How Reading Fuels the Resistance

Last night, Alice Walker and I hung out. Okay, so there were some other folks there, too–approximately 300 of them. But, unsurprisingly, Alice Walker made me feel as though she was speaking directly to me. So, like I said, Alice Walker and I hung out last night. She talked. I listened.

“The work you do in the world is your legacy.”
–Alice Walker, Agnes Scott College, April 22, 2018

I occupy a place of privilege, as a white person on the United States. That privilege is one that I didn’t understand until relatively recently. But now, navigating that privilege–and ultimately dismantling it–seems inherently tied to the work I do & the legacy I will leave.

Raised up (well, in college at least) on works by primarily white feminists, I quickly identified my own oppression at the hand of the sexism and misogyny that runs rampant in the United States. But I didn’t grasp the ways in which women of color deal with layers of oppression–sexism, yes… but also racism, sometimes classism. I didn’t understand the ways that white feminism often leaves women of color behind, failing to address their issues–sometimes failing to even include them in the conversation at all.

Enter Alice Walker.

The Temple of My Familiar is my favorite Alice Walker novel. I’ve read it several times. I’ll read it several more, as you do with the pieces that really speak to your soul. I find a bit more of myself every time I pick up that novel. The discovery is never painless, by the way. Just like it isn’t painless for her characters. But the work is worth the truth & liberation it offers.

The very first truth I took from The Temple of My Familiar was that, as a woman, I had to consider all women in the struggle for equality. In fact, that novel pushed me to see that I needed to fight for the liberation of all people (men included).

As one does with truths they aren’t quite ready to reckon with, I filed that knowledge away to be applied later.

Fast forward 20 years…

I do believe that the work that you do in the world is your legacy. 

And I am ready to work.

I didn’t just get ready on my own. I had a push. On a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in 2016, I sat and listened as Andrew Joseph’s father shared the story of his son’s death at the hands of negligent law enforcement. A black child dead. And no one held accountable.

That afternoon, something shifted for me. Before that, my responsibility–as I understood it–was simply to raise my child to know right from wrong, to be a good and decent person. But, coming face to face with another parent’s pain introduced me to a greater responsibility: to raise my child with an awareness of the joy and pain in the world and to give her tools and a voice to fight injustice and to demand equality–for everyone.

Living in Southeast Atlanta puts me in close proximity to both the beauty and struggle of being black in America. I’ve discovered–through experience–that living in community with people who are not all just like you cultivates empathy and understanding. Creating community takes more than just saying hey as you pass each other on the street. It’s working side by side on community issues. It’s navigating hard conversations. And (if you’re white like I am) it’s knowing when to listen (instead of speak).

I have come to understand how much our liberation is bound up in each other. And that I must fight for an end to systemic racism (and homophobia, and transphobia, and anti-semitism, and islamophobia, and xenophobia, and toxic masculinity), just as I must continue to speak out against the sexism that plagues American culture.

Recently, at a friend’s house for dinner, we heard our kids chanting something from the next room. “Where do they learn to do that?” I wondered. My friend laughed: “It’s all those marches you take your kid to!” Huh. Maybe it is. But, really, it’s Alice Walker’s fault.

Alice Walker’s work, her words, her activism have changed the way I think and move through the world. She challenges me to see the world beyond my own little sphere–to fight for the humanity and dignity of all people. All while celebrating who I am.

Pretty heady stuff. But it’s also the making of a legacy.

Dear Mr. Preacher Man

Dear Mr. Preacher Man:

I heard you yelling at me as I passed by. You wanted me to know about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it seems. But, you know, I don’t find grace at that volume all that comforting. And I’ve never known anyone who screamed Jesus’ name to be interested in loving me. Saving me, maybe. But I don’t need to be saved. Not anymore. Not even from myself.

I get where you’re coming from, Mr. Preacher Man. You find power in the name of Jesus. Power to condemn. Power to save. That power feeds your (self) righteousness. I see that. I understand it. Because I’ve felt it. I’ve used Jesus as a weapon, a line in the sand to prove how much better I am. I’ve used Jesus to prove my worth… after all, in the math of salvation saved is always greater than (never equal to) unsaved.

But, Mr. Preacher Man, none of that math added up to love. Not one lick of it. Because the hard truth is that we all stumble and fall. We all need connection. We need unconditional love. We humans have never been good at unconditional love. But God is. God’s got that good, radical love that welcomes everyone. God’s love is where it’s at.

But you aren’t preaching that love, Mr. Preacher Man. I have met your Jesus—and I found him wanting. Your Jesus wants to save me from a punishing God, a God who does not find me worthy. That version of myself—and God—wounded me, isolated me, broke me.

But I have good news, Mr. Preacher Man. God is nothing like that at all. God is this revolutionary, limitless love… God is bliss and peace and breath-taking goodwill for EVERYONE. God left a piece of the divine in me—and in you, Mr. Preacher Man. Don’t believe what they’ve told you… you don’t need redemption. You are already redeemed. You are worthy. You are loved.

So, Mr. Preacher Man, I don’t need you to introduce me to Jesus Christ. I got that saving grace, friend. It was mine all along. Jesus & I, we’re in the business of love. Join us over here. Everybody’s in. (No yelling required. )

Love,

Me

 

 

Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash

Coffee: A Quick Study in Walkability

I read the paragraph. I shook my head and read it again. 11 year olds don’t talk like that! This sucks. Maybe the whole thing sucks? Sweet baby Jesus on a pogo stick. What am I doing? By the end of a one-hour editing session, I’ll be the first to admit that my self-talk isn’t always on point. I will also admit that I briefly thought about throwing my computer into a lake. Fortunately, no lakes are readily available in my intown Atlanta neighborhood—so I set myself to the next task: coffee.

Not like I wanted a cup of coffee right then—although I kind of did. The more pressing issue was that we had no coffee for in the morning. Monday morning. I don’t know how other people live their lives, but in my house we don’t face Mondays without ample caffeine.

The lack-of-coffee issue was complicated by the no-car issue. As in, I don’t have one. A rugged and rather-adorable 1988 Ford F-150 named Larry does live at my house. But I can’t drive him. He’s finicky about going into gear sometimes, you see. Thank you, but no thank you. Besides, Larry was sitting at the MARTA station, where Simon & Jane had gone to catch the train to the soccer game.

I briefly considered my options:

  • Wait for Simon to come home from the game and then ask him to drive to the store to get coffee. That seemed super-sucky. He’d wrangled the kid at a professional sporting event, back and forth on public transit… it just seemed a little cold-hearted to hit him with the need to run errands when he got home close to 9 p.m.
  • Ride my bike to the store. But it was getting dark. And all the roads were wet. And it was cold. I scratched biking off the list, too.
  • Walk to the store. This seemed like the most valid option. I can certainly walk in the dark. But the grocery store is 1.6 miles from my house. I have walked it before—but I don’t love the jaunt over there. And did I mention it was cold & rainy?

I quickly realized that walking was my best option (notice that not getting coffee appears NOWHERE on that list). So, I started brainstorming places closer to me than the big grocery store. There’s a coffee shop that I love on Memorial, but walking up Cherokee to get there feels like it’s straight up a long, endless hill. Usually, I’m totally cool with it. But I just wanted something easy. That didn’t feel easy.

The coffee shop at the bottom of the first dip in Cherokee doesn’t sell coffee—or at least I didn’t remember them selling coffee. And they were closed by the time I pulled my act together.

Finally, I remembered that there’s a little eatery/store on Boulevard (about a mile away). It’s locally owned. Love that. And I knew they had bagged coffee—but you can be damn sure I called ahead to check before I hauled myself over there. Sure enough, they did and I set out to get it.

I got there and quickly discovered that what they had was coffee from a locally owned sustainable micro-roaster.

Now, let’s just stop right there and let me say a few things:

  • I like to shop local.
  • I realized when I went to this store, I’d pay more for coffee than I’d pay at the grocery store.
  • I love coffee more than most things, so I am not really complaining about this, so much as observing.

I bought a bag of coffee. It was $14.

Holy shit.

I am so grateful that I have an extra $14 to spend on coffee. I am. And I love that I supported not one but TWO small businesses with that transaction. Really, it just never occurred to me that the closest place to get coffee might cost twice what I buy coffee for at the grocery. And yes, it is far superior to what I buy at the grocery. But I kept thinking about the folks who don’t have a car. Like ever. The choice between a very long, cold rainy walk or paying premium price for coffee was not lost on me.

My neighborhood needs more corner markets where folks can buy staples easily. Not boutique markets aimed at gentrifiers. Real, affordable food for everyone. There’s a place for boutique and niche markets. But there’s also a real need to have accessible marketplaces that are walkable and filled with real food.

(Also, I realized this morning, as I was enjoying my micro-roasted coffee, that if I had walked two blocks further, I would have gotten to CVS—which probably had (not nearly as good) cheap coffee that I could have bought for a hefty mark-up.)

This lesson about food accessibility is just one in a long line of gut-punch lessons in compassion I’ve received these last two months while I’ve been carless. I am grateful for what I’ve been given (especially for my delightful cup of coffee this morning). But I’ve become ever-mindful of the people who have less than I do. That’s been a beautiful, wrenching gift.

 

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Wait. Do I Want to Wait?

Isn’t it wild when the mundane gives you a glimpse into what you’re really about?

Jane & I walked to school this morning (thank God we live in a place where I can walk & ride transit, because currently we own zero cars that I can drive). On my way home, I saw the bus go by. I knew I had 20 minutes until I needed to catch the bus downtown.

20 minutes. That’s forever if I’m standing at the bus stop waiting. It is decidedly NOT forever if I have to get home, finish getting ready, corral my stuff for work, and make it up to the bus stop. Although I have a history of slow-loris-like behavior, I was super-speedy today. Totally on the ball. As I grabbed my to-go mug of coffee, I pulled up the MARTA bus real-time tracker and saw that I’d be cutting it close. So I booked it up to the bus stop.

I stood there for about 5 seconds, which was about all the time I should’ve had before the bus got there, and I whipped out the tracker again. Yeah. The bus was gone. It’d arrived 4 minutes early. 4 minutes is no time at all, unless you’re trying to catch a bus. Then it might as well be an eternity.

So, I faced the ultimate transit-oriented question: do I wait for the bus or walk up and catch the train?

I dig the bus. There’s a kind of warm familiarity to riding the bus (even though I’d never done it until I moved to Atlanta about two years ago). I like cruising along through my neighborhood & into downtown without having to fight the traffic. The bus puts me in really close contact with humans—and the fact is that I like people. But I’d have to stand at the bus stop for 20 minutes. That’s 20 minutes of thinking “I should’ve peed before I left the house.” 20 minutes of wondering if I unplugged the toaster oven. It’s 20 minutes where my anxiety, which usually doesn’t bug me, runs completely amok.

So, the train? That’s a 1.4 mile walk. Up hill. But, I don’t mind walking. I feel more connected to Atlanta when I’m trekking through the neighborhood, saying hey to folks, getting a feel for daily life. And the train runs every 12 minutes. So there’s no real waiting around.

In favor of constant motion, I walked up to the train station. Because, for me, easier is rarely better. I’ve finally learned most of the triggers for my anxiety, and so now I have the power to avoid them. And walking through Atlanta—and Grant Park in particular–is one of the best anti-anxiety measures I’ve found.

But there’s something even bigger at play here. Since moving to Atlanta, I’ve become a doer, not a waiter. I’ve begun to embrace my own power to make things happen. And it all begins with movement—movement towards a goal or movement toward a train station. Waiting around hasn’t served me well. I never once wowed myself by standing still. But movement got the first draft of my novel written. Just waiting on dreams to happen, standing still, well that’s more anxiety producing than waiting for a bus.

So, I’m choosing movement when I can.

The Same Story

I learned the art of the finely crafted story in Alcoholics Anonymous.

I know that’s bizarre. But, look, I am a consumer of stories. And, so, while some folks wanted to get down to brass tacks about the steps they needed to take to get out of this mess they’d gotten themselves into, I was completely taken with the vulnerability of each person’s story. The stories are what kept me there.

I mean, I wasn’t sitting in AA meetings for research. I had some serious work to do. But what made me want to do the work was hearing about the journey, soaking in the personal revelations of people who’d figured out how to do sober. Because I totally had not.

But, the longer I sat there, the more I realized that every person siting in the room had the same story. Or at least the same story arc. The details varied, of course. But, each story had the same components: 1) what it used to be like, 2) what happened, and 3) what it is like now.

But even though the stories followed the same pattern—fall, journey, redemption–each one was relevant, personal. These stories were about death… and rebirth. How could I not be completely blown away?

The storytellers that wowed me the most were the ones that could take AA adages (Live Life on Life’s Terms, for instance. Which I always hated.) and weave a story around them, so that they weren’t cliches anymore. They became completely new insights that opened life-changing possibilities.

That’s the power of the story: connection.

And it doesn’t take high drama to make people connect. Some folks definitely had fantastic tales of weekends, weeks, months gone horribly wrong where they managed to balance themselves precariously between certain death and super-evil villains looking  to do them incredible harm. But I was just as apt to be moved to tears by a young dad weaving a story about his kid, and then tying it back to his own lessons in sobriety.

Because, let’s face it, most of us are on the same journey. As humans, we all want to belong, to be valued, to feel whole. The work we do to get there can look different. But the core nugget remains: to love anyone else, we have to make peace with and love ourselves.

I’m still sober. And part of that is due to the people who so willingly shared their stories, who made the program come to life for me. They bore witness to the miracle at work in their own lives, and they made me want it too. These folks taught me to be grateful, to connect with other people, and to be of service. That’s a pretty solid formula for a kick-ass life.

Everything I have today I owe to my sobriety. That is the honest to God truth. It surprises folks sometimes that I never shy away from telling my story. But I know the truth: for someone else my story could mean the difference between life and death. How could I do  anything but tell it over & over again?

What Do You Want to Be?

Adults always ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. What a weird question. It’s not like kids even have any idea about all the things they could be in the world. When adults pose this question, they’re invariably inquiring about career choice–as if a job or a career could possibly define a person. What if a kid wants to be brave? Or curious? But these answers would never do–adults would just chuckle and ask patronizingly–again—yes, but what do you want to be?

At 8 years old, I announced–completely unbidden–I was going to be a writer when I grew up. This wasn’t some made up answer to entertain an adult audience. This was my truth. I was 8 years old. I loved reading above all else. And one day I wanted to make that magic with words. I wanted to write books that kids would fall in love with.

The adult privy to this revelation laughed. “Well, what are you planning to do to make money?

I was crushed. I was a super-sensitive kid. If an adult thought I couldn’t be a writer, well then they were probably right.

I never mentioned wanting to be a writer again. Even as I poured through the 1966 World Book Encyclopedia to pen my first book, “The Little Suitcase” based on–you guessed it–a suitcase who travels the world, I said not one word about writing to anyone.

Not when my essay won an award at the Broward County Fair.

Not when I aced AP Language and AP Literature.

Not when I got my degree in Literature (which I supplemented with a degree in Communications–you know, so I could make money).

In fact, my default joke became “I critique other people’s writing so I don’t have to do any of my own.” Which was bullshit. I wrote academic papers all the time. And, trust me, it is an art form to make that kind of writing accessible and engaging. I loved literature. And I lived for the rush of writing papers and putting something out into the world–something that I felt like made a difference.

I finished graduate school.

And I didn’t write again for 5 years.

The first thing I wrote after all that time was a blog. Only my friends knew it existed. But it rekindled something—a belief that I could DO this. That I could write pieces that people would connect with. That my writing could make people feel and experience things.

I started writing again in earnest in January 2015. I sat with my friends in front of a cozy fire on New Years Eve, and I told them that I wanted to be a writer. That admission felt huge to me–and so very vulnerable. But I put it out there–and I felt the weight of accountability for this intention I’d set for the upcoming year.

Writing was my salvation when Simon transitioned. It helped me make sense of him, me, us… Writing about Jane helps me process and appreciate what she’s learning, how she’s growing. Truth be told, if I don’t write about it, I kind of feel like it doesn’t exist.

Once I got comfortable putting myself out there, it came back to me: the desire to write a book. For kids. A book that would change a kid’s world. Right about that time, I stumbled on NaNoWriMo. I made it halfway through my first novel (a middle grades book about whether biology or love makes family), and I quit. A novel is a giant undertaking. I’d never written so much as a short story. I may have jumped in a bit over my head. (It’s kind of my way.)

In July 2017, I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo in July. And I wrote an entire novel–35,000 words–from start to finish. I loved every second that I spent writing those characters. I loved how they surprised me. I was enchanted by the way they evolved and discovered themselves… I was completely hooked.

But here’s the most surprising part (to me, at least): I have put myself out there time and time again for this book. I’ve opened myself to critique and rejection–both of which I am notoriously bad at–for the sake of getting this novel into the world. And I continue to surprise myself in this process.

I’m undertaking a major revision of my novel during this April’s Camp NaNoWriMo. Here’s why:

1) I got a rejection from an agent, which was really more of a “Not yet. Needs work. You started in the wrong place.” And I didn’t die. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that she even responded to me. And I took her suggestions as evidence of her belief that, with work, this would be a book worth publishing.

2) A friend/mentor of mine looked at the first 5 chapters of the novel. And she told me it needed work–like some pretty serious work. Again, totally didn’t die. I didn’t even crawl off to lick my wounds. I just started revising. Because that’s what writers do.

I wish someone had told me when I was 8 that I could be anything, do anything. But that isn’t my story. And life has become, for me, a matter of owning my own story–and the stories I want to put out into the world.

 

Unicorns & Sunday Mornings (Magical!)

I wish I could cause some sort of break in the time space continuum on Sunday mornings. Because I love my church–it’s one of my favorite places in the world, the place where I know I belong–but I HATE getting to church on Sunday mornings. Mainly, because my family sucks at it.

Take, for instance, Easter morning. I got up bright and early (6:30 a.m. to be exact). I made coffee, wrote for an hour (April 1 is the start of Camp NaNoWriMo. Hooray!), and watched Jane sort through her Easter goodies (and eat “just two” Sour Patch Bunnies… Easter is a time for grace–and sugar before breakfast, after all). Suddenly, it’s 9 a.m. and we need to be at church by 9:40.

Not a problem. For most people. But Jane wanted to wear a sleeveless, white eyelet dress on Easter Sunday. It was 47 degrees outside. Cue the variety of leggings and jackets to be paraded through to keep her from freezing. I also, foolishly, tried to be sensible and suggest that she wear a dress with some sleeves. You’ve thought I cancelled Easter, for God’s sake.

I finally got her to agree on leggings and a jacket that she liked–and that didn’t look too crazy–and I headed off to get dressed. I’d just finished toweling off and was standing in my robe in the bathroom when Simon stuck his head in and asked if it might be possible to leave a little earlier.

I’m sorry. WHAT?

Look, I am good at a lot of things. But I am not good at spontaneity. Or rushing. So, no. We cannot leave early, SIR.

I got dressed in record time, while slurping down my second–or third?–cup of coffee. I didn’t panic when my dress felt ever so slightly too tight. I just shimmied again. Things fell into place. More or less. I even managed matching jewelry and make-up. All in 25 minutes. The resurrection wasn’t the only miracle this Easter Sunday.

But for all the hassle that is getting to church on Sunday mornings–well, it’s worth it the minute I walk in the door.

We are a church full of unicorns. We’ve got a smattering of everybody: black, white, gay, straight, trans, cis, old, young, rich, poor. We’ve got reformed fundamentalists. We’ve got seekers. When they say “Everybody’s Welcome Here!” it’s the honest to God truth.

I left the church when I was 19. I was gay. It was 1994. And I was completely unaware that any church that affirmed gay folks existed at all. Mainline Christians were constantly spewing that “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” bullshit, and I was having none of it. I didn’t go back until I was 28. Even then, acceptance was conditional at best. It was a thin love (And I should’ve known “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”)
I should’ve rejected it completely. But I wanted Jesus. And I thought I needed the church to get to him.

I spent years in the Methodist church (which still can’t agree on whether or not they find gay people acceptable). I learned to accept the church’s tolerance of me. I thought it was all I was worth. And my family and I moved to Atlanta. And we found this magical, unicorn church. This place where we are celebrated fully. A place my soul is renewed every single Sunday. A place where I belong.

I am a writer. I have words for almost everything. But I really don’t have words to express what this place means to me. I can tell you, though, it’s worth every damn bit of the hassle it takes to get there every Sunday morning.

Under Pressure

At 16 years old, I found myself behind a cash register, with the beep beep beep of the scanner droning on. It was my very first job–at Target–and I was god-awful at it.

Here’s the thing: I cannot be rushed. It’s like I have a biological something that creates an inverse relationship between urgency & the speed at which I move.

If you are, say, a cashier, this is quite the liability. I’d see customers lining up, looking more impatient by the second, and things would start to unravel. I wouldn’t be able to get the UPC code to scan. I’d feel my face getting hot. I’d try to scan it again–I mean, we’re talking a flat item here–like a cereal box. Nothing. Then, out of nowhere, it would scan properly. But by then, I was breaking out in a cold sweat. Then, invariably, I’d need to call for a price check. This was 1991. Not everyone had a walkie talkie. Price checks took nigh on forever. So, there I’d stand, light flashing, face bright red, waiting… and waiting… and waiting.

Unsurprisingly, about 2 months into this gig, my hours started to dwindle. I started out with at least 15 hours a week. Soon I was down to three. I finally mustered up the courage to go talk with the front lane supervisor. It took a lot of mustering. She was old (at LEAST 30). She was mean (like she actually wanted us to do our jobs well). And, well, she kinda scared the shit out of me. But I figured I was going to get fired anyway–or the Target version of fired where they just decrease your hours until it cost more in gas money to drive to work than you earn–so in I went.

I asked her why I only had 3 hours on the schedule. I will never forget the look on her face–somewhere between bewilderment and clandestine amusement. “You are AWFUL at this,” she said, without malice. But STILL.

“I know,” I said quickly. I hadn’t rehearsed this part. In fact, I’d only practiced the part where I worked up the courage to walk up to her. I was totally winging it. What was that look on her face? Was she really about to laugh at me? “I know,” I carried on quickly before she could kick me out. “I like sort of suck under pressure. But maybe I could, like,  move to softlines? I think I could, like, you know, be pretty good at that.”

She rolled her eyes. And I thought, maybe, I saw a smile. But it could’ve just been a break in her scowl. Either way. “You have two weeks. That’s it. Two weeks. If you aren’t amazing over there, you’re out.”

“Yes. Yes! That’s great! You won’t regret it.” I started to walk back toward my register.

“No. No. No. No more register. Please. Just go back to softlines. I’ll radio back and tell them you’re coming.”

That was the rather inauspicious start of a job that would last the next 4 years and that would save me from myself–and my growing agoraphobia–in high school. But that’s another story all together…

 

 

Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash

4 Reasons I Took My Kid to March For Our Lives Atlanta

At 7 years old, my daughter, has already attended seven civil rights marches (if you count the five Pride parades she’s attended—and I do. Oh, I do.). I don’t come from a long line of activists. In fact, my parents always seem (not so secretly) appalled that I let Jane march through the streets holding signs, chanting, and generally being a rabble-rouser. But here’s the thing: Jane was born into activism.

Jane’s the pride & joy of two queer parents. She popped out of the womb—fist raised in the air (literally)—into a family different than the traditional, hetero-normative nuclear family. We took Jane to her first Pride when she was 6 months old. I mean, how could we go wrong? Rainbows. Glitter. Messages of acceptance and love. But even more than that, in a world way too often homophobic and unwelcoming, Pride is a place where we can make the radical statement that LGBTQ+ folks matter. Unequivocably. Pride is still a radical, political act—an act of defiance against those who try to marginalize and “other” us. And Jane took the whole thing in wearing a fabulous pink tutu that was all the rage with the gay men who cheered every time they saw her.

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Jane getting ALL the attention (and beads) at St Pete Pride

But our social consciousness can’t just be limited to LGBTQ issues. The Summer of 2016 drove that home for me. That summer was notable for two reasons: we’d just moved to Atlanta from suburban Tampa, Florida and two black men died at the hands of the police in less than a week. I did the only thing I could do. I marched through the streets of Atlanta, holding a sign that read “Black Lives Matter,” wondering how in 2016 that could be a controversial statement. When she found out I was going to march, Jane wanted to go with me. But I was afraid. The night before the march, officers had been gunned down in Dallas. I didn’t know if the protests would turn violent—not at the hands of the protesters but at the hands of folks insisting that black lives don’t matter. But then I got to the march. Entire African American families had turned out to march. Together. Little kids on shoulders. Moms chanting with their kids. Those kids were there because their lives were on the line. Who was I to choose to shield my child from a reality that children of color face every day? That march transformed me.

Now, when I march, Jane marches, too. Here are the 4 reasons that I took my 7 year old to March for Our Lives Atlanta:

Jane needs to witness both the beauty and pain in the world. Yes, even at 7 years old. Celebrating beauty with kids is easy: smiling faces in Instagram photos, impromptu dance parties, birthday cupcakes at school. Talking about suffering is more difficult to navigate. White Americans have created a mythology of childhood innocence, which is based in our own privilege–and that works against children of color. But, if we stay present our surroundings, we’re presented with countless opportunities to talk with kids–in an age-appropriate way–about the hard stuff. Heck, Disney gives us an opportunity to talk about death after the opening of almost every animated feature.

During the Summer of 2016, I did some serious mental gymnastics trying to explain to Jane how black men died at the hands of police. I didn’t want her to fear police officers. I understand that there are good police officers. But I needed her to know that, for people of color, the police aren’t always helpers. That reality has to drive Jane’s choices when she’s with her friends of color. That need to be real, the knowledge that I can’t put a child of color at risk because I need to keep my child’s innocence intact, won out. Since then, we’ve talked about the hard things. Even school shootings. Knowledge hasn’t broken her spirit. But she is more aware of injustice. And she’s even more prone to compassion. We march so Jane can bear witness to loss and fear alongside the deep sense of hope and power that comes from marching with 30,000+ likeminded souls.

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Protect Kids, Not Guns

Jane deserves to find her own voice. My generation created a world in which lockdown drills are the norm—like tornado drills, except school shootings are a disaster of our own making. Shortly after the MSD shooting, I sat in a meeting where my daughter’s Principal explained active shooter protocol. Here’s the wrenching truth: during a lockdown, the classroom doors are locked. Teachers are instructed not to open the doors until the all clear is given. If a child is out of the classroom—in the bathroom, in the library, walking down the hallway—they will not be able to get back in. Let that sink in for a minute. In a lockdown, Jane could be left alone. Totally alone to fend for herself.

I sat in stunned silence during this meeting, trying to hold it together. Then the dread crept in. Because I knew that I couldn’t put off it off any longer: I had to talk to my 7 year old about active shooter protocol. It doesn’t matter that, statistically, it’s unlikely to happen in her school. That statistic didn’t protect the kids at Sandy Hook or Marjory Stoneman Douglas. But even if the worst never happens (and I pray, like every parent, that it doesn’t), I didn’t want her to be completely unprepared for her first active shooter drill and be alone and afraid. Even during a practice drill, that thought was more than I could bear.

Jane and I talked about what lockdown meant. I told her what to do if she was away from her classroom. She cried, while I tried valiantly not to. No matter how age-appropriate the conversation, the idea of a stranger coming into Jane’s school is just plain terrifying to her. I held her while she cried. We talked about the unlikelihood of a shooting ever happening at her school. We’re just being prepared, I reminded her. I also took the opportunity to praise her ability to feel things and let them go. Nothing was helping.

Then, out of sheer desperation, I offered: “You know, these kids from Parkland, they’re planning a march.” She perked up a bit. I continued, “They want to tell people that they don’t want guns to be easy to get anymore.”

“Like gun control?” she responded. I forget the kid is always listening.

“Yes, like gun control. And they’re going to march and tell the world that being scared at school isn’t okay.”

She looked me dead in the eye. “I want to go to that march, too.”

And, so, we did. We marched to give Jane a voice about the violence that impacts her world. We marched so that she could say, loudly, “Not One More.”

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Jane being Jane–wearing rainbows & speaking out for gun control

Jane should see first-hand the power of the people. Kids sometimes feel powerless. The world is big. They are small. And the systems that oppress people feel monolithic. Our government officials seem to be bought and sold by the likes of the NRA. Our president calls people names and bullies anyone who stands up against him. Truthfully, sometimes I feel powerless against this huge mess we’ve created.

But people in action have power. Together, all of us—kids, too–can fight our way towards justice. When people unite, big things can happen. After yet another school shooting, the kids from Parkland refused to let this be our norm. They organized with other gun control activists (namely, people of color who’ve been doing this work for years and years) to say #NeverAgain and #NotOneMore. And hundreds of thousands of people turned up all over the country. Even though they’d like to, politicians can’t ignore these kids anymore.

Together we can do big things. I wish I’d know that when I was 7. And I’m thankful that my daughter gets to witness the power of the people now. The leadership of the kids from Parkland and the myriad of black activists that are—and have been–speaking out against gun violence in communities all across the nation are awe-inspiring. They remind me what our democracy can look like. And, as we chanted “Tell me what democracy looks like. THIS is what democracy looks like” while we marched, Jane learned how powerful a people, united, can be.

Jane needs to know how many people care. She’s 7. What she knows is complex yet breath-takingly simple: 17 people went to school one day and never came back. She knows that she is afraid. She hears murmurs from other kids. She imagines what it would be like for a stranger to be in her school. And then she stops. She doesn’t know what to imagine next. For that, I’m grateful. Jane needs to see that adults—the people who are supposed to look out for her—do care that she is frightened. And we plan to do something about it. We will march. We will vote. We will not let up until things change. But most of all, what I want her to know is that other kids care enough to make sure that this never, ever happens in her school. That is powerful. For her and for me.

Grumpitude & Grace

The morning light hadn’t quite made its way into my daughter’s room yet. Instead, her green bug nightlight cast a soft glow across her pink fuzzy rug. I stepped carefully, to avoid being impaled by a stray Lego or a doll earring that had escaped her tidying up efforts. I crept closer to her loft and whispered up to her. “Jane.” Only soft snores in reply. She lay hidden somewhere underneath her unicorn dream tent and her fluffy comforter. “Jane!” I stage whispered, gently touching what was likely her foot. Could have been a stuffed bunny, though. These things become difficult to decipher from 2 feet below the edge of her bed.

Finally, she stirred. A little groan escaped from underneath the covers. “Good morning,” I chirped, and immediately regretted my overt chiperness. Nobody needs to be bowled down by cheer on a Monday morning before they’ve even opened their eyes. I toned it down and tried again. “Morning, bear. It’s 6:30. Want to get up and make your lunch?”

My uncannily self-sufficient seven year old makes her own lunch every day. I’ve ceased being amazed by this (although I didn’t make my own lunch until high school). It’s just who she is. She enjoys independence. And she’s proven herself responsible enough that I don’t need to hover over her. Sure, occasionally she’s headed off to school without a fruit or a vegetable gracing her lunchbox. But that’s not the norm. Typically, she at least attempts nutritional balance. Her hatred of the cafeteria’s food fuels her motivation. But, if she doesn’t get up early enough to make lunch, well it’s cafeteria mystery food for her.

When I didn’t hear a response from the top of the loft, I started backing slowly out of her room. Typically, Jane pops out of bed. She loves mornings. She’s one of those kids that wakes up at 6 a.m. even on the weekend. But not the past week or so. Twice last week, she ran into school just as the tardy bell rang. Being late makes her grumpy. In this way, and so many others if I’m honest, she’s just like me. This child is incapable of being rushed. Truly, the faster I try to coax her to move, the more I swear time begins to move backward. It was an effort to avoid this unpleasantness that drove me into her room at 6:30 in the morning in the first place. But when she didn’t exclaim, “Mommy! Good morning!” first thing, I knew my morning was about to go really wrong.

I made it back out to the dining room table, sat down with my book, and was sipping coffee before Captain Gloom appeared in the doorway. My face almost melted off from the heat of her scowl.

“Hey, buddy. What’s up?”

More scowling. “WHY did someone turn off my white noise?”

I looked at my kid, hair looking like something might still be nesting in it, eyes narrowed to slits in a combination of sleepiness and grumpiness, and I knew I needed to tread lightly. In my most neutral, yet comforting voice—well, the best one I could muster before I’d even finished my first cup of coffee—I tried reason, “I don’t think anyone turned it off love, I think…”

Apparently, thinking was a big mistake. Because my thinking made her stomp past me and into the kitchen. Now it was my turn to practice some deep breathing. I looked down at my book, willing myself to concentrate. But all the yelling that I wanted to do about her bad attitude was bouncing around in my head, crowding out the words on the page.

We’ve entered the season of snark with Jane. And, dear God, it is wearing me down.

Jane usually feels things intensely and lets them go. She can be happy, sad, then happy again in the time it takes me to finish a latte. But lately she’s been broodier. She rolls her eyes so hard that I feel sure they’re going to get stuck somewhere up in her head. She stomps off. And she holds on to these moods for a while, picking at her feelings, crying about things that are over and done—or at least they would’ve been over and done a few weeks ago. But now, we brood.

As I tried to maintain my composure in the dining room, I heard muffled sobs coming from the kitchen. I walked over, accompanied by the dog who looked confused, too. “Buddy, what is wrong?” Through tears, she shared her exquisite agony over awaking to the absence of white noise.

Seriously?

Look, I try to be understanding. And I’m sure that her tears were not actually about white noise. Maybe she felt disrespected because she thought we’d touched her things. Maybe she felt out-of-control because her morning didn’t start precisely the way she thought it would. Kids are super-complex little beings. I totally get that. But I get that a lot more once I’ve had enough caffeine to function.

“Jane, you’re going to have to let go of the white noise thing. Okay?”

“Can I have a hug?” she responded, her voice small and muffled through tears and all that hair that was still a wild mess atop her head.

I pulled her into a hug. I felt her relax a little. “Can you come in here with me while I make my lunch?” she asked.

I felt my heart catch a little. “No,” I said, quietly. “I got up early to take care of some things. I’m going to do those things now.”

Even as I was claiming my right to my own personhood, to be able to control the outcome of my morning even in the face of her meltdown, I felt guilty. Maybe I should drop everything to be there for whatever it was she was struggling through. But that isn’t really love. That’s servitude. There are times my world stops for her. But part of my job as her mother is to teach her what she can reasonably expect from people she loves. She can expect grace. We’ve been known to completely call a do-over on our morning and start again from scratch. She can expect understanding. Everyone has a bad day. Everyone gets grumpy. But she can’t expect people she loves to be her emotional punching bag. Being Jane’s mom uniquely qualifies me to be her safe space. But for that to work, like any relationship, we have to have boundaries. By not rearranging my morning for her grumpitude, I set my boundaries. Clearly.

And the world did not end. She dried her tears. She made her lunch, just like always. She even found time to snuggle with the dog (in the dog’s crate—but that’s another story for another day). By the time we left to walk to school, Jane was talking and laughing, anticipating her day ahead.

Parenting is about love, boundaries, messy hair, and redeemed mornings. And about a helluva lot of grace.