Just a regular Wednesday

There are some mornings when it doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Take this morning, for instance.

 

I killed a wasp in my bathroom. Getting to our master bathroom involves a series of turns—five turns from the front door, to be exact—so it was a bit of a surprise to see it buzzing around my mirror. I had a bad reaction to a sting this summer, so I have to admit I went a little Rambo on the poor creature. I ran to the garage to get wasp/hornet spray. I drenched the insect (and my mirror and everything on my side of the sink) with the horrible stuff until it fell, paralyzed, into the cup full of Q-tips. Then I dumped out the cup and beat the wasp to a pulp with a flip-flop. Not a very romantic way to go.

 

My nostrils full of pesticide, my husband texted me from work to say he left his coffee on the kitchen table. I told him I was having a similar kind of day.

 

Then I listened to a voicemail from my bank saying my debit card was suspended due to questionable charges. Seeing as how someone once stole my credit card to buy a subscription to Soap Opera Digest, I took the call seriously. I got it all sorted out and wheeled my bike out of the garage to go for a ride.

 

I paused in the driveway, weighing the risks. With the way the morning had been going, would it be more prudent to stay indoors?

 

Because that’s a lot of what my day boils down to: balancing the risks and the rewards. Should I drink the milk a day after the expiration date? Should I stop at the yellow light or keep going? Should I introduce myself to that person? Should I quit this job to take that one? Should we buy that house? Should I start an adoption?

 

As I walked my son to school this morning (before the wasp episode and the call from the bank), we talked about his classmates and what the day might bring. He told me that he was worried no one would play with him or talk to him. He feels unsure of how to make friends, though we have seen him win over most anyone in a one-mile radius of him with a giant smile and a side-hug. I asked him if he thought he should go back with me and do school at home. He chewed on the thought for a few seconds, then he said he should go to school.

 

“Me make friends,” he said, adjusting his backpack and squaring his shoulders resolutely. “School hard but good.”

 

Risks and rewards. Totally worth it.

In the absence of hate

I feel sick. The constant news cycle. The pictures and videos. The soundbites. The unequivocal, unapologetic, urgent call for hatred of people whose skin is a different color.

 

I think I’ve always been bothered by the unfair treatment of people who aren’t white. I was raised on Sesame Street-style diversity and after-school specials that called out bullies and bigots. But now that I’m a mother to a beautiful, brown-skinned boy, I can’t just turn off the TV and stay in my white privilege bubble.

 

Though you could argue I should’ve felt this strongly all along, for me, there’s a new reality to the recent violence. With the addition of our son to our family, I now replace every mistreated, overlooked, belittled black person with his face, his eyes, his tears, and I am undone. When I see a picture of a torch-bearing white supremacist, I can’t help but think of how this man hates my son, even though they’ve never met.

 

How to keep him safe? How to teach him when to stand up and when to stand down? How to keep moving forward when there seems to be so much hate? I can’t think of what to do except to go out and love on people.

 

Yesterday in the parking lot of Sam’s Club, I watched an older white man approach a black mother of four small kids. I held my breath. I braced myself. Then I heard him say that her children are beautiful and a blessing and can he get her a shopping cart? It was commonplace and magnificent, all at once. It was regular kindness, a step towards healing.

 

Kindness promotes trust. Trust makes room for understanding. Understanding creates empathy. And once we get to empathy it’s a lot harder to hate complete strangers.

 

In that same parking lot, I saw a different white man, feet planted widely apart with hands on his hips, stare down a woman wearing an Islamic headscarf. Maybe he had lost his car. Maybe he was elderly and confused. I’m still not sure, but my senses were on high alert. I picked up my pace to walk closer to the woman, wondering what I would do if he said something unkind. Nothing happened. It was probably a scene created mostly by my imagination, but I was ready because I’m tired of letting others do the talking for me. I’m tired of all this hate.

 

There’s no shortage of opinions when it comes to the recent events in Charlottesville. Everyone seems to have lots to say. I’m not in any way certified to speak about race relations, but I can’t say nothing at all. We can fight against racism. We can stand up for what’s right. In the space of one generation, we went from whites-only water fountains to an African-American president. Anything is possible.

 

As long as there are people willing to call out bullies and bigots, there’s hope. I will not be silent. Let’s see the glory that remains where there’s an absence of hate.

First day of kindergarten

Sending your kindergartener to school for the first time can cause an overwhelming flood of emotions. Sad, because he’s growing up too fast. Happy, because he’s growing into a big kid. Worrying about how he’ll cope without you. Pride knowing he’s capable of so much more than you credit him for.

 

When my oldest children, twin girls, started kindergarten I was nervous. Those first kids are your guinea pigs, trial-and-error in the truest sense. How many times should I walk them in to their classrooms? Should I send juice or water in their lunches? How cute should I dress them for school?

 

When my older son went to kindergarten three years later, he had already been in the school building with me countless times. Those teachers who had been complete strangers when I had given my girls to them on their first day of school had now become my friends. Their elementary school was more familiar to me than just about any place in town. Dropping him off was much easier.

 

Then I had a break from elementary school life. For a whole year I had only middle school and high school kids. It’s a different perspective and different expectations. No more birthday snacks or hallway volunteer time. Upper school administrators don’t expect the same level of involvement and that was okay. Older kids have more responsibility for their school assignments so less is expected of parents (Can I hear an Amen?!).

 

But now I’m back. I took my youngest to kindergarten last week. And I survived.

 

Fortunately, our youngest son now attends the same elementary school his older siblings attended. The familiarity is at least there for me, if not for him.

 

I’ve had several people ask me how he’s doing in kindergarten. Since I’m not there and stalking isn’t encouraged, here’s the little I know: Other than the first day, he’s been walking in all by himself. (“Tell me how you get to your room,” I say outside the school door. “Left, left, left, right,” he answers.) On the first full day, he didn’t notice that he had forgotten his lunchbox in the classroom until he got to the cafeteria and had to run back to the room to get it. On the second full day, he banged his shin on a piece of playground equipment and got a big bump. Both his teacher and the school nurse called to let me know about it.

 

Our tough, little fella is doing it. He’s learning and making friends. He’s becoming just a little more of who he’s meant to be. When he gets in the car in the afternoon, he’s all smiles. I know a giant part of the success of these first few days is due to the adults who are loving and caring and teaching him while he’s away from me. They are the ones putting ice on his hurt leg and guiding him back down the hall to retrieve his lunchbox.

 

With this in mind, I have a favor to ask: Even if you don’t have a child in school, tell a teacher “thank you” today. These amazing educators leave a mark on their students that will stay with them forever. They give of themselves in a way most occupations would never dare ask of their employees. They invest in our nation’s greatest resources—our kids, our hope, our future.

Middle Child Syndrome

I have the fortunate distinction of being the middle of three daughters. I can find the fortune in it now that I am an adult with healthy relationships with both my sisters. I love going out with them; hearing people comment about how much we look alike. I am accustomed to the way we compensate for each other like a three-legged stool—balancing each other without enlisting Sister A to gang up on Sister B. Sisterhood can be a fragile ecosystem.

 

Now that we are adults (40 is grown up, right?), we are comfortable with our roles, but growing up was a different story. If I had understood the predicament of the middle child better, I might not have been so upset upon finding a copy of Raising the Sensitive Middle Child—dog-eared and underlined—by my mother’s bedside. Now I appreciate the irony of the scene: “What does this mean?!” I moaned to her through clenched teeth. “Are you saying I’m sensitive or something?”

 

To the casual observer, my sisters and I held equal places in our mother’s affection. She relied on the wisdom of humorist Erma Bombeck to explain her diverse feelings about us. Hanging in the upstairs hallway were three framed tributes to our respective birth order. Each began with “I’ve always loved you best…” Erma’s attempt to placate all the feelings of her children is admirable, but the words of those framed keepsakes mainly confused me.

 

Each passage ends with a parting thought. To the oldest child: you were the beginning. To the baby: you were the culmination. But to the middle child: you were the continuance. In other words, you were the not-as-great sequel to a blockbuster, or you were just there to get us one step closer to the big finale. The part that particularly rubbed me the wrong way as soon as I could read was “you drew the dumb spot.” I never finished reading the thought. It said: “You drew the dumb spot and it made you stronger for it.” I just focused on the fact that it said dumb and assumed it was calling me names. Again: Am I sensitive or something?

 

The greatest curse/blessing of being a middle child would have to be empathy. I experienced persecution from the maniacal brain of my older sister. (For example: “Abby, you can go first on our homemade zip-line. Just climb up this porch pole and grab on the rope. Come on, don’t be a baby.” After the failed zip-line… “It’s just skin. After your hands stopped bleeding, it’ll grow back. Stop crying, cry-baby.”)

 

So when it came time for me to join in the initiation of our younger sister, I was robbed of the joy so evident in my older sister. To say that I experienced no enjoyment in seeing our younger sister scurry to do our bidding just because we said “If you don’t, the bug is gonna get you!” would be a lie, but it was an empty happiness I swallowed as I drank the juice she brought us as we watched an episode of Little House on the Prairie.

 

Now that I have children of my own I understand how difficult it is to make every one of them feel special every day. No matter how carefully I craft my praise for one, the others feel slighted. If I say, “You’re really good at drawing pictures of butterflies” to one daughter the other daughter assumes I think her butterflies stink. My one consolation is that I don’t really have a middle child. My firstborn are twin girls. My older son Knox came three years later, and we adopted another son six years younger than Knox.

 

You could argue that they all “drew the dumb spot” in the family in some way. Being compared to a twin sister in everything you do has been problematic for both of my girls and being the little brother to two strong-willed, older sisters has not been a picnic for my older son. (Knox used to shoot baskets in the driveway alone a lot. Maybe he really liked basketball or maybe he was trying to avoid playing “house” for the thousandth time.) Our youngest has his own set of unique challenges, although he does have the advantage of being our baby with three older siblings to spoil him.

 

My prayer for my children is that they will receive the blessing I think I have finally learned to appreciate: being inconvenienced by your siblings and making compromises for your siblings and showing lifelong loyalty and devotion to your siblings will eventually create compassion for people who are not your family. In other words, it will make you stronger. Thanks, Erma!