Six Months Later

It’s six months since Sandy Hook.

Here in Monroe, CT, where the survivors now go to school (and will be going until a new school is built for them), today is a somber day where we all are reliving that awful Friday in our heads, thinking of all of our many personal connections to those who lost so much that day, and reflecting on how much (and how little) the world has changed.

In other parts of the country, Sandy Hook and its awful terror seems to have long since been forgotten.   Or worse, thought of negatively, as perhaps the “Connecticut Effect”, where a real world tragedy brought to light some of the terrible and real cracks in our society’s foundation.  For those who do not want our society to change, Sandy Hook is perhaps a term used negatively.

But not here.  Here it’s a phrase woven with love and sadness and protective fierceness.  I sat in on a discussion last week of how our own schools will be doing construction over the summer to make them safer.  All of the exterior doors will be replaced.  All of the classroom doors will now have two way locks, so they can be locked in the inside as well as the outside.  When I was a teacher, twenty years ago, this never occurred to us (and I taught in the inner city!).  They are reconstructing the entry ways of each school to have “sallyports” or vestibules rather than open access to the building.  In one school, this means moving the school office to a different location, so the staff can have “visual command” of the entry way.  Glass will enclose these sallyports way from the main hallways.  The glass will not shatter with bullets, we were told.  The glass will stay in place, even when it breaks.

All of this will “slow down” an intruder, our superintendent said, not stop them.  Which is why we have had, and will continue to have, police officers stationed at each school as well.

What a horrible new reality we are living in here.  The Connecticut Effect is definitely present here next door to Newtown.   It is inescapable.  It is our every day these days.

Despite all of the awful, there is also wonder and awe at how kindness and love have become more recognized and more present in our world.  Our race two weekends ago brought out the best of our giving and helping community.  Our town is offering the school where Sandy Hook kids attend rent free to Newtown.   Everywhere you turn there are little green signs in storefront windows proclaiming “Love Wins” or “Choose Love” or “Sandy Hook Loves Monroe”.  Many businesses here sell little bracelets, ribbons or shirts to help raise money for the victims and their families.

So here we are, six months out.  Tonight we will leave our porch light on, a beacon of light in the darkness that has been left here for so many.  And perhaps, maybe a promise that the world will not forget what happened just nine miles up the road.  Maybe, just maybe we can still come together and make the world a better place.

Because in the end, I really am hoping that love does win.  It just has to.

An Open Letter to Those Who Doubt Sandy Hook

There is a hard underbelly in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown that I’ve been wanting to address for a while now, but have scarcely wanted to acknowledge it for fear of perpetuating it. But my disgust and anger is so full and complete these days that I can hardly contain it.

At first, in the days after the tragedy, I found in some corners of the internet an outrage against the outrage.  That is, there was a small but vocal contingent indignant at the amount of emotion that was evoked by the Newtown tragedy.  How could one be so upset about these 26 (27?) lives being lost when lives are lost every day in Syria, the Congo, even the South Side of Chicago?  Why were these lives so much more worthy of people’s angst and attention than those lives?

Since the situation is so close to me, I figured that it was just me who found those arguments ridiculous.  Of course all senseless violence and loss of life is terrible.  These lives are indeed no more or less valuable than the other lives that may be lost in a similar way.  That doesn’t make it any less senseless or terrible.  It’s a false argument to me.  Just because other terrible things happen doesn’t make this terrible thing less terrible.  I brushed it off.

Then in the days that followed, new arguments came.  These were more judgmental, more spiteful:  that this type of thing would have never happened in a more conservative state, where folks routinely walk around with concealed weapons.  That frankly, we’re reaping what we’ve sown here with our more liberal leaning society up here in Connecticut.  There were even some crazy extrapolations of that, stating that this was simply God’s judgement call on a state that is full of wealthy folks, approves of gay marriage and continually sends more progressive type representatives to Washington.

Shocked at the callousness of such statements, the disregard of the real human pain and suffering that I was witnessing all around me, I fumed.  I saw these postings on Facebook, heard them whispered on news outlets in the comments sections, but couldn’t muster myself to respond to them.  These were surely intended to inflame, these types of statements.  Better to ignore and not draw attention to these types of outlandish comments; to acknowledge them would give them validity, I thought.

Instead, I tried to counteract the dark side (is there a light one?) of this tragedy by doing good works myself:  working as a volunteer to help at the school where the Sandy Hook children would later attend, and the warehouse where they myriad of donations were being sent; spreading word of the various things locals could do to help; donating money to the groups set up to handle such things.  I prayed, a lot, to my God, asking Him to help these angry people find peace in their hearts.  I tried to be kinder, gentler to my children, family and those around me.

But still, the darkness seems to be continuing to spread.

A friend clued me in via an email that there seems to be a small but growing contingent of people in our country who are questioning whether the tragedy at Sandy Hook even happened.  They are calling it a “Sandy Hoax”.  Their arguments ranged from the inaccuracies of initial news reports to the lack of tears shed by victims’ families to the dearth of updated information regarding the shootings to the lack of visual images publicly available of the bodies of victims.  The reason for the “hoax” as stated by those who are perpetuating this fallacy is that the whole scenario was elaborately planned and executed, with the help of a left leaning media, to force a conversation and action on gun control in our country.

I am astounded and absolutely disgusted by such arguments and the people who would make them.

In my way of thinking, you’d have to be one cold hearted bastard (I was going to type in “human being” but couldn’t bring myself to use the phrase here) to even imagine such a scenario.  Let me tell you, I am sure these 26 (27?) families that were directly impacted by the loss of life from this tragedy would love nothing better than to wake up today and find this all a dream, a story, a made up reality television show.

Let me be clear, because I live here.   I have spoken with people who saw the bodies at the funerals.  Because I’ve spoken with the grandfather of one of the victims.  Because I got caught in the traffic at one of the wakes.  Because my own children were put on lockdown for hours that day and came home shaken and scared.  Because there are still, to this day, policemen patrolling the schools in my town of Monroe, CT. Because while I didn’t know any of the victims personally, I know so many people who do, too many to even count.  And believe me, those children aren’t hiding somewhere and their parents aren’t helping perpetuate some vast conspiracy game.  Those kids and teacher sare dead.  They’re gone.  The loss is real and raw and  palpable. Just because they’re not showing that grief on camera doesn’t mean it isn’t.

The events of December 14th were, and continue to be  horrific, tragic and unspeakable.  What happened that day is still trying to be unraveled so that those affected can find some way to move forward.

What happened at Sandy Hook isn’t about gun control, or mental health, or some national agenda, or inner city vs. bucolic suburb.  It is about these victims who lost their lives in a senseless act that can’t possibly be explained or understood.   It is about those who loved them.  It is about the many, many who are trying to help everyone affected by these terrible events put some of the pieces back together in a puzzle that will always be missing 26 (27?) of its pieces.  It isn’t about you, or liberals and conservatives, red states versus blue ones, or God’s punishment.  It isn’t about who deserves media attention and who doesn’t, it isn’t about fighting over who gets to sit where at the table of healing, and it certainly isn’t about politics.

So stop.  I say to all of you perpetuating the type of hate that started all of this in the first place, just stop.  Stop claiming it didn’t happen, because it did.  Stop rationalizing your own agendas and trying to fit them into the puzzle of Sandy Hook.  Take a step back, pull yourself away from your anger and your vitriol.  Your time and energy would far better spent trying to be a part of a solution that helps prevent future such tragedies rather than contributing to them with anger and fear.

**Regarding my use of the numbers of victims.  Many talk of the 26 victims of violence that day at Sandy Hook.  I am not sure why the mother of the gunman is not always counted in the victim tally, and perhaps there is a reason that I am unaware of.  Hence my use of 26? 27? in questioning the true number of innocents who perished that day.

 

 

Coming Here

They’re coming here.

The students.  The survivors.  Those who the gunman wasn’t able to kill.  They’re coming to a school in my town in a few days.

We closed a school, a few years back, in a contentious budget cutting year to save money.  We reconfigured our entire school system and changed the culture of our district.  It was a difficult, divisive time in our town.  Every time I have driven past that closed school to the current middle school, I have felt a twinge of anger and sadness.  It sits empty, the sign in front claiming it schools students in grades 5 and 6, but it doesn’t.  On the side of the building, boards fill in a space where windows should be; when the window broke, no one thought it was worth spending money to fix.  Because no one uses the building anyway.

But now, in the wake of the horrible tragedy on Friday, our empty school is no longer a burden, a symbol, an albatross.

It is a gift.

It is a gift we can give those families that lost everything last week, so that they don’t have to return to the place where so much evil occurred.  They don’t have to go back at all this school year, if they don’t want to.  They will have the luxury of time to figure out what to do next.  Because they can come here.  They can come to our town, to our school, and hopefully feel some shred of safety and comfort in returning to some sort of routine.

I’m grateful that there is something tangible we can offer these families.

I don’t know any of those who died on Friday personally.  But I know so many who do.  I knew three of the names before they were released because they were friends of my friends.  One little boy went to preschool with a friend’s daughter.  Another took Tae Kwon Do with several friends’ kids.  A third used to work with one of the parents.  And the father of the gunman works for the same company as my husband, although in a different location.

My own daughter is fearful.  They put her school in a lockdown so strict that they all huddled in a corner away from the windows and the doors.  When the kids snickered and talked the teacher told them tersely that this was “not a drill”.  For a period of time, she thought the incident was at her school.  That the bad guys were coming down her hallways.  And now she knows that only a few miles separated her from that reality being hers instead of those poor childrens’.   She has friends that don’t want to return to school tomorrow.  There will be police, there will be counselors, there will be little learning and much talking about unspeakable things.

I do not know what kind of world it is that we live in.  Today, from my small town in Connecticut, it seems a very, very dark place.

Fighting the Rain

Outside it is pouring rain.  My son pointed out, as we waited in the warmth of my SUV at the end of our longish driveway for his bus this morning, that pouring rain is his least favorite weather.  For him, it is because his sensitive sensory system makes the wetness that results on his skin and on his clothes feel like sandpaper, or fire, or some other horrible sensation.  He can’t focus anymore, he can’t breathe, because all he can feel is that awful, awful feeling.

I dislike the rain too, but for different reasons.  The dark clouds that gather, the heaviness from the damp….it muddles my mind and brings out the darkness that lives inside me.  Always, always, rainy days bring back sad thoughts and hard memories.  I look through the window with the rain streaming down, imagining I’m on camera somewhere, and a soundtrack soars in the background giving life to my internal grief.

I haven’t been writing here lately.  I think the catharsis of putting my thoughts into words is something I’m missing.  But it’s hard because I’m not sure which words I should be choosing for this space now.  I’ve completed my mission, my task for why I set up this blog.  To go through my former life, my stories, my path that led me to where I sit now.  So what now?

The question is one I’m asking myself not just about this blog, but about my life.  With my son finally doing well in school, I’m less and less needed during the day while he’s at school.  Most stay at home mothers arrive here at some point while their children are in elementary school.  It’s an enviable place to be:  we don’t really need an extra income right now.  Sure, my being at home makes everything easy for everyone:  the laundry is always done, the food is always bought and cooked, the beds are made and the dog is walked.  But there are hours and hours left over.

These are the hours I’ve previously filled with writing, or volunteering at school,  or working on freelance websites or at the art studio.  But with the art studio closing and my two current clients in “wait and see” mode, and the kids getting older…I find myself thinking….now what?  There has to be a way to transition into something new, something different.  I mean, I can’t possibly spend the next eight years folding laundry and watching endless loops of my Grey’s Anatomy DVDs in the downtime, can I?

The rain outside the window today makes me think I can.  I need to fight the rain.

 

A New Reality

It should have been more momentous.

Sitting there, in a classroom last week, listening to my autistic son’s teacher tell me that he was doing well in all his subjects was the stuff of my dreams a few years ago.  A reality I couldn’t imagine, but one I hoped to attain in the far away world called Someday.  A scenario I’d all but dashed after his preschool speech therapist told me my son would “never be normal” and would “never catch up” after I’d seen their IQ testing.  He’d tested a 70, just a cut above mentally retarded.

But somehow, this is now my reality.  My son is in fourth grade, and after years of struggling to help him assimilate into the main stream, he is there.  I sat across from his teacher this year only to hear glowing after glowing report.  My son wasn’t just doing well “under the circumstances” as is usually the case.  He was simply, “doing well.”  He is on grade level in all of his subjects.  He has friends and in fact shows concern for others who are not doing well socially or academically.  He is funny and well liked.

It took a long time for us to adjust our expectations for our youngest son.  To put ourselves in the mindset of not just being parents, but being “special needs parents”, a small but mighty breed of fighters whose sole focus is advocating for and pushing their child as far as they can reasonably be expected to progress.  To accept that he might not ever live an independent life, or go to college, or hold a job, or even drive a car.  But we did it.  We were there.  It was our reality.

It isn’t anymore.

It almost feels too soon, too scary to think about readjusting our expectations and goals again.  To dare to dream that someday our son might just live, but thrive.  That we could experience days of pride and joy for him as we have with our oldest child.

For now, I will be happy with where we are.  It’s going to be a while, I think, before I know that this is new reality is going to stick.

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

“You need to come to the school and pick him up,” said the voice of my son’s special education teacher on the phone.

We’d been riding a positive wave of good news as far as Michael had been concerned.  His last conference had brought me to tears; he was working on grade level, in the mainstream classroom.  He was doing well socially, making friends.  There were days when life wasn’t defined by his autism; we’d traveled to Florida by air last month without asking for the special treatment we used to to avoid lines and waits and things that my son didn’t used to be able to handle.  But now, now Michael gave us hope that someday, things would be just like everyone else for him.

But all the good didn’t come without a price.  Michael was doing well in school because he had a team of teachers pushing him this year; he didn’t like to be pushed.  I’d been asked just now to come and pick him up from school because he was too agitated to get on the bus, having spent most of the day in the school office after a tantrum in his classroom.

I walked into the school office five minutes later to find Michael underneath the principal’s desk.  I wanted to cry.

“It’s OK, he’s fine under there,” she reassured.  “Let’s talk about what happened today.  Michael was upset about the difficulty of his reading lesson, and so during class, he decided it was time for him to go home.”

I clasped my hands together, pressing them firmly in order to avoid the screaming I really wanted to do.

“He gathered up all of his things, and put on his backpack and coat, and tried to climb out the window.”

Oh, God.

“But he couldn’t get past the screen, so then he bolted down the hallway and out the front door.  Don’t worry, we were able to get one of the male teachers to stop him just five steps outside the door, but he’s getting too heavy now for most of the women teachers to handle that.”

Sweet Jesus.

“So he told us when we finally got to the office that there would be no consequences today, that he was just done with school and not coming back here ever again.  He kicked his aide and tripped her on the way down to the office,” the principal added.

Red.  I was seeing red and black spots in front of my eyes.

“He finally calmed down about an hour later, and we have been able to get him to do some work down here.  I’ve told him that he needs to come straight to the office tomorrow, and when he’s calm enough, he can go to the regular classroom.  It’s a shame; the kids really feel badly for him, know he’s having a hard time, and miss him when he’s not in class, so hopefully tomorrow he can pull it together and have a better day.”

I looked at my son, who had come out from under the table upon seeing me and hearing that his day was being described in detail.  He looked sad, and embarrassed, but also a bit angry too still.  “Sorry,” he said in a melancholy voice with downcast eyes.

I’d forgotten that mixture of fear, helplessness, anger, sorrow all stirred with a hint of shame and insecurity that came with my son’s disorder.  We’d gotten to the place where we did the therapies without even thinking about them, put the proper program in place at school, and thought we were reaping the benefits.  I felt it all crumbling and crashing down around me as I stood there, surrounded by Michael’s team, all of them apologetic and optimistic for him.  I needed to be his mother in that moment, one of the perfect ones you see on TV who knew just how to handle this type of thing.  But instead I felt like a child myself, wanting to yell and scream and have a different life, a normal life where you didn’t have to get called into school because your child couldn’t handle getting on the bus.

“Thank you all,” I said to the group assembled, trying to put on the mask, all the while with tears pricking the corners of my eyes.  “We’ll have a long talk about this tonight and come up with a plan going forward.  Now let’s get our things, Michael, and get home.”

Two steps forward, three steps back.

Vacation

I am on vacation this week, going back to my family who still live back in Michigan, as I alluded to in my previous post.  I tried to make sure I had enough posts to get me through the week while staying at my sister’s house, but unfortunately I am going to not be able to cover a few days this weekend while I’m in transition back to “My Current Life” in Connecticut.

I spent this morning visiting the tree lined neighborhood where I lived prior to my parents’ divorce, and took pictures of the elementary school where I went for my first five years of school.  It was definitely surreal to drive down that same street where I delivered papers, the same street that inspired my very first post here, Paper Routes and Sunrises.  I wrote it a year and a half ago; what a strange feeling to be in the same place at such a very different time in my life.  They say you can’t go home, and it is very true…my time here hasn’t brought me peace at all, but I never suspected it would.  It’s probably easier, and better for my peace of mind, to recreate the stories in my mind than to actually physically revisit My Former Life.

So I’ll be back here in a few days to tell a few more stories, though we’re getting very close…I’m currently writing stories now that happened AFTER I started this blog last year.  I’ll be finished soon, and somehow, My Former Life will meld into My Current Life.  Until then, I’ll be trying to keep my head above the lapping waters of the past that is surrounding me in every sense of the word for the next few days.  It’s not an easy journey, but I hope that when I come out the other end, I’ll be better for it.

%d bloggers like this: