Freedom From the “What If Only?”: Some Thoughts on Sandy Hook

Hannah Sandy Hook painting

Image via Hannah Renae Art

Let’s just say that having barely survived the last 4 days, I am now willing to reconsider my position on the flu vaccine. First Salem and then myself, and now little Mia is turning up sniffly. Clark is the only one who has managed to avoid the viral plague. He had to stay home from work yesterday on account of my being completely incapacitated. Earth could be under threat of evisceration by Melancholia, and I will still manage to empty the dishwasher before the sun comes up. So for Clark to wake me by asking if I wanted lunch at ELEVEN FORTY FIVE, it is safe to assume this isn’t your garden variety head cold. Now seeing as I slept more yesterday than I’ve slept since I was single and unemployed, it isn’t any wonder that I was up at 3am throwing the covers on and off and then on and then off again– thinking… thinking…thinking… Yesterday’s flu-medicated stupor had worn off sending my brain into hyperdrive. Sure, I thought about things every woman thinks about at 3am… my Christmas menu, my holiday wardrobe, my crusty kitchen floor, my pre-schooler’s class party… in no particular order of priority. But most of all, I thought about the families of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. If I’m honest, my thoughts and emotions have ranged from morbid fantasies of what if that was my child or what if I was that parent to simply being unable to stomach the reality, so why not watch another episode of Property Brothers and pretend like everything is business as normal. But could there be anything less normal than the seemingly motive-less murder of innocent children? And people have had all to much courage to speak from their self-published, social-web platforms, but let’s face it, all of our efforts to try to explain, justify, spiritualize, or politicize what happened on Friday just adds salt to the wound. Perhaps there will be a time and place, but for the Newtown families who wring their hands and cry “if only”, this is hardly the ideal occasion to prove a point. Agreed? God, help us grieve with those who grieve.

I have come across some perspectives that do help, like this *inspired painting by my friend, Hannah. Such a beautiful picture of freedom for the children and faculty whose lives were over before they most likely realized it was about to end. But what does freedom look like for those who remain toiling through the land mine of unanswered questions? We ladies especially are field experts at asking one unanswerable question in particular… “what if?” For instance…

What if I never find a man and get married?
What if the man I never find loses his job, or loses his hair, or loses his nerve and leaves me at the altar?
What if we can’t have kids?
What if we have kids and they grow up to be terrorists?
What if we vaccinate our kids and they grow up to be, autistic (yet polio-resistant) terrorists?
What if they drop out of school or join the cast of 16 and Pregnant?
What if they don’t get into college?
What if they do get into college and major in something completely useless like Music History? (Why didn’t anyone tell me so?)
What if they do get into drugs… into gangs… into prison… into the Amish Mafia?

If you have asked any combination of the above “what if” questions, then make me feel more sane and comment below, but at least admit that we spend most of our motherhood trying to “what if?”-proof ourselves and our kids from any of the aforementioned scenarios and then some. It is why we marry young, marry for love, marry for money, remain childless, fill the quiver with more arrows than Legolas himself can throw, vaccinate, don’t vaccinate, breastfeed, bottle-feed, sanitize, play in the dirt, pre-school, home-school, un-school, buy organic, buy imitation, Gluten-Free, Red 40, Free & Clear, or Expensive & Cluttered… the choices are endless! If I can somehow make a decision that keeps the “what if?” question from ever being answered much less having to be asked, then I may just go on believing that I am the Master of My Own Fate and the Fate of My Dependents.

I doubt that one parent of any of the Sandy Hook victims feared, “What if I drop my kid off at school today, and it is the last time I ever see him or her alive?” And yet, the only phrase more tortuous than “what if?” is one that I can only imagine some of them are using now because it is a universal fact that when something goes down involving our children, all parents everywhere hold an honorary PhD in Blaming Ourselves. When “what if” becomes “if only”…

If only we hadn’t moved to that community, to that neighborhood, to that district…
If only we had put him in private school…
If only we had kept her home that day…
If only fire arms were banned…
If only the criminally insane wore a sandwich sign board…
If only… if only… if only…

…and round and round until the grief has run its viral course, if it ever does completely run its course. The truth is that when I lie awake at 3am fearing the “what if” in order to avoid the “if only” at all costs, I will spend my daytime hours under the false assumption that if I can brew the perfect mix of parental smarts with the right amount of preventative measure, I can somehow make enough decisions that will insulate me and my children from the ills of the world around us thus guaranteeing optimal health and well-being with a side order of a successful future. By no means am I suggesting that we send our kids out for some playtime on I-75 because after all, we don’t control our own destinies. But what I am saying is that I can labor over the big decisions with all the research and conviction and sleeplessness I can stand and then make a seemingly mindless choice– walk or drive, Kroger or Publix, drop him off or keep him home, and that is the option that made all the difference. I can simply be grateful that there is a God, and I certainly am not Him, and He didn’t assign me the task of coming up with a half-baked explanation for what happened on Friday.

Final question…What does freedom look like for those of us parents still struggling with so many unanswered questions?

Perhaps freedom is…
… climbing into bed with your sick pre-schooler even though all the books warn you not to for fear they want you to sleep in their bed until they graduate from high school.
… wiping his snotty nose for him even though he is quite old enough to wipe it himself, but his Autism keeps him terrified of getting his hands dirty.
… letting her watch Toy Story 3 for quite possibly the 500th time this month even though it means exceeding the hour dose of recommended television per day.
… sending your child to a specialized pre-school program to expand your support for his special needs in spite of all the well-meaning parents who led you to believe your kid was bound to become an anarchist if you chose to educate him any other way than by homeschooling.
…letting her eat the batter
…letting him avoid large crowds
…letting them hear mom and dad fight fair
…letting her explore her Papaw’s Skoal can (Whoa now! Reel it on in.)

What does freedom look like for you this season?

*proceeds from the purchase of this painting help benefit The Sandy Hook Elementary School Victims Relief Fund

And the Winner Is…

Red all over!!!

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Thanks for all your help!

What’s Black or Red or Green All Over?

Help! Clark’s staff Christmas party is tonight and, well, it is a known fact among those nearest and dearest to me that I can’t dress myself. I will decorate the house all day long, but decorating my body feels a bit more daunting and I assume just stay in my running clothes all day. But I can’t go to a party in running clothes. So, the party is in an hour and no one is home for me to ask their opinion (other than two little nappers one of which is currently in a wife beater, and the other is missing her pants). So I am enlisting the help of my more stylish friends. Help me decide…

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Which one do you like? I’m off to wash my hair. These are neck-down photos for good reason.

Wine Cork Photo Ornaments

Like I said before, when you move twice in one year, you are bound to lose a few things. We’ve searched high and low to find our Christmas ornaments, but to no avail. You never realize how much things like that mean to you until you find yourself shattering 11 out of 12 of the store-bought Christmas balls all over the floor. S-hooks my foot. I bet they grease them first in the S-hook factory so those slippery little suckers won’t stay fastened on the tree resulting in multiple store-bought Christmas ball runs. I MUST STOP THE S-HOOK INSANITY!!! So, today, I decided it was time to put on my Big-Girl-Christmas-Craft-Pants and get to work. We’ve got a season to celebrate and we cannot be hung up over missing ornaments and slippery S-hooks.

I have been staring at this pile of family photographs for weeks now.

Tree Photos

I’ve searched high and low for a photo ornament idea that didn’t involve gluing, framing, fabric photocopying, or stuffing into a glass ball strung up by a blessed S-hook. Most of these are original photographs and can therefore not suffer a hot glue casualty.

So what do you get when you combine these…

paper clips

With one of these?

wine corks

Wine Cork Photo Ornaments!!!

wedding ornament photo

Haha. Stick it to the S-hook man!

Here’s a question for you… Bow above the cork?

Wine cork photo ornament

Or bow around the cork?

Mom swing photo

Or bow on top of my head while I pop a cork?
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Out of Gas

I figure while I’m just sitting here in the middle of the highway and out of gas, I would say “howdy”. I am three miles from my destination and was too busy singing into my empty coke zero bottle to notice the BRIGHT ORANGE FLASHING FUEL LIGHT on my dash. Fortunately, I have broken down in the middle of one of those scenic highways that feature the some of the finest establishments Atlanta has to offer: a AAA Pawn shop, Kim’s Coin Laundry, and the Taco Loco where you can score a free bowl of soup if you leave your car at the wash next door. The kicker is that I am 200 feet from the Shell Station located behind a large Mexican gentlemen in blinding white sneakers who appears to be talking to himself. So, while I sway to and fro in the safely of my Ford compact rental amidst the 60mph traffic whizzing past me in both directions with only the rhythm of my emergency flashers to calm my jangled nerves, I offer you a word of good cheer this holiday season.

Take the bus.

Spontaneous Therapy


Are you very spontaneous? Or are you more like me… someone who likes to think of herself as free spirited and unplanned and yet sticks to regular routine? I carried a Franklin Day Timer to the sixth grade have always been more of a planner-type. However, I wonder if there is a danger in being too structured. Could a woman self-restrict so much that if one day she throws caution to the wind and decides to take a different route to the supermarket she could get carried away with the whole off-the-cuff lifestyle and before you know it, she’s dying her hair platinum blond and trading the family minivan for a ’69 Charger. {Pause to make a quick note: Be sure to bring up Blond Charger fantasy at next psychotherapy session}.

I made a new friend recently who invited Mia and I to the zoo. It was completely spur of the moment. Five minutes after she phoned, Mia and I were at the door with snacks in hand. If my new friend noticed that Mia was wearing the pajama shirt she had slept in the night before, she was kind enough not to say anything, and off we went to enjoy a lovely morning at the Atlanta zoo.

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Mia zoo 7

Mia zoo 2

Mia zoo 3

Mia zoo 4

Are you noticing a pattern here? Apparently live animals are waayyy over-rated. Mia tore through the zoo and tackled every inanimate creature she could find. Who cares about live gorillas when you can stick your fingers in a fake one’s nose!

Mia zoo 9

The flamingos were of particular interest. She kept calling them “sweet potatoes”. Of all the animals in the zoo, the main topic of interest: Sweet Potatoes.

Mia zoo 10

Mia zoo 1

The best thing about the petting zoo was the hand sanitizer bath we took upon exiting. So, now my secret is out. I’m not only a Franklin protege, but I am also a poster child for Purell.

All in all, our wild hair made for a wonderful memory. And just to be sure the whole spontaneous thing didn’t get too out of hand, I came home and did two extra loads of laundry. (Note: Add Housework Penance to topics for therapy discussion.)

Have a wild weekend!

Rudolph the One-Eyed Reindeer

Life as the mother of a preschooler is new for me. We enrolled Salem at the local elementary school about a month ago, and I am still getting used to the early mornings, the Mom Line of traffic, the deluge of artwork that comes home with him begging for display, and the inevitable need for a festive hat to wear for Holiday Hat Day. When you move twice in one year, you are bound to lose a few things. It is tragic, however, when somehow you have misplaced your Christmas ornament collection, your handmade Christmas stockings, and all of your holiday memories from the past 7 years, including the coveted holiday hats. I currently have a naked tree covered in twinkle lights desperate for some Beasley-family personalization, but that is another post for another day. In my attempts to remain positive despite our orphaned Advent tchotchkes, I set to work making a holiday hat for Salem to wear for Wear-Your-Holiday-Hat-To-School-Day. Necessity, meet the Mother of Invention. I enlisted his help yesterday afternoon even though his…errr…”exceptional tendencies” make arts and crafts projects a complete torture. Young Aspergians are often challenged by fine-motor activities such as coloring and cutting with scissors, and they certainly don’t like to be hovered over and touched constantly all in the name of a holiday craft (which lets face it, usually ends up being some ridiculous looking accessory from which a child will spend their whole adult life recovering… Asperger’s or not). That is true in Salem’s case, I’m afraid.

Salem rudolph hat

Yes, I took this shot while he was sitting on the potty, but it was the only time I could get him to try it on without wiggling too much so I could snap a decent photo. Judging by his expression, one caption might read, “Isn’t it bad enough that you are taking a bathroom picture that will inevitably resurface around the time I bring home my first girlfriend, but now I am reduced to wearing this reindeer hat with a Kranky-Patty-gummy-for-a-red-nose too?” We wrestled with Rudolph for a moment last night before I remembered that Salem doesn’t exactly take to new things very easily (unless of course they cost $1.99 in the app store). So, I quickly traced his sister’s hands and made a reindeer hat for her to model for him, which didn’t last because she was more interested in eating her Kranky-Patty-gummy-for-a-red-nose. So, Rudolph rode on the dashboard of the minivan last night while we delivered dinner to a friend, made an appearance at a school function, and concluded the evening with some Chick-Fil-A therapy. By this morning, Salem had developed a slight affinity for Rudolph and was willing to wear him into the school despite the latent embarrassment for years to come. But somehow in all the commotion, we lost a googly eye.

Salem rudolph hat 3

Thank goodness for pre-school, a magical land flowing with finger paint and googly eyes. Salem, his dignity, and Rudolph made it safely off the bus with a replacement googly eye (compliments of his Fairy-God-Teacher) firmly applied to his hat for future holiday self-consciousness.

Craft now and beg forgiveness later…. That’s my motto!

Christmas Crack

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Image via Plain Chicken

Oh my! Have you tried it yet?! One Pinterest-er described it as Christmas Crack and all I have to say is this treat is so high-calorie, you may want to consider giving it to people you don’t like. We made some today and it is completely gift-able albeit addicting. A word to the wise… make sure you de-kernel the popcorn before you coat with the peppermint almond bark-nectar-of-the-gods. You don’t want to bite into a little piece of heaven and chip a tooth. Oh, and try throwing the candy canes in the coffee grinder. It turns them into a sort of holiday fairy dust perfect for Peppermint Popcorn Bark. It might just make your coffee taste peppermint-y for weeks. Try it over the weekend, and let me know if you get hooked. Oh and if you receive a batch of this from me, I was just kidding about the whole high-cal-curse-your-enemy thing.

Have a great weekend.