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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.

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!”

My Word for 2017

Last night when I had finished writing in my gratitude journal, I took the pen and scrawled one word on the back of my left hand: WRITE. By the time I rolled out of bed this morning, the word had already faded between my pillowcase and cheek, but there was enough of it left to give me that nudge. WRITE.

So natuarlly, I spent most of the day clearing four bags of donations and two bags of pure-T trash out of the kids’ rooms. I rearranged furniture and glued broken Christmas ornaments together. I finished a book (My Sunshine Away) and started the next one (Hillbilly Elegy). I ate the last of the Jordan almonds that I bought for Christmas because they were Daddy’s favorite. I bought dog food and folded laundry. I exfoliated and moisturized (eradicating that reminder to WRITE along the way). I wished G’s mom safe travels on her way back to Brasil. I took the kids to a movie. I even started a Facebook thread about choosing a word for 2017.

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Folderol–that should be my word. Because now it’s 11:28 p.m. and I’m still chasing my tail.

I thought about “act.” Or “speak.” I want to dedicate this year to action and speaking my truth and speaking up for what I believe in. Then Jenna suggested “listen.” Isn’t that even more important than speaking? Maybe I need to focus on listening this year. When Vivi and I were cleaning in her room, I found a picture she had drawn of G and me arguing while she and Carlos sat in a porthole on the cruise ship. Oof. Do I really need more Speak? I need more Listen.

Friends suggested many gentle words: present, open-hearted, patient, kindness, grace, peace, smile, hope, light.

I’m not feeling like it’s going to be a gentle year. They suggested some fighting words too: rise, resist, courage, strength, grit, going, fierce, tenacious, valiant, endure, stand, endeavor, persevere.

I pondered words while I folded laundry. You can’t be doing laundry on New Year’s Day–it’s bad luck. I considered words while I ran to the grocery store to buy greens and peas. Gotta eat some peas for luck and greens for money on New Year’s Day, right? I tried out words while I swept under around the kitchen. If you sweep on New Year’s Day, you’ll sweep someone out of your life.

I celebrate the new by following old superstitions. Even though I know it’s all silliness, I follow the traditions because they remind me of where I come from and they give me a little illusion that I can control where I’m going.

And the one New Year superstition that I hope does prove true is the idea that whatever you’re doing at midnight is what you’ll be doing for the rest of the year ahead. I’m tapping away on my keyboard. Writing is the thing that I do to rise, resist, keep going, persevere. It’s my way of being fierce, tenacious, and valiant.

Writing is also where I find peace, how I practice grace, how I remain present. My best writing is kind and open-hearted and light.

So my word for 2017? WRITE.

And the grandfather clock that my Daddy made for me is striking 12 bells. Happy New Year, y’all. Let’s go find our stories.

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Saint Christopher Was Lost

If you follow me on Instagram (baddestmotherever), you already know that I’ve got a precious collection of Christmas ornaments and for the last few weeks, they’re the only thing I seem to be able to write about. This time, every year, when I unwrap and unbox them and hang each on the tree, every one whispers a memory about some other day, some other adventure, some memory sweet enough that I made the choice to commemorate it with a bauble. Decorating the tree is like reading myself a story that I’ve been writing one line at a time for the last 25 years.

This year, I lost a small part of that story and fear of losing it forever paralyzed me for days. Here’s what happened…

I bought this dark green glass St. Christopher medal on the island of Santorini, in the Greek Cyclades:

St. Christopher of Lycia, or ο Άγιος Χριστόφορος to his people.

St. Christopher of Lycia, or ο Άγιος Χριστόφορος to his people.

Richard and I had just survived a harrowing taxi cab ride along some 500-foot cliffs. The driver was a fisherman on his off days, and he was telling us about a giant fish he had speared recently. As he leaned across the passenger seat to retrieve a photo of the fish from the glove compartment, the taxi slewed hard to the right. Tires crunched onto the gravel shoulder, RIGHT ABOVE THE DROP of the cliff because there are no guard rails. The driver jerked the wheel back to the left just in time to save us all. And he went on talking about his fish.

The adrenaline hit my guts and limbs at the same moment and while I fought to keep from barfing, I nodded politely to admire the photo of the speared fish that was thrust into the back seat. That’s when I noticed a St. Christopher medal swaying drunkenly from the cab driver’s rear view mirror.

Cab drivers in Greece are a rare breed (maybe because they don’t always live long enough to breed?). They drive modern cars filled with modern tourists on roads that were carved out long before modern times. Most roads can accommodate 1.5 car widths, which makes passing on a cliff a lot like accidentally joining Cirque de Soleil. There is a superstition that if you have seen the image of St. Christopher, you cannot die on that day. While the Greek Orthodox church has not validated this idea, Greek cab drivers are willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Every cab has a St. Christopher medal to honor the patron saint of travelers.

As soon as we were dropped off at the hotel in Oia, and as soon thereafter as my legs stopped shaking, I went into a gift shop and secured this St. Christopher medal because I never wanted to forget that I had survived that cab ride.

This medal is small, so I hang it near the top of the tree. And, because 2016 just can’t let us have anything nice, I dropped it. I dropped a 1-inch dark green ornament made of glass into a 9-foot dark green tree.

There was no THUNK to indicate that it had reached the floor. I climbed down from the ladder and started searching the branches below it–no medal. I couldn’t shake the tree to dislodge the ornament because I might break everything else in the quest for this one lost item. And it’s glass, so shaking didn’t seem like the best plan. I tried to focus on the red of the ribbon but saw nothing. I searched and searched. I looked on the other side of the tree, as if St. Christopher might have bounced off a limb and taken a detour. I turned the lights off for a different perspective. I turned on every light in the room in hopes of making a glint in all that dark green.

I gave up. I reassured myself that I would come back later with fresh eyes.

But what if I forgot to look for St. Christopher? What if I got used to it being lost and forgot to be sad and whatever snag had snagged him held him all the way to the chipper in the New Year? For two days, I kept returning to the tree in search of St. Christopher. I even set a reminder in my calendar to look for the lost green medal.

I was overtaken by a deep sadness. I had lost my patron saint of travelers at the same time I was losing my story-telling voice. Sick for three weeks straight, overwhelmed with holiday tasks, busy at work, aghast at every cabinet pick and tweet.

Christopher of Lycia was a giant who was known for carrying others safely across a raging river. He was a sure-footed and strong ferry. One day, he agreed to carry a small child across the river. Out in the depths, Christopher felt pulled down for the first time, crushed by a weight that didn’t seem to match the size of the child. He feared that they weren’t going to make it. Legend tells it that on the other bank, after Christopher had found a way across, the child revealed that he was the Christ and the weight Christopher felt was the weight of the world that the child carried.

After all the other ornaments had been placed on the tree, I gave it one more shot. Sometimes the best way to look for something is the opposite way. Read an essay backwards to find typos. Look in the freezer for your car keys. Do the opposite of what makes sense. So I lay down on the floor and I slid myself up under the lowest branches of the tree. Instead of looking down in the path that the ornament would have fallen, I looked up.

And that’s when I saw a little flash of red ribbon, tangled around a branch high above my head. I slid back out and with great joy, snaked my hand into the depths of the tree. There lay Saint Christopher, gold side down and ribbon tangled in the branch, utterly invisible from the outside. I hung him right up on a safe branch, on the other side of the river and out of trouble. I gave him a tap so that the medal swung like a pendulum, counting out the even arc of time.

In my own heart, I put down the burden and the weight of the world and I remembered that I can tell stories. I remembered that sometimes there are raging rivers and stories help us cross them. That’s what I can do.

And I will.