Thursday, March 15, 2018

Concentric Circles

"What are you doing, babe?" I whispered sleepily as you tiptoed towards your daddy's dresser at 6:15am.

"just grabbing the hair gel before I make breakfast burritos."

I smiled and rolled over, but couldn't stay in bed much longer, pulled out of bed by the thought of you making breakfast burritos. Sure, there was a bit of concern regarding the eggs shells, gas stove, and cheese to egg ratios, but I mostly got up because I didn't want to miss it. I didn't want to miss my sneak peek into watching you grow from a boy into a young man.

Parenting feels a lot like driving through a series of tunnels to me. There are long stretches of monotony, sometimes feeling disoriented. And then suddenly, we burst into the light and the landscape is totally different.

Sometimes the new landscape isn't so friendly either - the topography of arguing, rudeness, and short-temperedness sometimes makes me wish for another tunnel. But other times, it almost takes my breath away.

I recently began to think of parenting as a series of concentric circles, with the center circle representing the youngest years of our life and the outside circles representing the years we fully become grown-ups. We start together with our children in the very middle, figuring out our small boundaries and fairly simple roles of engagement: you cry, I try to comfort. you cry, I cry, and then try to comfort. You laugh, I laugh. You laugh, I cry.

And eventually we grow to the edge of that small center circle and break through to the next. The thing I've slowly come to realize is that my children lead the break through. They determine when it's time to move from one set of norms in our interactions with one another, to the next.

For years, he wanted sung to while he fell asleep. Today, he rolled over and said, "ugh, not that song again."

For years, he needed me to squirt his toothpaste. Today, my toothbrush was waiting for me by the sink, toothpaste already on.

For years, she needed help with her socks. Today, she walked out of her room, dressed better than me, looked at my outfit and simply said, "nice, mom."

For years, she wanted coaxing and encouragement for the simplest of tasks. Today, I heard a thud in the other room - when I peeked in, she was picking herself up from the floor, "one handed cartwheels for a 5 year old! gotta keep practicing." and went straight back to it.

They burst through the walls of the concentric circles without much warning, and unless the way has been paved for them, they'll go into a free fall - taking me along. It turns out, I'm meant to lay the foundations for the next state of independence and exploration before we get to it. But too often, I forget and we enter free fall. Or, more likely, I miss that you've broken through into the next phase of being your own person and I'm still trying to hold you to the place you have now outgrown.

This feels especially poignant today as I stood hand in hand with middle schoolers at my kids school participating in the #enough walkout to honor the 17 students and faculty who lost their lives a month ago in Parkland, and to voice their simple request, "we want safe schools."

Whether any of us saw it coming or not, the youth of this country have burst (and in some ways been forcibly evacuated) into the next phase of their development. No longer only concerned with college applications, snapchat filters, and 80s-throwback hightops they're also advocating for their own physical safety and feeling a strong sense of responsibility.

I listened to a one of these students today read a poem written by a classmate called "bullet proof teen." It was powerful, eloquent, and one line hit my core (and I apologize to the author for any errors in my recall of exact wording): "we are bloody flesh but we must be kevlar. we must protect the little boys and girls behind us."

They were talking about my little boy and my little girl. I looked around the heart-shaped gathering of tomorrow's leaders, todays self-identified children and change-makers and saw on their faces a willingness to die for my 6yr old and 8yr old who walk the same halls as these teenagers. I stood in silence, feeling the tears at the back of my throat, facing the justified slap those words probably never intended to bring, accepting the fairness of the question it implicitly asked "why weren't you there to defend me?"

We're in free fall, dear ones. We missed it, you and I. The grown-ups, the decision-makers, the money-spenders, the ones intended by creation's design to protect, to prepare for, and to welcome those younger than us as they keep on through life. We missed building the stable footing for our young people and we are all feeling the free-fall, but none more than our youth and their parents.

So what platform will you build today? Are you building a platform that is actually a plank, only wide enough for you and your dear ones? Are you walking on a gated platform that leads to nowhere but more separation from the rest? Or are you using multiple materials, aware you have a critical piece of the platform and the stranger next to you does too?

My husband and I were 2 of 3 adults standing on that heart-shape with students today. We went to simply be there, not to speak, not to control, but just to be.

The rest of the adults present (most of whom were teachers) stood back, taking photos. I truly believe this was out of respect to our youth and their pain, but presence is more powerful than distance in easing pain and absence is not empowerment. My husband talked to two of the MS organizers afterwards, to thank them for their leadership and allowing us to be there. They replied, "thank you for being here, and thank you for being close."

They're paying attention - those sleepy, tousled heads of your own children confidently making breakfast burritos, and those frontal-lobe developing fierce leaders shouting at our elected leaders through loudspeakers. They're paying attention to us, they want us close, and they've burst through to the next circle. I'm right there with them, doing everything in my power to build the platform we should have built years ago, and also looking to what the next circle is and how we can build that platform too.

We can't afford another free fall as a country and unity is the only way to avoid it. Find a stranger, make a friend. Find an enemy, make peace. Find a resource, build a platform. The circle is getting bigger, and I need you next to me because it's too much pain for one person or one generation. But together? I truly believe we have all we need.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

eight square inches

i do not intend
to listen
when you tell me
i cannot
change the world

i ripple impact.

these eyes
have shed a thousand tears
have looked shame in the eye
transforming it to healing grief

these ears
have bathed in beauty
bled from pain
remained open vessels for new learning
maintained slopes pouring growth
to the heart
out through hands
moved to act. touch. heal. push aside.

this tongue
has formed whispers of comfort
launched rockets
of just anger
fought back fear
eaten hope

these lips
have kissed away heart wounds
tasted the sweetest strength found only
in a welcomed lovers skin
curled upwards to the sun
silent power shot across to another
striking loneliness a death blow

this mind
has learned, unlearned, relearned
wrestled with demons in and out
chosen the painful tenderizing of opinion
so perspective never hardens to hate

this heart
has chosen to stand still
instead of flee
to fight and sometimes relinquish
to face defeat but never be
to break wide open
and over
and over

eight square inches of my face
a house for all this
and more

eight square inches of my face
i see infinite

you see flesh and wrinkles
tell my eight square inches
"you cannot change the world."

i respond with silence
a composed canvas

but inside
i reverberate a force
rendering your words hollow

"i already am."

and though you don't see it, i do.
you are too

sixteen square inches.
infinite world changing impact

there is only one difference
to how you and i
change the world

i intend to do it
on purpose

Friday, October 6, 2017

An Open Letter to the American Public Media & BBC

An Open Letter to the American Public Media & BBC

Dear fellow humans who also work in public media,

I've long puzzled at your role in influencing the society I weave my way through every day. Growing up in Kenya, I was insulated from mainstream western media other than the morning news from BBC crackling across my father's 2 way radio in the 1980s and 90s.

When I moved to the United States for university in 2004, I was struck by your reliance on sensationalism, fully understanding your use of dramatic language and punctuation was meant to catch my attention. What I never understood, and am even more baffled at today, is your (apparent) total oblivion to the reason these types of headlines grab the attention of more readers. As a mother, as a woman, as an American, as an expatriate, as a human, as a budding mental health professional, I would like to plainly tell you something you seem to either not know, or worse, give no regard for: your sensationalism preys on the human tendency towards fear, and heightens our evolutionary response to fear: self-preservation and isolationism. And self-preservation and isolationism lead to anger, division, and violence. 

Plainly put, it is precisely the way you report the news that feeds the ravenous, insatiable beast of fear, and all that follows in it's wake. And I know that while I carry the bulk of responsibility for my own attitudes towards others, you carry a lions share and daily, hypocritically pretend to wash your hands of the division, fear, anger, hatred, and violence sweeping not only this country but also the world.

But increasingly, I think we're realizing what you're doing. We are slowly recognizing certain styles of reporting prey on our human nature for your profit. It's increasingly clear (through things like the interviews of the brother of the Vegas shooter) that you are capitalizing on people's pain in a way that makes them a sensationalist headline rather than using your platform as a way to remind people of their common humanity.   We are slowly wizening to you crying "terrorism" while using your own editing and linguistics tactics to weave terror into people's hearts and subconscious. I hope that soon we'll say we've had enough. 

I watched CNN early this year while at the gym, ironically there to decrease my stress but inundated with your coverage of the attack outside Notre Dame. A picture flashed of hundreds of people inside the cathedral sitting calmly with their hands raised. "how remarkable," I thought as a I huffed along on the treadmill, "those hundreds of people waiting calmly, joined quietly in solidarity, strong, resolute."

I'm glad I think faster than you speak for you quickly re-phrased the picture "what a terrifying scene. so scary', you said. I almost lost my footing, still somehow caught off guard by your brazen choice to cast a darker hue over an evolving, and self-explanatory story. Your choice of language blatantly pandered to only my fear-based emotion, asking me to engage with the world around me out of only fear, rather than using my resilience, compassion, hope, and patience for real fact rather than speculation, your narration seeking to strip me of my willingness to reason.

It ended up being an attack that resulted in no deaths, including the attacker or the policeperson they attacked. I never saw you hail any of this as positive, or a step in the right direction, or evidence of hundreds working for good while one worked for harm.

And then later that same day, I read a BBC article about the mother of one of the London Bridge attackers. You reported she felt too ashamed to grieve, and supported her faith communities decision to not bury her son. Her thoughts on the attack? "It's a horrible thing. It shouldn't have happened and it should never happen again. And I'm going to do everything I can to prevent this. We need more education for young people," she told you.

You closed the article with this one line: "We left her alone, contemplating in the dark."

How dare you take an opportunity to highlight solidarity in suffering, a commitment to unity & peace, a plea for education and instead literally leave a marginalized, grieving woman alone in the dark, and then highlight it in a home-page featured article? But you dared. And I noticed.

And the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized this is your attitude towards your readers, and the world: Let's leave them alone, contemplating in the dark.

You tell us of all the real & potential & theoretical threats in the world, on a cycle of constancy that dizzies even the most robust of minds and stalwart of spirits. You clamour there is fear, and rely on us feeling afraid enough that we trust only you will have the answer. For your plan is to bring our eyes back to your publications and your channels, to profit from the microseconds our eyes or computer mouse hover over advertisements that further breed our sense of discontent, inadequacy, need for escape. And the cycle never ends, and the spinning nearly makes us black out. And you leave us, contemplating in the dark.

I'm asking you to stop. To consider that the bed you are making, you will one day lie in, and in fact already are. To consider that the terror you so often speak of is fed a gluttonous diet by your rhetoric. I'm asking you to believe in the desire of the majority of humanity to pursue these few simple things: a safe place to live, a way to care for those they love, and a way to provide meaning to their community.

I've almost stopped believing the entirety of what you say, and the increasing data-driven evidence that we live in a post-factual society would suggest the majority of the American  & western-world population doesn't believe you either.

Just weeks ago, some of you were on my street, going door to door looking for someone to talk about the shooting that had occurred in front of our home. I approached a reporter, asking them to leave - "but, ma'am, wasn't there a murder here?" I deflected the question, asking them again to leave. The reporter was clearly baffled, "ma'm, I don't understand your hostility. don't you know crime has risen in this part of town? we're doing a report on that." I simply responded, "that sounds like a great report - go find real datum to support it, but anecdotes of recently traumatized people are not data, it's pandering and manipulative."

He continued walking the block until he found a woman holding a sleeping baby who didn't know what had really happened, and got the sound bite he wanted. He never came back - not that night when nearly 100 people gathered in our street to pray, light candles, hug one another, multiple cultures and languages folded together in shared grief, and shared strength. Not the next days when there were more people walking in the neighborhood, talking to one another, knocking on strangers doors just to exchange numbers and give flowers. Not the next week when a mother came by to grieve her son and neighbors held a literal strangers grief physically and emotionally because alone is never how we are supposed to be.  Because that doesn't trigger our fear response, and so they didn't need those stories.

Powerful media, you have such a voice, such a potential for leadership, such an opportunity to meaningfully and significantly contribute to a society built on respect, an ability to dialogue with a sensitivity to emotion but a commitment to not taking advantage of it. I hope you'll begin using it. You would gain more readers and viewers and followers than you could possibly imagine, and you would, I truly believe, significantly and positively shape the direction of this country and world.

But even if you won't, I will and I believe with my whole heart that my family, and my colleagues, my community, and millions upon billions more will too. You have positioned yourself as the machine, and people have been walking away from factories and their deplorable conditions for hundreds of years. There's no reason we would stay now.

I have children to raise, and I have truth to teach them. About how the world works, about their role in it, about the equal value of all. About their ability to in every action and every word bring about hope or destruction.

And today, I wish you were my children, so I could sit you down and tell you that your words matter, they really do. To tell you that habitual fear has never once contributed to unity, and that you must do everything in your power to bring hope, truth, and a strong awareness of the tenderness of humanity to your own life and the lives of those you influence.

I know sometimes you do highlight the wonderful. I know sometimes you do push for beauty and unity and positivity. But they are the exception, not the norm, and almost never a headline story. What if the reverse were true?

I hope you'll begin to read every sentence of every headline and photo caption and news hour script (before and after it goes to publication) with this question: "will this, will I, spread hope and resilience; or will this spread fear and division?"

I'm committed to spreading hope and resilience. It's far time you did the same.


to the curious: my primary (read several times a week, some daily) news sources are BBC, NPR, CNN, and MSNBC. In addition, on a monthly basis, I read Al-Jazeera, Fox News, Red State, and Brietbart, as well as Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, The New York Times, and Huffington Post. When things are really rough I also read xkcd, the onion, the oatmeal, and the babylon bee. 

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