Monday, September 21, 2020

Letting Go (Or, The Story of Earl E. Bird)

A few weeks ago, I opened my front door to find a baby bird standing on my porch, his big, blinking eyes just staring up at me. 

He didn’t appear to be selling anything, so I slowly opened the door and stepped outside. He didn’t move. I sat down on the steps next to him. Again, no movement. Just those big, blinking eyes. I reached out to touch him and he seemed OK with that. I gently picked him up to see if he was injured and again, he didn’t protest. 

I assumed, since he kept fluttering his wings but not going anywhere, that he had attempted to fly the coop but wasn’t quite ready. Had it been earlier in the day, I probably would have left him alone in the hopes that momma bird would be back to give him some direction, but it was getting dark and I was afraid he would end up being some night creature’s dinner.

Earl loved watching The Office.
Earl enjoying "The Office"
I enlisted the help of my son and his girlfriend (who named him Earl – they said it was after some music artist but I called him Earl E. Bird) and, not knowing what else to do, fed him some worm pieces we dug up in the garden. We discovered he was Cedar Waxwing fledgling, which is a pretty social bird, as evidenced by how he hopped from our hands to our shoulders without batting an eyelash (if birds have eyelashes). I looked up how to care for such a bird and we borrowed a cage and figured we’d let him chill with us for the night.

I worried about Earl all night. When I woke up the next morning, I went downstairs (where he was safely away from our dog and cat), wondering if he would still be alive. Much to my relief, he seemed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and hopped right on my finger when I opened the cage door. 

I sat there with Earl for a while, letting him perch on my shoulder and occasionally make feeble attempts to fly. I knew I had to put him back outside in the hopes that either mom would come by to get him or he would figure out the flying thing on his own. 

We went out to the porch and as I placed him down, he looked at me with those big, blinking eyes and started squawking. It made my heart hurt a little, but I went inside to see if he’d be able to fend for himself. As he squawked and squawked, I was reminded of the time I attempted to let my firstborn “cry it out,” and wondered how long I’d last before I went out to “rescue” him. 

Suddenly, the squawking was met with a response – several, in fact. After about 30 minutes, I looked out and, though I could still hear Earl, he was no longer on the porch. I went outside and looked up in the tree in my yard and there he sat, in a nest, squawking away. Baby bird could fly – at least a little! Relieved but a little sad, I considered that my time with Earl, though short and sweet, was over. 

Later that afternoon, I was working in the yard and heard a familiar squawk. I looked over at a little flagpole I have staked in the ground and there he sat with those big, blinking eyes. I said, “Well, hello, Earl!” and went over to see if 1) it was indeed Earl, and 2) he would fly away. He didn’t move. I held out my hand and he hopped onto it and started squawking again. I wondered if I should just take him back inside – put him back in the cage where he would be safe from anything that might hurt this sweet little fledgling. 

But I knew I couldn’t do that, as much as I wanted to. I knew he didn’t belong with me, and he didn’t belong in a cage. As much as I worried about him, it was time for him to figure out how to fly and explore the big, bad world out there all on his own. 

I raised my hand up to the tree and he hopped onto one of the branches. Before I knew it, he was clumsily fluttering higher and higher, squawking all the way. 

This may seem like a silly story about a bird named Earl. But it struck me how this one day kind of sums up being a mom. When you first see your kid and his big, blinking eyes, all you want to do is protect him – forever. You feed him and nurture him and find out everything you can about caring for him. Then one day, you realize you have to let him go – and it’s excruciating. You wonder if he’s ready. You wonder if anyone will be there to help him along the way. You wonder if you did enough to prepare him for the real world. You’re not sure it’s time, even if he thinks it’s time. He can barely fly – how will he survive? But it’s not really up to you. 

So you let him go. He might leave the nest on his own. He might fall out and need a little extra help from someone else. He may come back, like Earl did, unsure of what to do next and wanting for some additional comfort from “mom.” And as much as you want to take him in again and protect him from the dangers of the big, bad world, you know you can’t. Baby bird has to learn to fly – and whether he figures it out or not is no longer up to you. 

I had an amazing friend who passed away in 2018 after an incredibly courageous fight with breast cancer. Her favorite movie was “The Shawshank Redemption”. When Earl flew away for the last time, I thought of her favorite quote and how true it is right now in my momma heart:

“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged. Their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice. But still, the place you live in is that much more gray and empty that they’re gone. I guess I just miss my friend.”

Miss you, Earl, and both my baby birds. It brought me great joy to help you learn to fly, but now it's up to you to soar.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Parents: Don't Let Your Kids See You Sweat (and Other COVID-19 Related Back-to-School Thoughts)

I’m just going to get this out there: I feel so grateful that my last kid graduated from high school this year.

Because, wow. What a cluster.

Elementary, middle and high schools with a standard school year are preparing to open their doors to students in a few short weeks. Or not open their doors. Or open their doors on certain days. Or open their doors only part of the day. Or open their doors on certain days for part of the day.

See what I mean?

In my opinion, school districts are faced with an impossible task: find a viable solution in their little corner of the world when the rest of the nation is still floundering around trying to figure out what to do.

This is a no-win situation – for students, for teachers, for parents.

I’ve seen a lot of harsh responses between parents and school districts and especially parents versus parents. Some parents have extremely strong opinions around sending their children back to school or not – and some can be pretty disrespectful to anyone who disagrees with their position.

I get it. There’s camp, “We have to keep on living our lives.” There’s camp, “We need to be cautious because the numbers keep rising for whatever reason.” Then there’s camp, “I have no idea what to do.”

OK, campers. I realize this is a BIG DEAL – deciding what’s best for your child as districts announce their plans for the school year.

But you know what’s an even bigger deal?

How you react to your kids about it.

Think about it. These kids got yanked out of school last March. Anything they were involved in – a sport, a club, an after-school activity, a group project – gone. Socializing for the most part stopped. You all huddled in your houses – together – listening to the news and the CDC and the local governors and that awful excuse of a man who pretends to be president. (Sorry, I can't help myself.)

So, think about how you’ve felt the past six months. The anxiety. The worry. The confusion. The indecisiveness.

Guess what? Your kids have all that, too. And they’re just kids. On top of the “normal” things they have to deal with, like homework and part-time jobs and puberty and relationships and peer pressure and hormones and their siblings and their parents and all the other stuff that comes with being a kid, the world came and dumped a fucking pandemic on them.

Guys, they’re watching you. Just like in the beginning of this thing when we looked to the CDC or the medical community or the federal government or SOMEONE to tell us what was going on, how it was going to be fixed and that we were all going to be OK, our kids are looking to us for the same thing.

Now, we don't have those answers. We still don't really know what’s going on (even if you think you do, let's face it, you don’t). We don’t know if, how and when it’s going to be “fixed” and we don’t know that we’re all going to be OK.

But we can’t push all that onto our kids. They’re probably getting 10,000 different stories from 10,000 different sources on their phones or computers. Their brains aren’t developed enough to even comprehend how to feel about something that none of us have experienced in this lifetime.

What I’m saying is, just try not to project your fear and uncertainty on to your kids. Whatever you decide to do this school year, make that decision as positive as you can in their eyes. If you’re debating with another parent or with your spouse, do it in private. As concerned as we all may be, it’s time to put our big girl and boy panties on and be the role models for our kids.

And while you’re monitoring every cough, sneeze and sore throat your kids will inevitably come home with, keep a very close eye on their mental state. This is not your mother’s school environment anymore – it’s tough in there – and we just piled on masks that hide all facial expressions, social distancing that is the antithesis of kids and washing and sanitizing which we all know that even on the best day isn’t up to par.

Watch for signs of mood changes. Anxiety. Depression. It can be subtle. Sleeping and eating habits might change. Your child may be isolating more in their rooms (if they didn’t do so already.) Younger kids might lash out more often than usual. Not want to go to school. Have a lot of stomach aches. Here's some good information about it, or if you're anti-CDC, try this one.

If I could change anything about schools today, I’d wave a magic wand and add additional qualified counselors – like therapist counselors. A safe place for kids to go when they’re feeling overwhelmed or just not right. In my opinion, you can’t throw a pandemic on top of what they already have to deal with and assume they’ll just “adapt.” We're gonna need a little help here.

Parents vs. Parents: try to put your differences of opinions aside and do what's best for you and your family - and make the best out of it that you can. Just as we are all looking to leadership in our country (whatever that looks like) for reassurance and answers, your kids are looking at you. Try to be that calm they're going to so desperately need in the inevitable storm ahead.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

I'm Not an Activist, but I'm Learning

I don’t pretend to be an activist. Activism, by definition, is the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change. I admire those close to me for their passion and desire for knowledge as they engage in protests and blanket social media with articles, op-eds and hashtags. I support them in their efforts to bring awareness and change to our broken country.

Honestly, right now I am just trying to catch up, read up and learn - then write about it. I think – I hope – we are all incensed by not only the senseless death of George Floyd, but of all those whose lives have been tragically and needlessly taken as a result of police brutality.

I know the protests take it further than that. It's not just about George. The killing of George Floyd was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back – but this is certainly not the first time the hump has been broken.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about all of this – how can you not? And after my first questions of “Why is this even happening” and “HOW is this even happening," my next question is, “So what do we do?”

Seriously. I mean, I know what we WANT for black Americans. Justice and equality. I know what black Americans DESERVE that they aren’t getting – basic human rights. But how do we get there?

I do not pretend for a moment to have the answer. But, in my readings and research, I keep coming across one name: Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD. The self-proclaimed “justice nerd” is the president and co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity (CPE), a university research center that diagnoses the roots of disparate policing in an effort to eradicate it.

I first watched Dr. Goff's TED Talk from October, 2019, which is below. Note that at the 7:00 mark, he talks about working with the Minneapolis Police Department in 2015 to help “remedy the moral failings of race and policing.” Clearly they need a refresher course.

I then found another article, also from 2015, entitled “Why Cops Lose Control”, where Dr. Goff talks about the need to correct what he calls implicit bias, which is described in the article: “Unlike blatant racism, implicit bias is not an individually held belief but is one generally shared by everyone in a society. Because our brain naturally makes sense of the world by grouping things into categories, we all generate unconscious stereotypes based on the generalizations we absorb through experiences that include movies, television, music and the news.”

As it relates to policing, the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice wrote, "[The work of Phillip Atiba Goff] has shown that it is possible to address and reduce implicit bias through training and policy interventions with law enforcement agencies. Research suggests that biased associations can be gradually unlearned and replaced with non-biased ones. Perhaps even more encouragingly, one can reduce the influence of implicit bias simply by changing the context in which an interaction takes place. Consequently, through policy and training, it is possible to mend the harm that racial stereotypes do to our minds and our public safety."

Dr. Goff’s organization, the Center for Policing Equity, offers promising research, tools and policies to help elicit change in implicit bias and implement more just policing.

And I think it could – and is – working in some cases.

But I think we need something else that we don’t have: consequences. I know the police profession is a "brotherhood", and I get it. You can’t be in a profession like that – soldiers and first responders included – where you don’t feel like your coworkers have your back.

BUT. That protection needs to end when a moral code is breached – the breach in this case being murder.

No profession should be above the law. All people should be held accountable for their actions. Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged and will hopefully be swiftly convicted for the murder of George Floyd. As of this post, the other three former officers will also be charged.

That’s a start. You’d think we would be waaaay past using this little police gang as an example – I mean, it's not like this is the first time – but apparently the justice system has a few too many loopholes that continue to unravel faster than we can close them up.

I have no real conclusion to this post. I just want a plan. I will not hide the fact that I do not believe we will make much (any) progress under the current administration, but that is a whole other can of worms. To me, the man currently occupying the White House is just a political flashbang thrown into a country of protesters who are just looking for peace and equality. But make no mistake; if we can just hold to our convictions, keep fighting for justice and VOTE, we’ll get there. I'm going to continue learning so I can do my part. I encourage you all to do the same.