Thursday, February 15, 2018

Nightmare In America

I watched my first horror movie when I was in fourth grade. I was at a sleep over at my friend’s house and her parents made me call my parents for permission first. I remember my mom saying it was okay, but to remember it was just a movie and if it felt too scary just to turn it off. As I watched the plot unfold, I remember thinking, why do these people keep going back into the house, into a shed, or up a flight of stairs when it has repeatedly not worked for anyone else up to this point? The dark woods alone? No. DO NOT be an idiot.

I made it through the movie, albeit not without a couple of nightmares that week, but I was able to forget about it and sleep. I was able to sleep after telling myself over and over again that horror movies are not real. After all no one keeps doing the same dumb stuff over and over again, knowing that it will surely end the same way it did for all of their not so lucky horror movie friends that came before them. In real life when danger lurks we seek real safety. We go to the authorities. We head into a crowd and scream help. We don’t run into the dark woods alone even though we hear a chainsaw in the distance. Because that would be stupid. Obviously.

I don’t watch horror movies anymore. I’m more of a romantic comedy fan. There is quite enough horror movie material in this world without having to seek it out on the screen. Once I became a mom everything became a little scarier. I started to see the world in an entirely different light once my boys were born. That whole mama bear instinct people talk about is true. I would do anything to protect them. I would do anything to ensure their happiness and safety. Which has me begging the question, what if I can’t though? What if I can’t protect them? What if?

You see we are living in a real life horror movie here in America, and anyone who doesn’t think this is a problem isn’t paying attention. Seventeen lives were lost in Parkland Florida yesterday. Seventeen lives at a high school, another school shooting. We all bow our heads as the news flashes across the screen. We whisper, not again. We shout profanities. We feel angry. We feel heartbroken. We feel confused. We watch intently as all the information unfolds as if there is going to be some new revelation. It’s like that horror movie. It’s the same plot. It’s the same scenario. We know how it’s going to end, but we don’t seem willing to rewrite the script.

No one seems willing to talk about the hard stuff, and trust me we need to talk about it. We need to stop sending our thoughts and prayers as if they are magic. They are clearly not working. It is not enough. I keep seeing the same question all over social media, when will it be enough?  Every time I read that question I feel hopeless because it reminds me that the lives of twenty children between the ages of six and seven didn’t change anything. It reminds me that all we seem capable of in this country is fighting for “our side.” I have learned that gun owners really love their guns and while not all, most get completely defensive when the words gun reform are even uttered. Why? Why can’t there be a middle ground? Why can’t we have real discussions without everyone getting so angry with each other? We owe it to the families who are grieving. We owe it to our children because without them there is no future for our country.

I don’t claim to have the answers, but I am willing to have the hard discussions. I am willing to fight for what I believe is a start. I am willing to roll the rug up, watch the dust clear, and talk about what we have been continuously pushing underneath that rug for far too long. Yes we need to talk about gun reform and yes we need to talk about the mental health of our nation. No I am not saying that all guns need to be taken away from law abiding citizens, and no I am certainly not saying that all of those suffering from mental health issues are murderers. This is not about lumping everyone into one category. This is about coming together to rewrite the plot of this horror movie. This is about putting our own strong beliefs to the side long enough to hear one another. No solutions have ever come from a shouting match. It’s going to take listening, on both sides to really make a difference.

I am a mother and despite all the things I do on a daily basis, it is how I define myself. I know this because my two boys are the last thing I think about before I go to bed, and the first thing I think about when I wake up. I know this because the day I held them in my arms my priorities all changed. It is because of this that I cannot sit silently by as our country allows this epidemic to continue. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave, but right now it doesn’t feel that way. We aren’t free to feel safe in our own country, and up until now we haven’t been brave enough to do a single thing to change it.

As I write this I’m watching my boys sit at the dining room table. They are coloring. They are bickering and giggling together. I feel sad. I feel blessed. I feel scared, and I know many of you share in these emotions. I cannot even begin to wrap my head around the thought of sending them off to school and not having them return, but that is our reality in this country. We cannot think that it is impossible for it to happen to us because it has been proven time and time again that it is in fact possible. We need to rewrite this script. It’s time to stop running into the dark woods alone. It never ends well. We need to come together. We need to sit in the light and figure out a way to make this horror movie stop playing. We can rewrite the ending. We just have to be willing to change the script. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

In A Blink

Yesterday I went grocery shopping to prepare for the snow storm because kids eat A LOT. I bought all the ingredients for things to cook on our day off. I was happily driving home thinking about homemade French toast for breakfast, roasted butternut squash soup, pulled chicken sandwiches and a nice glass of wine.
I started looking forward to sledding with the boys and I was excited that my husband promised to take the day off. As I drove home listening to the radio, I had no clue what was about to happen. I was blissfully unaware that in a mere three minutes time all those thoughts would be replaced by the sounds of sirens, the smell of smoke, and a feeling of panic and confusion. Another driver ran a stop sign on the side street I happened to be driving directly in front of at that exact moment. It was as if my car was completely invisible to him. I don’t know why. I have no clue what distracted him, but what I do know is that his moment of distraction, caused him to barrel full speed into the driver’s side of my vehicle.

Just like that my day was completely altered. It all happened so fast. When I looked up I could see people running towards me. I could see their mouths shouting words, but I couldn’t hear what those words were. My ears were ringing from the impact and the smell from the airbags was overwhelming. As I started to grasp what just happened I immediately started to cry. A woman started banging on my window telling me to put my windows down because my car was full of smoke. Another woman shouted to turn the car off because the street was full of fluid. I had not even put the car in park yet. I felt like everything before happened in an instant, but somehow everything after was happening painfully slow.

I put my passenger side window down and a woman with a calming voice told me they had called 911 and they were going to stay with me. She asked me if I was able to unlock the vehicle and I did. She opened the door and took my hand. She introduced herself. “My name is Marge. I saw the whole thing. I’m going to stay with you. I’m so sorry this happened. We are going to take care of you. Was anyone else in the car?” I nodded my head no still unable to speak through my tears. “How old are your kids?”
“They are nine and six. Am I bleeding?” “No honey not that I can see but your hand looks hurt and your face looks swollen from the impact. The police are on their way.” I could hear the sirens in the distance. Within minutes several police cars and two ambulances were on the scene. The police took my information and assured me they would take care of me. They told me my car was going to be towed and that the tow truck was on its way. I saw them speaking with witnesses one after the other. As I sat there in my car watching all of the activity around me, I remembered I had a trunk full of groceries. Groceries are flipping expensive. I was not about to have these groceries towed. I quickly called my friend, Melissa who lives right there. She didn’t even hesitate and probably had a hard time understanding me through my blubbering, but I heard her say I will be right there. 

Then one of the police officers asked if I wanted him to call my husband. I imagined my husband on the other end of the phone hearing that I was in an accident from an officer and I asked if I could call instead. He said of course. I tried to remain calm as to not scare him, but as soon as I heard his voice my calmness changed to tears yet again. I imagine there are a bunch of police officers today who have nick named me the lady of many tears. It’s fitting. Trust me.

My husband immediately asked where I was and said he was leaving work. Then two paramedics came to bring me into the ambulance to check all my vitals. Blood pressure? High. Heart beat? Rapid. Tears? Tons. They asked all the questions about dizziness and nausea. No to the dizziness. Yes to the nausea. Can you dehydrate from crying too much? I think you can. I told them my nose felt swollen. They replied that my nose looked great, but to keep in mind I was smacked in the face by an air bag and while that impact is better than a dashboard it can still cause swelling and bruising. I told them both my hands were hurting and they told me they were both bruised and my left hand had suffered burns from the airbag. It was blistered and red.  I told them I had never been in an ambulance before and that I talk a lot when I’m nervous. They laughed and then the guy who was checking my blood pressure said, “I think your friend is here for your groceries.” “How do you know?” “Well she looks upset and she has the same hat as you. She’s not in a uniform so I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s your friend.”

Sure enough there she was loading all of my groceries into her car with the help of one of the officers. She has no idea, but seeing her made me so happy at that moment, a familiar face, my friend, someone who would cry with me so I didn’t look like the only cry baby on the scene. The officer who took the report was so kind. He joked when I needed it and consoled me when I needed that instead. I have no idea if I’ll ever see Marge again, but I hope she knows how much she helped yesterday. In fact I can still see all of the faces of the people who ran towards me eager to help. They all took the time to stop and wait for the police. They all took the time to care for a stranger. I promise to pay that forward because I never realized how important those people are during the initial stages of an accident like that.

I spent the better part of the day at the hospital getting x-rays. They treated my burn and wrapped my hand. They told me to see my doctor about the burn within two to three days.  We left the hospital and headed to the tow yard to gather any personal belongings from my car that the police may have missed. When I saw the damage I realized just how lucky I was.
We left there, got a rental car for me, and headed to my parents to pick up the boys. I have never wanted to hug them more than I did yesterday. We arrived home and friends and family started texting and calling to check on me.
There was a knock on my door and there stood my friend Trish with a full dinner for my family. I could have cried, but I’m fairly certain my tear ducts were like, listen lady we are all out of tears. Pull yourself together. So instead I hugged her and thanked her because honestly despite the fact that I now had a house full of groceries, having a homemade meal that I didn’t have to prepare was one of the best gifts.

I went to bed last night shaken up, but feeling ever so blessed. It could have been so much worse. Life can change in a blink. I started off my morning joking about the prediction of another snow day, and I ended it so happy to know that when I woke up in the morning the people who mean the most to me would be home with me all day. I have no idea why my path crossed with the other driver when it did, but I do know why my path has crossed with all the people I choose to have in my life. They show up. Every single one of them shows up and I would do the same for them. Cars can be replaced. People cannot. 


*Distracted driving is the cause of most motor vehicle accidents. The text, the phone call, the radio station can all wait. It can be the difference between life and death. It can wait.*

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The New Year's Resolution That Came Without a Warning

The other morning was the same as every weekday morning in our house. The kids came to the dining room table to eat their breakfast, one wide awake and giddy, and the other not so much. I stared at my coffee maker as the coffee dripped at a pace that felt far too slow while my dog danced around the kitchen willing me to let him outside. The kids ate their breakfast, and I put the ice packs in their lunch boxes. I began emptying the dishwasher in my usual mechanical way, mugs and glasses first, dishes next, and finally silverware. Just as I finished, the kids both ushered in with their dirty dishes. It’s our morning dance. It’s a dance we have perfected with time.

Next I moved on to the stage where I feel like a sheep herder. I shout short commands that are either met with silence or frustration. Boys brush your teeth, make your beds, hurry up it’s time to get your shoes on. The bus is coming!!! We meander out into the cold to greet the big yellow school bus. I give them each a kiss and tell them to have a good day and just like that the day is in full go mode. Like every other parent on the planet, I never feel like there is enough time in any given day. I rush from one task to the next hoping to be able to check off most of my list before that bus pulls up to drop the boys off because once they get dropped off, it’s homework time and then we rush off to our activities. Once we arrive back home I make dinner while fantasizing about climbing into bed and falling asleep.

My girlfriends and I often joke that we feel like hamsters on a wheel. The laundry can feel all consuming. The meal prep never seems to end. We are working, all while trying to delicately balance the daily life that comes with having a family. Homework, grocery shopping, permission slips, school theme days, doctor appointments, cleaning, science projects, meetings, soccer practice, and the list goes on and on and on. Sometimes I feel like I’m a catcher and the pitcher is whipping ball after ball with no break in between. Sure it’s exhausting, but it can also feel isolating and overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong my husband does just as much around here. We are all just trying to keep our heads above water.

I have never been someone who makes New Year's resolutions. It’s not because I don’t think I have room to improve, because I do. We all do. It’s because I don’t like to set myself up for failure. I always thought New Year resolutions had to be these grandiose proclamations. I’m just not ambitious enough to decide on January 1st that I’m going to change my entire body composition or go to bed by 9 pm every night, or write a book. Okay, so going to bed earlier probably wouldn’t be completely crazy, but somehow it would still feel like a lot of pressure to me.

The other morning though something changed all that. After the kids and I completed our regular morning dance, I went into my bedroom to make my bed. My youngest son was brushing his teeth and then he called for me. I went into the bathroom and saw his little smiling face staring back at me from the reflection in the mirror. Then I saw my reflection and I noticed how stressed I looked. Just as I was about to say; What buddy? You have to hurry up.  I stopped myself and instead I looked at him and smiled. That’s when he looked at me and said, “Mommy will you comb my hair for me?” He handed me the comb. As I started to comb his hair I had a moment of clarity. I think moments of clarity often come during the simplest times. Although they seem to come when we need them the most, if we don’t take a minute to notice them they can pass us right by without so much as a warning. As I stood there combing my 6-year-old’s hair, I realized there will come a day when I will do this for the last time. I won’t know it’s the last time though. There will come a day when I no longer have two kids chattering away at the breakfast table while I stare at the coffee brewing. There will come a day when I no longer have lunch boxes to pack, or a full dishwasher to unload. As I tried to hide the tears that were welling up in my eyes, my son looked at me and asked if I was okay. “Mommy is fine bud. Actually mommy is really good.”

I brought the boys to the school bus, and kissed them both goodbye. I waited to watch the bus actually pull away and round the corner until it was no longer in my sight. I realized that stressing over my list of things to accomplish is causing me to miss out on the two most important parts of that list. There will come a day when that school bus leaves my sight for the very last time. There will come a day when the sound of the school bus in my neighborhood will remind me of the two little boys who used to run off every afternoon, eager to tell me all about their day. As parents we take note of all the firsts, but we don’t do the same for the lasts. It’s not because the lasts aren’t important, it’s because we don’t get a warning that they have arrived.

As I walked back into my house I made my first New Year's resolution. I decided to make a valiant effort to be present instead of worrying about every little thing I should be getting done. When my son called for me I could have said I was making my bed and told him to finish up, but I would have missed out on a moment that felt so much bigger than a comb and a mirror. I saw him. I really saw him. I saw a mother and a son. I saw a little boy who still wants and needs his mommy, and for a brief moment I saw a big teenager who would no longer need me to comb his hair. Far too often I tell my kids they have to wait because I’m in the middle of vacuuming, or cooking, sending an email or making a phone call. What will happen if I skip the vacuuming, order takeout, or put off the email for an hour or so? Well, with any luck I won’t miss out on any of their lasts. We can’t control how fast time moves, but we can control how we spend that time. I tucked them both in that night and as I closed their doors I silently willed them to give me some type of warning when the last tuck in is near. I know I won’t get a warning though, so until then I’m going to make sure I don’t miss one.