What I want to tell my kids about #Baltimore

What I want to tell my kids about Baltimore

My kids are too young to understand and ask questions about what’s happened in Baltimore, but know the day will come and it will be here sooner than I think.

Right now, my sphere of influence is small, but my job is big. I have these two little people who will one day be adults in the world. How can I teach them so they will be ready for it? I want them to be a part of the solution that stops this spinning wheel of oppression and violence, instead of mindlessly pushing it down the road as it has been for far too long.

I know that as biracial kids, they are going to experience the world very differently than me. These are some things I plan to tell them about injustice when the time comes, because institutional racism still prevails and it will continue for as long as sin is in the world. Sons and daughters, mothers and fathers will be misjudged, mishandled and killed for the wrong reasons. Baltimore is not the first city to burn, and unfortunately, it will not be the last. I know this will not be one conversation, but a lifetime of them.

I’m going to tell them that this is sin being played out on the world stage. We are not listening to God; we are not living as God created us to live. We have forgotten that we are all made in God’s image. We are all worthy of love and respect and dignity. The person next to you needs it as much as you do (and possibly more).

People forget that there’s enough to go around and so they instead look to put someone else down to lift themselves up. People are afraid of being less-than. They forget that we are all more-than because we are redeemed. We are God’s and we are called to a high standard.

I’m going to tell my children that when people are oppressed for a long period of time, they can be like popcorn. It just takes some heat and they explode. We don’t know what’s been going on inside that kernel, for we can’t fully know another’s experience. But it has been packed too tight for too long and in the right conditions it can’t stay that way anymore.

There are people who have been bullied because their parents were bullied and their parent’s parents were bullied. They’ve been bullied so long and so badly that they have been pushed to the margins. They can’t find jobs to feed their families. They don’t have good homes to live in and their kids don’t have nice schools. But they see people every day who have the things they have been denied. It makes them angry and sad, rightfully so.

Some people have just been bullied so long and pushed aside, that bulling them seems like the right thing to do. It’s not. Just because something has been one way for a long time does not make it right.

Sometimes the only way we think we can be heard is to yell and throw a tantrum. Sometimes it takes a lot to get the attention you want or need. There are right ways and wrong ways to get attention. We can get so frustrated that we forget about right and wrong, because we just want to be heard.

People may look and speak differently, they live in different neighborhoods or types of homes, but they are really just like you and me. They love their children. They want to provide for their families. They want to work and be productive, but it is very hard because other people keep thinking the worst of them.

That’s not how God sees them. We need to listen to God. We need to try our hardest to love like God. God made all of us: black, white, brown. And God wants the best for us. The best way for us to do this is to treat everyone with love and look out for those who are not treated as well as others. Just as we need to go out of our way to speak up for a friend who is getting bullied on the playground and show extra kindness to him or her, we need to do the same for our neighbors who may be experiencing the same thing in life.

I want to tell them that police officers are like us, too. They have a lot of power because they enforce the rules, keep our community orderly and safe, and they carry guns that should be used very rarely (if at all). There are all kinds of people who are police officers. Most are good people. They have been given an important job to protect us and keep our communities orderly and safe. They are the ones who willingly put themselves in harm’s way to serve the communities where they work. However, like with any group of people there are a few who do not do their job well or abuse their power to bully other people. They need to be held accountable for their actions, like everyone else.

I know these notes only scratch the surface. Even as I write, I struggle with the right words that give respect and love where they are due and where they have been sorely lacking for far too long. We leave a legacy to our kids—for better and for worse—let’s teach them so they don’t repeat our mistakes and so they can leave a better legacy for the generation that follows.

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Helping Nepal and Giving Wisely

Along with so many others, my heart is breaking for Nepal. When images of unfathomable disaster come across our screens, we just want to help relieve the suffering we see in any way we can.

I’ve spent most of my career working for international organizations that have disaster response as part of their portfolios. And through these years I’ve seen a lot of well-meaning people send their hard-earned money to organizations that don’t deliver what they promise. I’ve also seen a lot of good intentions make things worse. So, with that in mind, I offer four qualities that I look for in an organization and its response before I give:

  1. A good investment. Look up the organization in Charity Navigator or another charity watchdog to see how it measures up. I want to see that most of the funds (at least 80%) go directly to programs.
  2. A response that starts with the community. Does the organization actually work with the survivors? Different communities have different needs and priorities. A proper response listens to what community members say is a priority. The first permanent structures may not be houses, but a community center. The location for where (or how) water should be distributed might not be obvious to an outsider.
  3. A response that empowers survivors in their recovery and gives them the tools to continue it long after the outside organization has gone. Disaster recovery is more than just cleaning up and giving survivors food, water and shelter. They need a permanent home. They need to replace lost income. They need long-term help to fully get back on their feet. There are a lot of organizations in Nepal right now that are doing the critical work of saving lives. There’s also a lot of money flowing to that work. But, who will be there this fall when the weather starts to turn cold again and people are still living under tarps? The organization that’s still there, helping people is the one I want to support.
  4. A response that invests in the community. The organization looks for local laborers to rebuild so they can get back to work and provide for their families, educates local leaders on community organizing, trains individuals with new job skills to help them better provide for their families, purchases materials locally as much as possible, and the like. Bringing in outside help without investing in the local resources builds dependency.
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Pizza, Love, and Marriage

 Making Pizza is our thing.

Pizza helps keep us together. Seriously. We both love it. We started making it for ourselves at some point in our dating relationship. It soon became a Sunday night ritual that we keep to this day. If we miss our pizza night, we feel “off” as a couple. Making pizza is our thing. Certainly, more than pizza holds us together. (One would hope!) Cooking together helps us reconnect and remember ourselves in the midst of the madness that is life.

Our study of pizza has been quite extensive. We’ve eaten everything from dollar slices to historic pies to gourmet.

We’ve taken Scott’s Pizza Tours, which is still one of the best tours I’ve taken since living in New York. If you ever get the opportunity to take one of his tours . . . do it. Scott the only person I’ve met who loves pizza more than we do. 

We’ve watched YouTube videos and read cookbooks and even taken a class from The Brooklyn Kitchen, which gave us some mad pizza skillz.

Around 4:00 on Sunday I make the dough and then the kids’ dinner. Right before bedtime, I fire up the oven. While I’m singing good night songs to the kids, Ken makes the sauce and preps the toppings. Then, once the kids are snug in their beds, we get to work.

I’m not very good at using the peel to slide the pizza onto our little circular stone (which is how you’re supposed to do it), so we’ve come up with a compromise. We preheat the stone for about 30 minutes and then we get everything ready. I pull out the hot stone and we assemble the pizza as fast as possible before putting it back in the oven to cook. Our fastest assembly time is just under three minutes.

Pizza making is a dance and we each know our parts:

  1. I pull the stone out of the oven.
  2. Ken scatters cornmeal.
  3. I put down the dough.
  4. Ken spreads the sauce.
  5. We add the toppings (about three), taking turns.
  6. Ken adds the cheese.
  7. I put it in the oven.
  8. Ken sets the timer.
  9. We set the table and pour the wine.
  10. I pull the pizza out of the oven.
  11. Ken cuts it and serves.

We’re a pizza making team, and we work together effortlessly. I can’t explain it, but somehow this weekly ritual grounds us and helps us to reconnect, even in some of the most stressful times. Maybe it’s the reminder that even when we feel like we’re stepping on each other’s toes at every turn, we’ve still got it.

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The Stay-At-Home Job

This mothering “job” is giving me some good skills that will benefit my future workplace. If only I could put them on my resume. learning-grace.com

Is being a stay-at-home mom (or dad) a career? No. There are no promotions, no pay raises, no vacations, none of those career-y things. But, I would say it is a job. A very, very demanding and often isolating job with very few of the “perks” of a job, job. Yes, it is an incredible privilege to stay at home with my children during these early years. It is also much harder than I had imagined.

I’m not writing this to whine. In fact, this is something very different. It’s a response to a few articles that are making the rounds saying that being a stay-at-home parent is not a job nor a career, nor something anyone should complain about. There’s always one or two of these going around seeking to polarize parents—particularly moms. Parenting is not a contest. The one who makes the most sacrifices doesn’t win.

But I digress. There was one article I read last week in particular that came down pretty hard on the stay-at-home crowd for complaining about what they do. Yeah, it can get excessive in some instances. But, I need to ask a question: when’s the last time a day went by when you didn’t complain about going to work or something that’s happening there? We all do it. Stay-at-home moms included.

I think complaining seems so prevalent among the stay-at-home crowd because there are no divisions. There is no “home” and “work.” It’s all the same. And every day (and often night) is the same. It can be relentless. There’s no place to get away from the other. It’s that intensity and it’s also the inability to point to my day and say what I accomplished. Most of those things I do accomplish, sweeping the floors, cleaning the kitchen or doing the laundry for example, begin to unravel the second I finish them, and that simply exhausts me at times. There’s very little in my day that’s tangible—and I’m a results-oriented person.

Right now my actual career is on hold . . . or possibly slow motion. I’m still working as a freelancer, but certainly not gaining the experience and momentum that I would have if I were still at the job full-time. However, this mothering “job” is giving me some good skills that will benefit my future workplace:

  • I know the value of time. What I can accomplish in the last five minutes of naptime is amazing.
  • I can prioritize and stay on task, even when people are screaming at me (and flailing about on the floor).
  • I know how to ask questions to get to the root of the problem. (Did you really lose the car, or do you just want to keep it away from your sister?)
  • I understand the power of consistency and staying on-message. Two words: sleep training (and potty training).
  • I can stay focused while those around me are convinced the world is coming a part at the seams (because S said “bacon” and we don’t HAVE any bacon, Mommy!!!).
  • I know the power of stopping to take a few deep breaths.
  • I’ve learned to appreciate small victories as we work toward big goals.
  • I can make people feel like doing the hard stuff was their idea all along. (Let’s all sweep! Isn’t this fun?)
  • I know that the person who makes the most noise may not be the one who needs me the most.

Now, if only I could put that on a resume.

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Health Bowls: Dinner in a Pinch

Health Bowl: Dinner in a Pinch

See this? This was dinner . . . on a weeknight . . . when I thought we had “nothing” in the house. A Real Simple article on “health bowls” in February 2014 was a game changer for me. It had a chart of ingredients (grains, veggies, proteins and dressings) and some ideas of how to make some flavorful roasted veggies (lemony carrots are featured here). I keep this dinner in my back pocket for when we need something healthy and I’m out of ideas.

On this particular night I just felt like we didn’t have anything left to make a meal. It was almost time for our monthly Costco run and the chest freezer was on empty. I had eggs and one wild salmon filet in the protein department. I found some bulgur and chopped up some baby carrots that I roasted with the lemon. There was some wilty Swiss chard in the fridge that I sautéed. And then I found some frozen peas. For a dressing I mixed up some tahini with yogurt and lemon juice and then sprinkled it with sesame seeds for some crunch. Voilà! Dinner is served.

The kids ate a variation of this: salmon, eggs, peas and bulgur. They were pretty happy, too.

What do you do when you’re in a pinch?

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Kids are Kids (Even the Ones with Autism)

Kids are Kids (Even the Ones with Autism)

April is Autism Awareness Month. There was a flurry of articles right around April 2 (Autism Awareness Day): what is is, isn’t, what causes it, why it’s on the rise. But for me and for so many thousands of other parents and siblings, every single day is autism awareness day.

Every outing and interaction, explanation of some unusual family dynamics or ways of communicating make it autism awareness day.

The truth is, I didn’t “come out” as an autism parent till April 2 of this year. Sure, my family and some friends knew. But for the most part I didn’t tell anyone else. If J did something eyebrow raising, I’d just say J has some “delays” and leave it at that. J was a preemie and people give a lot of leeway for that.

I don’t say that he has autism right away because I want to give him a chance. It has nothing to do with shame or embarrassment. It does have to do with not wanting the huge stereotypes that go with autism to land squarely on my three-year-old’s shoulders. And when I do tell someone I’m very careful about how I say it. J has autism. J also has brown eyes, a beautiful smile and a caring spirit. Autism does not define him. There is so much more to him than that and I want others to see it, too.

I also got really tired of hearing, “but he doesn’t look like he’s autistic.” That one gets my panties in a bunch.

It’s been almost a year and a half since J was diagnosed. While the actual diagnosis was not a complete surprise, I did feel like I slipped down a rabbit hole the second I heard the word. In a way I did. Our new world included seven therapists and 24 hours of therapy each week for J. I learned a new vocabulary. I began to be familiar with our advocates in the system and what we would need to do to get J in the right school setting to set him up for success. 

It can be all consuming, especially at first. The schedule was grueling. We had about two unscheduled hours a day with J, and that included dinner and bath time, so it was really more like 45 minutes. The therapists would give us “homework,” telling me that if we do X, then Y will improve. And soon my to-do list grew too long to fathom. And J was really just tired and wanted to be a kid . . . . because he is a kid, a kid with autism.

That’s the thing; kids come in all shapes and sizes and with all kinds of abilities. Some are really good at jumping, and others can throw straight as an arrow, still more love to draw and paint, and sing, others dream of being a dancer, or a bus driver, or the president. Whether or not these kids have autism, an extra chromosome, seizures or a leg that doesn’t work quite like the other one, they’re all just kids being kids living life the way they were created to be.

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It’s Easter . . . Again

Easter

Christians talk about being Easter people—living in the hope given to us through Christ’s resurrection.

Over and over again I seek to live as an Easter person—an Easter mother, wife, sister, friend. Over and over again I rise up with good intentions and I somehow fail to find my way out of the tomb. It’s like Groundhog Day.

I could probably name 100 reasons as to why I do this. But, to be honest I think I’m just afraid of what’s on the other side of that stone. I know that what’s out there—what God’s going to call me to do next—will be new, it will stretch me and I just want to rest in my comfortable space even if it is a tomb.

And so over and over I commit and recommit. I fail and I fall. And each time a hand reaches out to lift me. I bat it away, like my kids who tell me they can do so many things by themselves. I let them try and stand by for when they call for help.

This is what God does. God is there, waiting for me to stop trying to roll away the stone by myself. I’ve worn myself out.

Anne Lamott writes about shopping with her best friend, Pammy, shortly before her death. Anne was picking out a dress and worried about how it looked on her. Anne’s dying friend replied, “Anne, you don’t have that kind of time.”

Anne connects this with Easter:

And I think Easter has been about the resonance of that simple statement; and that when I stop, when I go into contemplation and meditation, when I breathe again and do the sacred action of plopping and hanging my head and being done with my own agenda, I hear that, “You don’t have that kind of time,” you have time only to cultivate presence and authenticity and service, praying against all odds to get your sense of humor back. 

I don’t have that kind of time—to hang out in that comfy tomb. Life beckons. The One who made me for a purpose filled with hope, beckons. And so once again I rise and this time I ask for help.

Just as Jesus called into his friend’s tomb, “Lazarus, come out!” He calls, “Michelle, come out!” He calls to you and to me to rise above what is holding us back. To be healed. To be restored. To overcome that which that keeps us from being Easter people, living with the knowledge and hope and love that only God can give. 

 It is Easter. Again and again it is Easter. Praise God.

 

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Child, Please Sleep (in Haiku)

To keep myself sane during those hours upon hours participating in the call-and-response of “Mommy?  . . .  shhhhh.” I composed haikus. www.learning-grace.com

A week or so ago, I decided that it was time for S to learn how to sleep in her own bed. We’ve gone through so many iterations of this. About six months ago we gave up and started bringing her to bed with us when she woke in the night. She seemed to need it, and we figured that it was probably just a phase. Plus, everyone got more sleep that way . . . until we didn’t.

Over time her demands have increased. She started crying to come to bed with us earlier and earlier—well before we’re ready for bed. Then, she started kicking one of us out of the bed (normally Ken), and waking in the middle of the night banging me over the head with her sippy cup, or poking me in the eyes, saying, “No sleep, Mommy!” The only way she’d relax was if I held her next to me with my arm draped across her just so. If I shifted or got up in the night, it was game over.

And now I have a pinched nerve in my neck and my arm goes numb when I bend my elbow.

Ken also misses sleeping in a real bed.

It was time for S to learn how to spend the whole night in her crib. It was a very long parenting week, but around the fourth or fifth night she started sleeping through and we all awoke (albeit 5:45) much happier. To keep myself sane during those hours upon hours participating in the call-and-response of “Mommy? . . . shhhhh.” I composed haikus.

These are probably best appreciated after midnight, and perhaps after a glass of wine . . . or two.

 

7:30 PM
Dear God in heaven,
Let my child sleep through the night,
And grant us world peace.

11:00 PM
Already? Listen kid . . .
I should be off the clock now.
This is Mommy time.

 1:00 AM
Mommy!!! No sleep! Out!
Lay down, I’ll sing songs to you.
Please sleep. No crying.

 2:27 AM
Here we go again.
The songs aren’t working. Now what?
I’ll just lay right here.

 3:45 AM
The siege continues.
Can you just sleep in your crib?
I love you. Please sleep.

 4:14 AM
The neighbors are mad.
They are knocking on the walls.
#apartmentliving

6:00 AM
Places I have slept:
bed, floor, hall, beanbag chair, couch.
Where is the coffee?

 

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