From That – To This

It feels a little as though things have been turned upside down. (Not a Hamilton reference, believe it or not – although the sentiment is the same…) Since the white supremacist flyers were distributed in our town’s neighborhoods, all of the fears and anger and hatred that were happening Somewhere Else, that had seemed almost hypothetical, were suddenly impossible to ignore. It was one of my most difficult parenting moments – my daughters and husband being targeted for their race, knowing others’ privacy had been violated, wondering if we would be next. I began having difficulty sleeping; I awoke every morning anxious to see if our driveway had been hit, if, on the way to school, our girls would find strips of paper disavowing their existence.

Turns out, I was far from the only person feeling this way. Within 48 hours of the initial intimidation campaign, a meeting was scheduled for local residents to discuss a counter-response. Over 50 people showed up on a Sunday afternoon, including Nick and me; we strategized, imagined, and shared ideas on how to organize a visible anti-racist, inclusive message – both in the immediate aftermath and well beyond. A group was formed: Pittsforward. I left the meeting feeling wary but energized, so grateful that others were willing to be brave enough to come together and say, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” rather than silently condemning from the safety of our houses.

We agreed that, among other things, a march or walk of some kind was in order. Exactly one week later, all of the details were in place and we gathered for our Unity Walk.

(I always have said I’m not the kind of person who marches for stuff; it’s just not my thing. Turns out, when you literally bring hate to our neighborhoods and driveways, I have a different reaction. Funny, that.)

It wasn’t just the 50 of us, however; hundreds upon hundreds of people showed up to stroll peacefully en masse through our little town, joyfully and resolutely declaring that racism will not be accepted here, that we stand united, that we celebrate our differences, and that everyone is welcome here.

That so many residents in my community wanted to stand with one another and say, NO, NOT HERE! was deeply heartening. That they did so in a steady rain kind of blew my mind. img_7253img_7255

Neither of our girls was particularly looking forward to the walk. Part of this was our waiting until the last minute to tell them about it, and part of this was their relative lack of perspective on why something like this was worthwhile. Often, when Ella or Annie strongly object to participating in a “family” outing, either Nick or I will step in to say, “Hey, maybe this isn’t so important; let’s allow her to skip it.” (Like, I might say this regarding a hockey game and Nick might say it regarding a dance performance. YOU KNOW, JUST AS HYPOTHETICAL EXAMPLES.)

On this, however, we were in agreement: our family would walk, period. It was important. It was necessary. We were going, driving rain or sunshine. (Side note: we would have preferred the latter.)
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So, this is a totally crappy photo… It’s actually a screen shot – from my phone – of a video that was shown by one of our local television stations.
Still, it’s the only photo (such as it is) of us at the walk, so… yeah.

After almost 41 years of tearing up at Budweiser commercials and getting misty over inspirational memes on Pinterest,  you’d think, by now, that I would expect to be emotional at things like this. Apparently I still surprise myself, because I was not prepared to become so choked up at the sight of everyone in their raincoats and umbrellas, coming together to support one another.
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Low bridge, everybody down… (Get it?)

There were families with kids – from babies in strollers to high schoolers. Some were biracial families, like ours. Others had adopted children of mixed race. Others were all people of color. And, alongside them, hundreds of white folks – who, despite being “included” in the “acceptable” list provided in the supremacist flyers, found their rhetoric anything but acceptable.

There were older couples without any children (accompanying them). There were college students. There were groups of adults with signs and placards. There were women in headscarves. There were priests in collared shirts. We passed our local Chabad House, where members were preparing for the start of Rosh Hashanah; despite their preparations, they stepped outside to wave and join our chorus.

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A couple of the many signs from the walk…

We walked behind our local Flower City Pride Band, their 60s and 70s rock songs providing us a cheerful soundtrack. Police had cordoned off portions of our little town to make it safe for the marchers to go by; they were on hand, directing the traffic that inevitably backed up. As we passed them, we leaned into their patrol cars to thank them for being there. And, at the end, we gathered – alongside many of our locally elected officials and members of the school board – in a town park. The display of love in the face of hate, of support in the face of threats, was so incredibly powerful.

We can do this. Together, we can do this. Just look at all the people willing to say so.

I will fully admit it: I cried. More than once.
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Because our little town is, indeed, little, the entire affair lasted only twenty minutes or so… but that was enough. We said what we needed to say. We were where we needed to be. And, whether they understand or not – whether they like it or not – we showed our girls what it means to stand up for diversity, acceptance, and love.

There is a time for deliberate indifference, for willful ignoring. I absolutely believe that, sometimes, the best way to handle an ignorant bully is to not even acknowledge their existence – to not give them the attention they’re seeking. I also believe that, sometimes, when a bully pushes too hard, when they threaten you by coming to your turf rather than spouting their message from afar, a strong, direct, vocal opposition is exactly what’s needed.

The time had passed for quietly shaking our heads in disapproval. We needed to take a stand, to make it clear that not only would we not tolerate this kind of hate and propaganda being delivered to our homes, but we also celebrate our differences and our diversity. Perhaps most of all: we are not alone. 

I’m a silver lining kind of girl (see: yes, the basement flooded, but at least the floor is clean!). The flyers were certainly The Bad. But there is The Good, too: people are no longer content to be complacent. We are making connections, having conversations, coming together. We are recognizing that our neighborhoods are more than just where we live; they’re also the people who live there. If nothing else, the flyers’ aftermath has caused me to want to get to know my neighbors better, because it’s much more difficult to hate and fear someone you’ve talked with face to face.

This isn’t going to change overnight. Yes, the walk was tremendous and important.But there is so much more to do to make our community truly inclusive, safe, and open to other viewpoints. Together, we can make a difference in our community. I have to believe it’s so, because the alternative is just not okay.

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Oh Hell No

The unthinkable happened – or so I thought*.

(* see what I did there?)

As is well-documented, I love where we live. We moved to our cozy, tight-knit, western New York community because it is exactly where we want to be, and especially where we want to raise our girls. No, it’s not as diverse as I’d like, but we take as many steps as possible to help Ella and Annie understand that there is a world beyond what they know. Life feels good here – safe, supportive, inclusive.

Yesterday, in our cozy, tight-knit, safe, supportive, inclusive community, a man was seen handing out flyers in a residential neighborhood. The flyers were titled, “Make (Rochester) Great Again” and contained the link to a website that is being used as a recruitment tool for white supremacist groups.

According to one of our local news outlets, the website advertises a “network (of) like-minded Whites for the furtherance of the European white races… (It) promotes that European whites should not feel constrained in recognizing their ethnic and racial identities and in promoting its interest. It is thus taken as legitimate for whites to challenge attempts to turn whites into a minority. (The group) is an incipient initiative that aims to Make (Rochester) Great Again, by making Rochester Whiter.”

Um. Hell no. Fuck no.

I shared the story with Ella to get her opinion – she’s usually pretty good at framing things for me from a kid’s perspective (which is almost always better than whatever we adults are thinking) – but I could barely read the words aloud. I am of the European white race. My daughters and husband are not. Looking at my child and saying that my race should be furthered, but not hers… That I should take pains to recognize and promote my ethnic and racial identities above hers… That anyone attempting to promote equality and equity for non-white races (like, say, the Black Lives Matter movement) should be seen as a threat to me…

… was literally stomach-turning. I felt like I was going to throw up.

These are my children that this website is targeting. MY CHILDREN. In MY CUTE LITTLE TOWN. This is not happening in some big city or some podunk nowhere. It is happening in my own backyard. I knew, of course, that there was racism and hatred everywhere, even in my community, but to see it happening exactly here, exactly now, was absolutely chilling.

 

Thankfully, Ella found the article more amusing than alarming – she was so shocked that anyone in 2016 believes such drivel, she was basically speechless. But it still woke me up to the reality of what we in 2016 America are dealing with (I thought I understood; until tonight, I didn’t) and made me vow anew to make absolutely certain that our children are able to do better than we are.
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Our community; soccer game.

In fairness, it’s something I’ve been working at for my whole life.

In elementary school, my first Cabbage Patch doll was black. Her name was Guinevere Camilla and she smelled like baby powder and I adored her from the moment I saw her. I gave not one shit that she wasn’t white.

In middle school, I accompanied a Jewish friend in requesting that a menorah be included alongside the Christmas tree in the school office. The principal called my mother to ask if I was considering converting. The very idea that I, a Christian student, would be supporting this “cause” just because I was, you know, a friend who happened to believe in the radical idea of equality was absolutely beyond his backward brain. Even at age 12, though, I knew.

In 10th grade, a friend asked if I believed gay people were going to hell, which puzzled me. I don’t even think I knew anyone who was openly gay, but I’d never heard or even considered such a possibility before and I was completely flummoxed as to what she talking about. She attempted to explain to me that her religion taught her that homosexuality was against God’s will. I told her gay people were born gay and God loves everyone, so no, they’re not going to hell, good grief.

When I was in college and finally saw, for the first time, racial profiling up close and personal, it rocked me so hard to my core, I never forgot it.

Basically, I think I’m hardwired to believe that we all are deserving of respect and love and kindness, regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, age, religion, dis/ability, or favorite sports team (although obviously the Yankees > Red Sox). I believe this so strongly, I talk about it – a lot – because one of the ways I think we’re going to combat and ultimately end the horrible cycle we’ve found ourselves in is to feel comfortable talking about this stuff.

Our girls have heard me talk about these things – a lot. They knew what it meant to be gay before they knew their uncles were gay; they never thought it was weird or taboo because they were familiar with it. Ditto gender identity and religion and, absolutely, race.

‘Cause my girls aren’t white. When strangers look at them, they don’t see white kids – even though they’re half-me. They see Asian. (And, if they’ve got eyes, they see awesome, but that’s neither here nor there.) And, apparently, some people in my own little town see my children as Other. As, What Is Stopping Rochester From Being Great. As something to be opposed.

My girls don’t see that. They think that’s insane – and I’m sure most of their friends do, too. But we need to do everything in our power to ensure that none of our children grows up thinking that these thoughts are even possibilities.

So? Have the damned discussions. No, for real. Actually talk about race relations, about what’s happening in America – today, 2016. These flyers aren’t from 1956; they’re from now, for fuck’s sake. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Don’t pat yourself on the back for being bummed that the Academy Awards didn’t honor any people of color this year while still shouting “All Lives Matter!” Don’t assume that your community’s goodwill is going to somehow override centuries of overt and covert racist programming.

Don’t be afraid of talking about people’s race. Use terms like white/Caucasian, black/African American, Asian, hispanic/Latino, Native American (“brown” is also widely used and accepted for people of color) to identify people – as you’d describe height or hair color –  not cutesy terms like “people with a tan” (seriously, wtf) or “darker-skinned people.”

Somehow, those of us in our sweet, affluent, mostly-white-but-genuinely-trying-to-do-the-right-thing communities seem to think that it’s, I don’t know, accepting? Supportive? Inclusive? to simply not refer to skin color, period. In fact, we’re doing way more harm than good when we teach our kids that discussing race is shameful. Skin color should not be whispered like cancer. It is not bad or wrong or offensive, and it’s certainly not racist, for the love, to refer to the color of someone’s skin –  any more than it’s wrong or racist to refer to the color of someone’s eyes.
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Our community: summer sunset

I know many people are sick of discussing race; others think it’s still not an issue. To that, I would say, Ask yourself – and really be honest here – how you’d feel if you were pulled over. If you’re white, like me, I imagine that you’d be a bit nervous, a bit pissed that you were caught, the tiniest bit contrite (’cause you recognize that you must’ve done something wrong even if you don’t want to admit it). You might be considering what you could do to talk your way out of the ticket.

If you’re white, like me, there is almost no way that you’d be concerned even a little bit that your pull-over might result in your being shot by the police officer who stopped you. You could yell at the officer. You could swear. You could dance. You could tell them that you’re secretly rooting for ISIS and maybe even Donald Trump. Hell, you could show them the handgun that’s sitting in your lap… and you know damned well that you’d still come out of it alive.

And deep down, you know the same would not be true if you were black. You know equally damned well that people of color, and especially black men, are not afforded this luxury. You’d be scared to death because you know in your heart that these black lives are not treated the same as yours.

We need to talk about these things openly and honestly and without shame. We need to acknowledge the problems that exist – and not be so defensive. Yes, these flyers are repugnant; instead of ignoring them or wishing them away, we need to confront them head on. We need to say FUCK NO and come together and show people who believe that diversity is the problem that it is actually the freaking answer.

Turns out, I wasn’t wrong; Ella did have some words of wisdom after hearing the content of the article (which I had to explain to her, because the very concepts were so foreign). She asked, for the millionth time, why people don’t get it — that WE – all of us, every last black, brown, white, gay, straight, bi, male, female, transgender, able-bodied, disabled, neurotypical, differently-abled, old, young, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic, atheist, Yankees-loving, Red Sox-loving, sports-hating one of us… ALL of us – are what makes America great.

We, in our diversity, ARE America’s greatness. We, in ourselves, are our greatest strength.
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Knocking Down Hurdles

In a matter of minutes, all hell broke loose.

We’d just returned from Minnesota – 12 lovely, fun-filled, family-rich days. It was a great trip, especially watching Ella and Annie enjoy the heck out of their cousins. Still, 12 days is a long time (for us; okay, for me), and – creature of habit and structure that I am – I was looking forward to being home.

The Re-Entry Itinerary contained some standard hurdles to leap (or, in my case, to knock over; according to the Olympics, basically anything goes with regard to hurdles, right?). Dirty clothes, empty fridge, unpacking. The grass was at least 8″ tall and we had the usual back-to-school litany: teacher meetings, orientations, sports, shopping.

All perfectly do-able — but, still, a rather jam-packed couple of days that would require me to turn off my Summer Brain and dial back into something vaguely resembling Competent School Year Brain. I just needed to keep my old, uninvited visitor, Anxiety, in check, and all would be well.

I’ve done pretty well making Anxiety talk to the hand this summer. I mean, summer and I will never be BFFs, but I’ve learned how to acknowledge Anxiety’s presence while not allowing her in.

Although the flight home was uneventful, traveling is always a bit exhausting, and I was doing that self-talk thing that we who struggle with anxiety know all too well: It’s all good, just keep going, I’ve got this. Not ten minutes after walking in the house, we discovered that Langston had a double ear infection. An Urgent Vet Visit had not been in the Re-Entry Itinerary. But, in between the grocery store and mowing and swim practice, I could slip in a trip to the dog doctor. Deep breaths. Hurdle added. I’ve got this.
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Pitiful vet-visit face.

Since, in that moment, I couldn’t help poor Lang out, I decided I might as well accomplish something and took the first load of Minnesota Trip laundry down to the basement. There, in front of the washer, lay a strip of dried-up blue duct tape – the “fix” I’d applied to the tear in the rubber seal to prevent it from leaking. Anxiety raised her hand, contemplating knocking, but I told her to back off – then took another deep breath, gave myself another pep talk, applied another strip of tape, stuffed a towel at the base of the machine, and hoped that it would hold.

It wasn’t until I turned around to go upstairs that I scanned the room and saw, clear as day, at least an inch of standing water covering the far side of the basement. A further scan revealed a wide-open window (screen still attached), the cinder block wall damp beneath it.

Hurdle. Added.

(Our best guess was that a huge rainstorm must’ve overloaded the window well, causing the window to burst open from the pressure. GOOD TIMES.)

A review of the damage revealed that my teaching boxes, stacked under the window, were soaked, their cardboard frames flimsy and soft. Nick’s music equipment – guitar pedals, sound-effect-thingies (that’s the technical name), microphones, speakers – sat on the floor, surrounded by water. Without thinking, I grabbed a towel (not the one protecting the washing machine, thank you very much) and threw it into the lagoon; instantaneously, it sank to the bottom, useless and drenched.

My old, uninvited visitor was now persistently banging on the door. I could feel warmth rising in my chest; my pulse began to throb in my ears. When you regularly deal with anxiety, you learn which “helpful” strategies work for you and which make you want to punch someone. For me, mindful, slow, feel-like-an-ass-but-it’s-actually-calming breathing is my go-to. Deep breaths. Come on. Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…

Surveying the mess, I understood this was not something I could tackle on my own. I don’t have this. Not right now.

I went to get Nick.

Together, we got the music stuff out of harm’s way, closed the window, picked up the sopping wet rugs and dragged them outside, rearranged the furniture so it was no longer in the lagoon, gathered enough towels to actually absorb the water, and made sure the dehumidifier and a fan were running. The non-stop action enabled me to momentarily suppress the panic that was waiting impatiently on the doorstep.

Hurdles: not gracefully leapt, but definitely knocked down.

The dog to the vet. The soaking wet basement. The potentially ruined items. The discarded rugs and the water they tracked through the house. The towels that now needed washing – in addition to our Minnesota Trip clothes. The faulty window. The mold that appeared to be growing on the basement wall.  It was a lot to process, and my processing skills – exhausted from the deep breathing and Anxiety-fighting pep talks – were zilch.

When everything goes wrong at once, it’s probably a lot for anyone to handle, but for those of us who battle anxiety, it can seem temporarily insurmountable. Anxiety is a real bitch. She whispers in our ears that we do not, in fact, have this. She reminds us of all that can go wrong – and then, when we attempt to counter her, counters us right back.

This is a disaster.

If I take it step by step, it’ll seem more manageable.

Maybe someone snuck in through the broken window. It might not be safe here.

The screen is still intact and the petsitter would have noticed.

If the infection has been there for a while, Langston’s hearing could be affected.

I’m sure he’ll be okay. I’ll bring him in tomorrow.

What if that’s not enough? What if you aren’t enough?

I’m trying. I’ve got this.

Do you, though? I bet other people don’t feel this way. You’re obviously broken.

That’s the real kicker. In addition to causing you to feel nervous and unsettled over even minor things, to making you go down every absurd rabbit hole and through all the obscure What Ifs, anxiety makes you question yourself. Can I really handle this? Why don’t other people do this? What’s wrong with me?

It was now well past 6:00 and the girls were starving, so I ordered dinner. I’d planned to cook but I – mercifully – decided to give myself a pass. It’s most important that they eat. It’s okay. Give yourself a break.

IMG_8422August sunset on Long Island.

While waiting for the order to be ready, I ventured back to the basement to change the laundry… and found, yet again, a puddle in front of the washer. The duct tape hadn’t held. We needed a repair person ASAP.
More hurdles. The course was getting long.

Anxiety, impatient, began to open the door.

Before returning upstairs, I stopped to check on the drying-out process – and was stunned to discover another big ol’ pile of water in the middle of the concrete. Assuming there was some scientific explanation (the water was sucked back to the surface through blah blah, science-y words), I knelt down with yet another towel to sop things up… and heard the dripping.

The air conditioner unit was leaking. A lot.

Somehow, not only had the window burst open in a torrent – flooding the basement – but the A/C was also hemorrhaging water onto the floor. How this twofer managed to occur at the exact same time is clearly the work of the devil.

Anxiety stepped in and closed the door behind her.

The sides of my vision began to darken. The warmth in my chest turned to heat. My stomach began to knot. In addition to my heartbeat flooding my ears, there was also this rush of nothing – like white noise – that grew ever louder. My hands started to shake.

Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…

I debated getting some medication – the kind specifically prescribed for times like this – but heard Anxiety telling me it was a stupid idea. “Other people don’t need that. Don’t be weak. Shouldn’t you be able to manage on your own?”
Another ironic kicker: that anxiety can make us too nervous to take our anxiety medication.

Nick found me in the kitchen standing at the counter and immediately knew something was up.

“I’m having a panic attack.”

Rather than running, rather than ignoring, he came closer. Putting down what he was holding, he took me by the shoulders and told me, measured and calm, “Okay. Let’s do this. We can figure it out.”

Yes, we can. I can. Breathe, breathe, breathe.

I told him about the air conditioner (we added more towels). He hugged me; tight, long.

“I’m sorry that I’m sort of broken.”

“No. This situation just really sucks.”

I’ve had panic attacks before and know their paralyzing horribleness. I also know, every time, I’ve gotten through them. I know that they end. I know, if I’m persistent, I can shove Anxiety back out the door. But I still need to remind myself each time it happens.

Between Nick’s reassurance, my breathing, the eventual return of my self-belief, and deciding that taking Xanax was actually the smart, strong way to go, things got better. My heartbeat returned to normal. My vision cleared. My stomach relaxed.

By the time dinner was ready, I was back to myself. The girls never even knew what happened – which was both reassuring (I wouldn’t want to worry them) and disquieting… because I want them to know that this is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. In fact, my hearing Anxiety’s self-doubt-filled warnings, flipping her off, and doing whatever it took to kick her out are not only not shame-worthy; they’re powerful and awesome.

We, as a nation, do such a poor job handling things like anxiety and depression. Their taboo nature makes difficult situations even more difficult. I want to show the girls that, despite my own statements to the contrary, I’m not broken. I’m me – strong, smart, kind, Starbucks-loving, kickass me – and just because Anxiety has barged in, those things don’t change.

Also? I’ve got her number.

Less than 24 hours after the panic attack, the A/C guy had come (sweet fancy Moses), the groceries were purchased, Langston got to the vet, the floor was dry, and I’d made appointments with the washing machine and mold folks. I also mowed the lawn – where, mid-backyard, the mower cord snapped and I sprained my toe. Two more hurdles. But this time, instead of panicking, I boldly kicked them aside.

I wrote about the whole shebang on Facebook, treating it more like a joke. 24 hours later, it was a joke –  but that was only part of the story, and I know that so many other people have similar stories… but we rarely share them. That’s why I decided to write about it: so that all of us who struggle with anxiety – or who recognize ourselves in this scenario – might feel a little less alone. Only by talking about it can we de-stigmatize it. So here I am, talking about it.

If you, too, battle anxiety, know that you’re not alone. You can do it – maybe on your own, maybe with the help of friends and family, maybe with the help of medication – but you can, and all of that is okay.

The hurdles will always appear… but remember that you don’t have to clear them. You just have to knock them down and keep going.

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The girls having a blast at the Minnesota State Fair.
They keep me going.
Them… and caramel macchiatos. And Xanax. Amen.

Yes, It’s About Race

Have you seen the videos? The ones of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being shot and killed? The ones where two black men were shot and killed by police officers? Two days in a row, two sets of videos, two men’s lives lost.

I haven’t seen the videos, and I’m not sure if I will. I have no desire to each two more men’s lives be horrifically taken, right in front of my eyes. I’ve already seen this over and over again – so many of us have – and yet it’s still happening, so clearly watching isn’t helping things, and I need to maintain a small shred of protection around my heart.

To Anton and Philando’s families, I’m so sorry, and I’m sorry that I’m not watching; I simply can’t right now. But I’m here speaking out for them, and I hope that’s one minuscule consolation.

Where is the outrage? Not amongst black and minority communities, but amongst the rest of us? How are we not so aghast and appalled and furious and devastated that we have to take a moment to sit down and then figure out what to do next? (Actually, I cried when I told Nick about it, and now I’m literally shaking, so there’s at least one of us who feels this way.)

Every single time this happens, the number of people who positively stumble over themselves in their rush to say that “race has nothing to do with it” is astonishing. I’m sure the excuses are already in full force: but Anton had a record! He just got out of jail! He was carrying a gun! (He didn’t reach for it, and was on the ground when he was shot, but yes, he had a gun.) He wasn’t complying! In other words, he somehow deserved to be killed, or was asking for trouble, or at least presented an awfully strong case for violence against him.

Nope. Not about race.

But what about Philando? He had no lengthy rap sheet. In fact, he worked for the local school system as a cafeteria manager. (Not sure why this matters? Well, these days, every school employee is required to be fingerprinted and background-checked, so there is absolutely no way that this man had a violent record. Further, do you have any idea of the saint-like patience and stamina it takes to run a school cafeteria??) Those facts aside, he was pulled over for a broken tail light and was asked for his license. After informing the officer that he had a permit to carry a weapon and that, if the officer checked, a gun would be found in his car, he calmly leaned over to reach for his license and registration – fully complying, as he had been asked – when the officer shot him.

So, just to be clear, Philando deserved this, or was asking for trouble, or presented a strong case of violence against him… how?

Think this is still not about race?

A couple of months ago, I was pulled over for speeding. The whole family was in the car and I lost track of how fast I was going. I didn’t even attempt to pretend otherwise; I acknowledged to the officer that I’d been going too fast, apologized, and handed over my paperwork. I explained to the girls that I absolutely earned the ticket I was about to get, and that it would be a great lesson for me (and them, fingers crossed).

When the officer came back to the window, he returned my license and registration… and told me to drive safely, then headed back to his cruiser. That was it. No ticket, not even a warning. I was stunned, and told the girls so. They wanted to know why I hadn’t gotten a ticket when I’d broken the law. Maybe it was because I was only driving fast, not erratically. Maybe it was that I fully cooperated and took responsibility for my actions. I probably just got lucky. But I also told them that I was lucky to be a white woman rather than a black man, because the outcome could have been different.

At the time, this statement – although true – felt extreme.
It doesn’t this morning.

And yet, most people continue to say that race is not an issue.

When a white college student gets only six months of jail time for sexually assaulting, and attempting to rape, an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, and the photos paraded around the media are of him as a shining athlete, rather than his mugshot, I grow a little suspicious. When a white man guns down people in a theater and is not shot and killed on the spot by responding officers, but is arrested and led away, I grow still more suspicious. When a white man deliberately targets a black church, murdering parishioners in cold blood, and is offered a bulletproof vest by police as he is taken to the police car, I am no longer suspicious; I am certain.

Race has a heckuva lot to do with it.

Still unconvinced? Try this. Imagine that you could trade places with someone for a day. You experience life exactly as they would – a Freaky Friday sort of situation. Now imagine that you’ve traded places with a black man, and that you’ve been tasked with driving around. You’re on the highway. You’re in the ‘burbs. You’re downtown… a black man, behind the wheel. Imagine that you’re pulled over – maybe you ran a stop sign, or maybe you just have a broken tail light (did you even know your tail light was broken?). The cop shows up at your window, and there you are, strapped into the driver’s seat behind the wheel.

Be honest: you’d be terrified. You would’t be sure that you’d come out of it alive.

Think this is still not about race?

We cannot begin to fix this if we cannot even acknowledge, as a country, that racism is an *enormous problem*. So I will say it: racism is an enormous problem in this country. Yes, there is also a police brutality problem (although I truly believe the vast majority of cops are good and are trying their best – but our best is a best that is inherently, unconsciously racist). There’s a gun problem (which is another issue that is still not even acknowledged as a problem, so that’s fun). But right now, right here, the biggest issue is race (ever seen this video of how differently a white and black man are treated while openly carrying?).

WE NEED TO FIX THIS. This is not a black problem or a minority problem; it is a human problem for all of us, every race. I know that the United States is facing almost unprecedented division and difficulties right now, but at its heart, I know we are better than this. I believe in America, and I believe that we can do this; I believe that we can truly be the land of the free, where everyone is created equal.

But until all of us would feel safe walking around as a minority (a person of color… or a Muslim, or someone who is gay or lesbian or transgender, or heck – a woman), we have not reached that place. When most of us would be scared for our lives to walk in those shoes, there is a serious, dangerous, heartbreaking, terrible problem.

Please, let’s stop pretending that this isn’t happening. Let’s not avoid talking about it because it’s difficult. And, for the love, let’s stop explaining away violence against black folks and people of color. Let’s acknowledge that racism is a tremendous problem. And then let’s work together – all of us – to make the change.

 

Un-Weird: They’ve Got to be Carefully Taught

It’s been a heckuva couple of weeks.

Okay, so that’s putting it mildly.
Shit has really hit the fan, hasn’t it?

Last Sunday, after learning about the Orlando massacre, I wanted nothing more than to hole up with my phone and consume as much information as possible; it was almost all-consuming, this desire to know more, to reach out, to stay connected.

Simultaneously, though, was this desire to stay as far from the news as possible. There’s so much going on this time of year – family birthdays, end of school, beginning of summer, my girl “graduating” elementary school (I can’t even) – that I viscerally recoiled from the external forces that seemed intent on taking the little time and energy I had away from what mattered most… Meaning I also wanted nothing more than to hole up with my girls and Nick and the dogs and weed the garden and listen to Ella and Annie read to me and hug everyone as much as humanly possible.

In the end, we wound up telling the girls about the attack – in part because we would be watching the Tony Awards that night (duh) and I knew they were dedicating the show to Orlando, and in part because we thought they might hear about it in school and we wanted them to hear it from us, first.

(During their school’s annual Flag Day celebration on Tuesday, the flag was taken down before the ceremony – as it always is – so that it could be re-raised for everyone to see, followed by The Pledge of Allegiance. This year, the flag crested the top of the pole… and then was lowered down again until it reached half-mast. The jarring juxtaposition of the mourning flag, the kids in their patriotic regalia, and the words of The Pledge – “with liberty and justice for all” – was not lost on the parents in attendance.)

After we shared the basics, the girls asked – as they always do when they hear about hate-filled crimes – why anyone would do such a thing; do they not know that gay people/black people/women/transgendered people/Americans are okay? How do they not get it? We answered honestly that we don’t know; it makes no sense to us. There’s fear that fuels hatred… but beyond that, we don’t know why – not really.

Nick ended our discussion by saying, with resignation, that he didn’t know what the take-away message was — but he was so sorry these sorts of things are reality. At first, I agreed; but upon further reflection, I realized there was a message I wanted to impart:

Be kind.
See other human beings as just that – human beings – rather than “others” simply because they’re different. 
Don’t fight hatred with hate; fight it with love and knowledge and understanding.
And never forget that one individual – who claims to be part of a community – doing evil things does not mean that that entire community is evil, not by a long shot.

The girls looked at me like I had two heads; my “advice” was so basic as to be assumed. “Thanks so much, Captain Obvious. THIS IS ALL YOU’VE GOT?”

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Unrelated annual Memorial Day photo…

The background to all of this fear and hatred and judgment – from nutty “bathroom bills” to the absurd six-month Stanford rape case sentence to ISIS to Orlando to Britain to the lambasting of the parents whose two year-old was tragically killed by an alligator – has been Hamilton. I mean this literally and figuratively: the soundtrack has been on an almost-constant loop in our house, and the storyline is fresh in my mind.

Immigrants coming to America. Native-born residents taunting said immigrants and grousing about how they take away from those who were here first. Disagreements on the size and role of government. Pride causing people to do really stupid things. Women being treated as objects. Gun violence. People attacking one another simply because they see things differently.

The parallels between this 200+ year-old story and the craziness of today have made recent events almost entirely surreal.

The musical ends with Alexander Hamilton’s killer/rival/one-time friend Aaron Burr lamenting that he should have known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and him. (No, we haven’t seen the show and won’t before Lin-Manuel leaves… but we did snag tickets to a February performance. Only eight months to wait, yo!)

That’s the crux of it, I think – the crux of everything. Somehow, we allow ourselves to fall into the belief that there simply isn’t enough… space, time, energy, money, resources, love, etc. for all of us. It becomes us versus them. We fuel our narratives with fear. If you’re not like us – a different race, another sex, transgendered, gay, a different religion, from another part of the world – we let those fear-fueled stories take over until…

… well, until there are half-mast flags during Flag Day and dancing nightclubbers gunned down by an extremist and people screaming (literally) for a ban on Muslims and folks being harassed just for trying to use the loo.

The thing is, though? Our kids don’t get it. No, I mean it: they don’t understand any of this, because they cannot fathom this us versus them mentality. As Rodgers and Hammerstein so aptly said, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear… Before you are six or seven or eight – to hate all the people your relatives hate.” So we’re trying a different approach.

A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about the push by some for Elsa to be shown as gay in Disney’s Frozen 2 – and how I thought that was unnecessary, but how I also thought it was nonsensical for people to oppose the idea on the grounds that they’d need to explain it to their children, or it would be too confusing for kids.

My awesome friend, N. – who happens to be a lesbian – backed me up with these fantastic sentiments:

Exposing children to things at a young age is soooooo important. Just like ‘love is an action…not just a word’…so is parenting.

It’s pretty simple. Things are only ‘weird’ to kids because parents make them that way.

YES, this.

Our girls live charmed, privileged lives. They want for little and go to a (wonderful) school that is not racially diverse. Largely because of that – because we know that their personal experience is what will shape their view of the world and of the people sharing this planet with them – we have deliberately made efforts to introduce them to things that are different from their experiences, to make those things un-weird.

It’s much harder to talk disparagingly about “them” when you’ve met them face-to-face.

Also – although their worldview is narrow, we make a point to discuss as much as we can, to give them language and context. Just prior to Ella’s kindergarten year, a friend of mine told me she and her partner informed their son that they were gay. He’d never heard the term before – their life was all he knew – but they wanted him to be familiar with it before he started school, in case the other kids mentioned it. Nick and I thought this was a good idea, so we – casually, matter-of-factly – told the girls that they were half-Asian, lest they hear the word at school and debate it (“I am not Asian!”). They’d never heard that term and were fascinated (Annie wanted to know “which parts” of her were the Asian parts).
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This isn’t good or bad or anything in between; it just is, we told them.

And so it has gone with everything else. They know we’re Christian – but not everyone is. They have classmates who are Jewish and Hindu and Muslim and atheist; none of them is good or bad or anything in between; they just are. We’re straight; their uncles are gay. It’s not weird, because it just is what it is. They have strong opinions about Donald Trump (yes, really); they also know that people they love may be voting for him, and that doesn’t make them bad people; it just is.

None of these differences makes people weird (well, maybe the Trump voters…), and it certainly doesn’t make them worth hating.

The more Annie and Ella learn about people who are unlike them, the more normal – and human – those people become. So, when they hear stories of racism or sexism or homophobia or religious persecution, they are genuinely confused. “But they’re not weird. Why would anyone hate them so much?”

As I said, there’s so much else going on in life right now, I haven’t even begun to process recent current events – and I definitely don’t have any big answers. But I think all of our kids may be the place to begin. If they can be distraught that Burr didn’t realize the world was wide enough for him and Hamilton… they can be distraught that anyone thinks the same today.

We need to teach them that “different” doesn’t mean “bad” or “weird” or “wrong” – it just is. We need to do it before they are six or seven or eight… So they don’t have the hate.

It’s a place to start, anyway.

 

 

 

When I Grow Up

Although I’ve been going to the lake since I was an infant – with Nick joining me for the past 20+ years and the girls spending virtually half of their summers there – last Sunday we did something for the very first time: we spent the day and night there, all by ourselves. No extended family. No friends. No Phoofsy.

I hadn’t realized how much I’d been… anticipating? dreading?… the anniversary of her unexpected passing a year ago this past weekend until I found myself reliving each day last year. Today was when we gave Gram the last-ever lake book… A year ago today, we played The Lake Game and she challenged Ella so she wouldn’t lose a chip… This was the day we spent the night in the hospital… And so on, right up to the phone call from the nurse telling me that, shockingly, Phoofsy was gone.
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Phoofsy giving Ella the business while playing The Lake Game last Memorial Day.

I’ve gotten in the habit of checking the On This Day function on Facebook as part of my daily morning media roundup. I love the memories (especially posts where the girls said something particularly amusing), but that week leading up to the day we lost Phoofsy was really hard. My status updates were so… normal… giving no hint that my world was about come crashing down. How was it possible? How did we not know?

Then, finally, came the post where I shared that Phoofsy was gone – a memory that probably should have been miserable and unsettling. Instead, reading through friends’ comments (most had never even met my grandma), I was consoled and made whole. Comment upon comment expressed sadness not only for our family’s loss, but their own personal sadness that Phoofsy was gone – because she had such an influence on them, simply through my photos and stories.

“I’m heartbroken.”
“I loved it every time you posted a story about her!”
“She seemed like the most incredible lady!”
“The time you posted the picture of her on the scooter made my horrible day so much better.”
“I feel like I knew her.”
“Thank you for sharing her with us.”
“I was in love with Phoofsy from here.”

A good half dozen people said: “I want to be Phoofsy when I grow up.”

Who could blame them? A strong, smart, independent lady who was always game for anything, was an amazingly good sport, had a fierce sense of humor, and kept an active Facebook account at the age of almost-95? Yes, please! I want to be Phoofsy when I grow up, too.

She wasn’t perfect, of course. I mean, no one is, and Phoofsy definitely had her flaws… But she was crazy about me and Nick and Ella and Annie and told us so whenever she got the chance. That’s a pretty awesome thing, to be loved and to know it.

Often, when we told the girls we were headed over to Phoofsy’s apartment, they would groan and drag their feet (usually literally). “Do we HAVE to?” And every time I would tell them that yes, we have to. Not out of obligation, but because that’s what you do when you love someone: you show up. You’re there for dinner and to take them to the store when they can’t drive themselves. You check on them when they’re sick, bringing soup and crackers. You accompany them to events you’d never otherwise attend, simply because they asked. You call to say “hi” when you’re out of town. You show up.

(Okay, usually I just said, “Yes, we have to. Because she’s my grandma and your great-grandma and nothing gives her greater joy than seeing you. She probably won’t be around much longer, so we need to spend time with her while we can.”)

I’m so freakin’ glad I dragged them over.
And you know what? They’re glad now, too. Funny how that works.

Three days before Phoofsy died, I got a call at midnight saying she’d been taken to the hospital. As I hung up the phone, I groused to Nick. “Damn it. Grandma’s in the hospital again. But the doctors just told her they think this is nothing; I don’t even know why she’s bothering to go in.”

Nick asked if I wanted to go.
My first reply? “No. I don’t want to go. It’s midnight, for God’s sake, and I’ll be exhausted tomorrow and there’s nothing I can do anyway and I’m sure she’ll be released soon but if she’s not I can check in on her in the morning.”

Nick was quiet. We let my words just hang there for a moment.

“Shit. I need to go, don’t I?”
“Yeah. I think you do. Or I can… but one of us needs to go.”

Thirty seconds later, I was reaching for my shoes.

I spent the rest of the night with my grandma, navigating several areas of the ER and finally settling her into a private room on another floor. In between being seen by medical professionals and being taken away for tests, we talked; we used her iPad; we browsed magazines and looked at old photos. The entire time, she kept insisting that I should go home – “But it’s so late! You’ll be so tired! This is silly!” – and I kept insisting that I would stay until I was sure she was settled.

At last, around breakfast time, I was convinced that it was okay to leave. Before I did, she reached over and squeezed my arm. “Thank you so much for staying. I love you a lot, you know.” I told her that I knew.

After Phoofsy died, the attending physician called me at home. Among other things, she told me that my grandma thought I was fantastic, and that it was the girls and me who helped keep her going all these years. I’d never met this doctor; her comments were based solely on whatever my grandma had told her about me.

So yes, Gram. I knew.

I am so grateful for the time we had here in Rochester with Phoofsy – for every stuffy dinner, every comment about how our house was too small, every grumble about how apples cost too much. Yeah, sometimes it wasn’t exactly convenient… but we – Nick, the girls, and I – got to be a part of such a tremendous story. We got to witness, firsthand, what it meant to grab life with both hands and hang on for the ride, to always be up for something new, to be a true friend. People would tell my grandma that it was lucky (for her) that we lived nearby; truly, we were the lucky ones.

I don’t think I understood how integral she was to our lake experience, though, until we found ourselves there without her last summer. Even when our extended family was in town, the house just felt… off. Incomplete. To quote my aunt, being there alone made Phoofsy’s absence all the more pronounced. No one yelling down to the kids to wear their lifejackets properly… No sound effects coming from her iPad as she played online bridge well into the night… No one sitting in her favorite blue chair. Just empty.

It hurt. A lot.
So we made a point of never staying at the house alone.
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Crazy sky, Memorial Day weekend 2016.

I missed it, though. A well-loved home should be… well, loved. It’s practically illegal to not have someone enjoying it – empty chair and all. And so, this spring, I made up my mind that we would try. We would go down more often; we would stay overnight. It might be lonely and strange, but we love it there, so we would try.

My cousin, Andrew, and his girlfriend had been visiting the lake in the week leading up to Memorial Day. I’d thought they were staying through until Monday, but they left at lunchtime on Sunday instead. At first, Nick and I considered inviting friends to join us; staying there alone seemed too sad, especially over Memorial Day, a holiday we always spent with Phoofsy.

But then I decided – out loud – that we would do it. Just the four of us. The house is here and we are here and it’s not the same, but we need to try to find a new normal. The moment I said it, I had this instant realization that this might be how my grandma felt about the lake after my grandfather died almost nine years ago.
But she kept going. She made new memories. I’m sure it wasn’t easy. I’m sure she dreaded going to the lake without him. But she did it. She hung on for the ride.
I decided to hold on, too.
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Going for a ride… with Jitter.

~~~~~~~~

We had a delightful Memorial Day weekend. We grilled. We went in the boat. We played The Lake Game for hours – literally – and laughed until our sides hurt. No, it wasn’t the same without her… but it felt good. Right. True. I even sat in Phoofsy’s beloved blue chair – and instead of feeling lonely, I felt comforted.

If I want to be Phoofsy when I grow up, now’s as good a time to start as any.

Osmosis Love

We’re in South Carolina again, visiting Papa and Grand Meg on Kiawah Island, as we do every spring. This time, we deliberately scheduled our trip for later in the season (even pulling the girls out of school for a couple of days), hoping that we’d encounter weather that was warm enough for us enjoy being outside. (See also: swimming, the girls’ kryptonite.)

Although it’s been cloudy since our arrival, we were pleased to discover that it is, indeed, warm enough to swim. Yesterday, the girls hit up the pool. Today, we ventured over to the ocean. It was super low tide, leaving us with a vast expanse of beach in which to search for shells, play in tide pools, and collect hermit crabs. When we’d had our fill of exploring the sand, we took to the water.

To be more precise: Nick, Ella, and Annie took to the water.
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No sun… Low tide… Warm air… Empty beach… Happy kids.

As I’ve documented before, I’m not an ocean person. It’s not the ocean itself that’s a problem; I love the tides that are – fascinatingly – both ever-changing and constant; the rise and fall of the waves; the rush of the water as the swells crash upon the shore; the birds that fly just along the waterline, skimming the surface in beautiful unison; the soft, squishy bottom beneath your feet; the rainbow colors of the oceanic landscape; the endless horizon.

It’s just the sand and the salt that are a problem.
I like neither all up in my eyes or my lady parts.
If we could get rid of those, the ocean would be perfect.
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Having the water to themselves (and some blue sky).

Nick and the girls, on the other hand, love the ocean. Whereas I can’t get enough of the lake, Nick vastly prefers the sea. He can almost always be counted on to join the girls, swimming beside them, shaking the water from their hair, looking for waves. Although I will occasionally swim, snorkel, and bodysurf, when given the choice, I would almost always rather wait on the beach or wade in to my ankles (and then wash off the sand and the salt asap).

Today, I stood for a solid hour on the shore while Nick, Annie, and Ella were in the water. For some of that, my dad joined me and we engaged in lovely conversation. For the rest, it was just me – watching… listening… as they splashed, jumped the waves, called to one another, and scouted which frothy peaks would make for the best bodysurfing. They were pure joy and ebullience; their happiness radiated in all directions. Watching them, it was all but impossible to not feel that happiness, myself.

When anyone loves something that much, their love is bound to rub off on everyone around them. Or something like that.

Either way, it was a truly magnificent sixty minutes.

I may never fully enjoy frolicking in the briny deep, but today? I absolutely loved the ocean. (Bonus points: my lady parts were sand-free. SWEET FANCY MOSES.)
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No “fancy” camera today; just blurry iPhone closeups and crazy-happy family.

A Letter To My Daughter’s Swim Coach

Dear Coach C.,

Last night was the team banquet – as you know, because you’ve been planning it for months. You booked the location, made sure it had a cash bar (because we parents asked to celebrate with something stronger than Sprite and you were kind enough to oblige), and set up a menu that would appease carnivores, vegetarians, and children who subsist on chicken fingers and ketchup.

It’s been a month with no practices, but you were hardly idle. You were collecting team photo orders, having the photos printed and collated, creating a slideshow to recap the season, selecting the swimmers who would receive special honors, preparing your presentations to bestow those honors, and readying the individual recognitions and awards that you gave to every single kiddo – well over 100 of them – who participated on the team this year. It didn’t matter if the kid was a graduating senior, a middle-school phenom who made States in every event, or an 8 year-old novice whose strokes are largely indistinguishable from one another; they all received their moment in the spotlight, uniquely recognized and commended, because you believe that every kid counts.
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Ella, giddily joining her teammates after being given her medal.

This is no small thing.

Despite the fact that this is a competitive sport and despite the way that swimming is structured so that it is painfully obvious who has touched the wall first and who is still has a lap to go, all of your swimmers know, to their cores, that you believe they matter, that they’re important, that they’re worth it. Because you believe this so strongly, because you and the other coaches show it throughout every minute of practice and every length at every meet, the kids start believing it, too.

And this? This is everything.

I’ve seen the schedule. There are practices for 3-5 hours a day, six days a week, for the duration of the seven month competitive season. That’s 18-30 hours in the pool each week (before 5-hour meets). I understand that this is not your career, so these are 18-30 extra hours that you’re putting in on top of whatever else is on your plate… because you believe in these kids.

When you’re not physically there, you’re mentally there. I know that you review each practice with all the other coaches, telling them what you want accomplished, what each age group should work on, what goal individual swimmers are trying to reach. Even when you can’t monitor it in person, you want to make sure that the team receives consistent, tailored instruction – because you believe in these kids.

And somehow, no matter what is going on, no matter how many dozens of kids are in the pool or how few are following directions or whatever nonsense is going on, you treat every one of them with respect. You don’t scream. You don’t demean them, ever. You don’t shame. When they don’t put in their full effort, when they don’t meet expectations, when they’re just plain wrong… you tell them, for sure. You let them know you’re disappointed, frustrated, or angry. But you do so in a way that is constructive and caring, that allows them to own their mistakes and strive to improve. They hate letting you down and genuinely want to do better for you – because you believe in them.

Some would say that this approach is too “soft,” that kids need harshness and rigor. Your attendance policy (or, more specifically, lack thereof), your refusal to insist that kids reach certain times or swim X number of hours, your “you get out of it what you put into it” attitude… do not exactly follow the “rules” of competitive sports coaching. There are oh so many teams who require their participants to attend every practice, meet, or game – no matter the circumstances – lest they be benched or even kicked off (I’ve had more than one piano student miss the once-a-year culminating recital to attend a sports event because their coach demanded their presence), to forego other activities outside of The One Sport, whatever it may be.

If this is how society views kids’ sports, I can see how your approach might be deemed too lax. For every single kid on this team, though, your approach is perfect – and, quite frankly, hard to be argued with. There’s the simple fact the team does exceedingly well, competitively speaking (District champs many years running and 2nd in the State are hardly anything to be sneezed at), despite your more “relaxed” style.

(Upon reflection, perhaps they do so well competitively because of your more “relaxed” style… Worth consideration, anyway…)
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Ella (in the blue suit) on the blocks at States.

It’s much more than that, though. Yes, they win (all) their meets, but you make it clear that being the victor is not your top priority. To quote your team banquet letter: “Winning is not always about coming in first . A winner is someone who recognizes a teammate, celebrates victories and offers support if a specific goal was not achieved. A winner is someone who improves on his/her time… There is a winner in every one of us…”

Because you believe that, the kids believe it, too. If they come in dead last but drop 0.3 seconds from their time, they’ve won. If they high-five an opposing teammate at the end of a heat – no matter what place they came in – that’s a win. They know they are not just individuals, but part of a team, part of a family, and everyone within the family deserves respect and encouragement. They feel comfortable, welcomed, supported, and that they belong. In turn, they believe that they are worthy of that belonging.

Perhaps one of the truest measures of the kids’ self-confidence and sense of self-worth is how they respond when another teammate does well. Last night, the swimmers received their medals for Districts and States; the more races they swam, the more hardware they took home. This opportunity for comparison could have resulted in everything from jealousy to resentment. Instead? I saw kids being truly happy for their teammates and their accomplishments.

As the individual awards were being given, as just a handful of the hundred-plus kids walked up to the front and received their plaques, disappointment (at not being chosen) was not the preeminent mood. No – when each name was called, raucous cheers and celebrations erupted. There were fist-bumps and hugs and a million selfies.

It’s not that the team doesn’t recognize achievement and effort; this is not an “everybody gets a trophy just for showing up!” kind of place. It’s that they feel absolutely worthy just as they are, so there’s no reason for jealousy.

How you have managed to do this season after season is mind-boggling.

Our girl has always loved to swim. When she joined the team three seasons ago, she told us she “feels like herself” in the water. It has been such an incredible experience watching her bloom like a sunlit flower as part of the team. But nothing could have prepared us for this year, when she positively blossomed in technicolor.
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And she’s off!

Remember how I told you, when she learned she made the State team, that she colored her hair blue for the first time — because, for the first time in her life, she felt so comfortable and happy with herself, she felt comfortable and happy with people noticing her? How, when she awoke the following morning, she asked if it was all a dream? How she positively floated on air for the month leading up to States, despite the additional practices?

It wasn’t because of States; that was just a figurehead. It was because you believed in her enough to take her to States. In turn, she believed in herself in ways she never had before. You changed our girl, and the transformation was nothing short of magical.

“Thank you” is ridiculously insufficient.

It may seem odd that I’m posting this as a blog rather than just emailing you (I mean, I did email you, but still…). There are two reasons for this. The first is I think you’re pretty fantastic and I want everyone to know. The second is I think there are a lot of other coaches out there who are doing similarly fantastic things with their teams and players, who don’t get thanked nearly often enough, and who deserve recognition.
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Banquet – literally?!

So, to you and all the other coaches who follow your phenomenal approach: I see you. I see how you show up, no matter what. I see that you’re sacrificing time with your own children to be with mine. I see how you know each and every kid inside and out. I see how you encourage and support them, how you use constructive criticism instead of shaming. I see how you make practice fun. I see how you encourage kids to have a life outside of your sport… because you know that when they do show up to practice, they’ll really want to be there – and the effort they put in will be top-notch. I see how you put in hour upon hour with little or no acknowledgment. I see how little you get paid (do you get paid at all?!). I see how these kids are your family. I see how proud you are to be their coach. I see how proud you are of them. I see how you value and believe in every single one of them. And I see how they value and believe in themselves as a result.

Thank you, all of you, for believing in our kids.

And thanks specifically, Coach C., for helping our girl believe in herself. Every practice, every pair of goggles, every minute in the sauna-like stands has been worth it just to see her walk a little taller with her blue-streaked hair.

(Thanks, also, for the cash bar last night…)

Cheers,
Emily

 

Natural Consequences (Full Circle)

When I was about 13, the world came shattering down around me: literally.

I was my best friend, Kiki‘s, party. Whereas my middle school parties had been all-girl gatherings where we did things like wear pajamas and eat brunch or attend musicals at the local dinner theater (Guys and Dolls, holla!), Kiki’s parties involved things like hanging out and talking.

With – omg – boys.

I played my first game of Spin The Bottle at Kiki’s and was so mortified when the bottle “chose” me, I ran and hid in a closet.

Not only was I a bit out of my league at these affairs, Kiki and I also attended different schools, meaning I knew few of the parties’ guests (likewise when she attended my dinner theater fiestas), so I felt even more awkward. Thankfully, I did know Kiki’s family. Our families had lived in the same Upper East Side apartment complex when we were babies, moving to the Connecticut suburbs two years later. We were constants at holidays and birthdays and went on vacations together. John and Linda were the first adults I was allowed to address by their first names, something I found immensely fantastic.
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Me and Kiki, circa 1977-78.

Whenever I came over, there was no formality, no stiffness; just a familial enfolding, as I joined Kiki and her younger sisters on their adventures. John and Linda were very different from my own parents, often permitting us to get away with things that my folks didn’t (staying up late at sleepovers, drinking soda around the pool, not brushing my hair when I woke up in the morning… CRAZY STUFF, y’all). But that wasn’t why I liked them.

They took me in and allowed me to be part of their craziness and loved me for who I was. They were family, plain and simple.

I don’t remember much about this particular party except that, in my attempt to feel less awkward around the boys, I decided to play a game of keep-away (obviously). One boy attempted to have a conversation with me, which was waaaay outside my comfort zone, and rather than engage in discussion, I ran. And he followed. So I kept running.

We continued these shenanigans throughout the house like a one-sided game of tag. Ultimately, I wound up in the bathroom shower (?!), closing the door behind me. Because the shower walls were glass, I was hardly cleverly hidden, so the game was still afoot as the boy tried to follow me into the shower.

With my back against the tiles, I lifted my feet off the ground and propped them against the door to keep it closed, laughing and shouting and making general mayhem.

As the boy continued to shove from the outside, I pressed my feet as hard as I could – wedged perfectly between the door and the wall – to forestall his entrance. We remained like that, pushing mightily, for maybe five seconds… when, all at once, the glass just disappeared, sending me to the shower floor.

You know how in the movies when glass breaks, there’s a cracking before everything implodes? Yeah, not so much here. There was no warning; the entire door, under the stress and pressure, shattered instantaneously, crashing to the ground in a million tiny pieces.

THE ENTIRE DOOR.
We shattered THE. ENTIRE. DOOR.

Neither the boy nor I was hurt in the destruction, but the room was (to say the least) an absolute disaster. I was paralyzed. What the hell do you do when you’re at your best friend’s party and you’ve just played tag through her living room and shut yourself in the shower (of all places) and then put your feet on said shower’s door and DESTROYED THE DOOR?? WHAT DO YOU DO?

I remember feeling tiny and shattered, myself, as the horror – the embarrassment, the astonishment – became so overpowering, I could barely breathe. Sobbing, unable to move (from shame, not pain), I sat frozen, hoping to disappear or hide the evidence… but a crashing glass door isn’t exactly quiet, so the boy and I were soon surrounded by curious party-goers… who, in turn, went to get John and Linda.

Most important: were we hurt? Upon learning we were fine, they moved on to cleaning up the mess. I was dumbfounded, offering to help. But even then, they didn’t want me to do too much because they didn’t want me to cut myself.

They never yelled. They never said horrible things. They didn’t cry or lash out in frustration. In some ways, this made things even harder; maybe if they’d just let loose, I could release some of my awfulness. THESE FEELINGS ARE REALLY HARD. PLEASE LET ME UNLOAD THEM. But no. There was none of that.

I apologized – profusely. I believe the party continued. I know, when I was picked up, John and Linda talked to my parents. I know, when we left, the shower was still broken, essentially unusable. And I know, the next time I was invited over – which was soon – there was no mention of my error, save for maybe joking about using the upstairs shower if I really needed to get clean. It was kind of incredible.
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Walking like crimped Egyptians, right around the time of the Shower Incident.
(OMG I just noticed the boom box…)

Yesterday, Ella and Annie had their own Shower Incident. They were playing with friends, pairs of siblings who are over often, roughhousing and getting loud upstairs (as they do). The volume and antics escalated and I’d just said to Nick, “At what point do we tell them it’s too much?” when there was this earsplitting CRASH that shook the dining room ceiling.

Turns out, they’d been taunting one another from either side of a bedroom door when, to keep one faction out, the other had pressed against a wooden hutch, sending the upper piece – and its contents – thudding to the floor. When I arrived, the kiddos stood in shock, surveying the splintered wooden top of the shelf, the skewed books, the fractured picture frames, the demolished clay creations from summer pottery camp.

As I observed the damage myself, getting ready to lose my shiz, this odd (and completely foreign) calm washed over me.

“Is anybody hurt?”
“No.” (Thank God.)

“How did this happen?”
They explained.

“Okay. Since there’s broken glass on the floor, please get your shoes so you don’t cut yourselves. Then, I’m going to ask you guys {the friends} to head out for a bit so the girls can clean up. Afterward, maybe they can play some more.”

Everyone apologized. I thanked them and said it would be okay. As the kids were donning their shoes, one of them turned to me, saying, “I was sure you were gonna yell!”

“Nope!” I think I surprised us both.

My girls were horror-struck, devastated by the loss of their treasured possessions and the dents in the hardwood floor (shelving units are heavy, yo), but also by the terrible understanding that they had caused the loss. It was then, as I saw them accept their role in the accident, that I remembered the Shower Incident.

I wasn’t sure which was stranger: re-living that moment from my 13 year-old perspective and suddenly understanding how Ella and Annie were feeling… or looking in on my 13 year-old self, from John and Linda’s perspective, and suddenly understanding how they must have felt.

Nobody was hurt. NOBODY WAS HURT! It’s a mess, but it can be cleaned up. Some things can be replaced. Others can’t, but we’ll survive. It wasn’t intentional; sometimes, kids get ahead of themselves and these things happen. It’s okay.

I actually sensed my own heart break a little at the girls’ sadly accepting responsibility for the damage their silly roughhousing caused; maybe Linda and John had been a bit broken-hearted, too.

Despite the lost treasures and damaged floor, there was also this: Now, when I tell the kids that things are getting out of hand, they will finally understand what I mean and will (maybe) tone it down. I sure as hell never raced through Kiki’s house again (which I now understand John and Linda knew). NATURAL CONSEQUENCES, YOU GUYS. A BEAUTIFUL THING.

Is it just me, or is it strange when this parenting thing comes full circle?

I hope our girls and their friends always feel comfortable in our house and its craziness. I hope they feel loved and respected as themselves. I hope they feel safe coming to us when mistakes are made, and welcome again after things are cleaned up (literally and metaphorically). I hope I’m able to see what’s really important even when things get messy. I hope our home is inviting and fun and joy-filled and awesome.

And I hope, the next time I say, “It’s too much. Tone it down!”, they’ll listen and TONE THAT STUFF DOWN before any other natural consequences occur, for the love.

FullSizeRender-4Kiki and me, Disney World 1991, loved even after the Shower Incident.
Yes, I have a perm. #winning

(This story was shared with Ella and Annie’s enthusiastic permission.)

How Is This Still A Thing?

On Saturday, Nick and I saw a local theatre production of To Kill A Mockingbird. It was a wonderful performance, beautifully staged and marvelously acted.

Seeing the stage production, I was struck by how powerful Harper Lee’s novel had been when I first read it and how powerful it remains now – not because it brings to mind the struggles of a bygone era, but because of how real those struggles remain today.

The story’s message is simple: black people are not treated the same as white people; they are not given the same chances or opportunities, they are killed for unjust reasons, their very existence is seen as a threat… but we all have the power to make it different and better.

The craziest thing is, half a century later, we haven’t heeded that message. Today, minorities are still not given the same chances or opportunities as white folks, they are still killed for unjust reasons, and their very existence is still seen as a threat – albeit less overtly than before. That so many (white) people are offended by the Black Lives Matter campaign (which, of course, does not proclaim black lives to be more important than other lives but merely asks that they matter equally to white lives) and that they feel the need to counter this movement with All Lives Matter underscores how little progress we have made.

It’s been a long damned time.
How is this still a thing?
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The Geva Theatre production is really outstanding.

For concrete examples of how people of color are not valued equally to white folks, you need look no further than the movies. The overwhelming majority of “regular” people in cinema are portrayed by white actors; black (and other minority) actors are typically relegated to the role of Sidekick, Gang Member, Slave, Athlete. Just a normal ol’ suburban family? Pretty much always white.

This is not because there aren’t enough talented black/minority actors to fill the roles. Rather, producers (the vaaaast majority of whom are white) don’t usually cast black people in “regular” roles… because they feel that we  – the white audience – don’t want to watch movies with people of color playing the starring, everyguy role.

Minority lives matter less. Even on screen!

To Kill A Mockingbird was fresh on my mind as I sat down to watch The Academy Awards on Sunday night. More to the point, I sat down to watch Chris Rock host, to see what he – a black actor – would bring to this year’s all-white celebration.

Simply put: I loved it! I thought Chris’s commentary was biting, real, thought-provoking, and hilarious.

Yes, sometimes it fell flat or didn’t work. That whole Stacey Dash thing was just wrong. The Asians-are-always-nerdy-number-crunching-types joke didn’t belong, period, especially in a night that was (supposedly, according to the host) dedicated to diversity.

And, personally, I didn’t like Chris’s jab at Jada Pinkett Smith. If you want to protest something, boycotting can be a very effective way to do so. Participating anyway and then attempting to change how things are done is also an effective form of protest.  Jada chose the former; Chris, the latter. I understand his desire to explain his choice, and his decision to address Jada directly, but it could have been done without taking a swipe at her.

So, no. His hosting wasn’t flawless. But overall? I think he rocked it. (Sorry.)

I was still a little rattled from hearing the words “lynch” and “rape” in To Kill A Mockingbird when I found myself confronting them only one day later – in Chris’s opening monologue. Only this time, raping and lynching were made into jokes.

I laughed and then covered my mouth, slightly horrified. Was I supposed to be laughing at jokes about raping and lynching? It was very uncomfortable.
Which was clearly his intent:
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That’s what I enjoyed so much about Chris’s hosting: he made me laugh and think at the same time. He made me uncomfortable. Which is okay – good, even – because so often, it’s only when we’re made uncomfortable – when we’re faced with the reality of a situation and asked to view it head-on instead of turning away – that change can occur.

Rape and lynching are not remotely funny. But they were the (horrible) reality for black people in the United States; they are part of our country’s history – a part that, quite frankly, I’d rather not think too much about because I’m ashamed of how minorities were treated by people who look like me. But that’s exactly why I should be thinking about them and why I should be reminded: Hey! Times were REALLY BAD. After that whole Civil Rights thing, y’all said that racism was over… And it’s better, it is. But it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.

Yes, those lines were over the top. They might have been inappropriate. But they sure as hell got my attention and made me contemplate. If Chris hadn’t gone there – if he had just made expected, appropriate jokes about how black people are treated by Hollywood – I can basically guarantee you that most (white) viewers wouldn’t have given him a second thought. “Look – a black person talking about racism. Again. At least he’s funny!”

No. By making me cringe, I thought about what he was getting at, about why I was uncomfortable. When Chris told the audience that black actors in the 60s didn’t boycott the Oscars because they had “better things to protest… When your grandma is swinging from a tree, it’s kind of hard to get worked up about best foreign film,” I thought looong and hard on that.

By Chris’s reasoning, black actors who boycotted the Oscars in 2016 could have been protesting other, bigger things. I agree with him: there are clearly other, bigger things to protest. I also disagree with him, because all of the other racial inequities and atrocities don’t make it unimportant to speak out against – or boycott – one of the biggest nights in entertainment when minorities have been entirely ignored.

Another take on that statement is that black actors today don’t have better things to protest (unlike their 1960s counterparts) — I mean, public lynchings and rape boasting are no longer acceptable. We’ve come a long way! Yay for tolerance and equality! Except if that were really the case — if today is different from the 1960s — why, just like then, were there still no minority nominations?

How is this still a thing?

Well – for the same reason we don’t see black (and other minority) professionals in numbers that correspond with their percentage of the US population: they aren’t given the chance, because their contributions, their efforts, and – ultimately – their lives are less important than those of white people. We don’t have black or Asian or hispanic or Latino or Native American doctors or lawyers or teachers or stock brokers (or actors ) equal to their percentage of the population; things are skewed ridiculously in favor of white folks, regardless of education or performance or ability or productivity or intelligence.

It isn’t that people of color don’t want those jobs. It’s that, from the time they are born, they are not given the same opportunities as their white counterparts.

That is what absolutely has to change.

I’m just going to quote Chris here because he says it far better than I could:

“It’s not about boycotting anything. We want opportunity. We want the black actors to get the same opportunities as white actors. That’s it.”

I understand that there is still fear. I understand, somewhere inside, in a place that many of us cannot even fully imagine because it is so deeply ingrained, that (white) people are nervous that there is not enough for all of us – that if we truly shared everything, if we were all equal (like for real), somebody would miss out. Having been the ones benefitting from this centuries’ old system, this is freakin’ scary, so we – subconsciously (much of the time) – continue to allow discrimination to continue, to perpetuate it, because it benefits us.

So, I guess I get how this is still a thing.

The thing is, though: there is enough. There always was. We can create those opportunities for everyone – and, instead of some of us losing, we’ll all win.

I’m confident we’ll get there someday. Not this year (the racism coming to the fore in the American election is appalling, to say the least)… but someday. I really believe that – if only because my daughters genuinely do not understand how this is still a thing.

“But mom. Everyone is the same inside. Do people honestly not know that??”

Until that someday, I’ll be grateful for To Kill A Mockingbird and Chris Rock opening Oscars-watchers’ eyes and the ensuing discussion of his effectiveness as host. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we need to keep talking. We need to keep thinking. We need to create opportunities. We need to stop being afraid.

We need to make this a thing of the past.