Finding Beauty in the Brokenness

This brokenness, these outward signs of our experience so far, doesn’t make us less than others with different worries or heartbreak.

The accident was barely worth talking about.
I’d taken the trash out one night, early in the summer. I was 12. I hummed and bounced the bag against my knee. When I came back into the house, my mother gasped in horror. I looked down and saw my leg soaked in blood. A broken glass in the bag had acted like a knife, stabbing me deeply each time I bounced the bag. I never felt it because the first cut damaged a nerve.
The aftermath of that night was far more painful.
I had a large, angry red scar that the soaring temperatures made nearly impossible to hide. The scar criss-crossed my left knee – six separate scars actually – working together to form a garish butterfly.
In my black-and-white 12-year-old mind, my leg was ruined. Up until then, I hadn’t had plans to be a swimsuit model or star athlete, but my options were now severely limited. I was broken.
I confessed this to my grandfather one evening, sitting in the now-vintage rockers on his back porch, safe in the dimming of the day.
“I can’t dance anymore,” I said.
“But you’re so good at it! Why not?” he asked, curious. He was wildly enthusiastic about any grandchild hobby, quickly assessing our abilities as, in his expert opinion, far superior to those of the average population.
“People will see my leg,” I replied.
“They’ll see them both,” he agreed.
I huffed. Clearly he didn’t understand.
“They’ll see my scar, Grampa. The tights don’t hide it. I can’t dance because everyone will be looking at my leg. It’s awful.”
He smiled in the face of my earnest pre-teen angst.
“It’s unique,” he said. “If you’re ever lost and frozen on a mountain with your double, your scar will identify your body.”
I’ll pause and confirm: yes, he really said this. He was a colorful man and a terrific storyteller.
He continued.
“Everyone starts out exactly the same way. We are born perfect and boring. Then life starts, and we get stories and scars and begin to forge our own path. Your scar is beautiful. It is yours alone.”
I just looked at him.
I’d like to say that I understood, but I’d be lying. I was 12 and he was hopelessly old. What did he know about scars and brokenness and mourning a once-perfect leg?
I understand now.

We are all a little bit broken

My friend’s daughter, a cancer survivor, panics at the sight of a needle. A relic of her years of chemotherapy, she hyperventilates and nearly passes out while waiting for her flu shot. My sister, like me, spent years in Spanish-speaking countries. Too nervous and shy to answer the phone or venture out alone, she never learned the language.
My children carry the scars of our divorce. Like my the marks on my leg, they have faded to silver now, but they still exist. Caden fixates on our schedule, carefully checking to make sure the days are indeed even. Simon started to have friends over again in high school – for years our family was “too confusing to explain.” Transition days are still bumpy for Lottie.
Our blended family feels broken as often as it doesn’t: loyalty binds and pre-existing cultures and stepfamily dynamics are complicated.
This brokenness, these outward signs of our experience so far, doesn’t make us less than others with different worries or heartbreak.

This brokenness tells our story

In his masterpiece “Anthem,” the songwriter Leonard Cohen urges us to forget our “perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” I played that song over and over and over again in the darkest days of our divorce and separation. That image is powerful. It became a kind of mantra, and created an idea I carry close to this day.
I think of the scars we carry, visible and invisible, as cracks in the glass of a window. Light shines through the glass, shifted and altered by the cracks. The light casts patterns on the wall, shaped by the cracks but not dimmed. Light through a perfect window? No pattern, no story.
I know this analogy isn’t perfect.
I know sometimes things are so broken no light gets in at all. I know that sometimes people carry scars and stories so heavy they can’t bear the weight of them. I know that some people escape life unscathed, and their light shines brightly unaltered on the floor.
I sometimes wish we didn’t carry these scars. I still sometimes consider the possibility of a perfect left leg. I sometimes sit with what if’s and if only’s.
But I have a choice.
This is our story. This is one of the ways our window cracked. And I can choose to stare up at the window or down at my leg and wish the cracks away, or I can look at what happened next. I can see Simon’s adaptability and watch Caden sharpen his wit, coping with humor. I can be grateful for the lesson my children learn as they watch their parents move forward after everything fell apart. I can appreciate the path our lives have taken and admire the pattern the light casts on the wall.
I choose to find the beauty in our brokenness.
This article was originally published on This Life in Progress.

The Day My Kids and I Ran Away From a Man With a Gun

We were only two blocks from our home, about to pass my son’s school when a woman ran around the corner screaming, “He has a gun! He has a gun! Run!”

I was pushing my three-year-old daughter in the stroller while my five-year-old son walked next to me in Greenwich Village in New York City. We were only two blocks from our home, about to pass my son’s school when a woman ran around the corner screaming, “He has a gun! He has a gun! Run!”
So, I started to run, except my son ran in the opposite direction, back towards the threat. I was terrified to let go of my daughter’s stroller because people were stampeding towards us but I desperately needed to get my son. I caught his eye and shouted, “It’s okay, it’s okay. Come to me, now!” I stretched out my arm and finally he darted to me and grabbed it. Then we took off, pushing the stroller with one hand, pulling my son with the other.
I scanned all around us for a place to hide. The stores were all shoebox size and I thought if someone found us in one, we’d have no chance. So, I kept running. I didn’t stop to look if anyone was coming, didn’t register gun fire or lack thereof, just the continual pounding thought in my head, that my actions could save, or lose, my children’s lives.
The day before we had just learned about the shootings in Orlando, about the massacre in a gay club, that 49 people dead, and scores wounded, were primarily people of color. My husband is transgender and I identify as queer, and while we’re white and relatively privileged, it had still hit particularly close to home. We read news stories and cried before deciding we needed community so we went to a rally at Stonewall in Greenwich Village, a few blocks from our house. I explained to my son that sometimes people hurt people because they think something about them is wrong, be it color, religion, or who they love. I said people were coming together to remember those who got hurt, that putting love into the world is stronger than bad guys and that collectively we have the power to change the world.
He sat on my husband’s shoulders waving a rainbow flag and shouting “Stop hate, stop hate!” I hugged and cried with strangers and went home thinking that our world is so, so, sad but we can’t let fear win.
Then the next day I hear “He has a gun!” and think that we might die.
As I looked for a safe place to go, my thoughts were far from rational. I dismissed place after place. It was only after I’d run close to 10 blocks that I stopped. I crouched down next to my son on the pavement, hugged him, and told him he was brave. He was sobbing, hysterical, “We can’t go home. What if the bad guy’s in our house? What if he kills our cats?”
I did what any parent would do in that situation: assured him that we were safe and that our cats were safe and tried to hide the shock that reverberated through every one of my cells. I called my husband on the phone and tried to tell him what happened in an oddly sing-song voice, and told him not to worry the kids.
My husband left work, saying he’d meet me somewhere and walk us home. In the meantime, I searched for somewhere, anywhere to sit, something to distract the kids. I spotted a McDonald’s across the street and 10 minutes later,the kids were scarfing down hot-fudge sundaes, surrounded by people for whom this was just an ordinary day. I searched for news on my phone, trying to figure out what happened but find nothing. In shock, I texted friend after friend, trying to ground myself back to the world. My son, who happened to be wearing head-to-toe camouflage said, “I probably saved our lives because those bad guys couldn’t see me.”
“You probably did,” I said, kissing the top of his head, questioning my decision to let him believe it’s that easy. He will end up wearing that outfit every day for two weeks because he’s scared to take it off.
When my husband met us to escort us home, I sunk into his arms. I suggested we take a detour back, but he insisted we walk past the spot where it happened, the spot where a woman screamed and I thought, “What I do in this moment could save my children or get them killed.” I took deep breaths and gripped the stroller too hard.
“This is where we were, right mom?” my son asked. “Where the bad guys came?”
“Yeah, the bad guy had a gun,” my three-year-old daughter added and I realized she’s been taking it all in too, that she had not been as oblivious as she seemed.
I told them we don’t even really know if there was a bad guy or a gun. I said it’s possible that someone made a mistake, that there was nothing there at all.
The next day, I found out it wasn’t a mistake when a friend sends me a link to an article about the event. An off-duty cop pulled a gun during a confrontation with a bike delivery man –  something about the bike hitting a car mirror, an ice-pick that may or may not have been there. But what’s clear is the cop retrieved his gun from his car and didn’t once identify himself as police. A video shows him waving this gun, shouting directly in front of an elementary school. There’s no video of us around the corner, frantically running and running.
When my son woke up the next morning, he curled into my body for a kiss and asked, “What do I do if the bad guy comes back?”
“He won’t,” I told him. “He won’t.”
But how do I know this? The fact that this is the first time my children have run from a gun is disturbingly a relative privilege – many children grow up knowing how to run and hide. No one walked into that Orlando club on Saturday night and thought a “bad guy” would come and weighed the risk-reward ratio between freedom and love and death.
The day after the gun incident, my son left a sign in front of the Stonewall Memorial that said, “No more bad guys, no guns, only love.” I took a picture of it and posted it to Facebook, proud of his sensitivity and my progressive parenting. People “liked” away.
But part of me knew I had it all wrong. The idea of a bad guy is way too simple and we’re far beyond just needing gun control. Violence has become a reflex in our country and it needs to change, for our sake and for our children’s sake. I carry my experience with me, like altered DNA, and a shot wasn’t even fired. For so many others, “Run, they’ve got a gun,” is the last thing they hear.

It's Easy to Ask Why I Didn't Leave the First Time

I said it only takes one time for him to lay his hands on you for you to know he is abusive. Until it actually happened to me.

I never understood how anyone could stay in an abusive relationship. I was independent and strong. I said if a man ever laid a hand on me, even once, I would be gone, no matter what.
I was unapologetic and unforgiving towards victims because I was sure I would never let it happen to me, just like anyone who’s never been abused is sure they wouldn’t let it happen to them.
I said it only takes one time for him to lay his hands on you for you to know he is abusive. I said you should leave right then and there. Until it actually happened to me. You have no idea what you would really do until you are in that situation.
The first time won’t be a hit or a punch. Sometimes abuse is never a hit or a punch. It can be pure emotional and psychological abuse. Sometimes the abuser won’t lay a hand on a woman until she tries to leave. And then he will kill her.
I have been in an abusive relationship for four years. It began with psychological abuse, and then with him breaking inanimate objects. For the first two years, he never laid a hand on me, and to this day, he has never actually hit me.
But he has broken my rib, left bruises up and down my arm, and thrown me onto shattered glass, among many other abuses that weren’t actually outright punching me. He has made it easy for me to defend him and say it was an accident.
But I am not ignorant. I am a smart, educated woman who knows the signs. I can look inside my relationship and see it. I can hear my husband spout off the stereotypical lines of an abuser verbatim. He would tell me it’s my fault, that I shouldn’t have provoked him, that I made him this way, that he used to be a nice person.
Colleen Hoover said in her book “It Ends With Us” that you lose sight of your limit. There’s a limit of what you are willing to put up with before you are done. With every incident, you stretch your limit further and further until you lose sight of your limit altogether.
They say it only gets worse, he will never change. I fully believe that, but I don’t want to.
My partner hasn’t laid a hand on me in three months. Sometimes I think maybe he really is changing. I am a stay-at-home mom to our children. We own our home, our car, and everything is in his name. I have no money and nowhere to go. So I want to believe he is changing.
If you think you would leave right away, you’re wrong. It takes time to leave.
Why, when people hear a woman is in an abusive relationship, do they say, “Why didn’t she leave?” and not, “Why did he hit her?”
It is dangerous for people to have these expectations of victims of domestic violence. It is dangerous for people to make victims believe that it isn’t common, that they are alone in not being able to leave. The truth is you never leave the first time.
People condemn women for staying, but so many circumstances in our society make leaving feel impossible. Sometimes there is no help to be had by the police or court system. The abuser controls everything and will destroy you if you try to leave.
Victim shaming needs to end.
Just because I’m not leaving my children homeless or taking the life they know away from them doesn’t mean I’m not the person and mother that I thought I would be. I am still the same strong person that I was before. Strong comes in many different forms.
Right now, I am doing anything it takes to survive. I do what I have to do for my children.
If you suffer from domestic abuse, you are still beautiful, strong, and capable, no matter what anybody tells you. You are no less because you have stayed, or because you will stay again. You have been through more than some people could imagine. Going through something others haven’t is what makes you strong – not the opposite.
That does not mean you should never leave. Sometimes it means you need to prepare beforehand to leave safely.
I’ll say it again. It takes time to leave. And when you find a way, you will come out even stronger.
If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse, please consider getting the help you need. Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or consult the resources at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Why Sugar Coating the History of Slavery Is a Bad Idea If We Want to Empower Our Kids

If our kids don’t know what happened in the past, how will they ever work towards a better future and ensure that we never go back to those dark times?

“The difference between a lady and a woman back in colonial times was that ladies had more power and influence because of the number of slaves they owned.” These were the words spoken to my family while on a recent tour of the Peyton Randolph House in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia.
Peyton Randolph was elected the presiding officer of the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia in 1774 and the Speaker of Virginia’s House of Burgesses in the years leading to the Revolution. He and his wife Betty Harrison Randolph owned 27 slaves. This now historic site is set up to educate visitors about the stark contrasts between freedom and slavery at the house of one of America’s most prominent families.
As we left the tour, I pondered how I was going to explain the concept of slavery to my young white children. It is not exactly a common conversation topic at our dinner table. Nonetheless, I know deep in my heart how critical it is that they learn about this awful part of American history. If they don’t know what happened in the past, how will they ever work towards a better future and ensure that we never go back to those dark times?
I asked my 9-year-old son what he thought of the tour and if he knew anything about what was discussed. He immediately linked the idea of slavery and racism to what he learned in school about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. I was proud that his school incorporated these lessons into their social studies curriculum. Not all schools are brave enough to delve into such challenging topics.
I can remember how shocked I was in college when I sat in my Women’s Studies history class to discover that much of the history I was taught in high school and earlier completely left out women’s roles in important historical events.
Given the current tension in America between people of different backgrounds, such as the horrific showing of hatred in Charlottesville, I have to wonder what role we as parents must play in order to ensure our children get an honest education about history – without frightening them too much.

Are they too young to learn about slavery?

The answer is a resounding “no” from experts at Scholastic. They explain that conversations about skin color typically start in preschool as children become more curious about other people and the world around them.
Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, a professor of education at the University of Pennsylvania, said children are not waiting around for adults to talk about these issues. She found that kids are ready to discuss these topics early and are already doing so whether we realize it or not.
Unfortunately, many parents shy away from talking about the world’s ugliness with their kids, hoping that they will stay naïve and innocent for as long as possible. Thomas says this is not the best approach to take. It is more effective if we are in touch with our children earlier on and address these issues together as they grow.
It may be difficult to find the appropriate time or place to bring up slavery. Keep an eye out for opportunities that pop up, like a TV show, a book, a song, or an event that touches on the topic. Or maybe your young child notices that someone else has darker skin than they do. The more subtley you broach the topic, the easier it will be for both you and your child.
An article in Parenting magazine offered a really clever way to begin the conversation with young children. Invite them to help cook some eggs with you in the kitchen. Be sure to have some white eggs and brown eggs. Ask your child what they notice about the eggs. What is different about them on the outside?
Then crack the eggs together and ask them what they notice about the insides of the eggs. Point out how they are the same inside. Then make the link by explaining how eggs are just like people – they come in different shades, but they are the same on the inside. We should not judge someone by their appearance.

Tips for teaching children about slavery

Because talking to our kids about slavery is such a challenging task, I scoured the internet for expert advice on how best to address it. Here are some amazing tips to consider:

Examine your own biases first

Before you even begin to talk to your children about slavery and racism, take some time to look inside yourself and acknowledge your own experiences, biases, or privileges that may influence how you address these issues.
Don’t be afraid to share your own struggles about these topics with your kids. You can tell them that you are not an expert and want to work together with them to learn more. Consider taking the online test about bias created by Harvard experts.

Tell them the truth

Slavery is a very complicated issue that tends to be over-simplified to the detriment of children’s education. Be sure to use correct definitions and tell the whole story.
Many resources only cover the Underground Railroad or the Emancipation Proclamation, but there is a lot more to the history of slavery. Turn to expert resources, like the Teaching Tolerance website that will walk you through the most effective ways to talk about the details of slavery.

Avoid generalizations and stereotypes

Choose your words carefully. Not every Northerner was an abolitionist, and not every Southerner supported slavery. Although the North ended slavery decades before the Civil War, the people there continued to profit from it by manufacturing the whips, lashes, and chains used to enforce slavery in the South.
Also, be careful not to say that people were “born a slave.” Nature does not make people slaves; people enslave other people. Slaves were people treated like property and tortured for profit.

Celebrate the positives

There are tons of awful details about how slaves were treated that we do not want to dwell on too much with our children. Be sure to also focus on some of the heroes of that time who fought for their freedom, such as Arnold Cragston, a slave by day who rowed others to freedom by night, and Milla Granson who taught fellow slaves to read and write.

Encourage them to express their emotions

Learning about slavery can be very distressing. Give your children a safe space to reflect on how it makes them feel. Their emotions can range from anger, shock, frustration, sadness, hopelessness, and fear. Then ask them to look for ways to transform those negative emotions into positives, like hope and activism.

Link history to present time

The most important reason to study the awful parts of history is to ensure that it does not repeat itself. Take time to draw links between slavery then and racism and slavery today.
Human trafficking and forced child labor are examples of how slavery is still going on today. Sadly, racism is still entrenched in American culture. Explain to your children that slavery caused racism, and people are still fighting it. (Unfortunately, there are all too many examples in the news every day to point to.)

Be a good role model

Many Americans think people are “naturally” racist, that racism is genetic. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. According to experts, humans are not born racist. Instead, racism is a product of history. Our children are watching and listening to us.
Dr. Beverly Tatum, psychologist, educator, author, and past president of Spelman College, suggests that the best way to reduce children’s prejudices is to model an inclusive home, demonstrating that we have friends of all backgrounds. She explains that “parents who have learned to lead multicultural lives, connecting with people different from themselves, are more likely to have children who develop those important life skills at an early age.”

Resources

Fortunately, we have plenty of well thought out resources to turn to when it is time to talk to our kids about slavery.

Books

Books are a wonderful way to initiate a discussion about slavery with children. Young readers can safely experience scary, sad, and uncomfortable issues through reading. Here’s a list of recommended books for kids about slavery:

  • “Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family” by Dolores Johnson
  • “If You Lived When There Was Slavery In America” by Anne Kamma
  • “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Terry M. West
  • “If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine and Larry Johnson
  • “Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad” by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson
  • “Lest We Forget” by Velma Maia Thomas
  • “Unspoken” by Henry Cole
  • “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky” by Faith Ringgold
  • “Frederick Douglas: The Last Days Of Slavery” by William Miller
  • “Nettie’s Trip South” by Anne Turner
  • “Many Thousands Gone: African Americans From Slavery To Freedom” by Virginia Hamilton et al.
  • “The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery” by Dennis Brindell Fradin, Judith Bloom Fradin, and Eric Velasquez

Films

As children get older, it is helpful to sit with them and watch documentaries or movies that address slavery and racism. “Roots”, “12 Years a Slave”, “Amistad”, “The Underground Railroad”, and “A Woman Called Moses” are some of the most popular ones to explore.
Common Sense Media also has an online database of suggested African-American experience films.

Field Trips/Museums

Visiting hands-on exhibits like the one at Colonial Williamsburg offers experiences that your children will remember forever. Here are some museums to visit that address slavery:

Hope is on the horizon

The best news of all is that after our visit to Colonial Williamsburg, my son found the idea of slavery so ridiculous and unbelievable. The concept of treating people differently because of the color of their skin is so foreign to him. He plays with kids of all backgrounds at school and would never dream of it being any other way.
We can only hope that this next generation will be color blind and never put up with intolerance of any kind.

How to Help Your Kids Cope With Natural Disasters

Believe it or not, helping your kids through a natural disaster starts long before the natural disaster strikes.

No matter where you live in the world, at some point you’ll likely face at least one type of natural disaster, whether it’s a simple thunderstorm, a long power outage from a snowstorm, flooding, an earthquake, or even a house fire. Such events can be stressful and traumatic for adults. As parents, we also worry about protecting our kids and helping them get through natural disasters.

I live in Houston, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, we have a lot of work for both physical and emotional recovery. In the process, we can’t forget our kids are recovering from trauma as well.

Make a plan

Believe it or not, helping your kids through a natural disaster starts long before the natural disaster strikes. Create an emergency plan in advance and discuss it as a family. When or if a disaster comes, hopefully you and your children can act more quickly, calmly, and efficiently.

Michaela Fuller, a Houston resident and mother of three, often talked about her family’s contingency plans over the phone with out-of-town family. One day, as she told her children to put on their shoes quickly and get in the car, her son asked, “Is it time to abandon the house?” Although young, he was aware of the plan and wanted to make sure his family followed it to keep them safe.

Sometimes even the best laid plans don’t fully prepare you. In the case of Hurricane Harvey, although weather experts knew it would be extreme, they couldn’t predict how badly the rainfall and flooding would affect the Houston community. However, a family emergency plan gives you a better chance during a crisis.

Make it as fun as you can

Sometimes you can make the situation light and fun. If you’re seeking shelter from a tornado at night, collect everyone for a family sleepover. During power outages, bust out the board games and get creative with games and food recipes. Obviously, try to stay appropriate with jokes or light discussion about the situation according to what you and your children can handle and the severity of the natural disaster.

As a Houstonian whose house wasn’t flooded in Harvey, I’ve been aiding my neighbors and friends in Houston muck out their homes. Some of the homeowners I’ve met, while devastated to lose so much, joked that they had too much stuff anyway. They smiled and focused on what they did have. It has boosted everyone’s morale.

Although I appreciated seeing lighthearted footage of people kayaking in the Harvey flooding, I winced seeing people, especially kids, swim in it. With debris of all kinds (including sewage), alligators or snakes in the water, and the potential of getting swept away, it isn’t worth the risk of getting sick, hurt, or killed just to amuse yourself.

Keep your kids close

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) young children feel most insecure about being left alone and getting separated from their loved ones. As the natural disaster occurs and also afterwards, try to keep your children physically close to you. Hug them and verbally reassure them you’re all together and safe.

That being said, after the disaster, try to resume your normal routine as much as possible. Continue normal bedtimes as you are able. As daycares and schools reopens, return to routines that are comforting to children, but be aware that children will likely be extra clingy and need extra care and reassurance.

Be honest with your kids

In accordance with their ages, communicate to your children the facts of the situation both during and after. In many instances, they need to know the facts so they can use the plan you’ve created or at least understand what’s going on. Many sources, including FEMA, recommend limiting media exposure and conversations that children may overhear to content appropriate for their ages, their sensitivities, or your specific situations to prevent any further trauma.

Also, let them express their feelings honestly. You feel fear and should talk about it with another adult, so let your children do the same with you or a counselor. Their feelings are just as valid, and talking about them will help children heal after a crisis.

Give them control

As helpless as you feel in a potentially devastating situation, remember that children likely feel even more so. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, adults need to try to give children power over at least a few daily choices so they have some control over their lives. It can be as little as what game to play or song to sing next. Any amount of control you can give them only adds to feelings of security.

Read books with them

As with just about any topic in life, there are children’s books about facing and recovering from natural disasters. Some include familiar characters children know and love, such as Clifford, while others include no words at all. Choose whichever ones you think will be the most helpful for your children.

Let them help

Allow and encourage your children to participate in the physical recovery process in age-appropriate ways. Although seeing their own belongings destroyed can be heartbreaking for anyone, older children can feel closure and a sense of control if they’re the ones throwing out their damaged possessions or at least contributing to the cleanup effort.

Especially for kids and families who weren’t affected by natural disasters, encourage your children to join the aid effort for other families. Showing compassion increases gratitude and awareness of the needs of others. I’ve worked alongside several teenagers mucking out houses, and they have shown amazing work ethic to help those in need. Other kids went door-to-door delivering lunches for those of us working in houses. The kindness we’ve seen has brought so much unity and support in our community, and our children should see and be part of it as much as possible.

Be patient

If children have been directly or indirectly affected by a natural disaster, they may regress to younger behavior such as bed-wetting, separation anxiety, or thumb sucking. Sometimes when they lack the ability to verbally express their feelings, children can develop negative behaviors such as aggression, depression, and others.

As you spend more time with your children, reassuring them that you are all together and safe and listening to their concerns and feelings, those behaviors should subside in the days, weeks, or months after the events.

Get help

If regressive behavior or symptoms of PTSD continue – or just to supplement your own efforts to help your children cope – please consider seeking professional counseling for yourself and your children. Many agencies provide resources and guidance for children’s mental health recovery.

Even if you decide you don’t want a counselor’s help, still use a support network to buoy up you and your children, including friends, family, your kids’ teachers, and other community members. The road to recovery for those who endure major disasters is long, expensive, and difficult. If you have weathered a natural disaster, it doesn’t have to fall on your shoulders alone to heal and sustain your family.

5 Ways to Save a Life for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

One in 285 children is diagnosed with cancer by age 20. There are ways to help that can actually save lives.

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: your child gets a bump, a bruise, or has a pain that doesn’t go away. You’re sure that it can’t be serious, but in the back of your head you wonder. What if this time it’s more than growing pains, a simple headache, or general fussiness? After several doctor’s appointments, you hear those four dreaded words: “Your child has cancer.”

For too many families, this nightmare is a reality. One in 285 children is diagnosed with cancer by age 20. Parents are left frightened by questions of whether their children will live to see their next birthday. Will they make it to kindergarten or high school graduation? If they do live, will they suffer from significant long-term effects? Shaun, whose son had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, expressed what many parents feel by calling the diagnosis “an unreal whirlwind.”

It’s easy for the rest of us to feel like there’s not much we can do. After all, we don’t have the cure for cancer in our back pocket. But the families affected by childhood cancer see things much differently. They not only see ways for us to help, but they believe that we can truly save lives. Here’s how:

Donate blood

Childhood cancer changes the context behind community blood drives and phone calls from donation centers. When your child has cancer, blood donations shift from being nice in theory to immediately pressing. Most types of cancer require blood and platelets transfusions, either from the cancer itself or from the accompanying treatments. Blood donors may only take a few hours out of their day, but they can literally infuse health into the veins of sick children.

Ruth Grace relied on many blood and platelet transfusions during her intense chemotherapy treatments. Her body became too weak to make healthy blood cells on its own, and she was left in a life-threatening situation. Blood transfusions saved her. Her mother is forever grateful for blood donors, saying, “Thank you for saving my baby’s life. Without you my daughter would not be here today. Your donations meant that our daughter had the opportunity to see her ninth birthday.”

Ruth Grace, from Manchester, UK, diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 8.

Sign up for the bone marrow donor registry

For some kids, including many with leukemia or lymphoma, a bone marrow transplant is their only hope for survival. This often means relying on the kindness and health of strangers. By joining the registry at BeTheMatch.org, you have the potential to literally save a life. The process is free and simple: request a kit, check your mail, swab your cheek, and send it back. If you are ever matched to a patient, the donation only requires a simple procedure and a short recovery.

Kaylen is alive today thanks to a donor on the other side of the world. He and his family are deeply grateful for his donor as well as everyone who signs up for the registry. His mom says, “thank you so much from the bottom of my heart… because of you I have my son.” Kaylen encourages all to “please consider signing up to be a donor… children and adults like me who don’t have a match in our family depend on total strangers who could save our lives.”

Kaylen, from New Hampshire, diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia at age 10.

Help a family directly

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it quickly becomes the family’s biggest focus. Their schedule is filled with tests, appointments, and treatments. They rarely get a chance to cook a meal or clean their home. Frequently, one parent needs to take a leave of absence at work or even quit their job to care for their child. If they have other children, they need to find childcare while they spend time at the hospital. Support from family and friends is crucial as it enables their children to get the medical care that they need.

Friends and family stepped up to care for Marlee’s siblings when she was in the hospital, and her mom said it was “such a life-saver.” She also recommends giving gift cards for gas or meals. She says, “Clean their homes. Make them freezer meals for their families back at home. Soap, toothbrush, snacks, lotion, hairbrush, etc. These things are invaluable to families who may live far from their hospital.”

Marlee, from Arkansas, diagnosed with nephroblastoma (Wilm’s tumor) at 9 months.

Support the cause

Childhood cancer is devastating to a family physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially. There is a huge need for more research and better treatments, as well as better quality of life for the patient and family. By attending an event or donating to a fundraiser, you can bring hope to children and parents across the world. You can fund groundbreaking research, provide financial support for patients, or send kids on the trip of a lifetime. The hope and strength given to families, along with the advancement of medicine, is truly life-saving.

Simon’s community in Utah hosted a fun family event to raise money for his cancer treatments. The family is also passionate about childhood cancer research. Simon’s mom said the love and support was “very humbling” and enabled them to get through tough days. She encourages all to “help however you can! Nothing is too small.”

Simon, from Utah, diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma at age 4.

Spread awareness

Because there is no routine screening for childhood cancer, early detection is key. For some, the first symptom of cancer is a growing bump. For others, it’s pain, easy bruising, headaches, paleness, or loss of energy. Spreading childhood cancer awareness saves lives by teaching parents to pay attention to their children’s bodies. It also invites more support for research to advance treatments for children. Simply sharing the message with friends on social media and in real life could save a child’s life.

After Elizabeth’s cancer treatment, she began assembling makeup bags for teenage girls with cancer. She is passionate about helping children with cancer and promoting awareness for the cause. She says, “By spreading more awareness we can get that much closer to finding better treatments… My purpose in life is to be someone who helps make a difference in others’ lives as well as fighting for a cure.”

Elizabeth, from Arizona, diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma at age 13.

Please, take the time to help save a child’s life for Childhood Cancer Awareness Month this September. Children across the world are counting on us. Share the message on social media and become an advocate for the cause. You never know which child will be next, and our children’s lives are worth everything.

When an Old Scar Reveals a New Truth About Motherhood

Memory transports me back to the OR and I’m in essentially the same savasana position: flat on my back, arms outstretched, hands open.

Most births have a “plan” and mine was fairly simple: Give me the drugs and we’ll go from there.
What I never expected was my husband and I driving home from our first birthing class, imagining what lay ahead of us, and having my water suddenly break all over the passenger seat. I remember looking at him with an unspoken “holy sh*t,” neither of us grasping the parenting lesson we’d just been slapped with – we were not in charge anymore. We u-turned back to the hospital and a whirlwind two hours later I was lying in the OR – arms outstretched and a spinal numbing my lower half – while my first baby was cut out of me five weeks too early.
Fast-forward nearly five years and it’s the Friday before that same baby is off to kindergarten. A trip to her favorite park and school shoe shopping is on the docket for later, but right now I’m finishing up what the mom blogs would call my “self-care” (aka a morning yoga class). As I lay down in the savasana “resting” pose, I feel a little tug in my lower abdomen. It’s the familiar, yet still unnatural, pull of whatever is stitched together under my skin at my C-section scar adjusting as I stretch out my legs and lay my arms at my side, hands open. My eyes close as I sink into post-workout, mellow bliss. I can hear muffled giggles from the childcare room through the adjacent wall and recognize the sweet sound of my daughter’s among them.
Then, not one, but multiple tears start streaming down my cheeks. OMG! I’m supposed to be doing my self-care and stuff, not crying! Oh no, here come more. I do a quick mental calculation. Nope. My period is weeks away. What is bringing this on?
I’m trying to breathe through what I sense could become a full-blown bawl as we come out of the pose. I wipe my eyes on my sweatshirt as we namaste. I am probably a little too abrupt with another mom as she tries to strike up a conversation. I gather my crew. We start driving home, and the tears come again.
Memory transports me back to the OR and I’m in essentially the same savasana position: flat on my back, arms outstretched, hands open. I get only a brief glimpse of my brand new baby before she’s whisked away to the NICU, my husband with her.
I’m alone.
There is beeping and shuffling and muffled conversation on the other side of the blue curtain. Suddenly I feel my chest tighten painfully and I think I might get sick. Am I having a heart attack? The anesthesiologist is the only person I can see so I call out to him, “my chest is so tight I feel like I might throw up.”
He looks down at me, not at all concerned, peeks over the curtain, and nonchalantly says back to me, “Don’t worry, they’re sewing up your uterus right now. There’s a direct line from your uterus to your heart.”
A call for crackers from the backseat snaps me out of the moment, but I’ve just made sense of my meltdown.
Babies grow into kids and get whisked off to school and farther and farther away from us.
But that direct line to our heart? It’s nice to be reminded that’s not going anywhere.

I'm Calling it My "Miscourage"

If one in four women have miscarriages, why isn’t it talked about more commonly?

I already have a gorgeous little girl and we’d always planned to have two kids, but from the moment we first found out I was pregnant again, I had this little niggle. “What if things went wrong?” There was no reason to worry. I’d had a child before, so I quickly put the worry to the back of my mind.

I started telling a few very close friends, and my family knew from about six weeks. I personally feel that it’s good that a few people know as it’s good to have a support network around you when you’re pregnant. I got to 11 weeks and even told people at my workplace, especially as I had my scan coming up. All the symptoms were there throughout: awful sickness, exhaustion, swollen boobs.

A week before my scan, I started spotting. I was pretty scared. It wasn’t something I’d experienced in my first pregnancy so obviously alarm bells rang, even though this can be something completely normal and happens to lots of women who go on to have healthy pregnancies.

I called the early pregnancy unit and they booked me in a couple of days later. Those days before I was on a massive wave of emotion. Every time I went to the toilet, I panicked if anything was different. I spent most of the weekend in bed thinking that if I rested, it would all stop and everything would be okay.

My husband came with me to the hospital. I found the waiting room one of the most difficult places to be. You see some women visibly upset, obviously their worst fear confirmed. Some apprehensively clenching their partner’s hands, waiting for good or bad news, praying it’s the former. We all know why we’re there. You try not to catch each other’s eye as you wouldn’t know how to respond. It’s so surreal. You wonder whether you’re going to be relieved or devastated. Like a rollercoaster ride, your stomach is churning the whole time.

We were called in and I lay on the bed. I’d prepared myself to hear bad news, and it was. Something had gone wrong, probably fairly early on. I remember that, even though I’d prepared myself, it was still a massive shock. They had to check a few times to be sure (lots of probing) and even then I was told that, as my placenta was a certain size, I needed a scan again a week later to confirm it. It was pretty horrible. Part of me wanted to cling to the very small hope that it was going to be okay, but the rest of me deep down knew it was not. I wanted to know now. I did not want to wait for another week!

I was told I had to go back to the waiting room – back to that same place where others have been told the exact same news and some who had happier news – and a nurse would come and speak to me about my options. I’d not even thought about options. I was only just processing what had happened and was now about to be told all about the physical process I had to go through! As it’s something I’d never experienced before or ever thought about, I had no clue about all these options. It felt so matter-of-fact, cold, and procedural.

The nurse was helpful, telling me that it was very likely a chromosomal issue, the fetus would never have developed properly, and it’s just “one of those things that can happen.” That’s what many tend to say to try and make one feel better (I appreciate that for those who haven’t experienced it, it’s hard to know what to say), but something like this is difficult to accept.

I remember trying to be so practical and distance myself from it emotionally – “I won’t be pregnant on holiday, so I can drink” – almost anything to avoid the reality of the situation. When you’re told bad news, it’s amazing how the brain works to process things and all the different emotional stages you go through. You can never anticipate how you’ll react initially when you experience grief or loss.

We discussed my options. One – let it happen naturally. Two – take a tablet at hospital to speed things along. Three – an operation under general anesthetic. Four – an operation under local anesthetic so I would be awake for the whole thing. Err, none of the above, please! When I did think about it later, I knew I didn’t really want to prolong it. I just wanted to get it over with so I decided that, depending on the outcome of the following week’s scan, I’d have an operation. I really didn’t want to but was terrified about the prospect of going through it naturally, not knowing when or how long it would take.

When we got back to the car, I burst into tears. Looking back now, I’m glad I did. I’m not a machine. I needed to allow myself to just go through the motions, no expectations, and no pressure for feeling or not feeling a certain way.

It turned out that I didn’t have to wait another week. It started to happen naturally. I’m not going to lie, it was awful. It happened over four afternoons for a couple of hours and then stopped. The pain was really intense. It got gradually worse over the days. At one point I remember singing really loudly, to try and take my mind off it but, in a weird way, it helped me focus. Sounds silly, but it got me through it.

I was actually visiting my sister and new nephew when the worst of it happened, and I’m actually glad I was. It was strangely cathartic to go through it in a different house but surrounded by my family. Even though I physically experienced it on my own, they were there for me to talk through it if I needed to. Once I knew it was largely over, I was relieved. In the days that followed, I gradually felt better. I was off work a total of two weeks, which really helped, but I think in the end I needed to go back to some sense of normality. (That’s how I felt. Everyone feels differently, no one goes through exactly the same experience.)

When I went back for the scan the following week, they confirmed it was all gone. “It,” a weird word really. It was never a baby, it didn’t even get to be a fetus properly, but it still seems cold to say “it.”

I think the hardest thing for me was that I did feel very alone, even though my husband, family, and close friends were great supports. When you lose someone you love, like a friend or family member, you share the grief. It’s not easy to do this when you’ve had a miscarriage. It was never brought into the world but it’s still a great loss. I wanted to share how I felt but I wasn’t sure who to share it with. I needed a support network but felt like I didn’t know anyone who’d experienced this too. There were a few online stories but I didn’t know of any one specific place to go.

If one in four women have miscarriages, why isn’t it talked about more commonly? It’s so common! There’s a 25 percent chance you will miscarry in the first 12 weeks. When a statistic is this high, why does it still feel like such a taboo subject to talk about? I think there’s a whole stigma about not telling people before you get to 12 weeks, “just in case.” I understand why, if this statistic is anything to go by, but that doesn’t help you emotionally. 12 weeks is a long time. You go through perhaps the hardest bit in the first 12 weeks! All those awful symptoms, many of which are really difficult to hide. I think, if it feels right, you should be encouraged to let people know, helping to increase the knowledge about miscarriage if things, God forbid, should go wrong.

I found it more difficult, post-miscarriage, speaking to others. It must be difficult for people who haven’t experienced it to know what to say. I found that when I opened up about it, some people would almost recoil and seem uncomfortable. It made me feel awkward and very lonely, especially when I wasn’t with my husband. He’d been a massive support to me through it all and he had to go through how he felt about it too. I suppose in some way, you can’t dwell on it either but you need to work through things in your own way.

I can only imagine it must be even tougher for boyfriends or husbands to share how they feel. The focus is on the woman who’s going through it physically and mentally, but I feel strongly that the man in the situation should be supported too and have someone to speak to. You both experience the loss.

If I’m honest, the thought of getting pregnant again is scary. I know I’m going to worry that much more than I would if I hadn’t gone through a miscarriage. I know it sounds stupid but I felt like it was a waste of time. I’d got to 12 weeks (or so I thought) and will have to go through the same pregnancy symptoms again at some point, but I won’t give up on the things I want. That’s the key really. Don’t stop trying just because life’s thrown you a curveball. We all have a strength in us that is only realized when we go through personal tragedy, whatever that may be. Keep going. I know I will.

Father First, Tough Guy Fireman Second

Let me tell you about the time a “tough” fireman was reduced to a slobbering, sniveling mess in the arms of his then-two-year-old daughter.

Let’s talk about being a father when you’re in public safety – whether it’s Police, Fire, or EMS. I’m a father of three (soon to be four) beautiful little girls. Some of you that know me personally understand just how much those little girls run my life. So you should know that when I proudly proclaim, “I am the king of the house,” it only applies if my wife and daughters aren’t there. Once they get home, I’m more of a court jester.
That said, every day I’m on shift I get up, strap on my tough guy fireman uniform, get in my tough guy fireman vehicle, and go to my tough guy fireman station. And while I’m there I usually do tough guy fireman stuff like saving orphans and kittens and orphaned kittens. And respond to emails (actually a pretty daunting task).
I’ve been doing all of this tough guy fireman stuff since before my kids were born. When my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child, one of the first thoughts I had was, “this child is going to be able to tell all the other kids that her dad is a tough fireman. Nobody is going to mess with her.” I took pride in the fact that when it came time for the kids to bring us to school for “show-off-your-parents-and-their-cool-jobs” day, my child would be the envy of the other kids because her dad was an awesome tough guy fireman.
Now that we’ve gotten all that BS out of the way, let me tell you about the time a “tough” fireman was reduced to a slobbering, sniveling mess in the arms of his then-two-year-old daughter.
It was early 2012. I was riding seat (in-charge for you donut-eaters) with two other firefighters assigned to my apparatus. I was at the end of what would be an 18-month stretch of terrible calls. Every First Responder has a call that they can never forget. It’s part of the job. Most of the time it’s a specific, stressful incident that can often make you question why you started down this road of a thankless, underpaid career. These kinds of calls are (thankfully) usually few and far between. The worst of them involve children. Again, these calls are rare, yet profound.
I had made five in 18 months. Five pediatric fatalities. All of them under three years of age. I had racked up a career’s worth of crappy incidents in an 18-month period. I was mentally at the breaking point and on the verge of burnout but did nothing about it because I was a tough guy fireman. At no point during those 18 months did I seek out professional counseling or even peer support, because that’s not something tough guy firemen do. We clean the blood from our boots and get back on the truck. We don’t whine about our feelings. We get over it. Right? Right??
I might’ve been a tough guy fireman, but man was I a dummy.
Then, the incident that finally tipped the scales occurred. It was a clear, crisp morning. We were doing what firemen do best – making sure the recliners couldn’t escape. The station alert opened up and let us know that we were going to yet another motor vehicle accident. We climbed up into the apparatus and started heading for the dispatched address. Nobody in the pumper was too excited because, duh, we’re tough guy firemen. We do this stuff all the time.
I had just finished putting us enroute over the radio when we heard the voice of an unusually stressed dispatcher. The additional information now stated that the simple motor vehicle accident we were responding to was, in fact, an auto versus pedestrian. And the pedestrian on the receiving end of said auto was a little girl.
The stress level inside that pumper went from stoner college dropout to bomb disposal technician in a matter of seconds. The mental rolodex of all the tough guy fireman stuff I was supposed to do started flipping at a high rate of speed in my head. Stay calm. Give orders. Follow your training. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
Then we arrived on scene and my brain lit the rolodex on fire, threw it on the ground, and pissed on the ashes. The scene was utter chaos. There were people everywhere. Residents near the incident, hearing the commotion, flooded out of their houses to see what was going on. And the strangest part was that there was no centralization to the mob. Everybody was wandering around, many of them shouting or crying or just in a state of confusion. There were so many people that it actually took a brief second for us to figure out where the patient was.
Then we saw her. She looked like she could have been sleeping. In that moment, my brain decided to cooperate. It picked the rolodex back up off the ground, dusted it off, and directed me to go to work. I won’t go into too much detail other than to tell you that from the point we got to the patient, until we handed off care to the hospital, the men and women I was with at that scene performed flawlessly. Everybody knew what to do and was performing tasks that needed to be done before anybody had to ask them to do it. Every life-saving measure was exhausted trying to save this little girl’s life.
Unfortunately, our efforts could not overcome her injuries. This happens. It had happened. This pediatric fatality was now number six in an 18-month period. I fully expected to deal with this one like I had dealt with all the other ones. We would go back to the station. Everybody would retreat to their corners of the building. The rest of the shift would be quiet, with nobody wanting to admit just how much we were affected. We would get off in the morning, still not having acknowledged the gravity of what had happened. Then we would come back to work the next shift like nothing had happened and get ready for the next one. That’s how tough guy firemen handle it. That’s just “what we do”.
Hey, look! There’s that big dummy I’ve been talking about.
During that incident, I rode to the hospital in the back of the ambulance to assist with the life-saving efforts. The Deputy Chief for the department drove his Tahoe to the hospital to pick me up and bring me back to the scene so that I could be reunited with my crew. I had been through this same routine before. Chief picks me up, brings me back to the scene, we stay there until we get released by DPS, go back to the station, and so on.
But this time felt … different. I remember pulling back up to the scene. My Deputy Chief (who was well aware of my recent history with pediatric incidents) put his Tahoe in park, looked over at me and asked, “what do you want to do?”
I blinked for a second, not understanding what he was asking me. Then, it clicked.
He’s asking you if you’re okay to get back on the truck, you tough guy dummy.
In that moment, I realized I had absolutely no desire to get back on the apparatus with my crew. For the first time in my career as a firefighter, I honestly did not want to wash the blood from my boots and get back on the truck. I would like to say I was alarmed by this realization, but I actually wasn’t feeling much of anything at that moment. Looking back at it now, this tough guy fireman was in shock. That’s the best way to describe it. I felt … nothing.
I looked back at him for a moment, then looked forward, past the windshield to where the rest of my crew stood among the flashing lights and scene tape. Before I realized I was speaking, my face hole formed and spoke the words, “I want to go home.” My Deputy Chief, understanding what needed to happen, silently put the truck in reverse, turned around, and started heading back to the station.
As I left the station, I called my wife. I told her that there was a bad call at work and that I was heading home. Then I realized how bad that sounded and had to reassure her that I wasn’t hurt or anything, it was just a bad call and I no longer wanted to be there. Then I realized how strange that sounded and said to hell with it, I’ll explain it when you get home. She feigned understanding and told me since I was getting home early (about 18 hours early), our daughter would be super excited if I surprised her at daycare and picked her up. So I did. Still in a state of semi-shock, I picked our daughter up from daycare and brought her home.
Our daughter neither understood nor particularly cared why there was a break in protocol and daddy was picking her up. I had freed her from that hellish prison of juice, cookies, and nap time. She could finally return to the barbie doll saga that she had started to play out in our living room the day before.
So that’s what she did. As soon as we walked in the front door of our house, she bolted towards her toy box, retrieved the plastic main characters of her imagined world and began to play. I walked to “my chair” (a leather recliner that had the same texture as a well-used football – every dad should have one) and sat down. I sat there, staring at my two-year-old daughter, but actually looking past her into … nothing.
Most people know this as the “thousand-yard stare.” I sat in my chair, staring off into space, reflecting on the day’s events. At that moment, I felt locked in my own head. I relived that incident a hundred times as I sat there. I felt alone, angry, sad, worthless, inadequate, untrained, and a multitude of other feelings all at the same time.
I didn’t notice my daughter had stopped playing and was staring back at me until she stood and began to walk towards me. I then realized the sadness and despair that she must have seen on my face. This was something she had never seen before. I was the tough guy dad fireman. I didn’t get sad. I was the tough dummy. I mean tough fireman dummy. I mean tough guy fireman.
In that moment, my two-year-old daughter realized that her tough guy fireman dad was hurting. She put her barbies down, walked over to me, climbed up on my lap, and put her head down on my chest. She put her hand right over my heart and began to pat me, like I had done for her so many nights when I was trying to get her to go to sleep. Then she started to whisper, in the sweet voice that could only come from a two-year-old little girl, “Shhhh. It’s ok daddy.” And she kept repeating that over and over as she patted my chest. Never raising her head. Never squirming to go back and play. In that place in time, in that moment, she was taking care of her daddy.
My face started leaking. Slowly at first, then more gradually until I was full-on ugly crying. All of the mental anguish that had been building for the past 18 months had come to a head that day. I sat in my chair, my little girl in my lap, her taking care of me as if she had done it a hundred times before.
That’s when I realized something about fathers in general and, more specifically, those of us in public safety positions. It’s okay for your kids to think you’re an invincible superhero. But don’t go believing that crap yourself. Ask for help when you need it. Knock off all the bravado crap and take charge of your well-being. Because if it gets to the point that you’re slobbering and crying like a baby in the arms of your two-year-old, maybe you’re past due for some support.
I sought out peer support. I talked with those who have been through what I have. I learned techniques to handle some of the more difficult aspects of this job. That way, I can be the superhero they need me to be, when they need me to be.
One of my favorite quotes is about kids looking up to their parents. It simply states:
“They want to be just like you. Be worth being.”

I Met My Best Friend in My Thirties

When my son was one month into his NICU resort stay, I met the woman who would become my best friend. I met her on the worst day of my life.

The NICU is not the place you go to meet people. It’s an intensive care unit, not Cheers.
Chances are, if you’re here, it’s a high-pressure situation. The background noise is beeps and buzzes and the whooshing of air in and out of ventilators. There’s a clicking, too, a “tck, tck, tck” of the feeding pumping, counting down the milliliters of milk and vitamins dripping down tubes and into bellies.
This is not the soundtrack for small talk.
And yet, when my son, born prematurely at 30 weeks, was one month into his NICU resort stay and clearly thinking he was on sabbatical and would return shortly to the womb, I met the woman who would become my best friend. I met her on the worst day of my life.
Brain scans are funny. Dots on black and white and gray delineate good from bad, solid from liquid, tissue from bone. On the day in question, my son had a 30-day brain scan, unbeknownst to us. Apparently, this is standard procedure. (Over the next few months – how long it took us to graduate – we would come to learn all the procedures much better than we would have liked.)
It was a sunny and warm day in April, the kind that makes all the kids in all the classrooms stare out the window and wish for summer. Of course, inside the NICU the weather is irrelevant behind tinted windows and fluorescent lighting. But I carried the mood in with me, a spring breeze along with my pumped milk in its little cooler.
The nurse in my son’s room was new. They always were. I never could learn them all. She informed me that the head of the NICU would like to see me. She’d page him, she said. And then she looked at me three seconds longer than was normal. That’s how I knew something was up.
When he entered, the big man himself, he spoke a great many words I did not hear while pointing to gray spots on a picture of my son’s brain. I looked at the scan, and then I looked at my son in my arms, awake and eyeing my like, “You, hey you, I see that milk there. What’s the hold up, lady?”
And then I heard the doctor say, “periventricular leukomalacia.” Eleven syllables to tell me that my child had damage in all four quadrants of his brain. Very gently, I kissed him on his head, which smelled of hand sanitizer, and handed him to the nurse so I wouldn’t drop him. Then I walked out and lost it – lost all control of my body and words and thoughts. I cried and shook and tore at my clothes a little.
Hours later, I went back in and sat in the hospital-issued rocker and held my son again. We looked at each other. He sized me up with an owlish stare and then stretched and pooped, very casually, like he was The Big Lebowski and I, his bowling buddy. No biggie, man. The nurse laughed from her corner where she’d been charting stats. We got to talking.
Five years later, this nurse is in my contacts under “family.” She has a husband and a house and a dog and a mother, and I’ve seen it all. It sounds weird to refer to your “best friend” when in your 30s, like you’re one mall trip away from buying matching necklaces at Claire’s. But she is.
After we came home from the NICU, finally, she called to check in. Nobody actually uses the numbers they swap on the way out the door, but she did. She came over a week later. And she’s been coming over ever since, swapping quips and bringing iced coffee and all the good magazines for the pool. We’ve celebrated birthdays and Thanksgivings and drunk wine at vineyards and made our husbands watch Katherine Hepburn flicks. She’s the one I call when I’m losing my mind over insurance battles with my son’s wheelchair or swim therapy. She’s also the one I call when I watch the newest episode of “Game of Thrones”.
She’s my person. She’s my best friend. She would roll her eyes at this. This is why we work.
You don’t expect to make new friends at my age. You’ve got your standard go-tos locked in, the ones that don’t require effort. You’ve already dated and wooed them. But I wooed a new one. I met the best friend I’ll ever have on the worst day of my life, which I guess moves it up a notch.
Who knew your 30s could be your social growth spurt?