I’m Not Jennifer

My name is Kristine. See, it says so right up there ^ at the top of the page. Sounds like Christine, but spelled with a K, just like every other name in my family. We’re basically the Kardashians.

Variations on my name were huge in the 80s, so nobody can remember which one I am. I’m regularly called Kristina, Kristen, Kristy, Krissy, Kirsten, Krista, Kris… and every possible spelling variation of each name. But who came blame people? It’s not their fault all the 80s parents were reading the same baby name books. Besides, I’m just as bad with other people’s names. When I have a Marco or Marcos in my class, I have to just say one randomly, figuring nobody will hear the difference. Irene and Ilene have to be very patient with my efforts. And for reasons I don’t even understand, Brandon and Bryan are interchangeable when they come out of my mouth.

So, yes, I will answer to Kristina, Kristen, Kris-anything….. and, Jennifer. I also answer to Jennifer.

The Jennifer thing has been happening all my life. I run into someone that I’ve only met once or twice before, and they make that face people make when they’re trying to remember your name, then they finally come up with, “It’s Jennifer, right?” I haven’t found a non-awkward way to say, “Close… Kristine.”

Do I just have the face of a Jennifer? I guess living in a world with Aniston, Garner, Lawrence, and Lopez, that’s not the worst thing. Or do I have a twin running around somewhere named Jennifer?

Those were my questions for many years, but now I’m actually pretty sure that the doppelganger theory is the right one. Because I think I met her. On Amtrak.

I had just gotten on my train in Portland, and one of the workers asked, “Are you headed to Vancouver again?”

“What? No… Everett.”

He looked confused, and looked at me closer. “Oh, sorry, you look a little like another passenger that used to ride regularly.”

“Was her name Jennifer?” I asked mostly for my own amusement.

Now he did look surprised. “Yeah, well, Jenny… How did you know??”

“Seriously? There’s a Jennifer who rides this train and looks like me??”

“She used to! She was a makeup artist. Traveled back and forth to Vancouver for a while for some work thing.”

“Weird…. Wait! A makeup artist in a wheelchair? Going to Vancouver? I think I rode with her once!!”A couple years earlier, there was this lady who was very concerned about her giant makeup case, refusing to let it out of her sight, saying Amtrak had lost it before.

Guys, that had to be her! That was my Jennifer! She’s the person everyone apparently meets before they meet me, and then can’t keep us straight! The world finally makes sense.

I wonder if my makeup artist doppelganger ever gets called Kristine. Or if she’s connected the dots and realized that we’ve met before. I hope we meet again someday. Now that I know she’s a real person, I’m dying to compare notes and figure out which of us is the evil twin.

Words I Can’t Say

There are two ideas about schools that people love to repeat with a sad shake of their head, and neither one of them has much basis in reality…

  1. Schools don’t do the Pledge of Allegiance anymore.
  2. God has been taken out of schools.

These are pretend problems invented by people who want to distract us from the real problems. But let’s talk about them…

Oregon, like nearly every state in the country, has laws requiring that public schools give students the opportunity to recite the Pledge. We recite it weekly in accordance with law, and at school assemblies in accordance with tradition.

And do you really think that God left schools just because we obey the constitutional separation of church and state? You think God’s bitter because we’re rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s? It was his idea; I’m pretty sure he’s cool with it. No student or teacher is stopped from praying. We don’t sponsor prayer, but we both allow and accommodate for it. Kids wear and carry religious symbols, books, etc as they choose. Open and respectful interfaith conversations happen all the time. I have very good reason to believe God approves.

So here’s the thing. We also have the right not to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I had never exercised that right before, although I’ve always been grateful to know I have it. I’ve read enough about the world’s dictatorships to know that forced loyalty is no loyalty at all. So I’ve always freely, willingly, and sincerely recited the Pledge to an imperfect country that I believed was riding that long moral arc towards justice.

The last time I said the Pledge of Allegiance was Monday, November 7, 2016. I have no idea when the next time will be.

After so many months of feeling the earth shake and my foundation cracking, desperately trying to stop a force much bigger than myself, the ground finally fell out from under me on November 8th. Since then, I’ve asked so many questions that I never before imagined asking. Way more questions than answers; little certainty about anything. But there was one thing I already knew for sure that very night–I can’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance right now. It would be dishonest.

I feel deep loyalty to the country that I was born into. I feel even more loyal to the US that I lived in, say, two years ago, than to the US I was born into; it got better with time. But I feel no such loyalty to the country I’m living in now.

I can’t call it an indivisible nation, when we voted for an agenda of division. I can’t claim liberty and justice for all, when we voted to severely limit “liberty,” “justice,” and “all.” I can’t lift my voice in ascribing values to a nation, when the nation rejected those values. I can’t pledge allegiance to a country I don’t even recognize. My word and my honor mean more to me than that.

It’s been five months, and I really miss saying those words. I miss believing them. I didn’t even know how much the Pledge meant to me until it was gone. I’m painfully wishing for a day when I can recite its words in good conscience again, about a country that’s at least trying to realize the ideals it proclaims. But until I’m living in a place that resembles the US I know and love, I’ll continue exercising my right not to pledge false allegiance.

I also believe that you can’t take something away, without somehow filling that space. I lost my faith in many things on November 8th. I have serious concerns about the systems and institutions and “democratic” processes that allowed this to happen. I have serious concerns about human nature. (Trust me, I hate it when I get existential more than you do.) I’m having a hard time trusting anyone or anything.

So I had to ask myself what I do have faith and trust in…. I still have faith in God. I still trust God.

I understand why people object to the “under God” line in the Pledge. It definitely implies some mixing of church and state. I also think God himself might object to the arguably vain usage of his name to separate ourselves from the Communists during the Cold War. But all of that aside… it might be the only phrase from the Pledge that I currently believe to be true. I still believe we are under God’s watchful eye and care.

So that was part of my November 8th decision. When others are reciting the Pledge, I take that moment to say a quick, silent prayer. I pray for the country. I pray that we can make it through the storm and someday be better for it. Mostly, I pray for the people suffering right now. I pray for those being threatened. Those whose lives are falling apart. And more than anything else, because they’re right there in the room with me, I pray for my kids and their families.

(I can personally guarantee that there will always be prayer in school, because I’ll never stop praying for my kids.)

So I show my love for country by refusing to pledge any allegiance to this dark shadow of America. And I resist by praying instead. We live in a day when believing in science is an act of rebellion. Maybe prayer can be a rebellious act too.

Is the bus accessible?

I hate flying. Like, I really hate flying. Words like “nerves” and “anxiety” don’t even come close to covering it. “Sheer terror” comes much closer. And my fear has nothing to do with thinking the plane might crash–that possibility doesn’t even bother me. So what if the plane crashes? I imagine it’s a pretty instant death on impact. (If I’m imagining that wrong, please don’t tell me.) No, my fear is about the fact that my chair will be broken every time I fly, and I’m just waiting to find out how bad it’s going to be this time. Hopefully it’ll just be minor, mostly cosmetic stuff. But is this going to be the time that the plane lands, and I’m left without an operating chair? No mobility, no way to leave the airport? There’s no emergency service to call in those situations. It can easily be weeks until anyone comes to even look at the broken chair. Weeks that I’ll spend wishing the plane had just gone down!

I haven’t flown since college, and that was ten years ago. When I moved to Portland, somebody asked, “Are you going to take the train up to Seattle for the holidays?” I was confused. People travel by train? In the 21st century? In the United States? I had no idea.

Turns out, people do travel by train! I travel by train! I love the train! I can stay in my chair, so nothing is getting broken–not the chair, and not me. I can even move safely and easily inside the train–dining car, bathroom, the train is my oyster! It’s a lovely route between Seattle and Portland, lots of pretty coastal views along the way. The station is loaded with charm and magic, straight out of Harry Potter. And it’s the most relaxing thing in the world to settle into my lil’ nook in car three and lose myself in a book, until the rhythm of the tracks usually lulls me into a nap.

Cue my extreme disappointment last week, the day before I was scheduled to take the train for spring break, when I got an email from Amtrak. Due to mudslides, the trains weren’t running, and “alternate transportation” would be provided. There was a phone number to call and discuss this alternate transportation. I immediately called it. I assumed they were putting people on busses, but would the bus be accessible? Would I be accounted and provided for?

The phone number was just Amtrak’s national number. After repeating “agent” to the phone tree–sorry, Julie, her name is Julie–a few times, and waiting on hold for nearly half an hour, I finally got to talk to a human. This human confirmed that “alternate transportation” meant bussing.

“Will the bus be wheelchair accessible?”

“Yes, it’ll pick you up at the same time as the train would.”

“Ok… but is it wheelchair accessible?”

“Just like the train, same time….. oh, wait, did you say wheelchair?”

“Yes. Is the bus wheelchair accessible?”

“Oh…. Let me check on that…”

<another ten minutes on hold>

“You purchased an accessible space on the train, so your needs will be accommodated for.”

“Great. What does that mean?”

“It means that they’ll accommodate for your needs.”

“Is the bus accessible? Is there a lift to get my chair and me onto the bus? Is there a designated space for my chair, where it’ll be secured to the ground??”

“Well, you might not be the only passenger in a wheelchair, you know.”

“Right…..” (???)

“Your needs will be accommodated for.”

“They’re not going to try something crazy, like thinking they can just carry my chair onto a bus, right?”

“Well I don’t know about that. I just sell tickets!”

“Can you transfer me to someone who can answer my question?”

“Um….”

“How about Portland? Can you transfer me to the Portland Station? So I can talk to the people who will actually be there tomorrow?”

“Yes! Portland! I can give you the station’s phone number.”

She sounded very relieved to be getting off the phone.

I called the Portland number….. and it rang, and rang, and rang. Nobody answered, no automated message or voicemail kicked in. It just rang…. I hung up and called back. And again. At some point, I got a busy signal! (Sidenote: when was the last time you heard a busy signal??) Then I became very persistent, figuring that when they hung up from that call, they’d be able to take mine next…. Nope. Eventually the busy signal turned back into endless ringing. I called throughout the afternoon and evening. Nobody ever picked up.

The next day, I showed up at the train station hoping for the best, because what else could I do? I was there several hours early, because Train Day has become a tradition with my friend Jill. We always hang out for a while before I leave, and it’s always an adventure, even when we just hang around the train station. (Everyone there knows our tradition. The coffee shop guy welcomes us back. The guy loading bags onto a cart asks if I’m heading to Everett. The train station is our Cheers bar.) With hours until the trip is scheduled to start, I figure they have plenty of time to figure out what they’re doing with me.

I asked the guy at the ticket counter about the busses and accessibility.

“Yep, the busses will be pulling up here, and taking everyone where they need to go.”

“And is there an accessible bus?”

“Oh… well…. let’s see here….”

He stumbled around and looked at his computer screen for a while.

Finally he asked, “Could you travel tomorrow? The trains will be back up and running tomorrow.”

“No….” (Seriously? I’m here with my luggage. I have a ticket to travel today. It’s your job to transport me today. Do you job, please.)

“Ok. Well come back at about 2, and we’ll figure something out.”

“K. Come back… here, at 2? To this counter?”

“Oh, you know, here.” He gestures to nowhere in particular.

As we walked over toward the baggage check, Craig the red cap crossed our path. Perfect! Craig always comes through for me.

We asked Craig about accessible busses, and he assured us, “Oh, we’ll figure something out. Worse comes to worst, we’ll get you your own special cab, just for you.” That didn’t sound so bad! Hearing that there’s a Plan B made me feel a little better, but… why didn’t there seem to be a Plan A? Why was everyone confused when I asked about accessible buses? Mudslides happen and train tracks get shut down semi-regularly around here. I couldn’t possibly be their first passenger with a wheelchair in this situation!

Craig offered to take my bag, and we gave it to him. I walked away without a claim ticket, or any evidence that I ever had a bag. But it’s Craig, and it’s Amtrak, and for some reason we just trust this system that they always seem to be making up as they go along. Craig told me to come back and meet him around 2. “Meet you where at 2?” He made the same nondescript gesture toward the station in general. Ok…

Jill and I left to have our Train Day adventure. We picked a direction and walked, letting the universe take us where it would. And it worked! When the wind picked up and we were done with the outdoors, we stepped into what looked like a bakery. They greeted us at the door with “Two of you?” and we nodded. Next thing we knew, we were being seated under this tree….

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We really didn’t intend to enter a restaurant, or an enchanted forest, but that’s where we ended up. So we went with it, and had an amazing brunch!

Back at the train station, Craig found us, and they finally decided that yes, they did have an accessible bus for me. I have no idea why that was such a big question mark, but whatever. They got me on the bus without drama, and we all headed to Seattle. Not nearly as charming and atmospheric as my train ride, but it got the job done.

Except my final destination wasn’t Seattle, it was Everett. So when the bus let everyone off in Seattle, my little circus started all over again!

“Where do I go now? How do I get to Everett?”

“There will be a bus.”

“Is it accessible?”

“Some of them are.”

“Is the bus to Everett accessible?”

“Tom will figure it out.”

“Where should I go now?”

“You can wait inside if you want. Or right here.”

I decided to stay right there, under their noses, where they couldn’t forget me.

A few minutes later, another guy came and sat down next to me.

“So I’m driving this bus over here to Everett. Do you have your own ramp that you bring with you?”

“No….” (He thinks I carry a ramp that will get me onto on of those giant buses with me?? Where did he think I was carrying this 30 foot ramp??)

“Do you stand up and walk onto the bus?”

“No…”

“Well what do you usually do then?”

“I usually take the train!!”

“Well I understand that. But I don’t think this bus has a ramp for you.”

“So how are they getting me to Everett?”

“I don’t know. I’ll talk to Tom. He’ll figure it out.”

He and Tom walked around pointing at things and looking at clipboards.

A guy in red took over the spot on the bench next to me. Apparently he was the red cap, although the lack of a cap on his head seemed off to me… This guy pointed to the bus that the other guy had been talking about, and said, “I think that’s where they’ll get you on, right there.”

“So this bus does have a ramp?”

“It looks like it. Probably.”

“The driver just said that it doesn’t.”

“Well I can’t imagine what else that door would be for.”

(Why are we guessing?? Why doesn’t anybody know?? There’s a bus ten feet away from us, and nobody knows if it has a ramp. Nobody opens the door to see what’s behind it. The existence of a ramp is treated as an unsolvable mystery.)

Up until this point, I’ve been mostly maintaining my teacher voice. The voice that says “I’m not upset or angry. I’m calmly stating the expectation, because that’s my job, and you will follow through, because that’s your job. There is no ‘or else;’ you’re just going to do it. I’ll wait. I can wait all day.” But I can finally hear hints of my teacher-in-May voice creeping in, the one that isn’t so patient and has HAD IT with all of the stupid.

“Why is this so complicated?? I know that I’m not the first passenger to come through here with a wheelchair!”

“Nope, you’re not.”

“Then why is everyone acting like today’s their first day on the job?? Why doesn’t anybody know what to do??”

“Oh, because we’re just like a bunch of chickens with our heads cut off, running around here. Haha!”

“How am I getting to Everett?”

“I’ll go talk to Tom.”

Everyone seemed to have a lot of faith in Tom. But all I saw was a guy with a clipboard who liked pacing and pointing at things. I’m sure Tom is very good at his job, but his name was starting to irritate me.

The red cap came back and told me, “Tom’s going to call you a taxi. Or if he doesn’t, I will.”

He led me down to the other end of the curb, and we waited. I don’t know what we were waiting for, but at some random moment, the red cap said, “Ok, I’ll call.” I don’t know why he couldn’t call earlier, or how he knew that Tom hadn’t called. Whatever! He made the call. He wrote up a voucher so that the cabbie could collect his fare from Amtrak. The taxi took me to Everett.

(Sidenote: they definitely paid more to send me in a cab from Seattle to Everett, than I’d paid for my ticket from Portland to Seattle. Almost as much as my round trip ticket!)

The whole time they were scratching their heads in Seattle, I was mentally debating about how much I was willing to put up with before calling my dad. He was waiting for me in Everett. With traffic, he probably could have made it to pick me up in about an hour, maybe less. I was never in danger of being stranded at the bus station. But I didn’t feel a need to tell them that. It’s not my job to accommodate them and make their lives easier! I bought an accessible ticket from Portland to Everett. There was no reason for everyone to seem so surprised when I showed up expecting accessible transport from Portland to Everett.

I guess another one of my teacher faces is the one that says, “Looks like you need to solve that problem. I’m not doing it for you. Be a problem solver!” I wasn’t going to bend over backwards so that they could get out of providing me with the service I’d paid for. I wasn’t going to apologize for expecting the service I’d paid for.

I just want to point out two things:

1) It’s been 27 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, and I still can’t get a straight answer to a simple question like, “Is the bus accessible?” Even from really nice people, working in a well established system, disability is still a surprise that they don’t know what to do with.

2) For everyone that’s gung-ho about building walls, how about you leave Mexico alone, and do some wall building along the train tracks? Mudslides get in the way of train travel every single year. It seems like a predictable and preventable problem…

(You thought I was going to get through an entire blog post without a jab at our ugly, Trumpian society, didn’t you?)

Another glimpse into my teacher heart…

Some people may have seen this recent facebook status of mine…..

“If I talk about it, I might cry…”
“That’s ok. You won’t even be the first kid today crying in here!”
“Other kids come to your class to cry too??”

(I always think it’s cute when it dawns on a kid that they’re not the only one who spills their guts to Ms. Napper.:))

Yesterday was an intense day. Two different kids had been holding onto stuff for a very long time, and I finally broke through their walls. With the student quoted above, this wasn’t our first intense conversation. He’d told me all kinds of heartbreaking stories before, but always with a straight face. I can’t express how disturbing it is to listen to a child tell absolute horror stories, one after another, with nothing but stoicism. He’s told me multiple times, “I don’t cry,” to which I’ve always responded, “I get that, but you can if you need to.” So yesterday, he finally delved into the stuff that does make him cry….

Not me, though. I really don’t cry. At least not in the moment, not with the kid. In the moment, I’m very emotionally present, warm, caring, open, etc…. but I’m also strong, calm, and in control. I learned a long time ago how to avoid freaking out, even when listening to stories that fully merit freaking out.

Later. I cry these things out myself later. In fact, the more intense the emotion, the longer it takes me to process and be able to cry about it. When the second conversation ended yesterday, and I was left feeling drained and vaguely numb, I knew it would all leak out my eyes eventually, but I had a feeling it would take a while.

It almost happened on the bus today. I blinked it back and avoided a scene. But wow, not when or where I was expecting it!

The driver was a talker. He drives me somewhat regularly, and he always has a lot to say. One of his favorite themes is his daughter, now a young adult, who he raised as a single dad. He’s so proud of that girl, says she’s doing everything in her life right. It’s very sweet. Today he went deeper, and among other things, talked about his lifetime of dealing with drug addiction. Now I understand all the times he’s said, “I’ve done so many things wrong in my life… but I raised my daughter right. She’s my one great accomplishment.”

He told me that his daughter calls him out of the blue sometimes just to thank him for being her dad. He says that she called him recently, after watching another drug addicted man completely neglecting his child, and said “Thank you for protecting me from harm.” (The driver got choked up just telling the story…. Seriously, everyone cries around me!)

What a powerful line. “Thank you for protecting me from harm.” That was when I had to put the brakes on my own waterworks…. Because suddenly I was thinking of this kid and all the stories he told me yesterday. All the stories he hasn’t told me yet. All the times he needed someone to protect him from harm, and nobody did…. And my heart hurt. I wish I could go back in time, scoop up that little baby, and take him somewhere safe. I’m doing everything I can to help him avoid unnecessary harm in the future. But there’s so much beyond my control or his….

It’s not just this one kid. It’s so many of them. So many that I desperately want to protect from harm. So much trauma that I wish more than anything I could undo. It kills me that no matter how much I try to give and support and love, my actual realm of influence is pretty small. I know that I do make at least some difference, and that difference matters. But I also feel the weight of all the needs that are beyond me, or that I failed to meet, or even failed to notice…

And it kills me to see it getting worse, not better. I’ve said it a thousand times, but get used to it, because I’ll say it a million more. We live under a regime now that was elected on the promise of adding trauma to my kids’ lives. Our President insulted my kids and their families, and promised to make their lives hell. And a large enough minority of Americans said “yes please!” So now it’s happening. And as promised, it’s hell.

When I decided to pursue my teaching license in ESL, I remember very specifically thinking about all the families that come to the US, seeking a better life. I was watching so many of my friends traveling to third world countries and getting involved in all these make-the-world-better projects. And I was excited to finally figure out the role I could play! When families left these tough situations and came to start a life full of opportunities for themselves and their children in this country, I could be part of that process. I could help with the transition. I could be part of America’s welcome wagon. It felt so right….

I remember trying to express all of that in Spanish during my interview for my education program at BYU. I didn’t know they were going to test my claim on my application that I spoke “some” Spanish, so I wasn’t prepared at all! When the interview team turned to the Latino at the table, and he asked me in Spanish why I wanted to teach ESL, all I could do was speak off the cuff, from the heart, and something like my last paragraph is what came out… It was a linguistic struggle for me, and I’m actually glad I didn’t have time to prepare. I would have overthought it, and not done as well. Instead, I just jumped in, hoping for the best, and it worked out fine.

My Spanish abilities have grown a lot since then. And now instead of expressing idealistic dreams, I’m using those language skills to listen to trauma unlike anything I can remember hearing in English. (Nobody told me this was where all those verb conjugations and vocabulary lists would take me!)

But America’s welcome wagon is looking pretty shabby these days. I can’t make any promises to these hurting kids that they’re safe now, that the worst is behind them. I can’t protect them from harm.

I know that life isn’t meant to be easy. I know that our struggles are what make us strong. I would never want to protect my kids from struggle… But struggle is one thing, and harm is something else.

The limited power and limited time I have with any of my kids is tough. I love them like my own, but they’re not my own…. This is where I have to learn trust, which is not my strong point. I have to trust the kids to grow up and make good choices–preferably sooner, but I’ll settle for later. I have to trust the other adults who will come and go from their lives, to pick up where I leave off. And more than anything, I have to trust God to watch over them and take good care of them. It’s so hard. I know that God is there, and that He loves these kids even more than I do, is more aware of their needs than I am. I can say that confidently, because I feel him giving me just the right nudges and flashes of insight to support kids better than I would on my own. But he also lets harm happen! He lets terrible people make terrible, harmful choices. And maybe someday, in a future lifetime, I’ll understand why these things had to happen without God intervening, but right now it’s well beyond my comprehension.

No matter how many times the answer is “no,” I have to keep asking…. Please, America, and please, God, protect my kids from harm.

Something I Love About Her

One of my favorite humans on the earth is this girl right here….

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That’s my beautiful niece, Makenzie. It’s been a little over three years since she made me an aunt for the first time, which was reason enough to immediately love her times infinity.

Since then, I’ve found about a million things to love about her. I love her huge smile and infectious laugh. I love how gentle she is with animals. I love her endless amounts of energy. I love that she enjoys building things. I love her singing. I love her look of deep concentration. I love that her vocabulary seems to quadruple every time I talk to her. I love her imagination. I love that she counts things, and gets creative with the numbers after ten.

So let me tell you another thing I love about her. Through a story or two….

The last time they came for a visit, one of our favorite games was “Aunt K’stine, Come Scare Me!” The game basically consists of her inviting me to come “scare” her, and then screaming as I chase her around the house…

Eventually, Grandma got sucked into the game too. Kenzie started leaping into my mom’s arms and yelling, “Run, Grandma, run! Aunt K’stine is coming!” Then my mom would have to run around the house, carrying a shrieking three year old.

After about a million rounds of this, Kenzie wasn’t slowing down of course, but Grandma had to tell her, “I’m sorry, but I’m getting tired. I don’t think I can run anymore.” I wasn’t sure if Makenzie registered this. She didn’t seem too phased.

The next round, I chased her around the house a couple times, and again, she leaped into Grandma’s arms. This time calling, “Walk, Grandma, walk!!”

Yep, she was listening, and she heard Grandma say she couldn’t run. So we kept playing, with Grandma walking, Kenzie shrieking, and Aunt K’stine slow-motion chasing. 🙂

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I think they like each other….

This is my other favorite little human in the world…

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That’s Carson. He’s my cute-as-a-button nephew, and he’s just past the year and a half mark. He spends his days following his big sister around, and mimicking everything she does. They adore each other!

The other day, as I was Skyping with them, Makenzie started climbing up on the coffee table, and jumping from there to the couch. Big jump, but doable. (Mommy and Daddy were both right there, and they seemed fine with it.)

Predictably, after a couple jumps, Carson climbed up on the table, and was eying the couch, ready to make his own big leap…. There was no way that was going to end well. He’s a strong lil’ guy, but still just a lil’ guy!

As my brother started to say, “I don’t want you trying it, Car-guy…”, Makenzie was already on the ground, pushing the coffee table up against the couch. She fixed it so that Carson could jump without hurting himself. Then they both got to work jumping together.

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Do siblings get any sweeter?

I LOVE that Makenzie is such a natural at adapting to the needs of others. Grandma can’t run? That’s cool, we’ll walk. Carson can’t make the big jump? That’s cool, we’ll make the jump smaller. These aren’t reasons to stop playing, or leave someone out. We just adapt, and get back to the important business of having fun.

I hope that’s a character trait she never loses. Kids are so much more natural at making accommodations than most adults! Unless you live with a disability or spend lots of time around it, that talent seems to go away. People get set in their patterns of the way things are done, and it’s hard to imagine any other way.

I have to roll my eyes when people get all weepy about seeing kids with wheelchairs–the “poor little dears” are “too young to have to put up with that.” Whatever! Being a kid with a disability isn’t so bad, at least not most of the time. The other kids just think your chair is a cool toy, and they’re not wrong. It gets much harder in the adult world, but as a kid, playtime is just fun. When an obstacle comes up, you change your course and go around it. No big deal, that’s part of the game.

Keep it up, Makenzie! Keep listening to others’ needs, and problem-solving so they can be included. The world needs loving, kind, creative people like you.

Props To Immigrant Parents

I know it’s a time-honored tradition among teachers to complain about parents. Everyone knows “that parent,” the one that thinks their Little Darling can do no wrong and that attacks their teacher for holding LD accountable for any of his/her actions. I don’t feel like “that parent” was as common when I was a kid as they are today, but that could be a mix of naivete and nostalgia talking. Whatever.

Me, though, I’m lucky. My students have amazing parents, and I have buckets of respect and admiration for them. My Spanish never feels strong enough to fully express those sentiments, and it’s the same problem when I’m using an interpreter to speak to parents in other languages–something just seems to get lost. So I hope that my high regard comes across through the way I treat their kids.

I’m going to speak in many generalizations in this post. Please be aware of that, and know that I’m aware of it. I don’t believe in lumping groups of people together; everyone has their own unique story. However, in my ten years of teaching and working with immigrant families, there are things that have shown up way more times than I can count. I want to honor those stories, hopefully without stereotyping or cheapening them.

Parents sacrifice for their children. All good parents, to some extent or another, sacrifice for their children.Mine certainly did, and continue to! But I’ve never seen better examples of sacrifice than among my students’ parents.

There’s this nutty idea out there that people come to the United States to have a free ride and be taken care of. So ignorant!! When my students’ families moved here, most of their parents knew perfectly well they were trading one hard life for another. They left behind their homes, neighborhoods, all the places they could move about freely without worrying about language or culture. Back home, they could blend in, which is a luxury people in the majority culture never really appreciate.

Coming to the United States meant leaving behind family–it seems like every couple of months, I have another kid coming to school sad about the death of a grandparent they never got to meet. Many families don’t have the paperwork that would allow them to go back and visit. It blows my mind. I know an awful lot of people my age who wouldn’t dream of raising their kids in a different state than at least one set of grandparents; it’s hard to raise kids without your built-in village. Imagine picking up your baby and saying goodbye to your parents, knowing it’s likely forever. Never getting to take your kids to visit grandma and show them the house where daddy grew up, the street where mommy walked to school. No matter how dire the situation back home, it’s still home, and leaving is tough.

In the United States, these same parents will work around the clock, trying to keep rent and bills paid, food on the table. I know kids who literally go days without seeing their parent(s), because they’re always at work. Endless hours on the job, yet many will never climb any ladders into better positions or receive benefits beyond a basic income. Some will be cheated out of pay, and find themselves without options for legal recourse. They’ll spend the rest of their lives paying taxes into the system, and never collect a social security check. And they’ll do all this in the constant shadow of fear that ICE is going to show up at their door and take it all away.

Why choose to be poor in a country that doesn’t want you, where the language and culture always seem out of reach, where there’s not much future for you, when you could have stayed home and at least been a more familiar flavor of poor? For your kids. And for their kids. Whether those kids are being saved from drug traffickers, or abuse, or gangs, or violence, or extreme poverty…. I meet kids who haven’t been to school in years, because it wasn’t safe, or just wasn’t available. Getting your children into the United States means getting them the right to an education, regardless of social class or ability, and that’s reason enough to hope their future will be brighter. Safer. The generation after them will have even more reason to be optimistic. It’s never going to be an easy life in the United States for that first generation, but if it means giving your kids a chance, you do what you can.

When parent conferences happen, I don’t have to suffer many attacks from “that parent” defending Little Darling. The parents in my classes almost always start by asking ¿Como se comporta mijo/a? (How is my child behaving?) We’ll discuss academics in a minute, but first and foremost, they want to know if their child is being polite and respectful. Even when my report is glowing, there’s still a good chance that I’ll watch the parent turn to their child and lecture them about the opportunities they have and their responsibility to work hard, to be somebody, to go further in life than their parents ever could. I know the kids have heard this lecture a million times, but they don’t roll their eyes. They repeat the same phrases when their parents aren’t around; they’re listening.

Somehow these moments always take me back to high school English, reading The Great Gatsby and writing essays on the American Dream. But how much could Fitzgerald really teach us about the American Dream? Like most of us students in that AP classroom, he started out with all kinds of privilege. I remember that even as I wrote my essay, I felt like I was missing something. I could say all the right words to define the Dream, but I couldn’t quite grasp its significance or connect the bootstraps talk to my core identity as an American. It didn’t fully resonate for me yet.

It wasn’t until I was the teacher in my own classroom that I finally had a solid answer to the long-ago essay question–YES, of course the American Dream is alive! As long as we have immigrant parents willing to bet everything on America and the chance it offers their children, the American Dream lives. As long as the “tired…poor…huddled masses yearning to breathe free” keep accepting our invitation, the American Dream lives.

I’ve been on the receiving end of many thank yous from parents. Not one has ever given me a Pinterest craft project or a Starbucks gift card. (I don’t care about the artsy crafty teacher gifts anyway… although I’m happy to accept gift cards if anybody’s feeling generous!;)) I do occasionally get some amazing tamales. (Tamales are better than Starbucks anyway…) But the thanks is soooooo sincere. Sincere, and even laced with a little insecurity about being able to offer their children enough support in school. They just want all the best for their kids, so they trust that the school is providing it, and they’re full of appreciation for anything and everything that I do…. This, of course, makes my guilt-reflex kick in hardcore, and I walk away feeling inspired to find ways to serve their kids better than what we’re already doing.

Without kids of my own, and most likely none on the way, I get to throw all my mothery energies into my students. For better or for worse, those instincts need some sort of outlet. 🙂 I feel lucky that these parents share their incredible kids with me, and I learn so much about parenting from them. I love listening to the kids talk with pride about their families, where they came from, and how hard their parents work for them. The toughest kids turn into total softies when they talk about wanting to make their moms proud.

I hate that my students’ parents have to take so much shame and scorn from society. The people at the top who are hogging all the wealth just point their finger, and suddenly all of our middle and working class problems are the fault of the mom who’s working two jobs and still can’t afford to replace the clothes her kids have outgrown. People like to say she “doesn’t care” about her kids, because she can’t make it to school events. And then they get really comfortable on their moral high ground, and say that she should have come to the United States “the right way.” Never mind that the United States doesn’t offer any legal pathways to people like her.

(Note 1: My European ancestors sailed across an ocean, committed mass genocide, then went back and rounded up some Africans to care for their stolen land. If that’s the right way, color me unimpressed.) (Note 2: Put in a situation where there’s no legal way to give your child a safe upbringing with hope for the future…. are you really going to tell me you would do anything different than these parents have done? You wouldn’t take the same risks for your own children?)

I teach beautiful, funny, smart, kind, hardworking, fantastic kids. And fantastic kids come from fantastic parents. Think how great America would be if we really tapped into this resource and all they have to offer.

Inauguration 2017

Eight years ago, I had no idea a presidential inauguration could make me feel so many things.

Today, I had no idea a presidential inauguration could make me feel so many things.

Spoiler alert: they aren’t the same things.

I was warned as an undergraduate in teacher school, that I’d watch the pendulum swing back and forth throughout my career. They were talking about educational policies and trends, of course. But nothing could have prepared me for the whiplash of my first ten years of teaching, going from Bush, to Obama, to Donald. If a time traveler from the future had tried to warn me, I’d have never believed them. I don’t even fully believe it in the present.

My foundation has been shaken in so many ways, it feels more like walking on jello. I’ve found myself rethinking values and beliefs these last several months that I’ve never had reason to question before… And maybe that part’s not such a terrible thing. Maybe it’s good to shake out dusty old beliefs now and then, and see if they still fit.

The one that’s been the most surprising and omnipresent for me–unity.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many church talks and lessons I’ve sat through on unity. I’ve given a few of them myself. It’s one of those easy, warm and fuzzy topics that doesn’t raise too many questions. It’s a defining characteristic of Zion. I live in a country with unity embedded in its name and its original motto. So unity is a Good Thing, right?

Or… maybe not. Maybe not necessarily. On deeper reflection, I’m finding that unity is actually value-neutral. Was there ever an evil dictator that didn’t rally their people with cries for unity? In every story ever told, both fact and fiction, weren’t the bad guys just as united as the good guys? Unity brings strength, but it doesn’t necessarily bring good. It can be dangerous.

It turns out, unity isn’t my priority right now. I don’t see it as a primary goal. My goal is goodness. My goals are right, light, love, and equity. If we’re working for the same goals, then unity will be a natural consequence, and I’ll welcome and embrace it. There’s room for different methods and approaches, as long as we’re unified in purpose. It’s a large tent and the doors are wide open. But I won’t move the tent.

For months now, I’ve seen people cry for unity as a coded way to say, “Be quiet. Sit down. Stop rocking the boat. Keep your opinions to yourself. Accept what is, and support it.” I absolutely can not, will not. Not now, not ever. Of course, seeing as the majority of the country feels similarly to me, I’m actually standing united with plenty of people. I’m not just united with a bigger crowd than the other side, I’m also united with a much more diverse crowd that actually reflects “real America.” (I have no idea why the extremists on the far right keep referring to themselves as “real America.” Their demographics simply don’t support the claim.) But you know what? It doesn’t matter. If I’m the last person left in this tent, I still won’t be moving. My conscious won’t allow it. I’ve been taught all my life to stand for what’s right, even if it means standing alone. I prefer to stand united with family, friends, and neighbors, but I’m not afraid to stand alone.

I’m trying hard to figure out how to remain civil, friendly, and kind with those who won’t stand by me. It’s not easy; I’m still working on it. It isn’t the goal for me right now either, but it’s a goal. Most people deserve civility, friendliness, and kindness most of the time. But there are lines I won’t cross just to make other people comfortable. There’s ugliness, lies, ignorance, hate, and misguided fear floating around so prevalently, and I can’t let it all go unchallenged and still call myself a moral person. I won’t call evil, good, much less great. I won’t call factually incorrect information, your truth. I won’t call hate and fear, patriotism. I will be civil, polite, and kind, but I won’t be untrue to myself and my values.

My students taught me an idiom once, El que anda con lobos, a aullar aprende. In English, He who spends time with wolves, learns to howl. (I’m sure there’s an equivalent idiom in English, but the Spanish one is what’s coming to me right now.) We have to be careful about who we choose to unify with. It’s never been a secret who’s waving the Donald flag and fueling his fire. That train has been loud and proudly staffed by white supremists, male chauvinists, actual Nazis, and Donald’s bestie, Putin, since day one. I shouldn’t have to clarify this, but–those are the wolves. Unify with that crowd? Not if there were a gun held to my head.

Asking me to unify in support of an administration that shares none of my values, is asking me to betray myself. Asking me to unify in support of an administration that I consider a threat to American values, is asking me to betray my country. I won’t.

I will not support an administration whose goal is to take down public education. Not only because it’s my livelihood, but also because I believe in the concept of education for all, not education for profit. I believe our society depends on it.

I will not support an administration that rejects freedom of religion. My own religious ancestors were persecuted by the United States–violently chased out. I know deep in my bones what our country is capable of when we let our fear of difference override our reverence for the first amendment. I will not silently watch as my Muslim students and their families, who came here seeking safety, are put on a registry and a target slapped on their back. I will not accept their family and friends back home being barred from joining them.

I will not support an administration that is actively seeking to take health care away from millions of Americans. Less health care means more death. Obviously the Affordable Care Act still needs work. Obama could tell you that himself, and has. But repealing the act entirely, bloodies our hands. (Not to mention, after my livelihood as a public educator goes away, what healthcare options are going to be left for me, a disabled American?)

I will not support an administration that puts the oil guys in charge of environmental policy. I plan to live on this earth for a long time. I’d like for the generations that come after me to be able to live on this earth. One of the earliest lessons I can remember being taught as a child at church is that God created this beautiful world for us because He loves us. I still believe that, and I believe in taking the best possible care of this priceless gift.

I will not support an administration that demonizes immigrants. Crime and terrorism are entirely different issues than immigration. This administration promotes fear of those who have been most victimized by crime, violence, and terrorism, telling us that they’re the problem. As the wealthiest country in the world, we’re not doing our fair share to help, support, and welcome the most vulnerable. I’ve yet to meet a family who came to the US looking for free handouts. All I’ve ever seen is desire for opportunities to learn, work, and contribute. And I know an awful lot of immigrant families….

I will not support an administration that oppresses, victimizes, and objectifies women. Rape and sexual assault aren’t funny and aren’t excusable. I will not shoulder shrug away the very language that normalizes a culture where it’s terrifying to be out and female. Although my views on abortion are too complicated to be accurately described as either pro-life or pro-choice, I can most of the time say that I’m pro-women’s healthcare and anti-abortion. Reducing access to healthcare and preventative birth control has never failed to increase abortion rates. I can’t support it.

I will not support an administration that is anti free press. Look at any dictatorship past or present, or just read any dystopian novel–when the government controls what you know about the government, democracy is dead. That’s why our founders gave us the first amendment.

The campaign that got us into this mess began with the promise of a wall, and they’ve been building walls ever since. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again now–it doesn’t matter whether the literal, physical wall is ever built. They’ve already succeeded at building thick, tall, deeply divisive walls. They’ve manipulated our carnal instincts to otherize since the beginning. This administration has never been about unity; they promised divisiveness, and now they’re delivering.

If unity is what we want, first we have to tear down those walls, and that demands putting a stop to the wall builders. It doesn’t work to tell people they need to support a divider in the name of unity.

I can’t predict the future, so I have no idea if we’ll beat them. But I know there’s no force on earth that could convince me to join them.

Doing New Years Backwards

When I was a student in high school and college, I remember thinking that my middle school teachers were going to track me down and have a fit, because I  wrote my papers a little backwards from how they’d taught me. I knew I was supposed to start with the thesis and let that guide the rest of the paper, but I often had to write the entire paper before I figured out what my thesis was. Whatever, it’s my writing process, and now I just own it.

So in that backward spirit, I’d like to start 2017 by finally writing new year’s resolutions for 2016. How was I supposed to know last January that these were the things I’d accomplish this year?? But now that I know what I was working on all year, I’m ready to retroactively write my 2016 goals…

1. Get back to grad school

I started working on a master’s program forever ago. It was a fully online program, one class at a time, each class lasting five weeks–designed just right for full-time teachers who are trying to squeeze another thing in. I was plugging away, getting it done… And then the economy fell apart. The school budget fell apart. I went from being on a team of 3 teachers down to a team of 1.5 teachers, even though the number of students hadn’t changed. This was still early in my career, and I was completely overwhelmed. Before even starting the master’s program, I’d promised myself that my students would remain my priority, and I wouldn’t let them suffer for the sake of my own schooling. When my responsibilities suddenly grew, my grades started plummeting. It was too much. I set grad school on hold for a while.

Of course, once you lose momentum, it’s really hard to get it back! Plus, things stayed incredibly hard at school for several very dark years. So grad school stayed on the back burner…. Last spring, we were finally  promised enough ESL staffing to bring us back up to 3 full-time teachers! I was thrilled! When summer came, I decided that it was now or never. Time to suck it up and get it done.

That decision terrified me. I know how all-encompassing and soul-consuming my job is. I really wasn’t sure if I could handle being a full-time teacher and part-time student again… But my mantra has been, “Keep your head down, keep pushing forward, don’t stop and think about it.” And it’s gotten me this far! My grades have remained high. It feels like neverending hoop-jumping to get it all done, but I keep checking each little milestone off the list, and that feels good!

Also, I’m pretty sure this timing was a result of some divine prompting. This year I have the luxury of two fantastic teammates, a luxury I hadn’t had in eight years. My master’s program should be finished next summer. After that, I’m fully expecting next school year to bring the same kind of disastrous conditions in the school district that led to me dropping the program in the first place. No budget again means no teachers again,  which will mean those of us left standing will take on an even bigger burden of work. (I’m hoping it’s not too optimistic to include myself in the “us” left standing…. nothing is guaranteed.) If I’d waited another year, there’s no way I’d be taking on grad school, and who knows if I’d ever finish?

2. Start a small business

Nope, that was never anywhere on my bucket list! Especially not in a year where I barely have time to breathe. I don’t know how this happened.

Actually, I do know. I fell in love with LipSense. And instead of paying a zillion dollars to have ALL the colors, I signed up to be a distributor and support my addiction. So far, no regrets! The time commitment is bite-sized and of my own choosing. It’s given me a space for a little creativity in a time when I otherwise feel like I’m drowning. It’s connecting me with people in a time when I’m inclined toward isolation. And it’s just fun to be trying something new!

Definitely didn’t see that one coming….

3. Find my voice as a writer

I only saw this one coming a little bit. A year ago, I was writing about starting this blog as my “new thing for the new year.” I didn’t have big plans for it. I just knew that I missed writing. I started out writing light and fluffy, just-for-fun stuff for the most part. Even then, clicking “publish” and sharing it with the world scared me. Fortunately, one of my core life philosophies is that “being afraid isn’t a reason not to do things.” So I kept writing and publishing.

Then the world kept getting more intense, heavier, more terrifying, more maddening. And my writing followed. I never dreamed I’d be writing the kinds of things I’ve written this year. But now I can’t imagine how I’d have survived the year without this outlet! The world is so ugly, I keep feeling like it’s crushing me. I can’t crumble under all of it, because there are too many people and responsibilities demanding that I stay strong. So I write, and when I write, the pressure eases just a little. I get some of that energy out of my system and into the universe, and it clears up just enough room inside for me to breathe and move forward.

Does any of my writing matter to the world beyond my own catharsis? I don’t know. From some of the feedback I’ve gotten, I think maybe it does. Maybe a little. It still scares me every time I click the button and put a piece of my soul on display for public viewing. But it also means a lot each time somebody finds my writing worth passing on to their own friends. It means a lot each time someone comes up to me and says “thank you for finding the words for the things I’ve wanted to say.” Occasionally someone even says “you helped me understand a little better,” and those might be my favorite moments.

If nothing else, history will know where I stood in this dark moment. I grew up listening to that quote at church about how the angels may quote from our journals someday. That idea terrified me at the time, and felt like reason enough to never write in a journal. I didn’t want my inner thoughts–the silly, the dark, the unkind–to be shared with anyone! But the angels can quote from this blog if they want. I stand by everything I’ve written. I know that I’ll continue to grow and learn and rethink and evolve, but I’m not ashamed of who I am at this moment in time.

I didn’t see it coming in 2016. I’m afraid to imagine what I’ll be writing in 2017. But I will keep writing.

4. Perform a marriage

Technically, I’ve known for a long time that anyone can go to the Universal Life Church online, click a few buttons, and be able to legally perform marriages. But the thought of actually doing so never crossed my mind!

Also, although I had a long list of questions I fully expected to be asked before “Will you marry me?”, somehow, “Will you marry us?” wasn’t on the list! So, I still haven’t gotten married. But I have married. 🙂

I’m thrilled to add this resolution to my retroactive goal list, because Erin and Dusty’s wedding was beautiful, and their marriage is more beautiful! It was a ridiculous honor to be part of the magic binding them together. So much love! Giant explosions of love! A huge love bubble that they take with them everywhere and love up the world!

I don’t plan to make frequent use of my new marriage-making superpower, but I’m so glad I got to use it this once. 🙂

5. Be on Netflix

No, I don’t mean watch Netflix. I watched my share, but it wasn’t retroactive resolution worthy. I mean, my face is on Netflix!

When 2016 started, I had filmed my episode of Portlandia, and was looking forward to it airing. (Or maybe I was dreading it? Maybe both?) I hadn’t really given any thought to Netflix though. I should have–I knew they had all the other seasons of Portlandia. But somehow it still blew my mind a little the day season six showed up, and I realized that was me! People can watch me in their Netflix binges now! I’ve made it!

5. Play more hide-and-seek

When we entered 2016, my favorite (and only) niece was barely two, and I don’t think she really knew who I was. But by the summer visit, I was Aunt K’teen (sometimes Aunt Kissteen), and loving every second of it. Running around the house, playing hide-and-seek with Makenzie was one of the highlights of my year. Of course, she didn’t make it too hard for me, giving directions like, “You count, and I go hide in the pantry.” She also didn’t quite grasp the rhetorical nature of me calling “Where’s Makenzie??” while I searched, and would helpfully answer, “I’m right here!”

Like I said, highlight to my year. I’d rather play a million hours of hide-and-seek with that girl than do most other things. One of the best retroactive resolutions I made for 2016.

Our Sentences Are Too Long

I’m noticing a problem. Actually, I’m noticing so many problems that I feel like I’m drowning in them, but let’s focus on just one for the moment–our sentences are too long. We’re using too many words–unnecessary words. Dangerous words. As a student, I somewhat enjoyed when people would ask me to edit their papers. More than anything, I would just cut words out. The paper could breathe so much better after getting rid of the clutter! Now I want to take my red pen and clean up some speech….

I started noticing this problem months ago, when a friend told me a story that took place at church. The class (of adults) was very judgmentally discussing other people’s problems, but they absolved themselves from the sin of being judgmental with this line: We need to love them as they try to live the gospel. She gritted her teeth, and she bit her tongue, and she shook her head, and then she finally told them what she thought–“Your job is to love them, period.” Look how much shorter that sentence is! Love them. Those are the only words we need. The other words are getting between us and God. When people aren’t interested in the church, we need to love them every bit as much. That’s what unconditional means, and that’s what we’re asked to do. Let’s not complicate things with extra words.

Here’s another personal favorite, said between people who haven’t seen each other in years because one stopped going to church: I’d love to see you at church sometime! Close, so close. This sentence just needs to lose two words. Try this–I’d love to see you sometime! This could be followed by an invite to meet for lunch. If church is the only place you care about seeing them, then you don’t actually care. You’re not their friend, and they know it. Fake friendship isn’t going to entice anyone to come to church. When you’re in a place that you genuinely care about each other and enjoy being around each other regardless of church, then it might be appropriate to invite them to church. Maybe. A sincere friend will know how to make that call.

Before we step away from church, let’s throw a classic example of a much too long sentence out there–Love the sinner; hate the sin. Such a terrible sentence! Six words, and five of them need to go. Let’s make it a shorter mandate–Love. Nothing else in that sentence is loving. Who goes around calling the people they love, sinners?? Sure, it’s technically correct, because we’re all sinners. But that’s not how we talk about people we love! The commandment says to “love your neighbor,” because neighbor is a nice word. Let’s start working on loving our neighbors by using kind and respectful language toward them. As for hating sin, the only sin any of us have time to hate is our own. When we’re personally without sin, then we can reconsider casting stones. If we were really good at this love thing, I have a feeling we’d be surprised how many other sins would just work themselves out.

Switching gears, this is another personal favorite. When somebody tells me that I’ve done something, anything, well, and then says, That’s really impressive with all the challenges you face. (Translation: “the challenges” is secret code for “wheelchair.”) This one is sooooo easy to fix, but let me demonstrate again how to make it shorter: That’s really impressive. Is it still impressive without the wheelchair in the equation? Cool, then just say that! Is it not so impressive anymore without the wheelchair? Ok, then, you probably just shouldn’t mention it at all. I don’t know how to respond to compliments with qualifiers. They don’t leave me feeling better about myself; they just leave me confused. Was that really a compliment? Am I actually good at [fill in the blank]? Or am I just warming hearts because I leave my house and do things in a chair?

Here’s another. There are many variations on this one, but the formula is always the same, I’m not a racist, but _____________. Fix this one by dropping everything after the comma. Nothing good has ever completed that sentence. Stick to I’m not a racist. Then ask yourself, “what would a person who’s not racist do?” Whatever it is, do that. It will never be the same thing that followed the original “but _____.” If unsure, gather up all the humility you can muster, and ask the people that you’re worried you might offend for some advice. If they give it to you, be grateful and gracious. If they don’t, don’t get upset; they owe you nothing. The same applies to No offense, but….

Since it’s seasonally appropriate, let’s tackle this gem: I don’t understand why people have to say Happy Holidays. Why can’t they just say Merry Christmas? I’m going to do some extreme editing on this one, and because I believe in choice, I’ll give options. This one can be cut down to Happy Holidays, or to Merry Christmas, or to a combination of the two. Everything else in the original statement screams “I don’t have enough real problems to worry about!” None of us have the energy to waste being offended because somebody decided to be all-inclusive in their holiday greeting. It’s ok to share the holiday season with people who celebrate a wide variety of holidays. It doesn’t hurt. Some even find it enriching. Just offer whatever holiday greeting feels right in the moment, and do it kindly, not smugly. Now could we please never have this inane conversation again?

Let’s end with one that’s actually not as grating as the others, but worth mentioning anyway. That’s someone’s daughter/sister/mother/etc. I chose feminine descriptors there because I feel like this is said mostly in response to disrespect for women, but I’m sure the same sentiment is said about men sometimes as well. And it’s not a bad sentiment. I just tend to replace it in my own head with That’s someone. Because that’s all that matters. It isn’t other people who give me value. I matter because I’m someone. Period. If there weren’t another soul in my life, I would still deserve the same dignity and respect.

We all do.

Ten Things

I won’t say that this week has been the deepest pain I’ve ever felt, or the most shaken I’ve ever been. It’s hard to compare, because I’ve felt some pretty intense pain and disorientation in my life before. But I will say that it’s the most macro-pain and macro-disequilibrium I’ve experienced. It’s the largest scale, most all-encompassing. I’ve felt broken before. I’ve been part of groups that felt broken before. But I’ve never been part of such a large group that felt so deeply broken. It’s going to take time to wrap my head around what a possible path of repair could even look like.

Right now, I want to respond to some of the frequently seen comments on facebook. These are comments I’ve been itching to respond to all week, but mostly haven’t, because 1) I wasn’t ready, and 2) I didn’t want to direct my words at any one person in particular, where it could feel like an attack. This blog is a better forum for me. So, here we go…

1. It’s just politics. Set it aside. Stop thinking about it, and let’s drink milkshakes. Everybody likes milkshakes.

I still don’t really have the words for how tone deaf I find it to label all of this “just politics.” The effects of this election have been so real, so concrete, so personal, for many people long before the actual election night. Now that the election is decided, the promised effects are even worse. This isn’t like when your football team loses, and you throw a fit, but it doesn’t actually affect your life in any way, shape, or form. This isn’t a game.

The tone that’s been set, that’s been deemed acceptable month after month, has made many of our people more vulnerable than ever. Personal attacks are more vicious than ever.

How will it affect my job to have a president that’s anti- public education? How will it affect my life as a disabled person to have a president that belittles me? How will it affect my life as a woman to have a misogynist president? I don’t know. I can’t spend too much time even thinking about those questions.

But I can’t not think about how it’s affecting my students. They fully believe that they won’t have a home in this country much longer. If it’s not their own home that they’re worried about, it’s their family or friend’s. And I can’t promise them that they’re wrong. It’s completely within the realm of possibilities that they’ll be ripped away from the only home many of them have ever known, with nowhere safe to go, and that their American Dream will be declared officially dead.

You can’t just set this stuff aside in the “politics” compartment of your brain and move forward unscathed. If it doesn’t feel personal to you, then it’s an immense level of privilege that’s protecting you. And it’s ok to have privilege; it’s not ok to have privilege without working hard at empathy.

2. He was elected by our democratic process. You have to respect the office of president.

Of course I respect the office of president. I’m not the one who just helped elect a man who, at best, is easily compared to a fascist. I’m not the one who just helped elect a man who disrespects (disdains?) a long list of other Americans, the Constitution, the military, the environment, and all of the things that make America great. It’s out of my respect for the office of president, that I will continue to vocally oppose the man making a mockery of that office.

Respecting the office of president should never mean “shut up and unconditionally support the person in that office.” Respecting the office needs to mean carefully vetting the people we put there, and holding them to a high standard of accountability. The office has been disrespected in an unprecedented way, but I’m going to plead “not guilty” on that accusation.

3. Stop the riots. Stop the violence. Violence won’t solve anything.

This one’s more nuanced, because really, it’s true. You’re not wrong. I’m anti-violence pretty much across the board. So let’s put this in context.

We just listened to an entire campaign that provoked, encouraged, and overlooked violence at every turn. That campaign was a winning campaign. Our country said yes to violence. And now we continue to watch violence begetting more violence. Wow, what a surprise, who could have possibly seen that coming?

Did you speak out against the violence and violent rhetoric all along our president-elect’s campaign trail? Did you use both your voice and your vote to say “No, we don’t tolerate violence”? If so, then go ahead and critique today’s violent rioters. I ask you only to do so thoughtfully, recognizing that those who treat a peaceful protest as an opportunity for violence and chaos, don’t represent even a significant minority of the whole. But go ahead and promote peace. We need peace promoters. Thank you for your voices.

For those who accepted these months of violence without a word, for those who used your vote to say, at best, “I’ll allow it,” this is not your moment to suddenly start speaking up for peace, blaming others for disturbing the peace that wasn’t there. This is the time to take care of that beam in your eye.

4. Don’t call me a racist/misogynist/bigot.

I see a lot of people speaking out against racism/misogyny/bigotry right now. I hope to always see people speaking out against racism/misogyny/bigotry. If you see yourself reflected in these posts where your name was never mentioned, what would you like me to do about it? If you don’t want to be associated with racism/misogyny/bigotry, then I suggest that you stop aligning yourself with racists/misogynists/bigots.

There’s no need for me to review the lists of racist/misogynistic/bigoted remarks from that campaign, or the proposed policies that fall under those umbrellas. It’s already out there ad nauseam. It was never a secret that a Trump presidency was opposed by every living former president, regardless of party, and supported by the KKK. We all knew what team he was leading. Every eligible voter made a choice. We either drew a line in the sand that said “this is unacceptable,” or we didn’t. Many jumped on the Trump train because of the racist/misogynistic/bigoted ideology, and others accepted it as a bitter pill they were willing to swallow. Some didn’t vote at all, because they didn’t like it, but they also weren’t willing to stand against it. The average person might not actively wish anyone harm, but they’re willing to allow it. Something else was prioritized above the equal rights and well-being of fellow Americans. Many of us are feeling the deep burn and sharp sting of those choices.

If your choices have helped prop up racism/misogyny/bigotry and you don’t like it, I can’t undo that for you. I can only suggest that you move forward with an anti-racism, anti-misogyny, anti-bigotry focus. There are plenty of things in this world that we can afford to be apathetic about. You don’t need to have or voice an opinion about Taylor Swift, the Seahawks, or double-stuffed Oreos. Prejudice isn’t one of those things. Silence is consent. Apathy is consent.

Also, calling yourself anti-racism/misogyny/bigotry doesn’t make it so. If you haven’t done a meaningful study of the subject, then you aren’t prepared to be part of the solution. You need to understand a movement in order for it to mean anything when you claim the descriptor. I’m not inviting you to read one article. I’m not inviting you to make a black friend. I’m inviting you to deeply educate yourself. Take your own voice out of the equation temporarily, and immerse yourself in learning.

5. All condescending comments about “educated coastal elites.”

This one’s hard to respond to… I’m not sure at what point I entered a world where “educated” became an insult, a word spoken with derision. I was taught all my life that if I wanted to understand the world around me, and have the skills and depth/breadth of knowledge to contribute and make the world a little better, I needed an education. I was taught to always keep learning. If it was taught, I certainly didn’t internalize any kind of attachment to educational hierarchy. It’s never been important to me whether a person’s education came from the Ivy League, or from a state school, or from a vocational program, or from books at the library. I’m highly in favor everyone pursuing the path that’s right for them. And no matter what that path is, I’m in favor of continual learning.

I do highly value my own education, formal and informal. I’ve also been taught all my life that the real value to an education isn’t the knowledge in your own head, but what you do with it. Call me cheesy, but I take BYU’s motto of “enter to learn; go forth to serve” pretty seriously. That’s how I try to live my life in general, and how I’ve tried to live through the election season. I always have room to be more well-informed, but I try to take in lots of information from lots of sources, read the arguments and the counter-arguments, view everything with a critical eye, and fact-check, fact-check, fact-check. I try to learn about my own culture and others’.  I’m always looking for better answers, and those answers generally have little to do with personal gain. I’m looking for answers that offer open arms and hands-up to the marginalized and disenfranchised. I’m looking towards the greater good. I don’t always get the details right, but that’s always what I’m going for.

And then I get mocked for it? Because there’s something wrong with having an education? Because learning about the world somehow means that I don’t really understand the world? Because trying to apply my learning and make the world more inclusive is out of touch? I’ve known for a long time that my country doesn’t value education very highly; my paycheck as an educator tells me that. But using my education to insult me? This is new…

6. Read a history book.

This one might be my favorite. It tends to be the same people who just made a mocking jab at the “educated elite,” who then tell us in the next breath to “read a history book.” What do they think “educated” means?? If I were more ignorant of history, maybe I’d be feeling more optimistic about the future. But historical patterns tell me that nothing good is on the horizon. By and large, our experts with the most education in history have been the most vocal opponents of the president-elect. In a way, this might be the moment they’ve dreamed of since they first had the inkling of going to college and majoring in history. The moment when they could recognize the next Big Bad, and raise the flag of warning! Of course, as is the tradition, it did no good. But I give the historians an A for effort….

7. The president doesn’t really do that much. Checks and balances, yadda yadda. And they never do what they promise anyway.

The President of the United States doesn’t do much? The commander-in-chief? The leader of the free world? You’re telling me that job doesn’t have much power? You just spent eight years blaming Obama every time you got a paper cut, but now you want me to believe that the president doesn’t have a meaningful impact on our lives? Am I hearing this right?? I could take some time to write out a list of ways previous presidents have impacted us for better or worse, but that seems like a poor use of time. I’m just going to assume people are saying that in the spirit of thoughtless reassurance, and don’t really mean it.

The new administration will be neither checked nor balanced. When one party is controlling all branches of government, that’s badly out of balance. I’ve listened to many voices from all ends of the political spectrum this year bemoaning the two-party system we’ve developed and can’t seem to shake. But do you know what’s worse than a two-party system? A one-party system. And do you know what’s worse than a one-party system? A one-party system headed by a man famous for not playing well with others.

A vague hope that “maybe he didn’t really mean all those things he kept saying” isn’t enough to soothe anyone’s fears. There’s nothing in his 70 years of life history to lead me to believe this is a giant “Gotcha! Every day was opposite day. Now I’m going to do a full 180 and govern like a decent human.”

8. He’s just one man. How can one man upset you so much?

This is the part I’ve been saying for ages. It’s not about one man. If this were just one man, he’d be nobody. I couldn’t care less about him as an individual. But 60 million people voted for him. 109 million people didn’t vote against him. Our culture has become toxic. It didn’t become toxic on Tuesday. It’s been building for a long time, and then hit an epic spike on Tuesday. Or, more probably, it didn’t just become toxic. The toxicity that’s always been there is just coming out into the open. And it’s hard to breathe.

9. This is the time to unite. Unity above all.

Of course I’m pro-unity. That’s why I spent the campaign season speaking out against the candidate who preached divisiveness. The candidate who preached intolerance and hate. The candidate who drew clear lines about who he considered American, who he considered worthy of respect, and who was “other.” He and his followers just dedicated all those months to stirring people up and turning them against each other. That was the time to unite. We missed our moment. We epically missed our moment.

So when you ask me now to work for unity, please be careful about what you’re asking. Do you want me to unite with the oppressor, or the oppressed? Because I’ve been taught since I was a little kid to stand for what’s right, even if I’m standing alone. I’ve been taught to stand with those who’ve been bullied and mistreated, no matter what the popular kids think. I want unity, but I won’t sacrifice my values or the well-being of my neighbor to obtain the appearance of unity.

So, come, join us! Unite over here. There’s always room for more. 🙂

10. What am I supposed to say to my kids?

This one, of course, comes from the people in my own camp. It’s come out of my own mouth. I don’t have perfect answers, and I probably never will. But this is what I said to my kids on Wednesday….

First, I didn’t say anything. I just let them talk as much as they liked, pretty much uncensored. I knew that in their other classes, there would likely be students with more varied opinions about the election outcome. In my ESL classroom, it was a pretty safe bet that we were on close to the same page with each other. If there was going to be a safe space to come together and process thoughts and feelings, that felt like it. So I tried to provide that space if they wanted it. And most classes did. They talked, and they talked, and they felt, and they talked, and they cried, and they talked, and they laughed, and they talked…. When they ran out of words, they asked me what I was thinking and feeling.

So I told them. I admitted that I’m sad and hurt and angry and confused too, right along with them. There’s a time for putting on the game face, and there’s a time for emotional authenticity. This was the latter. (I couldn’t have lied about my feelings in those moments if I’d wanted to. iMDB might think I’m an actress, but nobody’s that good.) I reminded them that we don’t actually know what’s going to happen next. Nobody does. Right now, all we can do is hope for the best, and take care of each other. We can’t control the country, but we can control our small community. We can respect and protect each other. We can be kind.

I told the kids that they’re my reason for pushing forward no matter what. They give me hope. I trust them. I believe in them. There are so many things that we don’t know right now, but we know one thing for sure–in four years, there will be another election, and some of them will be able to vote in it. Most of them will be able to vote in the election after that. A lot of responsibility comes with the privilege of voting. I told them that I know it’s hard sometimes to be a kid and feel like you don’t have very much power. But that’s why we work hard in school every day–so one day, in not that many years, they can be adults who both have some level of power, and have the ability to use that power wisely. I told them that I love being their language teacher. We get to work on reading and listening skills, so that they can consume information and figure out for themselves what’s going on in the world. So they can find answers to their questions, and so they can decide for themselves what they think. We get to work on writing and speaking skills, so that when they use their voices, they can do it in a way that makes people listen. So they can powerfully communicate what’s in their hearts. Because I know they have such good hearts.

And then we got back to our regularly scheduled learning activities. Because no matter what happens, we won’t stop pushing forward, working hard, and bettering ourselves.

Wait, I lied, there’s actually one more thing….

11. You’re just upset because your team lost. It’s the same thing for one side or the other every election.

No, I’m not, and it’s not. I can handle losing an election to someone who thinks differently and uses different methods than I would, but is still a decent human working for the good of all Americans. We just elected someone without basic decency. Without any record or spirit of public service. Someone who wouldn’t be fit to serve in the local PTA, much less in the White House.

Believe it or not, I do want there to be a strong, respectable Republican party. It’s highly unlikely, but not impossible, that I’d ever personally vote for a Republican candidate. But I still want them at the table. Those leading the party are, to use one of our president-elect’s favorite words, a “disaster” right now. But there are a number of decent, intelligent, reasonable, moderate Republicans in my personal circles, and I want their voices to have a place. Even though we don’t always agree, I need them to check and balance my own party. When reasonable people with diverse opinions work together, that’s when “the magic” happens. That’s how a checked and balanced government is intended to work.