Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Longwood Youth Mourn Dominic Trionfo

Last week the whole Longwood community was in mourning for the loss of fourteen-year-old Dominic Trionfo, of Middle Island, New York.  After getting his license to operate a jet ski, he was taking out his grandfather’s jet ski for the very first time in Peconic Bay.  Tragically, he came to close to the anchor chain in front of his grandfather’s boat and died in front of his family.  Dominic was well-loved at Longwood High School and it was his first year working as an umpire for Longwood Little League / Longwood Youth Sports Association. 

Parents and youth alike struggled with dealing with the death of one so young.  Grieving counselors were available at Longwood High School all week and moments of silence were held in his honor at the Academic Achievement Award night and other school events.  At Longwood Little League, moments of silence were held at ball games.  At the wake, umpires came dressed in their uniforms to show their respect.

A letter from Ron Webber, Director of Umpires, describes how one game in particular was held in honor of Dominic:

“This past week at our major baseball field was to be Dominic's first major baseball game along with his best friend John Hernandez, as these two young umpires have worked hard to move to this rank. As a tribute to Dominic, I worked the plate and John the bases, and we used special baseballs with Dominic's name on them. After the first pitch I removed the ball and presented it to Dominic's best friend John Hernandez. Everyone in attendance clapped for this gesture. That was a show of support and unity. The game was played as if the coaches and players were playing in a professional game and the game was one of the best of the season. I could not thank the coaches, players, and parents enough for their professionalism at this game. Not only was it an honor to remember Dominic at this game, but word got back to his family and they came down to watch and thank us for what we were doing. I had the honor to present Dominic's family with a game ball. I cannot thank all of you enough for what that game meant not only to me but to the many who knew him.”

It was eerie passing the news truck every day as I picked up my daughter from the high school.  They were there interviewing the students, teachers, and passers-by about how they felt about Dominic’s untimely death.  Mothers spent their days crying, even if they did not know him.  Maybe they overlooked a few fresh remarks or looks, because they were that much more thankful to have their children alive.  Maybe they stopped complaining about their busy sports schedules because they realized that at least their children were alive and healthy enough to participate.  Men were just as emotional, but they expressed it in thoughtful gestures, such as Ron’s tribute during the baseball game.  Those who had the money contributed to scholarship funds and family fundraisers.

Every time there is another end of the year activity I think, would Dominic have received an award tonight? Would he have been asked to the junior prom? Would he have umpired this year’s Little League All Star Game?  As I see a boat being transported on the highway I wonder if Dominic’s family will ever take the boat out on the water again.

There is no wrapping your head around the loss of a young person…no matter the cause.  All people can do is support the family, and come together as a community, as people did after Dominic’s death.  Give your kids an extra hug tonight and say a prayer for someone who wishes they could.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Hunger Games: A Side-by-Side Review of the Book and the Movie

(I am going to try to do this without spoiling anything for those who have not read the book or seen the movie! I will not reveal the end!)

A Prelude..

I delayed seeing this movie as long as possible. When it first came out, I found the very idea of kids watching kids kill each other repulsive.  However, I read a few reviews that said the book had some excellent political overtones, and that the book was food for thought.  So I put the book on reserve at the library.

First I read the book and found it to be a very good read, with no objectionable content for my teenage daughters. The book, the first in a trilogy, is itself divided into three parts.  Part I , “The Tributes”, gives the history of 16-year-old Katniss, her family, town, and the games in general; Gale, her best friend, an older boy with whom she has hunted for years; and Peeta, the bakers’ son, who will be selected as the other tribute.  Part II, “The Games”, is the suspenseful story of the games.   Part III, “The Victor”, contains the climax and conclusion.

I passed the book along to my 14-year-old, who stayed up all night reading it and begged me to take her to the movie, which was still playing in some local theatres. I figured the movie would be comparable to one of the classic science fiction movies my husband and I have enjoyed, such as “Logan’s Run”.   I asked my 13-year-old to read Part I as a requirement to go. I felt that Part I gave enough background for her to understand where the main characters were coming from and the political purposes of the games.  Part II and III were largely composed of action which would be played out in the movie; she could catch up on Katniss’ thoughts later if she wished.

Briefly, the background story from Part I is…

Basically, America has been transformed into 12 districts, ruled by the Capitol.  There had been an uprising, which was squelched by the Capitol, followed by a period of peace.  To keep all the districts in their place and remind them never to try to revel again, every year each district must send 2 tributes, a boy and a girl ages 12 to 18 to fight to the death. The children are selected via a Reaping.  One victor emerges, bringing showers of gifts and wealth to the family and district.

Katniss is from District 12, which is very poor. She and Gale hunt outside the district borders, which is illegal, but they are not punished because the town officials like to buy their meat and fruit on the black market.  They dream of running away, knowing they can fend for themselves, but know they cannot because their families depend upon them for survival.  Katniss’ mother was mentally incapacitated when her father died, and she has been taking care of her 12-year-old sister Primrose for years. 

The unfairness of poverty is shown by how it related to the odds of being selected.  For extra food for the family, an eligible adolescent can put his or her name into the drawing more than once; Katniss and Gale often have had to do this. Gale’s name is in the drawing 42 times this year.  Primrose, whose name was only in once, is chosen, and Katniss volunteers in her place.  Peeta is the boy who is chosen.

Peeta has been in love with Katniss since they were children – but she does not know this until much later.  She knows that once when she was very young and her family was starving he threw her a loaf of bread; she never forgot this and felt indebted to him.  She doesn’t know his true feelings for her and distrusts him, knowing they may have to kill each other in the end.

My thoughts…

I was not disappointed by the movie.  I was glad I had read it in advance, partly because I knew what Katniss was thinking from the book, and her thoughts were not narrated in the movie, but also because I knew when to avert my eyes, because I knew when the deaths and injuries would occur.  My daughters laughed at me, watching the scenes wide-eyed.  Watching sideways, I could see not too much was shown.  (“No gratuitous violence”, one review had promised.) 

I was disappointed, however, that the movie changed the origin of the Mockingjay pin.  In the movie, Katniss finds it on the black market.  In the book, it was given to her as a gift from the mayor’s daughter, a rich girl with little chance of being selected as tribute.  The Mockingjay, an accidental mutation left over from experiments done by the government, was significant as a symbol of the government’s totalitarianism.

The movie added in outside perspectives that I had wondered about during the book, but which could not be revealed as Katniss was narrating from her singular point of view.  Katniss’ mother and sister were shown watching her on-screen. So was Gale, as she feigned romantic feelings for Peeta and kissed him in the cave.  Haymitch, their mentor, was shown talking it up with the sponsors to get the much-needed gifts of medicine sent to them, and even persuading the game makers that they should allow Katniss and Peeta to continue on because the audience would love the romantic angle.

A poignant scene in the book was the death of Rue, the 12-year-old girl from District 11 who reminds Katniss of her little sister.  The two girls had temporarily teamed up, and Katniss found Rue trapped in a net. She didn’t get to her on time; she was pierced by a spear.  In the book, Katniss shoots Rue’s killer partly out of revenge, partly out of self defense, and later realizes that was her first intentional kill.  In the movie, she gets Rue out of the net and then sees her attacker; she shoots defending Rue, but the spear still pierces Rue.  She holds Rue in her arms as she dies, singing her a lullaby she remembers her father singing.

In the book it had also been revealed that she did not like to sing, because it reminded her of her father, who used to sing to the mockingjays, and who had died in a mining accident.  Gale’s father had died in the same accident.  The movie had opened with her singing this same lullaby to her little sister, which was lovely for the effect of her later singing to Rue as if it was her little sister, but this really would not have happened because she did not like to sing.  She does it for Rue, however, because she is the first real human contact she has had since the games began.

In the book, Katniss remembers what Peeta had said about hoping he could do something that made a difference in how people thought about the games.  She weaves flowers around Rue’s hair, knowing that they will have to show this on television.  She honors the girl, and for this she is thanked doubly by District 11: first, by sending her a piece of bread shaped in the symbol of their district, and second, by the boy from District 11 later sparing her life in appreciation.

In the movie, Katniss is shown picking the flowers and placing them around Rue. Then she puts up a hand sign, one that had been shown by her people after she volunteered as tribute, rather than giving the expected applause.  It seems to be a sign of solemn respect, one that recognizes that something is wrong with the way things are being done here.  The movie cuts away to a scene of the people of District 11 watching her, giving the sign back, and then starting an open rebellion.  This (I believe) is the foreshadowing of what will happen in the next installment.  General Snow is pondering what to do with her, and this is when Haymitch pulls strings to persuade him to let her live.

In conclusion…

I won’t go into how the others died. It comes down to Katniss and Peeta in the end. I also won’t reveal what happens here, but there is emotional deception which is necessary for survival, and the way it ends is not quite satisfactory to the Game Makers.  Katniss is warned that they will have it in for her.  There is much to look forward to in the next installment, “Catching Fire”, which I am going to put on reserve next.

Just a bit about the name “Catching Fire”. Katniss’ stylist, wanting to ensure she is never forgotten, designs outfits for her and Peeta that spurt out fire. He says he wants everyone to remember Katniss as “the girl who was on fire”.  During the games, when Katniss has run far toward the edge of the arena, the game makers send fire balls to chase her back near the others.  I can see “Catching Fire” as a book about rebellion she has incited, as well as her being pursued by the government.

I do think this book and the movie, seen together with your teen, can be an excellent starting point for conversations about poverty, government, and respect for life.  I would advise reading it ahead of time so you know exactly what to expect. Only you know if your child is ready for it.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mothering through all the Seasons

This spring has been a bit anti-climactic for those of us living on Long Island.  The magic of the season, with its newly discovered green, has been lost.  Bulbs have been poking through the ground since November.  What a contrast this is from last winter, when we had so much snow we thought we would never see a green field again!

I reflected on my feelings about spring – which is my favorite although I am severely allergic to it – in relation to parenthood.  I think pregnancy is most like winter, when everything is dormant but still harboring nutrients and warmth.

The birth is your own individual spring, a new beginning for your own life, marriage, and family, as well as for your newborn.  It is a busy stage, and one that older and wiser mothers will tell you to treasure while it lasts.
Then comes summer, toddlerhood and the pre-school years, as your baby learns to walk and talk.  Your child’s personality is emerging and he or she is starting to become independent.

The elementary school years are a little like autumn.  Your child’s talents and uniqueness are like all the colors of the changing leaves.  Your child knows how to do a great deal on his or her own.  Like your garden, you have done the work and can just sit back and watch.  It is a pleasant time, with little storminess for most, and you can coast through fairly easily.

Now that I have an almost-fifteen-year-old, I feel like I have been through most of the earlier stages.  Just on the cusp of the stage here, I can see adolescence may sometimes seem like a whirlwind through all the seasons at once.

But mostly I see it as a long winter.  So many things are going on beneath the surface.  Childishness has gone the way of autumn.  Many of the things you say appear not to take hold, but they are still there, like the protective mulch you put around your evergreens.  You think it will never end.

But then – one day it is over and this is the new spring, when your child has blossomed into a full adult.  You can admire what he or she has become.  Maybe you can embrace each other now as friends…maybe this will take more time, until he or she becomes a parent and can appreciate the cycle that has come full circle.

Just as nature needs to cycle through all its stages, so do our children.  Whatever stage your child is in, be sure to appreciate it.  Take time to reflect on how his or her stage has changed you as a person.  Pray that you can be the best parent possible to help your child to reach his or her highest potential.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)