I will raise white allies

Being “speechless,” though a tempting option, seems wimpy today. I’m afraid to stick my head out from under my awning and into the storm.

Facebook is ripe with “I am a white ally” status updates. Why am I (secretly) judging it? If racism is everywhere, won’t any expression of solidarity help?

I am the mother of three boys that are five generations out from Civil War soldiers who fought to end slavery, four generations after World War II soldiers who fought against the Nazis, and two generations past Civil Rights Movement protestors. Generations of bloodshed.

Yet today, I’m watching Lesley McSpadden weep for the lack of justice shown to her son. And not only that, for the fear it sounds like she lived with for years that this very thing would happen to her son.

And here I am, standing under my awning, irritated, and trying to make sense of myself.

I can repost the news reports and editorials. I will attend a meeting on the Cradle to Prison Pipeline. I don’t mind calling my Congressperson. I can go to more workshops on Race. Protest. I can give money, vote for black leaders, get behind the right Legislation, stand in the street and raise my arms up, criticize the news and expand my media outlets. That is easy —  in fact, its trending among pro athletes and rock stars and editorialists and politicians and bloggers.

So what the hell is bothering me?

We will watch this trend die too, just like the generations of slaves and soldiers and black boys with Doritos in their pockets and frightening looks on their faces.

We talk about black people living up to their stereotypes and how they should change that. We don’t talk much about how white men are living up to their reputations of killing unarmed black boys, and how they should probably change that. Until someone dies. Or burns down a mall. Then its all over Facebook.

We’ve tried War, protest, movement and law: big, broad and bloody gestures at change that appear to take steps forward while incessantly falling backward. Instead, we begrudgingly progress over the generations, evolving at the molecular level. So I find myself irritated by our minuscule attempts at change today that will quietly go away when the stars move on.

Then again…racism and protest and anger and rage and disgust are trending today.

And, let’s face it, the broad and obvious steps have not delivered on change.

Perhaps taking the tiny step of posting about how we feel about it on Facebook is a catalyst for change at the molecular level: where change has always been occurring, though depressingly invisible to the naked eye. Isn’t this also where racism is stuck? Under the flesh? In the cells? In the places we can’t see except under the microscope, of say, a murder trial?

Perhaps if we can change ourselves molecule by molecule, we will evolve as a Family.

Once I saw a young, new teacher call out a black child in my son’s class for the exact same behavior my white child had just exhibited. She saw them both act. She chose one child to punish. I don’t know if it was racism that drove her, but probably, neither did she. I ignored it.

When my child brought home happy stories of Martin Luther King and said, “We’re celebrating because the dream he had came true,” I applauded his learning.

When the black college student said at my conference insisted, “as a white organization, partnering with black organizations does not increase your diversity–its racist,” I didn’t ask questions.

I can ally better. I can ask “Why?” “What about now?” And, “Then what do we do?” And I will keep doing it when the stars go back to rocking out, and the microscopes are turned off.

As a mother raising 3 boys, I need a reason to keep my head out from under my awning (its white), step into the storm and risk saying the wrong things. Be honest; we of white privilege need to find our reasons from within. Here is mine:

flagMy three boy’s lives were once threatened by an assailant that was never identified. For about a year, I lived in fear. Weeks of relocation, months of self-defense classes, years of therapy, private investigators, forensic psychologists, alarm systems, supportive neighbors, sheltering friends, a gun in our closet and an escape route planned, we started to feel better. I still wake up every morning afraid and have to remind myself we are ok. Our health changed. Our family changed. Everything changed. I do not remember most of the two years afterward. I imagine living like that everyday of my life, and at the same time fearing the very force weaponized to protect us, and I cannot call that LIFE. I would be angry. I would have a frightening look on my face. I would teach my children to run from police. I would pass down my anger.

If this is all we can offer the mothers of black boys, we are still at War, with unarmed soldiers, and a powerful resistance.

I will raise white allies.

A one-marshmallow world

“Stanford researchers see trouble ahead for kindergarten students with low self-regulation unless parents and teachers help.”

Summary: The basis of this article is new research surrounding the Stanford marshmallow experiment. As Sanders writes, “young children were offered one small marshmallow now, or two marshmallows in 15 minutes if they could resist eating the first one. Children with low self-regulation ate the first marshmallow. In follow-up studies these youngsters tended to grow up to be teenagers with lower SAT scores, higher body mass indexes and higher rates of drug abuse.”

Sanders goes on to explain that this study demonstrated first grade academic success is partially dependent upon “high self-regulation,” and “a low-conflict relationship between student and teacher.” The good news is that research from the University of California, San Francisco (http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/documents/Portilla-ObradovicANGxp1.pdf) shows that supportive classroom management and parent engagement can improve outcomes for kids who enter kindergarten with low self-regulation.

photo-4The scientist in me had to look deeply into the validity of the marshmallow experiment and this follow up, but it is indisputable: the study design was decent. “Low regulation” was determined in the secondary study by teacher and parent questionnaires rather than an oversimplified marshmallow test. I appreciate this. I also appreciate the findings: good parenting and good teaching can help kids who are not as emotionally ready for kindergarten to catch up before first grade. My discomfort doesn’t even lie with the fact that a good deal of money and time was spent proving what most of us assume logical. In fact, there is value in identifying factors that lead to school failure. But herein lies the rub.

This study rials me up for the same reason it bothers me that kindergarten no longer prepares kids for grade school. Kindergarten is the new first grade; ask any kindergarten teacher who has been in the business for 30 years. We now demand things of kindergartners that are not necessarily developmentally appropriate for all 5 and 6 years olds. For those who are not “ready,” we often point to their lack of pre-schooling or parenting instead of their lack of time out of the womb. I believe play serves a purpose longer than we give it run in the U.S., whether kids are at home or in daycare. I think creativity and art and time to think without letters and numbers and the constraints of a classroom environment, with abundant recess and songs and perhaps some digging, painting and moving, fosters better thinkers, learners, workers and citizens for today’s world. In fact, research also supports playtime. I wish for children that kindergarten still focused on organizing play and regulating behavior in preparation for first grade.

I think some kindergartners should want to snatch marshmallows and shouldn’t give a crap about the future. I think little ones should be praised for acting on their impulses and being in the present moment. Who decided wanting more is smarter? Perhaps one of many roots of the problem in education today is what is haled as THE SOLUTION in this study. Rather than kindergarten teachers receiving training to identify low self-regulation for targeted nurturing, I wish kindergarten teachers were trained to value low-self regulation because it is developmentally appropriate, embracing kids acting like kids and their wonderful present-mindedness and impulsivity.

What kind of culture shift would we create if kindergarten teachers felt able to be genuinely DELIGHTED by disregulation? I am not suggesting we allow children to act like monsters. My own children have manners they sometimes exercise and we manage their mood swings and choices. I am suggesting that if schools went one step further and actually accepted low self-regulation as developmentally appropriate, rather than encouraging “low” students to be more like the highly self-regulated kids currently destined to achieve, perhaps things would improve for everyone. Perhaps education equity would begin. Perhaps the achievement gap would start to close. Not because we caught them up, but because we saw the value in their childishness.

I am suggesting that perhaps the reason the less self-regulated children in kindergarten end up with lower SAT scores, higher body mass indexes and higher rates of drug abuse is actually because, from the moment they entered a school, the pressure to have children succeed on tests demonstrated to them that they were less-regulated, and therefore less prepared, and therefore less able, and therefore less destined to succeed than the kids who could wait for two marshmallows. I am suggesting there might be something intrinsically valuable about the kids who took one marshmallow: perhaps those kids just wanted one damn marshmallow from the beginning. But as soon as they reached for it, someone judged them. Perhaps the low SAT-scoring kids, and the fat kids, and the addicts were actually destined to be the leaders, and the innovators, and the feelers, until they were asked to be different, implying, that they weren’t enough from the beginning.

As a teacher, a camp counselor, an outward bound leader, a health educator and having spent most of my career with so-called “at risk” kids, I want to live in the world that THEY create. What I hope for my children and for the future of my world is that teachers across the country feel free to turn to the one-marchmallow kids and say, “you have just as much potential.” And NOT “you have as much potential as those other kids if you change, and soon.” But, “you have just as much potential, perhaps more, just as you are. Look over here kids, we have a leader among us.”

Butter Alone

I am sleep deprived. Three kids with coughs are taking turns in steamy showers, propped up on pillows. Cool air for the croupy one, a nebulizer for the wheezy one and snuggling for the dramatic one.

I am somewhat happy to comply, so long it’s shared with a domesticated husband and a cooperative dog (she keeps the foot of the bed warm when I get up to help). I am accustomed to working nights in this job.

My trouble isn’t the kids. It’s mom’s heart and dad’s memory that make sleep elude me once I am awake. Heart and memory and relocation, pain and loss and depression. The vultures flying around what they have left—the Vet benefits that I can only hope come through before the death certificate. The elder care attorney, the total lack of Alzheimer’s care, the heart valve clinical trial consent form. The appointments. The medications. The forms. The health care system that doesn’t seem to understand age or disability, of all things!

Art by Helen Boggess

Art by Helen Boggess

My brain colluded with my uterus the minute I was pregnant and still marches onward full of love, most days (and nights). But I didn’t see my healthy, strong youthful parents’ infirmity coming out of left field until it struck me sideways. They were still my best babysitters up until the day of my mom’s stroke. Though she recovered, her heart and her husband will not.

In the morning I set to writing over a bowl of soup and a delicious roll at the coffee shop that’s quieter than my house. I peel gold foil from a pad of butter and stop before spreading it. “Wait,” I think. Dad we are trying to fatten up: he eats two. Mom can’t take the cholesterol; she gets ½ a pad. Child one is vegetarian; does not apply. Child three hates butter; DO NOT APPLY TO ROLL WITHOUT INSANE CONSEQUENCES. But I may eat one pad of butter.

I spread it on the bread, dip it in the soup, and finish every yummy bit.

Then I remember. It wasn’t the butter at all. Today I was going to eliminate carbs.

Mindful Mess

IMG_0022_3Last night I learned that all the people of the world were going to die soon. Shortly after, a small fluid-filled vesicle appeared on my knuckle, signifying my vulnerability. I knew, when I went to sleep that night, I would die. I told one person, and she frantically set about planning my escape from death in a subplot of my dream. So I did not tell anyone else–I lived a day with the secret of knowing it would be my last. I felt peaceful. Weird dream.

Last week we made our yearly trek with our three boys and grandma and grandpa to our favorite YMCA family camp. Year after year it’s worth every minute of backseat fighting, carseat wetting and marriage-questioning-packing-rage. The people, the wilderness, the sauna, the campfires, the togetherness; all quintessential “vacation.” I should mention they take the children off our hands for three hours a day and return them happy and instilled with self-confidence and values–how great is that?

IMG_5760We’ve never before gone this late in the summer, and the northwoods fauna was acting strangely. Twice, little red squirrels crossed my path closer than I have ever witnessed. A chipmunk squatted in a ring of children and stuffed his cheeks with seeds. Loons danced with each other in circles on the lake. Dragon flies sped into our faces like bugs to a windshield. Even the moss appeared psychedelically green. Like the subplot in my dream, all living things were frantically preparing their escapes from portending death. Before the doom of winter, they exhibited the fiery flush of survival. 

And one creature went first; a virile Maple sapling. Before the daytime temperatures dropped, the creek water dried, the Arctic winds blew, and the geese gathered in flocks, she turned red. I looked at her, alone in her Autumn, and wondered what made her different than the other trees. Was it bravery? Enthusiasm? Was she anxious, like the crazed animals, to prepare for months of dormancy? The only thing distinguishing her from the other trees was her particular microclimate; the angle of the sun, the exposure to air and her particular access to groundwater. IMG_0027_5

Sometimes we act on our own lives; enter, rodent swiftly gathering nuts. And sometimes, the forces acting on us demand adaptation. Red, rising in our veins. And fluid, shunting to our core. In my dream, I was not going to survive. No one was going to survive. But I didn’t wake up with my heart racing; I felt relief.

Because I cannot survive another season of gathering nuts. I have become squirrel-in-Autumn; rushing important perilous crossroads, ignoring children gathering curiously about me, biting blindly at threats to my existence, heart racing. Its time to let that life die and be the little red tree, whose supportive microclimate helps her survive the changing of seasons.

Blahdy blah blah blah. I love this idea. I also love the idea of my house being clean, my children being polite and my career path being linear. We are so often bombarded with beautiful, lofty ideals we fall short of achieving.

IMG_0008_6After vacation, we visited with the therapist who is helping us cope with my dad’s Alzheimer’s. He recommended that my mom take a “Mindfulness” class. She wrote in her planner; “Mindful Mess.” She told me her local library had a class on “Mindful Mess.” She suggested I also consider a “Mindful Mess” class. I corrected, and corrected, and corrected her, until we giggled. And only then did I understand her genius. Somewhere in her subconscious, my mom invented something we all can achieve: “Mindful Mess.”

Ice Cream 0006_9This I can do!! Doesn’t it just give you HOPE? Its all the mindfulness you can muster, with a hint of reality and a dash of forgiveness. Its understanding that I can’t always change my messy microclimate, but I can adapt to it. Its acknowledging that seasons affect us and consistency will be rare. “Mindful mess” is the sweet spot between frantic red squirrel and glorious red tree. We know this place deep in our roots; its all the fun of finger painting and none of the restraint of the canvas. Survival, after all, is a messy and artful thing.

Supreme Court’s Decision Shifts Costs on Behalf of Hobby Lobby

Photo on 11-24-13 at 1.26 PMI love babies. I believe in God. I also agree somewhat that one should be prepared to accept or not accept the ethics of their workplace. But focusing on that today is like burning an ant with a magnifying glass to remove an anthill.

What concerns me, among many people, is the precedent the Hobby Lobby decision sets. Unemployment is at an all-time high, as are health care expenses. Childbirth is one of the most costly undertakings of our health care system. Most unplanned or unwanted pregnancies, statistics show, are paid for by the state in which it occurs. Studies show women are more likely to succeed with their birth control if they have options. Do we really want families limited in their employment opportunities by their desire to maintain sexual intimacy without giving birth? That’s the trend the Supreme Court engaged with this decision; women limited in their job searches by their desire to use birth control (specifically; the most reliable type and quite possibly all types).

Considering most of the people these corporations employ are paid minimum wage, these families will lean on federally qualified health care clinics for birth control because the Feds do not make these health care decisions ON BEHALF of families. The Feds and state governments have generally left these decisions to individuals and families. Abstinence is actually the most ineffective method of birth control available because it often fails 😉 as does natural family planning. God’s will or not, the having of many babies is expensive. We have to think, do we really believe corporations should be able to shift health care costs to the state and federal government because of their religious beliefs?

A Poem for Gwen on Mother’s Day – 1981, by Doug Hedlund

scan0011

I.

“Next year will be better,” –it was that kind of year.

You took what we offered, and made do.

Not always with cheer–not that kind of year.

II.

You still look tallish, fresh and pretty

Not many women look good in “pretty” anymore–

but you do.

Like a blue and yellow flower. We need flowers this kind of year.

III.

You still sound good in the morning, telling me

not to be discouraged

(But that’s what mothers do for children!)

Oh well, it was that kind of year–mornings;

even evenings.

IV.

Next year will–is already–better.

Because we found out who we needed and

who disappoints us the most and that

they are the same person.

And that’s why now is better–we

are still here together, knowing things

like that.

V.

Mother’s Day always confused me

(even more than Father’s Day

embarrassed me)

But now I think I understand it better.

You’re my wife showing me how to

be strong, and caring for our children

No matter what kind of morning

evening

or

year.

best ma pa

IMG_2241

The Stinson 100 Yard Dash

IMG_5212We are not creatures of habit. Addiction is not our black dog. I have tried registration, dedication, resolution. I have calendars, reminders, i-minders, apps. But our patterns get interrupted; our plans change. I have been meaning to go to Zumba at the Y on Tuesdays for two years. I can get  my kids to school everyday, but we will play hooky on the nicest blue bird day in winter and the first day we can show our skin in spring. We are responsible. We take care of our things and our people and no one goes hungry. We keep commitments. But I will never succeed at a weekly exercise plan. I will never take vitamins on a daily regimen. I am not wired for consistency. Its time to stop naming my lack of patterns my big failure and succeed at being me.

Yet I am a tradition junky. I must exist on a seasonal calendar; less axis and more orbit. My husband once laid out coconuts in a solar system pattern for me on a beach to help me understand planetary science, which evades me. I get the ellipsis around the sun. The spinning at the same time makes my brain hurt. It won’t sink in. It conquers me. I have to watch this once a year www.youtube.com/watch?v=eV4nk9or9SE for review. I will take my trip around the sun; but I am in total denial of rotation on a axis. We take the train to Red Wing to see Santa every Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve has been at mom and dad’s house for 25 years. President’s Day we spend with friends in the woods. In August, we camp. Etc. Etc. Etc. I am a creature of exclusively and obsessively yearly habits. But “bedtime” for instance, is an ongoing struggle.

I have wanted this to be different my whole life; to get up at 6, meditate for 15, jog for 30, shower, drink a glass of water, eat a piece of fruit to start the day “right” and greet my children with a smile at 7-to-the-second a.m. I think it was twenty years ago now I set the still unmet goal of doing sit ups every morning. I have also always wanted one of the jobs depicted in the “occupation cards” hung on grade school walls where each professional dons a different uniform; doctor, teacher, engineer. I wanted to be an X, do my Y and come home to my Z. But, it has not worked for me. I don’t do “regular” and I have judged myself for it far too long.

When I was 25 I called my mom, upset, because I was done with my teaching internship and didn’t know what was next. More teaching? But then how do I save the rain forest? And what if I want to be a Judge someday? What about writing? Or nursing? She said, “Sometimes I think you’d be happier if you chose one thing and stuck with it, no matter what it is.” I filled a journal and called a week later with my plan. “Mom; you were right. I am going to take six months and just: rock climb.” Not what she had in mind. I made it through Moab, Mount Lemon and Joshua Tree; six weeks. I couldn’t even commit to being a dirt bag.

After that escapade and a subsequent volunteer-year across South America, I moved to Montana with a backpack of earthly belongings and taught for two years (in a row!) I left Montana five years later with a truck, trailer, dog, husband and acceptance papers for a Master’s program in Maternal and Child Health. I worked as a clinical health educator for four years; then I had a baby and went part-time, I had another baby and became a consultant, I had third baby and quit. The slope was slippery from the start. Now I have been at home for five years. I have vacillated from totally committed and blissful, to rabid job-seeking for a ticket out of hell. When I left my career I felt at the top of my game; respected, on my way up. I had no idea how difficult it would be to weasel my way back into the working world. I now have a part-time job that I love, hired by parents that saw the value in my previous work and my time spent at home. And I write, because it keeps my brain buoyed above water-level in the vast and unknown sea of parenting.

Part-time work, writing, taking care of aging parents, volunteering on boards and being there for my kids have kept me breathlessly busy. Yet, I have trouble valuing myself and what I am offering the world. “Writing/working/advocating Mom” is not on occupation cards throughout grade schools. I have not had a supervisor saying, “you are succeeding, you are doing this ‘right,’ you are awesome.” A big, discouraging part of me still thinks I should be doing X, Y and Z.

Today, however, a neighbor on my street reminded me of who I am.

Every day, he says, he stands with his coffee in his doorway at 8am and spectates the “Stinson 100 Yard Dash.” The school bus arrives a straight-shot block from our house at 8:07. Rare days we all saunter together with the puppy and coffee mugs, but most days we race with various tactics intended to promote speed. Apparently the three-boys-to-one parent days are the most fun to watch. Everyday we wear different jackets and hats and mittens, like we can’t quite commit to our team colors. Sometimes the little one is just wrapped in a blanket. Jason and I range from p.j.’s to suitable workplace attire. Collectively, we wipe out on ice, we get wrapped in the leash, we bark various orders; we drop, run, skip, spit, laugh, cry, bleed, but we arrive. Apparently we also totally entertain our neighbors.

This is us. This is me. I don’t want to fight it anymore. The Stinson 100 Yard Dash is as close as we get to gently spinning on the axis. It’s no wonder parenting and writing are the jobs I’ve wanted to keep the longest. I love change; I enjoy managing chaos. I love writing because I get to create something new everyday. I like my job because I am helping to ensure that change happens. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not satisfied. I want to publish more and work more and exercise more and spend more time with my kids–but I have to do it my own way, and it will not likely ever involved sit-ups and a piece of fruit every morning. As I evolve from my role as a pro mom into whatever is next, I want a career like parenting that puts new expectations on me everyday. No more X,Y, Z. I am better in orbit.

…shock and awe have been as integral to our days as sleep and hugs.

IMG_1479My 3 boys all had the same first word; “uh oh.” This says a lot about us.  Soon after, the two oldest acquired, “what the?”  I distinctly remember my now-nine-year-old saying it for the first time at age three as we wandered upon a slimy dead fish on a walking path quite far from water. My five-year-old has been saying “whad da huck?” since age two. Perhaps we are less colletively shocked by life these days, however, because my youngest son’s utterance of the phrase is still pending at three. I find it rolls off my oldest boys’ tongues as easily as “no nap” and “hold me,” I assume because shock and awe have been as integral to our days as sleep and hugs. Daily, I am wonderstruck by the strange things I am forced to do in the care of my children.

Sometimes its messy:

photo-22This is a cup in a shower surrounded by toys.  As all wise mother’s do upon locating mysterious substances near places previously occupied by children, I sniffed it. Pee. It’s a cup of pee.  The funnel was also implicated.

My oldest also once helped his bestie construct a waterfall down a carpeted staircase. My youngest once emptied a gallon of green paint on the kitchen table while I searched for a tool to open it.

These incidents pale in comparison to the time I was presented a rhythm stick while eating dinner with friends. Immediately apparent, the stick had been stuck into poop and withdrawn. We were not picnicking on a lawn or some other such forgivable location, nor were we with company good for poop on a stick at the dinner table. What ensued was a long search for the origin of said poop, never to be found. We call it “the poop stick incident.”

Sometimes it’s dangerous:

When our middle son, Wilder, was 12 months old, I came downstairs in the morning to a naked baby standing on the counter rifling through medicine bottles. He didn’t know how to walk, much less climb. He had never before exited his crib independently, nor removed his diaper. He had had an inspired morning. My youngest, Wes, bested him at eighteen months by forcing us to replace our three foot fence with a six footer because of his escape artistry. And then there was the fire he once started in the rice cooker as I stood two feet away from him, frying tilapia.

Impossible:

One day of summer “vacation,” before 9am, my boys showed me a movie they had made on my phone while I changed Wes’s diaper; a spectacular vantage of their bottoms, followed by full frontal nudity.  While we were discussing why we call private parts “private,” Wes flooded the bathroom, “washed” the kitchen sink with a toilet brush, and threw a plate on the floor with such force it set off the house alarm.

Embarrassing:

My youngest does not say “truck” politely. He once pointed to a truck in the window of the library and ran screaming his lewd version clear to the opposite side.  I was 2% horrified, 98% entertained by the mixed responses of librarians, parents, elders and teenagers. But it gets better/worse. A naughty neighbor recently goaded him, “say truck,” over and over. I did not squelch it soon enough. Next thing I know my little man is transferring his lesson to the five-year-old’s two-year-old little brother. Their conversation went like this: “Say “f*#!,” “F*#!, louder and louder until I regained my capacity to parent.

Funny;

Wilder and I took a special trip to the mall one day when he was three; just us. At the time, he had had very limited experience with mannequins and cousins. I opened the door to Nordstroms, he walked in, threw his arms around the well-groomed men’s department mannequins and exclaimed, “oh, my cousins. I’ve been looking for you for so long!”

wilderstash

By age four, he was excelling at the comedic role of straight-man; our own mini Jason Bateman. For instance, while reading through a new stack of library books, my oldest, Tennyson, bragged, “I am reading in my head.” Wilder responded, deadpan, “I am reading in my elbow.” This same kid replied to a guy on the chairlift who queried of Wilder’s age, “I’m turning 40. I’m gonna have a weally big party.”

I can’t always keep up:

We chose to inform our oldest, then five, he was going to be a big brother (again) before we planned how we would explain this phenomenon to our eighteen-month old. As soon as we finished the phrase “we are having a baby,” he had located his brother and explained, “mama has a baby factory inside her.  That’s where she made you and she made me. Now she’s making another baby. The baby factory is called her uterus.” Then he jumped on his bike, raised his first, and exclaimed, “To the uterus, and beyond!”

And these: I didn’t know our oldest could draw shapes until he whipped up a highly detailed war ship. I did not know our middle kid could count to ten until I overheard him count to 100.  I did not know our youngest knew about letters until he sang me the ABC’s. Upon my third son turning four, I had still not finished the book, “Your Three Year Old.”

At times, they are wise beyond their years:

I recently sat in tears, writing my wonderful uncle’s eulogy. My tender eldest son rested his little hand on my typing fingers, gently smiling with a vulnerable heart and saying quite perfectly, absolutely nothing.

BobandGeboA week later our five-year-old drew this picture.  He said, “It’s Uncle Bob throwing a ball to Gebo in Heaven’s House.” When he gave it to me, Tennyson said, “Mom, don’t hold back your tears.”

On a totally different note, when Wilder triumphantly exclaimed one day, “I am the King of all Pagina!!” his thoughtful big brother retorted, “You can’t walk into a castle or the White House and just say that. You have to wear really shiny leather shoes, comb your hair, and bring a nice gift. Then they might believe you.”

They are quite emotional:

I did not know little kids had such big feelings until I lived with them. These creatures’ elbows barely reach their earlobes when raised overhead. Resting atop their shrimpy bodies are immense heads powered by adult-sized frustration, grief, will and glee. My cousin once told me a story of when her three-year-old daughter had a breakdown, crying “I want, I want, I want…” Moments like this, I’ve come to find, are generally not about the object of desire–it’s about learning to get what you want.

For example, I was recently informed that  if I did not comply with my son’s wishes, “your hair will fall out and your clothes won’t fit and you will grow a penis. Seriously.” He had found my weak spots and wasted no time using them against me!

It’s always an internal endeavor:

After 10 years of parenthood I no longer crave sleep.  I have adjusted to a simpler vocabulary, lower level of articulation, lack of alertness and wavering faith that rest will come. My standards are lower. I buy patterned shirts because you can’t see the kid-snot on my shoulders. I exercise when it’s feasible. I live with the fact I may have microbes of poop on my sleeves. Speaking of poop (again, and again, and again) I interact with it, discuss it, think about it, more than I ever thought tolerable. I do not know what to do with myself when my arms are empty. I have stopped keeping lists because they generally just make me feel bad about myself. I find I am happier if I count on the important things to rising up inside of me and the others not truly being important. Shockingly, this system rarely fails! I do keep a calendar, on which the days click by faster everyday.

“Notice the details,” my dad always says, “and time will slow down.” Beyond the calamity and hilarity, when time does slow down and I am in the moment, the biggest surprise of all is that I still have reserves. I had no idea what I was capable of feeling, accomplishing, tolerating, negotiating, surviving, and creating before my children arrived.

Occasionally, there will be victories;

racemom

I participated in a ski race this morning.  My children sent me on my way, saying, “I hope you win!” I am not a winner of races. I was humbled and winded when I reached the final stretch and saw them perched on a hay bale, their beautiful faces smiling and cow bells ringing. As I raced toward the glowing display of love and support, the thought rose inside of me, “Criminy, Wes is supposed to be at a birthday party!” But I charged on, as parents do, and was greeted at the end with ebullient hugs and exclamations, “you have a medal mama! You won, mama!!!” Someday I will tell them about finishers’ medals. But today, I’m happy to be a winner in their eyes.

Response to Matt Walsh on Sex Ed

photo-18I have been a fan of yours for awhile, Matt Walsh; a big fan.  Before becoming a full-time stay at home parent I was a health educator in the public schools.  I wish I thought your perceptions of comprehensive sex education were accurate, but I respectfully do not.  I would like to believe that parents who are incapable of teaching their children healthy, universal lessons about human sexuality are an “aberration,” but research shows we have not yet evolved to that level of competence as a society.  Since your arguments are not actually based in research or evidence, allow me to speak from the heart as you do.  In my experience, and I know that you are speaking from your experience, I believe comprehensive sex education in schools saves/improves/protects lives.  This is what I have witnessed:  1) Human sexuality is a part of biological science, which is taught in schools.  We do not restrict information about other sciences based upon the cultural beliefs of students.  We give them the facts.  2) What we teach in schools does not restrict what parents can teach kids at home.  If they are capable, loving parents, lessons from home will be primary, not secondary, to lessons learned at school.  3) You suggest we have a case of parentphobia.  Please consider whether you have a case of teacherphobia.  Health educators are professionals, and “most of them are…capable.  Most [teachers] love their [students].  Most [teachers] would do anything for their [students]. Most [teachers] know what’s best for their [classrooms].”  Teachers aren’t the government…I encourage you to have a little faith in them.  In fact, perhaps you still have some things to learn from teachers that will help you navigate the parenting “minefield” of which you speak.  Sometimes we need expert guidance from people who are trained professionals.   4)  One of our biggest failures as a society is our tendency to trust our assertion that “I can look around me” and see everything that’s going on out there. We need to doubt our beliefs about “most of us” because that is usually biased by what we see.  When we make decisions about the needs of our society as a whole, we have to remember, respectfully, that “most of us” don’t interact daily with a representative sample of the population.  Matt, we need to doubt ourselves every time we use the phrase “most of us.”  Herein lies the intended and constructive purpose of statistics; science and research that can help us make decisions about what kids as a population need.  “Most” researchers are good, smart people that have the very best for young people at heart.  As parents, we cringe at the idea of our kids rendered to numbers, but these numbers have the ability to remove our blinders when all we can see is what is around us.  The evidence, in this case, suggests that comprehensive sex education in schools has reduced the rate of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  As a health educator, I can tell you that everyday I had that job, I went home feeling like I improved the outcome of someone’s life that day.  As a citizen, when I send my kids to public school I choose to be willing to have my children educated in such a way that is best for the common good.  And as a parent, I welcome the challenge to teach my kids what I want them to know about their sexuality in the context of what they learn in school, on the playground, and in conversation with other kids and adults.  I encourage you to broaden your view, doubt your assertions, and then tell us all what you think is best for our children.  Here are some resources:

A Change of Pants….

IMG_2616We woke up at our friend’s cozy cabin in Ely, Minnesota to -35 degrees outside. My nearly 3-year-old extracted himself from the warm space between his dad and I to express, “I am just a big boy. You are a big gorl. You are HUGE,” then disappeared under five layers of blankets, pillows, and brothers. I got up and wrapped my body in animal, plant and petroleum products; wool, feathers, leather, silk, rubber, polyester and vaseline. I am huge. I step outside into the crystalized, silent cold. Squeak, squeak; very cold snow is loud under foot and too frozen for footprints. My eye lashes freeze together. Half my breath catches in my throat; the part that makes it out freezes on contact with my scarf. I am in my element.

This act of exposure suggests a hearty commitment to my continued, or rather, reinvigorated practice of daily outdoor meditation. November was amazing. I gave up on December at 3 or 4 days in. The contrast in my state of mind between December and November has me clawing my way back. January 1, 2014, seemed a poetic day to begin again. Going outside today, January 5, is not the extraordinary effort it appears. I love the vice-grip of negative temperatures under dazzling blue skies. Light fractures off every crystal of snow like a zillion tiny disco balls. The humbling cold squeezes my head thoughtless. It takes skill to be out in cold like this, and I love the challenge.

IMG_0001_3I can’t sit; my toes won’t make it through 15 minutes of inactivity. I watch for animal tracks in the fresh snow and in contrast to the balmy 15 degree morning yesterday, I see none. Not one snowshoe hare, squirrel, mouse, pine martin, deer. None. It’s time to stay covered, hidden, warm. I am gloriously alone; a spectacle for smarter bunnies as I squeak, steam, and grin down the road. The northern winter’s temperature, wind, snow, ice and glare; none of it is gentle upon its inhabitants. But with enough preparation, protection, togetherness and patience, it is a more peaceful, beautiful, serene and affirming habitat than I have known from Chile to the Yukon.

At dinner on New Year’s Day I told my kids that a friend recently asked me to describe each of them in one word. I chose, from oldest to youngest: inventive, creative, and delightful. Tenny decided each boy should do the same for me. From youngest to oldest, I was: poopy pants, author and busy. “Poopy pants” I accepted from the youngest of 3 boys. As to be expected. “Author” made me feel good, though it’s a stretch. Other than grad school research, newsletters, birthday cards, my journal, some op eds, and this blog, I have never published anything. Apparently I now have a goal for 2014, presented to me by my precocious and puzzling middle child. “Busy,” for all of its accuracy, however, made me very sad. I know that little look. I know his inner wisdom. I know he found his moment to say what he needed to say.

This year has been nuts, and being with my children has not been enough of what made it busy and challenging. I already see the climate of the coming year and it looks a lot like January. I have three aging loved ones. My Uncle will leave us much too soon and it already hurts. My parents will need more support than ever and I already feel at capacity. I’m attempting to return to work and apparently, to publish something. THEN there are these very important boys. Their paperwork alone makes me manic. Add in some potty training and glimmers of puberty and I am what my children see. Most of friends would say the same of themselves; we wear huge, busy pants.

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I recently asked my dad, a psychiatrist, how to slow down time and feel less busy. He said in 40 years of practice, he’s only seen one thing that appeared to work, and it wasn’t eliminating obligations, or balancing schedules, saying “no” more, or working less. He simply said, “notice more details in your everyday life.”

I cannot change the climate of the year to come. Like so many of you, I long for more ease in 2014. The fact is that every year, no matter where you live, there will be a January, a deep freeze, a record low. But in the love of winter there is also a lesson about endurance if we have the skills, support and protection to survive, or better yet, enjoy it. It’s hard and it’s beautiful. It’s audacious and it’s exquisite. It’s challenging and it’s invigorating. Step outside in the woods and you will hear…nothing. You will need layers and tea and baths and snuggles. Neighbors will shovel each others’ walks. Friends will bring soup. Strangers will assist each other over snowbanks. Someone will give their mailman a gift card for hot coffee. Snowmen will dot the tundra. The beautiful details of a long, cold winter are infinite.

I want a better word to describe me in 2014. Ideally my word would reflect, like a zillion snow crystals, the light that is essential to get us through the darkest days. But I would take something more mundane, like “warm.” IMG_0078In the middle of January, I can wrap my kids up in all that earth offers. If I carefully eliminate thermal aperture at wrists, ankles, and earlobes, they will make snow angels. They will sled gleefully. We can toss a cup of boiling water to the sky, freeze an egg in snow and watch our spit freeze midair. And for heaven’s sake, there will be a thaw; a day that everything drips and we expose our collective skin again. I can show them we will also have: Spring.