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. 


Sunday, May 17, 2020

My Message to the Class of 2020: The Pandemic is Just a Primer

To the Class of 2020: Congratulations! You’ve just gone through what could be the worst situation you’ve experienced in your life so far – the COVID-19 pandemic and everything it took away from you during your senior year. 

For all intents and purposes, this is your primer for some of the experiences you’re going to come up against as you embark on the rest of your life. Unexpected events. Necessary pivots. Indecisiveness. Disappointments. Surprises. Grief. Celebrations. All this is simply a compressed crash course in what to expect in as you step into the real world.

So as you go out into the great beyond, here are a 12 life tips/advice from a 53-year old who has had her share of ups and downs and learned from them all. As with anything I write, take what you want and leave the rest.

  1. Don’t measure your success by the success of others. Man, I wish I would have learned this sooner – I would have been a lot easier on myself. Case in point: I’m a writer and I’ve always wanted to be one. I know of people my age (and younger) who are much more successful than I am. VPs of companies, entrepreneurs, etc. For a long time, I thought I should be grinding in my career so I could achieve the status of others my age. Turns out – I want to be a writer. I don’t want to be a VP. That doesn’t make me less successful – it makes me happy. 
  2. Be smart with your money, no matter how much you have. I cannot stress this enough. I don’t care if you make minimum wage or $100,000 a year. Live within your means and pay attention to your finances. When my kids used to ask me to buy something, I would tell them to check back in 30 days. Nine times out of 10 they no longer wanted that thing 30 days later. Pay off your credit cards. Buy used cars. Don’t buy more house than you can afford. Start saving early – even if it’s a tiny, tiny bit. I assure you, even if you are struggling financially, you will at least feel like you have some sort of control over what is going out of your wallet. (Dave Ramsey is a good resource for this!)
  3. Your hardships can be your blessings. You are going to have shitty things happen to you, and how you respond to them early on will serve as a benchmark for how you get through life. Hardships show you what you’re truly made of. They teach you to process feelings. To make decisions. To pivot. To learn and accept that life is not fair. That loss is a part of this life. And when the next hardship comes, you will be that much stronger than before. I promise you. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “I got through (insert problem here); I can get through this.”
  4. Stay in the present – don’t “futuretrip” (I love this word) or look in the rear-view mirror. I’m a worrier with regrets, which means I worry about what’s going to happen in the future and I feel guilty about decisions I’ve made in the past. As I get older, I’m learning to “forgive and forget” the things I regret and try not to look too far ahead of me, knowing full well that futuretripping is nothing more than gazing into a crystal ball. Now, it’s OK to look TO the future. To build TOWARD the future. But don’t spend so much time worrying about tomorrow that you don’t enjoy today. And yesterday, well, it’s yesterday. Today's a new day. Insert any other cliches here. 
  5. Don’t wait on others to do things for you, complete you or keep you from moving forward. This is YOUR life. Take it by the balls, man! Don’t wait for anyone else to help you. Don’t wait for that other person to come around and make you “whole.” Don’t wait to take that next step because you’re afraid you might fail. The more you do for yourself, the more confidence you'll have and the more accomplished you'll feel. I assure you that you can do more on your own than you ever thought possible – that’s why God made YouTube videos. 
  6. Get a little help from your friends. You’re probably going to find in your life that you have a friend for all reasons and seasons. You’ll have your high school friends, your college friends, your work friends, your mom/dad friends, your gym friends …. so many friends. But there will always be your “person” – or “people.” Don’t let life get in the way of keeping those friendships. Those friends are the ones who you can call when something incredible happens, something awful, or anything in between. And be there when they need you, because trust me, you’re gonna need them. 
  7. Hold boundaries – be tolerant yet know how much you can tolerate. You probably had a teacher you didn’t particularly like in high school. You might have thought he or she had it out for you and that’s why you got a bad grade … whatever. Guess what. Some of this stuff you just have to deal with. You might have a mean boss. Your kid might be a complete handful. Your mother-in-law might make you feel like shit. Fine. Figure out what your boundaries are as far as what you can tolerate and what is just going too far. And don’t let anyone tell you that the boundaries you set make you “sensitive” or “selfish”. It’s not their call. They’re YOUR boundaries. 
  8. You’re going to make a shitload of mistakes. Oh, my God, so many. Because you’re learning. Every single day, you’re learning. Some mistakes are going to be dumb. Some will be serious. Some will make you look like an asshole. Some may be just because of ignorance. I say, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” If you screw something up because you didn’t know how to do it right the first time, you should get a pass. Just figure out what you did wrong, learn from it and you’ll know better for next time. 
  9. You (usually) get a second (or third) chance. Not everyone gets it right the first time. I am a perfect example. I went to three high schools, four colleges, and have had probably six or more jobs since I graduated. I’m divorced, sort of got married a second time and have had a few serious relationships since then. You know what? Screwing things up sucked, but I’m not a failure. Maybe I’m a slow learner. Who cares? I eventually figure out what works for me and I go from there. It’s all you can do.   
  10. Do your life on your timeline. If you’re not ready for college, that’s OK. If you don’t want to go to college at all, that’s OK. If you want to get married, that’s OK. If you don’t want to get married, that’s OK. Now I’m not saying you should or shouldn’t do these things, nor should you see this as a pass to live in your parents' basement and do nothing. But don’t let anyone tell you that you have to graduate with a certain degree, with a certain GPA, in a certain period of time. Don’t let society tell you that you won’t be successful unless you are married and have a baby and a house by age 25. Don’t go into the family business if you really want to do something completely different. Don’t let people say you can’t do anything if you in fact think you can. And even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do (which I don’t expect you to), take this time to try some stuff on for size and see if it fits. Now is the perfect time to do it. 

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from an iconic movie that came out long before your time:

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
                                                                                                            -Ferris Bueller

Now go. Get on with it. And have an amazing life.