A Difficult Truth

It’s been a relatively quiet week in terms of the whole riot/protest/police cycle we’ve got going on. If you dig beneath the surface, however, tensions are still simmering and “sides” are being taken. There seems to be very little room for middle ground. You’re either with us or against us. It is one thing or the other. Two opposing ideas that cannot coexist.

Quite frankly – it pisses me off. This is not an either/or situation. It’s a both/and.

This concept should not be so foreign to people; it’s how most of us operate, most of the time. Two seemingly opposing ideas can coexist. But somehow, many people seem to have forgotten that recently.

The riots that occurred in Baltimore (or Ferguson or anywhere else) are not okay. They are not the solution.
AND also death of Freddie Gray while in police custody is not okay. It is not okay at all.

Both/and.

Throwing rocks or bricks – or, frankly, anything – at police officers is not condonable.
Neither, however, is it condonable for police to overstep their boundaries and persecute the communities they are bound to protect.

Saying that “black lives matter” does not imply that you are, in any way, anti-police. It just doesn’t – no more than saying, “Doritos are delicious” means that you are, in any way, anti-Pringles. You can believe that Doritos are manna from heaven while also thinking that Pringles are pretty dope. That should go without saying.

Yes, of course police lives matter and white lives matter and all lives matter. But here’s the thing: those statements are basically givens. They’re obvious, omni-present, so we don’t need to continue saying them. Our black and brown citizens, though? Their lives have never mattered as much as non-black or brown lives.

They still don’t.
And so reminders are needed.

We have long recognized this in our society: that we need to celebrate and specially acknowledge the minority, the underdog, the marginalized. When Gonzaga first showed up on everyone’s radar in 1999, they were deemed a “Cinderella story.” Everyone was rooting for them. But while people cheered the Zags on, how many folks were on the sidelines saying, “But what about UConn?? Where are the UConn posters? UConn matters, too!” Because UConn was ubiquitous. Everyone knew them already. They didn’t need the extra support.

Or what about St. Patrick’s Day, when parades are held and people proudly tout their Irish heritage and cities dye rivers green? Do we stomp our feet with indignation that America is not being celebrated, too? “Hey, you guys! We live in the UNITED STATES. Happy St. Patrick’s Day? What about Happy America Day? When you raise that Guinness, you’re basically saying that you hate Americans.” No, of course not. Because we already know that America matters, too. We don’t need a reminder; the Irish can have their day.

Our black (and brown) citizens are told and shown, time and time again, verbally and silently, overtly and subtly, that they are not as important as the rest of us – and by “us” I mean white people. I won’t link to the (literally) hundreds of stories and articles supporting this claim; all you’d need is a quick Google search to confirm it (if you’d like, you can find some of them in this post that I wrote in November). Heck, all you’d need to do to confirm it is ask even one black friend to tell you even one story – of being pulled over when nothing was wrong, of being stopped in their own neighborhood and asked “what they were doing there,” of being followed by a store clerk, of being overlooked at a counter while the cashier or salesperson waited on other non-black customers, of being called racist epithets, of watching as people obviously avoid walking by them on streets…

Or, if you’d rather not do that, perhaps you could ask yourself (if you’re white, or at least non-black or non-brown). Ask yourself when the last time was that you worried that you’d be pulled over by the police while driving through your neighborhood. Ask yourself how often you’ve been walking your dog near your home and have been stopped and asked what you were doing there. Ask yourself if you’ve given your children (especially your sons) “the talk” — not about the birds and the bees, but you know, the one about moving slowly around authority figures, about making sure their hands don’t drift too near their pockets, about keeping both hands on the wheel at all times if they’re pulled over (for God’s sake, don’t reach into the glovebox unless you’re told to) — to help ensure that law enforcement officers have no reason to suspect them of a crime.

I would imagine, if you really asked, and then if you really, truly considered the answers, that you would see – even in this glorious America where everyone can succeed if they only try hard enough, where we have a black President, and where Oprah is the queen –  that black and brown folks are still not treated the same as white folks.

And so, sometimes, we need to be reminded that black lives matter.
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Did you know that even black dogs are adopted less frequently and euthanized more often than non-black dogs? CRAZINESS, you guys!
Yes, I know that dogs and people are not the same. I’m not making a direct comparison. But none of my other photos seemed appropriate… so here you go. Our black and yellow Labs, both of whom are awesome.

But we aren’t asking those questions. Or, if we are, we are jumping immediately to answers without really, really thinking about them; so often, the conclusion is drawn that race doesn’t play a role in how we treat one another. And that, really, is what bothers me the most: we don’t even acknowledge it. We, as an American society as a whole, do not acknowledge that racism still exists — I’m not talking about the overt, name-calling kind (although that exists, too), but rather the systemic, deeply-rooted, unconscious, so-pervasive-we-don’t-even-realize-it’s-happening racism.

I am going to ask, for a moment, that you ignore the riots**. I’m not saying that they aren’t horrible – they are. I’m not saying that they’re good or okay – they’re not. (Which is a rather absurd notion, anyway. Have you really come across people saying, “YAY, RIOTS!!”?) But people get all hung up on the riots (which are shown non-stop by our media), which causes them to miss the bigger picture.

For me, the bigger picture starts with the protests. Tens of thousands of citizens have been peacefully protesting for years now; the protests are growing ever more frequent. There must be a reason for this.

When we look to find that reason, however, there is almost immediately name calling and criticizing. I’ve heard some folks gripe that these protestors “have nothing better to do” – but that’s just untrue. Sure, some are unemployed. Some are looking to simply entertain themselves. But the majority are not. Protests – not the ones that last 30 minutes outside of your local Starbucks, but the ones that take hours and days and are focused and targeted – are not usually what one would consider “fun.” They take people away from their jobs, their homes, their families.

So, then. Why? Why the protests?

Have you ever had something to say and no one would listen to you? Maybe you were in a large group and couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Maybe everyone else was dead set on seeing Age of Ultron but you had your heart set on Pitch Perfect 2; in their excitement, they didn’t hear you. Maybe it was a meeting and no one asked for your ideas even though you had plenty.

Whatever the situation, I think you’d acknowledge that it feels crappy when no one’s listening. Sometimes, you sit back and just let things happen; there’s always next time. Others, maybe you email your boss or try to pull someone aside and explain your thoughts. But what if that doesn’t work? What if it happens over and over again? What if you feel ignored, unheard, shushed? What if you just can’t stand being unseen and unnoticed one minute longer?

Well, then.
You raise your voice.

You yell. You shout. You make noise. You stand up. You do whatever it takes to get people to hear you. It’s very simple, really.

That, to me, is the reason behind these protests. People are not being heard and they are sick of it. Yes, they want change. They want to be treated differently, fairly, better. They want justice. But at their core, they want someone to listen to them, by God.

And then, when they finally begin to raise their voices, we “listen”… and then immediately discount what they’re saying. Racism doesn’t exist anymore; stop complaining. Not all police are bad; stop generalizing. White lives matter too. Stop playing the race card. If he hadn’t tried to run, the cop wouldn’t have pulled his gun. When you dress like a thug, you’re asking for trouble. I don’t even see color.

(That’s a personal favorite, by the way. I understand the supposed meaning behind it – that you treat everyone the same, regardless of race – but if you don’t see color, you should probably get your eyes checked.)

Their concerns are summarily dismissed – there’s nothing more to see here. Which leads to people speaking even more loudly and strongly because they are still not being heard.

Until we can even agree on a topic, we cannot have a conversation.

Which is a problem, because holy sh*t, y’all, we need to have a conversation. We need to talk about racism in this country because make no mistake about it: racism still exists. We are all, almost without exception, racist. Yep, that includes black people. It includes teachers and scholars and human rights activists and historians and preachers. It includes me.

I try very, very hard not to allow skin color to inform my opinions of people. When I think rationally about it, I know – I believe, to my core – that white people are absolutely no better, smarter, harder working, or more deserving of respect that our non-white brothers and sisters. And yet… I still make assumptions. I feel the worry creep in. Not consciously, not on purpose. But it happens.

I am racist.

Until we can acknowledge this – until we can accept that racism is inextricably woven into the fabric of our nation, and until we can accept that non-white people still feel its sting despite our so-called “post-racial” era – things are not going to change. Men of color will continue being funneled into prisons. There will still be a wage gap between minorities and white folks. People will describe themselves as “colorblind” and pat themselves on the back for reading Maya Angelou and watching “Blackish.” Fewer black and brown citizens will attend college than their white counterparts. Police will continue to disproportionately arrest, detain, imprison, or even shoot people of color. Retaliatory shootings will continue to occur. The protests (and, occasionally, riots) will go on. And on. And on.

I’ll be honest with you: I have no idea how to fix this. We’ve been (mostly) trying for hundreds of years and we’re still not there, so obviously it’s a pretty tricky issue. But I do know that we don’t stand a chance at fixing it until we’re honest with ourselves that racism exists – all over, pretty much all the time.

Once we can do that – once we’re all on the same page, or at least in the same book – we can start a meaningful dialogue on how to make it better. It’s going to take all of us to make this change, but it’s one of the most important journeys we’ll ever embark upon.

So, for today, I’ll start with me.
My name is Emily. I believe that police have a tremendously difficult job and I have deep respect for our officers. I also believe that black lives matter. Both/and.
I believe that riots are absolutely not the answer. I also believe that the current protests are meaningful and valid. Both/and.
I believe that everyone should be treated equally, regardless of skin color. I’m also racist. Both/and.

I’d like that to change.
Let’s talk. Let’s listen. Let’s do this.

————

** (If you’re absolutely determined to focus on the riots, I’d also invite you to check out other riots that have occurred over the past five years. Yes, we all know about Ferguson, but how about this one in 2014 which resulted in fires, two shootings, and a stabbing after the San Francisco Giants won the World Series? Or this one in Lexington, Kentucky, where more than 50 instances of arson occurred after the University of Kentucky Wildcats won the national championship? Or this one, after a WVU football game, where participants “pushed over street lights and threw rocks, beer bottles and other items at public safety personnel and their vehicles”? White people are crazy, yo!)

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What Love Looks Like

It’s been a busy week. You know the kind – husband out of town, subbing, kids’ extra-curriculars, errands, sick kiddo. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing insurmountable, but just plain busy.

I had really been looking forward to going to church on Thursday night. Ella and Annie know how important this is to me; they’ve even accompanied me before when Nick’s been away so that I didn’t have to miss out. (Getting to consume Panera baked goods, use their iPads, and play with the toys that pastor Nancy brings may also have something to do with their agreement, but whatever.)

This week, though, was different. If I went to church – and by default, took them with me – they’d be gone (swimming, soccer, homework, babysitter, driving, move, move, move!) from the moment that school got out until bedtime. No playing with friends, no relaxing at home. It was a lot to ask, especially considering the busyness of the week, the sick kiddo (who had just returned to school and, I assumed, would be tired), and the toad they’d found in the back yard the day before, taken into captivity, and desperately wanted to torture play with.

So, I told them the decision was in their hands. If they were game to be away from home for the entire afternoon and evening, to bring our dinner with us and then eat it at Panera, to wait while I did my church thing, then we’d go. But if they weren’t – if they were too tired, if they really wanted to go home, if they needed some downtime, if they just didn’t want to do it, then we wouldn’t. I told them that I was good with either decision; I meant it.

They decided they wanted to go. That, despite the crazy long day, the running around, the eating out of a cooler and not playing with their friends, we would go… so that I could get my church on. They did it for me. (And Nancy’s toys and the brownie I bought them, but hey. For me.)

On the way home, we chatted – as we do – and I thanked them. For coming with me, for giving up their free time, for being so patient, for enabling me to go to church, which I so deeply love. I told them I adore being with these women, and I feel good whenever I do so, and that I was really grateful they’d allowed me to attend.

“Um, you’re welcome. But mom,” they protested, “You didn’t get to go last week. And it means so much to you. And we love you. So we said yes.”

I started to thank them again when they added, “We also really like Miss Nancy’s toys.”
Fair enough.

This is what love looks like.

It’s not the flashy signs or the expensive gifts or the dramatic proclamations of adoration (although it can be those things too; I wouldn’t complain). It’s the littler things, the ones that you don’t even think about, the ones that are so basic and mundane, they are all but unnoticed – but they are the love foundation that holds everything else up.

Love looks like your husband setting his alarm in the mornings on business trips, even when he’s in another time zone, so that he can be sure he has enough time to call your daughters before they go to school.

Love looks like your camp friend, whom you haven’t seen in 20 years, posting a message to your Facebook wall of long-forgotten camp songs and rhymes.

Love looks like your grandma saving packets of oyster crackers from her dinnertime soup and giving them to your daughters the next time she sees them, just because she knows they enjoy them.

It looks like your babysitter taking time out of her college graduation party to sit and talk with your kiddos, even though she has dozens of other guests to attend to. It looks like your other babysitter sending a thank-you note for the goodbye sign your daughters made her because she will miss them over the summer.

It is your father sending you links to stories from The New York Times because he thinks you might like them – stories that you would never have checked out on your own but you’re darned glad you did. It is doggie poop bags showing up at your door in an Amazon box after your mother reads on Facebook about how you never seem to have enough bags to pick up after your dogs.

Love looks like remembering that one child prefers the tops of asparagus while the other prefers the bottoms. It looks like the Valentine’s Day cards that show up in the mail from grandparents and uncles. It looks like taking a friend’s call even though you only have five minutes to talk because you know she had important news to share; it also looks like understanding when a friend doesn’t take your call because, hey, sometimes you just can’t talk right now and that’s okay.

Love looks like setting out sneakers for your daughter on gym day but also not bringing them to her at school if she forgets; love looks like allowing her to make mistakes and learn from them, then offering her a hug when she does.

It looks like friends inviting you over for a drink and some catching-up. It looks like your neighbors offering to watch your kids while you run an errand. It looks like the person at the gas station holding the door open for you.

Sometimes, love looks like opulence and flattery and vacations. Other times, it looks like remembering how you like your coffee. It looks like, “I’ll be right over.” It looks like your husband and daughters remembering that what one of the things you’d like most for Mother’s Day is time to write messages to your friends, and giving you time to do so.

Love looks like doing your spelling homework in the car and your science studying beside the soccer field and not returning home until bedtime so that your mama can get to church.

And for me, love looks like these folks.
Amen.
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That this was taken inside the hotel where we spent Mother’s Day eve certainly doesn’t hurt… Love does come in all shapes and sizes, after all.

My favorite Mother’s Day tradition

Like many moms, I have certain Mother’s Day requests: time with my girls. Time to myself. Something delicious (Starbucks is dandy, thanks). No cooking required. A few nice words. Nick, Ella, and Annie are really good about making sure these things happen; every year, I appreciate their consideration.

In addition to the above, I also ask for something a little unusual: computer time. More specifically, computer time to spend on Facebook, writing messages to every mother on my friends list. This may seem like an odd Mother’s Day request, but it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the day.

Over the years, people have commented on this annual rite of passage. Most are cordial or appreciative. A few are skeptical (“You spend all that time online when you could be outside or reading or laughing with your kids? Isn’t that the opposite of what Mother’s Day is supposed to be about?”). More than a few comment that the messages are “so thoughtful” or something along those lines.

While I appreciate the sentiment, I’m not comfortable with the praise ’cause here’s the truth: I didn’t start this tradition from a thoughtful place. I started it because I felt obligated.

I have a group of mom friends who I “met” through an online message board when I was pregnant with Ella; we all had babies due in December 2004. Eventually, we moved our communications to Facebook, where we continue to “see” one another today (we have also met in real life, but those are crazy stories for another day…). When I first joined Facebook, I was tickled to discover several of my former message board mama friends. Being able to easily keep up with them again was a terrific treat. Hence, in 2009 – my first Facebook Mother’s Day – I decided that I wanted to reach out to these lovely and inspirational gals.

Mother’s Day seemed perfect. After all, in addition to being pretty excellent friends, the very reason that these ladies and I had met one another was through our shared motherhood. Our friendship was made even stronger because we all had children the same age; we’d gone through leaky boobs, sleepless nights, potty training, and the first day of kindergarten – together. As much as anyone on the planet, these women shaped me into the mother I am today through their advice, their friendship, and through how they parented their own children. I wanted to tell them that they were doing a fabulous job as moms and, although it’s sappy and clichéd, I wanted to tell them on Mother’s Day.
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That was all: tell a small group of friends I thought they were great. Easy peasy, over and done. When I sat down and began to type, however, I found myself scrolling through my entire list of friends, many of whom are also mothers. Some I didn’t know very well, but with others, I’d see their names and think, “She makes those crazy bento lunches!” or “She’s always at her son’s football games!” or “When her daughter was sick last year, she did a helluva job holding it together.” 

So I thought, I guess I’ll write to those moms, too. And I did. And at first, I felt pretty good, writing messages to the friends whose mother-ing I knew well enough to talk about. But here’s the thing: all of the messages were written on my friends’ walls, which meant that any of their friends could see them… Meaning that the rest of my Facebook mom friends – the ones I didn’t know very well, the ones who don’t post often – could see them, too… Meaning that it would be pretty obvious that I’d picked and chosen to whom I was writing.

So then I thought, Well damn. The whole point of this was to say nice things, not to make anyone feel left out or crappy. I guess I’d better write to every mom on my friends list. Or, in other words, I felt… obligated… to write to everyone.

So I did.
And it was… incredible.

I know that whenever anyone reaches out to me and says something nice, it feels good, so I definitely hoped that my doing so would make people feel good. It did. But there was so much more than that.

Most of the time, I received an acknowledgement – maybe a “thank you.” While that wasn’t why I was writing – I wasn’t looking for recognition at all; I just wanted to make people smile – it was lovely nevertheless.

But then there were friends who were just floored. Some had had a rough Mother’s Day. Others were in a difficult place. Still others had been feeling gross about themselves for whatever reason. The vast majority of the time, I had no idea that any of this was going on; it’s not as much fun to talk about bad stuff as it is to post selfies, you know? When these ladies heard from someone randomly telling them that they were damn fine moms, it caught them off guard – in the best way. They said they felt they could go on. They said they felt good about themselves for the first time in ages.

I’d had no idea; I was stunned.

And then there was the most unexpectedly exciting thing of all: the joining in. I don’t remember why I posted on Friends’ walls instead of sending private messages, but I was immediately glad I did because other friends started adding on. Sometimes, they’d simply “like” my post. Others, they’d write comments telling the friend why she was, indeed, a kickass mother. Either way, these women suddenly had dozens of friends confirming their awesomeness.

It was stupendous.

Women do a really good job of tearing one another down, either overtly (“How can you feed your kids Teddy Grahams? They’re basically toxic” or “You allow PG-13 movies? How… interesting…”) or more quietly (“No, Raphael’s not doing soccer; we refuse to schedule any after school activities because we believe in letting kids be kids”). We whisper behind one another’s backs about everything from eye wrinkles to how often we allow our kids to buy school lunch.

This is nothing new – the whole “Mommy Wars” thing and all. It’s not just moms either, of course; women, in general, can be pretty damned nasty to one another. Yes, we are good friends; we can call on our pals when we need advice or support. We compliment one another on our outfits or our haircuts. We thank people for their help. But in my experience, it’s pretty rare for a woman to say to another woman, “You’re fantastic. You inspire me. Here’s why.”

I include myself in this statement. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true: I don’t often tell my friends that they’re wonderful just for the hell of it. Being so vocal feels… strange. Uncomfortable. Plus, when I’m telling someone that I love how patient they are with their children, the unspoken sentiment (in my own head) is that I’m not as patient. There’s a comparison (again, in my own head) that, frankly, doesn’t always feel so good.

Basically, I avoid saying nice things to other people because it makes me feel bad about myself. Which is pretty neat and not at all embarrassing.

Somehow, on that Mother’s Day in 2009, I was able to break out of my selfish, self-protective bubble, and the response was beyond anything I could have imagined. Turns out, when you say kind things to people (and really mean what you’re saying), people appreciate it. Go figure.

Writing Facebook messages to my mama friends has become a treasured tradition; there is no obligation about it. I wish them a Happy Mother’s Day and, when I know them well enough (otherwise it sounds forced or canned), tell them why I think they’re magnificent moms. Yeah, it takes hours and during that time, I’m not outside or hanging out with my daughters or reading magazines, but the happiness that connecting with these women brings – considering why they’re making a difference, why their kids are lucky to have them, how they inspire me – is incalculable.

It’s pretty hard not to feel awesome while you’re pondering someone else’s awesomeness.

So, if you’re looking for something to do this Mother’s Day, I’d encourage you to tell some moms that you think they’re doing a bang-up job. You don’t have to go through your entire Facebook friends list or your entire neighborhood or even your entire family tree; just pick a mom or two or ten and tell them that they’re fabulous. Be genuine. Mean what you say. Then sit back and revel in the delicious feeling that accompanies celebrating other moms.

I mean, that’s what Mother’s Day is about, is it not?
Although I’m sure as heck not going to turn down any Starbucks or handmade cards or You just sit here and we’ll do the dishes. Life is all about balance, after all. My mother says so.
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You can bet, come Sunday, I’ll be telling my own mama why she rocks.