One Nation, Traumatized….

5:00 am.

I rolled over and found myself on crowded streets of the North Side area of Pittsburgh. People pushed past me on their way to wherever they needed to be. Suddenly someone up ahead signaled an “active shooter” situation. Those around me and I ducked into the nearest building. Minutes later, so did the gunman. Trembling with fear, we found ourselves in a hostage situation. A couple kids, a couple adults, and me….huddled together. A sense of doom. A push into another room. Smoke in the air. Chaos around. We were moved from room to room and building to building. Shots rang out. Fear. Pain. Darkness. Darkness. Darkness and sandwiches.

5:21 am.

I startled awake, heart pounding, sweat beading, mind racing. I lay there for hours aching in my deepest soul.

I have not known a single victim of any terror attacks or mass shootings, yet I am traumatized by what is happening in this country. Traumatized by news that rocks my soul. A toddler, a kid, a pregnant woman, numerous family members gunned down as they sit in worship. Hundreds of people dealing with physical and emotional injuries from bullets barraging a country music concert in addition to the 56 dead. Families grieving. Loved ones crying. Thousands of people dying every day by gun violence.

I shield my young boys from the trauma. I try to shield myself from the details of the trauma. Yet, miles away, tucked under a down comforter, safe in my home, I am traumatized in my sleep by the pain that touches so many lives.

For years I worked hard to open Jeremiah’s Place, a crisis nursery, to join the work of preventing child abuse. The premise behind the work was the vast amount of research showing the imprint of “Adverse Childhood Experiences” on later physical and mental health. The accumulation of traumatic events during childhood has long-lasting consequences. And this is not just being hurt or abused yourself, but witnessing violence. The research is irrefutable. The anecdotes are real. Soldiers experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Victims of violence experiencing PTSD. Even intense medical experiences, such as time in an intensive care unit, when very ill are now shown to be linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. And now the rising rates of gun violence and mass shootings add to the trauma and stress for children and adults in this country.

We know the consequences. We see the pain. We hear the stories. Yet the rates of individuals traumatizing hundreds and thousands of innocent people are rising steadily. We as a nation are experiencing repeated and heart-wrenching trauma. It’s common now to hear people ask, “Is there no where safe anymore?” “Where will it happen next?” “How can I find work in another country where my kids and family can be safe?”  We now talk about how to teach people to prepare for mass shootings and protect themselves. We train teachers to handle school shootings. We drill medical staff in hospitals to handle huge influxes of wounded patients.

When will we consider prevention instead? When will those who are elected to protect and care for the population stop claiming an inability to do anything about the violence and make a change? When will we stop pretending it’s just related to mental health issues when the evidence argues against that? When will we acknowledge that this country has a problem with a culture of violence, particularly against those perceived as powerless?

We walk around every day hoping it won’t happen to us. Praying that our kids will be safe in their school after boarding the bus. Praying that our family, our friends and our neighbors will come home safely every night.

“In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,” Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.” (What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings)

This is not the world I want to live in.

This is not the world I want my sons to contend with.

I will continue to work and labor to Be the Change! I don’t have concrete answers for you or for me. But I do know that there is some pretty serious work that needs to be done. I do know that there are some huge shifts in how we look at other people and how we treat other people that need to occur. I do know that I will not give up.

I do know that there are some steps that can be taken. Stay educated on what is happening. Make calls, write letters, or visit your representatives to encourage them to protect the innocent. Join a group like Everytown for Gun Safety or Moms Demand Action.

Reach out to neighbors and build your community. Volunteer where your passion guides you. Stand for others and promote dignity and respect.

Hope never fails.

Love will prevail.

Be the change.

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What Single Parents Dream Of

Every year my sister takes her kids on a “Single Parents Weekend Retreat.” This year my kids begged me to go too with stories of zip lines and giant swings and swimming pools. The place on Lake Erie was packed with kids and many many parents, most of us women. The main speaker was to talk on passing on the “legacy of love” but she was neither a single parent, nor was she even a parent. My mind drifted to wondering how these parents all got to this place.

Did they make a conscious choice to parent through private or foster care adoption? Had they been in relationships that ended with tragedy or separation? Were they stressed by their current situation or had they come to grips with single parenting? Was this just a “phase” of their life with them constantly seeking something different or did they plan to remain a “single parent”?

Most days I realize that I don’t identify myself strongly as a “single parent,” I’m just parenting. And I am thankful every day to have the privilege to be a part of these boys’ lives (even on the days that Mr. Ornery suggests that I go find a new family to join!). I love each boy. I love being a parent in so many ways, but every once in a while I dream of:

  • Someone to jump in at the end of a long day and volunteer to put the kids to bed! Oh, that would be heaven on earth. What would I do with the gift of two free hours that usually entail repetitious phrases such as “pee, wash hands, brush teeth,” “pick 3 books (and not that one again!),” “lay down and go to sleep.” Lay down and go to sleep. Huh – I could probably read a book. I mean, an adult book!
  • The presence of another parent who also had the “responsibility” for the kids and I could leave them while going out with friends, or on a run or doing errands without having to beg my mother or pay a babysitter to keep the kids alive.
  • Knowing there’s another adult in the house who could find a baseball bat and creak downstairs when you hear a noise.
  • Someone who would share in cleaning a few rooms in the house, or take out the trash, or help in shoveling the snow from the driveway.
  • Really just someone who would pack up the car for the road trip and then complete the dreaded unpacking at the end of vacation. Slugging around suitcases is really not my favorite thing at all.
  • An extra chauffeur for the soccer Saturdays when one kid is at one field at 10:00 and the “travel team” boy needs to be 45 minutes away for a 10:30 game. Let’s throw in gymnastics, basketball, flag football, inline hockey….it’s only getting worse. Hence, the poor Little Guy won’t be starting sports until he’s 25!
  • The comfort of knowing that in an emergency, there would be an extra hand or someone to stay home with a couple boys while I ran one of them to the doctor for stitches or a cast! There was a close call when Little Guy sprayed Deet in his eyes, but we survived that one.
  • Having a partner in making a whole host of decisions from where to buy a house for the “right” school district to what to make for dinner (because asking the boys has only resulted in “mac and cheese” and “chicken nuggets” as less-than-desirable answers).
  • Riding in the passenger seat of the car so that I’m not breaking up fights or switching DVDs or handing out food to quiet the backseat wolves at the same time as trying not to run off the road or into another moving target.
  • Someone to pamper and take care of me. I spend all day giving of myself to others at work and then at home, constantly making sure the kids are safe and relatively comfortable. I spend more time on their social life than I do my own. I worry more about what they’re doing and how they’re feeling than I think about myself. It sure would be nice to have someone pay attention to me (other than to ask for a glass of cold water!).
  • A nice warm stretch of sand without a single human being under the age of 24 in sight and a cool drink in one hand and a mindless novel in the other. That’s what single parents dream of!beach footprints

 

The Opening of a Crisis Nursery

The week has been just a whirlwind and even though everyone’s been saying, “Wow, Easter is so late this year,” I still feel like it snuck up on me. I don’t think I slept much at all last week. There was always something to be working on in the evening. Mostly it was for Jeremiah’s Place, the crisis nursery I’ve been working to bring to Pittsburgh.

On Wednesday, we had a “ribbon-cutting” ceremony and press conference. We did not have the Ribbon-Cutting portion well-planned out…as we were upstaged by a visit in town by the President and Vice-President of the US (the nerve!) so our senator on the board couldn’t be with us. We had a great time, nonetheless.ribbon cutting

It hit me a couple days prior to the event that I really would like my boys to be there. We had decided that we’d have kids cut the ribbon, but I hadn’t done much to get organized. I can’t even begin to say how much I appreciate my mom – whom I can say the day before, “So….if I trade you cars, can you pick up my younger two from daycare since you have the older two boys home for Spring Break….and bring them all to Jeremiah’s Place….and pretty much watch them while we’re there as I’ll be distracted by the media contingent….oh and try to have them wear something relatively nice!” She’s a saint…for that’s exactly what she did.

It was so meaningful to have them there with me. I know that at their ages, they were definitely more concerned with the toys they could play with and how many brownies they were allowed to have. For me, it was wonderful to share my dream and what I’ve been working on for so long. Why I stay up on my computer for 3-4 hours after they go to bed. Why I am often off to meetings in the evenings. Why I am sometimes more grumpy with them when I am stressed by the project.

Super Tall Guy was just 3 when I started working on this project. The Little Guy arrived right before my time dedicated to it really exploded. Sometimes I’ve wondered how much of their early childhood I’ve kind of missed out on because of my “volunteer work” in addition to my pay-the-bills work. I know that I’ve been physically gone more than I would like and often mentally and emotionally gone more than I would wish. This is the part where “Mommy guilt” weighs down, the part where it lets you know that no matter what you’re doing, you’ll feel guilty.

And yet, I also try to tell myself that I’m hoping the boys will one day see that putting together a huge project like this can be done if you remain persistent and committed to your dreams. That it’s possible to work together with a team of passionate people and bring a new service to life in a world that needs Hope and needs help in moments of crisis. That they will understand that it requires a lot of work to accomplish your goals. I’m imagining they might be able to look back on this when they’re 20 or 30….but for now, it’s too much about “them” and about “why aren’t you in bed yet so I can snuggle in?” …. “why are you going out again?”….. “why are you on the phone again?”

And really, my passion for this mission stems from being a foster parent. From the moment I heard the definition of a crisis nursery (4 years ago this week) as a “24/7 safe place for kids under the age of 6 when their families are in crisis,” I knew this was the work for me. For in my mind, an image of The First foster kid came to me and his mother who just needed a little support and probably a lot of sleep! And she loved her son, but every time she got stressed out as a parent she turned to drugs and then lost her kids and would work to reunite. I know that what she wanted most was just a break from the all-timing-consuming nature of parenting and a service such as Jeremiah’s Place could have given her that, as well as connections to other resources. Maybe, just maybe with all that support, The First Guy might still be living with his mother.

So, I thought – maybe if my boys see the place, they will understand just a tad more why this mission has consumed me. Maybe if they feel the excitement. Maybe if they cut the ribbon (with kid safety scissors). Maybe, just maybe, they’ll say – hey, mom did something really cool here. But really, what they said was, “Can I have another brownie?”

So I sit here on Easter Sunday, slightly regretting the fact that in my whirlwind of a week I never thought to get the boys matching Easter shirts (for the first year) and thankful that I did buy Easter basket innards much earlier as I was too exhausted last night to do much other than dump things into a basket and wonder where to hide them. But mostly I sit here eager for our first day tomorrow at Jeremiah’s Place. I am hopeful that it will be able to make a real difference in the lives of mothers, who like me, just need a little support and who definitely need a mother like mine who blessed me with a nap today in the warmth of Easter Sunday. Thank you, Mom. And thank you to everyone who has helped work on this dream. And a huge thank you to Super Tall Guy, Mr. Ornery and The Little Guy — you guys inspire me daily and exhaust me continuously. Keep it up! For I love you.

 

 

The Guardians

It was one of those weeks. One that you just want to survive. One in which you know that you have your schedule so tight that one false move is going to throw the whole balance off. So accepting the cold virus from one of the boys (nice to have 5 of them to blame) was not in the plan.

Neither, as I explained to some friends, was the fact that my “husband” left town for the week. Yes, our saving grace grandmother decided to accept the offer to go be grandmaBus stop 2 to 7 of her other grandchildren in Ohio for the week. This is all well and good – and I was happy for her and applauded her desire and energy to homeschool and cook for so many little ones…..and we did survive with the help of some friends (including one who had the pleasure of getting first-graders off the bus at the bus stop!)…

It was one of those weeks….by the end of which I am trying to tell myself to stop reacting so intensely to the screams and whistles at the dining room table, to be more patient in buckling the Little Guy into his car seat when he finds it more entertaining to swing from the ceiling handle, to give Super Tall Boy a bit more “lovings” when he’s injured than I feel like doing at the moment.

It was one of those weeks ….by the end of which I was content to have “movie night” and found a tear escaping my eye at the end of “Rise of the Guardians” that Super Tall Boy had been clamoring to watch (but ended up in too much time-out/grounding last weekend). I was touched by the reminder within the movie of our responsibility to be guardians for our children.rise-of-the-guardians-pstr-10

Santa – the guardian of wonder – to look at the world through their eyes of curiosity and amazement. To stop and catch a moth and feel its tickle in the palm of your hand. To look for the moon and wonder if it is made out of cheese. To plant some cacti in the tiniest of terrariums and eagerly check each day to see if they have sprouted. Wonder, through the eyes of my boys.

Easter Bunny – the guardian of hope – to look forward to soccer mornings on Saturday (despite the cold blustery wind), to ask me for a third cookie and hope to see a smile and a twinkle of the eyes in a head nodding yes.

The Sandman – the guardian of dreams – the dream to “grow up and be a car wash man, Mom” (is the dream of today and one which I’m hoping will be changing over time), the dream of being able to get a cell phone “when I’m ten, Mom.”

Tooth Fairy – the guardian of memories – which are delightfully enjoyed in animated retellings and amazingly accurate sometimes when I don’t even remember events.

And Jack Frost – the star of the show and the guardian of fun – enjoying each other in playing catch, running laps through the house to jump over a rubber band jump rope,paper boats folding paper boats and watching them float down the mini-rapids of the nearby stream.

The innocence of childhood. The wonder of childhood. The joy, the magic and the fun. We the parents are the guardians of our children. We are the ones that keep them safe and provide them space to dream, to explore, to grow. We hold their hope when it seems to be lost. We watch over them and protect them from fear. A noble, terrifying, exhausting and honorable role. This morning Super Tall Boy reminded me as we walked into church that I am not his boss – that God is the boss. And I had to smile and replied, “You are right. God is the boss….

And He has made me a Guardian.”