Monday, January 28, 2013

Lasting memories of Newtown and moving forward from the tragedy.

This year was a different Christmas for me. I always say that the holidays speed away, and like the sleep over parties I had as a teenager, are exciting to plan--and even more amazing to celebrate with friends late into the night. Then, once the  holidays are over, taking down the decorations and realizing there are no more excuses to eat luscious mounds of food,  makes me feel slightly depressed and  exhausted, coming off a sugar high.  Yet, this year, more than ever before,  I felt a little guilty and sad enjoying the celebrations when  my mind would occasionally  wander to some of those horrible thoughts, still prevalent in the wake of the Newtown tragedy.
 There have been many investigative stories already written and several of the facts are still getting sorted. Plus, so much of the horror continues to stream through  media outlets that I find myself changing the news channel , overwhelmed with all the emotions, and still some disbelief that this could have and did happen. My dad said he doesn't want to hear about it anymore because he can't "take it." Still, I want to share some lingering thoughts from a Mother's, (& Teacher) perspective.
Three prevalent thoughts linger in my mind:

1. What the children were thinking during the incident?
2. Why  there's no record by anyone of strange, bizarre or violent behaviors by the perpetrator.  And if there is, why don't we know about it?
3. How can we help these families and prevent other families from experiencing this same tragedy?

One of the gut wrenching thoughts I struggle with is what these little children were thinking when they witnessed these killings and the fear they felt whether harm would come to them,  probably wondering, "When is mommy coming; she'll protect me 'cause that's what mommies do."
One cold morning when I went to pick-up my then 3-year-old from nursery school, my car wouldn't start. My neighbors weren't home, so I frantically called my husband. Thankfully, he was local and hadn't gone into NYC that day. I rushed inside to call the school to advise my husband would be late getting there. The director told me my son would sit in the classroom with the teacher until my husband arrived.  I was anxious  thinking about my little boy sitting there wondering where I was.
When my husband finally arrived home, I raced to his car as I had been pacing back and forth outside on the street. My husband couldn't understand why I was so frantic. "I have him, what are you worried about, " he said, shaking his head.  I picked my son up from his car seat and kissed him repeatedly. "Sorry, mommy's car wasn't working," I tried to explain.
"I didn't know where you were mommy...all the other mommies were there. But the teacher stayed with me." I felt so badly, and even though I knew there were circumstances beyond my control and that it would be unrealistic to believe my son wouldn't have to acclimate to situations without me, in my heart,  I always want to be there when he needs me. Dr. Northrup, author and woman's advocate in health and wellness,  articulated this well when she said something about placenta cells remaining over 30 years within a mom , connecting her to her child. This is one of many pieces of information that supports why my husband-- and most men-- don't seem to  feel what their children need as many moms do.
So, when I read about the shooter's mom sheltering her son--and possibly masking his dangerous behaviors, I understood her protectiveness, but disagreed with it--and question what issues she had as well. When a child exhibits "disturbing" behaviors as was indicated by many witnesses as well as his mom who, according to news programs,  advised her friend, "Don't take your eyes off of him," when she left to run errands one day.
We have a duty to seek help, get the necessary interventions and/or alert authorities if we believe a person can harm someone. A major obstacle in this scenario is the stigma which is associated with mental health issues which  makes coming forward that much more difficult. We, as a society, need to educate ourselves and mandate interventions through our schools, at home and through our health care initiatives.
 As a Teacher,  I encountered one child who, although I only taught for one class, recognized there were social issues of concern. A colleague didn't want me to say anything because the mom was extremely antagonistic. The child wasn't following the rules in my class, so I had him stay in at lunch one day. The mom complained to the Principal, and added that when she saw me, "one of my skirts was too short" (her way of defending her son)?
I, in turn, shared my concerns about the child's behavior. The Principal moved the child out of my class, even though he said he concurred there was "something off." Hence, I am in total agreement with many of the crime and rehabilitation "experts" who I watched after the Newtown tragedy, when they said our society protects or hides these deviant behaviors rather than address the underlying issues through interventions. Regrettably, when  I recently saw some former students, it was sad for me to learn that the boy in question here  is now in prison.  My message:  report, document and address these mental & criminal issues before they address us.
 Another, separate and distinct variable which comes into play in the Newtown case is the perpetrator was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, which is under the umbrella of Autism, often characterized by a lack of social skills and often accompanied by  a high intelligence, especially in a particular subject or interest.  An obvious example is Dustin Hoffman's character portrayal in Rainman. As a Teacher and Educational Advocate , I can attest to the fact that  because a child is on the Autistic Spectrum, doesn't mean he has more criminal tendencies than "typical" children. Criminal behaviors don't discriminate as they exist in all types of people and must be dealt with whether they exist in isolation --or are coupled with other disabilities/ illnesses.
My final recurring thought is there's no way to bring these little children, or the adults who were trying to protect them, back; so what can we do to change the world in the future to honor these precious lives that were cut so short? I believe we must pay tribute to the families as much as we can.  I met a mom in the supermarket recently, and I agreed with her when she  said, "If I lost my child, there's absolutely nothing anyone could say to make me feel better." I agree, there are no words. Prayers, prayers and more prayers is what I would ask to help families cope with such an enormous loss.
My small way of paying homage to the children this year was to decorate with some new lights in children's colors of purple and pink, along with a 2nd, smaller tree. For many years, I've been saying I wanted to get a baby, 2nd tree to decorate in addition to our larger, family tree. 

  A few days before Christmas, I found one small tree left at the nursery, all by its lonesome. Like the toys disregarded in the  "Land of Misfit Toys," I had to rescue it. No one purchased  it because it was extremely flawed, lots of  wayward branches, irregularly shaped. My husband said I shouldn't get it  because it's "crooked,"  like the leaning tower of Pisa.
I often listen to my husband's input, but not when it comes to shopping:  I  hugged my tree, watered  & decorated it the best I could. It's BEAUTIFUL and representative of a group of families who could have collapsed, but like the tree, these wounded victims are still standing--crooked bearing so much pain on their shoulders--or as I'd rather envision them--carrying their children piggyback style. The lights are the children's inner glow, a legacy and brightness that's eternal.

Every Christmas, I'm going to do something to remember these children and the Badger family (The three girls and their grandparents who died in a Ct. fire Christmas 2011). 

I hope three takeaways from this post are:

1. Hold these children in your heart and honor them in some way, whether through prayer, ceremony or your thoughts and deeds towards others.
 2. If you know of a child (or mom/dad) who has sociopathic (where your think they could truly harm someone) and/or criminal tendencies, share your information with the proper authorities so it's on record; this includes your schools, especially if you're in a position where, like a Teacher, you have insight into certain disturbing behaviors.
3.  Remember how blessed we are to have our children, which, at times, means, "don't sweat the small stuff" so much.  Yes, it's important to guide our children, teach them values and sometimes be the rule enforcer. But, sometimes, we, as moms, need to pick & choose our battles, especially with teenagers. The other day, I was making lunch  for school and I opened the aluminum foil to find one of my kids had unraveled the roll so that I couldn't open the foil without it continuing to tear.  So, I started getting aggravated and was about to call them downstairs. Then I  giggled remembering I always messed this up --and sometimes still do. Not a big deal, so I simply unraveled the entire roll and started over.
Motherhood is  like the roll of aluminum foil: some days are shiny and smooth and unravel  effortlessly; other days, we just can't seem to grasp onto whatever it is we're trying to do. When everything seems to be falling apart and slipping through our hands,  remember what we tell our kids, "Take a deep breath and start over again."
Life really is precious; the time you spend with your children and loved ones is of greatest value!