Fail well, little one

imageToday my second child went off to kindergarten. He wore the blue plaid “kindergarten shirt” his big brother wore on his first day. When he boarded the bus and sat down, the window revealed only a blond tuft and his little waving fingers. My husband said “he looks so small” and his voice broke, eyes wet, he giggled self-consciously and had a little cry. This day did not sneak up on me the way it did my husband. I have been home with him full time for five years. I feel like I have given him all a mom can provide in these early years before school starts. That feels good. He is ready and I am ready. I admit, I am excited to have a little more help fostering and molding this guy’s life.

I did the follow-the-bus-to-school thing and when I met him there, he got off the bus with his big brother’s arm around him and did not acknowledge my presence. When Tenny went his own way, he peeked behind his shoulder to make sure I followed. I brought him to his hallway, took pictures and helped him find his locker. We met his teacher, put on his name tag, practiced his lunch number and found his miniature table. When his eyes were no longer glossy I said, “can I give you a hug?” “No.” “Kiss?” “No.” “Pat on the back?” “No.” “Can you squeeze my hand?” Big, tight squeeze under the table. I had my teary moment.

imageAll week we have been talking about kindergarten and his only concern has been “what happens when you get sent to the Principal’s office?” I am not sure how he even discovered this concept. Arthur, PBS’s biggest nincompoop? A poor, hastily selected movie? Big brother? But I have said over and over again, “you won’t.” I have said, “you are a good boy,” which is only a small stretch of the truth. But last night as I snuggled him to sleep he brought it up again, so I took a new approach. I told him “I expect you to make mistakes in kindergarten. We all make mistakes when we are learning.” He turned his head toward me, which this independent, non-auditory learner rarely does. “Kindergarten is for learning how to learn. Learning means trying and if you try really hard, you will fail sometimes. If you make a mistake and get sent to the Principal’s office, he will be stern but kind and help you to understand how to do better next time. You will learn something if you fail well.” He responded, “Faiw wewl?” “You got it, buddy. Fail well.”

When I got home I filled out the kindergarten paperwork. Plink, plink, plink. Tears on page as I filled in the blank “what do you hope your child will learn in kindergarten?” I hope he learns to love learning. I hope he learns that he is a very capable being. I hope he discovers his own awesomeness. But most of all, I hope he learns to try, fail, and keep going. Right now he has try, fail, and fall-apart-in-glorious-splendor down. But it’s time for something new; something sustainable. Which means, it’s time for me to let him go. Let’s face it; he will probably reserve fall-apart-in-glorious-splendor for his dad and I for years to come. And that’s why it’s time for me to squeeze his hand under the table, tell myself I have prepared him well, walk out of his kindergarten room, call my mom, and fall apart in glorious splendor.

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Madame Conductor

By 9am tophoto-1day, Sunday, my husband had spent 3 hours at work.  By 5pm he had spent 4 hours at work, parented 3 kids, rebuilt our fence and built a sandbox.  Within 4 hours today our amazing babysitter had prepared a healthy lunch, made cookies and inked block prints with all 3 of our kids.  By 10pm tonight my oldest had been an angel for said sitter, learned to wash dishes, solved our ant problem, put his brother down for a nap, helped the other little brother with his Legos, watered for the neighbors, swept up sawdust and attended the Murder Mystery Night at the Lake Harriet trolley.  And, by the time he fell into bed, Wesley had helped our neighbor fertilize 11 rose bushes, watered her gardens, weeded her flower beds, rode his trike around the block, cleaned up tools, unloaded a wheelbarrow of scrap lumber, helped build a fence, learned to block print, made cookies, “mowed” the lawn and consumed many pounds of food.  Wilder learned to block print, made cookies, finished a Lego train, watered for the neighbors, took a 2 hour nap, took care of our dog, road his bike around the block 8 times, and invented a laundry shoot pulley system for elevating items to the 2nd floor with his big brother.  The bathwater was opaque.  The floors were gritty.  The house was shredded.  The bar of soap, literally, had a bite out of it.  I don’t know what that’s all about but it somehow symbolizes this productive day.

By 8pm tonight I had made more messes than I cleaned.  All I did before noon was pay one bill and fine-tuned next week’s calendar.  I went on a walk with a friend.  I called my parents.  I talked with neighbors.  I did a load or two of laundphoto-4ry.  I weeded.  I supervised bike rides, gardening and watering.  I cleaned the toilets.  I wrote a blog post.  I took pictures.  I kept my 2-year-old away from the saw, the compressor, the nail gun and the creek.  I accompanied my son to Murder Mystery Night.  But nothing stuck out.  By 8pm I was eating ice cream I felt like I hadn’t earned.  “Where does the time go?” and “Why can’t I get anything done?” careened about my achy head.

My kids were little farmers today; outside, productive, dirt-drenched.  They had great days.  The dirtier the bathwater the better the day!  They were excited, proud and exhausted.  I was not satisfied.

When I was a working mom I proved to my supervisor that I could do my full-time job in 30 hours per week.  Done.  Productive; fast and finished.  Her feedback was positive.  Now that I am not a working mom, I have to convince myself each day that my time is “well-spent.”  I have a list of things to do a mile long, but somehow its never enough; my feedback is consistently negative, and there’s really no one else here to pat my back.  I spend most of my days putting out fires.  I prevent things from happening.  I reign in energy.  I clean up.  I chase.  I rarely create.  I rarely have products I could show you by the end of the day.  The list just gets longer and longer and the pile stacks up.  The parent I had the intention of being is still just an intention.

But then I look at the ring around the tub.  I eat one of their cookies and hang up their art.  I kiss their heads.   They are alive.  They ate quinoa today.  They got dirty.  Somehow taking an ounce of credit for their ingenuity, their health, their smiles, their manners, their activities, their compassion and their learning is NOT WHAT MOTHERS DO.  But the truth is, I made today happen.  I planned the weekend down to the trip to Home Depot, the babysitter, the naps and the illusion of free-time.  I bought the food.  I shopped for their jeans and the soap someone ate, dammit.  I took the pictures and I wrote iphoto-3t down when my oldest said “murder isn’t ok.  Its pretty much banned” because its funny.  So, I am giving myself credit for an itty bit of what THEY accomplished today.  Because I get paid in ice cream and kisses.  Because its hard to feel accomplished for keeping the poop in the bathroom and the food in the kitchen.  Because its hard to feel really, really great for buying everyone’s new shoes when I didn’t earn the money to pay for them.  Because I cannot survive this if I continue to devalue my own worth.  Because in truth, they appreciate me so much more than I appreciate myself.

Mother’s Happy Day

IMG_0156My grandmother attended my wedding.  She held my first born and died 45 minutes later.  I believe she waited to meet him.  I know most people don’t experience the gift of great grandchildren, but I have always anticipated my parents would grow very, very old.  Watching my mom hooked up to tubes and monitors now numbs my brain.  Abandoning my routine to be here all day and much of the night has been exhausting.  Sounds like I am complaining.  But my mom is alive and she’s actually getting pretty good reports.  I won’t fuss.  The future still lies ahead of us, and I do not care so much about its length anymore.  A teacher at my son’s school wrote me a supportive email today, saying she understood because her mother had had a stroke.  She also lost her brother and her dad recently and reminded me; “what I take away from that is to live each day fully with as much love and compassion as you can muster-because it could all be gone tomorrow in a blink.”

I haven’t spent this much time with my mom since I was six, yet I miss her.  I keep picking up the phone to call her and tell her about how much I hurt and how scared I have been.  I think somehow my brain thinks the woman I am spending my days with right now is my grandmother who passed away at 98.  This couldn’t be my mom.  My mom sparkles.  Actually, my grandmother sparkled too.  I can see why my brain thinks I am with Louelle.  I was with her when she was diagnosed with heart failure and she looked at the doctor and said, “how dare you call my heart a failure after all these years.”  Now the tiny woman in the bed keeps waking up to crack jokes with her nurses in this low, distorted, slurred voice that is absolutely unrecognizable other than the wit in reveals.  Day 1 in the hospital she said, “I’m all for an adventure but I think I went too far this time.”  Day 2 she could really only open one eye, but I’m pretty sure she winked at me.  Day 4 we left ICU and when we made it to her room we shared our first post-stroke mother-daughter knowing look.  Day 6 the doc told her the MRI showed many strokes in her brain, like a shower of little lights; she said, “I’m a meteorite.”  Day 7; when I walked into her room she was sitting in a chair slowly talking with one of my close friends about fixing my brother up with her single friends so that he would move here to Minnesota.  My friend is a Reiki Master and I don’t know what she did, but I will be forever grateful to her for helping my mom out of her neurological shell for an hour.  Today my big brother and I gasped and squealed and clapped and hugged when we both heard her true laugh for a split second; just one twitter.  She was back.

But just for awhile.  When I leave the hospital the panic creeps back in through my pores.  The fear of losing her.  The terror of her being tormented by her body.  Back to Day 1.  The call from dad.  Seeing what I thought was her corpse in that E.R. bed.  Waiting for news.  Hearing the echoing voice of the neurologist say, “your mom’s health is very complicated and I can’t tell you yet which way this will go.”  Holding my husband.  Listening to my friend say, “breath, Shawna” on the phone.  Trying to breath.  Trying to feel the ground under my feet.  Trying not to throw up.  Crying, which I don’t do.  Feeling vulnerable.  Wanting to hide.  Holding dad’s hand.

In medical first responder training we learned about “core-shunting;” when the body sends blood to what is most essential in order to survive stress like cold, blood loss, shock.  I felt that way until we left ICU, and now I just revisit the feeling a few times everyday.  Its better because she is better, but there are still unknowns.  When I lapse back into fear my chest feels heavy, my arms feel tickly, my hands can’t grasp, my legs feel empty and awkward and my feet feel pins and needley on the ground.  On day 5 I felt this way as I left the hospital because I had determined the stroke was all my fault.

Luckily, I have a few friends who are doctors.  I sent a frantic, “what if I had known” text to one of them and she responded, “it wouldn’t change the outcome.”  I sent another and he said, “its not your fault.”  Another showed up in ICU like a bald, beautiful angel in nice shoes and said, “she’s going to be ok.”  Hearing that from someone who knew her before meant everything to me.  And one more just happened to have lit a fire in his backyard, scrounged his fridge for 3 beers, and had open chairs ready before my husband and I even called him at 10pm on night 5.  He talked me down.

The night before her stroke I pulled over on the way home from choir, ready to turn around and drive to my parent’s house.  Something felt wrong.  I talked to her.  She had a cold and this had been a tough month with a chronic condition she has battled; maybe just dehydration.  She and dad agreed; we’ll call the doctor again tomorrow.  We’re going to sleep–don’t come.  I didn’t follow my instincts.  By morning she had had “a shower” of strokes.  Panic.  My feet tingle.  I could have saved her.

But we sat by the fire and he told me about medicine and how it works and how it fails sometimes.  He gave me medical reasons why spending the night in the E.R. might not have kept her from having a stroke.  He gave me human reasons for not always being able to protect the people closest to me.  And we ate some chocolate and cheese and sat by the fire in the rain and felt better.  Blood returns to feet.  Hands grasp.  Strength returns.

I haven’t always trusted my husband to be the supportive type.  I figured he would fill many, many needs but my friends would supply the shoulders I cry upon.  And they have.  They have watched my kids, called, texted, shopped, hosted, prayed, sent light beams, prayers, cards, and watched my kids more.  I love, love, love my friends.  But it was good for me to realize that I was wobbly at the hospital without my husband there.  As soon as he showed up, I was grounded.  If something good comes out of this it is knowing I can be vulnerable, and “there is still joy,” as one of my very first friend’s wrote today.  In fact, my cousin watched my littlest guy today and took him to visit his horse.  He came home dirty and smelling like hay and I loved my cousin for the joy he rendered during a week like this.

Another cousin came to see us.  She brought a flower for mom and her beautiful smile and she brought me tumeric and ginger for my nervous stomach.  She has been here before.  She has been darker places, actually.  She gave me a teary hug that felt like a blanket I could hide under for awhile, and together we made mom laugh a little.  Actually, in truth, I think mom made us laugh.  And then she was tired and slipped away again.  She felt present for a little while when her dear friend visited.  And she smiled when I told her Teddy had come with flowers and when we told her that her brothers and sisters wanted to visit.  I read her the emails and cards and prayers everyone has sent and she cried, saying she couldn’t die yet.  And I sat in disbelief looking at her crooked face and one good eye and feeling the love she eminates.  All I could do was hug her and all her wires as tightly as she has always hugged me.

But our best Red-Tent moment came a few days later.  She had a painful test involving a needle being injected into her bone to sample marrow.  If I had any doubt in her strength before we held hands for this test, it vanished as she squeezed my fingers (unfortunately/painfully donned with the rings they removed from her fingers in the E.R.)  She had to lay on her side, and I sat at her bedside inches from her face.  We locked eyes and breathed together.  I am sure it was an awful point in time for her, but for me, it was a turning point.  I found my place as her support.  I found something I could do for her.  I found my role in all of this mess, and my blood returned to my limbs and my belly and my head.  Lesson learned; if I remain in my body I can be helpful to my mom.

So, here is the update; she truly is doing a remarkable job recovering from her stroke.  She is exhausted.  Her underlying health issues remain complicated so she will be in the hospital awhile longer.  For more and more of the day everyday, she is  her funny and sparkly self.  Everyday she is strong.  When I went to visit her on Mother’s Day my oldest said, “wish her Mother’s Happy Day.”  I started to correct him and then realized he had said it on purpose.  This year, my mom and I needed to celebrate Mother’s Happy Day instead, and he knew it.  So in celebration of Mother’s Day this year I hung pictures of her at carefree, outdoor times on her hospital room walls.  I want her to remember being her, but I also want her nurses and doctors to know what she will look like when she recovers, and who she has been to all of us.  I want everyone to know that she is special;  my mom is a meteorite.

Unpredictable

IMG_1283This morning in Minneapolis we expected to wake up to the unusual glow of spring sunlight bouncing off 3-9 inches of snow.  But the branches were bare and crocuses bloomed despite dire predictions.  I got up to make breakfast and cracked an egg into a blue bowl.  Two yolks poured out of one shell.  At the kids’ gymnastics school I went to pay my bill.  Hallelujah; my account was paid in full.  I smiled, embracing the unpredictability of this day.

I was not an ambitious mom this morning.  I left the house with 2 kids and no snacks, each of them just barely fed and minimally dressed for the chill.  We were late, we were crabby and we were hungry.  We hit McDonald’s after tumbling class.  I ordered chicken nuggets for my 2-year-old but had little hope he would be satisfied (fast-food is generally unpopular in my family).  I had to pull over 10 minutes later to decipher the out-of-control screeching “caniavsom morkickin?!!?!” in the backseat.  “Take your thumb out of your mouth and ask nicely, Wes.”  He responded, “Can I have some more chicken inside-voice please?”  I ended up at Burger King this time and 4 more nuggets down, he was still screeching,”caniavsom morkickin?!!?!”  I drew the line at 2 stops and he fell asleep still crabby, still hungry.

Which brings me to the most predictable element of life with kids; sleep.  If I stay up late the kids will get up early or puke in the middle of the night.  If I go to bed early they will sleep in and I will wake up anxious at 4am.  If I have something important to accomplish without my hands full that day the napper will not nap.  If I have nothing on the agenda everyone will nap for 3 hours and I will panic; paralyzed by the possibility of wasting precious free-time!  Sound familiar?  But today, Wes napped peacefully, I accomplished things, and the big boys played nicely; there is no possible way I would have predicted that outcome for any given day.

Our last event of the day was Kindergarten Round-Up.  Wilder, of whom you have read, was about 97% enthusiastic.  My oldest has been in school for 3 years so I jumped in without forethought other than a little uncertainty about his readiness.  Then I read his school supply list.  Something about Wilder needing his own glue sticks grabbed my heart and squeezed.  Simultaneously it was time for the yellow-sticker kids to go with the yellow-sign teacher.  His eyes got a tiny glossy and he held his breath in an adorably determined way like a kid on the high dive.  He went.  He followed her.  Lump in throat, grabbing the hand of his neighborhood buddy.  He looked so little to be so brave and I had to hide my tears from him.

So after class time and a bus ride, I asked him what he would like to eat for a special celebratory dinner with mom.  “Meat,” responded my kindergartner-of-largely-vegetarian-upbringing.  We went out for his first steak.  He dove into his summer homework packet while we waited–not prediIMG_1290ctable!  He tried his first hearts of palm, first curry, first onion rings, first pierogies.  He was voracious and adventurous and beaming.  We “cheersed” with our drinks, our forks, and pierogies.  He exclaimed “yehaa!” with a fist-pump.  He thanked me for the haircut to get him ready for school today–I hadn’t made the connection.  I offered a toast and he interrupted, “to King Wilder!”  When we were done eating and toasting and snapping pictures of our wonderful dinner, he walked out of the restaurant in his socks.  I laughed so hard I cried and told him, “Wilder; this has got to be one of the best nights of my life.”  He said, “me too mommy,” with a kiss; a joyful outcome to an unambitious day.

What’s in your heart today?

photo-18In a 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. asked his congregation, “what is in your heart today?”  He explained first “I am like all of you; I am a sinner. But I want to be a good man. So I ask myself, ‘what is in your heart today; what is in your heart?'” On Dr. King’s birthday I asked my kids the same question at dinner. Wilder, 4, quickly responded; “Wuv. And care. Mother Earth.” Tennyson said, “equality.” Although I recognized these noble answers from conversations they have been having at their schools, I wanted to know their own thoughts. I told them the question itself asks for honesty and self-reflection; “everyone has a different answer to this question. What is so important to you that you can feel it in your heart this very minute?” Tennyson found, “my family is in my heart.” “Being fair” was Wilder’s new answer. I loved watching their miniature processes of looking inward and hearing something; anything! Call it an inner voice, or intuition, Self or Ego, they listened to their hearts and no matter their answers today, honing that skill will add so much to their lives. I would have been happy to hear “pancakes” or “trains.”

At my oldest son’s prenatal ultrasound around 18 weeks gestation I found it spectacular to see him inside and out; the full reveal was awe-inspiring. I remember thinking at his last ultrasound at 36 weeks gestation that I was seeing more of his heart that day than I was likely to ever again; more of his brain, his femurs, his metatarsals. But as he’s grown and stamped out a place for himself on this earth, the core of his being is revealed to me in little ways I never anticipated. All of my sons, perhaps all of our collective young sons, are still so honest; so pure in thought in their appropriately youthful, boastful and egotistical ways. My boys are perfectly happy on most occasions to fully reveal themselves (and I do mean that in every sense of the phrase). I assume it won’t always be this easy. I wonder if I will know when our final ultrasound-like moment is happening again; when he is perfectly exposed to me for the last time before entering a new, more private stage in his life? Or will a teenager suddenly walk in that resembles my oldest son except for a sulky pallor on his lovely flawless face and a draped veil over his previously exposed heart? I think its smart to assume that this is it; this is my time with him with his heart exposed before me with high enough frequency for us to explore together its inner workings and rhythms in absolute comfort. This is my time with him to lay the groundwork for trust, safety, openness and honesty in our future, and their future relationships.

This is not where I had planned to go with our Dr. King conversation today. I thought we were going to talk about the man, the hero, the icon of a leap forward in our national character. But I got stuck on two things. One, society or school or my husband and I have clearly already communicated to our kids there are RIGHT answers to some questions. They changed their answers when I reminded them I really wanted to know what was in their hearts. Two, in asking his question, I realized Dr. King understood–preached–rather, that in order for us to advance, we had to be honest about what was in our hearts. Even if we looked inside and found a sinner, or found answers unfit for our mothers’ ears, the truth is the best place, perhaps the only place, to start to develop one’s character. Case in point, when we legislated the end of slavery, racism continued. When we look into our hearts and reveal ourselves, real change starts.

And the kitchen table is where it can start. It’s where honesty is honored and hearts are revealed and values are learned. We teach kids values through how we act and what we choose. And sometimes, like us, they have thoughts no one likes to hear. But we need to talk about the incongruencies in life, the mistakes we make, the thoughts we produce and the feelings we grapple. If there is one thing I would like to succeed at as a parent, friend, aunt, sister, daughter, neighbor and professional…I would like to make a safe place at my table. That’s why Dr. King reminded his congregation that he was a sinner. He took the shame out of thinking and feeling and being real. He said, tell me, and I will not judge you. Look in, see yourself and be free to be who you WANT to be. Say “pancakes!” Say “trains!” Say “sadness.” Say “fear.” Say “anger.” Say “love.” And my this table, we will talk about feelings. At this table, we will gather courage. In these arms, we will face fear. In our home, we will listen to each other.

Two little blonds just wandered in as I was writing. I asked them again, “What is in your heart today?” The little one said “the Titanic.” The big one said “whipped cream.” “Wilder,” I investigated, “aren’t you awfully little to have that big ship in your heart?” He said, “I was just thinking about all the poor people that died. Ten million died and only three of them are still alive.” “Wow, buddy, that is really sad. Do you have room for all of that sadness in your heart?” “Nope,” Wilder said, “that’s why I am sharing it with you.”

I couldn’t say it better. It only takes hearing a baby’s borning cry to know they arrive with full grown feelings in their tiny bodies. So here stands Wilder, 4 years, 3 feet, 40 pounds, trying to carry the Titanic in his heart, alone. It’s not possible; this ship will sink. He needs to share his burden. For that matter, Tenny seemed pretty delighted to share thoughts on the wonder that is whipped cream. We are practicing for when his answer is harder to express and takes more discussion, like “bully” or “date” or “failure.” In my own way, I hope I am doing my part to shape America’s character. I am doing it by asking my three boys and anyone who else who will come to my table, “what is in your heart today?”

My Morning Tea

IMG_0468This morning I woke up attempting a very specific and arduous articulation of gratitude for my parents and whatever grace of fortune has brought wonderful people to my life.  I feel grateful that my parents taught me empathy, communication, forgiveness and persistence.  They taught me to give hugs, stand by, remain whole, and wait for the opportunity to be wronged and righted.  They taught me the strength to be vulnerable, the compassion to forgive and the ability to suspend judgment.  And for these reasons, I trust people.  I do not trust them because they will never be unkind or insensitive or angry or wrong; they will be.  I don’t ask them to trust me because I’m perfect; I’m not.  We are floundering through life together and it can get ugly.  I sometimes picture my life on an aerial speedcam and I laugh out loud as I watch the errors of my days as a voyeur;  Three kids, 8 mittens, 4 hats, 4 zippers to the car, forgot tea cup, got tea cup, forgot keys on counter, returned to counter, back to car, 3 car seats adjusted, car won’t start, mouthed the word “SHIT,” woops, thought she mouthed it but the oldest is now mouthing “SHIT what, mom?”

We get some things right with practice, but life is often a series of teachable, highly human moments and fledgling mistakes.  But yet, I have faith in the people that I have drawn to me, or the people to whom I have been drawn; be it through family, summer camp, proximity, books, or a first conversation when something clicked.  I have this faith because my parents told me I would be ok.  I have this faith because they taught me I didn’t have to be perfect to be loved by them or anyone else.  They taught me not to trust people based upon how often they are getting things right, but how hard they are trying to live right.  They taught me to love myself and respect myself and to have high expectations for how I am treated and in so doing, they taught me how to draw goodness to me.  They implanted in me at a very young age a clickometer that detects potential friendship and so far, it has been both open minded and accurate.  In fact, I have drawn love and goodness to my life like wake beckons dolphins.  Thank you Providence, or God, or Almighty Boat Wake, for drawing so many wonderful, loving, and fallible people to my life.  Thank you, mom and dad, for teaching me to trust and enjoy them.  After getting out of bed with these deep thoughts, the aerial speedcam caught me brushing teeth, making tea, sipping tea, reading my teabag and sitting down abruptly with my hand clasped over my mouth in awe.  It read, “be kind and compassionate and the whole world will be your friend.”  That sums it up nicely.

Liederabend

I attended a Liederabend in the 18th century tradition tonight. This translates from German, “an evening of music.” I sat in a folding chair in a living room listening to rich, textured operatic voices and the most artful, seraphic piano accompaniment I have ever heard from that close of range. Thirty people gathered to engross themselves in the talent of their friends and family. No wonder musicianship was more universal in the 18th century. They say entertainment was less accessible and TV had yet to steal our higher minds, but I believe they inspired music in each other. It must be impossible to attend a Liederabend and not be moved to make music. I wanted to float the arpeggios, grace the high notes and emote the stories of Bach, Schubert and Verdi like the performers. I wanted to crawl inside their beautiful singing bodies and be them.

Other great talents have tugged on my heart the same way. I remember being eight and having the same desire to emulate Broadway’s Annie the first time I saw the musical. Watching the Winter Olympics I wanted to be Dorothy Hamill; figure skating’s bowl-cut darling. When I first read about Jane Goodall, I was good as gone for chimps in Africa. And when the soprano walked up to the piano tonight and twinkled like Sean White about to enter the halfpipe, I felt the same familiar “tug” at my heart. After she performed, the baritone took the stage. He was also the host, and an amateur. He sang Figaro and joy exploded in the room. We cheered him. We loved him. We were him. He was accessible. He didn’t have earth shattering talent; he just had to sing. It turns out that these performers and Jane, Annie, Dorothy and Shaun had something else in common; simply doing what they love to do.

As humans, we react viscerally, we celebrate, when we see people expressing love. Whether its in a performance, a book, a game, or mundane life, we feel it with them. When we witness two people committing their lives to each other in marriage, we dance all night. When my eight year old shows me the new ship or train he has drawn, I glow. When a baby reaches out to mom for the first time, she cries. When a rock star carries the highest, strongest note in the ballad, we feel powerful. And no matter the task at hand, or the simplicity of the feat, we feel joy. We resonate.

Some of the greatest compositions of 18th century weren’t written for masters on stages; they were written for the Liederabend in the living room where people got together to share their music.  I left the show tonight feeling inspired. I felt free to sing or run or write or ski or parent, NOT to be great, but just because its what I love to do.  Some people were born for greatness, but we were all born to love something.

Mama, I want to marry a boy…

My four year old, who trusts me to love him unconditionally, pulled on my sleeve yesterday morning. From the corner of my eye I had just seen him, donned in sheriff’s badge and rubber band gun, staring at an orange sign. He pulled me down to his height and whispered, “Mama, I want to marry a boy.” I said “You can marry whomever you love.” He responded, “uffda.” If you aren’t from around here or Scandinavia, “uffda” is not so much a word as an exhalation. It is also a call to feel someone’s pain, suffering, fear, or relief. The closest expression to “uffda” I can recall I learned from my students in the 90’s; “you feel me?” The only appropriate response from a loving mom to her son’s “uffda” is, “I feel ya, baby. I feel you.” Someday he may want to marry a Jenny or a Jake, but what I felt from him yesterday was a natural desire to be free to follow his heart.

Today, I rest assured that 51% of Minnesotans voted in favor of freedom and we celebrate that Minnesota was the first state in the U.S. to defeat a Marriage Amendment. I am proud we will continue our evolution toward legalization of marriage for all. I am thrilled we chose to protect our Constitution from being used to restrict rights. But I will admit, I am also sad about the 49% who voted in favor of the amendment. I believe we will someday look back and see that voting “yes,” was a vote for separate but equal. I know it’s important to understand the views that oppose mine. I live by the philosophy of honoring differences in points of view, culture and religion. But I can’t get to the other side of this issue without seeing discrimination. I will not accept that asking our government to define marriage exclusively as one man and one woman is practicing the “freedom” of religion. In truth, it is the imposition of religion upon state law. Religion cannot be used to write law nor justify segregation. I believe it is possible to calmly and warmly say to marriage amendment proponents, “I think you are making a mistake.” My hope is that by the time my son is falling in love, the 49% of Minnesotans who voted “yes” will have new views on love and freedom. I would like to have a conversation with my son someday where his brow furrows, he recalls our orange sign, and he asks me, “Was equal rights to marriage really debatable? Uffda.” And I will say, “I feel ya, baby. I feel you.”

Marriage Protection

Last night I was watching Sandy and her path of destruction on the evening news. Amid shots of houses spinning like tops down the yards that once held them tight, an ad came on TV promoting the Marriage Protection Amendment. A couple from Massachusetts, just north of Sandy’s strike zone, warned, “don’t make the same mistake and think gay marriage won’t affect you.” The dismaying “affect” of which they spoke was that kids might be taught in public schools that some families have two moms or two dads. In response, first and foremost, children in schools across the U.S. are expected to show respect for each other and their differences, regardless of their religion, culture or opinions. Second, kids across Minnesota are already being taught in public schools about the vast variability in family structure. Third, kids attend schools that have gay students, gay parents, and gay employees and the federal government will not allow states to remove them, or quiet them, or segregate them, regardless of how we vote on this amendment.

I was astonished by their plea, but I didn’t wish a storm upon their house. Their lifestyle and their opinions were shameful to me, but I didn’t want to see their family go down in the storm. The proponents of this amendment, however, are mounting the wind and waves that will wound the homes of happy, high-functioning families. They are the genesis of a storm that is draining our state of thousands of dollars that could be allocated toward nobler pursuits. They are asking us to use our State Constitution to take rights away from our residents. They are sending the message to thousands of kids that their parents’ love for each other is less valuable than other unions. They are creating insecurity in the lives of kids whose parents have already faced bigotry, ridicule and judgment. Suggesting that same-sex marriage will affect us if we note “no” is like saying Sandy affected me because I had to watch the devastation on TV. Its absolutely insignificant compared to being hit by a storm. Bottom-line, this amendment demands that the proponents beliefs affect the rest of us, regardless of what WE believe. I want to protect my marriage too. I want to protect it from fear, from cruelty and from exclusion. Why do we have to keep learning over and over again in this country that it takes more energy to exclude people than it does to include them?

On love

Yesterday I was at a craft fair at Nokomis Park and saw endless art with quotes akin to “all you need is love.” At this point in my life, I am finding more and more truth in this phrase.  On days when nothing goes as planned, I have someone else’s boogers on my eyebrow, I can’t remember my last shower, I have spent half an hour looking for my keys, 2/3 kids have ear infections and even a vacation feels like a terrific undertaking, I will be okay if I feel loved when the day ends.  The significance of love is so tangible to me at this point in my life, I am struck by the doubt I cast in it earlier in my life.  In fact, as a leader, teacher and mentor of hundreds of young women and girls throughout my career, I admit that I attempted to teach them something contrary.  I have now been completely sandwiched between caring for grandparents, parents and children.  From this wonderful, uncomfortable, memorable and exhausting place in between, I can finally see that my greatest resource is love.  So, to all the youngsters out there I have mentored, led or taught, and to those yet to hear me from my soapbox, I have not been thorough.

When I was a young women, I remember being taught again and again, over and over, that I was to put myself first. I was to love myself, find myself, go for my dreams and not compromise.  I was to be strong, be able and be driven. I was certainly not expected to compromise my goals for a crush, put another’s goals before my own, or become beguiled by love interests. I will go so far as to say I have since been employed to distract young people from relationships, crushes, sex and the consequences thereof. It’s with much chagrin that I now come to the  realization that all we need is love.

Here are the details; at the end of the day, love will hold you above water, love will empower you, love will create your family and love will make life more whole. But first, you need to discover yourself, grow independently, express your individuality, and follow your dreams. First come to know the love of friends, family and community. Witness love in your heroines and elders. Think critically about love in the stories you read and the offers you are extended. Honor yourself, delay sex and be the world’s student. Soon enough, love will matter most. You must, unequivocally, put yourself first, choose wisely, and use birth control. Your adventures, your life lessons, your mishaps and your accomplishments are important in and of themselves, but everything we do to make ourselves whole people will eventually matter because it will increase our capacity to care for others.  Someday when you are feeling particularly lovable because you have loved yourself first, it’s the man or the woman or the child or the village or the cause that you choose to love that will get you through the day.