What does the end of #stayhomeMN and beginning of #StaysafeMN really mean?

I have a PSA as a public health professional, a mom, a daughter and a Minnesotan. I am hopeful most everyone is aware of this but I am feeling protective of you.  This applies in many other states opening across our country as well – please read.

I want to be fundamentally clear: the virus has not reached its peak. Our state is gradually opening because we now believe we have the ventilators, PPE and ICUs available to treat those who will become ill. Minnesota is not opening because it is now safe. Minnesota is not opening because the worst is behind us. No model shows this. We are opening because of the economic, political and social pressures to do so.

We are opening because the state conceded they cannot restrict the rights of residents to operate businesses once we reach health care capacity to manage the level of morbidity and mortality projected.

This is a public health concession to other competing and important pressures. Public health metrics alone would suggest we #stayathome longer.

So, please:

Don’t: behave like business as usual (pre-COVID style).

Do: wear your masks, wash your hands, stay home when sick, social distance, stay home as much as possible if you are immune compromised or over 70. Plan your family’s approach thoughtfully.

Peace,

Shawna

PSA: Social distancing at the length of a small gator

Hey friends: as a public health professional, I’d like to offer up a video that I thought did a great job of explaining the purpose of social distancing.

Thanks for all you are doing to protect our most vulnerable friends, family and neighbors.

If you’ve ever felt called to serve but never had time, this is the moment! All we’ve got to do is work at home, keep kids learning, chill out, do a puzzle, get a little bored, watch some movies, go for walks with our household members, ride bikes, give each other 6 feet (as my FLA husband knows, about the length of a small gator) and generally behave like there are no hospitals available to you for awhile.

As I recently heard Minnesota’s Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm say, #stayathome means social distancing is no longer a suggestion, it is a requirement. It is specifically required of those who do not work in “essential service” to our community. For those of you who do not, honor those of us who do: #stayathome.

Tweens and teens are especially vulnerable to isolation – it is practically developmentally inappropriate to ask them to stay home with their families for weeks with no social contact with peers. Yet, we’re doing it. This is hard. In public health, we plan for some weak links. Let’s make sure, as grown ups, we are not the weak links. In fact, if you’ve never considered yourself a role model, this is likely something you can absolutely nail for our kids and their grandparents!

Children and youth need time outdoors to play in order to grow and thrive. We all need to exercise in order to boost our immune systems and care for our chronic conditions and mental health. Please do. At the length of one small gator or more.

At the end of this, I invite each and every one of you over for a visit on our front porch. For now, I’d like to invite you all to break out your drums, bells, noise makers and voices, step out onto your stoops, and hoot and holler together each Monday evening at 5 PM from wherever you are.

Please share!

Need help?

Remember: It is ok to keep the bar low right now – the kids are all right. If things are not all right in your household, we have to learn to ask for help. Here are some resources: 

Minnesota crisis textline and suicide prevention: 741 741

Children’s mental health and crisis response in Minnesota

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is only a phone call away: 1-800-273-8255.

If you are in need of assistance with medical care or health insurance, Community Health Centers are a trusted resource across the U.S.

At Minnesota Community Care, we have completely transformed in order to meet the essential health care needs of our patients, offer screening for respiratory illness, and provide resources via social media to families and youth on managing anxiety, isolation, and school at home.

United Way supports 211 helps people across North America find local resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Here are some great home-learning resources from Common Sense Media: Wide Open School.

World-wide Free Forest School has published tips on how to get your kiddos outside and learning everyday! 

 

 

My son has a super-power. Does yours?

“I’m here with your 3rd grader,” my son’s special education teacher explained on the phone.

I waited. Please don’t say he threw up. Did he swallow bits of his shirt collar again? Maybe it’s just a fever.

“Tomorrow he’s going to tell me what you did to celebrate. For the first time in 4 years, he tested at grade level in reading today.”

I had to pull over. I cried on Lake Street for the arguments we had before I learned he wasn’t being lazy or stubborn. I cried for the phone calls and the emails and the classroom visits and IEP meetings. I cried for the books we’ve read, the camps we’ve attended, the tutor we insisted upon-yes-even in summer.

I released the anxiety we have felt as we rapidly approach the end of the 3rd grade, knowing only 25% of kids who cannot read at grade level by then are predicted to graduate.

I cried with gratitude for the generous grandparents who have financially supported his needs, the hours of creative problem solving his tutor has dedicated to him, the kindness and patience his teachers have provided him and the skills his special education team employed to get him this far.

I released the guilt that we hadn’t done enough.

We knew going into kindergarten that something was different about him despite the fact his pre-K screening was normative. Come to find, he had all the hallmarks of Dyslexia. We asked about testing and our assistant principal suggested we wait–see how he does.

In Minnesota, kids without a diagnosis qualify for special education through the discrepancy model. They receive services if testing shows their ability level and performance level are disparate enough to suggest a “specific learning disorder.” Parents are often encouraged to wait until first grade to test because it is very difficult to qualify on the discrepancy model as a kindergartner.

The only other way to qualify for special help is a diagnosis and 504 plan. We were told by our pediatrician that Dyslexia, which we suspected, was an educational diagnosis. Insurance would not cover the $2000 neuro-psych testing. And guess what? School psychologists cannot diagnose Dyslexia because it is a medical diagnosis–an ugly catch 22.

So we had to let him fail first. This is what it looked like.

He was behind when he started kindergarten. He sat in a classroom feeling baffled while kids around him captured things he could not even see. He loved his teacher and she loved him but he cried before school everyday. He had tantrums after school. He chewed his clothes and his own lips to pieces. He had eczema. And honestly, I am fairly certain he had the best kindergarten teacher in this world.

By first grade he called himself “stupid” often. He told us he hated himself. He had emotionally “dropped out” of school and developed anxiety.

“Oh,” they said. “Now THAT is a medical diagnosis. NOW insurance will cover testing.”

Still at reading level A, the school then wanted to test him. His teachers knew he needed extra help. The educational psychologist described the findings and called it a “specific learning disorder.” Though he was in the 2nd percentile for reading, he scored in the 96% percentile for comprehension when stories were read to him. The psychologist looked me in the eye and nodded his head as he said, “I cannot make a diagnosis of Dyslexia.” Consistently in this process, the school appeared to be going above and beyond what they were allowed to do for him.

He would now be removed from his classroom for two hours a day of specific instruction in reading and writing.

He also received accommodations. Our school has coordinated assistive technology, shielded him from unnecessary standardized tests, placed him in classrooms with student teachers and provided him extra support. Unfortunately, with a classroom of 30+ kids, this often just means expectations are lowered for dyslexic kids and they are excused from some activities, like spelling tests and reading aloud.

Though his teachers were incredibly supportive and skilled, he made very little progress in reading or writing in first grade. The primary skill he learned was pretending to understand.

He had delightful friends but they accidentally hurt his feelings daily. “Why can’t you can’t read that?” Some laughed at him, not understanding. He developed strategies to avoid attention. He got amazingly good at deducing what was happening in books and worksheets from the context. He became more and more introverted and more and more creative, also hallmarks of a dyslexic brain.

His special instruction had a ratio of one teacher to five kids at most. The tools that our wonderful, big-hearted, special education teacher had were blunt instruments for a group of kids with a wide variety of challenges: lower IQs, ESL, Dyslexia, ADHD, unknown. She was not provided adequate resources or training to meet the disparate needs of all those children. This is happening across the country–our situation was not unique.

We found a grant for her to attend an Orton Gillingham reading instruction training. This is a sharp tool. OG is one of many evidenced-based strategies for teaching struggling readers that is multi-sensory, going beyond Response to Intervention models. Within months the following school year, she told us her training was creating change for kids who were unresponsive to everything else she had tried–it worked.

She helped us find him an after-school tutor and introduced us to Grove’s Academy, a school that incorporates evidenced-based practices like OG into the classroom experience for neurologically diverse learners. I asked him if he would be willing to spend six weeks of his summer at reading camp. He looked at me, blue eyes welling tearfully, cheeks blown out and angry red under a flop of white hair. My mini Einstein. He shook his fists and stomped his foot and screamed, defiantly, “FINE!” and walked away. Another hallmark of Dyslexia: our son is tenacious.

Grove’s was able to say out loud what public school psychologists could not, “the findings of his test results are consistent with Dyslexia and Dysgraphia.”

You may be against labels. So are lots of parents and educators and therapists and pediatricians. But let’s be real–Dyslexic kids without a diagnosis have labels for themselves and they live with the labels others assign them: stupid, lazy, stubborn, defiant, disturbed.

Nothing, NOTHING, has helped his crumpled heart more than when we told him, “You have Dyslexia.”

“Buddy. You know all that testing we did? And you know how it is hard for you to read like some of the other kids? Well, we found out there is a reason that you’ve been struggling. Your brain is unique. The way you learn to read has to be unique too! They call it, “Dyslexia.”

He jumped up into my arms and crushed me in a hug. He was wearing a cape. He said, “I have a super power!”

Unless you have a child with Dyslexia or another learning difference, I can’t imagine you can truly understand the significance of early illiteracy on your self-confidence and sense of wonder. In grade school, we go from learning to read to reading to learn. Wilder entered school excited to use his gifts and talents to learn. It took him less than a school year to realize that there would be destructively little time in his school day for what comes easily to him: creating stories and art, reasoning scientifically, empathizing with others. Grades one through three are really all about reading.

But he is getting better over time at advocating for himself. His support team in school works together to ensure his days contain successes and opportunities to use his assets. He understands that despite the fact he has to work harder to do a lot of things, he is exceptional at some things. He is also getting better at failing with self-confidence.

Let’s go back to that phone call. She knew it was a significant moment. She knew how hard he worked to get there. She was determined that we celebrate him. His teachers are incredibly committed and skilled–they offer multi-sensory approaches, individualized instruction, relationship building, positive reinforcement, high expectations. When we celebrated that night, we toasted the educators he has on his team and the resources they have been able to engage on his behalf. I want kids with dyslexia everywhere to have these opportunities and from what I have learned from other parents, we are very fortunate.

A group of parent volunteers and teachers have spent thousands of hours at the Minnesota state Capitol attempting to get lawmakers to insist public schools provide kids with reading disabilities an equitable and appropriate education: Decoding Dyslexia Minnesota.

This week I sat before a Senate committee asking them to provide the Minnesota Department of Education a Dyslexia Specialist. We would like to see: early identification that avoids early school failure, classroom instruction in reading that incorporates strategies which will work for all learners, and grants for teachers to access professional development in Dyslexia.

They only appeared moved by this…

I’d like you to picture something you learned to do for the first time recently. Do you have any new hobbies? Professional skills? Anyone trying Twitter?

Now imagine your first attempts. Was the learning curve steep? Did you ever doubt your abilities when your colleagues learned faster? As you experienced success, did consistent progress keep you engaged?

At the beginning of 3rd grade my son was at the same reading level he was at when he entered kindergarten. If you had made no progress in 3 years, would you have kept going? Would you feel anxious? Depressed? Might you act out?

  • Nearly 1 in 5 people have Dyslexia. ​(Connecticut Longitudinal Study)
  • 50% of adjudicated youth tested were found to have undetected learning disabilities (National Institute for Literacy, 1998)
  • Approximately 80% of people with learning disabilities have Dyslexia which makes it the most common learning disability ​(American Academy of Pediatrics 2011)
  • 3rd grade reading proficiency scores can be used to predict the number of new beds needed in prisons 10 years hence ​(OhioHigherEd.org)

I am hopeful these upstream efforts will reduce the emotional burden of Dyslexia, especially for the most vulnerable kids who may or may not be identified because the expectations on their learning and behavior were unjustly low from the beginning. There’s no reason to let these kids fail when we have the tools available to enable their success. Despite limited resources, our child’s school is effectively supporting him. I can’t stop there. All these kids deserve to know that they have super powers.

 

Yes, we have a ton of work to do.

img_0001 Hello this is Shawna and I am calling from the Hillary for President campaign. No I’m not a “jerk.” Nope not an “intruder.” No it’s not “illegal” to call at your kids’ bedtime but I feel your pain. Oh nice, you voted already? Woot Woot! Waited for 70 years? You cried? You’re crying again. Yes I understand. Yes I believe my grandmother would too. First time voting? Exciting! I hear you, but I’d still pick a candidate. Well, which one best aligns with your hopes for the future? Congratulations and thank you for choosing to vote! Standing Rock? I can imagine. So disheartened. Let me find out…Ok how about 9 volunteers Saturday morning? Meet you at Little Earth? Absolutely. Well, I suppose because I want to look back on the first campaign for a woman President and feel I was a part of it. I definitely think door knocking is still worthwhile. Minneapolis, yes, but it’s a big state. I believe her candidacy has merit–I’m not just voting against him. Yup. Totally understand. The emails concern me less than the lawsuits. No but I am raising boys. I don’t want to have to tell them our President is an inappropriate role model. Pot roast? No I can wait. Most important to me? Access to health care. I’ve been reading her policy for two weeks. His? A 10 minute read. Yes the whole thing. Do you know where to vote? How about this weekend? Vote early and the lines are shorter. No, legally your employer has to both allow you time and pay you for that time. I’m not kidding. It’s a misdemeanor. Yup. Text me and I’ll report them. Our kids’ school is a polling place and this is the first time I’ve ever wondered if they are safe there on voting day. Right? Sad. I’m glad we know more about our country now too. Yes, we have a ton of work to do. More than I’d hoped as well. Yes I’m with you. Yes I’m with her.

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I’m with her. No, really. I’m with her.

I get it, duck mom.

This morning I passed through my fence, lunch bag, brief case, computer bag, errand bag, birthday gift, dog leash (yes attached to dog), coffee cup (somehow) in hand, and reached the other side slathered in bird poop.

It was as if I traveled through a bird shit portal. So not J.K. Rowling-cool.

I ditched my stuff in my car and pursued my five-year-old on foot. He was picking flowers off our crab apple tree for his daycare “mom.”

That was the lovely moment. The one I will remember. The one that will lead me to say things to young moms when I am sixty like, “Oh, the days will go so fast. Cherish every moment.”

I washed off the poop at daycare and headed out for the day: this was 9 a.m.

Before that, I had checked my 11 y.o. child’s throat and breath for signs of strep (you know that smell), rummaged through piles of dirty laundry for pants skinny enough for my 8 y.o., and dressed and redressed that 5 y.o. cutie pie three times before he was satisfied, including face paint.

I also scrubbed the toilet naked and had to get back in the shower after my hair made contact with God-knows-what. I sent myself a mental note to scrub the toilet before showering in the future–as if I hadn’t already learned this twenty times over.

I plucked an unwieldy hair from my husband’s nose as he drank his coffee. So satisfying.

I clipped the 30 finger nails of said children.

And fed them chocolate cake for breakfast.

Yes I did. From a box.

I delayed: breakfast, vitamins, probiotics, skin care, exercise, hair-do and make up. Seriously, what else are the stoplights on Hiawatha for? Furthermore, what are those vents for if not blow drying?

After 9 a.m. I helped neighbor moms rescue some toads. I returned a run-away dog. I changed out of my white pants–who am I kidding? I dropped off  forgotten lunches and homework at school. I sent the emails for the important school committee thingy. I called my legislator and my mom and dad. They are all fine, aside from the Alzheimer’s and such.

As I approached my office, I saw a mama duck cross a busy street with seven ducklings. Once safe, she jumped up a six-inch embankment they could not mount. She did not look back. She fed herself in the grass on whatever ducks eat in grass.

In a few minutes, she jumped back down into the quacking fuzzy mess. They swarmed, and she led them away again.

I get it, duck mom.

By 9:30, I arrived at “work.” I put down my bags. I sipped coffee. I greeted co-workers that smelled good and had clean faces. I got an update on our hurdles for the day. I was very glad to step up to each and every one of them.

I finally got my nose pierced

Early this morning a car blew through a stop sign in front of me and I did a 360 degree skid getting out of its way. It didn’t even slow down. I chased the car down and got the license plate.

Soon after that I blew a speaker and fogged up my ears listening to Led Zeppelin.

Then I got my nose pierced!

Leaving the parking lot I nearly backed into someone and refused to apologize–what kind of nincompoop walks that closely behind a moving vehicle.

At the gas station, I stole a snickers bar because it said, “rebellious.” Come on–does anyone pay for that one?

I impressed some teen-agers with the speed of my car and volume of my bass.

I also got Lasix surgery and they threw in botox between my brows.

When I got home my child asked me for candy and I responded, “no.” He asked “why” and I yelled “because I am taking my ###@!! poop in peace.”

Then I went to take a one-day workshop on electric guitar and now I play. Like a boss.

On the way home, I illegally passed a very slow, dripping clean, white Mercedes while driving on a twisty residential street.

And I sang along to Supertramp so loud, they say I’ll need vocal node surgery (like Adele. Adele is so awesome).

Hopefully it will be a quick recovery, because I also got a call saying I made the cast of Ordway’s production of Wicked, coming soon!! Dream come true!

And coincidentally, I qualified for the extreme rescue division of the International Red Cross.

After I found out, I played the drums in my garage in a white tank top until I sweat like Mary Stewart Masterson. So. Inspiring.

And I dyed the ends of my hair five shades of pink and belted out, in my fast car, “Na na na na na na…she’s got the look” on my way to work.

When I walked into the Senate in a power suit and declared, “I’m selling your salaries to the highest bidder until you add inflationary increases to the General Education Fund,” they did it!

Since I was on a winning streak, I stabbed a snake fang into a book on Alzheimer’s and the disease oozed into the ether, like Voldemort in the Chamber of Secrets, only forever.

Then I perfected my conversational Spanish.

Then, I had an affair with Kendrick Lamar.

I put my name in the hat for Presidency.

And drove twelve minutes further, bought a ticket, and sat alone among strangers on a plane to San Juan, anywhere.

But I made it back for choir, where I sang my angst so loudly into Beethoven’s 9th that my fingers bled (paper cut).

I tucked in my kids.

And drank tea.

Some days I amaze myself.

 

 

Eleven Years of Tennyson

Last week I asked my oldest son to complete a chore with me. As he jumped from foot to foot on hot concrete, flies swarmed around us. He offered, “it’s stinky over here,” and “perhaps what you need, mom, is a kitchen shears instead of garden pruners.” But he stayed with me, humming, hopping and smiling. We finished the project, high fived and walked into the shade. He put his arm around me and said, “That was fun.” I laughed as tears rose in my eyes. He noticed, “Mom—how could that possibly choke you up?”

I have witnessed him accomplish remarkable things in eleven years that made me feel proud: piano recitals, choir performances, artwork, inventions, brotherly kindness, acts of compassion. But, I have never felt more optimistic a great future lies before him than when we cut the ropes off our old baby swing together next to the stinky garbage can on a simmering summer day.

Tenny is bright and likable. He has a winsome smile and an easy way with people. He excels in school and inventing things. He is a creative and quick learner. But resilience and willingness to face adversity will do more for him than any talent born or nurtured. I summed up my tears; “I am just so happy for you.”

Which, of course, made him giggle all the more. His giggle renders me weak at the knees with love and adoration. One of my favorite advances in our relationship this year is laughing together. We suddenly seem to crack each other up. Raising Tenny has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. I was prepared to miss each stage as he grew (ok not all of them). What I was not prepared for was how much more interesting, fun and unpredictable he is at every age.

Furthermore, how could there be a pre-teen living in my house? How could he know more than me about computers? And pancake batter? Solar power? How could this be the same little guy who could not sleep anywhere but attached to his parents his first eighteen months? How could he so surprise me? I once knew him better than he knew himself. Everyday, Tenny is less and less kid and more and more his unique self.

IMG_7824We have engaged a tradition for our boys called the “Ten Year Trip.” Instead of a birthday party or gift, they will each choose (within reason) a destination. Tennyson’s selection was an overnight Amtrak trip with mom. He did not care about the destination; only that we slept at least two nights on the train. It speaks volumes of him that he selected a timeworn journey with a balance of exploration and quiet. We had a remarkably good time on our ramble from Seattle to St. Paul, he in awe of the train itself and me in awe of my companion.

This is what the five of us had to share about Tenny at his eleventh birthday dinner:

“He is a great brother.”

“He makes me feel special.”

“He is adventurous.”

“He is confident.”

“He gives great hugs.”

As he said to me earlier this year, “Do you know what I try to do? I try to be optimistic. Just let it roll. Don’t fight the current.” After eleven years of Tennyson, I am certain of one thing. No matter where or how he lands, Tenny will find adventure and purpose in every leap forward.

Being young has nothing to do with being me–I get to have those adventurous, in-love-with-my-world, making new friends, seeing new things, I feel alive feelings at every age.

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BEFORE

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AFTER

In 1888, Brahms wrote five haunting songs for a cappella choir he put to tragic text comparing a falling leaf to the inevitable loss of youth. I sang two of the five songs recently with MacPhail Center for Music’s premier adult choir, Sonomento, on an incredible twelve-day tour in Europe. We sang them among other great choral works, art songs and stirring spirituals in cathedrals of Munich, Prague and Berlin and at the International Brahms Festival in Wernigerode, Germany. I am defying Brahms’s nostalgic lament that “all happiness is lost.”

I have been home now over a week and my brain has yet to arrive from Europe. I daydream about castles and cathedrals and bike rides and opera in the square. I pour over my photos. I am like a teenager just home from summer camp. So many feelings I’d set aside as “when I was younger” and I just learned not only am I still young, but being young has nothing to do with being me–I get to have those adventurous, in-love-with-my-world, making new friends, seeing new things, I feel alive feelings at every age.

Upon my return, my cousin, also a mother of three, asked without judgment, “Is it hard to be home?” The tears that welled up in my eyes answered for me. Others have asked, “Isn’t it good to be home?” And, “Did you miss your kids?” “How is everyone?” I answered, “Yes,” “Of course,” “Recovering,” but those answers weren’t as true. This was the first time I have been away from my responsibilities for more than three nights in over a decade. It felt really, really good.

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Munich

Re-entry has been bitter sweet. My sons seem cuter and my home more acceptably disastrous. My husband and I are suddenly loopier for each other than we’ve been in years. I feel rested and lighter. But the boys have paid me back with a few days of misbehavior. And come on, I have had to wash dishes, wipe butts and quell tantrums?? No one has made me a morning smorgasbord of fruit, juices, muesli and delicious meats, cheeses and pastries. I have not been offered a trip to a palace with our delightful tour guide or the option to go rogue in Munich on a rented bicycle. I don’t get to sing on a riverboat on the Vltava today or rehearse in a Mercedes bus. And I will not spend the day exploring centuries past, digesting complex histories or simply laughing, drinking wine and enjoying new friendships.

In fact, my weeds are overgrown and the garage needs organizing. Kids are visiting Crankyville and they want to be entertained. By day two, Project Re-entry, I was fighting being overwhelmed by the complexity of our life, my children’s volume and our extensive mass of belongings. I missed my quiet, my suitcase and my songs: so simple.

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Prague

Being away alone, I woke up. I had excess energy. I had time to feel my own needs. I realized how much I have been missing feeling like my best self. I cried all the way home—it wasn’t jet lag. I was nervous my trip would just be over, rather than transformative, and my newfound joy would fade away as easily as Brahms’s leaf.

But my heart opens up like it did when I was there when I listen to recordings from our trip. I am so grateful to music for providing my fellow choristers and I this experience that has in fact, been transformative. One singer said to me, “This has been the greatest experience of my life.” I imagine few of us would have self-indulged in an experience like this had we not a greater purpose in going: to sing and to represent MacPhail. That air of responsibility allowed us to play, explore and bond in a way grown ups don’t often allow ourselves and that surfaced in our sound.

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Wernigerode

We surprised ourselves by earning silver diplomas in two categories at the Brahms Festival. By popular demand, we were also invited to sing our African-American spiritual, “Ain’t Got Time to Die,” at the final ceremony. When we exited the stage, tiny members of a Chinese children’s choir flocked to our sides. In fact, that song brought smiles and clapping to reserved international audiences throughout our tour. Our last morning in Wernigerode, I went for a run and singers from a youth choir from Taiwan stopped me for a photograph and told me, “That is our favorite song.” Written out of slavery, it speaks for itself a half century later, bridging community and sharing joy.

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Berlin

As a parent, I feel pressured to say our children are my greatest joy. But I bet you can relate to my truth. I was tired. We have also had losses and hurts and late nights and worries since having children. I was happy and grateful, but I think I’d forgotten what inner joy felt like. And when you don’t realize you’ve lost something, you stop looking for it.

It turns out that it’s up to me to revive my best self when I am lost. We so value productivity and stability in mid-American culture that it can deemphasizes the value of simple joy. But the music, the culture and the people with whom I traveled reminded me that joy creates energy and has permanence beyond youth (sorry, Brahms). I am a better human with more to contribute to my family and community with joy. Two weeks of singing and exploring brought me somewhere totally unexpected: back to me.

What’s more, I now have these memories that will point like a compass back here when I get a little lost:

  • My first gelato after our inaugural performance in Munich.

  • The power of singing emotional music in our full registers within a cathedral constructed to synergize choral sound.

  • IMG_8444Dancing to a live performance of Earth, Wind and Fire under umbrellas in the Old Town Square of Prague.

  • Hearing the soprano’s notes reflect off centuries old buildings in an outdoor performance of Carmina Burana in Oden Square, Munich.

  • The German word, “löschwassereinspeisung.” Such a great word.

  • IMG_8936Singing our final Abendlied surrounded by 360 degrees of blue stained glass at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church.

  • Riding a bike with friends uphill to a castle and back down again in the rain.

  • Hearing in my own laugh something familiar and deeply happy.

 

Princess for a Day

Today on the way home from school I readied my kids for a trip to the bakery by giving them each $2. As I was getting out of my car a woman asked me, “can you give me enough money to buy my kids and I a loaf of bread?” I don’t always give money to the men (it’s usually men) on the corner we pass in our car everyday. They stand on the wrong side of the street for me to give them money–which is a nice excuse for me to avoid deciding if I think I should give them any.

But she asked me on foot and in front of my kids. She was so brave and so polite, standing a safe distance with her hands in her pockets. At first, with iPhone in one hand and credit card in the other, I told her I didn’t have any cash. This is also a convenient excuse.

She said, “Ok thank you. Have a good day.”

What am I to say in response? “You have a great day too?”

I remembered I had a coin purse in my car that had been there since the coin meters were replaced downtown. Money I could put aside and forget about for years.

“Actually, can you wait a second?” I climbed in my car. “Thank you so much,” she responded.

“Do you know what a loaf of bread costs these days?” Because I don’t. I just throw it in my cart (I think to myself).

“I’m sorry but it’s probably over $2.50 at this store. We just moved here and it hasn’t been working out like I hoped.” She kicks the dirt as I search. “My kids and I are staying with my sister but we’re homeless. I tried Family Partnership but they weren’t that helpful.”

I just spent the morning at the Minnesota Legislature on behalf of parents everywhere. I’ve done this kind of work in committees across health, environment and education over the last decade. Today I observed the House Education Innovation Policy Committee. In this moment it hits me that the whole reason I am at the Capitol is to do what I can to make sure money gets put into the hands of the people that need it most.

I have my opinions on how that money should get allocated: early learning scholarships, career and technical education, smaller class sizes, better assessments of student growth, teacher development, concurrent enrollment, American Indian education, special education, free breakfast, help, hellllllpppp HELP!!!!! It is so incredibly complicated.

And here, I almost missed an opportunity to put money directly into the hand of a parent who needed it.

We chatted a bit. I gave her some ideas. Told her not to give up on Minnesota. We take care of our own here.

At least I want to believe that we do. Most days, the truth is, it seems so hard with such limited resources to get the people the help that they need. Sharing is hard work.

I sometimes wonder why I care so much. Why can’t I quit these kinds of jobs and sell cupcakes?

UnknownWe were watching Star Wars with our kids a few weeks ago when Princess Leia bent down and put the message in R2D2. The Princess. The wise and brave Princess–daughter of a Senator–she would save the world. I loved her. I said to my six year old as we watched together, “I think I’ve always wanted to be Princess Leia.” He looked up at me, “If you are the Princess, I am your clone.”

And when it was over I said to my ten year old, “I’ve been to church, I’ve been to the Capitol, I watch the President on TV, I travel, I search and I wonder, where are the wise people, the great and noble Senate that is trying to save the world? Maybe there isn’t one!” The kid doesn’t skip a beat. “Oh there is, mom, don’t worry. It’s just in a galaxy far far away.”

She turned left to the grocery store with my quarters and we turned right to the bakery. “Oh shoot boys; it’s closed! It wasn’t our turn today.”

In 20 fast steps they catch up to her and give her their $4.00.

Just for a day–the Princess and her clones.

It was so easy.

Boy, 4

IMG_6771 “Mom.”

He coos from his bed, low and emphatic (as ever).

“Mooooom.”

He is stretched out long on his tummy, resting on his elbows, chin in 2 hands. He has slept at the wrong end of his top bunk so that when I enter, his face is 6 inches from mine.

“Its not true what he said. (The neighbor boy). The worwold is not actuwawy going to blow up soon.”

“Have you been worrying about that?”

“Yes.”

“You are so small to have such big worries.”

“Its not actuwawy true. What he said. About the worwold. Blowin’ up.” Chin still in hands.

“No. Its not true. The world will not blow up.”

After a thoughtful suck of his thumb and caress of his collar between his fingers, he is satisfied enough to get up. He rises with vigor.

“Yes! I knew it. Today is my birfday.”

“Tomorrow is your birthday. One more day.”

“Noooo. I’ve been waiting too long so today is my birfday today is my birfday!!!!!”

My concern that he’d been worrying about the world blowing up all night long vanishes. He makes it quite clear that withholding his birthday one. more. day (Mooooom) is much more alarming.

He tries his big brother. “Um, I think its my birfday today?”

“Why do you think that?” asks big brother.

“Because I feel bigger.”

Big brother advises him, “No, when its your birthday, you don’t get bigger until noon.”

That solves that.

Today is the day of his 4-year-old ceremony at preschool. I asked him what he would like to bring the kids.

“Potatoes.”

IMG_6711He puts on his sport coat without provocation. The day before one’s birthday is sport-coat-with-brass-buttons worthy. So is New Year’s Eve pool party, bowling, daycare, and bed. Last time he wore it all day he woke up in it too, discarding it in a pile of clothes to run around naked with his buddies (like a mini frat-boy).

But today, its worn with a cape and a crown. Because he is turning 4 (tomorrow).

Its snowy and below zero and I have an hour between work and a meeting wherein I can make it for the ceremony–its a 25 minute harrowing drive. I consider not attending when my husband says he can go instead, but I have to show up. Not because this little one, my 3rd, expects me to be there. I have to show up because he would not expect me to be there. So I absolutely must prove him wrong.

His babyhood was shorter than his brother’s, partially because he has always had to share me with them. His first year was blissful. “Three is our number,” we said. But then, in three short years, in swept grief and death, disease and crime, change and relocation, and above all, fatigue…

I won’t complain–all of these things happen to everybody–and they only hurt because our life is so good–but we got spent, and our biggest loans were taken out on him. I worry about our attachment.

Though he seems fine. He is sinew, muscles, and heart. He ran his first marathon before he was born (rather, we trained for it before I knew I was running for two).

He carries around heavy objects like coffee tables, sucks his thumb to ruin, snores like an old dog, tears our house apart daily, cracks up strangers regularly, and has friends of all ages.

IMG_6824

Worker-guy birthday party!

He is a “worker guy.” Two days later, he unwraps his birthday present and exclaims, “A box of wood–just what I always wanted!!”

He wakes up most days in the costume he wore to bed, explaining what type of robot he will be for the day. “I-am-a-robot-cat-meow-meow” is the most common.

His preschool teacher has said, “He is so much fun. And he can be so stubborn.”

“Resilient,” I say. But I know.

He’s a softy too. He makes me read aloud his birthday card from Grandma three times, after which he says, “read the xoxox part again–that’s my favorite.” But he might take you out at the knees or head-butt your chin with his “hugs.”

He introduced an inventive game to me recently by saying, “you be the nail and I’ll be the hammer.” Thwop. Game over.

Perhaps my favorite-est ever was the day he came inside from playing with his brothers, looking alarmingly stiff and unable to turn his head. “Mom–I am taped to stick!”

3 over 3 now, and somehow I never go to reading this.

Oops–never got to this.

He skipped tantrums at 2 and 3. Too busy. He’s making up for it now. He also does things for which we cannot prepare. For example, had we seen the potential to stack a high chair on the bench over the hardwood floor and then stand in it–we would have told him that was against household rules. I find spatulas in the oven, computer cords in the washer, dinner plates in the bathtub, winter boots in my bed. Since he started walking at 11 months, we could see he didn’t plan to sit much, ever again. Anyone who knows him, and much to his Grandmothers’ and babysitters’ chagrin, he sports a particularly unique blend of super clumsy and incredibly coordinated.

He ranges so widely and so creatively, I feel like he thinks no one is watching him. And I worry its because, for a significant while, we were not watching him closely enough. Some of his behaviors seem to be a product of early freedoms one is afforded when, for instance, their mom and dad are distracted.

So we are reattaching, and its fun. Our theory is likely entrenched in guilt-based, over-achieving martyrdom with a bit of nostalgia. He may actually just be a free spirit, but it can’t hurt. We cuddle more. We limit more. We talk more. His response? Sudden and impulsive mid-play “I love you’s,” and wild leaps from chairs into monkey-lock hugs: art, stories, hand-holding.

So why not?

I make it to the ceremony. This preschool is so beautiful, warm and creative in its approach, I think of it as a gift we have given our children. When I arrive, he is in his cape and crown (and suit), lighting 4 candles. The teacher is telling the story of when he came to be and the angels picked a family for him. Then his family picked a name for him, and the great Spirit chose a birthday for him. And suddenly, there he was, 8 pounds and 11 ounces of love in his parents’ arms.

He blows out the candles and unwraps his teacher’s handmade gift–a felted wool box with a seashell and a piece of pyrite inside. She explains that its time for him to open up and show the world what’s special about him on the inside.

If he could just do that without the spatula and the dinner plates, that would be great. This time, we will be watching.

IMG_6764Dear boy,

At age 4, you are independent. We wonder if a little less independence might suit you better. Speaking of the suit, you are well-groomed (aside from the yogurt smudges and permanent lip chapping where you suck your thumb). You have always had an uncanny willingness to share. You brought your teacher a present on your birthday. You are bright, creative and industrious. I think you would make a great farmer (preferably organic). You are magnetic. You bring people toward you and keep them near with your fun, sparkle and love. Just watch your elbows–you are stronger than you know. I would like you to play and move and grow and invent. I wish you boredom because I can’t wait to see what you will make of it. I wish you patience for practice because I see you drawn to music. I wish you confidence to share your sense of humor. “Potatoes.” Honestly. I wish you friends as good as I am sure you will be. I wish you adventures because you were clearly in every possible way made for them. Safety first. Please, always ask me to “pickle you up,” and I always will. Happy birthday. I accidentally typed buttday. You would love that. Oh, your laugh. It is music to my ears.

Love, Mom