Give My Mom a Gun?

My mom was 5 feet tall. In December, 1993, she was 56 years old and struggling with her grief over my dad’s death the prior year. She worked in the library at Wauwatosa West High School. She was one of the last people to speak to Vice Principal Dale Breitlow before he stepped out of the library and was murdered in the hallway by a former student.

Boston, Thanksgiving 1993 – 1 week before the shooting. Note the glasses in my mom’s hand!

I was in school out of state at the time and oblivious to the tragedy that struck my community until my mom called me that night to tell me she was fine. Close family friends had insisted she stay with them that night as she processed the ordeal. She had herded the students in the library into her office where she locked the door and huddled with them. This was before social media and cell phones, and my mom and the students had no idea what was going on or what had happened as they waited to be released.

When the killer was captured, my mom said it was no surprise to anyone at the school. My mom described the former student as an odd kid, who appeared to be mentally ill and was often in trouble. But she was mystified as to why he would attack Mr. Breitlow, who she said did everything he could for the kid and was always kind to him. In her grief over my dad’s death, my mom had adopted a “woe is me” attitude and lost some of her empathy, but her heart went out to the Breitlow family. She bemoaned the fact that his wife was suddenly widowed and his young sons without their dad.

As school shootings became mass school shootings, each one reminded me of Dale Breitlow’s death and its effect on my mom. She was horrified with the rest of the nation with the Columbine shootings, but it was also a personal horror that reminded her of her trauma. She died in 2000 so has not had to relive her experience with each successive school shooting, a small blessing.

Oddly, throughout all of this, it took until now, the Parkland shooting, for me to connect the dots. Mr. Breitlow’s killer used a revolver, not an assault weapon. His ability to gun down innocent people was limited. I have no doubt that if that tragedy occurred today, my mom and those students in the library likely would have become physical, and not just psychological, victims. It would have been an easy few steps from the hallway to the library, a thought that makes me sick.

So now let’s get to the proposal of arming teachers and school workers. Are you fucking kidding me? My mom loved books and technology. She was so opposed to violence and guns that when my brother asked for a GI Joe doll, she got him a “Big Jim” doll instead. (Look it up, it’s a real thing.) She had terrible eyesight. She was already traumatized by a shooting. Do you really think the answer to Mr. Breitlow’s shooting would have been to arm her, someone who probably would have quit instead of carrying a weapon? And what about when she continued working after her Parkinson’s diagnosis? Does it make sense to arm someone who doesn’t have full motor control? Would she have lost her job because carrying a gun would have been viewed as an essential job function of a school employee?

It’s time for America to get its head out of its ass and solve this problem. Not with platitudes and  prayers or ridiculous ideas like arming teachers, but with real action. Resources to address mental illnesses and gun control legislation. Matt and I get asked how we can feel safe living in Mexico City. Matt is an elementary school principal – how can we feel safe living in the United States?

No, Moving to a Foreign Country Won’t Help



During this contentious election cycle, many state-side friends have said that they will move to a foreign country if Trump gets elected. Some of them are sincere when they say it. It won’t help. You can run, but you can’t hide. You will still feel bruised and battered by this unprecedentedly ugly election.

In the past, we could disagree in a civil manner. Our presidential debates were usually snooze fests with mediocre viewership. This year, the election became a reality show, full of insults, tweets, one-liners and misinformation. I shudder to think that any high school debater watched the debates and thought these were appropriate debating techniques. How did we fall so low that the two major candidates for President of the United States traded insults on par with dimwitted elementary students and couldn’t manage to shake hands? And while I think about 92% of the rude comments came from Trump, the times that Clinton stooped to his level made me cringe. Is this really how the American voters want their President to act?

And what about Clinton supporters? Yes, we are appalled that Trump is the Republican candidate and has a good shot at winning this election. But how about keeping our discourse at a proper level? It’s hard, of course, when Trump defrauds millions with his fake university, insults broad classes of people, and speaks of grabbing women by the pussy, but why stoop to his level? Often I read articles bemoaning Trump’s bullying comments only to read the anti-Trump comments that appeared to channel the man himself in crudeness and lack of intellect.

Make no mistake, I am not suggesting keeping quiet or refraining from respectfully disagreeing with those who think differently than you. But as a whole, this election seems to have brought out the most ugly things about America: our resentment, bigotry, callousness, entitlement and crudeness. When you move to a foreign country, you become an unofficial US ambassador. I have had countless conversations with non-Americans asking me what the hell the problem is with our country. It’s a terrible feeling to have to acknowledge that racism, misogyny, and hate seem to be the driving factors for many voters in this election.

When Matt and I became ex-pats, we didn’t do it because we disliked the USA. However, as with most people of privilege, we were ambivalent toward what we had. We took for granted our rights of free press and free speech, our judicial system based on due process and our fair elections. Living in two other countries has been an eye opener. In both, the press is restricted and one cannot criticize the President. We have seen governments that suppress news, including that regarding potential natural disasters, and change constitutions and laws to suit their ends. We witnessed a local election when the frontrunner was imprisoned by the incumbent government with no charges brought. We experienced a government that increased sales tax by 2%, restricted the money one could send abroad without a 5% surcharge paid to the government and placed an additional 3.5% tax on wages to pay for earthquake relief because of inadequate reserves. Until about 4 months ago, we were walking around proud to be Americans. It was as though we finally understood why the USA is the super power it is.

Now I question just how great the USA is. If we have so much as a country, why are many acting so terribly toward one another? What on earth are people afraid of? What do they think they lack? It is profoundly depressing to me to think that as a country we have not moved forward since the civil rights movement of the 60s. It is disturbing to see the distortion of facts and reality in the press, or outlets that currently pass as press. And it is downright horrifying to think that our 200+ year history of peaceful transfers of power may be challenged by a losing candidate.

You can move to a foreign country after the election, but it won’t help. You will still be an American.


The 1/2 Way Mark


St. Paddy's Day

St. Paddy’s Day

Life isn’t fair. If you grew up in my family and didn’t know this by the time you were 4 or 5, you weren’t paying attention. It was my dad’s favorite line. Complain about pretty much anything and you could expect, “Well, kid, life isn’t fair. Get used to it.”

Death isn’t fair either. 23 years ago, when I was 23, my dad died of lung cancer. He was 56.

I’ve been dreading this day, the symbolic halfway point of my life, since his death. In the year after my dad died, I took comfort in the fact that only one year ago, he was still alive. But as that horrible year after his death passed, I couldn’t think “last year he” or “last year we.” The last year was already gone.

Andy's Baptism, Last Family Photo

Andy’s Baptism, Last Family Photo

The immediate pain of death recedes. That’s true. But the loss remains. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my dad. Not. One. Day. 23 years is a long time to miss someone.

And there is a lot to miss. My dad was not perfect, but boy, he was fun, the life of many parties. He would accept any last minute invitation and leave the chores for later. He taught me to swim, fish, ski, golf, shoot a basket (I never really learned that one), swing a bat, and ride a bike. There were family ski trips with the Arpins and, once, an infamous canoe trip with my uncle and cousin. He taught me to play cribbage and gin rummy and that there always needed to be some stakes (1/10 of a penny a point when I was really little) to “keep the game interesting.” He did not let me win. Ever. He taught me Irish songs, many violent or morbid, and was the one to explain to my kindergarten teacher why I sang a song about “sticking a knife in the baby’s head” for show-and-tell. (His excuse was that I spoke [and sang] so quickly he didn’t think anyone would understand me.) He fostered my love for demented Christmas trees  because he and Pat Arpin would bar hop until they finally cut down the trees, leading to some interesting specimens that eventually became a family tradition. He hand wrote letters to me while I lived in Italy, which usually consisted of sports updates of the Brewers, Bucks, Green Bay Packers and the Wisconsin Badgers and a few tidbits of family news. The year between college and law school when I lived at home and waitressed, he would often wait for me to get home from my weekend shifts and have a drink with me while I unwound. When I was in law school, he always took me to the airport when I left and picked me up when I came home.

He loved me and I never doubted that love. I never had an absent or disinterested father. I was his “favorite youngest daughter.”



And now, it’s the 1/2 way mark. After today, I will live more of my life without my dad than I got to live with him. It’s not fair.

Except not really. I did the math: the halfway point is really in another 336 days. So for another 336 days I can take comfort in knowing that I got to enjoy life with my dad longer than I have enjoyed life without him. And after that, I will just have to enjoy life: it’s the only way to honor the memory of someone who loved life like he did.

Why Being Childless Makes Me Fruitful

Pope Francis is wrong. His statement that Jesus “doesn’t like” married couples “who don’t want children, who want to be without fruitfulness,” assumes a lot of things. It assumes that such married couples don’t value relationships. It assumes that they have pets they spoil instead of children. It assumes that a decision to not have children is brought on by a desire for material things, and ignores any other considerations (genetics, health, overpopulation concerns) that may have gone into the decision. The Pope also stated “in the end, this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness.” Yikes, the Pope has doomed my marriage? My life?

Having or not having children is a personal decision. I am not bashing anyone who has made the decision to have children and am not saying that such a decision is selfish or that parents are selfish. Because that is the first issue: why is a personal decision about whether to have children even framed as one of selfishness? I hate the fact that married friends of mine who have made the decision to remain childless will often preface conversations about it with “Maybe I am just selfish, but…” Why? Why is a decision about bringing another life into this world even discussed in terms of “selfish?” I could make the counter argument that having biological children is selfish when there are adoptable children in need of homes, but I don’t believe it. Having children is a personal choice, with huge ramifications. Other life decisions, such as not marrying or choosing a particular career, customarily are not subject to such pejorative terms, so let’s stop using “selfish” when discussing this decision.

But given that married, childless couples are often accused of being selfish, let me give you 5 concrete reasons why I’m not and why my life is fruitful, not barren as Pope Francis believes.

1. I have time for my friends and family. Always. Despite the fact that until last year I was a practicing attorney with a busy career, I have always made time for my friends and family and they know they can count on me. I take their phone calls, make plans with them, listen (and talk, who am I fooling?) and enjoy their company. I don’t have the distraction of children vying for my attention. I can stay up late to talk through a crisis because I don’t have to get up 3 times in the middle of the night for a feeding or nightmares. I value my relationships and work hard at them.

2. I have time for my friends and siblings’ kids. I have babysat, gone to kids’ soccer games (which I hate), baseball games, basketball games, school plays, spelling bees and school concerts. I am thrilled to cheer for my friends’ kids, niece and nephews and to see them perform. I do this because I want to, not because I have to. I do this because I love your kids.

3. No competition. My friends can brag all they want and I won’t one-up them because I don’t have kids. Oh, I might mention my niece and nephews because I am proud of them too, but there is no competition as to whose kids are more gifted, talented, faster potty trained, whatever. I am happy to hear about how great your kids are without secretly comparing them to mine.

4. I don’t give up on my friends. Raising kids is tough work. I know that the early years are the hardest and that parents are exhausted and frustrated. I know that when I invite my parent friends to do something, they will likely decline, but I keep inviting anyway. I know that I have been replaced by the neighbors because it is easier to walk out the back door and have a beer on the patio rather than call me and invite me over. I know that when my friends’ kids go to school, the parents of their friends will replace me, again. I get this and, while my feelings are hurt, I will take whatever time I can get with you.

5. I am married because I want to be. I am not staying in a bad marriage for the sake of my kids. I am not having kids in an attempt to save a bad marriage. I am married because I love Matt more than anyone and love being with him.

My life is not barren. I have great friends and am a great friend. I am close to my family. I have a strong marriage. I don’t think I am doomed to be a lonely old lady. What would it say about our society if the only bonds that sustain people in old age are those with their own children? Where would that leave single people, for surely the Pope is not advocating children out of wedlock?! Where would that leave couples whose child died or who were unable to conceive, because surely the punishment of  a marriage ending in “a bitterness of loneliness” would be cruel? Where would that leave priests and nuns? Let’s see married childlessness for what it is: one (major) life decision, not a indication of personality or values or worth or happiness.


Soundtrack of My Life (Thus Far)

A current popular blog theme is the music that shaped the writers’ lives or is entwined with their memories. So I thought I would follow suit, but it’s hard to limit my list. Mind you, I am not saying these are the best songs ever; in fact, some make me cringe, but hearing them will transport me every time.

 Weela Wallia. Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

My dad’s Irish clan loves their Irish songs and this one topped the list for me. An old woman “stuck a knife in the baby’s head; the more she stuck it, the more it bled,” wow, what an image. And then the woman gets hung for her crime; maybe this is why the legal profession appealed to me. Or not. I sang this song in kindergarten and Dad had to explain to the unamused teacher why. His response: he didn’t think anyone would understand me because I talked (and sang) so fast!

 The Butcher Boy. Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

Yes, there is a theme here.  The special treat if Grandma Dwyer rode home with your family from the cottage was that she would treat everyone to frozen custard (ah, La Ducs) and we would sing Irish songs (between licking our cones). This song, about a girl who commits suicide after her boyfriend spurns her when she gets pregnant was another favorite. My brother Tommy and I used to serenade our German neighbors with this one when we were about 4 and 7, respectively. I think our mom approved because it was a cautionary tale of the dangers of premarital sex. I’m not sure what our poor neighbors thought.

8 Days a Week. The Beatles

Older sis Mick and her best friend Chris LOVED The Beatles and thus, so did I. But they mocked me endlessly when I asked them how a week could have 8 days. Ah, I still feel the shame, but it didn’t diminish my Beatlemania. And I suppose Mick and Chris’ torture made me tougher (despite the lingering grate phobia).

Be Not Afraid. Bob Dufford & On Eagle’s Wings. Michael Joncas

I hate these songs. All the upper level girls in my Catholic grade school had to sing at funerals while the boys got an extra recess. This was horrifically depressing because the only funerals we sang at were the ones for the extremely elderly, which usually had 5 people in attendance. It embarrasses me to think about how irreverent and disrespectful I was during these funerals, but I loathed them and the blatant sexism. In eighth grade I led a protest and refused to sing at funerals any longer (this included during summer vacation when we were expected to go sing if requested). My friend’s mom said I was committing a sin and at some point I got guilted into again singing for funerals. Mind you, this had nothing to do with the quality of my voice, but rather the need for a critical mass in the choir. As an adult I have sung these songs at countless funerals and while I still hate them, I do it out of love and respect for the deceased. I maintain that it was wrong to force young girls into this role, but I do love the mystical smell of incense.

Thunder Island. Jay Ferguson

Summer of 1978. Cottage. Lazy days on the raft, truth or dare in the attic at night.

Only the Good Die Young. Billy Joel

Same summer; same memories. As a Catholic girl, it gave me hope of being naughty some day even if I didn’t totally understand the lyrics!

Jesse’s Girl. Rick Springfield

My first concert without my parents. Tommy and his friend took my friend and me to Summerfest and we saw Rick Springfield at the Main Stage. Even better – when I couldn’t see anything, Tall Paul put me on his shoulders and I felt so cool.

New Year’s Day. U2

The first music video I remember seeing once we got cable. I LOVED my MTV and watched it for hours on end. Close second in my MTV world was The One Thing by INXS.

A Boy Called Sue. Johnny Cash

My Dad’s best friend Pat would always put this one on the juke box at Irene’s, the smallest bar in Hurley, or was it Ironwood, when we were on our annual ski trips to the UP.

I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues. Elton John

My family moved in the middle of my sophomore year of high school. I was miserable and secretly cried my eyes out to this one.

Relax. Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Dad was driving me somewhere when this song came on and he asked me what the lyrics were. I lied and said I didn’t know. He probably did. I still blush when I hear this song.

I Can’t Fight This Feeling. REO Speedwagon

The plight of every younger sister is that all of your friends have crushes on your brother at some point. This was the anthem for one of my friends and her flirtation with Tommy. No, I won’t name names. But you both know and I still laugh when I hear this song.

Blister in the Sun. Violent Femmes

If you are of a certain age, and from Milwaukee, it is a given that you love the Femmes and saw them often. I had the eponymous album and played it as I got ready for my high school graduation.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The Beatles

This song is a two-fer on memory lane. The album was one of the few I took to college. It also was the song that kicked off the Live 8 concert in London in 2005. Matt and I were driving through the English countryside when the broadcast started and U2 with Sir Paul sang this song. Priceless.

 Respect. Aretha Franklin

My college roommate Amy and I would put this song on the jukebox in the bar we would hit after working our shift at the Dane County Coliseum. We would dance like maniacs and belt it out.

Come on Eileen. Dexy’s Midnight Runners

My middle name is Eileen. I don’t know any songs with Kerry.

 Baby Can I Hold You. Tracy Chapman

When I lived in Italy, some friends asked my roommate Jean and me to translate this song for them. It was good Italian practice. Bob Marley’s No Woman No Cry and John Lennon’s Imagine were other favorites at that time.


UW-Madison, Class of 1990. Go Badgers!

The Parting Glass. Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem

Mom defied the priest and we sang this song at Dad’s funeral. Good for any ending.

Angel. Robbie Williams

This treacly song was all the rage when my family toured Ireland with an entourage of friends. My musical friend Julie predicted she would have all of us singing it within a few days and she was right. We even had choreographed hand motions as our “performances” were on the long car rides.

Fly Me To The Moon. Frank Sinatra

Mom loved Frank and I came to share her love. Long before meeting Matt, I knew that if I ever married I wanted this to be the wedding song. Thankfully, Matt concurred.

 Watching the Wheels. John Lennon

I played this song on my way to and from work when I desperately wanted to quit a career that other people thought was great. “I just have to let it go.” And I did.

What are your song memories?