He Was Home


rdh3The first time I met Russell, almost twenty years ago, he had just locked himself out of his house. And he was not happy about the situation. Over the course of the next two decades, he managed to lock himself out of the house just slightly more often than he misplaced his keys inside the house. Which was pretty often. It was an ongoing joke among our close friends. He received more than a few ridiculous hide-a-key tchotchkes for birthday presents. Our lawn, at times, resembled the Jockey Lot on a bustling Saturday afternoon, covered in gaudy decoys, like concrete frogs and Chia pets. (The only things missing were some boiled peanuts and funnel cake, both of which Russell was extremely fond.) Eventually, we just stopped locking the door. We joked we had nothing worth stealing anyway. The things that mattered most weren’t things, after all. Russell was happy knowing that he could always go home when he wanted to and there were no more obstacles preventing him from doing so.

Russell was always happy being home. He was comfortable in his chair, his spot on the couch, his place at the kitchen sink washing dishes and gazing out the window at the songbirds and daydreaming about his “stories”. He was comfortable with his thoughts. He was not afraid of the quiet. He was also, however, a great lover of people, of their energy and their unique ideas and perspectives. He loved to learn; I’ll never forget the day he first discovered this little website called Wikipedia. It took the place of his gold-leafed set of hardback encyclopedias that his mother reports he used to drag to the bathroom when he was potty training at the tender age of two. He was the epitome of a Renaissance Man; when he was in his twenties he rebuilt the engine to his 1967 baby blue Mustang (twice, actually) by reading the manual. He knew the etymology of every word he spoke and whether its root was Latin or Greek. And now, so do our children. He loved a good salon, explained helpfully by our friend, Wikipedia, as “a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, ‘either to please or to educate’.” These were some of the values Russell held most dear – pleasing, educating, and just being at home in the company of like-minded souls.

Several years ago, Poppy wrote a poem at school about home that I’d like to share:

Where I’m From

by Poppy H. (age 7)

I am from a house that has a smooth front porch and scratchy carpet.

I am from a house that has lots of toys and cats.

And a dog.

I am from a noisy radio.

I always hear the news.

I am from Dad telling me stories every night.

We love all the stories.

I am from me playing the piano C to G over and over again.

I am from root beer and saucy pizza.

(It is so cheesy.)

I am from the smell of cat litter.

And also fresh crusty quiche and berries so juicy.

I am from warm hugs and kisses.

I am from Christmas,

Being the first one up and the last one asleep.

I am from cancer check-ups.

I am from laughing all the time.

I am from Slackajack and Butter – my favorite toys.

I am from love.

When Russell and I first met, we spent a lot of time adventuring, sometimes quite far away from home. Though he was born with a particularly rare and progressive congenital condition (affectionately known as Russell Hinson Bad Leg Disease), we enjoyed ten years (give or take) of some pretty amazing outings. We discovered the love of long-distance road biking together and looked forward to the Bakery Ride to Saluda every Sunday and the cross-state tour every spring. We participated in triathlon relays together, with our friend Vanessa, where Russell held down the bike leg like a pro. It was during a trip to a race in Maui when Russell proposed. We also enjoyed many a meandering hike, where I further learned of Russell’s curiosity about the natural world. He not only stopped to smell the roses, he stopped to watch skinks (which are not the same as lizards) scuttle up trees, he stopped to examine the mechanics of a solitary walking-stick bug, he stopped to look up leaves in his Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs so he could learn and memorize the scientific names of every tree in the southeastern woodlands, as well as the songbirds who lived there. (Cardinalis cardinalis is the only one I can actually remember off the top of my head.) During one particular favorite vacation to the Pacific Northwest, he lead the charge to the top of the Continental Divide, encouraging both me and my parents to stand atop a glacier field where only few others endured the journey to enjoy the view. We used to say about Russell that all who wander are not lost.

Even before Russell’s mobility became a challenge, he was a methodical and deliberate soul. His attention to detail was often at the expense of punctuality. He could easily spend two hours in the shower. He evened out the laces on his tied shoes so they were equal on both sides. He had the most impressively-groomed eyebrows in the house. He didn’t simply do things to do them. He took careful measure in the doing. One autumn day, I chided him for taking all afternoon to rake a small patch of leaves in the front yard. “Wouldn’t it be faster just to use a leaf blower?” I asked. He answered, “I wasn’t just raking leaves. I was working on my novel.”

My daughter said to me just the other day, “I sure am going to miss waiting for Dad.”

Unfortunately, the week our baby girl was born, Russell underwent a laminectomy (another word I learned from Russell) to remove a tumor in his spinal cord. This procedure bookmarked the point in time when the kids’ daddy developed his “boo-boo leg”, when he started walking with a distinguished cane, when he was no longer able to ride his bicycle or hike up mountains. This marked the time when Russell was home.

And Russell was home.

When the children came home from school, flinged their backpacks in the corner and threw off their shoes, they knew dad was home. When I took my shift carpooling neighborhood friends to and from (fill in the blank), I could drop off one of the possums and know that dad was home. While I enjoyed running most mornings, the kids were gently awakened by their dad because he was home.

Over the last few days, the kids and I have repeatedly noticed the echo of their father’s presence at home. Poppy observed, “I miss the way Daddy cleaned the bathroom sink after we brushed our teeth.” Mary Hazel remembered how he used to happily torture them with the exaggerated attack of “Monkey Paw and Raven Claw”, a tickling ritual that filled the family room with raucous laughter and loud squeals. Charlie wished yesterday that his father were here to watch Avatar with him on Saturday mornings because he was the only one who understood the epic battle between the Fire Nation and the Earth Benders at Ba Sing Se. Because Russell was home.

rdh1Russell was the sounds of home. The frequent tapping of the keyboard. The walker shuffling down the hall in the early pre-dawn hours because of stupid insomnia. The radio always being tuned to NPR even when nobody was in the room because the cats might get lonely. The sound of the Eastern towhees when he opened the windows on a spring day. “Drink your teeeaaaaa!” The microwave beeping periodically throughout the day as he heated up his tea, because it took him sometimes all day to fully enjoy one cup of the gentleman’s coffee. The lock on the door clicking not once, but always twice, at night when he put the house to sleep. The score to Fiddler on the Roof. Gillian Welch singing sad ol’ songs on his favorite Pandora station. The streaming water at the kitchen sink every time even one piece of silverware was left for longer than a minute. He was “Hey Baby and Hey Buddy” every time he greeted the twins. He was “Hey Lucy. How’s it going?” whenever the neighbor girl from across the street came over to play. He was “Sweet dreams. It’s time to close your eyes now,” when Mary Hazel pulled out just one more book to read before bed.

Russell was the smells of home. Dinner being warmed in the oven upon our return home from late soccer practices and chorus rehearsals. Fresh kitty litter in the laundry room. Dryer sheets. He was the smell of red wine and chocolate, and sometimes Southern Comfort. The fire log burning and crackling on the first chilly fall night. The smell of balsam and cedar and noble currant candles lit by his bedside. Deodorant soap and coconut shampoo.

Russell was the sights of home. He was standing at the front door on school day mornings waving goodbye to the children despite the difficulty he had getting there. Tidy piles of paperwork. A laptop that was never closed. An electric razor always plugged into the bathroom outlet because he shaved every day, even if he expected to see no one. Neat piles of laundry on the sofa, always a work in progress. His owl collection. His book collection. His birthday card collection, because he kept them all. He was consistently the last person the babies saw when they closed their eyes at night because he always promised to put up their rails and check on them “one more time”.

For the last couple of years, Russell was indeed home. And because of that, Russell was home.

We struggle to move one single thing that belonged to him because then it just wouldn’t be the same as it was when Russell was home. And, of course, how could it be? But aren’t we the lucky ones for the memories? The memories of a father who was always home, never away on business, never not having time for bedtime stories, never saying, “I’m too busy right now.” Aren’t we the lucky ones because he helped create a secure, loving, nest from which our fledglings can be brave and take flight, when the time comes. Aren’t we the lucky ones for knowing a man whose consistent, thoughtful, and kind ways are forever etched into the foundation of what we know as home? Poppy, Charlie, and Mary Hazel will always know what “home” feels like.

In large part, because Russell was home and, no matter what, he can never be locked out again.







My oldest daughter, who is not fond of change, gets the post-Christmas blues even more profoundly than our Elf on the Shelf when he is boxed up and stuffed back in the closet for the next eleven months. (If she knew this was Blackberry’s perennial fate, rather than returning to his cozy home with Santa at the North Pole, she might never recover.)

She says a prayer for Blackberry every December 24th because not only does his departure signal the beginning of the end of the holiday, she genuinely misses him and the magic he brings. She cries every year when the Christmas tree is left bashfully naked on the curb to be manhandled by city workers on recycling day. There are fewer tears with each passing year, but still. We extend Christmas as long as possible by waiting until Epiphany to take down the decorations. We bake cookies, build a fire, and recount our favorite holiday memories. The children also look forward to opening the very last present under the tree on Twelfth Night. Mostly we do this in an effort to ease our daughter back into the mundane world of routine as gradually as possible, where there is typically a stark lack of magic and wonder.

Last week, I rubbed her back and sang her to sleep because she was sad about returning to school. When I asked her why that made her sad, she whispered, “Time is just whooshing by and I won’t be little for much longer.” She is eight.

My instinct is to tell her not to worry. I realize this only makes her more anxious because she cannot help it.

In an attempt to cheer her up, I reminded her that we were planning a wonderful summer vacation with the extended family. She perked up a little.

“So, we’re going back to Pawleys Island again?” she asked hopefully.

“Oh, well…not this year,” I answered carefully. “We need a bigger house since there are more of us going.”

“So we’re not staying at Seacliff again?” she asked.

Seacliff, the splintered, weathered, oceanfront house we have visited so many times with the kids, is not fancy. It is exactly the opposite of fancy with its multitude of faded sticky notes advising you to jiggle the toilet handle so the water doesn’t “jump out” upon flushing, instructing you to lubricate the curtain rod with soap before attempting to take a shower, and warning you to never, ever, ever move the special screwdriver from atop the unreliable thermostat. (I am not exactly sure why, but I am not going to be the first one to find out.) Seacliff, the place we love to tease in the way only you can mock one of your own siblings, was the single house we could afford – in the offseason.

“No, Baby, not this year. We are going to stay in a cute house at St. Simons Island instead,” I encouraged. “It’s called Avonlea.”

“Oh,” she said flatly.

“Do you want to see pictures?” I offered.

“No, not really. I am sure it is fine.”

“Why are you sad?” I asked.

“Because it will be different,” she replied.

“Different doesn’t have to be bad,” I said. “There is a pool and bunk beds and a golf cart…”

“I understand,” she said. “But that house doesn’t have all our memories in it.”

I couldn’t let her know how much I understood exactly what she meant. If she sensed my wistfulness for the time when my toddling twins first ran down the beach, holding hands and laughing as the wind tangled their hair, I would never have a chance to convince her otherwise. This was the first place we vacationed after the baby’s first clean cancer scans. Countless fortified sandcastles destroyed by high tides, sweet Jack and Ruby who vacationed next door, ghost stories of The Gray Man; I had to check myself.

“That’s true,” I countered. “But we have the opportunity to make new memories, different ones.”

“Can you show me the pictures of the old house instead?” she sniffed. I obliged.

“See that blue couch? That’s where DanDaddy always reads us bedtime stories. And that screened-in porch is where we always eat our Cheerios in the mornings. And there’s the outside shower where we wash our treasures before we spread them out on the porch to dry. And remember the year you had Mary Hazel in your tummy and you didn’t even know it yet? That was the year we danced to The Beatles in the living room. And every night, we walked across the road to the creek to see the sunset and ring the bell on the dock. Remember, Mom?”

“Yes, I remember all those things,” I nodded and smiled. “What wonderful memories we made!”

“I don’t want it to be different,” she said. “I don’t want things to change.”

“We can’t stop things from changing,” I said. “We can remember the special things and look forward to new adventures at the same time.”

“I feel like the old house will be sad if we don’t come back.”

I wanted to tell her that the house wouldn’t know, that it doesn’t have feelings, but I didn’t.

“I’m afraid that I will forget everything,” she said.

What can a mother say to a daughter whose soul is older than weathered Seacliff itself?

Sometimes, I find myself overwhelmed when trying to take the weight of the world off my daughter’s shoulders. But I think the world is probably better off being inhabited by tender souls who feel too much. These are the artists, the thinkers, the poets, the saints. Would I take away all her worry in order for her to be a happier little girl? As her mother, yes, I probably would. But sometimes, even mothers do not get to choose.

I hope my daughter will grow up to understand one day that it wasn’t the house that made those vacations special; it was the fact that she loved and felt and noticed all the things she held important. Knowing she is blessed with her father’s keen memory and her mother’s sentimentality, I am hoping to read her memoir before I leave this world, knowing the reward for her anxiety just might be a beautiful thing.

Until then, I will continue to sweep up the piles of dried pine needles and wait until my daughter is happily distracted on a play date before I drag this year’s Christmas tree to the curb and throw away the last of the wrapping paper.



Apple pie
Sweet whipped cream
Birds a chirping
Squirrels picking
Nuts out of the trees.

Dresses swaying
Boots a kicking
Boys and girls
Dancing ’til
There’s no more light.

Lanterns glow
Pretty dresses
Colorful shirts
Music festival
Dance, dance, dance!

Dance ’til Spring is done!
Tired, tired, tired
People go to sleep.

— by Poppy H. (age 7)


Snippets (4.10.12)


Mary Hazel has mastered the use of the phrase *thumbs up” in every context. When she puts her toys away, she asks for approval – “Thumbs up, Mommy?”. When I leave for work in the mornings she reassures me – “Thumbs up, Mommy!”. When she’s pleased with herself, she grins and whispers – “thumbs up, baby”. The other night, I rocked her until her little body became heavy and her breathing rhythmic. I slowly got up and inched toward her crib. I tucked her in and sneaked toward the door. As I reached for the knob, she raised her head briefly and exclaimed, “To the moon and back! Thumbs up!”. 


MH recited the whole alphabet from the back seat of the van on the way home from school today. I celebrated and did the happy dance for her. (I think she might already be embarrassed by the happy dance like her siblings.) She still stumbles a bit through “L,M,N,O,P”, but I’m going to give her full credit. I ended up doing the Elaine-from-Seinfeld-happy dance another time today when Mary Hazel told me she needed to go “potty like a big girl”, marched to the bathroom, pulled the stool over to the grown-up potty, climbed aboard and tinkled right on target! Woo Hoo! Woo Hoo! Woo, woo, woo hoo! (That’s an excerpt from the happy dance song, by the way.) She enjoyed the positive reinforcement so much that she got up and down from that potty about a dozen more times before she realized she had nothing left to give. Big fun.


Yesterday I was alone with Mary Hazel and needed to take a shower before going to work. I lured her to the bathroom with books and toys and told her to stay close. Of course, the moment I stepped under the hot water, she took off. I called her name several times to see if she would answer. She didn’t. I rushed through my shower and barely got the soap out of my hair before I grabbed the towel and went searching for her. I found her sitting pretty as you please in the middle of her sister’s bed surrounded by broken plastic Easter eggs and wadded up pieces of shiny tin foil. Her mischievous little hands and face were smeared with warm chocolate and she was rather pleased with herself. Back to the shower we went.


My dear friend and her lovely family of five spent the Easter holiday with us last week. When the big, tall daddy first walked through the door, MH wasn’t quite sure about him. I said something like, “Who is that man coming into our house?”. From that point on, she referred to him simply as Man. Hey Man, read me a book. Hey Man, come here. Hey Man, hug? He responded in kind by affectionately referring to her as Girl. Something about that exchange just made me smile every single time.


I had to take poor Charlie to the Minute Clinic Easter morning. Here is the conversation between the nurse practitioner and my son. Her: “So your ears hurt?” Him: “Yes.” Her: “And your throat hurts?” Him: “Yes.” Her: “And a bit of a fever?” Him: “Yes.” Her: “And anything else bothering you?” Him: “Well, sometimes my sister does.”


When my son revealed something rather embarrassing to me today, I told him he was honest to a fault. Charlie, who often pronounces r’s as l’s, cackled hysterically and reprimanded me for saying an “inappropriate” word. Took me a minute.


It is so fun listening to the kids read real books. (I consider Hop on Pop a real book in case you’re wondering.) Charlie seems a little more comfortable sounding out the letters and figuring out words in context. Poppy is so nervous about saying something wrong that she holds back a little. Bless her. If she hesitates too long, Charlie swoops in and gives her the answer (even though it makes her SO mad). It’s hard enough practicing our reading without the baby climbing in between us and stealing the book from my hands, now I have to make time to read with them individually so one doesn’t feel overshadowed by the other. It’s times like these that I feel there isn’t enough mama to go around.

Snippets (4.4.12)

We finally have everyone nursed back to health. (Knock, knock.) I was so relieved and ambitious this morning that we walked to school for the first time in a week. It was a crisp, clear morning and the children were happy to be helping me with my Kindness Project du jour. At least I think they were. We ran into a bit of a dilemma halfway to Main Street when we realized that Blackberry had followed us all the way from home. She’s only been camping on our front porch for a week or so, but I’ve grown quite attached to her already. The thought of her approaching one of the busiest streets this side of town had me breaking a sweat. I called Russell to come fetch the kitty. He was about to leave for work, so he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the distraction. But he obliged. When he approached our location, however, he somehow drove right past us. Boy, does that husband of mine have tunnel vision! Just when the kids and I started returning home to safely deposit the shadowing kitty, our neighbor let out her dozen or so barking basset hounds in their fenced-in backyard. Blackberry first jumped straight up in the air and then, from what I could see, actually flew halfway home. A blessing in disguise. Poppy was not happy that we were officially one minute late for school, but I think it was worth it.

When I picked up MH from school today, she gave me her signature bear hug and then grabbed my cheeks in her hand, made sure I was looking at her, and then proudly boasted, “I potty! Ms. Carol! No diaper!” She repeated this several times until her teachers nodded and vouched for her story. I don’t think she actually produced anything, but she asked to go and went through the motions. How exciting! I don’t think the twins were interested until they were closer to 2 ½. Of course, they never went to “school” to see how the big kids went about their, er, business. It’s fun to see the baby doing new and different things, but I will miss the diaper stage. Seriously. I think the potty training time is pretty challenging. You have to visit every bathroom at every place you even thought about visiting. You have to wash hands at every one of these locations. You have to pull off the interstate every 30 minutes because you don’t want to assume they can wait when they tell you they have to go. You have to travel with a potty in the trunk. And so on. The biggest reason I’ll miss the diaper stage, though, is I really love our cloth diapers! They are so pretty and pink and soft. Weird, I know.

It has become part of our driving-to-school routine to count. Mary Hazel is a very enthusiastic student. We always start with 1 – 20 in English. (It’s cute the way she always stumbles over “thwee”.) We’ve added to our repertoire a little Spanish and French for variety. My favorite part is when I get to the French seven. I say, “Sept” and she enthusiastically responds, “Go!”

Poppy and Charlie were very excited to let us in on a little secret over dinner last night. They whispered that there was going to be quite the event at school in a couple of weeks but swore us to secrecy. They hopped up from the table (which we normally discourage) and broke out into a dance routine that looked like a cross between The Robot and The Funky Chicken. Poppy finally broke the suspense when she revealed, “We’re going to have a flash mop!”

Project Kindness (Day 34)

My heart is heavy. Baby Noah passed away this afternoon. I hear he was surrounded by his loving parents, his twin brother, and his dog. I hear he was comfortable and in no pain. I hear that his mom and dad have been brave throughout this unimaginable ordeal and were at peace with Noah’s transition from this world to the next. I cannot stop thinking about him. About them. About the whole awful awfulness. Other than offering my constant thoughts and prayers, there is little more that an acquaintance like me can do to help diminish the pain of this family. There are so many others, like me, who desperately want to make things better, but that’s really silly, isn’t it? There is nothing that we can do to lessen the blow, to heal the wound, to turn back time. The love of family and the passage of time are probably the only things that will eventually swing the pendulum of suffering the other way. Words really do fall short.

With this grief weighing so heavy on me (and all of us who knew of Baby Noah), I wanted to do something to help some baby, somehow. Something that was actually within my power. I wanted to offer something life affirming. Something that is tangible and vital and nourishing. When I thought of my own babe, I was reminded of the one thing I knew I could offer to her upon her own recovery from cancer that immediately started the healing process for both of us. I gave her my milk. Of course, it was more than just the milk. It was the bonding that goes along with it. The eye gazing, the skin-to-skin contact, the snuggling. The indescribable relief. For me, being able to provide that nourishment to my daughter, both physically and emotionally, was exactly what I needed to feel like I was contributing to her recovery. And that’s when it hit me. I could do the same for another child. Well, not all of it, but provide the milk at least.

I have had a little experience with this type of donation in the past. Just over a year ago, a lifelong friend of mine was blessed with the unexpected opportunity to adopt a newborn baby boy. She is as good a mama as there ever was. I had more milk stored in my freezer than I had mouths to feed. I offered. She accepted. He is a very healthy, happy, much-loved (almost) toddler today.

I don’t know of any adopted newborn babies this time around, so I knew exactly who to ask for help. When I was pregnant with Mary Hazel, I wanted to try my hand at a natural childbirth experience. With the twins, I had the dubious distinction of delivering Charlie the “traditional” way and Poppy via emergency c-section. Long story. With Mary Hazel, I had a hard time finding a doctor who would allow me the trial of labor. They wanted to schedule me for a c-section right after they confirmed my pregnancy. I didn’t like that. Not a bit. I started Googling and asking around and seeking alternatives. That’s when I found the great, the wise, the Super Doula, Julie. It was through my relationship with her that I started really believing I could have the birth experience I wanted to have. I even signed up for her Hynobabies class where I learned techniques for interpreting pain as pressure and trained my mind to only have positive associations with my birthing time. I must admit, I was a little skeptical in the beginning. It sounded too good to be true. However, I knew from personal experience (i.e. I was hypnotized several times to hilarious effect in college), that I was very open to the power of suggestion. I went for it. Lo and behold, it worked! I arrived at the hospital in full transition and delivered sweet Mary Hazel just a few minutes later (while holding squeezing the ever-living life out of the hand of another friend and doula). It was all I could have hoped for and more. The point of this story is that Julie is good people. She helps mamas. She guides them. She wants them to be successful and happy and empowered. I knew she could help me again. I asked her if she happened to know of a local mom and baby who might be in need of breastmilk donations. When she returned my e-mail just a few minutes later with a hearty ‘yes!’, it seemed like it was meant to be. I contacted the mama and within an hour’s time, we had worked out most of the details. Since I am a (clears throat) rather busy person these days, I didn’t want to overextend myself. We agreed to a few ounces a day with a delivery once a week. Her husband works down the street from my house. It was a match made in Heaven.

I am under no illusion that I am saving anyone’s life. I know that I cannot cure cancer. I know that Baby Noah was dealt an incredibly unfair hand that nobody could change. I’m still plenty sad and know that I will not soon forget how this experience has made me feel. I do feel hopeful, though, that when we feel our lowest, we can still offer someone something of value. Something that might very well be perceived as a blessing. And I do believe that is what this ‘paying it forward’ thing is all about.

Project Kindness (Day 26)

Russell and I left for our honeymoon on April 14. This is also the date the Titanic hit the iceberg almost a hundred years ago. Once I made that connection, it was kind of hard to forget. Perhaps this is why my daughter responded so deeply to the transatlantic tragedy that she just recently learned about.

We all went to Barnes and Noble this afternoon, because it is Sunday and that’s just what we do on Sundays. We love to have a decadent snack in the cafe (split five ways now) and then essentially camp out in the B&N, Jr. section until someone displays behavior that suggests a nap is needed. Sometimes, that is my husband. Anyway, during our marathon visit this afternoon, Poppy was drawn to the dozens of books on the shelf written just for children her age to understand the fate of the unsinkable ship and the 1500 people who died in the chilly waters in the North Atlantic ocean so many years ago. While I think it’s important for the kids to know about the Titanic, of course, I wasn’t prepared to have to go into so much…detail. Since the glossy books had so many beautiful illustrations, such as life boats swinging precariously from the sides of the ship, Poppy had lots of questions. She wanted to know, but she didn’t want to know. The proverbial train wreck from which she could not avert her eyes. She sat on the bench with her little hands folded in her lap looking solemn and attentive. Several times, I had to get up and chase Little Bug around the entire perimeter of the store while she happily and loudly narrated, “Running! Running!”. When I finally corralled the baby back into the confines of B&N, Jr., I found Poppy still sitting in the same spot, still studying the same pictures in the book. She picked up right where we left off. “So, why didn’t the captain want to get off the boat? Why did they want to play music at a time like that? Did all the babies make it off the ship?” I assured her that most of the survivors were women and children. This was not good enough. “But, did all the children get off the boat?” she pressed. I replied, “The mamas and the daddys made sure to get their children off the boat first.” I dared not read aloud the page that explained only half the children made it off the boat because so many of them were in the third class cabins below. I dared not. She and I were both haunted by the images of that tragic night. Page after page, she asked difficult-to-answer questions. I didn’t want to lie, but I didn’t really know if I should tell her the whole truth either. She was able to piece most of the story together herself just by looking at the detailed illustrations. We sat for a long time just looking at those pictures. It reminded me of a long moment of silence. I could tell that she was really moved, perhaps in a way that she had never felt before. By the time her brother and father joined us on the bench, Poppy was quietly sobbing. She was overcome. She kept saying, “I’m so sad, Mommy. This makes me so sad, Daddy.” She elaborated, “I keep wishing this was some kind of story, but it really happened. All these things really happened to real people.” I hugged her hard and agreed that it was a terrible, awful thing that happened. Then she started to get kind of angry. “Why did they use cheap rivets? Why were the binoculars locked away? Why didn’t that man reading the telegraphs stop the boat?” She was genuinely mad that this historic tragedy could have been avoided. I wasn’t quite sure how to channel her emotions, but I thought it was healthy for her to have them. I’m proud that she feels deeply and that she is empathetic and compassionate. I would certainly rather her exhibit these traits than not. I felt like she wanted to do something for the people who didn’t find their way to a life boat, but she and I could hardly think of what.

When we got home from the store, I got online to do a bit of research. I found the website for the Titanic Historical Society, the world’s largest Titanic organization, located in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts. They are planning a memorial service next month to remember and honor the victims of the ill-fated Titanic. The kids thought it would be nice to draw pictures and write a note to send to the families who will be in attendance. I have no idea if their efforts will be opened, read, or shown to anyone outside the mail room, but I think they felt good about expressing themselves on the matter. They each drew a picture of how they thought the Titanic looked during those last few hours and then wrote a brief note on the back. Poppy’s says, “I am so sad for all those poor people.” Charlie’s reads, “The Titanic was a good old ship even though it sank.” I promised to put the letters in the mail tomorrow.