Weight of the World: Processing Protests

The musical bamboo windchimes are whispering above my head. The sun on the front porch is warming up my toes as the house cooled over night and I was getting a bit chilly. The hum of a neighbor’s lawn mower simmers in the distance as the birds chatter and sing in the trees. Pandemic puppy stretches happily in the grass and keeps an eye on the bees.

Seems so peaceful. Seems like it should be so peaceful. But my heart is not at rest. My heart can’t rest while acknowledging the incredible privilege to live in this community with perfect little streets, well-cut grass and quiet that is enough to hear the wind rustle the trees.

Last night the air was filled with noise. The helicopters roared overhead. I knew where they were going. Downtown to watch over the rioting. Downtown where people marched in solidarity and peace to lift their voices and plead for equality as human beings. Downtown where agitators disrupted that peace and created havoc and destruction. Downtown filled with hurt and pain.

I struggle to read and understand. I gather up information as quickly as I can. I watch videos and read the news stories. I rapidly try to process what’s going on around me. Shortly after midnight, my 14-year-old bursts into my room. My lights are off, but he doesn’t care. “What’s going on downtown?” he asks. “Look at these videos of what’s happening right now in Pittsburgh. It’s chaos and violence. What’s going on with 2020?”

“Coronavirus was bad enough,” he says, “And now we have this.” I try to help him understand. Black lives matter. And all lives can’t matter until every human receives dignity and respect. But so many are scared and threatened by this possibility that another peaceful demonstration was taken over by white people with their own agenda. They are not allies. They do not care about equality and justice.

Super Tall Guy is wrestling this. He’s trying to find his way – posting comments on social media and grappling with the responses. He’s tossing out memes and slogans that he hears and learning from reactions. He’s sitting at his Xbox playing Fortnite while chattering with his friends. The conversation floats seamlessly between razzing one another for lack of skill in the game to commenting on the videos of rioting they are watching on their phones simultaneously. They struggle to work through this. They are trying to make sense of their world. But it is currently senseless.

And he is not there yet with his understanding of the magnitude of the issues. He sees the world from his whiteness because that’s what he knows. He is shielded from a lot of the injustices, yet experiences smaller aggression. I offer my words to him. I offer my life as a witness to him. I offer my opinions. But he is being shaped by a larger culture that I am swimming against and speak a small voice into.

After he ambled back to his room and continued engaging his cousins and buddies, I lay in bed thinking how much more simple parenting was when my kids were young. More simple before they had immediate access to the news, many times before I was even aware of the current events. More simple when it was just my brain trying to make sense of the world. Now I try to translate it for my boys. Translate injustice and oppression. Translate pain and violence. Translate the risk to them because of their skin color. I lay with the weight heavy upon my heart. I lay knowing that too many can’t breathe in this world today.

I can’t breathe, the world cries out.

I can’t breathe, the scariest of all feelings.

I can’t breathe, the cries of the oppressed and tortured.

I can’t breathe when greed and power shape actions

I can’t breathe when leaders incite violence

I can’t breathe when lives are lost

I can’t breathe if my brothers and sisters can’t breathe.

Want to do something? I do. So I read more, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s op-ed (“What I want to see is not a rush to judgment, but a rush to justice”) and ordered “How to be an Antiracist.” I pray more. I talk more. I struggle more. I wonder more about how to shape the boys.

I can’t let the peace of my quiet and my community lull me into ignoring the struggle of the communities around me. Talk to me. Challenge me. Join me.

Troublemaker: The Quarantine Puppy

Like so many people sitting at home to work over the past six or so weeks of “shelter-in-place,” it seemed like the perfect timing to get that puppy I had been contemplating for months.

Since the boys were clearly stressed by the sudden change in their lives and unable to say things like, “Gosh, Mom, I’m feeling really stressed and unsettled by this rapid change and don’t have great coping mechanisms,” they expressed this by fighting over who would get to sleep with our little cavadoodle. They cuddled up with Mitzy any time they were overwhelmed with big feelings. They found an outlet in loving a fuzzy little animal. So when a friend posted about Animal Lifeline on Facebook, we got our application in and waited for the next transport of puppies rescued from puppy mills or kill shelters in other states.

Scanning through a dozen or so photos of available puppies the following week, Mr. Ornery zeroed in on a tiny pure black puppy. “Look at those eyes, Mom,” he said, “that puppy needs us” (or the other way around). A few hours later, the boys were cuddling a black lab mix and I was signing paperwork.

All the way home, the boys argued over a name before

Amazon reminds me I purchased this in 2009

settling on Malachi. I tirelessly argued that was a boy’s name. The moment my friend texted a series of suggested M-names and I read her daughter’s suggestion of Mocha, I knew that was it. The next day, Little Guy came running into the room singing, “Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha. Grande, non-fat no-whip Mocha, where’s my puppy Moka?” using my favorite coffee drink to remember a new name.  I laughed and I switched the spelling to match a book we’ve enjoyed.

 

Sure it sounds like a great idea to get a quarantine puppy. Why not pile on a lot more work? With the current crisis level of stress, I had started to sleep 8-9 hours a night. Now I sleep 6-7 and beg the puppy to go back to sleep in the early mornings as I lay there restlessly unable to doze off. With the constant disruption of children as I try to pay attention to Zoom meetings or put thought to paper for work, now every 20-30 minutes I have to figure out what the puppy is chewing on and take her out to pee.

But I can handle this, because having a new puppy is just like having boys:

Little Moka can’t come into the house without tracking in dirt or carrying in bits of nature. Mostly because she loves to dig the black dirt all over the sidewalk right in front of the door – so that everyone now drags in dirt! It’s especially awesome when it rains.

She contributes to the constant “I can’t find my shoe” issue. It’s been three days and I still can’t find the left flip-flop and my right running shoe. And I don’t know whether to blame boys or a puppy who picks it up and carries it around the house.

She leaves wet blotches in the carpet much like the boys do when they spill their drink and “forget” to clean it up or mention it until I find it with my socked feet.

An innocent appearing behavior, such as licking the front porch railing quickly becomes destructive and I think about all the repairs I’ll some day have to do because of the constant flurry of activity of all these little creatures in the house.

There are some lessons learned, as well. For example, when leaving the puppy home all day with the older boys while I’m at work, I might have needed to specify to remove the “solid waste” BEFORE using the spray and wet paper towel to rub the carpet! (Even magic Folex hasn’t been able to touch this stain.)

Also would have helped to be a little more specific in my note to the 11-year-old that read, “Please take puppy out every hour and feed at 12 noon.” When I unknowingly gave the puppy dinner and she groaned as she still tried to eat with a belly double its normal size, I learned that Mr. Ornery read that as “feed puppy every hour” as well as take her out.

Despite all this (and the continuing destruction that I’m sure we’ll have), I don’t regret the decision. The other night, on The Little Guy’s ninth birthday, the puppy jumped off the couch and landed on her front leg wrong. She howled in pain. The boys ran to find me and I held the puppy tight. Wrestling with whether she needed to get to the emergency vet, with time she started walking on it again. As she tucked in to sleep that evening and the younger boys cuddled into my arms on the couch watching a movie, they wept with worry about the puppy. Reassuring them, I thought, you know what, you boys are going to be okay. You have tremendous love for another creature. You have deep empathy for someone in pain. You find joy in the physical connection (even if it is a puppy licking your face). And you are learning more responsibility.

Welcome to the family, Moka. We’re all glad you’re here.

Parenting During Coronavirus COVID-19

In this unique time of a threatening health crisis due to the coronavirus CoVID-19, we are being asked to do something that goes against our very human nature. We are by design social creatures. That’s how we have thrived for thousands. But now in 2020, we are asked to literally stay away from other people. No more shaking hands. No more hugs. Unless you live in the same house you are not to touch someone else.

As difficult as that is, we are also now asked to stay in our own homes. Stay away from public places. Get your groceries and that is it. While these restrictions are meant to help us stay physically healthy, they do not help us stay mentally healthy. Now layer on the challenges of parenting young kids during this time. Children are not in school. Young children are not in day care. Many parents are expected to work from home while keeping an eye on their children. Many parents are expected to help their children get schoolwork done while schools are closed. Many parents have no one else to take care of the children so that parents can get away for a break. The “village” that used to exist to help parents is no longer concretely visible for so many.

This “village” is part of the five Protective Factors that help parents be the best they can be. These include 1) parental resilience, 2) social connection, 3) concrete support in times of need, 4) knowledge of parenting and child development, and 5) social and emotional competence of children. Let’s take a look at these factors within our current situation of social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

Parental Resilience: Resilience refers to the strategies we all have to help us cope with daily life and with any curveballs that are thrown our way. Right now we’re experiencing a huge curveball not in existence for decades. Thus, it is really important for parents to take some moments to reflect on how they are doing emotionally and physically. It’s important to give yourself quite a bit of slack knowing that the stress you are facing right now is greater than normal, the demands are higher than normal, and the worry is more serious than normal. Find the things that make you happy and allow yourself to indulge a bit. Call or text a friend. Get outside and take deep breaths of fresh air. Watch a movie. Find activities that are relaxing for you and that bring you joy. Within the chaos, we need moments of joy that may continue to build our resilience.

Social ConnectionSince the beginning of March, we’ve been hearing about the concept of “social distancing” as a way to slow down and limit the spread of the coronavirus. Soon, a new insight arose. What is important in fighting this virus is “physical distancing” and staying at least 6 feet away from anyone not in our family unit. But “social connection” is more important than ever. We need to realize that we are in this together. As a community, as a state, as a country, we need to be in this together. And as parents, we need to have social connection. We need to be connected with other people so we can talk about our fears and concerns and worries. We need to connect so we can ask questions and get answers and support one another.

And we also need to make sure we are staying socially connected to our children. Sometimes our brains get so wrapped up in stress and worry that it changes the way with interact with our children. We are less patient and more negative. We also know that children can sense our stress and they are likely stressed themselves by the sudden change in their lives and the fact that they don’t have the same social connection with other children in their classes or neighborhood. As parents, we can help keep them connected to their friends remotely if possible or just by continuing to talk about some of their favorite friends.

Concrete Support in Times of Need: When businesses are shut down, when cities and countries are under “shelter in place” direction, it is a very difficult time in terms of getting needs met. In many places, the shelves are bare and it is too difficult to travel around to find items you might need. Closed businesses might change people employment causing financial stress. Services that are generally available may have limited hours or capacity. It is important to know that even though it seems that the world has kind of shut down, there still are services to meet the need. And it is important to ask for help if needed and persist in getting that help. And for those people who are doing okay in terms of getting the needs of their family met, this is a great time to reach out and find ways to help others for whom life is really challenging right now.

Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: No child ever came with a “how-to” manual when they were born and no parent suddenly acquired all the skills and knowledge of “how to” be a good parent the moment they started to parent. We all are learning every single day more about our children and more about ourselves. The key to this parenting gig is maintaining a “growth mindset.” Understand that your children are constantly growing and changing and something that works one day will suddenly not work another day. Understand that your parenting skills are also able to grow and change and improve. Understand that we are all going to make mistakes. We all make mistakes. So we learn from them and adapt. And we learn from others. Part of that “village” and that “social connection” that we all need is the chance to talk about children and their behaviors and get other ideas about how to parent. We learn from each other. We learn from reading about children and parenting. And we learn from doing it.

Social and Emotional Competence of Children: Every single child is completely different than any other child. Just like each child learns to crawl or walk at a different time, they learn to understand and manage their emotions at a different rate as well. Some kids are very in tune with their emotions. Some kids never seem to talk about their emotions. But in this time of coronavirus, it is likely that every child is feeling some type of stress. That stress might just come from the fact that so much changed in their lives in terms of being home all day now with the family. For school age children, they are no longer sitting in classes with friends and teachers. For some older children, they may be hearing about the virus or reading about it and are scared and worried about the health of themselves or family members.

This is a time for us parents to make sure that we are connecting with children on the emotional level. For younger kids that means lots of physical contact of hugs and cuddles to help them feel loved and safe. For children who are older and can talk and understand, it means letting them know that you as a parent are doing everything you can to keep them safe and healthy. It means talking about emotions more. It means reading books that help kids understand emotions. It means understanding that sometimes when the kids are “acting out” or “being bad” or making a total mess, it is merely an expression of the stress that they are feeling within. It is so, so hard as a parent to take a breath at this time, give the kid a hug, and say “I know you’re feeling confused, scared, sad, lonely, worried (whatever emotion you think they are dealing with), but I’m here for you.” It is hard some times, but it is also so helpful to the child. And it might be so helpful to you too to speak these emotions out loud.

There’s no manual for any of us parents to cope with the CoVID-19 virus. There’s no one alive who has ever experienced such a pandemic and would be able to offer us concrete guidance. It is a new and very unusual time for absolutely every single person in the world, so all we can do is try our best. But we humans can find within us an inner strength to cope and to adapt and to figure out what we need to do to survive this and thrive. We can find what brings us joy and love. We can share our love to our children, our families, our friends and neighbors and to others in different ways now, but it still has the same power.

Be gentle to yourself. Be connected to your family. Love yourself and share your love. And always have Hope, knowing that we will come through this and hopefully will learn so much about true love.

Resources:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
  • United Way in SW PA: Call 2-1-1 or text your zipcode to 898-211
  • Healthy Children resource from the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Audiobooks at the Carnegie Library using Overdrive or Hoopla app.

Time to be Less busy and Restart the “Welcome Wagon”

K gave me a tight hug as her eyes teared up. “I didn’t know people did this anymore,” she spoke as I handed her a slightly still-warm pan of chicken broccoli casserole. The recipe was hastily written on the top along with my name and phone number and the names and ages of the boys. “I forgot to include the dog,” I said with a smile.

I had noticed the moving truck when I got home from work earlier that day. Scanning my cupboards and fridge, the only meal I could think of putting together was this comfort-food casserole, though it had sadly been so long since I had last made it, that the recipe had faded from my brain. But I had just been in her situation three weeks ago. My mind was stretched beyond belief trying to make sure I had moved over the Christmas presents and knew where they were. Making sure I had the tree up and slightly decorated again. Making sure everyone had at least a couple outfits to wear. Making sure the boys had “nice” clothes to wear at Christmas Eve service when the two youngest were doing the reading from the book of Luke. Helping my sister tear up carpet, sweep and mop sanded floors, clean up a house while still packing up the last one before the truck came. A week in, all I wanted was a home-cooked meal. I was tired of delivered pizza and Chinese take-out. I had shared cookies from our Cookie Day baking with the neighbors on either side and across from me whom I had met. But I just wanted “real” food.

And so that it what I wanted to take to the new neighbors. I also really wanted to have some great little gifts like my sister and friends brought me on my first day of moving – bottles of hand soap and hand towels for the bathroom, sponges, and Chlorox wipes. Wouldn’t it be lovely, I thought, if I had some of those around that weren’t used yet (from all my cleaning the past couple weeks) and I could make up a little basket or bag to take along with a meal to the new neighbor? Wouldn’t it have been nice, I thought when I got home, if I had remembered to take a bottle of wine over with the meal, as her words continued to dance through my head: “Thank you so much. It’s been a really trying day.”

I know, I thought. I know. It’s not just the physical exhaustion but the mental toll that hits you in those days of moving. It’s one of the top stressors of life, even if it is a really positive thing in the end.

The next day, one of my neighbors brownies neighbor2whom I hadn’t met yet from across the street stopped over with a plate of warm brownies. Like the neighbor next door, when she returned my cookie plate, she had written her name and number on a piece of paper which I have tucked into my “new house” notebook. It was wonderful to be genuinely welcomed and to be told, “Call me anytime if you need anything.” Certainly so many of the neighbors have called out, “Welcome to the neighborhood” and told me about all the things they love about the neighborhood. And so far, the three neighbors who are clearly retired and whose houses surround mine have all said, “It’s so nice to hear kids playing outside again.” (Meanwhile, I say to myself – oh, just you wait for the weather to break. Let’s see how long that “noise” is “nice”!)

The reason I felt pulled to this neighborhood was that a friend of my middle son lived near the entrance to the “no outlet” essentially-two-street community. My friendship with his parents was growing and I just knew it could be a beautiful opportunity to live nearby. I know it’s hard to move right at Christmas time and in the middle of winter because most of the neighborhood tucks in and stays inside as the snow flies. But I’m looking forward to meeting the neighbors as the days lengthen and warm up (and maybe winning over the guy who lives behind the house and apparently is VERY protective of his pine trees from the evils of boys’ snow sleds….). I’m looking forward to putting some furniture on the front porch and planting myself there as much as possible to say hi to Pippin and Fergie and Gunnar and Millie and any other dog who pulls their owner past the house. (I might also be doing some glaring at those who want to speed just a little up the hill because they will likely encounter scooters, and fat boy bikes, and ramps, and hoverboards, and Nerf guns and kids all over the road!)

And, I’m particularly looking forward to making up a couple little gift baskets of cleaning supplies and wine and throwing together a little meal for the next people who move into the neighborhood – because it’s time to bring back the Welcome Wagon. Just tell me where the moving truck is. I think I got this now.

When Newness brings Peace

“And the peace of God which transcends all understanding….” (Phil 4:7)

There certainly was very little Peace and Quiet over this Christmas break despite the typical expectation of such. This year we moved to a house after living in a cramped, tiny townhome for the past 3 years. The older two had their own bedrooms, but the youngest slept in my bedroom. The TV was on one side of the “living” room space and the couch on the opposite side so the great joy in annoying the eldest was to cross in front of the TV multiple times…or just pretend to forget and stand there. The kitchen was tiny and I couldn’t stand to have a kid in there with me whenever I tried to cook anything on the non-existent counter-space. There was no garage, no basement, no storage area.

But there was an outside. There was an open green space with playground equipment that hardly anyone used if they were over five. And there was a glorious double-bump hillside that made perfect sledding conditions (perfect because the boys could thump over in their boots and I could stay in my warm abode!). And there were kids. Kids who also liked to play outside. Kids who knocked on the door at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. Kids who knocked at 8:00 pm on a school night. Kids that thrived on my boys’ energy and creativity. Kids who were great friends.

So the Saturday before Christmas, I moved over as many boxes as I could pack in the car with supplies to host our first “Cookie Day.” Many friends came out and we baked for hours (despite a nasty cold), creating 56 dozen cookies as the one oven browned sheet after sheet of dough. Sunday and Monday we packed and carted boxes. We cleaned some parts of the new house and some of the old. My sister tore up carpet and sanded two hardwood floors. And Christmas day after the excitement of gifts and a quick meal, we put polyurethane on the floors and opened all the windows. And when the moving trucks pulled out, my wonderful brother drove in from Ohio with two of his older daughters to finish up moving all the odds and ends.

It’s been anything but restful. Anything but quiet. But there has been a remarkable peace that has descended on the family. Christmas Eve I sent the boys down to the basement (“game room,” “man cave,” “den”…we haven’t settled on a name yet!) and I set up their rooms with beds and new blankets and put some select pieces of their school artwork (which I just framed the week before Christmas) on the floor as I didn’t have the tools or the energy to work on hanging them. I had name signs for each room. And The Little Guy jump around in his room with such joy and excitement to have his own space for the first time in his life.

Space. There’s now space for the boys to get away from each other to rest. There’s space in the kitchen (bless my mom and a couple great friends who helped clean and set it up) for me to experience joy and peace in preparing meals for the boys (I got tired of pizza and take-out pretty quickly!). There’s space to put the new hoverboards and electric scooters in the shed and the hand-me-down dirt bike that Mr. Ornery managed to fiddle with enough to get it working. There’s space to breathe and breathing feels very good.

And after three years, there’s a sense of settling and permanency. My brain is no longer searching and searching for the right house, the right location, the right school. It’s not perfect. I really intended to get a MUCH bigger yard for the boys, but it’s got great indoor space and a quiet flat road in front for their craziness.

I am so grateful for everyone who helped physically and emotionally with encouraging texts and messages and Facebook comments. There’s still much to do. I haven’t finished cleaning up the new place yet and there’s boxes upon boxes in “storage” at my sister’s and parents’ houses that need to move over.  But, a longtime friend said to me recently, “It’s so great to see how much you are enjoying that beautiful new home of yours.” And he’s right.

I’ve actually caught Super Tall Guy with smiles on his face!

Managing This “Season’s” Stress

The theme of this month seems to be figuring out how much stress my brain can manage before it entirely implodes.

I think I’m pretty close to that, although I seem to just yell a bit more at the boys and that releases some from the pop-off valve.

Given that it’s mid-December, there’s a great deal of excitement about the upcoming favorite day of the year. There’s been quite a bit of excitement about the daily Elf and his location search (for the younger two) and about the daily “Advent Bags” (which were lovingly packed by their grandmother) that reveal goodies. And there’s a great deal of excitement about moving to a new house. For the boys, these past few weeks have been filled with constant expectation and a lot of joy. (Not complete joy because their mother hasn’t been giving in to their every whim and desire for “stuff, but there’s been plenty of joy!) 

But for their mother, it’s been an endless stream of things to do and things forgotten. For one, until you go through the process, it’s pretty hard to understand the emotional energy and time required in purchasing a house. Inspection. Negotiations. Research on radon abatement (including an hour on the phone with a talkative radon guy when I essentially had just one question – will you get it down below the acceptable safe limit of 4!).  Finding, printing, signing, scanning, emailing financial papers after financial papers to the mortgage lender.

And then there’s the packing; that is, after finding a moving company. The man who came in to provide an estimate might have casually mentioned, “Looks like you need to start packing….” I took his advice and increased from my two-boxes-a-night pace to spending almost this entire weekend packing up the boys’ rooms, the kitchen, the storage area which hasn’t been touched in three years (hello, daddy long-legs!).

And….two boys have succumbed to upper respiratory infections (the fancy name for a cold) and the middle one has succumbed to pre-teen obnoxiousness (the fancy name for being a brat).

If this was the only stress for December, it might be tolerable. But interestingly, there’s also the impending expiration of the 5-year cycle of my “Maintenance of Certification” for my pediatric boards. So I’ve spend 15-20 hours in the evenings working on those requirements. Strangely, my Pennsylvania medical license is also due for renewal by the end of the month so that requires some additional “continuing medical education” credit hours. And then there’s the email from the hospital where I am credentialed that my TDaP vaccine needs to be updated by the end of the month; so now my arm is sore from squeezing that appointment in!  Oh….and  also the oil change because I’ve had the new car for three months now, so I had to pop in and get that done on the way home from work one day.

To top it off, it’s also The Little Guy’s first year in competitive gymnastics and he had his first competition at the beginning of the month. Fortunately it was in town and we didn’t have to travel, but his joy in winning first place for his age group in the Rings event made me realize I better get prepared for his next competition in January. It took awhile to book a hotel room at Splash Lagoon (a water park close to the competition site), but the boys are thrilled.

It’s gotten to the point of being humorous (almost). It’s definitely to the point where I am conscientiously spending my days telling myself to unclench my jaw and relax my shoulders. I’m reminding myself that this is a season of craziness and it will pass.  I’m reminding myself that we don’t have to do everything we usually do this time of year (I say as I compose this from the hard wooden bench at the ice-skating rink…since the boys “had” to get out of the house). I remind myself that things don’t have to be perfect; the boys will have fun no matter what I do, despite my personal pressure to make this move and this Christmas “special.” And I remind myself to get a good 7-8 hours of sleep (at least every third night….as there’s clearly some viruses around to fight off and supposedly good sleep makes moms less grouchy!).

And tonight I have a sneaky suspicion that my neighbor is right….Mr. Ornery has his first band concert tomorrow night. I’ll need to find some dress clothes for him. I don’t think I’ve packed those yet…..

Sigh, so when you see me and you think – “wow, your hair sure has gone gray” – I’m still blaming it on the boys and this time I’ll blame it on not having enough time to keep up with the dyeing!

Countdown to Christmas – yes, this Advent, I am grateful for the greatest gift two thousand-some years ago and the many blessings and gifts bestowed daily this month!

(Ahem…well, I’m off to make my list of things still needed for Cookie Day at the new house. It’s going to be a blast. I hope!)

 

 

Nike and My Brown-Skinned Boy

It’s both sad (because of the backlash) and yet hopeful to me that a globally successful business is propelling the discussion around racial injustice.  I would almost feel bad for all those promising to boycott Nike, except for the fact that maybe with fewer people shopping in my area, there might be size 8 shoes still on the shelves for me!

That aside, the whole point of this issue has nothing to do with Nike or Kaepernick and everything to do with the fact that it’s time to start treating people with brown skin as humans. In an effort to make sure that my boys are in a good school district that can meet their varying behavioral and learning needs, I have chosen (for now) to live in an area that happens to be primarily white. It’s a choice that doesn’t always sit well with me because I yearn for more diversity (though my immediate neighborhood has families from Turkey, Russia, Ecuador and South Korea living together). So, every year I intentionally enroll my biracial children in a summer day camp within the city limits that serves primarily African American kids.

The first few days are a bit of a shock to them. Mr. Ornery came home that first Monday afternoon begging me to take him to Target to get a ball cap. Not thoroughly understanding the importance to him, I brushed it aside as we moved along to some evening sports activity or another. The next evening he continued to insist that he needed a new cap so off to Target we went. But I knew in my heart that he wouldn’t find what he needed in Target. In our “white neighborhood” all-purpose store he was not going to find the ethnic fashion apparel he eagerly sought. He also wasn’t going to find someone who knew how to braid his ringlet hair into cornrows at our “white neighborhood” SuperCuts.

What he was searching for was a better understanding of his identity. He was trying to figure out what part of him was brown skin and what part of him reflected the whiteness he saw all around. He searched for answers in outward appearances without thinking of the within.

“Why do so many of those kids at camp have brown skin?” he asks. “Why was like everyone in the Black Panther movie brown?”  Eventually, my answer became, “You know what? If you look at all the people in the entire world, most of them have brown skin. It’s just that it’s different where we live so we sometimes forget that. What matters is what’s inside people. How they act. How they treat others.”

My heart breaks at the continued discrimination and injustice. My heart breaks that people continue to judge others based on color, appearance, physical form. Bias is within all of us, but we are in control of our responses and our actions. We have a choice to be kind.

Mr. Ornery got a new ball cap. He wore it for two days. Mr. Ornery got cornrows put in his hair at a salon within the city. He wore it that way for three days (some of his hair was too short so it only was braided halfway). Mr. Ornery and his brothers will continue to wrestle with what it means to have brown skin in a country that can’t handle differences. They will search to find where they fit in and how to handle the pain of judgement.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I will continue to look for opportunities to talk with others and listen to others who are different from me in many ways. And I will continue to seek opportunities to do the same with my boys and encourage them to learn and grow in acceptance and wisdom.

Because I believe that we are all created by and loved by an amazing God. And we should show the same to others.

 

And Then There Were Water Beads…

“Hey, want to be Doctor and Nurse again for the kids’ science fair night?” I asked a friend a couple weeks ago. A few days later she sent me directions (so thankful) for creating a demonstration of blood using water beads as the red blood cells, ping pong balls as the white blood cells and pieces of red foam to be the platelets. Looked easy enough. Amazon delivered the supplies a few days later and I left them in the box until they were needed.

Chomping on some salad a couple hours before heading to the science fair, I pulled up the instructions on my phone to start getting ready. “Hmm…water beads….” I opened the box and read their instructions. “Soak in water for 6 to 24 hours.”  &!@$!!! But then I remembered many science lessons by my mother when I was young about the power of heat and soaked those tiny pellets in hot hot water!!  It was amazing to watch them grow!

Hours later, my friend and I were swamped by kids coming to play with our bucket of “blood.” Kids would stand there for 5-10 minutes just letting the little beads roll through

Bucket of “blood”

their hands. Some were semi-interested in learning about blood, but really, they just wanted to squish beads between their fingers. We even encouraged all the parents to put their hands in and the expressions on their faces were priceless. We witnessed awe, delight, relaxation, and sheer surprise that the beads weren’t “slimy.” I stood there as a perfect spokesperson (for Amazon!), “Don’t you think you need some of these in your house?” “Wouldn’t it be so relaxing?” “Excuse, Mr. Principal of this school. Don’t you think you should have a bucket of these in the office next week for the kids as they work on their PSSAs? A chance to relax and de-stress while they are filling in endless bubble exams?”

The entire next day, Super Tall Guy sat on the couch running his fingers through a bucket of water beads as he watched TV. I’d turn and see him letting them slip around his hands, squishing and squeezing them. I thought about how wonderful it was to see my boy who often has so much trouble regulating his intense emotions sitting so calmly and relaxing with this sensory stimulation. It seemed like a perfect item.

Except that all “perfect” things, in a household of boys, have a downside!  You can order a pack of 15,000 tiny beads and still have fights over even division of items among three boys! You can give all the warnings you want about keeping them in the buckets (and even outfit all the containers with snapping lids) and still you will find them all over the floor. (The vacuum worked, though!)

 

I don’t know whether I love these things or hate them. It’s only been 48 hours, so the jury is still out on whether these are a “helpful” experience for the boys. I can keep you updated.

But I can tell you that I haven’t ordered the “water bead gun” yet on Amazon and I sure haven’t informed the boys of its existence!!

 

Failure Demon

By all accounts, I am a highly-accomplished woman. I have a college education, a PhD and a medical degree. I am an executive director, a physician and a co-founder of a successful non-profit. Despite being an introvert, I have strong social skills and am adept at networking and building community. I have many friends and a wonderful family. I know persistence, determination, resilience and hard work.

And I know the Failure Demon. The one that sits upon your shoulder and provides the 40,000-foot macro overview critique of all your deficiencies and failures.

My house deal fell through this weekend. It’s been six weeks of sleepless nights stressing about whether it was the right place for my family and finally shifting into preparing mentally to move. The boys were excited, talking about how they would arrange their rooms and all the fun space they would have to play. And the yard. Sigh, the yard.

Failure Demon points out that I’ve been looking at houses for over a year. I keep talking about wanting to move and get the kids into a different school system and yet I can’t that done. No house has been the right one and the walls of this rental townhome are closing in on us.

Failure Demon likes to point out deficiencies like this when I’m trying to focus on studying. Failure Demon reminds me that despite being a nearly straight-A student my entire life, despite passing every prior standardized test I’ve taken with relative ease, I have now failed my Internal Medicine re-certifying exam twice. I have one more chance. I am in a “grace year” and I’m running out of time. Failure next month will change me from a “Med-Peds” physician to a pediatrician. Failure will change my current employment at a medical office providing care for under- and uninsured patients. Failure will change my income and the ability to afford such things as a house for the boys. Failure will have a ripple effect.

Failure Demon reminds me that part of all this stress of choosing a house and choosing a school district is the stress of trying to parent alone and make important life decisions on my own. Failure Demon points out that my life-long goal of finding a partner, a soul-mate, a friend, a spouse is still unmet, still in the failure category. Failure Demon chuckles.

For Failure Demon points out that solo parenting isn’t even working out so great, is it? The threatening letters from property management to inform tenants that “all children must be supervised at all times when outside” have now escalated to an email asking for a meeting with the property manager next week. Apparently there’s been a report of Mr. Ornery lighting smoke bombs in the back yard while “unsupervised” the other night while I was at work. Mr. Ornery is ornery; there’s no getting around that. But Failure Demon knows that I am stretched and that trying to keep track of everything spins out of control sometimes.

Failure Demon struts and nods smugly. Failure Demon smiles haughtily. Failure Demon loves to torture all of us.

But you shall go away, Failure Demon. I will sit here for a moment. I will sit in peace. I will let the sadness of losing the house pass me by and then I will begin again. I will pick up my phone and study more exam questions on that handy app and I shall do my best. I will give my boys a hug and rejoice in their health and their creativity and their love of exploration. I will shake off that demon and rise again.

For I have confidence that “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And God’s Word is that we are loved. That we are made perfect through Him and that there is no failure when one walks with God.

So go away, Failure Demon. For Christ reigns, friends surround, and there is much work to be done.

We need to create more Grateful Moments!

The bus was late. I was stressed. We were going to be late for the first gymnastics class. I parked the car across from the bus stop and waited. After they tumbled off, I hustled the boys over to the car and yelled, “Jump in! Get buckled!” As the bus was trying to make its busu-turn and I was clearly blocking its progress, I moved the car forward to the other side of the street. Super Tall Guy yelled out, “Mr. Ornery’s not in the car” (well, he used the middle kid’s real name, to be truthful). I stopped immediately, opened the car door and looked back about 20 feet behind me. My vision of Mr. Ornery in his bright orange shirt was blocked by an unknown car who had stopped right in front of him and the driver had jumped out to videotape or photograph my moment of stupidity.

And that’s what it was. A moment. Maybe 20 seconds. A moment when a hurried mother made a mistake. But thanks to the stranger, a police officer showed up at my door at 9:00 o’clock that night to interrupt bed-time routine and inform me of my stupidity. Fortunately, it was one of those awkward “warnings” about a “chaotic bus pick up?” and I agreed with him that yes, I was wrong. It was a lapse of judgement. But no one was hurt and I had not gone anywhere. My boys were safe and they were not traumatized. We had talked about the situation. All was fine.

Except my heart. My heart was sad that in this world, my first thought was – great! Some stranger is videotaping me and I’ll either “go viral” on social media or have a police citation.

My question is – why didn’t the stranger instead think to help. Maybe instead of blocking my view of my son, she might have taken my son’s hand and walked him to my car. We all would have said thank you and moved on with the day. It could have been a “grateful” moment.

Just five days before this, on the second day of school, a little 7-year-old got off the school bus with my boys. There was no parent waiting for him. I walked him to his house and we knocked on the door. No answer. Knocked on windows. Nothing. I called the management office of the community and they called the parents and tracked them down. I waited with this little boy for 10 minutes until his parents arrived. They thought he had gotten on the bus to day care rather than the bus home. It was a mistake.  A moment. I did not call and report the parents to the police. I helped.

Oh how I wish we could all be more helpful.

This week an elderly patient sat in my office. She wasn’t sure she wanted to return in two weeks to get her blood pressure rechecked because transportation was too difficult for her. And she didn’t have any one around to help her. She looked at me with eyes of sadness. “People tend to disappear once you get older or have a cane,” she lamented. “Nobody wants to help anyone anymore. Nobody cares anymore in this world. Everyone is just worried about their own self.”

A generalization yes, but also a reminder to me.

Let’s be more kind.

Let’s be more helpful.

Let’s think about what others might be going through and what we might do to help.

Let’s be a good neighbor and a loving friend.

Let’s create more grateful moments.

Love matters.