on self-defense

My husband takes the kids to karate class twice a week. Early on in the class, perhaps the second time they went, our daughter, M, asked the Grand Master, “When can I learn to hurt people?”

Yikes.

She asked because in school, students often feel they have the right to pick her up. As in, put their arms around her and lift her off the ground and then say, “You’re so little!” like she’s a doll or pet.

Or inconsequential.

It makes her angry, and she’s learning how to express that feeling effectively. We went to a birthday party at the zoo last month, and several boys were holding her arms and pulling her along. She was smiling and saying “Stop!” But the kids didn’t stop. I made eye contact with her and she didn’t ask me for help, but laughed and said, “They won’t stop!” I asked my husband, “Does she need help? I honestly can’t tell. I want those kids to let her go, but are they playing?”

My husband walked over and with a playful tone, with a smile on his face, grabbed her in a bear hug and said, “I have her now!” And the boys dropped her arms instantly. So instantly, that I believe those boys knew what they were doing wasn’t okay. (If they had held on and continued the game, with my husband and daughter, it would have been clear to me that she was playing, too.)

Later at home, we talked about it. Our daughter was telling us that she was trying her release moves on the boys–the moves she had learned in karate–but it didn’t work when there were so many boys.

I asked her, “Did you really want them to stop or were you playing a game–were you playing ‘prisoner’ or something?” (They play this, and roles go back and forth between captor and prisoner–our kids play this all the time.)

“I wanted them to stop! They weren’t listening, though.”

I furrowed my brow: “But you were laughing when I saw you. I couldn’t tell that you really wanted them to stop. I looked at you and you didn’t ask me for help.”

“Well I didn’t want to not be friendly.”

My husband and I both said almost in unison, “You don’t have to be friendly if you want somebody to stop.” I elaborated, making my “Mom is unhappy” face. “There — make that face if you don’t like something. Look angry when you say ‘stop.’ That is always okay.”

“Yeah, and maybe I can ask the Grand Master what to do if you have three people attacking you.”

***

Two days ago, M said to me of her and her friend L: “We kind of wish we weren’t so nice. I don’t mean to sound like a big shot, but there are these girls who want to be friends and we don’t really like them, and we play with them and include them, but we wish we could just say “No, we don’t want to play.”

Given that information, I said, “Well, sometimes we spend time with the people we didn’t choose ourselves. It happens. It’s a good idea to be nice in these situations.”

Yesterday, she came home and told me about one of these girls, E. E likes to confirm with our daughter that they’re “best friends, right?” E sometimes pinches our daughter’s cheek, rather hard, for no apparent reason. I asked M what she did when E pinched her cheek. “I told her it hurt, but she did it to another girl too and that girl said ‘ow’ too but E just didn’t care.”

Then our daughter described how she was playing with her hair and making crazy pony tails on top of her head. She and her good friend L, who was sick that day, often do this. E, however, decided to tell our daughter, “Stop doing that. Take those out. You look ugly!” Our daughter said, “I don’t appreciate you saying that.” (??? Really?) And E said, “What? I’m just being honest.”

(Uh, is it just me, or is E a sociopath*?)

In reacting to this story, I probably did the worst thing a mother could do:

“Well, I will say that I do not like E. She seems to not understand what being honest is. She doesn’t seem to care about how she makes you feel.”

I told our daughter that the next time E made her feel badly by being “honest” or whatever, to respond with a “Whatever, E,” while shrugging her shoulders.

It’s no karate release move, but it’s the only thing I could think of that was age appropriate.

Today, E made up a song about our daughter, singing, “she’s so stupid, she’s so ugly.” (Again: SOCIOPATH.*)

Our daughter said, “Whatever, E.” E did something to L, our daughter’s good friend, too. L also said, “Whatever, E.”

“She got the message, Mom.” (And I am thrilled.)

E learns how to behave from somebody. I cannot wait to meet her mother.

Our girl is only in the fourth grade. I hope it’s not too late to teach her what I did this week: You don’t have to be nice. There is great power in expressing your discomfort or displeasure or complete disdain. A look. A shrug… A well-timed “Whatever.”

As long as she doesn’t use these moves on me…

*a friend has pointed out that E might instead be a psychopath. Calling her a sociopath is an insult to Sherlock, as played by Benedict Cumberpatch.

you can’t make me

Wow. This just hits me in the gut: “NRA touts mother who shot intruder as gun control debate heats up.”

Basically, a woman got scared of a man who was about to enter her home. So she got her kids, got her gun, hid, locked a door, locked another door, then called… her husband. Her husband called 911.

What? And when I say “what” I mean WHAT?

At her husband’s direction (he told her to “remember what I taught you”) she shot the intruder several times while he pleaded with her to stop. In front of her children. He drove away.

The family doesn’t want to talk about the shooting. But the NRA thinks she proves why everybody needs a gun. (This guy in Utah couldn’t be happier.)

It’s their right to think and say so. I think and say things, too.

In the first year of our marriage, we lived in a cute (and tiny) row house. One summer night, as our neighbors immediately next door enjoyed drinks on their front deck, we watched tv. It was about 10pm, and we heard a knock at the door. My husband answered, and a guy was there, clearly in some sort of altered state, and he told my husband he wanted to give me (yes, me) something that was in a rumpled paper bag in his hand. My husband told him to go away. He did. My husband went upstairs to bed, and I continued watching whatever tv show was on. Our neighbors turned in for the night. Then the doorbell rang again. It was the same guy.

I peeked out the front window through our blinds, and yelled to my husband, “He’s back!”

My husband ran down the stairs while I grabbed the phone and dialed a 9, and then a 1. I waited. My unarmed, half-dressed husband opened the door and yelled at the clearly drug-affected man, who by that point was calling me his queen and telling my husband that he was here with a horse to take me away. My husband told him to get the f— out of here and that we’d be calling the police.

I hit “1.”

The police came within minutes, took their report, surveyed the area, and asked about my habits. Was I at home during the day? Did I take walks around the neighborhood? I told them that I usually went running every morning. They suggested that the man likely noticed me and fixated, and told us to call and reference the correct CR # if he showed up again. Uh, okay. They didn’t seem alarmed. Or, they didn’t want to alarm me. (But I was scared… we later deduced that the same man, suspected of similar home invasions, later hung himself in a park near our home. He was very, very, unwell.)

If my husband hadn’t been there, here’s what I would have done: I would have left the house out of our basement-level garage and driven away, or if the car was in use, ran to my neighbors’ or my landlord’s home, just down the street. Easy enough, or foolish enough, as we were not yet parents, to do what we did. All I can say is that city living can be a drag, but it can be handy in situations like that.

How about a couple more stories? (Individual anecdotes seem to be enough for the NRA, maybe they’re enough for me?)

Four and half years ago, we took the kids (then ages 3 and 1) on some errands one Saturday evening after dinner–not a usual thing, we usually ran errands in the morning, before anybody needed a nap, and saved weekend evenings for early bedtimes for the kids and wine and movies for us.

We broke our pattern. We got home at the kids’ bath time, and needed to get a diaper changed, a potty used, and the car unloaded. We managed all of that nicely, working together like we always do: kids were in bed not too late and we still had time for our wine and movie.

We went to sleep at the usual time… 11 or 11:30. We both woke up at about 5:00, when we heard a door creak open. We both thought at first it was our daughter–she’d sometimes wake up and come to our room. But then at virtually the same second we both realized that the door creak was different–it wasn’t from our daughter’s room but from the door that leads to our garage.

My husband bolted out of bed and ran across the house. I heard him shout “Hey!” while I grabbed my glasses and the phone. He told me “call the police!” and I heard him shout “What are you doing here?” I called 911, and I was alone–as my husband was gone, having run out the door, in his bare feet, with no glasses, but with boxers and t-shirt.

Alone until, while on the phone trying to describe calmly what was going on, our daughter came out of her room to see me.

“Mommy? Where’s Daddy?”

I don’t have that 911 recording, but I’d hate to hear it now: the sound of me, telling her that everything was okay and then telling the dispatcher that my husband just chased somebody out of our home.

Turns out we forgot to close our garage. Two people entered our home after attempting to take things out of my husband’s car (locked, in the driveway) and mine (unlocked, in the open garage). We neglected to lock the door between the garage and our home (because the garage is usually closed) so the car-burglars decided to walk in and see what was readily available. A third person was waiting in a running car up the street.

My husband couldn’t catch them. They got well into our home, about three feet from our daughter’s closed bedroom door. My husband chased them away.

We were lucky. Fingerprints on my car led the police to one of the perpetrators — an 18-year-old male. They questioned him, but he did not admit to entering our home and would not “rat out” his buddy (they didn’t touch anything in our home, except my handbag, which they took with them). He ended up paying us about $200 to cover our losses.

We were new to the neighborhood then, and later, at a neighborhood New Year’s party, one neighbor suggested we get a dog. Another suggested a gun.

We’re dog people.

Had I been alone with the kids? Chances are, I never would have broken our pattern. I wouldn’t have run errands with them after dinner, I would have had them in bed early, and I would have triple-checked all doors and windows before sitting on the couch with a glass of wine. My husband travels a lot. I have a very rigid routine when he’s gone. Had that routine nonetheless been broken? Had I heard somebody enter our home, I think I would have screamed, hoping to scare them away or at least draw them to where I was and away from our kids. I would have called 911. And several neighbors who have been on speed dial since we moved in (we have great neighbors).

Flash forward to May, 2012.

It was a Wednesday morning, at about 6am, and we heard a loud banging on our front door. My husband, once again, bolted out of bed and to the door. He did not open the door, but yelled, “Who are you? What do you want? We don’t know you. Leave or we’re calling the police.”

I grabbed the phone (once again) and dialed a 9, and then a 1.

There were incoherent rumblings and the man at the door decided to sit on our front patio furniture and smoke a cigarette.

I dialed 1.

The police came, “discussed” some issues with the clearly extremely intoxicated man, and took him away. One officer, in concluding our conversation, remarked that the man was lucky that we weren’t followers of the Castle Doctrine. (The officer was.)

Had I been alone? I would never have spoken to the goofball at the door. I would have called 911 after peering at him from our window. And a couple of neighbors, who may or may not have brought a gun.

Look. I’ve said it earlier, and I’ll say it again. I don’t want to take away anybody’s gun. I don’t think people who own guns are bad guys. If a person believes that they need a handgun for self-defense, that’s that person’s choice.

But it’s not my choice.

NRA? Mr. LaPierre? Don’t proselytize.

Just because you think that mom in Georgia was a hero to shoot an unarmed man multiple times in the face in front of her nine-year-old children at the direction of her husband–a mom who apparently phoned her husband at the first sign of danger, and not the police, with her kids in the home with her–just because you think she’s a hero, and did wonderful things with her gun, and maybe even needs a more powerful gun (she ran out of bullets! what if there had been two invaders?), well, it does not mean that I think so, too.

Even though I am a mom. With two kids. Who is often home alone with them. Who has dealt with pesky home invaders or squatters or whatever you want to call them.

The three experiences we endured? They were with unarmed people. Stupid, ballsy, drunk and/or drugged, unarmed people.

I get the sense that Mr. LaPierre would have been fine with me shooting them all until dead. That’s still his right to think so.

Tonight, I asked my husband (the brave man who confronts strangers and invaders in his boxers, armed only with his indignation and anger and belief in himself and the power of a phone dialing 911) whether, even after all that we’ve experienced, even after Newtown, would he want a gun? Would he want our children’s school to have armed teachers or armed guards in every classroom, as LaPierre suggested all too recently? Would all of that make him feel safer? He answered with characteristic clarity and brevity:

“No.”

Me neither.

It’s our right.

Perhaps we’re fools in the eyes of many. Or perhaps we’re fools in the eyes of a loud, angry, opportunistic few.