Swirling Things & Naming Things

Some days I run because it’s just what I do that day of the week. Some days I run to clear my head. Some days I run to sort out all of the things swirling in my head. This past Tuesday, after the tragic mass shooting in Orlando, I ran because of the swirling things. And I named some things for myself.

I am weary. Weary of this world and the fear and hate and violence and sad things. Weary of fighting for things to be better.

I need a break. From gunmen and rape culture and legislation that denies access to any number of people to any number of things.

I am privileged. Because I can take a break from those things. I can choose whether to engage in the things that are wrong, the things that make me tired, the things I have to keep fighting for…or against.

I feel powerless. To support my LGBT friends. To end gun violence. To change attitudes against women. To combat legislation that seems to be written by a group of people who lack regard for anyone else.

I have to keep working…advocating…fighting for a better world for my children…and teach them to do the same. Because these problems take different forms or just get traded out for something else. There will always be work to be done.

I’m afraid I’ll stop fighting.

“There’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

We have to keep looking for the helpers.

I have to keep being a helper.

 

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What is this job?

Some days the work I do brings me joy. Some days it brings me to tears. Some days it brings me to my knees. Some days I sit or stand in my buildings and wonder, “What job is this?” Some days I walk out of those buildings feeling like I just walked out of the twilight zone.

Within the past month I…

Tested my brains out and written report after report after report

Have gone to meetings for each of them

Watched a social worker stage a sit in because she doesn’t have her own office

Read a suspension report about an incident of sexual harassment of one student to another in which the administrator wrote, “as the situation came to a climax.”

Drove to a kid’s house to get his glasses so I could test him

Left that house, IEP Team in tow and, in an experience I still can’t shake, drove to another to have an IEP meeting

Heard about a teacher frustrated over the fact that two chairs in the classroom didn’t get returned to their original location after another teacher taught a class in that space, which only happened because we have no additional space

Read through student records and learned things about their histories that make me wonder how these kids even get out of bed, let alone try to learn something at school

Received letters from a medical professional requesting evaluations…and specific measures

Had conversations and asked hard questions about what we’re doing to meet the needs of all students

Have been asked hard questions about what we’re doing to meet the needs of all students

Read articles and books (and I’m not finished reading) about education and race and class and outcomes

I’ve felt more deeply than ever the weight of this work that I do. That we do. It is hard. It is heavy. It can feel too big and overwhelming and defeating.

And when I walked out of one meeting in particular today, I felt completely emotionally and physically drained by this work. In a way I never had before.

This is not my resignation. This is not me quitting. This is me trying to process this strange and brutiful work that I do, day in and day out. This is me trying to figure out how to give these kids–our kids–my kids what they need to beat the odds and have some semblance of a happy and successful life. This is me reminding myself that we’re fighting for the slim chance that their outcomes can be different–in spite of the generational issues that are just one piece of a complex picture saying otherwise. This is me still “saying there’s a chance.” 

After a glass of wine. And some sweet potato waffle fries. And maybe some sleep.

#WeAreNotThis on this Maundy Thursday

It’s Maundy Thursday. The night of Holy Week in which many Christians commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus and his disciples. Churches all over the world are serving up the bread and the wine, many as I write this.

Once the church I grew up in started making it part of the Holy Week tradition, the Maundy Thursday service became my favorite service of the year. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been to one. My last church never observed Holy Week. And, well, toddler life prevents a lot of things from happening in the evening hours.

And for as long as it has been since I’ve been to a Maundy Thursday service, it’s been even longer since I have craved Jesus. It’s been even longer since I have had a sense of God at work in this world. There is entirely too much broken. Latent racism and intolerance has once again become overt in this election year. The wounds of a dictatorship and exile were opened once again when our president stepped foot onto Cuban soil and a baseball game was one of the celebrated highlights of the tour. Another set of suicide bombings in Europe has reminded us that extremism looms large–and has for a long time in some parts of the world but hit our Western doorstep again, prompting us to lower our flags to half staff. The legislature in my home state rushed into an emergency session to pass one of the most discriminating pieces of legislation arguably since the Jim Crow era.

And that’s just this week.

As I stand here and stir the pot that contains my dinner, my husband is stirring the pot alongside a friend and many others at a protest against HB2. Many of my friends are commemorating the subversive, pot stirring movement of Jesus. I’m performing the mundane tasks of the daily routine, all the while craving the body and the blood….the bread and the wine…the unmistakable presence of love and acceptance in our world.

Because that’s what Holy Week is about. Love. Sacrifice. Welcome. Hospitality. A way in for all. A command to love and care for one another just as Jesus did for us.

Glory Over Everything

Several years ago, I stumbled upon Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel The Kitchen House. I actually listened to the audiobook. And it was phenomenal. As in jumped into my Top 5 Books of All Time phenomenal. So when I heard her sophomore work was coming out this spring, I got REALLY excited. And then I had the opportunity to get an advanced reader’s copy through Net Galley.

Guys. This book.

Glory Over Everything is a stand-alone sequel to The Kitchen House. It follows the story of Jamie Pyke after he left Tall Oaks in Virginia. The story is his, though there are characters from The Kitchen House that make an appearance in addition to the new characters we meet from his life in Philadelphia. Glory is written in a similar style to Kitchen in that each chapter is written from the point of view and in the voice of one character. It is rare that an author can bring characters to life in the way that Grissom does.

What is even more amazing about her writing is how unbelievably human her characters are. In a way that stands in opposition to the period in which she writes in which humans were commodities. I’ve never had a better sense about slavery and the effects it had on people than after reading one of her books. I’ve also never felt more enraged at the injustices of slavery and the subsequent issues of civil rights in this country. Grissom’s writing is provocative in a way few others are.

My only complaint about this book is how abruptly some pieces of it end. For example (and without giving too much away), one character’s piece of the story comes to an end in one sentence–and I was left wanting more.

On the whole, this book is well worth the read–and, if you’re like me, you won’t want to put it down. It’s set to release on April 5. Run, don’t walk, to your bookseller and pre-order it. Right now. And if you’re in the Raleigh, NC area, Kathleen Grissom will be at Quail Ridge Books on April 28 at 7:00 PM.

I Would Run 500 Miles

I entered the lottery for a spot in this year’s New York City Marathon. I didn’t mean to. I wasn’t really even sure I should enter. I was peer pressured into doing it, actually.

Even though running and I are frenemies.

I pushed the button (with some hand-over-hand support from my husband) and then didn’t think about it for WEEKS.

My brain, on the other hand, was working on it at least a little. Because it remembered that the lottery would take place on March 3. And in the few days preceding it, I started to think about how cool it would be to get in. How much training I would have to do to make it at least an OK day. How much I would really…REALLY like to get in. Screaming at myself for the notion of wanting to get in.

WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!?!?!

And then March 3 actually rolled around and I started checking my email at regular intervals. Like stalking the inbox. Hoping I’d get the congratulatory email. Not sure I would. And texts were flying back and forth among the four of us who entered the lottery. We ALL were waiting to hear.

And the work day ended with no word.

I called one of my running peeps on the way home and we agreed that if one got in and the other didn’t, the other would charity run it. That, my friends, means raising $2620 between now and October 1.

I got home and my evening went like it usually does with family and dinner and WHAT THE HELL IS THIS PLAN FOR MAKING UP SNOW DAYS YOU HAVE TO BE KIDDING ME and watching something on TV. During which I finally had a chance to check my email again. It was about 8:00 at that point, and I knew they would send emails until midnight.

It had come in at 7:15.

I won the lottery

I’m in.

Holy shit I’m in. What the hell was I thinking but how freaking cool is this that I’m IN.

And one of my other peeps is too. Now we just have to make sure at least one more raises that load of money for a charity. Stay tuned for bake sale information.

The 2014 Year in Books Post

Quick while baby is sleeping…here’s the rundown from last year (since I’m a couple days late on this one. Because baby).

I set out to read 20 books in the year and got to that mark quicker than I thought. (Late night feedings and a Kindle helped propel me forward a bit before I headed back to work.) So I upped the goal to 24 and ultimately came in at 22.

Before I get to the best of what I read, let me give you a glimpse into my goal for this year.

See, I was going to shoot a little lower (read 15 books in 2015) because of baby and work and all of the things. But then I saw THIS and decided to change it up. If you look at the scavenger hunt like list, there’s a total of 52 book reading opportunities (because of reading a trilogy). I’ll just go ahead and tell you right now that I’ll be double- (maybe even triple) dipping. Because baby and work and all of the things. And I’m not even sure I’ll finish the challenge…for those reasons and because it’s damn near impossible to find an author with the same initials as me. But hey, if you’re up to a different kind of book challenge or reading goal for the year, check it out and join me on this one.

And now, without further ado, the best of what I read in 2014.

Best Thriller: Persuader by Lee Child (This one also comes in as one of the best Jack Reacher novels I’ve read so far. If you aren’t reading Jack Reacher, get on it.)

Honorable Mention: A Spy for Hire by Dan Mayland. I first read Mayland’s books as a reviewer and he’s only gotten better with time.

Other thrillers: The Midnight House (because I also love Alex Berenson’s protagonist Jonn Wells), The Enemy by Lee Child, and Stalin’s Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith

Best Nonfiction: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Golinkoff, and Diane Eyer. Play is the best way for young children to learn–and they learn so much through that medium. I cannot tell you how strongly I feel about the power of play and how much it teaches children about SO MANY THINGS. Don’t underestimate it.

Other nonfiction books worth your time: Girls Will Be Girls; NurtureShock; Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture; and Lean In…if you’re into that sort of thing.

I also read a lot of baby kinds of nonfiction, so if that’s up your alley this year, let me know and I’ll let you know what I thought was the best of that bunch.

Best (and only) YA Novel: Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn. I don’t typically read YA fiction (though I have some I should get to), but when you know the author and she debuts in 2014, you buy the book and read it. So I did. And then I ordered a copy for my niece for Christmas. It was SOOOO good. Just so good.

Best Children’s Book: (not included in the total count but worth a mention) Shark vs. Train. People. It’s laugh out loud funny and I definitely bought multiple copies for the little people in my life. Buy it. Read it. Read every. single. word. All of them all over the page. Totally worth it.

Best Fiction Book: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I BLEW through this book, it was so good. Just so…so good. I love that it’s now a movie and, when I have a second, I’m gonna watch that too. On the whole, hands down best book I read in 2014.

Reframing Christmas…Or Why I Suck at the Occasion This Year

I caught a little bit of the Diane Rehm show today as I was on my way home from the gym. The conversation was about the holidays–specifically about the breakdown of gender roles and the effects of the stress of this time of year on individuals, their partners and their children. It got me thinking more intentionally about what I want Christmas to look like at our house and what traditions I want to stick with, what I want to create, and how to find balance in the midst of it all.

So here’s what that looks like this year.

There is no Christmas tree. There is no nativity. There are no cookie tins (because plastic containers will do). We have not even opened the attic for Christmas decorations.

Christmas cards aren’t going out…again. But if you’re interested in a birth announcement, raise your hand. I’ll send you one as soon as I make it to the post office for more stamps.

There are presents only because interwebs.

There’s no Christmas Eve service because baby and because we lost our church community earlier this year and have yet to find another.

Most of our lack of Christmas is due to having a 4 ½ month old in the house. We love him to pieces. But this whole working full time and parenting when I’m not working or sleeping is hard. And though this baby is a good baby, he is not an easy baby. And parenting is hard. And exhausting. And I can’t even bring myself to ask someone to baby-sit because it’s exhausting and I can’t do that to anyone else.

I’m sure there are parents who have had babies this year who got their Christmas tree decorated (bonus points for the whole house), presents bought and wrapped, and goodies made well before Festivus. Hell, they may have even attended a party or two by now. I’m also pretty sure many of those folks are at least 5 years younger than me (which is damn near an eternity in baby mama years) and aren’t dealing with twice daily doses of compounded liquid Prilosec with conversations of potentially making an appointment for an ultrasound and barium swallow–on top of the burp cloth/beach towel/snuggie combo we’ve employed to protect at least some part of our wardrobe…and the couch.

I am thankful for a baby who is otherwise healthy and happy and sweet and cuddly and too cute for anyone’s good. I am thankful for the interwebs and how so much of what I need to buy can just come directly to me. I am thankful for people who will come and help me make at least one type of cookie–even while I’m still in my pajamas. I am thankful for Christmas incarnated on my TV in various forms. I am thankful for being able to live vicariously through the decorating of others and that I’m not hosting Christmas at my house.

And that’s how Christmas looks this year. That’s how I’ve been able to find balance. That’s how I’ve maintained my sanity. Because there is no margin for Christmas in the way we’ve done it in years past.

But I hope against hope that next Christmas won’t look anything like this one. In the mean time, I’m working to be OK with what this one is.