Friday, November 11, 2016

The First Day after Doom

I want to tell you about that black day...I don't know who will care to read it. Really I'm only writing this so I can remind myself what darkness feels like and how it should be met.

Election day November 8th 2016...after 9:30pm it was clear to me that my biggest fear was spirally toward reality. We packed up our kids from the party that was meant to be victorious and we went home. After buckling the kids, before I climbed into the drivers seat, I turned to my husband and said "I can't breathe...I can't" and he said "You have to...just get home...BREATHE. Breathe."

When we got home I made a point to not turn on the tv and I tried to quickly get the kids ready for bed when a wave of illness pummeled me and I handed them off to my husband so I could lie down. He said he'd read them stories but when all I could hear coming from the room was Margot singing songs, I knew John was transfixed on his phone, and my stomach knew exactly why...and I got up and made a B-line for the toilet and out of my mouth fell the pits of despair, not once, not twice but four times. If you know anything about me...you know that one of my biggest fears in vomit.  I have magical abilities to suppress vomit. But those abilities failed me this night. That is how upset I was. And I sobbed. Gunnar was so concerned he came running to me and brought me water and a towel and a much needed hug...and I sobbed some more.

My husbands silence was deafening. He didn't want to tell me what he knew.
Donald Trump would be our next president.

I went to bed around midnight and tossed and turned with my mind racing for nearly four hours. When my daughter woke at 5am I was comforted in knowing I could cuddle with her and with her in my arms we both would feel safe for a while, and what turned into a long while as she slept in my arms until her Brother woke at 8:30am.

Gunnar's first question when he came into my bedroom was "Who's the president?" And I didn't expect to but I burst into tears..."its Trump...I'm sorry baby." And Gunnar grieved briefly with some tears in his eyes and asked if he could go to the White House so he could tell Trump to stop being mean to everybody. He said "lots of people are sad, huh mommy?" And I explained that beyond sad, many were frightened. And then a light clicked on and he said "then we must give them courage." He was applying the knowledge he acquired over the weekend when we took him to the Symphony and the conductor talked about what makes someone a super hero, they must have courage.

I told him I loved that idea and I had a thought about sharing gratitude with people and Gunnar took it a step further by suggesting we color cards to hand out to people. So we made cards that said "courage, love, gratitude...pass it on." We (Margot, Gunnar and I) filled in the hearts and made art.


When we finished I checked my phone and noticed a FB message from a friend asking for my telephone number.  The introvert in me, the one who hates talking on the phone paused for a moment, but only a moment. That's when I spied my Stronger Together button and I realized my comfort holds no place in this new world fueled by capitalizing on others fears. I gave her my number and encouraged her to call me. As I backed out of the message app I fell onto facebook where a friend had posted Hillary's Live concession speech. I hadn't turned on the news or watched any of the speeches...my heart couldn't take it. But in that moment I stayed transfixed on her...how can she stand there with such grace? I wept audibly at “And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.” 
At this open sadness both kids crawled into my lap to comfort me. My cat Sven even joined in and licked my forehead. Their compassion humbled me...and at that moment I received a call from my friend who lives in the US with her husband and a daughter the same age as Margot. She is not a citizen, and she is rightfully terrified. I don't know if I said anything other than "I know...I'm Sorry" throughout our five minute conversation where she described her heartbreaking morning. She wept as she told me about conversations she had with a man of color who couldn't understand her fears as an immigrant. I wept too. I had no words of comfort...the only thing I mustered up was "I'm so glad you reached out to me...I promise to keep fighting for you and your family." My fears, my frustrations are nothing compared to those who fear for their homes and their livelihoods. After hanging up I took another moment to weep and then I shook it off.  "Now, now, now we have to get to work!"

"YES!" Gunnar shouted "Lets get to work! We have to spread Love!!!" His enthusiasm was almost irritating... but I didn't address it... I just wasn't there yet. He was resolved. I was still dragging myself out the door when I noticed my Women Together pin lying on the table. I decided that would be part of my armor today and I pinned it on and headed outside.

The air was different. Silent. As I loaded the kids into the car a middle aged woman walked slowly down the sidewalk behind me...I wanted to engage with her but I didn't have the courage yet. I could see just by her demeanor that she was feeling the same as me.

"Where should we go first Gunnar?"

"To the Library to Thank Ms. Jessie"

Ok that felt like a good place to start.

Only 5 blocks from my home I witnessed my first post-election traumatic sight. A run down mini-van bedecked in TRUMP WINS!! Spray painted all over the car and the passenger was dragging a large American flag out the window and shouting "We're building a WALL!!!" He was driving eratically and I did my best to steer clear.

It was then that I realized I had once again forgotten to eat and hadn't fed the kids...so we went through the Starbucks drive thru and Gunnar gave his first courage card to the barista in the window. "Thank you for making us lunch" he said.  I could tell she had guarded emotions but as she read the card she cupped her hand around her mouth and I could see her choke back tears. Her head scarf told me all I needed to know about how she felt about the results of the election and where those emotions were coming from. I said nothing...Again, I had no words but I looked in her eyes and held my look until I knew she understood what I meant..."I see you. I'm sad too. I'll fight for you."

As we turned onto a residential street I spotted a postal worker. I pulled over and asked Gunnar if he wanted to give her a card. "YES!" We crossed the street and accidentally startled her when we approached. Her eyes were dull, tired, fearful.

"Thank you for working so hard every day!" Gunnar said with a sweet sincerity I'd never heard before.

She picked up the card and held it to her chest and her eyes showed a sparkle as she said "Thank you. THANK YOU!" As she smiled I noticed her teeth were bleeding...I wondered what that was about...could she have experienced violent post-Trump election racism already today? I wish I would have asked how she was...but I wasn't ready. I'm not used to making overt conversation with strangers like this. I hope our card was enough until I am....and I promise I will be. I have to be.

When we arrived at the library I noticed how quiet it was. Ms. Jessie clearly wasn't working that day. But the kids asked to play and I allowed them to for a few moments. When Gunnar spied a security guard he ran to give him one of the cards...but this time he was too shy to say anything. The security guard didn't seem to care...he just said "ok" and shoved the card in his pocket. I secretly judged him in that moment...I decided he was either an apathetic American or a Trump voter.  I hate that my mind does this from time to time...it snaps, judges and separates. This is something I MUST overcome. I strive to learn how to always see humanity with open thoughts and compassion. Sometimes I find ways to do this, but I haven't been consistent.

As my children played a librarian came by and commented on Gunnar's hat. As he walked away I encouraged Gunnar to follow him with a courage card. I could hear him say from a distance "thank you for making me smile" and the worker was taken back by the gesture and looked over to me and said "Wow! So cool! I'm going to put this up in my office little man! Thank you! So cool!" And somehow that gesture was enough to strike up a conversation about our love for that library. He said it was odd how quiet it was today and I said "I think it has something to do with the results of last night"

"Oh yeah. That was heartbreaking. I really wanted her to win. I guess people are pretty sad today. But the good news is he can't touch this library...he can't touch the kids."

Something about that didn't ring true to me. But I smiled and said "I hope you're right." It was then that I decided I needed a real hug. I contacted a dear friend to see if she was home and if we could swing by for a hug. Thankfully she was up for it.

We both burst into tears as soon as I walked in the door.  Unlike me, she is fighting with the knowledge that close family members voted for Trump. Rightfully so, she felt betrayed and struggled with the thoughts of wanting them to be punished for their actions.  I cannot imagine having to look a loved one in the face knowing that they support a misogynist, racist, bigot.  Thankfully, my immediate family are all strong Hillary supporters. We mourned together, and shared our fears while our children played. At one moment her daughter rushed downstairs and said "Mommy, Gunnar says there are going to be guns in schools" and my heart sank as I realized he had overheard what I shouted at my husband in a panic a few days before the election. We reassured them both that its possible that could happen in other states, but not here, not in Illinois, they are safe. After a while we all hugged and said goodbye.

A friend contacted me and asked if we'd like a little optimism and that he had tickets to the opening night performance of "Annie" for Broadway in Chicago. I had meant to get tickets to the show and I thought...this could be just what we need tonight.

We headed home so that Margot could get a good nap before the show.  I sat with Gunnar in his room, we both were unusually quiet when he asked me "How could Trump have won?" And it was at that time that I had heard that Hillary had won the popular vote so I tried to explain the electoral college to a six year old. I also explained that people are hurting and they are looking for someone to save them, they want someone to blame for how hard their life has been and Trump promised to give them what they wanted.  Gunnar took notes (no joke). Then he reported back to me what I had said...and it was pretty close. "Good, now I can tell my friends why it happened." My little reporter.

We sat in silence for a little longer.

"What are you thinking about bud?" no response.  "Are you sad?" He nodded and we cuddled. "You know what I like to do sometimes when I'm sad? I like to make a list of all the things I am grateful for...do you want to try that?" And he instantly perked up...the kid loves making lists.

Here's what he wrote:

Books
Mommy
Toys
School
Mrs. Wehrman (his teacher)
Friends
Family
Sven
Friends who live far away that we can visit

During that time I sent texts to some far away friends...checking in. It was a comfort to know they were feeling the same way even if state lines separate us. Gunnar and I read a chapter in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets while we waited for John to come home.  The "Me Me ME" about Gilderoy Lockhart really reminds me of our President Elect.

When John got home Margot still hadn't woken from her nap, she had slept for nearly three hours. When we tried to get her dressed to go, she threw one of the biggest tantrums I have seen to date. I believe part of that was from over-sleeping mixed with exhaustion and the other part was feeding off of our collective emotions of the day. It was her time to cry.

As we drove into the loop in downtown Chicago it was chaos. For some reason I forgot to consider the protest at the Trump Tower in my calculation of how long it would take to get to the theatre. My husband remained surprisingly calm at the wheel considering we were most certainly going to be late for the show. The protestors we saw were peaceful, helpful and hoping to receive validation. We responded with raised fists in solidarity and honked horns.

We arrived at the Theatre just moments before Annie sings "Tomorrow" for the first time, which we watched from a monitor in the lobby. I'd be lying if I told you I didn't immediately choke up.
"When I'm stuck with a day that's gray and lonely. I just lift up my chin and grin and Say: The Sun will come out Tomorrow bet your bottom dollar that tomorrow they'll be sun." The optimism was what we all needed to hear but we also knew in our hearts that the metaphoric tomorrow we must look to is at least two if not four years away.  And then that song followed by "We'd like to thank you Herbert Hoover" (the song in which the homeless of NYC satirically thank the former president for the promises he didn't keep and for causing the great depression) this hit way too close to home. The clashing energy in the room was palpable. 

The best reaction of the night came at the end of the show when the orphans run into the mansion and Annie introduces them to her new family and the children over enthusiastically greet them with "HELLO SO NICE TO MEET YOU!!!" and when she introduces them to the President their reaction is "Eh"....that was the moment that earned the most audible response from the audience, thunderous applause.  And even though that "Eh" would have been more appropriate for Herbert Hoover than FDR...for these orphans born at the peak of the depression, they understood that presidents have obligations to the people and the only president they had known up until now had failed them on every level. THAT felt like something everyone in the audience could attach to...whether they are Obama critics or devastated about the President Elect. 

The one song that is meant to bring joy at the end of the night failed me..."A New Deal for Christmas" was a good deal for the disenfranchised Americans of the depression era...but in my freshly wounded post election traumatized brain, I was hearing joyous singing about the Bigot who will replace the first African American and arguably one of the greatest Presidents of all time, and we get to have him just in time for Christmas "leapin' lizards!" P-U-K-E.

One phrase that was uplifting to hear and was repeated by FDR several times during the performance was "We have nothing to Fear but Fear itself." And every time this line was spoken on stage I heard a deep and soulful sister behind me echo the words as if she was in church on Sunday...and it felt right. Every time she repeated the phrase I wanted to shout "AMEN!" but I didn't, I lacked the courage. The highlight of my evening beyond the smiles of my thrilled children who loved the show, was meeting that woman's eyes on our way out of the theatre. I looked at her and she looked back at me cautiously, I held that strong compassionate focused gaze, the same one I had exercised earlier in the day, to let her know I was an ally.  It was then that she looked down and saw my "Women Together" pin. Her eyes came back up and met mine again and with a tear in her eye she gave me a smile to let me know that she understood what I was trying to communicate. I wanted to embrace her, but I didn't. I pray that God gives me the courage to follow through when I have that impulse again.

As we got back to the valet who brought us our car I was tickled that Gunnar thought to give him one of his Courage Cards before he ran off.  The valet was surprised, he laughed and kissed the card and said "I'm keeping this for good luck. Thank you kid. I needed this."

We spent the day spreading courage...but at the end of the day I realized that I need help finding the courage as much as anyone. I only hope I can embrace this challenge with the same attention and focus and passion as my soon-to-be-six-year-old son did today.












Friday, July 8, 2016

The Relevant things I learned today while reading to my children...

Just before I went to bed last night I learned about the unjustified execution of Philando Castille who was shot five times and killed by a police officer just 45 minutes North of my parents home where we are currently visiting. This horrid event is the second unjustified murder of a black man by a police officer in 24 hours time and the 559th murder of a black man at the hands of a police officer in 2016.  At 3am while nursing my daughter back to sleep I learned that Castille's four year old daughter had witnessed the whole event from the back seat and then watched her mother be placed in handcuffs...as I read the transcript (because my heart couldn't bare to watch the video) my soul was set afire. I couldn't sleep. How could I sleep? My heart is breaking and my mind was spinning.
Angry. 
Incensed. 
Knowing that if it were me and my husband and my child in that car, that this would NEVER have happened because of the paleness of our skin. 
What do I do? 
How do we act? 
How can we respond? 
When do we collectively stand up and say enough is enough?
I sat up racking my brain...
what is the root of ALL of this violence? 
If we find the root can we fix the problem?
How can we teach each other to listen, to hear, to love one another...How? 

Yesterday my family and I took a trip to Fort Snelling, an 1800 army bunker which never saw a battle but still stands today as a living history museum. Within thirty minutes of arriving we were invited to watch an artillery demonstration as costumed soldiers demonstrated loading and firing their muskets. As I watched these men load and fire, march and retreat, I cringed knowing my son was sitting next to me. I wondered what could be going through his head? Why has my mommy brought me here to watch people load and fire guns, the thing she loathes more than anything else in the world? 
I said nothing...not sure what to say, or how to justify why this demonstration was important for us to witness.  After the firing demonstration ended the soldiers invited the many children to come learn how to march...seeing all the kids fall in line I asked Gunnar if he wanted to join. He agreed as long as I came with...but two steps in something in his head said No...and he fell out of line and said "mommy I don't want to do this. This is violence, we don't like violence right mommy?" 
"Right Gunnar, that's right."
And he walked away. 
My heart swelled. 
Yes! I silently cheered. 
And then we visited the commanding officers kitchen where a woman was teaching us how women prepared meals out of a hearth kitchen. We were fascinated as we watched her lay hot coals on top of a pot of rice and cheered when she stoked the fire back to a roar. I admired the way this woman chose to speak to us. Never undermining the intense labor these women had to endure but acknowledging that the soldier and officers wives could take a break every now and then to enjoy time with their children or to go for a walk, but the two female slaves that Snelling illegally kept never could. "We must tell their story, its important we tell their story" she reiterated. 

I'm so glad she said that. Gunnar instantly made a reference to Hamilton... "it's like 'who lives who dies who tells you story' like Eliza tells Hamilton's story, right mommy? We should tell the story of the slaves who weren't free just like Eliza tells Hamilton's story, right mommy?" 
"Right Gunnar, that's right."
My heart swelled again...
YES! I silently cheered again...

And as I recalled this trip in the wee hours of the night last night I thought about how stupid the soldiers looked as they practiced their methods of intimidation...and how empowering the words of the woman in the kitchen had been. I thought about it a lot...and I realized there is a root to the world's violence and it is a disease that has plagued our planet since the birth of human kind. Overt masculinity and the fear of losing power. That's it...
That is the root of all of the mass shootings, of the police brutality, of this countries sick obsession with the second amendment, with every war that has been fought, with every gun that has been fired. And when I say overt masculinity I don't mean to exclude women...many women have been taught the ways of masculinity through war fare and through domestic and cyclical abuse. 
We cannot fix our broken world as long as we continue to teach our sons and daughters that violence and methods of intimidation are the only way to create real change. 

Last night before I learned of the events in St.Paul, my mother and I watched "Suffragette." And at a key point in the movie an investigator asks the lead character why she has resorted to violence and she exclaims "We break windows, we burn things. Cause war's the only thing men listen to! Cause you've beaten us and betrayed us and there's nothing left! What are you gonna do? Lock us all up? We're in every home, we're half the human race, you can't stop us all."

The world we live in tells us that WAR and VIOLENCE are the only ways to be heard. If we continue to teach our sons to "man up" this world will only continue to see war. If we continue to teach our children to fear those who are different from us, we will only continue to see war. 

Today Margot brought me a book to read that Nana had purchased on her trip to Gettysburg called "Under the Quilt of Night" a story about the underground railroad and how slaves learned to travel by the protective dark quilt of the night sky.  Streams fell down my face as I read the words on the last page, when the young girl finally reaches the North:
 "Freedom! 
I take a deep breath
and when I let go
my voice flies up in a song.
My own song
of running in sunshine
and dancing through fields.
I'll jump every fence in my way."

My heart sank as I thought about the misconception of that freedom she rejoices in. That "Freedom" our black brothers and sisters have been promised since the Civil War, and again during the Civil Rights Movement, but still STILL have not fully seen. Because every night they have to tuck their children in at night in fear that the next day a police officer or civilian or whomever might mistake them for something they are not, simply because of the color of their skin. We cannot end the discussion with the end of slavery...we cannot end the conversation with the end of segregation...there is still so much work to be done to ensure that true Freedom. 

As we aptly read in a chapter in Roald Dahl's The BFG tonight "But human beans is squishing each other all the time,' the BFG said. 'Human beans is the only animals that is killing their own kind...They is shootling guns and going up in aerioplanes to drop their bombs on each other's heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans."
We have to change the rhetoric, we have to rewrite this story...

Neither of these books are new...these stories have been told before and they will continue to be told until we put our heads together and find a way to make it stop. I cannot wait for laws, though I will work and hope that they will change, if we wait for laws we could be waiting forever.  I have seen racism, prejudice and misconceptions melt away before my eyes...I know it is possible.  It happens when we make connections, when we hear each others stories, when we meet face to face. I believe we can win this war against hate but it will take more than our outrage on social media, it will take more than the words in this blog. It will take blood, sweat and tears. We cannot be idyl. We must take action now...

I have some ideas and I plan to take action. More on that soon...will you be ready to join me?




Friday, January 1, 2016

Minimize Toys and Inspire Creative play

Over the last few months I've had the pleasure of having a friend and professional organizer, who specializes in educational play, come into my home and help me organize and manage our ever growing mess of toys and craft supplies.  

Kate McCandless is the owner of Family Space by Kate, a small business devoted to creating some foundations in the family home that set everyone up for success. Kate helps you simplify, so you can easily re-set when things get off center.

It started with a an initial visit where Kate came over to assess our living situation, storage situations and the things that are working and aren't working in our current family space. Kate asked a lot of questions that got my mind thinking a lot about how our space could be used more efficiently. She was a great listener and took plenty of notes. She was incredibly thorough and open minded in her suggestions which were never forceful or pushy but rather gentle and gave me the sense that with her help I could easily have a manageable space, despite my two incredibly destructively playful children. By the end of her first visit, Kate showed me a small mock up of what our play space could look like with her help and a little bit of homework on my part.

Kate's idea for our space involved an overhaul of the clutter in our playrooms and craft area and creating a separate toy storage area where the toys could rotate in and out. So, after her initial visit I set to work making room from a storage center and started considering what we could live without.

Possibly the biggest change we made was making the decision to get rid of Gunnar's large cumbersome train table in his room. In our consultation with Kate I realized how little the table actually gets used and was surprised when I mentioned getting rid of it Gunnar (age 5) hardly batted an eye...especially when I brought up the idea that we could replace it with something fun like bean bag chairs! Instantly his eyes widened and was followed immediately by a "YES! YES! YES! CAN WE GET THEM TODAY?"  So we picked out a few trains and tracks to save and we sold the train table along with most of the the other trains within the next few days. The bean bag chairs were a big hit, even with our 16 month old...and suddenly his room became a more inviting sanctuary for reading and big boy playing. 


On Kate's next visit (which happened deliberately while Gunnar was at school) we got down to business moving large play objects into deliberate spaces and putting toys into categories. In doing so we learned how many toys we owned that served the same purpose...and that's when the purging really started. It felt amazing to purge so much while Kate worked corner by corner creating a system that would help both Gunnar and I know how to restore our space to zen after a day of hard play.  One of my favorite rules that Kate helped us put into place was simplifying our cubbies so that only one item might belong in each cubby. She also gave us a great tip to put down placemats on flat surfaces which becomes a reminder of where a toy might live. Before the day was done I took more than 3 large bags of toys out to the car to be donated. The entire space had transformed to an inspiring play space. I was a little nervous about what Gunnar would think when I brought him home from school so I prepared him for the change on the drive home. He was apprehensive about the changes when we spoke about them, but as soon as he saw the space in person he was beyond happy.  "Thank you mommy! Thank you for my new play room! I love it!"...were his exact words. 


Placemats serve as a visual for where the toy belongs
Putting like toys together creates harmony
Very few toys live out in our play space today. The rest live in toy storage (which for now, is in Margot's excess closet space) where I will go to rotate toys, whenever I feel like it. Toy rotation is an incredible tool. Toy rotation makes toys feel new whenever they emerge from the closet. The first time I rotated toys I literally heard squeals in the morning from both children when they found the new toys I had put out overnight. 


Toy Storage. 
Kate came by a few weeks later to help us tackle our craft area, which she tackled on her own while the kids and I went shopping. I was absolutely thrilled with the results when I came home and found a detailed list of notes on how to maintain the space. My favorite concepts for the craft area are similar to the system Kate put in place for our toy area; by using garage sale dots Kate placed a dot under each craft container which helps Gunnar and Margot know where to put each item back. She also helped us move excess crafts to storage so that only the basics are available for everyday use and the rest live in toy storage (by only having 36 crayons out at a time, I've learned that we may never need to buy crayons ever again considering there is a gallon size bag filled waiting to be replacements in storage). I also love that she created a shelf in our craft station for each child with appropriate crafting tools for each. This little nook used to be an eyesore and my least favorite part of our house...and now it's our most tidy part of our house, and therefore my new favorite!
Craft Station.
Note the very bottom shelf is Margot's and the shelf above it belongs to Gunnar.
Each child has a magazine holder for their coloring books. 

I deliberately waited to write this blog until we had lived with the system for a few months and I can say with full confidence that the system Kate has helped us put in place has been a lifesaver.  Our play space, which used to be mass chaos and a nightmare to clean-up, now takes us mere minutes to pick up at the end of every day. And better yet, my children know how to clean up because everything has its place. Beyond the sanctuary that Kate helped us create, we have found that in minimizing the amount of toys available to our children, their play has become more deliberate, more creative and imaginative.  Instead of being overwhelmed by the toys, they now see how the toys can interact with one another.  I can't recommend her services more highly. I'm forever grateful for her calming, helpful and humorous advice. Now if I could convince her to help us figure out a system for our ever disaster of a car situation. ;)

 If you'd like to have Kate organize your space you can find contact her through her facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Family-Space-by-Kate-471500706306380/