Running on Empty

Today marks the end of the 2016-2017 school year and I could not be more excited about summer break.  Our oldest just finished his first year in middle school and our youngest her first year of elementary school. It goes without saying that this school year was challenging yet inspiring, long yet swift, but most importantly this school year is complete. The past 10 months has been filled with homework, school projects, learning to read, band rehearsals, parent teacher conferences, school fundraisers, school newsletters, data, box top collection sheets, report cards, lost lunch boxes, tears, celebrations, frustration and pride.  Since mid-May I have felt completely drained, feeling as though my tank was running on empty, desperately hoping to coast into June 16th ready to be re-fueled by summer break. Just when my brain was about to explode and my nerves were about to break, June 16th finally arrived!

Summer is a time for our family to slow down and relax. Mark finally gets some much needed time off from teaching and I enjoy the extra help around the house, albeit only for a couple of months. Summer is also a time for our children to just be kids. They can swim at our neighborhood pool any day of the week.  They can stay up late and sleep in the next morning. They can catch fireflies while we roast marshmallows in the back yard. They have time to actually be bored for once.

Earlier this week, the pressures of sixth grade were weighing heavily on my boy.  When I picked him up from school on Tuesday, he was weary and ready to give up. He did not feel that he had it in him to finish the last three days of school and he admitted apprehension for 7th and 8th grade.

“I hate middle school!” he confessed.

I took a deep breath and paused for a second, gathering my thoughts. I knew exactly how he was feeling because I had been experiencing the same weariness, frustration and apprehension since mid-May. My tank was almost bone dry.

“Buddy,” I started “We are Brandenburgers and Brandenburgers can do hard things.” I reached out and ruffled his hair as he hung his head low.

I used the analogy of the glass being half full instead of half empty. I encouraged him to be proud of how much time and effort he has already put into middle school. Thomas raised his head and looked at me, waiting for more explanation. Thank god he still listens to me and welcomes my advice because I know that sooner rather than later, he will look at me like I am an idiot, roll his eyes and turn his back to me.

“Think about it this way. You are one third of the way finished with middle school, that’s like .….. 33%, I think.” I said.

With a sideways smirk he said, “Pretty good mom. I’m impressed that you got that right because you suck at math.” And there it was, tween sarcasm at it’s best. I laughed and so did he.

“Well,” I winked at him, “One day you will appreciate how smart I really am.”

“Whatever.” He said playfully. He looked away for a second and then turned back to me, “So that means that by December, I will have completed 50% of middle school.”

I laughed, “That’s my boy.” And I reached out to hug him as he accepted willingly. I buried my face into the top of his head like I used to do when he was little. I inhaled his boy smell, a mix of faded shampoo, greasy head oil and sweat. I let his embrace re-fuel my empty tank so that I too could make it through the next few days.

I am grateful to live in a county with exceptional public schools. Okay, maybe I am a little biased since my husband is a public school teacher in Henrico County but still, we are very fortunate. My kids have been blessed with excellent teachers who truly care about their well-being and education. I hope each and every teacher will take this summer to recharge their batteries, fill up their tanks and celebrate another productive school year because I know that my family sure will.



50 Shades of Gray

Maybe the title of this post sparked your interest. No, it is not about the book and movie by the same name. This post is about something that has been on my mind since November 8, 2016, election day.

Over the past several months, I have been reading, listening, observing and sometimes commenting on what is happening in our country. I have done my best to keep my emotions at bay and show my children that it is important for us to be tolerant and patient with others who might not agree with our views. When it comes to deliberation, I never see the answer as black or white. I tend to see the gray in every debate. Sometimes the shade of gray is a deep charcoal and sometimes it is silver. Trying to navigate the last few months has been challenging however, my children continue to teach me about acceptance and tolerance.

My first lesson in acceptance of our new reality was from my son. During the last few weeks of the 2016 presidential campaigns, my son grew very interested in what was happening. We did our best to allow him to come to conclusions on his own rather than encourage him to agree with his father and me. Several times, I remember Thomas coming home after school, quiet and thoughtful, trying to process what he had heard on the bus, during lunch, on a YouTube video or from the older kids at school. Sometimes he would talk to me about the things he was hearing and other times he chose to process the information on his own, trying to culminate an opinion. When he decided to talk about it, I would listen, interject as needed, substantiate facts when appropriate and caution him when the information was hearsay.

On Election day, I took him with me to the polls, answering his questions and educating him on how lucky we are to live in the United States. That evening, Thomas wanted to watch some of the news coverage stating “This is my country and I want to know what happens.”  We sat on the couch and watched together.  We talked about women’s rights, religious freedom, and democracy. I explained the meaning of white privilege and that he need not feel guilty about the color of his skin but rather, use his privilege for the betterment of others. Around 9:00 pm, it appeared as though Clinton was going to be our next president. Thomas was growing tired and decided to head upstairs and retire for the evening. I kissed my boy goodnight and reminded my 11, going on 20 year old, to brush his teeth. He fell asleep feeling hopeful and excited.

Mark and I continued to follow the election night coverage and as the evening progressed we were able to predict the outcome. By the time I went to sleep, I was disappointed, worried and could not stop thinking about my son. What would I say to him when he awoke in the morning?

The next day, I got up, dressed myself and Leah and walked her to the school bus. Usually Mark wakes Thomas on school mornings so needless to say, he was alarmed when I woke him instead of his father.  The first thing out of his mouth was “Did she win?” I fought back the urge to spew my raw emotions, took a trembling breath and looked him in the eye. He knew the answer to his question before I spoke my first word. Over the next few minutes, I explained to my wide eyed 11 year old what had happened. I watched his tears form and did my best to stay positive and ease his fears. I explained that it was important for us to keep an open mind, be kind and respect the opinions of others. I warned that some of his classmates might be celebrating and some might be sad. We rehearsed different ways he might respond if a peer was sad or happy.  After several minutes of discussion, he got himself ready and headed out the door to face the day. He handled it like a champ. Sure he was disappointed. Sure he was a little bit scared. He made the choice to accept reality and move on with his day. It was as simple as that.

My second lesson in the acceptance of our new reality was several days after the election, Leah and I went to a local Children’s consignment store to shop for a few things. While I shopped, Leah wandered over to the next aisle and began to play with some of the toys that were on display. I could hear her begin a conversation with another little girl. They exchanged names, giggled and starting playing together. I peeked around the corner to get a glimpse to make sure the girls were not making a mess. They sat in the middle of the floor, playing with barbies, completely content. I saw the girl’s mother standing near by and I attempted to catch her eye and smile. She looked at me briefly, without expression and turned away.

I decided to try a little harder so I walked a closer to the mom, whose back was to me and I said, “They are having such a great time together.”

She turned briefly to look at the girls, avoided eye contact with me, and turned away. I was a little puzzled by her reaction but, tried to convince myself that perhaps she is just a shy person. I looked up and saw the cashier watching the interaction. She smiled and I smiled back.

Eventually, the other mother paid for her items at the register and called to her daughter, who was still on the floor playing with Leah. The little girl stood and walked toward her mom. As is customary with my children, I encouraged Leah to say goodbye to the little girl.

“Bye friend. Thanks for playing with me.” Leah said, and the two girls embraced. I smiled at my sweet girl and admired how easy it is for young children to show affection and acceptance of others.

I looked toward the other mother who caught my eye briefly. I smiled once again and just before she turned away from me, I saw that her expression changed and I noticed that she looked sad, or perhaps even despondent. She and her daughter walked out the door and I found myself watching after, deep in my thoughts about our interaction, or the lack thereof.

“Don’t you wish everyone could be as kind and accepting as young children?” The cashier said, interrupting my thoughts.

I turned toward her and she was smiling, one of those smiles that warms the entire room and invites one to strike up a conversation. I walked over to the register and we began to talk. She told me that she had been watching my daughter and the other little girl play together and she was moved to tell me how much it made her feel hopeful and optimistic about the future. I was a little confused at her confession so I asked for clarification.

Let me back up a second. What I did not mention earlier is that the other mother and her daughter were African-American. The cashier was also African-American. I didn’t mention that detail in the beginning of my story because, at the time of the event, I wasn’t paying attention. I didn’t think that it mattered that my daughter has white skin and the other little girl has black skin. As far as I was concerned, they were playing and having fun together, so I was content. What I realize now is that when I chose to not pay attention to that important detail, I failed to acknowledge what that mother might have been struggling with at the time.

As the cashier spoke, I listened closely, intensely aware of the color of my skin, self-conscious of my white privilege. At that moment, I realized how important it was for me to shut up and listen. She explained that many African Americans were feeling anger and suspicion and needed time and space to work through those emotions.  I nodded in agreement with her as I fought back tears.  She continued by stating that as an African American woman, she had viewed the world as black and white for far too long. For her, she confessed, it was time to begin looking for the gray.  She paused after she finished speaking and I stood there silently processing her words.

As my throat began to tighten I asked, “Can I give you a hug?” and without hesitation she wrapped her arms around my neck and we embraced. Two strangers, one white, one black, consoling one another while my daughter watched.

I suddenly realized why the tears were falling down my cheeks. I was grieving. I was grieving the loss of something but I was not sure what that something was. Perhaps it was the loss of unity in my country, the loss of pride, the loss of security. Whatever it was I was feeling, I can only imagine what Americans, who are marginalized, were feeling. I said my goodbyes to the cashier and Leah and I headed home.

The other day, Leah asked if she could paint. Being that craft time is one of my least favorite mom activities, I begrudgingly obliged. I took out a paper plate and quickly squeezed a quarter size dollop of each color so that Leah could more easily access the paint. Initially, she took painstaking care to wash her brush when she changed colors.

“That looks great honey. I like how careful you are to not mix the colors.” I said.

Suddenly my precocious six year old, decided it was time to mix things up so she thrust her paintbrush onto the plate and started to mix the dollops of paint into one big messy blob. I stared at the blob of paint and noticed the swirling colors begin to bleed into one another, slowly loosing the original hues, merging and assimilating into 50 shades of gray.

Since those first few days after the election, I have continued to allow space to process my grief.  What makes this country great is the complexities of our diversity.  One can list all of the ethnic and racial descriptions that make up this colorful country but in the end, if you mix all of us into one messy blob, you will notice the swirling colors begin to bleed into one another, slowly loosing the original hue, merging and assimilating into 50 shades of gray. There are no easy solutions to the problems our country is facing but I do know that we need to meet somewhere in the middle. No one can be certain whether the solutions will be charcoal or silver but, I am certain that the solutions cannot be black or white.

Letting go

The other day I had a terrific lesson in letting go. My middle schooler has given me permission to share this story, so here goes…

A couple of days ago, I was helping Leah get dressed for ballet class. I noticed the time was 3:45 and Thomas was not yet home from school. He usually walks in the door around 3:30 so I assumed he was down the street talking to a friend. By 3:50, it was time to head out for Leah’s 4:00 class and still no Thomas.  My mom radar buzzed lightly in my head but I reasoned that the school bus was probably running late. After loading Leah into the car, I drove slowly toward the bus stop hoping to catch a glimpse of the bus but, no such luck.

A few minutes later, Leah was at dance class and I decided to walk next door to Food Lion to grab a couple of groceries. I dialed our land line (yes we still have one because Thomas does not have a cell phone and often uses the land line to call us when he is home alone). No answer. My mom radar buzzed again, this time a little bit louder. I continued to walk the aisles of Food Lion, trying to distract myself with the endless choices of cereals. I called our land line a second time. No answer.  At this point, it was about 4:20 and he was 50 minutes late. I willed myself to take a deep breath but the butterflies in my stomach would not allow my diaphragm to fully inflate and my anxiety began to rise.

I paid for my groceries and placed them in the car. Pacing the sidewalk outside of Leah’s dance studio, I pondered my choices. Call the school to see if the bus is running late. Call my neighbor and ask her to walk over to the house. Drive home to check on him myself.  As I contemplated my choices, my cell phone rang and I could see it was our land line. Letting out a quick sigh of relief I answered.

“Hey Buddy.” I tried to sound nonchalant, there had to be a reasonable explanation.

“Mom” he managed to squeak, his voice quivering, alerting me to the fact that he was on the verge of tears. My heart skipped a beat.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, trying desperately to suppress the panic.

“I missed the bus.” he hiccuped in that way kids do when they are trying to catch their breath after they have been crying.

“What do you mean you missed the bus?” I asked puzzled how he could have made it home. A thousand scenarios clouded my mind. Did another parent give him a ride home? Is this person someone I know? Did he hitchhike? Oh dear God, tell me he didn’t get a ride home from a perfect stranger.”

He choked out another small cry and said, “I had to walk home, Mom.”

I paused briefly to consider my response. Don’t yell at him. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t nag. Shut up and listen.

“Buddy, what happened?” I asked and then I decided to shut up and listen.

He proceeded to tell me that at the end of the school day, he looked at the clock on the wall, because he forgot to wear his watch. He realized that he had just a couple of minutes before dismissal. He really had to use the bathroom BAD and knew that he couldn’t wait until he got home so he asked the teacher if he could be excused. He packed up his flute, lunch box, three ring binder, math notebook and laptop (that is one heavy back pack) and headed to the boy’s bathroom.

Let me preface by saying that being the mother of a boy and married to a man, I know that using the restroom, for the male gender, can be somewhat of an…..event. In our house, it is not unusual for the men to wander into the bathroom with a book , cell phone or laptop and remain in said bathroom for up to 20+ minutes. Any woman with a man in her life (son, brother, husband etc.) reading this blog will likely roll her eyes acknowledging her own personal experience with this type of male behavior. I find this behavior to be rather infuriating especially when I am running behind schedule and have to wait for the event to be over. Any man reading this blog will likely either grunt or nod his head in agreement because some things just cannot be rushed. With that being said, you can imagine how long Thomas was likely in the bathroom before he was finished.

My boy went on to explain that he lost track of time and when he walked out of the bathroom into the hall, he realized he was all alone. The halls were completely void of students, everyone was gone. He suddenly remembered that you cannot hear the announcements in the bathroom so he was not alerted when it was time for dismissal. He quickly made his way to the side exit, where the buses are loaded at the end of the day. He swung the door open hoping to see his bus waiting for him but, it was already gone. In fact, all of the buses were gone. He tried to get back into the school and realized that the side door had already closed, locking him outside of the school.  I was struck by the irony of my son’s predicament. Our schools have a policy to keep outside doors locked at all times. This is a wonderful safety policy that keeps students on the INISDE safe and ensures bad people stay OUTSIDE. On this particular day, this same school policy, designed to keep children safe, put my son into a potentially dangerous situation. I took another deep breath and reminded myself to shut up and let him finish.

Thomas explained that once he realized he could not get back into the school, he began to panic, rightly so. He was locked out of the building with no cell phone and no ride home.

“So you just walked home?” I asked trying desperately to not sound too judgey. Nothing shuts down a tween faster than a judgmental adult.

He confirmed and proceeded to explain how he made the two mile journey from his middle school to our home. He knew that he needed to stick to Three Chopt Road in order to reach the corner of our neighborhood. Although a straight shot, in the process he had to cross three very busy four lane roads, John Rolfe Parkway, Pump Road and Lauderdale Road. If you are familiar with the Short Pump area, these three roads are all about a block south of West Broad street, one of the most congested areas of Richmond on any given weekday afternoon. I swallowed hard thinking about what could have happened. He promised me that he pushed the button at each crosswalk and waited for the pedestrian walking symbol to flash. He looked both ways before crossing, even when the pedestrian symbol was flashing, he proclaimed. I was suddenly relieved and a little bit proud of myself for being such a militant parent when it comes to crossing streets. Since my kids could stand on their own two feet, I have spent endless hours walking, biking and riding scooters to the park, to their schools, to the swimming pool and to the grocery stores teaching them along the way about how to safely cross a street. I make them take turns pushing the crosswalk buttons and I always make them stop and look both ways, even when the pedestrian light is flashing. When we get to intersections,  I stop and wait for them to tell me which direction I have to turn to get home. Thank God Thomas gets his sense of direction from me, just saying.

He continued to explain that while he was making his way home, he started to feel hungry and was very thirsty (it was sunny and about 85 degrees that particular afternoon) and his back pack was very heavy. As he approached the shopping center, about a half a mile from our house, he decided to go into the Kroger grocery store. He reasoned that because I frequently shop there during the weekday, he thought he might get lucky and find me wandering the aisles. He made his way into the store stopping at the water fountain and drinking until he was no longer thirsty. He searched several aisles, before coming to the conclusion that it made more sense to just head home. As he exited through the produce section he noticed they were handing out free samples of watermelon so he decided to take a couple, okay he took more than a couple, more like 6 or 7 but, he “was hungry” he declared.

Heading the last half a mile home, he assured me that he took the longer route, along the sidewalk instead of the short cut through the woods because he knew that would be safer. I felt horrible that he was all alone in the house after such a harrowing ordeal. I could only imagine the stress that he was feeling. He finished his story and I paused momentarily. I opened my mouth and said the one thing that I knew would help ease his anxiety.

“Excellent problem solving, Thomas. I am super proud of you.” I said with genuine admiration for his quick rational thinking, despite his circumstances.

“Wait, you’re not mad?” he said, his voice changing. I could imagine how his skinny shoulders dropped away from his ears, when the tension was released.

“No I’m not mad, Buddy. When I was 11 years old, I would have never been able to do something like that.” I validated the safe decisions he made. I complimented his problem solving when he realized that his body needed water and food. And then I took a couple of minutes to talk about how we can handle a situation like that in the future. We discussed that one day, when he is older, he might feel ready to walk home independently. When that day comes, we will talk about it and plan ahead but for now, he will continue to ride the bus every day. I could feel his tension melt away and my heart rate returned to a more reasonable beat.

I would like to think that Thomas had guardian angels along the way. I imagined a mom driving a minivan filled with children, waiting to make a left turn at the intersection. Perhaps she noticed the 11 year old boy loaded down with a heavy back pack, and perhaps she watched him, perplexed, her own mom radar buzzing as she wondered why this boy might be crossing  a busy road in Short Pump, all by himself. Maybe she took the time to check all of her rear view mirrors, watching for that one driver who might be texting and not notice that the light is red, ready to take action to protect this boy.

Perhaps the produce manager at Kroger saw my son take more than his share of free samples and smiled thinking of his own tween who eats him out of house and home.

I realize how lucky we were this time. I know that there will be future decisions, some of which might be very bad decisions and that is okay because he is learning how to be accountable and how to take care of himself. I still am in awe that this man-child of mine managed to independently resolve a potentially serious problem but he still cannot, for the life of him, hang up his wet towel after he takes a shower, for Pete’s sake!

In retrospect, I learned three critical lessons from this incident. Number one, the most important thing you can do as a parent is encourage good problem solving skills. This world we live in can be overwhelming and confusing and the more practice they receive, the better our kids will be in the long run. Number two, parents need to remember to shut up and listen. Give your child the opportunity to explain themselves. Listening with an open mind will encourage ongoing communication in the future. Number three, I think it’s time for Thomas to get a cell phone.


Thomas’s First Pet

I originally wrote this story back in 2008 when Thomas was 3 years old. I came across it in my archives and decided it was time to share this little nugget of a story with you all. I hope it makes you smile.


My son, Thomas, is like any three-year old. He’s creative, adventurous and funny.  He can come up with some of the most interesting and charming ideas. Usually these ideas stem from something he saw on TV or heard from a preschool buddy. He gets this look on his face, eyes staring off in the distance, eyebrows drawn together and lips slightly parted. Whenever I see the look, I know that he is pondering the grand possibilities of a new idea.

Yesterday, when I picked him up from preschool, Thomas had that look on his face.  I knew something was up as soon as he greeted me at the door.

“Mommy let’s go to the pet store!” Good Grief!

As I rolled my eyes toward his teacher, she flashed a sheepish little grin and said, “Sorry, we were playing pretend pet store this morning, and he hasn’t stopped talking about it all day!”

Now, don’t get me wrong, Mark and I love animals. We both have had plenty of pets over the years, I grew up on a farm, for god’s sake. It’s just that we have been without a pet for about 4 years now and it’s been, quite frankly, nice. We have not had to deal with the extra expenses of being pet owners and let’s be honest, it’s one less creature to clean up after!

I took a deep breath and told Thomas that we could visit the pet store to look around but I was not promising anything. We spent the five-minute car ride, discussing the responsibilities of being a good pet owner (what I really mean is that I was trying to convince him that it was a BAD idea). Anyway, when we arrived, he ran through the front door of the store and right up to the fish tanks. I think I had a fish once when I was child because I suddenly remembered the GOD AWFUL smell of the fish food (yuck) and cleaning out the algae that grows in the tank. There was a large variety of fish and Thomas busied himself by running from tank to tank, surveying his options. The smell of the fish tanks was starting to make me nauseous, and the thought of having a pet fish was not sounding very appealing. With some gentle nudging, I was able to convince him to take a look at the other animals so that he could weigh his options. Whew, dodged that bullet!

He chose to survey the cats. Have I ever mentioned that I do not like cats? First of all, I’m allergic to the nasty feline critters. If I get within 10 feet of a cat, my throat starts to feel itchy, my nose starts to run and my eyes feel like sandpaper. Second of all, Mark and I consider ourselves dog people so when Thomas decided to leave the cat area, I said a quiet little prayer of gratitude and maybe even did a little happy dance in the pet store aisle.

“Mommy, I think I want a Salamander or a Skink.”

How the heck does he know what those are, he’s only 3!!  He wandered over to the reptile section and proceeded to tell me how cute all the lizards and snakes were.  Reptiles, although not on my most hated pet list, are just not practical for a three-year old. Without much effort, I was able to convince him to keep on looking.

He turned on his heels and stopped dead in his tracks. In front of him were dozens of furry mice and fuzzy gerbils.

“Mommy, I want a pet mouse.”

I suddenly remembered my intense aversion to rodents of any kind. They are small, have sharp teeth, don’t come when you call them and are just…. gross.  I started to have visions of Thomas’s pet mouse getting loose in my house. We would look for the little guy for two days with no luck. And on the third day, I would crawl into my warm cozy bed after a long day at work and fall asleep quickly, only to be woken an hour later when that stupid mouse, finds his way under the covers and up my pajama bottoms. Heck no! No mice in my house! All of a sudden, the idea of stinky fish food did not sound so bad after all. We quickly made our way back to the fish tanks.

Okay, I’m a sucker.  I couldn’t say no to him. He was so excited that I agreed to a Male Blue Betta Fish and, of course, all of the stuff that goes with it. We bought a small fish tank, brightly colored pebbles, fake seaweed, special fish water, and finally an itty bitty tiny little fish castle. Thirty minutes later and $40 lighter, we got in line to purchase our new pet.

Suddenly, Thomas spotted a fish tank that is actually shaped like R2D2 from Star Wars! He went nuts and started jumping up and down clapping his hands, begging for the fish tank, which is a whopping $100!

“No way” I told him. “We can’t get the fish if we buy that fish tank and if we don’t have a fish we don’t need to get the fish tank.” This irrational rationalization seemed to make sense to him so he agreed to the original plan, WHEW!

By this point, we were in line behind two women, slightly older than I, who were clearly entertained by our discussion, smiling as they listened to Thomas and I talk about how we would care for the new fish. They looked at me with that sympathetic yet cynical smirk of older more experienced moms who had once had this SAME conversation with their children. I smiled back politely and continued on with my conversation with Thomas.

Thomas was still quietly pondering his decision to not get the R2D2 fish tank, staring at it longingly while we waited for our turn at the cash register.

I looked down at him and noticed that he had that look on his face.

“What’s up buddy?” I asked.

“Maybe, I’ll name him Darth Vader the Betta Fish.”  he said, smiling from ear to ear. Brilliant right? If he can’t get the R2D2 fish tank, he could at least pay homage to Star Wars.

“That sounds great.” I said.

He paused for a couple of seconds and then the look returned.

“Hey, Vader sounds like the word Betta.” He said, wheels turning, eyes getting wider……..”I know, let’s call him Darth Betta.”

The two ladies in front of me started cracking up and Thomas realized that his clever little idea, made the grown ups around him laugh. This is all the encouragement he needed to start quoting lines from Star Wars like, “Luke, I am your father.” “Watch out Chewie, it’s a dead animal!”  Needless to say, he was the source of entertainment for everyone standing in line at the cash register and he walked out of the pet store, proudly carrying Darth Betta to his new home.

Blue Betta Fish


The Blue Drill


It is the third week of kindergarten and Thomas is adjusting quite well to being a big kid.  I, however, am not adjusting well to being pregnant. I am just past the 6 month mark and I am exhausted, huge and nauseous from relentless morning sickness which means frozen pizza for dinner, again!

We sit down to eat and I ask Thomas, “What was your favorite part of the day?”

Taking a bite of pizza, he pauses and thinks for a second. “I wrote my name, jumped through hula hoops during PE and we had a fire drill.” So, I do what most moms would do, I start asking questions to help him process all of the new information.

“Show me how you write your name.” I suggest and drag a pencil and pad of paper across the table.

“You hold the pencil like this,” he demonstrates “and then you write like this.” I watch as he bites his tongue in concentration, just like his daddy.

T..looks good.

h….looks more like an n but, great effort Buddy!

o….looks good.

m…looks like McDonald’s Golden arches, and is about the same size.

a…looks like the o but has a straight line drawn through the middle, close enough.

s…is written backwards

I admire his work and praise him, as he grins from ear to ear.

“Tell me about PE and the hool-a-hoops.” I say.

And as any five year old impulsive boy would do, he jumps down from the table and proceeds to re-enact how the hula hoops were spread out across the ground. The kids were pretending, as they moved between each hoop, to watch out for sharks.

“Dah dum……….…..…….dah dum……………dah dum….….dah dum,..,,dah dum dah dum dah dum Dah Dah Dah” Thomas sings, reenacting the theme song from JAWS.

He proceeds to tell me that if one of the kids got caught outside of a hula hoop when the music stopped, they had to pretend they were eaten by the big giant shark. I couldn’t resist asking the next question.

“What kind of sharks were swimming around the hula hoops?”

He counts on each finger, “Tiger sharks, and whale sharks, and great white sharks, and sand sharks, and hammerhead sharks.” He pauses for a few seconds wrinkling his forehead as he remembers.  “And there were blue sharks and even a stingray!”

“What is a fire drill?” I pretend not to know.

“Well, when there is a fire, this really really loud bell rings and we all line up and go outside to our classroom spot.” he explains. “And we all have to be really really quiet and and listen to Mr. McFarling.” he references his kindergarten teacher.

“Wow, buddy, I’m glad Mr. McFarling is teaching you how to stay safe while in school.”

Then he remembers one more thing.   “Oh, and they also taught us about a Blue Drill.”

“Blue Drill?” I ask, this time I really was clueless and did not know what he was talking about.

“Yeah. It’s when a really mad person comes to school and walks around really really angry and doesn’t make good choices.” he explains with the complete innocence of a five year old child.

My eyes widen and my heart skips a beat when I realize that he is referencing a safety drill for a school shooting.

Thomas continues, “Mr. McFarling then turns off the lights, and then me and all my friends, we um, get down on our knees, and then we hide behind our desks. And then, Mr. McFarling, he locks the door and we stay in the room until that really mad person is gone.” and he looks up at me, waiting for a response.

I am speechless, which for me is quite difficult. Dozens of images swirl around in my head of Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the Amish school children. I blink back tears and swallow hard unsure of what to say to that sweet innocent face staring back at me. Instead I reach for a slice of pizza and take a bite, hoping the food will settle the nausea that stirs in my stomach. Thomas decides to break the silence.

“But you know what? If the angry person comes to our door, Mr. McFarling, my teacher, who is a man, he will grab the bad guy, and then Mr. McFarling will throw the mad man on the ground, because my teacher is really strong, and they will wrestle and then the principal will call the policeman and then um, they will come and take the mad man away, and then he will go to jail for a really really long time, because he made bad choices.”

I swallow hard and turn to look at my sweet five year old boy. I try to speak but the words catch in my throat and I reach out instead to brush the hair out of his face and take a deep breath before I finally find the words.

“I’m glad you were able to practice the Blue Drill today.  I know that your teacher and your principle will do everything they can to protect you. Now finish your dinner.” I say and kiss his head.

I hate that our children have to learn about Blue Drills in schools. I hate that this is our new reality but at the same time, I am so thankful that there are teachers who would do everything in their power to protect the children entrusted to their care. Maybe one day we will have a better solution but until that time, I can only try to understand how we got to this place and what we can do to change it.