An Explanation of Sorts

One year ago today, twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The events of that day absolutely flattened me.

I can remember opening my computer, after putting Charlie and Millie down for a nap, and seeing the breaking news alert on Yahoo’s home page. I can remember stifling a sob when I read how many were believed to be dead. I can remember turning on the television and seeing those first images – shown in a continuous loop – of terrified kids running from the school. I can remember meeting Henry at the bus stop while crying uncontrollably. I can remember trying to explain to him why I was so upset.

I knew no one that lived in that community. No one that attended that school. I knew not one of the first graders that died that day. Yet, in a way, I did know them. Because I had a first grader at the time. A six-year-old boy. A kid that looked just like those kids and went to a school just like that school.

And, first graders are a lot alike. Across the board. I bet some of those kids were excited to go to school that day. Most were looking forward to seeing their friends, their teacher. I bet some of those kids were studious and others goofy. I’m sure there were a few that were wicked smart and a couple that talked too much in class. Maybe some that were better at sports and others that liked music. I’m willing to bet all were looking forward to recess.

And, because I know a little about what first graders are like, I’m positive that when that shooting started, they were terrified and confused and wishing they were with their parents. I’m sure they were worried and sad. I know they were too young to understand what was happening yet, I know they probably did. First graders are smart, you see.

My grief was relentless that day. I just couldn’t imagine the loss of so much life. Because, if anything, first graders are ALL life. All joy and loud-talking and awkward honesty and kindness and every other good thing.

DSC_0824

The way in which people respond to tragedies is extremely personal and quite subjective.

Knowing that, I still logged onto Facebook that evening looking for solace and a sense of community. I found… not quite that. My Facebook feed the evening of Sandy Hook was peppered with political ramblings and gun control ranting and people drawing attention to themselves through the tragic circumstances of others. And, while there were definitely thoughtful posts offered up by many, they were muffled by the vitriol of a few.

It wasn’t that any one person was in the wrong for voicing their opinion. It wasn’t that I agreed or disagreed with their point of view. It was just that, in that moment, that night, I wanted the world to stop. To pause and imagine those first graders. Imagine those families. Let the magnitude of the events sink in before pointing fingers and making assumptions. But, that’s not how the Internet works. It is immediate and it is personal and everyone does it in their own way.

I quit Facebook that night and didn’t log back on for seven months.

I immediately regretted the no-notice method in which I cut contact with such good friends. Some, I speak with or email frequently so communication was speedy. Others, I felt would be confused on why I had disappeared. Over the months, I really missed the tight-knit group of people I spent time with online. There were a number of us that were genuinely invested in the lives and well-being of one another. We took an interest in new jobs and new babies and new travels. It continued to feel odd to not share the news of our family with them.

The management of this blog’s Facebook page mandates a personal account so I rejoined the site in July, when I started writing here. I had really and truly missed my people and it felt good to rejoin the group.

However, my circle is much smaller now. Not to shut out dissenting opinion but rather to simply focus more on that same core community that was always there before. Friends and family, both distant and near, that are a true support system. Surrounding myself – virtually – with the people you would want to interact with when really bad things happen.

Advertisements

All Wrapped Up

Christmas is two weeks away. Are you ready? Are you excited? Are you stressed? Are your kids hyped up on a seemingly never-depleted supply of treats? Are you easily tearing up at every inspiring holiday-music-filled-flash-mob-WestJet-surprise-presents video your Facebook friends link to? No? Watch this and get back to me:

As the Chief Present Buyer in our household, I am pleased to report that we are ready for Christmas. We’ve been ready for awhile now. I am an early shopper when it comes to Christmas presents and for the past few years, I’ve tried to have everything procured and stashed by Thanksgiving at the very latest.

This habit began when we lived in the city where shopping even on a random Tuesday in June can be difficult, let alone any of the days between Thanksgiving and New Years. It was always better to just get it done than battle the crowds by waiting until the season set in. That early bird shopping tradition has continued here in Richmond even though navigating the “throngs” of people down this way is not nearly as bad.

And, because Henry starts discussing what he wants for Christmas around Labor Day, it hasn’t been too hard to pick things he will genuinely enjoy. He also hasn’t yet had a last minute change of heart about anything on his wish list. As long as all of his gifts are comprised of small, multi-colored, inter-locking, will-still-be-finding-them-in-our-heater-vents-in-twenty-years plastic bricks, we’re good to go.

Charlie doesn’t have much of an opinion yet about presents. He’s still of the age of unrealistic expectations so when he wakes up on Christmas day and doesn’t find the full-size John Deere lawn tractor he requested waiting for him in our family room, he will be easily placated with the awesome walkie-talkies he’ll unwrap instead.

Millie is easy to shop for. She just wants whatever it is the boys are playing with. While they’re playing with it. So, that’s fun.

With everyone’s Christmas lists checked off, the only task left is to wrap all of the presents. If I didn’t think Millie would undermine my efforts, everything would already be under the tree. Besides, it wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t wait until the last minute to wrap and then get annoyed that I had waited until the last minute to wrap. Plus, this year ups the irritation factor because there is a bike to put together so I’m really looking forward to the arguments Bob and I will have on Christmas Eve while completing that task!

IMG_1548

Just in case you haven’t crossed everyone off of your shopping list yet, here’s some helpful links to some of my friends and family that might have just what you’re looking for!

My amazing sister, Julie, makes lovely things. This past weekend, she texted me a picture of a pair of mittens she had knit just… for fun. Obviously, she is hoarding all of the genetic code for CRAFTER in our family. She has lots of beautiful scarves listed in her Etsy shop. And, because she is related to me, I will forgive the proliferation of Notre Dame-related items she offers.

My friend and fellow playgroup mom, Michelle, is a graphic designer with some serious talent. She makes whimsical and fun prints for kids on placemats and posters and plaques. You can find out more information on her Imagination by hand Facebook page.

If tasty treats are more your thing, my friend, Becky, makes some unbelievable cookies and cupcakes that are as delicious as they are delightfully decorated. I think she may just be for the locals in Richmond right now but you can contact her through her Facebook page for additional details.

If you prefer to bake your own goodies, my one-time neighbor, Estela, offers a wealth of recipes for holiday (and everyday) treats on her blog, Weekly Bite. All of her featured foods are delicious however, for the holidays, I’d probably start with this one. YUM!

My favorite thing about all of these lovely women is that they have busy lives as moms (and some as employees elsewhere, too) yet, they’ve all made time to work on things they are passionate about. I just love that!

Here’s hoping the next two weeks will be as stress-free as possible for you and yours. We’ve almost made it to the finish line!

The Tall Tree Tale

The first Christmas Bob and I spent together as a married couple was in 2004, when we were still recovering from our wedding and honeymoon two months prior. I remember being in a post-big-life-event fog during that holiday season. I definitely don’t remember decorating or putting up a tree. I know we didn’t have any vacation time left so I’m pretty sure we just worked our way through the holiday.

On December 25, 2005, we were five days away from welcoming Henry. I couldn’t even trim my own toenails let alone decorate for Christmas. My best friend and her husband tried to convert my bah humbug spirit by delivering Christmas to our doorstep. Bob and I watched her drive up to the front of our house in a pickup with her husband – dressed in full Santa suit – standing in the truck bed supporting a freshly cut tree. It was still there when we brought Henry home from the hospital and that memory, of the deep generosity of friends, is a favorite.

We spent Henry’s first Christmas, in 2006, in Louisville. The decorations were sparse since we were heading out of town. I do remember putting up a tiny Charlie Brown tree in our living room that we celebrated around before hitting the holiday road. There may have been a few colored lights strung on our front stoop but not much else.

DSC_1172

This required little effort.

As the 2007 holiday season approached, I decided it was time to commit to a grown-up tree. We were spending that Christmas at home and my mom had recently gifted me with a couple of boxes of ornaments that had adorned the trees I grew up with. I wanted to start a new tradition at our own home with our own tree. Plus, the approximately seventeen Care Bear ornaments my mom bequeathed to me deserved to be on display.

At around the same time I decided to find us a tree, Bob started working on a new project at the office; a conference that would fall directly after the Thanksgiving holiday. His working hours became brutal and I knew we would be lucky if he were home on Thanksgiving day at all. The whole event was very stressful and rushed and hush-hush, as those high-level things always are and more than anything, I just remember how unbelievably tired Bob was at the end of every day.

During one of the Saturdays Bob spent at the office during the month of November, Henry and I headed out to find a Christmas tree. I had hatched a plan to procure the tree, store it in my next door neighbor’s garage, set it up, light it up and surprise Bob with our first family Christmas tree as he arrived home the day after Thanksgiving.

“We can DO THIS,” I exclaimed to Henry as I plopped him in the shopping cart at Lowe’s.

Henry and I walked up and down the aisles of the holiday section marveling at all of the decorations and tree options and gasping a little bit at the prices. Then, as if set aside JUST for us, I spotted a couple of random boxes of pre-lit trees set on a pallet away from the others. They were the right size (7.5 feet), had white lights pre-strung (my favorite!) and were for some reason incredibly affordable (I think they were left over from the Christmas season prior). We had found our tree!

Some serious cart and car negotiations followed, trying to pay for and secure the oversized box in our little Subaru, but we made it home and safely stashed our awesome find at the house next door.

The day after Thanksgiving, during Henry’s nap time, I dragged that tree box back to our house and got to work. It was super easy to put together and I distinctly remember being so confident and smugly satisfied as I stepped on the foot pedal that would illuminate my triumph. So, it was appropriate then, that one entire section of the tree remained unlit when I flipped the switch.

The more life-experienced me of 2013 would laugh at the poor coping skills of 2007 me because, I’ll admit here, I panicked. And naturally, I burst into tears. That’s just what I do. Then, I composed myself enough to call the General Electric help line I found in the instructions and they expertly talked me down off the ledge. The fix was easy. I located the rogue bad bulb and the tree lit up with the shimmer of a thousand suns.

The surprise that evening was indeed a surprise! Bob rode up to our home on his bicycle well after dark and found the front window of our home all aglow with our first ever Christmas tree. It was perfect.

Well, maybe not 1,000 suns but pretty close.

Well, maybe not 1,000 suns but pretty close.

A new tradition was begun that year and every year since, we have decorated for Christmas on the day after Thanksgiving. I haul that same huge box down from the attic and set up that same tree and decorate it with those same Care Bear ornaments. I love doing it and I love that tree.

And, each Christmas since 2007, the lights on that tree have worked with less and less reliability. It started with a few bulbs here and there but by 2011, a huge mid-section of our tree was dark as night. I spent a few days last year troubleshooting but, eventually, I finally conceded that my beloved tree was dying. No amount of plug tightening or bulb replacing or encouraging words could coax the lights back on.

Leading up to this year’s post-Thanksgiving Christmas decorating day, Bob and I debated what to do with our tree. He was in favor of scrapping it and purchasing something new. But, I have a penchant for sentimentality and therefore his idea made me super sad. This tree was a special tree, from a special time in our lives, when we lived in a special place. I was having trouble letting go.

So, I hatched a new plan. A plan to, essentially, save Christmas. We would take the tree out of storage a couple of days before Thanksgiving and de-string the lights.  What a great idea! This would be easy! See how much sense this makes, BOB? We could keep the tree that I love and just re-string it with new lights! His enthusiasm for this approach was… questionable.

When the day was upon us and we were staring at the tree and its hundreds upon hundreds of lights and wires, it seemed like a less good idea. Apparently, pre-lit trees tend to have those lights pretty much soldered on. They run them up and down the branches with clips and wires and everything else needed for maximum light concentration so they can, I guess, successfully burn your retinas when plugged in.

Knowing it would require some patience didn’t quite prepare us for the two days of two-person work with two wire cutters that was required to remove all of those pre-strung lights. I walked into the family room on Thanksgiving Day, after getting the turkey in the oven, to find Bob and my father, with hunched-over backs and cramping hands, among piles and piles of cut wire and burned out bulbs. But, once they had committed, they COMMITTED. They refused to give up or give in and they ultimately persevered.

Smiles not representative of real life.

Smile not representative of real life.

So, our family Christmas tree lives to shed fake needles another day. I re-strung it with white lights and began hanging ornaments with the kids. It wasn’t until Millie promptly broke, like, three glass globes that I realized decorating the tree with the kids was an even worse idea than de-stringing it. And, when Henry and I finally got the ornaments up after the little ones went to bed, nary an old bulb or wire could be found.