Nostalgia and a love letter to Mountain Park Elementary School

The Yard Signs came today.

Yard signs were not a thing when I was growing up in the Northeast, so I am not sure if they are a Southern thing or a new thing. Yard signs, to be clear, are congratulations for students matriculating from one level to the next. Each May, neighborhoods around my community, will have yards with signs congratulating students graduating from elementary school, middle school and high school. While some may view these signs with the ‘participation trophy eye roll’, they are happy indicators of an achievement. A milestone achieved.


Those milestones, however, can be bittersweet for parents and the signs spiked in the yard can serve as the pointed reminder of the passage of time.

When the yard signs for elementary school came out today, many of my friends posted on social media with apologies for the nostalgia they were feeling. One friend, with sons finishing elementary and middle school, like mine, invited people to hide her posts for the next few weeks as she was “in her feelings” and would be sharing a lot of memories.

Friends in your feelings, share away. Each of us know the sting of time passing too quickly and the burn of leaving a safe and loving place. I think it is only through sharing that we can move on.

Sean’s yard sign, indicating his graduation from Mountain Park Elementary School, was the one I spiked in the grass today. Mountain Park has been an integral part of my life for the last ten years and I am in my feels about leaving.

April 9, 2008 was the first time I entered “MPES”. I remember because it was my birthday and Kevin and I were bringing both boys to see the house he was building. Ryan, four years old at the time, had barfed in the car and I needed to stop to get something to clean him up. Schools weren’t locked at that time and I walked in to find kind people happy to give me paper towels and water. Having two boys in car seats that day, the children in the cafeteria seemed huge, mature and capable!   

Approximately twelve months later, Ryan and I were back for kindergarten round up. This child who I felt was fresh out of my womb was practicing getting on a bus and touring a “media center”.  Surely the surreality was unique to me!

When I met his teacher at the “sneak peek” that summer, I really introduced myself with a bang. I can remember, with the embarrassment one feels when recalling a fall where you know you showed your underpants, telling Ms. Nicol, “Ryan is very smart. If he isn’t challenged appropriately, he is likely to be disruptive in the classroom. What can you tell me you will do to keep him challenged and on task?”

Insert universal teacher eye roll. I should have wound up in a red file cabinet labeled “A-hole parents”, but to my knowledge, I wasn’t. If I wound up in any special file, it was one called “first timer - loves her kid”. Ryan thrived in Kindergarten and in every class, every year for his tenure at Mountain Park.

Bringing Sean to Kindergarten was a different experience. I cloaked myself in experience. I knew the drill. I tried to ignore the fact that I was bringing a TOTALLY different kid with unique needs and talents. But that was ok. The faculty and staff didn’t ignore that. The best teachers in the world met Sean where he was, for who he is, identified his ADD and got him help to give him the best chance at success. I didn’t have to do anything but trust them. Which I did. Wholly and completely.

Looking out at the yard sign is so much more, however, than an inventory of Ryan and Sean’s teachers (each of whom were truly extraordinary) while at Mountain Park. It is a remembrance symbol of all the growth and change that has transpired since that first day I walked in needing paper towels.

For example, on that day, I was in my thirties, I was a full time Mom and I was sure of a lot of things. I didn’t have an iPhone (because they didn’t exist), Kevin was a builder and my dog was my beloved, Lillian.  I had no idea about the tearful thrill of spelling bee success (Ryan) and the tearful horror of early spelling bee defeat (Sean). (First timers who love your kids: beware of the spelling bee).

Today, I’m LATE into my forties. I work full time and I don’t know shit. I have two smart phones and a different house. Kevin’s building business and my beloved Lillian have died. But we have new things. Different things. Good things. Especially Bella.

But it isn’t just me that has evolved in these last ten years. When Ryan entered Kindergarten, Obama was president, we were carrying Blackberries and Oprah was still on TV. Epic events have occurred.

December 14, 2012. In Newton, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 children and six staff members were fatally shot by Adam Lanza. At the time, Ryan was a third grader and Sean was in Kindergarten. I remember the news breaking while I was at work at Piedmont Hospital. I thought about those babies at Sandy Hook who got on the bus that morning with Christmas presents and expectations for a fun day. I thought about those staff members who went to work every day with love in their hearts for the students but never having ANY idea how that might be tested. I thought about how Sandy Hook could easily be Mountain Park or Roswell North or any other vulnerable place of innocence in the United States. I thought about the children who were on the airplanes that flew into the Twin Towers. My heart broke in an irreparable way. Evil exists in this world and it is indiscriminate. Seeing the families in Newtown and their pain has never left me, even six years later. Because I would be willing to bet a lot of those Moms and Dads were in a file labeled: “First timers - love their kid”.

January 27, 2016. Snowmageddon. I remember being at work that day and telling my boss that I thought we needed to send our staff home because the roads were getting bad. My boss, my friend, now admits she “poo-pooed” my concern. Canceling a patient visit after observing the worsening road conditions, I headed straight to Mountain Park to collect Ryan and Sean ( 5th and 2nd grade). It was a harrowing 1.7 mile drive home but we made it together and sat in front of a fire before sundown. Many parents in the city weren’t as fortunate, however. Hundreds of parents were stranded on highways and side roads unable to go anywhere and get to their children. A nightmare. Mountain Park, however, handled it with its typical love and calm. A few staff members and our wonderful principal stayed at the school - OVERNIGHT- until each student was picked up and safe.

As a community, we’ve had to endure loss and grief. In Ryan and Sean’s years at Mountain Park, we’ve lost too many students. Sweet Creed Campbell died in Kindergarten and is remembered in a beautiful mural outside the Media Center. Finn Dana died suddenly in fourth grade and has his own reading corner in the Media Center. Another tragedy when Tristan Shupbach, fifth grader, died before his performance as Captain Hook in 2017. Other schoolmates have battled cancer, lost parents and siblings and one has to ask why? I can only say that for both of my sons, their exposure to grief and loss, which are inevitable life lessons, has been handled at Mountain Park with the highest level of empathy and healing. For that I am infinitely grateful.

Many times, when I speak to patients and families about hospice care, which is the next step in their journey, I can be admittedly impatient when they resist what I think they need. I know there is good in the next step. I know there’s nothing left for them in the level where they are. I can be quick to put them in an “A-hole” folder and not one more appropriately labeled, “First timers”.

Mountain Park and my sons’ elementary school experience has been more special and life changing than I can possibly explain. I am beyond blessed by every single educator that encountered my sons and changed them for the better. I say that without hesitation. I have SINCERE gratitude for the Mountain Park leadership/ administration that fosters this environment and I thank you all for raising me.

Mountain Park Elementary School has been my special and safe place for the past ten years. Unfortunately, my stay there is coming to a close. Age and time wait for none of us. I’m no longer a “first timer” but I’m still in a folder of “loves my kids”.


Tonight, I am offering thanks to which I can’t put words for everyone at Mountain Park. But I am also extending kindness and empathy for everyone who feels scared to leave a place that has provided care. There’s no yard sign that can make that feel a whole lot easier.



And to be clear, May 24 is Sean’s “graduation” from Mountain Park. To my other Moms “in the feels”, come find me in the fetal position at the back of the playground. To my other deeply loved friends facing their own ‘next place’, I’ll come find you.


"Don't Walk me In!"

HOPEspotters- be gentle with me. I’m tired. Today was a milestone morning. Ryan, my first born (14 y/o) left for his 8th grade trip. 60 hours away touring the state of Georgia with his classmates and some very saintly teacher chaperones. The itinerary would make a Navy Seal question personal stamina, but it is a long awaited “privilege” for the graduating middle school class. So today was the day and there was a mixed bag of emotions for both Ryan and me: anxiety, excitement, concern, joy. But at drop off time of 6:30 AM, we were just doing all we could to get there in one piece.

A disclaimer: I recognize my well prepared, well protected son was going on a school field trip and not leaving for Afghanistan. I get that. Really, I do.

Preparations for this trip began months ago and I’ve had off the charts anxiety every step of the way. My anxiety was really not at all rooted in Ryan’s safety or homesickness or anything other than, “Dear God, don’t let me miss a deadline, forget an essential item he is assigned to bring or do ANYTHING to mess this up.” That is the essential prayer of most middle school moms. It varies a little, but not much.

In the last week I have been scurrying around as if Ryan was going to Pyeongchang, driving the bus, with no possibility of communication or enduring any discomfort for 5 minutes. Yep, I fell in the trap. Guilty as charged. Helicopter Parent Buckley, reporting for duty.

Last night, Ryan and I packed together and proceeded to, of course, argue. “Why do I have to bring that?” “Why can’t I bring that?”  And the ever popular, “OH MY GOD, MOM!” Don’t even know why, but it was said A LOT.

So the school sent multiple messages for absolute clarity: DROP OFF IS 6:30 AM. FAILURE TO BE AT THE SCHOOL AT THIS TIME MAY RESULT IN YOUR EXECUTION. I exaggerate- but not much. Again, my primary goal was not to mess up any part of this for my beloved first born.

Ryan isn’t great at waking up. (Holy understatement) So I spent the night waking up every hour on the hour making sure I wasn’t late in working to get him up and in the shower (yes, I do, in fact, keep my helicopter in the backyard. Thanks for asking). When my alarm finally went off at 5:20 AM, I was up and working on the traveler. Lights ON! Shower ON!

And remarkably, we were ready on time. While he got ready, I felt like I did some really incredible things. I changed out of pajamas. I put on a bra. I brushed my teeth AND put my hair in a ponytail. I double checked that everything was packed and labeled his bags with his name. Still don’t know why the Mother of the Year award givers haven’t come to find me today. But, whatever…

We got in the car and it was a lot like a regular morning: Ryan on his phone and me listening to sports radio. Typically, a morning like this would conclude with me pulling into the carpool lane and with attention to alacrity, Ryan would jump out of the passenger seat, get his backpack from the back seat and say goodbye while heading into school.

Today, however, was a milestone day and I could sense the specialness. So when I arrived at the school, in the cold dark, at 6:20, I made some observations.

The first thing I observed was somewhat shocking. As I got closer to the front door and observed parents getting out to help their student with luggage, I saw many mothers IN OUTFITS. They were dressed. And I think they were wearing makeup! Who are these magic people? Did I mention it was 6:20 AM? Were they leaving here to appear on the TODAY show? Perhaps they don’t appreciate the subtle, yet thrilling, art of driving in the dark with one eye glued shut from yesterday’s mascara. This was shocking to me. I was reeling. Was it not enough that I put on yoga pants AND A BRA? Serious, M.Fing overachievers.

The next thing I observed was that to which I paid close attention. This drop off wasn’t like regular carpool with the school resource officer waving you on so as not to create delay. “Eject your student and proceed, please.” And I am nothing if not a rule follower! But what I watched in the cars that went before me was an undeniable pattern: student AND parent left the car. Parent handed luggage to student, student hugged parent, parent returned to car and the next in line was promoted.

I was not going to mess this up.

So when Ryan and I pulled up to the “departure slot” he got out of the car, and opened the back seat to get his bags. I put the car in park and walked around the front of the car to approach him. I extended my arms, ready to say, “have a great….”


And with speed that can only be compared to Usain Bolt, Ryan darted in the front door.

I stood there with arms outstretched for only a second, but I probably looked like Frankenstein. Given the hot fear that one could see in Ryan’s eyes, that must be true.

I messed it up. I messed it up.

And in the next second, God winked at me with the all the humor and irony that only God can deliver. Embarrassed, I dropped my arms and smoothed my jacket. I glanced into the windshield of the driver behind me and, of course, it was her. OF COURSE, it was her.

Who’s her? I don’t know her name. I’ve seen her one thousand times since Ryan was in kindergarten but I swear we’ve never met. She stood out to me on this morning because two weeks ago at the MANDATORY parent planning session for this trip, she asked a question. This anonymous woman raised her hand and asked, “When do the students get to pick their roommates or when will they know who they are rooming with?”

When this loving, probably tired, trying not to mess it up Mom asked this question, many of us looked at our feet. Oh my goodness. They chose roommates one month ago. That’s already decided. Doesn’t she know? Well, even I was aware of that.

And I swear I did NOT judge her - but I will confess her lack of knowledge on this point really made me feel better on the scale of “how much do I know about my tween?”   

So on this morning, in the cold, when I dropped my Frankenstein arms and caught her eye, I understood. This mothering of growing up kids thing is really hard. And sometimes awful. But always hard.

I drove home humbled. Profoundly humbled. And I prayed for the wisdom to let my son grow with grace and faith and not fear and white knuckles, which seems to be my approach. I’ve been blessed beyond measure with a son who seems to have a limitless future. My original mission was right in its simplicity: don’t mess this up.

So I came home in time to put my 11 year old son on the bus, who let me walk him RIGHT UP to the stairs and I said a silent prayer of gratitude for that. And then I got on the treadmill and soothed myself with the following knowledge:

Dear Ryan:

I am sorry I messed up the goodbye moment. Rookie mistake.

You left so quickly I didn’t get a chance to tell you that I wasn’t planning on actually walking you in. Even I know better than that.

But I need you to know this: I will ALWAYS “walk you in” because from the day you were swaddled and placed in my arms, we became a team. I really hope I’m not going to be one of those creepy boy moms (your aunt will make sure I’m not) but if you think for A SECOND that I am not with you every step you take, you are mistaken. More and more, I won’t physically be there, but I am in your heart and you are in mine.

I’ll walk you in to high school, to college, to your first job, to your wedding chapel, to your future. I will remember my place and I’ll keep my Frankenstein arms at my side, but be clear on this, my love, I will walk you in.

And tonight, when you are bleary eyed exhausted and put on your pajama pants, you will find a note in your pocket. It says, “Hope you are having a great time. I love you. Mom.”

You can roll your eyes all you want. I’ve walked you in.

Peace out, Mamas. I think today reminded me, if nothing else, you CAN'T mess this up because there really is no way to do it “right”. Just do it with love.


Groundhog Day

HOPEspotters, Hello!! It has certainly been a while. Our last encounter was on Election Night 2016 and after that post, I think I lost my voice a little bit. While many events moved me, inspired me, frustrated me, enlightened me, I found it all boggy for my blogg-y. Life has felt a bit like a game of dodgeball and only today did I finally catch one of those balls and create an “out”.  My moment of clarity was found at Gobbler’s Knob on this unsung holiday, Groundhog Day.

This morning I stood in my kitchen, making breakfast, packing lunches and emptying the dishwasher as I do on most days. Daily drudgery.  The “Today Show” was on in the background, as is our habit, and on this morning live feed was coming in from Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. Men in morning suits were lifting high their otherwise reclusive rodent to determine whether or not “he” saw a shadow.  Pomp and circumstance surrounded the announcement about the groundhog’s prediction for six more weeks of winter.

In today’s tumultuous times, Punxsutawney’s preservation of tradition is precious and brave. It was the kindest three minutes found on the morning news. The festivities reminded me, of course, of the classic Bill Murray, “Groundhog Day”.

If you haven’t seen it -- spoiler alert: Bill Murray is an ornery, generally dissatisfied meteorologist, assigned to cover Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, and doesn’t hide his contempt for the tradition. In a bizarre twist, Murray’s character gets stuck in a time loop and relives Groundhog Day repeatedly. Initially, Murray takes every advantage of knowing he will be just fine in the morning to participate in bad behavior and debaucherous behavior. Then, his heart begins to soften for the community he comes to know so well and Murray takes advantage of the ability to prevent tragedies like the Mayor choking or a homeless person dying of the cold and begins to act as a superhero. Finally, Murray discovers a way to use the day he can’t seem to stop reliving to get his beautiful producer, for whom he has harbored feelings, to fall in love with him because he demonstrates his newly found goodness. It is that love that breaks him out of the time loop and move on with his life - happily.

So here I am, HOPEspotters, on February 2nd, with my typical call to action. We are 33 days into 2017 and any of you who may have made New Year’s Resolutions might be worrying about having broken them.

Friends, I am here to propose a movement, based on Bill Murray’s fictional character, to make a GROUNDHOG DAY RESOLUTION.

Here’s the thing: New Year’s Resolutions are typically punitive. ‘I do too much of this. I don’t do enough of that.’ We enter into them with the belief that a 12 month period, that magically begins on an evening celebrated with excess and awkward Mariah Carey performances, will transform us. Somehow turning the page in a calendar will give us more willpower. Less addictions. Greater focus.

And failure often results.

Groundhog Day Resolutions are a different animal altogether.  And we can all do this.

If we look at the example of Bill Murray’s character, we see that attempts at human betterment are valiant and admirable but not always life changing in the ways we expect. Despite learning to play the piano and speak a different language, he was still “stuck”. And isn’t this true? How many people, myself included, lose and gain weight because the bad habit driver still exists? That’s probably why people make the same New Year’s resolutions year after year with admirable optimism that “this” year is going to be “the year”.

I often joke that I am Bill Murray- reliving “Groundhog Day”. I get up. I get the boys up. I make breakfast. I make lunches. I clean the kitchen. I go to work. I talk to sick people with sad families. I have the same conversation. I talk on the phone. I sit in traffic. I go to Publix. I make dinner. I do laundry. I clean the kitchen. I go to bed.

Frankly, it’s disrespectful to paint that picture and I, of all people, should know better. I GET to do these things. My days, difficult as some may be, unsexy as most are, are days of privilege. And wouldn’t I be a better person if I just acknowledged that?

Sure. But that sounds like a New Year’s Resolution.

A Groundhog’s Day Resolution sounds a lot more like Jim Valvano’s speech at the ESPY’s, months before his untimely, but likely death from cancer. The acclaimed and fiery basketball coach wisely told an audience of athletes, “If you laugh, you think and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week you’re going to have something special.”

Or to return to the world of sport, the recently departed Craig Sager: “I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know how.” And what was SO cool when Craig Sager died, his longtime friend, Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors, asked the fans for - not a moment of silence in his friend’s honor, but a moment of joy.  

In hospice- and everyday life- I see SO MUCH BRAVERY. Life can present some scary and seemingly hopeless circumstances. And I stupidly fall prey, at times, to the feeling of powerlessness.

Recently, a young boy in our community died in a tragic accident. He was a lead in the about to be presented school play. Orange was his favorite color. One can not make sense of his death. Our community responded with a candlelight vigil. Mailboxes decorated in orange. And the play is going on, with his Mom continuing to volunteer.

That is real life grabbing love, being brave, and choosing not to be stuck on Groundhog’s day.

Tonight I stand symbolically in Gobbler’s Knob. I’m not looking at my good and bad habits. I’m looking at the opportunity to be “un-stuck” from the time loop and start to see the privilege in my life, seizing the messy, difficult, at times exhausting love. And it’s not easy, but it is most certainly the thing that will get me to the next day.

With love and HOPE,  Happy Groundhog’s Day, Friends!