Hanging On

I’m still hanging on here in my little corner of the world.  Things are quiet and busy and for the most part good.  Here’s a quick sampling of the latest and greatest goings on these days:

1.  I am running for the local Board of Education (again).  I’m so much more jaded and realistic about it this time.  I know it’s all just a shell game of name recognition and party affiliation.  Our town is a red town so running as a D is tough, but doable if you have enough name recognition.  I have done a lot in town so we’ll see what happens.

(Here is where I could lapse into a huge diatribe about how this whole government shutdown is keeping me up at nights and how party and politics is stupid and why can’t people do the right thing, but I digress).

2.  My daughter is busy, busy, busy and it’s getting hard to keep up with her.  It’s a good thing, a far cry from her awful days last fall when she struggled with friends and spent a great many days alone in her room after school.  I’m loving that she’s thriving in marching band, in soccer and landed a role in the middle school fall drama.

3.  My little guy is holding his own, but isn’t doing much for activities.  At this point we’re chalking it up to needing the down time after holding himself together all day at school.  We’ve had a few alarming meltdowns recently (one, two weekends ago, was a reminder of the bad old days, with an all out screaming fit that lasted over half an hour).  I’m not going to lie, I’m a little worried for him, but staying the course.

4.  Hubby is looking to potentially switch jobs.  This is big news but likely won’t mean too much of a change for us as a family.  He’s been putting feelers out with other companies and getting some results….we will see what the next few months bring.  After being with the same company for two moves and 13 years, it seems like a big jump.  Especially since this job was the one that brought us here to CT where we knew exactly one person when we moved here.  The new positions he is looking at mean no move but lots of travel for him.  It’s not a huge change for us, and will probably be a great thing for him.  We’ll see what happens.

5.  Worried about my son and daughter in law with all of this shut down business.  My son’s job is with a private company but a lot of their work comes via the EPA so this is all getting a bit much.  They have a baby on the way and I was already worried about how they will support themselves once he/she is born.  They don’t have the luxury of throwing away their savings right now on stupid party politics.  For the love of God, I hope these idiots in the House get their shit together today.

6.  Entered a weight loss challenge from now until Thanksgiving.  I’ve been trying to lose the same 15 pounds for…gulp….two years.  Enough is enough.  Hoping this will be the wakeup call/jump start I need to finally make better choices and feel better about my body.

7.  Speaking of losing weight, it would be perfect timing because I’m finally going to see my favoriate rock start again after four years.  A few girlfriends and I are going to see my pal Rick Springfield in NYC in November.  It’s a small, initiate, acoustic show at a winery.  I hope everyone enjoys it and I’m able to just lose myself in the moment without all the crap that used to be part of going to RS shows.  We’ll see.

That’s about it for now.  Deep thoughts are for later….it’s 6:15 am right now and time for me to start the day.

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To Run or Not To Run

They want me to run again, and I don’t know what to do.

Not actual running (although I do that all of the time these days).   The local Democrats called me into a meeting last week and asked me if I would be interested in running for the Board of Education here in town.

I ran four years ago for the same position.  Me and three other girlfriends, we all ran together.  We were naive and hopeful and thought that we could truly make a difference.  We thought we all would get elected if we just worked hard enough, campaigned hard enough.  We were smart, we were active in all of our kids’ schools, our hearts were so in the right place.  We weren’t using the election to this board as a stepping stone for anything else, like mayor (we call them Selectmen here in New England).  We just saw a lot in our kids’ schools that we thought we could change.

We lost.  Badly. 

Only one of the four of us got a seat on the board, thanks to a rule in our town charter called Minority Representation.  There had to be at least three members of the minority party on the 9 person board.  That meant even though the four of us had the least votes of any candidate running, one of us, the one with the most votes, would get a seat.

That wasn’t me.  It was my friend Kelly.

In the last four years, I’ve watched her, talked to her about her experiences on the board.  I was sure she’d run again for her seat because she’s been very good on the Board.  People like her, and respect her.

But it’s hard.  It’s a lot of meetings.  And while those outside the board and local politics like her and respect her, she gets a lot of pushback from one member of the opposite party on the Board.  Enough to make some of the meetings fairly miserable.  She also gets some pushback from members of her own party, the Democrats, when she compromises too much or agrees with the other party “too much”.  Which is also unpleasant.

She’s done a lot of good on the Board.  She did an awful lot when the Sandy Hook students came here to our town to get their school ready.  She was there every day working in the school, meeting families and parents, doing an awful lot for people who truly needed it.  If I’d been in that chair, I could have done those things too.

Kelly isn’t going to run again for her seat.  She has a lot of other things she wants to do with her time, and it is very time consuming.  She’s done some of what we all had set out to do four years ago, and resigned herself to the fact that she can’t do it all.

Watching her over the last four years has given me a very honest, real perspective on what I would be in for if I ran and were elected.  And I keep waffling.  On the one hand, I don’t have a boatload of spare time either.  I’m trying to expand my freelance work, I am president of our Parents’ Council, I am on our Farmers’ Market Committee, I work with a local education advocacy group and I am in charge of our local 5K this year (more on that in another post).  It’s a lot of commitment.  Do I really think I can add one more?

But I still wonder what it would be like to actually sit at the table.  To get a say, to have a voice.  To make a difference, to really have an opportunity to do those good things for the children here in town.

I just don’t know what to do.

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.

 

 

Haters Gonna Hate

I chuckled looking at the computer screen, nearly choking on my first cup of coffee.  Was that the best they could do?

This week our town held its annual budget vote.  In our tiny New England town, the residents have to approve the spending plan each and every year at the polls.  It’s called an automatic referendum.  When I first moved here I thought it was the craziest thing; in the Midwest, we would have to approve school spending every few years in what was called a “millage vote”.  In the district where I lived, they hardly ever failed.

Where I live now?  They fail routinely.  And since we have to approve a plan every year, it means we vote until it passes.  A few years back, that meant six votes.  We were voting so late that we were about to need an emergency loan from the state because the fiscal year was going to start before we had an approved budget.

It’s why, a few years ago, a group of people and I started an education advocacy group.  To help inform parents about the budget votes, to let them know what was really at stake and lost each time our town failed a vote.  We made phone calls.  We placed VOTE YES signs all over town.  We passed out flyers at the Dunkin’ Donuts.  One year, we held a rally on the Town Hall lawn and I was interviewed on TV.  It’s made my name well known around town.  I’m either a hero for protecting our kids or a pariah for reaching into taxpayer’s pockets, demanding more.

Last year, our teacher contract called for a wage freeze.  It meant that our school system could get by with little or no increase in funding.  So when it came time for the budget numbers to be released, we weren’t all that surprised to see no increase in funding.  Most years, this would have sent us into full fledged attack mode, calling press conferences and media outlets to express concern for the future of our students.  But our superintendent managed the flat budget without any damage due to the wage freeze.  Our group quietly supported this move, which turned the tables.

Suddenly, our support of a low budget was called into question.  How could we call ourselves advocates for education if we weren’t demanding more for our kids?  But we were realists.  We knew that in the current economic state, our tiny little town would never vote for an increase in funding for a system with a wage freeze.  We didn’t want to see further cuts if the budget failed, so we supported the 0 %.  And it passed, with flying colors.

We found ourselves in a similar position this year.  A low budget, a new superintendent who was brought in to keep quality high but spending low.  He promised the system could thrive on a flat budget due to savings elsewhere in the system.  We again threw our support behind this plan, again citing positive outcomes and economic reality.

This time, we earned ourselves some enemies.  And while none of them have yet spoken to me personally, they are out there, in my tiny little town.

How do I know? Because they are posting on the Internet.  Under false names, several (or one person using several pseudonyms) people are calling me and my fellow education supporters out on one of those microlocal news websites.  Giving each one of us who signed a letter of support for the budget a comical but derogatory nickname, they go on to tell us our days as education advocates are clearly over.

Fifteen years ago, this would have bothered me.  Ten years ago, when similar things happened on the Rick Springfield fan message boards and mailing lists, I would type out a very hasty and indignant response to whomever had criticized me and something I’d done.  I would be hurt, anxious, and unnerved by the idea that someone out there disliked me enough to take the time and energy to create a false persona and type angry words into their computer.

These days, it mostly makes me chuckle.  I figure I must be doing something right if I’ve gotten under someone’s skin that much. And I marvel at how I really don’t need to respond anymore.  I am satisfied with the work I did.  I am sure I made the right choice.  And I don’t doubt either of those things just because someone woke up at three in the morning and decided to spew some hate on the Internet.  That’s their problem, not mine.

It serves as a good reminder of how much I’ve grown, how far I’ve come in the last ten years.

How Did This Happen?

Bizarre.

There are days that I can’t believe this is my life…today feels like one of them.  I am killing time before my morning PTO meeting at the middle school.  I’m going there as a member of the “Executive Board” which sounds impressive but basically means that I’ve branded myself as a sucker that can be asked to do a multitude of tasks and I’ll actually do them.

Upstairs I hear the cleaning women wipe down my bathrooms and change the beds.  My siblings and friends back in Michigan, where I could barely afford to pay my Target bill each month, give me that “harumph” when I mention that we have cleaning people.  It’s not something I advertise; I pretty much feel guilty and one step short of the crazy “Real Housewives” that have like six nannies so they can go to lunch with their girlfriends and workout all day.  Not guilty enough to step in and fire my sweet women who clean better than I ever learned how to do or anything, mind you.

Speaking of ladies who lunch, last week I hosted a luncheon for eight of my favorite girlfriends.  During the day.  I spent days baking and cooking and buying the booze for Bloody Marys (a girlfriend brought the fixings for Mimosas) just so I could spend three hours eating and gossiping with women I know and like.  You know, instead of doing something productive like laundry or say, earning a paycheck.

Although I did do that last week, too.  I work at the studio of one of my freelance jobs.  It’s sporadic, but every so often provides me with some work and a small check.  I don’t need to work there because R’s job is enough for us (the job that has kept him at work past 9 every night for three weeks, but I digress) but I do because there are days when I feel that I will simply go crazy with nothing outside of my children to call my own.

I went over to a girlfriend’s two nights ago to plan our Religious Education lesson.  I’ve taught at our church going on five years, and I taught at our church in Ohio for a few years before that.  I didn’t even have a religion growing up.  There are times when I’m sitting in church, mystified by the the stories and not knowing the details, and I wonder:  when will they figure out that I’m an imposter here.  Then again, they have wine at the Catholic Mass, so it kind of makes sense.

Being available for my kids…active in church…great girlfriends…a comfortable life.  These are the things people dream of.  But there are days…like today…when I wonder if this is really, truly all that there is.  It should be enough.

Right?

Visiting A Sick Friend

“You look so great!” Kelly enthused, the pitch of her voice rising so artificially high that I cringed.

She had turned on her personal brand of “hospital charm”, the same charm I’d used all during my mother’s illness and when I visited my ex’s father in the hospital after serious open heart surgery.  I had been prepared to have to fake it until I made it tonight too, so I smiled broadly at Tom and reached down to hug him from his seated position in his recliner.

Tom looked so markedly different from the last time we’d seen him on election night  that it was truly hard to believe it was the same person in front of us.  He’d lost weight, maybe twenty pounds off of his already trim frame.  His hair was close cropped short, clearly an attempt to beat out the eventual demise of it at the hands of his chemotherapy.  He was breathing oxygen into his nose through a cannula; I recognized the snaky  length of tubing and followed it with my eyes to the portable oxygen machine.  Even his voice was different, scratchy and raspy from procedures done via his esophagus.

We all knew that Tom had finished the campaign and started treatments for his recurrence shortly after.  But we’d seen him all year talk about going to this doctor or having that surgery, and we’d all taken for granted his robust health that seemed to allow him the ability to bounce back quickly from them.  When he’d committed to running for re-election, we all took it to mean that the situation with his recurrence could not possibly be that serious.  We’d scoffed at letters to the editor in our local paper that raised questions about his health, called his opponent classless when he’d quipped “ask Tom why we’re not standing at podiums tonight”, and all along never really believed that Tom could be truly sick.

But the evidence was right in front of us, and it was stark.  Tom was fighting for his life.

“So give me the dirt,” Tom said in his new, raspy voice.  “How were the budget workshops last month?”  And just like that, the old Tom was back. We regaled him with story after story, and responded with his trademark salty language, putting us all at ease and helping us see past the scary, obvious reality.  We talked until he grew tired, and we left with promises to return again in a few weeks.

We held it together until we were all safely in the darkness surrounding our cars in the street before we all looked at each other with wide, tear filled eyes.  What if Tom didn’t win this one, either?

Drinking Alone

I was sitting alone, on the sofa that Thursday night in November.  It was quiet save for the sound of the television in front of me and the occasional clink of my wine glass on the table as I lifted it and placed it back down.  I hadn’t eaten dinner, but the plate of chocolate chip cookies my friend Julie had made for me for the election was nearly empty.

I’d lost.  I still couldn’t quite absorb the concept.  I had lost my bid for election to the board of education.

Not only had I lost, but three of my four girlfriends had lost.  We had all been running together, and somewhere in the back of our heads we knew that probably one of us might not make it.  In my darkest, most conservative imaginings I worried that two of us might not be elected.  But as we stood in our campaign headquarters that night, poised for celebration, giddy with the closure of a last final push of campaigning at the polls all day, the writing literally started to appear on the wall.

A big posterboard was taped to the wall in the center of the gathering space, with a grid laid out for all of the polling places and all of the candidates.  We included our opponents too so we could count how many seats we’d won on each board; the town council and the board of education had nine seats, the board of finance had five.  The party was running hard until the phone rang with the results from the first precinct; our numbers were low compared to the other party’s.  I looked nervously at my girlfriends and the room suddenly had grown quieter, less celebratory.  And one by one, as the precincts called in to us the vote tallies, the vote went from being blurry to very clear.

We weren’t just defeated.  We were absolutely trounced, killed, mutilated.  Kelly, my one girlfriend who’d actually won her seat, sat in the corner and cried.  “This is a nightmare,” she sobbed.  “I only wanted to do this if I had at least one other friendly face on the board.  Now I’m going to be there without any of you.  This is a disaster,” she repeated.

It hadn’t just been us reeling from the results.  Our beloved first selectman and friend, Tom, had lost his bid by a less than two hundred votes.  “Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise,” he’d said in a short speech to the gathered masses.  “I can now completely focus on my treatment and getting healthy,” he said, in his first real public acknowledgement that he was still indeed battling his cancer recurrence.

R had been out of town not only on election night, but the whole week; his parents had stayed on to help me with the children on election day.  They left the day after, full of hugs and sympathy.  I went through the motions of smiling and waving goodbye to them as they left, but I knew I was descending.  After they were gone, there was no reason to pretend, to fake it, to come up with the reasons why everything happens for a reason.

I felt unwanted, bruised, battered and hated.  I remembered the nasty ad that mentioned me by name in the paper; I remembered the complaint filed against us, I remembered the little old man at the senior center that had been asking for me by name to give me a piece of his mind.  I was tired.  The phone started ringing and I didn’t answer; I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it.  I just wanted the sharp edges to blur and world to not seem like such a hard place.  So after the kids went to bed, I opened a bottle of red wine and started drinking.  I poured glass after glass, cutting the alcohol with chocolate chip cookies, and waited for sense and reason to find me.

A whole bottle later, and it still hadn’t.

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