done looking at the catalog and marking items he wanted, I was less than enthusiastic about his wish list. How could I tell family members to spend their hard earned money on this:

Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers

But,  apparently people besides my teenaged geek son like them, because the site says that they are out of stock.

Nico also asked for this:

It’s a Screaming Monkey slingshot

The last item he asked for was the  infectious disease stress ball .  I found it a bit disturbing that the stress ball comes in four varieties of disease: bubonic plague, zombie virus, smallpox and cooties.

Maybe he will get plaid shirts in every color of the rainbow instead.

As for Olivia, my 16 year-old step-daughter, when I asked her for some gift ideas she replied, ” I don’t want anything for Christmas.”  Wow, the spirit of Christmas selflessness, or a surly teen? My initial reaction was skepticism, but I should have known better. Olivia is a good student, with a keen interest in politics and foreign policy, and when I watch her interact with her peers and other adults, she is very friendly, polite and respectful. However, like many parents of teens, communicating with adolescents often involves navigating through through long periods of silence or interpreting unintelligble responses of hmm or mmm. When I suggested to Olivia that maybe her relatives want to give her something for Christmas, she  replied, “Well then, tell them to give a donation in my name to Human Rights Watch.”  In these days of Christmas spending and commercialism, and as I experience these challenging teen years,  I choose to accept her wish list at face value and see it as a gift for myself.  Maybe, all our efforts spent of teaching her to be gracious in receiving and imparting the value in giving, are paying off after all. At least she’s not asking for the Monty Python Killer Rabbit Slippers.

Going His Own Way

This weekend Nico went on a backpacking retreat with our church’s youth group.  He looked so grown up as he was leaving the house, loaded down with his new pack.

 

He’s 13. THIRTEEN! How did that happen? I still think of him as he looked when he was in kindergarten.

 

Nico in kindergarten

Now he’s in 8th grade and in the last year at the Catholic school he’s attended since kindergarten. He’s had a good experience at his Catholic school. He’s made some good friends and has become involved in activities that he enjoys. Nonetheless, it’s a small school and he’s been with the same kids since he was 5 years-old. The small class-size and familiar environment are comforting, but also a little stifling.

That’s why he enjoys the church youth group so much. The youth group is not affiliated with the same church at his school. Being involved in youth group has given him  a chance to meet new people and make friends from different schools. When I saw him interacting with these new friends and the youth minister, I was surprised to see Nico acting so at ease, and engaged. I told the youth minister that I was surprised to see Nico behaving this way,  since he was usually on the shy side. The youth minister told me that Nico wasn’t shy at all. In fact, quite the opposite. Nico typically participates in the conversation and even leads the discussion.  Later, Nico and I were talking about it and he told me that he really likes being involved in youth group, because he can be who he wants to be. He doesn’t have to behave the way that his school classmates expect. In youth group, with new friends, he is able to re-invent himself,  and be the “funny guy,” he could even be a leader. Wow. I was so amazed and impressed that this boy, this young man had such insight.

Later this weekend, Nico and I toured one of the private Catholic high schools in the area. Given Nico’s insight about himself,  it should not have surprised me when he told me that this high school, which is a very popular choice among his current classmates, is not one of his top choices. Nico has his heart set on attending a high school nearer my workplace, about 45 minutes from home. That school is also the school that is least likely to attract many of his classmates, since it’s so far from our community and it is much bigger than the other private high schools in the area. Honestly, his top choice, is also mine. But, that school draws kids from all over greater Los Angeles, and has a very competitive environment. It makes me uneasy because that school may be too challenging, too unfamiliar for him. However, when I hear him speak with such conviction how he wants to attend that school, how strongly he feels like that school is the right fit for him, I know that I should trust him. He knows himself better than I do. After all he is 13. Thirteen.

Nico on his way.