Some might call me a protective parent. We set up natural boundaries around things like swimming in a pool without adult supervision and we intervene when we hear the inevitable curse word or put down. Kids don't just come out of the womb knowing the rules around safety or what's ok and not ok to say out loud to other humans. We nurture their kindness and call them on their behavior when it's unacceptable. Yet, we also might be pretty progressive when compared to others in the realm of conversations we are willing to have with them.
We have often talked to them about the big questions they have... and both of my boys are deep thinkers. Petey was obsessed with anatomy and physiology at such a young age that he used the gift card from his toddler teacher to buy his all time favorite book, "The Human Body Book" which brought out a whole host of questions about (mostly) the female reproductive system, coupled with some great talks about the pulmonary system which led to the refusal to eat "aveolis" (what he heard when I said, "raviolis"). Phoenix wanted to know who the first humans were and how many people have died in wars since the start of time around that age. We read early on the stories of freedom fighters and Phoenix designed wheel chair accessible ramps and elevators in case his grandma without a limb ever came to visit.
Now, it's racism. At bedtime, the talks start. In the car, the talks start. They wonder and they want to know. Truth is, I don't. I have my strong feelings that we all need to embrace one another, but I could never explain what life is like for a black American. I can tell you that I understand there are so many layers of oppression from the past and biases and imprisonments and such- that adversity by nature can increase your risk of violating laws and lead to more violence and greater percentages of your people in prison. Much of that adversity stemming from a fear and an intentional or inadvertant "holding people in their place". Between the military intentionally recruiting from lower income brackets and the flying in of illegal drugs, our world has certainly set up a metaphorical chutes and ladders with many more chutes for people of color.
But I don't know what it means because I couldn't. I'm a white girl. I am a caring white girl- but a white girl, no less. I have faced discrimination as a white woman married to another white woman. I know what it feels to be afraid you're rights will be stripped away or never issued at all. I remember the feeling for a full two years after we "illegally" wed with a large ceremony October- the month before it was legal to get a marriage certificate in MA. The year that every news channel showed images of gays and lesbians burning in the flames of Hell as protestors rallied to try to revoke the rights just issued in our state- I walked around with a bicycle chain in my gut- one that had shards of glass instead of metal links. Everyone had an opinion on the matter and talked openly about it- many forgot as I don't look the stereotypical lesbian- that I was there, listening.
So, at bedtime, many years later, I sit with my nine year old and my twelve year old and we read. We talk. Now, it's Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes. The story, copyrighted in 2018, is about a 12 year old black boy named Jerome. He is bullied terribly in his inner city school and afraid of the drug dealers on the street, yet he is a "good boy" and loved by his popular sister and hard working poor family. He is shot and killed by a white police officer who thought a toy gun (which he would never normally carry and would be in great trouble if he did) was real. The story oscillates between chapters that are "Alive" or "Dead" and slowly tell the story about his family and community who grieve. Jerome is now a ghost and has formed an unlikely bond with the police officer's daughter who can see him and a mysterious second ghost boy- I'd tell you more, but I haven't gotten that far yet. The little girl poses questions to her father that cause him to question his own perception of the "man" he saw as dangerous... Jerome, who really is just twelve and the same height as the officer's daughter.
I don't know if I'm doing it right- and I am not entirely concerned about that. No one seems to have the answers or the path written out in neat, linear steps. I'm more concerned about staying open, curious and honest. I am more concerned about hearing the stories and re-writing the small part of the picture I can... that of mine and my family. I hope to inform my boys with a love for others and a deep trust in this inner compass- a trust so deep that when faced with the opportunity to oppress or to close a fist- they open their hand and reach out instead.
If that's all I can do right now, I am doing something important. I feel that in my heart.
If we never get uncomfortable and cross into that "and" territory, we can not hear just as we won't be heard.
No genius ever grew in isolation.... or if one did... it would be very rare. It takes the combination of ideas to evolve. While it's easy to isolate and polarize, no one was ever opened to their bias in isolation of another who acted as a catalyst for that change. Do we bring change by separating... by withdrawing? Do we chose an "us or them" mentality... and look for people who will reflect back to us our own bias, our own opinion so we never have to grow and get uncomfortable?
Sometimes I want to tell others they are wrong as an idea is so fundamentally different than what I believe, and I'm not saying it's ok to stand idly by- especially in the face of oppression, human rights and racism. HOWEVER, I have to be willing to listen and to hear and to include others who are fundamentally different than I am. If we never get uncomfortable and cross into that "and" territory, we can not hear just as we won't be heard.
Our thinking is often This or That... Choose, choose. There is only one choice- love- and that one means that we open up to one another. We listen, we see the point of view and then we invite others to hear ours. The only way to close a gap is to build a bridge. The only way to change the darkness is to bring the light.
Let's get empowered together. Let's breathe through the discomfort. Let's find the common ground and use it to squash the fear that isolated us in the first place. Let's move away from polarization and toward unity.
Sometimes it's the simple messages that we really need to hear. In times of transition or challenge or when someone asks you to do something you are uncomfortable with. Sometimes it's the moment when someone's opinion is loud and against your values and they seem to be seeking your approval or your agreement and you can't. It's the moments when you are deciding who are your closest friends and who you can trust- that you first have to trust your ideas and your heart. When we complete one goal and take time to celebrate the hard work and effort, the challenge we've overcome... when we put one foot in front of the other and decide to pursue something else... the moments we reflect and remember who we are and how important our single voice is to the world. Trust the miracle of YOU. Listen to your heart. Pursue your passions. You deserve everything and more than you can dream up.
In this day with so much hatred and fear, we have to love more. While our fear makes us want to withdraw, the solution is love. BUT, what makes it hard to act out of love is a lack of self-confidence and self-acceptance. When we are insecure and sending ourselves doubtful thoughts, we might have a deficit of self love. I know that when we try to act- when we try to speak up and stand up for others, a huge wave of fear can follow when we aren't regularly remembering that our voice is valuable and wonderful and important. We have just as much a right to express ourselves as anyone else. What's more, we have responsibility to share our love and our loving messages. If we wake up and remind ourselves that we are enough exactly as we are- that we are capable of making an impact on the world... and that our internal reflection and awareness of our weakness is not damnation, then we can develop a healthier sense of love and feel more confident sharing that love.
What loving messages can you send yourself today?
So many shares about the hatred and how angry we all are. I feel you. It hurts to know our nation is in this place at this time. We all hoped that we'd be further by now. It's been years since Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. I know many of us hold that dream dear in our hearts and share with our families and children the love we wish to give.
Instead, our boys watched "The Hate You Give" a documentary that stirred us all. We have always spoken to them about white privilege and the fact that they need to respect and love others and uplift because they are male and white and will have it by birth.
It would be so wonderful to give more love and we all have the capacity to do that. We have that power.
But as we turn away from the hatred, I hope that you will take some reassurance in the fact that you feel disgust, hurt, angry, confused, scared and a myriad of other miserable feelings. That is what reminds us that we care, that we can act, that we are human and that love will win.
I am thankful for that pain. Thank God I feel it. Not feeling it would be much, much worse. Love your neighbor, explore the reasons why people feel the need to oppress and why people who are oppressed need us to amplify their voice and our own. Love you, LeeAnn
Sometimes our living room is covered in laundry as it is right now.. piled up, haphazardly- organized loosely by person. It's mostly comprised of play clothes, fitness clothes, nothing too fancy. Our kitchen table is the science lab, the seedling incubator, the UNO sports stadium, the one room school house desk. It is not perfect or camera ready or Pinterest -worthy. COVID-19 built this house.
One minute, laughter resounds in this place. The next moment is marked by short bursts of yelling- at the top of the lungs. Those moments germinated from bumping up against a challenge or a moment of tension. That friction erupts after being bottled up and held in one space with the same faces, the same walls and counting the same hours.
Today, as my boys took their positions with breakfast and incoming assignments from their remote teachers, I was struck by the irony of the situation. Exhausted parents all over the modern world worry about the struggles... the fights... the yelling, the tensions, the nagging sense of inadequacy. We are called to do so much and we are supposed to be the ones with all the answers- yet, the answers are not ours to own right now. WE are so full of questions and so full of fear and so protective and soooooo tired. We want what's best for our children and our communities and yet, we feel so ill -equipped to provide the sense of calm our children need right now. "The struggle is real" is a phrase often thrown around... everyone comiserating in the short call placed to a friend or in passing over a Zoom Virtual conference. YET- what if it isn't the struggle that is REAL?
As usual, my oldest completed many of his assignments upon rising and my sleepy head woke up late. As soon as Petey channeled his focus toward school work, the oldest lost interest in algebra or studying the universe. Petey's learning about animal classification and today is reptile day. He loved the "Black Mamba" so, of course, big brother decided it was time for a wrestle break- one he initiated by "modeling the actions of a black mamba." Today's tousle was good-nature distraction- a source of frustration for a parent who has a job to do aside from parenting and teaching them at home. Schooling feels a lot like a circus with energy cycling from ring to ring. Momentum passes between children- who can distract whom? Who will send the frantic energy, who will absorb the tension, who will go quiet, who will explode like a shot from a cannon? A parent can feel frazzled with a simple sideways glance.
So Is the Struggle Real?
We hang our heads low as parents and think we are somehow failing if we don't have that little, fake, twinkle on our smile when we greet the new day or open the front door for our partner (enter June Cleaver). We feel like we should be able to teach and clean and somehow do our jobs and put food on the table- and facilitate peace in the home. Yet, we were never trained to deal with our grandmother's reality- nor the reality we are in now.
Sure, our grandmothers and fathers may have been able to do this with ease, but that was a different time. My grandpa would have sent me down to the basement for a jar of canned beets and grandma would have pulled out the cloth diapers instead of sending us to the market. The norm would be to spend more time face to face and in the same space as 9 other siblings, not to feel crowded by one. The norm would be to provide for ourselves, to work hard quietly and to prioritize only what is "essential".
We've been so socialized, and schedule driven that we've been paying other people to provide almost all of the essentials we now need to provide ourselves. I can recall sitting in a restaurant in the not so distant past and if it took too long to receive the meal, hearing "What did they have to go out to grow and harvest the grain for the cake themselves?" This is the ironic equivalent to raising our kids right now. We are called to do the planting, the watering, the harvesting and the preparing. Others of us have to worry and pray that the pieces come together after working the front lines and risking our health. It's no wonder we are out of sorts. We feel a thin string holds all the parts together and that string is fraying.
What if the SNUGGLE is actually REAL??
With all of the challenge, these kids will one day live to tell the stories that only THEY experienced. Our families will have these memories of a time when we were the ones to go for months without seeing other people, without sports, schoolmates, celebrations, and graduations. We will probably remember the fights- the REALLY good ones. After all, I will never forget jumping off the Sit 'n Spin then pushing my sister through the screen door of our house- all over a bowl of brownie batter and who got to lick the spoon. Don't judge, I bet if you tried my mom's brownie batter you would have had your fists up, too. I bet you have fond memories of torturous moments of yore, as well. Life is like that. We take what we want to hold onto and we leave rest.
What if in all of our desire to be perfect (or merely acceptable)... in all of our yearning to survive and all of our feeling of failure- we are not in fact failing- we just THINK we are? What if these kids and this life moves on and the fondest moments are of triumph- an underlying sense of having survived this incredibly difficult time? What if we are full of gratitude for our families- our imperfect, tumbling, fighting, tense and yet... loving families. The ones who didn't give up or walk out or stop trying- the ones that tortured us and tickled us and celebrated getting from level K on Rocket Math to Level M in a day... the ones who messed up the toilet seat and left it- then later cooked an incredible grilled cheese (insert hand washing in there, please). What if those moments of SNUGGLE are the realest part of this all?
Then, we wouldn't have failed. We'd have succeeded. Today, I am reminded to be grateful to have the opportunity to plant and water and grow my family. As dirty and difficult and exhausting as it might be- I believe we will have succeeded if our kids have just a few memories of all out fights and mostly memories like the one in the picture above. Show those moments to yourself and show them to your children. You are doing an amazing job, Covid-Cleavers.
Our wellness is not a single act on a single day. It isn't eat more or eat less. It isn't move faster or harder. It isn't study and grind. It isn't sit and meditate. It is made up of so many parts that overlap. Every time we make a decision that nurtures our spirit, mind and body, we are affirming our divine right to be healthy, whole and complete.
As a little girl, I watched as my mom showed selflessness. She often put herself last, saving money she might use on a new pair of sneakers or a nice top she needed- saving for Christmas, for us, to pay bills, to meet other people's needs. I watched her spend her time serving the community, our house, our gardens, my siblings and my father. I admired her SELF LESS nature. I admired her angelic generosity. My mom will always be my angel.
As I grew and became a teenager, I found myself giving so much of myself away that I wasn't always sure who I was anymore. I thought that to show love and to be my best, there should be a lot more give and a lot less receive. I saw meeting my own needs as a selfish and egotistical act. There was shame in my mind and a whole lot of guilt. More often than not, there was exhaustion and poor decision making as I was vulnerable to the whims of others around me and I wasn't always treated as someone who deserved respect, care and love- maybe because I wasn't expecting much less demanding it.
It wasn't until I was married, with a child and a full time job that I realized I wasn't teaching my son to love himself because I wasn't modeling how to do that. I was showering him with affection, praise, challenge, attention and experiences, but I wasn't SHOWING him a mother who was going to take time to love her self. It took the loss of a close friend to help me realize that there was no better time to start on the difficult but fulfilling path toward self-inquiry, self love and empowerment.
Often times, guilt rides shot gun when we take time for ourselves. We think, "If I am to be teaching my children or others love- I have to love -them." We don't realize that the only way we can truly teach our children, our loved ones and our community to nurture the self is to act with SELF love. We have to take the time, we have to say, "no". We have to set boundaries. We have to assert our own needs, desires, passions, and path. We have to read to empower our minds, we have to practice to nurture our spirit, and we have to take care of the nutrition and movement that strengthens our bodies.
All of this means that we might have to replace other tasks with time for ourSELVES. We might sacrifice a TV show or cleaning up after someone else. We might have to ask for help. Wow. That is a real mind-blower. I am not being sarcastic. It is often one of the hardest things we can do as humans. We have to surround ourselves with people who have similar goals, who will support our personal and professional development. We have to turn inward and we have to be open outward. Seeking the best in ourselves helps us discard jealousy, discard judgement, and release the need to be perfect because, frankly, the more we seek answers inward, the more we realize there is no such thing. Yet, our flaws make us perfectly human & perfectly divine.
What's more, the world needs our solution, our voice, our ideas, our creativity and our love. We can not contribute with authenticity if we do not work on developing the space, the time and the skills for wellness. Think of it as an act of giving to the world.
If you aren't currently part of an uplifting community who will surround you with support and optimism, consider joining Journey Through The Wilderness, my free, private FB group or Smiles at Sunrise, my free, private 21 day challenge group, available for a limited time through Zoom meetings.
Contact me or comment below for more information and to let me know if this resonates with you. Have a beautiful day.
Some process through speech or silence or art. My heart thumps on a page, it bleeds in ink. As a young girl, I prayed to be a published author one day. I wanted a voice worthy of being read.
Most of my childhood was lovely and cheerful, but it was also complicated. There were scary moments- between conflict at home, bullying at school and supporting my older sister through mixed eating disorders. I turned to poetry when I navigated my co-dependent relationships and anxiety. My bandages gathered in brown paper bags under the twin bed- collecting dust for warmth and suffocated by the containers of buffalo chicken wings my sister hid in the darkness for a moment when she needed to binge.
One day, in a feverish fit, I unearthed all my heartaches and re-homed them, relocated to a place for keeps- one with more respect. I peeled the layers of caked on grime and unfolded the crumpled edges of the pages that absorbed my still crimson thoughts. Orange letters scrawled across the tiny screen of our very first computer. It's unreal to think about how awful and wonderful something can be at the same time.
It whizzed and popped, gulping down my life- dozens and dozens of vials- poems from my veins. The machine was a vampire. Not much after I fed the beast, I finally recycled the hard pages. Moments later, the little, wondrous orange eyed savior became my enemy. Our first hard crash - and we didn't have anything like Google Docs or hard drives. We hadn't even figured out the floppy disc yet.
That was the first death of my writing. If I could have held a funeral for the pages lost, I would have. It felt like an amputation. I cried myself to sleep multiple times- not even sure what I was going to do with those scabs from my past but sad to bury them in an empty and cold box anyway.
Of course, a girl in this day and age who cuts her flesh would receive counseling. I cut mine with a pencil and page before it was cool to see a therapist. The blue lines and red margins were my counselor. I eagerly poured myself into them. I opened up and looked at my insides with interest. It was the safest pain as it left no outside marks. I couldn't bleed out. There'd always be more. And every drop made room- just a little bit for something more beautiful to grow in the space it left.
Have you ever cared about something so much that you felt this way? Have you ever been so real and so raw that it was as if you were giving away pieces of yourself? Your inner world? Your truth? Putting it in front of a magnifying glass, looking it over and hoping it's something interesting- something moving- something real?
That was the first death of my writing... you haven't even read about Peter yet.
It's a rare Monday- not just because both of my boys are busy- one at a STEAM event for school and the other working out at a friend's house. It is rare because it is February in New England, and the hill that I live on- the one that mimics the arctic tundra is soft and open- a balmy 60 degrees... in FEBRUARY. The sun is warming the surface of my skin as I sit on my front steps and listen to the puck traveling across the face of my neighbor's driveway from one boy to the next. The sun is warming me nearly enough to crack open a little bit more... to allow a little of my own steam- steam from the past to filter out- through the pores of my being and onto the page. This is the story of the Second Death- one of my writing and one of my friend- the one who woke me up each morning, singing, "You are my sunshine."
It was summer and we were training for a new crop of students to arrive on campus. We lived in dorms steeped in tradition and ritual. By day, we learned policy, performed organizational tasks, and took young professional courses. At night, we attended soureis for fundraising- junior colleges we were trying to woo. Peter and I started the same day and were inseparable. He was the kind of person who's light and radiance drew crowds toward him. He was larger than life. He escorted me to every event- like a dapper gentleman in a bow-tie, he looped his elbow through mine and held the door. We were inseparable- that is until that day. I returned from a weekend away and arrived a few minutes late to the staff barbecue on the lawn (Peter hated my tardiness).
Looking back, I think I knew something even then. He wasn't there- he was late. This wasn't like him. I convinced Patty to walk over and check on him with me. Despite the sunshine and the smell of food sizzling over charcoal, I knew something was wrong. I knew I couldn't go alone but I also knew that I HAD to go.
I'll never forget the temperature or density of silence. It changes. It can be soothing and open- light and ready for exploration in one moment. It is heavy and cold, like concrete another. We entered Anderson Hall. Walked through the empty, dark corridor and knocked on his door. Loudly, I thought. Maybe, again, it was the silence that made it seem so amplified.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
It wasn't like him. He hated when I was late. He wouldn't be. We used the master key. Click. Click. Crisp metal twisted on metal. Cold.
Walking in, Patty dropped her half eaten apple into the trash can- loud. Cold. A dorm room is all cinder block and industry- commercial grade paints not meant for human comfort, but made to last. It is ninety degree angles, a shotgun apartment- a straight shot from front to the back. A floor lamp glowed in the corner near the photograph of Peter in a gas mask- taken when he studied art. It hung near the small, rectangular window where filtered sunshine seeped through- near where he taught me to press the wrinkles from a tailored shirt using the hot corner of an iron. Next to the spot where we drank coffee and read, "The Story of the Heart" by Sandra Magsaman- where we laughed about his nephews and how he wished he could carry a baby and it wasn't fair only women could.
His music and laughter wasn't there. It was a tomb- and we knew it long before we ever rounded the corner, before the knock at the door, before the click and twist of a key, before the echo of an apple- before the heavy silence, we knew before the black and white and far too little grey.
Still, we flew through the doorway of his bedroom, rounded the corner and found him, fetal, wrapped in a red sheet, cold. The mind might know, but the heart refuses to hear. It might scream and throw up BOLD PRINT, angry words, but the heart won't listen when you want to save someone you love- when you want to save someone you can't.
We performed CPR, even though his ribs wouldn't budge. We performed mouth to mouth, even though his lips wouldn't part- his eyes didn't see and we KNEW it. He'd been gone for hours.
I don't remember who called 911 but I heard the bells of the chapel- dinging- eery in the mid-day air. I don't recall sirens but the bells- I heard them clear as day. Church bells won't ever be the same again.
That night, I slept on my boss's couch. For months, when I returned to my own apartment, I was afraid of the dark. I felt certain that Golum from Lord of The Rings lurked beneath my bed and he was going to kill me. I thought for sure I was going to die.
Losing Peter was the most frightening of deaths for me to this point, and I'd experienced many. An unusual amount- many friends during my final year of college were taken unexpectedly- and the total so shocked my small, private college that we were featured on the national news. It felt a dark web of magic was laced over the people I love and pulling them away from life. I tried to rationalize the icy streets of the college that swallowed up my friends and I tried to figure out the mystery of Peter.
He had diabetes. He told me how to remove his pump if he ever got sick. He'd been sick that weekend when I was away. BUT, I also knew more to his story and he'd given me gifts. One about the magic of crystals, an angel to, "look over my gardens" and a smoky quartz necklace- hand made. My mind raced with clues that would never piece together.
Before his funeral, Patty and I were given a chance to see Peter first. We were asked to speak at his service and I knew it would be one of the hardest things to do. Peter lay there, with his bowtie on. His body was cold but his spirit lingered. The bowtie was upside down- something he often did on accident and I teased him for. Surely the funeral director would not have done that on purpose. Still, there it was, a message from my dear friend from the beyond.
I began to pour into a story. It was my 21st year of life and I 'd seen so much death. That would be the title, "21" and he'd be a pivotal piece of it. Many pages came and traveled with me as I completely rearranged my life. I said goodbye to my fiancé and decided to travel to Arizona to visit my sister. I bought a ticket for Patty and I- and we left. Hours and hours of writing flew beside me. I carried it in a large folder- pages and pages of truth and heart ache and memory. It was my first flight and I was nervous.
I don't remember what distracted me- the fear of landing and putting that tray into the upright position or the sincere desire for the sunshine to heal me., but that story was left on the plane. Like Peter- it will be remembered always but will never be held again.
I still "saw" Peter many times- with an absolute knowing- his energy seemed everywhere. It was in the body of the squirrel that raced me along the pathways- the ones he used to escort me on. I could hear his voice wake me up- like he used to do, singing over the phone lines. I could still smell the starch he used on the collars of his button down dress shirts.
Some weeks and months later, a single picture surfaced on my boss's camera. I was standing on the porch of the main building on campus- where all food and activities are held. The picture was shaded- my arms outstretched like I was flying and I had a big smile on my face. My eyes are squinting because I am in the direct rays of the sunshine. Peter stood directly behind me, in the shadows, smiling, but strong, like a soldier protecting me. Laura caught it. She gave me this gift I will never, ever be able to repay.
To this day, I swear he still looks over me and my gardens. His angel is hanging on my wall. My second son carries his name- including his beloved nickname- Petey. It was the second death of my writing and the birth of a life that was completely different from the day he left us.