My Love For Tammy Duckworth


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I absolutely LOVE Senator Tammy Duckworth. I love her. Love, love, love this woman.

If I could, I’d buy her a birthday card. I’d send her a bunch of flowers. If it was possible, I’d make her a batch of my best Italian meatballs and I’d deliver them right to her kitchen.

I love her.

My devotion is, of course, a little crazy.

I’ve never met the woman.

But yesterday she brought her newborn baby girl onto the floor of the United States Senate. I wasn’t there to see it, but I’m pretty sure that she breastfed that baby. Right there. In the Senate.

Oh, my heart!

Here’s why I love her so much.

I am 62 years old.

When I was a little girl, women were not able to get a credit card in their own name. They had to have a husband, father or “responsible” male relative sign for them. Women like my incredibly intelligent, hard working, efficient Mom were not allowed to serve on juries. They were not supposed to step away from their roles as the “center of the home.”

Women were not allowed to buy property by themselves when I was young.

When I attended Junior High in my upper middle class Massachusetts town, girls were not allowed to wear pants to school. Even though my sisters and I had to walk to school, we were required to wear skirts every day. In the depths of winter, when we had to actually climb over snow mounds to get onto school grounds, we had to wear skirts.

We couldn’t change when we got to school, either, because that would make us “late” for homeroom. I distinctly remember how humiliating it was to stand in the hallway peeling off the pants that I’d worn under my approved skirt. While the boys smirked and watched us.

By the time I got to college in 1974, times had changed. Women students wore jeans to class, and our hair was long and untamed. We felt liberated!

But there were few women in public life. It was understood that men were university Presidents, mayors, governors, Congresspeople. Women had finally started to make inroads into the worlds of business and government, but every female face was seen as a token. A head nod by the elite white males to the modern day.

I grew up, and I got married in 1978, the same year that I graduated from college.

Those were the days of the “mommy wars”, when those women who stayed at home with their young children struggled against the image of the “traditional little woman.” They felt inadequate, because they weren’t out there in the world being smart, income earning professionals. And the women who went to work battled every single day and night against the guilt that came with “letting strangers raise your babies.” It was a constant and ugly battled, framed by men, in which women failed to support each other because we didn’t know how.

I remember when I was a young working mom, seeing a bumper sticker that read “I am a full time Mom.” I cried all the way home, thinking that because I worked to help support my family, I wasn’t a “real” mom. I wasn’t “full time.”

I raised my three children while working full time. I felt overwhelming guilt with every sick day, every daycare drop off, every coffee date with my stay at home mommy friends.

But now.  Now all has changed.

Now the world is a different place. My daughter works full time and has two children. She feels no guilt. She understands that she and her husband share the responsibilities of raising children, earning a living and keeping a house going. My niece recently decided to stay at home to take care of her two little children. She understands that by not paying daycare costs, she is contributing to the household.

Neither of these young moms feels guilty.

And this is why I love, admire and adore Senator Tammy Duckworth. The good Senator has absolutely no qualms about being a working Mom. Sure, her “work” is in the public eye and involves making major decisions about all of our lives.

Whatevs.

Senator Duckworth sees herself as a Mom with a job. She understands that working mothers need to be able to feed their babies. Because of that, she has brought about a change to the long standing man-controlled rules of the US Senate.

Senator Duckworth is bringing her tiny baby girl right onto the floor of the United States Senate, where she will be snuggled, jostled, nursed and diaper changed while her Mama votes on the laws that will govern us all.

I am in awe.

I am amazed.

I understand that the actions of Senator Duckworth will have a very direct impact on the life of my favorite powerful, confident young female.

I can see my Ellie in Congress one day, can’t you?

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“And furthermore, gentlemen……”

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I Think I Know Why Nothing Gets Done


We’re constantly wondering, we Americans, what exactly has gotten into our government leaders. We watch them bluster and blather. We hear them pontificate and pander.

But do they ever actually accomplish anything? Pass any new laws? Set some clear policies? I don’t know, maybe figure out an actual workable year long budget?

Nope, nope and nuh-uh.

Don’t you wonder why?

Well, I think I’ve figured it out. It’s actually pretty simple.

They don’t have time to govern! These are very busy people!!!

I mean, look what our leaders are up to at the moment.

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Yup. The big boss of our duly elected House of Representatives is doing his best to prevent his opponents (also our duly elected representatives) from working to get our votes.  He doesn’t have time to legislate.

Then there’s this:

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See? They don’t have time for insignificant details like keeping the lights on, or protecting our Social Security. They can’t be bothered with the minutiae of approving or disapproving of the bombs we drop overseas. They’re busy with pre-emptive actions to prevent something that hasn’t happened and might never happen.

These people are BUSY! They have important work to do!

For example,

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Oh, sure, Mrs. Clinton LOST the election that took place almost a year and a half ago. Comey has been fired. But our Congress is busy trying to root out any possible infraction of any possible law that one of them might have committed at some point in the past. They don’t have time to work together to reach a compromise on little things like the impending death of the planet.

So it’s easy to see that our members of Congress are so busy trying to poke each other in the eye that they can’t be bothered with keeping the country going.

I suggest that we lock them all in a big room and let them play a killer round of “Words With Friends” or “Trivial Pursuit.”  Or maybe “Cards Against Humanity.” The winning team gets to run things for six months, then there’s a rematch.

It would save us billions of tax dollars in “investigations” and, God willing, we’d never have to hear the words “Benghazi” or “Pee-pee tape” ever again.

 

 

 

 

Memories, new and old


I am in bed.

I am in a beautiful lake house in Vermont, three hours from my home. It’s raining out and it promises to rain for this entire long weekend.

I’m the only one in bed this early. I am very, VERY tired.

I am curled up on this unknown bed in this lovely AirBnB house on a cold but beautiful lake. The room is warm and cosy. I feel pampered. I feel safe.

Downstairs I can hear voices. They are the voices of some of the women I love the most in all the world. They are laughing, talking, questioning, sharing stories. I’ve known all of them for at least 45 years. Some I’ve known for longer.

This is my high school best friends weekend. We are eight women, all in our early 60’s. We’ve had lives, careers, families, loves won and loves lost. We are wise. We are, every single one of us, very very strong.

We are friends.

We accept each other and celebrate each other and hold each other up.

I am so tired.

Tomorrow we will venture out into the rain and ice and visit the city nearby. We will shop and walk and eat dinner and laugh, and then we’ll probably laugh some more.

Tonight I will turn out my light. I’ll lay on my side, in this wide and comfortable bed. I will listen to the music of my friends’ voices as they catch up on all the news of each other’s lives.

I feel hugged. I feel loved.

This is the magic that keeps us going.

 

We Cannot Remain Immune


As I have done every day for the past two school years, I took care of my granddaughter today.

My beloved, sassy, funny, incredibly beautiful Ellie was here with me on this cold April morning. Her sweet baby brother, Johnny, was here, too.

Just as I do every day, I picked them up and brought them into my house. I settled them down to play in the living room, surrounded by all of their familiar toys. I went into my well stocked kitchen and made them a nice healthy breakfast. I sat with them, laughing and smiling as two year old Ellie chattered on about her imaginary friends and Johnny used both hands to fill his mouth with pancakes and blueberries.

When breakfast was over, I cleaned them both up, popped the dishes into my dishwasher, and got out some clothes for the day. We got dressed, we brushed hair, we made a plan for the day.

Because we live in Massachusetts, we sometimes watch a movie in the morning. It is too cold and snowy to go outside, and our indoor activities are a bit limited. So I settled Ellie in front of the TV to watch “Leap” and I put Johnny on the rug with his favorite cars and balls and drums.

And I opened my laptop to check on the news.

I saw the images from the Syrian gas attack.

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I saw a tiny girl, probably two years old. Her hair was dark brown, like my Ellie’s. It curled around her face, just as Ellie’s does. Her eyes were closed, and the lashes that brushed her cheeks were long and dark.  

She looked just like my Ellie, when she sleeps so safely in my bed, her pink cheek resting on my pillow.

But her eyes were closed in death. Her cheeks were ashen.  Her body was still.

And my heart almost stopped.

I looked at her. I couldn’t look away.

I could feel the smooth texture of the skin on her tender chest. I could imagine, so clearly, the smell of her curly dark hair. I swear to you, I could hear her peals of laughter.

She must have had a grandmother who adored her. She must have had a mother who looked at her and asked the universe how it was possible for one human to be so inexpressibly lovely. She must have had a father who swelled with pride at each of her achievements. And a grandpa who turned into a puddle of foolish love whenever she turned that sweet face toward him.

Were they all dead,?I wondered.  Was this little baby alone in her death, or did all of those who loved her so much die with her as the poison filled their home?

And I started to sob. I tried to hold it in, to let my own little ones continue to play in the innocence of an American morning. But I must have made a sound, because Ellie turned to look at me, her dark, dark eyes finding mine. “Nonni, why are you sad?”, she asked.  I had no answer.

So I picked her up in my right arm, and settled her against my chest. I pulled little Johnny into my left arm, and held them both against my body. They squirmed and giggled, as little ones do when they are pinned in the arms of a grownup.

I leaned my face into them. I smelled the soft, clean, tender smell of their hair. I kissed the satin of their necks. I felt them breathing.

And I realized that THIS is why I will never again believe in an omniscient God who rewards us for living well.  I will never ever believe in a deity who chooses who should live or die.

Because that beautiful little girl who died horribly was just as joyful and as lovely and as valuable as my own beloved girl. Her parents were no doubt just as loving and as good as my daughter and her husband. Her grandparents must have felt the same overwhelming love that we feel about our grandchildren.

I have to wonder. How can it be that humanity has lived this long without learning anything? How have we come to a place where we can visit other planets, solve the riddles of DNA, understand the workings of nature, yet we haven’t figured out a way to stop slaughtering our babies?

I refuse to believe that there is nothing we can do to stop this. I refuse to accept that our only recourse would be more death, more war, more killing, more dead beautiful babies lying in the arms of their dead parents.

If we can solve the riddles of genetic mutations, we can solve the riddle of human violence. If we can find a way to split and atom and find a way to destroy our planet, we can find a way to stop these mass murders.

Maybe we all need to see images of dead babies who look just like our own.

I don’t know.

But this can’t be the best that humanity can achieve.

 

Turn around, turn around


Years ago, when I was a very small child, my parents bought a house in a beautiful suburb. The backyard was wild. There was no lawn at that time, but there were lots of rocks.

We climbed the trees that made up the boundary between our house and the ones on the road behind us. We built forts in the forsythia bushes. We loves that place that felt like the wild wilderness to my siblings and I.

But after a decade had gone by, and some of us were teens, my parents decided to put in a backyard pool. It was fabulous. It was heaven. It was the scene of some of my very best memories; my stout Uncle Mino going down the pool slide into a tube and getting his middle stuck. My Dad laughing so hard that he couldn’t even help. One of our best friends jumping into the pool after our wedding. In his groomsman’s white tux.

And memories of my children in that pool, safe in my Dad’s arms, my Mom watching carefully from one of the little umbrella tables. “Watch me, Grandma!!!” “Look at me, Grampa!”

If I close my eyes for only a second, I can hear those joyful cries.

I remember the image of my Nana one hot July afternoon. She was sitting on the diving board in her white cotton shorts. Her soft gray curls waved in the breeze. Three or four of her great grandchildren were perched on the board in front of her, closer to the deep end of the pool. All of them were talking, trying to keep her attention. She was laughing with joy. She was in her element.

And then the years went by. The babies grew. My mother and father got older.

After my father was diagnosed with melanoma, they realized that the pool was no longer a viable play space. Dad had to stay out of the sun.

So, with some sadness and a lot of planning, my parents turned the backyard pool area into a garden. A carefully planned, gracefully and artfully organized garden.

There were a couple of dwarf trees; a lilac and a Rose of Sharon each anchored one side of the walk that meanders through the garden space. There were boxwoods, a couple of holly plants, and some creeping phlox.

And there were roses. Gorgeous, glorious roses.

At first, they were enough to keep the garden a happy space. We still had the patio blocks and the white tables and umbrellas that used to go around the pool. The little white planters that Dad had built were filled every spring with pink geraniums.

And once again, as always, the years went by. In my innocence, I introduced some plants to that garden. Primroses, and tall phlox and Fox Tails.

They took over that lovely space. And it became something of a wild place. My sister’s addition of peonies vied for space with the Japanese Iris that I added one spring. Eventually, the upkeep of the now overgrown garden became too much for all of us put together.

We hired a landscaping crew.

They have been wonderful. They prune the hydrangea just enough to allow new growth. They cut back the gorgeous roses that want to take over the town. They mulch and weed and pull out the unwanted stray oaks and maples.

But a couple of days ago, my Mom and I went out to see the garden. Mom is getting increasingly fragile, and doesn’t venture outdoors all that often. I am a gardener at heart and desperately wanted to look at what the landscapers had done.

We walked around the yard, wrapped in sweaters against the cold. I named every shoot that I saw. “A daffodil!!! Your creeping phlox are greening up! I see the primroses!”

Then we came to a sapling. It had grown up in a spot that had originally held a little water spout. I’d seen the young gray sprout two years ago. I had cut it down, tried my best to dig out the roots, cut into every major taproot I could find. But it had come back last year.

I cut it down again, annoyed at it’s perseverance. I chopped the roots. I growled my displeasure. This was my PARENTS’ garden!!! It should be orderly, sweet, organized, pretty. I did my best to wipe out this pest.

But it grew up anyway. By midsummer of last year, I had given up. I thought that a little maple was coming up in the middle of the damn garden. I was. NOT. happy.

But.

There I was, in the cold April sun, holding the arm of my 88 year old Mother. Looking into her early spring garden. We saw all of the good and well planned flowers coming up to greet us. We saw the buds on the carefully chosen dwarf trees.

And then we stood in front of the interloper who would not be denied.

“What is it?” Mom asked me. I looked up at the slender silver branches arching above us.

“Oh, my God,” I gasped. “Mom. It’s a pussy willow!”

A pussy willow.

One of my very first memories from our yard, so long ago. I remember them growing down by the shed my Dad built for his tools. I remember them in the space between our house and our neighbors.

I haven’t seen one in years.

And here it was.

A sweet, beautiful, sassy, badass, not to be denied pussy willow. Growing right in the middle of the carefully crafted garden. Growing in what used to be the deep end of the pool. Growing even though it had been cut, and pruned and smashed.

A pussy willow.

The best harbinger of spring. And a link to the childhood that I left behind so very long ago.

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Desperately Seeking Solace


Oh.

Oh, my.

Ohmygod.

Dear young Moms, please help me! I need you!

Dear Grandmother’s, please please tell me it will all be OK!

What. A. Day.

First thought: I love my grandchildren more than I love my own heartbeat.

But.

After 25 or so years as a momma, you kinda forget how hard it can be. Today I had my reminder.

I picked up my little grandchildren, the same way I do it every day. “HI, Ellie!” I chirped to my 2 1/2 year old best beloved. “I need milkies.” she answered. “OK!”, I said, “When we get home!” We pulled into my driveway some 12 minutes later, and I got her out of her carseat. Luckily for me, her grandfather, her adored “Papa”, was there to help. I put her down on the driveway and filled my hands with all of the stuff she’d need for the day. The bag with the extra clothes for her and her baby brother. The bag with some toys that might (hopefully) keep said baby brother occupied for two minutes. The milk for him. The boots for her.

Papa grabbed baby brother and went into the house. Ellie, who normally walks casually into the house, ran down the driveway screaming, “I need my zipper!  I need my zipper!”

I was unable to convince her that she didn’t need to zip her jacket because we were walking into the warm house. I had to resort to grabbing her around the waist, hoisting the multiple bags of stuff, and dragging her into the house.

She howled. Like a freakin’ wolf, she absolutely howled.

Now. This ain’t my first rodeo, so I ignored her. Eventually, she came upstairs and joined us in the living room. All was well.

Sorta.

We sat down to breakfast, a nice big oatmeal breakfast. I served Ellie a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries. I put a pile of oatmeal and blueberries onto ten month old Johnny’s tray. I sipped my coffee.

Ten minutes later, Ellie was finished. She carefully wiped her face and hands, put her dish in the kitchen, and went to play. “Yay, me”, I thought. “I know how to handle cranky toddlers!”

Then I looked at baby John. There was oatmeal on his face. On his chest. In his hair. Packed into both nostrils. And on the wall beside him.

Johnny oatmeal

“Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh”, I said. I grabbed him out of the booster seat, and carried the tray and his dishes into the kitchen. I had to clean him up, obviously. It didn’t seem like the best idea to just toss him into the tub fully dressed, so I placed him, very carefully, on the couch. I knew that the back of his pajamas were clean. I thought I could scrape the crud off of the front while leaving the nice clean back against the couch.

Sure.

That was when he went into the “alligator death roll” to quote of his Mom’s best friends. He flopped, he flailed, he twisted himself into a pretzel. After roughly 20 minutes, he was dressed in clean clothes, but I was faced with the awesome task of removing globs of blueberry filled oatmeal from my leather couch, my rug and the curtains behind the couch.

I scraped it up as fast as I could, letting Johnny crawl around the living room. Meanwhile Ellie kept demanding “I want MILK!!!” and “I NEED to color!!! NOW!!!”

So. By 10 AM, my teeth were gritted, my jaw was tight, my heart was skipping some very important beats.

I got Ellie her milk. I got Johnny dressed. I went into the kitchen to deal with the pile of dishes, bibs, dirty clothes, and oatmeal smeared walls. All was well. I soaped and scrubbed and started to relax. I forced myself to be calm and patient. “I am Nonni,” I intoned, drawing on my inner loving self.

Then I heard a sound. “Clank!”

I turned around.

I saw my little Johnny, holding the dog’s water bowl in both hands. It was on his head like a jaunty little hat. Water was pouring down his face and over his body.  He was soaked. The floor was soaked. He was, dare I say it? He was chortling.

A shriek came out of my throat before I could stop it.

Fast forward 15 minutes. I had now dealt with a soaked floor, a soaked baby, another round of alligator death roll, a thirsty dog barking at us all and a two year old tyrant demanding “I WANT TO WEAR A SKIRT!!! NO!!!! NOT THAT SKIRT!!!!”

I was ready for a martini and it wasn’t even 11AM.

I needed a moment.

Johnny was plopped into the playpen. Ellie was settled on the couch with a video. I went down the hall and into my bathroom. I washed my face. I brushed my teeth. I looked in the mirror at my haggard old self. “You can DO this,” I told me. “You are NOT going to crack. They’re just being kids. It’s OK.”

I grinned at me.

I looked like everyone’s image of the scary hag who comes to haunt them in the night. I brushed my hair and straightened my shoulders.  I forced myself to be calm and confident as I walked back into the living room.

Ellie looked up at me.

“I just peed in my pants.” she told me with a grin.

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“I’m two! And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Oh, Boys


I’ve been thinking about boys lately.

I am one of those progressive, feminist women who have given a LOT of thought to the biases that we show toward our female kids. A little more than two years ago, I became the daycare provider for my first grandchild, Ellie.

My daughter and I talked a lot about how we wanted to talk to her. We were very conscious of using words like “pretty” and “sweet” and “good girl”.  We wanted Ellie to see herself as strong, capable, independent.

Two and a half years into her life, it’s very clear that we have succeeded. Ellie is smart, opinionated and confident. She is loving and kind, but doesn’t worry about being “pretty’. Yay, us. We have helped to set a young woman on a positive path.

But what about her brother?

Johnny is 10 months old. He is big (only three pounds less than his sister who is 20 months older than he is.) He is active, and curious and energetic.

When I put Johnny down on the floor to play, he is immediately drawn to every outlet, every electrical cord, every electronic device. He climbs on everything. He opens every cabinet he can find and pulls out all of the contents.

Johnny goes to the top of the stairs in our living room and grabs the baby gate. He shakes it as hard as he can. When I take him away, he howls his outrage and throws himself to the floor. Sometimes he even bangs his head on the floor.

And I have found myself reacting to him as a hyperactive little wild child. I have heard myself calling him, “Butter ball” and “chunky monkey”.  I have noticed that I refer to him as “wild” and “hyper.”

But the other day I looked through a bunch of old photos. I noticed the ones where ten month old Ellie was pulling herself up on the very same baby gate. My caption read: “She is so strong!”

I found pictures of Ellie pulling things out of the very same kitchen cabinets, and I saw that I had written, “My little kitchen helper.”

I was shocked. Shocked at my so called progressive old self.

What was I doing?

Johnny is active and physical, as so many babies are. He is strong and he is sturdy. He is enormously curious.

My job is not to label him or criticize or shake my head and tell my friends, “He is exhausting!”

My job is to say, “John, you are so strong.” and “You are such a good explorer!”

My job is to let this boy know that his energy is his strength. That his curiosity is intelligence. And when he begins to react to his emotions physically rather than verbally, my job will be to show him that he can be both physical and loving.

I have noticed myself and other progressive, liberal, gender neutral adults reacting to our little boys differently than we react to our little girls.

One example: last summer I hosted a second birthday party for our Ellie. The kids were playing with bubbles and balls and sidewalk chalk. One of the bubble wands broke when a little girl was playing with it. The adults around her scooped her up to comfort her when it broke. They said things like, “Oh, honey! I’m so sorry that it broke!”

Ten minutes later, a little boy had his bubble wand break in his hand. He responded by saying, “I’m sorry. I broke it.” The adults around him, all loving and wonderful parents, said, “What did you do?”

It was just such an eye opener for me.

And I am using that memory to guide my reactions to Johnny as he pulls himself up to yank things off of my coffee table. He isn’t being “wild” or “hyper” or “bad”.  He is using his strength and his problem solving skills to figure out the world around him.

He is doing exactly what nature has set him up to do.

He is no more active than his sister was. He isn’t particularly more physical or more active than she was.

The only difference, really, is how his grandmother and the rest of the world sees his development.

Johnny is a boy. An active, sweet, loving, musical, funny, physical little boy. He is exactly what he is supposed to be.

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Touching Our Lives


One of the things I loved best about teaching was knowing that I touched the lives of children, that I meant something important to some of them. After teaching for such a long time, I have had the enormous joy of hearing from former students who have grown up and who still remember our time together.

What I don’t think people realize, though, is just how deeply the kids impact and change the lives of their teachers. Good teachers care about their classes. We love our students. We laugh with them, grow with them, argue with them and hug them when one of us is sad.

That love and those memories stay with us at least as much as with the kids. Maybe even more.

And I know that this is a very improper thing to say, but some kids just stay with you more than others do.

For me, the kids who will always stay in my heart are the ones who struggled. Some struggled with learning disabilities. Some with hearing loss and language disorders. Some kids fought battles with depression and anxiety that made school a constant challenge. Some worked harder than any child should work just to keep their emotions and behaviors under control.

Many of my students became my heroes. Their willingness to grab their backpacks and come back day after day to the place of their greatest struggles was a constant inspiration to me. I knew kids who felt friendless and alone. But they still showed up, every single day, to try again.

I knew kids who expected perfection from themselves. When math came to them without effort, but writing felt beyond their abilities, I watched them swallow hard, blink back tears, and finish that story.

Those kids stay in my heart. They stay in my memory. I call on their example when I feel overwhelmed and unsure of myself.

Most of those kids have grown up and gone, and I can only remember them with fondness. With the miracle of social media, though, some of them have reached out and told me about their lives today. A few are friends who I get to see once in a while.

And some of them are gone. For some, the pressures of life were too much, and they chose to step away. They are still, every one of them, my heroes.

Some have been lost to accidents or to illness. For some the lifelong health struggles have finally come to an end.

They are still my heroes.

Dear parents of kids with extra needs and concerns, dear moms and dads of spirited kids and challenging kids and kids who push the teacher hard,

Please know that your kids are the kids who kept some of us coming in every day. Your kid was the one who made us throw up our fists and shout “Yes!!!!” when they finally finished that book report. Yours is the one who made us sneak into the bathroom to cry when he asked another kid to sit with him and was accepted. Your child is the one who made us think, “If she can keep going, so can I.”

Thank you, kids. Thank you, parents who trusted me with your kids.

You will all be a part of me for the rest of my life.

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This is how I saw myself sometimes…..

If I Carried a Gun


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I keep thinking about the idea of teachers carrying guns.

When the Newtown massacre happened, I was teaching fifth grade. Immediately after the horror of that day, the NRA and dozens of political leaders tossed out the idea of “arming teachers.”

Even now, five years after this stupidity was mentioned as an answer to school shootings, the idea continues to be thrown about.

There are so very many practical reasons why this is a completely idiotic idea, including impossibility of safely keeping a loaded gun in a room full of kids.

But one issue hasn’t been raised yet, and it is the biggest problem as far as I’m concerned.

It is the moral question of killing, even in defense of others.

What would happen to the spirit, the soul, the conscience of a teacher who successfully shot and killed another human being? How have so many come to believe that all there is to killing is pulling the trigger?

I was a pretty typical American public school teacher. I’m a mother, a wife, a grandmother. I loved my job because I loved being with children. I loved laughing with them, exciting their interests, forming relationships with each of them.

I have spent a lot of time imagining myself in an active shooter situation.

I try to imagine myself with a gun in my hand, knowing that my 24 students are cowering against the wall. Knowing that outside our door there is someone trying to kill us.

I imagine the door bursting open as I raise the gun, pulling the trigger, hitting the target.

I imagine the face of the young man in front of me exploding in a shower of blood and bone. I can hear the screams of the kids behind me as he collapses. I imagine watching him die in front of me.

What then?

What if he turned out to be a student I knew? Maybe one of the many struggling kids I had taught myself some years before? What if he was a former student at our school?

What if I knew his family?

Would I be expected to walk back into my classroom a day or a week later, ignoring the newly laid flooring where his brains and blood had damaged the carpet? Would I be expected to focus on my math lessons and recess and homework corrections?

What would I feel as I looked into the eyes of my young students? Students who had come to trust me? What would I be expected to say to them?

I would never be able to look at myself the same way. I’d never feel clean or whole again.

Oh, I know, the press would call me a hero, the survivors would cheer me, there would be articles in the paper and on and on.

But I would have been changed from a teacher to a killer. The very essence of my self would be smashed and reshaped into something unrecognizable to me or those who love me.

There may be times when it is reasonable to kill another human being outside of wartime. I don’t know.

But I do know that is deeply wrong for people to casually toss out the idea of “arming” civilians so that we can protect ourselves from each other.

It is morally wrong to lightly suggest that those who have not chosen to be members of the police or military could simply shoot to kill and then go back to teaching phonics.

I think we need to step back, away from the growing pile of weapons in front of us, and take a deep breath. We need to ask ourselves if we really believe that killing is anything other than a life changing, painful, horrific event for the killer.

Life is not a video game. None of us is Rambo. Causing the violent, ugly, bloody death of another human is not a joke. It’s not a part of life in civilized societies.

Where are our morals? What happened to our souls?

 

 

Being the Change


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I’m heading out in a few minutes. Going into Boston to join the revolution.

The March for Our Lives has left me soaked in tears. I feel hopeful, uplifted, empowered, renewed. When I see the clear eyed courage of our young leaders, I feel strong enough to get myself out there and march.

But every time I close my eyes, I see the faces of those little one from Newtown. I see the images from Columbine. I see the images of the teachers who died trying to save them.

I am thrown back to the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, standing in the window of my fifth grade classroom, watching my students run and play at recess. I was terrified. I wanted to bring them back in, I wanted them with me. I wanted them where I could touch each of them, and hold them safely beside me.

I once again feel the hopelessness of that day. I remember moving the furniture in my classroom, after the children had gone home. Maybe if I put this book case near the door, I could push it over if someone burst in with a gun. Maybe I could hit him with my broom.

I remember being told to keep cans of beans in my classroom. Being told that I should be ready to throw beans at an invading assassin. I remember the rage I felt when those whose lives are protected by the armed Secret Service simply shrugged off my fear.

Last night I dreamed of the kids who were in my care on the day of the Sandy Hook massacre. I dreamed that they were being swept away in a crowd, and I couldn’t keep track of them. I dreamed of trying to scream their names, but having no voice.

Last night I dreamed of trying to save my students with a can of beans.

This morning I am drying my tears, putting on warm clothes, and getting my aging self out there. My heart still hurts. I’m still afraid.

But today I don’t feel hopeless.

Today I feel enraged. Today I plan to channel the anger and the power of those Parkland kids and all the young activists around this country. I plan to scream until I’m hoarse.

We will be the change we want to see in the world. We will.

Thank God for children, whose energy and spirit and determination can bring the rest of us along the right path.