Rusty pines stretch high over the lake
under the finally-blue, afternoon sky.
Those towering trees have a Story to tell
as they clap their hands in praise.
Through breaks in their branches
cobalt blue races to the shoreline,
pushed by a Force outside of itself --
a rhythmic lullaby of rejoicing.
That Force, that Story --
they are also in me.
So I, too, sing a song of thanksgiving:
For the breath in my lungs,
the words flowing from my fingertips,
the Truth that I am enough.
For the beat of my heart,
the laughter leaking from my insides,
the Trust that I am loved.
Amen and amen.
While winter doesn't officially arrive for almost two more months, the giant snow flakes on Friday and the wind chill of 18 this morning tell a different story than the calendar does. My students are coming to class in layers of down and wool, and we've traded our flip flops and tanks for fur-lined hoods and thicker socks.
Although I've never officially been diagnosed, each winter I find myself experiencing some symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe I miss being outside. Maybe I miss the sun. Maybe I hate seeing my pale, pale skin in the mirror. Whatever it is, during the long winter months there are days I lack energy and zest. I have less laughter and more angst. Last year I purchased what I have dubbed my "happy lamp," and this year I'm trying to combat my winter blues with some intentional "hygge." If you're not familiar with the term, you probably live in a warmer climate.
(Side note: I think some mistakenly believe that caring for our mental health is selfish, but as a mom and a wife and a teacher, I know that is simply not true. Taking care of me means I can better take care of those around me, and this winter I vow to make that a priority.)
I find comfort in tradition and intentional rituals. For example, while I hate the mess of carving pumpkins, I love that for the last five years as a family, we have taken the time to create lions and tin men and silly faces and fan art for Iowa State. So yesterday I cooked a pot of chili, simmered some apple cider with cinnamon sticks, and played good music while we dug our hands into the messy goop. I drew the curtains to the dreariness outside, and the four of us talked about our days, laughed at our carving mistakes, and enjoyed some intentional cosiness. (The Jameson Irish whiskey in the apple cider was a helpful touch for the grown-ups.)
This fall I've also rediscovered a love for long walks. Soaking in just 30 minutes of vitamin D and clearing my mind while breathing in fresh air will be a necessity this winter, even if requires strapping on the warm boots and an extra sweater under my down coat. Because my mental health matters, I will get outside as much as I can.
So this winter I'm going to make more soul-comforting soups (I'm trying this one next week) and play more soul-touching John Williams and Hans Zimmer. I'm going to drink warm drinks out of my favorite mugs and watch the snow fly out of my big picture window. I'll be baking more bread and picking up my knitting needles again. I'll also be listening to the daily prayer and scripture on the Pray as You Go app. I don't imagine this will be a complete cure to the winter doldrums, but it sure doesn't hurt to try.
What are you doing this winter to keep your spirits lifted? Any favorite soup or warm drink recipes to share? I would love to hear all about it!
Here's another recycled post from a dusty, long-forgotten blog. It's a message that still needs to be heard - by me and by all of the other brave, beautiful women around me.
I'm not going to say anything new here. My thoughts won't be neatly organized and perfectly coherent. I'm just putting these thoughts in words, hoping that perhaps I can tattoo them in my own mind and heart.
It started with a blog from a friend, and I was thinking about how so many women face battles with food. So very many precious women that I love have trudged through bulimia and anorexia, overeating and overexercising.
And if it's not food, it's something else.
It's when I look in front of the mirror, dripping from the shower and think, "Teeth aren't white enough from drinking too much coffee. And yes, my upper lip is still too thin. Look at those damn wrinkles under my eyes. Like the dark circles weren't bad enough. And that's just great. More acne. Why won't my body remember that I haven't been a teenager for over a decade? Yep, extra weight around my middle. Perfect. "
It's when I'm at the grocery store berating myself because I don't have the time or energy to purchase only all-organic, all-natural foods and cook gourmet and also budget-conscious meals for our families.
It's when I look at other people's boards on Crackterest Pinterest and think, "Wow, do they really make all those recipes, wear all those outfits, create all those crafts, perform all those exercises??"
Not enough wrinkle cream.
Not enough Bible study.
Not enough treadmill time.
Not enough healthy food.
Not enough reading with the boys.
Not enough. Not enough. Not enough.
And I know where it comes from, too. It's the nature of our beast, right, ladies?
Our own insecurities produce overcompensation, masking our own true and beautiful selves. So we use social media to project this image of perfection in the form of romantic date nights, sweet moments with children, the Best Workout Ever, unending satisfaction at the workplace. Or we hide behind comical self-deprecation or the extra glass of wine or the careless flirtation with a coworker. We learn from our female role models, too, because that's just the way this female game works.
I see it in my female students, too, as they put on their false selves. Oh, I wore mine so well at 16 and 17. It was a false self of a pious and self-righteous Christian who was too good to go to parties with my peers. For other teenage girls it might be the need to wear every hair in its place with a perfectly coordinated outfit and accessories. It might be a carefree/careless attitude that results in purposely unkempt hair and multiple days in the same pair of yoga pants.
It all comes from the same root, though -- the mask put on because she doesn't feel like she is good enough.
This message of not enough comes from too many broken hearts and broken homes and nights spent crying and unrequited love. It comes from The Curse and the fear that we're not supposed to be like this. It's from jealousy and inadequacy.
So today I want to scream, "YOU ARE ENOUGH! I AM ENOUGH!"
You in the grocery store putting frozen pizzas in your cart because you don't have the energy to cook dinner after working more than 40 hours this week?
You on your couch looking at the perfect workout photos posted on Pinterest and wishing you had time to make it to the gym today? Or even walk around the block for that matter?
You who cried again in the shower because you get teased at school because you have a crush on a boy who doesn't even know your name?
You who lost your temper with your overtired children at bedtime after a week of too-little sleep and too much running?
You with the laundry spilling out onto the floor and the dust bunnies under the bed and the dishes piled up in the sink?
Too fat, too skinny, too boring, too tired, too nerdy, too bland, too wrinkly, too disorganized, too, too, too.
Enough, enough, enough.
"When I look around, I think this, this is good enough, and I try to laugh at whatever life brings. 'Cause when I look down, I just miss all the good stuff. When I look up, I just trip over things." -Ani DiFranco, "As Is"
And that "good enough" doesn't have to be a depressing admittance of resignation. It can be an acceptance of dreams and looking forward along with contentment and appreciation, a presence in the now. Living like surely these women do. Or this woman. Or this girl.
And I'll forget again tomorrow as I look at the Facebook photos of half-marathons, gorgeously staged family portraits, and photo-worthy desserts, but I have this written now. Published. Tattooed.
I'm pausing today to express some gratitude. The world swirls around me with chaos and unending news stories of flood and famine and fire, of sexual harassment and nuclear war. I scroll through my newsfeed and see sickness and sadness, conflict and confusion. In the midst of this, though, there is goodness, mostly in the never-changing, never-fading love of the Father. I'm learning to lean into that love more. It's safety in the midst of the storm.
Today, then, I pause for gratitude because, after all, "Gratitude evaporates frustration," an important lesson I taught my students just last week.
I am thankful for our new church home where I sit in a Bible study on Jonah on Wednesday nights and realize just how little I've ever been taught about the Bible. I'm thankful for those who have the gift of teaching, who can unravel the story and the historical context and help me understand God's heart more.
I am thankful for the campus where I work each day, where I can walk up the stairs and be reminded of the foundation of God's Word. From the breath-taking view outside of my classroom window to the peaceful chapel I walk by on my way to class, I'm thankful for consistent reminders of God's goodness and beauty as well as the importance of community.
I am thankful for our sweet pup, Rooney, my constant companion when I write at my little desk or fold laundry at the kitchen table.
I am thankful for my marriage. After thirteen years, it feels healthier than ever, even as we've weathered major transitions in the past six months. Chris is my very best friend as well as the best partner ever for laughing at reruns of Seinfeld or talking about the daily news stories. He has sacrificed way more than I have for this move to St. Paul, but he has done it with joy and his ever-present smile. He truly is the best.
I am thankful for my sons. My older son makes me think with his deep questions about life followed by a funny joke inspired by Garfield. My younger son lets me cuddle at bedtime and smiles on his way out the door to school, even when he doesn't want to go. They remind me that incredible beauty can come from the ashes, that phoenixes really do exist.
I am thankful for the height and depth and width and breadth of God's love, an all-encompassing, safe love.
In the midst of the chaos and confusion of the world around me, I am thankful.
If you're involved in the transracial adoption world, you have more than likely heard of or experienced the bead activity. Basically you take an empty clear cup and fill it with beads to represent people. Each color of bead represents a different race, and you put beads in the cup to symbolize your dentist, doctor, spiritual leaders, neighbors, etc. By the end, you have an understanding of how diverse your world is. If Chris and I had done this activity prior to adoption, our cup would have been 100% white. The diversity was only increased by the addition of our two Black sons. Two beads of color in a sea of white.
Have you ever had the experience of being the only person like you in a certain scenario? Maybe you're the only Iowa State fan in a family full of Hawkeyes. Maybe you're the only female in a workplace full of males. Maybe you're the only Muslim in a classroom full of Christians. That experience can feel isolating and sometimes scary. Of course we are adaptive creatures and can more than likely adjust eventually, maybe even discovering empowerment. But isn't there something comforting in looking at someone with shared experiences and without even exchanging a word, knowing they "get" you?
When Chris and I entered the terminal for Ethiopian Airlines at the airport in Washington, DC, it was one of the first moments in my life where I was one of only a few white people in a room filled with people of color. It was exhilarating because we were preparing to visit the birth country of our soon-to-be sons, and the diversity of language and skin color was a beautiful reminder of what heaven would surely be. Of course we spent those few days in Addis Ababa with extra attention as the "ferengi," but the Ethiopians warmly welcomed us with smiles and coffee ceremonies. We weren't bombarded with unwelcome questions or requests to touch our hair or skin. And of course after those few days, we returned home to our world of white where we would soon bring our children.
Our neighbors and friends welcomed our sons with open arms and kindness. Our boys received services and attention at school and church. They were known and loved, but they were often the only people of color in pretty much every scenario we put them in. From sports teams to summer camps, our church home to our school family, our boys rarely had a racial mirror other than each other and a few other international adoptees in our community. As we tried to navigate a world of racial disparities and inequalities, our boys had to learn lessons about taking care of their Black skin and being a young Black man in America from two white people just trying to do the best we could.
I often tell others that our agency did a fantastic job preparing us as best they could for the realities of early childhood trauma and what that might look like for our children. They did not, however, do an adequate job of preparing us for the realities of raising children of color in a nearly all-white community.
Eventually, the idea of moving came up again and again in conversations between Chris and me. In the car or at night after the boys were tucked in bed, we began to research potential destinations that would provide opportunities for more beads of color in our cup. And then we made the leap. I will be honest in saying that this decision came with a side order of sacrifice. We left behind a support network of friends and family, including the blessing of "doing life" with my sister and her crew. I closed the door on many years of a successful career as a high school English teacher with coworkers who were my friends and confidants and many students who made my work feel like play. Chris said goodbye to the flexibility of owning his own business and, for the most part, setting his own schedule, a dream for family life. Our boys left behind the only sense of stability they had ever known in their young lives, including a network of solid friendships and teachers who knew them. And of course we miss those things. We would all be lying if we said we didn't. I still cry when I think about missing my niece's junior high volleyball games and sharing a knowing smile with my nephew in the high school hallways. While we're growing our network here, adult friendships take time and energy, two things that are often in deficit in our busy lives.
Time and time again, however, our children are in a sea of color, and all of those tiny sacrifices become so worth it.
This summer I found myself at awards ceremonies at the end of basketball camp where I was one of two white adults in a gym. My boys are playing on a flag football team full of children of color. We have a Black family practice doctor and a rec center up the street staffed almost entirely by people of color. My sons are no longer finding themselves in that isolating role as the only. We have a church with a diverse staff and congregation, and better yet, we have co-lead pastors who frequently address race and the Gospel.
I'm not here to tell other adoptive families that they absolutely must move, that an urban environment is the only way to go if you are trying to raise kids of color in today's word. I'm just saying that our cup has more colorful beads today, and we are so thankful.
Because my childhood was so idyllic (two happily married parents, a supportive educational system, room to be creative and explore, etc.), it's difficult to write about that time with a critical lens. I need to share something here, however, to help you understand my journey.
We didn't have to drive far from our predominantly white community to discover a pocket of diversity. Aside from a small grocery store and a second-hand store that sold clothes, our shopping options were limited, so occasionally my family would pile into the station wagon and drive to the nearest urban area. It wasn't a huge city, but it had multiple stoplights and even a mall! As I grew older, those same trips were taken with carloads of friends. It was in this space that I learned, through observation, that people of color were to be feared. We avoided the more diverse areas of the city because of the crime; we locked our doors when someone with a certain look came too close to the car.
"What makes Black people so criminal?" I thought to myself. "Are the Black people here so poor because they're lazy?" I wondered. And of course the logical conclusion could only be this: certain populations of people of color were inherently uneducated, poor, criminal, bad. None of these words were ever explicitly said to me, however. My parents worked hard to teach me to love everyone; I grew up in a church that preached and lived out the gospel's mission to love our neighbor. But still, I was learning.
When I became a mother to children of color, the scales began to fall from my eyes as I learned about systemic racism and implicit bias. And I realized I had been asking the wrong questions all along.
Instead of "What makes Black people so criminal?" I should have been asking, "Why are Black communities policed differently than white communities? Why are Black perpetrators handed different sentences than their white counterparts? What has led to the school-to-prison pipeline?" Instead of asking "Are the Black people here so poor because they're lazy?" I should have been asking, "What kinds of discrepancies exist in our educational system? What unfair rules and regulations in the housing industry have created these neighborhoods? Do Black people and white people always have the same employment opportunities?"
If I had started with those questions rather than the questions full of stereotypes and assumptions, I would have reached a healthier conclusion much sooner. But here I am today, digging deep and looking for the answers.
Today you might find yourself asking, "Why are these Black protestors so angry? Why are these Black athletes so disrespectful to the flag and veterans?" And maybe it's time you reframe those questions to really discover the answers, not the assumptions.
We live in a country deeply divided for reasons more complex than any of us understand. For today, however, I'm going to look at the questions I'm asking and move forward from there. If you'd like suggestions for resources on these hard conversations, I'm happy to point you in the right direction. Until then, let's keep asking the right questions.
I love writing. I love weaving together a sentence, working in the delicate balance of saying exactly what I mean while also focusing on the art of language. Some artists work in clay or acrylics. I work in words.
Lately, though, I'm stuck. In a former life I had another blog where I wrote openly about the challenges of adoption and parenting, about my journey with anti-depression meds, about life. And then I realized that it was incredibly selfish to process so honestly about my children and then post for the world to see. Now I'm here on this "teacher" blog, and I'm writing occasionally and publishing rarely. Sometimes I write about race; other times I muse about my faith. Occasionally I play with poetry, and mostly I write in rambling prose. But to what end? It's a question I ponder frequently.
I have this incredible love of writing, of tracing words on a page and leaving my heart there in black and white. When I'm driving in my car to work or lying awake in the early morning, my mind is the page where words weave and tumble. Here at my little desk in my upstairs workspace, my fingers often can't keep up. I just have so much to say. But what is this writing? Is it a journal that in my self-aggrandizement I believe the world wants to read? Is it a blog with a unique, intended audience? Is it somewhere in the middle?
I describe myself as a writer, but I've been paid for my words just once. I've been published in a newspaper twice. That isn't exactly an impressive resume. Not always effortlessly, the words come to me, but what do I do with them?
For now, I keep writing.
Today on my Facebook newsfeed a post from my former blog popped up. It was written four years ago today, in the fall, often a time of deep reflection and introspection for me. I'm posting it here today because the words still ring true.
Sometimes I encounter a song that simultaneously leaves me breathless with desire and lying in a puddle of grief on the floor. Lately this song has been “Blood” by The Middle East. It randomly played on my Pandora, and there was no turning back. It has been an obsession not unlike my days of Pearl Jam and Lisa Loeb, and later Fiona Apple and Tori Amos, an obsession requiring plays on repeat and memorization of lyrics about blame and death and family. It is a song with poetic words scrawled across a canvas of percussion and voices and the suffering that is life.
It’s the kind of song with a melody that sticks around, a rhythm that beats existential thoughts from my brain moving to my heart.
Lately I’ve been thinking of my childhood. Fall and harvest do that to me. I remember trips to the field to deliver sandwiches and chips to my dad and Uncle Gary. I can feel the hum of the combine as I rode a round or two with them, breathing in the dust and the death. It was fall when my Uncle Gary left this earth. I can picture his frail body on my wedding day, just months before cancer stole him from us. During fall, especially, I miss him.
During fall I miss my high school days when Friday nights included sleepovers after the big football game. I miss my college days when the reflected leaves painted the Cedar River with rust and golden brown. I miss our early married life when $2.14 bought us hot fudge sundaes from the McDonalds across the street. Of course hindsight is blurry at the edges, so in my memories I am perpetually beautiful and happy.
I’ve also been pondering the impact that we leave on the lives of those around us. I think of the boy I loved when I was fifteen, the girl whose words wounded when I was seventeen, the young man who stole so much when I was nineteen, the college professor who spoke the words that pushed me to teach writing, the wandering soul who saw beauty in me in my early twenties. I remember Uncle Gary and his limitless kindness, Mrs. Lott who gave me Oreos at recess in 2nd grade, two grandmas who loved unconditionally, and now a husband who still holds my hand when we drive in the car. Simple moments and words that many of them may not even remember. But here I am, carrying those words and moments around, sometimes as unnecessary weight, trying to make sense of it all.
The puzzle pieces don’t fit perfectly, but as I grow older, I see more of the picture.
Now I’m raising a son with the soul of an artist, who sighs with passion in sync with me when we see trees sketched black against the sky of a sunset. And his old soul feels the pain, too, like his mother.
So much beauty, so much suffering right here on this earth, wearing skin to hide our beating hearts.
Life simultaneously inspires and erodes me…..a messy mixture of paradoxes to discern and diagnose.
And that is life. That is blood.
I have always loved a college campus.
Last fall Chris and I attended a concert in an auditorium on the campus of the University of Minnesota, and I couldn't wipe the silly grin off my face. In my memory, it's perpetually fall on a campus. The leaves always have the perfect under-foot crunch, and the crisp air whispers secrets of cozy sweatshirts and too-full backpacks and stolen glances at the cute boy in my writing class.
Now I'm a grown-up, and my new teaching chapter has me on a campus again. I'm teaching two sections of Composition I and helping a student in a writing lab. I'm just two days in, but so far the change of pace feels just right.
Chris and I intentionally made the not-so-easy financial decision for me to step away from the full-time classroom this year so I'm more available as our boys transition to a new school. I will be there when they leave for school and come home from school, and in the ideal world, I'll get my work done while they're gone so that I can be more present with them at home. (Those who are familiar with the world of teaching composition realize how laughable that dream is, but it's nice to have hope still.)
I'm parking in faculty-only spaces and trying not to giggle when students all me "Professor." (I'm just waiting for someone to ask me how to get to Potions class.) I'm wearing a ridiculous grin when I walk through the beautiful brick buildings and looking out my row of classroom windows. I'm teaching again, and that feels just right.
I grew up briefly learning about the KKK in history class. "Wow. So much hate," I probably thought. And we learned about the Nazis, too. Of course we did. I read historical nonfiction, my thoughts consumed that it was possible to have that much visceral hate towards a group of people different than you. But it was all in the past. I had yet to learn about implicit bias and systemic racism. I could tuck those scary bad guys into the same category as black-and-white TV and the horse and buggy: historical artifacts.
So imagine my horror when I woke this past weekend to see a new visceral kind of hate. This kind didn't wear masks or starched uniforms. This kind looked remarkably like some of my former students or classmates when I was in college. This kind had the same hatred on their face directed at people different than them. And seeing these images now feels different than seeing them when I was a child for two reasons: 1) This is MY lifetime, not the lifetime of my grandparents. 2) I am the mother of children who are in one of the hated groups.
So this week I watched the video with Chris Cantwell, a white nationalist leader, and I heard him say without emotion, "I think a lot more people are going to die before we're done here," and that scares me. Because the bad guys aren't tucked away in my history book anymore. They are gathering and organizing and making plans. I see the map of hate groups and realize that yes, there are a few here in my new state of Minnesota. I listen to NPR and hear experts on white nationalists talk about the strength of the movement and their agenda to make sure that whites remain the majority in our country. Yes, some are willing to use violence to achieve that goal. And there it is again: fear and sadness. Fear for the safety of my children, especially my son who struggles to control his anger and refuses to back down from a fight. Sadness that this is really the country I brought my Black children to. Sadness that I haven't fallen into some strange time machine; it truly is 2017.
Last fall Chris and I took a class on the hard conversations that come when we discuss racism. We learned more about implicit bias and systemic racism. We heard a bit more about what it means to be an ally, on creating dialogue to hopefully build bridges. So when things like Charlottesville happen, like many others, I post articles that speak to me on Facebook. Maybe it's silly because most of the people who don't believe that racism is still a problem in our country have hidden me from their newsfeeds years ago. But still I post. And sometimes there is a dialogue, and sometimes there is not. Sometimes people get riled up, and sometimes they do not. Often, though, I lose sleep. That I need to work on.
Parenting transracially adopted children brings a whole host of challenges that Chris and I weren't prepared for. There, I said it. We weren't prepared. We were ignorant white folks who thought that racism was a thing of the past and everyone was the same on the inside anyway, so why did it matter if we lived in an all-white town in Iowa?
And then we began the hard road of parenting. We heard our child get yelled at by a grown-up for leaving his bike in the wrong spot, while all of the white children who parked their bikes in the same exact spot weren't addressed at all. We saw the police pull up to our house because our sons were seen doing something suspicious at the park behind our house while the white friend who was with them sat safely in his house without a visit from the police. We watched while our son was followed around a gift shop at the Grand Canyon while the white children wandered the aisles freely. We yelled at our child to put down his friend's airsoft gun because we could still see Tamir Rice's face. We made sure to stay near them in convenience stories, especially when traveling in other parts of the country. We had The Talk again and again and again because the world will treat them differently. It already has. We called church leaders and emailed principals when our son was called the n-word or made fun of because his skin looked different. We talked to our boys about microaggressions and why they don't have to let others touch their hair and how to correct grown-ups when their name is mispronounced.
It's tiring, and we had no clue. And to think the the African-American community has endured a lifetime of this fatigue. We have great friends to offer support and encouragement on the journey, but some days it feels incredibly lonely and isolating as we learn who is in our corner and who isn't.
Others using their voices to speak out don't feel scared and sad; they feel angry. Angry at injustice and the baffling reactions from Trump and the silence from their white neighbors. Anger isn't my go-to emotion because I'm so damn sensitive, but I understand that anger, too. And sometimes that means our words aren't measured; our reactions might get messy.
I'm not even sure my point in writing this other than to say that I'm watching history repeat itself and I refuse to be a bystander. I wrote earlier this week about the importance of speaking out, and I will continue to do so in some way. Because I want a better world for my kids, for all of us. In this process I'm probably burning some bridges and hopefully building others.
I like to teach.