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.

img_0002

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

Contractions, middle school and tomorrow

We did not know how hard childbirth would be. Yet the babies arrived. Why fear what lies ahead when it seems we never knew our capacity to begin with?

Source: Contractions, middle school and tomorrow

Contractions, kindergarten, middle school and tomorrow

IMG_7276My material is growing up. It’s going to middle school tomorrow. And 3rd grade. On Wednesday, kindergarten. Pretty soon, their stories will be their own—not mine to tell.

I’m sitting here with two glasses of wine and a glowing candle. When it goes out, I’ll stop writing and go to bed. For now, it is suspending me between summer vacation and children who grow up too fast. I had a toast with the 2nd glass, poured for my husband who can’t stop folding laundry. He also did some chores tonight that he’s had in the works for years. We have different suspension systems.

Tomorrow when I wake up I have to pack lunches and deliver my babies. It doesn’t feel that different than impending births. They still kick me in the ribs–especially my youngest. In utero, he once kicked me so hard it knocked me off course, foreshadowing the kid to come. At nine months, he climbed out of the crib, de-diapered, crawled down the stairs, ascended our countertop, removed a bottle of children’s IB profen from the cupboard and finished it as I rounded the corner after finding his crib empty.

Whenever I speak sternly with him, he responds, “Geez, Shawna,” as if we should be working things out woman to man. He is enterprising and canny and luckily, cute.

I am hoping his kindergarten teacher sees him that way too.

Speaking of small men, my oldest has turned twelve. I anticipate I will soon have a bearded transportation engineer on my hands and it will be time to retire to the lake and start selecting a nursing home. My rational self reminds me he still plays with toy trains.

I shared with my husband last week, “After they grow up, it seems like life will just be hard.” He reminded me that life with little ones is actually really, really hard. And no, we should not adopt a baby girl now.

I don’t actually want more babies. I want to know today who I will be with no babies in my house, the same way I anticipated who I would be once motherhood began.

Yesterday I ran 9 miles. Today, I walked the dog, hiked with the family, swam with my middle son and did some stairs. I have no babies to rock all night and toddlers to chase all day. I may break up more arguments, clean more wounds and talk through more hurts, but I feel a bit like a stretched out balloon that now takes more air to refill. For the first time in a long time, I have both a capacity I did not realize before parenting and time to fill it with a few more things for me.

Or so I think today. I am also still in transition to full time work outside of the bouncy castle that is our home. So far, though far busier, it feels less hard on my body. Sometimes, I speak in paragraphs and finish cups of coffee. But I am entering the unknown and nervous. Reprieves have tended to come and go like contractions over the past thirteen years.

I remember when my oldest was crying in my arms at the JCC when he was about a year old. A beautiful older woman who spoke very little English walked up to us and started to gently rub his brow. He fell asleep. She said, “Little children, little problems. Big children, big problems,” and walked away.

At this moment, I feel ill prepared for the heartaches of big children. I have worked in teen health since 1996, but it is so different with my own. Puberty, acne, choices, disappointments, bullies, grades, first loves, stress, insecurities, hormones…all lay ahead. I am more nervous for me than I am for my middle schooler because I am equally excited for him and self-discoveries ahead. How in the world could I stretch this balloon any thinner? What will it feel like for me when their lives feel hard to them and I can’t fix it?

My kindergartner is excited for school. My 3rd grader whimpered as I held him tonight, “I don’t want to grow up,” and “Do I have to go to school?” He is my tender-hearted, wispy-haired artist. I tell him I have a good feeling about this year for him. I swallow my own tears. The kicking of ribs and contractions have yet to cease.

We did not know how hard childbirth would be. Yet the babies arrived. Why fear what lies ahead when it seems we never knew our capacity to begin with?

The candle is flinching. It’s time to let tomorrow come.

Camp

IMG_5653Shockingly young-appearing camp counselors greet parents and offer tours. Many of us decline, no need to explain how deeply we feel at home here. In fact, we recognize them. They are us, twenty years ago.

I am at YMCA Camp Widjiwagan to greet my oldest, who has just returned from his first canoe trip.

I spent many summers here at Widji. As a camper, I thought I went for adventure and to meet new people. I did not think I went for the terrifying storms, 13-hour hikes, nauseating homesickness, weeks of damp feet, weepy blisters or thick mosquitoes. But camp was all of those things, too.

I thought I joined the staff for all the same reasons. And I wanted to be a teacher. This was experiential education at its finest: working with girls on the brink of adulthood in nature.

Yesterday when I arrived in the north woods, I stepped out of my car and was immersed in the smell of pines. The air was soft with impending rain and dappled evening sun. Immediately, the sensations seeped in through the bottoms of my feet like water. If you’d been there, you would have seen it begin to brim upon my lower lids.

This is why I returned to camp, summer after summer. It filled up a drained-out me like a dromedary. Every time I returned, despite all challenges, or perhaps because we endured the hardships so well together, I left with enough fresh water to make it through another year of school.

The nervous excitement growing in my belly feels odd and displaced. I am a parent awaiting a glimpse of my son. I am a camper excited to see my parents. I am a counselor eager to return from trail. My camper has only been gone for five days—I know this feeling isn’t just about this moment—it is about all of these moments.

So much feels the same. Some staff remain the very same. The trail building is in an entirely new log structure, yet it smells the same. The drying canvas packs emit the same heat. The big black camping pots were our pots. The canoe barn whispers history the same way it did when I first entered it. The towering pines, the wind off the lake, the feel of cabin row, the bursts of laughter, the screen doors—they are as mine as my heart.

Camp is peppered today with campers and counselors who are the children of dear old friends. This is how I remember camp too. We came home excited to tell our parents about our new friends, only to hear them say, “Oh that must be the niece” of so and so.

We learned “The Widji Way” to travel the wilderness. We sat around fires and told the same stories, generation after generation. We know the same songs and indoctrinate our children with them in their cribs. We claim it’s not a “cult” but we know. We know.

Tonight, we find our campers, freshly sauna-ed and sun-kissed. Their hugs are more lingering than usual. They look bigger than when they climbed aboard the bus. My head feels swimmy with memories. I slip easily from now to my childhood.

They introduce us to their counselors and walk us about camp, showing us their route on a map twice as tall as them. We hear about the storm, the stinky tent, card games, and happenings so funny they can’t get to the end of the story. They show us how to 3-person lift an 80-pound wood canvas canoe and how they can actually carry the beast. They are reverent of its strength and delicacy.

I am earnest about ensuring my son feels this is his trip, his experience, his discovery. I want it to feel as powerful, new and exciting to him as it did to me. I quiet my memories as much as I can until he beckons them himself.

We walk into the tripping center. He asks me to find my Mountaineer hat on the wall, hung with all the others. We find Molly’s, Rachel’s, Aaron’s, Peter’s, Amy’s and and and…I loved those friendships then when we were here together. It is a fraction of the gratitude I feel for those continued friendships in this moment. We look at names on plaques and paddles of Voyager and Mountaineer groups. “Mom, that’s cousin Jeff,” and “Look there’s Melissa,” and “Isn’t that the mom of my babysitter?”

After the banquet, we sing Viva la Companie and Madeline with a life-force revved by recent adventure. Each troupe rises to the front and each child, age 11 to 15 or so, shares something. “I am proud of myself for learning to steer a canoe.” “I loved seeing otters play.” “My favorite part was these people.”

What we hear as parents is that camp succeeded. The mission of the YMCA and Camp Widjiwagan is being expressed right here in front of us by the campers themselves. They speak to wilderness, quiet, learning, cooperation, bravery and growth that are timeless.

Through a soggy face, I watch my son sing in firelight. I’m lost in a “this is your life” montage. These songs we sing at family gatherings, weddings and funerals. These are my lullabies. “In time when you are ready, come and join me take my hand, and together we’ll share life out on the lose.” My son turns and finds me in the crowd and smiles. We know.

The funny thing is, I didn’t know. I did not project into sleepless moments with my infant a child of twelve. I sang those songs because they were the most familiar to me when I was my most exhausted.

I love this place. It was not perfect. Some summers we couldn’t afford to go. Sometimes I was nauseatingly homesick. But good and bad, camp helped me walk bravely into other communities, continents and experiences. Camp was the adventure that beget all further adventures in my life.

Camps are designed to help kids practice working through struggles they can handle, like getting along with others and sustaining a fire. It is a second family. If my kids find that at Widji, I will be thrilled. If they find it elsewhere, I will be thrilled. I know kids who find it through choirs, theater productions or sports teams. What we want for our children is experiences that make them feel attached and stretched—a place to learn skills that give them a sense of competency in the world.

IMG_5717At session close, the staff stands in front of camp and sings a sort of prayer: “May the long time sunshine on you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on.”

We know it will.

 

 

I get it, duck mom.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I clipped the 30 finger nails of said children.

And fed them chocolate cake for breakfast.

Yes I did. From a box.

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

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

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

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

I get it, duck mom.

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

To women of my generation: so strong and able

I’m tired. My throat hurts. I’m scattered. Hungry. Irritated. Parking ticket kind of day.

I’m going home for cooking

I might stop for groceries.

I am going home for hugging and playing.

I might even do nothing

I dare you too.

Not to do list

  • I will not return phone calls
  • I will not return texts
  • I will not worry about, everything
  • I will not work (it never actually just takes a second)
  • I will not volunteer
  • I will not pay the bills
  • I will not make plans for October (in April)
  • I will not “want a new” anything
  • I will not pick up
  • I will not clean up
  • I will not catch up
  • I will not say “just a minute sweetie”
  • I will not even plant seeds, though it is time for spinach

I am going home.

There is something I have got to find.

Something I lost.

You too?

Join me.

I dare you.

 

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.

I finally got my nose pierced

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

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

Then I got my nose pierced!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I perfected my conversational Spanish.

Then, I had an affair with Kendrick Lamar.

I put my name in the hat for Presidency.

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

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

I tucked in my kids.

And drank tea.

Some days I amaze myself.

 

 

This Gentle Helper

Photo on 1-16-16 at 10.04 AM“Mom, are you are a princess or a queen?”
“I’ll be the Queen. What is dad then?”
“He can be the Prince until you retire. Then he can be King.”
“Sounds fair.”
“And I am your Royal Wizard,” replies my enrobed seven-year-old.

He pulls out a satchel.

“I have here my wizarding goods. An extra wizard robe and hat. Two magic bandages. A pack of magic pills. Super magnifier. Enchanted sponge. Dark magic. Coconut oil. Mint oil. Wizard crystal. A flaming mirror. A bonker. An oil I made – you should smell it. Petrified wood. Enchanted petrified stone. A cork. Fire in a bottle. And last but not least, flexipotion. If I attach this to the medicine and my ears, it will warm me up.”

His collection is adapted from my childhood Fisher Price doctor kit. He appears to equate wizardry with healing. I inquire further, “what are your plans for our kingdom, Royal Wizard?”

“I am thinking I could help those homeless refugees. Fresh food, fresh water, fire in a bottle and some other potions. A house in a box. You need magic. Unfold it. Tap it with a wand, say “pigtail” and out pops the house.”

What would the Queen do without her Royal Wizard?

It is zero degrees outside today with a -20 degree “real feel.” We are discomforted only by the cancelation of plans to ski. We do not anticipate homelessness, ever, for ourselves or our offspring. We have no need of wizard’s work. But this wizard has big plans.

Across the globe, other families do need his help. They are homeless and growing colder everyday. Or they are in refugee camps. Some are housed among inhospitable neighbors and cannot find work. Others have faired better and are creating new lives. But they are not home. It is unlikely they will ever go home. According to World Vision, “the crisis in Syria affects more than 12 million people,” well beyond the scope of a seven-year old Royal Wizard.

Yet he doesn’t turn his back. He’s thinking, “what could I do?”

O that men like this gentle helper, who saved a wounded man and treated as his neighbour an unknown stranger, may be found all over the world.
Disease is spreading, war is stalking, famine reigns far and wide.
But when one mortal relieves another like this, charity springing from pain unites them.

This prose, translated from Latin to English, is lifted from Benjamin Britten’s Cantata Misericordium and tells the story of the Good Samaritan. In September, I listened over the shoulder of my choir director as he played the haunting chords and read to me from this score. Our choir, MacPhail Center for Music’s adult ensemble, Sonomento, had just begun rehearsing this piece for our January 31st concert. It was the week stories of children drowning and boats capsizing and families walking hundreds of miles began to break our hearts. Through wet eyes, I said, “This is about Syria.” He agreed. “You know who our neighbor is…” He looked up, uncertain where I was headed. “The American Red Cross. We can’t sing this without singing for them.” Surprised, Craig revealed, “Britten actually composed this Cantata for the 100th anniversary of the International Red Cross in 1963.”

In that moment, the opportunity to do something on the behalf of the refugees presented itself to us. MacPhail sits a few short blocks from the American Red Cross in Minneapolis. The International Red Cross has been tirelessly involved in refugee relief efforts across Europe, the Middle East and the United States. Our January concert became a collaboration between MacPhail and the International Red Cross.

Music is not a house in a box, but it has magical healing properties, bringing people together and expressing what we fall short of in words.

Misericordia translates, “mercy.” The Cantata concludes,

Who your neighbour is, now you know.
Go and do likewise.

Be a gentle helper. Consider a donation to the Red Cross. Learn more about the crisis. Consider volunteering on behalf of refugee families in Minnesota with a church based or nonprofit program.

And on Sunday, January 31st at 7pm in Minneapolis, come hear us sing for our neighbors near and far.