No, we don’t mean our kids. There are actually other things that keep us up at night…the more serious side of life. We have something to say about that, too.
At Least It Wasn’t Loaded
It is amazing how your mind can split in two when you hear something startling. The words enter your head the same way but they go in different directions. The part of your brain that hears “student brought a gun to school today” whirls around in circles yelling “Danger! Marie! Danger!” like the silly robot on old episodes of Lost In Space warning Will Robinson of impending doom. The part that hears “and no one was in any danger” shrugs and thinks “At least it wasn’t loaded.”
There had been no threat to the children or staff. There had been no attempt to harm. There had only been a foolish kid with the stupid idea that this was a good prank to play on a classmate. Put a gun in his locker and see him try to explain why it was there.
The school was amazingly forthcoming about the incident with both parents and students. They did all they could to reassure us, while at the same time emphasizing how dangerous this student’s actions were and that there would be disciplinary action.
“There wasn’t a bullet in the chamber.”
The boy was suspended but he would be back. Each morning, he and his belongings would be searched before he could enter the building. He would have counseling, evaluations, limitations on his mobility throughout the school. He would be back.
Naturally, my son had many questions that day. Why would the boy do that? How did he get the gun? Did he want to hurt anybody?
“The gun wasn’t loaded. He didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
School ended a few days later. I was surprised at how quickly the incident moved out of my mind. No one had been hurt, I thought to myself. We were lucky. It has been tragic other places, don’t turn this into a drama. Don’t dwell on this. Let your son have a chance to forget it.
“At least, it wasn’t loaded. This time.”
It wouldn’t be that easy to forget. It may not have been living on the surface, but it was living just beneath. Out of the blue, my son would ask, “Why did the boy do that? Why would he make such a bad choice?”
Each time he asked, I would explain. I would reassure. I would wonder if the boy or some other student would do it again. Would we be as lucky next time?
When summer “camp” started, my son’s “camp” is at his school and part of his program, there was anxiety about whether that boy would be back. Would his gun be back. No, I explained. He will be back, but not yet. The gun was gone. It would not be back.
“Your son is fine but I needed to tell you about something that happened at the school today. Please call me back.”
Another boy at school had a meltdown today. My son wanted to know if there was a gun in his home. Would he shoot his mother or himself? Your classmate will be okay, I reassured my son. The boy has had meltdowns before and has always been okay.
What would not be okay was that my son, and likely all students and staff where he goes to school, would never feel the same about going to school again. The naive belief that something like “that” would never happen here had been disproved. It could happen here.
The worst part is that there was no one to blame. No one thing we could point to and say, “If we fix that, we won’t ever have to worry about this again.” The gun had been properly stored. The boy had no access to the keys to open its locker but he found another way. This wasn’t a “bad” kid that someone should have expected this from. Like all the other kids at this school, he has his challenges. He doesn’t see the big picture but he didn’t intend physical harm. The school is on top of dealing with crises and mental health issues.
The worst part is that the only thing there is to say is, “At least the gun was loaded. We got lucky this time.”
While there is very little that gun control would have done to change the situation that happened at my son’s school, I do support better gun management and control. I am not against gun ownership and support the right for people to own guns. I do believe, though, that, as a nation, we must become more responsible, more reasonable about how we manage access to guns and ammunition. We also need to look at what is happening in our culture that guns provide the answer for so many who are angry or disenfranchised. If you would like to learn more about efforts to change the way guns are managed in our country, I encourage you to check out http://www.momsdemandaction.org/ or http://everytown.org/.
For My Birthday, I Threw Myself a Pity Party
A few weeks ago, I had my 49th birthday. Yea, yea, thanks. Happy birthday, I know, I know. Whatever. A happy birthday it was not. Not initially. Nothing terrible had happened. I had no new reason to be so miserable. It’s just, well, next year, I’m going to 50. And I haven’t accomplished a thing.
It seemed the universe wanted to make sure I understood that I haven’t accomplished anything. So, it made Michelle Obamathe same age as me, born one day before me, a fashion icon with a “banging” new hair style and a healthy physique, preparing for her husband’s second inauguration. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge Michelle Obama her success. I just wish I didn’t have to be reminded of it the day before my own birthday, especially when I was feeling so unaccomplished.
So, I threw myself a pity party. I invited all my best friends: Self-Doubt, Self-Deprecating Humor, Negative Self-Talk, Self-Loathing and the Scale (who had the nerve to bring Size 8, uninvited!). We had a great time reviewing all the things I had wanted to do with my life, all the things I failed to do, and all the things I would never have a chance to do again. It was a dark party and seemed like it was never going to end.
Then my birthday came. That morning, my son, Aaron, woke up so excited. He ran downstairs greeted me with a “Happy Birthday!” and handed me a gift. For my birthday, Aaron had created his very own Thomas the Tank Engine story, just for me. It was lovely and I was so proud of him. Best of all was when Aaron opened the book and read to me the inside cover: I dedicate this book to my mom because she always gives me great ideas of what to do and I love to have fun with her. Happy 49th Birthday, Mom!
“Thank you, Aaron. It’s perfect!” I said, holding in the tears. It was more than perfect. It was what I needed. I needed to be recognized. Something that moms often don’t get. In the flurry of things we have to do, are expected to do, we so often lose the importance of what we do. And, so do the people around us. At least, we think they do; because they forget to tell us on a regular basis that they appreciate us.
As I stared at the dedication page, I could feel my spirits begin to lift. My son had just told me that I help him be creative and have fun, to laugh. Which made me think of this….
I have had this postcard for a long time. I have hung it up in every home I have lived in for the past 19 years. When I feel I have lost my way, I am drawn back to this verse. Aaron’s dedication reminded me of what I value in my life. What I had been forgetting over the past few weeks.
I strive to be a good person. I often expect myself to be a perfect one. That is the goal I shall never attain. I try to laugh as often as I can. It is part of the reason Jenny and I started this blog. I know many intelligent people. I hope I have their respect. I am grateful I have their friendship. I have the affection of children, at least my own. I try to be kind to all other children and find the special in each of them. I dream of leaving the world a bit better, though, I am not sure how. I may never know if any life has breathed easier because of my existence, but I will try every day to give at least one person at least one moment.
My life may never be all the things I have dreamed it to be. It will likely not be a life that anyone, besides my family and close friends, will even notice. But if my legacy is that I have done no harm but provided for some small moments of ease or happiness, then it will be life I will have been proud to live.
Next year, I will throw a party of celebration. Self-pity has never really been my style.
Count Your Blessings, However They Come to You
Jenny and I recently received an e-mail from a mom, Megan Braswell. It read:
I was wondering if you could share my story with your readers. I am 35 weeks pregnant with my second daughter, Livie. Not long ago, she was diagnosed with a fatal condition. If she survives birth, she will only live for a few minutes or hours. I created The Livie Project to celebrate her life now, and to “give” her experiences that she will never get to have. I am asking for people to read Livie’s story, share it with others, and to contribute a picture tribute if possible.
Lots of love and gratitude,
I was very moved by Megan’s story and the loving tribute she is creating for her daughter, Livie. It brought up so many feelings that I had not thought about in some time.
When I was pregnant with Aaron, I had some blood work come back indicating there may be some issues with the baby. My doctor was already nervous about this pregnancy because of my age and sent me for another ultrasound. It offered little reassurance. They found a small spot on Aaron’s heart and a venus lake. The information all together indicated the possibility of Downs Syndrome or other complications. My doctor recommended an amniocentesis.
I was heartbroken. My husband, Ron, and I were torn. I was already becoming aware that something was amiss with my son, Nic. What if there was something wrong with the baby? How would I handle it? Could I handle it?
I did what nearly every expectant mother does these days (but really shouldn’t do). I got on the Internet and starting researching amniocentesis, Downs Syndrome, and birth defects. As is usually the case with Internet research, what I found there was not consoling. But, of all the information I found, what scared me most was the idea that I could lose my baby during the amniocentesis. (My doctor later assured me that it is very rare for this to happen. But the thought was already in my head.)
On the day of New Year’s Eve, my doctor called. “I know you haven’t had much time to think about this, ” she said. “But, I need an answer now.” She was pushing because, if we decided to terminate the pregnancy based on the results, we would have to do it very soon.
I remember the turmoil of those few days. I weeped at the thought of losing my baby. I weeped at the thought of his, possibly, compromised life. My tears were for my baby, my family, my dreams.
We were very fortunate. All the results came back negative. Our child was expected to be healthy and “normal”.
It was about a year later when Nic was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Though I was given news I had already expected, the grief was still quite deep. My child’s life would not be what I had hoped. My life with him would not be what I had anticipated. My family’s life had been altered. When we received the same diagnosis for Aaron some years later, I was more prepared but the sting was still there and strong.
There are so many ways in which we can “lose” our children…to autism, to mental illness, to drugs, to death. I am lucky. I have only lost the dreams and expectations I had held of what being a mother would be like; what my sons would be like. I have the opportunity to build new ones. I have the opportunity to help them build dreams that suit who they are. My children are amazing creatures who have challenged me and inspired me (yes, even driven me a bit crazy). They continue to do it every day.
I have known others who have faced my biggest fear. (Death in an Unnatural Order) I have admired their strength and the beautiful ways in which they celebrated their children as they mourned them. I admire Megan and her family, too, for honoring the blessing of Livie in their own unique way. I hope you will join me in marking the life of sweet Livie by creating your own tribute at The Livie Project.
Trying to Save the World
…and not even coming close
The other day, I heard about a family in our community where the mom is dealing with some pretty difficult things (dramatic understatement). I don’t know this woman well but her son was in one of my sons’ classes. That is the only connection I have to her. The things that I have heard are heart wrenching. They are frightening. If they are all true, I fear for her and her children. I want to reach out to her and her children, to offer help, to provide refuge, but I don’t.
People tell me that it is not my responsibility, don’t get involved. I can’t stop thinking about her, though. Is she waiting for that one person to step in and change things for her and her children? Are the children waiting for someone to rescue them or have they accepted their fate? Still, I do nothing.
She has never asked me for help. She probably never will. But does that get me off the hook? Does that get any of us off the hook? Of all the people sharing the rumors, has even one of them tried to help her? I don’t know. I just know that I haven’t. The only thing I have done is make sure I greet her with a smile when I see her. I talk to her and don’t treat her like she is invisible. But, I still don’t offer help.
You see, the question of whether or not to help someone is not always so easily answered. Yes, it is easy to help if you only need to write a check (if you can afford it), bake some brownies, sign a petition. What about when helping might put you in harm’s way or expose your children to things you’d rather they not know existed?
When you have children, you become more cautious about what you let into your world. You try hard to keep out the things that might damage them mentally or physically. You remember that your first responsibility is to them. That is the contract you made when you invited them here.
But what about those children whose parents don’t see it like that? Who protects them? Who helps their parents find their way? If I could, I would foster every child who needed a parent, needed someone to love them, believe in them, care for them. I can’t do that, though. I must take care of my children first.
Am, I making a mistake in doing that? Should I be teaching my children that we should extend ourselves to others, no matter the sacrifice? I don’t know the right answers to these questions. But, I know I’ll be thinking about that mom and her children tonight and hoping that someone is helping her.
The Unexpected Reminder of All There is To Fear
Jenny and I started writing this blog to let other moms know that it’s okay to feel imperfect at parenting. We are all doing the best we can (well, everyone but Jenny). Sometimes, we need to step back and not take it all so seriously. Innocent enough, right?
We were expecting that people would find our blog and read it; and were so excited when they did. What we weren’t expecting was all the creepiness that would find us, too. Along with all the searches by (presumably) moms who hated their kids today, wanted to find ways to clean their carpet or make bread, and loved Gary Larson cartoons, came the ick that we all try not to think about.
Since Jenny and I started this blog, we have become uncomfortably familiar with the high level of ick in our world. How can writing a mom blog, read mostly by other moms, create a sense of ick?
One look at how people find our blog would say it all. To save myself some embarrassment (and to not make you run and hide under the covers), I have decided not to share with you some of the more, how shall I say this, eeeeewwwww searches that show up. Instead, I will simply tell you that seeing what people are looking for on the World Wide Web, what people want to see moms do, especially with their sons is, well, horrifying.
The words have become disquieting images in my head. I am disturbed, not only by the words, but also because I don’t know who has made these searches. Are they men with mommy issues, mothers who have distorted visions of their relationships to their sons? Are they my kids’ neighbors, teachers, doctors, or coaches? Suddenly, the fears I have managed to keep deep in the back of my mind are right in front of me.Compounding my fears are the nightly recaps on the news of the horrible treatment of children at the hands of parents and caretakers that were supposed to protect them. The coaches and clergy that were supposed to lead them and guide them. And, very close to home, the allegations of child pornography against the local cable television director that videotaped our children during their plays, presentations and games.
Now, I do have to say, I am always suspicious of accusations made by a lover scorned, as is the case with the local cable television director. I am making no statement of his guilt or innocence as I do not know all the facts. What I can say is that this is a person I have interacted with on several occasions. I have thanked him for his work taping our children’s events and other activities around town. He always seemed pleasant and appreciative, if a bit frazzled. When he was arrested, my first thought was to hope that none of the children in our community were the object of his interests. Then, came the feeling that I had failed. If this man is guilty, and we don’t know if he is, but if he is, how did I not see it.
The accusations against this man, the Sandusky trial (kudos to the jury), the Catholic church abuse scandal, the alarming searches that people make on the Internet, they have all put my fears in front of my face. My sense of danger for my children is heightened. The struggle that we all face as parents is very much with me. How do I preserve my child’s sense of safety in an unsafe world. How do I teach my child the difference between the good guys and the bad guys when I can’t even tell?
If you have the answers, I would certainly like to hear them. It may save me a few more sleepless nights.