Time for “the talk”

Our recent personal tragedy prompted me to open a discussion with local friends about guns. We have a great playgroup. The kids have been playing together for over three years now. They are always supervised as all the parents attend the group as well. As the children are getting older I am noticing them darting off into rooms out of sight. I have great anxiety about what they might find.

If they did find a gun I have no doubt about what they would do. There is plenty of research about how gun education is virtually useless for keeping kids, especially boys, safe. As the mom of two curious boys I have no doubt that they do NOT have a healthy fear of guns. I am usually all about information. Guns are one of the few topics where we are an “abstinence-only” family.

So the information that I seek isn’t for educating my boys, but more about mapping their environment so we can help them avoid guns altogether. I finally had to ask all of our friends (at least the ones whose homes we visit) if they have guns.

I find that I often just assume that everyone is like me. In fact, I do this to a fault. It is incomprehensible to me how people can have a different point of view. (I end up yelling at the radio a lot because of this). I realized that I was extending my overarching default assumption about gun ownership. It isn’t safe to assume that people just don’t have guns because I don’t or because they have kids. It isn’t even safe to assume that if people have guns that they store them safely (unloaded and locked). It was time to ask. Awkward? Yes. Important? Yes. I imagine this is a conversation we will have to keep having with their friend’s families for the next couple decades.

Here is the email I sent to playgroup. I am posting it in case anyone else wants to start having this conversation in their own community.

Hi Friends,

Before we start to play in each other’s homes this summer I need to ask a question.

Is there a gun/s in your home?

We are in the process of asking this question to all of the people in our lives (or at least the people we visit in their homes). As our children get older and gain independence they will start to play with less supervision and I need to reach out at this point and get more information about the environments they will be in.

As you all know Adam’s dad and stepmother recently died by a gun, which has heightening my anxiety around my children’s exposure. Although their deaths were not an accident we suspect that if the guns had been stored, unloaded and locked, the outcome might have been different.

Our family simply cannot endure another gun tragedy. So rather than just assume and feel uneasy I need to find out more information.

Although my in-laws death has increased my sensitivity to this issue, it has actually been on my radar for some time. Before my in-laws death we had decided not to let our children ever be unsupervised in their home because we knew there were unsecured guns. We found over a dozen loaded guns throughout the house after their death.

Although it makes me uncomfortable, the presence of a gun isn’t a deal breaker for us. But if there is a gun in your home could you please let us know how you store it (locked and unloaded?)

I hope I have not offended anyone. My intention was not to pry and certainly I do not judge. I understand that there are many reasons people would keep a gun in their home and other cultural values are at play here. I am also not trying to change anyone’s mind about gun rights or ownership. I trust all of you and know that you do your best to keep your kids safe.

I also know my own children and do NOT trust that they would know what to do if they ever encountered a gun. (Especially after reading this article, which haunts me: http://www.usnews.com/opinion/articles/2014/02/06/gun-safety-programs-dont-work-for-children).

If you could please reply and let me know if you have a gun and if so how you store it, it would really set my mind at ease. If you don’t feel comfortable replying to the group that is fine by me. I really appreciate you taking the time to consider this request. Thank you for all the support you have given us in the wake of the gun violence in out lives.

Our disclosure, in case this is an issue for anyone else, is that we don’t have any guns.

 

I would have preferred to have a discussion about this face-to-face but I couldn’t figure out a way to do that without kids around. I am happy to say that so far the response has been prompt and positive, which is always nice when you know you are opening up a sensitive subject.

City Mama, is this on your radar? Is the culture so different on the left coast/city/suburbs that you don’t have to worry about this? I wish we didn’t have to, but I am happy that we are having the hard conversations now so that hopefully we won’t have to experience something even harder later.

From the Outside In

IMG_5866We’re creeping up on 3 weeks in the house. “Most” boxes are unpacked. Those quotes are used absurdly liberally as the entire guest bedroom is full of stuff yet to be put away and we have about 4 boxes of art/pictures/frames that need to be hung once we finally decide where furniture will go. But, it’s starting to feel like home.

Surprisingly, at least to me, is that we’re making this house ours from the outside in. I think that after having no personal outside space for so long, it’s wildly novel to have outdoor space that is uniquely ours (and that we don’t have to access via an elevator). Both days this weekend we intended to work on rooms inside, but as life and an active two year old would have it, we ended up tackling projects in the backyard instead.

The house’s prior owners had a gardener. And, while they left us the company’s number, their ringing endorsement was “sometimes they show up and sometimes they don’t.” Eric and I are DIYers to the core and absurdly frugal so shelling out cash for people we can’t count on really doesn’t work for us. When the gardener stopped by the house and just handed me the keys without introducing themselves or asking if we’d like to keep up the service, I was convinced.

IMG_5858Thus far, our plan is to stop the service and see how things go. We can always start it up again if the balance of time and money swings in the right direction. So far so good though. And the more I “dig in” (pun intended) the more I wonder what those gardeners were up to anyway. We’ve found new plants planted over dead plants and bushes that haven’t been trimmed back in many months (my guess is years but I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt). There are very few plants that we harbor any sort of attachment to, and when my friend (and gardening/conservation guru) Kelli was visiting she wisely said, Look, do what you want, if these die you can put in a garden or native plants.

Touche.

This piece of wisdom rung in my mind as we hacked back rose bushes, star jasmine, asparagus vine, bougainvillea, a lemon tree and several dead vines and shrubs that definitely had to go. And Luke’s having a ball “helping” carrying things to the trash, making piles, or just eating Cheerios nearby as we get our hands dirty.

We’ve had one casualty of the move that I’m just a little sad about. The sellers left us four stunning, enormous planters in a beautiful metallic blue and two that are shades of teal with river rocks on the side. For everything inside not being my cup of tea, these are right in my wheelhouse and I’m beside myself that they’re mine. Right now two of the giant planters house an array of succulents (one of my great loves because they’re the only plants I can keep alive), and there was a third but sadly to get rid of some termites, we lost this plant in the fumigation. Eric and I tackled this mighty beast on Saturday and it was wildly gratifying to go at it with a pair of clippers.

Little by little, that’s what I keep telling myself anyway! What’s in the works for you guys this spring/summer? Any new garden goals?? Next week I’m headed on a work trip but I have some special blog posts plan coming up soon! Miss you lady.

Striving for Normal

In the midst of grieving we have been trying to have normal too. Over the past month we have packed in three really great getaways.

First we took a weekend trip to the spot where we were married. Eleven adults and five kids crammed into one house for a camp over. We had an impromptu ball gown birthday party for my sweet niece, Finley. We went to the thrift store (where Adam scored his wedding suit) and bought out all of the fancy dresses. (This was actually my dream for our rehearsal dinner. Everyone would have to construct an outfit from the nearest thrift store and then winner would earn the right to officially witness our marriage. The timing didn’t work out 8.5 years ago so it was nice to finally fulfill my thrift party fantasy).

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After that adventure we headed to the beach for our annual family beach week. Each year, in lieu of gathering for Christmas, Adam’s family goes to the beach for a week. This year we had 15 people (including 5 cousins). It was relaxing (as relaxing a vacationing with little ones can be) and tons of fun. The kids are all getting older and more independent. They were all obsessed with observing the fish Uncle Andy caught each day. We even snagged what I am sure is our last baby beach nap.

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This past weekend we took on camping with five kiddos under 6 (because we must be crazy :)) We headed to nearby Jordan Lake with friends from Peace Corps who live in NC now. We are basically family so camping with the five kids was actually surprisingly easy. We enjoyed the full spectrum of seasons in our 24 hour trip. We took advantage of the summer-like 80 degree weather to swim during the day. At night it got down into the 40s and felt downright fall-like. It was cool, but clear enough to sleep without the rain-fly (a camping first for me). In the morning the kids went for a paddle in the mist.

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Taking 3 trips in four weeks isn’t really our “normal” but in this case it was just what we needed.

What I Know for Sure

As our blog started in the spirit of keeping up our emails, I thought I’d write you back, just as I would have, were your last post to me an email…maybe with less curse words because I still operate under the illusion that there are still people out there who think I’m a lady. And I know you share my love of Oprah (and I’m just going to assume that our readers all do too), and at the end of her magazine she has one column called “What I Know for Sure”. I thought I’d share a little bit about what has worked for me with grief, and what I know for sure, just in case you or maybe someone reading needs it at some point.
First, I’m so glad you’re writing and sharing what you’re going through. I remember first talking to you about what happened and you weren’t sure how to handle that part (which makes complete sense). I believe that when we let people in, we give context and people can handle us more gently. Sometimes this still gets messed up, because 1) we’re human and 2) idiots but I think for the most part, people can better help and support you when they know what you carry. Every time I have told our story and someone responded without shock and judgement it has made this weight easier to carry and I hope the same is true for you. I believe that you give a little piece of the pain away to someone when you share your story and that maybe you carry a little less hurt. I hope that everyone who has heard or read your story now carries a little piece of of this for you and that it makes it easier for you to shoulder.
Second, I want to say, I remember talking this fall about it being hard for you to write about things going well when things were going badly in our lives. And, I never felt that then, but I want to say now, that our heart is broken with your family and while we’re in calm waters at the moment, when you hurt we hurt too and I hope that, even with me writing about rubber toilet seat covers and poo-talking with Ryan Gosling, I hope you know I wish there was something to do to make this all go away.
More than three years after being blindsided by grief that I still haven’t fully written about (but am coming to terms with the need to do), I understand my own grief in a way I never thought I would. I remember writing this post during the first year of the blog. And, coming to understand that Eric and I had figured out how to grieve together and it’s HARD. It’s so hard, you’re both hurting and raw and vulnerable. And honestly sometimes all you can do is HOLD ON. But, you won’t have to figure that part out from scratch again in the future. The sad truth I face is that I know we will grieve together again some day and we won’t see it coming. And, like soldiers who have stood together in battle, you come through these things with shared scars that bond you. Bonds you wish you didn’t have, but a deep understanding of one another and your love that no one else can see. And, you and Adam, you are going through the worst of it. But, you are going through it. And you are together and I promise that tomorrow will be just a little bit easier.
Grief, I have come to learn, isn’t a phase. I think the stages are bs in that, you can’t really check off the boxes and say, there, now that’s done. We lost our baby mid-October and I remember in January getting really pissed off that I wasn’t “over it” yet. I was angry that this was still lingering when I was ready to get on with my life. And, it was right around that time that I gave myself permission to not get over it. And, I hope that you and Adam will give yourselves that permission too. That doesn’t mean sink into a fit of depression. But I think it means to feel okay that this space is still raw and that maybe it has changed you a little bit. Because, in time the magic moments like you had on Monday will come more frequently and it will get easier to breathe even while you carry this grief. This was a huge loss. It was sudden and shocking and close to home. It will hurt always in some way. And, that hurt will lesson but, for me, learning to live with the grief instead off fighting to push it down made my days much more peaceful.
I don’t feel quite wise enough to conclude this other than to say, I hope we get to keep talking about how you’re doing and I hope each day gets a little easier. We’re with you, every step of the way.

Good Grief

We had been fortunate enough to not have experienced deep personal grief, until a month ago when Adam’s father took his life and his wife’s.

It was a curveball we didn’t see coming, and tragic in so many ways. We are still in the early days of processing this loss, but I am learning a lot about grief itself. I haven’t read much about grief so maybe everyone already knows this stuff, but we are learning all of this for the first time.

I was vaguely aware of the stages of grief. I expected to be angry and sad and bargain and accept. I expected to feel those things towards the people we lost. I thought we would grieve for Papa Stu and Grandma Cindy. Instead it seems like grief is something that is happening to us instead of for them. I didn’t expect that all the emotions of grief would just envelop us in seemingly disconnected ways. I have been surprised at how randomly angry, irritated or sad we have all been. I don’t know why I expected grief to be tidier, but it isn’t. It is messy.

I thought grief would make us better people. It has brought out the best in us in a lot of ways, but it has also strained us so that our worst has shown through. Immediately after the deaths it was easy to be easy. Everything felt clear and easy to not sweat the small stuff because you are so overcome by the big stuff. But I didn’t recognize how stressful grieving can be and eventually that stress wears you down and you slip back into old frustrations and annoyances. I felt tremendous guilt about feeling less than easy. I felt like if I couldn’t be the best partner in a hard situation then I would never be able to be a good partner. Fortunately a friend asked me why I thought this moment would magically fix all the areas that need improving in my life. She asked me “why now?” which helped switch the light bulb on for me. Grief can’t be the band-aid for other problems. Grief is a thing unto itself. Just because it is impacting other areas of your life doesn’t mean it is going to transform you, in fact it might do the opposite.

And finally I am learning not to expect in general. I never know when Adam might come home and be having a really hard time. I also don’t know when our next magical day might be, like this Monday when we visited baby goats, foraged for wild strawberries and discovered the tiniest of turtles. It was perfect … but even that doesn’t feel pure, since this loss is always in the back of our minds now, even on the good days. The good and the bad is all intertwined and hard to predict. Just like life, and death.

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Where We Stand

IMG_5832Less than 5 days into our new residence and we’re smitten.

This was our first move using a moving company and I’ll never go back. While they would have packed everything, Eric and I decided we could tackle that part. This left loading the furniture and boxes for the movers.

Early Saturday morning, I hopped in the car with Luke and Foxy, our cat. Luke quickly alleviated any fears I might have had about his transition by yelling “Home!” when we pulled into the driveway. Foxy didn’t adapt as quickly, taking the rest of the day before venturing out of her carrier.

IMG_5834The movers arrived at the apartment shortly after 8:30. By 10:30, they were en route to the house. Luke was fascinated from the moment they arrived. And my perpetual motion child was glued to the driveway watching the guys take our furniture inside. He kept saying “Watch, mommy, watch” and “Wow, fast!” In less than an hour, everything was in place and the truck was on its way.

We spent the remainder of the last few days digging out from a mountain of boxes and making new discoveries about the property.

Here are some funny things we didn’t know but have since discovered since getting some real time in the house:

  • The guest bath has a cushioned rubber toilet seat. An easy fix but ick, I hate those.
  • The master bath has a glass door. Even though Eric and I’ve been together for ages, we value our personal bathroom space. Looks like we’ll be buying a cover/blind before long as well.
  • The shower in our master bath sprays bullets. I got in my first shower and laughed so hard at how strong the water pressure was that Eric came in to see what was wrong. Seriously, it was so comically intense, I had to cover up the ladies in order to take a shower.
  • We have some giant rose bushes in our front yard. I’m at a complete loss for what to do with these. So, I’ve been doing some reading but if anyone has any expertise I’d totally welcome it.
  • We have critters – and we expected too – but so far we’ve seen a possum, squirrels, a coyote (on our block, not our property) and evidence of a skunk.

Our list of to-dos is longer than I can even bring myself to consider.

Today, I went back to work. I’m so glad I took off extra time. Moving is more complex every time we do it and it always takes more out of me than I expect.

So far, Luke’s room and the kitchen are pretty settled. Our bedroom is full of random furniture and boxes. The guest room is a total trainwreck of sports equipment, empty suitcases and baby gear that Luke has outgrown. We have an extra table in our dining room, not enough furniture for the living room, and there is a mishmash of audio equipment and parts of a desk in the office.

IMG_5838The benefits of a quieter part of town are already making themselves clear. Luke watched the trash truck go up and down our street yesterday. We’ve gone for walks and played in the yard. We saw someone we know when we were out to dinner on Saturday night. Sunday we took Luke to the park and he had huge open spaces to run. I don’t have to validate my parking at the grocery store.

I don’t think that it has fully sunk in that we own this house. It feels like we’re in a vacation rental. (I’m sure that will change when we have to make our first repair.) But, I feel like this house is more of a blessing than I can wrap my mind around. There were a million opportunities for it all to fall through and I can’t believe it all actually lined up. I’m thanking every star in the universe for favors big and small right now because this type of set up seemed in the far distant future for our family and I think it will be a long time before we stop being baffled that it’s actually here.

Suburban Mama

This is it! Moving week.

Saturday a moving truck will show up and grab our entire lives and transplant us to the ‘burbs. I’m feeling surprisingly fragile and emotional about the move but simultaneously counting down the minutes until we can finally wiggle our toes in grass that we own (okay, fine, the bank owns it but they let me say that).

In stupendous timing, new neighbors have moved into the apartment below ours. Best I can tell from their very loud conversations it’s two dudes and a chick who either lives their officially or in all practicality. They’re up until 3 and 4 am. They’re either smoking weed or burning incense at all hours and I have an unreasonable rage towards them considering we’ve never met. I have taken to getting Luke to hop like a bunny in his bedroom and ours in the early mornings as my revenge. For pot-smokers, there is a lot of fighting going on and, as Eric and I often wonder when encountering a couple like this, is the sex really worth it? From what we’ve heard thus far (which is nary a mattress creak), I’m going to say it’s not.

Such are the joys of apartment life that we’re about to leave behind.

But, this apartment has been home in a way that other places haven’t. Some of the hardest and greatest moments of our lives happened here.  This is the only home Luke has known. It’s where we paced the floor for months trying to get him to sleep at night. Where we heard his first laugh. And where we still watch him run gleefully back to the bathroom each bath night.

This is also the apartment where I carried our first baby. And, there are very few physical manifestations of that life. Stepping away from the space will be good, I logically know that. It’s another chapter and it’s time. But, it’s hard to remove one more connection, even a bittersweet one, because it’s one further step away from a child we had so little time with.

Our new home is on the same street as an elementary and middle school. We’ve already exchanged phone numbers with the neighbors. I used to work a mile away and most of my favorite coworkers are still working there, meaning lunch dates and hangouts will be monumentally easier. Luke will have space. Most restaurants in our zip code will have high chairs and probably another child eating there at the same time we are. And, we’re close enough to the city that we still have the diversity and crazy we love—just at arm’s length.

This week and next, are sure to be messy, tiring and will probably include some tears. I’m eager to start showing updates of house transformation. Eric is ripping up carpet and painting as I write so there will be lots to share on that front.

Next time I write, I’ll officially be a suburban mama. But you have to promise you’ll publicly shame me if I ever consider a minivan. Wish us luck!