Gut Instinct

I’ve never really been sure how I felt about intuition. Is it real? Is it that, in hindsight, we want to think we knew what was going to happen? Are we just over-anylizing what we thought we thought?

I read this article today, while I was riding in the car on the way to run some errands with my family. My immediate reaction?  Duh. Then, of course, I started to roll that around in my head.
Two things happened before Aiden and Sophie died that felt strange and out of place to me. The first was that at my 20-week ultra/sound appointment, I began to panic. I had absolutely nothing to be panicked about. Everything had been perfect, really, and at that point, I didn’t even really know about babies dying. However, sitting in that waiting room, the closer and closer it came to my appointment time, the more anxious and worried I became.

That ultra/sound showed me a beautiful baby boy and girl, and I scolded myself for worrying about nothing.

The next week, I was on the phone with my mom, and I asked her some questions totally out of the blue about my sister, Mary. Mary had died before she was born–in other words, my mom had a full-term stillbirth. Growing up, I knew she was buried in the cemetery and my mom went to visit her in the spring. That was it. I had no idea how or why she died.

More recently, we have had another run-in with death. Every other year my hubs takes a student tour overseas (he is a language teacher). He’s typically gone from anywhere between 10 and 14 days. Following Aiden and Sophie’s death, I was always CRAZY worried that he was going to die while he was gone (not just to Europe, but like, to the gas station). Therapy, anxiety medication, and a lot of writing and talking later, I’ve gotten past much of it.  In fact, last year he was gone for almost a month and I did just fine. I always manage to do something ridiculous while he’s gone–strep throat, flat tired, lose my credit card), but we’ve always managed just fine.

Then came this year. The last few weeks of the school year were horrible for me. I was an anxious mess. I couldn’t quite figure out why-or what was making me so worried. I kept telling my friends, “Ugh. I just am SO worried about Brian leaving!”

They tried to be understanding, but at some point, there was this, “Dude. It’s going to be just fine. I mean, it’s a week and a half. You’ve got this.”

I wouldn’t have thought much of that until I was on my way to drop B off at the airport and he said, “I feel sick. I don’t know why. I’m nervous about this trip.”

That was Tuesday. On Saturday morning, I became worried about my mother-in-law because we hadn’t heard from her. Her cousin called me and told me she had knocked on her door and there was no answer. I told her I’d go get the keys to her house and meet her there.

I don’t know why, but my gut instincts kicked in. I had little reason to be so worried-surely there was an explanation for why she wasn’t answering her phone–but I immediately texted some of my friends to come over and stay with my kids. I grabbed the house key and drove the 2 miles to my mother-in-law’s house.

When I walked in, everything was dark. I called her name, and then, before I could stop myself I entered her bedroom to find her, my beautiful, loving, caring mother-in-law, in her bed. Dead.

I jumped into bed with her and shook her and screamed and it was one of those moments in life where you just feel like it has to be an Alice in Wonderland kind of thing and you’re in some trippy dream and you’ll be waking up from this soon to find out that it was all imagined.

But, it wasn’t. And so I called 911. And I was reminded, again, about how cruel death can be. How dirty and vile and sneaky it is. How, even though we say it all the time, do we actually ever remember that someone can be here one moment, and gone the next?

My sweet husband was stuck overseas. There wasn’t really a practical possible way home. So for the next 4 days, I relied on my friends and my mom to help me survive this surreal disaster. And last night my husband got back and we cried and hugged and right away, he said, “I knew it. I knew something was going to be wrong. I’m NEVER nervous before these trips. Somehow I knew.”

Then, of course, we began to speculate if his mom somehow knew. The week before, she had gone to the Humane Society and adopted a kitten. Did she do that because she wanted to leave something behind for us? Is that a completely crazy thought? Had she just had a talk with us about her computer passwords because she somehow knew?

Unexpected death. Expected death. Just death. It never rests. Images in my head that I’ll never shake. That I hope so desperately I can replace with the loving, beautiful memories I have of her. My hope that this doesn’t make my PTSD or my anxiety worse (although, hello, of course, it will).

I jumped into bed with her, and I hugged her and kissed her, and I screamed her name. But she wasn’t there-not anymore. And now, we march on, trying to listen to our gut instincts. Even when we can’t really do anything about them.

And were they really there? Or is it simply hindsight?

What do you all think?

Just a small town girl, yo.

This past weekend, I had a book signing.

But it wasn’t just ANY book signing.

It was a book signing at my home-town library.  The place where I fell in love with words. The library that by the time I was 9 I had literally read through the stacks and was moving on to completely inappropriate Stephen King titles (although they were SO far out that I’m sure I had no idea what I was reading about, so there’s that). This library was where I felt the safest. Where I went when I just needed to be alone, or just to talk to the library director. I loved my worn-out, wrinkled library card, with the number 32 on it.

Sharon, Wisconsin. It’s a very small town, a population of a little over 1,000. When you drive in there is a sign attached to the population sign, boasting “Home of Travis Fredericks” who is a professional football player. In the NFL. I think the Dallas Cowboys?

Main Street



I grew up on a street that literally intersected with state line road, the road that divides Wisconsin and Illinois. When I was a little girl, I used to ride my bike down to that road and straddle the center line, exclaiming, “I’m in TWO states at once!”

This was the town where I had my first crush, my first boy-girl party, where I played “Jailbreak” all night until the mosquitoes got so bad I had to go in. It’s where I had my first kiss (in the park, of course) and I worked at almost every establishment (there were 3, not counting bars, I’m pretty sure). And it’s where I watched my parent’s marriage dissolve, my grandparents die, and my family ties be severed.

Use to be my biggest competition when I worked at                                               J & B Video and Snack Shoppe.

My sophomore year in college, my parents decided to get divorced on a Tuesday. I had been home the weekend before to have a root canal. I never got to go back in my childhood house after that. I had little or no closure and now can only drive by and complain about it.

But as many bad memories as I have, I love this little town. In high school, we were all made fun of, but we Sharonites didn’t care. We stuck together!

My book signing started at 11:00, and I was almost there at about 10:10 when my mom called me. “Hey, where are you? Half the town is here already!”

Of course. Because this little town SHOWS UP! There was a sheet cake with my book on it. The BEST egg salad you’ve ever tasted. I was treated like a Queen by the “Friends of the  Library” and the library director. Honestly, at all my book signings, I got the most attention and help at this one.

Best cake ever.

And the people that showed up, there were early. Because in Sharon, early is on time. So much respect. So much love. So much of that is lost today. I can’t quite even put into words how important this was for me, and how much I loved it.

Oh! AND, you guys—my 1st grade teacher came. Mrs. Damak. She tried to get me to call her by her first name. Um, no. Not happening, Mrs. Damak.

Mrs. Damak, My teacher in 1987.

If you’re ever in the area, you should visit Sharon, Wisconsin. Make sure it’s in the summer, so you can get a treat from the Ice Cream Shoppe. Seriously-you won’t regret it. You can see clearly how hard the town has worked to keep itself afloat, but the crush of the middle class and the lack of jobs is evident. Businesses on Main Street are different every time I’m there. I think the ownership of one of the bars must have changed 20 times since I was a kid.

There was quite a crowd at the gun shop.


Home. Even when it’s fractured, or almost lost, it makes my heart pang. Driving through the rolling farm land, seeing the little sign welcoming me to town, it never gets old.

Do you have a hometown? Do you have family there? Do you still visit?

Gettin’ Gritty With It

As the school year winds down, educators naturally start reflecting on the year. We discuss what we wish we could have changed, our hopes for our students, and then, of course, how frustrating we find the educational system sometimes.

I think we all have ideas that schools “don’t work” anymore, and we know the answer. I’m kinda stuck on the answer part, but I sure can list off all the things I find wrong: The excess of standardized tests, for example, or not enough time to play and socialize in the very young grades.

If I had to pick one thing, though, that would change so much—it would be the lack of a characteristic that I see in students.


Tenacity, perseverance, courage, excellence instead of perfection-it’s missing.

About a year ago, I took my own children to swim in the pool at the YMCA. My oldest wanted to go down the water slide, but in order to do that, you had to past a swim test. She tried, and she failed. She then practiced for almost an HOUR, going as far as she could and then stopping to rest and then starting over, until she could pass the test. The look of triumph on her face gave me so much joy.

She has always been like this. When she was learning to walk, or read, or tie her shoes, or ride a bike. She will fall and get hurt, dust herself off, and then get right back on.

My son, however? Not so much. “I can’t do it!” “It’s too hard!” He’ll try once and then pass it over to someone else. “Will you open this?”

So, I’ve always wondered-is grit something we can teach? Is it innate? Is it something we can ruin by doing too much for the child? Did I just give in to my youngest and do it for him because I was overwhelmed or exhausted?

My students, 4th graders, overall, lack grit (in school). I say in school, because I don’t see them at baseball practice or practicing math at home. But I watch kids work on a math problem, or edit their writing, and it is rare that I see someone give it all they’ve got. I have to add that for kids who find school easy, I (typically) see it less. I don’t see kids coming back with work that they’ve done on their own. Am I not inspiring them enough?

(These are all, obviously, generalizations. I am not a researcher, of course, and I’m not talking about every student.)

I look at myself as a parent and I wonder-am I doing anything to encourage tenacity? Is there anything I can do? I’ve watched a few TED talks, and recently read the book GRIT by Angela Duckworth. Next school year, I plan to do some action research.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you notice it with adults, too? Are we too quick to give up? Is instant gratification ruining us?

Dude, I’m pondering way too much for a Sunday morning. Gonna go find something mindless to read!  🙂  LOL.