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.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

"The Giving Tree" Has New Meaning Now

Once there was a tree ... and she loved a little boy.

And every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest.

He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. And they would play hide-and-go-seek. 

And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade.

And the boy loved the tree ... very much.

And the tree was happy.


In 1970, my aunt gave me a copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. In it, she wrote the date and this inscription: "May your enjoyment and understanding of this book grow with your years."

I had just turned four years old.

Once I had children, I read it to them occasionally, explaining to them that this tree loved this boy so much she wanted to do anything she could for him, even if it left the tree as a mere stump in the end.
I had no idea at that point in my life how long it would take to finally understand that book.

But time went by. And the boy grew older. And the tree was often alone.

Then one day the boy came to the tree 
and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy."

"I am too big to climb and play," said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money."

"I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy."

And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away.

And the tree was happy.


I am the tree. My son is the boy. I have given him almost everything I have - sometimes I feel it's not enough; sometimes I know it's too much. I've never been neglectful, but I've certainly enabled. 
Like the boy, rarely has he come to me and directly asked for my branches, or my leaves, or my apples. He has mused about what he wants to do, and it's usually been my idea of what I can give him to make it happen. Here's a place to crash when you come home late at night. Here's food for your belly. Here's gas for the car. Here's a list of jobs I found for you. Here's a cell phone so we can stay in touch. Here's a check for your rent. Here's the cash to pay off who you owe. Here's money for this so you can spend money on that. 

The tree and me – we just don’t know when to stop.


But the boy stayed away for a long time ... 
and the tree was sad. And then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy."

"I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy. "I want a house to keep me warm," he said. "I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?"

"I have no house," said the tree. "
The forest is my house, 
but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy."

And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy.


I'd like to think I'm more cognizant of my enabling, and therefore can control it. But can a mother ever really stop giving?

Like the tree, won't she always find SOME way to give just a little more - even if in her mind she knows she's only doing it to alleviate the debilitating pain and despair for her child that's in her own heart? Am I becoming so desperate to see my child - to have him talk to me, visit with me, hug me, love me - that I will give anything? Does the fact that I don’t want to see him suffer completely override the fact that he will never learn for himself unless I stop? Because the tree keeps giving, and that boy is still not happy.


But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. "Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play."

"I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?"

"Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away ... and be happy."

And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy ... but not really.


Right now, I feel like the tree on one of the last pages. I'm down to my stump - and my kid is still young. I've learned what enabling does to both of us, but it doesn't make it any easier to sit here and wait - hoping that one day he will come back to me - my little boy who used to just swing from my branches and eat apples.******************************

And after a long time, the boy came back again. "I am sorry, Boy," said the tree," but I have nothing left to give you - my apples are gone."

"My teeth are too weak for apples," said the boy.

"My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them ... "

"I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy.

"My trunk is gone, " said the tree."You cannot climb ... "

"I am too tired to climb" said the boy.

"I am sorry," sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something ... but I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump. I am sorry."

"I don't need very much now," said the boy. "Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired."

"Well," said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
"Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting.
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."

And the boy did.

And the tree was happy.


Would the boy have come back to the tree if she didn’t keep on giving him something? Was sacrificing everything that made the tree a tree worth it in the end? To the tree, it was. I could like on my deathbed and feel good about the fact that I did everything I possibly could for my kid. But what did that do for him? 

The tree spent her whole life waiting for the boy so she could give him more, and the boy went on about his life not thinking about the tree unless he needed something. And it seems like whatever the tree gave the boy, it was never enough for him – and in the end he was sad and alone. I don’t think I can lie on my deathbed knowing that my enabling made my son’s life worse. The hard part is going to be telling him “no” and still hoping he’s going to come back – and that I can grow and flourish in the process.


"The Giving Tree: 2020"


Friday, April 3, 2020

The Dichotomy Between My Brain and Me During COVID-19

Before I go any further, a disclaimer: I want to make it clear that I am well aware that the stuff that follows is NOWHERE NEAR comparable to what our health care providers and all of those on the front lines of this crazy thing are going through. This global pandemic is some serious shit – I’m just here to do what I can – and in this case it’s just to bring some trivial, self-deprecating levity that hopefully some of you can relate to. 

That said, there’s a lot we’re having to do differently these days, am I right? And I don’t have a problem complying with the recommended best practices to help flatten the curve. However, it’s one thing to read them – it’s another to sort out the thoughts that go through my head as a result.

For over-thinkers like myself, this pandemic is full of thought-provoking land mines capable of endless rumination. For every seemingly rational thought, there is always an additional, less rational counter-thought immediately following. 

For example:

What I do: On a walk, I spot someone approaching, so practice social distancing and move off the sidewalk and into the grass.
What I’m thinking: Wait, do they think I moved onto the grass because I think they have coronavirus? Or do they think I have it because I moved onto the grass? Do they think I’m paranoid? Should I have waited for them to social distance first? Maybe I should just keep walking on the grass like that’s what I wanted to do the whole time. Maybe I’ll just skip the walk all together.

What I do: Go to the grocery store.
What I'm thinking: Can I just wipe off the handle of the cart or should I take it out and spray it down with a hose? Can I drive this thing with my elbows? How long do I have to wait for the person in front of the frozen food case to move before I blow my social distancing to snag the last carton of chocolate ice cream? Should I apologize to the cashier for even being here? And is it rude to squirt someone with hand sanitizer?

What I do: Smile and wave at my co-workers on a video conference call.
What I'm thinking: HOLY HELL is that what I really look like? I’m pretty sure I have never looked as unattractive as I do at this angle, with this lighting, on this screen, on this day. Wow – that is not a good camera angle for you, Karen. And your video button is NOT broken, Steven, you just aren't being a team player.

What I do: Get out a bunch of books I haven’t read and vow to set aside an hour a day to get caught up.
What happens next: OMG the third season of Ozark is out! Wait – what happened again at the end of Season 2? Better recap, right after I watch the latest Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and a Chopped marathon.

What I say to myself: Wow, look at all the people outside enjoying the fresh air. 
My next thought: WHY ARE THERE SO MANY PEOPLE OUTSIDE??? There have never been this many outside people. How am I supposed to walk my neurotic dog with this many people – even if I stay on the grass? These people need to go back inside. 

What happens: Randomly cough lightly 
What I do: Google coronavirus symptoms, take a shower and go to bed

What I’m wishing: If this had to happen at all I wish it could have been when my kids were younger so they would be home with me.
How that would have played out: After initially crushing the first few hours of isolation with homemade edible play-dough, a chore chart and plenty of flash cards, I’d subsequently be pounding a bottle of wine in the bathroom while my kids watch Finding Nemo on repeat and eat marshmallows for breakfast.

What I’m thinking: I wish I could go out to a happy hour or see a band with a bunch of friends. 
What I’m thinking, follow-up: Because now I have nothing to flake out of when I’d rather stay home. 

What I'm thinking: This would be a great opportunity to eat healthier and try to cook more. 
What actually happens: Breakfast: four cups of coffee and a freezer-burned cinnamon waffle. Lunch: Lean Cuisine and a Jell-o cup. Dinner: Seven rolls of Smarties and a six-pack.

What I say to myself: I should really make some face masks. Or maybe make a Tik-Tok video. Or fill out one of those Facebook lists. Or deep clean my house. 
What I actually do: None of these things. 

Like I said, we over-thinkers are now in overdrive – because it’s so easy to do. Just look on social media – for every fact, opinion or suggestion there is a counter-fact, counter-opinion and counter-suggestion. I guess all we can do is do the best that we can to stop the spread, and that’s stay home, wash our hands and try to keep our sanity until we can get back to life as we know it once again.

Hang in there, my friends. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

When Band-Aids and Popsicles Aren't Enough: On Fixing Our (Almost) Adult Children's Hurts

With more than two decades of parenting under my belt, I can safely say that the worst pain a mother can feel is to see her child suffering. (This may certainly be the case for fathers, too, but as I am not a father, I will not speak for them.)

The pain our children experience throughout their lives can be physical or emotional - I'm sure like me, most of you have lived through both. We all know those blood-curdling screams that come from a child after he bumps his head while learning to walk or skins his knee after crashing on his bike. As moms, our hearts leap into our throats and we go into momma bear mode, consoling, wiping away tears and making it all better with a band-aid and a Popsicle.

If your child has ever experienced serious physical pain and injury, like mine, you still go into momma bear mode but without that comfort of knowing you can make it all better. There's this moment when you are literally paralyzed because you cannot, in fact, make this pain go away - and it's fucking awful. It's at this moment that you realize - if you haven't already - that you are powerless to abate his physical pain - and subsequently yours. All you can do is be calm, comforting, and make sure he's getting the care he needs to heal him - care you cannot provide.

"Being powerless to abate his physical pain - and subsequently yours" is a statement I make after the realization that sometimes - many times - I try to make my children's pain "go away" not only for their benefit, but to quiet my own feelings of sadness and powerlessness of witnessing said pain.

This leads to the subject of our children and emotional pain. Some parents - probably the "better" parents - understand from day one that their children are going to feel sadness, disappointment, rejection and despair. They understand these are powerful emotions that shape a child and provide him with the resilience he needs to get through this thing called life.

I was late to this game, and I'm still kind of on the bench, understanding what's happening on the field and maybe coming in for a play or two but not quite consistent enough to be a starter. You'd think after all this time on the team, I'd be better.

But I'm learning, through trial and error. My error was definitely spending too much time saving my children from these critical emotions they needed to feel by "fixing" things for them. And believe me, it was a struggle. You forgot your book at school again??? One side of my brain tells me that the only way he'll learn to remember his book is to face the consequences of forgetting it. The other side says he's only human and kids make mistakes and he already has trouble in that subject and doesn't need the added pressures of getting a zero for that assignment.

Jesus, I'm such a pussy sometimes. But that has been the dichotomy in my head EVERY SINGLE TIME something like this happened - no matter what the scale. And it wasn't until my kids got older that I realized by saving them so many times, they didn't have the tools they needed to save themselves, nor the ability to work through the emotions caused by consequences that I was no longer able to help them avoid.

In the last six or seven years, I've realized that I did this "saving" not only to erroneously keep them from feeling negative emotions from consequential situations, but to save myself from feeling negative emotions - the emotions that come when a mom can no longer fix the hurt with a band-aid and a Popsicle.

I really don't know what's worse, honestly. Listening to your son cry out in pain from a hospital bed or listening to your son sobbing on the other end of the phone when he's thousands of miles away. You'd think it would be the former, right? Because one is "more serious" than the other? I'm not sure.

It is very easy for me to feel completely helpless when my children are experiencing emotional "trauma" - and I use the word "trauma" pretty loosely to describe those gut-wrenching feelings that some struggle with more than others - sadness, heartbreak, despair, worthlessness, anxiety, helplessness ... People like me (and most of us) who have experienced these emotions multiple times in our lives have the ability to look back on the past and learn. I remember feeling sad after a relationship ended but thinking, "Remember when that one relationship you had ended and how devastated you felt? You got through that and this isn't even as bad. You got this." Older people like us have the luxury of knowing that for the most part, what we are going through sucks but it's not forever. Even having depression I know that there's a cycle involved and for every set of down days there will eventually be some good ones.

I know this not only from experience, though, but in how I was raised. Whether my parents meant to or not, they certainly didn't spend a lot of time helping me through my negative emotions. On the one hand, that was a good thing. I grew up to be very independent and never really relied on anyone else to "save" me. On the other hand, I've learned that I tend to invalidate my emotions because they weren't really recognized as a child. Again, no fault of my parents - they were and are amazing - that's just how it was and how a sensitive child like myself just grew up to be a sensitive adult trying to figure out how to recognize and process her own emotions.

Which is probably why I have such a hard time watching my kids suffer. I know what it's like to feel alone in those negative emotions. But I'm slowly learning that it is not my job to FIX them - it's vitally important for them to FEEL them and work through them on their own.

What I have discovered, however, is that I can HOLD SPACE for them. I found this brilliant article years ago that gave me a real "aha" moment. I know now this is an actual thing that is widely known, this holding space thing, but at the time it was completely new to me, and changed how I reacted to my children's emotions. I don't know if this is the actual article I read, but it's one that explains it beautifully:

What it Really Means to Hold Space

Basically, it's just being there. Listening without judgment. NOT trying to fix it (this is my nemesis, this "fixing" thing). And it's hard to do - especially when you're on the phone and you're trying to fill the space rather than hold it. As a mom, you want to stop the sobs and the anguish on the other end of the line, and you're afraid of what the silence on the other end means. Sometimes, there's only so many cliches you can say: "I know how you feel." "I've been there." "This too shall pass." In the end, silence is probably better than hearing those empty sentences, no matter how true they may be.

What I've also found is by holding space, I'm allowing my children to work through these difficult adult emotional curve balls the way they should have worked through the difficult child emotional curve balls. Because of me, this process is harder, but once again, I cannot be the answer or the solution. That's not how it works.

Holding space is hard for some moms because we ourselves cannot handle how WE feel when our child is hurting. Once we start to realize that trying to help them FIX it is only to assuage our own sadness, we give them the power to experience the journey and accomplish their own destiny.

I'm writing this now because I need to remember it. I have two, very complex children, both of whom are going through some very complicated emotions. It's SO easy for me right now to try to find any way I can to change their thinking, tell them what I think they should do or how they should feel. It's in these moments I need to catch myself and remember that this is an important, vital piece of their life that will shape who they are becoming. Every situation or period in their life they work through is something they need to be able to look back on with a sense of pride and accomplishment, not, "Wow, good thing Mom told me what to do there."

Holding space is the new band-aid. Acknowledging feelings is the new Popsicle. The rest is up to them, and even though their suffering still gets to me like a punch in the gut, I have a weird sense of peace and confidence that they have everything it takes to get through whatever life throws at them.

Right now, I think that's all they need from their momma.