We Do Not Have to Live Like This

I haven’t talked to Jane about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. How do you tell a 7 year old, who loves school above all else, that 17 people went in to school one morning and never came back out? How will she ever feel safe again, once she knows the truth? I don’t feel safe. I am terrified. I feel a physical pang when I drop her off at school in the morning. I stop the ‘what ifs’ in my head, because who can live like that?

But none of us should be living like this.

I’m not one to shy away from discussing difficult topics with Jane. Racism? We talk about it. She’s appalled by it. White supremacy? She knows what it is & thinks it’s gross. Homophobia? Yeah, she thinks that’s just dumb. But gun violence? I guess that’s where our privilege really shows… we haven’t talked about it because it could directly effect her. America’s love of guns could cost my child her life. I don’t know how to broach that. Yet people of color talk to their children often & from a young age about America’s racism that could one day end their lives for no reason at all. So, yes, white privilege is wrapped up in all this, too. But really, isn’t it always.

I don’t believe we have to quietly accept racism. And I don’t believe we have to accept the status quo on guns. When I found out that Atlanta Public Schools will do active shooter drills, I immediately felt relief. Knowing how to respond could increase Jane’s chances of survival. Then that sunk in: I am concerned about increasing my child’s chances of survival AT SCHOOL. Shit. Then the second wave of realization hit: Jane will learn that if she isn’t in her classroom, she must hide. On her own. The doors will be locked. She can’t get back in. She just has to do her best to stay alive.

SHE IS SEVEN.

We have created a war zone. Here. In America. We are our own enemy. On any given day, our children might die at their own school. And we refuse to stop it. We just try to navigate around it. That is some bullshit right there.

When I posted on Facebook that, during active shooter protocol, classroom doors are locked an aren’t to be reopened until the all clear is given, I got a lot of pushback. Not from gun activists. From teachers. They said they would never leave a child out to die on their own. They would let them in.

I don’t doubt that, at all. Teachers have sacrificed their lives to save their students. But teachers aren’t soldiers. They shouldn’t have to EVER make the decision to open that door or not. The orders are given for a reason. Opening the door might save the one student, or it might end the lives of 20 others. Teachers are not combat trained, for God’s sake. How could they ever make that call effectively? Better yet, WHY SHOULD THEY HAVE TO?

We do not have to live like this.

And, to be clear, homeschooling isn’t the answer to the threat of being gunned down in school. America’s love affair with guns cannot cost us our public education system. We cannot abandon our children’s futures to the NRA. We did not allow 9/11 to stop us from traveling, living, and rebuilding. We didn’t all move to rural America in response to terrorism in one of America’s greatest cities. Make no mistake: the NRA is a terrorist organization. Abandoning public education means the terrorists win. That wasn’t an option after 9/11. It isn’t an option now.

Tonight, I will talk to Jane about the Parkland shooting. I’ll read articles about talking to kids about gun violence. I’ll pray about it. Then I’ll start the conversation. But I’ll be damned if I will resign myself to this being her normal. I will fight back with every breath I have. And, if I know my kid at all, she’ll insist on being right by my side.

Speak up. Stand up. Fight back.

We do not have to live like this.

 

 

Photo credit: Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

Seven Years Ago: The Two Things I Promised My Girl

My sweet baby Jane came into the world 7 years (and 4 days) ago. I had some pretty naive ideas about motherhood then. I thought she’d never wear pink. (By day 4 she had on her first pink outfit. She hasn’t turned back since.) I strongly opposed princesses and damsels-being-rescued in any format. (Jane’s 4th birthday party was a princess party.) And I swore she’d eschew gender roles entirely. (She threw me a bone on this one: she has a doll named Simon, who is a boy, that proudly wore dresses for many years, although now he’s much more gender-traditional in his choice of doll clothes.) It was laughable how little I knew about the hair-raising, hilarious task that is raising a child.

Jane made her way into the world via C-section. She stuck her little fist out first, proclaiming her grand entrance. She surprised the doctor, who thought her perhaps a bit bossy as he folded her arm back in to allow her to make a safer, if less dramatic, entrance into the delivery room. When she and I finally got a minute alone, after all the family had come and gone, after her Bobby had drifted off to sleep and was snoring (sort of) quietly in the corner, I looked at her and I knew 2 things: 1) I loved her wholly and deeply, and that 2) I would never try to protect her from the beauty and the tragedy that is life.

All my life, my parents have tried to shield me from hurt and disappointment. They did this because they loved me, as much as I love Jane. Of that I am sure. But I never learned to handle my own sadness and pain. Before I got sober, I was not resilient in any way. (Hence the having to get sober…) So, it was very important to me that I love Jane through her pain, when she ultimately faced it. I learned this from a very good therapist who also informed me that Jane was not mine; she was simply on lend to me. It was my job, from the moment she was born, to begin the long, slow process of letting her go, so she could become the person she was meant to be. (And, really, who am I to hold Jane back?)

I lived this philosophy out in small ways. When she was 6 weeks old, I left her in the church nursery for the first time. It was excruciating. I ached for her. But I did it again the next week. Because I knew that it was right. I lived it out in bigger ways. When she encountered her first frenemy in preschool, I did not intervene–even though I watched this heart-breaking friend triangle play out again and again. I let the teachers manage it. I did not rescue her. (Remember, I don’t believe in damsels-being-rescued) And she came out of the whole situation just fine (just like the teachers promised she would). And then there was the really big year–the one where her Bobby transitioned and we moved from Florida to Atlanta. Yeah, that one was a doozy. But we did those things because they were what her Bobby and I needed to be whole, happy, healthy people. So, we trusted she’d not only be fine but that she’d thrive. And so she has.

This week, some turmoil unfolded in Jane’s school community. It looked like rezoning may be imminent. At first, I said nothing to her. But I know Jane. And she doesn’t like to be surprised by things. I also know that part of my job is to teach her that she can do hard things. So, I told her that not all of the kids at her school may be able to stay there. I explained what I believe to be truth: our school is too crowded, two other schools not full enough. So some kids may need to go those other schools, to make things more fair. When she heard the news, she cried. She is seven after all. Her entire class cried earlier in the year when some of their classmates were moved into a new class. A new class right down the hall. Change is hard. She asked me if she’d need to change schools. I told her I didn’t know. But that no one was going anywhere right now.

She took this in, dried her eyes and said, “Okay.” I promised her I’d go look at the other school, just to check it out.

I found this other school to be pretty amazing and came home and told her so. I told her that it has two floors (she’s OBSESSED with stairs, so a two-story school is mind-blowing in her world). I described the nifty classrooms and the bright colored squares on the linoleum floors in the hallways. I told her the school felt both happy and calm. She took all this in and asked a few questions. Then she bounced out of the room to play with her dolls. As you do, if you’re seven.

The next day, as she was making her lunch before school. Suddenly she stopped spreading the mayonnaise and turned to face me.  “Mommy,” she said, “if I need to change schools, I want to go to that school you told me about. That sounds like a really, really nice school.”

And, just like that, it was done for her. She’s happy at her school now. She’ll be happy at this other school, if that’s where she needs to go. She can do hard things. Because she is resilient. And because she is Jane.

I love her so, and I could not be more proud.

My Goat? Oh, It’s Been Gotten.

There’s a rug that’s really getting my goat right now.

No matter how many times I wash the damn thing, someone steps on it immediately, making it a dingy, repulsive shade of gray. I know, I know… rugs exist to be stepped on. They live on the ground, after all.

But, still, I go round and round with this rug. I wash it. The dog leaves a muddy paw print on it. I wash it again. Jane steps on it with a dirty boot. And her boots are elementary-school-dirty, which is it’s own special brand of funky. So, I wash it again. Rinse. Repeat. Literally.

I’d throw the rug away. But Jane swears she loves the rug. She acts as if baby Jesus himself gave her that rug. I could just dispose of it while she’s at school. Then it would just be gone. But that’s not really how we roll over here. The rug technically belongs to her. It’s in her bathroom. She picked it out to match her shower curtain. And I don’t throw her stuff away (if I can help it). It feels… sneaky. And like it might breed some justifiable mistrust.

BUT I HAD NO IDEA HOW AWFUL THIS RUG WOULD LOOK ALL THE TIME. It makes me feel dirty, just to look at it. And, let’s be honest, I’m not the best housekeeper in the world anyway–so this rug is just mocking my inadequacies.

I’m sure there’s some larger lesson here about how we allow small, easily changeable issues to become seemingly insurmountable thorns in our sides. Or about how sometimes we get so bogged down in our own reality we don’t see the simplest, most freeing solutions even when they stare us in the face.

But I can’t focus on any of those lessons now, because THIS RUG HAS ABSCONDED WITH MY GOAT.

 

Adventures of Puptastic (& Me)

I don’t want to brag, but Delilah the Boxer & I are kind of a big deal in our neighborhood. Or, at the very least, we’re real conspicuous… That’s the same thing, right?

Our walk this morning perfectly illustrates who we are, as dog & owner:

In Atlanta, the past 3 days have been snow days. THREE DAYS. Snow in Atlanta means a complete shutdown. No school. No going anywhere (at least for the first 24 hours–then it’s a matter of playing chicken with the ice). So, this morning, I decided to take Li on a nice, long walk. She’s been trapped in the house too, after all.

I head out in my incredibly stylish aqua & black baja, some jeggings, and my high top Vans. I threw on a red puffer jacket for good measure, which ended up being a stellar move because it was still below freezing outside. Also, I had on a black yarn hat, flecked with a rainbow smattering of other yarn, with a puffy ball on top. None of this matched. And not in a cool, mismatched way, either. In an I’m-finding-adulting-overwhelming-right-now kind of way. Also, I never took off yesterday’s make-up. So it looks like I’m doing some wonky walk of shame through the neighborhood (which, incidentally, I haven’t done since the summer of 2003. Just for the record. But that summer was pretty shameful).

So, obviously, I’m looking awesome.

Delilah & I are almost through one of the intersections when she starts flipping out. Seriously. Standing on her hind legs. Swatting at her nose with both her paws. I’m both a little frightened and incredibly amused. So I’m laughing, trying to tug a dog (who is still on her hind legs swatting at her nose) across the street.

Turns out there was a leaf stuck to her nose. God deliver us from Boxers.

Then, I spy a dog across the street. Delilah spies it, too. All the hair on her back stands up immediately. A tough guy, she is. She growls slightly. To avoid a scene (and trust me, there have been many, many scenes), I start talking to her in a slightly. high-pitched, way-too-cheery voice: “Who’s a good girl?!? Who isn’t going to bark? That’s right! What a good girl! You’re okay, girl! Yes, you are!” Meanwhile, Delilah has let loose one loud and proud bark, has pulled on the leash enough to be on her back legs for a few steps… and then carried on walking next to me, as if nothing happened. Nothing to see here, folks. Because who’s a good girl? It’s Li.

After all that excitement, we carry on mostly without incident. We’re chatting, as we do. I’m narrating things for her. But, when we get close to home, she gets a little eager. She’s pulling on the leash a little–which I DO NOT LIKE. So, I decide to make her walk beside me. As I’m reeling her in, I step on a patch of ice… and land square on my ass. Delilah thinks this is great. We’ve never sat down in the middle of the sidewalk before! So, she climbs right on top of me. Now I’m sitting in the middle of the sidewalk with my 50 pound boxer in my lap.

So, yeah, I think we’re probably neighborhood famous, Me & Puptastic. We’re trying not to let the stardom go to our heads.

 

Hard Truths

Through quick glances in my rearview mirror, I watched my sweet 6-year-old sob on the way home from the grocery store yesterday. I wish it was because I wouldn’t buy her something in the checkout line. Or because she’d gotten in trouble AGAIN for her reckless driving of the shopping cart. But it was much more complicated–and painful–than that.

Through quick glances in my rearview mirror, I watched my sweet 6-year-old sob on the way home from the grocery store yesterday. I wish it was because I wouldn’t buy her something in the checkout line. Or because she’d gotten in trouble AGAIN for her reckless driving of the shopping cart. But it was much more complicated–and painful–than that.

She was crying because she’d just come to the difficult (and necessary) understanding that some folks are not going to like her because she’s white. My outgoing, loves-everybody child found this particular truth heartbreaking.

Here’s what happened:

Jane and one of her closest school friends were in the back seat of the car. Sometimes I pick this friend up from school, if her mom needs a quick childcare fill-in. Neither girl had known they’d be hanging out together that afternoon, so they were super excitable. Chattering, squealing, giggling, saying bootie and chicken nugget constantly–the usual. Once her friend realized that she probably wasn’t going to get a full-length playdate at our house, she asked if I could drop her off at another friend’s house instead of taking her home. (Uh… NO. But good try) Jane protested that she wanted to hang out, too. Her friend responded, “You could come too! Oh… no. No. You couldn’t. She (this other friend) wouldn’t like that. She doesn’t like white people.”

To her credit, in the moment Jane kind of just skipped right over what her friend had said. They carried on. More BOOTIE! More CHICKEN NUGGET! And so much running around the store. They drove me crazy–and had a blast. They hugged each other goodbye  one MILLION seven hundred and forty-seven times.

Then her friend was gone, and I got to have the tough conversation in the car. The one that made her cry.

I get it. I like to be liked. And, even though I have a much broader perspective of systemic racism and white supremacy than my six-year-old, it still stings when a person doesn’t give me the benefit of the doubt because I am white. But then I pull myself together, recognize my own privilege and acknowledge that, by and large, white folks have done very little to facilitate positive, interpersonal relationships with black folks. In fact, we’ve spent a lot of time doing precisely the opposite.

And that’s where I started my conversation with Jane.

This past weekend, Jane interrupted me in the second to last chapter of The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963. She started talking to me as if nothing were going on, while I was mired in the child narrator’s perspective on the Birmingham church bombing–the one where four black little girls were slaughtered at the hands of white men. Once I finished the book, I had to explain why I was so upset when she interrupted my reading. I reminded her what she’d learned about the civil rights movement. How separate was not, in fact, equal. And how people fought so hard for the very basic civil rights that she and I enjoy every day. Then, I told her about the kind of hate that would drive grown white men to bomb a church and kill little girls. Just because they were black.

Fast forward a few days…as Jane sat crying in the backseat yesterday, I reminded her about the church bombing in 1963. That MLK got shot for leading black folks toward liberation (or civil rights, at least). That her black friends will not always get the same benefit of the doubt that she does, simply because of the color of her skin. And I reminded her that we still have to say that Black Lives Matter, because to so many, they don’t.

These are hard truths. These are truths her black friends are never spared.

Jane is a warrior for what’s right. It’s just in her nature. She believes passionately in fairness and equality. To her, someone not liking her because she’s white is the epitome of unfairness.

But when I reminded her of the unfairnesses–in education, employment, housing, incarceration, etc, etc, etc–that black and brown folks endure every single day as white folks keep institutional and systemic racism firmly in place, well… she found a little bit of perspective on the unfairness of some kid not liking her because she’s white.

And, just for good measure, I begged her to never say “not all white people…” because FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. NO.

Instead of worrying about what one little girl she doesn’t even know thinks about her, we agreed that maybe she could focus on all the lovely friends she does have. And that she could do her part to try to make the world more fair for everyone. And that, regardless of what comes her way, she would always, always be a warrior for what is right.

I Love You More Than Littlest Pet Shop

Jane is an easy child to parent.

There. I said it.

By nature, she is kind, warm, independent, curious, and fun. We exchange I love yous like trading cards—each one more fantastic than the last.

“I love you more than peanut butter.”

“Well, I love you more than my new Shopkins backpack.” (that is SO MUCH LOVE right there, y’all).

Sure, we have our tussles (like when she asks me what something is, I tell her, and she says, “No, it’s not.” WTF, kid?? Then why did you ASK me???) And she constantly brings down a torrent of parental wailing and gnashing of teeth regarding the chaos that is her bedroom floor. But she’s an easy kid, and I know it.

Here’s what I also know: being a mother is the toughest challenge I’ve ever undertaken. Because you’ve gotta bring your whole self to this mothering gig. Your BEST self. And that’s tough.

She sees me. Really sees me, in a way that almost no one else does. Sometimes I swear she can read my mind. Which means, there is no hiding my reactions from her. So I damn well better be on my mental A-game all the time.

For me, that translates into: no negative self-talk, offering apologies when I’m wrong, radical acceptance of my body, prizing strength (of body & spirit) over beauty, laughing at myself, and being honest about what I know and what I don’t.

I suck at all these things.

BUT… I am approximately one TRILLION times better at them than I was 6 and a half years ago.

I’ve considered all the things I want her to be when she grows up… then I’ve tried to become all those things myself. Because, let’s be honest, I have no control over what she will choose as an adult. All I can control is my influence on her now—how she sees me live my life.

So, I am passionate about social justice. I look for the best in people. I ask questions about the whys of people’s behaviors, instead of just making assumptions. I see great beauty and pain in the world—and try not to shy away from either. I dance for no apparent reason. I sing loudly in church—even though I’m confident that Jesus is the only one who appreciates my singing. And I pursue my passion—even when I have to get up at 5:30 a.m. to write—because I want her to one day feel fully justified in pursuing hers.

Jane makes me a better person. Every day.

On the morning of her first day of First Grade, I sighed as I redid her braids three different times. She stood there in her brand new navy uniform dress (the one with the ruffle on the front & the bow in the back) and complained of boredom. I rolled my eyes because the braids wouldn’t stay in right. But we both stuck with it—because Jane has tremendously well-honed sense of self. The braids were an important part of her first day outfit, the way she wanted to present herself in this new chapter of her life. And I want her to live into her vision for herself. I wish I’d known who I was at six years old.

She went to school brimming with excitement, self-confidence, and hope. She will rock First Grade. I’ll cheer her on—through both the super-amazing stuff and the not-so-easy stuff. And I’ll hold on to the hope that, one day, she’ll look up to me as much as I look up to her.

 

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Practically Perfect in Every Way (photo credit: RM Lathan)

 

 

Back Together Again

Breaking up and getting back together—all within a 48-hour span—well, it’s not for the faint of heart.

When Simon & I woke up the next morning, it was like being on an incredibly awkward first date. In my pajamas. With someone I’d known for over a decade.

I had no idea what to do or say.

I made coffee, like usual. That seemed right. We probably still needed caffeine to function.

We sat down in the living room—which miraculously was still OUR living room—and I chattered on in a way that managed to be simultaneously overly-chipper and politely reserved. Which translated into rather happy, equally meaningless, small talk. (I despise small talk.)

Beneath my frantic efforts appear normal(ish), I felt completely unmoored. I was thrilled to have Simon back. But I was terrified if I did or said the wrong thing, he’d decide all over again that we were done. But for real this time.

The problem was that I both knew—and did not know—exactly what had gone wrong. When I could focus long enough to sort my thoughts, I knew that Simon had left only because he believed I didn’t want to be with him anymore. He thought he was doing me a favor. He thought he was fixing things. But the why was buried under my fear, which just kept shouting: He left you! He doesn’t love you! He left you!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Fear is a bastard.

In yet another bizarre twist, on this awkward, small talk filled Saturday morning, we also needed to go rent a U-Haul to fetch the remainder of the furniture we’d stored at our best friends’ house. Moving furniture together is an admittedly odd reconciliation activity. (Note: I do not recommend). But we dropped the kid off with said friends and headed out for a day of furniture relocation.

Odd task aside, sitting in a U-Haul truck next to Simon (without the kid anywhere in earshot) allowed us to talk openly and honestly for the first time in probably over a year. The stark reality that Simon could leave (and would, if he didn’t feel like the relationship was serving both of us well) knocked the anger and resentment right out of me. And not in the way that fear robs people of their fight. I wasn’t angry or resentful anymore because I’d been presented with a real, viable exit strategy. For the first time since Simon told me he wanted to/needed to transition, I felt like I had a choice. And I made my choice. I chose to stay. Because that’s what I wanted.

It was amazing to look at Simon (probably for the first time ever) and feel completely awash in love. I mean I was smitten. I was all hand-holdy and lovey. And I was driving him batshit. Because these ways, they are not his ways. But he understood. And he held my hand. And told me he loved me, too (for the 400th time).

We talked about difficult things. We talked about how to start over. We acknowledged that we needed to bring our best selves to this reconciliation—whatever that looked like for each of us. I asked questions I was scared to ask. He trusted me enough to answer me honestly. It felt real. Like communication. Things felt possible again.

It was in the middle of this hard but good conversation that we pulled up to a red light at Memorial Drive. I didn’t see them at first, because I was looking at Simon. But his eyes got wide. He looked excited. Like, kid picking out a puppy excited. And he said, “Are those LLAMAS?!?” And sure as shit, I looked across Memorial, and there were 15 or so llamas being led around a small enclosure. Outside a bar. In intown Atlanta.

Some people find signs in rainbows or floating feathers. Ours came in llamas. Because the pure joy that those llamas brought Simon wouldn’t have even been possible a day or two before—not with all that baggage we’d been carrying around. But now, he could be as exuberant about those llamas as he needed to be. Unfettered. Because now we’d both made a choice we could live (happily) with.

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Viator.com (image has been altered)