Wednesday, September 14, 2011
It all looked very manageable on paper. Once the reality hit, that our ‘recession story’ would include how we couldn’t seem to sell the house in New York, so we could move to Colorado, we knew it was time to make new plans. The school year was looming and our two youngest needed to be out there, in our new hometown, so they could jump in on time. The only answer was that I deposit them in an apartment with dad and fly back to New York to continue selling the house.
The plan made perfect sense in theory.
But theory doesn’t always take into account emotions. Emotions like ten year olds missing their mamas and mamas missing being a part of the family.
A good friend reassured me, back in early August, that it might be a good time for me. With long stretches of time alone in our empty house, I could dig up my old writing projects. I’d have time to scan the 26 boxes of print photos into the computer. I could get to the gym every day, no excuses. I put out of my head the sad parts of leaving my family out west, and concentrated on these optimistic ideas.
Almost three weeks ago I flew back from Colorado and stepped into this quiet life in our vacant house. The first weekend I was home we weathered a major storm named Irene. Her wrath left us with a huge fallen pine tree in the yard and lots of unused, stockpiled flashlight batteries. The tree was cut up and hauled off into the woods by wonderful neighbors, then it was time for real life to start again.
It was weird, being alone, as I thought it would be. I jumped on the to do list, thinking I’d wrap up the not so fun stuff, like organizing bills and getting the house ready for showings, and then I could dive into my personal projects. Day after day went by and the list never seemed to shrink. People kept asking me, ‘So, are you bored?....What do you do all day?’ It was a tough question to answer.
Because it’s not as easy as just crossing things off a list. I’m living a long distance life and it’s more complicated than I ever imagined. I’m staying in touch with a son who is new to college in Utah. I’m doing my best to help him find the resources he needs to get settled in that new life on campus. I’m setting up services, cable, internet, electricity, for my gang, from 2000 miles away. I’m figuring out our new insurance plans, and whether they really will cover all of us, spread out in three states. I’m cleaning out files, so when the moving truck comes later, we won’t be hauling unnecessary paperwork with us. As soon as I cross one thing off the list, two more are added.
And I spend a lot of my time coaching from long distance. I start the day with texts, and sometimes phone calls, from a ten year old who doesn’t like this new set up. He’s loving his school, loving the new friends, loving the fact his front yard is often filled with Elk in the mornings…but not loving the fact his family unit is fractured.
He’s only known a two parent, nuclear family. He’s only known a mom and dad who generally get along pretty well and enjoy being together. He’s only known being the little guy in a big family, living in the center of fun chaos that having teen siblings can bring. Our family has moved four times in his life. People used to ask me how he adapted so well. My standard answer was simple. Sam’s home is where his family is. It has never mattered to him if he woke up in a big house in Utah or a small room at the Motel 6. If the people he loved surrounded him, he was happy. He was home.
These days he’s waking up in a tiny temporary condo in Colorado, by himself. Dad has left early to catch the bus for work down in the valley. Big brother has showered and left for high school. He’s on his own. Oh, he’s old enough to dress himself and make his own oatmeal. He’s old enough to turn off all the lights and lock the door behind him when he leaves for school. He’s old enough. He just doesn’t like it.
For the five years we lived in New York, Sam and I had breakfast together every morning before school. We had a routine. He fed the dog while I made breakfast. We sat on the couch, watching the Today Show as we spooned the warm oatmeal into our mouths. When it was time for the bus we hugged and high fived and he headed down the driveway. I’d stand at the front window and wave to him, and his wonderful bus driver. Then, as the bus pulled away, my day started.
Sam misses that routine stuff so desperately. Dad’s doing the best he can, as a single dad for the first time in his life. He’s loving and patient. He jumps into kid management the second he walks in the door at night. Dinner to make, school stories to be listened to. Papers to sign. Homework to supervise. The only time he gets to himself in the course of a day is the 30 minute bus ride to and from work, hemmed in by strangers. Dad’s doing his best for Sam.
But Dad’s just not Mom.
When the texts started coming late at night, saying, “But mom, I miss you….but mom, I need you…when will I see you again?” and I knew he was texting me under his covers, when he was supposed to be going to sleep, I knew something had to change.
His big brother, the only other child we have left at home at this point, is adapting well. He isn’t crazy about his new school, but only because it’s school, and not anything like riding mountain trails on his bike, which is his first love. He’s made good friends and often texts me pictures of all the wildlife they are surrounded by. If he’s not off on his mountain bike, he’s hanging out at the skate park on his BMX bike. Colorado fits him pretty well.
But once Sam started to struggle, I realized I was struggling a bit inside as well. From the time I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to be a mommy. And for the past twenty years I’ve lived out my dream. It’s not always easy and some days they nearly drove me crazy, but down deep, I’m happiest when I’m mothering someone.
As we began to discuss the option of me joining the family in Colorado, and selling the house long distance, it opened up new ideas to me. I started to think more about what I could do there, with them, than all the great projects I could be working on here.
I’m sure they are surviving just fine, as three bachelors on their own. But I miss adding the personal touches that only a mom usually does.
A long time ago I heard Dr. Phil’s wife say she told him, early in their marriage, “If you work hard to make a good living, I’ll work hard to make our living good.” That comment struck something in me. I know it sounds very sexist to a lot of modern women these days. But to me, it’s not about feeling like I have to be barefoot and pregnant while the big strong man takes care of me.
I have my interests and my strengths, outside of this family. I love being in the classroom and I love every one of my writing projects. But the times I’m feeling the most balanced in life is when I have some time for my interests, but also plenty of time to nurture the people I love and these four miracles I’m lucky enough to parent. I actually enjoy keeping this household running smoothly. I love the fact that my children come home to a (mostly) peaceful space because mom’s been there, keeping the balls in the air.
I love making their living good.
What I crave, right now, is a chance to add the mom touches to my boys in Colorado. I want to wipe down that bathroom sink every morning, knowing that if I’m not there, it will be cleaned only when it’s got a week’s worth of toothpaste stuck to the edges. I want to throw a festive autumn tablecloth over the kitchen table, to add a spark of color to the all white space they are living in. I want them to walk up the stairwell to our condo unit, breathe in deeply, and wonder where that amazing smell is coming from, only to open our door to find it’s coming from home. From their home.
I want to sit on the back balcony with them at the end of the day and hear the rambling stories, about how they saw this really sick bike at the skate park or how stupid their English teacher is because he expects them to read (read!) a whole book by next week. I want them to find clean, fresh smelling clothes, in their closets. I want to set up the family calendar spot so we never forget the night we were supposed to go sign up to play in the band or what time the ice cream social is next weekend.
I’m sitting here in New York, missing the good stuff.
Ironically, it’s the stuff that can make a mom feel unappreciated. That thought has not escaped me. How many times have I loaded the dishwasher, grumbling to myself that I wouldn’t have to be doing it if the child in charge of that chore hadn’t left the house and forgotten? How many times have I wished that the never ending stories, especially the ones about dreams, would just finally…end? How many times have I thought to myself, “If I could just get a minute of peace and quiet….’?
Now I have the quiet.
But I don’t have the peace.
Because deep in my heart, I’m a mom. And the dog is getting tired of being my only mothering project. I’m needed by my offspring. One is very aware of his need, the other won’t realize he needs me until I’m out there, making his dinner so he doesn’t have to.
My new goal is to get to my family. Get this house wrapped up and get on the road. It’s time for us to start this new chapter of our life. Together.
It’s time to be a family again.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
We had no intention of buying a van. We just weren't 'minivan people'. There was no category of 'crossover' when we welcomed our third child into the family, so we were determined to stick with our trusty Mazda sedan.
It had a wide back seat, after all. And it drove so beautifully. We'd bought it when we were first married and it had many good trip memories associated with it. We had no trouble turning our noses up at the minivan converts and happily strapping three car seats across our one back seat.
Then our third baby got sick. Like weeks in the hospital and they don't know what's wrong sick. And one day, as I rocked him quietly in the corner of his hospital room, his daddy showed up and looked shaken. I thought maybe he'd run into our baby's doctor in the hall, and knew something I didn't about a diagnosis. But it had nothing to do with our son.
It had to do with my husband's drive to the hospital. As he sat at a light, that had just turned green, the van in front of him pulled into the intersection and was immediately T-boned by a red light runner. The damage was extensive. Fortunately no children were in the minivan, but it was a graphic reality check for my husband.
"If there had been a kid in that second seat, he'd probably have been okay," he told me. "But what if I had been the one in that intersection? What if our children had been lined up across our back seat? Whoever's car seat was on that side wouldn't have a chance. They're just too vulnerable."
That night, seeing how shaken my safety conscious husband was, I dropped my reservations and had that discussion with him. Maybe it was time to break down, for the sake of our kids, and take the minivan plunge.
Fortunately, baby was diagnosed and bounced back to health quicker than we could have dreamed would be possible. Four months later, we were on a car lot, pricing vans.
It was the end of the year. Practically the last day of the year. The dealer was ready to unload the last of his old year models. We weren't picky. We just needed something safe and something affordable.
And then we saw Ruby.
Shiny red, the kind of red they put on sports cars. Maybe it was her way of letting us know it was okay to get behind her wheel. She seemed to be promising us a compromise, her sports car color, for our dive into mediocrity.
She had no bells or whistles. She was the last on the lot. No tinted windows. No cruise control. No automatic seats. Not even power windows. She might be the only car our kids have ever seen that has crank windows.
The only perk she had was the second sliding door, which was a brand new idea in 1996. It was something we would have never asked for, but have adored since the day we took her home. It's much easier for hoards of kids to pile out of a minivan, when there are exits on each side.
The first time I drove her I was amazed by how much I could SEE! There were windows everywhere! And I loved how high I sat as we drove down the highway. No more cruising around 'down below'. I could practically see truckers in the eye. She won me over pretty quickly, and that was before I realized just how handy those extra cup holders could be.
And then we were hooked. Our many family trips, especially those that involved crossing many states to see Grammy on the East coast, were so much more comfortable. We never worried about her breaking down. She was our only vehicle for years, as my husband took the bus to work, then the metro, after we moved to Washington D.C.
And now we've owned her for 15 years. She's taken us almost 200K miles. She's been registered in four states. As long as I keep her pampering days down at 'the shop' scheduled, she never lets me down.
Eight years ago we bought her a companion. This time we got a few more upgrades (gotta love those power windows and window tints!) but stuck with the same company, and the same model. We're suckers for reliability, especially when it comes in spite of the hardship of hauling four children around.
Soon I will leave her behind, as I leave NY without her. She's just too elderly to make the trip. I'll find her a nice home before I go. But as much as she's worn out, and doesn't really smell all that great anymore, I have to tell you, it won't be an easy goodbye.
Ruby has seen our family through many stages of life. Her padded ceiling has absorbed our laughter and her cloth seats have been moistened by our tears. She's been privy to serious conversations, the kind that last long after you've parked in the driveway, but aren't quite done yet. She's cradled my children, from car seats to lap belts. Three of them have learned to drive behind her wheel.
And then there's the story that my boys swear is true, about an old Krispy Kreme donut that was placed (NINE years ago) deep in the storage bin behind one of the back seats. They say it was left there,'just to see what would happen to it'. I've never been brave enough to look myself, but I've witnessed several tours, given to my boys' friends, and the "EWWWW....!"s that followed, lead me to believe the story is true.
She's a ragged old beauty. She has a glitch in her electrical system that causes her wipers to come on randomly. You just have to be aware, so it doesn't scare you half to death, on perfectly sunny days. Every so often her interior lights will blink on their own and the 'you left your lights on' bell will ding and ding until she's gotten it out of her system. It's not a problem. Old people can be persnickety sometimes too.
But anyone who's owned an old truck (or a trusty old minivan) will understand. Sometimes love and loyalty comes from years and years of always being there when it mattered. Always taking us to new places, always protecting us on endless highways.
Ruby's seen a whole lot of this country. She is a part of our family, almost as much as our dog. But in just a few weeks I will have to say my goodbye. Just as I've done for a decade and a half, I'll tap her dashboard and tell her what a good girl she is. I'll tell her how much we appreciate her service and how stories will be told for years to come, about adventures that happened because she took us there.
Ruby was the van that wasn't supposed to be. She wasn't flashy or exciting. She wasn't the sports car I think she dreamed of being. But she was just the thing we needed, at just the right time.
Goodbye old girl. We may replace you with something fancier, in our new life in Colorado. But we'll never forget you. You grew up with our family.
You were definitely a part of us.
This picture was taken on my husband's birthday. No, it's not gifts for him. In fact, he didn't even get a card this year.
What he did get was a van full of supplies, the kinds of things you buy for your young adult child when they finally get their first apartment. A mop, a broom, laundry detergent, bath soap, a box of plates, a dozen glasses, four towels, two wash cloths, a large box of Cheerios, and six cans of Ravioli.
Oh, and a lot more than that. You might not be able to tell, but there are three children in that van too.
This was the day we signed the lease for the tiny temporary condo my husband and boys will share until our house in NY sells. They had to get set up in something beyond an extended stay hotel, so the boys could qualify to enter school two days later.
We lucked out and found a great, clean little place right across the street from both of the boys' schools. They don't even have to worry about catching a bus.
But the condo came with nothing but a nice back porch and a half a roll of TP in the bathroom. We had to stock it from scratch. Which is hard to do, mentally, when you know you have ALL of those supplies 'back home', in the house that is not selling.
But we sucked it up and grabbed two carts as we walked into our new Colorado Wal Mart. And a few hours later, the condo was ready for life.
The ironic thing about this picture, to me, is that we dropped our oldest son off at college just 24 hours later and never did this kind of shopping trip for him. He's in a tiny dorm room and really didn't need much beyond a few towels and a good desk lamp.
Something just feels backward in the universe, when the big 'stocking the apartment' trip is not for the 18 year old child. It's for his dad.
On his 45th birthday. Happy Birthday to you, sweetie.
When I see this picture I feel love. That's my dad, the tall guy on the far right. I've always been confident in how much my dad loved me and it allowed me to feel secure enough to go out into the world and find my own way. I understand that not all girls are so lucky.
When I see this picture I feel awe. Deep inside of me there's still a little girl who dreamed of becoming a mommy. More than planning a dream wedding, or finding my prince, my grown up goals revolved around having little people to love and nurture. Some days it's hard to comprehend that these tall boys are the gift I dreamed of all those years ago. Along with their sister, they have been a joy to raise. I'm in awe of their presence in my life, as well as how quickly they passed me in height.
When I see this picture, as much as I don't want it to be true, I feel longing. The person missing in this picture is my mom. She died when my oldest son was barely a toddler. She never knew about my last two babies, and didn't get to see what incredibly nice kids all four of her grand babies turned out to be. Everyone in her hometown would have known their names. She had just started her campaign to show their pictures to every person she knew, when she was swiftly taken away from us.
When I see this picture I miss her spirit. I miss the excitement she beamed every time I walked in the door. I miss the way she joyously called out my name every time I came home from college for a visit. It was like we hadn't seen each other in years. She rejoiced at my mere presence in the room.
And now I miss hers.
If she had lived she wouldn't be standing next to my dad. She'd be perched in the middle of my sons, who would all be taller than her at this point. Her smile would make a camera's flash unnecessary. She knew how to love with all her heart and she would have showered it on my kids.
My step mother is a wonderful woman. She so kindly took this picture. She takes amazing care of my dad. He'll live an extra decade because she looks after him so well. She couldn't be more loving, to me and to my children. But the reality that she understands, is that she's not my mom. She's my dad's wife, a role she handles quite well.
When I see this picture I see three boys I love being with and a dad I don't see nearly enough. I see myself, smiling for the camera, because I was truly happy to be in that spot, at that moment, surrounded by people I love. But back behind my smile there is a bit of heartache.
Because even after 17 years, when I see a picture like this, she's still missing.
One of my favorite lines from the drive out to Colorado came from my 15 year old son, Isaac. In the past year, I swear he's grown a inch a month. He inherited the tall genes from my dad, who is 6'5" (and often wears cowboy boots, making him seem even taller).
Isaac walked into Papa's front door, as we stopped in MO for a visit, and as he turned the corner to the kitchen, I heard him mutter to himself, "Papa used to be a giant...and I just looked him in the eye..."
He knows he's grown taller in recent months, but the reality of standing next to Papa, and holding his own, made him realize just how much his body has changed.
I just got back from Best Buy.
No, I didn’t drive all the way over to the black hole called ‘the mall’ to see the new technology in televisions or research the surround sound system my son is begging for, I schlepped my way across the wide asphalt parking lot to buy (drum roll please…) a cell phone charger.
I’m a bit perturbed by this task because it seems to be stuck in a revolving spot on my to-do list.
Here are the facts - four months ago my family hit the jackpot, when our family plan came up for renewal in the exact 18 hour window of time that the Samsung Vibrant smart phone was being offered for ‘free’, with renewal. We jumped on the deal and, within the week, had five new smart phones in our possession.
We were all tickled to death, since we generally hang out in the phone quality category that hovers just above the burner phone. Need I remind you that with four kids, we use up all our extra lines and buy a plan on top of that? Smart phones just aren’t generally in the budget.
Of course we all fell in love with our new babies and have been happily texting each other like crazy. The point of this story is that with those five phones came five cell phone chargers. Handy little guys that charged in the wall socket, car, or USB port. For a short period of time we were all content and happy in our smart phone bubble.
Then things turned vicious. Someone misplaced their charger. Rumors swirled about who could be the guilty party. Surely someone stole it. There was no way it was merely forgotten, at school or on a weekend trip to Grandma’s house. Everyone became possessive with their remaining chargers. I had compassion and loaned mine out, but with warnings as dire as those I dish out for infractions like drinking and driving or bringing down a basket of dirty laundry on Sunday night.
The words ‘buy cell phone charger’ went on my list. And it never went away. Every time I bought another one, someone else’s would disappear.
I wondered if, somewhere in the attic or behind the sheetrock of our house, there were dozens of mismatched socks throwing parties with the handful of cell phone chargers that seemed to disappear with as much regularity. I decided to label one as my own. That way I could possibly track a thief, if our household indeed was harboring one.
With a big fat sharpie, I wrote “MOM”. When turned upside down, it read WOW, meaning “Wow….there’s actually a charger here for me to use!”
Then came our long drive out to Colorado. Hotels seem to be the worst place for cell phone chargers. I’d guess that all the discount replacement chargers on Amazon are really the stockpile collected by hotel room maids. Either that, or the outlets in hotel rooms suck it up as you’re sleeping, prompting you to walk out the door in the morning, in possession of one less charger.
Either way, we ended up in Colorado with, you guessed it, one less charger. So this mom got put on the plane back to New York without one. No way to charge my phone, no way to get the 179 fabulous trip pictures off of it.
So today I did my weekly trek to Best Buy. And I now own another charger. It already says WOW (I mean MOM) on the side. I’m the only one living in our house right now, as we wait for it to sell. I’m wondering if this will be the true test.
If I can go a full month using the same charger, every day, and still know where it is at the end of September, I might have to call it a miracle.
I apologize that this post is a bit out of order. It was written weeks ago and never posted.
This is the longest, most drawn out move we’ve ever made. The last time we moved, I didn’t know to appreciate the circumstances, when all six of us piled in the minivan and pulled out of our driveway in Utah, headed to our new life in New York. We crossed the street to say good bye to our best friends. Last hugs and promises to keep in touch, and then we were off.
We traveled across the country together, and spent three months in a Residence Inn together. Every day we had lots of time together, house hunting and generally exploring this Upstate area. That’s not how it worked out this time.
This time the house didn’t sell and it changed everything. We did everything we were supposed to do. We updated the bathrooms, painted every wall a fresh neutral color, and put half our stuff in storage so every room looked bigger. We looked carefully at comparables in our area and decided on a list price we felt good about.
Then we sat. Week after week, we’ve been sitting. An occasional ‘looker’ here and there, but no offers. As time went on and we became more anxious to move along, we started dropping the price.
We now sit at over thirty thousand below our recent appraisal price and still no hopes of a bite. All this sitting has made this move a whole different experience.
As soon as I finish writing this article, I will jump in the minivan with just my three boys and we’ll drive out to Colorado. I’ll drop them off to stay with their dad. They will start school out there, living in a hotel. I will fly back to New York and wait for the right family to come along and fall in love with our great house.
In the three days that I’m out west, we will drive over the mountain and drop my oldest son off for his freshman year of college in Utah. Add that to the fact our daughter is staying back in New York to begin her independent life, and it makes for a very quiet house once we settle in Colorado. It feels very fragmented, upside down and backward, to be moving in shifts. My husband moved out there on July 5th. The boys will be there August 19. Who knows when I’ll get to join them.
I remember reading a short story in a church bulletin when I was a teenager. It was about a family who had five kids and one went away to college. When the mom would complain about missing him, people would always say to her, “You have four other kids. There are plenty of kids to keep you busy!” Her response - “Five minus one does not equal plenty. I miss that one.”
This story made an impression on me because my oldest sister had just left for college and, although I had three other siblings left at home, I missed the essence of her.
And now I get that story from a mom’s perspective. But my math is more drastic. Four minus two equals a practically empty house. No one will sit in the third row of seats in the van anymore. We won’t have to look for booths at restaurants. It might actually be affordable to take the kids out to the movies on a Friday night. But I will never stop feeling like two of us are ‘missing’.
I’m starting to feel like my neighbor. She’s five weeks away from having her baby.
I’m two weeks away from having mine leave the nest.
Her life will drastically change once that baby arrives. Her relationship with her husband and her young daughter will change. There are no guarantees that they will all be good changes.
I know our family dynamic is also changing. Two brothers who used to be under the authority of an older brother will have to find a new way of relating to each other. They might like the new changes, or it might be a bumpy road.
Just like my neighbor will walk into a hospital in a few weeks and walk out a few days later to begin her new life, in two weeks I’ll be moving boxes of my son’s dearest possessions into a dorm room then driving away without him. My new life, as the full time mom to only two boys will officially begin. My older sister warned me that she cried when she went through this last year. Not just cried. She sobbed. “As hard as I did when mom died…” were her exact words. I don’t look forward to that.
But it’s a necessary step in life. I’m thrilled that my son has found a school he is excited about and a degree path he can’t wait to jump into. I’m proud of him for not being a bit scared about moving into a dorm full of strangers, in a new state, and making new friends. All the moves, and being ‘the new kid’ have taught him that there are always friends waiting to meet you, if you just show up. And in two weeks he plans to show up.
His mama will be fine. I’ll have the distraction of getting the house sold and the household belongings moved across the country. By the time we settle in a new house in Colorado it will practically be Thanksgiving, and I’ll get to see him again.
We’ll be settled and established in a new place, a place where he has no memories and no bedroom. But I’ll do my best to still make it feel like home.
Because no matter where he roams, he knows there will always a place at home for him.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Jeff and the boys, looking over the field in PA, six months after the plane crashed on 9/11. The angels in front of them represent the passengers on the plane.
The day my mom died I cried the deepest tears of my life. I was young, she was young, it was all very sudden. None of it made sense to me. While my patient husband cared for our two toddlers, I waded through the months that followed, and finally found a bit of sunshine the next spring.
Then I woke up to see footage on my television, of a bombing in Oklahoma City. Hundreds of people were killed and injured. Pictures of lost little children, dressed in Easter outfits from the week before, flashed across the screen. New grief was stirred up inside of me.
Again, it was all very sudden. Hard to process. Hard to put in perspective.
A handful of years later I watched another horror play out on my television, this one broadcast live. With a toddler in my lap, I struggled to handle my own emotions while trying to explain to my five, eight and nine year old exactly what had just happened to those two tall buildings, while trying not to alarm them. Familiar grief, shock and tears welled up in my soul.
Two months later, as we drove through New England to visit Grammy for Christmas, we detoured down through New York City. I was amazed to see the streets just a block away from Ground Zero looking very…normal. No signs of the grey dust that covered everything, in every picture we saw on the news. Coffee shops were open. People scurried to and fro, on their way to work and school, back to regular life.
You’d hardly know that just a block away there was a great pit, filled with dust, debris, and remnants of lives lost.
Then less than a year after the 9/11 attacks we moved our young family to Washington D.C. On our drive across the country we stopped by that field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and stood by the temporary monument that had been erected, a simple chain link fence. The children brought tiny flags and small stuffed animals to leave on the fence, a marker that they had come and paid their respects.
It’s a tradition we’d started when they were hardly old enough to understand stories of loss and terrorism. In the years after the Oklahoma City bombing, as the Oklahoma version of Ground Zero went from a pile of burnt rubble, to an empty lot, to an amazing monument, we stopped many times to see the site. We lived in Missouri and often traveled to Dallas to see family. It only seemed right to stop off and check up on the progress being made there.
And it only seemed right to continue reminding our children that what they were seeing was hallowed ground.
For many years I’m sure they didn’t really understand why we went. To them it was a chance to get out of the car and stretch their tired legs. But they heard the stories, over and over, and they saw that it made mommy sad to tell the stories. They got the part that mattered. The part about how there are bad guys in the world. Scary things happen. But in the end, human spirit wins out.
We remember the people who were just doing their jobs, on a normal day of the week, and never knew they wouldn’t be home for dinner.
Our children have seen all three crash sites from 9/11 and have clear memories of seeing the bombing site in Oklahoma City. It’s not that we have a morbid fascination with tragedy. We take our children to these sites so they can feel history. I spent my childhood reading history in books and never really connecting it to the outside world. My husband and I wanted our children to hear about something that happened in our country and say, “I know about that. I saw that monument. I stood by that fountain. I rubbed a name off that long black wall. I gazed over that field with my family. I know about that.”
And every time we go stand by the site that I’ve stopped calling Ground Zero and started calling The Freedom Tower, I tell them the story of that day once again. They fill in the parts they remember, and together we talk about it as a family. They are reminded that terrible, awful, senseless things happen. But life goes on.
More than I ever understood, as we drove away from the cemetery after burying my mother, my children are starting to understand the reality of life.
They see the pattern. Things happen that are sometimes hard to comprehend. They aren’t fair. They will never make sense. But for the survivors, life has to go on. It’s good to build a tactile reminder - a new building, a monument, even a park bench - to help us never forget. But the lesson will always be that life does move on. People rally together, comfort each other.
And then, as hard as it seems, we all move on.
This week we’ll remember the events around September 11, 2001. If you get a chance, stop by the site in lower Manhattan. Stop and gaze at that amazing new building that sparkles in the sun.
But I also encourage you to visit the Oklahoma City National Memorial, if you’re ever in the Midwest. I challenge you not to cry as you walk through the rows of empty chairs, each representing an empty chair at some family’s table.
And I challenge you to not weep when you walk by the 19 tiny chairs, neatly inscribed with the names of the 19 children who never got to grow up.
It’s important that we remember. Not to dredge up the horrible acts that caused our grief. But to never forget the people whose lives were cut short, and the families whose dinner tables will never again be complete.
Don’t forget to tell your children the stories, this week, and for years to come.
It’s their history too.
Take them to the walls. Walk them through the gardens. Let them touch the cold steel monuments. They need to understand how important it is, how incredibly important it is, that we never forget.
And that through all tragedy, life goes on.