It takes a child to raise a village.

When our three were in high school, we had their friends in and out of the house daily. The Husband and I volunteered so much in their music and theater programs that we knew their most beloved teachers well and became buddies with their closest classmates.  Those kids were my kids, and I was honored that they liked us and turned to us for love and nurturing. We were the village that helped raise those children.

In the face of yet another horrific mass murder, it is now the Parkland kids who are raising us. 

They’re raising us impotent adults above our defeated, hopeless inaction about the idiocy of gun obsession in our nation.

Raising the conversation so it will be heard.

Raising our consciousness, raising our empathy, raising our morality.

I see these kids’ images and my heart stirs at the anger and resolve and courage on their faces.

I hear their words and I weep openly over their eloquence and their heartfelt demands.

I’ve never met the Parkland kids. I probably never will. But I love each and every one of them, as if they were the part of the crowd that used to hang out at our house for rehearsals, dinners, and laughter and in our van on the many road trips we took for auditions and performances.

These are our kids. We can’t fail them. They need us just as much as we need them.

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We cry out for change.

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I don’t ever. EVER. want to hear the phrase “thoughts and prayers” again.

I know I’m not alone in that despairing, yet angry, sentiment.

The thoughts and prayers of our NRA-owned lawmakers aren’t doing a damned thing for the ever-increasing numbers of human beings whose lives are permanently shattered every day by gun violence.

In a day or two the Florida school shooting will fade away, and Americans will collectively forget (with help from our lawmakers who insist “now is not the time” to talk about it) and move on to the next outrage. And then, in a week or so the next shooting will occur and the cycle will start again.

We’re clearly a broken nation. Our government “shuts down” on a regular basis – a glaring symptom of that broken-ness. If lawmakers can’t even manage to keep our institutions running, they definitely can’t tackle a problem as multi-faceted and powder keg-hot as gun violence.

I am convinced there is no one solution to our self-inflicted national shame. Blaming mental illness won’t do it (especially since that’s just a convenient talking point, with no intention of actually helping the mentally ill – who, by the way, are rarely the perpetrators of violence). Turning our schools and offices into heavily armed fortresses won’t do it. More restrictive gun laws alone won’t do it. Increased gun ownership sure as hell won’t do it, though the NRA and gun manufacturers would have you believe otherwise.

All of the commonly discussed (and routinely forgotten) options are technical solutions to one gigantic whopper of an adaptive challenge.

This kind of challenge obviously has no clear-cut answer. It requires listening and learning. It’s the work of many, many concerned people – not just the power-hungry people we elect to do the work of governing. It requires the ability to try new things, act experimentally. It will take a long, long time, in which we’d have to settle for progress rather than a quick fix.

In other words, the cure for our broken nation and its love affair with guns requires wisdom and intense effort on the part of every single citizen.

That prognosis isn’t merely daunting; it feels pretty much impossible. Quite honestly, I don’t think we’re up to the task.

But if I want to manage my own despair, I’ve got to do what I can. That starts with writing every single one of my local and national lawmakers to insist they work for change. Considering that my state has some of the most dangerous gun laws in the nation, that action feels rather futile. But it’s something I am capable of doing.

I have a small amount of disposable income that I can choose to donate to an organization such as Moms Demand Action or Everytown. I’ll contribute, though again it’s a gesture designed more to maintain my mental health than to actually create change.

I ask you, friends, in all sincerity: What will you do? Please share your thoughts.

 

 

I’m rocking that “Galentines” thing.

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I’ve never been particularly interested in Valentine’s Day – it really just feels like a non-event. Especially since I haven’t been responsible for three classroom sets of miniature cards with enclosed treats for quite a few years. My room mother days are long behind me, too – meaning no need to come up with clever heart-themed games and treats.

But I have to take some credit this year – especially as a rabid introvert with a solid case of Seasonal Affective Disorder – for being all over this “Galentines” thing I keep hearing about.

It wasn’t an intentional effort, actually. It just happened to hit me today that I was really out of touch with a couple of people I adore. So on the spur of the moment, I set up two – count ’em, two! – girl dates. One for tonight and one for next week, but I think they both count. I was even smart enough, knowing my severe shortcomings as an introvert who enjoys making plans but hates it when it’s actually time to follow through on them, to plan these outings immediately after work. If I allow myself any time to go home, I know perfectly well I’ll never drag myself back out again.

Happy Galentines Day!

 

 

FOMO

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Really, I think “FOMO” is second only to “YOLO” for annoying acronym/words.

But I discovered recently that I’m having some serious FOMO.

See, I’d been on staff of a large church for 13 years. The people I worked with (well, almost all of them) were my tribe. We’d been through incredible ups and downs together, both in our work and in our personal lives. These were people I could count on for a shoulder to cry on, for someone to share my joys. And I loved being that for them.

Plus we did awesome work together (well, almost all of us did). I’m super proud of the programs I started and maintained and grew. Our collaborative work was top-notch.

But for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which was my mental health, I had to leave my tribe behind for a different job. I still keep in contact with these people, and because that was my community for so long, I keep a close eye on what’s happening in ministry there now that I’m gone.

FOMO.

A couple of months ago I figured out by following some Facebook posts that one regular activity taking place in the church building was in violation of our Congregation Protection Policy. That was my baby – the first serious project I took on 13 years ago, and a cornerstone of our congregation. I made a phone call to my favorite ex-colleague with the bad news and he took care of it, but…ouch.

I had occasion to look at the website a couple of weeks ago and discovered that a program I had originated has gotten a new name and a slightly new focus. It’s a great idea; it’s even something I’d been kicking around in my mind before I left but hadn’t gotten to yet.

Last week a congregational success was posted in a Facebook photo; some of my good friends (and a couple of people who made my  life miserable) were celebrating in the office with Starbucks.

It hurts. How could they go on and do good things and be happy and have fun without me? I was a major contributor to the health and vitality of that congregation, and they’ve moved on without me. Yeah, I know how stupid and childish that feeling is. But it’s real.

And, I tell myself, I’m having good times and building a new tribe right here in my new place. Me and my new tribe have walked through some fires together in just the six months I’ve been here, and come out on the other side as good friends.

It’s just how life is. Losses and gains.

Right now the losses really hurt.

 

Do I look like a moron?

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But it’s what I asked my husband the other night at the dinner table.

We’re back to having family meals, now that our two youngest are both living at home again. I love that time to share the funny and interesting points of our days and make sure we’re all on the same page with the big and small details of a shared household.

One night this week there were a couple of minor points I needed to share, and the responses to both could have easily landed me in jail for spousal abuse. As in throttling my husband until his teeth rattled.

Exhibit A:

Me: “I’m about out of gas. We should fill up this time at Hy-Vee (our grocery store, with a gas station attached) because we have a lot of gas discount points saved up.”

Husband: “Well, you don’t want to use those points unless you’re completely out of gas. You want to get the most out of that discount.”

My reaction: Number one, DUH. I know how a discount works. Number two, he says this exact same thing every damn time I mention getting gas at Hy-Vee to use up discount points. GRRRRRRR.

Exhibit B:

Me, to daughter who shares the cooking duties with me: “We’re out of parchment paper, which is why the brussels sprouts are stuck to the bottom of the baking dish. I’ll put it on the grocery list.”

Husband: “Whoa! What list are you putting it on? You’re not going to just get that at the grocery store, are you? We can save a lot of money if we plan ahead and get it from WalMart.”

O.M.F.G. Number one, this was not a conversation he needed to be a part of. Believe me, this man has never used parchment paper in his life. Number two, we might save a few cents with that scheme, but it’s not worth the headache. We rarely go to WalMart, but we’re at the grocery store at least twice a week. Number three, this “we should buy absolutely everything at the cheapest possible outlet and in bulk, if possible” mindset is a recurring theme. Not that I’m opposed to saving money, but it’s a false economy when we have to coordinate several different lists, find time to run around town picking things up at the least expensive seller, and do without a staple while trying to find that time to do that running around.

In other words, S.T.F.U.!

Maybe we’ve been married so long I’ve run out of patience with hearing the same old tune, like a killer earworm.

Maybe it’s the intense irritation stirred up by menopausal changes – look it up, it’s a thing.

Maybe he came just a little too close to mansplaining (which was recently added to the Oxford English Dictionary, thank you very much). I put up with that crap from our “head honcho” at work all the time, so I’m quick to call it out at home.

Actually, such obnoxious comments are probably more to do with my husband than with me. He’s cranky due to some situations at work. When he’s cranky he gets critical and pissy. And then his OCD tendencies (not a rude euphemism here; it’s a true diagnosis) tend to get the better of him.

Whatever it is, there better not be any more of it tonight. Because dammit, I’m not a moron!

 

 

 

Hobby? Or avoidance strategy?

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It’s extremely difficult for me not to curl up into a ball of utter despair over what’s happening in our nation. I am convinced by careful perusal of many different news outlets and study of government documents, memos, and testimonies, that the American experiment is near its end.

45 has flirted with constitutional crisis for over a year now. The fact that he signed a bill passed overwhelmingly by Congress but is now refusing to enforce the law? Full-blown crisis, friends. What does that law address? An incredibly convoluted scandal involving murder, money laundering, and Russian and U.S oligarchs – a scandal that directly benefits 45 and his billionaire kleptocrat buddies. A tip for those who hadn’t heard: “Russian adoption” – the ostensible topic of the pertinent meeting that took place in 2016 –  is actually code for this scandal, 

This complete dismantling of our constitutional democracy is only one of the many evils being carried out by this poseur of a president. Just a little reminder: The “us” first, anti-immigration, nationalist vitriol spewed by this man and his supporters is exactly what brought about every war across the globe over the last 150 years. 

Tonight is the annual State of the Union Address. I feel compelled to watch, and yet I’m truly afraid it will trigger another crying jag like the one brought on by the November 2016 election. I’m not sure I can do it.

And so, I’m knitting. Handwork has always been a joy for me. Now it’s an escape. A therapeutic, all-absorbing act of pushing down the despair. Before Christmas I turned out 10 scarves that went to guests of my organization’s Christmas Store (in which friends from our urban neighborhood shop for gifts for each member of their family, free of charge). Since Christmas I’ve produced a few more scarves. And as ugly news report piled on top of ugly news report, I craved something more challenging. After several disastrous attempts, I’ve finally mastered a mitten pattern.

When temperatures dip, as they have frequently this winter, we set a box of donated gloves, hats, mittens, and scarves in our waiting room for our neighbors. My goal is to contribute a couple of pairs of mittens to that box each week.

I march. I donate. I write. I post. Yet my influence on the fate of our nation feels negligible.  So I distract myself with tiny efforts on the side of good.

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply,, he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.”

“That Would Be Enough.”

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Summer 2017 was big. “Hurricane” big. “Blow Us All Away” big. HAMILTON IN CHICAGO big!

Yes, the whole fam piled into a car and drove north for a long weekend in Chicago to finally sit in the audience for the musical we’d been listening to and singing along with “Non-Stop” for over a year.

My heart started racing the moment the theater sign came into view. Our seats were nearly as high up in the balcony as it was possible to get, but we we were so excited we didn’t even notice all the stairs.

Aaron Burr stepped onto the stage with the words “How does a bastard, orphan, immigrant, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean, by providence impoverished, in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”

And for the next 3 1/2 hours I scarcely breathed. Literally on the edge of my seat, with tears in my eyes at every moment, I took in the movement, the costumes, the  lighting, the rhyme and rhythm, the intensely touching music and instrumentation, the deftness and piercing accuracy of word choice. All this, coupled with the heartbreaking beauty of seeing our U.S. origin story told by people of color; people who have been historically and systematically dis-included from the American dream.

I’m definitely a musical genre buff. But “Hamilton” is much more than a musical. I’m certainly not original in considering it a cultural phenomenon, a perfect expression of the zeitgeist. The line that in every performance makes the audience shout for joy, “Immigrants – we get the job done” are words of defiant healing in the face of dangerous nationalistic sentiment.

It was a life experience that will be forever a touchstone.

The importance of this event was, in part, due to my joy in sharing it with the four people who mean everything to me. Knowing that it meant as much to them as it did to me. Even as my children age and naturally drift further away, this experience underscored that we’re soul mates.

It’s horribly painful to live in these days of the demise of democracy. The genius that is “Hamilton” helps us find the courage to say, “Look around, look around…at how lucky we are to be alive right now.”

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The question of “deserving.”

Something pretty monumental happened over the weekend: I got a “new” car.

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I know purchasing a 3-year-old SUV is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But it’s a huge deal in our family. For me, it’s largely a huge deal because now I’m living with GUILT.

Guilt because we doubled our car payment. Guilt because it’s a very luxurious model, with very few miles on it. Guilt because the SUV I was driving was perfectly reliable and met my basic needs. Guilt because we bought the new one from a reputable, big-name seller.

Really, what all that guilt boils down to is the question of “deserving.” It’s not a word I like; not a word I would ever assign to others. In general I think it’s rare that anyone actually gets what they “deserve.” I look at the people we serve here at the urban Community Assistance Center where I work – these folks deserve a good education, safety, health care, adequate food, dignity. But in our society they don’t get much, if any,  of that.

On the other hand, look at what our White House administration and congressional leaders have. Power, wealth, fame, comfort. I can’t honestly say a damn one of those people deserve it.

And then, too, what is wrong with us (largely us in the U.S., I suspect) that so much of our identity and self-esteem is tied up in what kind of vehicle we drive? It’s pretty disgusting, really.

I’ve only ever owned one new-ish car in my life, 30 years ago, post-wedding and pre-kids. Every other car I’ve ever had charge of was a risk to drive every day. I never knew when I might end up at the side of the road needing a tow. Until my last SUV, that is, which was ten years old but ran perfectly. In other words, this is the first time I’ve ever replaced a car that wasn’t a danger to myself and others. The first time I’ve ever bought a car simply because I wanted something nicer. Bottom line, I recognize my own privilege, which I’ve done nothing to deserve.

GUILT.

But…oh, that smooth ride. No symphony of rattles from every interior piece of plastic. The seat warmers. The remote start and power lift gate, the rear view camera and voice- activated bluetooth. Pure hedonism.

So…can I let go of the guilt and just enjoy my new ride? Fingers crossed.

 

 

 

Like a chalk drawing in a rain storm.

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Today a colleague and good friend got into the office a bit late. Kelly came straight to my office, sat on my little sofa, buried her head in her hands, and started sobbing.

Had she been in a wreck? Had an argument at home? Gotten some bad news?

I joined her on the sofa and patted her back, and quickly her story came out.

This morning the temperature here in Kansas City was below zero F, with a wind chill of -18. As my friend had come into the building, she brushed past a woman who was just leaving; she’d come in to ask for one of the sack lunches we give out to folks who need them to get through the day. This woman had nothing over her clothing but a thin bed sheet wrapped around her shoulders. No coat. No gloves. No hat.

Turned out, she didn’t speak English. Kelly managed to get the message across that she should stay put for a moment. She dashed to our warehouse, where we have a few coats left from our charity Christmas shop in December, at which low income families come to pick out gifts for everyone living in their household, free of charge. All she could find was a men’s coat, but she hurried back to the waiting room with it. The woman accepted the coat, with tears and many repetitions of “Gracias!”

It seems like a happy ending. So why was my friend so distraught? I knew without asking, but she said it anyway.

“What we do is just chalk drawings in a rain storm.”

She’s right.

Kelly and I have had this conversation before. One day in December she and I made Christmas gift deliveries to seven of our agency’s homebound clients. It was an afternoon of driving through neighborhoods we’d never dare visit after dark. So much need. So little hope. Poor schools. No grocery stores. Few jobs. Very effectively segregated, 60 years after the civil rights movement.

We wished we could feel good that afternoon, making Christmas a little brighter for seven individuals/families. Instead we finished the day emotionally exhausted and incredibly discouraged. How many hundreds of crumbling homes did we pass by that day, where that same help – and more – is needed?

The church-backed nonprofit organization Kelly and I are employed by does excellent work. It’s a well-respected force for good in our city. Even though there are significant down sides to my new job, I’m thankful to be there, doing work that I know is meaningful to the people we’re able to touch. And yet, no matter how much good we do, it’s only a tiny drop in a distressingly enormous bucket.

Charity is not enough. It will never, ever be enough in this greedy capitalist nation. It will never, ever be enough as long as our government officials follow the cruel philosophy of Ayn Rand (I’m looking at you, Paul Ryan) and Confederate heroes (I’m looking at you, Jefferson Beauregard  Sessions III). Nothing will be righted until every single child in many successive generations receives a top-notch education. Until every single person of every color, religion, sexual orientation, and gender expression has the same economic rights, the same voting rights, the same dignity.

Until that day comes, we watch the chalk drawings we hastily scribble on the sidewalk wash away with every rainstorm.

 

 

 

 

Still Mom.

When I first chose a title for this blog, it struck me that “Mom Goes On” worked in more than one way. At the time, I was trying to figure out what to do with myself as two of my three flew the nest. Then, too, I was discovering that the “mom life” does’t end just because the kids are turning into adults.

Here we are more than four years later, and I’m still finding it true: My “mom life” is still a bit part of what I do and who I am.

A bit of a family update (or news flash, if you’re a new reader finding your way here):

Oldest is nearing the completion of her doctorate. By the end of this year she’ll be taking her next step, probably post-doc work – we just don’t know where yet. But it’s looking more and more likely she’ll try to settle in the Chicago area, with her boyfriend (and soon to be fiance, we expect.) Happy, healthy, and successful. No small accomplishment for a young woman in science research, which is notoriously unfriendly to females. I’m thrilled to report that she and I still text daily. Sometimes because she actually needs her mama, and more often because we have something funny to share. There’s nothing like truly liking your own children.

The middle sister still lives at home, and I hope she never leaves. She’s an awesome housemate, and great fun to hang out with. After teaching in an urban middle school for over a year, she realized quite unexpectedly that she’d made a serious mistake in her career choice. And made the very brave decision to stop teaching. It’s no easy thing to work your ass off for a goal (she graduated summa cum laude with a double major of education and English), only to discover it’s entirely wrong for you. It was a traumatic time in our household when all that came down, I can tell you. Every mom skill I ever possessed came into play in order to talk her down from that metaphorical ledge and help her move on.

Youngest is at home, too, for his first year of teaching. Choral music conducting jobs were in short supply last spring, so he settled for another of his loves and is teaching high school physics for now. Bigger news: He became engaged over Christmas break, and is starting an apartment search – he and his fiancee will live together for a year or so before the wedding. It’s lovely, though a huge surprise that the youngest is the first to take that leap It’s funny how this kid operates. He’s a closed book most of the time, but then he’ll suddenly pose a serious question whose answer has major consequences, and want my opinion and advice. I’ve loved having him back with us for a short time before he leaves the nest entirely for a new life with his love. And that brings another one into the fold, a young woman who, IMHO, could use some supportive parenting.

I’ll never stop missing the days when they were all at home and we were one cohesive unit. But there are many joys to this stage of life; not the least of which is knowing that we all still care about and take care of each other.

The mom life is still good.