That Panicked Race to School that Every Parent Dreads

The text came from our school’s emergency system around noon. Parents needed to get the school ‘as soon as possible, but no need to panic’ as there was a wildfire burning nearby.

Of course every parent panicked and rushed to the school only to find the small fire was already 100-percent contained by the fire department and the children were never under threat of evacuation. The school was just being cautious.

I imagine that day over and over again only because it’s the call you never want to get…yet, as we know, too many parents have. I imagine what it must have been like to hear via a school emergency text or call, or the news, or a classroom parent that there was a shooting at your children’s school and YOU needed to get there as soon as humanly possible.

As I rushed to get to my kids while the wildfire burned I will admit my car drove itself and went as fast as traffic would allow. The entire time my mind racing with torturous scenarioes in which I found the unthinkable upon arrival.

Those Newtown parents raced to Sandy Hook Elementary and found the unthinkable upon arrival. The other end of their torturous car ride where their mind raced like mine culminated in one of those scenarios coming true. One of those awful thoughts that passed in their head as they didn’t know what to expect as they drove as fast as they could actually came true.

And it is possible it could have been prevented.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking on my part. But if only we had better mental health services in the United States. If only that military style weapon wasn’t available to the general public. If only…if only…if only…

What we do know what works and what doesn’t work. We know that states with loose gun laws have higher rates of gun violence. We know that background checks work.

And while we know there is nothing that will bring back the children of Sandy Hook, or the thousands of others killed in gun violence across the country…we can demand our elected officials do what we know WORKS and STOP those texts and calls and drives where a parent, heart beating out of their chest, jumps in a car and rushes to their child’s school hoping beyond hope to find nothing more than a false alarm.

But we, as Americans hell-bent on remaining gun enthusiasts, know better. We Americans know some of those parents will pull into that school and have to face the unthinkable.

Demand your Congressperson do something. Demand your Congressperson makes sure YOU never have to get that call and jump in your car and make that drive.

They need to know parents are through burying our children in the name of selling more guns. In the name of ‘tradition.’ Because right now the tradition of racing down a road to reach your children, not knowing if they are dead or alive, is an American past time I’m willing to give up.

crossposted at MomsRising

Look for the Helpers

I’m not sure about your school, but ours sends what amounts to robocalls whenever they need to reach parents and guardians quickly. Texts, emails, phone calls- they all go out in a blast in an attempt to make sure everyone knows exactly what is going on, be it a rainy day dismissal process or, like what happened recently, a possible evacuation due to a nearby brush fire.

It was the same week the nation watched in horror as a tornado tore through Moore, Oklahoma and our hearts ached an unbearable ache as we saw the destruction of the schools wrought by mother nature.

So when not 48 hours later your school gives you the option to evacuate your child, you hop in your car and drive like a bat out of hell to evacuate your child.

Water & Orange & bagel break #relayforlife

It’s about 7-9 miles from our door to school. I’m not sure how long it took me to get there but I can tell you I was glad to see the fire trucks and sheriff’s sirens flying past me on the freeway…all headed in the same direction. It meant they were there to help (look for the helpers says Mr. Roger’s Mom!) and it meant I could follow them just as fast as I wanted.

By the time my children were in my arms firefighters had already done an amazing job, containing the blaze with skill and asskicking. But needless to say, hours later sitting in the living room, the three of us sat closer, held on tighter, didn’t move from the other’s sight.

Imagine yesterday sitting in treatment with an IV in my arm when the phone rings again. I see the call is coming from a mother I know works at the school. There is another fire. This one further away and is not threatening the school in any way, but my 2nd grader saw the smoke on her way to lunch. Cue fear. Cue nerves. Cue wanting Mom.

With a gratefulness I can’t even begin to repay I got to talk to my daughter and reassure her that she was safe, that the fire was far away, and the smoke she could see was just smoke and wasn’t hurting anyone. The firefighters were doing their jobs, the parents didn’t need to come, school could go on as usual…but if she wanted, Dad or I would find a way to come get her.

With the love of our Mom friend and hearing my voice, she mustered the courage to stay calm and remained at school for the last three hours of the day. This meant Dad didn’t have to take time off work. This meant I didn’t have to miss a much-needed treatment that had to FINALLY be finished so I can begin my next round when school is OUT for the year.

Her brother, who is usually much more sensitive than she, didn’t even know there was a fire.

I talked about what happened with both kids when they got home. Reminded them just how hard everyone at school works to make sure they are always safe, and how Dad and I would never let them be anywhere near a fire if it wasn’t safe, and we’d be there as fast as we could if we needed to be.

I found myself answering simple questions like ‘you mean if there is another fire, or a tornado, or a shooter…’

And I had to agree even though I couldn’t believe the words were coming from me… ‘yes, we will be there, and they will keep you safe until we can get to you, no matter if there is a fire or a tornado or an earthquake or a shooter…’

…and my voice trailed off and I fought back tears because the last thing they needed to see was that I too, was scared.

Superhero: Hala and Malala

Today my eight-year old daughter astounded me, and many others, by presenting the story of Malala Yousafzai to her class.

#allhailhala as Malala

She spoke of Malala’s fight to make sure all girls receive an education while noting she was lucky to be in school, talking about Malala.

She spoke of the men who tried to kill Malala for wanting girls to be educated and when parents and students reacted, she told them “can you believe she is still alive and STILL fighting to make sure girls can go to school?”

She has a crowd! I'm surprised by the # of parents  hearing Malala's story for the 1st time

And she told parents, who had never heard the story, that Malala was her superhero and she hopes she can be that brave someday.

2nd graders and their parents asked me, as I stood nearby listening, “how did she know who this was?” and without missing a beat my daughter interrupted the adults,

“I heard it on the news and my Mom told me some, but mostly I saw it on tv.”

Making sure the adults in the room knew I wasn’t the one who pushed her into choosing Malala. In fact, I had offered up many names from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to President Obama. As soon as we discussed Malala, my little one knew exactly who she was doing her research on for her superhero project.

It made me realize, as a blogger, that this big, big world isn’t so big after all. Malala began her claim to fame as a blogger for the BBC and from there my very own daughter learned about her struggles and battle back from the brink of death without fear. It didn’t scare her that this amazing young woman was nearly killed for standing up for what she believes, it pushed her to think about what SHE believes in enough to be shot for.

There have been no nightmares, no questions about bad guys in the Taliban. Simply the fight between good, evil and where girls and women stand in the world.

Like many around the world I want to thank Malala for her bravery and for inspiring an entire generation of young girls who are unafraid to follow in her footsteps to do what is right, no matter the cost.

One Small Step for Boy, One Giant Leap for Tourette Syndrome

I made cake all by myself and homemade icing...#proud

My son has gone back and forth about wanting to talk about his ‘ticks.’

That’s what we call his Tourette’s and OCD in our house. They are simply known as ‘my ticks, Mom’ or ‘…because of my anxiety.’

So when a writing assignment came along in school this week- very innocently, just the usual daily few sentences with a writing prompt to get them going- he froze.

He tells me some kids were writing about beating bosses on video games. Something he has done over and over again and is very proud of.

He tells me some kids were writing about no longer being afraid of spiders, or in the case of one kid, getting ‘bumped’ by a shark.

You gotta love 4th graders.

And there sat my son, debating with himself back and forth and back and forth if he should tell his teacher or his class or anyone that every single day he battles and overcomes all the zigs and zags of his brain. His brilliant, sensitive, amazing brain that causes him to (currently) do everything in ’3s’ and mutter the last word of a sentience under his breath three times or hand wash and hand wash and hand wash or hand wash.

His ticks come and go with his anxiety level and he can control them very well with all the tools from our therapist. His ticks also change constantly. Sometimes they rotate and a new tick I’ve never noticed before is suddenly very prominent while another has faded. Some fade and never return. Others seem to be on a regular rotation. Regardless, he handles them with more grace and ease than any child should have to and he has zero shame or embarrassment.

At least, he didn’t. Until he began to mature and realize not everyone does what he does. Not everyone flaps their hands and jumps up and down while playing a video game, simply because it’s exciting. Not everyone covers their ears during a school play, because the cheers are too loud. Not everyone cries while looking out the window of an airplane, simply because the earth below is so beautiful.

Not everyone would take an in-class writing prompt home, so he could talk to his Mom about whether he should tell everyone he has Tourette’s.

I think they should know, but I’m not ready to really talk about it. I don’t want to give them a speech or anything. But maybe they won’t bug me so much then.

My stomach did a flip.

What do you mean ‘bug you’… has anyone said anything?

Well no, not really. But you know my friends they don’t care but some of the other kids might look at me and think I’m weird. You know Mom, I know I’m a wimp.

You are not a wimp. Why would you say that?

Well, I don’t mean that like a bad thing. I like video games and I’m not into like sports and stuff. And I’m a geeky wimp kind of kid, not like a kid that pushes other kids outside and plays those games where you punch arms and stuff.

There are LOTS of kids at your school like you buddy. LOTS. It’s great to have all kinds of friends and maybe it’s time to find some more of those kids that are like you.

But if I tell them about my ticks, they might think I’m even more weird.

Or maybe, they will better understand you and like you even more for who you are. But you can still write about anything you want honey. Anything.

…and he gets up and does this thing he does…his running from our front door to our back door. Something he just does that I’m sure is a tick, but we’re so used to it that it doesn’t register. He’s thinking. This is how he thinks. Sprints in my living room. Always having to touch the door a certain number of times. Always needing to ‘balance’ it out with exact same number of touches on the opposite wall.

Mom, I’m going to write it, but I’m not going to write a lot. My teacher might be the only one who sees it anyway, but maybe not. And maybe someone will ask me what I wrote. But I don’t want them to know too much. I will just write one thing about what I overcame and that’s it.

Pride

..and with that one thing, he took one very big step.

The Mom Nagging Machine

There was a time when ‘back to school’ meant nothing more than a new backpack and some crayons.

Today my daughter and I looked, and bought, some ‘undershirts’ as opposed to ‘training bras’ because she has reached that age where she needs to wear something under her sundresses and under her white t-shirts.

Her brother, blushing, rolled his eyes and turned around to try to ‘unsee’ the girl things we needed to accomplish while at the store. Being the pain I am, I explained to him this was a great learning experience about women and he needed to understand that his sister was growing up and she couldn’t be flashing the top half of her body to strangers.

Which always turns into silly time

After doing his best to squirm and avert his eyes from the display of training bras and bras for tweens, he actually agreed…

Well, boys look at those things. Yes Mom, I know, girls look too…you’re right, she needs to make sure she’s covered.

Hmmm…wait, Did he just call breasts ‘those things?’ And was this the message I wanted to send? That the women of the family had to cover themselves in order to be proper?

I stopped myself as we looked at undershirts and talked to them both as they again rolled their eyes and leaned against the cart.

It’s not that we want her to cover herself. We know being naked isn’t a big deal. And she’s beautiful. It’s just that in our society there are some people who will try to look at her inappropriately, just like we talk about private areas and who can see them and touch them…

Oh man, now I’m getting way off track. This is hard.

…and we’re just making sure her privates are covered as she wears certain things, that’s all.

This parenting stuff is ridiculous. I’m flunking this. Please God let this moment go away forever because right now it seems like nothing I say is right, or coming out right…or what I’m trying to convey. I’m just trying to buy her a few more undershirts, THAT IS ALL.

Then I glance up at the display in front of us. I hadn’t really studied it until now. Bras, training bras, what look like sports bras, undershirts. And then…what I swear to God are PADDED BRAS FOR LITTLE GIRLS.

My daughter is handing this like a champ.

Mom I already have that white one at home, so how about these pink and purple fun ones that are like half undershirts… and let’s go.

Sold.

My son can’t get out of there quick enough and leads us to semi-safety where we have to then pick out underwear. This seems like nothing compared to bra-hell.

But I can’t keep my mind from going back to what I am pretty sure I just saw. Padded bras.

The Judy Blume years of my life come rushing back.

I was never in need of KLeenex. I developed well before any of the other girls and I had plenty to go around. A blessing and a curse for a young girl. The boys ogled and feared me. The girls hated me. All because I had big boobs.

My daughter isn’t built anything like I was at that age. But with any hope she’ll be able to talk to me about body image issues she may come across and we can giggle over the difference of being one of the girls who could give herself a black eye in gym class or one of the girls who was flat as a pancake.

I want, so badly, to ask the kids if they saw the bras hanging there. What they thought about them. But I know the agony this will cause my son, who is working through his prepubescent feelings. And I know it will only cause my daughter to think about it MORE, and her body MORE…which I don’t really want her to do just yet.

Not because she shouldn’t explore what’s going on with her body, or question why she needs to cover her nipples or any of those things…but because there is so so so much time in a woman’s life to worry about what we look like. To think about our breasts, our noses, our asses. If I bring up the padded bras, that just gets her thinking about it all. And I really don’t want her going down that road. Especially when I seem so ill prepared to discuss and help her young mind through all the bullshit.

Sigh. I just wanted to buy some crayons. A pack or two of pencils.

Instead I feel like I had this perfect opportunity in front of me to teach both of my kids about respect, beauty, and body image…and I stumbled and stammered and wished one of my son’s inventions had become a reality.

He has this idea for a hook up between our brains, so I can automatically give him all my knowledge and he doesn’t have to listen to me explain or make guesses when I can’t seem to phrase things in a way he can grasp.

I think the idea actually came out of Mom Nagging, but whatever. I’d take it right now.

I’d even wear a padded bra on my head ala Weird Science. Although, there is no way my very embarrassed son would.

We might have to give that invention a few more years.

Rock Star Kid

Our son on the front page - because Science & Art ROCK!!!

There really is nothing more you can do to boost a child’s confidence than wake up to find him on the front page of the paper. And NOT for robbing a bank or something horrible…nope. For being a kick ass kid, who is quirky and fun and so smart.

Yes, I’m a proud Mom…but hear me out for a second- do me ONE favor, please..just one: Make sure you are encouraging your children’s dreams. Even if they seem insane. Even if that means they take a part your toaster. Even if that causes you to have to drive two hours every Sunday to a horse ranch (his sister) or even if that means telling them that anything, truly anything is possible. Even if you have to sacrifice more than ONE toaster, or DVD player, or old VCR.

Stop being stuffy and worrying about the stain it might make on your grass if you explode Mentos and pop. Let go of the idea that paint everywhere might destroy your table.

These are things I have had to learn to breath deeply over in the beginning. And I am so glad I have learned to forget about all the little things and instead embrace the fun and sometimes totally disgusting (family of caterpillars in my HOUSE anyone?) things in order to show my children how much fun learning really can be- and how it can truly bring them closer to their dreams.

This is also where I am glad my husband, even though sometimes it drives me nuts, is a giant kid himself. Because when you combine that with my children’s love of learning and science and animals and insects..you end up with two little rock stars who can and WILL do whatever they want in life. And I couldn’t be more proud.

*I can’t leave out the two teachers who have helped guide my kids through their first years of school, as scary as they were for us, after we left the ‘traditional’ classroom. Jenny Williams and Ana Donovan have been those teachers who my kids will never forget. You know, the ones where people ask you ‘who was your favorite teacher?’ and you immediately have fond and wonderful memories of those ‘special’ teachers that touched your life and made you who you are. Not only Have Miss Jenny and Mrs. Donovan done that for our kids, but they’ve done that for our entire family. Jack wouldn’t be on the cover of the newspaper were it not for them and their constant insistence that he can be JACK…not some strict and strapped down version of Jack. But Just Jack. Because he’s perfect just as he is.

Stylin’

I think it lasted a year. Maybe two. In that time before they really could walk or talk and I had control.

Who am I kidding…even then I didn’t have control.

But I was able to dress them up in whatever I saw fit. My dream of frilly girl dresses and hockey jerseys lasted for such a short period of time that I’m not even sure many photos exist.

What I do know, is that my husband and I made a point to encourage our children’s individuality. Their creativity, and their own sense of self. That means that now, when picture day at school rolls around, I ask them what they want to wear and they choose. I don’t even try to sway them to the dress I would pick out, or the shirt I would prefer. This isn’t about me, and it never has been.

And I couldn’t be more proud of the independent, amazing, and totally stylish in their own quirky way kids we’re raising.

This is how @aaronvest and I's children dressed themselves for picture day ...hee hee hee

Rock on.

It’s A Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s a… Charter?

I left afraid the next adult my children will encounter won’t want to teach them. Won’t care if they learn. Won’t mind if they are unsuccessful, unable to read, unable to write, unable to make change.

I left crying.

I left angry.

I recently sat down with the principal, the founder, and the executive director of education of my children’s charter school and screened Waiting for Superman.

photo.JPG

The film takes you through the failings of our pubic education system, demonizes the teacher’s unions, and rips your heart out of your chest as you ache for the millions of children left behind, falling through the cracks, and horribly wronged by the system.

It also lifts up the charter school idea. And while I don’t feel qualified to talk about public education as a whole, I do feel like I can talk about what works for us.

Our school is different.

photo.JPG

And I think the difference is essential for the educational survival of so many kids, not just mine. Overlooking what I thought were unfair pot shots at teachers in the film, the overriding message hit home- the system is broken.

And what is saving kids as we haphazardly attempt to fix the broken system? The Charter. And only one-in-five of those are successful. My kids are in a charter. My kids GOT IN by the same luck and crossed fingers others experience. But what of all the millions of kids who don’t?

I feel guilty my children get a chance at an alternative education, and they don’t. It gnaws at me. As I think it should gnaw at ALL of us. And did we abandon those in a traditional public school (I’m in a PUBLIC charter) for the greener grass on the other side… leaving them to rot?

We did what we had to for our kids. And yes, the results are still out. But I can tell you this…it feels better. The stress level in our home. The lack of tears at homework time. The smiles in the morning at school time and tales of yoga in class, and leadership projects, and becoming tiny global citizens. The social, emotional, and academic needs of my kids are being addressed…they are not slaves to worksheets and filing in bubbles. They are allowed to dream, to create, to innovate, and to explore.

Which is the opportunity every child should be afforded, not just mine. Yet here we are. A documentary – a Hollywood production- is what gets us talking about education. THAT in and of itself is a sad commentary on the state of public education in America. We need a film to get us to think, or to act.

I don’t pretend to have any answers other than what I felt I had to do for my children. And that is not an answer, that’s a reaction. And all over the US parents and caregivers are reacting, some luckier than others in their solutions.

While a real, permanent, solid, solution I fear is decades away.