Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sandy Hook

Yesterday morning, after watching the news,  I sat down and wrote a post. This is not that post. Yesterday's post was for me. It was angry, its focus was on guns. I needed to get my swirling thoughts down. I re-read it today and decided that it isn't something I want or need to publish. Instead, you get this. If you're looking for my thoughts on gun control, or mental illness, stop reading. If you want details of the crime, want to hear the name of the young man responsible, or want a critique of the media, quit now. This will be a tribute. A commentary on life, love, loss and what we can learn from it. If you're interested, keep reading.

Whenever I think about what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary, I am brought to tears. All those innocent children, the heroes who sacrificed their lives for their students, the families who are sure to have a difficult Christmas. There are not words. Each shooting we hear about seems more awful than the last and to me, their frequency is increasing. Too much focus on all of that, plus the media, our justice and healthcare systems, and whom those children were and could have been, make my head spin and the tears flow. I've been trying to deconstruct the bigger picture. I'm trying to think about the way I live my life. I think about all the people I've loved (many of them children), the lives I've touched (and haven't yet) and the future. This, at least, seems easier.

Today I was at a holiday party; my BFF's extended family accepted me as 'one of the cousins' so many years ago. It's an annual tradition. My favorite part about it is the kids. Today, it was even more important. I stood back a moment and watched them. I watched them dance and laugh and interact with each other and with adults. I felt lucky even to know them. I feel grateful that despite the fact that I see many of them only once a year, they feel like family. I realize today that this connection, this once a year family day is something I took for granted.  It reminds me that I am incredibly fortunate.
Over the last 10+ years, I have had the pleasure of babysitting some really amazing children. I was also a camp counselor for about 6 years. There are some children I had in my group at camp over the years that I'll never forget. I am still telling stories about some of them. There was G, who was 10 years old and had parents going through a bitter divorce. He was a mean kid, and one day after he was nasty to a little girl I took him aside and talked to him. He broke down in tears, telling me about his parents. They were fighting over him and his little brother, trying to one-up each other with presents and vacations. He was living with his grandma because it was too dangerous to be home. He was scared and sad. No one had talked to him. I told him when he had hard days, to tell me and he could have a "cool down" activity. That if he was feeling scared, he just had to tell me and I would listen. He did not act up the rest of the summer. * There was A, the little blondie who whas just barely 4 and was my favorite. We bonded instantly. People always said "he could be yours!" H, with ADHD.  Kids I think about often, wondering where they are, what happened to them, what are they like now? The past few years I've been babysitting and met amazing families. Kids like R, who made me laugh out loud all the time, G&T who felt more like a niece and nephew. A new brother/sister duo A&S who are smart and fun. I don't have my own children yet, but I have the great pleasure of knowing some really great ones. I had an impact on their lives, and they, more profoundly I think, impacted mine. It reminds me that I am incredibly fortunate.
My last post On Friendship was aptly timed. It was a reflection on a kind of unconditional, long-lasting  friendship. I've had life-long friends, nights of binge eating and gut-busting laughter, adventures  and experiences. I have even been lucky enough to inherit some friends from Ethan, many of whom have quickly become very near and dear. Even at work, I have made friends that have lasted through job changes and made office life easier. Last year I had a New Year's resolution to hand-write and send one letter a month to a friend. I think I stopped around April. My plan is to do it again this year, and make it through December. Sometimes I have found myself in a situation where I feel like a friendship is one sided. It made me mad sometimes, to think that I was giving 100% and yet I still felt like the back-burner friend. As I get older, I realize that it doesn't matter so much. It's always better to give than receive. I don't allow myself to be taken advantage of, but I focus more on being there and less on what I'm getting (or not). I've weeded out most of the toxic people in my life and have a network that is positive and loving and supportive. Ethan and I had dinner with some of them last night. It reminds me that I am incredibly fortunate.

I have my dad close by. My brother is well cared for. I have an amazing husband who has shown me a love like I've never known. His family is big and warm and welcoming. There are many adorable children. In the next few years, (despite my worry about bringing a child into a world that seems so toxic sometimes) we'll finally gift our parents with grandchildren, and carry on the legacy of big, loud Thanksgivings, a Santa-only Christmas tree, and spangled eggs (yes, spangled. Only my husband will get that one). I have a roof over my head, a warm place to sleep, an amazing career and food on the table. On any given night, watching the news always reminds me that I am incredibly fortunate. 

My tribute to Sandy Hook is this: to live life to its fullest. To tell my husband I love him every day, more than once. To write letters to my friends, send birthday cards even if I don't get any in return, and start volunteering (I'm joining the Boys and Girls Club Alumni Association) to keep impacting the lives of children. I'm going to work hard at my job and excel at it. I will wake up in the morning and count my blessings. I will hug a teacher. I'm not going to talk about guns, or mention the names of this shooter and the countless others. I will remember the names Dawn, and Victoria and Charlotte and Daniel. I will show them that this world can be good. This is how I will honor them. I am incredibly fortunate. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Friendship

Recently, I was on a trip for work. I learned a bunch about financial aid, a little bit about Florida and a whole lot about...friendship. A work function seems like an unlikely inspiration for a post about friendship but that's how it happened. Only in my world, right?

During my trip to the conference, I had the pleasure of reconnecting with an old friend. Kat and I were more or less inseparable and part of a close bunch in Girl Scouts (I know) in elementary school but she moved to Florida in 6th grade. Naturally, with that much distance, it was hard to keep in touch, and so we fell off. Despite that, I always look back fondly at those years. Thanks to Facebook, we were able to reconnect and when I found out I'd be in Orlando for the conference, we made a plan to meet up for dinner. I'm not afraid to admit I was nervous; it had been over a decade since we spoke in person and she's a whole lot more hip than I am (cool purple hair, lots of tattoos, works at a hair salon). I feared she might find me 'square' (how square of me to think people use the term 'square' as a descriptor anymore). How do you converse as adults when the last time you spoke, you were kids freaking out over Hanson and Surge soda? What I learned was that I had no reason to be afraid. There was no awkwardness; the ease with which we conversed made it seemed like no time had passed. Kat told me she had been a bit nervous too; our lives had taken us in such different directions. We played catch-up over a delicious meal at a place with a really hip vibe and amazing sangria. It was something she said to me that has stuck, and has served as the inspiration for this post: she missed me. She said despite the length of time and distance between us, her most genuine memories included me, and her time in Maine. I know what she means. There's an authenticity in childhood friendships that is often very difficult to find in adult relationships. We parted ways after dinner and vowed to stay in touch. Despite our geographical distance, I'm certain we will.

The same thing happened with me and Amanda when she moved back earlier this year. We've very quickly rekindled our bond and have an ever growing list of things to do together as adults. She said some very moving things to me about me and our mothers and our parallel lives. She reminded me of the impact we can all have on each other as kids.

It's the authenticity that makes these friendships last, I think. There are no pretenses; as children in friendships we say exactly what we mean and how we feel. We fight, but then we make up. I can vividly remember arguing with a friend in 5th or 6th grade, vowing never to speak again and then 1 or 2 days later getting lost in a giggle and forgetting the whole thing. The friends that mean the most are the ones you sat next to while their parents fought in the next room; you didn't say anything but you stood firm and quiet in support of her. They are the ones you bring over to hang out despite the fact that you're embarrassed by your dad's messy house and you don't have a mother and you run to the store with food stamps. The friends you could see all day at school and then run home and call on the phone and talk for 3 hours (oh how tying up the land-line drove our parents crazy!); the friend who showed you how to wear make-up and stuff your bra and make you feel pretty. The ones that mean the most are the ones you share genuine, heartfelt, spontaneous moments with. When you hold a friend's newborn baby brother for the first time; when you console a friend in the bathroom because she just had a traumatic experience. Drinking Surge and staying up for 24 full hours, just to see if you could (we did). You've seen the good, the bad, and the ugly about each other (and your families) and it doesn't matter.

These are the things that make it possible to always pick up where you left off, despite weeks, months or years.  The foundational memories are like indelible ink; I swear I can remember what pajamas I was wearing at the "stay up for 24 hours" (non)sleep-over; Aimee, was it your mom that got mad at us for staying up, or mine? I remember Kat's little sister singing a song about putting on her yellow socks. Noodle tag. Nachos & Fabio. Making human pyramids at recess at Sherwood Heights. Backstreet Boys, NSYNC and Hanson worship. "You broke my sippy straw!" (Jenny, I can never watch that scene in Starship Troopers without hearing you say that in my head). White eyeliner (omg, Amanda, do you remember!?), Bonney Park, Total Request Live. Renee, I still laugh when I tell the story of your mom walking into the glass doors..twice, on your sunporch (sorry Diane!). Great Falls school (do people remember the 5th grade sleepover?).  I could go on forever...

As an adult, I've made some great new friends. There is a trust and comfort and love with them too, but they never resemble your first friends. That's not to say that friends you make as an adult are less important or less loved. It's just not the same as the raw, no holds barred, don't even have to try, no information is too much information, totally-ridiculous-most-of-the-time friendships you had as a child. And what's so great about those is that they last. Social media helps keep us talking (in some cases every day at work; thanks G-Chat); our memories keep us connected. Even years can go by between visits or calls and you can fall back into easy conversation and giggle fits. Sure, the subject matter changes (from boy bands and make-up and crushes, to spouses and work and in-laws and bills) but the foundation never changes. What connects you never changes. You might have to work at it a bit more, when grown-up life gets in the way and/or physical distance splits you apart, but first friends are forever.  This one's for you, ladies.

Thank you for being a friend / traveled down the road and back again / your heart is true / you're a pal and a confidant