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Tag Archives: teens

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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Life with Maura, episode #827

10 Nov

Maura is not the neatest of teens.

Somewhere, my sister is going “Well THAT’S an understatement.”

My sister has spent time with Maura obviously.

But it’s true. Maura and neatness do not go hand in hand. Maura has always been a messy kid, and now she’s a messy teen. We spend too much time wading into her room to shovel it out and tame it back into submission and a semblance of organization that will last two days tops. She can destroy a room in five minutes, leaving it strewn with My Little Ponies and costume bits.

Luckily, we are not Type A people. We don’t freak out at the wake of destruction she leaves. We just sigh and carry on.

Sometimes, I don’t discourage it.

Case in point – a package came to the house, and the contents were packed in lovely pink packing peanuts. Boxes like these are pure joy for Maura, and free sensory play. The box came over two weeks ago and amazingly, it wasn’t until yesterday that it kersploded everywhere.

 

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[image description – a lovely mutli-shades of blue area rug coated in pink packing peanuts, a box of pink peanuts sitting next to it]

I’m guessing it tipped over while Maura’s doll was swimming through the peanuts. Maura looked at the mess and pointed to it. I could hear the implied “Can you clean it up?” I pulled the age-old “You clean it up.” And she did. Mostly. But enough that I could vacuum up the rest, so that was a win.

Maura has also rediscovered apples. She’ll go through phases with some foods, and apples are one of them. Or maybe, I’m the one who goes through the phase where I forget how she handles apples and buy bunches only to end up with a lot of this happening…

 

 

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[image description – an aqua blue Fiesta plate with three apples, one partially eaten, one with one bite taken out of it, one with two bites taken out of it]

Apples are great. Apples taste good. Apples smell good…until they rot under your couch, or behind the piano, or where ever Maura left the partially eaten apple. Those apples in the picture? Weren’t found like that on a plate. The plate (hers) was left on the coffee table. One apple – the mostly eaten one – was found on the couch. The other two were in her Halloween pumpkin, along with two uneaten apples.

I put the uneaten apples back in the fridge. So if Maura wants one, she can have it. Which means I may be finding a half-eaten apple in my shoe tomorrow.

Should I deny her apples, or free sensory play, because it makes a mess?

Nope.

Should I train my dog to find half-eaten apples and throw them away for me?

Probably.

 

 

 

The scars life leaves…

27 Oct

 

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Seventh grade me, posing by the front door, ready for my confirmation (hence the stole)

 

 

I think it was November. I remember it was some time in the middle of the week. A Wednesday or Thursday perhaps, but one of those days where there’d been a day or two of normalcy, and then a day or two of the new reality.

It was seventh grade in the Catholic school I’d gone to for all but kindergarten. It was my hothouse of growth, the second-biggest part of my life outside of home. It was where I spent half my day at, with people I’d spent seven years of my life with.

I thought I was liked. I thought I had friends. Looking back, I can see the great divide between school and home life. We were at the edges of the school boundary line, so I didn’t really have school friends in my neighborhood. I had my friend Laura*, who lived on the same block as me – but Laura went to the public school. My school friends stayed at school, except for the occasional birthday party or sleepover.

By seventh grade, my world had already been shaken. My dad had left when I was in fifth grade, something we didn’t make public knowledge for the first year because there was I guess hopes of reconciliation. By seventh grade, it was generally acknowledged that he was gone.  We were adjusting to the new normal of a one-parent household and Sunday visitations and Dad having an apartment in the city.

And so one day, I sat with my friends at lunch, and everything seemed normal to me. The next day, I walked up to the table and before I could sit down, one girl looked up at me and told me I couldn’t sit there, they didn’t like me anymore. “Go sit at the loser table.”

Because of course there was a loser table, even at my nice Catholic school, with sixty-odd kids in the seventh grade class, all of whom had known each other for years.

I remember some of the other girls didn’t look at me. I remember the spokesgirl smirking. I remember going over to said loser table and asking if I could sit with the two girls there. I don’t know if they asked what had happened, but it didn’t matter, because I had no answer for them.

Adults at the time gave me theories. It was because I was too popular and as the one popular girl moved away, the position of queen bee was open, and the other girl really wanted to be queen bee. It was because my parents had split up and that was “catching”, so I was ostracized for that.

But as an adult myself, I think it was more basic than that. I was an awkward girl with a speech problem, a skin condition, and a bad haircut. I was a dork. I was the opposite of cool. It was seventh grade, and let’s be honest, 12 year old girls are kinda scary and mean. In a way, I was ousted for totally normal reasons.

My status as a social pariah became well-established overnight.

Not only did just about every girl in the seventh grade class stop speaking to me, but the boys did as well. Well, except when those boys were teasing me. And by teasing, I mean taunting my height or my speech problem – which had become my normal and I had been told to just ignore. No teacher seemed to notice my sudden change in status, or the cold shoulders I was given by my peers. There was too much going on in the school administration to notice one girl.

It wasn’t all horrible because I became friends with the other two girls at the outcast table. We hung out after school hours. I introduced them to my friend Laura, and we all became a group of friends.

It wasn’t all horrible. Until it was.

For some reason, the two girls who had befriended me in my time of need decided to also cast me off, taking Laura with them.

And there I was, in late spring of 1985, completely friendless.

I begged my mom to let me change schools, to go from the Catholic school to the public junior high. I couldn’t bear the idea of spending one more year in an environment where I was friendless and ignored. Catholic school was getting too costly for my mom anyway, in her new single-mom status, so she allowed it. I went to a new school the following fall, which was a new school for everyone in the district. I made some friends, my friend Laura and I patched things up, and I moved on.

Sort of.

Because come high school, many of my Catholic schoolmates were once again my classmates. A couple of them and I became friends again. Some just pretended they never knew me – including the head mean girl who told me I no one liked me anymore. We had a couple of classes together where we just kept our distance from one another. And then, after four years, I left the state to go to college and never quite looked back.

And yet…

What happened to me in seventh grade had such an influence on the person I became. It is something that entwined itself into my psyche probably because it came at a time of great upheaval in my home life. Imagine having a year where no matter where you went, you were being rejected and everything you knew changed. Friends turned their backs on you, parents left, taking financial stability with them. Things you enjoyed doing had to be given up. In the space of two years, everything changed – including me.

I was taught, in hard harsh lessons, that I couldn’t trust people, that people would walk away from me, that people would stab me in the back and then ask for the knife back as if I stole it from them. I’d make friends and then wait for the moment they realized they didn’t want to be friends with me anymore, certain that at some point, they’d realize I was a loser and leave.

It is something I’ve had to continually overcome all of my life. Which all sounds a bit ridiculous and overdramatic. But if it’d been a physical injury, it would be one that healed, but left scar tissue and a limited range of mobility. And considering it that way doesn’t seem overdramatic at all.

The amazing part to me is that those girls involved in the great unfriending of seventh grade probably have never thought of that Wednesday or Thursday in November. It wasn’t a pivotal moment in their life. It changed my world, not theirs.

Why does this matter now?

Because October is Bullying Prevention Month, or so social media keeps reminding me. And looking back, so much of my formative years were doused in some form of bullying, and it affected me. It affected how I developed and how I viewed relationships with people. It wasn’t something to just get over, because it wasn’t one thing, or one time. I didn’t have a bad day, I had a bad year. I had two bad years. Honestly, I had a few bad years.

Somehow, I came out of it all with only some baggage. Other teens don’t come out of it at all.

In a way, I’m a survivor. Feck that – I *am* a survivor. I’m scrappy as hell, and manage to overcome a lot despite what people have done to me. And I’m here to say to teens, if you’re going through the crappiest year of your life – it gets better. I promise you, it gets better. You will leave all that teen shit behind and step out into the bigger world and it will be better. I would never ever not for a million dollars relive high school. I made lifelong friends in college. I met a guy who likes me for the weirdo I am. Oddly enough, I’ve friended some of my old classmates on Facebook and like them for the adults they became.

And I’ve gone on to live a great life – something oddly enough, may not have happened if I had stayed in my comfortable little bubble of a world. My desire to get the hell out of town put me on a path to my current life, where I’ve done far more than I ever dreamed.

Will you get over what’s been done to you? I don’t know. I do know that wounds will heal and time will give you perspective. It may change you, but you can work with those changes and keep them from becoming negatives. The pain will lessen, and it will stop hounding your waking moments. You can learn how to thrive, and make your own path, find your own way. You can tattoo over that scar and make it something beautiful.

I promise – it can get better.

 

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Adult me, with my mermaid hair, sitting in a bar in Dublin, Ireland having a fabulous time (friend not seen because she was photographing me) 

 

*names changed for privacy  

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