Monday, November 26, 2012

A Heavy Heart This Monday Morning

It's been a while since I've logged in and have written a post. November has just seemed to have been an overwhelming month. I know because I had the "tornado" dream the night before Thanksgiving. It's a reoccurring dream. I don't have it too often and it is never exactly the same. Each time I've been in a different place, in a different situation. The tornadoes never hit where I am, but they are out there. In the last dream there were about eight of them lined up on the horizon, heading my way. But I have realized that every time I have the "tornado" dream, I have a lot on my plate, to the point that every time I cross off something on my "to-do" list, ten other things get added. I usually have too many things going on at once, too many messes around the house from too many projects, and I can't seem to get to them because I have too many places to go. WHY do I do this to myself?

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.

Monday, November 5, 2012

One Week Later...

It seems like I haven't posted for a while. It's been so chaotic lately with the kids' activities and with Chris working late hours at his new job that I haven't had too many free moments. And then Hurricane Sandy was on her way and by nature, I'm a planner. It's what I do. If we are going away for a weekend, I bring the extra pants just in case I spill something, I bring the jacket just in case it gets cold. You never know if you might need something...just in case. So when they started forecasting the storm, I listened at first with hesitation because they always start telling us about these storms so far in advance. But as it came closer and closer, they said it was the perfect storm, they said they never saw a storm quite like it before. It set records for hitting the east coast so late in the season, for high tidal surges, and lowest pressure recorded on the east coast. They warned us. 

Now we don't live near the coast, but this was a monster of a storm and I like to be prepared. The forecasters started saying things like, "When the power goes out," instead of "If the power goes out." So I took inventory. I bought my batteries, and a few more flashlights. I pulled out our old radio and went food shopping. I filled up the cars with gas and went to the ATM. We bought gas for our generator and we checked our back-up sump pump to make sure it worked. We cleared the backyard of loose objects and tied down the basketball hoop. And I even came home from Timmy's basketball game over the weekend to find Shannon raking all the leaves in the backyard because she heard on the news that you should clear all your drains of leaves.

We were as ready as we possibly could be.

Molly's play room in the basement is where our sump pump is...right there in that closet. The day we moved into our house over nine years ago, this room was filled with water. There was three feet of snow outside melting and the sump pump died and the room had six inches of water. So now, we have the strongest sump pump, and a back-up sump pump, and a battery operated sump pump, and a generator to keep our basement dry.

We were as ready as we possibly could be.

And then the rains came.

At first, Chris was going to have to go to work on Monday, but once Wall Street was closed he was able to stay home. The whole family was home and we didn't have to go anywhere. So I baked pumpkin bread...before the power went out.

And I baked cookies...before the power went out.

 This is what Elizabeth does during a hurricane.

And this is what Maggie and Gracie did during the hurricane.

Chris went out a few times to clear the leaves from the backyard. We always get a river running through our yard as the water tries to work its way down to the creek behind our house.

The day turned into night, and the lights flickered.  They even browned out a few times, but they never went out. We were one of the lucky ones. The wind howled, but the lights stayed on.  The trees swayed, but they stayed upright.  The rains came, but the sump pump kept right on working.

The day after, we checked out the creek behind our house.

We also drove by Goose Creek which was definitely beyond its banks.

Chris went back to work on Wednesday in Georgetown. They were ready for the storm.

The flood gates went up at his building in anticipation of the Potomac River cresting beyond its banks, but it never did. We were lucky.

Today marks one week from when Sandy made landfall. One week later most of my family in New York still do not have power, but their spirits are good. They are thankful that their homes did not get flooded or washed away. They are thankful that a tree did not hit their house and that they don't have any major damage that can't be easily fixed. They are thankful that their biggest problem is to find the gas station with gas. They are thankful when they do find a gas station that actually has a supply they don't seem to mind waiting in the long line for hours. They are thankful for the things that they have and trying to make do with what they don't. Even when it is something as big as not having power.

Now don't get me wrong, they all can't wait until the lights come back on, but they know that they have friends and neighbors that that is not enough. They all know someone that has lost everything.

What is remarkable to me is that only one friend has had their power restored in a week's worth of time. I thought I would start to see posts gradually that their power has been restored one by one, but so far that is not the case. Today, I think about my New York friends and family and hope that power starts to come back soon as they get ready for the next storm.

Since it's Monday, here's a book I'd thought I would share. This book is about the blackout that hit the east coast a number of years ago. I was in New York with the kids that summer.  I had just arrived from Virginia and my mom, the kids and I were about to get in the car to go to my brother's for dinner. As we started driving we went through one traffic light that was out and then another and then another. At this point, we turned on the radio and realized that the blackout went as far north as Canada. It was during this blackout that I learned that gas stations can't pump gas without power. I had no gas from driving up from Virginia and did not have enough gas to get to my brother's house from my mom's house. We were stuck. Ever since then, I always try to keep my gas tank at least half full.

Blackout is a great picture book about how the blackout of 2003 and the heat of the summer drove people out of their homes and apartments in New York to the streets and the rooftops. Sometimes, when the lights go out, it can be a good thing, family spends time together, neighbors help out one another, and there is a sense of community.