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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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…

Atonement

Autumn has always been my favorite time of the year: the crisp air, the vibrant colors, the beginning of school. To me, this is the season when the new year truly begins.

In Judaism, we celebrate our new year in the autumn with Rosh Hashana, followed ten days later with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The ten days between the two holy days are called t’shuvah, the days of repentance. It is a time for reflection and resolutions when necessary. It is a time to ask for and to offer forgiveness. At the conclusion of Yom Kippur, God makes the final judgement and seals the Book of Life, hopefully with your name written within its pages, granting forgiveness.

While I have never been truly religious, I am deeply spiritual. I do find the prayers and psalms of synagogue peaceful, beautiful, and full of sentimental memories from my childhood, yet I have always preferred one on one time in nature more helpful in providing clarity or allowing me to find a new path, previously unseen.

However, over the last six years, since the fire and subsequent issues that arose from the ashes, my path has been tumultuous, at best.

Continue reading

Memories 

Sometimes I honestly forget that anything of real value was salvaged after the fire because the loss was so vast and complete and it left such an immense void. But occasionally I come across a rare gem that has been stored in a bag of memories to be sorted and put into albums, later.

I know it’s been 6 years, which is plenty of time to get organized. But truthfully, it hasn’t been a priority. I don’t want to glorify being busy, but with 3 kids in various activities, life is actually pretty busy. {Also, I’m more than a bit lazy.} 

Plus, and not to dwell, there’s still a faint burnt smell looming on those pages that brings on tears like waterfalls when it wafts into the air. So I keep those memories in a bag in the corner of my office space, unless I really need something.

The other day, I needed pictures of the kids to use as personal thank you notes. I’ve been meaning to order more for some time but again, it hasn’t been a priority for my schedule or our budget, if I’m being totally honest. 

Anyway, as I was searching for the picture-perfect pictures, I came across a poem and rediscovering it could not have been more timely with our 10 year anniversary approaching, and deeply needed after the trying year we’ve had getting Jordyn through third grade. 

When I first began teaching preschool, my principal required teachers to send home weekly letters to parents about upcoming projects or important dates. As I moved into elementary school, my new principal required the same, along with an academic and behavioral update for each student. 

I continued this communication at each school I taught in, in what I called the “Friday Folder” and my weekly newsletters evolved into poems to keep it interesting. It was something parents and students enjoyed and appreciated, and frankly, I loved writing them.

Right before we married, my first grade class threw me a surprise wedding shower. One mother presented me with a beautiful shadow box, complete with our invitation which was, of course, a poem. 

Photo credit: Clair Pruett Studio

On the back, my student had written his own poem, mimicking my Friday Folder. Although the shadow box was lost in the fire, a copy of his poem was miraculously saved and rereading it brought on the realization that it’s time I get back in the classroom. 

To learn that you have made a positive difference in a child’s life by partnering with parents in education is truly fulfilling.

After being home with my own children for the past 8 years, I am looking forward to returning to the classroom within the next few. 

Rosa Regale

Years ago, before marriage and children, Brian and I spent my winter breaks visiting Disney World. It was an ideal time for me, as a teacher, and we didn’t mind the waits and crowds as it was just the two of us.

Our first year together, we discovered the Italian champagne, Rosa Regale, in Italy, Epcot. It was love at first taste for me. It’s  a deliciously sweet dessert champagne that tastes of bubbly raspberry. I mean, who wouldn’t love that?

Rosa Regale soon became our New Years champagne of choice. Sure, we had it on other special occasions, but it always meant more on New Years, long after we stopped our annual Disney trips. 

After the fire, Brian purchased a bottle to be opened, once everything was settled. It sat, unopened, gathering dust in the cabinet of the 3 rental units we were placed in. We moved it to my parents’ house when our claim was denied and they took us in for 18 months. We then took it to Brian’s parents house when we moved in with them, before Jordyn began kindergarten. It gathered more dust with each move and sat unopened in the back of a cabinet for another 20 months. After 4 years, we finally opened it in May of 2015 when we moved into our own house, with so much and yet so little to celebrate. 

Tonight, we opened a new bottle with the hope that 2017 will bring closure to this seemingly never ending purgatory. 

We begin this year with gratitude for those who continue to support us, a love for each other that has withstood more hardships than most, the knowledge that we are stronger together, the courage to keep moving forward, and the attitude to truly appreciate the little things in life. 

Here’s to a new year. May it be filled with sweet happiness for us all. 

The Same Moon

Lady J has an Israeli pen-pal through a wonderful program called The Same Moon, set up by our former religious school.  She has spent the year writing back and forth with her pen pal in preassigned topics.  We spend time discussing each topic and what she wants to say before and she dictates the letter as I type.  Last month’s topic was “good deeds.” Below is the letter she composed.  There are no words for the simultaneous pride and heartache I feel:

“It was so nice to talk to you last week on Skype! What time was it in Israel when we talked?  My mom said it was close to dinner time.  It was still morning where I was.  My little sister always gets excited when tomorrow becomes today.  I guess in Israel my today is your yesterday, at least for part of the day.  Is that confusing?  It confuses me too. My mom calls me a philosopher.  I don’t know what that means.

When is your birthday?  My birthday is in the summer.  I think I want to have a sleepover party for my birthday.  But this year, instead of getting gifts from my friends, I want to collect sleeping bag-coats for homeless people. They’re called “The EMPWR Coat” and it’s a coat that turns into a sleeping bag for night time and then a bag on days when you don’t need a warm coat.  It looks really cool and can help save lives. I learned about it after I told my idea to collect sleeping bags for homeless people to my mom.  She showed me the website http://www.empowermentplan.org and I knew I had to try to give as many coats as I could.  My mom says that’s a Mitzvah.

I try to help homeless people out whenever I can.  One time, I saw a homeless man and asked my parents if we could give him some food.  He looked so lonely and hungry.  I bought him a blueberry muffin, a banana, and some water.  I wish I could do more.

Sometimes I run with my mom, too.  When she runs, she uses an app on her phone that’s called Charity Miles.  We choose a charity to run for and for each mile we run, some money gets donated.  We usually run for Back on My Feet, because they help the homeless too.

A few years ago, our house caught fire.  I don’t remember that much but I know it was really scary.  Sometimes I remember the house but only bits and pieces.  After the fire, we had to live with my mom’s parents for a little while and then my dad’s parents too.  We finally bought a new house this year, but we were really lucky we had our family to help us before that.  I guess I just want to help the people who don’t have family to take care of them, the people who don’t have homes.

Another thing I do with my family is donating things we don’t use anymore.  We go through our toys, clothes, and books every few months and decide what needs to be recycled, handed down, or donated to those in need.  I’m glad I can help.

Other ways I try to do Mitzvot are just by being a good leader and doing the right thing.  In school we learn about the 7 habits and I try to follow them. I’ve won a few “Leader In Me” awards. In Hebrew School, it’s called Mench of the Month. I won a few of them too.  I just try to follow the rules, try my best, and treat other people nicely.  It seems to be working so I guess I’ll stick to this plan.

I can’t wait to get your next letter!  Maybe we can FaceTime with each other sometime.  That would be cool.”