Raindrops on Roses

My cousin Colin recently wrote a heartwarming piece for Field & Stream about a fly-fishing vest he bought as a teenager. He loaded each pocket with gifts and reminders (“Charms”) from those he loves most, and he still carries it with him today, decades later. It was so touching to read (find it here), and it made me think about what things I treasure. My friend Jenny had the same idea, and wrote beautifully about it here.

“I’ve got ‘em, Mom. Let’s go.” The tornado alarm had sounded and we were heading to Mary's pix 087the basement. In his arms were what he has always been instructed to grab: his “Birthday Books.” Every April 12, we give Ben a new linen hardcover bound book narrating the past year of his life. Friends, trips, sports, events, milestones. The words are ones I’d never remember well enough to write now, and the photos, of course, are priceless. A tornado was spotted a few miles away, and there stood my son, holding the 10 volume story of his life. Down to the basement we hurried.

We have a clear tub in the basement that holds the DVDs and CDs of every family photo, every home video. That’s always the other thing we will grab if we ever have to escape our home in a hurry. But beyond each other—Scott, Ben, Stella, and me—and the Birthday Books and that tub, I like to say I’d be okay losing everything else. Certainly, those are my most golden treasures, but if I’m honest, I know there are more.

Boxes of love notes from Scott. My “Mom Book”, which is a blank 8 x 11 journal, swollen with cards, crMary's pix 086afts, drawings, and messages from Ben to me for every holiday and birthday for over a decade and still going. The necklace charm made of my dad’s fingerprint impression. The letters my mom wrote me on every birthday I had, then gave to me at 21, first signed “Mommy,” then “Mom.” The sterling silver woven bracelet from Tiffany that Scott gave me for my 40th birthday. The watercolor of the house I grew up in on Drury Lane, my Nonny’s rosary, and my Grandma Brita’s, too, which I carried down the aisle at my First Communion, my Confirmation, Mary's pix 098and when I got married. The silhouette we had cut of Ben in Paris, which I had always wanted done while he was still a little boy. The sailboat painting from my dad’s lake cottage, next to which there was always too much food, laughter, drink, and fun. The last dog collar Peach ever wore, which hangs in Ben’s room now, a talisman from the first being (besides family) I ever loved more than myself. And the mahogany box with her ashes in it from the living room. Yes. She comes, too.

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We are people with a lot of stuff, but I know we couldn’t grab everything. I have certain clothing items and home décor items I’d hate to lose. Blankets, Ben’s baby clothes, the onesie he wore home from the hospital when he was brand new. The journal I kept, detailing every feeling I was having when we were trying to conceive that boy. A big manila envelope in the attic with memorabilia from high school and college. There’s so much. Where do we draw the line?

We see people on the news after a natural disaster or a fire. They always have that shell-shocked expression on their faces. Where has everything gone? It’s the moment when a human is boiled down to their most naked core. When we are torn from our “stuff” to stand alone in the world. When what matters most suddenly becomes crystal clear. Remember this lady? I weep every time I watch it and hear her give thanks.

Our tornado that day never came, thank God. If it had, and if we had gotten out—Scott, Ben, Stella, and me—that’s all I’d really need. I know that. But if my “Charms” (as Colin called them) were lost, I truly would ache for tMary's pix 100hem. They’re the physical touchstones that remind me of things I can no longer hold: Ben’s first decade of life, my dad, my grandparents, my childhood, high school, college. They’re all gone. But I can still pull out those items, hold them, and remember.  They’re just things, I know.  But because of what—and whom—they represent, they fill me up.


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Missing School

snowflakeI wrote this letter to my classroom families last Friday in an attempt to help clarify the reasons for these school delays/closures. If interested, please read on.

Dear Families,

I was 10 years old during the Blizzard of ’78 in Ft. Wayne.  My grandfather was a pharmacist and owned Kearns Drugs, and I remember all of us being holed up at home so long that he went out on a snowmobile to deliver people’s prescriptions to them!  We all began trading groceries with neighbors after days and days because some folks still had eggs, but had run out of bread or whatever.  Our mother had thought ahead and purchased powdered milk.  I cannot describe it to you.  Warm, too bubbly on top, thick…none of us have forgiven her for that one yet!  I grew up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood, and we were the small family with four kids.  It was a blast for us kids, spilling outdoors to play in the snow all day long.  I’m sure the parents disagreed about how “fun” it was!  Anyway, those memories of falling victim to Mother Nature are seared in my memory.

I know that this month has been atypical, even for Indiana.  The kids can’t really play outside if the wind chill is -20.  Lesson plans keep getting pushed back.  The novelty of it is wearing off.  But I live with Zionsville’s superintendent, and I wanted to share a few things you may not know.  Superintendents want us to be in school!  They have so, so many things to take into account to ensure our kids’ safety, though.  It’s never JUST the snow that’s the concern.  It’s never JUST the dark or the drifting or the ice or the snow blowing and covering the ice or the wind chill or the bus fleet or the country roads or the visibility or the possibility of popping sprinkler systems/water pipes in schools.  It’s a complex combination of those elements and more that affect each weather-related decision and it is never easy.  Our kids’ safety is truly the only priority.  And making a decision that works equally well for a five year old passenger and an 18 year old driver can be tricky at times.

It’s a little less frustrating for me to have us delay or close, because I live with the weight of it here.  I hear Scott up at 4:00am and his weather stations sending out the most recent information from radio/TV, and the Internet.  I hear the phone buzz at all hours from his “Morning Eyes” crew warning of this or that.  Our dinners are routinely interrupted by phone calls/texts/emails about what’s coming or not coming from the air or the sky and how superintendents from Hamilton, Boone, and other counties are going to call it based on their busses, their geography (which does vary wildly), and the way the weather hits each place.  It takes multiple hours and Dr. Keen is a part of it all.  He’s doing all the same things.  I share this because I know a few of you may feel frustrated or concerned with the amount of time we’re missing.  Know that the superintendents are working on how these days will be made up.  Please don’t assume all our missed days will be tacked on to the end of this year.  They are considering options and time will tell how that works out.

Hang in there.  The sun will warm us again someday!  Nothing is forever.  And the memories I have from the Blizzard of ’78 are close to my heart.  The pictures of my brothers, sister, and me standing in our snowsuits next to a mountain of snow by our driveway make me laugh.  The image of my handsome Paw-Paw zooming by on a snowmobile with a satchel of medications for folks brings tears to my eyes.  There’s good in all of this, I promise.  In the meantime, use the extra time together to snuggle up with a stack of good books, sip hot chocolate, and create memories with that gift of time you’ve been given that the kids won’t forget .  All too soon, our houses will be immaculate and quiet and empty, and we’ll be biding our time until we can call our kids wherever they’re living and catch up on their lives.  How we’ll wish then for a few unexpected close hours at home together in front of the fire playing games.

Fifty days left til spring.  We can make it!

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Small Boy on a Big Trip

IMG_20130703_143733_237[1]On any given day, Ben Robison is the slowest moving nine year old around.  Immediately following directions isn’t his strong suit, and he can get distracted more easily than most (“Squirrel!”).  Open up his baseball bag from last season and every water bottle we own will roll out, dusty and empty.  He leaves socks all over the neighborhood and routinely loses his wallet.  But he’s a voracious learner and travels really well, so we expected that he’d do fine in Europe.  Most people start asking about the trip by saying, “How’d Ben do?”  Here’s how Ben did, aside from some normal moments in the evenings when he’d briefly get too loud or active (or act like a nine year old!):

We didn’t check ANY luggage for 16 days in 12 cities in 3 countries.  Ben hauled his ownIMG_20130619_141402_149 bags all over airports in Indy, Chicago, Paris, Barcelona, and JFK.  It was a rough flight over there with a relentlessly screaming one year old a few seats away and a six hour loss due to the time change.  We emerged in downtown Paris (at the Opera) in the driving rain dragging our bags and utterly lost.  From there, we were lost nearly every day somewhere.  Ben became our official navigator on the Metro.  He read the maps better than Scott and I did!  In Barcelona toward the end, we complimented his skills and he said, “It’s easy, Mom!  It’s just like the Paris Metro, only better marked!”  We rode every mode of transportation imaginable while there:  planes, trains, busses, ferries, taxis, cruise ship, tour boat, funiculars, and even a teleferic.  He hopped in and went wherever we needed to go.  No nerves, no hesitation.

Mary's pix 051Scott and I wore our UP bands and logged our steps on the trip.  We walked between five and eight miles each day, and Ben’s shorter legs likely logged many more steps than ours.  He never uttered a single complaint.  He just kept moving, and sometimes danced his way around!

The food was different, and while he enjoyed nearly a gelato a day, he tried lots Mary's pix 171of seafood, pasta, and cheeses he’s never had before.  He loved some and didn’t care for others, but he kept on trying.  A couple of big new faves were “patatas bravas” in Spain (lightly fried potato chunks dipped in a creamy garlic aioli sauce), the “Don Pepito” in Spain (ask Scott what THAT is), and Nutella crepes in France.  The pizza in Italy was, of course, a no-brainer.

Mary's pix 392We were ducking into church after church and museumMary's pix 242 after museum, and this boy never whined.  He read the placards, he pulled us over to see this or that, and in Barcelona at the City History Museum, he followed the voice on his automated headset to 34 different locations alone while we followed ours a few steps behind.

There were communication barriers at every turn, and he was quick to pick up the basics in French, Spanish, Catalan, and Italian: Please, thank you, yes, no, hello, good-bye, and excuse me.  At the beach in Spain, we purposely left Ben alone with IMG_20130704_132908_825a woman who spoke NO English and was selling smoothies.  He walked away with the mango smoothie he wanted and paid for it with the Euros in his pocket!  He was smiling from ear to ear.

Mary's pix 551The nights were late and the mornings were early.  Our days were absolutely packed from one hour to the next with things to see and do.  He bounced out of bed ready to roll every morning and fell asleep quickly each night to get what sleep he could before the next busy day.

This trip was a lot to give to a nine year old, and it was a lot to ask of Mary's pix 1628him as well (physically, behaviorally, intellectually, and endurance-wise).  His sisters are grown and gone, and so he grows up here without anyone besides us to talk to, to dream near, to commiserate, laugh, and play with.  Scott and I promised each other early on that we would show him the world to the extent that we could.  The borders of that promise expanded across the Atlantic this summer, and Ben proved to us that he’s ready.  Our first overseas trip of many (hopefully) was made so much better because of how much he learned, how much he loved the learning, how often he made us laugh and got our humor, and how positive he remained, no matter how tired he may have been.

It turns out that one small boy in a touristy hat and sunglasses showed us the world, too.

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The Birthday Girl

Mary's pix 018She’s four today.  I didn’t do the math well enough when we got her, because if she lives as long as Peach did, we’ll lose Stella the year Ben leaves for college.  A horrible plan.  But since just before kindergarten started for Ben, this sweet girl has been a part of oMary's pix 013ur family.

“She’s such a middle-of-everything girl,” Ben stated a couple of weeks ago, and that is true.  She’s always lyingIMG_20130520_102902_714—no, lounging—on her side on the floor in the middle of too many people.  Wherever we are, there she is.  No one seems to mind too terribly much.

She and Ben are quite a team.  Start tickling Ben til he screams, and in 2381865trots a whining Stella, eager to “save” her boy.  When he’s sick, she lies right at his feet.  Each night when he’s scared Harry Potter’s Dementors or Percy Jackson’s monsters are coming to get him, Stella lies in there until he’s asleep and then I let her out.  If I try to get her out before he’s asleep, she won’t budge.  How does she know?  His breathing, maybe.  If he runs to the Kearns’ house, she runs window-to-window inside or around the fence perimeter outside to follow his path. She whines as he goes.  Each morning when he gets on the bus, she watches.  She sighs.

I brought her into his third grade classroom this year and the teacher had all the kids ready for her, sitting in a circle on the floor when we entered.  Stella cruised around the circle til she found Ben, then licked and licked his face and whined.  Ben smiled, pretended to scold her, and blushed.  “This is her.  This is my dog, Stella,” he said, and the kids fell in love with her.  She licked a treat out of every single hand, then ran  through her commands for them.  Ben was so proud.

Four years ago, on an 80 aDSC_1822cre farm in Rushville, IN, the barn doors opened and eight highly pedigreed German shepherd puppies tumbled out under their mom, wrestling for milk as she walked.  She stopped, she backed up and looked at them, then looked back, knowing, maybe, that someone was missing.  Out of the barn doors came the tiniest one.  She sneezed and fell over.

“That’s the one,” I said.

“Ah, no.  That’s Sissy.  She’s the runt.  You don’t want her.”

“Yes, I said.  And Scott nodded, smiled.  “She’s ours.”

DSC_1821DSC_1978 DSC_1969 DSC_1957 Two years of weekly obedience training and a ton of diligence on our part took this needle-toothed ten pound puppy and turned her into a wonderful member of the family.  We adore her.  We are ridiculous with her.  We know we are.  We have taken her to FloridaJekyll Island 172 Mary's pix 049 with us twice and boarded her down there instead of up here.  We have driven her to Jekyll Island, GA twice because it’s so dog friendly and she loves the beaches there.  We can take her with us mini golfing and to outdoor restaurants, and she can run leashless on the main beach because it’s off season when we go and it’s empty.  That girl runs like a stallion.

We can’t imagine our family without her.  Tonight, after a long walk with all of us, some bacon and turkey will be in her bowl.  Happy, happy birthday, Stella Marie.

Thanks for growing up with our boy.

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Jack of All Trades

DSC_1729My husband usually wears a suit and tie.  He’s tall with broad shoulders, and has an easy gait at work.  Leadership personified.  He wears crisp white shirts, dark suits, and classic ties very, very well.  Few are more articulate than he, and his brilliance is obvious.  He’s a fierce advocate for high quality educational experiences for kids and for empowering teachers to do what needs to be done to provide them.  He can stand in front of hundreds and present to them without an iota of anxiety.  He is every bit at ease in his role in good times (the day-to-day routine, awards ceremonies, graduation, attending sporting events/performances), and in bad (up at 3am to make a snow day call, up at 4am to hear that an athletic building burned down, managing a widespread chickenpox outbreak or threats of violence or a student’s tragic death).   He can be counted on.

There are skills he learned outside his PhD classrooms, though.  Skills we count on here at home that have nothing to do with polish or suits or multisyllabic words.  Skills his dad taught him decades ago while a wide-eyed boy watched intently as his dad worked on the house and on cars.  These are the times he’s nowhere near a PowerPoint or a union negotiation.  Nowhere near his diplomas.  And it’s just as easy to respect him when he’s rewiring the outlets, installing new faucets, drywalling, changing the brakes or oil on our cars, climbing onto the roof to patch a shingle, hanging off the eaves to paint the trim, caulking, replacing all the baseboards in the house, mounting curtain rods, hanging crown moulding, finishing a room in the basement, installing a new distributor in the car, switching out car batteries, and the list goes on and on and on.  He has an entire separate wardrobe for these jobs: greasy, paint-stained, holey shorts, jeans, shirts, baseball caps, and sweatshirts.  And recently, he bought Ben his first tee shirt and pants at Menard’s to work in and ruin.

But last week, a challenge came to our home that even Scott had never dealt with.IMG_20130516_191545_405  The sewer line exiting the home broke.  I won’t go into all the details, but the professional estimate to fix it was $2847 with another $750 for each 10 feet of extra digging to replace the line.  No, Scott decided.  We aren’t going to take $4,000 and essentially bury it in the yard to have this done.

And he started digging.

IMG_20130516_191347_947On Tuesday, he dug the trench about 18 inches deep, 20 inches Mary's pix 010 (2)wide, and five feet out from the house through topsoil, sand, then clay.  On Wednesday, he went out another few feet.  On Thursday and Friday, out another five feet.  I helped on Friday night and Saturday morning, and we couldn’t get the pitch of the pipes to flow away from the home because of the house having settled.  Plumbers and the Hamilton County inspector came in and out through the week to give advice.  We had to dig out farther.  It would be about 25 feet in all by the end.

Mary's pix 007Mary's pix 015 (2)           Our good friend Matt Lucchese has sold plumbing parts in the past and knows aMary's pix 016 (2) good deal about gluing them and how to get a good pitch.  He drove up Saturday morning with his tools and jumped right in.  He spent the day with Scott helping do the math, the digging, the measuring, the gluing

The day was hot and muggy.  Those boys roasted.  Our friend Craig stopped by to help dig.  I brought water, food, beer, and ran to Lowe’s for them several times.  More PVC, some couplers, 1,000 pounds of sand, a laser level, more work gloves, a PVC hand saw.

At 5:00pm, Matt left and they declared it finished.  We could test it at 8:00pm by running water faucets all over the house.  This was good, because after having no showers, toilets, sinks, or washers for two days, we had a family of six coming at 10pm that night to stay with us from Mississippi for the weekend.  The laundry and dishes were piled high, and we were not smelling too great.  (Welcome, Willises!)

At 8:00pm, we tested it and everything flowed beautifully.  The three of us huddled around the emergency clean-out and watched the water rush by.  We started washing dishes, laundry, ourselves, and we welcomed our friends when they arrived.  All weekend long, the line ran beautifully, and on Monday afternoon, the county inspector came and declared it “an excellent repair.”  We were clear to bury the line.

Scott has saved us thousands over the years in maintenance and repairs.  But this time was huge.  A $4,000+ repair wound up costing us a little under $300 just one month before our big trip to Europe.  Matt, we owe you for your expertise and muscle.  Thank you for giving us eight hard hours of work and laughs along the way.

Too, we owe Stanley, Scott’s dad, for teaching Scott all he knows.  After Stanley died a few years ago, Scott got his tool box.  At one point during the sewer fix, Matt asked Scott if he had a line level.  Scott choked up briefly as he went into that box and retrieved the very line level he and his had had used decades ago.  It still worked like a charm.   Stanley made my husband strong, resourceful, mechanically talented, respectful, good, and true.  Thank you, Stanley.  I’m so glad I told you that while we still had you.

  Scott is just as generous as he is talented.  He has spent time repairing friends’ cars, painting their homes, mitering mouldings, hanging heavy mirrors, chainsawing fallen tree branches, and so much more.  He’s always ready to help, and he usually offers before you can ask.

I am eternally grateful to have married someone as resourceful as Scott is.  I love Dec 14 hanging the fanthat he works so hard and isn’t afraid to try to figure something out.  I love how much he knows about everything.  And I love that my favorite little guy in the world is watching wide-eyed, just like his dad did when he was small.  Somewhere out there, a lucky little girl is jumping rope at recess and she has no idea yet.

Someday she’ll marry a boy who can’t find his own shoes, but by God, he can use a drill just fine because of his dad.

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Facing Fear

In 1976, girls were finally allowed to join the Wildcat Baseball League in Ft. Wayne, Indiana.  I was eight, and my mom signed me up.  I’m not sure why she did that, (she had met me, after all) but every Saturday for two seasons I donned my Wildcat T-Shirt, I meandered out to left field, and spent hours and hours sucking my thumb behind my baseball glove and watching baseballs go over my head.  There is video proof of my membership on The Turkeys (1976) and The Turtles (1977) baseball teams, b02-19-2013 05;22;56PMut thank God it cannot be uploaded here.  That was my one and only athletic endeavor for 44 years.

Helping my mom cook and talking to my Nonny on the phone were much more preferred by me.

I’ve spent the last 30+ years faking stomach aches during gym class, crying during dodgeball (Catholic school), avoiding high school and college physical education electives at all costs, and making myriad excuses for why I don’t exercise in adulthood.

But in November, tired of not feeling strong and noticing a newly slowing metabolism, I started working on strength and endurance with a trainer (2-3 times a week), and for the first time in my life, I have stuck with it.

February 7-10 found me in Phoenix with my Book Club sisters.  One of them owns a home there and we went for a girls’ trip.  IMG958796IMG950920_1Dining out, cocktails, three hour breakfast talks before starting the day, and a very swanky spa were my speed.  Delicious, all of it.

But Saturday afternoon, February 9, found us all at the base of Camelback Mountain looking up 2100 feet at the rocky summit.  Cholla Trail would be our path and Beth, our tiny, fit friend who had done the climb 75+ times with her husband, would be our fearless leader.

I assessed the situation: trail looked easy.  Children were doing it!  Check.  I can totally do this, I thought.  I just won’t look down.IMG950953_1

My friends were dressed in their fitness gear: the right shoes, pants, and shirts.  I was wearing what I had slept in because I didn’t own workout clothes.  Not really.  So, I had on one of Scott’s tee shirts and the capri sweats I wear to clean or to sleep.

So.  Up we went!  It was a nice, smootIMG950791_1h path for the first 45 minutes or so.  We talked, we laughed, we joked.  Halfway up, there is a helipad (for—gulp—rescues), and Beth had said the trail “changes” from there until the top.  “Gets more physical.”  Hmmm.

And change, it did.  Within minutes, we were full body boulder climbing.  I avoided looking down too much, and focused only on Jenny’s feet in front of me.  I put mine where she put hers.  There were no more small children on the trail at this height.   We stopped occasionally for water and to take pictures of the view, and to get the answer to the question, “How much farther?”  My friends are in excellent shape.  I am better than I used to be, but I am not in excellent shape.  And I’m afraid of heights.  So, about three-quarters of the way up, I was starting to  regret not descending at the helipad.Mary's pix 494

But I’m always telling Ben that sometimes we have to do scary things to help us grow, and I wanted a picture at the summit to show him.  He knows how I feel about heights.

Some helpful strangers offered their hands as my feet (in smooth-bottomed old gym shoes) wobbled between boulders or slid along sheer rocks, and I took those hands every single time.  And about 10 minutes from the top, we had to hug a boulder and swing our right leg around it to gain footing on the other side of it and push our bodies over empty space to meet our foot.  It was straight down, but I didn’t look.  I couldn’t look.  I’M SO SMART TO NOT HAVE LOOKED.

Mary's pix 495“Guys, this isn’t fun anymore.” I said, voice shaky.  Encouragement came from my friends.  “There’s the top, Mary.  We’re almost there,” Beth assured me.  (There aren’t any pictures of this part because obviously I was too terrified and unstable to get out my phone and snap any!)

More boulders to climb.  They trick you with the smooth path at the start!  You’re thinking, “This is SO easy!  I love mountain climbing!”  And then.  Then.  Mary's pix 492

Sweaty and with legs like Jell-O, I came up over aMary's pix 502 curve, and there it was: the top.   Someone’s  sweet dog named Max scampered around and people stood around taking pictures of themselves and the view and we were there with them!  My friends were so happy.  They were so excited.  I was too, but I was also so proud.

I texted Scott, and then I texted my trainer (Dan Hubbard) to thank him.  He was excited and proud, too.  Scott (who, at this point, still thought I had simply walked up a path because I had not yet recounted the harrowing details to him), texted this back: “Great job!  Glad you’re having fun.  But Dude, you really do need to invest in some athletic wear.  Those clothes…Come ON!”  We had a great laugh about it.

Mary's pix 499We stayed up there a bit and ate apples, drank some water, posted to Facebook.  Then it was time to climb back down.  It wasn’t nearly as tricky or difficult as climbing up, and soon we were below the helipad and laughing again, talking.

We got back to the house, showered, dressed up, had some cocktails, and went out for our last dinner together.   I felt great.  Clean, out of my pajamas at last, and so proud.  So thankful for these women who gave me the opportunity to grow a little.  To crawl out from under my excuses and try something new and scary and thrilling.

Back at home in Indiana, I went to Marshall’s and purchased all manner of workout gear.  I am committed to this.  I know that now.  I went to see my trainer and began to characterize the difficulty of the climb (lest HE think I simply walked up a path!), but he stopped me short.  “Camelback Mountain?  I’ve done it!  Yeah, it’s not easy at ALL.”  Good.  So he knew.

I climbed to the top of a mountain, you guys.   I did it in my pajamas and I did not look good doing it.  I was a little scared I’d die near the top, and I did whine about it then.  My thigh and shoulder muscles hurt for three days afterward.

But I climbed a mountain.

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Seeing Heartbreak

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I don’t want to “See HEARTBREAK” on A4.  Can we just all say that? My third grade teacher at St. John’s, Sister Mary, used to clip around in her full nun’s habit saying, “That is enough, and enough is too much!”  We’ve definitely had too much heartbreak in this country.

We’ve always told Ben the ugly truths about danger, risk, strangers, wandering away, and some specific things about what could happen out there.  I even had a moment I’m more confessing here than telling. Last summer, Ben rode his bike so far ahead of Scott, Stella, and me (we were walking) on the Monon Trail, that he went up around a curve and we couldn’t see him anymore.  We yelled.  We yelled furiously.  And I have a big “recess duty” voice.  Nothing.  Just birdsong on that day.  We ran and ran and ran to get to him.  Imagining the worst.  Someone came from the woods and took my baby.  We’ll round that corner and there will be nothing.  As every parent knows, the worry metastasizes as the seconds pass.  He’s too far.  He’s not safe.  He’s missing.  He’s dead.

Finally, I saw the dot of him hundreds of yards away.  We waved our arms, we screamed.  FINALLY, he stopped.  He rode back.  We continued running toward him.  Needing to touch him.  Needing to scream at him.  Thoroughly confused, he looked at our red, sweaty faces and heard our breathless gasping.  “What?”  he said.

I went limbic.  Handed Stella off to Scott and grabbed Ben’s arm so hard I likely left a mark.  “Guess what happened to Adam Walsh, Ben.”  I fiercely spat at him.

“What?” Who’s Adam Walsh?”  he replied.

“Mary.”  Scott warned.

“He was a little boy like you, “ I panted, anger and relief assaulting me at once.  “His mom took him shopping and he wandered just a few feet away to look at something and someone grabbed him, Ben.  A stranger grabbed him, took him somewhere, and CHOPPED HIS HEAD OFF.”  Tears sprang to my eyes.  Ben was stunned.

We stood there and lectured about staying close.  We tried as hard as we could to scare him into awareness that day, when he was seven, about what could happen to him.  Ben thought we were just out for a nice time on the trail.  What’s the big deal, etc.  Our parent minds had concocted every single worst tragedy possible in the two to three minutes we couldn’t see our son out in the world.  We had to force him to know.  To care.  To somehow make a line in the gray space where he’s seen us smile and talk to strangers out there between, “Yes, nice day!”  “You have a Merry Christmas, too!”  and knowing they could also take us away and hurt us.  Or worse.  That most people are good.  But not everyone.  How do we know?  We don’t.

I read somewhere that “Civilization is an agreement between men to behave well.”  And some people just stop agreeing.

I spent 14 years in the classroom doing the safety drills.  Take cover in the corner.  Pull the blinds.  Lock the doors.  “Be silent.”  “We’ll be back to reading in just a sec.”  “Nope, everything’s fine.  Just a drill.”  “Quiet, guys.  This isn’t funny.”  “Hands to yourselves.”

Ben has done the drills.  He feels safe in his suburban, beautiful school chock full of friendly faces and encouragement and celebration of who everyone is.  He learns.  He leaps out of bed for school.  He reaches reading and math goals and then exceeds them and worries only if it might rain on the kickball game at recess.  Indoor recess stinks.  This weekend he worries enough people won’t bring in their cereal boxes on Monday and the project will be put off til Tuesday.

Why can’t I bring myself to tell him about Connecticut?  The teacher in me knows that telling him won’t help him make changes to avoid a gunman.  He can’t learn from it.  He already follows the directions during safety drills.  Let him continue feeling safe at school.  While I still grip my only son’s hand in parking lots and make him stay close to me in stores because of What Could Be Out There, the teacher in me wants his elementary school to remain a haven.  Where he has the autonomy to walk alone to the clinic when he needs to.  To go to the office to receive his birthday bag of treats.  To run for a quick selection in the library.  It should be okay.  IT SHOULD BE OKAY.

The mom in me wants to tell him.  Hundreds of people are mourning in Connecticut for their lost loved ones.  We have to pray for them.  We have to acknowledge their grief.  There are 20 houses with attics full of gifts already bought for babies who will never open them.  Amazon might have more deliveries on the way this week.  Specific Lego kits or American Girl accessories that tear open the wounds again each time they arrive at the doors of those devastated souls.

People have been asking me as a teacher and Scott as a superintendent what can be done.  Gun control!  Better safety features!  Increased awareness!  Bar coded nametags!  Of course, of course.

But the crazy—the evil— will always be out there.  They always seem to find a way.  It was there in Dallas at the Texas Schoolbook Depository.  It was there at the Washington Hilton in 1981.  It was there outside The Dakota apartments in NYC.  It was certainly there, in the skies, on September 11.  It was there in the movie theatre in Aurora, CO.  It was there at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. I could go on and on and on about how crazy—how abject evil—found its way into our innocence throughout history.  How it stole presidents from us.  Civil rights heroes.  Iconic musicians.  People eating breakfast at Windows on the World before a morning meeting.  Folks trying to catch a flight out of Boston.  Sons, daughters, siblings, friends of people survive and still ache for their loss.  Who are less than because they are missing the people who would make them whole.

But now it’s in our schools.  Thirty-one school shootings since Columbine in 1999.  The crazy—the evil—is stealing our children when they’re supposed to be in math groups.  Learning cursive.  Doing a project with cereal boxes.

My friend Katrina Willis posted a Mr. Rogers quote yesterday I can’t quit thinking about: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

That’s what I will teach Ben, no matter what the headlines are throughout his life.Mary's pix 002

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