Monday, November 21, 2016

Still with Her

"Listen. Be Kind. Do Your Best." The simple motto quietly conveys the spirit of Gracie's cooperative nursery school, a lovely, loving community set right up on the hill in the bottom floor of the congregational church in our town center. Here is a place I couldn't have loved more over these past five years, where Noah attended two years before starting Kindergarten and Gracie is currently spending the last of her three preschool years. The school's ability to continually exemplify, stand by, and teach their message has never faltered to my knowledge, and while it is an active effort to practice these principles each day, this philosophy -- Listen, Be Kind, Do Your Best -- keeps our place humming and our hands clapping and our joy pure and present. It is not a challenge to jump from home to school to home because the priorities remain the same, in whichever place we are.

Open your mind, welcome all into the circle, be your best you (effort required, some days more than others). Kindness surrounding.

And then, I dare to look up from my tiny world.

A simple message grows so complicated.

I had Gracie's birthday blog all planned out over a month ago. The year she turned five would be the year our country was graced with the first woman president, but even better, a president who expressed, over and over ('…over a year… and in and out of weeks… and through a day…') the values we represent, the people we want to be and have our children become. So, to me, to so many of us, November 8th was to be the day that kindness prevailed and the momentum of tolerance continued, with perhaps a stronger wave than ever.

Posting because COME ON!
Look at him!

In my mind, it would be not dissimilar to 2008-09, when Noah was born into this world and I cried with pride as I stood in my living room with my one month old baby and watched Barack Hussein Obama become our president. This would be like that, but perhaps even better.

My kids, my little boy at least, has reached the point, I think -- I thought -- where we could talk more practically about what being a president signifies, and perhaps more importantly, what a real leader encompasses.

Noah and I (and at times Gracie) discussed the plain and crazy truth that it has always been men who have held the highest position in our nation. And that President Obama was our first black president ever. We talked, perhaps too openly, of the facets of the other side of the campaign. That even though close to all of us are immigrants in some form, the other major political party selected a candidate who wants to deport the immigrants who are trying to start their lives here now, right where our ancestors started theirs (and therefore, ours) not so long ago (at all). I made it clear that this absurd person (who I never thought would be our president) consistently opposed the idea of people marrying the person they love because of their gender (though he has since "accepted" the supreme court's decision). My children are of the belief that if they fall in love with their best friend - whether boy or girl - and their best friend loves them back (unless their best friend is a cousin, mind you), then heck yeah, that is just a marriage made in heaven.

My kids do not know this same person also mocks disabled people. It is beneath us to even discuss this.

We talk about equality in our house, not because we are exposed to a whole lot of diversity in our lives, but perhaps in place of the fact that we lack many of the surroundings that would naturally teach these lessons. I will not deny we are living in a heavily glassed-in snow globe up here in our small and elite New England town.

Above all the cruel and bigoted and vacant messages that were sent by Mr. Trump, I think I felt the worst about how he raised himself and his followers up by disparaging those who are different. I am sick about so many things about this terrifying new world (the sun will rise, but for how much longer?), but people being told they are unwanted and unwelcome and going to be added to a list - a LIST, for chrissakes - that is what kills me the most. That we are moving backwards, so rapidly and brazenly, when all this time I thought we were going to take leaps and bounds forward.

I mean, it is not a stretch to say that as parents, whether we are bringing our kids up in the north, south, mid, or west, we do not hesitate to preach the aforementioned messages of kindness to our children, right? Listen. Be Kind. Do Your Best. We want that for our kids because these are the pillars of a good person, a successful person, a person that people want to be around and teach and learn from and connect to and respect.

At what point does that message go haywire? When do priorities switch and a life that shuns difference in order to elevate one's self worth becomes more valued? At what point does kindness become white noise while efforts are instead directed at stomping on people who are smaller in order to win? I am talking about you, Donald Trump, a hell of a lot more than I am about the people who voted for you. Because you fed on desperation and targeted people who are vulnerable and weakened, diminutizing those who are trying to assimilate into lives they deserve to lead, and pretending that you care even the slightest about people who need work and actual opportunities for education.

Oh my gosh, I just found this! I mean,
I am apparently not the first one to
make this comparison, ha! 
You are not a leader, but a manipulator and caricature of a storybook villain who tries to dupe everyone into believing you should be the person with the most power. You are Gaston, chasing around the girls who would rather be reading anything at all, thinking your charm will win us over. You don't give a shit about unity or binding the wounds of division. If you cared about our nation and our necessary, dissipated unity, would you not do more than say a dispassionate "Stop it!" on 60 Minutes one night while your wife, who by the way is an immigrant, sits silently next to you?

Yes, I am still angry, but that doesn't get my anywhere. And if I haven't been clear (I haven't been), it is this man and the uber-wealthy, ultra-conservative pricks who praise him that I do not comprehend. Because, why?? There are plenty of people who voted for him - by far, most of the people who voted for him - because they genuinely felt they had no other choice, not because they are racists or misogynists. But some just want white male power flaunted and secured. I fear these people and I fear for these people, but now I fear for all of us.

In the last few weeks, my mind has opened up ten-fold to rediscover my own privileged life, my ability to prioritize what I choose (because I can) and to be surrounded by like-minded people who want to rise up and make a difference for the better.

A family member who teaches in a more rural part of New York told me that in her school district, nobody is talking about the election. Most are pleased with the results. But she has twelve immigrants in her classroom. At parent-teacher conferences the day after the election, none of the parents of her immigrant students dared bring it up, none dared express their distress and fear, assuming they would not be supported. Instead they seemed to shrink into themselves that next day, as if they did not want to be noticed. Indeed, their children have since been harassed by other students, telling them to go back where they came from. And the parents of these bullies? Some of them have expressed pride and agreement. Again, when did human kindness just get flagrantly tossed aside? This is what fear looks like. Desperation.

Truth be told, this blog was supposed to be about our birthday girl Gracie, even after the election happened. I thought I could just write about Gracie because I love to write about her and there is so much to celebrate about her. She turned five last week and I didn't mean to dump Trump on her and you like this, but it is tangled up. It didn't happen, but I wanted all the pieces to fall into place on November 8th. Tolerance and grace! Tolerance and Grace.

Have you watched this yet?

Listen.  To the people who fear their voices have been lost. To those who have left their families behind so that they can work and send them money to survive. And to the other brave people who have brought their families to our country to possibly give them a better life, some hope. Listen to the young man who is trying to accept who he is and who he loves. To the young woman who has knows she was never meant to be a woman. To the Muslims who worry about contempt and deportation. To the parents who have lost their children to gun violence. To the scientists who show us our earth is slipping away from us because of US. US. Because of our shit.

But listen also, listen very carefully to the anger, shame, fear, and desperation that has put us in this position. It is real and it is out there and it is the motivating factor for why we are here now. People are poorer than they can handle being and angrier than they can manage on their own and desperate to be respected and too burdened with shame to see past it all. This is real and we need to start listening. Not just to ourselves talking about how to make our already wonderful communities better. But a dialogue with those who have something to teach us about the way they are living and how they feel like they are dying. Because we are a nation divided any way you fucking cut it. And we're not getting anywhere if we don't drop the angry rants (see above, apologies) and start listening, perhaps trying to understand, moving forward with a new awareness, another perspective, a fuller view of this picture.

Be Kind.  If I learned anything in college, it was Maslow's hierarchy of needs. In just about every psych class I took, the prof found some way of incorporating it. I can't help but think of it now, the idea being that there are five levels of needs that motivate us as people, with the first, most basic and necessary, being survival at the very the bottom of the pyramid. Do I have food, shelter, warmth, the ability to rest? If these needs are met, we can move onto worrying about our safety, and if we are lucky enough to feel we can survive and be safe, we can enjoy the true privilege of belonging and love. With a secure sense of belonging, we can work towards self-esteem, with the top of the pyramid being self-actualization, the golden goal which, in a utopian society, we are all chipping away towards.

My children - and yours, too, I have to assume - have been taught love in its deepest, more secure sense. They do not carry the burden of hunger or being too cold to think or to frightened to function. This is an indulgence that we should not overlook. We get to watch love take shape in its truest form.

Pick three friends for the first activity," says Gracie's teacher on her special parent help day at school. "I….can't… I don't know who to choose." She waves her hand loosely over the crowd of friends and says "them".
"What are the names of the friends you want to choose?" But she is quiet and unwilling to pick 3 out of the crowd of 11.
She turns to me, "You choose, mommy!"

Our kids - the kids of the folks who are reading this - start with belonging from the get-go, don't they? Not all children do, not at all. Some people never get past survival and perhaps all they have the capacity to worry about is themselves.

Do Your Best.  Perhaps the only way to know what our actual best is these days is by taking steps that are larger than we're accustomed to taking. Love is not passive and cannot be spread to strangers in silence. I am attempting to step out of my comfort zone, getting more political than I have ever (ever) been, and  joining in groups for positive change that represent the values on which I am trying to build my family in a country I actually do still love. I don't know. We should do this kind of thing in a big way, all of us, really. Now. If not that, ask questions. Actually listen to the answers. Reach across the aisle if only for a quick exchange at first. At some point we have to stop shouting at each other or shouting about each other or we are all going to crumble. I need to start thinking outside my tiny little world while still living in my tiny little world.

We started "daily acts of kindness" today in our house. I thought about doing it all through December, but then thought, why wait until December?

If none of the above works for your family or your particular style, consider this incredible website my dear friend found and sent to me today:

Click and find:
  • Picture books about bullying
  • Picture books to inspire gratitude
  • Picture books to celebrate diversity
  • Picture books that inspire kids to heal the earth
  • Picture books to celebrate love
  • Picture books about every day acts of kindness
  • Picture books to nurture emotional awareness
  • Picture books that celebrate seniors and aging
  • Picture books about conversation starters

My friend's email came with perhaps the best suggestion I've heard in an extremely long time.

Step 1: Read these to our own kids.
Step 2: Package them up and send them to lots of local libraries in red states.

I would suggest sending all of them to Mr. Trump, but he doesn't read stuff. Not a reader. He can read, mind you, he just doesn't.

So many times, these days, I've begun to lose faith in our humanity, but the depth of this turmoil is so much further than this privileged eye can see. And so I go back to the principles that for the past five years - and the years before that without being said in so succinctly and simply - have always kept me grounded, empathic, and even hopeful - Listen. Be Kind. Do Your Best. So, I guess, let's brush ourselves off - it's been a blow - but now, it seems, all we can really do is collect ourselves and start making connections in whatever ways we know how.

two cuties at Veterans Day parade

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Lying frozen at midnight: Summer's end

Dear Noah,

So tomorrow you start second grade. SECOND grade. I've been practicing saying so all summer, in my head, sometimes out loud, "Yes, my son will be in second grade." My voice is not used to saying this, not at all, and it feels a bit foreign once it's in the air, and I try to process it, and I know this sounds melodramatic, but boy, this is not easy for your mama.

It was about five minutes ago that you were staring up at me with eyes as big as moons while sucking steadily on your bottle and occasionally reaching your tiny hand to my face. Now…NOW… you are in the middle of elementary school. You are almost eight (well, it's months away, really), and you love me to tell stories of the days when you were just one month old or not even out of my belly yet. You laugh and laugh and ask for more. You imitate yourself as an infant, puking up a belly full of milk all over me, drenching me; you've seen me do it so many times. You ask me to tell about the moment you came into the world and stared and stared, never the sleepy newborn, curious from the get-go, immediately connected to the world. I comply, happy to bring us back there, and look right at you, right into your bright eyes, so ready to laugh. I make my own eyes grow large, larger, and then I circle them around the room, looking left and right, making my eyes wider and wider still; I throw in a tiny infant cry every so often for effect. I am watching you watching me remember you.

You love infant Noah, in part, I think, because you have no memory of him and yet you were him - and you are him - but he is so inaccessible that only the stories connect you to him. It must be strange for you to not remember; you are used to remembering and your memory is reliable. I can now say for certain, however, that you have entered, without any doubt, years that you will remember sometimes with great clarity (and other times with a frustrating fuzziness or an inaccuracy that cannot possibly be untrue…). We will still tell stories of Noah in second grade back and forth, but you are the keeper of most of them, and some I know you'll never tell.

You will read about our summer here and while much of it will be familiar, you will have your own perspectives on this time; you drifted off to sleep tonight with your unique thoughts about summer or school or who knows what on earth else… and tomorrow you begin to collect more memories, more moments that will make you *you* and I will only ever know a fraction of them.

I loved our summer together because we shared almost every single moment. Someday soon you'll want more camps and alone time and playdates, but for this summer, anyway, you were all mine (and Gracie's) and we wandered rather aimlessly into and out of summer together, and most of our moments were shared; that was an absolute joy and privilege.

I will admit, sweet Noah, that I was a little terrified for summer. There were so many days ahead of us and I had very few plans for those days. And, though you might not have felt this, it took awhile to find our groove. But we got there and now, unbelievably, I'll be setting that damned alarm clock once again. We've gotten used to sleeping in; you get up to see Daddy off before 7 and then go back to sleep, collapsing into your bed or mine.  I reach over, pull you in,
drift off again.

I've been staying up past midnight, reading my books, listening to my podcasts, thinking, thinking. And you've been up, sneaking in a few last pages of your books or adding a couple new features to your Ninjago castle. But you have your limits, you've found. The other night, we were at a gathering around a bonfire, time ticking away faster than we thought, and you excused yourself from the kids at 9, and half stumbled towards us, saying, "I need to go to bed, Mama." You are still our little, precious child who needs all kinds of sleep. You are so tiny and so big at the very same time.

Our days started slowly, and sometimes stayed that way, but sometimes accelerated quickly. This summer, you started riding your bike with friends (aka "the biker gang") around the block, no grown-ups in sight). You passed the deep end test at the pool, which means that you can tread water for two minutes straight and swim for a really long ways.

You discovered google and when you really, really wanted screen time and knew I would say no, you knew your best bet was asking if you could google something if you spelled all the words yourself and didn't just ask Siri or allow for autofill. You texted Daddy when you missed saying goodbye to him, apologizing for not waking up in time. You played Legos to your heart's content. You drew pictures of oceans and its creatures and ninja battles, mainly, and you built castles with secret rooms and trap doors. You are the essence of childhood right now, Noah, and it's hard for me to fully wrap my head around the fact that this moment, this very moment in my life, is what I believe and have always believed it is all about. Everything, here, now. It's almost too much to handle and yes, I'm terrified of losing it.

You started "Choose your own adventure" books and initially, they confused the living hell out of you. "What if you don't like how it ended and wish you had chosen differently but don't really know where you should have chosen differently?" you asked Daddy, in a number of different ways, a number of times. But you're getting it now. And speaking of Daddy, have I mentioned you have the most giant Daddy crush right now? He is your person. You switch your seat to sit next to him or save a seat, protecting it with your life, for him at dinner time. If he will be driving one car and I the other, there is no question whose you will choose. You look at me with momentarily apologetic eyes and say, "I love you so much, Mommy. I'd like to go with you too, but I'll go with Daddy this time." I appreciate your empathic efforts and I know I don't always hide jealousy well, but honestly, who better to adore than that daddy of yours?
First time on a horse

I've never seen you happier
This summer you started noticing how babies and other children who are younger than you are really cute. You point it out to me as I used to do to my mom all the time, as in Mom, you CANNOT miss this one…this one is so cute, I guarantee she's going to make your day.

I switch from telling you that you are cute and then handsome and then not saying anything about it for awhile because, of course, I know I shouldn't point out the physical things because importance shouldn't be placed on that and I get that, I do. But sometimes, really, all I want to do is say, "OH MY GOD, HOOOOOOOOOW DID *WE* MAKE BEAUTIFUL, HANDSOME, GORGEOUS, BLUE-EYED YOU?" It's obnoxious and I don't say it (but apparently I have no problem writing it). Someday you'll read this and that will probably be at a time when you have a pretty good sense of self (you will care less about this blog for at least a decade). So, future (current) Noah, I'm sorry to make a thing of it at all. It has never mattered that you are cute and handsome, but it does matter that you are beautiful - warm and thoughtful and kind. I hope you practice all of those attributes every single day in the second grade.

When we went away on our annual college friends summer trip this year, you got to go off with the dads to play frisbee golf. You told me you tied Daddy for second. Daddy smiled and said, "huh" when I mentioned what you told me. But speaking of golf, Grandpa just bought you two clubs and a golf bag and you carry that thing around as if you've been doing so for years. You have quickly developed mad mini golf skills and you seem entirely at ease on the green, my love. You place your feet just so and figure out your angle and frankly, we got rid of the -1 rule on each hole as soon as we saw who we were working with.

Self imposed ice bucket challenge

Kid Olympics 2016, collector of medals

You will (you do) remind me you are not perfect. Do not worry, I am well aware. Remember, I have just spent an entire summer with you. You are kind and sincere, but really terrible at sharing… still. Your sense of fairness is strong, but mostly when it is you who has been wronged. You adore your sister but seem to lack the ability to demonstrate it at several (numerous, really) points throughout the day, each day, every day. Here is where you can start mentally inserting all of the many flaws you have catalogued about me throughout the years.

Okay, that's enough! At least you can never say I didn't love you more than life.

But now it is very late and I've set that blessed alarm to jolt me awake at 7 and I suppose I need to shut this post down. Oh, a few hours from now and my heart will sink, I know it. I will pull you into bed for a nostalgic and quick cuddle, but refuse the temptation for our usual semi-conscious slumber.

I try and remind myself all the time that this is good - and yes, I do wish for nothing else than my children progressing through their lives, year by year, as they naturally should. To wish for time to freeze, as a very wise and dear friend reminded me once, is not in fact the thing we really want to wish for. What I need to want is what is happening here, now. I've got it in writing here, all the things I'm thinking, so when my memory fails me, I will at least have this, a bittersweet moment when you were 7 and I, 37, now crystallized. You will remember your moments about tomorrow - maybe the moment you realize which one your teacher is or what it feels like to go to the gym rather than the cafeteria (as you did in K and 1st grade) before the first bell. You will likely remember where you are seated and what you miss about the year before and what you miss about your mornings and days with Grace and me and your nights (remember how we started our every night evening walks this summer?) with all of us.

But tomorrow is 20 minutes away now and before I know it, we're going to be in the middle of it. We will struggle over our decision of a decent-enough first day of school outfit. I will watch you move your cereal around your bowl because who can eat with the nerves? I get that. You'll start yelling at Gracie not to make you late while I push you towards the stairs reminding you to brush your teeth. On will go your backpack, same one as last year just a little less big on you now, and we won't be thinking about it, but as we go, we'll be fighting through our sadness, and embracing it at the same time.

All my love,