I wrote this piece the morning of the Las Vegas shootings. It began as a stream of consciousness. I had to do something. I had to get the thoughts in my brain out somehow. As I wrote, I decided it would be the piece I submitted for the Resistance Writing Workshop. I scrapped another piece I had written (and was stuck on the ending). After many revisions and taking into account my classmates’ and instructor’s edits/thoughts/ideas, then letting it sit for a while, for some reason unable or afraid to face it once more, then ultimately sitting down to dig in and edit once more, a title change, and some additions/removals to the body, I am sharing it below. 

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Mass Shootings from a Mother’s Perspective 

I remember precisely where I was when news of Sandy Hook broke in 2012. I was folding laundry in my bedroom, my oldest son, not yet two years old, napping. Maybe I was listening to music or something. I don’t remember that particular detail. I was oblivious to the terror taking place. A new mom, only a year under my belt. Folding, folding, folding, folding, and humming along. My phone buzzed, a text from my husband. Asking if I had seen the news about the elementary school shooting. I hadn’t. I checked the internet and made my way downstairs to turn on the news. That news morphed into an increasingly tragic narrative. Stomach churning at every confirmed update. How? Why? Babies, these are babies. Spinning, slow motion. My world changed that day. I was a mom now. That could be my baby. You see things differently when you have children, things hit you harder or in ways they didn’t before your heart left your body, walking around this dangerous, and all too often, hideous world.

I remember crying as I watched the news later that night, that narrative still increasingly tragic. The death count being confirmed. Something bubbling up inside of me. Outrage! Names and faces being shared. Acid in my throat! Babies. So many babies. Nausea!

My son playing on the floor in our living room, his little body giggling with joy and happiness. His chubby little face, smiling, dimples deep in those chubby cheeks, so pure and innocent. Christmas was around the corner. Those babies wouldn’t get a Christmas. Gifts were already under Christmas trees, awaiting joyful reactions in the early hours, groggy parents beaming, satisfied, happy. Now, those parents would wake up on Christmas morning, destroyed, something so profoundly important, shattered and missing. I wanted to throw up thinking of their pain. My heart physically hurt, looking at my child, thinking how much I love him and knowing how much they love their children. Those small, fragile bodies, laying cold in that school, alone, dark, parents unable to hold them. The image is enough to make me collapse from grief.

I really thought our country would change after that. I was hopeful. Surely, this had to be the last straw. The slaughter of 20 small children would force us to look in the mirror and examine our interpretations of amendments written long ago. When a single musket ball, which took minutes to reload, were the rights and arms referenced. I knew we would do something to take these firearms, that can slaughter and maim so many in a matter of seconds, out of civilian hands.

I was wrong. Nothing changed. People, lobbies, NRA, they fought back harder. “Guns don’t kill people!” Except, yes, they do. They kill babies and adults, children trying to get an education, and people trying to dance at a nightclub, and people enjoying a music festival, or a holiday party, or shopping at a mall, or watching a movie. They slaughter people. They tear human bodies to shreds. They make internal organs explode. They leave bodies riddled with gaping holes. They destroy communities.

This morning I sat on my couch in the dark. My three year old had crawled into my bed in the early hours, I had to rub his face to get him to fall back asleep. By then, my alarm went off, and I rolled out of bed, groggy, making my way to sip coffee and do a crossword puzzle. I made the mistake of checking my New York Times app, what was going on this Monday morning? The first headline put that all too familiar pit back in my stomach. It said there were 20 dead and 200 injured. An hour later, when I turned on the TV, the numbers had more than doubled, each.

I thought things would change after Sandy Hook. Yet, here we are. Again and again and again and yet again.

Since Sandy Hook, I have had a second child. That two year old I played with on the floor is now almost seven. The same age as those sweet babies at Sandy Hook. In first grade, those dimples, and humor, and all love. My sweet boy. Nothing about this fight has changed though. We have not learned, or rather the stubborn ones have been more effective at resisting than those of us who want real change.

A mass shooting is considered four or more victims. On average, every day in America there is more than one mass shooting. They may not all make national headlines, but they’re happening. And then there are these ones where casualties reach astronomical numbers. Can we truly wrap our heads around those numbers from behind our TVs or computers? I try to. I try to think of the hundreds of families who entire lives just broke into a thousand pieces.

Depressingly, I think overall, there is a disconnect. People move on. This will last for a few days, maybe weeks, until the next big news story breaks. We will move on, the viewers. The families and victims will always have an angry painful scar and deep gaping hole. There is no shifting focus for them. After some unpredictable amount of time, this will happen again. People will offer “prayers for fill in the blank!” Share images of skylines of that locale, or maybe a filter of the local flag over their profile photo. Temporary option chosen, of course. It is temporary for those not directly affected. Prayers for them. For a day. Prayers haven’t helped. They don’t do anything to change our reality. If they did, surely Sandy Hook would have been the last straw. It wasn’t, not remotely.

I crave change. I can feel the desire churning in my belly. Bubbling and brewing, confusion setting in over how this is still a debate. Every day I send my boys to school. Some days fear creeps up, whispering loudly behind my smiling goodbye eyes. Will today be a safe day? Who was that stranger walking by the school? Are the security measures enough? Parents living with the fear of their children not coming home from classrooms, places of supposed safety.

Our children live through active shooter drills. “Mommy, we all had to be quiet in the classroom. The police walked by to check doors. They wiggled the handle! My teacher got in trouble because she forgot to lock ours.” He was in Kindergarten. Kindergarteners. Five and six year olds.

The familiar fear crept up this morning. I dropped two small boys off at their schools. Kissed their sweet, innocent faces goodbye, my fear masked by my loving mom face. The thought of nightmarish possibilities lingered behind my smiling goodbye eyes. The lump in my throat was my escort home.

We cannot police minds. We can try to search for warning signs and suspicions. See something, say something, or so it goes. Mental health does play a critical role in these incidents. It is a factor, but it is not the only one. The ease with which people can access these weapons designed for war, capable of mass murder, plays an even larger role. The type of weapon used plays a role in the outcome. This man, I won’t say his name, I refuse, would not have been able to stab nearly 500 people in a matter of minutes. It is as simple as that. The slaughter that happened wouldn’t have been an option with a knife.

Over 500 hundred people were injured at this festival. 500. Close your eyes for a moment and think about how large that number is. There are less than 500 students in my son’s entire school. That is how massive the carnage is. Almost 60 people were slaughtered, and that number may rise in the next hours, days, weeks, months even.

When will we learn? What will it take? When will “The deadliest mass shooting in US history!” finally be a large enough total? What is the magic number? Will someone you know be a part of it? Will I?

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Me too. The hashtag that took over social media this past weekend. I had to look it up, to be honest.  I had a feeling what it was, but googled it to be sure. Sadly, I was correct. The day before this started trending I shared a brief story of my own via a Facebook status. It was about the first time I vividly recall being sexually harassed, and maybe by some definitions, assaulted. In middle school, by a teacher. It was in light of the discussions of men in positions of power abusing that trust and role. Using that position to hurt women. The next day I stated seeing “me too” all over Facebook and Instagram.

I haven’t posted a “me too” status though. Why? Because I am very open about my stories of assault and harassment and date rape. I have found my voice over the last few years and I talk about it until I am blue in the face, until all my Facebook friends probably roll their eyes and think, here we go again, (I don’t care though). I talk and write and write and talk because it is important. Because for 13 years I lost my voice. Because maybe my stories will help another woman. Because these moments happened, are happening, and will happen again.

Tomorrow is the culmination of my Resistance Writing Workshop. I set out to write another piece on sexual harassment. I even have a first draft written up. In the end, I shifted to a piece on mass shootings. I will share that after my critique and edits. But at the front of my mind, when I first stepped foot into that class 6 weeks ago, was writing about sexual harassment. Before the “shocking” Weinstein story (is it all that shocking? It seems the whole industry knew) and before “me too.” Why? Because this isn’t a trending hashtag. This is real life. This is my real life. This is the real life of most women I know. Because a teacher massaged my shoulders and ran his hands through my hair when I was in middle school. (I don’t even think I had gotten my first period yet.) Because an adult coworker followed me into a freezer when I was 16, closed the door, pinned me against a shelf, and kissed me, without my consent. Because I woke up in a hospital, no underwear, questions about what happened to my genitals being barked at me by a doctor. Because a man trapped me in an elevator and commented on my legs, while I was carrying my wedding veil. Because a man masturbated in his car, next to mine, watching me, as I put my first born son into his car seat, at 10 a.m. on a weekday. Because a drunk man sexually harassed me at noon on a weekday when I was pushing my 2 year old in his stroller. And so many more instances. All of that gets lost with just “me too.” You don’t quite get the disgusting nature of these moments when you chalk it up to “me too.”

I think the stories are important. It is more than “me too.” The narrative matters. What happened? Who did it? How did you feel? How did it affect your life? How are you doing now? How have you recovered? You matter! The details matter. Me too doesn’t solve anything. Awareness, sure, but we are all aware this happens. We live it. We see it. We read it. We hear it. Now we need to change it. Talk, speak, tell your story, insist on fairness, require body autonomy, demand that your sons will walk into this world differently, men, speak up when you see it happening, not after it comes to light. Bosses, refuse to tolerate any employee feeling uncomfortable in your office/company/business. The burden is not on us victims. The burden is on society to get its shit together. To refuse to tolerate sexual harassment and assault. Maybe because I am a writer, I feel that the stories are so important. “Me too” glosses over the nitty gritty ugly details, and maybe that is what we need. A bold look in the mirror, face the ugliness, the hideousness, the shame that we continue to let people (men, mostly) get away with these acts. Then enact bold and revolutionary change.

I am in the middle of an amazing Resistance Writing Workshop. This week we focused on resistance through fiction. One of our exercises was to take life as it is and reimagine it as it should be. This short story came to me based on a shirt my 6 year old wore to the march for science earlier this year. It reads “save the earth. It’s the only planet with pizza.” So without further ado, my first dabble into fiction in a very long time! 

Earth’s Most Delicious Hero

Pizza. Everybody likes pizza. There’s a topping for every tastebud. There are city rivalries based on pizza. Rats carry pieces around New York. There are different sizes, shapes, and depths. People are passionate about their pizza preferences. Chicagoans scoff when they see “Chicago Style Pizza!” anywhere outside of Chicago. There is no way they get that right, no way! Pizza is a simple yet serious part of our collective ethos. Funny thing though, Earth is the only planet with pizza. You can’t find a thin crispy crust cheese slice on any other planet, that we know about.

Pizza is what saved this planet. The force that finally led world leaders to collectively sigh and say, “ok! We have to do something about climate change, or this is it. We are done for! Finished, gone, extinct!” Not Cat 5 hurricanes, or flooding islands, or unbearably hot Septembers, or ice shelves falling off. No, we humans live through our bellies. And it turns out, the way to a man’s brain (not heart, we had that one wrong) is through his belly.

Pizza. That perfectly warm golden tangy delight, too delectable to ever give up, was the Earth’s champion. The reason we all work harder to reduce our impact and waste. The reason our air is cleaner and our oceans are cooler. And come to think of it, why everyone smiles more. Who can be mad when every single Friday is International Pizza Night? Obviously started to commemorate our shared, global, hero. You don’t have to Go Green. You can just Go Cheesy (but please, skip the anchovies).

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Depending on the moment, down to the second, my desire to have a third child has been susceptible to change. Are both boys peacefully sleeping on me? Their dark eyelashes dusting their skin? Chests rhythmically rising and falling with a small snore escaping their perfectly tiny noses? Oh, the urge to create another perfect tiny human radiates through all my bones, sinew, and joints. Are both boys in the middle of a literal knock out fight, screaming, “THAT’S MINE!” and punching each other? My uterus curls up into a ball, holding a small knife out, yelling, “come near me and someone gets cut!” That is how easily I could switch between the idea of adding another human to our brood.

I love my boys. I don’t have a desire to have a girl specifically (people ask that a lot), but sometimes the lure of newborn scent and snuggle is tough to resist. Reflecting on baby photos of my rapidly growing boys can make me tenderly remember those hours rocking them in gliders, nursing them to sleep. Pressing down the memories of desperate desire for sleep and the battles of breastfeeding. The urge pops up every so often, while I simultaneously and loudly lament, “I am definitely DONE having babies.” The thought was there: the consideration then the dismissal. Shooing away my husband as he hugged me and said, “let’s make a third!” But the choice was ultimately mine.

Until last week. Last week that was taken away from me by my own body. Or at least, I learned about this new version of me. Without getting into the nitty gritty details of that, because I am not sure I am ready to, the bottom line is this: my ability to have more babies has become very unlikely. Writing that out sent a chill through my body. I can describe the moment I received the news. I happened to answer my doctor’s call in the middle of the park last Thursday morning. All of the children running around me in slow motion, voices distorted, my head spinning. Knowing when I hit the red end button, I had to turn around, with a smile, and ask my boys if they wanted to go grab lunch yet.

I am only thirty-two years old. I know I have two gorgeous, funny, adorable, sweet, snuggly, happy boys. I know that. I love them more than anything in this world. I live for them, if it wasn’t clear through my countless articles and posts I have written. I am thankful they’re mine. This doesn’t mean a part of me didn’t die last week, literally. It did. Even if I have already produced two amazing tiny humans. That part of my life is dead now, over. There will be no more newborn scents or wails drifting through our halls. There will be no more onesies or swaddles. There will be no more little genetic combos of my husband and myself.

Until last week, It was my choice to make or not make. That was a power piece I held. If two years from now, both boys in school full time, I missed that baby stage so much, I could have added another to our bunch. That was always a possibility. Choice. I had a choice.

I have anxiety, so of course, I have been replaying a lot in my own brain the last few days. Living in my head. Yesterday I let myself breakdown entirely. Today, I have emerged from the fog. I gave myself one day of mourning and now it is back to my usual routine. As I walked to the grocery store, headphones in, I thought about the fact that I started having babies when I was twenty-five. These days, that is considered young. I remember my OB saying to me “you are the youngest woman in my practice, except my teen moms.” This used to annoy me. Today, I am eternally grateful. What if we hadn’t decided to try for Jackson when I was that young? What if I had said no to Jason about trying to have Alex just before Jackson turned three? What if I had insisted on waiting? The thought breaks my heart.

I feel like I lost a little piece of something last week. Regardless of the fact, that at this moment in life, I didn’t want another baby, it was still my choice to make. I had more time to make that choice. Who knows where we will be in a couple years. Maybe maybe maybe. This doesn’t change our family in any literal sense at this moment, but I do feel different. I feel broken. I feel like a failure. I feel trapped in my own body. I feel like I am incapable. Of what? I am not sure. A female’s worth doesn’t revolve around baby-making, I know that. I am so much more than “just a mom.” There is more to me than that part of my life, but it is a part and a big one.

Back to that internal battle, only this time it isn’t over whether I want another baby or not. Rather, it’s that I am not broken because I can’t have another baby. It’s that in time, I will accept this new normal of my body and life. For now, I just look back at the serendipitous moments that led to me having two children before the ability to do so was prematurely snatched away from my grasp.

Male following female into blue night shadows

Yesterday I was walking home from an appointment. The boys were at camp and preschool, I was enjoying a leisurely walk home alone. Headphones in, phone out, reading through my email. I normally do not do this when the boys are with me, but hey, momma was alone. I happened to have a great email giving me an assignment for our local newspaper. I was about to send a text to my husband and then mom, when a young man, ran up beside me, out of breath. Initially I thought something had happened. He immediately started talking to me, I removed one of my headphones. He said something along the lines, “I thought you were really cute and I just had to talk to you. What’s your name?” At this point, my body language must have changed from elated, over my personal good news, to utterly terrified. I said, “I am married.” He said, “You’re married? You look really scared right now!” I ignored the comment and said, “Yes I am married and I have two kids.” He mumbled something else, sorry perhaps, I am not sure. I was rather uncomfortable. Then he turned around and walked away. I kept walking forward. Changing the purpose of my text to my husband from job to street interaction.

Rewind to the week before. It was around noon, I was walking home from our local coffee shop. Pushing my two year old in the stroller. I was using our small stroller, so I did not have my cup holder tray. I had on a tank top and shorts. They kept riding up as I walked. I kept cursing them in my mind, because it felt annoying. Pulling them down was tricky with two full hands. It was blazingly hot outside. We were enjoying our walk home. I was balancing my coffee in one hand while pushing the stroller, uphill, with the other hand. My little guy and I were just kind of chatting. I noticed a man approaching, walking in the opposite direction. He was swaying back and forth. As we began to get closer, I noticed an open can of beer in his hand. Again, it was noon. We were walking through a very family friendly park. There is a playground with a splash pad. Lots of trees and beautiful landscaping. There is a small dog park. There is an open field area for fitness programs, sports, playing, or laying around with friends and family. It was noon! As he got to us he looked me up and down, very slowly. I began to feel incredibly uncomfortable. No one else was around us. Just him, my baby, and me. I felt a twinge of alarm. He spoke. With slurred speech he said, “Damn! You got a lot of muscles on you girl.” I did not respond at all. I quickened my pace, my heart frantic to get my child away from the situation. In my head I thought “I do! If you touch me, I will use every single one of them to beat you.” I was ready to fight him off, to protect my baby, if it came to that. I did not feel safe. We arrived home safely a few minutes later. My son, oblivious to the situation.

Rewind even further. I took my oldest son to see Neil DeGrasse Tyson on a Tuesday. We walked home that night. It was not overly late, maybe around nine. As we left the theater another drunk man sexually harassed another woman. It was not me in that moment, but I did walk up to her and ask her if she was ok. My son asked me why, and I explained it to him, in as gentle of a way as I could. We moved on and continued to walk home. As we got closer to our building a group of men approached. College aged boys, all shirtless, for some unknown reason. One of them got very close to me and my face and drunkenly said “You are really good looking.” I pulled my son to the side and said nothing back. Again, that fight or flight took over. When my children are with me, flight wins, so I can avoid a fight. I had to have a chat this time, about why that was wrong and what had happened.

As I replayed the interaction yesterday, and how the young man seemed truly bothered that I seemed afraid of him, I recalled these two specific moments. There have been many others in my life, but I could write a memoire if I included every incident. My instinct yesterday was to be afraid, even if his interaction came from a genuine desire to connect with another human, society has made it so that women are instinctually afraid. We must be on the defense because of men like the ones who harassed me. I am not looking for a connection with a stranger, I am married. I have a family. I am not writing this from the view point of a single woman navigating the dynamics of meeting people. I am writing this from the view point of a woman who has been a victim of sexual harassment too many times to count. While street harassment is not studied enough, a 2014 study did find that 65% of women had experienced street harassment. I can recall moments even as a preteen, men hollering at me out of their car windows. I have been dealing with this for most of my life. It is no surprise that when this man did approach me and I realized what he was saying, that my mental and physical reaction immediately braced for another round of street harassment.

In today’s overly digitally connected world we are often lacking the face to face human connection. This is something that is discussed at length, if you Google that, you will find 25 million results. However, how can we, as a society, learn to embrace that innocent human connection, when so many rotten apples have ruined it? When these offenders have made us feel defensive and unsafe just walking down the street, with or without our children. In the moment, it can be difficult to ascertain the difference between someone who just feels drawn to you and someone who is sexually harassing you. Putting up your defense is usually the safest and most comforting reaction. Perhaps for some, at the risk of losing out on positive moment.

I do not have a simple solution. I do feel drawn to talk about it, though. I want to hear your stories. How do you navigate this often tricky balance? How do you determine when a stranger is just being genuine or if they are a threat? Are you like me, always having defenses up, because too many times you have been a victim of harassment? You are not alone in this battle, there is strength and safety in numbers. I do not feel bad that I came across as afraid, it is not my fault, I do however wish that our society was different. I wish that a woman could walk down the street without feeling the need to constantly be aware of her surroundings. I wish a woman could walk home at night, with her son, and not be harassed. I wish a woman could walk home from grabbing coffee in the middle of the day, without being harassed.

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My oldest son is finishing up Kindergarten next week. I have been having an internal struggle with this stage of life we are leaving behind. The idea of First Grade seems harder for me to accept than Kindergarten was. There is still something that makes them feel so little while they are in Kindergarten. It is their toe dip into the big world of education. With First Grade looming in the wings, I cannot help but feel that there is one last piece of babyhood I am quickly losing my grip on.

My son will not be having a Kindergarten graduation ceremony. It is just how things worked out at his school this year. I am a little sad about that. I have even toyed with the idea of staging my own at home. (I am only half joking) I am sure I can find a cap and gown on Amazon in a pinch. I am not above doing something silly like that!

Recently, I overheard some people talking about how they find no value in any childhood graduation ceremonies. They even went to far as to say High School graduation is unimportant. I could not disagree with them more. I find value in celebrating these kinds of events. I cherish those moments. I am not a perfect parent and I never pretend to be. We all have our moments. When it comes down to it though, I cherish these important moments of my children’s lives. I go out of my way to create happy moments together.

We try our hardest to use positive reinforcement with our boys. I said we try. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we end up yelling. Every parent loses their patience once in a while. However, we value the concept and practice of positive reinforcement. This morning we cheered on our toddler who cleaned up a mess he created yesterday. He got high-fives and a ton of praise. Despite the fact that he was being straight up destructive when he threw my container of ear plugs around my bedroom. His face was a big cheesy grin when he heard us praise his clean up job. As a parent, you learn when to let go of the lesson and bring on the encouragement. It can be a balancing act, but you adapt. When you think about it, staging small graduation ceremonies for Preschool, Kindergarten, Middle School, and then the big one in High School, creates the ultimate method of positive reinforcement. You are creating happy and celebratory memories. You are encouraging them to work hard and follow through.

Childhood memories have value later in life. Close your eyes and think back to your happiest childhood memory. Maybe it was a family vacation, maybe a certain holiday, maybe it was a normal day that ended up being so silly and fun, maybe it was a graduation ceremony. The examples are endless. There is even a chance you had a hard time picking just one happy childhood memory. The Wall Street Journal examined the importance of childhood memories. The research determined that when children are able to recall childhood memories, they learn to cope better and have an easier time adjusting later in life. It helps them to develop their own sense of self. This allows them to reflect on their lives and see if they have stayed the same as a person or if they have changed and grown. When they recall happy memories, for example, a large happy life event that involves their family (think Kindergarten graduation ceremony), they learn to value family moments. The reason all of these internal changes occur is because children learn from their recalled memories as they mature.

There is a point in having a graduation ceremony for a child. There is lifelong value in that. Sure, it is not the only way to promote healthy, happy, and positive memories. There are so many opportunities in childhood for happiness. It is one way though. One which should not be scoffed at. How miserable are you as a person to scoff at a happy little afternoon for a child? When we value creating happy moments for our children, we are preparing them for a lifetime of living and learning.

I will do my best to make my son’s last day of Kindergarten memorable, even without a structured graduation ceremony. I always have him hold up signs on his first and last day of school. I started in pre-school. I already have my supplies to make next week’s sign. We will do something fun after I pick him up. He can choose dinner that night. I am not above having a box of goodies for him to open when he walks back through our door a First Grader. I am so proud of him for working so hard this year! Kids work hard in school. Their brains are growing, synapses firing, they create and absorb new knowledge! That is something to celebrate and encourage. What value is there in making a child feel like the work they accomplished is stupid and a waste of time? None, there is none. What will create a better world? Lifting up these tiny humans who will one day be in charge. Lifting them up high and celebrating their lives, happiness, joy, and success will only make our world a better and brighter place.

If I had my way, I would throw my children a graduation every year. I cannot wait to see how they both grow over the next school year, even if a piece of me is sad to watch my babies grow. I cannot wait to be a part of the happy childhood memories that will shape their adult selves.

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My sister-in-law gave me the sign pictured here for my birthday this year. Today, I found myself thinking about the quote, and how much I feel pulled to it today. I may not be able to single-handedly write the world into saving itself, but I will share my stories, and try my hardest to affect change when and where I can.

Yesterday my son was involved in a bomb threat. My six year old son was at his school, ready to participate in his after school club when some maniac called in a bomb threat. Right now, his school educates children pre-k through eighth grade. Someone wanted to harm, scare, evoke terror, and cause chaos for children that young. Let that sink in. The targets of this terror were small children just trying to learn and play.

I walk to pick him up every day. Yesterday, I took my time walking there with my two year old. I was working on teaching him how to stop at every parking garage and intersection. I turned it into a game. We were having fun. Completely unaware what was going on. As we walked down the stairs to the park near the school, I noticed fire trucks and commotion. I truly thought it had something to do with the construction site nearby. We started to walk by it, to get to the school. Two firefighters stopped me and told me I had to go around through the park. As we turned around, I overheard two other adults say the name of my son’s school and that it had been evacuated. This stopped me in my tracks. Things slowed down a little for me. I scooped up my little one and approached a fireman. He did not have a lot of info to give me. I asked him to please ask if there was someone who could come speak with me. I needed to get to my child.

It felt as if I stood there forever. I am sure less time passed than I think. I did my best to one hand text my husband and mom. He called me to get more details and let me know he was on his way. Another fireman came and spoke with me. I again explained my child had been in that building and I needed to know what was going on and where I could find him. He said they had been talking to the head of the school, and that the kids were sent to two different locations. He would try to see if he could get any information on what kids went where. I stopped him one more time and asked him to tell me what was going on. Why this was all happening. He turned and looked at me, he was silent for a second, then quietly said “There was a bomb threat.” I can tell you, even typing that right now brings a lump to my throat. I know my heart sank. I remember I exhaled a large amount of air as my body sank a little. I rolled my head to one side. That feeling of exasperation. I was still holding my youngest son. I did not ask any more questions at that moment. He probably should not have told me what he did, and in my brain, even in the chaos, I knew that. I think he looked at me and saw a scared mom holding another child, then he did the human thing and told me. He walked off to go investigate further. Then a lieutenant walked up and asked the parents gathered there “who is missing a child?” I raised my hand. There is that lump again. I was missing my child. He then asked each parent who raised a hand how many children they were missing. He rushed off to speak to other officials. When he came back he gave me the best information he could. The children were in two locations, but he had no way of knowing which location each child was sent to. He gave me the two spots. One was across the park, it was the closest and I started there. My son had on a bright orange shirt. It is Spirit Week and it was Athletic Clothing Day. As I began to walk across the park I saw a bright orange spot. I knew it was him! Then I saw his after school club instructor. I did not run or act scared. I continued to calmly walk up to him and said hi with a smile on my face. I was not sure how much information anyone had, especially the kids. I saw some other parents. I shared with them what the fireman had shared with me.

My son had nothing with him, of course. They left everything and just evacuated the building. The school completely evacuated in under three minutes. This was during after school activities, meaning staff and students were all over the place and not in normal situations, they were still able to get every human out incredibly quick. After we stood around for a while and I spoke to some other parents and faculty, I decided we were not going to stand around and wait for an all clear to retrieve his bag. Meanwhile, my husband had immediately jumped in a cab to get to us as fast as he could. As we walked away he arrived. We then ran into two other families we know. We took all the kids for ice cream and really had a nice time. Some calm after the storm.

When I got home and called my mom to update her I started telling her the story and I broke down. The panic had remained at bay, allowing me to function and keep my children safe. As we chatted, it suddenly came to the surface. The tears came flowing and I choked up as I tried to tell her all the details.

After the phone call, I sat down on the couch but I could not stop shaking. We started to talk to our son about what happened, the truth behind the sudden emergency. We did not want him to go to school today and overhear the word bomb, not knowing what he had really been involved with. He explained to us what happened when the alarms went off. How they did not take the elevator, they took the stairs. The stairs they took were “different and we left the building in a secret exit.” He said all the children were screaming, including him, on the way down the stairs. An hour later at the dinner table he brought it up again, telling us how he was feeling. He said he could not stop thinking about it. We answered his questions and reassured him again he was brave and we were so proud that he listened to his teachers. Everyone did an amazing job staying safe. He was safe and the school, police, and fire departments were making sure everything was ok.

I ordered him new shoes recently. The packages arrived yesterday afternoon. As I unpacked the new shoes last night, I paused for a moment. I looked at the shoes and thought about how if this had not been a threat, had it been real, and ended in pure tragedy, that I would have opened those boxes of shoes for a child that I may have lost. We do not always think about those small details in life. A new pair of shoes is just something that is needed or something that is fun. Not every threat ends with an all clear. There are parents who had new things for their child, and that child never came home. It makes me sick. It breaks my heart.

I am so angry today. I am angry that my child and all the other children had to experience this. I am angry that someone caused terror and chaos for families. I am angry that this is the world we live in. I am angry that my panic after getting home was not misplaced, because every day you see headlines about threats being followed through and people losing children and loved ones.

The other side of that anger is pure gratitude. I am thankful that it was a threat and my child got to sleep in his bed last night. I am thankful for the teachers, staff, and administrators who care for our children and do their best to keep them safe. I am thankful to all the firemen I spoke to. I am thankful to the fireman who told me what was really going on. I am thankful to the fireman who took the time to ask how many children each parent was missing. I am thankful to the police department who searched the building, are investigating this, and have been there today to keep an eye on the area. I am thankful to my mom who told me it was one hundred percent ok to breakdown once I got us home safely. I am thankful for the friends we grabbed ice cream with, helping us all return to a bit normalcy so quickly.

I sent him to school today. I even chaperoned a field study. The day progressed as usual. I overheard some children buzzing a bit about what happened yesterday. This did not stop us though. The kids are learning and laughing today. We are not being oppressed by the fear this horrible person tried to create. To say this is not in the back of my mind would be a lie. It is still there. I did overthink while in the shower this morning, wishing I could keep him home. I know that would not help him get over what he went through, it is just my maternal instinct to keep my children as safely close to me as I can. While this story may not save civilization from destroying itself, it is our story. It happened. It happens every day around the world, too often on a much more tragic scale. There is a human side to these events. There are new pairs of shoes waiting to be worn when a child arrives home safely from school.

 

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Last week I was lucky enough to be accepted as a RedTri Spoke Contributor! I am so excited about this opportunity to share my voice in their community.

In Defense of Downsizing takes a look at what happens when you look into your heart and family and make choices based on the answers you find. I explain our journey to living with less space and more time together.

I hope to remain active in this contributor community. I will always share with you whatever work I am fortunate enough to submit and have published.

Do you have any pieces that have been published on different sites, blogs, communities? Share your links below!

I have had anxiety for most of my life. Now that I am in my 30’s and have a full understanding of anxiety, looking back, I can see that I have always had it. It comes and goes. Sometimes it is hibernating and other times it has been awake and in control. In the last few months it has been pretty prevalent. There are a variety of reasons I think it has decided to hang out for a while, which would take a few blog posts to dive into, so we will leave it there. What I want to talk about is the fact that I decided to see a therapist recently. This was a hard decision for me, as I always thought I could manage things myself. I have ways of coping and handling it. Exercise, deep breathing, baths, oils, acupuncture, etc. Those coping mechanisms haven’t been as effective lately. This time around I think I need a little extra help. It is what it is. It was a big step and I wasn’t excited to go, but I went.

It was awful. Worse than I could have predicted, if I am being honest. And I wasn’t thrilled to go, so imagine how bad that means. The doctor pulled out her phone at one point and started scrolling through it as I spoke. For an extended period of time. She offered no reason as to why. It wasn’t taking notes, she had paper and a pen for that. At the beginning she asked if I wanted medication. I said I truly would prefer to avoid any medication. I wanted to work through things in a more natural way. At the end of the session she wrote me a prescription and spent 10 minutes talking about her medication plan for me. She told me to take probiotics and not eat sugar. I do both of those. For many YEARS! She told me she couldn’t help me and wrote down some other places and told me to go there. Then check in with her in six weeks. She kept rubbing a strand of hair all over her chin. She charged me $500 and doesn’t take insurance.

Those things were minor compared to the absolute worst part. I was explaining the stressors of motherhood to her. Or at least the stressors I have been dealing with. From Alex’s food allergies to Jackson’s animal allergies and asthma to terrible two’s to whatever else was on my mind at that moment. Motherhood is hard. I am a stay at home mom. I have been doing this for six years. She told me “some people just aren’t cut out for that. Get a sitter 3 times a week for 3 hours at a time and get someone to do your laundry and stuff.” I felt as if I had been slapped in the face. I am not “cut out” to be the very thing I have been pouring every fiber of my being into for the last six years. It was so dismissive and really kind of cruel to say after meeting me once. I felt like total garbage as I left. I felt a million times worse than when I walked in the door, biting my nails and clutching my tea as my anxiety over trying this out punched me in the chest.

Being an anxious person, I have been repeating her comments over and over in my head since leaving that office. She didn’t listen to what I wanted for myself. She told me she couldn’t (or didnt want to?) help me. She was literally on her phone, which you would think that as a professional trying to help someone with anxiety, you wouldn’t do that to a patient. She told me I was not cut out to be a mom. She told me I wasn’t cut out to do the thing I have dedicated my life to. I just cannot believe that seemed like an appropriate thing to say.

As this has flipped and flopped over in my brain, I have used it as a moment of self-reflection. I am not a perfect mom. Not in the least bit. I lose my temper at times. We all do, even if we don’t post about it. I feel bad when I do. I wonder if I am messing them up. I try though. I spend all day with them and doing things for and with them, thinking about them. Last night my oldest woke up with a 105 degree fever. I massaged his legs until he relaxed as he laid next to me in bed. I put a cool rag on his head. I let him physically lay all over me because it made him feel safe. I have changed poop diapers today. I walked to Target with both boys so the oldest, who feels better, could buy Pokemon Cards and then made a video for Youtube opening them. (It’s all the rage) I have broken up fights today. I have asked them to stop slamming the playroom door, and it has fallen on four deaf ears. I have made meals. I have gotten snacks. I have listened and chatted with them. I have taken interest in their interests. I have been in the trenches all day on little sleep. And that is just today!

Walking home with them I came to a realization. I AM cut out for this. I am because I have been doing it for six years nonstop. The longest break I had kid-free was going to D.C. with my mom this January for the Women’s March. I was gone from Thursday-Sunday. That was the most time I have had off from motherhood. I still thought of them. I facetimed them. I searched for little gifts for them. I talked about them. They are always with me. I am cut out for it. I am also perhaps, a little burnt out. Which I don’t think is weakness or sucking at what I do. I think that is human. I think that is motherhood. I think that is parenthood. Anyone in any career can be working at workaholic levels and get burnt out at some point. Does that mean they are not cut out for it? Does that mean they can’t do what they do? No. Maybe they need a break or to take a step back and refresh themselves, sure. Maybe they need a vacation. It doesn’t mean someone should tell them they are not cut out for what they do. It doesn’t mean a mental health professional should articulate that judgement after meeting them one time.

According to the ADAA 40 million adults in the U.S. have anxiety. Women are two times as likely to suffer from it. This is not an uncommon thing. If women are more likely to struggle with anxiety, then that would mean, many mothers also battle this. I am not some unique special case. It doesn’t mean I am not cut out to be a mom. The fact that I was brave enough to know when my own methods of coping were no longer effective means that I want to take care of my family. That was one of the most unfair and hurtful judgements I have ever had thrown at me. It could probably go unsaid, but I will not be seeing her again. Just knowing that I am not the only woman, and mom, facing anxiety is comforting. I share my little story so that other mothers know, you are cut out for motherhood, even if on your worst day ever some batty lady tells you that you’re not.

 

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There are many people who woke up differently last November. Their eyes were opened and they felt shock and outrage that they may not have experienced before. While I rallied against him for the entire campaign, I think that I also felt shocked on a different level. I was distraught that so many people did not see beyond the simply phrased rhetoric and shut their eyes and ears to his ugliness.

I immediately joined the ACLU. As soon as I caught wind of the Women’s March I made reservations so I could attend it in D.C. I searched for groups to attend. The political and social justice fire inside of me was fanned and grew even larger.  I attended the march and it will remain one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

I also looked to get involved locally and on a grassroots level. I attended a couple meetings where I was living, but then we moved. I wasted no time in searching out new grassroots meetings to get involved with. I have now attended two in the city. Sometimes I have spoken up more and other times I have really intently just listened.

As I quickly walked the cold Chicago streets with my husband on our way home from a People Power gathering last night, I explained to him how I was feeling:

My favorite part of all of these meetings is the chance to listen to so many different perspectives. While, most people are there for similar reasons, it doesn’t mean that every reason is strictly the same. Gaining knowledge by listening to what someone else has gone through or is feeling really is important. I have learned so many personal challenges and hopes just by being in these meetings. I really think and wish this was something we all did. That we took the time to hear what other people have gone through. I think that the country would be in a better place if that happened a little more. 

I cherish the opportunity to hear respectful but sometimes differing dialogue. Last night we were all there for similar reasons, we felt called to action. The ACLU laid out a plan for us to tackle. In the group there were many differing opinions on how to go about that. Back and forth until a plan of sorts was agreed upon. It wasn’t a mean discussion. It wasn’t aggressive or ugly. It was just discourse.

I wrote about how a young Muslim girl I met on my D.C. trip described America as a salad instead of a melting pot. That hasn’t left me. This high school student taught me something. I have carried that thought with me. Hearing other people’s stories and experiences during and since the election has enriched my life. I am a white female. That comes with its privileges and with its struggles. I recognize that and I respect that. No two life experiences are exactly the same. Learning how other humans have lived and what they have dealt with has enriched my corner of the salad we live in. Opening your eyes to the fact that your experience differs from the next person’s experience can only make this world better. I want to think beyond a call for empathy. It is about being a decent human. Understanding the people around you are loved by other people just as you are loved by other people. They matter. You matter. We all matter. To forget that is at our own peril.

Take the time to listen to a stranger, a neighbor, a friend. Your salad will be even more flavorful.

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