For those who hurt today…

I take comfort in knowing that I’m not alone in today’s big feelings about loss. I’m exploring the depth of pain felt by those whose country celebrates gains that for them, meant unfathomable loss of culture, family and land. I’m stunned by where we are now as nation – each to their corners today so that more survive the month. This is the season our ancestors globe-wide celebrate light. What I take from this day is how gratitude resides in us, giving us hope. Allowing us to celebrate the subdued light of this harsh and beautiful season.

I have 4 who will spend the day alone; two single people, and two married in separate nursing facilities (mom and dad). It hurts. I see you hurting too. You’ve lost people you love. You have loved ones in ICU. You can only visit today at an assigned time, touching hands through a pane of glass. You, yourself are alone. The depth of collective loss is so deep we can’t reach the bottom in a day. We will be processing this for months to come. I don’t even know “you.” But I spend this Thanksgiving Day with you.


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.



Heavy hearts, hands full: what to say to children when the bully wins

I am sharing my Facebook update here from last night at 2am. I’m broadcasting it wider because I have had so many uplifting  “thank you’s,” “shares,” and comments since then. If I can bring a little light and solace today, it will warm my heavy heart:

It’s 1:57 and I’m thinking about what to tell my kids in the morning. Here’s the plan:
1) Trump is now our President but it does not make him your role model.
2) It is now, more than ever, important to be kind to others, respectful of women and inclusive to differences.
3) I told you love wins and now you are seeing someone who acts like a bully win. People pick bullies to protect them when they feel weak and afraid. If there are lots of people among us feeling that way, we have work to do.
4) Sometimes grown ups make mistakes. I think as grown ups we’ve made a mistake by giving an important job to someone who bullies others.
5) You are safe. It will be ok. The world is full of good people.*

*I am afraid for us all.

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.


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

Caucus Day and I’m Conflicted

My kids asked me who I will vote for tonight. I stood in front of them and their futures and their health care and their college loans and their warming globe and their wages and their gender identities and their military service and their spouses and their safety and their financial security and their educations and their sense of social justice, and I thought good and hard.

My entire career has been about social justice, empowering young women, supporting young men, building educational opportunity and strengthening networks of social support. Who is my candidate?

I am voting for who I believe is the strongest candidate for the job. I am voting for someone I admire. We all should, and respect one another for having an opinion and voting tonight.

I read last night about Hillary, “She’s just another Al Gore” and the whimsey imbedded in that comment by a friend chilled me. I am not voting by gender for the highest office in our country, but I will also not ignore gender’s role in our politicians’ careers and candidacy.

In the country in which I have grown and worked, been an activist, a mother and a child, a student, voter, teacher and policy advocate, in which I have been employed and unemployed and underemployed, being female has affected my experience. It feels different to me, being female, when I walk home alone after dark and when I apply for jobs. It felt different when I compared my pay stub to my brothers for the same job and he got paid more. It felt different in chemistry class when our teacher made the girls sit in front because science didn’t come “naturally” to us. It felt different when six of my friends were raped during their college careers. It felt different for me when I left my career to parent and attempted to re-enter it. It feels different when I read stories of girls being followed home from South high by men in white vans. It feels different that only 15% of elected positions are held by women in Minnesota. It feels different that I have never seen a woman President run our country.

In interviews that compare potential female to male candidates, women cite reasons not to run such as family obligations, lack of role models in policy careers, what the media does to female candidates, investing their family’s money in an election, being physically threatened by elected officials, and knowing their constituency would not support a woman for the job. Men do not. I love Bernie’s ideals, and he could be my candidate. But I will not deny his privilege and I can’t imagine he would either.

A woman could not be a candidate for President today without political connections and savvy. She could not run on aspirations or even ideals alone. She must wear a coat of armor yet she cannot raise a fist or speak in an angry tenor without repercussions. She cannot have a history that includes arrests. She cannot move to the top without the time it takes to make mistakes and change her mind on issues. I actually WANT a candidate who is willing to think and think again, perhaps change her mind when she hears something new from the people she represents.

Whether or not you agree with her or want to vote for her, seeing a woman run for President is a mark of progress toward a more liberal country and it thrills me to see it. Progressive think tanks studied and demonstrated years ago that there has never been a politician more denigrated by the media than Hillary Clinton. Support has been withdrawn from some of the progressive left, which I consider myself very much a part of, and that may be based upon her record. But there is no way we can separate her record from the misogyny that follows her everywhere.

Bernie and Hillary have similar ideas. I am torn. But I also recognize that the material Bernie’s supporters use to separate him, at times, is the very sustenance it took for her to be his colleague today. What sets her apart for me is not her gender. But I am impressed by the extra labor she has done because of her gender. Regardless of your vote, I would like to see progressive America honor this moment in time.

I believe that Hillary will be more successful in this particular role in government–feel free to disagree. But please stop underestimating my research, my intelligence, my ideals and my reasons. It is antithetical to your vote for progress. Let’s go vote. Tomorrow we will likely find ourselves on the same team and I want to be proud to be there with you.

School Funding is a Warm Sweater

school funding is a warm sweaterI was recently standing around the printer for teacher’s use at my son’s public elementary school, waiting for my Lego League rules to print. In the 23 minutes I waited, 9 teachers popped in and out to see if their print job was done. “Yes,” they agreed. Printing and copying in this building is under-resourced right now.

This is an excellent public school with an amazing staff and campus. This is the same school that has a state-of-the-art adapted playground under construction. The same school that started receiving Title One funding for ELL, special education, and targeted efforts to close its achievement gap last year. And, the same school that can only afford to have a nurse on site 4 days a week (though this is more than most)! These discrepancies illustrate the complicated mess of algorithms that is public education funding.

A recent MinnPost article by Beth Hawkins likened our school funding challenge at this time to “the gradual opening of faucets after a reservoir has been refilled.” This image, however, leaves out some nitty gritty, yet significant, details, such as the fact that the reservoir is not actually full. Much of what it takes to educate Minnesota’s students is still funded by an entirely separate pool managed by voters who will choose to open or not to open the levies.

In addition, the fingers on the faucets are not those of administrators or educators or even school board members: it’s lawmakers. Which means, those faucets will dribble open (and shut) as they campaign for their offices, are educated by stakeholders in the first weeks in office, debate at the Capitol, hear influential commentary from constituents and special interest groups and make compromised decisions based upon popular beliefs, myths, and influences well outside of what is best for Minnesota students.

This is a dim view. The truth is, this is also the messy business of democracy at work and the spending of tax dollars. Almost every stakeholder, no matter their view, believes strongly they have children’s best interest at heart. Let’s try a softer image to better understand what happens at the school level, and why there are printer shortages and amazing playgrounds in the same building: an old sweater.

Let’s think of each district as its own sweater—Minnesota has 341 sweaters that were knit by the state itself. Within the weave of each sweater, there are strong and tight threads that maintain the basic integrity of the garment. There are also snags; loose threads that got hung up on unexpected obstacles. When snags became holes that will eventually become runs, threatening to destroy the utility of the sweater, the holes were patched. Sometimes patches are provided directly to that sweater by voter levies, benevolent philanthropists, grants, or parent fundraising. Sometimes the sweater has to go back to the original knitter for repairs, but this takes awhile: a very long while.

And then there are times that the knitters send all the sweaters patches, some bigger some smaller, some perfect fits and some that just barely cover the holes. The educators and administrators and school boards knit them into the fabric at the local level.

Sometimes there are particular spots that tend to wear and pill. Administrators are also in charge of deciding whether to pluck off the pilling bits or dry clean the whole thing to see if it improves overall. Sometimes shrinking the sweater in the wash is the only thing that will keep it from unraveling.

Thankfully, it is very rare that the knitters will recall a sweater, or even threads. Generally once it’s knit it’s knit. As the sweaters age some threads get loose, some remain strong, some snag, some simply dissolve.

It is also important to understand that, each thread, each row, each cross-stitch, was done according to the knitter’s pattern at the state. Though the sweater is under the care of each district’s administration and school board, fundamentally, they do not have the freedom to tighten lose threads by pulling on adjacent threads because each was tied by the knitters into different funding sources. In other words, in this system, furnace repairs cannot be paid for with salary freezes. New printers cannot be purchased with playground money.

Luckily in Minnesota, we really appreciate our sweaters. It’s cold here. We need to stay warm and generally, our sweaters endure under even the harshest of conditions.


Written for the Minnesota grassroots nonprofit, Parents United for Public Schools

Hot, Cool, Ours


This is our world winter games

The Olympics is a time of unity in the name of competitive sportsmanship. Unity. Sportsmanship. Doesn’t seem to be bringing out the best in Americans. I would be less embarrassed of a beautifully flawed 5th ring and a few unlaid bricks or electrical problems than I currently am in our gross effort to critique and mock the effort put forth by the PEOPLE of Sochi. Quit it. My children thought the opening ceremonies was extraordinary. My children are excited about the games and the cultures and the languages and the PEOPLE yet I feel a great need to say to America; GROW UP. Quit your fun-making and “I’m bored” whining and culture-maligning and show some unity. Yes: communism has its issues. But give those people living under that repressive government a couple of weeks to be proud of themselves. That’s sportsmanship.

Lobbying for Breath


In St. Paul today, a consortium of clean energy advocates filed a motion with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), urging them to update the grossly outdated estimates of health, climate and environmental costs caused by electricity production that they use to plan Minnesota’s energy future. I had the opportunity to weigh in as an angry mom and children’s health advocate.

I can speak from a Public Health perspective, but I feel more driven to speak as a mom. I would like to put a human face, a child’s face, to the “morbidity and mortality benefits,” of this change. 90, 000 kids in MN have asthma, or 1 in 14 kids. I am the parent of 2 of those kids. Not all these kids have asthma because of air pollution, but air pollution certainly triggers asthmatic symptoms; which means medications, clinic visits, ER visits, hospitalization and occasionally loss of life, and always, stress.

As a Minnesotan this concerns me. As a mom it concerns me more. The costs involved in caring for these children can be measured in dollars, but there are also costs to health status, productivity and quality of life. In MN, asthma disparately affects non-white kids, kids who live in poverty, and kids who live nearest to our highest concentrations of air pollution; the urban heart. That also means that the brunt of these costs are being paid by the state of Minnesota and my hope is that if having the heart to do everything in our power to help our kids grow and flourish isn’t enough, the economic incentives to curb this trend will have that power.

As a mom, you can’t imagine the frustration involved in watching your child struggle to do something as basic as breath, knowing that although you have done everything you possibly can to create a healthy environment for them, the state has not. Industry, economic interests, energy consumption and simple lack of commitment to maintaining accurate cost values have won out for too long.

Now we have evidence that demonstrates the true costs of energy production to our health and climate. We know that infants and children are often more susceptible to the health effects of air pollution because their immune systems and organs are still immature, because they spend more time outside, and because they breath more air per pound of body weight than adults. We know toxic pollutants from coal power plants cause more subtle, but widespread health effects on children – including learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and lower IQs.

To put a face to this problem let me tell you more about us. We have 3 sons, and 2 have asthma symptoms. We estimate that in a bad asthma year, we can pay $11,000 more in health care costs per kid with asthma as compared to our son with more cooperative bronchioles. Imagine those costs spread across the state of Minnesota, and 90,000 asthmatic kids.

My kids have very mild asthma. But when its bad, especially when the air quality indices are high, I can hear a difference in their breathing. If they are outside they can’t run as fast as their friends, and when they are sleeping their breathing keeps me up at night. I support this clean energy consortium’s motion to update the cost values used for energy planning in Minnesota, but I don’t have much power and influence as a mom. I can only hope that the significance and quality of my kids’ breathing is also keeping up at night the people that have the power to make this change.

All aboard…

SanFranflappers_2Tuesday I published “All Aboard,” an account of our family trip to Chicago, despite a nagging feeling that our thoughts should be in Boston. I wanted to offer something lighter. I wanted life to go on. Then I read my own post and phrases like “8-year-old,” “marathon traffic,” and “at the wrong time” jumped off the page in an accidental manner. I tried to write something new but so much had already been said about terror and tragedy and heroism. So I’m re-posting “All Aboard” because it might just be about what matters: we enjoyed our friends and family. We made memories. We reflected on our past, we reveled in the present. And today, we are fortunate to have a future on this earth, despite all that is rotten and for the love of all that is good…

The love of trains has run resolutely in my family for generations; my husband’s too.  People have said my 8-year-old’s deep love of trains will be a phase, but I have no doubt his love will abide.  He is the nephew and grand-nephew of electric train collectors, the great grandson of a Milwaukee Road engineer, the great grandson of a Great Northern clerk and the great great-grandson of the Great Northern Rail Road Band Director.  When my grandmother graduated from high school, her father, the Band Director, bought her and her mother round trip tickets from St. Paul to San Francisco; quite an enterprise for a 17-year-old girl and a mother of 9 in 1924.

True to our legacy, we often travel by rail.  This weekend we took the Amtrak to Chicago.  When we disembarked at Union Station and walked the kids in tightly grasped hands between the massive Amtrak and Metra, we were all entranced.  The platform was pulsing with the energy of throngs of passengers and thundering engines standing silver and blue and nearly two stories tall.  The loudspeaker was vibrating with “Amtrakakakakak, trackackackackack 88888,” just like my dad recounted in his bedtime stories.  Train travel is legendary; like a magic carpet ride that works.  I’m not surprised trains were selected by authors to bring wizards to Hogwarts and believers to the North Pole.  Trains are a source of wonder and an engineering marvel.  Train rides can be cathartic, like the time spent in motion, the hum of the rails, and the mingling with strangers somehow routes us from here to there via dreamland.  Mind you, dreamland has icky bathrooms and poor ventilation.  Nevertheless, taking the train back and forth practically guaranteed our trip to Chicago would be a memorable journey.

The pinnacle of our time in Chicago was cavorting about the city with our 3 boys, our friends, and their 2 boys (who we have claimed as cousins by marriage of my Uncle to their grandmother).  They were a wrestling, jumping, bumping, boxing, climbing team of urban explorers.  Other adventures included a downtown tour on a double-decker bus, a sunny walk along the pier, dim sum in China Town, the Lego store on Magnificent Mile, the bean sculpture in Millennium Park, and the model of Chicago at the Museum of Science and Industry.   The low point was most definitely getting stuck on city bus 6 in Shamrock Shuffle-induced gridlock traffic for 1.5 hours with no escape.  After we had drained the last of our phone batteries and ate the last Altoid, we kept busy with rock paper scissors tournaments, multigenerational thumb wars, conversations with young art students, cuddling, tickling, resting and snuggling.  Nothing paints a more vivid picture of our decline into claustrophobia than Wilder near the end.  At some point I absolutely drenched him while “helping” him drink water on our lurching bus.  He took off his shirt.  His pants were too big.  He cuddled up into a half-naked ball with a plumber’s butt in his seat where he hummed and moaned for the next thirty minutes.  By the time we stopped, he arose with pink cheeks and a blond fro, wrapped from neck to descending pants in my coral scarf, wailing, “go, go, go, mama, door!”

The funny thing about low points, however, is how quickly they become high points.  Between adults, there was some analysis of whether or not we should have taken the 10 rather than waiting for the late 6, or whether a cab or train would have been prudent.  For the kids, the only discussion warranted was the “adventure” of being “trapped” on a bus for “hours” while the “insanely crowded” bus waded through “epic” traffic just like “we were the soldiers under water on the U—505 submersible in WWII” that we saw at the Museum.  In other words, it was stupendous; in retrospect.

I am now writing from my quiet sleeper car on the way home from our trip.  I’m sipping complimentary champagne.  This is a lovely finale.  Our 8 year-old is playing chess with his cousin in the observation car, our 5 year-old is on a tour with the conductor, and our 2 year-old is struggling to stay awake.  One cannot craft the perfect trip.  Sometimes you just have to wander onto the bus at the wrong time and see what challenge bears the sweet, memorable fruit of overcoming an obstacle.  By the time we arrive in St. Paul, I anticipate our other memories will be similarly transformed.  Every misbehavior on my children’s part and every miscalculation on our part will be converted to golden memories impossible halcyon.

Although the bus trap is likely what my children will remember most about the trip, here is my list:IMG_0005

  • Lazing in a cozy white-sheeted bed watching the first thunderstorm of the season come up over Lake Michigan.
  • Walking the city with 5 little precocious boys, 2 of whom trekked by jump rope–see photo.
  • Leaving our collective kids with a family friend while we adults enjoyed margaritas and mole and discussed the raising of boys by candlelight.
  • Eating Giordano’s pizza.
  • Seeing the glow on Tenny’s face as we headed underground for his first ride on the subway.
  • Helping Wilder discovering the answer to his question, “what is a Chicago?”
  • Snuggling Wesley right now, while the pink sun glows over the tawny fields of Wisconsin spring and the clickety clack carries him home via dreamland.

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?”