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Raising kids ... and consciousness

As I was last week in expectation, I am this week slap dab in reality.

There is no delaying dinner until nine, there are no dollar tacos and PBR, we will not wait another day before we finally start laundry, no more just me until three in the morning. We’re back on our time again, sometimes not getting laundry done because we were walking in the woods, pretending to be ninjas and fish, pretending our legs don’t hurt when we get back to the truck. Realigning bicycle chains and slapping on band-aids, not seeking out music until the wee hours.

It is a complete shift in lifestyle.

That shift was apparent the morning after they’d arrived as I stepped into the shower and found the sides of the tub lined with toys. Earlier in the summer, in my effort to clean away the kid crud, my shower space had been cleared to a spartan and austere space of single male utility — shampoo, a bar of soap and a wash cloth. By Thursday morning, those few items had been joined by several Barbies, various cars and motorcycles, a menagerie of plastic animals and a toy submarine.

My space is crowded again.

The transition this year has been almost seamless as my brood has slipped easily back into the routine with Dad. In prior years there had been a period of a few days where I dealt nightly with lachrymose urchins sobbing themselves to sleep, “I miss Mommy,” they’d whine as I held them close, whispering, “I know, I know you do.”

Not so this year. When they arrived last week they were beaming with the satisfaction of being back on terra firma, in familiar territory (and apparently oblivious to the fact that I’d given away or otherwise trashed a third of their toys), ready to slide back into their routine with Dad.

Which I don’t get. Sometimes I regret that I’m in the role of the “real” parent, as their mom gets them during Christmas break, spring break and all summer — the fun times. And while I try to make their time with me as fun as I can, given scant resources and a stoic approach to finances, the vast majority of our time is regimented and workaday.

I’m the one who enforces homework and clean rooms, schedules trips to the dentist and ensures immunization schedules are kept. I’m the one who hands out consequences for chores not done or other violations of the home rule charter.

It’s a habit born of many years in that role. When I was still married to their mom, she used to say that I possessed “the Voice of Doom,” that little butts would move when I bellowed. To this day, when the kids are with her I’ll get the inevitable phone call, “You need to talk to your daughter,” or “Your son said such-and-such to me and I need you to explain ...”

Yet, Big Bad Dad gets the real schwag when the rubber hits the road, the big hugs with arms that reach half way across Colorado.

Still, I was surprised at how drama-free the transition went last week. With the exception of a few boxes that Oma (Grandma) delivered with the kids that remain unpacked, everything is as it was in early June.

The arrival also brought presents for Dad: a plush ram for my dashboard (“Since you drive a Ram truck, Daddy.”) and a coffee cup inscribed with “Dad” that I will have to drink from until the next “Dad” coffee cup is gifted.

Since Dad doesn’t wear a tie, a coffee cup is the gift of choice for budgets composed of meager allowance money.

However, the most profound gift was their desire to watch “The Cove” on Animal Planet last Sunday night. Reluctant at first (it was scheduled rather late and the next day was the first day of school), I finally gave in under pressure of a chorus of pleas and promises. We watched it together and I do not regret my decision.

An Academy Award-winning documentary on the slaughter of dolphins in a small Japanese fishing village, “The Cove” tells how a small group of dedicated environmentalists continues to fight the terrible treatment of animals that many believe possess an intelligence close to our own (damning with faint praise, it would seem).

I recommend checking the Animal Planet schedule (on their website) since the movie will be rerun several times over the next few weeks. In our day and age, it’s appalling to see a modern industrial nation putting pressure on small, impoverished third-world countries to help support a practice that is a cruel and senseless relic of a cultural atrocity.

Really, there is no reason for Japan to continue the slaughter of dolphins other than to support stone-age thinking and ancient brutality. What little market exists for Dolphin meat — confined to the Japanese — is at risk of massive mercury poisoning, by all accounts. Personally, I can’t imagine eating “Flipper” for any reason and, if the movie is correct, there is no good reason to consume dolphin meat.

Unfortunately, the industry is subsidized by the desire to put performing animals in smalls pools for the enrichment of sea parks throughout the world. The fishermen select out the “performance grade” dolphins, put those animals up for bid on those lucrative markets, then, out of some sick, sadistic nod to outmoded cultural cadaver, corral the rest into a cove where the animals are slaughtered en masse.

The gorgeous blue water of the cove turns a light crimson as hundreds of dolphins are butchered, gutted and hauled off to market. The sight, as presented in “The Cove” made my fists clench with rage and frustration, while my eyes filled with tears.

And it’s all so senseless. There is no good reason for them to kill the dolphins other than to tell the world, “It’s because we can, it’s our right.”

Otherwise, there is no substantial market for dolphin meat and, if the movie is to be believed, most Japanese consumers eschew dolphin meat in favor of larger sea mammals (if they must eat a cetacean); the vast majority of dolphin meat is mixed in with other whale meat as an adjunct, as filler.

And the price paid for that meat is extremely, and tragically, high — Japan leads all industrial nations in birth defects attributed to mercury poisoning. The children born to parents who have consumed large amounts of mercury are consigned to a life of profound disabilities and constant care, usually provided by the state, as those parents usually succumb to cancers brought on by the mercury that caused the birth defects.

After the movie was over, we all sat in stunned silence as what we’d just watched was digested with reluctant alacrity.

“Daddy,” Eldest said, punching a hole in the long pregnant pause that followed the dimming of the TV set, “That was one of the saddest, worst things I’ve ever seen.”

“I know, sweetie,” I replied, fists still balled up and trembling, “it’s sickening to me that this still goes on.”

“I hate those people,” Mister said, ever the superhero, “I think they need to be killed.”

“No, Mister, and not all Japanese are like that. Most are just as angry as we are. We just need to make it illegal and teach people that we shouldn’t kill dolphins.”

Middle Child, my deep thinker, had watched the movie curled up in a chair, crying, sometimes looking away from the gorier parts.

“I don’t think they know what they’re really doing; I think they’re just doing it because that’s what people have done and they don’t know any better. It’s going to take a long time to change that because it happens all over the world,” she said, displaying her usual (yet still surprising) perspicacious take on the world around her.

“Yes, sweetie, it will take a long time,” I replied, “and our world needs to change a lot of thinking if we want to stop slaughtering each other, much less dolphins.”

They all thought long and hard on that before I scooted them to their beds, tucked them in and kissed them goodnight, silently wishing that each of them would grow up to be adults in a world where superstition had greatly diminished.

Because, slaughtering dolphins is just another example of how the shadows of our past continue to grind us down as a species and tear us apart as a family. It is that medieval thinking that causes us to oppose the construction of a mosque only because we tremble with fear due to ancient tribal hatreds, self-imposed ignorance and misplaced self-righteousness. It is that thinking that subjects millions of young girls every year to the brutality of female circumcision. It is that thinking that continues to pit people of the same race but different beliefs into daily pitched battles, at the expense of the innocent, and death.

My children are back and I am better for it. Every day they teach me something new. It is a gift I never knew I would receive when the maternity nurse handed them to me, bundled and swaddled and ready to lead me to a higher consciousness.

Watch “The Cove” and have your own consciousness raised.