Saturday, December 15, 2012

For When You Find Out

My friend Julie wrote something today that explained well my feelings.  Here is my own letter to my children.

As I write this, you are sitting next to me on our basement couch eating popcorn, apples, and satsumas while watching one of my favorite movies, The Muppet Christmas Carol.  I keep quoting it as we watch, and then you ask me questions about what's going on.  You laughed when Rizzo the Rat kissed Gonzo (Charles Dickens) on the nose and also when the cat banged into the door.  I love your laughter, and I am so glad you know nothing about what happened today in Connecticut.

I dropped you both off at school this morning and handed out our home-made gifts of cookies and candy to both your teachers and the librarian.  At work, I finished a letter to be included in an immigration application on behalf of a client, the one who regularly buys you gum and hot chocolate when we see him at the mall.  As I started on writing a letter of reference to graduate school for one of our volunteers, I picked up my phone and saw the headline that appears there from The New York Times.  The awful headline that I hope you don't know about for a very long time.  My pulse increased, and I checked for more news.

As I realized the severity of what had happened, my thoughts turned to you tucked away in your kindergarten and first grade classrooms.  I called the school and when the younger secretary picked up, my hands started shaking.  I asked her about the doors, if the doors were locked.  I, through tears and shaking voice, told her that I'd lived through a similar event fifteen years ago and needed her to tell me the doors were secure.  She sent me to the principal, who gave me safety-policy talking-points, which made me angry.  I didn't want to hear that.  I wanted to know that you were safe until I could get to you.  I argued with the principal and told her that someone needed to guard the doors because of the risk of copy-cats.  Kids, your mom lost her shit this morning in fear that someone might hurt you. 

One of my coworkers from Eritrea, the really young pretty one who flirted with you at the holiday party this afternoon my son, handed me tissues as I cried through the conversation with the principal and secretary.  She patted my shoulder as I talked on the phone.  I hung up and went to stand by myself in the bathroom.   I stayed there for a few seconds, willing my brain not to imagine horrific images, then walked back outside, and called your dad.  I stood in the cold outside next to our community garden as it rained. It was the cold and my nerves that had my hands shaking so badly that I nearly dropped the phone a couple of times.  I couldn't breathe.  I wanted both of you in my arms.

Your dad made me promise not to watch any of the news.  He knows me well (and knows you well too so you should pay attention to his wisdom).  I met with our Oromo friend who read the letter I wrote for him.  He approved.  He gave me a Christmas card, and we shook hands.  As this was the only pressing thing for me to do, I turned off my computer and nearly ran to the car so I could get to you.

I drove a little faster than I usually do and had my visitor badge on before even walking into the building.  I checked in at the office upstairs and then went to your first grade classroom where you were sitting on a desk playing a game with your class.  I hugged you.  Your teacher, at this point, did not know what had happened.  I told her the briefest of information and said I'd be back.  I went downstairs to find your brother.

Your class was washing hands in preparation for lunch.  The so sweet 'trouble-maker' kid in class who I have such a soft spot for ran and hugged me, then asked if I'd sit next to him when he found out I was eating lunch with you.  As we sat together in that noisy cafeteria, more and more staff of your school started gathering the details about what had happened.  We all spoke to each other in hushed tones and shared knowing looks and nods.  I helped your friends open cartons on milk and listened to you all talk about the best and worst hot lunches at school.  The assistant principal came to our table and sat with you and hugged.  You love her a lot, so I snapped a picture of you together, her very own "mini-me" as you have come to be known, my little girl, a leader in training.

We left school right after lunch.  As you gathered your things in your classrooms, your kindergarten teacher had apparently heard from the secretary and principal about my freak-out this morning, so she gave me a long hug, telling me how hard this is.  I've always said that she's a lot like Fred Rogers, one of our favorites, and in this moment, it felt very much so.  I am so thankful she was and is your teacher, that we've been able to have her in our lives for two years.

You ate Russian cream horns and Somalian sambusas at my office holiday party yesterday afternoon after school.  For those two hours, I was able to enjoy the moment, and you both were the social butterflies you are so famous for being.  You flitted from table to table, getting hugs from my coworkers, and leading others by hand in games.  My son, you had your own small meltdown when your sister's raffle ticket was called for a prize instead of yours.  Lucky for you that my own ticket was called soon after because I thrust my ticket in your hand for you to get that remote-controlled helicopter while your dad rolled his eyes at me, the sucker.

Now here I am finishing this post a day later as you play at your friends' house a mile away.  I admit that it wasn't the easiest thing letting you leave this morning, but I consoled myself knowing that the mom whose house you're at is a doctor, so I have that safety net to count on.  I am looking forward to your getting back home soon.

Just a few minutes ago, the names of the twenty first-graders and five adults were released to the media.  I read every name, thinking of the names and faces of your classmates.  Several of the names are the same.

Fred Rogers said to look for the helpers.  Look for them if anything bad is ever happening to you.  One of the teachers who survived yesterday said that she told her kids as they hid together in a closet that she loved them.  She wanted them to know that they were loved, in case that was the last thing they heard in this life.

Be like her.  Be a helper.  Reach above your own fear and extend love and help to others who are smaller and weaker than you are.

 Whenever you do learn of this terrible day right before Christmas 2012, this is what I want you to know.

Look for the helpers and make it your life's work to become one of them.


  1. Thank you, Lori. For being the woman that your are, the mother that your are, the communicator that you are.

  2. we are so similar, my friend. thinking about you and your children tonight!

  3. Wow, Lori. Thank you for writing your feelings and thoughts out in such a beautiful way. I can't begin to explain how much I can identify with what you have written.
    Amy B

  4. Lori, I weep as I read this because you are so precious, and because you gifted us with the tenderness that is inside you, showing us that vulnerability by putting your feelings into words, and gifting us with them.
    I weep because I can't help but visualize Mac's little classroom when I think about what happened yesterday, seeing his teacher, the innocent little faces that surround him everyday. When I think about the kids in that bathroom with the teacher you mentioned, I see his bathroom. But I have to stop myself when my mind starts to go to the "what if's" because I just can't bear to think about what actually happened and what I would do if it had been at his school.
    And I weep because I remember calling you the day of the Pearl shooting. I remember that panic I felt when I realized you would have to have been there, and even when I knew you were safe, I knew you would never be the same, and I was scared that a day like this would come, when it would all be brought back to you...when you would relive those moments and would feel that fear again.
    I know you don't like the word "lucky" used in association with your children, but I hope after our conversation I don't use it in the traditional sense...because Lori, your kids ARE lucky, the same way your friends are lucky to be your friends...any child, no matter how they came to you would be lucky to call you their mama...because you see your life in pictures, and with every moment that means something to you, you take the time to press the button and snap a photo, and one day, when they are older, they are going to realize just how lucky they are because they are going to be able to view those photos, real ones or ones made of words or memories, and they are going to realize, as us big people do, that their mama is special.
    Love you, my sweet friend, and my prayers are with you tonight.

  5. Lori - my heart, my thoughts and prayers are with you. Thank you for writing and sharing. Thank you for your openness and tears.

  6. Grateful for the truth in your words...

  7. My niece is Marsha Weems Stacey so I saw this blog thru her. Running from the internet and television, your words are the only ones I have felt reached my soul. When 911 happened, my son was a student at Rhodes College. I was on my way to see a client in husband (a Vietnam veteran) begged me to come home, but nothing could have stopped me from going straight to Memphis. I sat with my "grown" son and his friends and just knew in my heart that was where I had to be. Moms like you are a gift to your children and to us all. We can't protect our children from the world...we can be there when we can to show them the best way to move thru tragedies....and we can show them the faith that we have to place their small hands in God's every morning....whether they are 6 or 20 or 40. Thank you for writing this and allowing all of these past days to sink in and become real thru your eyes. I think that we have to accept the realness in order to move forward.