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Thoughts on yet another school shooting

15 Feb

Yesterday, yet another school shooting happened.

I sat in front of my computer, unable to turn away. I watched the death toll rise in numbers that also matched the ages of the students at the high school.

14 victims.

15 presumed dead.

16 dead.

17 fatalities reported.

My own 17 year old texted me that she was staying after school to work on a project. Part of me wanted to scream “NO! Schools aren’t safe places! Come home now!”

Instead, I sent her a thumb’s up. I held my fears to myself.

A couple of  years ago, my husband Josh and I went to Barcelona. My sister came to mind the teenager. I packed my bags, ready for a well-earned break from life. Josh and I wandered about the city, saw the cathedral, got lost in the Latin Quarter, sat on the beach – all those lovely things.

One evening, we found a spot, as one of the fountains did a water/light show every night. As we sat, our phones pinged.

It was an email from the school. There was a credible threat of violence. The high school, and therefore the elementary school across the street, were on lock down. Police were swarming campus to look for the threat.

“I’m sure everything’s okay.” my husband said as he texted our son who was sitting in a classroom in that school while I texted my sister. My younger sister, who was a high schooler when Columbine happened, asked if she should stay at home or go up to the school. “Wait there.” I said. We only lived a few blocks away.

She waited.

My husband got a hold of our son Sean, who said he was fine, they were locked in the classroom, it was all actually a bit boring. Sean is a bit unflappable. Knowing he was still calm helped me be calm as we got more updates from the principal and our son. Eventually, police got to his classroom, patted down each kid, and sent them on their way home. My sister texted when he got home.

Everyone got home safely that day.

Yesterday, people didn’t get home safely.

I looked at scenes yesterday through tears. As a parent, I’ve had to imagine how each of my kids might have reacted in a similar situation. As a parent, I’ve been  having “What if…” scenarios running through my  head for twelve hours.

What if a shooter entered my girls school?

Would the older one hide? Or would she run? Would she be the one pulling a friend along? Would she get to safety first, or would she think she had to go rescue her sister?

Because her sister Maura is in one of the special ed classrooms.

Her sister wouldn’t know what to do. Her sister wouldn’t know what “active shooter” meant. Her sister wouldn’t know to hide, or to be quiet. Her sister is one of the most vulnerable in the building. Defenseless.

Horrible realizations come over me. I need to tell my older daughter to save herself. To trust that Maura’s teachers and aides will protect her and keep her safe. “Don’t think of your sister, save yourself.”

I also realize that by depending on teachers and staff members to watch over Maura, I’ve asked them to put their lives on the line for my daughter. And that is a lot to ask of a person making $11 an hour. Maybe $13.

And I know, her group wouldn’t be easy to evacuate. Some kids in the program are in wheelchairs. Some balk at changes in routine. Doesn’t matter if that change is going for ice cream or running from a shooter – they will balk.

They are, honestly, sitting ducks. Easy targets.

And the staff would protect them. I know that.

And the idea that some other person would use themselves as a human shield to protect my daughter is a burden I have to carry. I shouldn’t have to ask this of any person. But that’s what we expect from teachers. That’s what we’ve seen from teachers and staff in every school shooting.

Somehow, even after a room full of first graders were massacred in a hail of bullets, we have gotten this idea that there is nothing we can do. Maybe arm and fortify the schools more, but that school shootings are now normal. We’ve accepted that as normal. This has become normal.

School shootings have become normal.

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[Image description – black and white photo of a derelict room with arched windows, shadow of a girl in the corner] Photo by Erik Müller on Unsplash

No.

I refuse to accept that.

This isn’t normal. 

“But Phoebe, what can we do?”

Well…

First, get angry. Angry that our society has come to this.

Now, channel that anger and call your representatives. Tell them that you want something done – better laws, better enforcement of those laws, gun bans, better mental health coverage, more accessible help for families in a mental health crisis – pick something and share that with your senator or congress person. It’s easy to Google them. All my representatives are on Twitter. The phone numbers to their offices are public, call them. Email them. Tweet them.

Then, maybe look up those who are taking money from the NRA or voting in a way that benefits the NRA. Decide if you still want them in office. Vote accordingly. It’s an election year – we can start making changes right now.

And maybe – maybe rethink your stance on guns. I’m not anti-gun. I know lots of responsible gun owners. But as a whole society, we’ve gotten unreasonable about gun ownership. Irresponsible. Something major has to happen.

I think our students are worth it.

I hope you do too.

 

 

 

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To the person who doesn’t want to give up their subway seat for my kid…

9 Jul

This article popped up in my feed. I read it, and I’ll admit, part of me did agree with you. But then you sort of glossed over that disabilities may not be seen by the naked eye. And that’s where you lost me. And since I was willing to hear your side – and again, even agree with some points – I think you now need to hear my side of things.

When we lived in Dublin, we were blocks from a Luas station – the Luas being the light rail train that ran from the more suburban areas of Dublin to City Centre. As someone who grew up with commuter trains in Chicago, I was enamored of the Luas. Trains get people places, and for less than what parking would cost.

My daughter Maura loved the Luas. She had her own Luas card for commuting. Because for the first few weeks of school, we had to commute by train. The commute meant walking the five-ish blocks to the train station, and down two flights of stairs to the platform (or use the elevator), take the train to our stop, then walk another several blocks to her school. Since we were traveling during the morning commute time, the train was usually full when it hit our stop, and packed by the time we were ready to get off. I soon figured out a spot that worked for us – the last car, by the back door, against the wall where Maura could lean against it for support, and a quick and easy exit. I would stand in front of her, shielding her a bit, but also shielding herself from other passengers so if she lost her balance, she lost it onto me and not a stranger.

 

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Maura waiting for the train in Ireland – 2011

 

Usually mornings went smoothly. It was afternoons that got difficult. She’d be tired from the school day, and the walk to the train could mean a series of bribes and cajoling. There was a little convenience store right next to the train where I’d let her buy a bag of popcorn if that’s what got us to the train. I would hope that we’d get a seat so she could sit and rest before having to walk home. If it was full, I’d be the mom you described in your piece, telling her she could sit soon, and nabbing the first spot available for her.

The train in Dublin wasn’t nearly as cut throat as other systems I’ve ridden on (which, on top of Chicago, I can add Paris, Barcelona, London, and yes, even the NYC subway.) The Dublin train riders were more likely to give seats to kids. Once, a school group came on, and little girls in plaid skirts were taking seats – and I watched not one, but two young men get up from their seats and move in order to give the school girls their seats, so that the teacher was able to have them all in one place. They didn’t ask how able-bodied the girls were.

Listen, I have taught my own children to give up seats for those who need it, whether it be at church or on a train. They have never balked or complained, and now, as almost grown/grown people, they are still giving up their hard-earned seats for those who may need it.

But I’ve also been the mom who needed the seat for my kid.

My very normal looking kid.

My kid who may look like she’s enjoying standing there on her own two feet.

My kid who had epilepsy that affected her balance. Who has motor skill issues that affect her balance. My kid with low muscle tone, who tires out more easily. My kid who can’t always correct or catch herself when she starts to fall, or who can’t always move fast enough to block herself when she does fall. The kid who couldn’t understand why she couldn’t sit when tired. The kid who’d be safer seated on a bouncing cornering train. The kid who, in your eyes, at first glance looks totally normal and healthy. Because she is healthy for the most part.

The one you basically dismissed with your bland statement that disability isn’t always visible to the naked eye. Because while you’re willing to write – possibly in a CYA sort of way – that not all disabilities are visible to the naked eye, you’re also ready to write off that me promising my kid a seat equates to coddling. Because to the naked eye, my daughter looks like an average kid.

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Maura – 2017

 

Now more than ever, I need that seat for Maura. Yes, she’s older, taller, and better at balancing herself. But when she stumbles and falls or needs support, she leans on me. Me, her now-shorter-than-her mom. Me, the gal with the twitchy back and inflamed shoulder. Me, who got that twitchy back and inflamed shoulder from years of helping Maura physically. Me, who would and has happily not sit if it means my daughter gets a seat.

Maura getting a seat means she gets a rest break – one that may not seem needed but will pay off later. Maura getting a seat means that I don’t have to use my own body to help hers cope and adjust with swaying train cars, stops and starts. Maura getting a seat means she won’t bump into other passengers while trying to catch her balance.

Listen, our world is more difficult to navigate because of my daughter’s disabilities. That her disabilities are invisible doesn’t make things better. Because we get judged – whether it’s for using the disabled toilet, or using the disabled seating on the train, or being judged as a coddling parent by someone’s cursory glance.

There are a lot of disabilities that aren’t visible. I personally know several kids who could use a seat on a train even though they look able and happy because their disability isn’t apparent to the naked eye. Kids with autism, kids with mild cerebral palsy, kids who have had strokes as toddlers – and my own kid, who doesn’t have a diagnosis but definitely is disabled.

And you know what? As the mom of three other children, who are all able-bodied, sometimes even those kids need to sit. They’ve had long days, or have a long trek ahead of them once they get off the train, or are just clumsy and would be safer on a seat. Moms who have been dragging their kid about town and are tired of playing goalie and just want to put him in a seat for five minutes so she can take a breather because she knows passengers will give her the stink eye if her kid bumps into them.

Listen, we’ve all been a bit of an asshole when it comes to holding onto our own hard-earned seats on trains or busses. But I’m pretty certain that kids having seats on trains isn’t the downfall of civilization as we know it. And as the mom who used to ride the Luas constantly with her own kid who did need the seat, I am grateful for every kind person who offered a seat to my daughter.

 

 

Can we discuss being able-bodied?

27 Jun

My daughter Maura is able-bodied. Her legs work fine. Her muscles are pretty strong. Her organs are doing awesome. Even her epilepsy has cleared up, gone into remission or whatever epilepsy does when it stops occurring. Sure, there’s some low muscle tone and some far-sightedness, and she’s not amazingly coordinated. But all in all, Maura is quite healthy.

But she is also disabled.

But she would be considered able-bodied.

But she’s actual disabled.

But she’s healthy.

She is a conundrum. She doesn’t appear disabled. She has what’s known as “invisible disabilities” – hers can’t be seen at first glance. And that’s what’s getting me worried, what with health care back on the auction block.

Kellyanne Conway said (and I reluctantly share) –

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don’t bother clicking the play button, it’s just a screen shot

 

Does this mean she expects someone like Maura to see what her options are?

“Don’t be silly Phoebe, she doesn’t mean her, obviously.”

But obviously, Maura is able-bodied. And Maura’s been considered “not disabled enough” in the past, by the state of Michigan when we applied for a children with special needs Medicaid program.

You can be able-bodied and unable to work. Maura a prime example. But there’s also those who are working so hard to just stay alive mentally that they can’t actually hold a job. Should they seek “other options” because they have PTSD or depression? Should they be denied Medicaid because they are working to figure out how to live with schizophrenia right now? I mean, they might be as able-bodied as Maura. Are they just all slackers undeserving of health care?

Meanwhile, V.P. Pence said this –

 

First – why the rush? Why does it have to be by the end of summer? Why can’t we take our time and do it right?

Second – what’s this “personal responsibility” you speak of? Can you define it more?

Because, Mr. Pence, your platform is a pro-life one. And one would think that being pro-life means you’re willing to help all lives, not just congressional ones or political ones. But when you say “personal responsibility”, it seems that you are putting families who do choose life – whether it’s the couple whose unborn child has been diagnosed in utero with Down Syndrome or the woman taking care of her elderly parent – off to float alone.

That isn’t the American way. It may have become the Republican way, to smack a person on the ass as you shoo them out the door while yelling “Good luck! By the way, there’s holes full of bears and snakes!”, but as Americans, we pride ourselves on coming together and helping each other. That’s why there are so many people sharing Go Fund Me campaigns to pay for someone’s child’s new wheel chair (that isn’t covered by insurance) or wife’s cancer treatments (that have left them bankrupt).

You say “personal responsibility” like we all haven’t been personally responsible for our health care bills. Newflash – we already are. Too much so. But the way you say it has people worried. Do you expect my disabled daughter to be personally responsible for her health care bills when she can’t be left responsible for brushing her teeth daily without supervision?

“Of course not Phoebe.” you may say. But what you’re also saying is that we as her parents, who are being pro-life, are personally responsible. And not to expect help. Ever. Because that’s the Republican way.

So here I am, with my able-bodied daughter, wondering what the future holds. What the future is going to expect from her. And I don’t know.

What I do know is that something like health care shouldn’t be rushed. Something like health care should have lots of input from people whose lives it affects. Some things, like the phrases “able-bodied” and “personal responsibility” shouldn’t be thrown about carelessly. Health care shouldn’t be broken down into sound bytes and tweets.

And I definitely shouldn’t be told I’m overreacting or that it can’t possibly happen when there are congressmen who are willing to vote on a health care bill they haven’t read.

I have enough to worry about and plan for Maura’s future. I don’t need to worry about what kind of job will give her health benefits because she’s deemed “able-bodied” and able to work.

If you live in these states, please call the listed senators. If you don’t live in these states, pass on this list to people you know in those states. A call script is below the list. Copy and paste for widest circulation. Call EVEN IF they said they are voting against the bill. GOP Leaders are looking to offer $$ for votes right now.

Alaska – Lisa Murkowski (202) 224-6665
Alaska – Dan Sullivan (202) 224-3004
Arkansas – Tom Cotton (202) 224-2353
Arizona – Jeff Flake (202) 224-4521
Colorado – Cory Gardner (202) 224-5941
Florida – Marco Rubio (202) 224-3041
Louisiana – Bill Cassidy (202) 224-5824
Maine – Susan Collins (202) 224-2523
Nevada – Dean Heller (202) 224-6244
Ohio – Rob Portman (202) 224-3353
Pennsylvania – Patrick Toomey (202) 224-4254
Wisconsin – Ron Johnson (202) 224-5323
West Virginia – Joe Manchin (D) (202) 224-3954
West Virginia – Shelly Moore Caputo (R) (202) 224-6472

“Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m a constituent from [CITY / STATE].

I’m calling to urge Senator [NAME] to vote against the Better Care Reconciliation Act. As the CBO analysis of the bill makes clear, this legislation will cause millions of people to lose their insurance and will raise premiums for millions of others, yet does nothing to resolve the Affordable Care Act’s shortcomings. I hope the Senator will do the right thing and reject this bill, even if there are modest changes. Reforming the ACA should be done in an open, deliberate way with public hearings and input – not rushed through the Senate with only days to consider the ramifications.”

 

 

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