Friday, November 20, 2015

Paris, Syria, and courage: a brain dump

I wrote most of this on the Tuesday after the Paris attacks. I spent the last few days deciding if I should edit to make it... well, better-written... but I decided not to. So here it is:

I spent at least some of Monday holding back tears. And yes, at least once it was because of the new Adele song, but mostly it was because of everything that is happening far away - Paris, Beirut, Syria. And as if that's not hard enough to stomach, I live in a privileged country full of people who don't realize their privilege, and if they do, they certainly don't want to share it. And we have the news, where people with money are given a voice, and social media, where EVERYONE is given a voice, and I'm not hearing or reading much that is making anything better.

I bet there is a word for what I'm feeling, but I don't know what it is. Despair seems insensitive, in light of the source of the feeling. Frustrated isn't adequate. Heartbroken? Maybe. Hopeless... Hopeless is close. Heartsick. Sad.

I remember the Sunday after the shooting at Sandy Hook, which Anne Lamott called "the end of the world," I went to church. To me, a belief in God doesn't mean anything unless it makes you a better person than you might otherwise be, unless it teaches you how to BE with others. The idea the pastor expressed that Sunday was that so many people were asking, "How could God let this happen?" and the answer was that God was asking the same thing: "How could YOU let this happen?"

It's on us. All of this, everything that happens on this planet, the only habitable planet as far as time can tell... it's on us. And we are fucking it up, royally.

Religion - a belief in something bigger than you - has the power to do so much good, and yet in our hands, it does exactly the opposite. THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS. After spending a lifetime believing in God and going to church, at times more frequently than others, I am presently in a tenuous relationship with religion and I guess with God. I still think a strong faith can be good, as long as the believer does good with it. (Of course, different believers think different things are good and different things are evil... so it's really just a mess.) Pray for Paris? No. We don't need more religion. We don't need more prayers. It's on YOU. It's up to YOU to make a difference.

And who can we look to? Fred Rogers' mom told him to look for the helpers. Okay. We have all of these governors in America, the land of the free and the BRAVE, saying they won't accept any Syrian refugees. Let's forget about the fact that Mary and Joseph were a Middle Eastern couple looking for shelter. Let's just not even mention that. Instead, let's look at this quote, from FDR: "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear." I tell my kids this all the time. "Being brave isn't about not being afraid. It's about being afraid but doing it anyway." This is where we need to step up. This is what my pastor was talking about. This is the stuff we have to do. It's okay to be afraid, but we have to go on anyway and do what is right.

We are so far removed from what is happening anywhere else but here. We are so LUCKY, and we forget it all the time. I almost bitched to a co-worker this morning about somebody taking up two spots in the parking lot and thereby forcing me to park 3 blocks away, and I stopped myself, because REALLY, KATIE?

So maybe this is the difference to be made, for me. Maybe I just work harder to practice a little gratitude. A little compassion. At the end of the day, we are all made of the same space dust. You and me and the guys who blew themselves up in Paris. The people escaping terror and civil war in Syria. We're all the same, just a collection of cells and codes and patterns, more alike than we are different. So maybe I just embrace my own humanity a little better. I'll work on teaching my kids to be good people. And yes, I donated and will continue to donate, but I will also try to remember: remember how lucky I am, remember how brief my time is here.

What will you do?

Donate to UNHCR here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Invisible String

The Invisible String is a children's book that I know we have read to Maddie but I'm not sure when. We certainly haven't read it in awhile - we don't own the book, so it's probably been over 6 months. They may have read it at school, but I think it was at the beginning of the year.  

Here's a little bit about the story from Amazon: 

"That's impossible", said twins Liza after their Mom told them they're all connected by this thing called an Invisible String. "What kind of string"? They asked with a puzzled look to which Mom replied, "An Invisible String made of love." That's where the story begins. A story that teaches of the tie that really binds. The Invisible String reaches from heart to heart. Does everybody have an Invisible String? How far does it reach, anyway? Does it ever go away?"
Maddie has been touch-and-go with drop off lately. Some days are hard. Some days are fine. Some days, she skips into the building, waving. Other days, she holds back tears. Still other days, she can't hold them back and they pour out of her.

This kindergarten thing is no joke.

Her teacher has told us that her biggest issue at school is that she's not taking her time, that she is always saying, "I miss my moms," and her day is all about just getting through it to come home. So since then, every day, I tell her to take her time and do her best, and I tell her how proud I am of her, and I remind her of how brave she is. I try to remind her of something exciting coming up, like soccer or girl scouts or pumpkin carving.

Yesterday, I was able to see her in class, helping another student who was having trouble writing his numbers. So last night, I told her how proud I was of her for being a good friend to him, for being helpful, and that it's important that we treat other people how we want to be treated. She is actually a pretty shy kid, and she is the youngest in her class, so I was impressed to see her on the way to school this morning saying hi to at least 5 kids who were also walking to school. "Hi Tyler!" "Hi Sophia!" "Hi Finn!"

She seemed to be in a good mood, so I had a good feeling about drop off. Sure enough, as I was leaving, I was about 15 paces away from her, she turned and looked at me and made a motion with her hands like she was pulling something near her heart, and she said, "Do you feel my string?"

That. Kid.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

So THIS is what it feels like.

There was a time I thought I could be a stay at home mom. I fantasized about the idea of getting to spend all day with the kids I was dreaming about, teaching them everything, playing with them, taking them to farmers markets and watching them feast on fresh fruit that they craved, doing art projects with them, and taking lots of pictures of all of this and putting those photos in organized albums and showing the kids those albums on rainy days.

And then I had kids. Or... in my case, GOT kids. 

And also? It doesn't rain here.

So I haven't had even the tiniest urge to stay at home with my children since they became my children. This isn't a lack of love. In fact, it's love that makes me know I need to be away from them during the day so that I can tolerate them at night. They are beautiful, perfect girls, and I love them so much it makes my heart ache, but they are difficult and stubborn. And, it turns out, so am I. And life is incredibly difficult and isn't what you see on Pinterest or even Facebook. 

Something else I've learned about myself is I like working. And I think it's important for my kids to see me happy and fulfilled, and for me, having a career is part of that. This is also why I don't feel guilty for taking a sketch-writing class, or taking a full Saturday away from them to direct a play for an instant theatre night. I know I need to be creative in order to be happy, and I want my kids to have a happy mom. 

I was not a happy mom this morning.

This has been a big transition week for us. Isabella started at a new pre-school and Maddie started summer camp at one of the elementary schools in our new neighborhood. Isabella has taken to her pre-school like a duck to water, but the transition has been a little more difficult for Maddie. Maddie is a creature of habit and structure. Those are the things she needs for her life to make sense to her. I have started her at a daycare and then a pre-school, and I have never had any real qualms about leaving her at those places. I knew both places well, I knew how their days were structured, and I knew she would thrive there and I was right. And I love being right.

She starts kindergarten in August and I've been EXCITED for this. People have asked me if I'm "ready" for it, and I'm always like, YES, I'm ready. Are you kidding? She's going to learn how to READ and we get to shop for school supplies! This is going to be amazing! I've gotten her excited about it. Any time anyone asks her about it, she grins widely and starts jumping up and down: "I'M GOING TO KINDERGARTEN!" I didn't understand why everyone was asking me if I was ready for it, or if I was okay with it.

And then we dropped her off at her first day of summer camp. Gone were the gentle pre-school teachers who bent down to say hello to her and held her hand into the classroom. Gone were all the kids littler than her, younger than her. She was the youngest there on the first day we dropped her off and the classroom was FULL of kids of all ages, up to maybe 10. The teachers were really just monitoring their activity. We had to sort of encourage one of the teachers to take Maddie under her wing so she was okay with us leaving. They assured us that she would break off into her own class with kids her own age at 10am, and that this zoo of a classroom was only a morning and late afternoon thing.

It occurred to me that day that this would be her life now. She's a kid. She's not a baby. This is the deal. And we picked her up that day and she'd had SO MUCH FUN and she was exhausted because GUESS WHAT? THEY DON'T MAKE THEM NAP! (HASHTAG AMAZING) She couldn't tell us about any friends she'd made, but she did say she had fun, so yay! No more worrying on my part!

And then this morning happened. She had a rough morning. Which made Gina and I have a rough morning. (Oh and also, Gina and I didn't sleep well last night, and not for any fun reason, just because sleep can sometimes be an elusive bitch.) She told me she didn't want to go to summer camp because it's "too long." (That's where the lack of a nap is biting us in the ass - she's at summer camp the same amount of time she was at pre-school, but now she's not sleeping through any of it.) So when I dropped her off this morning, I hugged her and she held on tighter than usual and told me she didn't want me to leave. I finally got her to walk away from me, and Isabella and I made it all the way up the hill and almost to the car when I heard Maddie SCREAMING for me. I turned around and saw her running toward me with her arms out, screaming "MOMMY! MOMMY!" The teacher explained, "She said she didn't get to say goodbye to you." So I picked her up and held her and she cried and said she doesn't want to go to summer camp anymore, she wanted to go home, she didn't want me to leave, and on and on and on. This lasted for maybe 10 minutes. She's never been this reluctant to leave me, ever. And when I finally got her to let me leave, she walked back to the classroom with her teacher, crying for me still, and I had to walk away from her, and I was crying, and some dad said hi to me and my broken voice managed a "hi" back but I'm SURE he knew I was crying... 

And what I felt in that moment was guilt. Full mommy guilt, unlike anything I've felt before. Sure, I've felt like I'm doing the mom thing all wrong. That's not what this was. This was me feeling like she needed ME and I couldn't be there for her. This was me, for the first time, wishing I could stay home with her during the summer, wishing I could let her have a lazy summer before kindergarten, watching cartoons and playing outside and going swimming. Wishing I could let her have ME all to herself. That is all she wants. And I'll probably never be able to give that to her. I know it'll get easier. I know she just needs to get used to this new place and new friends. And I know this is what the rest of her life will be like. She'll be in new places plenty of times, and will need to use what she's been taught by US to manage those situations. 

Still - this is not an easy day.

First day of summer camp - 6/16/15