26 Books for Sandy Hook

December 14, 2012.

I remember where I was and what I was doing. With a few minutes to spare before heading out to pick up my son, I grabbed my iPad and tapped on the CNN app to browse the news for a bit. Immediately, a shocking image appeared.

Tears began to stream down my cheeks as I proceeded to read that a shooter had entered a Connecticut elementary school, and there were certainly casualties. Like many people, I was in shock. Later in the day, it was revealed that 20 first graders and 6 adults had been gunned down by a lone shooter, who’d committed suicide on the scene. To learn more about the victims and memorials their families have set up, click here.

www.mysandyhookfamily.org

My son was a first grader at the time of this massacre, and his gap-toothed grin was mirrored in the photographs of the victims that began to emerge.

my beautiful boy

The night of the murders, and for many ensuing nights, I know I wasn’t alone in the fact that I had difficulty sleeping. I would leave my daughter, nestled next to my husband, and quietly walk down to my son’s room just so I could stare at his moonlit face, sleeping peacefully.

My heart ached for the parents who were now faced with empty beds and the utter injustice of never being able to bask in their children’s beauty again.

My mind flashed back to an incident that occurred two years prior, when my son was 4. He was riding his bike and I was pushing his sister in her stroller. We dutifully waited at the crosswalk, and as soon as the light changed, I told my boy to go ahead. As he began to pedal, my peripheral vision grasped that a city bus was making a left turn, blindly headed for my child. I threw on the stroller brakes, screamed my son’s name, and ran into the street. He stopped his bike, and we moved back to the safety of the sidewalk. Meanwhile, the bus plowed on through the crosswalk, completely oblivious to the near collision. I immediately enveloped my son in a crushing hug and burst into tears, all too aware that we had narrowly averted an unthinkable tragedy.

The terror I felt in that moment has haunted me on and off ever since. The terror I felt in that moment, the inability to breathe when I allowed my mind to wander to “what if”, was utterly paralyzing.

And, I am keenly aware, the terror I felt in that moment pales in comparison to the terror, the horror, of the news relayed to the families of the 26 people killed at Sandy Hook. Their children, their loved ones, were murdered, their bodies shredded by bullets from a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle with high capacity 30 round magazines.

Are these guns necessary? What exactly did our forefathers mean when they adopted the second amendment that December day in 1791, almost exactly 221 years prior to the Sandy Hook Massacre? Do the rights laid out in the second amendment trump an individual’s basic right to life?

The Monday after the shootings it took all of my strength to muster the courage to bring my son to school. The instinct to hold him close and not let him out of my sight waged war against my gut feeling that if I didn’t bring him that day, I probably never would. I started to shake when we pulled up to the school and I noticed police cruisers parked outside. I walked him to his classroom, gripping his hand a little tighter than usual. As he dove into his morning routine, my eyes filled and his teacher gently put her hand on my arm and said, “I know.” This woman, a first grade teacher and a mother, certainly had to muster her own strength to make it to her classroom that morning.

Taking comfort in the calm energy of his teacher, I left the school, only to spend most of the day terrified that he would somehow find out about the shootings. My husband and I decided not to share the horrific news with our 6 year old, and I was biting my nails all day in fear that he would somehow hear the news on the playground or in the hallways. How would I explain to him that 20 first graders were murdered in their classroom? How would I convince him that he was safe at his school? Then I started thinking about my classroom, the library. Where would I hide students? How would I lock all of the doors and cover all of the windows in an emergency?

It didn’t take long for my sadness and fear to morph into anger.

Is this really the land of the free, the home of the brave? Is our society so numb that instead of stricter gun laws we are practicing lockdown drills, laying most of the blame on mental health issues, and even arming teachers? Should a child at school be so terrified and certain of his imminent death that he feels compelled to write a final message to his loved ones on his hand? Must we shatter our children’s innocence in the name of gun “rights”?

Holy Mother of God, why am I even asking myself these questions? Why are we asking ourselves these questions?

At this point I could easily launch into a tirade, and would feel perfectly justified in doing so (I’m looking at you, NRA). Since I already have a supportive, constructive forum for that, I’d like to humbly offer a different approach.

Lyndon Johnson said, “A book is the most effective weapon against intolerance and ignorance.” And then there’s this gem:

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There is great power in arming our children with thoughts and words of compassion. As a preemptive strike against an increasingly violent culture, why not fill our kids’ minds with inspirational stories of activism, hope, kindness, and peace? I like to think that books can be part of the solution. In honor of the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook, here’s a list of 26 of my favorite empathy-inspiring books.

  1. A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz
  2. A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara
  3. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Phillip C. Stead
  4. Almost Home by Joan Bauer
  5. Because Amelia Smiled by David Ezra Stein
  6. Bluebird by Bob Staake
  7. Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger
  8. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  9. Crenshaw by Kate DiCamillo
  10. Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
  11. El Deafo by Cece Bell
  12. Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario
  13. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
  14. How to Heal a Broken Wing by Bob Graham
  15. I Can Make a Difference: A Treasury to Inspire our Children by Marian Wright Edelman
  16. Malala, A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal, A Brave Boy from Pakistan by Jeanette Winter
  17. Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
  18. One by Kathryn Otoshi
  19. Otis and the Scarecrow by Loren Long
  20. Paperboy by Vince Vawter
  21. Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin
  22. Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall
  23. Snowflakes Fall by Patricia MacLachlan
  24. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
  25. Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman
  26. Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wouldn’t it be lovely if, on such a horrible anniversary, people snuggled up with a child they love and one of these powerful books? Let’s work together to arm our children with words, self confidence, and empathy. This is one small step we all can take on the path to these senseless tragedies becoming a thing of the past, a sad chapter in our nation’s history.

10 Things to Remember when Camping with Children

The first time we took our children camping was about a year ago. Since it was our initiation into this brave new world, we planned a “simple” car camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, only about an hour from our house.

RMNP-001

It was completely exhausting and utterly unrelaxing, yet somehow worth it in every way.

We spent a ridiculous amount of time preparing food, organizing our camping gear, and making sure we had clothes packed for weather that can change on a dime. The four of us crammed into the car around all the packed goods and spent an hour driving to the tune of, “Are we there yet?” and “When are we gonna be there?” broadcasted on repeat from the backseat.

As soon as we arrived at our campsite, the kids took off to run around in the forest and climb on the rocks, while Mom and Dad began the process of unloading the car and setting up the tent. We had a very dear visitor while we worked.

deer

Once our tent was up and the air mattresses and sleeping bags were arranged, we were on to prepping dinner…and so it went for the next 48 hours. The kiddos had a blast and Mom and Dad were eventually able to “relax” with a nice hike, gorgeous views and time around the campfire with friends and family. Have we been camping since? Nope, but the next time we go we’ll be even more prepared, and maybe, just maybe, it’ll get easier every time.

So, without further ado, I give you:

10 Things to Remember when Camping with Children

1. Prepare food ahead of time.
One of the reasons it took ¾ of a day to pack and get ready to leave the house is that I prepared all of our food ahead of time. The effort paid off; the fact that delicious, nutritious food was just a bear box away helped calm everyone’s nerves.

camping with kids

2. Relax about the dirt, the cold, the heat, the potential for cuts and scrapes, the rain, the bears, the bugs…RELAX.
This one is tough for me. Relaxing while you are in charge of the well-being of two little humans can be…impossible difficult. Also, I can’t stand public restrooms (hey, at least the campsite had restrooms, right?).

3. Bring a game or two along for quiet time in the tent or as an escape from the rain.
A couple that our family enjoys are Spot It! Gone Camping and Jr. RangerLand Animal Tracks Matching Game.

4. Savor being unplugged.
Though the thought of returning to a slew of emails seemed daunting, I was really looking forward to being cut off from everything and everyone. As it turned out, we had better reception at the campsite than we have at our house. I still tried to make it a point to pretend like I didn’t have service.

5. Pack baby wipes.
The uses for these little wonders are endless: cleaning faces, soothing scrapes, wiping up spills, cooling foreheads, and the list goes on!

6. If you are a coffee drinker, do yourself a favor and pack Starbucks Via, or another high quality instant coffee.
I am a bonafide coffee snob and I’m not ashamed to admit it. There’s nothing like a hot cup of strong coffee with a healthy dose of half and half to kick start my days! Trust me, you DO NOT want to waste your time (or your good mood) on attempting to rough it with some kind of hand pressed nonsense.

7. Bring a fully stocked first aid kit.
Within about 10 minutes of arriving, we tore through several bandaids and salve applications (see #s 2 and 9 on this list).

8. Bring plenty of trash bags.
We actually forgot to pack trash bags (!) and were pretty thankful that the other family remembered them, especially considering there were no trashcans at our campsite.

9. Kick off your shoes and go barefoot.
My son is a huge fan of earthing, also known as running around without shoes and socks. There is definitely something to be said for the calming effect of wiggling your toes in the dirt and resting your feet on a bed of pine needles.

10. OF COURSE, be sure to pack interesting camping related books!
One of the highlights of our trip was laying in the tent and reading by the light of our headlamps. We brought along:

camping books for kids

Bears Beware (Zigzag Kids #5) by Patricia Reilly Giff is a cute beginning chapter book.

The Camping Trip that Changed America: Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and our National Parks by Barb Rosenstock has wonderful illustrations and is the interesting tale of how our National Parks came to be.

Curious George Goes Camping by Margaret Rey & H.A. Rey features everyone’s favorite mischievous monkey and his camping adventure. When we first read this story to our daughter (who was two at the time), she was absolutely fascinated with the skunk and the need to take a tomato juice bath to wash away the stink. It has been a family favorite ever since.

Katie Goes Camping (Katie Woo) by Fran Manushkin is a fun early reader.

Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping by Mèlanie Watt is humorous and a great reminder to just relax and go with the flow.

What would you add to the list? What are your family’s favorite books to read while camping?

Dog Heaven

“I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.” -Gilda Radner

chocolate lab, beach, death of a pet

happy boy at the Oregon coast

It has been nearly five years since I said goodbye to one of my best friends: my chocolate lab, Santiago. Santi came into my life about six months after I moved to Colorado. He was a dark brown, roly poly bundle of joy. I have fond memories of exploring my adopted home state with him. I remember one of our first adventures: snowshoeing at St. Mary’s Glacier with him nestled in a blanket in my backpack, a precursor to the baby carrier I would one day wear. It was because of Santi that I met my husband. My canine BFF and I had just arrived at the parking lot of a popular trailhead one warm June day. Santi loped up to a sweet golden retriever named Charlie, accompanied by her human, Chris. Two years later, Santi and Charlie barreled down the aisle as ring bearers during our wedding ceremony. We affectionately referred to them as “the kids” and they ruled the roost until our first human baby came along.

snoozing in the backpack

snoozing in the backpack

Santi was a character. He was extremely affectionate and adored licking people’s feet as he loped by. He enjoyed having the small white patch on his chest rubbed, and would regularly clean himself like a cat with his front paws, earning him the nickname “Mittens”. Occasionally, he would wake us in the middle of the night with a haunting, call-of-the-wild-like howl. One of his most humorous quirks was his obsession with rocks. On any given hike, he would find a rock and claw at it while whining and emitting a high-pitched bark, much to the amusement of other hikers.

When Santi died, my son had just turned four. It was his first real experience with death, his first experience with grief. He had many questions and, as I often do, I turned to children’s literature for the answers.

dog heaven

We read Cynthia Rylant’s Dog Heaven numerous times. The book is just beautiful; lovely illustrations and a sweet, simple story about where dogs go when they die. Think fluffy clouds as dog beds, unlimited treats, and ponds full of ducks to bark at and chase. There are several other picture books out there that deal with the death of a dog, but this 20 year old classic is by far my favorite. Thank you, Ms. Rylant, for such a comforting depiction of where our dear canine friends go when they leave this life.