Monday, December 31, 2012

Our "Village"

Did you ever sit back and reflect on something that your kids did that just made you ask, “Where did she/he learn that?” It generally happens to me when one of mine, big or little, does something that I don’t feel that I have sufficiently taught them. I’m talking about something good here. (If it’s something not good, that’s easy - I can place that on their other parent’s heads via genetics.) 

Let me give you an example. One evening my youngest was sprinting back and forth between our house and his friend’s house. Up and down the significant hill we live on he ran, gathering all forms of art supplies, tin foil, empty bottles…. “Do you have something that could look like milk but isn't? ” he asked me. Knowing these boys, I was happy that no real liquids were involved but I still had to ask “For what?” His buddy, one year younger than him, had a project due the following day so Riley was helping him to get it done in time. I asked him about his own project that was due early the next week. “But Mom – he’s stressing and he’s sad and I’m good at these things – even if I haven’t read the book.” I reminded him that he hadn't finished his own book so he’d better be REALLY good at them.

See how I dropped the ball there? With full hair and make-up, I could have turned that into a Hallmark moment or at the very least, a Kodak commercial but instead I helped him load a backpack and sent him off. What in him triggered his need to help his friend and make him not sad? (I mean, when he fights with his sister there is most certainly the intent to do bodily harm.) After what occurred at our house one pre-Christmas night, I think I have kinda figured out part of this mystery. Our kids learn things from everyone around us - the whole “village”.

After a seemingly successful job interview, the first in a long time, I decided, since the car was still running, to bypass my home and attempt some gift shopping for our family holiday gathering. The criterion for our gift exchange has gone from quaint to bizarre. This year all gifts needed to fit in a pocket. This required some seriously thought filled shopping. I hate shopping. Especially in the heels I still had on from the job interview. Jeez! What sized pocket? It could mean a jeans pocket which holds nothing or parka pocket which could hold a small pet. I managed to make some headway with the shopping for what my older daughter is calling our “Little House on the Prairie” Christmas and headed home. Earlier that same pre-Christmas week, two friends had surprised us with a Christmas tree so it was good to know I was going home to a festive feeling house. Little did I know...

I grabbed the bag with a frozen vegetarian pizza that was serving as tonight’s dinner, off the floor of my car and turned to see three of my friends (and one teenage son) walking up the driveway from three cars that were parked in the street. (The three car part was just odd since two of the three are married to each other.) My initial “What’s the matter?” reaction says more about me than it does about them. I feared that I had missed some meeting or the like, in my irritated, post shopping haze.

They assured me that nothing was wrong. They explained that my last blog post had gone a little bit “viral” within our town and that people wanted to help. Their cars were filled with gifts for all of the kids, food, dozens of gift cards for local merchants and so, SO much more. They tried to assure me that many of the donations were made by people who didn't know who we were. I didn't believe that. I wanted names. Once it all sank in - because I knew it hadn't yet - I wanted to be able to acknowledge each and every one of them. They rattled off some names – and more names – and more… It was a true “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment. (With a bit of searching, I’m sure we could have found a Bevin Bell to ring.)

But wait…did they miss the message of my posting? No. They didn't  I watched my kids’ faces as they began to register what was happening. The best gift of the night was when all of my kids – from 12 to 24 – fully understood what this wonderful collection of people – friends, neighbors, relatives of friends & “unknown” friends – had done for us for no reason other than pure goodness. My youngest son helped his friend because we live in a place that models that – daily.

The second best gift of the night was when my younger daughter followed me out to the car to retrieve our frozen veggie pizza and stated “I can’t wait to pay this forward!”

We will continue to mourn here in Connecticut. There are some things we can’t fix. Right now there is nothing we can do for Sandy Hook. We know that. They have asked to be allowed to heal and grieve amongst themselves – their “village”. We can give them that.To those in my town that opted to mirror Anne Curry’s suggested 26 acts of kindness path – you’re good. Thank you our “village”.

Saturday, December 15, 2012


December 14, 2012 started out badly for me. I woke to take my younger kids to their respective schools and came home to clean the ever present pile of cat poop from the front hall. Then I proceeded to unload the dishwasher, wipe down counters, straighten throws and pillows, pick up isolated socks and hoodies, organize the pile of discarded shoes inside the front door and brush crumbs from the sofa while debating the whole vacuuming thing. While I did all of this, I was crying quietly yet uncontrollably. I knew why.

Christmas does not exist for us this year. Financially I can’t make it happen. I don’t know how to explain it to my kids and make it okay. Explaining that their dad is nearly $70k behind in child support won’t help them understand. He has been behind for years but I always managed to make Christmas happen. This year I have hit a wall. We have no tree and I have not had the heart to break out the rest of the decorations though I will eventually. Watching the endless stream of holiday movies depresses me this year. Their quandaries seem simplistic. Barring illness, if they can afford to meet a friend for lunch or Christmas shop for gifts – they have no real insurmountable problems. 

Walt Jedziniak Photography
I really have tried to focus on the what-we-haves versus what-we-don’ts. My 14 year old portrayed the Ghost of Christmas past in recent production of her high school drama club’s A Christmas Carol. They are trying to rejuvenate the program so I was happy to paint sets and my 12 year old and I finally worked on a stage crew together. It was a feel good time but then the kids ask to be driven to various activities then quickly realize that it would cost gas and whatever funds might be required and they quickly retract the request. Add to this the failing transmission in my eleven year old car that is going to require a multi-thousand dollar repair once it does go…ho, ho, ho… Planning the annual family party and gift exchange at my sister’s house forty five miles away, two days before Christmas, is an exercise in pure fiction on my part. Yes, I know I am pulling a total Scarlet O’Hara but really – I will think about it tomorrow.

Yet each morning, once I go through my morning routine, I sit down and hit the job boards. I apply for any position that I could possibly be considered for. I do this knowing that even if I were to find something, it wouldn't be in enough time to fix Christmas this year and if it is more than a few miles from where we live, my car might not get me there. But I do it anyway on this December morning. I remind myself that Christmas is only one day and I need to continue on and think about our post-Christmas existence so I turn on the Today Show and boot up my laptop. 

Breaking news alerts interrupt the regular Today Show. A possible school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut but information is limited. I am familiar with Sandy Hook and have a good friend in Newtown. It’s about 40 miles from where we live now. The scenes on the screen are bustling but not frantic. I cautiously hope that the reported shots were a high school prank. 

It becomes apparent that the report is not a prank. As I watch the local anchors admirably struggle contain their own emotions, the reality of what has happened within the elementary school is confirmed. At least twenty four are dead – mostly children. I am cold.

Part of me wants to drive to my kids schools and bring them home but the other part wants them to never have to know about this. My daily plans and worries stop. I watch previously filmed footage of parents speed walking to the scene and know that at some of them were not reunited with their children at the local firehouse.

It doesn't feel real. I dig for digital photos of my kids at that age to make it hurt just a fraction of the way it must be hurting those parents. I see a picture of my oldest son. He most probably has Asperger’s , a version of Autism that was not named until 1992 when he was four. I think about the shooter, mistakenly identified as a twenty four year old male. The age, the lack of empathy, the similarity to other, recent spree shootings and my unwished for knowledge of thought disorders make me feel colder. I know what may be revealed in the following days.

I think about my sister, a kindergarden teacher in nearby Waterbury. I don’t expect to hear from her as she is at her school. I wonder if she knows about what has happened and if she knew any of the adults. As the day moves on I answer Facebook posts and messages from mutual friends and relatives who are worried about her. I know instinctively that she is not hurt physically but when night falls and I haven’t yet heard from her, I know that her hurt is emotional. She was friends with the school’s slain principal. Her late night text confirms that it was a “rough” day.

Our Christmas still doesn't exist. That didn't change. What did change was my anguish over it. Nothing can compare to what these families will face over the remainder of this holiday season or what they will feel each time they look at photos of their lost ones … at any age. 

Tonight my kids and I will decorate the outside of the house.