As a stay-at-home mom, I have this constant voice in my head that says, "You don't work outside the home so you should have the time to volunteer at school and take care of the house and make good homemade dinners and do the thousands of crafty pinterest ideas you pinned as well as all the home decor ideas and whip-up a batch of cake pops just because and make sure all the homework is done and get everyone to all their activities in the afternoon and write a blog post and put together your project life scrapbook and read all the books in your to-be-read pile and and and..." It just keeps going. It doesn't seem to matter whether we are moms that work outside the home or stay-at-home moms, we always seem to overestimate what we can get done in a day and then we feel bad that it all didn't get done.
We usually have Thanksgiving at our house. This year we had a small group. My mom and two brothers drove down from New York and spent the weekend with us. Even though it was only three extra people, I still needed to cook a Thanksgiving meal. Most years, the day before Thanksgiving I am standing in the kitchen mixing and preparing and stirring and cooking by myself. The kids are usually lying around the house watching TV or playing xbox. Again, I had that overwhelming feeling of mom doing everything, my list being too long, and I was by myself in the kitchen while there were four other people in the house that were going to partake in this meal that I was preparing but were not doing anything to help. So one by one I called them to the kitchen to be an active participant in the preparation. First, it was Molly. She is always eager to please so when I told her she was in charge of the cranberry and apple casserole she just asked, "So what do I do?" I was no longer alone in the kitchen. Molly was standing on the step stool carefully sorting through the cranberries, pulling out the mushy ones, rinsing off the good ones and putting them in the casserole dish. Then Shannon came along and offered to help. The two of them followed the recipe, sliced the apples and added them to the cranberries and then started measuring out the other ingredients. After they were done, I handed Shannon the recipe for the pumpkin pie and we made it together. Timmy was my next helper. We made the twice baked potatoes that he loves so much. We stood side-by-side, slicing the potatoes, scooping out the potatoes, churning the food mill and adding the other ingredients and once they were nice and smooth, we put the potatoes back in their skins. As Timmy stood by my side, he said, "This is a lot of work." " Yes, Timmy," I replied, "It's not hard to make the potatoes, or the pies, or the cranberries or the turkey or the stuffing, but it all takes a lot of time when you put it all together." Ryan also got his chance to help Thanksgiving morning when I showed him how to make the stuffing.
Thanksgiving morning, the house was clean, most of the meal was cooked, Ryan and I were finishing the stuffing and getting ready to put the bird in the oven. My mom and brothers arrived around noon time and then I had my mom by my side doing the final preparations for our meal. Even with all the kids' help the day before, I still was on my feet all day getting ready for our dinner but I didn't seem to mind, I was finally starting to relax and enjoy the moment.
We finally sat at our Thanksgiving table in our "Thankgiving" room, as Ryan calls it, the meal was hot and on the table, we were together with family, we tried to do a blessing, which somehow turned into the pledge of allegiance, just call us the Griswolds, we laughed and ate and told stories and ate and told jokes and ate.
After our plates were empty and our bellies full, we just sat at the table and enjoyed each other's company. At some point the conversation turned to the YMCA song and what does the YMCA stand for? We had the "Young Men" part but weren't a hundred percent certain about the rest so I pulled out my phone to goggle it and that is when I saw the pop-up on my phone with the email from our superintendent. That is when I read that our beloved elementary school principal had been killed in a traffic accident. There was no trying to figure out how to tell the kids because they knew there was something wrong by my gasp, by my expression, by my hesitation to even get the words out of what I just read. We were shocked and in disbelief of what had happened. It was like hitting a brick wall right there at the dinner table.
It has been a long weekend. Not just because we have been out of school for five days, but because of this news. The community has had days to think about her passing, I have read numerous facebooks posts about Mrs. Hwang that have brought me to tears. I have watched all the news reports and read all the online news articles about this tragic loss. Words that I have read this weekend: beloved, heartbroken, legacy, hugs, cherished, loved, vibrant, pillar, gentle, leader, caring, kind, respected, just to name a few.
She has touched so many lives and we all have our stories about her. For me, I loved that she would listen to the now stay-at-home mom who used to be a teacher but still loves reading educational books. We would recommend books to each other through emails. If I came across an idea that I read about, she was always willing to listen, and they were usually about how to get the kids to read more.
The last time I saw her was at Molly's Harvest Fest Party on Tuesday. She came in to visit the party as she always does. We said hello and chit-chatted. Molly came up to us and showed us her "I read to the Principal" button. Molly had just read to Mrs. Hwang that morning and Molly was so excited to show me her book. Molly said that she couldn't find a book she wanted in the third grade selection so Mrs. Hwang let her pick one out from the fourth and fifth grade pile. It was a Clarice Bean book and Molly knows that I read a few of them for a class I took last summer. Molly went back to her activity and Mrs. Hwang and I continued to talk. She told me how her grandsons were doing in school and how the younger one in kindergarten is reading way beyond the kindergarten level. She told me some of the activities his teacher was doing with him to keep him engaged with learning and she was just beaming with pride as she spoke. Her whole face just lit up while she talked about her two little grandsons and she was just so excited to have them sleep over during the Thanksgiving weekend. She said, "That's our tradition, that's what we do."
As I write this, Sanders Corner is back at school. The first time without their leader standing in the carline waiting to greet them and ready to give a hug to whomever wants one. It's going to be a hard day, not just for the students but for the staff as well. My prayers go out to all of them that they find the strength to get through today and the rest of the week. I hugged each one of my kids this morning as they walked out the door just a moment longer because truly we don't know what each day brings, and all that other "stuff" that I was overwhelmed about, well, another reminder that it really doesn't matter.
Putting up our sign and taking a moment to remember.
Shannon's fifth grade graduation, there's that hug.
Timmy's fifth grade graduation.
Mrs. Hwang, you will forever be in our heart.