The black and white leggings that said it all

A couple of Decembers ago, my daughter was in Old Navy with my mom. They were picking out outfits for my then three-year old and her little friend. My mom is the bravest woman that I know for taking my child into a store where sequined skirts and colorful dresses hang within her grasp. My little human LOVES to shop and her non-existent inside voice grows even louder when she pulls clothes off of hangers and insists that it all fits.

They found cute outfits, and my mom asked her what color leggings she thought would match best. She weighed her choices carefully, and finally informed my mom that they should get the white leggings for her, because they “match me” and the black leggings for her friend, because they “match her.” My daughter is white and blonde, and her friend is brown and black. They came home with the cute outfits, but no leggings.  As my mom recounted the story to me later, we both laughed at her logic, but I remember being distinctly uncomfortable with her unabashed acknowledgment of color.

How many times have we heard it said that children are so innocent that they can’t see color?

I realize now how wrong that is.

Children see color. They should see color. We all should be okay with seeing color.  What children don’t see, and what we should not be okay with, is the inequality that has been assigned to color.

I’ve been on a journey this year. It’s a journey that I will be on for the rest of my life.

It’s a journey that has transformed my understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement.

It’s a journey that has led me to listen to and learn from people of color who speak out about racial injustice.

It’s a journey that forced me to confront the possibility that even though I was raised to believe that all are equal, I could still harbor biases that I am unaware of. This Ted Talk that we watched as a faculty at the high school where I teach is eye opening.

It’s a journey that forces me to confront and shed my own white defensiveness and examine my own white privilege.

It’s a journey that prevents me from closing my eyes to the racism and inequality that plagues our country.

It’s a journey that is leading me to teach my daughter NOT that we shouldn’t see color, but that we should. We should see it and we should embrace it. We should speak up for it. We should stand with it. We should talk about it. We should make room for it. Empowering others does not rob someone else of their rights, it strengthens us all.

 

 

 

Bellies Full of Love

There are these amazing women at my school. They are strong and dedicated to their job. They don’t have the luxury of sitting at a desk, or of sipping their morning coffee as they work. These women sweat, pushing cartloads of coolers around our sizeable campus, struggling to get through doors and around corners. Bending, pushing, picking up and setting down, these women deliver coolers of breakfast to each and every classroom before the day begins, coming around again just twenty minutes later to retrieve the emptied coolers. It’s a thankless job that is a substantial blessing for our students, who due to a new initiative, receive free breakfast every morning at the start of their first period. Free breakfast for 2,700 plus students. Every day.

It’s incredible how food changes the atmosphere of a first period classroom. Gone are the days of hangry, tired students who act out or can’t concentrate on their work. After just ten minutes of eating and chatting, these young adults wipe up their mess, dispose of their trash, and deposit the empty coolers outside of our classroom door. They work together as a community, to care for those who are caring for them. And then they are ready to learn. It’s awesome.

I know of the hardships and trials that many of our students face. I read about their struggles in their writing. I listen to their traumas when they need someone to talk to. Despite this, I had no idea how many of our students come to school hungry, and I never considered how that might effect their day. Ironic, considering how quickly I spiral into a dizzy, irritable mess if I go more than three or four hours between meals. I was incredibly blind.

I think about my own little human, for whom I’m able to buy enough food to feed her voracious appetite, and I become emotional. My little human whose current breakfast of choice is two sunny side up eggs with a green, fruit smoothie on the side. My little human who happily consumes her food, plus any goldfish or Lara bars that she manages to sneak from the pantry, while I finish getting dressed. My little human who is able to arrive at school with a full belly. I could neither raise nor feed this little human without a village behind me, and it’s embarrassing to admit that it is only just occurring to me that schools are an integral part of the village that support our children. I love that there are people who worry and care enough about the children in their village to create a program that provides each child a free breakfast, before expecting them to be able to focus on learning.

The woman who usually deposits my class’ breakfast coolers is a breath of fresh air. Despite the laboriousness of her task, she greets me each morning with a smile and a wave. We get to chat sometimes, about motherhood, work, our kids, and the cleaning we need to do over the weekend. Just two mommas bonding for a few minutes before we each go about the rest of our day. A few weeks ago she complimented a cobalt blue skirt that I was wearing. We both loved the color. A few days ago, she beckoned me to my door, and as I opened it she handed me a pair of cobalt blue earrings. She said she had seen them and they reminded her of my skirt, so she got them for me.

I couldn’t have been more floored. A simple act of love and thoughtfulness. A momma taking care of another momma. A woman supporting another woman. A village.

class

Yes, You Can Say the F-Word

Little humans. We teach them to be polite and compassionate. We teach them to use their words instead of their fists. We teach them to be active listeners and respectful of others. I watch my daughter learning how to be kind and thoughtful, and experience both relief and dread. Yes, I want my daughter to be sweet, but not too sweet. I don’t want her to become a doormat, because she’s afraid it’s rude to stick up for herself. I don’t want her to silence her voice, because someone else’s opinions are louder. I don’t want her to equate kindness with passiveness. I pray that she is both gentle and strong, wise and assertive, and both considerate and confident. I pray that in the moments she uses her voice, it is loud and clear.

We’re living in a world where predators are attempting to snatch children from their parents in grocery stores and public libraries. A world in which clowns now symbolize the evil parents fear. Stranger danger feels more real than ever, whether or not it actually is. How do we teach our little ones to be aware of these risks without scaring them? This is a question for which I understand I will never have a satisfying answer.

As clown hysteria built up in Austin this week, I realized I needed to say something to my daughter. I found myself worrying back and forth about the most politically correct, least frightening way to broach the subject, and then on our drive home from school she brought it up. In school, they had discussed what to do if they see a clown, which was obviously to not talk to it and to tell a teacher. I was grateful that her school had taken this initiative, but the momma bear in me, the one who would die for the green-eyed girl in the backseat, the one who would protect that precious life at all costs, took over the woman who worries about saying and doing the politically correct thing.

So then I told her that all clowns are now officially bad. She started giggling, but she was on board, asking me questions about friendly clowns she’d interacted with in the past.  We decided that the one who gave her candy last year was in fact good, but that he’s probably not a clown anymore, because now all clowns are bad. The nice ones quit their jobs.

Then she asked, “Momma, what if they talk to me?”

Good question. If you see a clown, you turn and run away. If a clown or any stranger tries to talk to you, you scream as loudly as you can, and run away. I was beyond thankful that she found this comical and serious at the same time.

I went on to tell her that if a clown or stranger tries to give her candy or touch her, that she should kick, hit, scratch and bite as hard as she could, and that she shouldn’t worry about being nice. It’s the one time she could be as mean as possible.

She loved this. “Momma. Can I say bad words? Can I say the f-word?”

Absolutely. You can absolutely say the f-word to any stranger or clown that tries to grab you. YES. At this point, she was in full-blown, hysterical laughter mode, pretending to be a little ninja warrior in the backseat.

When we quieted down, she asked, “But then you’re going to be there, right momma?” My heart wrenched with the dreadful knowledge that too many children are abused, trafficked, and murdered, despite loved ones desperately searching for them.

Yes, I promised. I assured her that she was not actually going to see a clown or stranger, and that we were just practicing so that we would know what to do, just in case.

She giggled again. “Yeah. But momma. You’ll get the clown and you’ll get him dead!”

Yes, momma will hunt him down. I suddenly had quite the little Rambo on my hands.

Then we got a little more serious and I reminded her that God is always with her, and that she has family and friends who love and pray for her every day. That our faith in God means we do not have to live in fear. That God is always with us, and that we are never alone. As we pulled into the garage, I silently prayed for Jesus to lay his protective arms over our children, our schools, and our communities, shielding us from those who seek to do harm. And as I followed my little human into the house, listening to her chat away about mermaids, baking pumpkin pies, and the sunflowers blooming in our backyard, I thanked God for her sweet heart and her feisty spirit, and that while the f-word will never be enough, HE most certainly is.

 

F-A-T

Fat. The grim reaper of women’s self-esteem has entered my five-year old’s vocabulary and I am livid. Not with her, but with our world. With myself. With you. I want to throw a tantrum. A hair pulling, limbs flailing tantrum at the unfairness of society’s persistent hypersexualized, dysmorphic, skewed glorification of beauty that NO ONE can achieve without starvation, photoshopping, surgery, and insane contouring.

I’m sick of billboards advertising a woman’s way to a cellulite free life.

I’m sick of hearing women praised for waist training. I can’t believe that is even a thing.

I’m sick of seeing magazine covers that “out” celebrities who were “caught” sans makeup and who are then picked apart for being, dare we believe it, human beings.

I’m sick of the accepted objectification of breasts, while breastfeeding mothers are publicly humiliated and shamed.

I’m sick of average size women being referred to as “plus” size, and I’m sick of dehydrated and hungry women being hailed as the ideal of beauty.

And while I believe that most agree that our beauty standards are unhealthy, I am sick and tired of the lack of collective voices demanding that enough is enough. A child shouldn’t worry about her physique and a woman having negative thoughts about her body image shouldn’t be the norm. Men and women, we are diminishing ourselves. We are collectively damaging the mental and physical health of those we love, and we should be outraged.

My first confrontation with the F-A-T word was in the third grade. It’s one of the few memories that I have of this age, and it’s crystal clear. We left our classroom and were walking down the hallway. I remember my little girlfriend casually whispering to me over her shoulder that all women get fat, and that when you become a woman, you have to start sucking in your tummy. This was brand new information to me. “We should start practicing now,” she said, and so we immediately sucked our bellies into our scrawny, nine-year old frames. I remember staring at my concave reflection in the glass trophy case as we filed by, disturbed by my new understanding of womanhood.

And now it’s my daughter’s turn. My beautiful, active, healthy five-year old was told by someone that if you eat too much food, your tummy will be fat. I learned this as we were getting ready for church on Sunday. She was getting out of the bathtub while I was putting on my make up, when she asked me, “Mommy, is my tummy too fat?” I whipped around.  The smile that usually dances in her eyes wasn’t there. The telltale giggle that usually erupts from her lips when she’s telling a “joke” was silent. My girl was serious. I dropped to my knees and we had the first of what I am sure will be endless conversations about being pretty enough, thin enough, good enough. Conversations that will be steered towards being strong enough, healthy enough, curious enough, kind enough, brave enough. I hugged my sweet girl, silently praying that her estimation of her self-worth will be grounded in her faith, rather than raked over the coals by the world’s ridiculously unnatural measures.

After that it seemed that the only sensible thing left to do before getting dressed for church was to stand side by side in front of my mirror, flex our arm muscles, and shout at our reflections, “I am beautiful! I am healthy! I am strong! God made me special!” The beautiful laughter and light that usually exudes from my girl returned, and we promised we would do that every day.

Later that Sunday we meal prepped for the week. By we, I mean I slaved away, while my little person tasted everything in between entertaining me with stories and dance performances. Meal prepping is no joke around here. There may be only two of us, but we eat for 10. We are active, we are hungry, and we are cranky when we’re without food for more than three hours. For dinner this week we prepared a spicy Thai mushroom curry, a cheesy pumpkin pasta, and some whole wheat berry muffins for fun snacks. I just pray that as we continue to build a home centered around nourishing our bodies, minds, and souls, that the destructive outside voices will be quieted enough for my girl to let her inner super woman flourish.

whole-wheat-berry-muffins

I yelled at a stranger’s kid today

It was a normal summer day for us. We ran, we ate, we swam, and we ate some more. Today was a normal summer day, barring one exception, that being the moment when I found myself parenting a stranger’s child.

My daughter has always been fearless in the water. Up until last summer she would enthusiastically shout, “watch me dive” before throwing herself into the pool. I would watch her sink to the bottom for an obligatory thirty seconds, before fishing her triumphant, squirming body out from the shallow depths. Every now and then there would be a fellow momma that would be wading by, chasing after her own mermaid or merman, who would stop just long enough to let me know that my daughter was drowning. Never mind the fact that I was standing over her, arms outstretched, laser eyes focused on my child. I would disguise my annoyance with a laugh and swear to myself that I would never be that woman. I would never assume that I knew better or usurp another momma’s autonomy. But who am I kidding? There are many moments when I become that woman.

There was a boy today at the pool, the same age as my little person. I knew we were in for an interesting afternoon when he kept squirting me directly in the face with his projectile water apparatus. His grandmother was there with him. She was confidently rocking a bikini, and rightly so, and I wanted to hug her in between being soaked by her grandson. Thankfully, he soon set his water torture device down and asked to play with my daughter’s diving rings.

My girl loves to share her diving rings, and often uses them as a way to make friends with other kids at the pool. She is by no means perfect. There are days when sharing means she bosses the other kid around. There are days when she feels jealous of someone who is a stronger swimmer. And there are days when she is sugary, sweet perfection.

They started out playing well together, each taking two rings. Then our new friend decided that he would rather grab the rings that my daughter had just retrieved, than dive for his own. I could tell she was confused when he latched on to the rings in her hand and began tugging at them. Hard. I was sitting in the water a few yards away and started to get up. Then my brain started screaming, “Whoa helicopter mom, sit your butt back down!” So I did. I sat on edge, watching various emotions play across my daughter’s face, and I felt my stomach twist in knots at the life lessons she was potentially learning.

Here was a boy, aggressively tugging my daughter back and forth, attempting to pry her toys from her hands. He was ignoring her words, words that I have taught her to use when people invade her space. I saw her face, her smile that didn’t reach her eyes as it normally does, trying to figure out if this was play or if this was mean. It was only a few seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. A lifetime in which I recalled moments from my childhood of being thrown onto the ground at recess by boys that “liked” me, or so my teacher said. Moments when I was too naïve or too sheltered to realize that a boy who I out “wrestled” was angry, not just because I had won the “game,” but because I didn’t succumb and allow myself to be kissed, as my more experienced friend had. Times when being tossed and dunked in the pool by a boy meant that he wanted to be my boyfriend.

I knew what was coming next and I sprung up. Sure enough, just as I started to move towards them, he reached out and shoved her head under water. Before I realized it, my teacher’s voice was bellowing at him for all to hear, as I crashed through the water. I didn’t care. Grandma was laying out on the other side of the pool, but to her credit she jumped in at the sound of my voice. By the time she reached my side, I had finished lecturing her grandson about shoving people under water and how he needed to ask nicely for toys that he wanted to play with. As she began to rip into him, I turned to my daughter and told her that she should still share with him. At first she protested, but then she handed him two rings and he apologized. I then played pool police for the next thirty minutes, tossing rings for each of them to dive for.

The truth is, he was a sweet kid, and only his parents know whether or not he knew any better. I want my daughter to know better though. I don’t want her to equate hurt with affection.  I knew she was watching me as I chastised this stranger’s child, and I realized that as much as I wanted to whisk her to the other side of the pool, I couldn’t. She won’t always be able to run away from the boy who shoves her on the playground. I have to teach her to stand her ground and set boundaries, without losing the kindness that radiates from her core. So I made an effort in front of my daughter, to play with this kid as long as he followed my boundaries. When he chucked the rings back at my face, I told him he had to hand them to me if he wanted to play, which he did. The afternoon ended peacefully, and we all amicably said goodbye when it was time to go.

I don’t know if they way I reacted was right or wrong. I just pray that as my daughter encounters similar situations, that the sweet kindness of her spirit will not only be unharmed, but that she will also become unafraid to fiercely protect her boundaries.

We made veggie pot pies for dinner and a bell pepper salad with some unique farm-to-table produce that a sweet friend shared with us. Comfort food for a normal, slightly odd kind of summer day.

We Go, or We Die

We go, or we die. It’s a statement that will never leave me. Simple words, weighted in life experiences that I can’t fathom, spoken in broken English by an African teenage refugee. This beautiful girl with the brightest smile spoke these words in the same matter of fact way I tell my five-year old that if she eats candy, she’ll get holes in her teeth. And then this precious soul laughed. A bold, contagious laugh that left me no choice but to laugh with her, the truth of her words hanging between us as we hugged and she went on to her English class.

It’s been a little less than two months since I heard this phrase, and yet I think about it every day. Thankfully, these words are not true in my life in the literal way they are for too many, but I see the truth of her words everywhere. Those five words embody perseverance, they laugh in the face of sitting down and giving up. We are all persevering in one way or another. Not a single one of us will escape trials or crises in different ways at different times. When you live your life believing that if you don’t go, you’ll die, your life requires a degree of faith.

The size of whatever burden we are carrying in a particular moment is insignificant. There are days when I feel that if I have to prepare one more meal, clean one more toilet, or say “no, you may not have another snack” one more time that I will lose my mind . And as dramatic and silly as I know I sound, I can’t not do any of those things. I could, but the gross, hangry, chaos that would ensue would be equivalent to death, so I go until I find joy again in the marathon of parenting a little person. There are other days when I simply have no clue what God is doing in my life. Those days are particularly frustrating, those punched in the gut by life days, but I know that I have a choice to go in faith and trust that God’s got me or to die a spiritual death. I know that the way I go is being watched by two little eyes and one little heart, the sponges of the sweet soul who spends her days trying to emulate her momma. That burden is heavy, but I hope that she will learn to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans12:12). The way we go is as important as the actual going. To go in love, to go in faith, to go in hope, this is what I pray to be able to do throughout my life.

I’m so thankful for the truth this student spoke into me at the beginning of this summer. Her trial that day was simply making it to summer school. She had to take TWO city buses just to reach the nearest school bus that would transport her to her classes. Her family had just moved, and she wasn’t sure of her address. Confused and unable to speak more than a few sentences of English, we thought she would have to be dropped from her course. We couldn’t risk her getting lost chasing buses in unknown parts of the city. When she showed up with only a couple of hours to spare before the attendance/drop deadline, we were astounded. We shook our heads in disbelief. I would never have made it. I would have heard three buses and said I’m out, and I’m a native English speaking Texan. It had taken her hours. She was hungry, she was tired, but she had made it. That’s when she spoke, her eyes sparkling with laughter. “Miss. In Africa we go, or we die. So today I said I go.”

I usually kick off my shoes when I first walk in the door, until I carry them upstairs later. Found my little person lining up her shoes with mine this afternoon.

 

Thank you is not enough, but thank you.

About a month ago, I finished reading Alice Hoffman’s The Dovekeepers. I was riveted by this tale of four indomitable women, who were bound together through loss during the Roman siege of Masada. Women, who under different circumstances would have ostracized one another, instead protected one another. For me, the beauty of this historical fiction was in the way each woman’s past drew them to stand side by side with those who were suddenly not so different from themselves in their suffering. They could not save each other from their grief or from their pain, but they could fortify each other with unconditional love born in empathy.

My pregnancy radically changed my life. I am not alone in this. The conception of a child is life affirming and life altering. For some it’s pure joy, for some traumatic, and for some a mixture of both. Nearly five years later, my life is filled with unspeakable amounts of joy and love. The traumas I endured are always present, but they are slowly becoming my friends. I no longer need to ignore them, to pretend they don’t exist. I still shake uncontrollably, my heart pounding in my chest when I talk about them, but I can look at them now. I can appreciate them now. I can be thankful for them now. Yes, I would not be who I am today without them, so I am grateful for the blessings that they have brought about in my life. God brings healing and good in all situations, and my life and the life of my daughter are a testament to that truth.

I get emotional when I think about those who stood with me in my most terrifying, earth shattering, gut wrenching moments. I have never truly thanked them. Sometimes there aren’t enough words, sometimes you’re drowning and can’t properly think to form words, sometimes you can’t say thank you without becoming too vulnerable when you’re summoning all the strength you have just to go on. The words thank you will never be enough to adequately express the soul deep gratitude I have for the men and women who stood with me, for those who stood for me in my weakest moments. I am beyond thankful for these people.

I thank God for the woman who became my neighbor when I was about six months pregnant. Our daughters were born just a few weeks apart. I thank God she came over every day, that she was my first mommy group and that she never asked any questions. She just loved us. Thank you, to this woman, who brought over warm meals to feed us before our much prayed for journey back to Texas finally began. Thank you for driving us to the airport, for dragging our four giant suitcases, stroller, and two carry-on bags up to the check-in counter. Thank you for telling the woman behind the counter something in Hebrew, which in my stress and exhaustion I couldn’t comprehend, but that prompted her to let us to bypass the lengthy security checkpoint, and allowed you to help us through the terminal. I remember following you in shock when you beckoned me. You, my first mommy friend, hauled my suitcases through the airport, handed me your American cash leftover from your last trip overseas, and hugged us good-bye. I sat safely at the gate, my daughter entertaining those around us, repeatedly thanking God for miraculously getting us quickly and calmly through the first hurdle of our journey. I thanked God then, and I thank him now, every single day, for you.

I thank God for the woman with whom I basically grew up with, so to speak, in Israel. I’m so thankful for your inner and outer strength. You rise to any challenge and your heart is as warm and loving as it is fierce. Thank you to this soul sister, who walked and talked all over Tel Aviv with me, who never judged, only listened. Thank you for being my strength when I had none. Thank you for helping me pack, weigh, and re-pack our bags. I will never forget your superhuman strength, when dismayed I thought we would never get all of our luggage to fit in our tiny European size car, you said yes we will, and you lifted and pushed those absurdly heavy bags until all doors closed and we had room to sit. You are my hero and I thank God for you.

I thank God for my family, the family who financially, emotionally, and spiritually supported us. I will never have enough words to express how deeply thankful I am for all that you endured on our behalf. Your acts of selflessness went above and beyond what any daughter/sister/granddaughter could expect. Thank you for the bible verses you poured into me that fortified my faith that God would protect us. Thank you for the frequent overseas trips you made, for considering to relocate to be close to us, for never letting me become guilt ridden, and for restoring normalcy and peace in our lives. Thank you for being our bubble, our tribe, and our truthsayers. You are our greatest blessings.

I thank God for my childhood friend, my sister, my daughter’s godmother.  A steadfast woman of quiet strength, you would come over at the sound of any tear or fear in my voice. Thank you for being our safe-haven, for opening your home to us whenever we needed a peaceful place to go. Thank you for taking days off work to spend countless hours sitting in courthouse waiting areas. Your calm bolstered me. Your patience soothed me. Thank you for the kitchen dance parties and for filling the little person up with love. I am so thankful for you.

Thank you to my church growth group. What was perhaps to you a small act of kindness on Mother’s Day a year ago, was so much more to me. Still to this day, I am overwhelmed. Thank you for quietly handing me flowers and a small balloon, since my little one was too young to say “Happy Mother’s Day.” It meant the world to me and I still tear up when I think about it. I am so thankful that God has brought each of you into our lives.

Thank you to the family, friends and strangers who have prayed us through this journey. Thank you for coming alongside me without judgment, for teaching me what it means to stand next to someone in their darkest moments and to love them. Thank you will never be enough. But thank you.