13 Things Children Need - Dana Kinsey
Scrolling through Facebook, I stopped at a shared post from a woman who’s a longtime family friend but merely an acquaintance of mine. I accepted her friend request mostly out of obligation, but this shared post made me question that decision. The post was an oversized selfie of a smug, white, middle-aged woman in her SUV cruising a suburban street. Her determined blue eyes boasted answers. Her post stated she had watched a “news person” interview a school principal asking, “What are we missing?” as a way to discuss the staggering number of mass shootings in schools. She claimed he “went on and on about mental illness, the Juvenile Justice System, gun control, education reform, blah, blah, blah.” She addressed her readers as “folks” and called the principal’s topics “mumbo jumbo” that don't “make a lick of sense.”
I shut my eyes, took a deep breath, and shook my head to dislodge her ignorance as heat rose to my face. The photos of my two smiling children propped on my desk momentarily calmed me.
I should have stopped reading, but her promise to reveal “13 Things That Children Need” made me curious. Almost 200,000 people liked her list and commented with whole-hearted agreement, many with that giant red “100%” emoji. 198,000 people felt compelled to share it. As a single mother, I was allegedly contributing to gun violence in America, according to this Facebook prophet whose professional title was Director of Counseling Ministry at a Texas church. Not only had she declared my children in danger of becoming dangerous criminals, there were items on her list that were never a remote possibility for the majority of children I’ve known in my 20-year teaching career. Despite the developing ache in my temples, I kept reading.
#1 claimed that “children need a mother and a father who love each other and work together as a team.” This antiquated description doesn’t describe the life I gave my two children. Even though I tried my best, my teammate never showed up for practice. It’s true that I should have chosen better, but I worked hard to create a family for the three of us and fulfill their physical and emotional needs. While I feel shame over failing at marriage, my children care for others and respect me. They grew up appreciating that some families are constructed differently than others, and this is a strength, not a weakness.
#s 2-6 included items like a grandma who bakes, a grandpa who takes them fishing, Sunday School, a “truth-telling preacher,” a dinner time with “home cooked food,” Sunday afternoon football (not basketball for some reason), and fried chicken. Baked goods, rainbow trout, and Norman Rockwell-esque grandparents are lovely but not essential for happiness. I don’t know what her“truth-telling” preacher preaches, but truth is relative to one’s world vision, and the world she envisions is not the one I live in. Many parents of students I teach have to work full-time, overtime, or even multiple jobs, so they struggle to cook meals. My children and I share meals when we can, sometimes virtually, because my daughter is grown and lives across the country from me.
#s 7-10 listed books on tape (not sure why printed books won’t work, but I have my theory), coloring pages, summers at the beach with cousins, Bazooka bubblegum (because Grandma may not provide enough sugar), trips to Arlington, 4th of July fireworks, firepits, chores, smores (sugar. again.), ghost stories, and drive-in movies (which assumes they also need cars).
#s 11-13 prescribed more discipline from “Mama and Daddy” and using the “Bible as a roadmap.” The phrase “good ole fashioned fun” was her metaphorical cherry. I won’t fault her for the colloquialisms, but her assumption that the Bible is the only way to gain wisdom terrifies me. At this point, I’m ready to suggest a World Religion Class as a requirement for her before she counsels/damages anyone else.
After her mandatory education on religious texts, she’ll also need education on some other topics. Her callous dismissal of the mental health crisis that has left me with too many empty school desks and of a prison system which is essentially modern slavery astounded me. People who work three jobs to buy food can’t search Expedia for Arlington get-aways or beach vacations with their cousins. Those forced to live in food desserts don’t have smores’ ingredients on their shopping lists. I’ve taught students with parents incarcerated for petty crimes and others whose parents have died of natural and unnatural causes. Despite harsh realities and severe hardships, these children thrived, created, and succeeded. Their stories inspire me; I want to sit down face-to-face with this “counselor” and counsel her. Her narrow vision ignored the majority of children who are not privileged to live in her fantasy.
I needed to respond, so I flexed my fingers and lowered them to the keyboard but the words wouldn’t come. I didn’t know where to begin reasoning with this woman nor her disciples even if it were a good plan. “Unfriending” my acquaintance who had shared the post, a retired teacher, seemed like an easy solution, but I like knowing all sides of an argument. There are people so close-minded that nothing penetrates the barbed wire they’ve erected to shield their minds and hearts; their mission is to infiltrate as many Facebook accounts as they can. I’ve waged battles on social media with people like her that left me angrier and sadder; I can’t do that anymore. Our country is bleeding out; it’s pointless.
I stood up to find my sneakers so I could walk by the cool lake in sunlight, dispel the darkness emanating from my screen. It would still be there when I returned, accumulating hug emojis and American flags. There were willow trees along my path. They turned away from the sky, branches sagging to the ground as they wept.
Dana Kinsey is an actor and teacher published in Fledgling Rag, Drunk Monkeys, ONE ART, On the Seawall, Porcupine Literary, Sledgehammer Lit, West Trestle Review, Continue the Voice, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, and Prose Online. Dana's play, WaterRise, was produced at the Gene Frankel Theatre. Her chapbook, Mixtape Venus, is published by I. Giraffe Press. Visit wordsbyDK.com. Genre: CNF