Monday, April 6, 2015

What ever happened to Kate and Peter's Treehouse...

If you're new to my blog or my story, let me tell you a little bit about the origin of Kate and Peter's Treehouse. The night Kate and Peter were killed, six years ago tonight, I remember talking to my Dad on the phone and telling him that I had no idea what to do next. My kids were my life. I was a stay at home mom. I didn't have a single thing on my calendar for the rest of eternity that didn't revolve around my kids. Not one.

He said something like, "You have to go on. You have to let people know who they were and how incredible they were. You have to memorialize them in some meaningful way."

I didn't know the first thing about memorializing anybody, but I did know that Kate and Peter really wanted me to build them a treehouse. They loved playing outside as most kids do, and they loved the Magic Tree House book series, thanks to Kate's kindergarten teacher. Ever since discovering those books they had wanted a treehouse so of course, I said someday. Tragically, someday never came.

When my dad mentioned memorializing them I thought about the fact that Kate was going to a brand new elementary school that had no playground, so I figured we could find a way to build one there. Kate and Peter wouldn't get to use it, but their friends and classmates could benefit from it for years to come.

After I proposed the idea, people began donating money. I was overwhelmed by the huge and gracious response. Over 600 people made donations and we compiled a good chunk of money with which to build what I thought could be a pretty nice treehouse.

The school was located in one of Pittsburgh's parks so in order to build anything there, I needed to work with the folks who manage those parks. We set up a meeting and began planning what would become known as "Kate and Peter's Treehouse".

A request for design proposals was made, design teams responded and we were off on our design journey. As things began to develop, however, I was contacted by a city councilman's office and told that some of the residents in that neighborhood didn't want a new playground or any sort of construction project in their park. I was quite confused (I mean, who doesn't want a fancy new playground) but I'm not very pushy and I'm not the type to ruffle any feathers. A public meeting was held and city residents spoke both for and against Kate and Peter's Treehouse, but those against more or less got their way. The parks people and I were asked to find a different location for the treehouse.

If I'm being honest, this whole opposition development was very disheartening to me. I am still not sure I understand the naysayers, but we agreed to find a new location. We picked a spot near what was going to become the new Frick Environmental Center. We chose a design team and began having public meetings to hear what city residents (especially kids) would like to see in Kate and Peter's Treehouse.

I have to tell you that when I first came up with this idea I never imagined how challenging this process would be. I figured that building a playground/treehouse was a fairly simple idea, especially when I was offering what I thought was a large sum of donated money. I was very seriously mistaken.

As the process continued I was told things like, "we can't call this a playground; if we do we'll have to submit to very specific design specifications like using plastic and rubber building materials". Next I heard things like, "we can't use the word play at all when referring to this project; this needs to be seen as more of a space for outdoor education" Who knew there were so many play haters in the world? I was assured that the finished project would contain some fun elements though.

After a year or so of meetings and designs I was presented with what was THE schematic design. To be honest, I think I've repressed the image of the actual design, but what I remember seeing was a deck-like structure with some very lovely landscaping around it. I couldn't see any fun elements. Not a slide. Not a swing. Nothing that looked fun at all.

During those aforementioned public meetings kids said they wanted climbing walls and zip lines and slides and swings (those kids also drew pictures and built models - they really got into it designing this thing!). I realize that some of those things are not possible, but something fun would have been nice. To be fair, I think the design team did as good a job as possible, but with these constraints of no playground, no play, etc. their hands were somewhat tied.

I was extremely disappointed, but there were two things that were even more upsetting than the design itself. One was that Kate and Peter's names were no longer allowed to be part of this project. The project was now called "The Treehouse in Frick Park". Instead I was told that a memorial plaque with their names would be visible somewhere at this structure. The other upsetting part was that the price tag of this project was somewhere in the neighborhood of $600,000. Yes, you read that correctly. $600,000. That was well over 5 times what had originally been donated. So as soon as I could come up with more than half a million, this non-Kate and Peter, not-fun, non-playground would be underway! (In all fairness, they offered some help in this giant fundraising endeavor.)

I started crying. I was in public, in a coffee shop. I didn't care. There was nothing else I could do. I knew I couldn't raise that much money and there was no way I was going to try for something that had nothing to do with my kids and didn't involve anything fun. My only option was to take what money was left and use it for something else. Sadly, half of the original money had been eaten up by this design process and there was no way to get it back. That part still makes me want to vomit.

At this point I felt extremely defeated. I didn't want to waste one more penny of what had been so generously donated so I figured I'd just donate what was left to a worthy cause. Someone had to benefit from this money! On the off-chance that Kate's school could help me find such a cause, I gave them a call. At this point it was sometime in late 2012.

In the years since 2009, when Kate attended the school, a new building had been obtained and the school now occupied two buildings. As it turned out, the lower school (grades K-3) did have the space to build a playground and they were willing to try. The money was transferred to them and they agreed to take on the project. I was, and still am, extremely grateful.

As I've come to learn, these things take time (clearly). As of today, the project is still in the planning stages. Kate and Peter's Treehouse is part of a larger playground project. The school has assured me they will only use the money donated for Kate and Peter to build the treehouse itself, but they need to raise additional funds for the rest of the project. They recently held what was a very successful fundraiser, but they still have a way to go. I have faith that this project will be underway soon.

I apologize for the lack of information about this project over the last few years. I honestly didn't know what to say. I've been a combination of frustrated, angry, sad and ashamed about the whole thing. Every time I think we're making progress, something bad seems to happen. But at this moment I'm encouraged. I believe in the Environmental Charter School and all of the people who are working hard to get this project moving. It's going to happen. I can't tell you exactly when, only that it is.

As always, thank you all for your continued love and kindness. I'm amazed by how many of you still read and comment after all these years. Each and every comment is a comfort and reassurance that Kate and Peter haven't been forgotten. Thank you!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Deja vu all over again

6 years out, and it's like everything is happening all over again.  As I write it's Saturday, March 28th at 8:44pm. Some random Facebook post just reminded me that it's Earth Hour, that one hour a year when everyone is supposed to turn off their lights in order to raise awareness about climate change and the fact that we can actually do something about it.

The thing about Earth Hour is that Kate really really really wanted to observe it in 2009. She went to an environmental school and sincerely wanted to do everything she could to help the environment. I was somewhat crunchy myself and admired her enthusiasm, but on March 28th, 2009 I simply wasn't in the mood.

I was tired. I was stressed. I loved my kids but I was a single parent and didn't get a ton of time to myself. I was looking forward to Easter week when they would spend their spring break with their dad and I would have my own spring break. I had no idea it would be a permanent break. No fucking clue.

I more or less told Kate that Earth Hour was a nice idea, but we didn't really have time for all that (how much time does it take to turn off some lights and light a few candles?!?!). I remember saying something about how it would be bed time and she and Peter would need to brush their teeth and how would they see in the bathroom? In retrospect I wonder what in the holy hell was wrong with me?

So here I am, it's March 28th, 2015. In 2015 dates fall on the same days of the week that they did in 2009. March 28th fell on a Saturday then, and here it is again. The ever looming April 6th occurred on a Monday and it's about to happen again in just over a week. It's hard to explain exactly why this occurrence is such a big deal, but I'm finding that it is. It brings back the memories so much more sharply and vividly. I'm guessing others who've experienced major trauma will understand.

For the past couple of weeks I've been thinking about how those weeks of March and April were the precious last few I would ever have with Kate and Peter. Of course I had no idea, no one ever does. I was wrapped up in my own head thinking about how I needed to lose 10 lbs., how the guy I really liked wasn't calling me and how I really hated being single. I was quite self-absorbed and not very present. I was looking forward to spring break when I could do some serious cleaning - both physically - by getting rid of clutter and stuff in my house, and emotionally - by getting rid of clutter and stuff in my mind. I was trying to "eat clean" (whatever the fuck that means) and "training" for my first 5k. I think I had even purchased some crazy diet plan with flash cards to help me make a new start. Good grief.

When I reflect back now I think about how I would give anything to have spent those weeks focused on and engaged with my kids. I took it for granted that they would always be there. I do have some great memories - I know we spent the afternoon of St. Patrick's Day in Frick Park because it was unseasonably warm and I remember Peter learning all about Mr. Yuck and doing an incredibly good impression of the Mr. Yuck face. But most of all I remember fretting and focusing on stupid, inconsequential things like dating douchebags and trying to lose weight. What an unfortunate waste of that precious time!

I'm not going to continually beat myself up over it because I realize that self-beratement doesn't do anyone any good, but Earth Hour threw me for a pretty intense loop. I know I can never go back and change things and I'm over wishing I could. I think that now I live very differently. I try to maintain the perspective that we never know what will happen tomorrow. I would say that every day is a gift, but I don't actually agree with that. I will say that every day is a chance to love, and my best guess is that love is what it's all about.

P.S. I did, in fact, observe Earth Hour this year.