It’s You

Posted on September 23, 2016

Sometimes when I am driving by myself I turn the radio off to ride in silence. This morning as neighborhoods passed by in a blur I thought of how I told Finley after we straightened her hair that it “Looks so long!’ I said this because that’s what she wants, and it does actually look longer when it’s straightened.

A few blocks later it hit me that almost all compliments to people, women in particular, seem to be about how something about them is different.

“You look so skinny”

“You don’t look 40”

“You look taller”

It’s weird, isn’t it? Wouldn’t it be great if we said, “You. You are wonderful.” Are we only better when we change? I don’t have the answer, but as I wake up each day in my 40s I am struck by how often and how hard we work to get somewhere different than where we are, literally and figuratively.

One of the things I love most about witnessing my daughters growing up is the way that the infant and woman blend with the girl they are before my eyes.

 

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Sometimes it’s a look in their eyes, other times it’s a gesture as they talk, their eyes and hands wildly expressive about something. I revel in their exploration and steely conviction. They are unafraid to feel and not yet muted by experience, judgement, or trepidation about taking a stand that might not be the most popular.

 

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I have not been so bold. I find myself thinking I need those compliments that tell me that I am other than I am—younger, skinnier, tauter, more athletic. I’ve also stayed silent or tempered my opinion to not upset others. I have had people tell me recently that they are glad people are speaking up, that it’s important, but that they just can’t quite do it.

I can’t do that, just like I can’t tell people in my professional life to invest in something that they need and will be good for them, if I don’t do the same thing in my own life.

I have three daughters.

I had male high school teachers say inappropriate things to me.

I have survived sexual assault.

I have pumped milk in a work bathroom and been ridiculed for carrying breastmilk to a cooler.

I have witnessed hate.

I have been ogled, cat called, and then yelled at for not “politely accepting the compliments.”

When it comes to the 2016 Presidential Election, I bring all of these parts of my life and the years ahead for my daughters to the polling booth. I can appreciate people saying that neither of the candidates are perfect, but the reality is that none of us are perfect. I have heard the argument that just because there is no one better doesn’t mean that you should pick a bad candidate.

The way I see it, we are faced with a reality of two candidates. Donald Trump has demonstrated that he will lead the country with hate, anger, a short temper, and deaf ears.  Trump has deliberately refused to share his plans, explain his rationale, define how he would do things, or even commit to honoring anything that he says behind the podium.

Hillary Clinton has proven mettle, in the workplace and beyond. She has a capacity for listening and compromise that is corroborated even by people who do not like her. Secretary Clinton has made adjustments in order to appeal to supporters of Bernie Sanders, she has allowed her view on gay marriage to evolve, and she has acknowledged that she has made mistakes and learned from them.

I know that Hillary Clinton has an awareness that the things I have experienced as a woman have really happened, that I’m not being difficult or bitchy, I’m not whining or faking. She is not distracted by the messiness of life, she works through it. More importantly, I believe that she genuinely wants to make life better for Americans. I am not voting for her because she has a vagina, I am voting for her because I do and my daughters do, and that should not make us disgusting to our country’s leader.

I am investing in my daughters’ future by saying out loud that I cannot stand for hate. I am calling bullshit on the idea that Donald Trump, “shoots straight.” He is every weak punchline on a sitcom that you wouldn’t want anyone to know that you watch. I am donating to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, I am supporting the Democratic National Committee, and I owning that the outcome of the election is on all of us.
It’s you voting. It’s you not voting. It’s you speaking up. It’s you staying quiet.

 

 

Use Your Pulpit

Posted on September 21, 2016

Turns out that heartbreak and horror taste like bile. I am not talking about the election. I’m specifically talking about race in this country.

Black people. Black lives. Black lives mattering or not mattering and the people who fill rooms with the reasons another black person is dead. So many reasons that don’t include the person who shot, choked, or abandoned them.

“If only they had…”

“Why didn’t she…”

“He had a record…”

“She was rude…”

This Instagram post, which I saw through Amy Vernon, hit me. I know not everyone is black, friends with a black person, aware that black people aren’t inherently thugs or angry, everyone is not me, but everyone living int his country is a part of what is going on, no matter how far your home is from the latest death. I also know that a lot of people haven’t been impacted by sexual assault or grasped the fact that a person being intoxicated doesn’t imply consent. So for me, this made my ears bleed with the truth. I would think it would for anyone, but I’ve thought a lot of things about people, empathy, compassion, and enlightenment and then been sorely disappointed.

 

#blackinamerica #thisisnotjustice #TerenceCrutcher #BrockTurner

A photo posted by Omari Akil (@omari_akil) on

 

I found this other article to help offer a bit of insight into why white people need to participate. Leigh Ann Torres shared it first.

Read it. You can read it in the quiet of your own space, you don’t have to immediately say anything publicly, but just try sitting with his words. And remember, it is going to be hard at some point, you may feel attacked, try to ride through that to the other side which is knowing that regardless of privilege, you have choice and power. No matter how small you think your power is, it’s more than that of a black person trying to say the same thing (because you aren’t black, which is a part of privilege, which does not mean being better than someone).

There is also this from Luvvie Ajayi. I will tell you, there is no way through where we are that doesn’t involve discomfort. I mean real, cheeks flaming, I-want-to-crawl-into-a-hole-while-screaming, “But I’m not like that” as I bolt from discomfort. Things being hard or scary aren’t a reason to give up, particularly when there are people for whom “where we are now” is not something they can hide from.

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You can find black people to learn from, you can find white people to not learn from, you can talk to other white people about what you are learning, where you’ve screwed up (the other day I tried to leave a comforting comment and realized I was making it about me. Nope), we can do this together.

 

Here’s the thing, this isn’t a black issue, it isn’t a political party issue, it’s an American issue and a human issue. You want to be on the right side of this. Please. Be like Amy and Leigh Ann, be a part of working to heal some of what is wrong.

 

Twelve is Lovely

Posted on September 16, 2016

I’ve always liked the number 12. I remember arriving at 12 on the multiplication table and feeling like a superhero. I was enchanted with the idea of a baker’s dozen and 12 + 1. It’s a nice round number, relates to the calendar, lunchtime and the magic of staying up until midnight.

Last night into this morning 12 was about Briar. Today is her 12th birthday. I have not consistently written birthday posts or made huge deals out of age milestones, but today is sweet. I am reminded of how keenly September’s spirit imprinted on me as I waited for her arrival and then welcomed her. The taste of the air, the quality of the light, and the smattering of early-turning leaves always return me to the origin of my motherhood.

This birthday feels like a deepening. She is who she is, already well into her life’s trajectory. She will continue to explore things, from people and places to self expression and how she defines herself. I don’t mean to hurry or downplay any of it. I sense these years we’ve lived with her are a wildflower pressed between pages, the solid chapter of her childhood to be revisited and remembered in different ways by all of us. It’s been rich with laughter and discovery, questing and retreating. I am proud of all of it, even my very real foibles as a mom.

I cherish what we’ve done, how we’ve loved, and who we have become for and because of each other. I watched her at the mirror yesterday, her feet tilted beneath spindly legs with surprisingly muscular calves, her sweater had heart on the front, the patterns of the sleeves an unpredictable choose to pair with wildly flowered pants. She smirked and moved her hair with small nod and tilts of her head. I can still see her three year old shadow doing the same thing with her toddler ringlets.

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She keeps secrets and spends hours quiet, happily. She also offers unflinching access to her fears and hopes. I reach for words that can adequately illustrate how I feel and then sputter, “I love you. Do I say that too much? I can’t help it.” She laughs, leans into me and says, “It’s perfect. You’re perfect. I love you.” We laugh and joke that no one is perfect.

Today is her birthday, she is 12. It’s a day like any other day, it’s just that no day has ever been the same since she was born.

I love her so much. If you are reading this Briar, I hope you are making a crooked smile. Thank you for always making the rest of us feel so loved.


Can I Talk to You?

Posted on September 12, 2016

We try hard to not mess up as parents, setting out with the best of intentions. The thing is we didn’t plan for the transitions and the way it all changes, as it should, after the switch from crawling to walking, preschool to backpacks and homework. The matrix gets simpler and infinitely more complicated at once.

It’s easy to miss an invitation to talk or a cry for help, like blink and you miss it easy. I’m not sure I’m getting any better at being ready for the quiet, “Mom, can we talk” questions. Between the very real effect of stress on my body and the equally real threat that they’ll stop turning to me, I have to figure out a way.

I found a quote early one morning as I searched for something for a client.

“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.” Shannon L. Alder

I loved it, mostly because I can remember private messages, unexpected cards in the mail, and gentle smiles that found their way to me exactly when I needed them. It also seems that as we move through the election cycle the divisiveness creates a feeling of being alone, at least for me. I tucked the quote a way in my head to help me do more.

CarChat

Briar and I were sitting in Sean’s truck after a whirlwind trip to the mall to find a last-minute replacement for Briar’s costume. Finley and Avery had already dashed upstairs ready to go from errands to playtime, and maybe to escape my post-mall frazzledness. I was gathering my wallet and phone and unbuckling my seatbelt when Briar said, “Mom, later on can I ask you about something?”

My throat caught. I try not to suffocate the girls with my propensity for leaping to the worst case scenario in my mind. “Sure, babe, in fact why not just ask me now? Your sisters aren’t here.” I set my things down and leaned back in the seat.

She took a breath. “It’s just that people kill people, and they hate, like really hate each other all over the world.” She stared ahead for a minute and then turned to me, “How can I help?”

My face flushed and I felt what has now become a familiar sensation of pride and heartache swirling together. Parenting has taught me about honesty and cushion, primarily that a lie will never offer an enduring buffer from pain, no matter how much I may want it to.

“Well, honey, this isn’t going to be a perfect answer, but in some ways I think just by asking me that you are helping. Your willingness to consider what is happening to other people and wanting to find a way to help when the situation doesn’t directly impact you is a sign of compassion and empathy.”

“Yes, but mom, it’s not fair. How can I be ok living and not helping?”

Another quote came to mind:

“The likelihood that your acts of resistance cannot stop the injustice does not exempt you from acting in what you sincerely and reflectively hold to be the best interests of your community.” Susan Sontag

I pressed my lips together and trusted myself in spite of feeling like I am ill equipped to answer questions that I have myself. She watched me, her face still so much like it was when she was four, but her hair and posture reflecting the teenager she’ll soon be.

“It’s true we can only do so much, but we can do it every day with our whole heart. We have to start by being brave enough to say out loud what we believe, like the time you told the kids on the bus to stop teasing the girl about how much she weighed. That doesn’t seem like saving a life, but in that moment, on that bus, you were showing people that it wasn’t ok. You might have felt like they didn’t listen, but I bet your words stuck with them and with the kids who weren’t even teasing. When we show we aren’t afraid, others get a little bit more courage. Does that make sense?”

“Yes, thanks mom. Can I go up now?” I smiled and tousled her hair, “Go for it.” She had started the conversation and will probably come back to me for more at some point, but she was ready to be done.

I stayed in the car thinking about the opportunities that I have in life, with my kids and in the community. It can be scary to speak up and terrifying to think about all that is happening to people at the hands of other people. The conversation strengthened my resolve to do better and to care more.

We can all do that, can’t we?

 

 

Results Are In: Benign Myxoma

Posted on August 31, 2016

My friend Heather came to visit Monday. She used to live in Albany and we’d get together periodically to catch up—sometimes to rant about things, other times to say things like, “My store is closing” or “Like, I don’t have a f*cking job.” I cannot stress enough how valuable it is to have people you don’t have to shine for, you can be scared and angry, they don’t care. In the case of Heather, she left Albany to go to Philadelphia to work for the DNC, so the stories were excellent.

 

Heather came because I was scared and she has without fail, reached out to me in times when I’ve been low and texted, “You want me to come up?” When she arrived I was pretty bleak, I was tired, anxious, and didn’t even pretend to try and be a cheerful hostess. I hugged her and thanked her for coming, told her she looked gorgeous, which elicited a riotous and characteristic guffaw and “Yeah right” from her.

 

We laughed and shot the shit. After about a half an hour my cell phone rang. I answered and broke into an enormous grin as my surgeon called to let me know that the pathology results were back and that my tumor had been, as he had initially guessed, a benign myxoma.

“A woman in my office shared your post. I read it. It was, I should say, a great call to get checked. So thank you, didn’t want to make you wait. It’s benign.”

My mom cried. Heather laughed. The girls said, “So you don’t have cancer?” Heather snapped a picture.
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That was it. And yet it wasn’t, because I felt for about a month that the mass, Sean had come to call my “sidecar”, was a foreigner inside of me, proof of my own indifference and failure to act. It wasn’t cancer, but boy was I still in the wrong. Even now, after promising Kelly Wickham Hurst that I’d get a pap smear, I am two years out with hollow excuses about my doctor dying and life being busy.

 

Uh-uh. It’s a phone call, some scheduling, and 30 minutes of awkward, then you’re one. That’s it. I am so grateful for friends and benign results and the chance to do better. I hope you’ll try to hold on to the sobering effects of these lessons, at least long enough to look out for yourself.

 

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