Monday, October 28, 2013

Run Like a Girl

Insomnia is a bitch.  Why your brain can be perfectly behaved all day but as soon as you turn out the lights and get snuggled into bed it decides to jump up and start running amok through all your worries, regrets, to-do lists or crappy memories is beyond me.  Dude, I've been up all day and you want to go through all this now?  ShutUpAlready!!

So you try to lull your brain into submission.  I used to imagine I was sitting on a beach, listening to the waves crash on the sand.  Growing up at the Lake of the Ozarks, our house was near the water and I remember sleeping in the summer with the windows open, hearing the water lap against the shore.  It's a comforting sound. 

When that didn't work, I'd try to bore myself.  So I'd imagine I was running.  I hated running in school.  It was pointless to me, running circles on the track, going nowhere, being humiliated by the rest of the class as they breezed by my plodding self.  Then the coach suggested we do relays.  Sure, let's pile on even more embarrassment.  My partners brought knitting or a crossword puzzle while they waited on me to make my way around to them.  At the end of my junior year I burned my gym uniform.

Up until Jessica and Kelli were killed, I was fortunate to only have rare sleepless nights.  That all changed, and I found myself awake in the dark many nights.  My usual tricks weren't working, and I wasn't ready to try sleeping pills.  I had a small child in the house and was too scared something would happen to her and I'd be unconscious, oblivious to the aliens taking her out her window.

One night while my brain was having a dance party, I'd finally had enough.  I got up and started walking around my room, then walking around the house, wandering in the dark.  I needed to move.  I was damn tired of being tired.  Tired of having no control over my life.  I just wanted to run away, leave it all behind and get the hell out of Dodge.  Wait, what?  Run?  Well, why not, nothing else was working. 

Of course I had this brilliant idea in January with snow on the ground.  I started going back to the gym, running on the treadmill while Maddy had swim lessons.  I signed up for Master the Met - a 42-story stair climb - and conquered that mountain.  The physical activity helped with the sleeplessness.  It wasn't a miracle cure but I was starting to feel more rested and less sad.  But I never quite managed to keep going.  Something would happen and I'd slide back into my busy schedule of couch sitting and Cheez-It eating.  My sleep suffered and I'd find myself thinking about running.  I just never did anything about it.

This year things started to turn around.  Thanks to my work with law enforcement, seeing my daughter turning the corner and the fire come back into her eyes, and a little better living through chemicals, I started to turn the corner as well.  A great friend and I decided to start walking a few mornings a week, just to get some exercise and a little grown-up conversation during the day.  Her husband was training for a half marathon he was running in October.  One night, after a glass or two of wine, she decided that we needed to run the 5k.  I think my initial response was "how much wine did you have?"  But the next thing I know, I'm downloading the Couch to 5k app on my phone, buying cute running skirts (come on, it's me!) and off we went.  The free beer at the end might have had some influence over the decision as well.

We started in August, and yesterday we ran The Rock and Roll St. Louis mini-marathon.  3.5 miles in 50 minutes, with no walking.  Was it easy getting to that point?  Not one bit.  Some mornings we greeted each other with smiles and high-fives, and other mornings we secretly hoped the other would say, "screw this, let's buy shoes without laces."  But we kept going, and little by little we extended our run times.  We went from walking five minutes to running twenty minutes.  In.A.Row.  We ran at the butt-crack of dawn, late in the evenings, in the heat, and in the cold and wind.  We did keep some wits about us and made a solemn vow to never run in the rain.  That's just crazy.

Some days we ran without the other, but it was more fun with a partner.  Sometimes I'd find myself lacing up my shoes and hitting the road because I felt like it, not because the app was reminding me.  Occasionally Maddy ran with us, and her daughter did as well.  They ran the 5k with us also.  We all motivated one another.  We showed our daughters we weren't just a couple of crazy ladies with a crazy idea but that we set a goal and accomplished it.  And I slept better, finally.

I'm running a Thanksgiving 5k with Maddy, as long as it doesn't rain.  I'm writing this today with a sore neck, tight calves and wondering where the muscles in my hiney came from, because I'm pretty aware of them today.  I'm also writing this with a feeling of accomplishment, pride and respect for the runners who did 13.1 and 26.2 miles.  Will I get there?  Today I say hahahaha! but I'm not going to say never. Just not today.

My running playlist, if you're wondering:

Feels Like the First Time - Foreigner.  You know, because it was my first run.
Valerie - Amy Winehouse - Just because I love the song.
Fastest Girl in Town - Miranda Lambert.  The irony, because I'm kinda poky.
Subdivisions - Rush.  It has a good steady beat to run to, and it's long.
Supersitition - Stevie Wonder.  It's only weird if it doesn't work.
Owner of a Lonely Heart - Yes.  The beat, the length, and I know all the words.
Play That Funky Music - Wild Cherry.  Just a fun song that makes me smile. 
Little Bird - Annie Lenox.  It reminds me of my daughters.
Shake That Ass - Eminem.  That popped up accidentally but it was a good surprise.
Everlong - Foo Fighters.  The best song to make me push up the hill to the finish line. 
Baker Street - Foo Fighters.  The second best song because they moved the finish line, I swear.

Me and Mary Jo - Post Race

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Month Without Him

A month ago, my dad died.  It was unexpected.  I got the call late Friday night, and I couldn't process it.  My first reaction was disbelief, followed very quickly by anger.  It's still surreal and I catch myself wanting to call him.

I take comfort that we were able to spend a lot of time together over the past year.  I'm especially thankful that he was able to go with me to Phoenix last December and see my give a presentation to the officers there.  He was also able to meet Sheriff Joe, and tour the famous Tent City jails.  We even got him some pink boxer shorts. 

For his birthday present this year, we met in Kansas City over Memorial Day to see the Royals and the St. Louis Cardinals play.  He was a Royals fan and it was fun to see him and Maddy ribbing one another about their teams.

He went to Dallas in June and saw a Rangers baseball game with his remaining two brothers, David and Tony.  My Uncle David gave me a picture from that game at his funeral, and I'm so happy to have it.

He also came here in July with his brother, Tony, and saw the Rangers and the Cardinals play.  Again, he and Maddy had a good time giving each other grief. 

I spoke at his funeral.  I talked about how he had many nicknames, but his favorite was PaPa.  I talked about how he loved his grandkids, and how he built PaPa's playground for them.  He was a cool granddad, because he had an awesome garage full of power tools and spray paint and if you said, "PaPa, can you build me something," he'd say "Ok!"  And the next thing you know, you've got a rocking horse or a set of shelves or a wishing well or a windmill. 

He was shattered when Jessica and Kelli were killed.  He was also very angry.  But in the last couple of years, I could see him starting to come back to how he used to be.  He was letting go of the anger, he was getting back to the old PaPa, the old Bart, back to my daddy.  He was getting out of the house and reconnecting with friends and family.  I knew how he felt - I didn't want to be social for a long time either.  It was great to see him going places and doing things and not being quite so bitter anymore. It was short-lived, but I'm glad he was happy again.  

From day one of my life he was there.  Whether I needed a hug, advice, help with my homework or an ass beating, I could always count on him. I am, and always will be, a daddy's girl.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Another Appeal

Today my daughter Maddy and I, as well as Jessica and Kelli's father, Brian, gave statements in opposition to the ex-trooper receiving his driver's license. I also took with me many letters and comments left on our Facebook pages by those who also feel that he should not have his license reinstated. I take comfort in those letters and comments because it reminds me that I'm not alone in this fight.
Below is the text of the statements given by me and Maddy.
In April of 2010, a few weeks before the defendant’s felony criminal trial was to begin, Brian and I were contacted by the St. Clair County Assistant State’s Attorney, Jim Piper.  He told us that he had been approached by the defendant’s counsel requesting a plea deal -- in exchange for 30 months of probation and a 24-month suspension of his driver’s license, the defendant would plead guilty to the four felony charges – two counts of reckless homicide and two counts of aggravated reckless driving.  At first we said no deal.  Jessica and Kelli had been killed in November 2007, and during those prior 2 ½ years, we had learned the facts of the crash and those facts – driving 126mph to a secure scene while on a personal cell phone call --  supported our wish that the defendant serve jail time.  

However, after much discussion, debate and prayer, we decided that we did not want to risk a trial where there was a chance, albeit slim, that the defendant would be acquitted of the charges.  We wanted to make sure that he did not continue to operate a motor vehicle in the manner that he had prior to killing Jessica and Kelli.  Driving 126mph to a call, after being told that it was already secured by other departments, while talking on his personal cell phone to his girlfriend about a bike she bought, showed his blatant disregard for the safety of the public, which he had sworn an oath to protect, as well as his continued careless operation of the state-owned vehicle entrusted to him.  The fatal crash of November 23, 2007 was his eighth crash during his 6-year tenure as a trooper.   Eight crashes in six years showed that by his own decisions, he chose not to learn from his previous crashes, ignored his driving training and the basic rules of the road, and repeatedly endangered himself and others, resulting in deadly consequences. 

We, the family of Jessica and Kelli, agreed to the plea deal only because our ultimate hope was that he not be allowed to injure or possibly kill anyone else with his erratic driving.  We feared that if a jury acquitted him, he would go back to being a law enforcement officer and he would continue the pattern of reckless driving and disregard for the safety of others.  Once he pleaded guilty to those felonies, he could not be a law enforcement officer anymore.  That was our only reason for allowing the plea deal to be finalized.

I have been on the inside of a door, looking out at two Illinois State Troopers, a chaplain and a coroner coming up my sidewalk on a dark cold November night when I was frantic with worry because I hadn’t heard from my daughters in over 7 hours.  I know what it is like to be asked if I owned a white Mazda, because it was virtually unrecognizable after being slammed into by another vehicle at over 100 mph.  I know what it is like to be asked by the troopers who was in that car, because my children were injured so brutally that they were unrecognizable.  I know what it is like to be told that your children are dead because of the actions of someone sworn to protect them.  I know what it is like to tell an 8-year old child that her sisters aren’t coming home because a police officer killed them.  I know what it is like to hold the hand of that 8-year old little girl and walk behind two white caskets with pink silk lining being carried up the aisle of a church by twelve grown men who are weeping openly, who graciously accepted the job of bearing my daughters to their final resting places.

Knowing all that, we didn’t want another family to have to experience the loss, grief, heartache, anger, disbelief and deep perpetual sorrow that we will have the rest of our lives because of the actions of a thoughtless, careless driver. 

We have a life sentence of being denied our children.  In the five and half years since their deaths, we have tried to mine some good from their deaths.  We have raised money for scholarship funds that have helped seven students attend college so far.  We have hosted blood drives and food drives.  We distribute magnets, bracelets and t-shirts with Jessica and Kelli’s names on them to help drivers remember to stay focused on driving and avoid hurting themselves or others.  I travel extensively around the country addressing law enforcement officers and police academy cadets in hopes that when they hear about how Jessica and Kelli were killed, it will change how they drive and hopefully save lives.  Jessica and Kelli’s photos and story have been used in nationwide distracted driving campaigns as well as law enforcement training programs promoted by Below 100 and Calibre Press.

Since July 2012, two applications for reinstatement have been made and have been denied, and the third appeal is now under consideration.  If this appeal is denied, it stands to reason that another appeal would be filed shortly thereafter.  The hasty filing of these petitions within weeks of refusal seems to demonstrate that the defendant sees these hearings as merely a formality and believes that just because the suspension period has expired, his license and therefore his privilege to drive should immediately be given back.  It seems as if he’s only going through the motions without showing the court any concrete evidence that his behavior has indeed changed.

I would respectfully request that the defendant’s appeal be denied.  I would respectfully submit letters, emails and statements left on our Foundation Facebook page by the public who also request that his appeal be denied.  

Kimberly Schlau


My name is Madelyn Blair. I am the sister of Kelli and Jessica Uhl. I was eight years old when my sisters were killed.

I remember when I was little that my mom would tell me and my sisters if we were ever in trouble or lost that we should look for a police officer.  They were there to help us.  I looked up to the police, and thought they were heroes.  Then my mom told me a police officer killed my sisters because he was doing something he shouldn’t have been doing.  He was driving too fast and talking on his phone while speeding to a call that was already being handled.  If a regular person had driven like he had that day he killed them, they would have gotten a ticket and probably gone to jail.  It didn’t seem fair that he felt like he could break the rules because he was a police officer.

I think his actions were selfish, because he should have realized that speeding when he didn’t need to and being distracted was dangerous and ultimately deadly.  He knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, but he did it anyway because he was a police officer, and he could get away with it. 

He had seven crashes before he killed Jessica and Kelli.  He had a lot of chances to change the way he drove, and he never did.  That shows a lack of respect for the privilege of driving a car. 

I will be getting my driver’s license next year, and my mom has said that driving is a privilege and not a right.  The privilege has to be earned by showing good judgment and responsibility.  Matt Mitchell has not shown that he has good judgment or responsibility.

Thank you for taking my opinion into consideration when deciding if he should drive again. 


Madelyn Blair

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


Today would have been your 24th birthday.  If life was fair, you'd be out of college, probably living with a couple of your friends, working at a job or two, and coming over once or twice a week for dinner.  You'd say it's because you missed us but more likely it would be to do your laundry and raid my pantry for oatmeal creme pies and wheat thins.  And I wouldn't mind a bit.

But here we are, without you.  And we will celebrate your birthday as we have the last six years - we take out our memories of you and open our hearts to the pain.  We hope that the heartache has lessened since the last time, but it probably hasn't.  We work through the tears to the happiness you brought us, but getting there is tough.  We have to deal with the reality that you aren't here, you aren't coming back, and the reasons you and Kelli are dead are so unfair it makes us angry.  We have to push through that anger and remind ourselves that your deaths are teaching others to change behavior and hopefully save lives.  We hope that it's helping us heal.  It doesn't make it suck any less, though.

We think about your past birthdays and smile.  We remember your sleepover party where you wanted to camp in the backyard, and I set the tent up wrong.  We remember the year you didn't get your favorite cake until the next day because Kruta's was closed on Mondays.  We remember the year you almost knocked your cake off the table because your birthday card contained a ticket to the Dave Matthews concert.  We remember your first birthday party where you were afraid of the balloons.

We also remember you, not just on your birthday, but how you were every day.  Your smile, your laugh, your sarcasm, your three-day bad moods.  We can laugh about the bad times and cry over the good times.

We will come visit you today, driving with the windows down, the sunroof open and Ludacris blasting on the radio.  We hope it will blow our troubles away, and for a little while maybe it will.

 Happy birthday Peach.

xoxo MOM

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother's Day

I have been a mom for 25 years.  That’s over half my life.  Damn.

Every day I wonder if I’m doing it right?  Am I being the best mom I can?  Am I teaching my children life’s important lessons, like play well with others, be nice to people, and always wear clean underwear and socks without holes?  Will my children remember the Fun Mom times and not the time I yelled for 17 minutes because someone left their bookbag on the stairs when I’ve told you 9,000 times not leave things on the stairs because someone could TRIP! and FALL! and BUST THEIR HEAD OPEN! and when you do, don’t come crying to me when you’re concussed and bleeding because I TOLD YOU 9,000 TIMES…

Every night I pray that in between the ranting and yelling, my kids were aware that they were loved and cherished.  And I go to sleep thinking, “tomorrow I’ll be more patient, more understanding, less of a yeller…”

And then I trip over someone’s bookbag.

I am quite sure that at some point during my 17-minute rants, my children were looking at me, pretending to be fully engrossed in what I was imparting to them, but really thinking “why does she keep yelling about the same thing?  I get it, I heard you, but I forgot.  Jeez, we all make mistakes!” 

Yes, that’s right, we all make mistakes.  As moms, we want the best for our children which includes not watching our children make the same mistakes we did.  We are older, wiser, we’ve been kids/teenagers/young adults and we screwed up.  Royally, in some cases.  And we remember the pain that we felt or that we caused by those mistakes. We want nothing more than to shield our kids from pain.  We suffered and we don’t want you to as well.  We beg them - learn from our mistakes, please!

But our children don’t believe that we were ever young and dumb – okay, young – and they will blithely carry on doing the same things we did, and all we can do is try to tell them, but ultimately we have to watch them stumble and fall.  And we hope that they get up, look over at us and say “wow, you were right!” 

Children start feeling grateful for their parents right about the time they have their own children.  I remember being at my parents’ house with Jessica when she was about 2.  She kept poking at the screen door, even after I told her 9,000 times not to poke it.  Finally I smacked her hand and oh my word the sobbing that commenced from that child.  She flung herself into my arms, so contrite and cried, “I sowwy momma! I sowwy!!”  Oh for the love of cheese, what’s a mom supposed to do?  As I hugged her, I looked over her shoulder at my dad, who was thoroughly enjoying the show.  He just said “yep, now you know.”  Yep, I damn sure did.  At that moment, I realized my parents had been right all along.  My dad knew I’d figure it out eventually, even if it took 20 years.  And then I realized I had 20 more years of yelling in front of me.

Even when my parents got on me, I knew that they loved me.  If they didn’t love me, they wouldn’t have cared if I made my bed, hung up my laundry or left my shoes under the table.  They wouldn’t have disciplined me and made me a better person through their lessons and lectures, which I finally appreciated once I became a parent. 

I always told my girls that I loved them, whether it was at the end of a phone call, before they went to bed, or just walking by them in the kitchen.  I might have been fed up with them earlier, but it didn’t change the fact that I loved them, always and forever.  I hope and pray that they knew it, because I ran out of time to tell Jessica and Kelli once more. 

On this Mother’s Day weekend, I say thank you to Jessica, Kelli and Madelyn.  Because of you three, I would have gone through life never knowing unconditional, irrevocable love.  I would never have experienced the joy of having a sweet-smelling fuzzy-headed infant snuggled on my chest, sleeping soundly.  I would have missed feeling so thankful for a construction paper flower with I Love You Mom written in slanting capital letters.  I would have missed watching you grow from babies to little girls into strong, beautiful young women. 

Thank you for making me a mom.  Thank you for pretending to listen to me when I yelled.  Thank you for the hugs, even when we fought.  Thank you for making me a better person.  Thank you for being great kids. Thank you for the love.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spring Forward

On January 1, just like most of the population, I stop and take stock of my life.  I think about the past year, remembering the highs and lows and making mental notes of that which I wish to improve, discard or just plain change in the coming year.  I'm going to get healthy, lose weight, get a mammogram, be organized, start writing again, start my book, do more to educate police officers, reach out to long-lost friends, clean out my closet, learn to bake bread, and stop focusing on the negative.  Sounds doable, right? 

Like most of the population, I start my "new me" with the best intentions and tell myself that this year will be different.  This year I'll keep my promise to myself and follow through past February 1.

Like most of the population, my determination wanes about the end of January, and by February I'm back to how I was on December 31.  I'm disappointed in myself and find it hard to get back on track, probably because I'm too busy beating myself up for yet another failed attempt. 

This year, I started strong.  I made long-overdue doctor appointments.  I successfully baked delicious bread.  I bought "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well."  I traveled to Las Vegas and San Antonio for presentations.  I started researching publicists and publishing options.  I stopped using Cheez-Its as my post-dinner indulgence.  I picked up my kettlebell, and not just to vacuum under it.

I was feeling good, thinking that maybe this was the year I turned a corner.  Maybe I'd have more good days than bad this year.  After all, I had made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas with only one breakdown.  Could the light in the tunnel be getting brighter?  I hadn't heard the train whistle in a while, so is this the beginning of the end of this darkness?

And then our dog died. 

DeeDee had been sick since before the holidays, but we couldn't figure out what was wrong.  She wasn't eating, she was losing weight, and just laying around.  The vet ran tests which showed what she didn't have.  I started cooking chicken and rice for her to eat, and slowly she started improving.  But in February she started going downhill again.  I had The Talk with Maddy, preparing her for the worst-case scenario.  That went well, as you could imagine.  I always knew that when our dogs died, it would be so hard on Maddy.  She was so young when Jessica and Kelli died that she didn't really grasp the finality at that time, but now that she's older, this was going to hit her so much harder.  Plus, DeeDee was Kelli's buddy.  Kelli let her sleep in her bed, and after she died, DeeDee would scratch on Kelli's door, hoping to be let in. Maddy started letting her sleep with her, so DeeDee wouldn't be lonely.  I think Maddy needed the companionship, too.  They healed one another.

DeeDee had a stroke on a Friday night.  Thankfully, Maddy was at her dad's, and didn't have to see her, confused and stumbling.  It was heartbreaking to see her so helpless.  I finally got her settled down in the laundry room, and I slept on the couch so I could check on her during the night.  I prayed that she make it through the night, because as much as I knew she was going to die, I didn't want Maddy to be deprived of another chance to say goodbye, of one last hug, one last time to say I love you and I'm going to miss you so much. 

On Saturday morning, she and her dad met me at the vet's office, and after we all said our goodbyes, we stood around DeeDee, stroking and rubbing her head, as she went to sleep for the last time.  I told DeeDee to go find Kelli and Jessica, because they had been waiting to feed her hot dogs and ice cream again.

Not surprisingly, the darkness came slinking back on me.  I had no motivation.  My to-do list mocked me.  I couldn't even muster the energy to get angry with myself.  The cold weather and the dreary gray days weren't helping.  The worst thing was the quiet.  No more hearing DeeDee's tags jingle on her collar, or hearing her nails click across the floors.  Just like after Jess and Kelli died, and my house stopped being filled with yelling, music and laughter, the pounding of their feet running up and down stairs.

I let myself wallow for a few days, until one morning when I was getting dressed the sun came through the bathroom window and hit me square in the face.  I closed my eyes and stood there, soaking up the light and warmth.  I realized that we were getting close to  moving the clocks forward for more daylight.  It was getting lighter earlier, and the angle of the sun was changing, streaming in our windows longer, and we were seeing those gorgeous early March sunsets at dinnertime, instead of looking out at darkness while we ate.

It occurred to me that Spring might be a better time for me to embrace change, because the world is changing as well.  The trees begin to dress themselves in green buds, the days get longer, and the air starts to have that certain indescribable scent of renewal.  Why can't we make New Season resolutions instead of New Year's?  Maybe breaking our goals down in smaller increments might make them easier to attain.  Or maybe I'm just solar powered. 

Whatever the reason, I've found myself back on track lately.  I went to the doctor and I'm trying some meds that are really helping me get motivated and stay focused.  I'm taking steps to do more speaking presentations and broaden my audience.  The mammogram is scheduled.  I'm exercising daily, eating better foods and a lot less crap.  I cleaned out my pantry, organized the lockers by the back door, and started writing again.  I've missed writing, missed it so much.  It always helped me work through my emotions, even if the writing never saw the light of day. 

Like shedding a heavy winter coat, I can feel that darkness lifting, and the light taking over.  Spring is here, in my soul.