Are there any eggs left in Fargo, North Dakota?

Here we are on November 1, the day after Halloween, when the candy is marked down 30% and Target has swiftly replaced the plastic pumpkins and fake blood with the twinkling lights of Christmas (what? There’s another holiday somewhere in between? To hell, you say!).

The day after a woman in Fargo, North Dakota claimed she was going to give the sturdier trick or treaters who showed up at her door the sweet treat of shame and self loathing, with a healthy dose of parental chastisement. And I’ve been wondering all day, if this lady was truly legit, just how many square inches of her property are NOT covered in TP?

If you haven’t heard the story, and at this point you have most likely been living under a rock if you haven’t, you can find one of the many retellings of it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/30/fat-letters-halloween_n_4177341.html . Basically, a woman wanting to take a stand against childhood obesity claimed that on Halloween this year, she would not pass out candy to children that she deemed to be “moderately obese” (through the apparent use of her bionic eye that instantly calculates BMI from a momentary glance). Instead, THOSE children would receive a snappily crafted letter of good intent informing said child’s parents of her assessment of their irresponsible behavior for allowing their chunky kiddo to be out “looking for free candy just ‘cause other kids are doing it.” She states that she’s looking to send said Mommies and Daddies a message in hopes that they’ll parent-up (my term) “and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits.”

She is doing this, she claims in her letter, because it ‘takes a village’ to raise children and she is just trying to do her part. I’m sure you can imagine the ‘village idiot’ comments that followed the story.

Let’s assume for a moment (perhaps a rather large assumption) that this woman is, in fact legitimate, and does have a genuine concern for the children’s health in her community. The truth is not only childhood obesity, but adult obesity as well, are a major concern in our society right now. According to the CDC comments in the article mentioned here, childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years, bringing with it all its physical and mental health related issues.  That’s the real deal and something we all should be concerned about.

I don’t think there are many people in the U.S. that would deny there’s a problem here. But Fargo Lady’s solution is flawed from the beginning. First of all, why is it ok for kids who don’t LOOK ‘moderately obese’ to be allowed to “consum[e] sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season”? If she is really concerned about childhood obesity, then shouldn’t she not hand out candy to ANY children? Why assume that children who are not currently showing outward signs of obesity have ‘healthy eating habits’?

Several people have suggested she give out healthy snacks, stickers, pencils, quarters, toothbrushes, etc. or simply turn off her light and not give out anything at all.  Each of these would support her position of taking a stand against obesity while being inclusive of all children who came to her door.

If Fargo Lady really cares about childhood obesity, she needs to do her research, which shows that shaming children about their weight actually has the opposite effect (see article) and can increase their obesity risk.  If she really cares about childhood obesity and wants to be part of her village, perhaps she could consider volunteering at her local Y or Boys and Girls Club to organize fitness activities, healthy food tastings, parent and child cooking classes, nutritional classes, etc.  There are so many positive ways to support all children and help them make changes that could last a lifetime.

May people have commented on this story that they use Halloween as a learning tool to teach lessons about moderation, portion, and nutrition in a kid friendly way that still allows their children to have treats but understand why gorging is a bad choice for many different reasons and that treats are just that.

Until my son was 5 years old, I did not let him have any candy at all.  He is in no way considered obese and had no health problems and I want to keep it that way.  We had occasional treats that were high quality and few and far between, but no candy. He would dress up for Halloween every year, but we didn’t go out trick or treating.  And I didn’t give out candy, because I thought, how can I justify giving stuff out to other kids that I won’t let my own kid have?  So instead he would dress up and we’d go do something fun and then go out to eat (not fast food) and have a yummy dinner that we both enjoyed. We still do that—Halloween dinner is our family tradition. In recent years, I’ve allowed some occasional chocolates.

Now 7, this was the first year we went out to trick or treat.  We only went to one place: our local high school that was doing an indoor trick or treat charity event. He got plenty of candy (enough to last at least a month or more at a piece a day) and even offered to share with me. I told him I would buy from him any candy that he wasn’t allowed to have and he could put that money in his savings bank to spend on what he wants (with Mom approval!). He was happy as a clam.

As to Fargo Lady and her plans, I don’t really understand how she’s going to ‘deem’ children ‘moderately obese’ simply by looking at them, in costume, no less. Clearly there are some people you can look at and see that they are heavier than others, but where is that line? Is she going to hide a scale in her porch steps.  Shall the children fill out a height/weight chart prior to ringing the doorbell? Perhaps they should have a note from their doctor stating that they are healthy enough for trick or treating activity.

Because the truth is, you don’t know what’s going on with that kid in front of you.  What medication she’s on, what illness he has.  Perhaps this is the one night she gets to go out with her friends and feel like a ‘normal’ kid. Perhaps he’s recovering from an injury. I am not making excuses, just indicating that there are a lot of factors that can’t be taken into consideration with a quick glance in the dark.

Can you imagine being six, seven, ten, twelve years old, going up to someone’s door with three or four of your friends or neighbors and each of them receives a candy except you? Wow.  I WAS that ‘moderately obese’ child.  And I would have gone home and cried myself to sleep.

There’s a better way.  I hope Fargo Lady found it.

Because I’ve gotta be honest.  If that were MY kid who came home with tears in his eyes and a note such as hers in his hand, I’d be makin’ a trip to the local Quicky Mart for a dozen large whites and some Angel Soft. It would be totally wrong of me, but I wouldn’t care. I would be taking a stand against bullying in my village. Perhaps I’d even leave her a snappily worded letter of good intent.

 

Dear Weight Loss Plateau: Bite Me

Surprised that I should greet you so boldly, with such a sassy disposition? Ah, but I’ve been expecting you! You don’t really think I came to this party unprepared, do you? Come now, surely you know me better than that!

I’ve spent the majority of my adult life contemplating, attempting, succeeding, failing at weight loss. But this time, this time it’s different. Oh, I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times, from so many people at so many points in their journey that you’ve lost track. But I know.  I know better than you.

This time, I’m not hoping to get into some specific size.  No, no ‘perfect’ size 6 for me.  I WAS a size 7 once.  In undergrad.  For about 4 ½ minutes.  And then I ate a Tic Tac. And I was back to a size 9.

This time, I’m not looking to hit a specific weight.  Of course, I have a target in mind.  You should know; you are trying to keep me from it. You stopped me dead in my tracks as I tried to reach my second goal: to lose 10 pounds. So close was I when you showed up at my door and held the scale fast, refusing to budge, despite my best efforts.  Despite the fact that I’ve been steadily chugging along, watching the numbers slowly roll back.  But I am not discouraged. I knew you would get here eventually, and I was prepared for your arrival.

This time I will not beat myself up, belittle myself, punish myself. I will not starve myself. If I want to eat a cookie, I’m gonna eat a damn cookie.  Or two. And that doesn’t make me a bad person.  A failure.  A weakling. Hell, no.

I am in charge here.

No, this time I’m not just trying to change my waist (and thighs and bat wings).  This time I am changing my life. I am not dieting, but I am journaling my food, to learn what I eat and how I eat and where the opportunities are to make better choices that work for me and will help me be successful. I am exercising in a smarter, more efficient way. I’m on the right track, baby. My track.

You see, I’ve been doing research on you.  Because that’s what I do.  When I’m in a quandry, have a query, am faced with a conundrum, I research the crap out of it, compile the data and devise a plan. So I knew you would inevitably show up—there’s tons of information about it. Did you know there’s research out there on you? You should be flattered! I know you can be frustrating, irritating, disheartening. I know you are a tough cookie.

But I am stronger than you.

My body is getting stronger.  Not Incredible Hulk strong—with all due respect to Lou Ferrigno, that’s not really the look I’m going for. But day by day, slowly, but surely, my body is gaining a physical confidence.

My mind is getting stronger.  I’m striving to resist making unrealistic comparisons to others in their various states of fitness.  Will I even be Jillian Michaels?  Highly unlikely. And that is OK by me.

So, with all sincerity, my dear weight loss plateau, you can bite me.  Hang out if you must, but don’t get too comfortable.  Because eventually, I will send you packing.

Oh, I’m sure you’ll be back again, at more than one point along this journey of mine.  But I’ll be ready for you then, too. Because every day I try to do what’s best for my body is a success.  Whether that success is reflected in the scale this week is irrelevant. It’s reflected in me. And in good time, the numbers will show it, too.

Working It Out: Adventures at the Fitness Center

Two weeks ago, I started going to the gym.

I haven’t been to a gym for about 20 years. And even then, I only went for the classes one day a week. Not sure exactly why I joined back then, other than the fact that I was flush with cash from my first real job in my field; fresh out of college, I thought an annual salary in the low 20s was a miracle straight from heaven. I was young and round and had cash money—the gym seemed like a logical place to be. It was the thing to do. So I signed up for my one year contract and was ready to go.

Initially I thought I’d go more than once a week.  But being a brand new teacher at a school about 30 minutes from home (on a good day), I found that I returned home each night utterly exhausted and with piles of work to be completed.  I’d be lucky to grade, prep, eat and sleep (not nec. in that order).  It was just not happening.  So I’d go in on Saturday, through the gianormous glass doors, averting my eyes as I passed the rows of muscle heads on my way to the group classroom in the back of the gym. When I saw the commercial for Planet Fitness featuring the massively bulked up man repeating, “I lift things up and put them down,” I knew instantly the type they were talking about (if you’ve ever been to a gym, any gym, and you haven’t seen this, it’s worth a view: Planet Fitness Ad).  I went for a few months and then wound up quitting altogether; it seems I just didn’t have it in me.

So here I am 20 years later, more than 20 pounds heavier, not getting any younger and watching the scale creep higher and higher. Something, I thought, something must be done!

I know enough about nutrition, exercise, weight loss, etc. to make me dangerous.  I know that, statistically, since my 30s I’ve been losing muscle and that loss of muscle slows metabolism.  I know I can’t lose weight from diet alone and that even aerobic exercise alone is not going to work for me at this point.  Help, yes?  But I know it will not get me where I want to be. Which is not to a ‘I lift things up and put them down’ place, mind you. Just a place where I am healthier, with a little more lean muscle and a little less jiggle.

I also know that I have 2 sets of dumb bells in the hall closet that I can’t seem to make myself pull out and use, even as I sit on the couch, contemplating their very existence. No, it is time for drastic measures, I think.  Around this time, I saw some ads for a local gym quite close to my house with no start up fee and a membership of only $10 a month. The time has come, I think. It’s time to join the gym.

The weekend after school began, my 7 year old son and I traveled to this previously mentioned local gym to check it out, with every intention of signing up. From the outside, the building is quite unassuming, but once inside, we were smacked in the face with a wall of sound in the form of upbeat pop/rock music blaring over the loudspeakers.  There were lots of machines: rows and rows and rows of them. Wall to wall. Eyeing the weight machines, I began to have flashbacks. My son was not impressed with the place at all.  “It is too loud in here,” he yelled.  “Can we go now?  I don’t want to come to this place.”

As we stand in line waiting to be assisted, I reminded him that Mommy is here trying to do something good for herself and would like to at least talk to the man about the gym before we leave. He sullenly conceded the point. When it was finally my turn to speak to the gentleman behind the desk, my hopes were dashed in one foul swoop: they do not have any form of childcare. Buzz kill

He mentioned to me, however, that a new gym (part of a national chain) that has just opened up not to far from my house in the other direction, does offer childcare and he has a friend who works over there that would be happy to talk with me. Determined to maintain my resolve, we left the local gym and its disco surround sound behind and headed over to the new place.

My son is thrilled.  “I’m glad they don’t have childcare here, Mommy. I don’t want you to come back here, even without me. I don’t like it here.” Kids and dogs: they have a sixth sense, you know?

In the car, I began to lose my nerve. A national chain. Muscle heads.  That intimidated feeling. Maybe the fact that the local gym had no childcare was a sign that joining a gym was not the right thing for me. I resisted the urge to turn the car onto my street and instead drive on.

We pulled into the parking lot in front of the gym, a location we’ve visited many times before as it used to be a Borders Books. Sad we were to see them close. But up from their ashes a mighty fitness giant did rise.

My son was immediately impressed with the change of venue.  Gone was the dance club feel with its dim lighting and pulsing beat. The new facility was bright and shiny new, with machines in neat rows and an open, airy feel. As we waited to speak to someone at this facility, I began to relax.  Perhaps the lack of childcare at the other place wasn’t a sign that I shouldn’t join a gym, but only that I shouldn’t join THAT gym.

Mother and child returned home much happier, with a gym membership for me and a dropin childcare option set up for him. I was headed in the right direction!

A week later, I went in for my ‘assessment’ with a personal trainer.  It was a great meeting, but having not been to a gym in a very long time, it did not occur to me (nor was I advised, as I apparently should have been beforehand) that a trainer was an additional contract for an additional fee. I was feeling a bit intimidated by the whole process, but I decided I was not going to let fear keep me from what I knew I needed to do. I resolved to find my way on my own.

Twenty years later, I have found that the gym is a very different place for me than it was those many years ago. Yes, there is still a sense of intimidation as I try not to look too stupid figuring out how a machine works or contemplating how exactly I’m going to remove these 100 pound cheese wheels of weight off the bar bell so I can move the empty bar to do push ups (I did figure out the moving of the bar height, at least).  Yes, I try to make myself look small and inconspicuous off in the corner as I work through my exercise routines.

But as I warm up each visit on the elliptical (wow, where has this machine been all my life? Love. It.), I find my emotions fall away from intimidation and towards inspiration. These rows of cardio equipment turn out to be a great place to people watch. I peep out around the TV screen attached to my machine and steal glimpses of my fellow exercisers and cannot help but find motivation. There at one end of my row is a little old lady, 70 years if she’s a day, walking on the treadmill.  She’s already been there a while by the time I arrive, and she’s still trucking on when I leave.  A few rows ahead, there’s a very heavy gentleman who comes with…a friend? …a partner? …a trainer? Whomever he is, they cycle side by side sharing quite conversation and support. There’s a wide variety of men and women just like me, young and old, of various backgrounds, who are soft in the middle (and suddenly I have Paul Simon in my head…) and working to improve.

Sure, there’s a few muscle heads and several super fit people working to stay super fit.  But my presence at the gym is not met with their searing glances; we’re all just doing our thing.  And should someone feel the need to throw a hairy eyeball my way, I’m no longer inclined to shrink away as if I don’t belong. I know I’ve as much a right to be in the gym as anyone else, dammit. Hell, this week, someone actually asked ME how a piece of equipment worked! We both had a good chuckle over the perplexing item.  Yes, this time around, being at the gym has given me a sense of empowerment—a growing internal strength to match my sl-o-o-o-wly growing external progress.

And speaking of inspiration, I wear my Wendy Davis shoes to work out.  I figure if she can stand up for 11 hours fighting for the health and rights of women in an entire state, the least I can do is stand up for my own health for half an hour three days a week.

Wendy Davis, Mizuno and Me

To begin with, I have never paid $100 for a pair of shoes.  Ever.

The first shoes I bought with my own money (that I had earned for babysitting when I was in high school) were a pair of white high-top Reebok Freestyles. Remember those?  They had Velcro closures around the ankle (before every pair of shoes in North America had Velcro) and the soles were made of all these wee suction-cup looking circles. I used to go out for a walk in them, then come home and use a pair of tweezers to pick out the little tiny rocks and debris that had gotten caught in the cracks between the suction cups.  No lie. I had spent maybe $40 of my very own money on those shoes and I expected them to last me at least through my 20s. Suffice it to say that they didn’t quite make it that far, but they lasted a good long while.

I must admit that I’m not much of a stereotypical ‘girl’ when it comes to things like shoes, handbags, clothes, etc.  I don’t covet fancy threads or drool over upscale purses from outside shop windows, and I couldn’t tell you the difference between Manolo and Miu Miu if you paid me (in fact, I had to Google “designer shoes” just to find those names).  I believe this stems from a combination of spending many years as a poor college student, being too cheap to spend that kind of money in general, and quite frankly just not caring about the next ‘in’ thing.  I cannot think of one thing I have ever bought simply because it was considered the cool thing to have or because some celebrity threw their name/face/persona behind it.

No, in the long list of adjectives that friends and acquaintances might come up with to describe this 40-something gal, “stylish” and “trendy” would never be among them.

But here I am, in my Mizuno Wave Runner 16’s, Rouge Red/Apple Green, size 6.5 W. My Wendy Davis shoes.

Wendy Davis is the Texas Congresswoman who held a filibuster this summer over an ultra-restrictive anti-abortion bill which proponents claimed ‘protected women’s health.’ Opponents like Wendy argued that the conservative legislation, in actuality, would do the opposite, putting women’s health at risk across the state and severely limiting Texas women’s rights. During this filibuster, Rep. Davis was not permitted to eat, drink, use the restroom, lean on anything, stray from the topic, or stop talking. She did this for 11 hours. In her Mizuno Wave Runner 16’s, Rouge Red/Apple Green.

No matter what side of the issue you come down on, you have got to admit that’s pretty damn impressive.

Davis’ eye catching shoes were certainly the talk of the town the next day.  Among all the zaniness that comprised that first Special Session (including the falsification of official state government records) sat images of Wendy Davis’ Mizuno’s, front and center, demanding to be seen. Far from silly commentary on female politicians’ fashion choices (think Hillary Clinton’s pants suits), those ‘Rouge Red’ (pink, really) sneakers with the Apple Green accents took on a life of their own.  As Sally Kohn notes in her July 6 article:

“I couldn’t help but wonder: is commenting on a woman leader’s footwear in media coverage the same thing as coveting a woman leader’s iconic sneakers? No…her shoes are a symbol—a talisman of feminism and political voice and literally standing up for what’s right. Her shoes are legitimately part of the story of filibustering for 11 hours, especially because they stood out.”

(http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/06/why-wendy-davis-s-iconic-shoes-are-newsworthy.html)

Sally Kohn wanted a pair of Wendy’s shoes. Apparently so did a lot of women. And I did, too.

The idea to buy a pair of Wendy’s shoes didn’t come to me immediately. While not a native Texan, I lived in the state for many years and watched from afar as the politics played out.

In the end, Wendy was unsuccessful in her endeavors. While her filibuster was a super-human effort, it failed to prevent the ultimate passage of the bill, which was passed in a second special session called specifically for this legislation. Wendy knew this. And yet she made the physical, emotional and mental commitment to literally stand by her convictions for 11 hours to make a point. To stand up for what’s right.

I ordered my shoes from Amazon.com, which was apparently the go-to place to find the now iconic Mizuno’s. I tracked their progress online and knew when they had been delivered to my front porch. I couldn’t wait to get home. I couldn’t wait to show them to my almost 7 year old son, who loves bright colors, patterns and designs. My color palette is generally much more subdued than his, as I don’t particularly like to call attention to myself.  Much more of an ‘under the radar’ type am I. So I knew he’d like Mommy’s new shoes that were quite a bit out of her color comfort zone yet smack dab in the middle of his. But mostly, I couldn’t wait to tell him the story.

I had him close his eyes and a broad smile crossed his face when he opened them and beheld my latest acquisition.

“Those are pretty, Mommy!” Then after a pause, “Did you need them because your old sneakers are worn out?”

“No, I got them because they were worn by a lady in Texas.  A politician. And she wore them when she was making an argument in the Texas State Congress about something she really believed in.”

I explained to him what a filibuster was and what the rules were.

“How long do you think she talked?”
“An hour?”
“Longer.”
“Two hours?”
“Longer”
“Five hours?”
“Longer”
“TEN hours?
“Nope.  Longer”
“Twelve?”
“Eleven”
“Wow! That’s a long time! And she wore those shoes?”
“Well, not this exact pair, but a pair just like these. So I bought a pair just like hers, because she inspired me. And when I think I can’t do something, or think it’s too hard, I want to look at my shoes and be inspired to think like Mrs. Masters taught you in first grade—we don’t say ‘I can’t,’ we say, ‘I’ll try.’ I want to remember to stand up for what I believe in and not be afraid to speak up when it’s really important to me.”

“That’s cool, Mom.”

Cool, indeed.

So, here I am, in my Wendy Davis shoes, both stylish AND trendy.  And damn proud of it.

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You Say It’s Your Birthday? It’s My Birthday, Too!

Today was my birthday (gooooo, Geminis!). I look forward to it every year.  Conveniently situated in the calendar at the halfway mark to Christmas, as a child I felt June was the perfectly timed birthday month to spread out annual gift giving. Funny that while I’ve always thought of myself as a summer baby, probably because we were always out of school before my birthday rolled around (the only drawback to the mid-June b-day—no classroom cupcakes on my special day!),  I am technically a spring baby, as the official start of summer is still 2 days away.

Birthdays in my house didn’t involve annual blowout parties with lots of guests, games and goodie bags—in fact, I only had a couple of “friend” parties growing up. But we always had a family celebration filled with lots of love (and usually quite a bit of humidity—it was Jersey in June, mind you).

Now, I am all grown up, and my birthday still means a lot to me. It really aggravates me when people imply that adults should not make a big deal about their birthday. Like you’re somehow being childish if you want to acknowledge your special day. Or to even think about it as a special day.  That you want to celebrate the mingling of your parental gene pool. That you want to acknowledge the hard work your momma went through growing you in her body and then popping you out by whatever means necessary.

Apparently after 21, you’re only allowed to acknowledge your “big” b-days: 30, 40, 50, etc. and then your supposed to be all sad about them and are allowed to have people celebrate with you in an effort to cheer you up and make you feel better about still being alive.

Hey, I survived another year on this planet, dammit! I gained strength and knowledge.  I endured.

Hopefully, I made an impact.  Perhaps just a small one: a random act of kindness, a smile, a thoughtful word that made someone else’s day jut a bit brighter, if only for a moment. Perhaps something more.

My birthday is a reminder that I exist. That I have potential. That there is more of me yet to come.  How much more?  Who can say? But I embrace this reminder of my birth and take joy in it. I am here!

So, I sit before you, writing the lines, and I am not ashamed to say that it made my heart smile today each time my FB notification dinged to tell me another of my friends wished me a happy day.

It was a beautiful day filled with lots of love.  And I enjoyed it!

Sandy Hook Remembered: A Conspiracy of Love

Last week, I sat through what felt like the longest PTO meeting of my life.  It was uncomfortable to listen to and nauseating to contemplate.  We were talking about school security, post Sandy Hook. Our principal outlined ongoing changes being made to policies and procedures, including consultations with the town police chief and heads of security companies. Many parents were there to express their concerns and displeasure over some changes that had already been made with how children are dropped off and picked up from school. It was serious business.

I have to be honest, my attention faltered, sitting in the auditorium, as my mind wondered to thoughts of that horrible day and then to the teachers and staff in my own school.  To my own first grader. Watching our principal speak, I was struck by how tired he looked. Granted, he was just recovering from a week of the flu, but his thoughts and words wore heavily on him and I could see the weight of his position and responsibility, now multiplied tenfold. Waves of emotion washed over me, lapping at my feet and bringing me to the verge of tears, as they do now, writing these words.

I had a strong desire to give him a big hug. To stand up and say thank you to him and all of the teachers who had come to the meeting. To say, “I love you all” and mean it, although I don’t even know most of them and that would probably be considered exceedingly weird.

Sandy Hook is the educational 9/11.  There is no going back.  As our principal said, ‘December 14 was a game changer.’ And I shuddered.

Meanwhile, in the world where people think every real life event is some sort of Da Vinci Code plot that only they are smart enough to figure out, a friend at work mentioned something about some ridiculous Sandy Hook conspiracy theories she heard floating around. I didn’t really think anything of it at the time.  But in the past few days, they started popping up in my feed on Facebook. I wanted to be educated on what these people were talking about, so I Googled “Sandy Hook Conspiracy” and started reading.  Then a watched the beginning of a video a friend posted.  I could feel my blood boiling.

Now, I am not conspiracy theorist, but I also have no doubt that the government does not always tell us the whole story about things. Sometimes for our own good, sometimes for theirs.  But this stuff, this is just sickening.

Theories range from the entire thing being completely staged by actors where no one actually got hurt or killed at all, to it being a military operation executed by Black Ops.  Most theories claim that it is somehow connected to a plot by the Obama administration to push through gun control legislation, and leading ultimately to some sort of Socialist/Communist/Marxist/Stalinist state (I wish they would pick one—I’m pretty sure they are not actually interchangeable).

Here’s the thing: I live in Connecticut.  I assure you that this actually happened. People I work with live in Sandy Hook.  They have attended the funerals.  They know families.  This is for real.

And if this horrible tragedy becomes the catalyst for conversations long overdue about gun control, mental health care, violent video games, media saturation, etc. then thank God something positive can come out of it.  It is not politicizing the event to demand real change in areas that have so long been swept under the rug.

(I will not entertain arguments on these items here, but if you want to hear an excellent, passionate, well expressed position for responsible gun control, look no further than Jon Stewart, whose “fake” news speaks truth more eloquently than I possibly could: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-january-8-2013/scapegoat-hunter—gun-control)

These crazy theories and their overzealous supporters make me angry.  Truly, deeply, punch a wall angry.  But punching the wall only adds to the violence, crippling me (literally) in the process. So what are we to do?

I think now is the time for a conspiracy of our own: a conspiracy of love. Honor those innocent children and staff of Sandy Hook every day by conspiring to show love and compassion to our fellow human beings.

Practice random acts of kindness!
Make a joyful noise!
Be thankful!

Small acts of kindness can go a long way to making someone’s day a bit brighter, and yours too, in the process. There are many movements afoot that can be found all over the internet and on FB, such as Guerrilla Goodness (https://www.facebook.com/GuerrillaGoodness?fref=ts)—check them out. Start your own.

To start, I ask you to help honor the staff of Sandy Hook by honoring the teachers I your life.  Write a note to your child’s teacher(s). Email one of your own teachers, past or present. Send a letter of support to your neighborhood school. Just to say ‘hey,’ or ‘thank you,’ or ‘thinking of you.’

I began thinking about all the teachers I had in public school.  I was fairly certain I could remember them all.  So I sat down and made a list. I was pretty dang close.  As far as I can recall, I am only missing my teachers for Swimming and Home Economics, both of which I only had for one semester in junior high.

All of my teachers had an impact on me in some way.  So I am sharing with you my ‘roll call, if you will’. I plan to put my list on my FB page, too.  I hope others will take up the challenge and post their own lists. Let us all conspire to respect, rejoice in and love one another as best we can, whenever we can.

Elementary School:

Ms. Napolian (K)
Ms. Epifanio (1)
Ms. Weiser (2)
Mrs. Sliwa (3)
Mrs. Taylor (4)
Mrs. Burke (5 & 6)
Mrs. Rotundo (principal)
Mrs. Steiber (orchestra)
Mrs. Demitri (music)

Jr. High:

Mr. Zelly
Ms. Royal
Mr. DeJesus
Mrs. Schwartz
Mrs. Brown
Mr. Crawford
Mrs. Jones
Mrs. Williams
Ms. Barclay
Mr. DiDanato
Mr. Pucciati
Mrs. Medina

High School:

Mrs. Guard
Mr. Helm
Mrs. Reza
Mr. Johnson
Dr. Omundson
Mrs. Rodriguez
Mrs. Reynolds
Mrs. Brown
Ms. Booth
Mr. Kitchen
Ms. Call
Mr. Lawrence
Mr. Dettman
Mrs. York

Unopened Presents on Christmas Day

Lately there seems to have been an overabundance of violent outbursts across the country. At a time of year when we sing about peace on earth and good will towards man, man seems to be taking up arms in very public places and at the cost of many lives.  I have watched these stories, saddened by the events happening hundreds, even thousands of miles from me, with a heavy heart for those people so very far away.

And then, suddenly, it was not so far away.

Then, on Friday, it was here in the state I now call home. Here on my doorstep. Not hundreds of miles away, but a mere 50.

I could not process it all.  I knew I could not watch it.  It was 9/11 all over again—no new information, so they just kept repeating the same thing for hours and hours, showing the plane crash into the tower again and again and again.  I could not bear it. Thinking of the school, the children, the teachers, the parents, I would well up with tears, then bring myself back in control.  I had to finish my work day.  I had to get to my own son. I felt a sudden burning need to see him immediately, to make sure he was safe and to protect him from the knowledge of this terrible event.

As I began to gather information, mostly from reading updates on the internet, I felt as though I were being hit by massive waves crashing against me.  Body blows. Punches to the gut.

The first was the report I read was about the 1st grade teacher that locked herself in the bathroom with her class (http://abcnews.go.com/US/newtown-teacher-refused-unlock-door-police-fearing-gunmans/story?id=17976299#.UMzevoXN5DK). She kept them calm as she listened to the gunfire, certain that they were going to die. She told them that she loved them and was happy that they were her students.  She told them that it would be okay, because she “wanted that to be the last thing they heard, not the gunfire in the hall.”

I was sitting at the kitchen table when I read this, my own son safely tucked in his bed.  I put my head down on the table and wept.  I could not help it. It gushed from me, along with an agonized, strangled sort of moan. My son is in first grade. I was struck to the core.

When the police came and knocked on the door, she made them show their badges under the door, fearing it was the gunman trying to trick them into coming out. Then she told them if they were really the police they would be able to get the key. Only when they did so did she trust it was really “the good guys.” My tears came for so many reasons, but mostly from the genuine love she had shown for her children, not only making every effort to keep them safe physically, but to ease them mentally and to make what she thought were to be their last moments full of all the love she could give them.

The second was a television story late that evening, which I caught just as I was turning off the TV to get ready for bed. They talked about the hospital staff who had been notified of a shooting at an elementary school and had been placed on high alert, anticipating mass casualties.  About 80 or so medical staff prepared themselves for an onslaught of children and adults in need of urgent care.  Three vicitms came.  ‘Where are the others?’ they wondered out loud. The response came: there are no others. ‘But we heard that over 20 people were shot.’  Again came the response: there are no others.  And then it began to sink in to these skilled professionals that their skills in this instance would no longer be required.  There was no one else left to save. The sense of helplessness overwhelmed me. Again, I wept.  The thought of first responders, ready to spring into action with life saving measures, and the site that they came upon.  The doctors and nurses waiting with open arms, only to find empty beds. I cannot fathom it. I could not take any more that day.

More detailed stories came out on Saturday, and a new round of shocks struck me:

–Another first grade teacher, who hid her children in closets and cabinets, told the gunman she faced that her class was in the gym; she was shot and killed, but saved the lives of the children in her class (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/newtown-teacher-vicki-soto-remembered-article-1.1221004)

–The principal and school psychologist, who ran towards the gunfire, trying unsuccessfully to stop the gunman, losing their lives in the process (http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/NATL-Principal-of-Sandy-Hook-Elementary-Remembered-for-Her-Dedication-Commitment–183634591.html)

–The lead teacher who, having no lock on the door, threw herself against it and was shot through the door in the arm and leg (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/14/newtown-elementary-therap_n_2303739.html)

Again came the tears. I’m sure there are more such stories, but I cannot process any more right now.  It is just too much.

I have always had a great deal of respect for teachers, and was a classroom teacher myself briefly, back when I was young and fresh out of college.  It is an amazing, challenging, rewarding, frustrating job. The teachers at my son’s elementary school, like so many teachers across the country, are remarkable individuals.  I would never ask nor expect them to literally put their lives on the line for my child. Yet, I have a feeling that in such a situation, they would do just that.  They are passionate, caring, dedicated professionals who truly love our children.

So many people wonder, as I do myself, what we can do for this school, these people, these families. I ask you to please remember these people and honor them.  And the next time you hear someone talking about how teachers are overpaid, glorified babysitters and how they have it so easy with their summers ‘off’ and ‘short’ days, remind them. Remind them.  Those teachers who have by the grace of God never faced such circumstances are, still, everyday heroes that inspire our children, and us. So I am going to remember those lost on Friday and honor their memory by honoring the teachers in my life.

This is what else I’m going to do:

This year I am adding two presents under my tree: a new tradition.

Something about the thought of unopened presents under the Christmas trees of 20 little boys and girls struck a chord. It conjured in my mind with painful resonance the image of Tiny Tim’s crutch, sitting alone in the corner and without an owner.

And so, I will wrap a box this Christmas with a tight little bow.  A box not meant to be opened. I will use it to remind me of those we have lost, those who will not get to open gifts this year.  I will use it to remind me how luck we are to be together.

Another box, decorated with shiny paper and a pretty ribbon, will be opened. But will be empty. This box serves to remind me of the many gifts that we can give that cannot be bought. Gifts like love, kindness, friendship, laughter, compassion. Gifts we should share with one another every single day.

I hope these presents will help me remember and honor those who were lost, as well as to celebrate the sharing of unseen gifts on Christmas and always.

I know, it sounds a bit corny.  It probably is. But it is what works for me right now. It’s a way for me to make sense of such senselessness, to think through the unthinkable, to give some semblance of order to the chaos. Right now, corny is the best I can do.