13 reasons and then some

Great swaths of silence engulfed our footsteps as we hiked to the top of Raspberry Peak.

My child does not chatter in nature, for that I am grateful. She is a ponderer and that is a gift.

A gift –

for the world will never be small in her heart or mind –

but also a burden –

for a world so deep and wide and real is filled with the pain from which joy is taken –

and so delivered.

We did speak some – about creation and how words come to be and the place of ancient trees and first paths taken. I told her I am cautious with my writing- in what I share with the world because I want to protect our stories and privacy and some of my writing might be too much. It is a selfish fear and a protective device to keep from challenging myself- I am aware. But she just looked at me and said I shouldn’t be cautious- I should put it out into the world and not worry about her. Yet I always will.

+++

Later that night, we began watching 13 Reasons Why. It provoked some serious emotions and riled up the hurt of youth that silently rests in my skin. Those things you think you have gotten past- until a hidden scab is scratched.

What kids deal with today is, at the root, what we dealt with 30 years ago, but bullying today is often more sophisticated, subtle, and hits in ways that potentially damage on a level we did not experience. Kids are still developing and growing in high school, but the world comes at them faster, harder, and pushes them to Be Adult far before their emotional intelligence can comprehend what is transpiring. Hell, I am 45 and still working out how to navigate people and positions in the world. This living thing is not easy.

Bullying is and always will be scared and insecure people developing false situation and creating stories by omission of facts or allowing others to make negative assumptions about others. There is physical bullying as well- sexual and non-sexual intimidation. The pain and illusion of life is amplified with no greater contrast than in high school. Personally, I couldn’t do it- there were one or two people who made me so anxious and scared that I would be in tears nearly everyday. I look back now and wish I could have just told them to fuck off, but I was taught to “take the high road” and not make trouble. With that, however, I was also lucky enough to have a mom that didn’t believe in the system and allowed me to drop out of the pressure cooker that was high school. I home schooled- what is now called unschooling- and managed to start college at 17. I survived those years by avoiding the walk through fire. But at some point, everyone must walk through their fire- it can not be avoided. The fire is what turns us into the best or worst versions of ourselves.

My daughter is a very different person than I am. She has the same pondering nature, but has learned to navigate in ways I did not learn until recently. She has already experienced fires I never had to deal with and they have aided in the creation of a beautiful person. Her sense of independence is different than mine and I witness a security that I never felt- but perhaps my mother thought the same of me. Looking back to who you were is always different than someone, of the age you are looking back to, looking out from their present day. So to the children of the present day- I say:

Value being on the edges and pulling strings between groups rather than ever getting locked into a single social circle.

May your expectations always fall to the future.

These years are short and you will hold a greatness beyond now in so little time.

Find your quiet, find your voice, know that you are the only person you should ever fear disappointing.

the things you learn

During elementary school drop off, you always know when a kindergarten class has passed through. Parents are hovering and the proud children, who have begun to wipe their own bottoms, with minimal efficiency, have left a waft of odor in their wake. 

childhood dreams

What I hate is when I am walking through a park with friends, feeling really on top of life, then I trip over a branch … And my fall is broken when I wake up and find myself trapped in my kid’s bed, arm locked under her sweaty little head and I have drooled all over her favorite stuffed bear. But now I’m awake, at 11pm. I decide to have a bath and a glass of wine.

With ninja-like stealth, I extract myself from her bed and stand up, on our dog. He howls, I cuss, apologize, and shush him all at the same time. As that is happening, I trip over the towel my kid left on the floor after her bath time and stumble into the wall with a thud.

At this point, my kid throws her arm across the bed and dream-sings, “All you’ll ever be is mean,” and I wait for it. That moment where my night goes from finally able to relax to being re-trapped in the cycle of Putting The Child To Bed. But somehow she stays asleep and I send a little prayer to saint Taylor Swift, because her song has made my child’s dream world exciting enough to sleep through the chaos of my parenting and kept her away from dark dreams that are shadows of our reality.

One night, at 7 years old, she woke terrified because she had been left on the side of the highway and I had been taken by the police for speeding. This was in the weeks after Sandra Bland was arrested and soon found dead in her jail cell.

The next truly scary dream came in the midst of the ICE raids in 2017. One night, after listening to coverage on the radio and hearing me talk with friends about documenting the raids, her sobs woke me. From another room, I rushed to her and had to work to wake her from the fear.

“They were taking undocumented immigrants away and we were helping the immigrants, so we were running, too. We were all camped in the woods with the pecan trees. But they found us and people were running and there was a field, so they ran to the field and the people chasing us were spraying a smoke that if you breathed it you would die.”

I held her closer, kissed the top of her head, still damp and sweet with childhood sleep filled with lost innocence, “You are with mama. We are in our house. It’s safe baby. You can finish if there’s more. Let out your story.”

She snuffled hard, took a breath, and continued, “There was also a hole in the ground and my teacher was trying to help people, but there were chains going into the hole. If you fell into the hole, you could only get out if you climbed the chains. But you had to sign a paper with one hand to say you belonged here while you climbed out with the other hand. And there were portapotties and I hid in one. Then, you woke me up.”

Our media culture seeps into the subconscious in some mighty fierce ways. But it is a media that is covering what our world has become. My daughter is ten now and she can ask enough questions to keep her dreams safe, but the fact that she has to ask those questions breaks my heart. The fact that when she was 8 her subconscious figured out that staying in this country as an undocumented person and working to become legal was tantamount to climbing up a chain, out of a pit, with one hand with a toxic gas encroaching on you. The fact that she hears enough reports of police taking people to jail over traffic violations and innocent children being killed or abandoned that she dreamt of being left on the side of the highway. Scared and alone.

As a parent, my one job is to keep her safe and alive – that she may become a good person with a full life. I think I do a damn good job of that, but having to go up against a world full of discrimination and hate makes my job way more complicated.

I’ve had people catch their breath when they learn that she was allowed to see the making of Lord of the Rings at 6 and we started watching Gray’s Anatomy when she was 9. “That’s all so graphic, so adult. She needs to keep her innocence,” they gasped.

I don’t know where these people are getting their news, but from what I’ve experienced, NPR during the 7am drive to school is far more disturbing than make-up artists explaining how they created the Orcs or Meredith Gray laying out the trials of relationships.

She’s not a pretty thing

She’s not a pretty thing.

There is no clean packaging or simplicity.

We share a bath and her voice becomes loud in the still, wet darkness.

I do not try to drown her with positive affirmations, but just sit and listen, I become terrified.

Her rage grows, I try to shrink away, but choose to keep the space.

Sobs overtake and she shakes my core, pounds the water and I hear my screams through tears that haven’t fallen in too many months.

It’s too much. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t do this. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t be the sole bread winner and parent. I can’t keep up with everything. I can’t just let things go. I can’t keep keeping the peace and being the balance. I can’t do it.

My mind won’t stop, I feel like I can’t do it. I can’t do life, not this way, but I have to do it. I have to keep moving forward, my daughter needs me. I can’t lose my mind, but the noise won’t stop. I grab pen & paper and muddle out. “You can do it. Let the anger forge a path. You don’t have to keep doing it the same way. You don’t have to keep hurting. Change your story.”

I sit with my anger and she finally knows it’s safe to surface and fill the space we share.

I sit with my anger and she is allowed to express.

Instead of imagining what I could do but not acting on my ideations, because “I’m not that kind of person,” I free her. Anger grabs for whatever is within reach- soon the room is smashed. Shaving cream and shampoo and soap are thrown against walls, the trash can is knocked over, and, as if watching myself, I get out of the bath. I see photos hanging on hallway walls. Faces with false smiles look back at me- pain relived everyday in hopes of creating balance.

Pictures are burned. My story begins a new chapter.

Is it a happy 4th?

I’m spending the long weekend with my kid. Days are spent swimming, reading & writing, visiting with friends, grabbing ice coffees and snacks, and experimenting with food. It’s summer so we often stay up late to binge watch shows or go night swimming. She’s almost 11 now and much of parenting is a whole lot of guidance and asking how she is making choices. I recently saw a meme that said parenting an only child is a lot #likealwayshavingabrokeassbestfriend. Truth.

Yesterday, with friends, we hiked into a great swimming hole on the greenbelt of Austin. We found pristine waters in the midst of one of the country’s fastest growing cities. An oasis strangely full, in the midst of an unexpectedly cool summer, surrounded by a community that lives on the edge of potential drought if rains pause for a few months. But this weekend, the water flowed deep and children played and argued and lived a dream.

Last night, we were headed home from more visiting and grilling of foods and so many blessings when we saw free rockstar parking near the city’s symphony & fireworks area of display. Oncoming traffic was non-existent so I threw the car into a fast, fully committed u-turn so I could adhere to the back-in parking regulations of the street. As I completed parking, my kid cackled with joy as she lectured me that my antics were certainly illegal, but really fun. We wandered about for a bit, then down to the lake-that-is-a-river shore and meandered through the crowd. The picture attached to this post is that crowd after the show. It was a crowd I would not normally tolerate, but am working on claiming space and not letting crowds of people bother me. Apparently, it’s working at least a little. Anyway, we saw the major downtown bridge was blocked off so we walked down the middle, stood in the center of it and laughed and whooped and danced in circles. We watched fireworks and talked about viewing them from a kayak in the future.

Today, we drove to a hidden spot, that is no longer so hidden, in the hill country where my child repeatedly threw herself off a swing that hangs from ancient trees and I took some time for myself. At this spot, kids and adults alike drop into a 15 foot (possibly deeper) hole of water that is monitored and protected from overuse. Teenagers play pseudo volleyball, classic rock plays while sugar ants seek out potato chip remains – though there are few.

To say this weekend is idyllic and a little picture of perfection is a gross understatement. We are safe and gifted to a point of ludicrous indulgence for the average American. Yet nothing we’ve done is extremely indulgent, simply a few days a de-stressing that should be accessible to everyone. In the midst of all this beauty, I’m divided.

I’m trying to separate our country’s birthday and the goodness that we live amongst with the absolute abysmal present administration. I spent four years serving this country because I had protested the first Gulf War – a war that continues 20 years later. I believed and continue to believe, we can’t appreciate the rights we have without sacrificing in some capacity. This goes deeper than military service, but that’s how I balanced the moral belief and personal action. I still love the ideals of this country, but the current manifestation is infuriating me to a pitch that is close to boiling point.

I see there are good people busting ass, but the shit-storm seems to be amplifying. On Wednesday evening, in the middle of a restaurant, I nearly got into a screaming match over women’s rights with a cousin & uncle after one poohooed that it is remarkable for a single woman to complete college while raising a kid. They seemed to believe it either wouldn’t be a challenge or seemed as easy as just getting daycare, because, “How much work is a kid, I mean really?” That’s just basic, straight forward white male privilege cluelessness. I keep hearing our conversation and my level of disappointment in them leaves me speechless. Still, at the end of the night, we hugged and sent each other off with love and good wishes. I can’t even begin to imagine conversations about immigration or tax policy. But I want to have them.

I don’t know what road this cultural experiment called America will take. Some of her future possibilities scare me to a core I can’t even begin to comprehend. Other possible outcome make me feel a joy and excitement that I also can’t comprehend. I don’t know where those roads start – though we are definitely merging dangerously close to the road of dismal humanitarian crisis for a large number of folks. I intend to always speak and act on the path of goodness, but I fear my words will be sharing time with some dark roads we have to travel to get back to the brighter fires we had been stoking.

In the meantime, I will keep living my life and teaching my child. As I’ve said before, love your loves a little harder. Be good to strangers. Reach to live big lives. Fearlessly create. Try something new. All we are promised is today.

Postpartum reflections

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Journals my daughter’s father gifted me – now filled with thoughts on my pregnancy and much of her first two years.

Our daughter’s birth was over nine years ago so everything about that experience is blurred by time – and the absolute fatigue of being a new parent. However, to complete my doula certification, I must write a reflective essay on my child’s birth or my postpartum experience. If I hadn’t journaled about the experience nine years ago, it would now be a shadow of a couple memories that were particularly difficult.

This morning, from my daughter’s box of keepsakes, I pulled two leather bound journals filled with pages of memories. I hadn’t read them in years and never before with the intention of reflection. My words are raw, but in the style of a journalistic account of the event. Entry after entry, for weeks, I documented feelings of total inadequacy, “Watching you sleep as I went through paperwork and suddenly started crying – felt scared and insecure about my ability to care for you. So small and dependent.” Then, with no examination of my feelings or what I might do to feel more secure, I moved on to how many hours of sleep I got the night before and that I was glad her dad had insisted I sleep between daytime feedings.

Maybe there was nothing to examine. Maybe, at the time, I just needed to put ink to my emotions so they were validated to me. However, in the long run,  personal validation doesn’t give closure to the feelings that I was alone and felt that no one had shared my experience. I documented waves of tears, being generally overwhelmed, and missing her dad even though we were in the same house for days, and feeling totally incapable of being a parent. Then there are the entries documenting the love – the inexplicable amount of love I had for my baby. It’s been over nine years and reading about those days sends me back to tears in an instant.

Looking back, I know we really needed more support, but at the time it didn’t seem necessary. People had been having babies, well, since the dawn of humanity. We were smart and self-reliant. Why would we need help? We had each other. What a lovely, apple pie in the sky, white picket fence, daydream that was – with a foundation based in a total lack of experience. Now, I see who I was, what I went through in those days, and know I survived to become stronger as a person and a damn good mama. I hug the me that was so fragile and scared those nine years ago. I tell her she’s going to survive that time and so much more. With the crystal ball of hindsight, I think how things might have been different if we’d had more emotional support. Maybe we could have averted divorce if we’d had someone to guide us and encourage us to take time for ourselves. Maybe having someone to encourage us to talk about our fears would have prevented us from isolating each other. Maybe instead of writing it down in my journal, and stashing the book away til the next entry, I could have told her dad I was thankful he insisted I try to sleep between feedings. Maybe, so many maybes. All the what ifs pour into my mind. But we didn’t have a support person to turn to – family is often too close to you to ask the hard questions and we were the first of our friends to have a child – so we fought through the fog and we managed to keep our baby alive and healthy.

I am so blessed that I’ve been called to help families through their transition of welcoming a new life, their new identities as parents, stress of losing freedoms, and the overwhelming emotions of parenting. I pray to every deity, and ask my own intuition, for the ability to listen and guide and empower families to be the best version of their story. Parenting. Marriage. Partnerships. Identities. Life. It’s all so hard, so hard, but can be so very good.

extreme co-parenting

This afternoon I will drive 238 miles to the beach with Lil’bit and her dad. It will be the first time in over three years that we’ve all been in the car together for more than an hour – significantly longer since just the three of us took a trip together. Over the 13 years we were together, we traveled more than most people I know. Even when flat-ass broke, we found a way to hit the road. When I took out loans for grad school, I included a travel budget. I could never be still, but I also needed roots. There was always somewhere to go – even if it was eight hour discovery walks through Brooklyn led only by a random choice of left or right at every 4th block. We often joked that we would destroy the Amazing Race tv show.

I still travel a good bit with Lil’bit, but day trips are the biggest draw. We can pack a lot into a day. The road keeps my gypsy soul soothed and she seems happier when an adventure is on the horizon. With Lil’bit there are no arguments about how I’m driving or what roads we are taking or when we should stop or for how long, except for her whining when we can’t stay longer at Buc-ee’s, she’s an ideal travel partner. But she’s also eight and still submissive to my whims. Her dad and I traveled well together, but in later years there was inevitably a squabble about something that neither of us could pinpoint the next day. But in a couple hours we will hit the road together again. This time, we will point the car south and drive four hours to a Texas beach.

Upon arrival, we will be greeted by the laughter and hugs of some of the most amazing people we know. My best friends will be there. His girlfriend will be there. Lil’bit’s favorite playmates will be there. Our community of burners is descending to the beach for the weekend, not just to play, but with a mission to clean up a three-mile stretch of beach. In the last year, over 16,000 pounds of trash was removed from the area. Over 200 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles recently hatched in the area and the restoration of the area has been applauded by local authorities. These “mini-burns” all have a theme, this weekend’s Summer Beach Cleanup is “From the Ashes.” Our center art piece (aka effigy) is a phoenix that will go up in fire and pyrotechnics on Saturday night.

I’ve no expectations for the weekend but to reconnect with good people, walk on the beach for hours, and let Lil’bit bury me in the sand. But I also believe it will be a weekend of re-birth. A weekend to recommit to my arts, my spirit, and my child. A weekend to burn off old wounds and long held sadness. A weekend to laugh. A weekend to purge resentment – to let go and start anew. A weekend to know myself better. It is a joyful and anxious adventure that I cannot wait to begin.

Racial America 2017

A four-year old recently announced to her mother, “I have white skin so I am special.” The mother, instantly horrified and confused, asked on social media how her child, raised in such diversity with equality minded parents, could make such a proclamation of preference? How does she explain to her child: It’s not about skin color? How does she open the conversation of racial equality with a four-year-old? She doesn’t understand. Her child’s daycare is diverse. Their friends are diverse. Why would, how could her child come up with this idea?

Even as the most liberal, accepting, diverse white community member you can be: actively listening and speaking up against racial inequality, leading your neighborhood in posting Black Lives Matter signs, talking to the police about non-violent communication, ensuring all the non-white kiddos get invited to your kids’ parties, pointing out possible cultural appropriation of Kwanzaa and Dia de los Muertos. Even when you do all that and painfully wince at your white privilege: You are still white. Painful as it might be to your liberal sensibilities, white America is special. It isn’t about what is right or fair, it is simply the current climate of this land.

Allow me, for a moment, to return to the four-year old’s statement. What she said is a fact of American life, observable by a four-year-old. Let that sink in:

I have white skin so I am special.

With storms there is often a last violent surge before the storm loses its power and passes, leaving bad memories, but a brighter future in its wake. This country’s race relations have been in a tumultuous storm for the last sixty years. We have made enormous strides toward equality and basic human rights to all. We have made strides, but we are not there yet. Often, not even close. Let it not be forgot, there are grandparents amongst us who can recall acid being added to pools to keep Black families out and lynchings along highways. This country and its Really Bad History is figuring out how to do things right, but it is nowhere near finished.

As good, common sense grown folk, we know our neighbors’ differences do not reside in the color of their skin. There is no difference, yet there is great discrimination. At this moment in American history, I choose to believe America is experiencing a last violent surge of its race storm. It seems, during the pre-cameraphone calm, we lulled ourselves with a post-racial campfire song of equality and a great fairness that was now the streets of America. As that fire was fanned with growth and goodness, the truth was burned away by a new technology. The streets were now being filmed in real time and the live feed revealed discrimination and a criminal hatred still burning. Now, the storm of America’s injustices pushes back with one more violent surge and we have to keep up the fight for equality or lose our heart. We are still broken. Race is still very much a divide.

Young children see people on TV, the politicians & talking heads. They see who is on street corners and who drives fancy cars. They see who teaches them and who cleans up after them. The children see who we talk to, where we share our time and voice, who we feel sorry for, who we endorse. The children witness our glances, hand wringing, our pop culture choices. They see who is cast as the criminals and winners. They know who is picked first in class to answer questions and who is thought to be best at sports. They hear the news and our deep liberal sighs of “wish we could do something” when another Black child is reported shot by a police officer. They hear the news when a Black mother is killed in her home. They see the video when a boy like their big brother is killed while wearing a hoodie and kept his hands in his pockets too long. A boy like his brother, except with Black skin so not special enough to live.

So yes, yes, that four-year-old white child may say, “My skin is white. I am special” and that child is stating a heartbreaking truth of America 2017.

As parents who say we want to be the change, we must embrace those statements. We must lean into the discomfort and fear that we feel when we hear them. We have the ability to embrace and shatter those statements, transforming those painful moments into sharing and explanations of equality. For our children, the effect of those words has not yet been locked down so we have the ability to destroy the fabric of our cultural divide and weave something new. But we must be active in our actions. Eliminating discrimination is not just about protests and liberally-appropriate posts on Facebook, eliminating discrimination is a slow process that begins with breaking down cultural misunderstandings and getting to know the people we discriminate against for who they are. If you know a person, they are not the shell and stereotype of our perception. When you begin interacting with people they become the people. We the people.

We must be able to see and call our children on societal bullshit that seeps into their (sub)conscious reality. We must get off our attention sucking devices and away from our televisions in order to watch and interact with our children. Take them to places to naturally interact with other kids – not simply curated play-dates. Go to public swimming pools and museums and open concerts with outdoor picnics in new neighborhoods. Make it a habit to visit libraries in new neighborhoods and go to story-time with kids that don’t look like your kids. Talk about the world and your experiences together. Talk to strangers, meet the people who share your space. Lean into the unknown and remove yourself from isolationism. Kids know when we create bogus actions to feel good about our cultural quota. Admit to our children that our culture is fucked and segregated. Do not paint it pretty. Let it be known our wrongs are only reason to do more and be more aware.

As white folk, we are a culturally designed special and we have a responsibility to use that special to bring the oppressed to an equal footing – to deconstruct the oppressor. If we are in a position to hire, we can refuse to review resumes with names. If we teach, we can encourage non-white children to excel simply by calling on them more often in class. When we walk down a street, don’t cross over if a non-white is headed toward you – instead say hello and keep on with your business. Don’t assume you know how to help. Don’t put yourself in someone else’s place. You will NEVER be in that place so instead ask and listen.

I feel like an ass for even writing the last couple paragraphs because I know I haven’t done enough to listen, to build bridges, to create the change I espouse. I believe it’s not too late to try. It’s not too late to try again and fail and try again.

To shift a touch, in February of this year, in Austin, there were several weeks of intense ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) activity involving raids and deportations. My daughter has a friend at school whose family all speaks Spanish, very little English. One night, my daughter told me, “I thought some of Lydia’s family might be undocumented. I asked her if everyone is ok. She said everyone has papers and gave me hug.” My child is eight. There is nothing she could do to help, but she reached. She said, “I hear your story.” That may be a place to start.

I want to hear your story. I want to try harder. Can we begin there?