Friday, December 13, 2013

Angels

December 14, 2012, I saw the words "shooting at Newtown elementary school" creep into my Twitter feed. I was at my desk in my office in Darien, CT, 25 or so miles away from Newtown. My husband grew up in Newtown. His father spent most of his teaching career there. Thoughts racing, my brain dove into the mental gymnastics that result from close proximity to tragedy.

As information trickled out, I saw, like so many others, the Newtown Bee's photo of crying children walking in a line, hand to shoulder, filing out of school.

"At least no one was hurt," a well-meaning co-worker uttered to no one in particular. It was still the early moments, when the depth and breadth of the atrocity were still known only to a relative few.

But I couldn't breathe.

"Shooter."

"Elementary school."

The juxtaposition of the words alone was too much for me. But that photo was literally more than I could bear.

Details trickled through, 140 characters at a time. One -- possibly two -- people injured. A teacher wounded.

I walked, on shaking legs, to a meeting, hanging onto every new bit of information, fiercely hoping that the feeling in my gut was nothing more than my overdeveloped anxiety response. But then, I walked into the boardroom and saw the faces of my colleagues -- all of whom have young children -- and I just knew.

I think we all did.

A flood of incomprehensible details followed. 26 people dead. Mostly first graders. Almost immediately, people began using the word "angels" to describe the 20 little children and their teachers who were executed in their school that day.

My own kids -- angels -- both first graders at the time, were 10 miles away from me, in their own school. A flurry of frantic texts flew between me and my husband. He would pick up the kids early from school. I would meet them at home.

And then...what would we say?

We said a lot of things. We tried to be vague. We tried to mitigate the horror. We tried to obfuscate. Mostly, we wanted to be the filters for their information, rather than leaving them to hear about it from some older kids on the bus or at school. I don't remember everything we said. But I do remember making them some promises. We promised them that their school was safe. We promised them that this was an anomaly -- an isolated incident.

We promised them.

But on the eve of this horrible anniversary, I feel like a liar.

Their school isn't safe.

Since the Sandy Hook massacre, there has been -- on average -- a school shooting every two weeks in America.

Read that again: Since the Sandy Hook massacre, there has been -- on average -- a school shooting every two weeks in America. There was one today in Littleton, CO, just a few miles from Columbine.

This is an outrage. It is the mark of an uncivilized, uneducated and unengaged society.

Where are the masses marching on Washington, demanding change?

I know there are pockets of concerned parents and individuals. There are organizations that have sprung up in the wake of loss that follows a tragedy like Newtown.

But there's been no large-scale, collective, galvanized response to this outrageous violence that has become ubiquitous in our schools.

Every two weeks.

What the hell are we waiting for?

There are those who argue that more guns are better. Armed teachers and security professionals will be able to prevent harm, they say. And yet, the United States is the country with the most guns per capita, clocking in at 89 guns to every 100 people. And also, the United States is the country with the most deaths by gun violence.

I'm at a loss as to how to make the math work to support that argument.

Every two weeks.

Our children are NOT safe at school.

...........................

We had our first real snow a couple of days ago. My kids were vibrating with excitement. But they had indoor recess that day. Apparently, the school was concerned about the danger of ice on the black top... By the time the kids came home, they were nearly impossible to contain. So, we released them into the yard, and the expanse of untouched snow.

Almost immediately, they lay down, spread their arms, and made snow angels, their laughter echoing.

Those angels are still out there tonight, silent sentinels.

And those angels, they're watching.

They're waiting to see what we do.






Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Real ABCs of GMOs

I like to think of myself as an informed consumer, at least when it comes to food. Being a food writer and regular farmers’ market shopper, I’ve been pretty comfortable in that assertion for years. In my family, we buy a lot of organic foods, especially meats, produce and dairy. Our kids have been eating a variety of foods from the beginning: salmon, spinach, hummus, feta cheese and balsamic vinegar are all things they will ask for by name. Deep fried chicken parts never entered into our family’s food equation.


Imagine my surprise when I found out how woefully late I am to the real food party.

The now defunct Connecticut food labeling bill—HB 5117—has been the subject of several of my recent columns. And with each piece I wrote, each interview I conducted, I have had to peel away layers of half-truths and outright lies like the skins of so many genetically modified onions.

I’ve had to get up to speed in a hurry on the topic of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and have done so with the help of Right to Know CT co-founders Analiese Paik and Tara Cook-Littman, along with Institute for Responsible Technology founder and best-selling author, Jeffrey Smith. Their insight, coupled with my independent research, has shown me just how deeply ingrained GMOs have become in our food supply, and just how far up the proverbial food chain the responsibility for this goes.

I had no choice but to throw my “knowledge” and “expertise” onto the compost pile once I realized that many, many of the foods in my family’s pantry actually contained GMOs. The same GMOs, in fact, that produced frightening results in animal studies, according to a 2009 paper by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine: “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food consumption including infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling, and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system.”

What?

The ingredients that cause these defects—symptoms that sound more like cheap horror film fodder than FDA sanctioned side-effects—are the same as can be found in the Goldfish snack crackers and frozen edamame I was feeding my children. Realizing this was one of my lowest points to-date as a mom.

My fiancé and I acted swiftly, ridding our pantry of offending items, looking for guidance online about where to shop safely and how to know—really know—the foods we were buying were safe.

But the wisdom of one organic food merchant I interviewed kept coming back to me. “If you want to know about your food,” he said to me, “ask the farmer. If you can’t ask the farmer, you don’t know about your food.”

It’s tough to argue with such simple truth.

And because eating nutritious food holds a place in our family almost as important as telling the truth—indeed, these days it seems the two are inextricable—my fiancé and I sat down to talk to our two five-year-olds about what we were learning.

“There are real foods, and there are fake foods,” I began. “But the fake foods look and taste an awful lot like the real foods. So we have to pay close attention, to make sure we’re eating the real foods. Because those fake foods? They can make people, animals and the Earth very, very sick.”

The kids were understandably shocked and upset to hear that much of what we could and had been buying at our local supermarket was actually toxic—an utterly logical reaction when learning that you’ve been duped into thinking everything is fine, when it’s really not fine at all.

“But why would people do that?” my stepson tried to make sense of what he was hearing. “Why would people make food that can make people sick?”

This is as elementary a question as there is, with regard to the GMO debate. So simple, that even a five-year-old can verbalize it: Why? Why would companies, industry leaders and government agencies knowingly allow this to happen? Why would the people whose job it is to protect the American consumer, people who are paid with American tax dollars (FDA, I’m looking at you), why, with so much riding on their recommendations and rulings, why would they continue to allow known toxins like rBGH and other Monsanto-generated chemical compounds to be fed to the American people without so much as a label? Why won’t they mandate testing? Or labeling? Why won’t they follow the lead of dozens of countries around the globe who have acted, in some small part, in ways that aim to inform and protect their citizens?

Why?

I gave my stepson the only answer I had: “Money,” I told him. “Some people think that making lots of money is more important than anything—more important than keeping people or animals or the Earth healthy.”

“But there’s stuff that’s way more important than money,” he said, his brown hair flopping over one eye. “Family,” he and my daughter said in unison.

They couldn’t be more right, of course. It’s an elementary conclusion, after all.

But I’m stumped as two why a couple of five-year-old stepsiblings were able to come to this conclusion with more eloquence and alacrity than government officials and private sector scientists with multiple degrees under their belts.

So, to the elected officials in Hartford, CT; Washington D.C.; and states across our country, my family asks this question of you: Why?

The stakes are so high, and the health of our nation’s children depends on it, so please, frame your answers in terms that even a kindergartener can understand.

Because I know two kindergarteners who are now paying very close attention. 

This post also ran on The Fairfield Green Food Guide.




Monday, May 2, 2011

The Bin Laden Effect

I woke up on the morning of September 12, 2001 in my fiancé’s apartment on the 23rd floor of his building on 39th Street in Manhattan. Neither of us had slept much at all, of course. And after that first foggy moment between sleep and waking when nothing is quite clear, the memory of the madness we were living descended.

We stumbled around his apartment in silence; the chaos in our heads and hearts too noisy to talk over. Reporters on the television we hadn’t turned off the night before were frantically trying to make sense of the nightmare still unfolding all around us.

From his building, we could see—and smell—the black, burning cloud at the tip of the island.

“Nothing is ever going to be the same,” I said to him. “Everything is different now.”

This morning, like millions of others, I woke to the news that Osama bin Laden is dead. Since first hearing the news, I’ve been stumbling through my morning trying to wrap my head around what that actually means, the chatter of reporters once again in the background.

There is undeniable symbolic importance to his death, a final sentence delivered to the Al Qaeda figurehead by a brave group of U.S. special operatives.

An awful lot of people have waited an awfully long time to hear this.

And yet, I can’t help but ruminate on my own words on 9/12. “Nothing is ever going to be the same.”

For so many people, this remains an unalterable truth. And the news of OBL’s death—though admittedly very welcome—doesn’t do much to change our present.

It’s remarkable and terrifying to think about the millions of lives OBL’s atrocities have altered. Because of one man’s evil, the course of human history has been changed.

It isn’t the first time that’s happened. And if history teaches us anything, it will likely not be the last.

I understand the jubilation across the country, even if I don’t share it. Like millions of others, I am glad Osama bin Laden is dead. And I’ve been experiencing my own quiet catharsis this morning.

But there’s still an empty space at bottom of New York City and in the hearts of millions of New Yorkers. Empty chairs at dinner tables won't be filled because of this. Our country is still fighting multiple wars. And OBL’s murderous ideology still lives even as his body sinks to the bottom of the sea.

Today, like the morning of September 12, I have a deeply unsettling feeling.

But this morning, my disquiet comes from the opposite realization:

As much as we wish it had, nothing has changed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Woah

My headspace has been occupied with Single Mamahood quite a lot recently.

Duh, you say.

Sure, I've been at this Single Mamahood thing for a while now, and I've written about it here. But it's been on my brain more than usual because I've been working on a new book about, duh, Single Mamahood.

But that's not what I want to tell you about right now.

In my Googling escapades masquerading as research for my latest project, I came across something else.

Something...something.

And I apparently came upon this new something on the same day it was officially named a New York Times best seller.

The something is a book called Two Kisses for Maddy: A Memoir of Loss and Love.

The author is Matthew Logelin.

And the story is tragic.

Matthew and Liz met at age 18. They fell in love fast and hard, the way 18-year-olds are prone to do. But, unlike most adolescent love stories, their young relationship actually weathered four years of long-distance negotiations, with Matthew having stayed put in their native Minnesota and Liz having wisely chosen to leave the cold winters behind to pursue her education in a state with a more practical climate: California.

Against ridiculous odds, their love lasted.

No, it blossomed.

No, it fucking transcended.

Fast forward several years, and they were married. Fast forward a few more, and they were pregnant.

Liz's pregnancy, apparently, was difficult, and their baby tried--more than once--to meet the parents too soon.

Finally, on March 24, 2008, it was time for their baby--a girl--to arrive.

When she did, she was tiny, not quite four pounds. But she was a fighter from the first, and she persevered, just like the love her parents had for each other. And now her.

Liz, however, wasn't afforded the same opportunity.

27 hours after baby Madeline was born, without ever having held her daughter, Liz died in the hospital of a pulmonary embolism.

In the space of little more than a day, Matthew became a father and a widower.

And a Single Papa.

I haven't read the book yet, as it just came out. I did, however, spend a good deal of time on Matthew's blog.

What I read there has me thinking.

And feeling.

And yeah, crying a little.

The first line of his book reads, "I am not a writer."

This is a lie.

He is a writer. And he was before he ever published a book. This much is evident on his blog. The fact that he was able to articulate his loss; chronicle his heartache; and translate his raw, confused, and aching emotion into words is only something a writer, however reluctant, could do.

Just open a vein and bleed, indeed.

Of course I'll read the book now. How could I not? I'd say you should, too, except I haven't read it yet. And recommending a book you haven't read seems a little silly.

So, in absence of a book recommendation, let me make a blog recommendation. Spend some time there, get to know Matt, Maddy, and Liz. Chances are, you'll probably end up wanting to read the book.

I definitely do.

Oh, and P.S.

Matt, on the off chance you actually read this, I want to thank you for reminding me--and many hundreds of thousands of others--that Single Parenthood is tough, tragic and tremendously rewarding, no matter your gender, or your circumstances.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Snack Time Snafu

Last week, the Little One and I headed out for a playdate with friends. I told her to pack up the toys she wanted to bring, usually an assortment of microscopic animal figures and their molecule-sized accessories, most of which have a nasty habit of finding their way into my vacuum cleaner.

Diligently and using very good 'listening ears,' she collected her pea-sized possessions. "I'm ready!" she announced proudly, hand on the doorknob. "Mama," she said, her smart little ponytail swinging behind her, "I packed some snacks in my purse."

"Really." Skeptical about her snack selection, I was about to explain that some snacks--like broccoli or hummus or jello--aren't meant to be packed in purses.

"Don't worry," she said, opening the front door. "I put an ice pack in there too, to keep them cold. It's pretty full, but I got it zipped."

My resourceful, thoughtful Little One, packing snacks for our friends--complete with an ice pack--in her black leather Nine West hand-me-down purse from grandma.

After I had my "aww, isn't that sweet" moment, I could have asked for further clarification. And through the crystal clear lens of retrospect, it's plain that I should have. But, we were already running late. And anyway, it's not like she'd pack the leftover ravioli from last night's dinner in her purse, right? A few cheese sticks maybe, and some goldfish, sure. I'd just take a peek inside her purse on arrival.

"Alright, kiddo. Let's move it out."

It's a short ride to our friends' house and Michele Norris was keeping us company on the way, explaining the intricacies of a potential federal government shutdown. A veteran NPR listener since her infancy, I assumed the Little One was as riveted as I.

Until a wail erupted from the back seat.

"What's wrong, baby?" In the rear view mirror, I could see the enormous tears rolling down her already flushed cheeks. "What happened?"

"They broke! Ahhhhhhhh!" Another wail, followed by some hiccups.

"What broke, sweetest?"

"The eggs!" Wail. Hiccup. Snort. Wail.

"Eggs?" I turned around to see her tiny hands holding open a too-big-for-her purse. Inside, several freshly broken eggs were mashed up against an ice pack and smeared all over an assortment of tiny animal critters, at least three dozen hair ties, one of my credit cards and a broken tiara.

"Oh, baby." Don't laugh. She's upset.

"I wanted to bring them a snack and it's broken and everything is egg-y!" Wail, snort, hiccup, etc.

Pushing her little hand into the yolky mess, she scooped out some shell-flecked slime. "Here! I don't want it." She flung the goo toward the front seat.

With egg literally on my face, I tried very, very hard not to let her see me laughing.

Upon arrival at our friends' home, the recent egg-tastrophe was almost immediately forgotten. And fortunately, I was able to clean the purse and many of the things it contained. Though one small prairie dog-like creature--may she rest in peace--couldn't be saved.

The next morning, the egg debacle no more than a slimy memory, I looked in the refrigerator. Guess what I didn't have.

Right.

She'd put every single egg we had into that purse of hers. No wonder it was so full. That little prairie dog didn't have a chance.

So, eggs have been added to my shopping list. Presumably, the next time she wants to bring some to a friends' house, she'll at least attempt to transport them in the carton. And speaking of cartons, there's one more little piece to this egg-centric tale to relate: The egg carton she emptied? I found it in our recycling bin.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Band of Mothers



Single Mamahood requires a lot of creativity. Single Mamahood as a freelance writer demands suspension of disbelief. It's a little like medieval warfare.

You get a gig, you lose a gig. You hustle. You work your ass rump off for just about everyone, but buy yourself precious little security in the process. You're understaffed and underfunded. Austerity measures in place, it is life without a safety net.

When I embarked on this particular adventure, the ranks of reliable supporting characters were thin and ill-equipped, like King Harry's 'happy few.' Since then, they've grown. So have I. And so has the Little One.

'All things be ready if our minds are so.' The Bard, for all his dramatic eloquence, could easily have written a self-help book for the Single Mama. Doing the whole single motherhood thing requires trust. Trust in yourself, trust in your kiddo's ability to negotiate change, and trust in those you rely on to help you, because none of us can do it alone. Even the legendary Henry V needed an army--however patchworked and improvised--to defeat the French at Agincourt.

The takeaway from this scene for the Single Mama--for anyone, really--is simple. No matter what the odds, no matter how the deck is stacked against you--lost gigs, lost sitters, broken hearts, and tired minds--you can't afford to lose faith. If you lose faith in yourself, in your ranks, in your future, then you cede the day without ever having fought to win it.

'We are but warriors for the working day.' And so we work. We strive. We comfort, console and contend.

It's what we do, we few, we happy few, we band of mothers.



Monday, December 6, 2010

All I Want For Christmas Is...

The Little One has been at it again, and I'm just too proud not to share. She wrote her own letter to Santa this year, for the first time ever. (That's a rendering of her and the Big Man there at the bottom.)

As expected, there's plenty of girlie stuff on her list. Ponies and princesses figure prominently. And she's been awfully nice, so chances are Santa will fulfill her wishes.

Me? My wish list is pretty much checked off already. I have a happy, healthy kiddo who's having a blast playing with words. As a Mama writer, that last part is pretty cool. I have some jobs I'm digging big time, including local fashion and food beats for an online paper. I even interviewed Rachael Ray recently. I'm also plugging away on my book. (I know, I said I'd finish it in 2010. I didn't. But 2011 is my year. I can totally feel it.) And, I am blessed with the love of some truly spectacular people. Supportive, hilarious, incredible, brilliant people who dig me as much as I dig them. All this, despite some major across-the-board downsizing over the last twelve or so months.

This isn't the worst way to end a year, especially one we embarked on without much more than the determination on our backs.

So, Santa, your work with me is done this year. Save the cashmere gift set for the next gal. I'm cozy enough as I am. But, if you could throw in an extra tiara or set of crayons for the Little One, she'd be so happy, she'd probably write you a thank you note. All by herself.