Skip to content

Bring it.

December 22, 2016

It seems fitting that I have managed only one blog post per month since August.

This past month, we have been hit by the Godzilla of cold viruses which prompted me to create a song in honor of it (think Lambchop):

“This is the bug that never ends, yes, it goes on and on my friend.  Some people started coughing then, not knowing what it was, and they will go on coughing forever just because this is the bug that never ends…”

Last week in desperation we called our friend Cleo to come and sit with Theresa, home sick from school, while Alan took the other two to school and went to work, and I went to work for an hour just to get my students set up with work for the two-week break so I could come back home for my own sick day.  Cleo came back that same night with homemade organic chicken-and-rice soup.

And then she got sick.

So yesterday I brought her (not-homemade) soup and bread and apologized profusely for giving her this awful cold.

Other than all of us being leveled by this virus, reflecting on 2016 mostly makes my heart hurt.

So I will try to reflect on some of the Good Things, to create space for the breath we all need before we tackle all the inequity and injustice and hatred and general awfulness in the world.

  • the awesome creativity of kindergartener spelling (all in caps, because they’re still working on learning lowercase letters):
    • BADRLFAY (butterfly)
    • HOSPDL (hospital)
    • CER (cheer)
    • and this note:  MOMMY YOU ARE THE BAST KOK EVR (Mommy you are the best cook ever)
    • what I’ve learned:  vowels are ridiculously hard!
  • my friend Cari had her first baby a few days ago.  Is there anything more optimistic and promising than a baby?
  • my yoga teacher taught me how to do a headstand a couple of months ago, and I did it on the first try.  Inversions are hard for me, things requiring coordination in general are hard for me, so this is serious progress.
  • our kids’ school gives “Dragon Slips” to encourage kids doing good things:  listening, walking quietly, helping a friend, etc.  We started giving invisible “Mommy Slips” and “Daddy Slips” at home to encourage such behavior too.  In the past few days, Audrey brought down her own glasses in the morning and Jamie’s as well, without being asked.  When Theresa asked for water at dinner, Jamie said, “I’ll get it!” and leaped to help her.  Theresa gives away her favored blankets and stuffed animals to household members who seem like they need extra comfort.
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda.  He is A GENIUS.  (Here’s the sonnet he delivered as part of an acceptance speech at the Tonys this past summer.)
  • Kate McKinnon as Hillary on SNL.  Especially this one.
  • last Friday as I hauled my voiceless self into work, the sunrise lit up the snow-capped mountains, turning them into pink-frosted cakes.
  • the kid who did not even want to hold a writing implement in September now willingly practices writing and drawing at home.
  • we forgot about Elf on the Shelf, even after the kids mentioned that “everyone” in their class has it at home.  Finally, we dug him out of the storage room and he made his first appearance on the morning of December 21.  Having to move the Elf only four times:  major parenting win.
  • three of my cousins and one former nanny are getting married next year!  Four weddings in six months:  so much love and rejoicing.
  • a playlist that my phone surprised me with on Thursday as I drove to work determined to make it through the teaching day (which I did, but sacrificed my voice in the process):
  • our village.  When we call in the village, the village comes.  I will never stop being grateful for and awed by this.

Finally, to celebrate our anniversary, we went to Victoria, B.C.  Almost every weekend away we try to hike, so we chose a reasonable-looking trail up to a cool lookout on Mt. Finlayson in Goldstream Provincial Park.

It ended up being wayyyyyy more steep and challenging that we thought it would be.

People coming down would tell us, “Yeah, it’s a bit of a scramble at the top.”

As in, the trail all but disappears except for arrows spray-painted on the side of the rockface cliff.

About halfway up the rocky part, I stopped for a drink and looked back at where we had come from.  Panic set in.  How was I every going to get back down?  It’s one thing to climb up; I’m fine with that.  But going down?  This is the girl who could not rappel down the rock-climbing wall when she took rock-climbing lessons and had to actually climb down hand-over-hand.  Heights?  Narrow ledges?  FEAR.

Before I realized I had to get down the trail again.

Before I realized I had to get down the trail again.

But I remembered what my yoga teacher always says:  “You don’t have to think about what came before.  You don’t have to think about what’s coming next.  You just have to be right here in this pose, right now.”

So I kept going up.  And up.  A total of 410 meters of elevation gain over 2 km.

We made it to the very top, and then I knew that going back down was not a Big Overwhelming Thing To Be Scared Of, but something to do one step (or butt-scoot) at a time.

11 years of marriage and many, many hikes.

11 years of marriage and many, many hikes.

Alright, 2017.  Bring it.

Shifting from despair to hope

November 9, 2016

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” –MLK quoting Theodore Parker

In 2004, a college friend wrote about his reaction to Bush defeating Kerry.  It was, he said, less an election about issues and more “a referendum on ideology.”

That’s understating what I feel right now.  The values I hold at the core of my being–those I built my life around and endeavor to teach both my children and my students–seem beyond mocked.  It feels like a direct and violent assault on what I believed is best about America.

“Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media. People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.” –Senator Bernie Sanders

Any of my students will tell you that I am obsessed with really like quotes.  One of my former students even messaged me today, asking what quotes I’m reading right now to help me process the results of this election.  One, she said, that usually worked for her but was not working today was this:


Photo credit Jessica Wei via Ephemeral Living

I have been trying to imagine others complexly.  My initial reaction was to wonder how the hell this is the America I know and love.  However, if the election had gone the other way, half of this country would be wondering how the hell this was their America.

Who are we?  What do we value as a nation?  What do we stand for?  Although documents exist that seem to make those answers clear, the nature of human interpretation of old texts muddies that clarity.  There are many versions of the One True Explanation for the Constitution.

Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried, which my students just finished writing essays about, says in a lecture about his work:  “I’m especially skeptical, having returned from a place like Vietnam, of Truth-with-a-capital-T…Those fanatical, self-righteous, zealous, I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong declarations of what’s true.”  I tend to agree with him:  that life exists in the realm of gray between the Black and White extremes.  We do not typically give credence to the gray; it’s too hard to live in the complexity and mess and far easier to assert hard lines of division.  It’s easier to take sides.

From what I’ve read, it seems like fear has been driving both sides in this election:  fear of the Other.  Meanness, exclusion, anger, resentment all stem from fear of something.  Fear of losing what you have, or fear of change, or fear of more of the same shittiness that you’ve been experiencing.

Fear is not helpful here.  Fear is not hopeful.  Fear gets things done but often at great cost.

I have been afraid.  I have felt for much of the past 24 hours like Jem after Tom Robinson’s guilty verdict:

“How could they do it, how could they?”  Atticus responds, “I don’t know, but they did it. They’ve done it before and they did it tonight and they’ll do it again and when they do it—seems that only children weep. Good night.”

And then I went back to an earlier chapter in To Kill a Mockingbird, where Atticus tells Scout:

Photo credit

Photo credit

Maybe there is hope.  Because despite the fact that the Canadian immigration site crashed last night, this is still our home.  For all of us who are proud to call ourselves Americans.  This country is big enough and resourceful enough for all of us.

This is what I will tell my students tomorrow:

Your voice, your identity, your story matters. 

Your family–given and chosen–matters.

Your heritage–your culture, language, traditions–matters.

Your membership in this country–whether from the Mayflower or as a recent immigrant–matters. You are us.  We are the U.S.

You are valued.  You are worthy of respect.  You are loved.  And don’t ever let ANYONE tell you otherwise. 

We all carry in us the capacity to be kind or cruel.  Choose kindness.  Choose openness and curiosity over fear.  Over and over again.  And when you do choose cruelty–because you will, because we all do sometimes–then choose kindness and openness and curiosity again.  Ask for forgiveness.  Forgive yourself.  Learn how and when to compromise and when to hold firm.  Engage.  Question.  Grow.

October Observations

October 18, 2016

Photo credit: Modern Mrs. Darcy

Decorating Daddy's cupcakes (or "eating frosting")

Decorating Daddy’s cupcakes (or “eating frosting”)

  • School has gotten way better for the kids.  We are settling into a routine.  Things seem manageableish for now.
    • What we’re practicing:  writing (is there anything more adorable than five-year-old letters, all slanted and squishy and squiggly?), art, reading, math games.  Using pencil grips to help with fine motor skills.  Implementing “Stretchy Snake” (to slowly sound out a word) or Skippy Frog (to skip a word until you can come back to it with more context clues).
    • We did have to figure out the threshold of when-to-call-a-kid-in-sick vs. when-to-send-them-to-school.  My sister-in-law AJ confirmed our call.
    • Even the bus driver commented last week:  “[Kid’s name] isn’t a morning person, huh?”
Theresa's self-portrait with me, and practicing writing her name

Theresa’s self-portrait with me, and practicing writing her name

  • This past Saturday we had a We Love Nicole and Jillian party for our two most recent nannies.  Since our kids are in school full-time, N and J are moving on to other ventures, but we are so grateful to have them in our lives.  I made a pumpkin-cream-cheese-chocolate-frosting cake and several members of our tribe came to celebrate the end of an era and honor these young women.  We even have a new word in our family lexicon, courtesy of Alan:
    • to Nicole (v, tr.):  to spread one’s sphere of awesomeness.  Ex:  We came home after the symphony, and our wonderful nanny had Nicoled our house.
  • Speaking of winning the Nanny Jackpot, our first nanny Abbie asked Audrey, Theresa, and Jamie to be flower kids at her wedding in May.  Melt.
  • We made it to a Friday night football game for my high school, the highlight of which was seeing Bart the Maverick (our equine mascot).  The kids paid virtually no attention to the actual game.


  • Since the end of September, I have had the wonderful opportunities to see the following:  Seattle Shakespeare Company’s The Winter’s Tale (my favorite Shakespeare play!), Seattle Rep’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Seattle Symphony conducted by Itzhak Perlman perform Mozart’s Requiem.  So grateful for great art.
  • Yesterday we went to the park with our new friend (and neighbor!) who’s in their kindergarten class.  All four kids were riding their balance bikes around the large loop of the park, and the friend’s dad and I walked behind them.  We came upon an older woman with a walker and her gentleman companion who flagged us down.  “Are you with those children?” the woman asked.  “Yes; are they bothering you?” I responded.  “One of them hit me in the back of the legs,” she said.  “They did say sorry.”  Oh man.  I talked to this particular child about the need to look ahead of you when riding anything with wheels instead of getting distracted (this child has been prone to running into things while in motion since babyhood).  On our next lap, we passed the woman and I apologized again, saying that we had been working with our kids about paying closer attention, and that I was sorry I hadn’t been able to prevent the (literal) run-in.  She responded with a smile:  “Well, that’s how they learn.  Keep trying.”  Thank God for strangers who have every right to get angry at my kid and at me, and who choose to be honest and kind.
  • My PEMS (Program for Early Multiples Support) group ended after 8 weeks–it was my third group, and the first on a weekend with both parents.  On a regular Saturday morning, there were 16 adults and 16 babies, ranging from 4 weeks to 5 months.  Their exhaustion, their frustrations, their sleeping and feeding issues…I do not miss them AT ALL.  I will miss seeing these parents and their sweet babies, though.

Only 14 babies at this meeting

And finally:  a conversation.

Alan:  There are five of us.  We could be a basketball team.  I could be the center; Mommy can be power forward, and we could have a three-guard-lineup.

Audrey:  I’ll be the ball!

Jamie:  I’ll be the hoop!

Theresa:  I’ll be the goalkeeper!

Note to self:  work on sports lingo.

Starting Kindergarten

September 30, 2016

Three weeks ago, the kids started kindergarten.  The Big K.  Grade 0.  Initiated into the great machinery that is public education.

And I was ready.

I had stuff labelled.  I had backpacks and lunchboxes ready to go.  We had a system.  We have not been late (miraculously, though we did forget a backpack one day which had to be delivered later).

And then that first day one of the kids started saying as we found nametags and desks and parents got ready to leave:

“I want to go home.”

Over and over.

And then the tears.  “I want to go home.”

I had to wrangle my hand out of that little hand, put it in a teacher’s hand, request the other two siblings to offer hugs, and walk away.

To cry in the hallway.

We thought we were ready.

But the next time I dropped them off, and the same kid was upset, I asked the siblings to all hold hands as they went through the front door and down the hallway.

Having multiples is so hard in so many ways, yet I am incredibly grateful that they have each other.

Other things we’ve learned from being Kindergarten parents:

  • Despite our best attempts at planning ahead, we’ve already had the morning scramble of “fill in reading logs (x3), stuff folders in backpacks, get water bottles filled and packed…”
  • Another morning in that first week, our Very-Much-Not-a-Morning-Person child whimpered, “I don’t like waking up.  I want to sleep in.”  “Me too, kiddo,” I said.  “Is it a school day?”  “Yep.”  “I don’t like having them in a row.”  Me neither.
  • We have lost so many items I can’t even keep track.  By Friday, I’m usually walking out of school with three backpacks, four coats or sweatshirts, an extra hat, and loose papers.  And three kids.  We haven’t lost any of those yet.
  • So many questions and unknowns:  Do we have them take the bus?  Will our current after school childcare situation continue to work?  How early do I have to leave work on Fridays to pick them up?  Do I have enough energy to volunteer for PTA stuff?  Why did they schedule the new-parent-orientation-to-PTA two nights before Kindergarten Curriculum Night?
  • It’s exhausting.  It feels like being shot out of a cannon on Sunday night and finally landing on Friday evening.  Every weeknight, I’m optimistic that this will be the night that I get to do what I want to:  respond to friends’ e-mails, grade a bit, organize some toys, write a blog post.  Every night something else comes up:  picture day forms, curriculum night (mine and theirs), permission slips, etc. etc. etc.
  • By Wednesday or Thursday, Alan and I are staring bleakly at each other:  “Do our children really need to eat lunch every day?”
  • We put little notes in their lunchboxes on the first day.  My mom had always done that for us, and I loved getting them in my lunch bag.  The little notes have not made a reappearance (see prior two bullets).
  • The kids are so tired and crabby, and yet often will not fall asleep when I think they should.  This results in much frustration and some wine consumption.
  • We also started a new session of swim lessons on Wednesdays.  This may have been a mistake.  At the first swim lesson, one child REFUSED (literally kicking and screaming) to get in the water, even though all my kids love the water.  I had so much built-up stress around anticipating how badly the second lesson would go that when it did go well, I felt less relief and more annoyance that I had been so stressed in the first place.
  • The administration and office staff are lovely and gracious and deserve medals for Untold Amounts of Patience.
  • I was afraid to contact the teacher because although one kid had said nothing but versions of “I don’t like school” every day for a week and a half, I didn’t want to be That Parent.  As a teacher, I’ve seriously disliked my students’ parents who come to me with the cheery “Oh, I’m a teacher too” and then make completely unreasonable demands of me.  After talking with two teacher friends about it, both of them said, “Be That Parent.”  I e-mailed the kids’ teacher, and her response knocked my socks off.  I had anticipated a good year from our earlier meetings with her, but I think she and the other teachers who team with her are nothing short of phenomenal, which comforts my mama heart.

Some days it feels manageable.  The days when I pick them up, and they play or we read together in the garden outside the cafeteria, and I can check off their reading logs before we even get home.  The days when we head to a park for bike riding in the sunshine, or stop for ice cream on the way home.  The days when they give us glimpses into their school world, like telling us about their friends at recess or the stories they heard from the Listening Rug or what they did at Choice Time.

Exhausting and overwhelming as they are, these days are also really, really good days.


Turning Fear into Curiosity

August 27, 2016

My Facebook and Instagram have been filling up with former students posting about heading to their first year of college.  I have strong memories of my emotional state that summer after high school graduation and during the first semester of college.  A good measure of excitement, but mostly fear.

Of what?

Of everything.

Of not being smart enough.  Of getting lost.  Of looking like an idiot.  Of not knowing how to behave in social situations like parties or class discussions.  Of not making friends.  Of learning how to live with a roommate.  (Thankfully, Tina was the most accommodating and sweetest roommate I could have been paired with:  you rock!)  Of all the unfamiliar things a new phase of life brings.

What I wish I could have told the me from 20 (yikes!) years ago is this:

Be willing to take risks.  The moments I regret are those where I did not attempt something because I was afraid.  The capacity to be vulnerable, to expose oneself to failure or uncertainty, is one of the greatest traits we can cultivate in our lifetime.  College is one of the safest places to do that, because you’re surrounded by peers who are similarly vulnerable, and by staff and community members who have experience helping students grow in this transitional time.

I’ve heard that old supposedly edifying question:  What would you attempt if you were not afraid?

And my response was always:  But I am afraid.  I cannot imagine what it would be like otherwise.

So this summer, inspired by Mary Elder’s resolve to face many of her fears, I decided to face some of my fears.  What would happen if I had the opportunity to do something that scared me, and did it anyway?  Could I turn fear into curiosity, which is involves far less judgment and makes vulnerability an asset rather than a liability.

  • I tried a new yoga class that my sister-in-law signed me up for.  Fear:  that I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I would look foolish.  Fact:  It was not all that different from my regular yoga class; it just had a different name.  Bonus:  I now feel more confident about taking different yoga classes at my own studio.
  • I went kayaking off the coast of Chatham with my cousin.  Feargreat white sharks (obvs); that my arms would get tired and it would be hard to get back to shore.  Fact:  we didn’t go far enough for sharks to be a worry; it was not a strenuous workout; and it was relaxing and awesome to be out on the water with Brittany.
  • I signed up for karaoke with my cousin Kirsten.  Fear:  people would boo me because I’m not a very good singer.  Fact:  they didn’t call us, but I think I have worked up enough courage to try “American Pie” in her honor the next time we have karaoke (though I do have a stipulation that the audience needs to be people I won’t see again or very soon).
  • I tried waterskiing.  Fear:  that I would look as awkward as I perceive myself to be as a snow skiier (not super physically coordinated); that face-planting into the water would really hurt.  Fact:  I never made it fully upright, but I also didn’t hit the water as hard when I fell.  I tried three consecutive times, then took a break.  Maybe next time.
  • I took all three kids shopping for a week’s worth of groceries by myself.  Fear:  of meltdowns, of disobedience, of inconveniencing or disrupting other shoppers.  Fact:  I talked to the kids beforehand about what to expect, and our system of turns in the cart vs. helping put things in the cart worked well.  Bonus:  granola bars were close to the entrance, and they got to pick out a Clif bar to hold on to and eat in the car on the way home.  Bribery?  Maybe.  I’ll take whatever works.

Contrary to my anxiety around transitions, my kids started kindergarten Jump Start last week with enthusiasm and little apparent reservations.  Today, though, one of my kids handed me a booklet my parents gave each kid as a back-to-school present:  a journal of writing prompts with space to practice writing simple words and a space to draw a picture of the sentence.

This kiddo asked Alan to write the word.  He declined, saying it was for the kid to practice.  Then the kid asked me.  Persistently.  I finally found out why:  the kid said, “I don’t know how [to write or draw a picture] and I might mess it up.”

Oh man.  What has taken me decades to learn I want desperately to have my kids avoid if possible.  Can this kid be resilient in the face of vulnerability?  Can this kid learn to turn fear into curiosity?  Or will this kid follow my heartachy path of perfectionism and anxiety?

In helping them, I will continue to help myself.  Talking to them about doing what I’m afraid of.  (Next step: going down big slides!)  They–and anyone starting college, returning to college, or doing anything newish–will find their own path.

May we all continue to dare greatly.




July 23, 2016

There have been lots of causes for joy recently.

  • One of my runs last week included three pauses:  two for early-ripening blackberries and one to pet a puppy.
  • I took my mother-in-law for dinner and a show:  Steve Martin and Martin Short, who were hilarious.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to see these amazingly talented icons.
  • In the last track meet of the season, Alan ran a 5:06 1500, and the kids ran the 50 and 100.  Jamie won a medal for coming in third, and Audrey won two medals for coming in third–and she gave her second medal to Theresa, who didn’t have one.  Melt.

Also causes for sadness.

  • law enforcement targeted for violence (my heart, my heart…)
  • friends coping with illness, divorce, and other awfulness
  • THE SHITSHOW THAT IS THIS ENTIRE ELECTION (yes, it deserves all caps)
  • institutional racism: that it exists, and that–here we go with the climate change analogy again–some people “just don’t believe in it”
  • Turkey, Syria, Sudan, and on…

I just finished All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, and it was so beautiful and sad and true.  This quote particularly:

And is it so hard to believe that souls might also travel these paths?  That [spoiler avoidance!] might harry the sky in flocks, like egrets, like terns, like starlings?  That great shuttles of souls might fly about, faded but audible if you listen closely enough?  They flow above chimneys, ride the sidewalks, slip through your jacket and shirt and breastbone and lungs, and pass out through the other side, the air a library and the record of every life lived, every sentence spoken, every word transmitted still reverberating within it.
Every hour, she thinks, someone for whom the war was memory falls out of the world.
We rise again in the grass.  In the flowers.  In songs.

And then I was taking in the trash/recycling/compost bins last week, and the Olympics looked like they were on fire.  Dark pink sky with clouds looking like steam over those mountains.  So I walked a little ways down our beloved street with beloved neighbors, staring at that sky, and thinking:  Paddy.  I miss you, friend.

I can go days–weeks, really–without feeling sad, just thinking of him from time to time.  But tonight it was sadness in the sky on fire, because he is not here.  He is in the air.

I’ve been reading a lot about love and sadness.  This statement about Revolutionary Love by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis caught me.

Revolutionary love acknowledges that we are inextricably connected one to the other. Such that when a baby is hungry in Africa, my stomach growls. Such that when a gay person is being transgressed, my straight black behind feels outraged. Such that when children have no health care, we all feel responsible to take care of the village and raise the child. I’m not just talking about love—I’m talking about Revolutionary Love. The kind of love that can fuel our movement. And this movement is built on the backs of ordinary everyday 7th and 8th graders, and mommies and daddies, and teachers and preachers, and lawyers and activists. This movement for love is built on YOU.

St. Paul wrote that beautiful text in 1 Corinthians that everyone wants at their weddings:  Love is patient, love is kind.  Etc.  Which is all true.

But he left some things out.

Maybe he was trying to be concise.  Maybe he had a deadline.  Who knows.  But I think something is missing.  (And now I sound like I’m treating St. Paul like one of my students:  “More specific detail.”)

Love is fierce.  Love does not surrender to hatred.  Love stands for justice.  Love lets go.  Love is vulnerable.  Love breathes through and into vulnerability.  Love grieves over what is lost even as it knows that nothing beloved can ever be truly lost.  Love is rooted in the earth and windborne through the clouds.  Love is our work, our sadness, and our joy.


Love is love…and requires action

July 12, 2016

After last week, I started writing this post.  Then I read these other two amazing women and thought I would share their words on coping with the violence and injustice:  Sarah from Left Brain Buddha writes about mindful, compassionate action, and Janelle from Renegade Mothering writes a letter to James Baldwin about his ideas of transformational love in The Fire Next Time–I read The Fire Next Time this past winter and was appalled at how little has changed for the black experience in America.

Whenever something this violent happens, I am drawn to concrete action.  I am tired of weeping, feeling sick to my stomach, lamenting, venting.  None of these do a damn bit of good.  None of these make change.

So we went to the grocery store after church, piled two bags full of snacks, and brought them plus a thank-you sign to the North Seattle Police Precinct.  The two officers staffing the lobby told us that they had received flowers and other messages of gratitude from people in the community following the shootings in Dallas last week.

My kids told them about their uncle, also a police officer, who tries to eat their carrots.  They gave the officers stickers, and the officers gave them Junior Police badges.


The Seattle Times ran an article on black police officers feeling caught between two sides:

Now, watching the furor that has erupted over the latest officer-involved shootings of black men, [community corrections officer Cynthia Softli] said that such images — caught on video and watched over and over again — make it seem like racist violence by police is pervasive.

“It is not pervasive,” she said. “Ninety-five percent are good officers. I don’t like that they’re being painted with a broad brush.”

Yet she said she knows the other 5 percent could have a tremendous impact on people’s lives.

I support law enforcement officers.  I support undoing institutional racism.  We should not be made to feel as though they are mutually exclusive.


I joined our school’s new Racial Equity Team and went to my first meeting in June.  At the meeting, facing parents and students of color whom I did not know and colleagues of color whom I both know and greatly respect, I was so scared to say the wrong thing.

I understood how some of my white students felt when I tried to have class discussions about race and they were stolidly silent.  If you don’t say anything, you can’t hurt someone’s feelings.  You can’t be offensive or unintentionally racist.

After that meeting, I went over and over the conversation in my head:  what could I have said?  How could I have been more empathetic?

Ultimately I realized:  This. Is. Not. About. Me.

It’s not about my discomfort.  Not about my defensiveness.  Not about my best intentions.

Credit to Alison Fornes from SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice)

Credit to Alison Fornes from SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice)

It’s about listening to the experiences that people of color bring to the literal and metaphorical table.

It’s about sitting with the awful recognition that we are all complicit in perpetuating a system of oppression.

It’s about facing that truth, no matter how ugly or horrifying, and not turning away.

It’s about doing work that ensures safety and freedom for every American–the safety and freedom that its founding documents claims to provide.  Work that every single one of us needs to do.

It’s about trying to move past my intense frustration with people whose defensiveness and deafness solidify the walls that keep us apart.

But then, this can happen.

My friend posted this on Facebook, that “ALL LIVES MATTER”:


As I was planning my “Black Lives Matter is about focus, not exclusion” (a brilliant and succinct explanation courtesy of this law professor), one of my friend’s friends commented with an explanation of why “All Lives Matter just isn’t true”:


And my friend truly listened, then responded in a civil, reflective way.  Would that more of us could do the same.

Undoing oppression is not about extending an invitation to any oppressed group to sit at our table.  It’s about all of us working together to create a new table.


If you are interested in learning more and/or taking action, here are some helpful links I’ve found:

And my favorite:  a law professor’s response to a Black Lives Matter shirt complaint.  Read both letters.  The professor’s response is phenomenal.

Rainy Friday Musings

June 24, 2016
  • Why don’t my kids yawn when I do or when I read the word “yawn”?  When do yawns become contagious?
  • I am so grateful for my kids’ safety awareness when they ride their balance bikes or scooters with me almost a mile round-trip to get our CSA veggies.  They know to go slow on hills, especially hills that lead to busy streets; they know to stop at the corner, and I know they will never bolt into traffic.  They might not be good listeners all the time, but they are when it counts.
  • Why is it so hard to be motivated to exercise?  I like being active.  I like running and yoga.  It used to be guilt at time away from my kids.  It used to be choosing to accomplish other things on the to-do list.  Recently it just feels like my resistance can be summed up as:  “Meh.”  But some of my hiking and outdoor pants no longer fit, so I need to figure out a way to overcome the Meh.
  • I am also so grateful for our neighbors, who welcome our kids into their yards and homes, who accept being emergency authorized pick-up people for school, and who genuinely love and care for our whole family.

She said I didn’t need to blur out her name. =)

  • Our kids got bikes with pedals for their birthday, and have been practicing riding bikes the past few weeks.  I think they will learn well before I did.  (I finally got it when I was 9 or 10.  I refused to let my dad help me, because I knew from other examples how that was going to work:  he’d promise not to let go, but then he would–as parents teaching their kids bike riding do–and I was terrified of that uncertainty.  I’d rather teach myself than trust someone else.  Oh, little Michelle…how much more you had to learn than riding a bike.)
  • My kids LOVE helping me cook, which is such a blessing.  Except when I’m trying to make something quickly, in which case it is not a blessing.  Cooking with three five-year-old helpers slows the process substantially.  But I do love that they see helping in the kitchen as fun and exciting.  I hope it leads to their love of food and love of making their own.
  • In picking up size 5T pajamas, I realized that I will soon be shopping for them in the Kid section rather than the Toddler section.  Had a little heart-squeeze.
The result when I asked them to take a picture with Nicole: one kid smiling, one kid kind-of smiling, and one kid in the background climbing a bench. Classic.

The result when I asked them to take a picture with Nicole: one kid smiling, one kid kind-of smiling, and one kid in the background climbing a bench. Classic.

In Celebration of My Students

June 18, 2016


A cool morning run.  Snails on the sidewalk.  Simon and Garfunkel playing in my head:

Slow down, you move too fast.

You’ve got to make the morning last…

Life, I love you.

All is groovy.

–“The 59th Street Bridge Song”

Tonight the rain nearly poured down on the class of 2016.  Thankfully, it stopped before we had to walk onto the football field.

I didn’t get pictures of all of my students but they all have a place in my heart.  They are extraordinary ordinary human beings:  resilient, creative, empathetic, curious, and compelled to make a difference.

I love you guys.  As Garrison Keillor says at the end of every Writer’s Almanac:  “Be well, do good work., and keep in touch.”

Fear, Anger, and the Need for Dialogue

June 14, 2016

We are all afraid.

This past Sunday in Orlando, Florida.  So many levels of horror that I cannot read about it or listen to news reports of it. I have the privilege to process this pain in small bits so I don’t sink under its weight.

Horror for the LGBTQ community who always has much to fear due to the still-rampant homophobia.

Horror for the Muslim community, who fears backlash every time someone kills in the name of their religion.

Horror for anyone who is an innocent bystander–by which I mean all of the rest of us.

We are profoundly sad.  And angry.  And afraid.

But we don’t ask each other those questions:  What are we afraid of?

Instead, we turn to the echo chamber that is social media and express grief, yes, and outrage–but outrage turns into screaming: either at the choir who responds, “AMEN!” or at the “other.”  In this case, the “other” is whoever is on the opposite side of the gun control issue from you.

Anger is a powerful tool–helpful when it leads to strategic action.

Anger is unhelpful when it leads us to treat as The Enemy our friends and family members who happen to disagree with us over public policy.

I did this stereotyping activity with my students a while ago from the Public Conversations Project:

“As a ________, I think that I am viewed by _______ as having these characteristics, beliefs, or intentions: _____________.”

Their responses were honest, sometimes funny, often profound.  If I could sit with my family members and have the same conversation, mine would look like this:

As a person who supports gun control, I think that I am viewed by gun control opponents as:

  • wanting to take away everyone’s guns.
  • ignorant of or disrespectful of Constitutional law.
  • seeing gun owners as evil.
  • naive and believing that stricter gun control will eliminate gun violence.
  • hating America.
  • a bleeding-heart liberal and an impractical idiot.

None of these is true.

I believe the rights established in the Constitution come with responsibilities and limitations.  I know responsible gun owners and members of the NRA.  They are good people who want to keep themselves and their children safe just as much as I do.  I believe we need to follow Australia’s and Germany’s and the UK’s examples to make it harder–it will never be impossible–for individuals to amass assault weapons designed for military use.  (See this article from the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations for more info on how the U.S. compares to other countries.)

I want to know what my family member and friends who oppose gun control fear.  I want to know why they are angry.  Memes and snarky sound bites don’t help me understand anything.

Dialogue needs trust.  Trust takes both time and willingness.  My perception is that many people who support or oppose gun control are unwilling to engage in actual dialogue (as in deeply listening to and respecting a person’s experiences and viewpoints, even as you present and support your own).

Prove me wrong.

Screaming at each other means that we’re taking our angry energy out on the wrong people.  The real enemy?  Those who want to divide us.  Those who want conflict.  Those who know that while we spend time throwing a Facebook or Twitter tantrum, they are winning.  They are keeping us in fear.

We should be angry.  We need to react.  Intentionally and thoughtfully, with goals in mind.

Not engaging in social media fights (which I just did yesterday, even though I totally know better).

Not only surrounding ourselves with those who agree with us.

We can–we MUST–work together to defend ourselves.  Those who want to keep us in fear for their own gain will exploit any vulnerability we have.

Otherwise, it’s not a question of if this will happen to you or those you love, but when.

%d bloggers like this: