Monday, September 23, 2013

The Thing About Hurricanes

I couldn't sleep last night, so I was scrolling through old photo albums on Facebook. I came across "Hurricane Ike, September 2008" and realized it's been just over five years since that storm cut its fierce swath from Africa, over Cuba and made a direct hit on the Texas Gulf Coast, where I was living at the time.

Hurricanes are wicked and unpredictable. The only thing you can count on, for sure, is that when they strike, what you fear most will come to fruition.

No matter how well you get ready for the storm, by battening down the proverbial hatches, boarding up your windows, stockpiling water and  non-perishable foods, powering up your generator and finding what you think is a safe spot to ride out the storm,  nothing ever prepares you for the complete and utter devastation and destruction that awaits when the winds have dulled from a roar to a whisper and you peer out into the first light.

Like death and taxes, the only thing guaranteed is that your world will be turned upside down.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The "Dog" Ate My Homework

The other night, I threw my son's homework away.

Can you imagine him going to school with that excuse? "I'm sorry, Mrs. H., my mom threw my homework away."

Yeah. Right.

But it's true. I did.

We were going through the seven folders in his accordion file for each of his seven classes and separating the papers that I needed to sign, or the ones that needed to be returned to school, from the ones that had already been graded and returned. Paper tends to accumulate quickly in his accordion file.

In my quest to keep him organized, I fell quite short myself. I picked up the wrong stack of papers from the table and tossed them into the kitchen trash can, a fact we did not discover until after the remains of the tomato-based soup we had for dinner were scraped out of bowls on top of the aforementioned homework.

In years past, this would have caused a meltdown of epic proportions. But in his newfound middle school maturity, he simply got a dish towel, wiped chunks of tomato and cannelloni beans off of the college-ruled notebook paper, and recopied his work onto pristine paper.

We've worked so hard this year to get him organized. Each folder in the accordion file is color coded to correspond to a class. He carries his agenda with homework assignments written out for each class period. His school supplies are in a box in his backpack and workbooks and school papers are filed into the accordion folder with their folders under individual subjects. At home, there's a designated space to do homework. There's a place to keep backpacks, school uniforms, school shoes and lunch supplies. Today he gets assigned his locker at school so he doesn't have to carry as much around with him.

Now perhaps I need a better filing system. Trashcan notwithstanding.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

'Area journalists recall events of 9/11/01'

 As seen in the Jacksonville Daily Progress, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013

Editor’s Note: This article was compiled by Cristin Reece of the Palestine Herald-Press in memory of the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

By staff of the Jacksonville Daily Progress and Palestine Herald Press

Most would agree — for better or worse, the events that occurred in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, irrevocably changed this country and its citizens’ lives.
The terrorist attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center buildings, damaged the Pentagon and killed 2,977 people —including more than 400 police officers and fire fighters. Many Americans can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing during that 102 minutes. Jacksonville Daily Progress current and former staff members remember the day with crystal clarity.
“Several things stand out in my memory when talk turns to ‘where were you on 9/11,’” JDP reporter Jo Anne Embleton said. “Driving the few miles from my house to the Catholic Chancery in Tyler, where I worked as a reporter for Catholic East Texas, I was amazed at how gorgeous the day was turning out to be, and it was only 8 a.m. The skies were a beautiful shade of blue, the air wasn’t quite crisp, but definitely cooler than the summer heat we were accustomed to. I actually debated calling my boss to let him know I was taking a last-minute vacation day … then my cellphone rang.
“And before I could answer “hello,” my husband urged me to turn on the radio, because “World War III just started.
“The drive from our apartment to the chancery was less than 10 minutes, and it was surreal hearing the reports of a plane flying into the Twin Towers in NYC,” Embleton continued. “I remember reading about how, when “War of the Worlds” first aired on the radio, the programmers continually reminded people that it was a fictional story — that the world really wasn’t under attack by aliens from outer space. I think a part of me was seriously hoping that the reports were something similar, but the look on my editor’s face when I went into his office only confirmed the horrible reality of what had just happened.
“About an hour later, one of the secretaries came around to each of the offices to say the school’s superintendent, Deacon Vic Bonnaffee, was leading a prayer service in our chapel at 10 a.m. for the victims of that tragedy. I remember being grateful that Vic acted so quickly, because it gave us great comfort knowing that in our own little way, our little staff in East Texas were joined in solidarity with the rest of the country as we remembered those killed in that attack.”
Daily Progress Editor Amy Brocato Pearson was the Features Editor at the Beaumont Enterprise at the time, and — besides the news aspect of the day, has another, more personal reason she remembers so many details of the day.
“I was on my way into work on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when I heard the news on the radio,” she remembers. “The first of the planes had struck the World Trade Center. I was usually one of the first people to work in the newsroom each morning. Sure enough, when I walked in, only the business editor and I were there. He already had the television on and was tuned into the devastation playing out right in front of us.
“We watched in silent disbelief as the second plane crash into the iconic tower. My brain was going in a million different directions at once. How did this impact Beaumont, Texas? Was this an accident? My friend, Lisa, worked in World Trade 7, was she OK? (Her office was destroyed that day, but she’d stopped to vote on the way to work that morning and was not at her desk at her usual time. It saved her.)
“I grabbed a reporter’s notebook and decided to run over to the Federal Building, just a few blocks away.
“Now when I say “run,” I was about six months pregnant at the time with my first child,” she said. “I can tell you what I was wearing that day— a periwinkle maternity shirt, a black skirt and the most comfortable sandals I owned. Not easy to run in, let me tell you. Clutching belly in one hand, cell phone, pen and notebook in the other, I wobbled over to the Federal Building and ran up the marble steps. I zipped through the double doors and cleared security just as the announcement came over the loudspeaker that the building was locking down. Security guards rushed into action, barring the doors. I did a few interviews with officials too discombobulated to talk before the building was completely evacuated as a precaution.
“By the time I got back to the newsroom, the Pentagon had been hit and the last plane had crashed in a Pennsylvania field.
“My son likes to hear the story of how he was “in my belly” on 9/11. It was only in the aftermath of the attacks that it occurred to me to think, “What kind of a world am I bringing a child into?” The child who was “in my belly” on Sept. 11, 2001, is about to turn 12. He’s mildly autistic and went through a phase where he was fascinated with everything 9/11. He’ll recite facts and tell me about things he’s read and I sometimes remind him that I watched it all unfold, albeit from news wire service reports.
“I really don’t remember many more details after the sharp clarity of the morning, but I do know we were operating on pure adrenaline. Even though the events of the day were happening thousands of miles away, the impact of those planes changed the lives of everyone in our coverage area forever.”
That’s the part of 9/11 that stuck with former JDP Assistant Editor Cristin Reece, now a news writer for the Palestine Herald Press.
“We were just ready to put that day’s Progress to bed — I mean, literally, finishing up the last page of the day’s paper,” she said. “I remember exactly where I was standing, right next to the printer waiting on proofs to print so we could make the last edits and corrections when my fellow reporter, Stephanie Little, blurted out ‘omigosh!” I looked up at the newsroom’s TV just in time to see the second plane hit the building. For one single instant, it seemed, everything and everyone just stopped. I don’t think the phones even rang in that one moment.
“And then we redid the front page,” Reece said with a laugh. “The way our deadline fell at the time, we were an afternoon paper — I think probably lots of local, small papers were — and it just so happened the JDP was one of the few newspapers of the day that actually had coverage of 9/11 on the front page that day. Lots of the big papers that come out in the mornings and the afternoons had it in their second run, of course, but we were one of the first with front page coverage. I was a brand new reporter, so I was a little impressed at that.
“It also made me realize the very scope of my job was changing right before my eyes,” Reece continued. “The world became much, much smaller that day, at least as far as the newsroom was concerned. That day, a cub reporter in Jacksonville, Texas, was scrambling to cover an event that didn’t even occur in the same time zone. Rather than just bringing readers the story of what happened — which we certainly did, thanks to the Associated Press and our sister papers — we also covered the impact those events had on our hometown. It really underlined that invisible link we all have with one another, no matter how far away we might be from each other.”
The day is now observed as the National Day of Service and Remembrance (previously Patriot Day). Initially, the day was called the Prayer and Remembrance for the Victims of the Terrorist Attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. When the new name was proposed, it received opposition from Massachusetts, which already had a Patriots' Day.
On this day, federal officials request the American flag be flown at half-staff at individual American homes, at the White House, and on all U.S. government buildings and establishments, home and abroad. The President also asks Americans to observe a moment of silence beginning at 8:46 A.M. (Eastern Daylight Time), the time the first plane struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Sixth Grade So Far

We've almost come to the end of the third week of the sixth grade and all I can say is, IT'S BEEN AWESOME.

A few of you know how much I stressed out about the sixth grade. Sixth grade owns a third of my gray hairs, along with the Curt-grays and the Constant Deadline-grays. (Luke gets one or two...when he does things like speculate on whether or not he can hit the pool jumping from the second floor balcony of his dad's house.)

Sixth grade started giving me gray hair more than a year ago. I didn't have any kind of peace about where Curt should go to school.

We visited the magnet program at one local middle school. It's a great program, but there were just...seething masses of sixth graders didn't feel right. Curt was only mildly enthused. We visited the campus we're zoned to attend. That DEFINITELY did not feel right. It's not a bad school and I'd trust both of those amazing counselors there with my son's life, but I knew that campus was not the right fit for him. Private schools were out too. In addition to being cost prohibitive (although I'd have made it work if I felt that was the RIGHT place for him), private schools are not required by law to accommodate his special needs. One even told me, flat out, they would not work with him (and I dare most people to even IDENTIFY his 'special need,' let alone refuse to "work with him.")

I prayed. A lot. I prayed for peace. I prayed for the right place for him.

God answers prayers.

We visited Cumberland Academy. As soon as we walked it, I knew it was "right." When we left, I had that peace. Not to mention, Curt LOVED it. A charter school with a brand-spanking-new middle school program, we had to apply through a lottery to get in. I'd been assured that it "wouldn't be a problem" for any of the new sixth or seventh graders to get a slot, but I worried anyway. Because that's what I do. And I prayed.

Curt got a slot in the sixth grade class. We went to the first parent information meeting. The principal announced that there was an extended school day for extra learning. Curt, who has no verbal filter or voice modulator, cried out, "SCORE," to the amusement of the faculty and staff and the chagrin of his new classmates. THEN she announced there would be DOUBLE math periods each day. Curt's response? "DOUBLE SCORE!" One kid nearby rolled his eyes, but Curt was in HEAVEN. The icing on the cake? The cherry on the sundae? "Each student will receive an iPad for their schoolwork."

"TRIPLE SCORE! THIS SCHOOL ROCKS." I think the entire assembly erupted into laughter.

I still worried all summer. We amassed uniforms and school supplies (enough to pay for at least a semester of college!). I worried. I worried he wouldn't stay organized. I worried he wouldn't make friends. I worried he wouldn't make it between classes on time, would trip and fall down the stairs or would fixate on the elevator and never make it to homeroom.

Then I found out one of his teachers was a calm, cool, collected, kind, PATIENT and warm friend from my Sunday School class.  Yet another was a vivacious, positive, upbeat, sharp, funny,  PATIENT friend of mine, his dad's and his step-mom's. Peace started to settle in.

So it's week three and so far, so good. No, so great.

Ok, so he did have lunch detention the third day of school, but his teacher was right to nip his excessive talking in the bud (I did mention he has little impulse control, right?). And she handled it SO WELL that he didn't even spiral into the dark realms of "I'm so dumb" that he's prone to.

We've had some organizational difficulties, but so has every sixth grader I've heard of so far. It's a learning curve. A steep learning curve.

And so far, he's handled it like a champ.

Did I mention God answers prayers?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Happy 10th Birthday, Luke Steven.

Dear Luke,

You turned 10 approximately 2 minutes ago (yes, the time is VERY important in our family) and I can't believe how time has flown over the past decade. I know it's cliche to say that, but I don't know a parent who wouldn't agree the same phenomenon takes place in their lives. How on earth did you reach double digits already?

I remember the weeks leading up to your birth. We knew you were a boy and we knew I would deliver you by scheduled c-section, so our doctor asked whether we wanted to have you before September 1, so you'd start school earlier, or after that date, so you'd get an extra year to mature and develop. We chose to wait and we scheduled your birth for Sept. 4.

Also in those weeks, we found out you were breech, that is, turned head up. With as big as the doctor thought you were and as short-waisted as I am, the doctor thought you'd be stuck in that position for the birth. He scheduled a sonogram for the Monday before you were born (you were born on a Thursday). Sure enough, you had your head firmly planted between my ribs and I'm pretty sure you were stretching by pushing between the bones of my pelvis and my ribs. It hurt!!! The day or two before your scheduled birthday, you turned. Trust me, I felt it. When we went in to deliver you, I told the doctor you were not in breech position any longer. "Impossible," he said. "There was no room for him to turn." I insisted you had. Sure enough, when you were delivered, you presented head down. You were a rule-follower from the get-go.

When you were born, I expected a dark-haired baby with an olive complexion, just like your older brother. You surprised me with your blond hair and fair skin, which was scratched from your very, very long fingernails (to this day we have to cut your nails at least once every three to four days). My friend Allison trimmed your nails for me the first night of your life. You had/have! the most marvelous freckles.

You never slept. You never stopped eating. I could never put you down. And how we cuddled and bonded and loved those first months. It was almost like I never gave birth, we were still so attached to each other.

I'm embarrassing you, I know, so I'll wrap this up.

In 10 years, I've watched you turn into a strong, smart, kind boy. I thank God for you daily. You are a natural leader and can organize and motivate a group of people like I've seen in very few people your age. You have such a big heart, organizing the fundraiser for the people in Japan after the tsunami and always, always befriending the kid standing alone on the playground. Your imagination is magnificent and I love how you can turn any object into a toy. I can watch the wheels of your mind turning when you're playing with a stick, a paperclip and a Matchbox car quietly on the kitchen table. I'm proud of how hard you play soccer and how good you've gotten, Luke. You have such natural ability but, more importantly, you've developed amazing sportsmanship. It makes me proud to see you're always the first to offer help, or take a knee, when one of your teammates gets hurt during play. You've got it interesting, Luke, having a brother with special needs. I know you don't see him that way, you just see Curt, and I know God blessed me with a son whose heart and mind is bigger than any diagnosis. I love you, sweet boy, and may the next several decades be as blessed as the first.