Charlotte's Journey Home

Just a Regular Kid, Sort Of


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On that September Day…

Alan Jackson, the country artist, has written a beautiful song entitled “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?” to commemorate all that we lost on 9/11. It brings tears to my eyes with its simplicity and honesty.

We all know where we were–I was on the Edens driving from Chicago to Buffalo Grove, listening to my friend Mary read the news on WXRT. When she and her morning deejay partner Lyn mentioned the first plane on the air, it was so unreal, “probably a single engine private plane” whose pilot hadn’t had enough coffee and took a wrong turn. Philippe was in a hotel room in Minneapolis, watching the end of a movie on HBO. My brother was in Ohio, waiting for the plane he intended to catch to go home.

Within moments so much had changed–I pulled into a parking lot and my colleague Dawn yelled to me that a second plane had hit the second tower. As a former government employee, she immediately recognized what was going on and hurried me to a television. Philippe went to the hotel bar to get a coffee and couldn’t figure out why everyone was staring at the television. My brother watched the second plane hit, left his gate, and managed to get a rental car to get home.

But, my childhood friend Jeffrey Gardner cannot tell us where he was or what he did when the plane hit the tower he worked in. All we know about that day is that he didn’t make it out. Knowing Jeffrey, we can assume much more. If he wasn’t killed on impact or severely injured, Jeffrey did all that he could to help others, either tending to the injured, trying to evacuate the building, or just leading folks in prayer.

I know this much: my generation lost its innocence on 9/11. A lot of extraordinary people were killed in the terrorist attacks and, subsequently, a lot of ordinary people chose to serve our country as we went to war. I lit a yarzheidt candle today for Jeffrey; for victims on the airplanes, the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon;, and for the members of our armed forces who have sacrificed in the past 10 years.

And I answered all of Charlotte’s questions. She’s not too young to know. It is weird to me that my students were children on 9/11, that a generation is growing up for whom 9/11 is truly history. I suppose it shouldn’t be: Philippe and I ended the day at the movies, seeing The Debt, a film which deals with the aftermath of the Holocaust. WWII is, for my generation, truly history. So, 9/11 as history shouldn’t surprise me. But, the fact of one cataclysmic day, a few short minutes, changing all we feel about our safety, security, and peacefulness seems so different.

On that September day, I was driving, enjoying the clear blue sky and the sound of my friend’s laughter on the radio. On this September day, I took a 15 mile bike ride with my family (yes, Charlotte, too!), went to a picnic, made a new acquaintance, and spent good time with my husband. And not for one minute did I forget that Jeffrey Gardner was unable to do the same. I dedicate this day to Jeffrey, for whom “good day was as bad as it gets.” He was, simply put, a joyous human and a kind soul. I’m proud that for his short time on earth I was able to call him “friend.”

For my usual Jeffrey post, click here.

Give your kids an extra hug tonight.


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Six Years in the Making

Did anyone else notice that this was the shortest summer on record? School let out yesterday, it seems. And today, after much excited anticipation, Charlotte started first grade. It feels like just yesterday that I dropped her at daycare for the first time. She said to me that she was amazed at how quickly she seemed to get to first grade. I responded, “Actually, sweetie, it’s taken you a good six years to get here.” I don’t think she quite understood me, but as we drove to meet her teacher yesterday, I had a virtual newsreel of highlights from Charlotte’s life playing in my head. Six years–six long years and yet six incredibly short years.
Charlotte has been looking forward to this day since about a month before Kindergarten ended. In fact, I think her Kindergarten diploma (Yes, she got one, but the “ceremony” was limited to the school director, her teachers, and the class.) mostly impressed her because it meant she was a first grader.

All summer we’ve heard about how “first graders do this” and “first graders do that”. First graders, for instance, sit in an assigned chair at school; help their mommies choose vegetables at the grocery store; cross the street walking next to mommy, but don’t have to hold hands; and first graders have homework (very exciting). In short, first graders are big kids.
When we asked Charlotte why she was so excited about first grade she said, “Because I’ll get to do more math and science.” I think her teacher will have her hands full with this one!
We walked Charlotte into the schoolyard and chatted with other parents while the kids climbed and played. It was cheerful chaos as the whole lower school (1 through 5) gathered before the bell.
We were a bit concerned because Charlotte was not put in a class with any of her closest friends and she’s in the biggest class. A friend said, “Show her the list and see what her reaction is. Maybe she’ll teach you something.” Teach she did–while she wanted to be with Sarah and Henry, she glanced at the list, asked about her teacher, and talked about playing with her friends on the playground. She’s happy to have several children from last year in her class, one of whom was at her birthday (the measure of kindergarten friendship, right?).
As parents greeted each other, Charlotte had “smile conversations” with her friends, but explored the playground on her own. I tried not to worry about her social integration–her buddies clearly delighted in seeing her, and she them, so I think she just needed to run her nerves off.
The bell rang. The children lined up with their classes, hoisted their backpacks onto their backs, and, first graders in the lead, filed into school. Just after I took this picture, Charlotte turned and blew me the biggest kiss ever, movie star-style.
About four and a half years ago, Charlotte started to crawl. She got on her hands and knees, gave me one of her angelic mischievous smiles, and turned to scoot away as quickly as she could. I realized in that moment that my goal as a parent is to raise my child to be able to walk away from me with confidence and clarity, but to always know I’m there and to (hopefully) always want to come back. That movie star air kiss made me feel like I just might be getting it right (so far).