Tuesday, October 25, 2016

#SOL16 Petrified at Hershey Park

I am late to the party today. I normally write my Slice by late Monday evening, or Tuesday morning at the very latest. I thought this might be the week I have to wave the white flag and skip a Slice. October has been filled with memorable, fabulous moments and events- but I'm feeling behind in everything and am trying to "dig out" as a colleague of mine used to always say when asked how she was doing. 

But, here it is, almost 9pm on Tuesday evening, and I'm feeling the pull to write a Slice. I need to work on the first draft of a personal narrative to use as a mentor for my third graders. I've promised them the story of how I lost Alex at Hershey Park this summer. So, here it is- seems I can't keep away from Slicing after all. 

Tentative Title: Petrified at Hershey Park

"Do you have him?"
My friend Evan was walking quickly towards me, a note of panic in his voice. I felt my stomach drop. 

"No, he's on the Lazy River. Mike was going to get him, " I told Evan, who had his own little girls along with him. My daughter, Megan, was in her stroller. It was a scorching hot day at Hershey Park and we had just been floating in the Lazy River- my husband, Mike, my son Alex and daughter Megan and our friends Evan, Sharyn, and their 2 daughters. Well, maybe not floating- more like Megan hanging onto my neck for dear life, nearly choking me, as I tried to navigate a giant tube without being able to see where I was going. First chance I got, Megan and I exited the Lazy River, and I gave instructions to my husband, Mike, to catch up to Alex who had hopped in a tube and started down the river ahead of us. 

"He's not there. We looked everywhere," Evan said, now looking quite panicked. Sharyn, his wife, and one of my best friends came then. 

"We didn't see him in the Lazy River. Mike is looking," she explained, and I am now fully, completely terrified.

My Alex. My almost six year old who just learned to swim this summer. My happy, tan-summer-kissed boy, who just the night before gave his sister the last piece of candy. My heart-of-gold boy. Where could he be? Did he leave the river without us? Is he walking around the park, lost? Did someone take him? Oh my God- what if someone took him? They have to shut down the park.

"We need to find security." Did I say that? I don't know. But in a minute, a security guard is standing before me and I am willing myself to say the words that my son, my world, is somehow lost and we need to find him NOW. We need to shut down the park. Can you close all the exits? 

The security guard is not very concerned. He doesn't think we can shut down the exits. He wants to know what Alex looks like and I just want to cry describing my son. What if I never see him again? How will I breathe, walk, leave this park? 

Poor Megan- I hand her to Sharyn. I need to go and find Alex. I walk/run to the Lazy River and as I approach, I see my husband and then Alex, ALEX!, still in a tube. Apparently, he was on the river the whole time, had been so happy and relaxed floating, he didn't realize we all left. Mike stood on the bridge and watched and spotted him. 100% fine. 

The tears came then. For the petrified feeling that my worst fear had come true and then the rush of gratitude that there was Alex before me, still here, still safe, still mine to hug and hold. It was the worst five minutes of my life, thinking Alex was somehow lost, might never be found. I shake still thinking about it. Writing this, tears still come to my eyes, remembering how scared I was, then how grateful I felt that my son was safe and sound. 

In a minute, your life can change forever. I'm grateful mine didn't. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

#WhyIWrite #SOL16 #DigiLitSunday

On the morning my beloved grandfather, Grandy, passed away, I drove home from his house, with words filling my mind and heart. We knew he was "on his journey" as the hospice nurses told us, and so my mother and I slept at my grandparents' house that last night. Grandy was in a deep sleep, in a hospital bed in his room. I remember, at 20 years old, I was wearing a nightgown with dogs on it, sleeping on the couch in the den. I recall my mother waking me up, saying Grandy was gone, she had heard his last breath. I remember when they came to take him away- I couldn't watch, stayed in the den as they carried him out of the house he loved so much, past the garden he tended with so much care. 

When I walked in the door after that drive home, I went straight to the computer and typed. I composed his eulogy as I drove, and as I sat at the computer, my tribute to Grandy took form. I found a poem, Tribute on the Passing of a Very Real Person, which was the closing to my eulogy. Standing in the church and reading it aloud on the day of Grandy's funeral was one small thing I could do to honor him after a lifetime of being blessed by his presence.

This is why I write. 

Since then, I've written wedding toasts, letters of recommendation, poems, cards, songs, letters, blog posts. Last December, another eulogy for one of the dearest persons in my life, my Grandma (Grandy's wife). 

Life hands us many moments. Big moments, small moments, life-altering times and times when we pause our own life just to notice. Writing is a tool for all the moments- it allows you to honor those who deserve loving tributes, whose lives mattered so very much. It allows you to celebrate those taking big leaps into new futures or new relationships or bringing a new life into this world. Your written words are you recognizing and acknowledging these moments, as only you can, through your perspective, your unique lens. Your writing is a gift.

Sometimes it is a gift to yourself. It's your way of processing life, your worries, your hopes, your frustrations, your passions. Becoming a blogger has been such a gift in my life. It's allowed me to catch moments before they become memories, to grow in my thoughts and ideas about teaching, to hear the stories of other bloggers in our community. Each week, as I read Slice of Life posts, I am changed by what I read. Stories fill my mind and heart and I remember these stories, and though I've never met most of the bloggers, I feel we are friends. I go back to them. Bonnie's letters to Tuvia. Mary Ann's bravery as she blogs so vulnerably about life after losing Rob. Dana's stories of the moments with her daughters. Barbara's tales of her adventures in retirement, her travels, her nature walks, her relationship with her daughter. Julieanne's memorable story of being a child at swimming class, overhearing an unkind conversation. Michelle's honesty and passion for being a writer. Stacey's moments as she "raises a literate human" (now two humans!) Carrie's tale of a young student coping with a tragic loss. And so many more stories that have captivated my heart, like favorite books I've read- these blog posts live in me. 

I'm so glad that others write, because I am grateful to read works that make me feel deeply and feel grateful to be alive, despite all the ugliness out there. This weekend, I read and fell in love with Peter Brown's The Wild Robot. I am a better person for reading this book and knowing the main character, Roz. 

And so, I breathe, I live, I read, I write. I try to make sense of things. I try to be grateful for people. I try to reflect, question, wonder, get to the other side of the confusion by writing. I want my children to know, through my words, how much I love them. I want to be a better me, and do my part to make a better world, through my words.  This is why I write. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

#SOL16 Grateful for the Seasons

And just like that, a new season is here.

I am grateful for this season. 
Vibrant, Crayola-blue skies, golden Libra sun.
Orange pumpkins perched on porches.
Hoodies with soft fleece lining, zipped up.
Leaves drifting, dancing down to waiting lawns.
Flip flops rested and boots back in rotation.
Retiring sun slipping away earlier each day.
Thick, cozy blankets tugged up during chilly nights.
Costumes purchased and trick or treat bags ready.
Pumpkin spice everywhere, in everything. 

I am grateful for seasons changing,
for leaves turning vibrant colors.
I'm grateful for the beauty and even grateful
for when the trees are bare
because the promise of spring is there too,
knowing that pinks, purples, yellows and whites
will fill our town streets again.

I am grateful for rainy, dreary days 
that give way to the most spectacular autumn days.
I am grateful for seasons changing
and the opportunity to notice life changing too.

I am grateful for this season in my life,
and all the seasons that came before, 
and all the seasons yet to be.

There is beauty in all of it.

I am grateful for the seasons. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

#SOL16 Dear Alex

Dear Alex,

We are just a couple of days away from your 6th birthday. I remember so clearly how I felt six years ago- impatient, anxious, so ready for your arrival. Every baby is a miracle, but you felt especially like one. Seeing your little round face for the first time was one of the best moments of my life- it was like I had always known you even though it was the first time I was seeing you. 

You were the most gorgeous baby. Round, chubby, with big eyes and a gummy smile. I loved holding you, rocking you, singing to you, being your mom. We went to Gymboree, music classes, and library classes where you promptly fell asleep in the middle of an exciting rendition of "Dancing Queen" where the other babies were shaking maracas (or chewing on them). 

Leaving you to go back to work was one of the hardest things I ever did. I remember that first rainy morning, when you were 11 months old, and I had to hand you to a woman I never saw before in the daycare drop off room. I had taken you several times over the summer so both you and I would be comfortable with your new school. I knew who your teachers would be, but this morning, they were not in sight at early drop off. I was returning to teaching after a year off with you and needed to get to work. You cried as I tried to hand you to the lady, trying to hold onto me. I steeled myself that I had to leave quickly- it would be best for you and me- and felt numb walking out. 

As the year went on, I saw many happy pictures of you and the other babies painting, playing, and enjoying your routine. It was okay, but didn't make saying goodbye to you each day any easier. 

When I found out I was pregnant with your sister, a blessing that was also a complete surprise, I had mixed feelings at first. You were my world- how could I ever love anything else as much as I love you? You were so young- not even two years old when I found out I was pregnant. I wouldn't have timed it that way, but life has its own plans. 

Saying goodbye to you on the night we left to have Megan was so hard. You were happy to go have a sleepover with Naya, but I felt sad as I said goodbye, knowing life would change forever with the addition of our newest family member. 

It was hard for you at first- you didn't speak to me the first day I came home with Megan. But as you grew more comfortable with having a little sister, you came to be her biggest entertainer. She called you "Agex" and looked for you all the time. She still looks to do just what you do, wants to have everything you have and catch up to you.

Alex, you will be 6 in a couple of days. This past summer, I saw you grow and shine in new ways. As you graduated preschool, you proudly sang, "The Best Day of My Life" and "Rainbow Connection" with gusto. You easily adjusted to camp and became a swimming pro, where just last summer you clung to the railing of the pool and refused to go in. This year, I watched you jump off a diving board, backwards, and tumble your way to a yellow-belt at tae kwon do and I knew you were coming into your own. 

You've been in kindergarten for a month now and I am so proud of how you've acclimated to your new school, the new routines and your new teacher. You have so many friends and are well-liked. You are funny, playful, a great climber- but what's more, you are kind. You look to include others. You care about how people feel. This, I am most proud about. 

My heart is so full and there is so much I want to say. The news has been full of such heart-breaking stories- an adorable 6 year old boy shot and killed as he walked onto his school's playground, a mother killed by a train moments after dropping her baby off at daycare. I am so aware that life is uncertain and often unfair and my mind has been spinning with the unthinkable possibility of losing you or something happening to me, where I'd be gone from your life. These thoughts keep me awake at night. Why would we get a happy life when so many others don't? Why should I think that we will be okay when the other parents all thought that before they had tragedy strike their families?

These are not thoughts I can share with you, and these are not thoughts I want to be thinking as we prepare to celebrate your birthday. 

And, so, as you turn six, my Alex- I want you to know that you were what I always wanted but were more than I ever expected. You have filled my heart with unimaginable joy. Parenting isn't easy and there are moments of worry and frustration, but I would never trade it for anything. I am so proud of you and love you with everything I am. I can't wait to have a happy celebration this week as you turn six years old.