guaging reactions

It was an off day. It didn't feel right from the get up and go, even though we were on-time to the breakfast table. Realizing it was Wednesday, I dashed for ballet bun pins and post-school snacks and tossed the bag with dance shoes towards the door. The garage went up and we ambled down the street to the bus. It was extra chilly, so we had a few rounds of the hokey pokey to get the blood moving. When that got old, Caroline initiated "red light, green light" until Mommy finally realized it was 8:20 and school started in fifteen minutes. We must have missed the bus by moments. Perfect.

With both kids, two backpacks, and a forgotten dance bag in the foyer (DOH!), we headed down the driveway at a brisk pace in Lulu the Subaru determined to get Caroline to school ontime. It was still possible. Construction on our route had me go a different way because I was certainly NOT going to be responsible for tarnishing her perfect attendance. I thought we could just swing around the school, but I saw parents taking their kids to the back door, so in we went. I hadn't done an in-person morning drop since the new protocols went into place for pick up and drop off. I assumed they knew what I didn't, but really none of us knew anything, we were all just late.

The back door greeted us with a BIG orange sign indicating that all doors are locked and everyone should access the main entrance, completely opposite of where we stood. "C'mon," I said. "We need to go around." I diverted attention from this abnormal janut by pointing out playthings on the preschool playground, squirrels galloping up trees, anything to avoid a complaint or question. When the front door was in sight, Caroline suddenly said, "Why are the doors locked?" My heart beat faster, but I managed to calmy, and evenly, answer her question. "The doors are always locked when school starts. We are late today." A BLATANT LIE, we were still ONTIME. "But why, why are they locked?" I was screaming in my head, I just kept walking, keeping my tone even, "To keep you safe and to keep strangers out." (nothing is more scary to me than being locked IN somewhere.) "Like bad guys with guns?" I stopped. No, I halted. "What do you mean, bad guys with guns?" She squirmed. She was trying it out, she hid her face a bit and smiled at me like she knew she had a delicious secret.

I was alone, on that walkway, feet from the entrance to her school, Connor on my hip, and I had to steady myself. How did she know? Why did she know? WHAT did she know???? It didn't occur to me until later that she rides the bus with fourth and fifth graders, as pointed out by Kiki. She had heard something, but I still don't know what. In that moment, I gave her my full gentle attention. I gently inquired what she meant and then I assured her that this was a safe place and she didn't have to worry about things like that. I almost believed myself. Then I calmly walked her to the main entrance where she needed to be let in by office staff and I was told that only she could enter the school. I was happy to hear that, to see it in action, but I saw her face look back at me knowing this was not how we had done this last time, or any time before that.

I would have collapsed right there in front of the beautiful fragile glass archway window of the library, housing tiny chairs, picture books, a lego table, had it not been for Connor. I held it together for him, and managed to drop him off with a huge smile on my face before calling Steve and telling him, "she knows."

be not afraid

So many tears. As the headlines continued to flow in on Friday and the news became more grim and worse than anything I could ever imagine and each valley felt like it was the deepest it could possibly be, the valleys just kept plummeting and with them my tears flowed more freely forcing me more than once to pull my car over and sob. There was work to be done, but it was difficult to think of anything else, to propel myself forward in any semblance of normal, to smile at my carefree patients and play them a sweet song. I looked at them that afternoon as one might typically look at a very small child, so blissfully unaware.

When I close my eyes, my mind creates images I don't want to see. I can't unsee them now. My mind knows that an event like this is rare, but my soul is finding it diffcult to push these fears aside. I sobbed into my kindergartener's hair as she slept last night, cuddling her little body tightly against my own, enveloping her with my legs, my arms, and entire being, knowing that even all my love and care cannot keep her safe from this world.

She had asked me already if we were going to church and I immediately said yes, because what better place could we go? Until I woke in a panic this morning, knowing that the focus was not going to be on advent candles and mangers. I called the parish, I asked the priest who answered directly if this would be discussed and he answered, "there will be prayers for the children." My parish wonderfully offers a children's service that spans part of the mass and brings the kids to a seperate area of the church (which I'm not going to lie was hard to even consider today, sending her away from me in a public place). He suggested I send her along, but she has been resistant to it in the past. Then I asked him, "Father, I just don't know what to do, I'm having such a difficult time with this. What do I even do?" He took a pause, "You are a mother, you are the most important person in the entire world to your children, you must not be afraid."

Caroline reluctantly made her way with the other children to the children's liturgy and I sat alone in a mass of my neighbors, with tears flowing down my cheeks. There it was, just ahead of me, in stained glass. "Be Not Afraid." I focused on it and took it in, in great gulping breaths, until that bouncy haired beauty returned to my side with a sticker sheet of the holy family and her bright smile.

We had a birthday party today for one of her classmates this afternoon. I compared notes with the other mothers who also have told their children NOTHING. We watched them, like my patients, blissfully unaware, laughing, eating cake. She sang made up songs on the way home about "counting horsies" (28) and Rudolph and I pushed it all aside to be with her in that happy moment, to sing right along with her and remind her that I think she is most special thing in the entire world.

We drove by her school on the way home, "HI SCHOOL!" she yelled at the top of her nearly six year old lungs. "I LOVE YOU!!"

A mother at the party was speaking loudly about the events we are trying desperately to keep from our children's ears. She was talking about change and handprint door locks and... she was talking crazy because we all know, there is no way to promise safety, not ever, not anymore. No door, no lock, no fancy handprint gizmo can keep all that outside your door if it wants in. "You can't live like that," someone said. I started, surprised. It was me.

Be not afraid. I'm allowing myself to be myself and myself is desperately sad and incredibly sympathetic. I will honor those kids and faculty in my every action. I will love my children as fiercely as I ever did. I will think of Caroline Previdi every time I hear my daughter's name, every milestone, every birthday, every holiday, every night; surely as sweet as my Sweet Caroline, surely as special, surely as loved, and sorely missed. I will never forget, but I will not be afraid.

morning time

Steve's alarm goes off just after six and I have to elbow him awake to silence it for fear that the short people we have living with us will hear it and wake up early. Inevitably, one of them arrives at 6:15, climbs up onto the bed and snuggles in with us. If it is the girl, she slides in between and waits the obligatory three minutes before requesting PBS. If it is the boy, which is rare, he climbs up onto my side and in one motion is under the covers and snuggled right against me. By the time the TV goes on, Sid the Science Kid is yelling into his microphone about simple machines or what leaves do and I am wide awake. While Steve gets ready, I wrap my arms around those tiny beings and marvel at their length, their weight against my shoulders, and this is my favorite time of the whole day. When the garage door closes behind Steve, I pull myself from beneath my bed headed babies and propel myself into the shower. I always swore I wouldn't be that frantic Mom in the morning, "go, go, go, we're going to be late!" short on time and temper. Most days as Caroline spends no less than ten long minutes changing her underwear, I cannot help but threaten to turn off Arthur completely. I bring the clothes to them in our room. History has shown that any attempt to seperate them from each other or our room results in complete chaos, bed jumping, and an exasperated mother. Having them in our room while I get dressed, dry my hair and apply mascara keeps them under my thumb. Connor insists on getting dressed in our bed, which saves my back and my calves from having to do a full squat while tying his Sambas. When her ladyship is FINALLY appropriately attired with double knotted sneakers she can tie herself now, she walks her jammies to her hamper and makes her bed without me uttering a word. This may be my greatest Mommy accomplishment. I toss Connor's blanket, truck, monkey, and pillow in his direction before turning my attention to our bed, fluffing the duvet and applying all six glorious pillows. Unspoken rule; once you have shoes on, you are not coming back in the bed. Connor is still standing there lamenting that he "CAN'T make his bed!" until Caroline comes to help him, again without a word from me. Breakfast begins by 7:50 and is quick affair, but it is at the table with no PBS. There is just one large sip of juice each because again, I have learned that more than a tiny bit will just get tossed and juice is $$$! My fingers seem to fnally have mastered french braiding and as soon as I have tucked the last tendril, lunch bags get tossed into backpacks and we begin our parade to the lower level for coat application. I've laid them out, which is code for "I left them exactly where they were from when we arrived home." Zippers are zipped, mitten pulled on with emphasis on thumb placement, and hats are secured. The garage lurches upwards again by 8:10 and we walk to the bus stop which thankfully, is at the corner of our street. The kids either cling to me and fight over which leg they get to hug or they chase each other in circles until I must intervene with the "hokey pokey." Connor and I walk Caroline to the bus when it arrives and wave good bye to her and then we return to home to gather his things and my two bags and two phones so we can bring him to school. The drive at 8:30 is easy now that we switched him somewhere closer, but it was only yesterday that he stopped crying that he didn't "want to go to this school." His teachers assist me in detaching him from my body and then I head to the car where I warm up my work laptop and check to see what happened overnight. I plan my day, send emails, and organize myself right there in the parking lot. Sometimes I even have a chance to check my own personal stuff and social media. Sometimes. I head out on the road by 9:15, backroads if possible because I LOATHE 128 and I spend my day missing those kids. Sometimes I can still smell the maple syrup from their toaster waffles. I long to go to sleep to wake up with them again, in our bed, watching Sid, resting their heads into my shoulders and asking me to "put your arm around me, Mommy."

& then she laughed so hard

Advent. My kids barely make it through mass. I recently took them and I am quite sure that despite sitting in the very last row and approximately fifteen feet from the exit, the Lord himself thought someone had brough feral children into church just before Communion. Started off so good, ended oh so badly. Despite this, I am pushing the real meaning of Christmas this year. If you ask Caroline what Christmas is about, she will tell you "giving to others."

Steve got a chocolate window calendar for each of them and Caroline is LOVING finding the next number each day on both her AND Connor's calendar. In lieu of little gifts, I picked up some small notecards and envelopes, a fancy silver pen, and reviewed the "ABCFamily 25 Days of Christmas" schedule. My plan was to create meaning, memories, and make it special. I pinned like I had never pinned before. There is some really amazing fun stuff coming like making trees with ice cream cones and frosting and getting ready for bed and driving around to look at lights. They get to watch Home Alone again, which might be the highlight of the whole thing. It's a lofty goal to get through the month doing something special as a family each day, but it's worth it for the message (and for the memories I will look back and weep over when they leave me). ahem. Where was I?

So far we have roasted marshmallows in the fireplace with hot cocoa, met Santa and gave him our ONE "WANT" item (I cannot tell you how impressed I am with Caroline's ability to limit herself to just ONE thing), watched the Grich, and today we gave to others. What item do you think the kids were most excited about? I'd bet you are wrong. Caroline was so psyched this morning when she read "Give to others." When Steve and I showed up with Toys for Tots and gifts for both Fido and Mittens at the Animal Shelter in tow, her teacher told us she had been hearing about how Caroline's Mom was bringing things later ALL.DAY.LONG. Parent win.

Over the weekend, when football was on and the kids were turning the playroom upside down, I called a time out and tucked the kids into our bed to watch Elf. I had completely forgotten about the sleigh and how it runs on Christmas spirit and that whole dialogue about there NOT BEING A SANTA. Oh, boy. I could feel my intestines in my throat when it started and it was too late to stop it and wouldn't you know that my daughter has a little bit of Buddy the Elf in her. When Papa Elf suggested that there was a rumor going around that the parents were giving the gifts that girl laughed like I had never heard her laugh. This was clearly the craziest thing she had ever heard because, the parents? PLEASE. My intestines returned to their normal positions and I etched another year off my life and forced a crazy hyena laugh along with her.

The next day, Monday, the day we were to watch the Grinch she asked me if it was me sending her notes each day. I had said, "I don't know" when she first asked where they were coming from. She had her theories; Peter the Elf, Santa, a mysterious fairy. I froze and then said, "yes, they are from mommy." Which prompted a "why did you try to trick me?" This stopped me in my tracks. I explained that mommy just wanted to do something special each day with her and Connor to celebrate this very special time of year. That was enough. She "silly mommy'd" me and walked away. When she finds out the truth about the North Pole, I hope she doesn't feel betrayed, but understands that I just wanted to make a little holiday magic for her and Connor. It's coming. I don't know how much time I have left, but as long as she has a little Buddy in her, I am hopeful we have a little more time with all this glorious magic.

a visit to Santa

We met up with Cousin Lyle and his parents today at Bass Pro Shops for a photo with Santa.

We checked out the train, a picture of ideal siblinghood.

 Caroline wrote her list with the one item she has requested.

 then proudly displayed her work

 Connor prayed? He was actually just super excited about the glass elevator, but we can pretend he was praying can't we?
 It wasn't always rosy,

 but we mailed our letters anyway.

Two children, one Santa lap. Success!