Swallow

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Breathe.

The simple act of pulling the world in and swallowing. When I was a kid I used to hold my breath underwater for 74 seconds. I remember that number clearly because it was the neighborhood record. It was a feat to balloon my chest and deprive my body of the very thing it needs most.

Breathe.

When I had my daughters, the doctors had to put me to sleep. It was predetermined that I would have a cesarean, I don’t remember being asked or offered an alternative. The epidural didn’t work. The nurse tapped something against my spine and I jumped. He did it again, I jumped. Twice they tried. Then, they laid me on my back and slid a mask over my face. Breathe deep, a voice said. The lights were stars, the doctors were magicians. I was so passive. I so easily turned my body over to strangers.  I didn’t even know what agency meant. But I knew how to fill my chest with air.

Breathe.

There are nights when I wake up breathless. I have somehow pushed the air from my lungs, extricated the oxygen from my body. In my dreams there are kids- six, seven, eight years old. The same age as my twin girls. There is a gunman. They don’t know that he’s coming, but they know that something is sour. There are people screaming. Then, a door opens.

 

There is a space here-a pause.

 

Between the moment of knowing and the moment of dying. I sometimes imagine this space as a breath. A long, 74-second breath like the one I treasured as a child of their same age. I wake gasping for something.  I want to suspend these children in that breath, and I cannot. The air runs low. My daughter falling down the stairs when she was three years old. That scream. The one that woke me from a daydream. The one that cut through the air like a siren. I imagine a classroom full of those screams. How the walls must’ve ached with their echo. The air runs lower. The swallows in my chest fade, collapse, die.

Breathe.

The shooting happened on a Friday. My daughters were six. One was home sick. The walls could not contain my grief. I pressed my spine against the molding of our kitchen door and sobbed. The building could not hold me. The world could not hold me. Not tight enough. I wished for a jar to pour my heartache into and seal away. There was no shelf wide enough. My breath tasted like vinegar-it foreign in my mouth. I mourned the obvious-lives cut short, parents devastated, and the collective heartbreak of a community. But I obsessed over the terror in that pause. That 74-second exhale of air. The swell of life leaving their lungs.  That’s when the swallows moved into my chest. They’ve never left.

 

*A poem for the children of Sandy Hook.

To donate to the wonderful people who work tirelessly to prevent another Sandy Hook shooting in our country, click here.

A Farewell Letter to My President

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Dear Barack Obama,

I was keeping a journal for my two-year-old twin daughters when you began your campaign all those years ago. The night you were elected, as they slept soundly in their cribs, I sobbed. I sobbed so hard my body shook. And when you and Michelle walked out onto that stage in Grant Park with your little girls, my chest swelled with pride.  We, as a nation, had chosen HOPE, and I couldn’t have been more proud of this amazing country. In my journal I wrote: This is the beginning. This is the beginning of a beautiful chapter in our lives.

And it was. Your presidency hasn’t been easy. But, despite the harshest of opposition, you kept our hopes and dreams with you at all times. You made decisions based on logic and facts. You weighed consequences, listened to opposing views, and made choices that you felt would benefit most rather than some. Under your presidency, my marriage and my family bloomed. I was able to go back to graduate school and earn my MFA because my husband’s union was strong and secure. And once I graduated, I was able to secure health insurance even though I did not have a full time job. As a nation, we moved forward as we saw some of our most vulnerable communities get the rights and protections they deserved.

When you were first elected, we saw a well-dressed black man in Target. My girls were three, maybe four, and they yelled out “Obama! Obama!!” The man smiled and kept walking. I was immediatly embarrassed, but quickly realized how wonderful it was that when my young daughters saw a black man, they saw a President.  They are now part of the most inclusive and racially diverse generation, embracing all colors and backgrounds, and I’d like to think you had a lot to do with that.

Then there was that fateful day, when a madman gunned down a classroom full of first and second graders at Sandy Hook Elementary. I’ve written so much about this, about how that day affected me not only as a mother, but as a human being. I remember that day so clearly, and I remember looking to you for a comfort I knew I would find. When you came out into the press briefing room, you were stoic and composed. But as you spoke, as you recalled what had happened, the tears streamed down your face. There you were, not the President of the United States, but Barack Obama, Daddy to Sasha and Malia. I remember feeling that raw emotion with you. You made something impossible hurt a little less that day.

I don’t know what’s next for you and your family. But I wanted you to know that your presidency was not a shadow, but a shimmer over my daughters’ lives. You showed this country what it means to be a grownup, a thinker, an intellectual. And for the short eight years that we had you, I was proud to have called you my President.

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2008

Why I’m Fat…and Trump

sad-505857_1920I don’t want to share this, I shouldn’t have to share this part of my life, but I cannot stay silent any longer. I, like most women, am disgusted by not only Trump himself, but more so by the attempts of his supporters to dismiss his lewd, sexual comments as “locker room talk.” What’s happening with the Trump campaign and the rhetoric surrounding this election is striking a familiar chord somewhere inside of me, and it’s time I tell you all how Donald Trump made me fat.

As a teenager, I developed quickly and early and the boys noticed-as did the girls. In gym class, I tried everything I could think of to get out of running, jumping, or any other activity that would cause the boys to hoot and holler at my bouncing breasts. Boys dated me because of my body, and other girls called me a slut for the same reason. I learned early on that my body was something I should be ashamed of. That idea-body and shame-rooted itself inside of me and bore fruit for years and years in the form of bad decisions and self-loathing.

Sometimes, I welcomed the attention. If a cute boy said hello in the hallway, I smiled. If a boy told me I was pretty, I accepted that compliment. But the language never stayed benign. The rhetoric always escalated. There were nicknames, obscene gestures, forced sexual encounters. What should have been a kiss always ended with a hand under my shirt. Boys would grab my breasts under the bleachers at the football games, press themselves against me in dark corners at parties, or break up with me after I refused to allow their hands to wander. At 12, 13, and 14 years old, I never knew how to handle the Donald Trumps of this world and their overtly aggressive and sexual advances. I didn’t know how to respond, how to handle what I perceived as ridicule, or how to hide my body from them.

Then, I discovered a way. I began turning to food for comfort and protection.I know now that I didn’t want boys to stop paying attention to me altogether, I just wanted them to pay the right kind of attention. I wanted boys to notice my sense of humor, to appreciate my intelligence, and if they thought I was pretty-I’d take that too. What I didn’t want was the boys leering at my breasts, thinking I was easy because I was shaped a certain way, and for girls to hate me because of it.

In my late teens/early twenties, I gained a massive amount of weight, hence changing the shape of my body. And while being fat brought with it a new kind of shame, in many ways it felt safer. I felt safe. I found a boy who loved me in the right way, who saw my humor, my mind, my inner beauty, and who-for a while anyway-loved me for those things. I didn’t attract attention from men on the street anymore. Girls didn’t hate me. I was still ashamed of my body, but I no longer felt unsafe because of it. I had finally found a way to protect myself from the Trumps of this world, from the boys and men who had reduced me to a sexual commodity.

Today, I am 39. I have two daughters and a wonderfully supportive husband. I am a better weight, not great, but better, and have learned to love the body I have. Still, the Trumps of the world are out there. It doesn’t happen often, but once in a while a man will make a comment or an advance that focuses once again on my body-specifically my breasts, and I am immediately 12 years old again and can still taste that shame on my tongue. The instinct to hide myself from sexual aggression is a reflex born out of a lifetime of feeling ashamed of my body. It is the tree still living inside of me-no longer bearing fruit-but refusing to wither.

That’s why Trump’s campaign of sexism and hatred is so very dangerous. Many of us still have that tree inside of us. We know what it feels like to be objectified, to be ridiculed, or worse yet, to be sexually assaulted. Trump’s comments went beyond any “locker room” talk I’ve ever heard, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t heard them somewhere before. I’ve heard talk like this under the breath of the boy pressed against me in that dark corner at a party, before I could wiggle out of his grasp and before I could muster the word “no.”

If you ask me what I want for my 9-year-old daughters the list is long. I want them to be strong, to have a solid education, to make their mark on the world with kindness, not power. But if I could only have one thing-just one wish for my children-it would be that they find their voice and they learn how to use it for change. Simply put, I want better for my girls. I hope they never have to feel how their mommy felt, or her mommy, or her mommy before her.

*

Amye Archer is the author of Fat Girl, Skinny. Follow her at @amyearcher

Everything I Wanted to Know About My Grandmother I Learned From Her Palm.

 

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My grandmother as a young woman.

Everything I wanted to know about my grandmother I learned from her palm. A strong, deep life line with little attachment meant she was fiercely independent. She held two jobs down when most women didn’t work. She ran away from home, married a Catholic, lost babies, disowned siblings, and lived the last thirty-two years of her life alone. She loved to work in her home, rarely ventured out, liked order, and respected routine. Still, there was so much I didn’t know. I never knew the cut of her love line, still like a river across her hand, until it was cold in my palms the day we lost her. I could never imagine the woman who wouldn’t answer her door in anything less than full dress as a honeymooner rolling around in the backseat of my grandfather’s Lincoln. I never knew her as young. She was an old lady my whole life.

In the first section of my memoir, I have sex with two different men in three different places. In the second section, there’s two more. In the third, yet another. And when I write these scenes, I hold nothing back. My book is about divorce and body image. It’s about feeling insecure and using men to feel better about myself. I write myself the fool for sure. I write about myself as a young woman, as a divorcee, as someone who is so woefully unsure of herself that I cringe even now as I read the words. Because of my writing, this is the version of me that my children and my grandchildren will know. They will not wonder, they will not question, they will have an insight into my heart and mind that I would have given anything to have with my grandmother, or the mothers who came before her.

It’s not easy to write about our lives, especially if you’re accustomed to writing fiction.  Many of us worry about ex-husbands, parents, children, etc. We worry about splitting open our lives on a page and allowing the world a front seat. And as a memoirist, let me assure you, it never gets easier. That vulnerability is always there. But, the gift we give the generations that will come after us by allowing them access to the inner workings of our lives is invaluable.

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This makes me slightly nervous…

At first, the thought of my twin daughters-now nine-reading the perils of my life someday was terrifying. I imagined them pouring over the chapters in which I fumble, give myself over too easily to love, make the wrong choices, and laughing, losing respect for me faster than I can rewrite my past. Then I realized something. Someday, they will be me: a middle-aged woman with a cobbled-together sense of confidence, doing the best she can to raise her kids with love, hope, and strength. Then, their babies will have babies, and so on. What a beautiful heritage we can help create as mothers when we write down our stories?

You don’t have to write a memoir to leave a written record of your life. You can write a journal, write essays, poetry, or thinly-veiled fiction. The day my girls were born, I started a journal. I don’t write as much as I should because I’ve been busy with other projects, but I try to write once a month or so. I write a lot about what’s happening in the world around us and how I react to these events. I wrote about the sun bursting in my heart as I watched our country elect the first black president. I wrote about the absolute anguish I felt after the Sandy Hook shooting. But I also wrote a detailed description of every home and apartment in which I lived, stories of the men I’ve loved, and tender memories of my relationship with their father. I plan on giving them this journal when they become mothers.

I can’t help but wonder how different my life would have been had I been gifted a written record of my grandparents or their parents as young, hot-blooded men and women. How fascinating would it have been to read the secrets locked inside my grandmother’s heart? To know what she was afraid of, what made her cry, what she thought about life and love? Instead, what I know is highlights and recycled memories handed down through the generations. Lines on a palm with no stories attached.

As a writer, I can do more for my children. As a mother, I should. When you’re given the gift of being able to write, you should ask yourself what responsibilities come with that gift. I never knew where my writing was born from. I have artists in my family, sure, but mostly musicians and visual artists.  So, I’m the writer. I’m the record-keeper, the storyteller, and the one who should be taking it all down. I don’t question this, I welcome it. I refuse to be a stale story, someone remembered vaguely by a distant grandson. Someday, my grandchildren will be able to say that everything they learned about their grandmother, they learned from her own words.

A Letter to My Twin Daughters as They Turn Nine: Or, How We Failed You…Again.

For the first six years of your lives, your birthday was a joyous occasion. I help parties, crafted invitations like a Pinterest mom, baked you cakes, and bought you toys. Your daddy came home from work, painted us with kisses, and tickled your soft bellies until your laughter rained on us. We had a normal life. We had good days and good years, and the promise of a better tomorrow. When I asked you either of you what you wanted to be when you grew up you answered through crooked smiles and missing teeth: artist, teacher, singer, painter.

Then, the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened. You had just turned six two days prior, and one of you-Samantha-was home sick. The news broke that a shooting had occurred in a school. Having lived through Columbine as a college student, Virginia Tech as a young adult, I had weathered these types of events before in this country, and I’m embarrassed to say that I gave little mind to the headlines when they started to pop up across the TV screen.

Your fever climbed, your cheeks burst into red, and the network news anchor was breaking into our regularly scheduled programming. I will never forget that moment, the sippy cup of ice water in my left hand, a damp washcloth in the right, I stood motionless as I watched lines, ropes of screaming children being led from their elementary school by even more distraught adults. I steadied myself against the wall and watched as we learned of the dead, the massacred, the innocent.

“I wasn’t sure how the parents of those slain children would go on, but I thought maybe, no I was certain of it, I was sure that we would pull together as a country and help them through this.”

Hours later, the names started pouring in, floating across our TV screens like a fog. I did what every parent in America did that day: I hugged you both like it would be the last time. I held you against me until I was afraid you would melt.  I held you to fill the void for those parents, all of those parents in Newtown who would never see their babies again. I called my mom with a sob in my voice I had never felt before. I don’t know what to do with this, I cried, this pain is unbearable. I wanted somewhere to put the anguish, a jar with a tight lid that would never open again. If I feel this way, I thought, I cannot imagine what those poor parents are feeling. I wasn’t sure how the parents of those slain children would go on, but I thought maybe, no I was certain of it, I was sure that we would pull together as a country and help them through this.

I thought that day was the hardest. But I was wrong. The hardest part of the Sandy Hook Massacre for parents around the world was ever trusting that our children would be safe in school-ever again. The next morning, it was all I could do not to keep you home. What if there’s a copycat? What if someone tries it here? What if? What if?  But Daddy insisted, we keep going, keep moving forward. That morning, there were more parents outside of the school than usual.  I will never forget letting you walk through those doors again. I stood there, with at least a dozen mothers and fathers, just watching you with tears streaming down our cheeks.

I thought that day was the hardest. But I was wrong again. The hardest part came in the days, weeks, and even years afterwards, when-despite twenty children and six adults being murdered in an elementary school by a lone gunman-we as a country continue to fail them and you by doing nothing.  There have been efforts made by many, the strong voices in a choir of ignorance, singing out for justice, for help, for empathy, but the choir is loud and those voices are drowning by themselves.

Your birthday has never been the same for me. Not because the events of that day overshadow your life, I don’t want them to. But because I can never give you what you truly deserve on your birthday and every day in between, and that is a safe place in this world.  I can’t yet say to you that a really bad thing happened and we fixed it, or at least tried to make it better. Instead, the deaths of those 20 children have made our world less safe, and now a simple trip to Target or the mall is a risk. Your birthday has never been the same because I have never been the same. I have failed you, the country has failed you, and I don’t know what to do to make it right.

At night, even now, I close my eyes sometimes and imagine the fear and panic those who died and those who survived experienced in those classrooms. It haunts me. I look at parents walking through the streets with a gun tucked in their belt and a first-grader on their arm, and I wonder how on earth you can reconcile the two? I think about the 52 parents in Newtown who are celebrating the holidays with one less person at their table this year. It’s unimaginable that you will grow up in this world, that you will fear taking your kids-my grandchildren-to school, that you will be in a crowded space and have your heart pound out of your chest because someone bursts through a door or moves in a way that could signal terror.

On your birthday, my sweet babies, and every day, I am sorry my voice isn’t strong enough, but I pray every single day that it will be heard.

Mommy

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To help: Please consider donating today to either of these groups:

Moms Demand Action 

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The “F” Word

Two weeks ago-yes it has taken me that long to recover from this incident-I brought my 8-year-old twin daughters to Target for an impromptu shopping trip. As we were sitting in the cafe’ chomping on a very salty soft pretzel, one of my daughters asked me who I thought would grow up to be fat, her or her twin.  Puzzled, I choked down the ICEE I was slurping and asked her why she thought one of them would be fat. Why would you think such a thing? She looked at me, slightly embarrassed, and said softly, “well, because Daddy is skinny, and you’re…not.”

iceeBefore you jump to the conclusion that my daughter is a jerk, let me just say this: I am fat. I have always struggled with my weight, and when I had finally gotten to a point where I was happy with my body, I was blessed with a twin pregnancy. The road back from that birth has not been easy, as most mothers will attest. Being a mom consumes you, and one day you realize that you haven’t really cared for yourself in that way in a really long time. Or, maybe that’s a nice, convenient excuse, I don’t know anymore. All I know is my daughter’s words hit me like a freight train, not because they hurt my feelings-I’ve been called a lot worse-but because her words opened my eyes to this: My daughters have no idea what makes people fat. They have no clue how to keep caloric intake down, which foods linger longer than others, or any of the other helpful and necessary information they need to help control their weight as adults, and you know what? It’s all my fault.

After having read 95,888,888 articles about how we as women are destroying one another with words, or how mothers can imprint their body image issues onto their young, I issued a moratorium on the word “fat” pretty early on. My daughters have never heard me say it, and thankfully have never heard anyone call me by that moniker. I’ve never weighed myself in front of them, or even uttered the word “diet.” I’m pretty strict about what they eat, and try my best to model “good behavior” and “self-control.” But now, here I was faced with a teaching moment, and I couldn’t help but think of it this way- In the effort to prevent future self-loathing, am I setting my daughters up for an unhealthy lifestyle? Would it be the end of the world if my daughter knew that sugary drinks and candy make you fat? So here’s what I said:

“You’re right honey, Mommy is a little fat.  But, I’m working on eating healthy and exercising so that I can be healthier. That’s why Mommy doesn’t eat a lot of junk food.”

I don’t know what I expected. But what I got was a crooked little smile and a quick story about some Minecraft video they had watched earlier that day. My other daughter wasn’t even paying attention.

Look, I don’t know what the answer is, how to shape the outcome of my daughter’s self-image. All I know is, I tend to lean towards no information being on par with misinformation. I want my daughter to love her body, and to accept whatever shape or form it may take, but I also want her to be healthy and to work towards being healthy as an adult. Not skinny, healthy. And I believe it is my job as Mommy to make sure she has all of the information she needs to make the best possible decision she can.

A Letter to Mothers of Sons From a Mother of Daughters

When your son comes to you with arms outstretched and pain in his cheeks, let him fall into you. Let him cry, let him soften, let him be cotton against this hard world.

When your son needs to be caught, catch him. When he needs to be propped up, stand tall against him like a dam. But don’t rush. Let him walk slowly towards you, so that he may learn to ask for the support he needs.

mom-and-son1-600x401When your son grows angry, sooth him. Be the cool against his heat. Show him that the world is bright, and that he is too.

When your son questions himself, question him right back, so that he might own the convictions resting on his tongue.

When your son asks about girls like they are puzzles, remind him that you are one too, and that the clues are the same.

When your son asks about love, don’t give him the answers. Let him wander through that magical universe and earn his stars.

When your son asks about my daughter, tell him she was loved with just the right amount of restraint, so that she can be her own dam. And that she was held with just the right amount of kindness, so that she can still be the cotton.

On My Twin Daughters Turning Eight

When I first held you in my arms, you were smoldering and you melted against me like burning tar.

In the beginning, our life together was slow and thick.  I questioned everything.  There are no answers, my mother told me when I called her for a twenty minute consultation about your seemingly endless crying, it’s just trial and error.  And I did. try. everything.

You were once connected to me through here, I whispered to you and pointed to your protruding belly knobs.  You smiled at me with shiny, slippery gums.

At nine months, Samantha fell down a flight of stairs because I turned my back to toast a piece of bread. At a year, she ate a piece of plastic only to be saved by my father’s quick thinking as he pulled it from her throat at just the right time.
At eighteen months, Penelope screamed herself to sleep every night for a month.  Inside of me, where the guilt was supposed to reside, lived only exhaustion and a weight the shape of your lips.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe mistakes I made were endless.  There was everything between you and safety.  Fear had moved into my belly, the space you left vacant.

I dreamed of fire consuming me.  I made my father call me every morning to make sure I was alive.  If I don’t answer, I told him, come and get the girls.

I dragged the two of you through early development, and you dragged me into motherhood with equal force.

Then, one day, it wasn’t so hard.

Yesterday, the two of you helped me put up the Christmas tree.  Samantha’s arms draped in soft white as she fed me a string of lights, and Penelope carefully hanging the ornaments we’ve collected since the origin of our family.  When it was all over and the glow was celestial, I looked at you for the first time in your short lives and realized how easy it is to love you now.

I once had a man tell me that I am hard to love because I demand too much of people.

You’ve never had a hard time with it.

I put you to bed tonight, the night before you turn eight, and I held you in my arms, pressed you both hard against me.  You were once connected to me, I whispered into the still of the darkness, through here, I said, pointing to your thin slice of a belly button.

Three Things to Keep me From Jumping off a Cliff

This week, no, this year, I have been met with more disappointment in my professional life than I know what to do with.  Jobs I was certain I had -slipped through my fingers, publishers I was sure would offer-passed, everything I thought would happen, the plan I had dreamed in my mind for myself, is gone.  Each week there are rejection slips in my inbox, each month there’s another person/publisher/editor/chairperson telling me I’m not good enough, my writing isn’t good enough, my credentials aren’t good enough.  This is the life of so many of us who write and teach or teach and write.  It’s what you sign on for when you decide to become a writer.  It’s not just my experience, this trampling of ego echoes through the masses, I know that, it’s just so, so, so…. humbling.  And before you send me hate mail, or call me a whiner, yes, I know there are writers who are way more talented than myself who have been plugging away for twenty-some odd years without catching a break.  This is not a competition.  This is just me, telling you, how I plan to deal with this influx of negative energy.

girl_cryingI’ve been here before.  After my divorce it was the same feeling only the destruction and utter disappointment was happening in my personal life.  I had broken up with my ex to search for a better life, a better mate, a better fit, and I was finding…well, not that.  So I slowly began to work on the things I could control.  I began to exercise, lose weight, read more, focus on my job, and in the end, I was better for it.   More importantly, I took the risk of leaving a bad yet comfortable relationship in hopes of finding something more, and in the (very) long run, it paid off.

Four years ago, I took another risk.  I promised my husband that if he supported my decision to go back to school, it would pay off someday.  I told my kids as I dropped them off at daycare every morning so that I could finish my MFA, that this would all be worth it someday.  Now, that someday seems to be fading further and further into the distance.  I know it will come, the risk will pay off, but it’s getting harder and harder to keep looking up.  But these are things I have no control over.  I can’t control the fact that publishers and editors don’t think a book about a fat girl is going to sell right now.  I can’t control the fact that the job market is in the toilet.  The only thing I can control is me, and what I do with my life and my family, my writing.

In honor of this, I have decided that I’m going to do what I have done in the past at every lull in life.  I have reinvented myself more than once, and I’m ready to do it again.  I’m going to commit to doing three things everyday.  If I can do this for a month, I will add another.  So, just in time for April, I’m asking you, too, to make a list of three things you can do everyday to nourish your mind, body, and spirit.  Here are mine:

Mind:  I’m going to read for thirty minutes a day (at least.)  My life right now is full of “too busy to read.”  That needs to change.

Body:  I’m going to drink 100 ounces of water each day.

Spirit:  I’m going to spend an hour a day doing something my kids love.  Playing Candyland, reading Pinkalicious, building with Legos.  Whatever they want, one hour.  That’s the deal.

These three small things will help me to feel better about myself, connect me with my children, help hydrate my body after a long, cold winter, and help my writing by reading great stories every day.

These are my three things.  I will do them every day in April.  This may not solve my problem, but it helps to exercise control over something.  By the end of April, I will have read, played, and hydrated myself to a better frame of mind.  Hopefully.

The New Question We’re Asking Our Teachers

My husband and I are moving our six-year-old twin daughters across the country.  We’re leaving northeast Pennsylvania for the Seattle area.  As such, we’ve been doing a lot of research on our new town.  First, I researched the work outlook: good.  I researched the state government: two female democratic senators.  I researched the climate: not so great, but livable.  I researched the public transportation: great. I researched the school districts: some of the best in the country.  I called the schools, asked a variety of questions:

What is your curriculum like?

Do your students wear uniforms?

What are your after school programs like?

Are your art and music programs well-funded?

As my cell phone heated up against my cheek, the questions grew more and more vague.  The silences grew longer.  There was still one more question lurking in my throat, in my chest, lying against my broken heart: Would you take a bullet for my daughter?  

Lauren Rousseau's Parents

Lauren Rousseau’s Parents

This is the new rhetoric surrounding neighborhood schools.  This is the new fear that turns parents in their beds at night.  Will my child’s teacher be the next Lauren Rousseau, the Newtown, Connecticut, teacher who selflessly died trying to save her students? Will s/he be willing to stand up to the new face of terror in our schools?  And the even bigger question looming over all of us as parents is: do we even have the right to ask such a sacrifice?

My daughters now attend a small elementary school in Pennsylvania.  Their teacher, a wonderful and thoughtful educator, has a little boy all her own.  is it fair to hope that she would leave him motherless in an attempt to save me from an imaginable grief?  I don’t know if I, in good conscience, could ever ask that of another parent.

For weeks after the Sandy Hook massacre, I, like millions of parents across the country, couldn’t sleep.  I relived the story in my head a thousand times.  I imagined the fear in the children’s hearts in the two to three seconds it took them to realize what was happening.  I lived in that moment.  I lived in that classroom.  I lived in that grief for weeks and weeks.  I considered therapy.  I even considered religion.  Eventually, I began to move forward, slowly.  But in Newtown, there are families who never will.  I believe there is a community that will never get past this.  It’s too big,  it’s too horrible, it just doesn’t fit into any of the compartments inside of them.

The world became a different place on December 14th, 2012.   For me personally, it was the end of my love affair with politics and news.  I was an avid “newsie” for most of my adult life, but as time went on and my television was filled with men and women refusing to stand up to the gun lobby to ensure those children didn’t die in vain, I had to turn it off.  I had to bury my anger, bury my head, bury my pain in the arms of my daughters.  I’ve always been a staunch Democrat, battling fiercely for what I believed were democratic ideals.  Now, I’m just tired and I’m always sad.

I’m sad that my government has let me down.  I’m sad that this pain and fear inside those of us with small children is like a hot stove we are tied to, yet for most on Capitol Hill, it seems that heat has started to cool.  I’m sad that I have to look at my child’s teacher and wonder if s/he would protect them.  I’m sad that I even have to ask such a thing of another parent.  I’m sad for the parents in Newtown, who cannot fathom that gun control is even up for debate.  I’m sad that they don’t have the arms of their children for refuge from this cruel world.

sandy-hook-memorialThe Sandy Hook shooting and the political fallout are a language I will never understand.  I will never be able to comprehend what happened that day, how it happened, why it happened, and what to do with the fact that it did.   The massacre has changed the way I think, the way I feel, and the way I dream.  Now,  in my dreams, teachers are not asked to take a bullet, the children of Sandy Hook are alive and tucked into their beds at night, and teachers teach, and bad guys don’t have guns.  That is my dream, and the dream of so many parents.  The American Dream of yesterday is gone.  The new American Dream is a school from which our children return home at the end of the day, whole, fulfilled, happy, and…alive.