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Futures

I’ll start by saying I’ve never had great faith in our government to a) implement massive change on a local level and b) its capability to do so. I do believe in doing small things with great love. 1) look the crossing guard in the eye when you say thank you 2) help the teenager with his mother’s list in aisle 4 find the olives 3) smile at the mom with the child having the loud tantrum in public. We’ve all been there, sister.

This isn’t about me. This isn’t about what I do, or what I believe, how I raise my children, or how I plan to implement change in my own small ways.

This is about each other.

We can no longer ignore the gap, can we? We can no longer deny the fact that we call ourselves good citizens, that we brake for bunnies and pay our taxes, but that a large portion of our country still feels unsafe, forgotten, misunderstood.

We cannot help the marginalized if we do not see the margins in which they live.
We are only infringing if we know nothing of the fringe.

It is thinking about the way we live, and asking ourselves why.

And so, of course we can all do this. In any season, at any moment.

But if you feel buried, here’s a shovel:

  1. Do not victimize yourself.
    1. You are not buried until you’re buried alive. We are all busy: someone or something always needs our time. Do not tell yourself you are only one person and your actions will have no impact. Initially I struggled with this issue considerably. Do not see your own Life struggles and think they are equal. Yes you have worked hard to get somewhere. Someone else has had to work harder. Do not make assumptions. You have two options: a) Chase tomorrow or b) Accept today. I recommend the former.
  2. Notice it.
    1. The trick, then, is to notice the chasm. Do your research. Visit your local library. Visit your local history museum. Ask employees at both to recommend authors on current events, and events leading up to them. Learn how we got here, and why we’ve always been. Find a trustworthy news outlet, preferably one that is as impartial as possible. Beg your representative to hold a town hall and then attend it. Listen to every single person, regardless of whether or not you share their opinions. Once you’ve noticed the chasm, you’re well on your way to the good work.
  3. Consider your compass.
    1. Take whatever opinion you hold and pick it apart from every angle. Have near-irrefutable evidence for your views. Admit the inevitable weaknesses in them. Teach your children to do the same. Resist the urge to exaggerate your current state of being. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Check your views against your dearest friend and the person with the exact opposite beliefs. There is nothing broken within you that isn’t broken in everyone else.
  4. Put on your boots.
    1. Call your representatives. On both sides of the aisle. Put their office phone numbers into your cell and call them every day, as if they were your best friends. Make it as much of a habit as brushing your teeth. Sign petitions or start one. It is worth reconveying: do your research. Attend town halls. Call your representatives and ask them to hold one. Do not do any of this over social media. Pick up the phone, over and over.
  5. Forget ‘but”.
    1. You will be tempted to resist making a change because of the “but.” But what will my family think? But what if it’s too hard? Take one step; start small. Ask yourself what one issue are you driven to most, currently? Get specific. What stumbling blocks are ahead? Move them, or move around them. When we see a roadblock, the temptation is to throw stuff at it- distract, distract, distract. Focus. Do you see it? Your path is here. It is wise to survey the “but,” to consider it a lesson in preparedness, to let it inform your plans. And then it is wise to proceed anyway.
  6. Allow failure.
    1. We didn’t get to a gnashing herd collective with tiki torches overnight. Acknowledge the walls we’ve mistakenly built. The giant holes in our arguments. We needed to assume the wrong things, to learn the hard lessons the hard way. The failing nearly always comes before the learning, and sometimes, yes, even after the learning. It is an impossible step to skip. Allow it. Learn from it, and re-learn from it again and again.
  7. Walk ahead.
    1. Do not wait for someone else in your circle to make the first move. Do not wait for the next news story. Mostly: do not wait. You have far more power over this than you think.
  8. Look up.
    1. Literally and figuratively. Talk to your divine being if you have one. No matter your religion, or lack of one if you prefer, read the Bible, the Koran, the Gita, and the Pitakas. But it is also nearly impossible to navigate your path when you’re looking down, staring at the phone, scrolling through journeys on vastly different terrain, airbrushed and filtered at times. Don’t forget to peer at the path behind you. Don’t forget to see how far we’ve come, see where we’ve tripped, see where we’ve detoured, see where we’ve reoriented, and where we still need to. It will be worth it for us all in the end.
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A Reminder

5 A.M. the alarm rings.

When you have yourself a baby with boundless energy and a little boy with endless questions, 5 A.M. is your magic hour of work. Whether to exercise or to write. With two Littles tucked in their beds (or ours, most likely), I pad quietly to the basement for a workout or the living room for coffee and words.

It is, unapologetically, my favorite time of morning.

But this morning…

The baby is wide awake. (Wiiiide)

I pour some juice, change a diaper. Offer a pacifier. I rock and rock and rock. And just when I think she’s drifted off to sleep, those baby blues she gets from her father slowly glance up at me. Happy kicks. Vague chatter.

Awake.

I try not to think of emails I need to send, words I need to write, idle weights downstairs. We roll a ball, back and forth, back and forth. We play with cars, read a book. Count her toes. I look for any sign of eye rubbing, fussiness.

Nothing.

I take her downstairs and try to work out. But toddlers have a unique way of staying underfoot, within range of my weight swings, just behind me blocking footwork. There are play doh tubs to open and crayons rolling to the floor. She is a fit of giggles.

I am not.

It is 6 A.M.

Back upstairs I pour some coffee, feed her a homemade protein bar, calculate the time until LD awakens. I try not to think of the paragraphs that are evaporating from my brain in the rising sun, like so much dew on the lawn. The birds have begun their morning chorus so I scoop her up, an audience of two. It sounds like magic.

But I am forming emails inside my head, thinking of my list of to-do’s. I rock and sway and ponder how to start my work day, or what’s left of it.

And that’s when a quiet voice inside reminds me of what I have forgotten:

This is your work.

The comforting of a baby, the forgoing of my needs.

This is your work.

The remembering of sunscreen, the cutting of the strawberries, the detangling of hair.

This is your work.

The retrieving of the ball from the road, the kissing of scrapes, the provider of snacks.

This is your work.

The buyer of sneakers, the folder of the laundry.

This is your work.

The raising of souls.

So I begin to repeat it, mantra-like. If I answer zero emails. If I write nothing. If I only sit on the floor to play. If I claim zero productivity I will have accomplished much.

I will have done my work.

The idea settles into my mind as I feel a familiar weight on my chest. The sun’s rays lengthen across the lawn. M’s eyes are closed.

Sleep.

She has finally surrendered.

And so have I.

 

 

 

 

 

Love and Lawns

IMG_3070.jpgI’ve never believed in soul mates, not really. I believe in compatibility and commitment, in choice and work. I believe in the partnership of marriage — two people walking hand in hand not in an attempt to complete each other, but in an attempt to complete a purpose.

I believe these things are easy to forget. And I do, more than I care to admit.

Mike and I are far from romantic. We’re practical, choosing to acknowledge each other in the small daily rhythms of life. Me, the dishes, laundry, errands. Me, the maker of plans. He, the maker of phone calls (hallelujah). He, the fixer of anything/everything broken.

And then there’s yard duty.

With every lawn bag he fills, drags to the edge of the driveway, I hear I love you.

IMG_3043.JPGMy prince charming has never ridden in on a white horse wearing a knight’s armor, red rose clenched in his teeth. He arrives donning boxers of the plaid variety, with sometimes socks, and if so, holes. He pads into the kitchen on a Saturday, mid-morning, a toddler or two scampering close behind, each of their manes disheveled from dreams.

He might find me chopping fruit for breakfast, or feeding M bananas and juice. He might find me on the couch during a reading lesson with LD, or attempting to finish my own book in  a few stolen minutes.

He might find me in the basement hosting an impromptu dance party, or in the living room yelling about the mess.

But he will find me. Always.

When I visited Ethiopia a few years back, my new friend spoke of her arranged marriage. It took me twenty years to fall in love with him, she said. I was deeply unhappy for most of those years.

I asked what had changed, what had made her fall in love with him after all that time?

Her answer was simple: I just changed my mind about him, that’s all.

It is hard work to change your mind about someone. It is easy to survey your spouse at their worst and grow resentful. It is easy to watch grand sweeping romantic gestures in the movies, on your Instagram feed, on your neighbor’s front porch and wonder what it’s like to have a love so vibrant, so romantic, so celebratory.

It is easy to stop noticing the one who mows the yard, and it’s easy to start wishing he’d just bring home flowers every now and then.

When Mike had his back surgery last year, there was no one to mow the yard. He had a long way to go towards recovery, and I was only just over a year into recovering from my own medical issues.

I remember attempting to straighten the yard once. The sweat grew over my brow as I attempted to reign in the weeds, reign in the kids. The lawn bags blew over leaving a trail of sticks, leaves, and grass clippings down the street – confetti lost to the wind.

Love is harder than I thought.

Here, then, is what I’m getting at.

To love is to notice. It is to see the one taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, changing the oil, making pancakes every Sunday. It is resisting the temptation to allow the division of labor to turn into division of hearts. It is to notice these small, great acts of ordinary service and to hear I love you each and every time.

It is to offer your own great acts of ordinary service and say it back.

Today, as I type this, I hear the familiar rumble of the lawn mower on the steep hill echoing from the back of the house, Mike at the helm. It sounds a little like the hooves of a white horse, an armored knight.

It sounds a lot like love.

Small Steps

IMG_2890What do you give the person who has everything? You give something to someone else. I know, I know, why do we need to add to the consumerism? Why should someone feel the need to add more stuff in this political economy? Shouldn’t we all be storing money under the mattress again? Or at least in a bunker with the other doomsday preppers?

Here’s the thing:

We can sit and idle and stick our heads in the sand. Or we can invest in someone else.

Out of necessity and out of conscious choice, my husband and I have decided to limit purchases of the frivolous nature. Yes this means no more trips to my favorite vintage shop, repeated laps around Target (oh how I miss you, Dollar Spot), and curbing the urge to open the Amazon app on the slightest whim. It is not easy, it is not for everyone. But filling our home and our children’s playroom with things that make a difference for someone else teaches our kids and reminds ourselves that generosity and investing in kindness toward others has always offered far greater rewards.

Let me guess, you’re aiming your mouse at the X at the top of the screen while rolling your eyes at the vapidity of that last paragraph. Stay with me.

We are not buying $50 t-shirts made of locally sourced cotton and hand-stitched by a remote group of Amazonians as their only source of income. We are doing far simpler things like taking clothes our kids have outgrown to the local consignment store and exchanging what we can for replacement clothing in a larger size within that same consignment shop. Items that are not accepted are donated to the local at-risk home visitation service center. We are buying produce from local farmers, not always with the organic label slapped on it, but from a smaller grocery store and the local farmers’ markets instead of the local big-name chains.

When I worked as a museum and zoo educator, we would all come up with various mini-commercials. Essentially an educational lesson in an elevator pitch format that would allow us to teach conservation and sustainability in the time it took for a parent to read the exhibit placard before their baby or toddler had a meltdown or lost interest (I’ve been there so, so often this summer). It’s easy to say “Buy items without palm oil” or “Only use items with certified ingredients”, but who has time to read the label when your child has managed to empty their diaper up to their middle back or while your toddler is screaming for crackers that you didn’t pack in the middle of Target? “Give me an example,” they would always say. And I never could.

Enter Causebox.

I signed up for Causebox on a whim. I was getting ready to leave my job, my birthday was around the corner, and I knew that if I wanted to splurge on something that was truly just for me right then this was the time to do it. (If you know me, you are already aware that any gift card or present I request is always with the kids in mind. Motherhood at a glance, ladies and gentlemen.)

But Causebox has become so much more than a splurge. Along with great new jewelry and accessories, my home gets a slight upgrade in the decor department (which is always needed as of late). There are lotions and facemasks and let’s discuss the organic roll-on sunscreen. Daaaiiiilllly use. Every three months or so a beautifully decorated box shows up on my doorstep, filled with items that come from people all over the globe and small business owners here at home, along with a small leaflet with interviews with the owner of each business you support.

A gift that feels like a splurge but simultaneously helps the world?

A worthy investment indeed.