Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Hiatus and Why I'm Back

I took a hiatus from blogging - social media was detracting from my ability to develop my own thoughts independently of the 'noise' that can sometimes come from social media (albeit it well-intentioned, and sometimes correct, noise). If you've never taken such a break, I highly recommend it. Social media is great, but in a moderated dose.

But, I'm back. Who knows for how long, but for now I am. And here's why - I finally looked into one of the details of on the major issues facing our country (and the world) today; and now I have something to say to you, my readers.

Now, before I lose you - let me say this: this is important, this affects you and your kids tremendously. This is an issue you need to have an informed opinion on. And that's my goal, at least for now - just to encourage you to think about this topic and to do your own research.

We're at a period in our country's development where there is an underlying tension between safety and our rights. Where corporations can donate to campaigns and causes as if they are people, but can't be accessed or held accountable as if they are people. Where government is so big and so vague that it's hard to know what's truth and what's not. Where 'he said/she said' is the name of the game. We live in a time of fear - based on gun rights issues, based on gender/sexuality issues, based on skin color issues.

But fear cannot be our motivator - fear always acts irrationally. Fear either hides or fights, fear does not change. Fear can be a catalyst for productive thought but fear itself is not productive thought. And our fear as a nation is about to grow (and potentially be manipulated) over the most personal and ubiquitous of topics - our food. We cannot be governed by fear. We must be driven by love - for our children, for our bodies, and for our health as a nation.

Before you stop reading - hear this: I love gluten. I love dairy. I love nuts. I love butter. I love chocolate, coffee, and booze. I'm not writing this from a place of superiority - my pantry looks pretty similar to yours right now (kraft mac n'cheese, lucrene grated & string cheese, chicken of the sea tuna, kellogs nurtigrain bars). But yesterday and today my perspective on food got blown out of the water - I mean, sky high, earth shattering - out of the water. And here's why.

I stopped talking about my opinion on allergies, how to eat healthy, our cultures obsession with food, etc just long enough to listen to a few Ted Talks and watch the movie Food Inc. And then this morning, I went to a breakfast hosted by the campaign for Washington State prop 522 that goes to the ballot this November, and heard talks from Robyn O'Brien, author of The Unhealthy Truth and Joyti Stephens, Sustainability Director for Nature's Path. And here's what I learned:

* Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are in nearly 80% of all foods sold in grocery stores

* There is essentially no research done on the impact of ingesting GMOs. AKA - we don't know if they are good or bad or neutral for us.

We, as a country, have applied our 'innocent until proven guilty' principle to our food system. There are a lot of statistics that can be scary - from both sides of the argument, but here is the jist of it: we don't know if GMOs are safe and yet we allow them to be in 80% of our foods. 

And they are unlabeled. 

Every part of your car is labeled and can be traced to a manufacturer. Every part of your shirt is labeled and can be traced to a manufacturer. Every part of your mattress is labeled and can be traced to a manufacturer. But not your food. The government has decided we don't need to know what is in our food - we can own a gun, we can go to war at 18, we can demand labels on hot drinks telling us they are hot - but we don't need to know what is in our own food.

Proposition 522 would require all food companies to label food containing GMOs. Not that companies remove GMOs from products, not that GMO products be accompanied by a warning label like alcohol or tobacco, not that they be taxed extra. Just that they be labeled. Labeled. So you, the consumer, knows what you're buying and what you're feeding to your children.

In a land where we pride ourselves on access to information, and a right to choose - we are wildly amiss if we let the very substances which become our literal bodies be determined by a government or corporation.

Let me say that again - we are letting corporations and government decide the contents, unchecked, of the very (pardon the play on words) fiber of our being.

Here are some facts (and while correlation does not equal causation - correlation of this magnitude warrants some research):

64 countries worldwide require the labeling of GMOs (or ban them all together) - including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Russia, and all of Europe
(note - major companies like Coca Cola, Kellogs, PepsiCo, and Montsanto all reformat their products to provide non-GMO foods in these countries.)

Connecticut & Maine both recently passed legislation demanding the labeling of GMO-foods

The government currently uses tax payer dollars for subsidizing farmers and companies that use GMO seed and products

Organic farmers are charged fees to prove their food is organic and fees to label as organic (thurs, organic food is more expensive. It's like getting charged a fee to wear a seat belt.)

The US ranks 26th out of 29 in a recent UN Health report on children's health in the top 29 richest countries in the world

The Health Facts:

1 in 13 children have a food allergy

Hospitals reported a 265% increase in hospitalizations due to allergies between (A) 1998-2000 and (B) 2004-2006
* Commercially marketed GMO-food was first introduced in the US 1994

Cancer is now the leading cause of illness-related death for children under 15 in the US

41% of living Americans will get cancer - 1 in 2 men, and 1 in 3 women. Only 10% of cancers are genetic.

We, as a nation, spend 17c of every dollar on healthcare - we are sick, and it's hard to be a global competitor when you are sick

Major epi pin producing companies have seen a 76% increase in sales of epi pins

Our children's generation has been named generation Rx 

Our children's generation is the first generation in history that is predicted to have a shorter life span than their parents 

Let me say that again: Kai and Mika will die younger than I will. I'm predicted to live until my mid-80s. They aren't predicted to make it that long.

Those are the facts. Whether it's GMOs or something else - we are doing something majorly wrong. And if 64 countries worldwide say GMOs need to be at minimum labeled, if not illegal - well, then that is probably a good place to start.

Our family is making a shift - we're still going to eat gluten, red meat, and dairy. But it's going to be organic because we will not feed Kai and Mika genetically modified foods that parents in 64 other countries can choose no to feed their kids. USDA certified organic foods are guaranteed, trace-ably, GMO-free.

Yes, Organic is more expensive - but if more of us buy organic, it will increase demand and drive down prices. And if we demand GMO food be labeled - our major food producers will be required to adapt the foods we eat. Just like they have for all those other countries.

If you're interested in reading more/finding out more, I recommend the following:

Ted Talk by Robyn O'Brien:

Ted Talk by 11yr old Birke Baehr:

Information on Yes on 522:

The entire text of 522. Note - there WILL be a campaign against 522, there's already a website set up for it, and there will be statements made that contradict statements made by Yes on 522. Read the bill, the entire bill, if you live or vote in Washington. You have a capable mind - decide for yourself. It took me 15 minutes to read. 

This is an uncomfortable topic, and it's hard to ingest so many hard facts - and yes, it's hard to know the truth. I could list two articles back to back that say polar opposite 'truths' about an identical topic. But the following is not complicated, and should not be hard:

We have a right to know what is in our food, and a right to decide what we will feed ourselves and our children. That's not too much ask.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When 86% is No Longer a Passing Grade

The failure today of the Senate to pass universal background checks set me thinking about gun control. Again. But also about a few other things - about self-respect, about drops in a bucket, and about looking my children in the eye when I explain tragedy, loss, and evil.

A recent poll by CNN/ORC indicates support for universal background checks hovers somewhere around 86% (various polls for the last several months have indicated similar or slightly higher percentages). But today, elected officials voted against universal background checks.

If 86% of a democratic population support something, and it's voted against by elected officials, the responsibility lies with the democratic population. We can blame our dysfunctional leaders all we want, but we put them in their positions of leadership. Whether we voted for them, didn't vote at all, or voted against them but didn't do anything to make sure others knew where we stood - we put them there. And we can complain about big corporations, about lobbies, about money and politics being in bed together; but even in a corrupt democracy, 86% should be a force to at least be reckoned with.

And so today, 86% of us failed. We failed to contact our senators and let them know what we wanted. We failed to be a democracy. We failed to support the belief that voices, not money, ultimately matter. I did it too. I called my senators a few weeks ago and let them know what I wanted, but I didn't call yesterday. I let my voice go unheard.

Why didn't I call? Well, because I figured I didn't matter. I figured I wouldn't make a difference. I figured someone else would. I figured lobbyists were taking my senator out to lunch as I considered making the call. It looks like 86% of you thought the same thing...

When we choose to let our voices go unheard we relinquish our self-confidence. When we blame our elected officials, we shirk our responsibility. When we fight on party lines, when we use inherited rhetoric, when we sigh with resignation and accept our hesitation before going to a movie theater or sending our children to school - we give up our democracy.

We are all drops in a bucket. Very, very, very tiny drops. But we're still drops.

After the Senate held their vote today, I did call. I called almost every single one of my senators and congressmen/women, I'll call the rest of them tomorrow. I called to find out where they stood on issues important to me, to offer my thanks and support if we were on the same side of an issue, and to express my viewpoint as a registered voter if they weren't. It was a painless experience - absolutely painless. In fact, it was much, much easier than every other conversation I've had about this issue with anyone else. I made 15 calls. It took 15 minutes.

15 minutes. That's it. 15 minutes. Now, if I want to get involved in lots of issues it's going to take a lot more time. And I've spent hours and hours and hours on this one particular issue - reading articles, reviewing studies, debating with people on both sides of the argument. Being involved requires some time. But most people I talk to already have an opinion. And most people I talk to still don't call. We don't seem to have 15 minutes to spare to call the very people we chose who actually hold the literal legislative vote.

We should. We should have 15 minutes to express our opinions to our legislators. We should have 15 minutes to speak on behalf of what we value. We should have 15 minutes to fight for things that deeply affect us and those around us. It's an incredibly worthwhile 15 minutes.

But I called for another reason. While I believe in the importance of speaking up for our beliefs and values, I believe in something even more strongly. I believe in my children knowing they have a mother who fights for them.

I don't know how all this gun legislation is going to play out, and maybe it will go in the opposite direction of what I would hope, but in 5 years from now, if/when my kids get sent home early from school because there was another mass shooting (I'm just praying it's not in their class), I will be able to look them square in the eyes and tell them "Bad things happen, that's just part of life. But I have fought to protect you from the moment you were born, and I will continue to until the day I die."

And maybe for you, it's not your children. Maybe you don't have any children. But you have someone in your life who doesn't have a vote. Maybe it's a grandparent with Alzheimer's who survives on social security. Maybe it's a pregnant 17 yr old sister on Medicaid. Maybe it's your student, whose parents are undocumented workers.  When life in this country knocks them down hard, I mean, incredibly hard, you'll want to look them in the eye and know you've used your voice. 

I owe my 15 minutes to my children, because they need to know their mother is championing for their best. And I owe my 15 minutes to the good people who live in this country but can't vote, because they need to know the dreams of political freedom they pursued aren't impossible. And I owe my 15 minutes to myself, because I want to know that even though I may not have been listened to, I spoke when it was important.

I don't think my voice will tip the scales. I don't think anything I do will radically change anything. I don't think the amount I recycle and compost each month is going to put a dent in the lack of resources my grandchildren may face. I don't think my avoiding debt is going to save the financial system. I don't think giving the occasional money or food to a homeless person is going to stop poverty and hunger. But I do it all anyway. I do it because it's right. I do it because, at the very least, I don't want to take away from society. I do it so my children will know I did my best, and so I can gently and confidently look their pain in the face, brokenhearted for them, but guilt-free. And I do it because I hope others are too.

I know if enough of us act, we catalyze change. Why should a political democracy be any different?

To find your senators' contact information click here.
To find your representatives' contact information click here.

note - while my political views are probably not invisible, my goal with this post was not to champion any cause but to promote the use of the individual voice, your individual voice, in the democracy we so proudly hold as a nation.

As a potential point of interest, President Obama's speech shortly after the Senate vote today can be found here

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Applause for the Ugly Lovely

For the mothers. And all the ugly lovely that fills your every day.

I think:

The cracks on your hands from washing thousands of dishes are lovely - for they show commitment, selflessness, responsibility, and humility.

The stains are your shirt are lovely - for they are testimony to the embrace being more important than the perception.

The stickiness of your floor is lovely - for it shows no pretense, but remembers the realities of your chaos, and the care you constantly give to it.

Your bare arms on a cold spring day are lovely - because the wet little girl wrapped in your jacket is testimony to love, and to puddle splashing being sometimes more important than practicality. 

The dirty diapers in your rubbish bin are lovely - for they show the gentleness, commitment, and selflessness required for the most simple and crucial and monotonous of tasks.

The time you burst into tears at the check out counter was lovely - for it showed humanity embraced by courage. If you were filled with paralyzing fear, you would never have made it to the store.

The toys strewn across the floor are lovely - for they speak of laughter, of financial sacrifice, of learning, and of play.

The germ infested thermometer in the sink is lovely - for it tells of gentleness, of accepting harm along with the good, and of preparedness put to use.

The used tissue on the bathroom counter is lovely - for I know it wiped your tears when you ducked into the bathroom to cry silently away from wondering eyes, to spare them from your humanity just a little longer so their world can be unshaken for a few more moments.

And I think you, in whatever state you're in, are lovely. Because the fact you are surrounded by the ugly lovely means you've stayed. You've stayed through the messes, through the tears, through the fits, through the brokenness, through the lost tempers (yes, even your own), through the long nights and early mornings. You've stayed. And staying is ugly lovely.

And while I love seeing the pictures of your beautiful children, and hearing your stories of amazing adventures, I know it's all possible because of the unnoticed ugly lovely. So, today, I call attention to, and I honor, the ugly lovely in your life and in mine - for it is the foundation for many beautiful things.

Friday, March 15, 2013

We need to talk

There's a picture in a BBC article today about the Assault Weapons Ban bill that was just passed by a panel of elected officials, and will go on to the Senate and Congress. The picture in the article is of an assortment of people, various ages, ethnicities, genders, body types - all at a shooting range. The caption? 'Teachers in Texas improve their shooting skills.'

Now, I don't know about you, but I don't want Kai's kindergarten teacher to be a skilled gunman or gunwoman. I want Kai's kindergarten teacher to be a skilled shoe-tier, snot wiper, circle drawer, and line-former. Not a gunman. Sure, I want his teacher to be able to defend him if anything terrible ever happens. But more than that - I don't want terrible things, not that sort of terrible thing, to happen at his school. No one does.

No one does, but according to many articles I've read, this contradictory reality holds:
1. a majority of Americans agree with an assault weapons ban
2. public media is skeptical of the Congress and the Senate's ability to pass such a ban

In other words - we live in a democracy where the majority of it's citizens think one thing, and it's elected officials may act in opposition to the voting majority's opinion. What a democracy.

 There are only two ways this can happen - ignorance and apathy.

We need to take a hard look at the argument of those who are advocating loudly, boldly, and lavishly (ie - millions of dollars in lobbying to your representative on Capitol Hill) for 'the right to bear arms'. Yes, we have that right. It's one of our amendments. But it's pretty vague, and unless we look at the consequences of literal interpretation, in an age where military weaponry and conflict have far surpassed what our founding fathers could have imagined, we run the risk of bowing down to an argument that I think holds no sway in today's society.

Why does someone need an assault weapon? Well, the answer usually is 'to defend myself'. (The answer surely isn't 'to go hunting' - PETA would have a furry heart attack if that were the case.) It's to defend oneself. Well, against who? I guess against the bad guy - the bad guy with an assault weapon. Oh - why does he have an assault weapon? Because he's allowed to.

Now, before you get yourself all riled up thinking "even if assault weapons are banned, people could still get their hands on them" - sure, that's true. We'd still have an illegal market of weapons - just like we have an illegal market for explosive devices and cocaine. People will always pursue power, and some people will always use force to accomplish that power, no matter the cost.

Here's the thing - the 2nd amendment was created at a time when our founding fathers had just declared independence from the King of Britain, at a time when the only way independence from tyranny could be guaranteed was if individual citizens 'bore arms'. The only guarantor of freedom was an armed populace.

But that is no longer the case. Warfare has changed, weaponry has changed, and (perhaps most significantly) the access to and transfer of information has changed. And still, proponents of the 2nd amendment hide behind it's original principle as if it were still relevant today.

(We also don't live in a country where we have to defend ourselves or no one else will come - we don't have to be our own militia. Sure, in some places public safety services/police forces are more scarce, more corrupt, more negligent than in others. But my point is, we have another option. That wasn't the case in the 1780's.)

Shockingly, public and social media seem to have entirely missed addressing this simple fact: we have no hope as a general populous of standing up to our government militarily. Even if we amassed all the assault weapons in the country, we would have no chance against the military our taxes so solidly fund. And I'm not saying we should. Here's what I am saying - we no longer live in a country where we can cling to guns as a way of assuring our rights. That boat has long sailed.

We live in a world of drones, of massive data gathering about individuals (about us) from all sorts of companies, corporations, and governments, of nuclear weapons. That's the world we live in. Whether we like it or not, whether we have all the social media accounts we can or try to keep a low profile, whether we pay for everything with card or still try to use mostly cash - we live in a world where information about us is incredibly accessible. And subsequently, our social framework and understanding of government's role and power must adapt.

Instead of arguing about whether or not we should be allowed to have assault weapons, perhaps we should be pushing the bigger issues. Perhaps we should make sure we are arguing on behalf of/exercising the rights of the 1st Amendment "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances".

A redress of grievances. In other words - we have the right to ask our government to right the wrongs.

Here's the other unspoken half of that - we still live in a democracy. We still live in a country that holds votes for public office every four, in some cases every two, years. We live in a country where there is actual potential to have a literal voice. Sure, you and I are two miniscule drops in a bucket of hundreds of millions of drops - but we're still a drop. Not just an idea of a drop.

The impact of that reality is huge - we do actually have the power to change. And why? Because our senators and congress people want so badly to remain in their positions of power (which is just human nature - ask anyone who has a driver's license). So, because people like power, and because we live in a democracy - you have a voice. Your voice, the voting voice, is louder than the NRA, than the health care lobbyists, than anything else. Why? Because your voice votes - their voice doesn't. Theirs might be better funded, more articulate, and more present - but it doesn't vote.

I have yet to meet a person who doesn't have an opinion on gun control, on the sequester, on health care, on mental health in this country, on medicare, on medicaid, on education, on military and foreign affairs. I have met one person who has written or called their elected official. And it's not me.

I'm writing this to get myself in gear, and hopefully, if you're an American citizen, to get you in gear, too. There are other countries in the world where voices are not as able to be heard, but we are not living in one of them. Use your voice, or (if I may be so bold) perhaps you shouldn't be complaining.  Once you use your voice, complain away. 

I'm not pushing any particular agenda, I'm not encouraging you to only call your representatives if you agree with me - I'm just encouraging involvement. As a country, it is high time we start acknowledging that, while the most sensational, the presidential race is hardly the most important opportunity for us to raise our voice. It's only a 3rd of the power, if that. The other two thirds should hear our voices just as strongly.

If they don't, we can count on a country that is not actually governed by those pursuing the best of their constituents (our best) - it will be governed by those listening to the loudest voice. And those loudest voices will be funded voices - funded by a cause, by a rights group, by an industry. If we want a country with safe elementary schools, accessible and quality health care, sustainable social services, and the ability to strive for 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' (not just the next paycheck) - we're going to have to use our voices.

To find out who your representative is click here.

To find out who your congressman/woman is click here.

To contact the White House directly, click here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The lessons I will not teach

I've done a lot of thinking over the past 3 years - motherhood, while linguistically monotonous, is mentally exhausting. The constant need for ready answers, for gentle words, for succinct and accurate life lessons at a moment's notice - motherhood is anything but brainless.

Over the course of my life, I've worked with a lot of people, a lot of kids, a lot of different backgrounds/socio-economic standings/religions - and now, with 3 little years of motherhood as a modest platform, I've come a conclusion. There are some lessons, significant life lessons, lessons that some would tout as paramount to growing a successful/'good' human being, that I will not teach. I simply won't do it.

I won't teach these lessons because while I agree with their original core intent, I disagree with the result I think it produces in us as people. I won't teach these lessons because I think they are false lessons, and perhaps the reason so many of us went through crises in our adolescence (in addition to the fact we were adolescents) was that we were becoming aware of the realities of a world we'd been shielded from. Perhaps cynicism's roots are in childhood lessons. Perhaps disenchantment stems from simplified life lessons from those who should be best equipped to gently introduce us to the hardest realities.

But here's the thing - when I choose not to teach these lessons, I am choosing a much more difficult task. One I don't know the outcome of, and one that will require more mental attention, more careful structuring of sentences, and more availability to guide my little bundles of innocence and newness.

But I think it's right, to equip rather than shield, and to call to a higher standard than cater to my own fear of shattered innocence. I mean, can innocence be informed rather than shattered? I think so.

So - with that decided (and with very careful attention to making sure good parenting and my children's best remains at the core of these decisions), these are the lessons I will not teach.

* Fairness. I will not teach fairness. This world is not a fair place, and the simple fact my children were born into a home with literate parents who had stable incomes is a testament to that fact. Instead, I will teach kindness, consideration, and humility - for those things create a person who truly sees others, and who I think more truly sees themselves. But I will not teach fairness.

* Pity. I will not teach pity. Pity breeds fear. Pity tells us we are better than others, and that their position is to be avoided at all costs. Instead, I will teach compassion, generosity, and grace - because these things breed change and gratefulness. But I will not teach pity.

* Entitlement. I will not teach entitlement. While certain things - even simple things like physical safety, access to food, or right to free speech/right to education/right to equal treatment - may be good things, they are not guaranteed things. And just because they are accomplished in the moment, and even for the foreseeable future, does not mean they are guaranteed. Instead, I will teach self-respect, values founded on faith, and wisdom - for these things create an unshakeable person with hope and perspective. But I will not teach entitlement.

* To be against. I will not teach my children to be against things. When we are against things, we choose to participate in the defeat of something - we set ourselves in a position of power. Being against things breeds hatred, arrogance, and close-mindedness.  I will teach them to be for things. I will teach passion, courage, and perseverance - for these things create a person who will catalyze change, instill strength in others, and better the world. But I will not teach them to be against. (note - I recognize the dissonance of this particular lesson, since I'm saying I'm against being against things. Sometimes the actions of being for something and against something are the same, but the attitude behind them decides the basis for the action. Thus, the focus on all of the things I will teach. Figured that needed a little acknowledging :) )

And I think we all strive for about the same thing - none of us want to produce children who truly think fairness is an absolute reality, we know it's not. We don't want children who pity others, we don't want entitled children (though we might be pretty sure they came out into the world that way...), and we don't want children who view the world only as a set of negative obstacles to be squashed. But, it's hard, and in my play dates, in my running errands, in the television shows the kids watch, and even in my own conversations with my kids - I hear the subtleties of these lessons being taught. I see the timers being set so everyone gets a fair turn, I take too far the good allocation of toys to little people who need boundaries and inadvertently breed entitlement. 

With some of these lessons, I'm not even quite sure how I teach them, or if I do so accidentally - but I know they are taught by many and I don't want to teach them. So I vigilantly watch for little ways they sneak into my language, attitudes, and interactions with my children, and with others - for little eyes are always watching and little ears are always listening. And with some of these lessons, like fairness, I'll constantly juggle teaching my children to treat others with fairness (which I think is rooted in kindness, consideration, and humility) while not expecting fairness in return (though I will teach them to have a founded sense of self-worth that believes they have just as much of right to fairness as others - but while not teaching entitlement.... See? This is going to be tricky).

My point is simply this - I want to raise children who are strong, who are informed, who have strength of character that is built on knowledge of reality coupled with hope and faith. And so, there are the lessons I will not teach, and the ones I will teach instead.

I suppose my conclusion would be this - parenting is exhausting, and it's so easy to slip into auto-pilot and in those critical moments parrot the answers or phrases or explanations we know. But conscious, intentional, forward thinking parenting is much more likely to raise the people our children are capable of being - the people our children already are.

Friday, February 8, 2013

It takes a village - our whole life through

note to reader: suggestions in this particular entry may not be to everyone's liking. Succinctly put, communal utopia may not be for everyone...but if it might be for you - read on.

They say it takes a village, and we all know it's true. But when I hear that statement made, it's usually in reference to raising a child - "It takes a village to raise a child" are usually the literal words.

And it's true. But it doesn't stop there. It takes a village  - it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to guide a young adult, it takes a village to support a young married couple, it takes a village to strengthen a family, it takes a village to benefit from the wisdom of the elders, and it takes a village to care for the old. All our lives - we need that village.

I grew up in a village. Literally, I did. While the majority of my nights were spent in a home more similar to the one you're sitting in now than the mental image you have of 'village', my days and quite a few nights were spent exactly in that mental image village. Houses made out of mud and cow manure, goats bleating and cows mooing at sunrise and sunset, warm tea cooked over an open fire, no light expect for the moon at night and sun during the day, the smell of smoke and livestock permeating everything, eyes experiencing morning's first sunlight underneath the biggest expanse of sky you've ever seen, and legs given room to walk as far as the eye could see without ever coming upon another soul.

To know who is a part of the village, and recognize and welcome a stranger (and to recognize and beware of one coming with harm), to know my role, to know responsibilities to be met, to know how to see the needs of others and seek to meet them, to know how to not unnecessarily place my needs above anothers, to know how to recognize something out of place, to know what it is to be surrounded by care at every turn. 

I know what it is to be in a village.

And I know what it is to be in the city - for darkness to never fully come, for noise to never fully cease, for safety and security to grip tightly to, for schedules to follow, and for ease of life to be enjoyed.

For friends to live miles apart, and see eachother on coordinated schedules and chance meetings, for the options of things to do to be wonderfully endless,  for needs to be expressed in order to be seen, for being surrounded by life and people but many complete strangers, for technology to speed up the transfer of people, news, and encouragement at the most important times, for the village to be spread across miles but available at all times.

I've lived in them both. In a way, I am both. A part of me will never fully be at ease in the city, or anywhere other than under a Kenyan sky. Another part of me will never be fully at ease in the wild, or anywhere other than wrapped up in a bustling American city.

But wherever I go, wherever I am, I know, quite deeply, that it does indeed take a village. Here is the difference between the village I grew up in, and the village I'm trying to find now in the new city I live: the Maasai acknowledge they are a part of the village, they embrace it, they receive from it, and they give back to it. Everyone an active giver and a willing recipient.

I'm not sure how to say this without someone arguing with me, but that's fine, argue away - Americans don't know how to receive. We know how to take, we know how to be entitled, we know how to stake our claim, and protect our rights - but we don't know how to receive. I'll go a bit further - we know how to give, we know how to support, we know how to encourage. But we still struggle, I mean really struggle, with knowing how to receive.

Let me put it anecdotally - in Kenya, we were surrounded by people who offered us help and assistance when things were difficult, and dear friends who offered us love and companionship even in times of absolute success. I expected it to be difficult to find that here in Seattle, expected people to already have their established friend networks and be too busy to fit in the new girl, expected people to not really understand how much of a foreigner I was to the pacific northwest - and I felt absolutely fine about that possibility. Truly, absolutely fine.

But, as I began putting myself out there, striking up conversations with random moms at playgrounds, people at church, folks at the grocery store I found the opposite to be true. We've been in Seattle 7 weeks, though really only since the beginning of January, and in that time have made a broad enough network of friends that when the hubby traveled for a week, I had playdates every day, a friend volunteer to keep the kids for a morning so I could have a break, and 2 different couples offer to keep me company in the evening AND bring dinner. Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

I don't think it's a testament to how fabulous we are, or how lonely people are, or how pathetic we seem (though maybe?...) I think it is simply this - we say yes. When people say "oh, you're new to the area, do you have family in the area?" I let them know we don't, and that we're starting to build our network of friends - people often respond by offering to exchange numbers and get together.

When new friends said "do you need anything while you're husband is gone?" I said we would love company. When a friend offered to watch the kids, I accepted, gratefully - knowing I would offer her the same when the right time came.

Here's my summary - it does take a village, it takes a village the whole way through life. People need people. We absolutely do (though some of us more or less than others). It's fairly easy to offer help to someone, it feels good to take a meal to a friend, or keep someone company while they pack. But it feels differently to accept help (or even more so, to ask for help) - for some reason, we've construed receiving help or asking for help as an unacceptable admission of weakness or incapability. I disagree - I think it's perfectly acceptable to admit weakness of lack of capability. I'd venture to say it takes a level of boldness to do so.

I think a willingness to receive help takes more courage, humility, and strength than it does to offer help. But it is well worth it, and to our benefit and the benefit of others to do so.

Something beautiful happens when we acknowledge we're a part of the village, when we realize we benefit from it as much as we offer it (or even more) - we give others permission to do the same.

You don't have to look far to find some article or quote referring to America's relational deficit/brokenness/plague of loneliness. It's because we've forgotten how to receive, how to ask, how to accept (perhaps even benefit) guilt-free from the village around us.

I'm not talking about food handouts, I'm not talking about welfare, I'm not talking about manipulation or laziness or enabling poor life choices/behaviors/addictions/states of mind. I'm talking about doing life together with others outside of our immediate families - I'm talking about creating communities of people in close proximity to us who can help watch our children, bring soup when we're sick, rejoice when we have breakthroughs, and sit in companionship when we face loss - and who can expect the same from us in return.

It is possible. I've seen it. We've been invited into those communities already here. They do exist. And I think most of us find them at some point in life - but for now, I'm going to suggest we would find them much quicker, and they would be much stronger, if we would bravely receive and graciously give.

It takes a village to be a village.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The reality of motherhood

I expected this time, the few weeks of really settling into "my" new city, to be all about the transition - where to go, who to meet, how to get around, what to do, and a constant little bugging question at the back of my mind "why exactly are we here?"

Instead (though all of those areas have needed some proper sorting out), the past two weeks have revealed a surprising focus - motherhood.

In Nairobi, something always pulled me away from home (internally or externally), the kids were never incredibly content, I couldn't figure out how to juggle the many things I was sorting through. In Seattle - well, motherhood has taken a new form.

It helps this is the most insanely child friendly place I've ever been to - car dealers have whole sections of their office dedicated to small children, parks are easily found within a 3 mile radius of anywhere, businesses have free activities for toddlers on various days of the month, certain coffee shops are designed with play areas, there are indoor sandpits for those o-so-dreary days - the list goes on and on and on. It also helps that for the first time, we have a house with a good space for the kids to play - both inside and out. It also immensely helps that both of my children are now communicative, incredibly communicative. About everything. About every, single, tiny thing. But still, it helps.

For whatever reason, I've reached a place where contentment is much easier to find and where impatience seems to emerge less often.

I've experienced happiness with my kids before, but in these past couple weeks I have had more re-collectible moments of sheer joy than I can recall ever having had in my role as a mother.

Kai played his first mind-game/joke on me:
As we were driving in the car, he dropped his water bottle on the floor and then announced (quite loudly, and with urgency only a 3 year old can give to a water bottle dropped in a car): "My water bottle!!"
I responded: "it's ok, it's on the floor."
Kai: "huh?"
me: "it's ok, it's on the floor."
Kai: "wha?"
me (with clearer diction - like a tourist talking to a local): "It's o-kay, it's...on...the...flooor"
Kai: "huh?"
me (getting annoyed - an annoyance exacerbated by the fact I was driving in circles, utterly lost): "Do you sometimes just do this to mess with me and see how many times I'll repeat myself?"
Kai (giggles): "yeah, sometimes I do that."
me: "you silly goose"
Kai: "huh?"
me: "you silly goose" (yes, you all know where this is going...I sure missed it)
Kai: "wha?"
me:" you sil - hey! seriously? Again?!"
Kai (bursting into toddler belly laughs): "yes! I gotchya. I gotchya. YOU silly goose."

Sheer joy.

Mika walked up to me, put her arms up, looked at me with huge eyes, said "up".  I picked her up, light little thing, as her sweet little hands held my cheeks. "noses?", she asked quietly - as she leaned her nose against mine and rubbed it back and forth, giggling - looking straight into my eyes. Sweet little lips kissed mine, then she said "lub you", and put her head on my shoulder.

Sheer joy.

Kai asked to pray at dinner time. He held Mika's hand tightly, and prayed a simple prayer, "Thank you God for food. Thank you God for happiness. Thank you God for Jesus. Amen."

Sheer joy.

I stopped to give a man on the street some money. As we drove away, Kai asked "mama, what did you do?" I responded (capitalizing on the opportunity to teach a life value): "I was helping someone who needed help." He said, "Oh, that's good. But mama, what was his name? You should ask his name."

Sheer humility - followed by sheer joy.

It snowed this morning, Kai bundled up and went outside to play in it. The second he stepped into the snow, he froze in his tracks. "Are you ok?" I asked. He glanced over his shoulder at me, silent. "Are you listening to the snowflakes land on your hood?" A single, almost imperceptible nod, and a slight smile.

His newness - my joy.

We went out for dinner at a small Ethiopian restaurant. After dinner, when the hostess was clearing our table, Kai said "oh, thank you. Thank you very much. But, um, could I help you?" Receiving an enthusiastic response, he hopped down and helped carry dishes back to the kitchen.

Sheer joy.

Mika slept on the floor of her room one night while we were waiting for her crib to arrive. Early, early in the morning I woke up to her little silhouette in our doorway. She walked over to our bed, as I pulled back the covers of our bed on the floor, she climbed in, lay down on top of my chest, head tucked on my chin, hand wrapped around the back of my neck, and fell back asleep.

Sheer joy.

Today, at lunch, Kai was helping Mika eat - modeling how to eat, helping her get food on her own fork, sometimes feeding her. I watched him cheering her on, and watched her deep interest in learning from her big brother. When she took a bite by herself, he said "Yeah! Good job, Mee-tah. That's right. I'm so proud of you. Great job! That's how you do it!" She beamed, "tangk ew". Kai smiled back, loving his moment as a teacher, "you're weltome. That was so polite, Mee-tah. So tind. So respectful. Dat is nice to say thant you."

And at that moment, a moment of sheer joy, riding on the back of a week filled with sheer joys, I had a thought: "this is the hardest job I've ever done. This is the hardest job I will ever do."  and an immense wave of satisfaction swept over me - not in myself and my accomplishments, but in finally seeing this job I've been divinely and miraculously given is bigger than anything else I will ever do in life. Ever.

I have done many challenging things. I will do many more. But this, motherhood, will absolutely require more of me than anything else - not in a "forcefully die to myself, I lost my freedom" sort of way - but in a "rise to the task, feel enthusiastically terrified you've been chosen for the job you never thought you could get" sort of way.

It was as if something in me finally recognized that the hours of changing diapers, wiping tears, kissing scrapes, putting away toys, doing piles of tiny laundry, turning thousands of little bites of food into magical airplanes, tucking in, re-tucking in, disciplining, apologizing for my lost temper - all of those moments I thought were breaking my own pride and self-fulfillment were simultaneously doing a part in creating the character of two people.

I get creation of new things. I get invention stemming from new ideas. I get the physics and chemistry of it all works. But creating the character of a person? Being in a position where I profoundly impact who these two little people will grow to be, and subsequently impact every future interaction they'll ever have with others? Well that...that's too much for my mind to fully absorb. And so, usually, I see my role as one of patience, modeling, and endurance - and I'm grateful for that.

But today, for a brief moment - my eyes clear after a week full of so much joy, I saw my role with broader scope. Creating people of character, raising a young man and a young woman (for now is when the foundation of adulthood is laid) who value kindness, generosity, respect, teaching, gratefulness, and selfless pride in other's accomplishments...that is what my every word, every glance, every action have the opportunity to contribute to.

I usually end my blogs with some sort of a universally applicable, encouraging statement. And there's plenty of room to do that here - something along the lines of "you must be the change you wish to see in the world", or something of that ilk.

But tonight, with this blog - I want to leave with a statement to any of you who are in the midst of, or ever will be in the midst of, contributing to the development of a child: yours is the most profound of tasks, yours is seemingly the least glorified, yours is the most revealing of your weaknesses, yours is the most mundane of duties, and yours is the most of unexpected trials. But yours is also the greatest of rewards, the sheerest of joys, the profundity of possibility, and the permanence of impact. Let your soul breathe deeply of it - your greatest is here.

And to those of you who have raised men and women of strong character - well done, and thank you. Your seemingly unnoticed words, glances, and actions are being passed on.

Monday, January 7, 2013

When Good Men Do Nothing

*****This post was originally written on Dec 14, and has been edited to hold accurate 'to date' data. There was another shooting this past week, again in Aurora, CO. It's easy to forget, it's easy to become complacent, it's easy to let the past drift comfortably to the recesses of our minds. But change doesn't stem from complacency, and while it's over quoted, I'll quote it again "All it takes for evil men to succeed, is for good men to do nothing."*******

Dec 14

Social media and news media have barraged us with posts, articles, and segments on the elementary school shooting. Those in favor of stronger gun control are calling loudly that now is the time for reform, if there ever was a time. Those not in favor of stronger gun control argue "it's not guns who kill people, it's people who kill people" or "we need stronger enforcement, not new laws" or "it's too soon to talk about such a topic, have some decency".

And so a petition to create a new set of regulations limiting who has access to firearms is created and signed by 135, 608 people to date (update as of 1.6.13 - 197,073), and various forums for gun owners are filled with threads discussing what the impacts of increased gun control could be.

I went for a search for information - to find out what current gun laws are, how they are enforced, and what reform would look like. The simple answer - it's not that simple. There are at least a dozen laws with sub-laws, laws that have been deemed unconstitutional, laws with addendum after addendum trying to re-create the law deemed as unconstitutional, federal laws, state laws, county laws, and city laws. And despite the plethora of laws addressing who can own a gun, what type of gun they can own, where the gun can be concealed, and where guns can be taken there are still articles that illuminate apparent discrepancies in gun control and articles that discuss statistics on mass shootings in the US. Gun control is anything but simple.

Furthermore, from the hours of online digging I've done, and the few conversations I've had with people regarding this issue, there doesn't seem to be any collaboration between those regulating gun accessibility and those working with the mentally ill. I'm not an expert on any topic related to this entire conversation, but it would seem the two parties should be working together. It seems a common argument from the defense after an unexplainable mass shooting that the shooter was mentally ill. If this is the case, the two parties - those responsible for gun control and those working with the mentally ill - should be working together.

I don't know what the solution is moving forward, but I know that now, even though I am only 27 years old, I have within my formed memory distinct recollections of 6 different mass shootings. I did a quick online search to make sure I wasn't mistaken in my recollection of how many shootings have occurred recently. I was wrong, massively wrong. There have been 62 mass shootings in the last 30 years in the US (as of 1.6.13 the number is now 63).

Apathy is dangerous. Ignorant apathy, it appears, has lethal consequences. I saw a lot of conversations and comments on facebook from people struggling with how to respond to the killing of 20 six and seven year olds, several comments on people unable to handle the grief. I sat at my computer and cried, and have felt a burden for the past 2 days that unmistakably is caused by thinking of those children, those teachers, and their families. Grief is the appropriate response, and if we have any hope of continuing to have a safe country and working against these sorts of tragedies, we must allow ourselves (and perhaps even force ourselves) to experience that grief. And after we have absorbed that grief, we must decide if our grief prompts us to act.

I do know this - it is easier to forget than to act. Much, much easier. But in 4 years, Kai will walk into an elementary school on a Friday morning - and I want him to come home that Friday afternoon. So now, I have to decide how to act. Because all the talk in the world cannot stop incidents like Friday from happening again. And all the grief in the world can't stop it either. But talk and grief can fuel a determination, a strong determination to actions.

So, for now, I'll leave my actions at this blog entry, and hope it acts as a reminder to you, my reader,  you have a voice and you have the ability to act. I know, theologically and philosophically, change comes from within and only with the help of Jesus - but I also know, absolutely know, those who say "only Jesus can bring renewal to our world" and don't seek to be that renewal have missed the fact they 'are' Jesus to our world.

I'm interested, incredibly interested, in your thoughts. The least we can do is begin this conversation, and to do so with open minds. Please, for the sake of our own dignity and out of respect for the hundreds of people who have died in the past 30 years in mass shootings, let's refrain from elitism, egocentrism, and hateful wording. Obviously there is no perfect answer. We can only hope for change, in whatever form, if we are dignified. We can only expect our political leaders to hear us if we have a united voice. We cannot stop violence with hatred, and we cannot create unity through force or belittlement.

And in the meantime, we must look at the people around us, look for the lonely people, the families struggling with having a family member who is mentally ill, the children in the foster care system, and the veterans returning from war to nothing and no one. We are remiss to not see these people, and remiss to think the only solutions to our problems are laws. So, if I can be so bold - feel grief, feel sadness, ask "why wasn't it my son or daughter or sister or mom?", don't be afraid to act, and as you consider - search around you for the immediate need. I guarantee it is close by. And I guarantee you can make all the difference.

We're Settling

We're officially living in Seattle. We have an address. The post office knows we live here, I have a mommy group I go to on Thursdays, Chris has his daily commute, and the kids are making friends. Our house is quickly becoming a home - pictures up on the walls, craft corners waiting to create new things, kitchen slowly filling with yummy food, freezer slowly filling with a hearty stock of what I like to call "bad day back ups". The smell of obligatory new paint is wearing off, the neighbors now wave instead of stare, and the back yard is scattered with miscellaneous balls, rakes, and buckets as the kids make their own little mark.

It's not hard for me to make a place a home - goodness knows I've had plenty of practice. Sure, I still get lost when I'm driving, I still don't have a plan for tomorrow (as in literally tomorrow, not metaphorically speaking), and we've only just begun to scratch the surface of all the amazing things there are to do in this city. Still, it's beginning to look like home.

As I sit here in our cozy living room, on my pea green chair from Goodwill (ye afraid of bedbugs, pretend you didn't read that),  with a cup of Earl Gray perched beside me, listening to Chris play his guitar, knowing the babies are tucked warmly in bed, I pause for a moment - calling my soul to  breathe deeply once again. It's easy to breathe deeply of the big moments, the striking moments, even the difficult moments - but it's restorative to breathe deeply of the peaceful ones.

It's the time of year when people talk about Resolutions, when they discuss what thing they're going to do or not do - I see it in advertisements, hear it in church sermons, read it in fashion magazines. And I think it's a beautiful idea - I blogged last year about how much Kenyans love the New Year for the immense hope it brings. I think Americans feel the same - perhaps not only hope, but more of a strong motivation catalyzed by our public recognition of time progressing in it's ever consistent linear fashion. Motivated by time slipping away, and somehow still rising up in front of us - at least for now.

I think resolutions are wonderful - here are mine:
* vegetarian dinner once a week
* salad dinner once a week (and this doesn't count as the vegetarian one)
* one homemade snack a week (banana bread, granola bars, yogurt, etc)
* grow a garden/get involved in a community garden
* have daily devotions
* work out 5 times a week
* do a craft or activity with the kids every day
* go camping at least once a month
* go to some event in Seattle once a month
* get involved in a Church
* get involved in a mommy group
* read more
* swear less (this may need to influence my choices for the prior list item)
* send cards for anniversaries and birthdays
* respond to emails within a week of getting them
* get to know our neighbors
* finish my half started sewing projects, start new ones
* successfully start a financialyl viable hobby of refinishing furniture

I could keep going. At about 'work out 5 times a week', we all probably realized I'm absolutely unrealistic in this endeavor - that while my intentions are good, the time in my day is simply not enough to accomplish all these goals. And a quick scan of my goals reveal some gaping holes...what's his name? that husband of mine? Oh yeah, he should probably be on here somewhere...I could be a better wife.  (Somedays I have it pretty nailed, though...)

In all seriousness - I do have goals in mind, and we'll see how well I do. But I have no anticipation of accomplishing all of them. And as I look at this list, and recognize the immense amount of time and energy it would take to even accomplish half of them, I find myself asking another question.

What are the things I learned last year, the ways I grew last year, the habits I formed last year that are worth consciously keeping?

Life often pushes us to the limit - and we form a habitual response to whatever stressors or comforts we're currently facing; some good, some not so great. And I think it's easy, when those stressors or comforts dissipate, when the trigger is gone - to lose not only the bad formed responses, but also the good.

When we were living in Nairobi, I often forced myself to take mental steps backwards from my life, to implement a habit of internal thankfulness for the dozens of tiny 'goods' in every day. I don't do that as much here - a quick prayer of thanks for the big basics, and I'm ready to keep going. But attention to the minutia proved to be character changing, and it's a forced response I would do well to consciously continue pursuing.

People talk a lot about not living in the past, and I agree - the New Year is an excellent time to look forward, to dream big, to enjoy now and trust tomorrow will be even better. But tomorrow brought us here - whether by gentleness or force, and as simplistic as it may seem, is worth a pause to remember. And maybe, if we've done it right (at least a bit of it), worth building on.


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