Author Archives: Baddest Mother Ever

Relics: Artifacts My Daughter Doesn’t Know How to Use

Trigger warning: I’m going to refer to some racially offensive language (and high fat content foods) in here.


“Why does every show start with the stuff we JUST WATCHED on the last show?” Vivi asked me in frustration. She was several episodes deep into the Transformers.

“Well, sweetie,” I chuckled, “back in the OLDEN DAYS before Netflix, TV shows only came on once a week or once a day, so they did that to remind you what had happened last time.”

In a world of binge-watching streaming video and On Demand cable TV, my daughter has never needed the “On our last episode…” recap to pick up the thread of a show. We had discovered a relic.

rel·ic
ˈrelik/noun
  1. an object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.
  2. an object, custom, or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded.

She is growing up in a different kind of life, a life where recaps are “now outmoded.”

This has not been lost on my family. I remember when she was about 3 and we were all sitting around the dining room table at Daddy and Gay’s house. Her Uncle James looked at Vivi across the table and blurted, “That child does not know how to eat a drumstick.”

Every head turned to witness Vivi gripping her fried chicken leg by the meaty end while she gnawed for purchase on the bony little knobbly end. My firstborn, not one generation removed from walking out into the backyard to procure a chicken for the frying pan, didn’t know which end of the drumstick was the handle.

Daddy was aghast. “Don’t you feed this baby CHICKEN?”

I rotated the drumstick in her hand and Vivi bit into the meat like she had struck gold. “Of course I do! It just…doesn’t have any bones in it.” I bake chicken breasts or chicken tenders or chicken nuggets. I don’t cook non-specific chicken parts chicken. I don’t fry it. And I sure as hell don’t cut it up.

Daddy set his own drumstick down on the edge of his plate. “How do you make STOCK if you don’t have a carcass???” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t make stock, I don’t own Crisco, and I have never in my life cooked a dumpling. And as God is my witness, I will never be hungry enough to mess with giblets.

That night taught me that drumsticks, a staple of my life, might be a relic for my daughter. An object of purely sentimental interest.

She figured out the business end of a drumstick.

She eventually figured out the business end of a drumstick.

So many things that are normal to me don’t really make sense to her. The other night we were out of body wash at bath time. I handed her a bar of $8 goat’s milk and honey soap that I get special for myself from the farmer’s market. This child who is in the gifted program at school did not even know how to work up bubbles with a bar of soap–all she could do was stare at it and chase after it every time it slipped out of her hand. She sat there in the tub with her Mr. Bubble, Kidz 2-in-1 Shampoo, a pink sponge…and a relic.

Photographic evidence of how little my children know about bar soap.

Photographic evidence of how little my children understand bar soap.

Remember that story from last summer when she was away at camp and I couldn’t wait to get a letter? Then when it arrived I realized that I had never taught my daughter how to use an envelope, so an unsealed envelope was all I received? She has two different email accounts in fourth grade and takes coding classes but doesn’t know that you have to lick the envelope to make it hold the letter inside. Envelopes are from an earlier time.

Oops.

Oops.

My kids don’t know what a phone book is, much less how you can use the Atlanta Yellow Pages as a booster seat when you are eating fried chicken around your Grandmama Eunice’s Sunday table (but you better wash those hands first and use SOAP).

Relics. I get sad when I consider how differently my children are growing up. We had it pretty good, what with the drumsticks and the rotary phones and the weekly episodes and the Ivory soap that was so pure it floats.

But it’s not all wistful memorializing of my glorious past that she won’t ever experience. Some relics are signs that we are making real progress.

Like the day Vivi and I went to a Sunday afternoon showing of Hidden Figures. We had seen the preview at Moana so she recognized the early scene of the three women repairing their broken down car. Vivi leaned over to me in the dark and whispered, “Three neh-GRO women chasing a white police officer…”

From "Hidden Figures"

From “Hidden Figures”

I didn’t understand her at first and said, “Huh?” with one eye still on the screen.

“Remember when the lady says ‘Three neg-ROW women chasing a policeman…'”

“Oh right!” I laughed quietly with her and nodded. She went back to watching the movie while I had to put my hand on my heart and catch my breath for a second.

My Georgia-born-and-raised daughter doesn’t know how to pronounce “Negro.” That word is a relic to her.

I read somewhere that you shouldn’t make fun of a person who mispronounces a word because it means that they learned it by reading instead of by hearing it. I’m sure Vivi has read “Negro” in books, but she’s never heard it in conversation while sitting around her grandmama’s table at Sunday lunch.

By the time I was her age, I had heard enough to distinguish the difference between Negro, n*gger, nigra, black, colored, redbone, high yellow, and blue gum. And that was from listening to mostly nice people talk.

We didn’t say n*gger in my family, not even in the older generations. Only coarse people used that word. My grandparents said “colored” or “nigra.” After my wedding to Fartbuster, I blanched when my grandmother–a self-taught painter–recounted a delightful conversation about painting she had had with “that nigra art professor” at the reception. “His name is VINCENT!” I scolded her. Grandmama didn’t understand why I was getting worked up. Mom reminded me that, for their era, using “nigra” was polite.

Not good enough for me. I lived in the modern world and their terms were relics. The world changed around them, yet they held on to their words. My beloved great aunt even coined an adjectival form: when I bought my first car, she said, “I wouldn’t buy a red car. It’s too nigra-ish.”

The one and only time I got my mouth washed out–speaking of soap–involved these n-words. Coming home from school one day when I was 5 or 6, one of the older boys dared me to say n*gger. I didn’t do it then, but once we got home, I said the word within earshot of Quicker, who looked after us. My memory of the event may be hazy, but my memory of the taste of Ivory soap is 99 44100% Pure, because my mama soaped up a blue wash cloth and had me sit there and suck on it until I had learned my lesson.

I did learn my lesson that day. Flash forward 40-something years to that dark theater, where my daughter puts the accent on the wrong syllable of Negro. I felt something move, something shift across generations. One word. It’s such a small thing, but it gives me hope.

 

Women’s March Part 2: Can I Swap Places With You?

I wore my new shirt to the Y to walk today. Yes, it’s been THAT long since the March that my shirt has already arrived.

Women's March: Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Women’s March: Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

This part of the story has taken me a while to stew over. All of those things I was worried about? None of them mattered.

I didn’t hear a single dynamic feminist icon or fired-up celebrity because the speaker near us was broken. I couldn’t see the stage or a Jumbotron. Jean and I got separated and it took two hours to find each other in the throngs of people. The cell service crashed so we couldn’t communicate. Jean dropped one of her bottles of water in the portapotty not 15 minutes into our day.

None of that mattered.

Because I have never experienced such love in one place. Such fellow-feeling. Such kindness among strangers.

You’ve seen photos of the crowd size and read the statistics. I would not be surprised if the DC crowd alone numbered 1 million people. I’ve been in football stadium crowds before, and London Underground at rush hour crowds. This crowd was different, not just because it was 10 times larger than any crowd I’ve ever witnessed. This crowd was NICE.

The Mission Statement of the Women's March. I saw it played out in real life.

The Mission Statement of the Women’s March. I saw it played out in real life.

Jean and I got there early but it was already crowded. We staked out prime seats on 4th Avenue, on a low wall outside the Museum of the American Indian. Great people watching. Jean decided to make one last potty run before the line up started. Being people who are older than technology and therefore aware that it can fail, we agreed that if we ever got separated for more than an hour, we would meet at the tall totem poles by the museum.

Pick a landmark that is tall enough to be seen from a distance.

Pick a landmark that is tall enough to be seen from a distance. Raven and Bear.

Good thing we did. I didn’t start looking for her until after the speakers had begun. I craned my neck to the right and scanned the ever-growing crowd for her…pink hat. Yeah, that wasn’t really helping. And y’all…Jean is SHORT. It’s easy to lose our pocket-sized friends in a crowd like that.

I started getting nervous after she had been gone an hour. I checked for a text–nothing. Then I realized that the cell service had given up because there were just too many people. Jean could have been calling me and I wouldn’t have known. I slipped into Southern Mama Mode: SHE COULD BE LYING DEAD IN A DITCH AND I DIDN’T PICK UP THE PHONE!

Finally, I got to Facebook and saw that Jean had posted a message that she couldn’t get back to me and she was going to the totem poles. Sweet relief–we had a plan. Unfortunately, our plan lay on the other side of this:

march wall

I gave up my prime position on the wall to a nice older lady (I mean, older than me). But there was nowhere to go. Jean and the totem poles were only about 50 yards away. That day? It took me 45 minutes to go 50 yards. CRUSH. People weren’t moving at all because there was simply nowhere to go.

This is where I learned my first lesson from the crowd. I couldn’t ask people to get out of my way. I couldn’t just bull my way through to my friend. Instead, I would touch a person on the elbow and ask, “Can I switch places with you?” We would literally pivot in a tight little circle to swap places then I would repeat the maneuver on the next person. That way, no one felt like they were getting shoved or had to fear that they would get separated. All I was asking was to swap places.

One step at a time got me to the totem poles…but no Jean.

march lost

I knew she was too smart to have given up and abandoned the plan. She had to be there but she also had to be SHORT. I climbed up onto a low wall around a flower bed. And bumped into the hilarious political comedian, John Fugelsang, which was highly entertaining. Y’all should follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and through a crowd because dude is TALL. Seriously, in this next picture, I was on a wall and he was not.

march john

 

I spent another 30 minutes balancing on that wall, slowly rotating in search of Jean. A tiny lady next to me introduced herself as, “Penny, from Raleigh, North Carolina–but I ain’t like most of ’em down there.” I told her I couldn’t find my friend and she said, “Well, why on’t you wave your sign around? Surely she can see that easier than she can see you.”

That’s when I learned my second lesson from the crowd: when you are in need, tell someone. Other people have different perspectives and can offer solutions that haven’t been obvious to you. They want to help. Thank you, Penny! Within a couple of minutes of waving my giant neon green sign in the air over my head, I heard several people not 20 feet away scream, “ASHLEY!!!”

There was Jean!

Reunited and it feels so good. I'm Peaches and she's SHORT.

Reunited and it feels so good. I’m Peaches and she’s SHORT.

Once we swore to never leave each other again, no matter what, Jean left. She had found a nice stand of bushes that kept people away from her so she planted herself right in the middle of them and got some breathing space. Because see that crowd over our heads? That’s the Mall and it was FULL. I stayed on the wall with my new friends Penny and John.

Here’s the part of the day that I don’t ever want to forget, so I’m writing it down here.

As I teetered right on the edge of the wall, two young people came up to the edge of the flower bed and tried to climb up. I said, “Oh honey, there is nowhere to go up here. There’s a line of shrubs right here and people as far as you can see.” The girl in front didn’t answer. She ducked her head farther into her hoodie and stared at her phone. Her jacket was mint green and the other kid’s was blue.

They both froze there, stopped by the wall and the crowd…and me. They didn’t say anything, just kept fiddling with their phones. I figured they were just hanging out like the rest of us, waiting for the crowd to start marching.

Twenty or thrity minutes passed by. Since we couldn’t hear what was happening on the stage, we chanted “Let’s march now!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” and Fugelsang started “Impeach Pence FIRST!”

During a lull, another message got passed along by the crowd. Just like Jean had asked strangers to yell my name, people to my right started yelling, “Zoe and Bobby! Zoe and Bobby!” I turned to my section of the crowd and yelled “Zoe and Bobby!”

The girl right there next to me jumped like she had been shocked and looked straight up into my eyes. That’s when I realized how YOUNG she really was–about 13.

“Are you Zoe and Bobby?” They both nodded urgently but still didn’t say a word.

I turned back in the original direction and yelled, “We’ve got Zoe and Bobby here! Zoe and Bobby are here!” The message traveled through several people until it stopped at one man. He was a dad-aged African American man, as tall as Fugelsang but as wide as a bear, and wearing a hot pink Women’s March shirt. We made eye contact and I nodded as hard as I could and pointed down to the kids. The look on his face, the relief that transformed his entire body. I’ll never forget that moment.

Every person in that flower bed pulled themselves in a little bit and swapped and wiggled until a path was cleared between Zoe and Bobby and their dad. Once they got to him, all of that frozen fear melted away. There was a big family hug and dad started crying. Hell, we all were, even little Penny from Raleigh North Carolina because she ain’t like most of em.

I’ve lost Carlos in a crowd before for 30 minutes. I know that feeling of scanning every face and not finding the one I need to see. I looked at that dad and thought about that method I had used to move through the crowd–Will you swap places with me? For an instant, I swapped places with him and the only natural response, one parent to another, was to help.

march moms

Zoe and Bobby and their dad taught me the third lesson of that crowd: THIS is who we are. It didn’t matter that I didn’t hear a word from the speakers or see a single performer. I got to meet US, the U.S.

Hundreds of thousands of people in one place can be a dangerous situation. We could have gotten angry or selfish. We could have panicked. We could have shouted each other down. Instead, we got kind. We took care of each other. We sang the national anthem and we cheered when the trans flag flew from a light post. We chanted and we shared water and snacks. We didn’t bump the old people and we watched our language around the kids, mostly.

We practiced being our best selves in challenging conditions. We the people.

That’s what people who weren’t there will never get. We chose to be our best selves, to each other, and for each other. That’s what America can be.


Gate A-4, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,”
said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those otherwomen, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

The Most Important Meal of the Day

No telling what time G got up so that he could preheat the oven and cook a pan of biscuits for the kids. Vivi had asked for them at dinner last night, but I ordered Chinese food instead and promised her biscuits in the morning. G delivered them. Each of our kids got a “You Are Special!” plate loaded with two hot biscuits, butter and jelly, a few strawberries and a small pyramid of blueberries.

Vivi gobbled hers right up, but Carlos spent 20 minutes eating half a strawberry, then pitched a fit when I said it was time to go. G put one of the biscuits in a to-go bowl and set it by Carlos’ seat in my car. I tucked a pack of applesauce into Vivi’s backpack for snack, but when I went to put one in Carlos’ backpack, he said, “Don’t want that!” I put it in anyway because I haven’t had time to go to the store and it’s the only snack we had handy.

In the car, I reminded him that we only had a few minutes and he needed to eat his biscuit before we got to school. He nibbled along the edge and complained that there was butter on it when he prefers only jelly. Oh well.

We got to school and had to park in the last available space–it’s parent breakfast day for 3rd and 4th grade today. Carlos wandered down the sidewalk with his fully intact biscuit in his hand. He might have given it a lick or two but none of it was getting in his belly. We missed the cutoff for Tardy by one minute, so as I signed us in on the computer and got the appropriate stickers and waited for the door to be unlocked, he stepped over to Miss Valerie’s desk and dropped that biscuit straight into the trash. Grinning the whole time.

All that work. For nothing.

Fine. Be hungry. Your choice, your consequence.

We walked into the kindergarten hallway. A girl sat at a table outside the classroom next to Carlos’ class. She was sobbing–that hiccuping and shaking kind of crying that wracked her whole body. Two of her classmates stood behind her and looked concerned.

I got Carlos to his room and all squared away in a few minutes. When I came back into the hallway, the girl was still sobbing at the table, all alone.

“Are you OK, honey?” I rubbed her back in a circle as she hiccuped. She wiped her nose on the too long sleeve of her green sweater. “Nooooooooooo…” she cried.

“I can see you’re upset. Is there anything I can help you with?” Pat pat pat.

A boy from her class came out to get a folder from his backpack. He looked a little worried about her too. He said, “She missed breakfast.”

“Is that what’s got you upset?” She raised her chin and met my eye for the first time and nodded. “I got here too late for breakfast.”

“Are you hungry?” She nodded again. “Do you like applesauce? My son has some applesauce in his bag–would you like that?” She nodded harder.

I got the “don’t want that” pack of applesauce from Carlos’ backpack, twisted off the cap, and handed it to her. She squirted a little too much out and it dripped onto her green sweater. I hopped up to get a tissue to clean it up.

The girl’s teacher stuck her head out of the classroom door and saw what was going on. As I was saying, “Can I grab a tissue?” and feeling glad that I had been able to help this poor hungry child, the girl, who had stopped crying, sipped applesauce timidly from the squeeze-pack.

The teacher asked, “Did you give her that?” I told her I had. She looked uncomfortable and said, “Um, I know you were trying to be nice but we can’t do that.”

I looked at her blankly, thinking it was some rule about eating in the hall or something. So I laughed and said, “Oops! I didn’t know!” in this conspiratorial way like “let’s just let this one slide because the kid is hungry, right?”

The teacher went on–“I mean, if she had allergies or something…”

Ugh. Right. Of course. That was stupid of me.

“Oh gosh, you’re right. I’m sorry.” The teacher handed me a tissue then ducked back into her classroom.

I went back to the little girl, who was now sitting up calmly in her chair. I wiped the drops of applesauce off her sweater and gave her a smile. She handed me the still mostly full applesauce pack and said, “I’m finished.” Then she headed back to class.

Back at Miss Valerie’s desk, I dropped the uneaten applesauce in the trash, right on top of my son’s abandoned biscuit. Thanks to my problem solving, Carlos wouldn’t have a snack OR breakfast. And the little girl who missed breakfast had applesauce on her sweater and an empty belly.

As I write this, the cats are taking turns sipping milk from Carlos’ cup that he left on the table. Huck ate the last two biscuits while we were gone because I forgot to put them off the stove while I was out saving the world.

Some days I try to fix everything and none of it works out right. None of it.

But I can’t imagine a day when I will walk past a hungry, crying child and not try to do something.

 

biscuits

Women’s March on Washington: I’m Going To Do This All Wrong

I tried writing this essay for a couple of days before I left for the Women’s March on Washington. It never would come together. Now it has. I’ll write more over the coming days but I had to start from where I started.


I’m going to the Women’s March on Washington this weekend and I’m pretty sure I’m going to do this all wrong.

For weeks, I’ve heard white friends grow more excited about the March as it coalesces. Lots of Wesleyannes are going–Pris is hosting Sherry and her daughter among others, Jan and Lindi are making it into a mini class reunion. Allison is on the way from Michigan, and Mandy from Baltimore. Courtney and her son are riding up on the bus, along with just about every midwife I know. Those who aren’t making the trip to DC are marching in their towns. Seth and his daughters in North Carolina. Lisa in the Great Plains. San Diego and New York and Florida. It’s exciting to literally STAND UP for what we believe in.

At the same time, I’ve heard friends who are women of color taking a pass on this march. Its birth was awfully centered on white feminism and they are not feeling the space as a safe one. Even choosing a name was problematic, with organizers who had too little knowledge of marches that had come before and spaces that have already been occupied by black women. Women who have been fighting this fight a lot longer than I have. What if I mess this up and the simple act of going makes my friends trust me less? What if I fail to listen? To learn? To follow?

I’m going to do it wrong.

But I’m going to do it. And I’m going to do it wrong.

Looking over the list of speakers, I recognize fewer names than I should. I have grown up knowing about Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem. I recognize Ilyasah Shabazz’ name from her mother, Betty Shabazz, but I just learned Janet Mock’s name a couple months ago and Zendaya a few before that (from Tom and Lorenzo’s fashion blog). I’ll probably miss the most rousing speech of the day because I didn’t know the person’s name and decided to stand in line at the portapotty.

I don't look like any of these faces on the posters.

I don’t look like any of these faces on the posters. And that’s OK. I joined the crowdfunding on this one and chose the poster of the woman with the flower in her hair, because she looks like my daughters. But not like me.

I’m learning to keep my feminism intersectional so that I work for women of all races, ages, sexualities, and economic groups, but there’s no way I won’t mess that up. I’m always going to start from being a white, middle class, cis-gendered, middle age, straight woman. My reflex when I think about pay disparity will be to think “77 cents to the dollar” because that’s what white women make. That’s my number. For Black women, it’s 63 cents and for Latinas, it’s 54. I should probably write Latinx. I messed that up.

I will cry when the Mothers of the Movement tell their stories, but I haven’t heard their stories enough to remember which mama lost which son in which city. It’s all so much to keep straight these days. I believe that Black Lives Matter, but I still feel like a poser when I say it because I don’t know how to do the work behind the slogan.

I know more lyrics from the Indigo Girls than Janelle Monae (did I spell that right?). I did start listening to her Pandora station and damn, that Beyonce’s “Lemonade” is sweet but I know it’s not for me. I mean, I’m not a full-on Becky but I got some Becky in my DNA. Somewhere.

 

hat

 

Should I wear the pink pussy hat? I love the insouciance of the idea, the reclaiming of a slur and turning it against the one who grabbed it. I love that Diane can’t go to the March but already had a hat waiting on her needles that she gave to me. But some feminists think the hat is too precious–it smacks of hashtag activism and Pinterest politics. We don’t have to sweeten or soften ourselves to make it OK to rally. Then again, one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington dismissed the question about the pussy hats by pointing out that women are always turned into caricatures, no matter what we do. We’re too loud, speak too softly, use vocal fry or up speak or we get shrill. We dress like we’re asking for it or we dress to negate our selves. If we say pussy it’s vulgar and crude and invalidates our point, but if he says it…it’s locker room talk and shouldn’t stop anyone from being elected President. Wear the hat or don’t wear the hat? I’ll probably fuck that up too. Oops. I’ll probably do that wrong too.

Are these new boots going to be warm enough? What if my hip starts to ache? I’m not in any shape for all this walking. I should have put more time into getting in shape. And more thought into what I was going wear. A shirt to represent my home state? Something clever written on it? Ugh. I am so going to dress wrong.

What about my sign? That’s a minefield of things to mess up. I want to put something Constitutional, like “EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER LAW” but that is awfully dry, even on pink poster paper. If I put something like “U.S. OUT OF MY UTERUS” does that turn me into a one-issue feminist? I think about a simple “BLACK LIVES MATTER” because I am convinced that I should use my white privilege to amplify the message that is being dismissed. Police are careful when white women are around. People listen when white women talk. Except politicians. And the church. And and and…damn. There’s no way I’m going to find the right words for any of this.

It’s all so confusing and I’m wondering if I should drop out, stay home, shut up. Let people who can do these things RIGHT do them. I’ll watch and learn. I’ll do it next time, once I’ve thought my way through all the snags.

Overthinking things is one thing I absolutely know how to do, a craft that I have refined over decades of consistent training and relentless dedication to chasing my own tail.

DAMMIT.

I looked at the stuff I had been throwing in a suitcase so I wouldn’t forget to take it and that’s when I made up my mind. I’m going. And I’m going to do this all wrong. I’m going, so that I can do this, even if I do it wrong. Because my mom left a laughing voicemail that said when she told my 98-year-old Grandmama Irene that I was going to the March, Grandmama replied, “GOOD. Somebody needs to do SOMETHING.”

 

My baggage.

My baggage.

I’m taking my “I am a woman” shirt from Wesleyan College, a place that taught me how important it is that I know myself and speak my truth. I’m taking a fanny pack from my son’s camp time at E.S.P., because he’s a specially educated person and Betsy Damn Devos has no business in the Department of Education, even if she can tame the grizzly bear threat. I’m taking my boots, which still have some mud on them from volunteering on MLK Day of Service. I’m new to putting my boots on the ground, but I’m not afraid of getting dirty. I’m taking a book about being a Bad Feminist because I am definitely doing that already. And my other book is about shepherding a daughter through adolescence and even though I haven’t read it yet, I’m pretty certain it doesn’t say, “Sit on the sidelines until you can do it perfectly.” I’m trying to show her how to live out President Obama’s advice: Show up. Dive In. Keep at It. And I’m taking not just one pink pussyhat, but three. Diane is a damn fast knitter. Jean, who isn’t exactly a fan of pink will wear one and Courtney has claimed the other. Shannah is sending a couple more from Queens and I hope they get here in time.

Because every adventure has to start somewhere. Every person who goes on a quest carries some baggage along.

I’m going, and I’m going to do this all wrong.

 

We All Do

Was anyone surprised that Trump turned his first press conference as PEOTUS into a rally, complete with staffers paid to cheer, more bluster than fact, half-baked plans for avoiding a kleptocracy, and shouting hashtags over questions he didn’t like?

Yeah, me neither. He’s a one trick pony–that P.T. Barnum show that he’s relied on to get this far is the only way he knows how to interface with anything even close to public scrutiny. It’s a master class in abnormal psychology, or maybe just staying on brand.

I compare that carnival sideshow with President Barack Hussein Obama’s farewell address the night before and can only shake my head at the disparity. Elegance, eloquence, grace, intellect, wit, generosity, and gratitude–we were lucky to have a leader with all those qualities for eight years.

Today, I read a tweet (because that’s where America is going to happen now, right?) in regards to the Trumpertantrums. The young person lamented, “But who’s going to stand up to him?”

A crystal thought rang into my mind like a small bell of a memory: “We all do.”

I’m borrowing those words from Bill Bryson, one of the most entertaining travel writers in the history of passports. In his book Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, tells a story about visiting the Netherlands when he was a young man. He witnessed the great love the Dutch felt for their Queen Beatrix, and how she enjoyed spending as much time as she could out and about. It was her habit to walk freely around the city, running errands and greeting her fellow citizens.  When Bryson, the young American, heard this, he remarked, “But who protects her?”  His Dutch friend laughed at the question and replied, “We all do!”

Who protects her? We all do.

President Obama mentioned citizens–the American “We the people”–in his address:

So regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder. We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own.

….

But protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are.

….

It falls to each of us to be those those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen. Citizen.

….

My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.

Who protects American values? We all do. Who defends the Constitution? We all do. Who demands justice and equal protection under law? We all do. Who has the ability to bring about change? We all do.

Who holds the most important office in a democracy? We all do. We the people.

Our job description is on file in HR.

Our job description is on file in HR.

So on Friday, January 20, at 12:00 noon, I want you to hold your right hand in the air and repeat a little twist on the Oath that is encoded in  Article II, Section One, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of Citizen of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

 

Then let’s get to work.


And right before I hit the Publish button on this post, I saw this cool project from artists Shepard Fairey, Jessica Sabogal, and Ernesto Yerena:

We the People: public art for the inauguration and beyond

fairey

We the people are greater than fear, defend dignity, and protect each other. We the indivisible. We the resilient.

He Simply Doesn’t Know Better

Our Snowmaggedon turned into Snowmanothin’.

The kids were full-on, wide open RAMPED up about having snow this weekend. I got pretty excited too after my trip to Fresh Market to lay in a weekend supply of brie, crostini, cornichons, sushi, and bruschetta. We went to sleep Friday night to the sound of rain on our roof and temperatures dropping quickly. Friends to the west were already posting pictures of fat fluffy flakes. Wheeeeee!

I woke in the middle of the night and went right back to sleep with a smile on my face. The sound of rain had been replaced with a serene quiet that whispered, “Snow.”

I woke just after dawn and rolled over to peep out the window at….the browny browness of our deck.

Clusterflake 2017

Clusterflake 2017

“Aw, man,” I muttered. “The kids are going to be so disappointed.” I went back to sleep with a little gray cloud of gloom over my head. There goes our special excitement for the weekend.

I finally dragged myself out of bed late in the morning, sure that the children would be piled in a warm and dry heap of despair by the back door, their sleds quietly dry rotting in the tool shed.

Instead, Carlos met me in the hallway, dancing with glee (and nekkid, because that’s his weekend ethos).

“MAMA!!! IT SNOWED! IT SNOWED OUTSIDE! IT SNOWED!” He pulled me to the deck to show me the SNOW.

And that’s when it hit me–he doesn’t know any better.

Carlos is my snow baby, born during the big Christmas snow storm of 2010. That was a snow that I’ll never forget, but it’s not exactly a part of his memory. He also got a fat lip and a black eye during the ice storm of 2014, but I don’t think he remembers much of it.

He’s never been to Utah for snowboarding in a foot of fresh powder. He’s never made a snowman. He doesn’t know what the world looks like from atop a glacier in Austria. He’s never watched the giant pandas at the National Zoo play in the drifts of snow. He’s never been in a snowball fight. He’s never stood outside in the dark and marveled at the quiet of fat fluffy flakes falling all around.

To this cheerful lark of a child, IT SNOWED. He saw this snow for what it was, not for what it wasn’t. Sometimes it’s good not to know better, because it keeps us from comparison. It’s hard to allow happiness to float if we’re always comparing each experience to all of our other experiences to see how it measures up.

Oh, to not know any better so that I can enjoy what is before me.

Pants added in post-production.

Pants added in post-production.

G captured this photo of our boy “playing in the snow.” Boots are for snow. Jackets are for snow. Pants are for SUCKERS.

Oops!

Vivi got an “Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook” for Christmas. It’s a lovely deckle-edged tome of completely indirect references to the books paired with public domain recipes for traditional British foods. The recipe she wanted to make today was called “Queen Victoria’s Soup.” I read the whole series pretty thoroughly and couldn’t remember an appearance by Queen Victoria (or specifically soup). The note attached to the recipe read like: “Remember in that scene when Ron has a chill and says that soup would be good right about now? Here are 9 recipes for soup…yay, Harry Potter!”

At least the recipe only called for two ingredients that I didn’t have on hand: pearled barley and heavy whipping cream. Could anything SOUND more like Queen Victoria–fat and pearls? One quick trip to the grocery store and we were in business.

I pulled the tab off the carton of chicken stock and handed it to Vivi. I rotated the big Pyrex measuring cup so that she could see the markings and put on my best Mother Of the Year Finds a Teachable Moment voice. “OK, we need six cups but this only goes up to four. How many more cups will we need to add? Two, right! So if this is 4 of the 6 cups, what fraction is that? Go ahead and pour it to the four.”

And that’s the moment when I learned a messy lesson.

Vivi held the carton of chicken stock about two feet above the measuring cup then flipped the spout straight down. Chicken stock plummeted into the Pyrex cylinder, described a parabolic arc around the inside then rushed right back over the rim and all over the counter before I could even say, “Careful!”

She jumped away from the mess like it had scalded her. “Sorry sorry sorry sorry!”

My heart squeezed up. She’s been doing this a lot lately–apologizing madly if I correct her in any way. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. That’s the last word I want my daughter to practice. We all need to learn how to apologize when we’re at fault, but that kneejerk “Sorry!” that women overuse isn’t the same thing.

I’ve tried to talk to her about the “sorrying” in a couple of ways, but tonight I think I hit on the right word.

“Sweetie, this isn’t something hurtful that requires a ‘sorry.’ This is an accident while learning how to do something new, so how about ‘Oops!'”

Vivi laughed and tried it out, “OOPS!” That giggling word was music to my mothering ears and my heart unclenched an inch. When she and I are learning together, I don’t want SORRY to be the word she associates with me.

I worry at least once a day that I’m using the wrong words with her, that I’m screwing this mothering thing up, that I’m making a gigantic mess. I feel like I should say “Sorry! I don’t know what I’m doing!” when maybe what I should really say is “Oops! Learning this as I go along!”

I hope you’ll listen for “Sorry!” and see if “Oops!” might serve you better.

P.S. – The soup was terrible, but it was a valiant attempt at something new that devolved into a bland white mess. At least it was a mess we made together. Kinda like life.

Try this next time you want to say "Sorry!"

Try this next time you want to say “Sorry!”