Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Today's MOZEN 12/4/2013 "What Stella Would Have Done"

Words and photo by F LoBuono

The first anniversary of the horrific loss of life perpetrated by a mad gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. rapidly approaches. I, like many in the so-called blogosphere, have something to say about it. To those who know me, or are at least familiar with my work, this comes as no surprise. However, what may come as one is the fact that I am not here to write about gun control (or the lack thereof). I feel that is a topic that will be well dissected by others. Besides, I believe that I have made my beliefs on that subject abundantly clear.  What I would much rather discuss here is how a young man, one with an innocent, young boy's smile becomes a monster capable of inflicting such unspeakable horror.

Just a week or so ago, the Attorney General of the State of Connecticut released an abridged version of the State's report on the massacre that occurred at the school. In addition to a time-line of the events that took place there, the report also gave some limited information on the background of the murderer, 20 year-old Adam Lanza. Without going into specifics, the report made clear that Lanza was a seriously disturbed young man, and had been so for a while. Why his mother, Nancy Lanza, decided to at least enable this disturbing behavior is a question that is likely never to be answered - she was his first victim. What is almost unfathomable is the fact that she seemed to have no issue with providing this disturbed young man with a virtual arsenal of weapons. I have read previously that Mrs. Lanza was a "country girl", raised on a farm, and accustomed to hunting as part of her culture. I also understand that she used her knowledge and familiarity with firearms as a bridge to connect with her son. In and of itself, this would not seem odd - many women hunt with their families. However, the fact that she would expose not only this young man, but through him, the world, to such a dangerous mix of firepower and mental illness in unconscionable. And, unfortunately, she paid the ultimate price for her egregious mistake; her son shot her in the face.

In the report, in addition to the fact that the mother seemed to see no threat in providing her mentally ill son with weapons, another failure was the way she handled daily, ordinary things. For example, they only communicated through email. There was no direct, verbal communication between mother and son, despite the fact that they were the only ones living in the house. He completely cut off communication with his father and older brother. Every window and entrance way into his room was covered by thick, plastic bags, preventing anyone from entering or even seeing in.

Forgive my rather blunt vernacular, but WTF?! This type of behavior was not only a sure sign that something was seriously wrong with this young man but that the problem went on untreated for far too long. No child should be allowed to have that much control as to withdraw that completely from the world around him!!! It is, obviously, a recipe for disaster. When I was a kid growing up, my brother and I shared a room. My sister had her own. My parents had theirs. All three rooms were on the same floor with a total of maybe a few feet separating each entrance. In other words, privacy was scarce. Still, GOD FORBID, you should try to close your door at night - even to sleep. It was NOT ALLOWED - closed doors isolated you from the family. This was most clearly understood. You never shut the family out of ANYTHING. Oh, my brother, sister, and I got into many an argument with Stella over the "privacy issue", and lost every single one. Reasoning didn't work. Neither did stealth. If you tried to close the door while she was sleeping, that motherly "sixth sense" (or is it "sick sense"?) would kick in. Not only would she fling open the door to your room, she made sure that you knew it wasn't going to happen again. Period! If she had to wedge herself in the portal to keep that door from closing, well, damn it, that's what she was going to do. We were a family and we were staying one. No one isolates from the family.

Another thing my parents didn't believe in was the punishment of "grounding", i.e. being prevented from leaving your house except for essential activities like school. It did occur in my household, but rarely. Instead, transgressions were dealt with swiftly and effectively. When you did something wrong, you knew about it right away and the lesson (i.e. punishment) usually followed just as rapidly. There were no linger issues and, therefore, no lasting resentments. It may have involved a quick smack on the ass, but there were no long term recriminations. Grudges were not allowed to fester. And passive-aggressive behavior (i.e. "the silent treatment") was also deemed unacceptable. To this day, Stella will not accept silence as a means of expressing displeasure. Communication was, and still is, the key.

Some might call this "old-fashioned" parenting. I'm 58 and Stella is nearly 90, so, I guess that it is. But we can also call it effective parenting. My family has certainly had its share of calamity. Every family has. However, to my knowledge, we have produced no mass murderers. My brother and I were always wild enough (which, to a degree, was even encouraged by my parents) but we also had a strong moral compass, instilled through the discipline instituted by both of our folks.  And this is key here: BOTH OF THEM. I have to believe that, like many so-called modern parents, Nancy Lanza, in an effort to win her child's affection and loyalty, removed the checks and balances needed for a young person to grow within a truly healthy and safe environment. Many divorced parents, as was Lanza, over-compensate for the pain they believe their separation has caused their child and indulge their every whim. I've seen it happen. In the Lanza case, it was extreme (see: plastic bags blocking access to your room). For young people, too much freedom is not necessarily a good thing.

When the AG's report was released, the media published a photo of Adam Lanza, bug-eyed and looking completely deranged. However, there is another photo of him that intrigues me more. He appears to be about eleven or twelve in that photo. He is looking at the camera holding up his hand as if to wave, a shy smile on his boyish face. This face of innocence eventually became one of a mad fiend. But, once, he was just a boy. A boy seemingly like any other. How did he change? When did he change? Why did he change? I'm sure that the divorce of his parents crushed this sensitive kid. But many other children have experienced  the pangs of a bitter divorce and subsequent separation and do not resort to mass murder to express their rage. We will never know for sure, if at all. However, what I do know is this: you must talk to your children until you reach them. And never stop until you do. Never take "no" for an answer and never let them isolate themselves. Perhaps, if, like Stella, Nancy Lanza had simply refused to be excluded from the better part of her son's life, he would not have acted with such indescribable hate. It just may be a matter of life and death.

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