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.

A Strange Day

Yesterday was a strange, strange day here in my little corner of the world.  It has been very raw here since the events of 12.14.12.  I’ve written about some of it.  But we knew yesterday was going to be the day that instead of being neighbors to the events everyone was looking at on the news, we were going to be the event on the news.

The Sandy Hook school children were starting school here yesterday.

I knew the building of course, from having lived here.  My children never attended school at Chalk Hill, because it closed before my kids were of age to go there.  But they attended summer programs there, and I’ve been involved with this or that project there from time to time with my volunteering within the school system.  It was amazing to see the tired old structure, which had been the topic of many harsh discussions in  our town, become a jewel transformed from the rough state it had been in.  Watching the moving trucks bring in the students’ belongings and furniture, seeing the dozens of people working to clean and refurbish the building has been moving, exciting, amazing.  And just a few days before the school was set to open its arms for these kids, these survivors, a new sign was put in front of the school, proclaiming it theirs.  Giving them ownership.  A place to belong.  A new place.

The news trucks started showing up the night before.  They were supposed to be located at the park at the end of my street, rather than anywhere near the school.  And there they were, as I drove my daughter to piano lessons on Wednesday evening.  Six or seven satellite trucks.  By the morning, there were at least twenty.  My daughter snapped a photo of the trucks from the bus on the way to school.  She doesn’t attend the middle school that sits next door to the new Sandy Hook; she attends the STEM academy a few miles away, at our high school.  But the two schools share buses, and so she drives onto the campus every day after school.  It’s given her an insight to this tragedy and our response to it that few have.  She’s seen it all, first hand.

After I packed the kids on the bus, and watched the media descend, I went over to the warehouse in Newtown where the donations are being kept.  An email had arrived two days before Christmas with instructions on how to sign up to volunteer, and I signed up for as many slots as I could.  I drove past the new Sandy Hook on my way; there were police on every side street leading up to the school and blocking the entrance.  There were hand made signs, balloons and ribbons on the road that the buses would drive in on.  It was hopeful, welcoming.

Then I crossed into Newtown.

There were more reminders here, but they were sad, somber memorials.  26 wooden angels on sticks on the side of the road.  A heartshaped sign with one simple word:  Peace.  A gas station with “God Bless” below their pricing.  A big green and white ribbon with 26 stars around it.

With that in my head, I pulled into the warehouse.

The warehouse was huge, and bustling.  There were dozens of people working.  Donations from all over the world lined tables, piled on the floors.  There were school supplies, toys, blankets, food.  But most of all, stuffed animals.

Thousands and thousands and thousands of them.  Heartbreaking, some with notes attached.   From Iowa, Georgia, Arizona, Florida.  All over.  My job for the entire shift was to sort through them.  Teddy bears separated out from generic stuffed animals (dogs, cats, penguins, even snakes!, you name it).  Small, medium, large.  Sorted and counted and boxed, over and over and over.  A whole room of us doing this.  There had to have been ten thousand of them sorted, boxed and loaded onto pallets while I was there yesterday.

The people working were a mix of locals like me, disaster relief employees, senior citizens and a church group from Florida who had driven up with a trailer full of donations and then stayed to volunteer.  All of us focused on the task in front of us.  Very few of us spoke about the unspeakable thing that brought us all there to do the work we were doing.  We were young and old, all walks of life, united in tragedy.

I drove away from my shift with tears in my eyes and lead in my chest.  On the way home, more news trucks down the street from me.  I actually drove into the park to get a closer look, I couldn’t believe it.  My tiny little town, our small corner of the world.  Forever changed, forever different, forever on the map of grief of our country.

It was a strange, strange day.  I can’t imagine what it was like for those families.  As much as I am having a hard time processing this grief, I know it is a gift that any of those families wish they had.  My ephemeral sadness as opposed to their gut wrenching loss.

So I’ll keep doing what I can, volunteering at the warehouse, taking any chance we have to help the families here locally, working with our PTOs to support theirs.  And I’ll keep on living, because that’s what we have to do.  Even if sometimes it is with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes.

Keep On Living

“Did you hug him today?” the elderly gentleman asked me as we walked down the aisle to exit the church this morning.

“Of course,” I replied, knowingly.   It’s been fifteen days since the shooting at Sandy Hook, and here in nearby Monroe, we all still feel it.  The funeral wakes, several of them, were held in the funeral home here in our town.  The families are our neighbors, our friends.   If you didn’t know one of those families personally, you know someone who does.  I volunteered before Christmas in the school where the Sandy Hook kids will come back to later this week.  I helped set up the library.  It was my job to remove all of the shelves and lower them down to elementary student height; the building had been a middle school in our town.  Here the pain is still real and raw.  The holiday we just celebrated bittersweet, the carols sung between tears.  I knew what he meant.

“I lost one,” the man went on.  “In Newtown.  My family, we lost one.  My grandson.”

I stood, stunned.  This poor man had come out to church this morning, two weeks later, in the midst of his grief.  He was alone as he addressed us; no wife, no daughter, or son.  It came to me, as I searched for the words to console him, that my son must look like him.  Like the one he lost.

“I am so, so, sorry,” I said in response.  I had no idea what else to say.

When I was working at the school before Christmas, there were families that came in while I worked, feverishly at my task, trying not to think about what the people who worked alongside me had been through.  Parents came in with the siblings that survived, hoping to ease their fears about going back to school.  Thousands of brand new plush animals lined the too tall bookshelves; we offered one to each child who passed through.  They weren’t crying.  They weren’t grief stricken.  They were trying to put one foot ahead of the other, for their other kids, for themselves.  More than one of them thanked me for volunteering in the school that day.  I could barely look at them.

How could they thank me?  How could they think of anything but how terrible this tragedy was, the child whose photo had already been sent out in their Christmas newsletters and cards but wouldn’t be there to open their gifts?   I cried through Mass at church on Christmas, thinking of those kids.  I bawled looking at the Snowflakes for Sandy Hook flyer tacked carelessly on the wall of a restaurant we ate in, a thousand miles away.  The pain I feel is insurmountable and terrifying.  It is nothing compared to theirs.

“Thank you,” the man answered.  “It’s just so terrible.”

He didn’t cry, this man who clearly needed to talk about the little boy who must have looked like my own.   He didn’t even look sad.  Just matter of fact, stating the obvious.  The devastatingly obvious.  I suppose fifteen days afterwards, after all of the news and the cameras and the shock and the everything, that would be all you could do.  Reach out to others who were lucky enough to have what you lost.  Remind them that every day is a gift, every moment with your child isn’t guaranteed.

We lost the man in the crowd as a few people came to give him a hug on his way out.  But if you’re familiar with church, you know the long queue out to the open gathering space is crowded and takes a bit to navigate.  We found ourselves standing at the door with the man again, and I paused, wondering what to do next.  It wasn’t required, of course, but he’d shared his most personal loss with us.  I couldn’t just silently walk away.

“I hope you have a good day today,” I mustered, kicking myself.  I should have said that I would be praying for him, or his family.  The mundaneness of my closure to our encounter frustrated me.

“Happy New Year,” he offered in response.  “This year has to be better than last.”

And it occurred to me, as I stood there, how in awe I was of this stranger.   He was still hoping for happiness even in the completeness of his grief.  He’d come out to church, alone, on a snowy Sunday, looking to be part of the community.  He had lost a grandchild in the most unspeakable way, but he was forcing himself to continue on.  To look for hope despite it’s absolute absence fifteen days ago.  To find, in my little boy, a glimmer of something that made him smile.  To reach out to us and let us know that.

I still haven’t found my way through all of my many emotions about what happened in Newtown.  But I know, after this morning, that the important thing is to keep on living.  Despite tragedy, death, loss, suffering, pain.  Because if this man can do it, then certainly I can.

Keep on living.

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.

Newtown

I had just come home from a run and was feeling pretty proud of myself.  I’d run 6.25 miles this morning, in 30 degree weather, and walked another half mile to warm up and cool down.  It was farther than I’d ever run before, in preparation for a 10K race I signed up for in New York City.

I’d planned to spend most of today working on a website, an upgrade to a current client’s site that they wanted done by Christmas.  So I quickly hopped in the shower and got cleaned up before sitting down at my computer to get to work.

My homescreen is NBC News.  On the screen was a red breaking news bar.  They use red for the really big stuff, so I glanced up at it.  “Shooting at elementary school in Newtown, Conn.”

Newtown is the town next door to me.

I frantically clicked on the words, but they weren’t a link yet.  The story was too new.  I ran for the TV remote and turned on the television.

It was true.  It was sickeningly, horrifyingly true.

I called my girlfriend to see if she knew anything.  I couldn’t even get the words out.  I called my husband, out of town for work in Florida.  He already knew via Twitter.  He seemed calm.  Why was he so calm?  This was ten miles away.  This was an elementary school.  This was too close, too awful.

I turned to Facebook for more information.  Friends started posting that our own school district was contemplating a lockdown status.  With the news reports hinting at more than one shooter, I wasn’t surprised when the call came through:  schools on lockdown.

At first, it seemed like a terrible tragedy had been somewhat averted.  For several hours the only fatality reported was the gunman, and the local hospital reported only three hospitalizations.  I tried to work on my site with the TV on in the background.

But then my girlfriend called back.  “27 confirmed dead,” she croaked into the phone, her voice thick.

“No.  That cannot be true,” I answered.  But then I started changing the channel.  Sure enough, some stations were indeed reporting that.  We cried together for a minute, until my cell phone started ringing.

When the out of town calls started coming in, that’s when I realized that this was not a tragedy averted.  This was real.  Those statistics were real.  My seventh grade daughter called home and asked me to come get her; the schools were allowing parents to pick up their kids (but you couldn’t go inside the locked down school).  I ran out of the house and made my way to her.

There were six other parents waiting there when I got there.  My girl reported to me that dozens of kids had already been picked up.  That the school had shut down the wi-fi to try and protect the kids from the worst of it.  The TVs normally running during lunchtime in the cafeteria were switched off.

But it wasn’t until I returned home with my girl that I learned the worst of it.  I wouldn’t turn the TV on to protect her and her brother from the scary images being played wall to wall.  I opened my computer and looked to the Newtown Patch, a site I follow because it is the town next door, a town so similar to our own.

It was then I learned that the children were killed.

Children.  Babies.  Kindergarteners.  Children younger than all of mine.

I cannot process this tragedy.  I cannot find words to express how horrific this all is.  I cannot even imagine what those parents are going through, what this day that started out so ordinary, so typical could have been like.  Just a few miles away from me.  In a school just like my kids’.  I am stunned, saddened, heartbroken, lost.

God bless all of those sweet angels.  Take care of the too many families going through hell this cold December night.

 

The View From My Corner of the World

The roundup of what my world looks like since I last blogged (nearly two weeks ago?  Yikes).

Today is my eldest son’s 23rd birthday.  Holy how on earth did this happen?  It seems both a million years ago and also about a few days ago that I was balancing him on my hip while I navigated life.  He came home last weekend with his girlfriend, and we had dinner Saturday night with her parents.  It is still hard for me to believe that this is my life.  That he and I could have ended up in a very different place.  Instead, we’re eating amazing Italian food with his potential inlaws in this crazy expensive town in CT that we can almost afford to live in now.  I’m not sure if this totally set up situation for meeting her parents is a prelude to Some Really Big News, but for now, holy smokes, my kid is older than I was when I had him.

The younger two kids are back in school.  I am still desperately worried about my daughter and her swimming with all of the sharks at school.  There were whispers about people not sitting together at lunch (not on purpose, really) and getting transferred out of her classes.  We don’t know what all is true, but a glance at her iPod text app yesterday made my heart sink.  She still is trying so hard to be friends with people who really don’t give a crap about her.  I vacillate between hands off (“she’ll have to figure this out herself, as painful as it may be….after all, didn’t we all hate middle school?”) and hands on (“honey, if they treat you that way it is time to move on…why don’t we call so and so who actually likes you and invite her over?”) on a daily basis.  We’ll see what happens.

My dog is one crazy canine.  While we were out drinking heavily celebrating Labor Day with friends, he tried to escape from his crate.  Not sure what all happened (I must set up that streaming video idea I had) but when we came home his two front paws were mangled and bloody, and he’d lost a toenail.  I nursed him for two days before taking him to the vet (having decided that while we love him, we weren’t paying a thousand dollars to the doggie ER).  Having a dog is indeed like having a small child.  The poor thing is now scared to death of his crate, needs pills twice a day, and now begs for (and receives) a companion in the room where he sleeps (not our room; the den downstairs where his crate lives).  Not sure what I am going to do when I have to leave the house, but I kind of do have to leave the house, like, some time this week.

My one year running anniversary is coming up in six days.  I started the Couch 2 5K program on 9/12/11.  I saw this blog entry from this one woman on her running anniversary and she’d gone from the program to like, a half marathon on her anniversary.  I am going to be struggling through another 5K this weekend (this is my seventh), hoping I don’t die, because I let my exercise go the whole time I was in Europe (and to be honest, it was on a major downward spiral before we left with the kids home this summer).  I’m trying to focus on the positives of it:  like, I am still actually running, and that I weigh less today than I did a year ago (um, only about 9 pounds….but whatever), and that I am likely healthier and all that.  Still, I do feel an awful lot like I should be trying harder, doing more having been at this thing A Whole Stinking Year.

Speaking of OMG THE RUNNING, I am going to a fitness conference in two weeks called FitBloggin.  I scored a free ticket by applying to be a live blogger, even though at the time I had no fitness blog and no audience for the real blog I actually do have.  The ticket might be free, but the hotel room on the Inner Harbor is like $200 a night, but I’m a little freaked out about getting a roommate that I don’t know and have never met (though, apparently, people do this all the time at these things).  I tried to entice my girlfriends with the Hotel Room in a Awesome City Away From Here for a girls’ weekend type of thing, but they all have soccer games, or football games, or husbands that aren’t interested in them subsidizing my weekend in Baltimore.  So it will be me, all alone, with all of these bloggers who write about fitness while I am pounding out 40 minute 5Ks.  Still, I’m super excited anyway.  Maybe I’ll network and find a job, or something, out of it.

And that’s the view from suburbia this warm September morning.  Yes, sure, I could have written about politics, or my inner conflict about why I am not hearing back from an old friend, or some other existential dilemma but for now?  This is where I am at.

Summer Is Nearly Here

The sun is shining and it is nearly summer.

No, really….it is.  The kids will be out of school next Wednesday, and each day in that direction will be less and less like school and more and more like a party.  The weather is warm and the air is ripe with the anticipation of what wonders will take place this summer.

For the first time in seven years, my youngest will not be attending summer school.  He is doing well enough at school and is at grade level in all subjects, so the academic summer school isn’t necessary for him.  He’s been going to school for a few hours each week day in July since he was three years old.  I’m not entirely sure how we’ll deal with the change.  He needs structure, and routine, and he can’t be allowed to backslide on his school work.   My current plan is that we’ll have a little academic time each weekday morning, work on the homework sheets that are supposed be sent home with him.  We’ll participate in the local library’s summer reading initiative for real this time (usually we start it but it falls by the wayside by week two or three….) since he’ll need to be reading a little bit each day.  We’ll have time to do lots of outdoor things together, because his sister is going to theater camp.

My daughter is spending four weeks in theater camp, for four weeks Monday through Friday, six hours a day.  At the end of the four weeks, there should be a full fledged production of Grease to witness.  Her girlfriend did this last summer and raved about it so much.  We went to their performance, “Bye Bye Birdie” and both my daughter and I were blown away by how good it was.  I am hopeful that this summer camp will introduce her to some new people and give her a place she feels comfortable.  For all of my relief earlier this year when she fell into a group of girlfriends, that has all changed (as it often does with middle school girls).   I’m not entirely sure what has happened, but it seems that the other three girls in the foursome she used to be a part of no longer want her to be involved….and it all came to a head the last two weekends, when she discovered she’d been excluded from two of the girls’ birthday parties.  So, so, awful.  She is so insecure, like me, and makes so many social mistakes to try and cover that insecurity up.  I hope that this program will give her both some confidence and a fresh start.

This is my favorite time of year; the days are long, the weather is warm and there are flowers everywhere.  I hope it doesn’t all pass by too quickly.

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