I was telling Charisma a few days ago that I don’t dream of you very often. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve dreamt of you since your death. I don’t know why that is because you are the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of at night. Last night I dreamt about you, and today, I have had a tough time functioning. It’s the first time in a while that I’ve had a day where I cannot stop crying. I went and had an oil change and cried in the service station. I went to the grocery store and cried in my car before. I came home and let my tears splash down my face until they were kissed away by the most beautiful man, but he knows to let them continue to fall. I worked on my book but cried almost the entire time. I picked Poppy up from school and had a hard time driving to get her. I came home, unable to help her with her homework because I couldn’t function. I apologized to her and told her about my dream, and that I had a hard day. She told me it was ok and hugged me.
In my dream, you were about three, and you looked just like you always did with your delicious smile and ocean-colored eyes. We were playing hide and seek, and you kept saying to me, “Did you know? Mama, did you know?” I don’t know what you were talking about, and it’s killing me. Did I know how sick you were? Did I know how much pain you were in at the end of your life? Did I know you were going to die? Did I know how much you loved me? “Did you know,” could mean anything. Did you know? Did you know how much you were loved? Did you know how hard we tried to save you? Did you know I would have traded my life for yours in a heartbeat? Did you know how much we would miss each other? Did you know the more time passes, the more I ache for you? Eleven years later doesn’t make this pain any less; it almost hurts more. My birthday is coming up, and all I want is you. I know that one wish will never come true, but that doesn’t mean I won’t continue to wish for you. I miss you. I love you. I hope you are safe. Fuck cancer. #ronan #fuckcancer #grief #iloveyoutothemoonandback
I spent last weekend in love filled bubble as I watched one of the greatest loves of my life walk down the aisle in the wedding of the century. It was the most incredible weekend, and I was honored to be a part of it. I was asked dozens of times how I knew Fernanda. I hesitated with my answer, unsure which version of my story to tell. I could go with the easy, breezy version, which was, “we met in 2006 when our boys were in the same preschool class,” or I could go with the harder version, which is one of the truest truths I’ve ever known. I met Fernanda in 2006, but I didn’t really know Fernanda until 2010 when my three-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer.
Which version of the story do you think I chose to tell?
I chose the second version, knowing very well that tears would follow and potentially bring down the mood of the festivities, but to answer any other way would be abandoning the truth that I’ve worked so hard to own. Almost every person I told already knew about Ronan, and when they realized I was Ronan’s mom, I watched as their eyes filled with tears, and they embraced me in the most genuine, heartfelt way. I was met with, “You’re Maya! I feel like I know you because of Fernanda!“ I smiled and said I don’t know how I would have survived my son’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, and death if not for her. Below is a small excerpt from my book. Fernanda’s magic is sprinkled throughout this story.
Fernanda appeared on my doorstep about a week after Ronan’s diagnosis. I opened my door to this tiny framed, Auburn-haired Mexican goddess holding a life-size Darth Vader pinata she hauled back from Mexico City for Ronan. Or maybe it was really for me to beat the shit out of. Fernanda was, at one point, a “hi—how are you—isn’t life so busy” type of friend until she wasn’t. I first met Fernanda a few years prior when her little boy, Luca, was in the same preschool class as Liam and Quinn. We were both busy moms, and a deep friendship wasn’t formed, but she was somebody I always looked forward to seeing in class with our kids. By the time of Ronan’s diagnosis, the twins and Luca were at completely different schools. Fernanda could have quickly just sent an email saying how sorry she was about Ronan and went on living her beautiful life, but that is not what she did.
Once Fernanda contacted me, her home-cooked meals appeared at our house weekly. As we got more comfortable with her, she started visiting Ronan in the hospital, bringing along little gifts to keep him entertained while he was being held captive. Within a few weeks, Fernanda became someone Ronan would stay with at the hospital just long enough for me to run home and shower or sit in his closet and scream and cry while nobody else was home. She became our constant rock—coming to clinic visits to listen to what doctors had to say, taking it upon herself to learn just as much about this nasty disease as we did. Fernanda had a husband at home as well as five kids, who, at the time, were all under the age of seven. She missed family meals, vacations, and activities at school that her kids were performing in, and she never told me any of this. I heard it from others. She would have never wanted us to feel like a burden. One day, one of her little boys was doing something at school, and all the parents came and watched. Fernanda was, once again, absent. A mother approached Fernanda’s son and said, “Honey, isn’t your mom here?” He looked up at his woman with his huge soulful eyes that matched Fernanda’s and said, “No, she can’t come today. She’s helping a little boy grow his hair back.” She gave up her life with her family and friends to walk through hell with us, and she never asked for a thing in return.
When Fernanda first appeared on my doorstep, her brown eyes sparkled with authenticity. She felt safe, and I instantly trusted her. Was it because I felt so helpless? Would I regret letting her into my life? I didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to nurture a new friendship, which concerned me as I take my friendships very seriously. These things crossed my mind, but she continued to show up daily with her softest presence. It was never about her; it was always about my son. About us. Fernanda’s unwavering love only grew stronger, and because of that, I was reminded of the importance of vulnerability in life. Fernanda came into my life at the worst possible time, but instead of putting up my usual walls, I let her in.
Fernanda. My sister for life. You are one of the brightest stars on this earth. The love I have for you only gets stronger, no matter the distance or time between us. You are one of the reasons I stayed amongst the living, and writing about you in my book has been some of my favorite web of words. I cannot wait to share everything with you. I am so happy for you and Dave. Your love story is beyond beautiful, and no one is more deserving of this happiness than you. Thank you for everything you did for us. Thank you for the way you loved and love my son. Watching the two of you fall in love will forever be one of my favorite memories. I love you to the moon and back. And back again. Wink wink forever.
At what age do you think we realize our mortality? That is the question I posed while lying in the MRI machine, trying my hardest not to freak the fuck out over how claustrophobic I felt. God damn it, Maya. Why can’t you think about something more pleasant to pass the time? You just had the most incredible summer; a pinch-me moment summer. The pinch me moment came while I was on a whale-watching boat in the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest. I had Poppy on my lap, and she was giggling over the ocean swells we were bouncing over. The salty ocean water splashed our faces, and there he was. Just across from us, I locked eyes with him. Those eyes were just as they had always been, only now, they were extra sparkly for me. He laughed out loud, took out his iPhone, and snapped a picture of Poppy and me. I felt my stomach drop as I pinched the inside of my arm, and I felt the slightest tinge of pain. I hadn’t had one of those moments since before Ronan died. Why can’t you think about that moment while you are lying here instead? Why the fuck do you have to have such a morbid brain? Duh. You know why. Insert dead child here. I closed my eyes to try to block out the impending doom blasting in my ears from the MRI machine. You would think with all the incredible technology in the world, somebody would have figured out a way to make this “experience” a little more pleasurable.
Six days prior, I was on an airplane with Woody and Poppy en route to Omaha, Nebraska, to take Liam to college. Liam, Quinn, and their best friend Landon were driving Liam’s car out, and we had planned it so we would all arrive in Nebraska around the same time. Mr. Sparkly Eyes stayed behind because he had a couple of appointments and also the animals to look after. Despite my best efforts to get him to come, he remained steadfast in his decision. “Please.” I played with his foot under the dinner table, hoping I could coax him with the delicious homemade meal that I had placed in front of him. “My darling. The love of my life. Trust me on this one. This is an emotional time for all of you, taking Liam to college. I have things to take care of here, so I will stay behind while you spend this time together. It’s three days. You have to trust that I know what I’m talking about. I’ll say my goodbye to Liam here and let you all have your time in Omaha as a family.”
“You are also our family, and everyone wants you to come, not just me. I understand your reasons for not coming, but I will miss you so much.” I pleaded, but I knew he wasn’t changing his mind.“It’s only a few days, my darling, but I will miss you, too.” He kissed the top of my forehead, and we finished up the rest of our dinner. We had been through a war to get to this point, and someday I will share that story, but not here.
I boarded the Southwest flight to Omaha a few days later and took a slew of emotions with me. Our first college kid drop-off. How the fuck are we all going to survive this separation? And why doesn’t anyone talk about how hard this transition is? What do you mean I must be so excited about sending my firstborn twin off into this big wide world and trusting that the Zodiac Killer won’t abduct him? Why can’t he remain with us for the rest of his life? Or better yet, let’s pack up and move to Omaha for half the year and spend the other half in Santa Cruz with Quinn. I’m not exaggerating when I say both of these “plans” had crossed my mind. Woody was not handling the boys leaving for college well. I was not handling the boys leaving for college well. But I think out of all of us, Poppy was the most heartbroken. Once the boys had decided on colleges, we discussed it more frequently, and she started having mini breakdowns. I wanted to be proactive in trying to help her navigate things, so I found a therapist for her to see once a week. Her therapist was a good fit and someone Poppy took to. I wanted to make sure she knew her sadness was valid and that she felt comfortable expressing whatever she may be feeling. Some nights I would find her in her bed, under the covers, with tears streaming down her face. I would crawl under the covers to hold her, and often, we would cry together. She would eventually find her way back to me, and the words would start.
“Why do my brothers have to leave me behind?”
“I’m never going to get to see them anymore.”
“I’m going to be an only child now.”
“I’m going to be lonely because they are my best friends.”
“Who is going to play board games with me?”
“Why can’t they just stay here and go to ASU?”
I would answer her questions one by one. Eventually, I would make her laugh, and we would find our way out of the darkness and back into the light. I am quietly trying to teach her the importance of embracing the darkness in this messy, complicated world. That everything cannot be fixed with a fake smile or stuffing down feelings. Not acknowledging our truth can be detrimental to our mental health and significantly impact our lives in a harmful way. I cannot tolerate the fakeness that people carry around in this world, sprinkling it around like it is the answer to everything. Eventually, you will rot from the inside out, and I am such a huge believer that embracing the darkness has the power to invoke so much healing in ourselves and lead us to places we never knew we were capable of going.
“Mama. How long is this flight? Did you pack my headphones? What about snacks?” I looked over at Poppy and felt my heart flutter. Fuck. I don’t know what I would do without her. For as much as she needed me, I very much needed her. She was the yin to my yang. My mini in so many ways yet so fiercely her own little being. She was magic and fire, and I still thank Ronan every fucking day for her. I KNOW he had a hand in giving us this little girl of ours. The sister he always wanted. His “Minnie Mouse,” as he wanted to name her. I pulled her backpack out from underneath her seat and got out everything she needed to occupy her for the next couple of hours. I pulled out my computer and spent the majority of the flight going over edits on my book while I listened to my writing music on my headphones. Side note: I ALWAYS only listen to Taylor Swift when writing. An hour and a half went by, and Poppy tapped my shoulder to ask if I would do an activity book with her. We had about thirty minutes before we landed, so I put away my things, and we started doing a crossword puzzle. Twenty minutes passed, and the flight attendant got on the loudspeaker to announce that we were making our descent and that the plane would be landing soon. That is the last thing I remember about our flight. I woke up on the tarmac of Omaha, Nebraska, in a parked ambulance with no memory of how I got there.
“Do you know where you are?” My eyes slowly refocused as I looked at some sixteen-year-old paramedic asking me this question. A question that I couldn’t answer. I had no idea where I was. I could see a solemn-faced Woody trying to comfort Poppy. She was trying to be so brave but was quietly crying. I could see my daughter crying, but I could not figure out how to articulate any words or motions to comfort her. My brain cannot process anything that happened or what was going on at the current time. I was asked a few more questions by the paramedic, which I do not remember, and I have no idea if I was able to answer.
Mr. Sparkly Eyes called. “My darling. I’m on my way home, and then I’m getting on a flight. Woody called me from the plane and told me what had happened. I’m landing close to midnight. I’m trying to get there as fast as I can. I have the best doctor I know in Omaha at the ER waiting for you. She’ll look after you and update me on everything, but I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
I thanked him, told him I loved him, and hung up. I hardly remember arriving at the ER, but when we got there, we were met by multiple nurses and a doctor. Blood was drawn, vitals were taken, more questions were asked, and a CT scan was ordered. A couple of hours went by, and a doctor walked into the room.
“Your lab work came back normal, and your CT is normal. Have you been under a lot of stress recently? You had a Grand Mal seizure, which can be induced by stress or lack of sleep.”
I think about this question, but my brain feels foggy, and my head feels so heavy. I answer back. “Not more than normal, but maybe taking your firstborn to college is stressful? I’m not stressed, but maybe I am. I just feel sad.”
She smiled at me and said, “Well, we can release you, or we can keep you, but if you stay, you’d have to stay in the Emergency Room because our hospital is full.”
“That’s not necessary. I want to be discharged.” I looked over at Poppy and Woody; both looked pale and terrified.
“Alright. We will unhook your IV, and you can be on your way.”
Twenty minutes later, I was out the door, walking to the car. I asked Woody what happened, and he explained details I had no memory of. I asked him if the boys knew, and he said he didn’t want to tell them until we saw them in person, which I was so thankful for. The car ride to meet the boys was quiet. I felt like absolute garbage. We arrived at Airbnb, and just as we parked and got out, the boys pulled up to us, horn blaring as the three of them were excitedly laughing away. They hopped out of the car only to be met by our stone-cold faces.
“What’s wrong?” Quinn asked.
Woody replied, “We just got out of the ER. Mom had a seizure on the airplane right before we landed.”
All three boys looked shocked and perplexed.
“What the fuck?” Quinn said.
“Exactly. What the fuck is exactly how I am feeling.”
They all came up and hugged me and asked if I was alright. Besides the inside of my lip looking like raw cartilage and feeling extremely tired, I was ok.
“Yes, I’ll be fine. I’m just tired. Let’s get you settled and grab a bite to eat. I’m sure you all are starving.”
I managed to make it through dinner, although looking back, I don’t know how I didn’t pass out in the salad I was trying to consume. We returned to where Woody, Poppy, and the boys were staying and waited for Mr. Sparkly Eyes to land.
I sent him a slew of texts.
“Is this brain cancer?”
“Am I going to die?”
“I don’t want to die.”
“I’m so happy, and I haven’t been this happy since before Ro got sick.”
“I love our life together. I love our love and what it has created for us.”
“And now I’m going to have some terminal illness and die, and I cannot leave my kids without a mom.”
I didn’t care how irrational I sounded because I knew what would come next. It would be his arms, wrapped around me, talking me down from the ledge in the most rational way. In a way that only he can do. He knew just what to do with me and knew just how to handle all of my worst fears.
Woody drove us to the airport close to eleven p.m. To say I am thankful for him is the understatement of my life. No matter what has happened and how different things are now, to me, he will always walk on water. He is the best of the best, my best friend and the two of us are in a better place than we have been in such a long time. Honesty will do that to you, as well as being on the same page about the kind of family dynamic we want to exist in. Not caring about what other people think/judge or gossip about also helps. We are family and that will never change. On the way to pick up Mr. Sparkly Eyes, we spoke quietly about what had happened on the flight. Woody was calm and rational, which is the way I knew him to always be-even in the worst of moments. But I knew he was worried as fuck. Mr. Sparkly Eyes arrived, and we picked him up at the terminal’s curb. He looked concerned but gave me a quick hug and said, “Well, this is one fucking way to get me to Omaha.”
I laughed out loud for the first time that day.
“You scared the shit out of me. Let’s get you to the hotel; I know today has been horrific.”
I let him sit in the front with Woody while I listened to them talk about what had happened and the plans for the rest of the weekend.
The following morning, I woke up feeling like I had been in a horrific car accident. My entire body ached with pain I hadn’t ever felt before. I was exhausted, and my head still felt foggy, but there was no fucking way I was going to let that get in the way of moving Liam into his apartment. We spent the next two days getting him settled, and leaving him was as hard as I thought it would be. Poppy hugged him and sobbed goodbye. That in itself broke Woody and me. I was unprepared for how gut-wrenching this new life transition would be. I know this is a “win” in the parenting handbook of life, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
Monday morning, I found myself in the patient room of a Neurologist who is good friends with Mr. Sparkly Eyes. The three of us sat there for an hour while he asked questions and examined me. He was pleased my CT was normal but wanted an MRI and an EEG. Wednesday afternoon, I found myself in an MRI machine pondering my morbid question. When in life do we realize our mortality? It was at this moment that I was down a rabbit hole of my own.
I watched a reel of my life in my head. All that I had done and had yet to do. Ronan’s life. Ronan’s death. The always present grief that I had finally learned to accept and understand. My book is almost finished but has not yet been published for reasons I can’t discuss now. Fuck. My kids’ lives are going to be filled with so much pain because I’m going to fucking die. The thought of Liam and Quinn enduring another loss nearly sent me over the edge. Thinking about leaving Poppy on this earth… no fucking way. I know we are not in control of any of this. I know this because of Ronan, and I start to think about the end of his little life again. Did he know he was dying? Did he know he was going to be ripped from my arms? Did he know I would spend the rest of my time on earth waking up every morning, and my first thought is always, “How am I going to get through this day without him?” Eleven years later, my grief is even more present in my life, but I have learned the secret to nurturing it; it keeps me close to him. I start to spiral and panic, and just as I think I’m going to scream for the technician to let me out, a little voice fills my head.
“Stop it. Remember all the times Ronan would be in this machine, without anesthesia, holding completely still? Remember how brave he was? And he was only a baby. You are a full-blown fucking adult, so stop it. You don’t get to be scared, and even if you are, you don’t get to act like it.”
I closed my eyes and made it through the rest of my scan because of Ronan. I redressed and walked to the waiting room where Mr. Sparkly Eyes was. I asked him how long it would take to have my MRI read, and he told me probably a day or two. We went out to the car and drove to pick Poppy up from school. A couple of hours later, the images from my scan were uploaded to the portal. I could view the pictures, but because I’m not a doctor (duh), I had no idea what I was looking at.
I handed my phone to Mr. Sparkly Eyes so he could take a look. He looked at the images for a few minutes, said he couldn’t see anything abnormal, but made a phone call anyway. Ten minutes later, my results were read, and thank fucking Ro, my MRI was normal. MSE grabbed my hand and said, “Look at me. You’re going to be fine. You don’t have cancer. There is no brain bleed. Whatever this is, we will handle it together. This very well could have been a fluke, as the Neurologist said. That you are in the five percent of people who have an isolated seizure once in their life, and it never happens again.”
Usually, I would have the utmost confidence in his words, but my anxiety was at an all-time high, and I am generally not an anxious person. All these new feelings I was being flooded with were very unfamiliar to what I feel in my day-to-day life. I had one more test to do, an EEG, before I could confidently say nothing was seriously wrong, and I had to wait two weeks for that test to be done. After you have a seizure, it is a strict law in Arizona that you cannot drive for three months. Driving is one of my favorite things in life and a part of independence that is very important to me.
“But, AMY. I cannot drive for THREE MONTHS! Do you know what that means? All of my freedom is gone! No more road trips! No more coffee whenever I want it! No more driving in the car, blasting my music, however loud I want!”
I hear my new friend I met through an old friend, laughing on the other end of the phone. “Maya. You need to calm the fuck down and just pretend you are living the life of Taylor Swift, who is black car driven everywhere. This is great; this is a dream come true. I would love it if I had someone to drive my ass around at all times. ” Once she put things this way, my whole perspective changed.
I had one person to drive me around for the next three months, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but the first couple of weeks went like this:
Starbucks orders while I leaned over his lap, and Poppy chimed in from the back. He would laugh and say, “What did I get myself into?” Making him laugh feels like I’m wrapped up in my favorite sweater on the perfect autumn day.
He takes Poppy to and from school. Some days with me and some days without. On the days I am not with them, I get a full report about what the two of them talked about and how “bloody funny, kind, and smart” my little girl is.
He drops me off at my swim team and goes to work out until I finish.
He drops me off for lunch with my girlfriends and sometimes joins us.
He takes me to my appointments—Poppy to her voice lessons, therapy, art class, drama, and other after-school activities.
He takes me to the grocery store where we shop together, and he marvels at my bizarre opinions about specific olives and pickles. We converse about which milk is best, but he always defers to my choice. He stays at home with me while I work and is my harshest critic and my biggest cheerleader.
But my favorite moments in the car are the sporadic dance parties. If he senses I am feeling anxious, worried, or annoyed with him over something stupid; his go-to is to blast Harry Styles. He moves his shoulders in a way that looks like he is dancing and begs me to dance with him. In these moments, I cannot resist his charm or his wicked smile. I have no power over myself, and I always laugh and dance with him. But then there are the quieter moments. Or the moments that he grabs my hand and says in that thick South African accent, “I am so madly in love with you. Because of you, I finally know what real love is. You have shown me what it is like to be loved truly.” These moments and all the quiet moments in between turn into deep conversations about life. This whole not being able to drive thing has turned into the most unexpected quality time. Not once has he made me feel like I am a burden, or that he is too busy, or I’m too demanding, or I take up too much space. He makes me feel imperfectly perfect, which is only one of the thousands of things he loves about me.
Can I end this here? This feels like an excellent place to stop for now, but I promise there is so much more of this story to come.
P.S. My EEG came back to normal. So, I am going to trust what the doctor has said and go with this as a fluke and a one-time thing. I do not have brain cancer. Or a brain bleed. Or Epilepsy. And I am not dying. But I also know that at any moment, life can change in an instant. So you can be sure that I am going to continue to live my life in a way where dance parties in a car full of laughter and love are a very regular thing.
Eleven years without you feels like the cruelest joke. A never-ending nightmare that I cannot wake up from. I think about you so much that you are a part of my daily life. I’ve been doing that since you died, and that won’t ever change. I imagine you at fifteen as the most incredible athlete because even when you were tiny, you were so coordinated and sports-obsessed. I imagine you would have grown into your wildness but only enough to always be on the cusp of getting into some trouble. I would have nurtured that side of you and let you live out your life doing the things that made your heart soar. I know how much you idolized your brothers, and I imagine they would have happily taken you everywhere instead of you just being the annoying little brother who tagged along. I imagine your blue eyes, copper hair, and naturally, tan skin would still stop strangers dead in their tracks. I will never stop yearning for you or wishing for more time with you. I ache for you constantly, and I carry that pain with me always. Grief. It’s exhausting and constant work, but I know that’s because my love for you is bigger than life, and it is eternal.
The past few days have been horrifically hard. All meshed together, and I don’t know what way is up or down, left or right. I’ve been functioning but barely. I’ve known this pain for so long now that I know what I need to do to get through it. I spend a lot of time replaying our time together but especially the last few weeks with you. I cry, I give into this pain, and my nights are restless. But my restlessness is met with a touch of a hand and a soothing voice whispering words of comfort—the kind of words that make you believe in new beginnings and life-changing love. My heart will always be broken, but at least I have surrounded myself with the most beautiful people who know just how to nurture me, not just doing this time, but always. I genuinely believe certain people were placed in my life because of you because you knew they would be the ones to help me survive. I will forever be grateful to you for that.
I will spend your birthday with your daddy, brothers, sister, and Aubs. I’m not sure what we are doing yet, but we will all be together, loving and celebrating you. Happy 15th birthday, Ronan. I am so lucky to be your mom, and I am so thankful for the short time we had on earth together. Because of you, I know certain kinds of love truly do change your life. I love you to the moon and back, forever and always.
To see Ronan, Taylor’s Version on an actual album will forever be one of the proudest, most incredible moments of my life. And having my name beside Taylor’s feels like a dream I never want to wake up from. I love you, Taylor. Thank you for all the ways you continue to make my little man shine. #ronan #fucancer #ronantv #redtaylorsversion
For the past 48 hours, I have been called names, had my life threatened, had things said about me that are not true, had my dead child spoken of in a derogatory way, and told to remove my post by several adult women or else. As I stated earlier, I had a conversation with the Principal of Brophy today, who was in attendance of the game Friday night. He admitted to feeling very disappointed about what had occurred from the BROPHY student section. If your own Principal is going to take responsibility for this, you should do the right thing and do so as well. Get the FUCK off of my page and out of my DM’s with your vulgar words or dismissive “kids will be kids” GARBAGE. Go take a walk outside and do some deep digging about why you think it is acceptable to hide behind screens and say such awful words while defending such appalling behavior.
I am done with this conversation and defending my stance on this. If you can’t see the problem with what went on, that is on you and your soul. I have a life that I love, kids that I am insanely proud of, work that I am passionate about, and friends who are my entire world. I am going to get back to all of those beautiful things now instead of continuing to deal with the ugliness of the grossest comments and messages.
If you have a problem with the ongoing narrative of this, take it to your administration, who will now be handling this.
This afternoon, I received a phone call from Mr. Ryan, the Principal of Brophy. We spoke at length about what happened at Friday night’s game and about the disappointment that we both felt over what transpired. Mr. Ryan took accountability for the situation, apologized, and has reached out to the Principal of Sunnyslope.
We had a constructive conversation about how this can be used as a life lesson in hopes that this kind of behavior can be changed. Mr. Ryan said he would be addressing this with his student body, staff, and colleagues. He is committed to working with them to ensure that nobody will have to leave one of their sporting events feeling uncomfortable over behavior he has no tolerance for.
Brophy and Sunnyslope are neighbors, and I really hope things can move forward in a positive direction. We should strive to learn from our mistakes, and that starts by taking responsibility for our actions instead of deflecting or ignoring behavior that we know is not acceptable.
I very much appreciated Mr. Ryan’s words, apology, and commitment to changing the trajectory of this. At the end of the day, I want everyone to feel equal, supported, and loved. It shouldn’t be so complicated, and I genuinely believe if we start working together, beautiful things can transpire.
I attended Friday nights basketball game between Sunnyslope and Brophy. As I entered the gym before the game, I was thankful to have the opportunity to be there in person to watch my twin boys play for their Sunnyslope team. I know not every parent (including me) is able to attend all their children’s games, for a variety of reasons, so I am so grateful whenever I am able to watch the two of them play. I walked into your gym on Friday night with a full heart, ready for an exciting, competitive game, but because of incidents I will describe below, I left your school with a deep feeling of disappointment that I have not been able to shake.
As the mother of eighteen-year-old twin boys who have played basketball pretty much year-round since they were three years old, I have been to countless basketball games. I have watched from the sidelines as my twins have played teams not only from Arizona but from all over the country. I know what a spirited but healthy rivalry looks like. The behavior I witnessed from your student section during Friday night’s game crossed the line of decency. Unfortunately, this is not the first time we have experienced this type of behavior with your school.
During Friday night’s game, as one would expect during any well-attended high school game, there was chanting from both student sections. At first, it seemed harmless. Things took a turn, however, when I started to hear what sounded like chants directed at the socioeconomic status of Sunnyslope’s student body. I paused for a moment to make sure I was hearing things clearly as the chants from Brophy’s student section continued. My suspicions were confirmed and the inappropriate chants continued throughout the game.
This was unfortunately not the only derogatory language directed at Sunnyslope students by Brophy’s student section. This unacceptable behavior from Brophy students continued throughout most of the game, ending only once Sunnyslope had secured victory. Towards the final minutes of the game, Sunnyslope students chanted, “This is our house,” and Brophy students replied with, “You can’t afford it,” over and over again.
This is not an isolated incident. Sunnyslope parents have witnessed this type of behavior from Brophy students on multiple occasions and for many years.
I am sure our student section was not perfect on Friday night, but I did not hear anything from Sunnyslope students that crossed the lines crossed by Brophy’s students. Dr. Lovell, our Vice Principal, does an exceptional job of keeping our kids in line. If our kids are out of line, or if they are tempted to retaliate when they are disrespected, he does not hesitate to correct their behavior. He did a brilliant job on Friday night and in my opinion deserves a big fat raise for how hard he works.
Where was your administration, and why is this behavior continuously allowed?
A student section degrading others due to their socioeconomic status is simply wrong. It is way outside the bounds of a “spirited game.” Brophy likes to promote its commitment to educating young men of high character. That high character was not on display Friday night. I hope that your school will take the time to look at this issue and use it as a teaching moment to ensure this behavior does not continue to happen.
I am requesting that this matter be addressed with your administration and student body. I look forward to hearing about the necessary steps of action you will be taking in this matter. We are all human beings, and Brophy needs to take a hard look at this type of elitist and classist behavior as it is not acceptable on or off a basketball court. Let’s do better, our children are watching, which was made apparent by Friday night’s game.
They say time heals all wounds, but we know that’s not true. It’s been ten years of not having you here, and my wounds are still just as deep, and the heaviness I carry with me never goes away. I have learned to live on this earth without you, but as time goes on, life without you feels harder. You are forever with me in everything I do and everywhere I go. Take today, for example.
Poppy has been taking piano lessons for a couple of years. Her piano teacher recently retired, so she connected us with somebody new. It is a Sunday, and I am rushing your sister out the door to lessons with a new teacher. I have an idea of where we are going as I put the directions on my phone, but the location doesn’t register with me until we pull into the parking lot. Until this point, I am lost in a conversation with Poppy. She is talking non-stop in the back of the car about her theories on religion. She wants me to explain Scientology to her. I tell her I don’t know enough about it, and I need to research it a bit more before telling her the premise. She heard it’s about aliens, and she wants to know who came up with that. Mind you, she is eight, but she is eight going on 18, and I am constantly in awe of how her little mind works. As we pull into the parking lot, I feel my stomach sink. I know this place, and I used to know it well. It is the parking lot of your preschool; I feel my stomach drop. I spent a year there with you in a mom and tots class. We never got the chance to return the following school year because you got sick.
I hold Poppy’s hand as we search for the classroom where she is taking her lessons. Out of all the classrooms here, she is right across from the room where I was with you. The memories come flooding back, and I see a sixty-second movie reel of our time here together. I see your plaid shorts, your polo shirts, your mischievous smile, and the way you looked at me like I was your everything. I see you sitting in circle time. I see us reading books and playing with trucks and legos on the carpet. I see the little playground where I help you dump the sand from your tiny little shoes. I feel the tears wanting to fall from my face, but I cannot break down now. I have to meet this new teacher, so I somehow find it in me to hold on to my composure. I talk with Poppy’s teacher for a few minutes and leave Poppy with her while I make my way back to the car.
The tears are now falling, and I know there is no stopping them, so I let them continue down my face. As I am walking to my car, my mom calls. For a long time after you died, I would have ignored her phone call for one of two reasons. 1) I was ashamed of my pain. My grief. My tears. Of not being strong because, as I was told by many, strong people heal, and strong people move on. I was not doing either, and I spent many years thinking I was so fucked in the head for constantly aching for you. 2) I wanted to protect my mom from my pain, and I thought the easiest way to do so was by putting up walls and shutting her out. After a lot of therapy from Dr. Jo and a lot of self-reflection, I realized everything I had been told about grief was not only wrong but damaging to my healing.
I picked up the phone when I saw who was calling, and as soon as I said hello, my mom said, “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” She can tell from my “hello” that I am not ok. It takes me a few minutes before I can answer her because I am crying so hard. I feel horrible, knowing I am making her worry, but she sits and tries to calm me down. I am finally able to tell her where I am and what I am feeling. She talks me through things with a soothing tone and acknowledges my pain. I know she hurts so much, too, and that will forever gut me. We speak on the phone for a few more minutes, and I tell her I love her as we say goodbye. I know I have to head back to Poppy’s lesson soon, so I pull down the mirror in my car to check my appearance. I look wrecked. My face is puffy, my eyes are red, and I wonder how to explain my face to her piano teacher. It is more than evident that I have been crying. I put my face mask on and head to her classroom, telling myself I don’t need to say anything. I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my pain. Plus, awkward. I’m not ready to share Ronan’s story with a woman I just met. I thank Poppy’s teacher for the lesson and grab her tiny hand as we make our way back to the car.
“What’s wrong, mama?” asks P. Nothing gets past her, especially when it comes to me and my emotions. I consider lying to her and hiding what is going on, but then I remember, that’s not how I do life with her. I don’t keep secrets; I let her see me in my rawest, human form. I tell her what’s going on. I start to cry again. She steps up into the car, turns towards me, and wraps her arms around me.
“I love you, mommy. I remembered that Ronan went here; I knew that would make you sad. It’s ok to be sad; I’m sad, too.” I kiss her little face and tell her how much I love her. We drive home, and she proceeds to tell me about a new project she is working on at school. She knows I need a distraction from the thoughts in my head.
At home, Poppy is busy playing with her legos, and I am busy changing the boys’ bedroom sheets. My sadness is still apparent as he walks into the room. He takes one look at me and says, “Uh-oh, my darling. What’s going on?” I look at him and then down at my feet. “Nothing. I’m just having a hard day; I’m ok.” He grabs my hand. “You’re not ok. And that’s ok. Talk me through what happened because that is what we do with one another, remember? That is why we are who we are with each other.” I start to cry again, but I know my tears and pain are safe with him. He spends the next few minutes validating my words and tends to me with a cup of tea and tears of his own.