Wednesday, October 18, 2017

me, too.

When I was about 13 years old, I got my first bra. I didn’t really need it, but I was highly self-conscious, and also, I desperately wanted to be older and bigger than I was. The first day I wore it to school, no less than 4 boys pulled at the back strap of it, snapping it against my spine. It was hilarious to them. I went home that afternoon and I cried. When I finally started actually needing a bra, the boys I went to school with made it clear they’d noticed. Because they talked about my chest. In detail. To my face…as if that was the most natural, appropriate thing ever. I was maybe 15. The insides of my yearbooks from 7th to 12th grades are a great resource if you ever want to know the things that boys actually think about girls. At that age, they’re still too stupid to hide it, and it’s written all over the insides of those books. I won’t even let my girls look at the inscriptions when they open my yearbooks because some of them are just horrible. I truly didn’t know back then that it wasn’t really ok to speak to girls this way. I just assumed this was normal stuff.
When I was a sophomore, I skipped a class at school and got caught hanging out in the swimming pool area of the school by a security guard. It was quiet and I foolishly thought I wouldn’t be found as I hid out there. After he found me, he followed me into the girl’s bathroom and berated me.  Let me say that again. He followed me into the bathroom. No one else was in there. He assumed I hadn’t been alone and of course because I’m a girl, he assumed I’d been performing sex acts on whomever I was with. Because that’s what 15 year old girls just DO, don’t you know? He kept saying, “Your knees are dirty!” I wasn’t quite 16 yet, and I had never even seen a real penis at this point in my life. And yet, this grown man was standing in front of me, yelling at me, suggesting I’d been on my knees with a boy.
At 17, I was head over heels for a boy who actually told me that I was pretty much only good for one thing. And still? I let him take my virginity. At 19, I was called a whore by my boyfriend. More than once. I had been with ONE person before I met him. And, while I couldn’t say the same thing of him (he’d had plenty of other girlfriends) that made me a whore. One day, his own father made a lewd comment about my body in front of both of us. They both laughed and stared at me. I sat in uncomfortable silence not knowing how to stand up for myself in front of them. I didn’t know it wasn’t really ok to say things like that to girls. Not because I was raised by people who didn’t show me respect, or tell me right from wrong, but because it was so normal for me to hear these kinds of things, I just assumed that it was fine, or that somehow I must have deserved it.
I’ve been groped. I’ve been grabbed. I’ve been whistled at and cat called. I’ve been asked for my phone number on the street by strangers and then was yelled at and called a bitch when I refused and walked away. I’ve been called “baby”, “sexy”, “slut”. By complete strangers. When I worked in the bar business I heard this stuff constantly. Once, I was pulled over around 2am by two male police officers on my way home from work. They made me get out of the car to speak to them, which seemed odd to me. I knew they were actually looking for the boy I was dating at the time (another story for another time) and there was no need for them to ask me to exit my car.  That was, until one began making comments about my body and about my outfit. I was 22, and I was alone, and I was completely terrified. But I also knew that they thought they had something to hold over me, so I stayed quiet. Eventually, they let me go without as much as a warning, but by this time, I was starting to figure out that this would not have happened if I was a man.
This week’s rash of “Me, too” posts on Facebook has me thinking about how much this behavior toward women has been normalized in our society.  It’s made me dredge up these memories and more. The thing is, when I wrote the “Me, too” post on my own Facebook page, I could only think, “This seems really stupid for me to even write, haven’t we ALL been sexually harassed or assaulted in some form?” You guys. This is who we are. This is our normal. This it the culture in which I’m raising two daughters. And it is FUCKED UP. I actually feel lucky that I don’t have a rape story to tell. I feel lucky that I don’t have other, more horrible things I am unwilling to share. There are times I’ve actually caught myself saying or thinking, “I’m pretty lucky. All those situations I put myself in, I should have been ______.” Because my brain has been conditioned over the years to think that somehow, when a woman is assaulted, she must have deserved it. Things might have gone differently if only I’d not put myself in that situation. Think about that for a moment, please. That statement makes me cry.
So, Harvey Weinstein has brought women out of the woodwork who are willing to say that this kind of stuff has happened to them. It happens DAILY. And, yes, there is strength in those numbers. This is good, to call attention to the horrible behavior of some. And yet, how many times have you caught yourself saying, “I know, not ALL men are like that.” And how often this week have you read Facebook posts from men telling about how they are teaching their boys to do better? You know what? That’s because you SHOULD be teaching them to do better. It shouldn’t take a scandal like Weinstein’s to make you qualify how to treat a woman kindly and with the same respect YOU want for your sons.
We begin even before birth to put gender roles and expectations onto our children. We buy toys for our boys that we would never buy our girls, and vice versa (thankfully, this is one area I feel we got right in my own house), but in general this is STILL an issue in 2017. We raise our little girls to think that when a boy makes fun of her, he must really like her. Think about that. When a girl is teased at school, there are STILL people excusing this behavior, saying that the offender must really like her. These are the things we teach our girls and then we wonder why they won’t stand up for themselves? We wonder why they hide when terrible things have happened to them at the hands of the same boys who “must really like them”? This stuff has to change. We have to do better.
I am exhausted by this. I’m exhausted reading the myriad of posts by the amazing women in my life recounting and detailing the sexual harassment or assault that happened to them. It makes me physically ill to tell you that I can’t think of one single friend of mine who hasn’t experienced some form of sexual trauma. Not one. What’s worse is that I don’t know how to fix this for my girls. I don’t know how to protect them from something that I know is going to happen to them. And it’s not IF it’s going to happen, but when. We must do better. We must keep talking to our girls. We must keep encouraging them to stand up and to report the first signs of this kind of behavior. When a boy in your 7th grade class calls you a bitch? Report it. When that same kid corners you and berates you for reporting it? Report it again. Clearly no one told that kid how to behave, but I’m teaching my girls that NO ONE gets to hurt you and get away with it. The time of “boys will be boys” is over. When you know better, you do better. And we must do better.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

state of the union

I’ve been stewing all day about how to put my feelings into words. I can tell you that it’s not going to be pretty, but tonight I needed to sit and try to get some of this out of my head. More often than not recently, it seems like I’m talking to my children about some new ridiculousness that has happened in our country around race and inequality. Part of me wonders how in the actual fuck we got to this place, and the other part of me knows that just because there was a time we elected a black president doesn’t really mean that we ever really got to a different place. That is ever so clear today as I TWICE had to talk with the girls about racism, bigotry, and how I expect that they will call out this kind of inequity and ridiculous behavior as they come across it. Notice I didn’t say “if” they come across it. That ship has clearly sailed on.
Just last night I heard a story from friends who were at a charity fundraising event in THIS very city, where the woman speaking and encouraging people to spend their money actually said that they would take any kind of payment for items that evening, “but not Puerto Rican money.”  Um, so FIRST OF ALL, Puerto Rico is a part of the United States. Their currency IS our currency.  Even my 12 year old knew that. Secondly? The woman who actually uttered those words was once a pretty big part of that daughter’s life. Guess what? This is the exact kind of nastiness that doesn’t fly in my house. We are honest, and we are open, and I will tell these stories to my girls because it’s hateful and needs to be called out. I had several friends find her comment so disgusting and offensive that they actually left the event.  The worst part? This woman calls herself a Christian. She and I have long had political differences, but I’ve always taken her at her word that our differences are what make this country great, and we can still discuss them and respect each other. Not anymore. Making this country great has a new meaning these days, and good Christian values apparently only apply to white folk. I’m so bothered by this that I can’t even write anymore about it other than to tell you that I feel if people are giving their money to a charity, they should know it’s run by someone who thinks it’s ok to joke about a country full of citizens who don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, and who are in dire need of our aid right now.  What would Jesus do? Oh, that’s right. HE was brown, too…
I’m tired of people saying and doing horrible things without being held accountable. Kids setting up red solo cups in the shape of a swastika? Disgusting.  A school’s administration choosing not to make examples out of those same girls involved in this heinous behavior? Gross. Adults making racist comments in public at a charity event? Shameful. People making terrible comments on social media from behind a computer screen? Shameful AND cowardly. I don’t consider myself a Christian. I was raised in the church and have plenty of reasons that I’m not a part of it now. But, the great thing is, I don’t have to be part of a church to be a kind and good human being. If you call yourself a Christian, at best you’d better behave like someone who has thought about what it means to love your neighbor. 
In my home, I’m teaching my children to call out racism and hatred. I’m teaching them that it’s NEVER ok to spread hate in any way, and that they should be the ones to stand up when they see discrimination happening toward or by their friends. We talk about privilege in this house, not because I think my children will fully understand what their privilege means until they get older and see more of the world, but because it’s the absolute right thing to do. Because I hope that one day these conversations we are having now will mean that they are the ones who stand up when others around them make jokes about the Holocaust. Or, they’ll be the ones to stop and say how fucked up it is when a grown adult makes racist remarks about people of color.
I am exhausted. Honestly some days I feel like a broken record and it makes me beyond sad to continue having these conversations, but still we have them. Last summer I took the girls to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. We walked through that powerful place and talked at length about what they were seeing. My girls sat at the Woolworth lunch counter. They stood next to the burned out bus that the Freedom Fighters rode in. They stood in the very place where Martin Luther King, Jr. lost his life. They asked why I was crying when we got to that place in the museum, and I couldn’t even speak to them other than to say that there is a reason we stand up to hatred. There is a reason we continue to be kind people even when others aren’t. We might not understand the power of it, or the importance of it at the time, but people died standing up for these things. Isn’t that enough?

Monday, May 22, 2017

Lucy at 12.

Dear Lucy,

I’ve run the gamut of emotions this week. From, “how could she be 12?!” to, “where did the time go?!” and all of those typical things that happen at birthdays. I think my emotional state has been complicated, too, by your friends leaving for France today. I know you’ve been emotional about that, too.  Just last night you said, in the same breath, “I’m so glad I’m not going to France, but all my friends are leaving me!” It’s tricky, really, and I want you to know that it’s weighing on me as well. We knew fairly early on that an overseas trip for you in 6th grade probably wouldn’t happen. Your struggles with worries and anxiety started early, and over the years your dad and I talked about whether or not you’d be able to make a trip like this. Recently, I heard you telling your cousins that your friends were leaving on this trip, and you said, “Oh, I have anxiety. There’s NO WAY I could take a trip to France.” 

I want to acknowledge how cool it is that you know yourself enough to say something like that. You know your limits, and you’re not afraid to tell people about that stuff. That makes you pretty amazing, I think. I also think that you need to give yourself credit for something else you said last night to me. You told me that if you were the same person at the beginning of 6th grade as you are now, you’d have fought harder to go on this trip. I agree. You have grown in so many ways this year, and I’m glad you can see that, too. No longer do you have bouts of panic attacks. No longer do big changes affect you in the same ways. You’ve learned over the years to name the stuff that makes you worried, or nervous, and that is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. That’s not to say you’re done with anxiety or worrying about stuff. Hardly. Hello, you have my DNA running through your body.  It’s just to say that this is the year you figured out how to use those tools you’ve worked so hard on to learn. I’m proud of you for that.

For me, today has been bittersweet. Looking at photos of the kids you’ve been in school with for the last seven years carrying luggage, and boarding airplanes has been hard for me. One of the things we knew when we were lucky enough to get a spot in your school was that this day would eventually be here. We knew early on, a 2 week trip to France might be the right choice for you, but I never thought it would be so hard for me. I think the hardest part is this: I have one chance to make certain choices for you in your life. I have one chance to do this mothering thing the “right” way. No one tells you how hard it will be to make these kinds of huge decisions, and there will be plenty of them. No one tells you that you need to be willing to sit with your crying child at 10pm the night before this big trip, and rock her while she says how sad it makes her that she’s not going.  No one tells you how hard it will be to hear other parent’s opinions of the choices you’ve puzzled over for years, and to not second guess all of those hard decisions you’ve weighed so heavily. 

“You’re NOT sending her?” 

“She’s going to have to grow up someday!”

“She’ll be FINE.”

Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m not ready to put you on a plane by yourself on a flight to Paris. I’m not ready to have you spend two weeks with a family I’ll likely never meet. Maybe I don’t think you’re quite ready to handle money, and schedules, and being away for that long. Maybe that makes me a shitty mom. Maybe that makes me overprotective and weird. But also? Maybe it means that your dad and I know who you were, and now you know who you ARE. Maybe it means that someday soon you’ll be ready for something like this. I don’t know. But, I do know this. At 12 you know yourself better than some people will know themselves in a lifetime. I am so proud to be your mama.  

Thursday, March 30, 2017


“I love my daughter. She and I have shared the same body. There is a part of her mind that is a part of mine. But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since.” – Amy Tan

Ten. Double digits. It hardly feels possible that today Zoe Margaret is ten years old. I always read back over what I’ve written the girls for their last few birthdays, and today was no different. Two years ago, Zoe was a mess of anxious nerves. It occurs to me now that some of that was tied up in the upheaval of our home life at the time. Last year, I was working on giving up some of my control and being ok with sharing parenting time with Steve. Zoe was learning to do the same. It’s been a weird few years, and I feel like we are just now getting to the point where things are back to normal. It’s a new normal, but things are evening out for all of us nonetheless.

Zoe remains feisty and strong willed. She isn’t afraid to stand up for what she thinks is right – or more often, what she thinks is wrong.  She doesn’t mince words, and sometimes for me, that means listening to Zoe, walking out of the room to gather my thoughts, and then returning to respond. I’m learning so much through Zoe about communication and about the power of being able to sit in silence with strong feelings. Those are some of our hardest times, and I am certain they will only get harder as she gets older. It’s very important for me to value Zoe’s emotions, and to give her space to get frustrated, or angry, or sometimes even overly excited and happy. This morning when I tried to wake her, I said, “Zoe! Get up so you can open a present before school!” and her reply was, “Mom! I am ADUSTING MY MIND!” Zoe feels things deeply, and I never want her to feel like that’s not ok. I know that suborn streak in her will eventually be what keeps her going on the hard days.

Zoe has always been a funny kid, but this is the year that she started watching old SNL episodes. Perhaps not my finest parenting moment, but she has started doing stand-up routines in the living room, and she really gets humor. She’s wickedly funny and isn’t afraid to crack a joke to lighten the mood. Zoe loves Moana and Beauty and the Beast as much as she loves Alice Cooper and Hamilton. She’s a complex kid, and I love that she never makes excuses – she loves what she loves and that is that. Zoe is creative, always looking for ways to repurpose and reuse materials to make art. If ever there is extra cardboard in the recycling? Zoe snags it for a project. Last week, she turned an old skull mask into a “Beast” mask – hot glued yarn for hair, and all. And it was awesome.

Two years ago, Zoe’s anxiety about vomit and sick people was out of control. Anytime someone was sick at school, I would get a call from the nurse that Zoe was also “sick”. If someone got sick when we were out in public? Forget it. The fun ended there. I only mention that because this year for her birthday, she wanted nothing more than Owl Pellets. OWL PELLETS ARE VOMIT. She talks about nothing more than dissecting these little pellets of puke. I should probably be more surprised by this, but I’m not. In fact, nothing surprises me about Zoe. She is as soft and snuggly as she is sharp and witty. She is curious. She is kind. She is a dog whisperer. She makes our home a better place to be, just by being there – even on the days when she drives us all crazy. I’ve said it a million times before, and I will say it a million times again. Being a mom has changed me in so many different ways. My children came in and made the dark places in my heart brighter. They continue every single day to teach me things, about myself and about the world around me. I mean, who even knew owls vomited up cool stuff you can dig through? Happy Birthday, Zoe, thank you for being my little fish.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


I’ve been thinking about how to put this week into words. Honestly, I don’t think I can do that with any grace, but I am going to try. On Sunday afternoon, my friend Scot Squires passed away. He was 49 years old, and he was living his life the way that people who “live to the fullest” tend to do. Everything Scot did, he took to the limit. Sometimes it was advocating for public education, and for teachers in this city to have access to books, supplies, or continuing education. Sometimes he was extreme in his opinions of things. Some of the most challenging conversations I’ve ever had were with Scot. He wouldn’t back down when he had strong opinions, and he challenged me to think in different ways about everything from curriculum, or education reform, charter schools, or plagiarism, and maybe even to why Maker’s Mark was the best bourbon out there (the jury may now forever be out on that one). Scot would tell you how he felt, and he didn’t care if you disagreed with him – you could always still end the night as pals, even if you called each other names while you fought about the state of education. He was just that kind of friend.
Scot loved Kansas City. He loved traveling, too. He ADORED his only child, Stella. Stella was the light in Scot’s eyes. Stella hung the moon for Scot, and he never let her, or anyone else, forget that she was the reason for everything he did. Everything. This is the part I can’t write about. My best friend lost her dad when she was 12 years old, just like sweet Stella, and I keep thinking about that time, and about all the ways that people have tried to keep her dad’s memory alive over the years. You can keep memory alive, but you can never replace a dad. My whole being hurts for Stella right now.
Scot was a runner. He wasn’t the guy you’d think would collapse and die from a heart attack on an early spring day. When my friend Ted called me Sunday night to give me the news, I couldn’t even wrap my head around what he was trying to tell me. I still can’t. How can someone so seemingly healthy and full of life just leave it so quickly? I’ve lost a lot of people in my life, but I’ve never lost a close friend. And here’s where I’m struggling.  There are people in my life who are rotting away, wasting precious space with a life unlived and unexamined, and taking for granted how precious life can be. Why should Stella get the rest of her life without her dad, who doted on her and who cared about her, and who would do ANYTHING for her, all the while other people who don’t give a shit about life still manage to be here taking up space? I think this is what hurts the most about Scot’s passing. So unnecessary. So unfair.
I have memories of my friend Scot that I will hold dear. The time we were at a writing project retreat and Scot jumped into the pool wearing a fluffy white bathrobe. The time Scot called me from the Birmingham Airport – I had already made it home to KC, but his flight was delayed – and he told me about the book he’d picked up and read in one sitting. It was Tanner Colby’s Some of my Best Friends are Black, and we continue to use that book  with teachers all over this city as a platform to talk about race and class in Kansas City. Scot was so excited about that. Scot and I explored the National Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham together, and stood in silence together, shoulder to shoulder, outside of the 16th Street Baptist Church. There was the time he encouraged me and my friend Katie (on that same Birmingham trip) to get on an empty trolley with him and take it for a spin. We didn’t, and in turn, no one got arrested…that time. Once, at a writing project gathering that happened to be on the anniversary of 9/11, Scot sat next to me and helped me through a poem I wouldn’t have been able to write without that encouragement. The time Scot and I took the girls to Brush Creek in KC to see the “Water Fire” boats, and he talked me through what the first year of divorced life might be like. Scot had been there, and was such a support for me during that time. Mostly, in all things, he made me laugh, which was usually exactly what I needed. 
In December, Scot and Stella were walking on the Plaza when they came across a crime scene outside of the public library. Someone had been shot there, and he quickly ushered Stella away. Later, though, he made a point of taking her back there, and they walked to the library – only days later. He said that he wanted Stel to know that, “1. there are WAY more good people in the world than bad and we are safe to walk wherever we want. And, 2. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING will keep us from a new batch of library books.” This is pure Scot. Funny, and real, and honest, and willing to keep going back to something even when it’s scary or threatening.  Thursday night, Scot texted me asking to meet out on Saturday to watch a friend’s band. I quickly texted back that I had the girls that night, and, I said…”next time!” Sigh. What I wouldn’t give now to have a next time.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

life warrior

Admitting to being a human can be refreshing.  It doesn’t happen very often. We are all so caught up in what other people might think, or what it means if we admit to some sort of infallibility. I just finished reading Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton, and I thought her writing about how her marriage almost failed, but then didn’t, was lovely, and honest and real. And then I read that Glennon and her husband just recently divorced after all of the work that they did to save their marriage. I was confused. I truly wanted to know how they could, after ALL of the work and the time and the therapy she and her husband endured, just call it quits. Turns out, Glennon is engaged to a lady now – so that might be the short story. But, I’ve been at the end of a marriage, and in my head, I thought. How? How do you make a commitment to save your marriage, chronicle that messy stuff in a memoir, and then leave anyway? 
I’m always skeptical of writing about relationships. If you read the archives of my own blog, you’ll find writing about my marriage. And you’ll find writing, too, about how it failed. I guess writing that “my marriage failed” isn’t really the way that it happened. People fail each other. That’s what happened in my house, anyway. I think when you put your stuff out there for all the world to read, it can mean two things. Either one, that you’re brave for sharing those deeply personal emotions. Or two, that when stuff heads south, as it so often does, people are likely going to judge you. Harshly. Because that’s what most people do: delight in other’s misfortunes.  We live in the United States of Schadenfreude, and life is good there, because it’s easier to laugh at, or gossip about someone else’s issues than it is to turn inward and think about why you feel such deep emotions about other people’s shit. 
Glennon’s writing made me think about my own marriage. The truth is, that over the years, I moved in one direction in my marriage, and Steve moved in another. I broke, years before our divorce, into little pieces. I broke as I had babies, became a mother, and grappled with questions like “who am I supposed to be to these little people?” and, “who am I outside of my marriage and my family?” and, “how can I be a different person for myself and for my girls than my own mother was for me?” I thought so much back then about these things that it nearly took me under. Parenting, and even marriage, didn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t have the kind of model of either that I wanted to emulate. I was constantly questioning who I was and where I was supposed to be. Would I always be defined by another person – as someone’s wife? I resented that, and I felt trapped by it. I tried everything I could to break away from that – earning different educational degrees and finding new friends who were my own - not his to begin with. I felt broken, and for years I struggled with how to put the pieces back together.
Over time, I realized that though I may have felt broken, I had really always known exactly who I was. Instead, what I really needed was to work through the stuff that made me, well…me. Perhaps in trying to define who I was within a marriage, I had become someone else, someone I didn’t really like, or even know.  Fixing yourself can be painful work. It can mean that when the pieces of your puzzle are put back together, you don’t look the same as you thought you did.  Glennon writes, “You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary…And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit into old, dead skin, or a butterfly trying to crawl back into the cocoon, or new wine trying to pour itself back into an old wineskin. This new you is equal parts undeniable and terrifying. Because you just do not fit. And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. Because pretending makes you sick. And because you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one. You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.”
These words hit me directly in my core. This is where I realized that it truly doesn’t matter that her marriage failed even after that hard work. I set the book down after finishing it, and realized that all of the things that outsiders have speculated about the end of my own marriage, all of the things I’ve had people say to me, or not say to me, and all of the things people may have assumed about me…don't matter.  What matters now is how to move ahead and to show my girls not how to pretend to have a perfect life, but how to be ok with living within a beautifully imperfect life.
Glennon’s story is not my own: I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not a bulimic, and I didn’t leave my husband for a lesbian. I don’t have the same relationship with the church that Glennon has, and her writing about God wasn’t what I connected with. But in a lot of ways, Glennon’s story is everyone’s story. Finding who we really are is hard, it takes a lot of time, and in the end, it can put us in a very different place than we once imagined for ourselves.  It can change everything. It means admitting to being fallible. It means admitting to fucking up. It means admitting that you might actually not know anything about anything. And it means that it’s ok to have a say in where your life goes. Imagine that.