I told my daughter I needed to write about gun violence. Know what she told me? “Mom, be sure you’re not too polarizing. People won’t listen.” She’s right. At age eleven she’s figured out that we adults need to be reminded how to speak to one another in order to fix a problem. But I have hope and belief that we can fix that discourse in our country. We just need to make speaking to each other with kindness and understanding part of the way we fix the other issues. Common sense gun control? Yes. Not lashing out and calling someone an idiot for a difference of opinion on social media? Let’s get there. Together.
My daughter will turn 12 next month. Her best friend at school greeted her the morning after the Parkland, Florida shootings to tell her that her camp friend lost her best friend in the attacks. A friend of mine from college posted on Facebook that her children, in the middle school next door, were safe. Her son had called her from underneath his desk, sheltering in place, to let her know he was ok. I haven’t been able to put my phone out of sight since then. What if my kids were attacked in school and they called me to talk to me in their fear and I had put my phone down to go do laundry or go to the bathroom? My own anxiety is changing the way I act during my regular day.
The six degrees of separation to gun violence are circling and getting tighter and scarier and sadder.
And, yes. There is a gun problem in our country.
My kids practice lock-down drills, shelter in place drills, active shooter drills, and have been taught how to jump out a second story window to escape an attacker. SOMETHING IS BROKEN.
Do I like guns? Nope. But I’m willing to listen to those who do. My sister’s husband is a hunter. He has a gun closet, locked all the time, and he hunts geese, ducks, deer, and other things to eat. My sister makes these amazing duck popper things that are wrapped in bacon. They are yummy. I’ve told him many times that if there was a zombie apocalypse they should plan to come to my house, because we have a generator and he has the weapons. He’s reminded me we wouldn’t last long without the weapons. I’ve also thought I wouldn’t last long without duck poppers. I believe him. I respect him. I just still don’t like guns.
My father was drafted and served in Vietnam and taught me from an early age that guns kill people. He was never the same after his tour. My stepfather enlisted in the Army and was promoted to Major in a Ranger unit. He retired with full pension and a belief that I should keep my shoes lined up in the closet instead of coming in the door and kicking them off my feet and seeing if I could get them to land anywhere near the closet. He taught me a respect for guns. And told me that guns kill people. I believe him, about the guns needing to be respected and that they kill people. I don’t believe in the necessity of a neat closet floor. Don’t get me wrong, if you come clean up and organize my closet floor I will be appreciative. But it’s not my thing.
If it were up to me I’d say everyone can have as many 18th century muskets as they want. That’s what our founding fathers envisioned when they came up with this whole second amendment thing. But I get it. Progress. Better guns. Sure.
But an AR15? That’s gonna make that duck full of bullets and you’d have to pick that out of your teeth along with the bacon when you eat the poppers. That is not a weapon to hunt animals so you can eat food. It’s a weapon to kill humans. We do not have saber tooth tigers, wooly mammoths, or freaking dragons, so please don’t tell me an AR15 is a hunting rifle. I don’t think civilians should have them. And for the record I don’t think anything in that category of lightweight magazine-fed, gas-operated semi-automatic rifles are hunting weapons either. I don’t know every name of every gun. There are a lot of names. And they have a lot of bullets. Too many.
But here’s the thing. I’m gonna listen to you tell me why you want a big named gun with a big amount of bullets and how it’s the best thing for the zombie apocalypse and how you promise you’re gonna be really safe and keep it locked up and the kids won’t be able to get into the safe because you aren’t using the same code as the garage door and it’s a fingerprint lock and an eyeball scan and you need to provide your own saliva to get into the safe. Fine.
But if you really want something that powerful? You have to go to CLASS for safety lessons and get a mental health exam and parallel park my SUV while holding a cup of coffee to show me how steady you can be under pressure. And I promise whether you say you want to defend your home against intruders or you say zombie apocalypse during your mental health exam I am gonna nod along with you and stamp APPROVE on your application – because I GET IT. And if you are convicted of domestic violence or child abuse YOU LOSE YOUR privilege. No more guns for you. This is not a slippery slope. This is nonsense. You should not be allowed to walk into a store and just buy this and put it in a backpack and walk onto the street. I can’t even buy pseudoephedrine without producing my license and having a limit to how many pills I can have in a month because somehow the government got involved when they were worried that instead of treating a sinus infection I was going make meth instead.
Gun rights, yes. Gun SENSE, please.
And do you not like my line in the sand? Did me saying “too many bullets” just make you cringe and you don’t understand why that is where I am carving out a section that should be regulated? Then kindly come up with your own idea. I’ve already said I don’t like guns at all and maybe going back to rocks and sticks and bobby sticks British style is the way to go. But I am listening, open, ready for a suggestion and a compromise. That’s what we need to do. Let’s try a line in the sand ANYWHERE other than where it is right now and see how it goes. We have work to do.
I was trying to figure out why we haven’t come up with a solution yet. Is it the powerful lobbying of the NRA? Is it an inability of politicians to compromise and “give in” because they think of governing as winning and losing? Is it just too valuable an issue for them to run on for re-election? Then I wondered if I was overthinking it. Maybe we just need a better hash tag. The women behind #MeToo were victims and brave and they told their stories as a collaborative effort with a hash tag that made us pay attention. And it seems to have gotten an awful lot accomplished over the last year. Whether it makes you exhale a sigh of relief and say “Finally!” or start to sweat wondering if you personally have ever done anything that is going to come back and make your own life difficult in your personal or professional life, you’ve got to acknowledge that a hash tag started an awful lot of action. Maybe we just need a solid hash tag to fix the gun problem in our country. Apparently there are already quite a few.
So allow me to add my own favorite today:
No more gun violence. No more mass shootings. No more bitter nasty polarizing talk. No. More.
Sit down. Work together. Find a solution. Progress, not politics. We’re all in this together. And our kids are watching. And waiting.
Last year at the women’s march, I met a woman named Jamie on our bus to DC. She lost her brother to gun violence over 20 years ago. She and her mom have been active in the movement for change in our country since then, trying to turn their grief into progress. I’ve linked to a page here about the groups she works with for anyone who wants to be more involved. I reached out to Jamie when I decided I needed to write this. Do you know what my first question was? “How do you keep going?”
Know what she said?
“I have learned self care. I have had to step away from the debate at times. It’s just too overwhelming. But then I get reenergized again.”
So here’s the thing. Yes, there are overwhelming statistics. Yes, it truly looks like it can’t be solved. Yes, there are graphics about the cycle of violence, a flurry of media coverage, and then a forgetfulness when the news cycle shifts. And then a story of violence again. But there are people who have been trying to stop the pain of loss for decades. And it’s time to listen to them, and help them. Are you going to quit your job and dedicate yourself to activism? Awesome. Do you still need to pay your bills and mortgage and continue with “regular life”? I get that too. Do a little something. Read about Jamie’s story here. Send some money to an organization that you like and think can make progress for all of us. Talk nicely to someone with a different viewpoint than yours. Send a note of thanks to someone who is doing work you admire.
I don’t want my six degrees of separation to get any closer. It hurts when it’s at arms length. I want this fixed. Please. I’m not anti-America because I don’t like guns. Do I wonder if my family might be safer living in a country with less gun violence? Yup. But I really don’t want to have to learn another language at this point in my life. And at the end of the day, I’m as red white and blue as can be. I believe dissent and progressivism is American. And this too will be something we can make better for our kids.
They’re counting on it.
I met Jamie on the bus to the Women’s March in DC in 2017. She lost her brother to gun violence over 20 years ago. She’s been fighting this fight a long time.
“A gun in the hands of a criminal with vengeance in his heart took my brother’s life swiftly and violently. The shock and the horror were unimaginable. It was hard to believe that it wasn’t a nightmare that I would awaken from. I was praying it was so. I literally had to touch hard surfaces around me to make sure I was awake. For many months to follow the only peace I had were the first few seconds of each day when I opened my eyes and for one brief flash forgot what had happened. When the realization hit – it hurt me every morning – again and again.”
– Jamie Checkett McLaughlin
Gun Violence Prevention – How to Get Involved
(reprinted with permission from Jamie Checklett McLaughlin)
Even though I was personally devastated by gun violence with the murder of my brother Chet in 1992, I did not become involved in activism until the massacre of 26 souls at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT (2012). The hole in my heart grew that much larger, and I finally found my “voice” the next day with the help of Moms Demand Action when they called and asked me to be a “Face of Courage” and share my story. It was the first time I had written down my experience and it was intimidating and cathartic at the same time. My story:
My mother Carol has been a gun violence prevention (GVP) activist since my brother was murdered and she has never stopped. She is my hero! Mom has marched and made appearances with former NYC Mayor Bloomberg and Donna Dees Thomases (founder of the Million Mom March, a rally in Washington on Mother’s Day, 2000). Donna is now a friend and a role model. She is a fierce force in the GVP movement and organizer extraordinaire!
Concert Across America to End Gun Violence is Donna’s latest project. For the first time ever, concerts were held on 9/25/16, the congressionally designated day to remember victims of gun violence (2 out of 3 are murdered with a firearm). It was a huge success with 5,225 performers banding together nationwide. My sister and I attended the concert at The Beacon Theater. Jackson Browne was the MC. This year is it will be held on 9/24/17. http://concertacrossamerica.org/
Since 1992, I have been a member of The Brady Campaign http://www.bradycampaign.org/ and New Yorkers Against Gun Violence (NYAGV), http://nyagv.org/
I am a member of Moms Demand Action http://momsdemandaction.org/ (originally 1 Million Moms for Gun Control). This was wisely renamed in that the word control is a negative “trigger” for gun enthusiasts and NRA supporters. This group was founded the day after the massacre at Sandy Hook.
My husband and I joined the March for Change on February 14th, 2013 (on the Newtown 2-month anniversary) on the steps of the Capital building in Hartford. This group made a real difference very quickly. CT passed real reform in the aftermath of this rally (Senator Chris Murphy is a true champion). Almost 5,000 people met at the capital that day. It was very emotional and invigorating.
I am a member of Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS) – founded by Gabby & Mark Giffords. As a victim, Gabby is courageous and strong. I believe they are a strong rival to the NRA in garnering much need financial support to combat the NRA’s grip and hold. Giffords.org
Nicola “Nico” Bocour, email@example.com has been a good resource to me for victim services, and is now the State Legislative Manager for ARS. In her new role, she manages legislation and gun violence prevention policy in a number of states including NJ. Nico was previously on the board of NYAGV (involved in their reAction program in the NYC Public Schools and also the Policy and Communications Director of Ceasefire NJ. She is Montclair resident (and now also a resident of Washington DC) and a Seton Hall Law Graduate. She helped me to provide resources to the Tevlin family after their son Brendan was killed in West Orange.
We Are Newtown/Newtown Memorial Fund continues to raise funds for a memorial scholarship fund.
NEWTOWN. This amazing film is available for private screenings. http://newtownfilm.com/
Sandy Hook Promise, Led by several family members whose loved ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary approaches this movement from a preventive angle in developing and delivering mental health and wellness programs to help at-risk individuals. http://www.sandyhookpromise.org/
I think technology has officially passed me up. I was thinking about The Jetsons the other day, and the episode when Mrs. Jetson was overwhelmed from the machines and gadgets that were supposed to simplify her life. I understand Jane so much better now, as I throw in the towel for my two latest tech additions in our house – what should be a simple alarm clock, and a freaking scale. Like there wasn’t enough wrong with either of those items to begin with, I have now teched it out beyond recognition.
The Jetsons shows us the future in year 2062 – 100 years from the actual airdate of 1962 (and yes, thank you, we are closer to 2062 than we are to 1962 so let’s all freak out about that later when we can schedule some time to do so properly). Pressing so many buttons made Jane’s fingers tied, twisted and cramped, and she was diagnosed with some sort of futuristic carpal tunnel syndrome. Being a housewife of the future had overwhelmed her hands to the point of debilitating pain and stress. She truly “needed” to hire a robot maid to help her with all the strenuous button pushing. At the time I originally watched this episode (probably during the 1985 reboot) I was in disbelief. Who could be overwhelmed by technology?! She had it so easy! A press of a button solved everything! And now here I am. I have technology that is just the press of a button (not even a real PRESS – just a TOUCH) and I am a twisted cranky person as well. And for the record, I have wanted a robot maid (and other futuristic inventions) for quite some time, which you can read here in my blog from 2015.
So, today’s tech fails in my life. Let’s start with these two – the scale and the alarm clock – and then I can obsess about this until 2062 and keep you updated on others as they occur.
Do you remember when the Elf on the Shelf first came on the Christmas scene? It was back in the day when small bookstores still dotted neighborhoods, which is where I first saw the Elf, and his book. This was back before the Elf had clothes, gender identity, pets, or any other marketing accouterments. He had a BOOK. And in the book, he explained to children that he was coming from the North Pole every morning to watch them, and their behavior, and then skip off to the North Pole each evening to report to Santa. I stood in the little bookstore (which has since closed, sadly) and read the entire book (as one can do in a little book store) and dreamed of what this could mean for me in my house during the month of December. The original publication date was 2005, but I don’t think the elf came around to our house until 2006. 2006 was Katie’s first Christmas, and I was in the throws of making a magical Christmas for my toddler Alex, with a newborn Katie strapped to me in a baby bjorn or sling or some baby holding device since she did not want to be put down, and I was feeling a wee bit tired. So an elf, on a shelf, reminding a toddler boy to be well behaved and not throw legos or other choking hazards at his baby sister? I might have day-dreamed in the store, thinking about how all I would need to do would be to point at the elf after any infraction and Alex’s toddler behavior would self-correct, and I could go back to regular life, like emptying a dishwasher while holding an infant. The elf would save time! The elf would help behavior! The elf would be the Christmas miracle I needed!
Now, I admit, there is a definite creep factor involved with this. My Katie, who is now 11, pointed out just last week that the elf is much like the creepy Christmas carol “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”. We were in the car listening to Christmas carols, as one does, and the song came on. “Mom, just listen to the actual WORDS,” Katie implored, and so I did:
I’m not usually a Bah Humbug kind of girl, but this year I’m in a bit of a funk.
Maybe it’s a year of politics that has me wishing for a third party. Or no party.
Maybe it’s a year of “#metoo” and realizing that I think life is more like “who hasn’t?”
Maybe as I’ve gotten older and realized that what I actually want to do when I grow up is become a (real/paid/famous) writer and that means I am trying to reorganize and prioritize my life and activities so there is time every day for writing (breathing out) and reading (breathing in), and adding in a few dozen extra tasks between Thanksgiving (which we hosted for 37 people) and Christmas Eve (when we host 19 people) is making me stressed and anxious and feeling selfish and guilty all at the same time.
Maybe it’s because trying to be a real writer means that for the last six months I’ve actually approached agents, publishers, writing residency and fellowship programs and started getting my first rejection letters, which I am told is the badge of every successful writer. Just for the record, these badges feel crappy. And totally do NOT go with my outfit.
I miss the days when I could just sink money into the most adorable Disney Princess Halloween costumes possible. Katie has been Belle, Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Anna from Frozen, Sleeping Beauty (which at the time was before Katie perfected her speech articulation and she called her Cheapy Booty which gave my family the hysterics) and Merida, which was probably her favorite because it included arrows – and weaponry when you have an older brother is really a fabulous idea.
Here we are. Two weeks and counting. And there will need to be not one, but two, acceptable costumes for my tweenage daughter.
Because what eleven year old girl could commit to just one outfit in a day?
Princesses are no longer an acceptable avenue of dressing up. My feisty and fiery independent girl is now balancing her desire to be whatever her imagination creates alongside her friends who may or may not want to create a group of themed costuming. Two girls considered being Salt and Pepper, then a third wanted to join in and they switched to Rock Paper Scissors. A fourth was interested and suddenly the other original costume friends have moved on to other groups. “How does that make you feel?” I asked, unsure if this will be something that will send my daughter into hysterics. “Mom,” she tells me, rolling her eyes, “They’ve known each other since kindergarten. Of course they need to do something together!” I exhale. Drama averted. For now.
My relationship with our country and its symbolisms is a complex one. I’m not a flag waver. I’m not a flag burner. I grew up with both in my family. I broke bread at the same table as the patriot and the hippie. It was interesting, as a child, to watch these two men eat meals together, knowing that they could not possibly be more different, yet there they sat, respecting each other and both loving my grandmother’s amazing whipped potatoes. Those potatoes transcended mere mashed potatoes – she whipped those taters til lumps were a distant memory. I didn’t even know mashed potatoes could have lumps until I was in high school.
My grandfather was named Jack, and he was part of America’s greatest generation. He signed up to be a Navy fighter pilot before he was 18 and convinced his mother to sign the permission to enlist form by promising her he’d keep one foot on the ground. He never broke that promise – he brought a bucket of dirt up in his fighter jet every time he flew, and kept one foot in the bucket. Jack didn’t believe in lying. He landed jets on giant aircraft carriers in the middle of the ocean and passed his final exams with flying colors, identifying friendly and enemy aircrafts shown on a giant screen for just a fraction of a second. Some of his classmates found the answer key and cheated. Jack thought he should study anyway, and ignored the answer key. In the end, anyone who had used the answer key was dismissed – it had been a plant by the instructors to see who would lie, and it was designed to root out the liars. During visits home in New Jersey, Jack would fly his jet through rain clouds over the skies of Clifton so he could make it rain below for my grandmother, where she worked as a nurse in the hospital. The hospital staff would run for cover, unsure if it was Germany or Japan or friendlies. My grandmother knew it was Jack, courting her, changing the weather just for her.
The forks are missing. This is a catastrophe.
Yes. There are amazing and important things happening in the world, in my country, in my town. I’m even involved, doing my civic volunteer duty. My girl scout troop is running an encampment to introduce younger girls to the joys of nature and camping. My Junior League colleagues and I are launching a state-wide initiative to offer training to anyone who wants to be more involved in helping to run nonprofit boards (by the way, registration is ending soon so you should visit www.getonboardnj.org asap to register if you haven’t done so already – shameless plug but it’s really gonna be amazing). There are also one thousand four hundred and fifty seven end of year school events that are on my calendar. So that will be fun.
But what is it that has me really laser-focused at the moment? Scheduling? Organizing? Increasing registration numbers for important things like nonprofit training? Or perhaps finishing the edits on my book so I can finally submit it to agents and maybe be a famous writer? Or at least a published-not-famous writer?
The forks are missing. The forks are not broken, the forks are not dirty. I do not have forks where the tines are crooked which I can’t stand because I have OCD and the crookedness feels like evil in my mouth. The forks are just unavailable. The forks are freaking gone. WTF forks? And WTF family? How can I have raised children that allow this sort of catastrophe to happen? How can I live among animals where utensils are not a treasured and respected part of daily life? Take a fork. Use it. Put it in the dishwasher. Maybe the sink if you truly cannot find the energy to open the dishwasher door because of the lethargy induced by eating whatever it was you ingested with said fork. But did you throw out the fork? Did you put it in a couch cushion? Is it hidden in some dark recessed place in our house? What has happened?
Last November, something happened. I didn’t see it coming. And after it happened, I didn’t like it.
My good friend, Jenna, didn’t like it either. She was the one who first asked me if I thought I might consider going to D.C. for the Women’s March on Washington. I wanted to go, but I also don’t like being cold. I mean, President Harrison DIED because he went to DC for his own inauguration. Except he didn’t wear a coat or a hat and he gave a two-hour speech. And then he died from pneumonia. Jenna promised to lend me gear to keep warm. I agreed. We were going. But we also thought we could find a few other people to come with us. So we hired a bus. And then looked for people to fill it. Worst-case scenario we would be a lonesome twosome on a very expensive bus and we’d just have to hope that the husbands didn’t mind us spending that kind of money. “I accidentally hired a bus” doesn’t sound quite right, but it was sort of the truth.
So Jenna and I posted in our “secret” facebook group, “Chatham Moms for Hillary”. A friend of a friend started it as a safe place for Hillary supporters to talk with like-minded people. Chatham tends to be a rather red place to be, with slightly more registered republicans than democrats, and an awful lot of independent voters who tend to lean right when they get in the voting booth. Democrats in Chatham tend to feel like a minority, even though our state of New Jersey is always counted on to go blue for the President. In a sea of red Morris county, Chatham (Borough and Township) went for Hillary in 2016. I partially credit Chatham Moms for Hillary for making that happen. We were together. We felt empowered. We got out the vote. We made signs and posted them boldly on our front lawns and in public places. We let others know we weren’t alone. But our candidate lost. And we were collectively sad. So when the idea happened to come together and ask for our voices to be heard, we asked others to come along. It wasn’t just a ‘we don’t like Trump’ thing. It was a ‘can you please hear us’ on the issues thing. Issues like climate change (and believing science), education, health care access, financial security, homeland security, women’s issues and human issues.
We filled the seats of the bus in a week. And then there were more people who wanted us to get a second bus. We sent them to our friends in Madison and to Rallybus. We were satisfied with 53 women. It was enough for the time being. “I accidentally hired TWO buses” would definitely not fly.
So you may have noticed that I’ve been a little quiet on the blog front. There’s a reason. I’m writing a book. The Book. And I actually would love a little help from my friends on a couple of things, if you don’t mind, and have the time…
Well, I actually have a couple books in the figurative fire, but The Book is right now called A (Few) Year(s) In My Head, and it’s scheduled to be done around January or February sometime. I have an actual writing schedule with the number of words I need to write each day. I’m ahead by 18 days at the moment. I like being ahead of schedule. It reminds me of my school days and extra credit. I loved getting 105 on a test. That would happen sometimes in English. Never math. Or science. That shit is hard. But English? Bring it. I’m such a nerd that way.
So, you ask, what is the book? What’s it about? Are you in it? So the book is similar to my blogs. In fact I’ve incorporated some of that writing into it, so some of the book will look familiar to you if you’ve read all of my yesitreallyhappened.com stuff. But the pieces are longer, more detailed, updated, and supplemented by another 50,000 words that I had to say. Out loud. And on paper. Well, for now my laptop screen. Hopefully someone will actually want to publish The Book when it’s all done and maybe even PAY me for it. I might buy some celebration book shoes.
But I am still adding new material – and if you WANT to be in the book I still have room. I’m looking for a little help on some of the research in three areas at the moment. So while you’re perusing the internet, or hanging out on the couch, or can’t sleep, some things that I have in my brain:
- I would like to add some more personal stories to the “Why Teenagers Should Drive Piece of Shit Cars” segment. If you have a story to add, please sent me a note. I also love these stories in general and they make me laugh, so thank you in advance for contributing to my excellent state of mental health.
- I would like to expand on my theory of why scientific studies are stupid. It’s also likely to go into the idea that polls and surveys are dumb. I know you’ve read an article about something and wondered who PAID researchers to do a study on lint traps in dryers, or why red wine is good for you (only to be followed by a study about why all drinking will kill you).
- Last but not least, I’m looking for a list of things that could kill you. This is going to be a pivotal new chapter called “And Then You’re Dead”. That might sound a little dark. It might actually be a little dark. But it will absolutely lean on some humor and has a happy ending. So if there’s a fear or phobia or thing that you read in the news that made you go “Hmm, we could die from that”, please share. I know you’re out there. I’ve seen your list on your phone. I’ve heard you over lunch, over wine. We talked about it waiting for our kids outside the school. The truth, the fear, the holy crap we’re all gonna die, it’s out there. Let’s share.
Thanks for reading, researching, and being there for the journey! Onwards!