Friday, December 28, 2012

We Are Newtown

I have a friend who lives in Newtown, CT. She used to be my client years ago; we've kept up with each other on Facebook since that time.

Life has been strange for them. They have been incredibly saddened by the day's events, by the tremendous loss that 26 families in their town of 21,000 people suddenly suffered on December 14. They have been touched by the amazing generosity of strangers who have paid for ice cream, coffee, for life's little things to try to soften the blow of losing the big things.

In the days shortly after the shooting, she likened their first outing to walking in a post-apocalyptic world. There were people around but they didn't speak to each other. They could only share glances before the shock and pain showing in the other person's eyes made them look away. Inconsequential chit chat seemed irrelevant, so no one spoke because no one could put words to the grief they all felt.

There have been calls for gun control. Calls for more guns. Calls for better mental health screening. Of the pieces I've read in the wake of this tragedy, these are the ones that I believe are worth a wider audience.

Why the Sandy Hook Shooting Feels so Close

Perspective is everything, and social media and instant news have reduced the amount of space and time between tragic events and our learning of them. This is a must read, as we as a nation consider what to do in the wake of this tragedy.

Is anyone else disgusted by the fact that on December 15th, the day after the shooting, a Wikipedia entry for "Sandy Hook" and "Adam Lanza" were both started?

This is What 6 Looks Like

Why does this particular loss hurt so much? There have been many other shootings, many lives lost senselessly. But the victims were kindergarteners. This writer does a wonderful job of explaining why -- because we all know what 6 looks like.

I Am Adam Lanza's Mother

This post chronicles a mother's challenges in dealing with the mental health of her son. She is left managing him as best she can with no answers and very little help. I've heard this story before -- from Dylan Klebold's mom, Jeffrey Dahmer's mom, and others. This highlights the need for better mental health care in this country, one child at a time.

How the NRA Lobbied Congress to Suppress Firearm Studies

In 2012 the government spent $64.2MM researching how to reduce and prevent traffic deaths. This same year, the government spent $0 on studying how to prevent firearm deaths. With the Sandy Hook shooting, as of right now it appears that more Americans will be killed by firearms than traffic accidents.

Attack on Chinese children the same day

On December 14, the same day as the Sandy Hook shooting, a "madman" entered a school in China and brutally knived 22 children. While the injuries were gruesome, all 22 children survived the attack.

Not that the US wants to become a Communist country and ban outright the owning of firearms by private citizens, but I found the coincidence of these two events happening on the same day in two countries on opposite sides of the world -- with completely different outcomes -- more than a little startling.

Someone's Child

Yes, I'll be bold enough to put my own post in this group. This was one of my first thoughts when I heard of the shooting -- the shooter is someone's child, who is deserving of our sympathies as well.

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Believe

Lindsey has been testing us all season, wondering if we will give away whether or not Santa is real. 

"Do YOU believe, Mommy?" she asks. "How can he get to all the kids in the world in one night? My friends say their parents are Santa, but I still believe he's real."

You can practically feel her still wanting to believe. She wishes so much for it to be true. When she stumbled across our special Santa wrapping paper a couple of weeks ago, she seemed to believe Wayne's explanation that Santa magically wraps gifts while here if the elves couldn't get it done before the big trip. 

Lindsey wrote her letter to Santa several weeks ago. She put a few drawings of her and Santa on it, then gave it to me and asked me to mail it from work, after promising not to read it. Which, of course, I did. But I did keep my word and mailed her letter. Put a stamp on it and everything. 

I showed her this photo, as proof to her that I had mailed it. She was satisfied.

Imagine my surprise when today in the mail she receives a letter from Santa. The return envelope says "Santa Claus, North Pole."

And this letter was enclosed.

Lindsey's eyes grew wide as she read it. She walked around in silence, reading it to herself. Then she looked at me and smiled. 

"He really IS real!" she says. 

Whether or not Santa is a real person, he is real in spirit, embodied in kind and amazing people all over this world, who have no idea how incredibly happy they made one little girl tonight.

Thank you, Santa.

My "After" Picture

My "before" picture, July 1, 2012

I have not yet posted an "after" photo for my original 60-day challenge that I began in July, for a couple of reasons.

1. My results don't look as dramatic as I had hoped when I photographed it.
2. I realized I am never done, so there never is an "after."

I took a series of "after" photos after completing the Insanity: Asylum 60-day challenge at the end of August. I'll be honest, I couldn't tell the difference between my before and my after pics. Of course, I didn't do what they recommended -- they say to wear the same exact clothes in both poses, and the more skin you show the better. Well I was so embarrassed by the state of my stomach before hand that I couldn't possibly imagine showing it to anyone.

In November I began my 90-day Chalene Extreme challenge. Three months of working out 5 days a week with various strength training and cardio mixed in. I am LOVING the program, feel stronger and healthier, and feel like my body had changed enough that perhaps, finally, I could take some after pics.

But again, the results don't look terribly dramatic, until you take a closer look.

Do I see a tricep muscle on my arm?
Could that be some definition in my abs?

But more importantly, these jeans that I was trying on, while they appear to only have a little bit of room in them, used to NOT FIT. My waist used to bulge out over the top of them, and I could barely zip them up. Now I can't wear them without a belt and a bunch of material sticking out from under the belt. 

Bye bye, jeans!

So far this year I've lost a total of 5 pounds. I kid you not, only five pounds.

But I've lost 7 inches from my waist, hips and thighs.

Need I say, I'm a believer?

As Chalene Johnson says in her Extreme circuit series, "Muscle burns fat, baby!" She also says a lot of other things that are incredibly positive, helping people doing the workout series to begin to believe in themselves and are capable of more than they thought possible.

My "after" photo, Nov 30, 2012
So I am slightly embarrassed but kind of proud to share my "after" photo, as of the end of 2012.

I'm not done yet. I'm going to continue on this journey, it's been too much fun to stop now.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Most Important Appointment of My Day

I arrived home at 11:15 pm on a Sunday night after spending my evening volunteering at a Gillette fundraising event. Come Monday morning, with a workout to get in and a package to ship to arrive in time for Christmas, I decided I wouldn't come in to the office right away, figured I earned a few hours out of the office to get those things done.

Unfortunately I had forgotten that I had scheduled a strategy call for earlier in the day than I remembered, and I was late for the call. They were able to re-schedule it for an hour later, and we had a great discussion.

I had another meeting set for half an hour after that, and got another plan of action worked out.

As I turned back to my computer, my personal phone's reminder chime went off, the one that dings 15 minutes before an event. I looked at my work calendar; hmmm, nothing there.

I looked at the phone. Oh crap. Another commitment, this one across town, and now I only had 15 minutes to make it there. This was the most important meeting of my day, I couldn't miss it. I felt completely out of kilter because of my decision to start my day late, and I just couldn't catch up.

I didn't miss a beat. I grabbed my coat, threw on my winter boots and headed to the parking ramp. I didn't have the number with me to call to let them know I'd be late, just hoped for forgiveness once I arrived.

Miraculously I made it there in record time, only 15 minutes late. I was instantly forgiven by this little face.

It was Marissa's classes' Author's Reading, when all the parents were invited into her classroom to review their portfolio of writing and drawings. Poetry, short stories, biographies, and all the writings they'd been working on all year were included in their' portfolios. I missed her poetry reading, but made it in there in time for the portfolio review, when she carefully extracted each piece of work and read it to me, showing me each and every picture that went with each page.

Her writings were so funny. She started with the assignment that she forgot to complete. "Oh well," she said, "Let's read that one later." 

Then she moved on to the biography where she had to complete sentences to talk about herself. Apparently she loves Rollerblading and soccer. She has said since she was age 3 that she loved playing soccer, but she doesn't actually. 

In one essay she said that her real name was Hannah, because she remembers the story we told her about how she was almost named Hannah. 

I was able to take her home after the reading, since it was so close to the end of her school day. As we were walking out to the car, Marissa says to me, "Mommy, I don't understand why my teacher called it an Arthur's Reading." I had to explain to her that it was an Author's Reading, meaning the kids were the authors.

"Oh," she laughed, "That makes more sense."  

After Friday's tragedy, this time spent with Marissa was poignant, the classroom filled with a parent (or two) for nearly every child. We all smiled at each other and nodded as we turned to listen to and spend time with the most important people in the room -- the kids. 

This was by far the most important meeting of my day. I'm so glad I made it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Someone's Child

My heart is heavy with the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, CT, yesterday.

What is weighing me down more is that I have felt this heaviness before, and too often.

How quickly we forget.

The Columbine shooting of 1999 resulted in new security measures for schools across the United States. Children had to die for our society to realize that not only are our schools places of education, but they should be places of safety.

We as parents entrust our children to our schools, expecting them to come home at the end of the day.

We had so taken that for granted that we were shocked when one day it didn't happen.

Social media blew up yesterday as the news of what happened in Newtown, CT, was slowly unveiled in snippets and images throughout the day.

Anger. Sadness. Outrage. Frustration.

Now the question is: Will those emotions become action? If so, what kind of action? Tightened security measures? Tightened gun control?

May I make a suggestion?

Every time I hear of these kinds of cases, not just shootings but crimes of brutal torture and murder, I not only think of the victims of the crimes and their families, but that of the family of the perpetrator.

The shooter is someone's child, too.

He was loved by his family. Someone used to tuck him into bed and read him books. Someone gave him hugs and comforted him when he scraped his knee. This may not be the case all the time, but in most of these killer's childhoods, these are true statements.

All too often we hear surprise and shock from the family of the murderer.

"He was a quiet, shy boy. We had no idea he was capable of such acts."

I cannot imagine the heartbreak that the parents of these killers feel. In interviews years after the tragedy, many of them feel that no only did they fail their own child, but they failed the families of those their child murdered.


Recognize any of these boys? Click on their photos to read more about them and who they grew up to become.

We don't need metal detectors, we need mental detectors.

In retrospect, there were often signs. An unhealthy fascination with guns. A withdrawal from family. A lack of compassion for other living things. Yet they were all considered part of normal boyhood behaviors.

Boys will be boys.

But these boys grew up to be killers, and if an expert had evaluated them when they were younger they may have seen the signs. Back when some of these boys were growing up, seeking emotional treatment had a societal stigma. Seeing a psychiatrist was seen as a sign of weakness, or implied craziness. 

If you break your leg, you go to an orthopedist. If you have issues with your sinuses, you see an ear nose and throat doctor.

If you have issues processing your emotions, you see a psychologist. Or a therapist. Or a pscyhiatrist. I don't care who it is, mental health care should be more accessible to more people.

And signs like withdrawing from friends and family -- while often a "normal" part of growing up -- can be a symptom of something more.

Health care comes into our schools to screen for vision and hearing problems and scoliosis. Shouldn't we be doing more to proactively screen for emotional problems? 

We have a mental health crisis in this country. I'm wondering how many more have to die for us to understand this and figure out how to address it.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What's in a name? Specifically, mine?

This is what you get when you search for "Jenny" in Google images.

I had two recent experiences of running into other people named "Jenny."

In case you are not of my generation, let me remind you how incredibly common the name "Jennifer" is. It was the #1 name given to babies from 1970 until 1979, beating the #2 name (which was "Amy," by the way) by a 2 to 1 margin.

There were 5 Jennifers in my kindergarten class. The teacher couldn't even separate us by first and middle name combinations because three of us were Jennifer Lynns. Then they tried to separate us by birthday, but two of us had been born on May 19. I didn't even get my own birthday. Awesome.

My freshman year of college there were 10 Jennifers on my floor in my dorm, including my roommate. Again, awesome.

We all got creative about our names. My roommate was J.J, the initials of her first and last name. Someone else went by Jenna, another was Jen, etc.

I ultimately stuck with what I'd been called all through high school: Floria. But my first name was always Jenny. When professors would call names at the beginning of the school year and call me "Jennifer," I immediately corrected them. It's Jenny.

If I'm accidentally called "Jennifer" in settings with my friends or relatives, they snicker. "You are not a Jennifer," they tell me. I don't feel like a Jennifer, that's for sure, but I couldn't tell what the difference was.

My daughter and I noticed that an employee at a store mall had a nametage that said Jenny. She was in her mid-20's, definitely not of my generation.

And on a recent trip to Caribou, I noticed that the barista's nametag said Jenny (another one in her mid 20's). I said to her, "I'm a Jenny, too!" as if it hadn't once been the most common name in the United States.

Surprisingly, she shared my enthusiasm. She took my order, and then we chatted a bit about our incredibly common name.

"So you never shortened it to Jen, or gone by Jennifer?" I asked.

"Nope, I'm a Jenny through and through," she said. "We're more bubbly, us Jennys. Am I right?"

Yes indeed, I believe that is the difference.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Radiothon

This morning I volunteered to work the phone bank at the KS95 for Kids radiothon*. This radiothon benefits my employer, Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare, and Children's Cancer Research Fund.

It was 4:55 a.m. in the empty, dark and quiet mall. I got on the elevator to get to the volunteer check-in room, and saw another person walking towards the elevators as well, so I held the door. Who else is in the mall at this hour, anyways, besides other people volunteering for the radiothon?

The man got in, took one look at me and said, "Jenny?"

I have to be honest, I didn't recognize him at first. He wasn't from any of the organizations I knew involved with the radiothon, but he clearly knew me. Turns out he and I worked together nearly 7 years ago at my former place of employment. He had only worked there for a year before life took him in a different direction and he had to leave the job, but he still remembered me and eventually I remembered him.

We talked about what we'd been doing in the years between -- jobs, kids, moving, trips. The last time we had seen each other my kids were ages 1 and 3 and he didn't yet have children. He has two boys now, ages 3 and 5.

Nothing like a conversation like that to make you realize how quickly your kids are growing up.

I asked him how he came to volunteer his time at the radiothon, knowing that we had lots of corporate sponsors whose employees volunteer at the phone bank. But he was doing this on his own because his older son is seen at Gillette. He was just diagnosed with muscular dystrophy a year and a half ago, and they've been incredibly grateful for their care at Gillette.

I said I was sorry for his diagnosis, but he waved it off. "He's just a normal kid, like anybody else." He went on to tell me stories of how easy-going he is, how he loves to play with his friends, loves swimming in the lake close to their house and has embraced kindergarten.

We kept talking, and later on came back to his son's diagnosis. I asked how they discovered he had MD, and he said that his wife noticed that their son seemed to struggle in comparison to other kids to do "normal kid things," like climb the monkey bars or run around the playground. They had taken him to their pediatrician a few times and finally, when the differences became more pronounced, the doctor ordered a few tests. That's when the diagnosis of muscular dystrophy came back.

Then he told me something that made my heart jump into my throat. The average life expectancy for a child with his type of muscular dystrophy is 25 years. His muscles will deterioriate with age. They know that as he grows his mobility will decrease, he will eventually need a wheelchair and this disease will eventually result in his death.

They already know they are going to outlive their son.

He said that his wife's parents are having a really hard time with the diagnosis, and even a year and a half later they struggle to believe that this beautiful little boy, so bright and fun, will not live long into adulthood.

But really, he said, what are we going to do, mope around and waste the time we do have with him? No, he said, we're going to live every day to the fullest, give him every life experience we can and love him for as long as we have him.

And then he told me not to cry, but it was too late.

*I feel compelled to remind my readers that I write this blog from my own personal perspective and not on behalf of my employer or any of Gillette's partners.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Lindsey's Project

Lindsey has a book report due every month. Not just any old book report. It's more of a book project.

Each month she comes home with an instruction sheet on how this month's book report will be presented. Last month she "canned a character," by wrapping a tin can with her character study, then making a representation of the character and putting it in the can.

The projects are unique, fun and get the kids engaged in new ways of talking about books. I am amazed by her teacher who comes up with these projects, I don't think I could be that creative.

This month she had to make a pizza box to talk about a biography. She had to cover the outside of the box with photos of the person she read about, create an 8-piece pizza out of cardboard, then pick 8 facts about that person's life to put on each slice of pizza. On the front of each piece she wrote the fact, on the back she drew a picture illustrating that fact.

Lindsey's first order of business, which took up the first two weeks of the month, was figuring out who to write about. Abraham Lincoln? George Washington? No, others are sure to do them. Helen Keller? She will probably also be picked, since they recently discussed her in class.

"Mom, who can I write about that no one else will do?" she asked. "Do you have a library at work?"

Ironically, I do! Gillette has a great little library of books and resources available to families of children who have disabilities. I was sure we had some biographies in there that would work.

Sure enough, I learned about Jean Driscoll.

The minute Lindsey saw the book and read the outline, she loved it. She immediately read the entire book cover-to-cover, and spent the next day reading the other book option I'd brought home, too.

We went to Papa John's to pick up some pizza boxes that didn't have grease on them, and I spent the next two nights cajoling Lindsey to stop working on her project to go to bed.

"Just one more piece, Mom!" she said, as she began writing a new fact or drawing a new picture.

I think she did a pretty good job of telling Jean Driscoll's life story in 8 facts:

1. Jean Driscoll is born in 1966 with spina bifida.
2. At age 9 she taught herself to ride a bike.
3. At age 13 she has a crash on her bike and fell to the ground.
4. After her fall Jean needs an operation and has to wear a bodycast for 11 months.
5. When Jean gets out of her cast, the operation has failed. Jean will need a wheelchair.
6. When Jean goes back to school she starts playing wheelchair sports.
7. Then Jean qualifies for the Boston marathon.
8. Jean wins the Boston marathon 8 times, and sets 5 different world records.

This was so perfect for her, the girl who loves to run, whose heart is as big as a house. Last year her biography was on Cathy Freeman, another story of triumph over challenges which, featuring running as the sport of choice.

I love that we are so influential in our children's life, and that we can show them a world that's more accepting and has more opportunities than the one we grew up in. We can take something as simple as a book project and turn it into a bigger lesson than reading comprehension or following directions.  I love that she wishes so much to do something unique, that no one else was going to do.

That's my girl.