Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Confession and a Promise

This is a confession and a promise. 

I’ll start with the confession: I’ve spent the last couple of days in serious judgement of women who are defending the words and actions of Donald Trump.

Here is what I know to be true about judgement. Ninety-nine percent of the time, when I find myself judging someone else, it’s really about me.  It’s usually my own shame or fear grabbing a megaphone and drowning out everything else. I know that in moments of judgement I have two choices – condemnation or curiosity. And I also know that curiosity is always the right choice. I have a practice in place, and usually, I stick to it. The moment I recognize judgement, I get quiet and ask myself the following questions: Am I ashamed of something in myself that relates to the behavior I am judging? Is there a part of myself that I fear shares the behavior I’m judging? The answer is almost always yes, and the faster I get to curiosity, the faster I can both learn more about my own true self and also get back to the most important job I think I have on this planet- love people, with ever-widening empathy and compassion.

So, I’m ashamed at how long it took me to put this practice in place this time around. I did not choose curiosity. I chose condemnation.  I found myself asking questions like “How can any woman support the words and actions of Donald Trump when we know who he is, what he does, what he celebrates, what he condones?  How are we not collectively rising up against him? What is wrong with these women?” But I used more colorful language than that in my head. I asked the questions, but I didn’t listen for the answers.  Not right away. It took me over 48 hours to get to curiosity. I’m not proud of this.

And when I finally unplugged, got quiet, and listened for answers, here is what I found. Yes, part of my judgement comes from a place of shame. I didn’t know I still carried it. I didn’t know that this shame had become so intrinsically wound into the fibers of my being that it could still hurt me. I thought I had already done this work. Let me explain.

When the #firstassault hashtag started trending on Twitter on Friday night, it gave me life. I had already shared one story of assault on Facebook, though it was not my first assault, and was simultaneously sad and empowered to see so many women sharing theirs as well. I started to think back to my first assault, and when I had a hard time figuring out which one was first I got angry. Angry that my body has been grabbed enough times without my consent that I couldn’t remember when it started. Angry that questions I thought I had long since answered came to the surface, questions like:

Did it count if you were wearing a bikini at a pool when he grabbed you? I mean, you were “strutting around in that tiny number” right?

What about if you wanted to make out with that boy? Did what happened next count as assault when you gave consent for him to kiss you?

Did it count the time you got away? If he attempted the assault but you were fortunate enough to fight back?

I was astonished to find shame still taking residence in my soul.

And that’s when I got very curious. I took a closer look at the words people used to defend Trump’s actions. I’m setting aside the defenses that begin with the statement “But Hillary…” because what I want to talk about here actually has nothing to do with partisan politics.  That’s an entirely different topic – one that delves into the over-identification with a political party and cognitive dissonance– and not one I want to get into today.  So, if you set aside those responding from a place of deeply-rooted partisan identity, these are actual comments I have seen and heard:

“That’s just locker room talk.”

“ALL men talk like that.”

“Go into any male-dominated space and that’s what you’ll hear.” 

“Don’t be so naïve.” 

“Grow up. This is the real world.”

“How sad. This was eleven years ago and you can’t forgive him.”

“That’s not sexual assault.”

“I don’t hear them complaining. Most of those women probably liked it.

And I realized that these defenses speak volumes about how we got here in the first place. I started thinking about the ways that women are conditioned, starting in childhood, to expect this kind of behavior from men. 

“Don’t be so naïve.  Of course he demanded more from you. That’s what happens when you go into a private room to make out. At least you learned that very young, so you didn't make that mistake again.”

“How sad. That was eleven years ago and you can’t forgive him.  You’re the one with the problem.”

“That’s not sexual assault. If you allow that to happen with one guy, then you like it, and it can’t be assault with another.”

Some of us were explicitly taught these things. Some of us were told that this is just part of being a woman and we might as well get used to it. We were taught that men will grab any part of us they can, and we should always walk in pairs or maybe carry a can of mace to defend ourselves. We were taught that men can’t really control themselves, and we have to keep our guard up. We were handed such low expectations for the behavior of half the population, that when a presidential candidate allows his own daughter to be called a “piece of ass” or discusses grabbing women “by the pussy”, there are women willing to defend that behavior as “boys will be boys.”  

And I realized that this conditioning was not only the reason I was angrier at the women defending Trump than the men (my expectations were lower for the men), but that these women received the same conditioning I did. In fact, they likely received worse. I thought back to the homes of friends from my childhood, the ones with garages lined with Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition photos, the ones where their fathers openly talked about women in terms my father never dared utter in my presence, the homes where those fathers directed sexual comments at me and my friends.  I thought about women I know today whose own husbands speak like this in front of them, in front of their children.  And I realized that many of the women defending Trump likely grew up hearing or currently live and breathe in a space that contains so much sexism that they have internalized misogyny as normal male behavior.

And that was when I recognized that I had a failure of empathy on my hands.

That was when I remembered the sisterhood. I heard my own words echoed back at me, "I want to have a conversation about what is possible when we refuse to participate in an orchestrated argument with one another and instead reach out and boldly declare that we belong to each other."

So here is my promise:

If you are a woman who won’t speak out against Trump’s actions, I’m not fighting with you. It is no more your fault that you have deeply internalized unacceptable behavior from men as normal than it is my fault that I still carry shame for sexual assault.  

I will not fight with you. I will fight FOR you.

I will fight for you, even if you can’t yet fight for yourself. 

I will fight for a better world for you, your daughters and your granddaughters.

I will fight for your sons and for my sons too. 

I won’t blame you for something that is larger than you. It's not your fault. It's not my fault. 

I've got your back, sister.

And I have a lot of hope. We’ve come a long way in just the past couple of generations.  One generation ago, women were silenced about sexual assault, burdened by the idea that they would bring shame to their families because they were attacked. That generation did the best they knew how by raising my generation with lowered expectations for men, even if that contributed to the problem.  I have no animosity towards them for teaching us to watch our backs. I know this was both an earnest attempt at keeping women safe, and a psychological shield against the sexism they faced on a daily basis.

But I see something new happening in my generation and the one coming of age now.  Women are saying that men can and should be held to a higher standard.  That “boys will be boys” promotes rape culture.  And strong men are echoing their calls.  They are asking to be considered fully human too, not treated like a barely evolved version of a human.  Because the truth is- this impacts all of us.  Women AND men. None of us are whole until all of us are whole. This is work we will have to do together.

And we have a lot of work to do.  There's no better time to start than now.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Carnation Days


I read Ms. Bixby’s Last Day in a single sitting, on an airplane en route to California for 
vacation. My mind, filled with excitement of the week to come, full of big events and 
exciting outings, slowed and focused as I turned the first pages of 
John David Anderson‘s novel.

Three hours and many tissues later, I set the book down as we hit the tarmac, looking 
at vacation in a new light.

There are many things to say about this book. I could write about teachers and the 
tremendous impact they have in the lives of our students, or tell you about the ones 
that mattered most to me. I could write about boy friendship and the way it is honestly 
explored and depicted in Topher, Steve, and Brand. I could write about the ways our 
small acts of kindness to one another have a ripple effect, beyond our wildest
 imagination, or about what it means to be truly seen by another person and 
celebrated for who we are. All of these themes appear in the pages of this at times 
vulnerable, at times laugh-out-loud funny, always perfectly voiced novel.
But instead, I’m going to write about carnations. As in, the flowers.
Please continue reading at All the Wonders ...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Bring a Book!

I'm delighted to be featured at All the Wonders this week talking about one of the most often heard phrases in our home - bring a book!

Summer has always been analogous with reading for me, as far back as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong, I love all the other summery things too—the swimming pools, the backyard barbecues, the roasted marshmallows, summer camp, the fireflies, the road trips, all of it. But for me, those things all had one thing in common—the book that was (and still is) always tucked safely in my bag. Just in case.

Now, as a mother of two young boys, these are the reminders as we get ready to leave the house:

Did you brush your teeth?
Yes, you have to wear shoes!
Bring a book!

And at least one member of our family takes that last reminder very seriously. 

Reading at Six Flags...
and at Go! St. Louis marathon...
in between customers...
and at the beach. Like mother, like son here.

Today, I’d like to share a few book recommendations for all the places you or your children might find yourselves this summer. They range in age from picture books to young adult. So, brush your teeth, grab your shoes, and above all, bring a book!

Please continue to All the Wonders to see my recommendations for books for the beach, summer camp, the pool and more ...

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pick a Lane

Our family has a brand-new swim team member this summer, and it is the highlight of my day watching him and his teammates practice. This morning, those little fish were all lined up on the bright blue starting blocks, goggles on, hair sneaking out the back of their swim caps. Coach blew the whistle and they dove into the still chilly June pool water. They sprinted to the other side. Their first meet is tonight, and they have a lot of things to practice and remember.  

Two-hand touch. Don’t pause. Don’t look at the other swimmers. Stay in your lane.

Last night, my family huddled on the couch to watch The Tony Awards together. I never miss The Tonys, but this year, my boys were as excited as I was. They, like so many of us, have serious Hamilton fever. And last night, the Tonys were a balm to many broken hearts – a strong show of love, inclusion, possibility and progress.  In the words of Lin Manual-Miranda - “Love is love is love is love is love.”

But this morning at the pool, I found myself circling back to different words from Miranda. In the CBS pre-show on Hamilton, when asked how he got to where he is today, he said, “’Cause I picked a lane … it was like, ‘All right, THIS.’”

Miranda is talking about theater, and how choosing an area of focus for his energy and talent gave him the direction he needed to succeed. But as I watched those kids swimming all different strokes in their individual lanes, I thought of his words and how they apply to our response to tragedy. 

Already today, I see the aftershocks of the Orlando shooting ripple across social media. I’m sure you’ve seen it too. Someone says guns are responsible. Someone else says it’s not about guns, it’s about mental health. Someone else says that’s insulting to the mentally ill. Someone else says that homophobia is to blame and yet another person says this boils down to religious extremism. 

I’m all for identifying action pieces and working for solutions. But instead of picking a lane and swimming full speed ahead, we so often look at the swimmer in the lane next to us. We see him swimming a different stroke than the one we are swimming and we stop our race to yell at him. “You’re doing it wrong! That’s not the right stroke! Switch to my lane or we’ll never solve this problem!”


It’s the same finish line.

We are, almost all of us, swimming towards the same finish line. 

The finish line is an end to violence, an end to mass shootings, a recognition of our shared humanity, a celebration of the dignity of all human life.

You can swim any stroke you want to get to the finish line and in fact, we desperately need people to swim different strokes.

We need people addressing gun violence. We need people taking our mental health care system to task. We need people standing up against bigotry, discrimination and oppression. We need people challenging extremism in all religions. We do not have to argue over which of these things is the most important thing. We need to fill the roster.

Just pick a lane and start swimming. 

Those of you out there today staying in your lane, I see you. And those of you working quietly behind the scenes, I’m cheering you on. I might be swimming a different stroke in my lane, but I’ll still sign your petitions, listen to your research, go to the polls for you. We are not enemies. We are racing towards a common finish line. 

Let’s not waste our arguments on each other. There are actual, powerful forces out there that will require our collective strength to defeat. Let’s not lose our race to each other on the Internet.  

We were blaring Hamilton on the way to swim practice this morning when the song Dear Theodosia came on. My nine-year old says to me, “You know, Hamilton and Burr think they are enemies, but they want the same things for their kids. They have more in common than they realize.”

We have more in common than we realize.

I’ll see you at the finish line. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Team Love Warriors

Over the course of the last year, I've watched the discourse around the global refugee crisis expand. 

I've watched as we've divided ourselves onto tidy teams.

I've shared my opinions and perspective, on more than one occasion, and will continue to stand in solidarity with those seeking refuge from unimaginable horrors. 

I've listened, really listened, as those on the other team explain their fears when it comes to welcoming refugees.  I've come to understand that many who disagree with me share my compassion for those in crisis, but differ in opinion on how to help.  Unfortunately, I've also come to understand that others don't share my compassion at all, but that those voices are the minority.  I refuse to cast a broad stroke over those with whom I disagree - that kind of thinking is at the root of most conflict. 

So, I'm not writing today to try and recruit more members to my team (though, if you want to join, there are no try-outs and an unlimited number of spots).

I'm writing today to speak directly to my teammates.  Consider this a pre-game pep talk.   

Team - if you aren't already aware of the tremendous work that the Compassion Collective is doing, please start here.  And if you are aware, and have donated to this effort, read the update and see how you are making a difference. 

The refugee crisis will not be solved by a singular government agency, or a non-profit organization.  It is too big (but, unlike a bank, not considered too big to fail).  It will be solved by a collective of individuals, agencies and political policies, and it will require small actions from large numbers of people. 

And it's working.  Right now, the funds raised through the collective are feeding 6,500 people.  Providing tents.  Lanterns.  Cell phones.  Water.  These funds are literally saving lives.  Funds raised by people like you and me in no larger than $25 donations.

We can do small things with great love. - Mother Teresa  

This past weekend, I attended a SCBWI conference on writing for children.  I had the privilege of listening to Linda Sue Park, Newberry award winning author of A Single Shard, talk about the importance of story in transforming lives.  She shared the story of Salva Dut, a lost boy of Sudan who came to the United States as  refugee and orphan, was adopted, received an education and went on to found the agency Water for South Sudan.  Linda Sue Park's book, A Long Walk to Water, shares his story along with a fictional character, Nye, who represents the children in South Sudan.  It's a beautiful book, and one I recommend you share with your kids.  I sat through her presentation blinking back tears, but when she shared that since the book's publication, children around the US have collectively raised more than one million dollars for Water for South Sudan, they streamed down my face.  Children all over this country, including those living in socio-economically depressed situations, were moved to action for their fellow humans.  This is the power of story. 

Please read the stories of refugees.  Don't turn away.  I know it is painful to imagine, but it requires our collective imagination to solve this problem. 

Image from Momastery
The Compassion Collective needs our help again.  They need our small acts of great love.  In the next hour or so, Glennon Melton and her team of love warriors (hint- that's our team too) will be announcing a new initiative and we get to be a part of it.  Are you ready? 

And let's talk about that $25 donation, because I know for some of you, that's not pocket change.  It may require sacrifice.  Skipping a meal out or a night at the movies.  Or adjusting the meal plan for the week to include a couple nights of rice and beans.  A couple less shirts for the summer wardrobe.  I think those things are worth saving a life.  I hope you do too.

I'll be back to share the link right here as soon as they announce their goal later this morning.  But in the meantime team, let's get ready for the game.  It's not going to be a short one.  This isn't a nine inning kind of deal.  In fact, if you decide to be on the team of those who stand alongside refugees, you'll be playing this game as long as you live.  You may never see a final score.  But you'll see some home runs.  You'll see folks crossing the plate.  And that has to be enough for us. It has to be enough to hold our own children tight, grateful that we don't have to leave everything we know behind, and then take that gratitude and turn it into action for those who do.   It has to be enough to get to play at all.

“no one leaves home unless 
home is the mouth of a shark 
you only run for the border 
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.”
– Warsan Shire, continued here

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Finding Courage in Raymie Nightingale

My very first post at All the Wonders is up today, and it's been such a joy to work with this team of talented and creative people who love to talk about children's literature as much as I do.  

Today, I'm on the site exploring the theme of courage in Kate DiCamillo's newest book, Raymie Nightingale.  I adore Kate DiCamillo's work.  For me, she is right up there with Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume when I think of authors who authentically capture the heart of children in their writing.  Her latest book is no exception, and I'd encourage you to pick up a copy to share with your kids.  It's a perfect summer read.  

“Have you ever in your life come to realize that everything, 
absolutely everything, depends on you?”
Raymie didn’t even have to think about the answer to this question.

“Yes,” she said.

Raymie Clarke is certain that absolutely everything depends on her. Everything having to do with getting her dad to come back home where he belongs, that is. And she has a plan. She is going to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition, and when her dad sees her face in the newspapers, he will realize he has made a terrible mistake and come home.

Please visit All the Wonders to continue reading ...

Friday, March 25, 2016

Meet Emily Arrow + a Giveaway!

I love introducing readers to new books for kids, and today, I'm excited to introduce you to someone whose own love of children's books inspires her music.  Meet Emily Arrow! 

Emily Arrow is a music educator, singer, and songwriter who has carved out her own musical niche she calls kidlit tunes.  You already know how I feel about children's books, and many of you have seen the plentiful ukuleles that adorn the walls of our home.  So, when I first heard this talented, ukulele-strumming artist singing a song about Be a Friend, I became an immediate fan.  

Ukuleles + Kid Lit = YES!

I had a chance to catch up with Emily and ask her a few questions about her music.  She had some great things to share about her sources of inspiration, favorite books, and more.

What inspired you to write music based on children's books?  It's certainly a unique niche!
As a classroom music teacher, I began using my favorite picture books in the classroom in conjunction with my music units. For example, for Earth Day, I read The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Then I wanted to infuse music into each lesson that involved literature. After scouring the internet for resources and finding virtually nothing, I decided to create my own songs to go with books! I then began offering storytimes at local bookstores and developed my style, and ultimately genre, of kidlit tunes.

What artists/singers/songwriters influence your music? 

The most influential children's musician I'm influenced by is Raffi. I was raised on his music, specifically his album pioneering a movement to respect the Earth and its resources. His message-driven music gives me inspiration to create music that's simple and meaningful to all ages.

Music is a huge part of our family's life.  I started singing to my kids before they were born, and this blog is named after the Bob Dylan song that was our morning anthem all through their preschool years (though we usually sang the Elizabeth Mitchell version).  Now our home is filled with instruments and music of all kinds.  How do you encourage families to incorporate music into their daily lives?  What about parents who don't feel particularly musically-inclined themselves - any tips for sneaking more music into the day?  
I love to hear how musical your home is!! YAAAAY! There are lots of fun ways to include music in the home, starting with accessibility. An instrument should be just as accessible as an iPhone in the home. Percussion instruments like drums, egg shakers, and tambourines encourage rhythm and musical participation. I also recommend creating playlists together -  "coloring" playlist, "getting ready for school" playlist, "packing for a trip" playlist. This gives young listeners a sense of ownership over their music choices and builds a lovely relationship between experiences and music.

How about books?  What are your favorite tips for sneaking in a little extra reading time with the family?
 Not having a family of my own, I can imaging reading time is hard to come by. But I have a cool project that I recommend to parents of young readers: Video record yourself reading the story the night before during bedtime (or whenever your preferred reading time is). Then during the chaos of the day, why not sneak an extra read in by letting your kiddo watch? Parents tell me their kids get a kick out of this and it's fantastic modeling for them to watch a read aloud-even if it's their own parent!

What was your favorite book or books growing up?  What are some of your favorites now (that aren't featured in music on this album)?
So many! Growing up, I loved Corduroy by Don Freeman, Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, and when I began reading on my own, I was obsessed with The Boxcar Children series. 

My favorites in 2016 (in addition to the album books of course) include Be a Friend by Salina Yoon,  I Love You Already by Jory John & Benji Davies, the newly released Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube, and the upcoming Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson.

What's your favorite part of performing for children?
Audience participation. We make kazoo sounds, we yodel, we draw in the air, we basically do everything fun you ever wanted to do at a show but couldn't because you're an... adult. 

I love Emily's creative ideas for integrating music and reading into our homes.  I think I need a "putting away laundry" playlist!  

Emily's debut album, Storytime Singalong, features songs based on some truly delightful picture books including Louise Loves Art, The Curious Garden and The Dot as well as several original pieces.  The sweet and memorable songs are a great way to extend the pages of picture books for your youngest readers.  
I'm giving away a copy of Emily Arrow's award-winning Storytime Singalong to one lucky reader!  If you'd like a chance to win the album, do any of the following for an entry in the random drawing:
1.  Comment on this blog (or on the social media outlet you read this post) and share one way your family incorporates music or reading into your daily life. 
2.  Check out Emily's YouTube Channel, then come back and let us know your favorite song!
3.  Share this blog post.

Make sure to tag in me in any of the above options so I see it and add your name to the drawing!
If you're not the lucky winner, you're still a lucky reader because you can purchase your own copy of Emily's album right here.   The deadline for entries is March 31st at midnight CST.  I'll announce a winner on April 1st - no fooling.  ;)   Good luck!

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