July 12, 2013

The kids and I moved back in with my parents in February, 2012, after insurance had denied our claim from the fire.

Jordyn was 3 1/2, Max had just turned 2, and Kennedy was just 3 months old.

I was nervous about how it would all work out. My mother and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. We’re so completely opposite and yet, exactly the same. Seriously, how was this ever going to work?

Mom & Joe got the house ready before we moved in. They got Max an adorable toddler bed. Little drawers were ready for the kids’ clothes. Closets and cabinets were cleaned out: for clothes, for food, for toys…for what little we had, they provided a space and a place.

We pulled into the driveway on a rainy Sunday and began to unload. It was awful. How can I be back here again? How am I supposed to live in my parent’s basement as a married woman with 3 small children? How can I get by without Brian and his rocksteady support during the week? Will Jordyn and Max be alright sleeping 2 floors up from me? Who will help them when nightmares or stomach bugs strike in the dark of night? Will they be ok without Daddy? Will I? Will Kennedy recognize him when he comes “home” on weekends?

It was an adjustment at first. We all needed to get into the rhythm of a new routine. We needed to find the right groove.

The “rules” for Bubbe & Zayde’s needed to change because we weren’t just here for a holiday or a weekend visit. Certain food items needed to be tossed except for really real special occasions. Jumping on and off beds and sliding down the banister would have to be curtailed.

It was frustrating. I felt like there were times I couldn’t parent my own kids the way I wanted. I felt like Mom was over stepping her boundaries and trying to parent for me. I felt like I was being watched and judged. And that I was doing the same. I felt like we were invading and taking over.

I held my breath when Mom reprimanded my children for acting out. I was pissed when she rewarded them with cookies for no reason whatsoever, knowing that once the sugar took effect, bedtime would be a nightmare.

I was relieved when she called to say that I was on my on my own for dinner and bedtime, free to do it all my way. Yet, when the time came, annoyed that she wasn’t there to help.

And exhausted…my goodness, so unbelievably, bone tired, exhausted.

And so was Mom. In addition to working a full day, running an entire agency, she was helping Jordyn and Max at night when they woke in fright at 12, 2, 3 & 5am. And she was getting them dressed and fed in the morning so I could tend to Kennedy. And taking them to school. And helping with the evening routine of dinner, bath, books and bed.

Mom and Joe traveled to the shore on weekends not only to give us our own family space but also to catch up on their own, well needed, rest…

As the year went on, it became easier. There was a fluidity and rhythm that took over. There was an understanding and a sense of comradery and support, both spoken and silent.

Routines became routine. I learned to loosen my reigns and learn from an experienced pro. Mom learned some new school techniques and added them to her expertise. There was patience, understanding, respect, and bonding.

Weekends were spent doing family things together. Time became a valuable treasure. Communication was imperative and open, (and technologically advanced). We learned the true meaning of quality.

Mom and Joe have gotten to see the kids grow up before their eyes. They have seen Kennedy grow through each stage from newborn to toddler. Mom potty trained Max and painted Jordyn’s nails. They garden together, take long walks around the ponds together, feed the horses together, laugh & sing & dance together, play & tickle together, have grown together, and have made so many memories…together.

I am so very glad that during this uncertain time, we have had such an amazing opportunity and incredible experience.

Thank you, Mom & Joe, who helped make your house our home.

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Mother’s Log: a week with no kids

July 11, 2018: Day 2 of Solitude

Yesterday’s excursions left me wiped. My whole body is grateful for a day of rest and sleeping in.

So far the only accomplishments of the day are making the bed, making a vegan “chicken tortilla” soup, boiling beets for a beet & goat cheese salad, and taking the girls’ bikes to the shop to have the brakes fixed.

My new sunglasses and flip flops have arrived and I could not love amazon prime any more.

Heading to the beach to read and possibly nap… I have no worries, guilt, nor regrets…

Mother’s Log: A week with no kids

July 10, 2018: Day 1 of complete Solitude

8am: Instead of sleeping in today, I wake at a reasonable hour. It’s odd not having to make breakfast, clean up, or listen to any sibling rivalry, imaginative games, or the echoing crash of the marble run on the stone floor that reverberates in your head like a pin-ball. I thought I might miss all of that. I do not.

8:13am: I finish my coffee and unsweetened cashew milk. (It’s gross but healthier than happiness, I suppose.) I dress and leave the condo without even making my bed. As someone who thrives on organization, this, surprisingly, does not bother me one bit.

8:27am: I head out to the boardwalk on my bike, so far not having a uttered single word to a single soul. I head toward Atlantic City at a decent speed, only using my voice to let others know when I am passing them. Music blasting in one ear and the freedom of not shouting at my kids to stay to the right, pass on the left, and to plan ahead is magnificent.

9:56am: I just got back from the ride. End to end, it was a 17 mile trip. Not quite as long as I had wanted but more than my tailbone and lower pelvic bone were prepared for. They are quite angry with me, as is my non-thigh-gap.

10:03am: Damnit. I really do need to make the bed. And I guess I’ll fold the pile of laundry that’s been sitting in the guest room for 2 days.

10:38am: Spoke with Brian. He’s having a busy day at work and would love it if I came home to surprise him. He keeps asking. It’s cute and annoying at the same time. Either way, it’s not gonna happen. I love him, but I’m really enjoying this solitary.

11:34am: I mount up again and ride another 4 miles to the bay. My ass hates me. So do my feet, because I am wearing flip flops and manage to literally flip one off coming to a stop, therefore using my bare foot to land. See kids? This is why we don’t where flip flops when we ride. Duh.

11:58am: I’m going on a 2 hour solo SUP excursion in the bay. The waivers have all been signed and the young gentleman gives me directions on which way to paddle based on the tide and wind. I am so excited!

I follow his directions and paddle north, watching the wildlife of turtles, small jellyfish, egrets and other marina birds, crabs, and a plethora of jumping minnows during the low tide. It took all of 40 minutes, but I decide to head back.

12:49pm: Unfortunately the tide may be coming back in and the winds have changed so that my efforts are meaningless. I am paddling as hard as I can and am staying in the same place, possibly moving backwards. What. The….

1:46pm: I have been nonstop, hardcore paddling for an hour. The wind is so strong that if I stop, I will be pushed backwards and therefore cry.

I paddle towards the docks where the surf shop kid said it would be easier. The wind and waves knock me into the docks. This is not easier. He is a kid and knows nothing. I paddle back out, attempting to make a beeline for the surf shop, which is now in view. I glance up to see the damn water tower behind the surf shop smiling as it mocks my efforts. I’d like to give it the middle finger but I’m afraid to stop paddling.

Just keep going. You can do hard things. Hopefully you’ll have a 6 pack and toned arms by morning…Dig. Dig. DIIIIG!

2:00pm: My 2 hours is up, and by my calculations it’s going to take me at least another 2 to get in. The buoy in front of me is not getting any closer and the osprey nest to the left of me is still to the left of me.

I see another SUP heading towards me. Shit. It’s the kid from the surf shop paddling out to “rescue” me. Lovely. He approaches my board just as a boat whizzes by, causing me to lose my balance, my sunglasses, and my dignity. I climb back up, fall again, climb back up, and allow the kid to tow me in for a bit. This is not how I expected this to go.

2:17pm: We finally made it back. My whole body now hates me from the day I put it through. I inquire to the surf shop kid how often this happens, thinking it must be often. “Twice a month” he responded, humiliating me even more, “But it’s usually from inexperience, not from Mother Nature, so you’re good,” He tries to make me feel better. It does not work. At. All.

2:21pm: I hop back on the bike and ride the 4 miles back to the condo. Once I arrive safely, I hop down and manage to break my flip flop, which was already in poor condition. I go upstairs, order new sunglasses and flip flops, shower, and decide that relaxing on the beach can wait until tomorrow…I need a nap.

On Daddy’s Shoulders

I watch in awe as you carry our world on your shoulders as if it’s nothing to bear.

You swing them up so gently as their tiny hands clutch to the safety that you provide.

They bounce with delight as I marvel at your strength, ever solid, never waning.

They rest their little legs, take solace in the throne you have provided, and feel like royalty for this moment.

The smiles on your faces brings reassurance that all is alright, everything’s going to be okay, life is still good and sweet and wonderful just the way it is, in this moment.

To the untrained eye, it’s just a ride on daddy’s shoulders. To me, it’s everything that’s right in our world. To our children, it is their world…

May your shoulders always be this strong and may our children know that you will always be there to carry them when they are in need. And please know that you can forever lean on mine for extra strength, courage, and support.

*this poem was originally written on Father’s Day, 2014

Vegan Quinoa Stuffed Peppers with Roasted Red Pepper Ragout

I am not a vegan. However, I have always loved my fruits and veggies and have recently began making the switch to a plant based lifestyle for my own health and for the benefit of the planet. My kids have also been asking for the change so I thought, why not? I’d go into more detailed reasons but that’s not really what this post is about. It’s easy enough to google the information or talk to a nutritionist about it.

Honestly, I’m pretty terrible at it, because baked brie, taco Tuesdays and SUSHI!!!! Plus, most of my easy go-to recipes at home usually involve fish, poultry, or red meat. I’ll also probably never give up real butter, eggs, and the occasional burger or venison if given the option. But if there’s a vegan option on a menu, I like to give it a try. I’m often surprised by the complimentary combinations of vegetables that I would never think to put together nor prepare that way.

I recently enjoyed a weekend away at Woodloch in the Poconos with my whole family, celebrating my step-father’s 70th birthday. The best way I can describe this wonderland is Dirty Dancing. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it. Fun for all ages, never a dull moment, activities, entertainment, and adventures abound… Seriously, it was the best!

Each fabulous dinner at Woodloch had a vegan option, so, wanting to expand my palate and my DIY options, I gave it a go.

Deliciously satisfying doesn’t event come close to the amazing dishes! I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to recreate anything remotely close, but after scouring the internet and the awesome cookbook Thug Kitchen, I was actually able to edit recipes as needed and recreate a vegan slice of heaven!

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do! I can’t wait to make it again and play with the recipe for additional variations.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (tri colored sprouted) quinoa
  • 2 cups vegetable broth plus a little extra for ragout (I make my own but store bought is ok too)
  • 1 onion (diced)
  • 8 cloves garlic (diced and split into 2 equal portions)
  • 2 celery stalks (diced…I like to include the leaves for added flavor)
  • 1 small-medium carrot (peeled and diced)
  • 4 bell peppers (any color)
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 jar roasted red pepper (drained and blended)
  • 1 can white kidney (cannellini) beans (drained and rinsed)
  • Cooking oil (I use olive or coconut)
  • Salt (I like Himalayan grinders)
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Balsamic glaze (the thicker the better)
  • Arugula, spinach, or green vegetable of your choice. (I used my own home grown arugula… yep…I grew something!!!!)

Materials, gadgets, pots, and all that jazz:

  • 2 pots (if I had to guess I’d say 4 quarts-ish?)
  • Cuisenart or blender (not necessary but super helpful. I have a mini 4 cup and that was plenty)*
  • Measuring cup
  • Pie dish or something that can hold up the stuffed peppers in the oven
  • Knives and cutting board (duh)
  • Spatula/cooking spoon
  • Aluminum foil (just to cover the peppers in the oven)

Directions:

Stuffed Peppers:

  1. Cut off tops of peppers and remove seeds and ribs. Set aside in oiled pie dish for later.
  2. Chop the leftover pepper from the tops
  3. Heat oil (let’s go with 1 tablespoon) in pot and add in the onion and 1/2 of the garlic.
  4. Add a pinch of salt if you desire.
  5. Cook for a few minutes until they begin to brown
  6. Add in celery, carrots, chopped peppers and cook for a few more minutes
  7. Pour in vegetable broth and quinoa and bring to a boil
  8. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer uncovered until most of the broth is absorbed, stirring occasionally
  9. Turn off heat and gently fold in black beans
  10. Spoon quinoa into peppers to the top
  11. Cover tightly with foil and bake in oven for about an hour at 350 (until peppers are softened)

Ragout:

  1. In other pot, heat oil and add in the rest of the garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cook a few minutes until browning
  2. Add in roasted red peppers and cannellini beans and simmer for about 10 minutes
  3. Blend the mixture (I poured it into the 4 cup cuisenart) and continue simmering.
  4. Add vegetable broth if needed. Ragout should be creamy (not dry or soupy)

To serve:

  1. Spoon out ragout on plate
  2. Place stuffed pepper on top
  3. Drizzle with balsamic glaze
  4. Serve with arugula or spinach or really any green vegetable
  5. Enjoy!

*It should be noted that I used my cuisenart to dice the onions, the garlic, the carrots, the pepper tops, and blend the ragout never needing to rinse it out as all the flavors enhance one another. I also used the same spatula for stirring.

Accidents: 3.20.13

It was 10:30pm and Dawn had just finished changing Riley and stripping her bed. She was now sleeping in Dawn’s mother’s office after having an accident in bed. Riley was 4 1/2 and had NEVER had an accident since she potty trained herself just 2 months after her second birthday.

Dawn wondered if it was because the sitter forgot to have her go before bed, or because she was too tired from not napping to wake up, or if the fire drill at school today literally scared the piss out of her.

It was a surprise fire drill so although Riley was supposed to get advanced warning, none was given today, for whatever reason. At pick up, Riley’s teacher told Dawn that Riley was terrified but was able to calm down very quickly and was very brave.

Dawn knew that over time and as Riley grew, she would learn to handle her fear and initial shock from that awful sound. But Dawn also knew exactly what she feels because every fucking fire alarm does the same thing to her.

It brought her back to that moment. That goddamned moment…and Dawn relived it…with every blaring wail of an alarm or siren, she was back in the living room of her house grabbing Riley and Harrison and running like hell because something wasn’t right…

So who knows why Riley had an accident Dawn was sure it was just that: an accident. But as a concerned mother, she’ll wonder and worry for the rest of her life…

The Trip: 2.4.16

Dawn and Scott stood in the kitchen, sipping on red wine, both of them still reeling from last week’s court appearance. With the case being kicked back to Esposito, it was definitely going to trial unless a dismissal was handed down from the new judge. This fact had hit them both like a ton of bricks but it was the first time Scott realized that this was not going away and that the worst case scenario was a real possibility.

“How am I going to do this without you? Who will braid Riley’s and Madison’s hair? Who will help the kids with homework? Who will take Harrison to hip hop?” His voice trailed off…

The look on his face spoke volumes as he realized the magnitude of just the daily physical aspect Dawn’s absence would have, not to mention the emotional impact a “guilty” verdict would mean for the children.

“I’m not moving back in with my parents,” Scott sighed, “I’m going to have to hire an au pair. I don’t even know how to do that,” his gaze became distant again, as if lost in a wood…

“I know,” Dawn whispered, tears welling in her eyes, “I know.”

“Well,” Scott snapped to, “I was hoping this would be a celebratory trip at the end of this, but fuck it. Should we just go to Disney World?”

“Well, why not?” Dawn asked, managing a weak smile, “I should get to take the kids to Disney. I should be there for their first time. And unfortunately, we just don’t know if that will happen if we wait.”

The truth was, as excited as Dawn was, Scott’s sudden decision to take such a big family trip on a whim was extraordinarily unlike him. She knew it meant he was scared and preparing for the worst. It meant he had finally been beaten down enough to know what she’s known all along…His overt admittance that his precious system doesn’t work was possibly the worst blow to Dawn’s hope in the past 4 years.

The last time Scott made such a fast financial decision was almost a year ago. He and Dawn were discussing the future and why he saves the way he does.  He was preparing: for the trial, for the kids, for the future… But after living in the basement of his parents home for over 20 months, Dawn had reached her limit.  She calmly explained that it was time to move on in their personal lives, as the case and trial seemed to be stuck like a skipping record, and waiting was no longer an option.  He asked if she new an agent and Dawn made 1 inquiry to her friend and local real estate agent.  That weekend they walked through 5 houses, bid on one, closed and moved in within 6 weeks, thanks to her friend, her in-laws who watched the kids on overtime and helped paint and assemble furniture, and IKEA for being so very affordable that they could actually furnish and decorate an entire house…

Seriously, it took Scott over 5 years to propose, 4 years to buy a new car, and months of mental back and forths to book family vacations.  Scott was a saver, not a spender, so when he booked the vacation, including a top resort hotel, and the flight within days of the conversation and mentioned that they will need to dip into savings, Dawn knew this was the beginning of the end and that she better put on her happy face and enjoy the rides, because after this trip, shit was gonna get bumpy…

Status Conference 1.25.16

Court was postponed from January 4, 2016 to the 25th due to the backlog that is our judicial system.

So we arrived today, on Harrison’s birthday, while the rest of the northeast is digging out and salting after the mess Jonas left in his wake. I feel salty knowing that my in laws will be the first to wish him a happy birthday upon waking. It should be us, but we had to leave long before both he and the sun rose, and can only hope that they will build the snowmen and forts and make birthday memories with him that should be ours to make.

Of course we gave ourselves enough time to arrive before court is open, giving space for the unknown: traffic accidents, backups, icy road conditions. It’s a long drive for what is usually a short appearance. The only time we were ever late for our scheduled appearance was on a day that the roads were so bad that court was delayed and then cancelled after we arrived. But the website says no cancellations or delays have been reported, so here we are.

We wait for Paul, our attorney to come and update us on the status of our gas expert report. We have been waiting for this report for over a year. Apparently the report is complete and needs only the expert’s signature to make it valid and ready to be filed. According to the expert’s office manager, he is wonderful in the court room and never misses a trial, but his office management skills are significantly lacking and she apologizes for the delay. Our attorney has hesitantly issued a subpoena for him to bring the report today. If he fails to appear, we have to ask for one more continuance until next month. The chance of him showing up is slim, as it is 8:56am.

Yet his lack of presence matters not because when the courtroom doors open at 9am and we enter to sign in, there is not one single prosecutor present. The rows begin to fill up with defendants, victims, family members, and defense attorneys. One attorney looks as though he has aged ten years in the 6 weeks since we last saw him. Yes, after 4 years we know these faces all too well.

There’s an air of familiarity in the court room, like stale smoke. It reminds me of my late uncle’s old apartment. Most of my “comrades” are dressed to unimpress in torn sweats and jeans that hang well below what is appropriate. A few defendants are dressed with old school respect, something our present society is seriously lacking.

Once a few prosecutors saunter in, court begins. The first case called sends us into an immediate recess as the prosecutor and defense request to conference in the judge’s chambers. So we wait while our attorney tries to contact the prosecutor on my case.

However, there seems to be confusion as to who that may be. An email has surfaced that states that as of Fiday, my case was kicked back to the previous prosecutor, Esposito. It doesn’t really matter because neither are present.

Court resumes and recesses and resumes and recesses again. Is it now 10:30am and we are still waiting for any prosecutor to make an appearance on our case…

Our attorney finally finds Esposito and they meet in chambers: Apparently the major crimes and arson units have split, and the previous prosecutor, Moreno, kicked the case back to Esposito because Moreno now heads up the major crimes division which no longer includes arson.

The most unnerving aspect of the change in prosecutors, besides the fact that this is the seventh change in prosecutors, is that Esposito has lied about speaking to his supervisor about the case and is honestly, a bumbling idiot, from what I have heard each time he speaks in court. The upside to this, is that hopefully the jury will see that too, should this go to trial. Unfortunately, after being a stuck in the system for so long and binge watching “The Making of a Murderer” I have little faith in jurors, and none in the system.

Anyway, at around 10:47am, I was finally called to the stand and it was decided that we will leap forward and return on February 29th for what I hope is the last status conference. We left the courtroom at 10:49 and that was that…

I am hopeful that our expert will have signed the report by our next conference and that our motion for dismissal and all expert reports will be officially filed, so that we can we can begin the pre-trial paperwork for the third and final time. We are looking at a July – September trial, though I am not holding my breath…

Again, thank you for your continued support. We’re on our way home to celebrate what is left of Harrison’s birthday…

May 20, 2012: One Year

“It was too long ago…but it was just a moment ago” (The Legend of Bagger Vance)

When I think about the past year and all we’ve been through, that is exactly how it feels.

We were living the dream: a beautiful house we could afford, 2.3 kids, literally. I was able to stay home with the kids for now, an annual family vacation, good friends and great neighbors…

Then it all went up in flames.

The events of May 20, 2011 replay in my head constantly. It was horrifying. And the way we were treated subsequently by authorities and then by our insurance company have made the past year even more horrific. It’s a constant nightmare while I’m both asleep and awake…

However, as trying as this year has been, I not only have a life to get back, but also a life to live.

I have 3 fantastic kids to take care of, though I often think they are taking care of me. I have a wonderful husband, whom I unfortunately only see on weekends now due to living arrangements. But now our weekends are truly quality family time.

We have found this year, that we know what true friends are and the importance of family. Thank goodness we have such a fabulous support network.

We’ve certainly learned what materials are true necessities and what we can live without. Due to a complete lack of storage, clutter isn’t an issue. In fact, it’s been a great lesson on giving for the kids: with each new toy they receive, they choose one to donate to those less fortunate. I also only buy them a few outfits. We wash and rewear everything until its worn out and must be replaced.

This year has taught me to not judge, because what works for you may not work for another, and honestly, you have no idea what the back story is, so back off.

This year has taught me that it’s ok to be picky. I have limited space so I only take what I need and love. (And please don’t ever offer items to those in need that aren’t in tip top shape: I cannot tell you how many broken toys and stained clothes we were given to us in the beginning, though most donations were in great shape.)

This year has taught me that true friends are few and far between so hold on tight and check in on them more often than you do.

This year has taught me that no matter how small you think someone else’s problems are compared to yours, to that person those problems are HUGE so be there for them the same way you want them there for you.

This year has taught me that when catastrophe strikes most support is needed well after the flames have been put out, and although the immediate support was appreciated too, most people shy away now, unsure of what to say or do. (Just checking in from time to time would be lovely.)

This year I’ve leaned to complain less and appreciate more.

This year, although the tears have been plentiful, the laughter keeps me going so I try to find the funny… sometimes it’s harder than others.

This year I yell more and take more deep breaths. This year my kids are allowed to put me in time out for raising my voice…it’s only happened twice since initiating the rule…

This year I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner and, although I rarely have actual dessert, Moscato is my favorite wine.

This year I say thank you and mean it to those who give me gifts that are completely useless in my current situation bc it really is the thought that counts.

This year I ask people for what I want and tell them what I need because let’s face it, there aren’t too many mind readers…

This year I’m a constant guest in other peoples homes and I’ve learned that as welcoming as others are, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to cook in my own kitchen with my own stuff again.

This year, we are in temporary housing situations and planning for the future is really hard, but we do our best.

This year, we could care less about the news, election and world at large…especially gossip about celebrities, reality stars and local idiots…we have our family to take care of.

This year we put our family’s needs first, no matter who it may offend.

This year I don’t have time for those who don’t have time for me, but say the word and I’ll make it.

This year I’m not interested in making new friends but will gladly reconnect with old ones.

This year I am grateful that I have 3 healthy and happy kids and although they have their moments, they truly are phenomenal and I know I must be doing something right.

This year I do not take for granted that my family is all here and healthy. It could have been very different.

This year may last another 3 until its all sorted out with insurance and another 3 beyond that to rebuild because of construction permits, codes, and red tape…

This year will hopefully become a blip on my radar screen of life, but for now it’s a big effin blip!

This year, I just want to go home.

This year happened just a moment ago…

To Whom It May Concern

The answering machine was blinking with a new message as she made lunch for her three year old. “I must have missed the call when I was picking up Madison from preschool,” Dawn thought. She finished making lunch and checked the caller ID. From the looks of the number, it might be the call she was waiting for from the school district. Dawn’s stomach lurched and her heart skipped a beat as she pressed the play button on the machine. She heard the school principal, Mr. Wollensky: Everything was fine, nothing urgent, something about clearances and volunteering next week and still waiting to hear from central office. Please call back.

She immediately wanted to vomit. This can’t be good. It’s like when the doctor calls to deliver news instead of having the office manager call. They don’t do that unless it’s bad. No news is good news and this was not no news…

Dawn inhaled and pressed the dial button. After being transferred to Mr. Wollensky’s voice mail she left her home phone and her cell phone number and waited… She had lost her apetite for lunch and Madison was uninterested in including Mommy in her imaginary game of ‘princess homework time.’ Dawn busied herself with cleaning the dishes, wiping the counters, folding cloth napkins, and eventually settled into a rousing game of Candy Crush before closing her eyes for mere minutes as she lay on the couch.

Dawn was emotionally exhausted, rereading the letter in her head and pondering what could be taking so long, “Maybe the district-powers-that-be are discussing it as we speak. Perhaps an investigation is being done. I can’t fault them for that. I’m glad that they’re doing their due diligence. At least someone is after all this time. I just hope it’s not sitting on someone’s desk inbox at the bottom of the pile…”

Days like these drained all of Dawn’s energy, drawing her attention away from her kids, her husband, her life. She found it hard to focus on anything else and knew she was in for another long and frustrating evening, and another sleepless night. Dawn knew this was just something else that was completely out of her control and that she would just have to wait, but her patience was wearing thin and, after four years, she had little faith in the justice system.

“Innocent until proven, my ass.” Dawn steamed.

The new state guidelines for volunteering in schools required clearances, which wouldn’t be a problem under normal circumstances, but almost nothing of the last four and a half years was normal. As both a certified educator and a parent, Dawn actually agreed with the new mandates put in place as a safety precaution. However, the new safety requirements may also prevent Dawn from stepping foot inside her own children’s school as a class parent or volunteer in any capacity allowed.

“What a crock of shit. Talk about adding effing insult to injury,” Dawn kept these thoughts to herself.

But she had decided to go ahead with the application process anyway and hoped for the best. She had obtained her clearances for criminal history and child abuse the previous academic year, when she returned to teaching religious school on Sundays for the year. Of course those records were clear. It’s not that she never broke the rules, but her extraordinarily average teenage years were decades ago and other than that one time (at sleepover camp) when she got caught for underage drinking, less than one month before her 21st birthday, she really was quite typical and rarely broke any rules, which is just one aspect of her infuriating situation.

“If only they knew me.” 

The sheer ridiculousness of the situation was nothing less than laughable. Only laughter on this matter was simply not possible.  This situation was disheartening and beyond frustrating.  For the first time since the fire, Dawn was possibly going to be prevented from caring for her children in one aspect of their lives, and she had a sinking feeling that this was only the beginning. It made her feel dirty, unwelcome, and unwanted.

Dawn knew her FBI fingerprints were going to be an issue.  She’s been fingerprinted plenty of times.  It was a standard clearance in the field of education. However, the last fingerprint she submitted, before applying as a school volunteer, had nothing to do with education.  The last time she was fingerprinted was the day she was arraigned on an indictment for a crime she didn’t commit.

Aggravated Arson.  Arson because no one bothered to complete a proper investigation as to cause and origin on the fire that consumed their home and subsequently, their lives; aggravated because she was home with Riley and Harrison, and pregnant with Madison, so the children were deemed to be at risk.

“If only they knew me.”  

But they could not have cared less.  So her fingerprint results would be an immediate red flag and denial for permission to volunteer in school, despite volunteering without issue in past years.

After receiving the unofficial fingerprint results in the mail last week, she cried.  Of course the arrest record is there.  Never mind that the date on the record is WRONG. She was not arrested on the day of the fire.  In fact, she has never been arrested for this.  She was wrongfully indicted over a year after the fire and has yet to be read her Miranda rights.  Apparently, these were all semantics and proof of our justice system’s failures.

She thought about cheering on her children and their peers as they raced around the school in the annual fundraiser that promotes healthy and active lifestyles. She recalled the looks of awe and amusement of Riley and her classmates when she was a mystery reader each October, dressing as a witch and reading a poem about goblins and manners that she had memorized as a child. It had become a family tradition and the thought of skipping this year or losing the tradition brought on more familiar tears.

Her chest heaved with each question, “What about holiday parties? Will Harrison feel left out on his birthday when I can’t come in to read his favorite story? Will Riley resent me for not sharing the Hanukkah miracle with her friends? Will they both be upset when I am unable to accompany them on class field trips?” She felt handcuffed to the injustice of it all, burning in anger.

Her husband, Scott, wasn’t shocked to hear the news of the fingerprints and advised her to let it go for this year.  “Fuck you” she thought, “I will not just let it go. What the hell is the point of being a stay at home mother if you don’t, no – CAN’T, help out at your own children’s school?”  She stewed and simmered and finally texted her husband’s lifelong friend, the school board president, Matt. Matt was someone Mr. Rogers would call “a helper.”  Look for the helpers. And so she did.

After a short back and forth of explaining the latest he offered to put in a call to see how to move forward. His response was that Dawn needed to write a letter of explanation and send it straight to his contact in the human resource department at the district central office:

To Whom it May Concern,

I am writing to clarify the results of my FBI fingerprint search in regards to the school district’s volunteer application process:

On May 20, 2011 my house in Passaic County, New Jersey suffered from a devastating fire. We are still unsure of the cause and origin of the fire. Unfortunately, because I was home with our children, I was wrongfully indicted for aggravated arson in June 2012. I have been fighting the charges for the last 3.5 years and I am currently awaiting trial and expecting/hoping for a dismissal and for the charges to be expunged.

I am currently a stay at home mother to our three children. Before becoming a mother, I taught for 11 years in preschool, religious school, and elementary school in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New Jersey. I am a New Jersey certified K-5 elementary school teacher and originally obtained my Pennsylvania teaching certification upon graduation from Cabrini College.

I am an active volunteer for my children’s elementary school’s PTO, and have been my oldest daughter’s room parent. I truly enjoy volunteering my time to help in my children’s classrooms as their teachers request. I would like to continue to volunteer in any capacity that I am able.

I am hopeful that you will be able to approve me as a volunteer despite my wrongful indictment and the lengthy judicial process.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Dawn Watson

Dawn hand delivered the letter the previous Friday and waited…some more…She had tried not to focus on the letter but it had been a week and today’s message from Mr. Wollensky sent her reeling through all of the “what ifs” swimming around in her mind.

Her cell phone rang and startled her off of the couch.  Mr. Wollensky explained that there was a holdup in central office with several volunteer applications but after his attention, the other applications were approved.  All except Dawn’s.  He wasn’t sure what the hold up was, but for some reason Dawn’s application could not be pushed through and until it was, he was very sorry to tell her that she could not volunteer at next week’s fundraising event.

Dawn wanted to cry. She kept it together just long enough to briefly explain the horrific situation. She was still hopeful that she would be approved and she would contact the district’s central office the following week. Dawn apologized for taking up the principal’s time.  The tears flowed freely as she pushed end on her cell phone.

It was all starting. This is exactly what she feared would happen at the last status conference in court. After the current {third} judge assigned to the case had hoped for a settlement, the current {fifth} prosecutor, Esposito, had said that he knew Dawn was fearful that her teaching license would be revoked but that the state was not interested in taking that away from her. “What an idiot,” Dawn vented to Scott and Paul, her attorney, after the mandatory yet brief court appearance. “He has no say in my teaching license. You can’t be a convicted felon and have a teaching certification. And even if some states allowed for that, what school would hire me? What an ass,” she steamed.

Apparently, Esposito had finally glanced at the file and took note of a marginal note that the very first prosecutor had made sometime around the indictment. The deal offered that day remained the same, over 3 years later: ‘plea to a third degree felony with no jail time and mandatory counseling.’ It’s actually a great deal…if you’re guilty. But Dawn was innocent and anything less than a dismissal and expunging the records was unacceptable. Besides, thanks to this whole ordeal, she was already in counseling.

Dawn, of course, had discussed the deal at length with Scott and Paul. The very idea of being a convicted felon for a crime she did not commit was abhorrent and she refused to perjure herself to stay out of jail. And to make it worse, that “deal” would mean losing her teaching certification and a whole slew of other ‘side effects’. Remaining honest could mean that she would be convicted, jailed, and subsequently absent from her children’s lives for the next five to ten YEARS to teach them about honesty, among other things. If she lied and falsely admitted to a crime she did not commit, she was guaranteed to be present in their lives. The irony was not lost on her. But she had to fight for what was right and true, despite what was being risked. “No deal,” thought Dawn, “I’ll take my chances and trust in the justice system.”

Only, she had had no idea of how unjust the system was, and now, in addition to spending the last 4 years waiting in purgatory, hell was starting to rain down…

————-

Dawn wiped her tears, took a few deep breaths, and gathered Madison into the car. She turned on the radio in hopes she could tune out on the drive to school. As she approached the final stop sign and turn before arriving at school, a fire engine, sirens blaring, flew down the street. “It wasn’t me,” a defeated voice in her head repeated, “It wasn’t me,” and she was catapulted into the nightmare that she relived every day in her memory, “It wasn’t me…”

She pulled up to school and waited in her car as long as possible before Riley and Harrison were dismissed. Dawn had no desire to socialize today. She felt as though she had a sign on her back, prompting unwelcomed judgment. Dawn kept her hat brim pulled low and her sunglasses on, despite the overcast sky. She hugged Madison close, not wanting to put her down, feeling vulnerable and needing her daughter’s protection.

Mr. Wollensky exited the dismissal doors with the fifth grade safety patrol students before the rest of the school was dismissed. Dawn took a few steps back into the crowd of parents, trying to avoid being seen. She wasn’t ready for the look. That look that people who just heard her story gave her, as if they’re trying to figure out if she really was innocent.

“If only they knew me.”

She wanted to give people that chance, to honestly know her. But most people were assuming and judgmental without even realizing it, without having all of the information, and her current reality was just too much to put out there. She was exceptional at reading people now and had learned that it’s best not to say anything. So she carried on, rather quietly, in her daily routine in a town that would never be home, befriending very few people, swaying in the breeze, not willing to grow roots…