a proposal at a gas station

I was in a rush a few days ago.  A never-ending rush of driving kids, placating kids, getting food, picking up clothes/trash/toys/books/mail-we-haven’t opened.  I pulled into a gas station after dropping one of the three kids off at a gymastics class.  The other two were in the car.

Mommy, what are we doing?

Mommy, why are you getting out?

Mommy, I’m hunngrryyy….

Ugh. I’m getting gas. Be right back. Play with your toys.

As I got out of the car, a large black man started to approach me from behind.  “Ma’am, excuse me?”

I steeled myself. Immediately.  I didn’t waver. I steeled myself against this large black man whom I didn’t know at the gas station.

And do you know why I became defensive?  I had read that it was common for people to come to gas stations to steal purses from cars.  To ask for money.  Mostly because the gas stations are located so close to the highway.  Who knows if it’s true or not.  As such, I had made it a habit to lock my car and grab my purse when I was pumping gas.  But my kids were in the car, so my car was open and my purse was in plain sight.   I was in a rush.

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

“Uh-huh.” My response was negligible.  A verbal non-response.

“I’m trying to propose to my girlfriend, Jasmine, on the phone here,” he held up his face-time phone in view of me, “and she has asked that someone witness my proposal.  Will you watch me propose to my girlfriend? I’m going to get on one knee”.  He got on one knee on the concrete right next to my gas pump.

“Jasmine, you are the light of my life.  I can’t imagine living without you, will you marry me?”

I couldn’t hear her response, but I assumed it was yes by the joy on his face.  By that time, my mouth had dropped, I had muttered a congratulations, and my hand had fallen flaccidly off the gas handle.  My eyes wandered between the numbers on the gas tank, his face and his phone.

“Thanks, ma’am. I’m getting married!”  He walked back off to his van.  I watched him walk away from me.  He was a driver for a food company.  He hopped back into his food truck van and went on his way.  I stood there, paralyzed, my eyes drifting back towards the gas tank.

The tank was half filled, but I was filled with a vast void of shame and emptiness inside me.  With a little bit of selfish happiness that I got to experience the proposal of Jasmine and the black man at the gas station.

I looked around.  Did anybody else see what I just saw? No.  No one else was around me.

I got back in the car and sat there for a bit.  My eldest daughter asked me, “mommy, what did that man want?”

“Well, honey, it was the most wonderful thing.  He was proposing to his girlfriend.  Right here at the gas station.  And he wanted me to witness it.”

“What was her name?”

“Jasmine”

“Jasmine, like the PRINCESS?”

“Yes, like the princess.”

I can’t tell you how many times over the past few weeks I’ve thought of those 45 seconds.  About my defensive reaction to a large black man approaching me from behind at a gas station.  About his simple and joyous request for me to witness his marriage proposal.  About my shame, my complete and total emptiness.

a collective breath-holding

note: I started this blog five days ago. Because of the unprecedented rapid change of the news, this is almost out of date. I just can’t keep up. 

I’ll be straight – I didn’t want to write anything about the inauguration.  Notwithstanding the news coverage, every time I think about what’s going on in Washington, I feel like someone punched me in my gut.    I keep sifting through the stages of what I can only describe is grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.   But instead of going though stages linearly, I circle around them as I sift through the news.  From anger to depression, to acceptance back to anger.

But I feel like I need to. So here goes.

I – a Clinton supporter – attended Trump’s inauguration.  On Friday, January 20th, I sat in the bitter cold and rain as I saw Donald J. Trump put his hand on his bible and become our 45th President.  I thought – perhaps – that even though I didn’t vote for him, he would surprise me.  He could be President I could support.   I shivered as I listened to him in our VIP seats – in the splendor of the US Capital and in front of three previous US Presidents – rant about American carnage, praise the virtues of protectionism, and extol the virtues of America First.

 

Here is what hasn’t been in the news recently – most of the crowd around me that day cheered.  They said good riddance to the Obamas, and welcomed with open arms the new era of Trump.  An era of Trump right-wing populism, of power to the people.  Flags and red MAGA baseball hats were everywhere.  Sitting one row behind me was some guy from Duck Dynasty.  He wore an American bandana.  In front of me a gentleman held up a huge Trump flag and posed for pictures with bystanders.  I felt like everywhere I turned, I ran into someone with a New York accent (was it me? or was I hearing things?).  I felt like an outsider, sitting there.  But then again, I felt that way the morning after the election too.

The days which followed have shown me that President Trump and Candidate Trump and one and the same. As we all now know, his administration has been marked by a flurry of actions over The Wall, Affordable Care Act, TPP, a temporary refugee ban and more.  All of which I disagree with, and I’m not alone.  Many moderate republicans have voiced their dissent (my recent favorite was Mccain/Graham on immigration).

Trump is a populist President (this has been argued a bit, but I think it’s largely true).  Populism isn’t new, but is largely misunderstood in America.  Europe has had populist parties for decades (predominantly) as the result of immigration.  I remember writing about the rise of populism in 2007 in Europe and in Latin America (Are these national icons truly lovers of the people, or are they agenda-driven opportunists who deceive their constitutents with their charisma?).  Sound familiar? Populism can be exciting, and dangerous.   It’s a f%$k the current system – no matter what the cost.  And most of us aren’t suck big risk takers.  Most of us like to hedge our bets, and not shake the whole system.  Think about all the people with the red MAGA hats around me that cold day a week and a half ago.  Is this what most Trump supporters wanted?  Because lets not kid ourselves – the answer is yes.   This looks a lot like America First to me.  This looks like a big f%$k you to the current system, and frankly, the rest of the world.

So what does this mean for our government?  For the first time in modern political history, the traditional two parties of America (both Republicans and Democrats) are anxious.  I saw it with my own eyes last week.  There is a collective breath-holding in Washington.   And career public servants, military members, diplomatic corps?  Their job has never been more important.  These are patriots who work for the American people, largely out of sight and with little recognition or glory.  An excellent Foreign Policy article …they [career officials] need to continue to keep America safe by speaking truth to power and keep providing fact-based, high-quality, informed analysis, advice, and recommendations. Uphold, and make sure that the U.S. government’s policies and actions reflect, the values, principles, and laws that make America exceptional. Speak truth to power.

So what have I done in the last week to try to shake my cycle of grief?

I’ve looked up my congressman (I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even know who he was in Texas).   I’ve called his office, told them my zip code, my name, and left my voice heard.  It was easy and non-confrontational.

I decided to sponsor a refugee family with some friends at my local church.

I’ve resolved to stop looking at my phone ever .45 seconds for news.

And I’ve started to let out my breath.

an inauguration invite explained

I’ve struggled to watch the news lately.  My stomach turning at every tweet and retweet of our incoming President.  I’m saddened by his fundamental misunderstanding of our foreign policy, and his flippant disregard for decades of diplomacy.

Like many women, I regard him as misogynist; however, I don’t so much think of him as racist – as misinformed.  Profoundly disrespectful and careless with his words.   I have no illusions that he will change when he takes the  White House, but I have a small degree of hope that the selfish dedication of the political servants, diplomats and military; and the largess of the job of the Presidency will lessen his selfish ambition.

It is from this vantage point that I stood when my husband called and said, “Do you want to fly back to Virginia to the inauguration?  I have been offered tickets.”

innaguration

Now, for most of you out there the answer is probably easy.  An easy yes or an easy no.  Either you can stand on your pedestal and claim you would never go and support this new President.  Sure, I get it.  The view is pretty nice up there on the high road.   Others of you, whether you voted or him or not, would jump at the idea of attending an inauguration.  I wouldn’t fault you for that either. For many of us, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Me, I’m somewhere in the middle.

A few nights ago we watched the movie Selma.  It was my first time watching the history of MLKs march between Selma and Montgomery.  It’s a remarkable movie and I recommend it.   The most interesting part was the relationship between Lyndon B Johnson and MLK.   Before MLK walked on Selma, he approached LBJ more than a few times – pushing him towards the voting rights act.  LBJ knew it was the right thing to do, but – as politics goes – had other priorities at the time.  He also knew it would use up a large amount of political capital.  So MLK took to the streets to protest.  He raised awareness, and forced LBJ’s hand.  A few years later, we had the voting rights act of 1965.

Now, I’m not going to claim that Trump and LBJ are similar. To start, LBJ was a progressive, and MLK and LBJ ultimately had similar visions for the country.  They just didn’t agree on the methods and timeline by which it would be achieved.  MLK didn’t simply protest.  He sought to persuade the President to his vision; and when he couldn’t, he worked other means.  Many of us do not share most of Trump’s vision for our country.  However, I don’t believe that the solution is to simply protest, (or rant and rave on social media).

It is childish and ineffective to claim that Trump is not my President and to shake our fist at every move this government makes.  This is our Government, and this high office deserves our respect, regardless of our vote.  If we want change, we need to work with and through our government.   I was reminded of this much last night.  As our outgoing President said so eloquently in his last speech:

Our founders argued, they quarreled, and eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity. The idea that, for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together, that we rise or fall as one….

Citizen. So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when you own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life.

Show up, dive in, stay at it. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir in goodness, that can be a risk. And there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been part of this one and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. 

The central problem in Washington DC the last 15 years is the intransigence of its people.  Many Americans (including myself) feel lost in a battle between extremes of the left and the right.   And I – for one – will not contribute to that problem.   I may not agree with most of what Trump says, but I do believe that most of the people who go to Washington to serve do so with some sort of honorable duty.  They have a desire to help.  If you haven’t heard of it, become familiar with an organization called No Labels (https://www.nolabels.org).  They are doing their best to try to fix Washington’s problems, without partisanship.   If you are frustrated, sign up.  Learn about it. Be a constructive part of the solution.

So when my husband called and asked if I would go celebrate this incoming President, whom I did not vote for, and whose policies I generally do not support, I said yes.   Yes because despite what I believe about him personally; I do believe that he wants what’s best for America.  Yes because I believe in the Greatness in our Democratic Project.  Yes because I believe we need to do a better job of understanding and not judging or assuming.  And yes, because we all need to participate to move us forward.

 

 

 

on the value of saying yes

Tomorrow is December 1.  It seems improbable that we are almost at the end of 2016.  This year – for all of us – has been characterized by extremes.   Extreme highs – the joy of watching the US olympic team bring home gold – and extreme lows – the polarization of the national election.

For us too as a family, we struggled with extreme highs and extreme lows.  I was so sad to move from our home in northern Virginia to Texas – a state so totally unfamiliar.  A place that – for me – evoked foreign images of cowboys, guns and country music.   But we also rose to that challenge as a family, and with that, comes happiness.  It may have taken three-quarters of a year, but we resettled and are grateful.  In the end, experiencing the joy of a new place, a new adventure, and new beginnings.

I’ve reflected quite a bit on what makes the difference between the highs and the lows this year.  How do we make a good situation out of a bad one?  How do I make a happy life in Texas when I didn’t want to move here? How do we change the game, when we don’t like the hand we have been given?  How do we swim upstream in a culture or community that we perceive as antithetical to our own thinking?  How do we figure out how to mend the wounds of our country’s political divide when all we want to do is tune out?

For my life, it came in a pretty simple answer.  I resolved to say yes.  Yes to questioning all my assumptions about Texas.  Yes to trying new experiences, even if they would result in failure or make me super uncomfortable (both happened).  Yes to meeting new people, even if they weren’t quite like our friends back home.  Yes to getting more help with the kids, even though I was certain I could do it on my own.  Yes to moving forward and trying things out.   Yes to cowboy hats and jeans, huge highways, mutton busting, bible-study, monogramming and yard signs.

And here is the thing.  When I said yes, things got a lot better.  This fall, when I opened myself up to the possibility of new ideas – of new experiences – I started to like Texas.  I may not ever be a true Houstonian, but I can appreciate this large red state for what it brings to the table.   And I sure am happier.

So – if at the end of 2016 – all you want to do is curl up and tune out, I understand.  I felt like that in the middle of 2016.  But maybe now is the time to start listening, to meet people outside of your comfort zone, and question your own assumptions.  I assumed Houston would be full of cowboys.  I was really wrong.

If you felt blindsided by this year, and especially this election (as I did), my advice is to say yes.  To listen, to hear and to try to understand – and maybe we have a chance at bridging the extremes in 2017.

Blowing out the butterflies

Yesterday, we sent two out of our three kids off to the first day of school.  It felt for me – and for all you parents out there – like I was sending my heart out into the world.  And it was all I could do from wrapping my kids in bubble wrap.  At least in bubble wrap, the words, the hurt, the fear…all of the baggage that comes with growing up wouldn’t hurt my girls.  But alas.  I didn’t bubble wrap them.   I sent them out with a smile and excitement on my face, and anxiousness in my stomach.

Our girls have had a lot of change lately.  For my oldest, this will be her third school in two years.  She has taken it like a champ.   She is a smart kid, but suffers from a strong case of the nerves (like her mama).  So  – anytime we go anywhere new – we blow out the butterflies from our tummy.  We take a deep breath.  Both of us. Together. And we blow them out.  And we count how many came out.  And what color they are.  And then we figure out if there are still any more inside of us.  If so, we do it again.  And again.  And again.

Kids are remarkably resilient.  It’s amazing.  I’ve seen from the various military communities we have been privileged to be a part of how fast kids adapt to new situations and new surroundings.   Their parents are often far less accommodating.   It’s so hard for us to get accustomed to new friends, new places, new routines.  It takes months – years even – to adjust as we get older and more settled.  But the fact remains that the ability for all of us to be resilient (and teach our kids to be) is key to successful life transitions.

The night before the first day of school, I had a dream.  I was walking around the grocery store and the kids were at the bottom of the grocery cart – like beneath where the groceries go.  During this dream, the kids fell out.   And I panicked. For some reason, I couldn’t get them back in the cart.   I had left them behind.

Isn’t that – to some degree – what we all feel?  We are worried we don’t have the ability to thrive in new situations?  We feel like we (or our kids) are being left behind, as everyone else moves forward?

The new year is approaching and I worry that in this BIG NEW WORLD that my kids won’t be able to navigate the cognitive, emotional, and developmental pitfalls that await them.   So this year, we will keep blowing out the butterflies, and I’ll keep the bubble wrap in the pantry just in case.

the failure of news and why my father thinks we are stranded

A few days ago my mother sent me a text: Urgent. Your father is convinced you are stranded.  He wants to help you evacuate you from Houston.  Please call.

I smiled, and later that morning took a picture of the picture blue sky outside my front door and the dry driveway.  All is well.  I wrote. Tell dad to stop watching the news.

Don’t get me wrong.  We have had more than our fair share of rain and flooding this year.  It’s a serious problem down here.  Thankfully, even with the 1 in 500 year floods we have had (twice in the last month), our house has weathered just fine.  It’s true outside of Houston, the rivers are higher than they have ever been and some communities next to the rivers are in danger, but that is far from our enclave in the center of the city.

all dry

don’t send a plane. we are all dry.

However, if you were to watch any of the national news programs, you (like my dad) may be inclined to think Houston was sinking into the Gulf  from all the flooding.   And aside from the dramatization of the flooding; more and more of the nightly news is devoted to yearly United States weather patterns.  A tornado hit a town in Kansas.  A flood in Texas.  A drought in California.  You get the picture.   Is this really all we, as news-consuming citizens, care about?  Weather, and US politics?   The news has become a predictable cycle of local weather stories and political pandering.

All of this may not be so bad, despite the fact there is newsworthy information all around us that rarely hits our TV.  Venezuela – one of the world’s largest exporters of oil – is becoming a failed state.   It’s economy is collapsing and US TV news has told us virtually nothing about it.   The 2016 olympics start in two months; and they have been dubbed the “Zika Olympics“.  South Korea’s team are going to be wearing mosquito-proof uniforms.   And then all those Olympians will travel back across the world; back to their home countries.  How risky is this?  Is this not newsworthy (and bizarre)?  And have you heard the word “Brexit”?  The British are looking to possibly exit the EU.  This is big news for Europeans who live in Britain, and speaks to the greater feeling about the anxiety over immigration into Europe.  The same anxiety many Americans feel right here at home.   Isn’t our closest ally newsworthy?

You could argue that TV is not where you get quality news programing.  Print news (and some new media – such as The Atlantic) do a far better job reporting than the rating-driven TV news.  And that’s true.  If you want to get real news, it’s in print, or online.  Not on TV.  But should that be the case when the majority of Americans still get their news from the Television?  At the end of the day, I still like to sit down and watch the headlines on TV.   And I’d like to trust I’m getting the HEADLINES.  But I don’t, and that’s a problem.

American TV news is failing consumers.   And not just because it references social media posts as facts, or quotes random people as if they are experts.    The weather may be important if newscasters are trying to make a larger point regarding climate change; or if many lives are truly in danger.   But by spending so much time covering stories like the rain in Houston, we are only failing ourselves.

And don’t worry dad, really, no evacuation necessary. 

 

 

 

eating crow on helicopter parenting

I’m going to eat some crow here.  A year and a half ago I posted a blog on raising children.    In it, I attacked our generation of parenting, specifically the tendency to resort to helicopter parenting.  I argued that we should allow children to take “reasonable risks to gain experience that builds confidence.”  I still believe that.   But how much risk is too much risk for a young child?

We moved to a lovely child-filled street in Houston.  Each house has a kid under the age of eight.  Mostly boys, but some girls too.  To my astonishment, they play smack dab in the street with their scooters, bicycles, and whatever-the-new-electronic-fad-thingy is.  And most days, they play unsupervised.   There are two girls, both age five, who flock daily to our house, since we have the girl house now.  They ring our doorbell and ask to play with our girls.  I have never met their parents.  I have never even SEEN their parents. I don’t even know where one girl lives.  These children play on their scooters in the neighborhoods, often without shoes and helmets, for hours in the afternoon.  And no, they are not sisters.  They come from two different homes on two different ends of the street.

IMG_9395

Lest you think we live in a bad part of town, let me debunk that theory.  We live in one of the nicest areas of the city.  And no, we don’t live on a cul-de-sac.  We live on a quiet street, but still a cross street.

Do parents abdicate their responsibilities because they have a false sense of security about their neighborhood? Do they trust that all will be well because we have nicely groomed bushes and fancy cars?  Because they think someone else will watch out for their five year old child when they shoot across the road without looking?   Do parent think that schools will teach children responsibility? Social-emotional learning? How to deal with strangers, other adults or older children?

Is this true for your neighborhood?

I went out and got one of those bright green plastic “kids” to place in the middle of the road.  If not for my kids sake, than for the sake of all the kids whose caregivers are not around.  I hunker down and spend time outside the front of our house watching my daughters play.  They plead with me to go just a little bit farther.  Just a little bit longer.  To push the boundaries just a little bit more.  I’ve found myself becoming the parent I hoped I wouldn’t have to be.  The one that hovers, that listens, that watches constantly.  The helicopter parent.  Because, precisely, other adults are not there.

 

 

 

bruised and blessed

A few weeks ago, my family went on vacation to the beach.  We brought all three generations, from the youngest, my son, at 3 months to the oldest, my father, who suffers from Parkinson’s, at 84 years old.  In between all the sandcastles and boardwalk ice cream, was a melding of family, with all the blessings and bruises family brings.  It’s these times that remain etched in our memories when all of us are gone.  The fragments of time, of the very young and the very old doing the ordinary things, are what stay.

That week, I watched my father walk downstairs and quietly ask my 15 year old niece, who pulled her attention away from her i-phone, to help him put on his watch.  I watched her fiddle with it for a while, as he stood there patiently.  He wavered a bit, standing unsteadily, as her nimble young fingers clasped the watch around his slight wrist.

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I listened to the daily giggles in the house from children running, laughing and singing; and I listened more intently when my father spoke quietly about the joy of hearing all the grandchildren in one place.

I watched my nieces race my daughters down the miles of sandy beaches.  I watched older cousins throw the younger ones into the air, and the little ones fall into fits of giggles.   I watched as my daughters clung fearlessly and devotedly to my nieces.  In my nieces, I saw my daughters.  Loving, gentle and kind sisters.

I practiced yoga with my 2 year old daughter and my sister-in-law-turned-yoga instructor.  My 2 year old climbed under my downward dogs and stretched her fingers to the sun.  We glanced at each other upside down, and we sat like frogs.

I struggled to find the words as my 5 year old daughter asked me the most difficult of questions.  “Mama, if we all leave the beach house to go to the beach, who will be here to help grandpa walk around?” and “Mama, why is grandpa old?” Her rawness and simple truth was uncomfortable for me, as I stumbled to find uncomfortable answers.

We provided arms and legs for my father to lean on when he needed it.  My mother walked with him to see the beach.  My brother and sister-in-law walked with him around the block.  And I walked with him to lunch.   We walked and walked and walked.    We helped, we laughed and we rallied.  We are bruised and we are blessed.  We are family, and these are the patchworks of our memories.

finding gratitude in the gritty

This week, my wonderful, lovely, compliant and helpful 4-year old has been overtaken by a whiney, sassy, determined and ungrateful pre-teenager.   I don’t know where she came from.  She just walked down the stairs on Tuesday and decided to stay for a while.  Unfortunately for me, her visit also happens to coincide with one of my single-parenting weeks, and right in the midst of potty training C.

I’m trying positive parenting.  I’ve never taken a class, but I’ve seen the phrase and I think it sounds really inspirational.  After all, it’s got to be better than the alternative, right?  Let’s be positive!  So, I’ve taken it to mean that I try to stay positive while my daughter tells me “no” – constantly and unyieldingly.  I bite my tongue when she tells me that she hates what I prepare for dinner, and she swims away from her swim teacher at her private swim class.   I can go on, but I’m guessing you get my drift.   What parent hasn’t had power struggles with their kids?

And then my other daughter literally poops in her pants.

It’s been an awesome week.  And I can’t even have a glass of wine at the end – you know – being 25 weeks pregnant and all.

So in the grittiness of parenting young children, often solo, I’ve been trying to reflect on one of my new years resolutions.  Being intentionally grateful.  And Lordy, sometimes, it’s really hard.

grateful

A friend recently asked me to close my eyes and try and embrace gratitude.  Just sit with it.  Try and feel it.  Open your hearts and hands to it, and in the new year try and find one thing to be grateful for.

Well, if you ever have tried to intentionally sit with gratitude for a few minutes, it’s not so simple.  It’s like meditation.  Your mind wanders.  You think of all the things that are good in your life, and then probably (if you are like me) all the things you would like to change.  It’s very difficult to sit quietly and embrace this one idea of total thankfulness.  After all, we are human.  How many times a day are we totally and completely thankful?

Um, a few?  Once?  Not at all?  Overwhelmingly and embarrassingly, I think about what I’d like to change over what I’m really thankful for.  So today – I’m grateful for very healthy children, including a 25 week baby boy, the sun that shined today and no snow.  And I’m super grateful that in 30 minutes, my house will be totally quiet and I can read a book, or stand on my head, or whatever I darn well please. 

What are you grateful for today?