Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 10.41.31 PMUsually I use this space to share my own experiences. Right now my experiences are not the most important ones to share. Instead I want to share some other voices that everyone needs to hear.

This is a letter to four-year-old Dae’Anna Reynolds, who was in the back seat of the car when her mother’s boyfriend, Philando Castille, was murdered by a police officer.

Dear Dae’Anna:

You and I have never met, but I know your little Soul. It is one of bravery, courage, and wisdom – an old Soul, really. I suspect that you get these qualities from your Mommy, Diamond, who displayed such calm and composure when her fiancé, Philando, was killed earlier this week. I watched the video your Mommy recorded, and I was so scared. But it was not as scary as it must have been for you, sitting in the backseat, watching it all happen. I continue to keep Philando, and you, and your Mommy in my prayers. I hope that whatever sadness you feel goes away quickly, so that you can get back to being the kid that you are who loves fireworks!

When I heard you comforting your Mommy in the video while in the back of the police car, letting her know that you were there, and that everything was going to be OK, I wept. I wept for many reasons all at once. First, you were so strong. Second, you knew exactly what to say; I was in awe of your ability to console your Mommy in such a loving way – the way she would console you. Third (and this made me cry a little harder), in that moment, I watched you step into your birthright as an African American female, taking on inherited responsibilities that are often a cross to bear. You had to be strong in the midst of hatred directed toward our people. You could not be the child that you are; you had to grow a little faster than most girls. You bore witness to what enslaved women of our ancestry bore witness to – the murder of our black men. At only 4 years old, you experienced what it is like to be a black woman in this country.

Now that you have been initiated, I want you to know that being a black woman is awesome! We come from descendants who were pharaohs, queens, peace activists, tribal leaders and more, with origins from our motherland, Africa. Our history is made up of rituals, customs, and traditions that center on the family unit, spiritual growth, pride for where we come from, strength, and resilience. My favorite thing about being a black woman is that I am supported in our community, and encouraged to be all that I can be. It is also nice to have so many options on ways to style our hair!

I want you to know these things because being a black woman can sometimes be difficult in the country where we live. The oppression our ancestors experienced in the United States has been deeply internalized, so much so that we unconsciously become slaves to this society, by feeding into stereotypes, denying our wellness, degrading our bodies, and working harder to reach a white-Americanized standard of success. We forget to be and live free, because for so long we were never free. We take on the mindset that we must struggle to survive, instead of thriving. We often forget that we are women of worth.

What happened to Philando is something that you will never forget, and I beg you not to let this traumatic experience lead you to believe that because you are a person of color, your value is diminished. Remember what I said above? You are strong, courageous, brave and wise. These are qualities you also inherited, and I encourage you to use them for good in this world. I encourage you to use your gifts to build a life for yourself that reflects your biggest dreams. I encourage you to tap into your wisdom when the racists sentiments that still exist in our society today, lead you to doubt that you are deserving of a life well lived – you are deserving, Dae’Anna. I encourage you to embrace your black skin because it is beautiful; because you are good, and because you are a human being with inalienable rights to all that is good in this world. Remember this, sweetheart. Remember when people look down at you as inferior because of your dark skin, that you can be anything you want – you come from royalty. And know that you are loved by so many people – your Mommy, Philando, me – everyone, because you are you.

You can read the original post here: http://www.traceylrogers.com/empowerment-blog/to-the-little-girl-in-the-backseat. This was written by my friend Tracey Rogers. She has a perspective I do not. Tracey’s letter was read in church today.

The other words I want to share are, in part, those of my pastor, Rev. Aaron McEmrys, but mostly he is using the pulpit to share the words of Black Americans who have the courage to continue to speak out about how our country is not going to treat them like their lives matter until we all wake up.

Today’s sermon was called “Red Rain.” If you don’t feel like watching the whole service, you can skip to around minute 38 to hear Rev. Aaron speak hard and necessary truths.

If the video doesn’t work for you here, you can visit http://unitarianuniversalistchurchofarlingtonva.yourstreamlive.com and click on the archived service from July 17, 2016.

I urge you to learn more. Especially if you are white.

http://blacklivesmatter.com/guiding-principles

http://www.joincampaignzero.org/#vision

It is not an unreasonable demand to be treated as if your life matters.

One of the many online memes says, “Black people are literally saying, ‘stop killing us,’ and there are people saying, ‘but…'”

None of us can let this go on.

This is some of what Lavish Reynolds, Philando Castille’s girlfriend, was saying in the moments after he was shot.

[To police] Please don’t tell me my boyfriend’s gone. He don’t deserve this. Please. He’s a good man he works for St. Paul Public school. He doesn’t have no record of anything. He’s never been in jail anything. He’s not a gang member anything.

[Praying] Cover him Lord. That you allow him to still be here with us Lord. Still with me Lord. Please Lord wrap your arms around him. Please Lord make sure that he’s OK, breathing Lord. Please Lord you know our rights Lord you know we are innocent people Lord. We are innocent people. We are innocent.

Today our church service was led by members of our worship team, including me. I had the opportunity to share a reflection–like a sermon but shorter. Here’s what I said. If you want to watch, the archived video will be posted here shortly. 

juicy-fruit-gum-stick-i12Think about Juicy Fruit gum. Do you remember what it smells like? To me it smells like the small Methodist church where my Nana and Papa worshiped in High Point, North Carolina. Everyone knew my grandparents—so everyone knew me—and welcomed me warmly when we visited during every school holiday. Mr. McSwain always gave me a piece of Juicy Fruit gum after Sunday school. That gum, my Nana’s white shawl wrapped around me in the pew, her smooth black patent leather pocketbook, from which she extracted a dollar bill for me to put in the offering plate, my great Aunt Millie singing soprano in the choir, and my mom’s favorite cousin Rhonda playing the organ, not to mention my Nana’s rock solid devotion to Jesus, made me feel at home. I belonged.

For me, church and Christianity had everything to do with those warm, comforting feelings and nothing whatsoever to do with theology.

Meanwhile, back at home, my dad was—and still is—Jewish, and we enjoyed celebrating Hanukkah and Passover as a family. But our annual forays to synagogue for high holy days left me confused. I didn’t understand Hebrew and I didn’t know anyone besides my dad. Judaism seemed remote, whereas Christianity was intimate.

So when I was 12, I became Presbyterian. I helped build houses in West Virginia, and taught Vacation Bible School to four-year-olds. For my first college spring break I went to Florida with my Presbyterian fellowship group, not to lie on the beach, but to build a tent city for migrant workers after Hurricane Andrew devastated the town where they lived. After college, when I moved to Arlington, I joined a wonderful Presbyterian church here and met people who I now know are my friends for life. I was chosen to be an elder—even though I was only in my 20s—the equivalent of a member of the board. In all of these churches, I loved the people, the music, and the opportunity to serve. I admit I glossed over some of the words of the traditional prayers, and didn’t dwell on the scripture. I convinced myself it didn’t really matter if I didn’t believe what everyone else did, as long as I felt at home. Then, when I met my husband in 2003, he asked me a lot of tough questions about my theology, and I realized it did matter.

After a bit of searching, I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church—not this one. I was excited to finally find a church whose theology matched mine. Yet, in the middle of that large congregation, I still felt alone. I struggled to find community and a sense of belonging. I made a few friends there, and improbably sang in one of the choirs, but most of the time I came and went on Sunday morning unrecognized, and the big events in our family were dealt with impersonally or went unnoticed by the church.

In January 2015 my friend Dana Cook, who I’ve known since our now nine-year-old daughters attended preschool here together, invited us to UUCA. I told myself I didn’t have to come back if I didn’t like the service, because I was feeling a little down on church, and braced for disappointment.

But leaving worship that morning I was blown away—completely surprised and thrilled by Rev. Aaron’s thoughtful and challenging sermon, and by the warm welcome I had received here. I knew I would return the next Sunday.

In the year and a half since my kids and I started coming to UUCA, we have been fully embraced by the congregation. Here, I can honor my Christian and Jewish roots but still nurture my own theology. I feel confident that what my kids learn here is in keeping with our family’s values and beliefs and that all of us will be enriched by the variety of perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences that members of our community bring with them.

Brené Brown, a researcher and author whose books and TED talk I highly recommend, wrote, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”

What’s been transformative about being my whole self here has been the unexpected opportunities I’ve found to be with your whole selves, when you’re making that choice to show up and be real, creating space for the kind of conversations you don’t usually have with strangers.

The first opportunity I found here to cultivate those connections was with the covenant group I agreed to co-facilitate with Mary Pike last fall. I had only met Mary a couple times when she taught my daughter’s RE class. I had no idea how cool or what an intuitive leader she was. I had never even been in a covenant group before. All but one member of the group were strangers to me in October.

But then we spent time together. Exploring what matters to us and why we matter. Sharing our insecurities, fears, hopes, and joys. Revealing our true selves, knowing that we would be fully listened to and heard, and never judged. If you haven’t been part of a covenant group, this might sound ridiculous to you, or even terrifying. But actually, this kind of openness is a balm for the soul.

At our last meeting, we talked about how often we would rush to church for our meetings after a long day, feeling preoccupied or stressed out. But always by the end of our time together, the feeling was relief. Like sinking into your favorite armchair. It is a relief to be able to bring your true self into the room and be seen and loved. Stone by stone, we were dismantling those walls we usually fortify between strangers and ourselves. The walls around our deep truths crumbled, as we felt safe to share with the group.

Another transformative experience I’ve had here has been in the circles of trust retreat series that Rev. Aaron brought to UUCA last fall. Based on the work of Quaker author and activist Parker Palmer, the premise of circles of trust is that everyone has an inner teacher. Whether you call that your heart, soul, spirit, or some other name, it is the source of strength within. As we all know, however, sometimes the noise of our lives can drown out the still, small voice of that inner teacher. Or sometimes we know exactly what our inner teacher is trying to say but we want to cover our ears and squeeze our eyes shut because we don’t want to hear what we know is the truth. So in circles of trust, you spend time reading, writing, thinking, and talking to enable your inner teacher to find its clear, strong voice. Sometimes this requires the help of others.

To help each other hear the inner teacher with greater clarity, what we practice in circles of trust is asking open, honest questions. When someone is brave enough to share a challenge he is facing, we help him find new ways of understanding or looking at the problem without offering advice, trying to fix his problem ourselves, or telling him about when that same thing happened to us. Instead we ask questions that require him to look within. Questions that don’t have yes or no answers. Questions that use metaphors to help him visualize himself and his dilemma in a new way.

The result of this process is we learn about ourselves. We learn what shadows lurk in our spirits and how we can channel our shadow sides, because they are part of who we are. We can’t ignore or deny them. For me, one of those shadows is the need for control. My internal struggle when things don’t go as planned can be intense, but I have come to understand the silver lining of this shadow is a gift for taking care of business. I’ve also learned that, even if I can’t—and shouldn’t—eliminate my shadow, I can work to modulate it. Fortunately I have the opportunity to do that many times a day as a parent, because there’s a lot about raising kids that you can’t control.

We learn about the ways we stand in what Parker Palmer calls the tragic gap—the space between what is and what could be, and how to hold that tension with as much grace as we can muster, even though we might be tempted to just run away. For me the tragic gap appears both locally and globally. I stand in the tragic gap whenever I don’t talk to my kids the way I should. This often happens in those moments I mentioned earlier when I cannot control their behavior, which is to say, most moments.

I stand in the tragic gap when I read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. I am angry about the innocent people whose lives have been destroyed by our broken justice system, uncertain if creating a fair justice system is even possible, yet still inspired by the dedication of Stevenson and his colleagues at the Equal Justice Initiative.

Exploring ways to handle these tensions and contradictions, and even simply learning the vocabulary to identify them, has been transformative. When was the last time you faced a problem at home, at school, at work, or at church that had a quick and easy answer? To reach real and thoughtful solutions we have to ask good questions. Open, honest questions. Of ourselves and each other.

Not surprisingly, in the course of asking these open, honest questions, we learn about each other. Really learn about each other. We see each other’s true selves and hear each other’s truths. And just as the members of my covenant group experienced, it brings a feeling of relief. Your problems may not be solved. The world’s problems are definitely not solved. But you are not alone. You are held, accepted, and loved for who you are. You belong. That sense of belonging, the profound comfort in a world that can be so uncomfortable, is transformative. When I am truly seen and heard, I am vastly more capable of truly seeing and hearing you. Then I can share with you a measure of that comfort and that belonging.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 10.36.00 PMMy daughter is finishing a book in bed, reading with her book light while her brother sleeps on the other side of the room. This fills me with such delight I do not care how late she stays up. It helps that today is the last day of school, and there is nowhere she needs to be in the morning. I have turned off my 6:30am weekday alarm until September. My husband pointed out this morning that I never get up at 6:30 anyway. But that’s when I am supposed to get up, and that’s when I need to begin the process of gradually waking up and hitting snooze until it is absolutely necessary to get out of bed and start the day.

I am thankful there will be no more late passes until the fall. When Zoe and I looked at her end-of-year report card today at lunch I noticed that her teacher, or the school, or some benevolent being, didn’t even count her tardies for the fourth quarter, which were numerous. Only some of them were her fault. A few were mine. Many were caused by her brother needing to poop at the precise moment we’re walking out the door. Now he can poop any time of the morning that he pleases, because who cares if you’re late to camp?

Speaking of pooping, we are done with diapers! This feels miraculous to me, a day I was never quite sure would arrive. I discovered with Zeke that having a kid potty train when he has a fully functioning bladder is not so bad. I have a greater appreciation for Zoe’s years of struggle with a recalcitrant bladder and immense gratitude that it went so smoothly for Zeke. Now all we have to do every morning is pick out which superhero underwear he wants to wear. Tonight we discussed whether Superman wears underwear with little pictures of Zeke on it. He said Superman’s underwear also has pictures of Zoe and me on it. I guess that makes sense, since some of Zeke’s underwear has Superman, Batman, the Flash, and Green Lantern. So when Amazon delivers underwear to Metropolis, perhaps it’s the Rosso Family variety pack.

After Zoe and I and a few hundred students and parents from her school watched all the teachers and staff do their song and dance numbers after dismissal, one of my favorite traditions at Zoe’s school, we went out to eat so I could have lunch and Zoe could have pie while we pored over the last day contents of her backpack, including several more items that her teacher gave away to the kids so she wouldn’t have to pack them up today because the school renovation starts Monday. Zoe already came home bearing a dictionary, an atlas, and several other books she was thrilled to have “won” in class. Her teacher is quite clever.

Then at Zoe’s suggestion we went to a paint-your-own-pottery studio and made mosaics, which we had never done there before. We had a lovely, meditative time together, which we always do when we make art. She also painted a bowl. They sent us home with grouting kits to use to finish the mosaics in 48 hours when the glue dries. I have never grouted before. Exciting!

Finally, I am thankful that the three of us enjoyed an unprecedentedly peaceful dinner tonight at Silver Diner, which I allowed Zoe to choose in celebration of the last day of school and her great report card. We went after her martial arts class, and after I let the kids run around the turf room at martial arts fighting with swords made of pool noodles, and after Zeke totally averted a tantrum on his own when Zoe handed him a plain noodle instead of one with Superman duct tape on it, and after we talked with Zoe’s instructor about what’s required of her to earn her red solid belt at the end of the summer, and after we got snow cones (blue raspberry, cherry, and grape for Zoe; pineapple and strawberry for Zeke and me to share) from the truck in the Evolve All parking lot because I had promised the kids last week we would get them tonight. So really you can see we went to dinner quite late and given all that I fully expected any or all of us to meltdown, but we didn’t! Everyone ate all of their food. Zoe discovered she liked asparagus after eating it accidentally thinking it was green beans. We even got milkshakes (yes, I was super indulgent today–whatever) and the waitress brought Zeke a sthamiltonbroadway10rawberry instead of a chocolate but he decided he liked it anyway–another chance for a tantrum that didn’t happen! We listened and sang along to Hamilton at top volume in the car on the way
home, showered, and no one argued about anything. Zeke asked me to sing “Aaron Burr, Sir” and “Helpless” in the shower but I couldn’t remember all the words, even though we’ve listened to it a gazillion times.

Seriously, this is all true. I know it sounds extraordinary. I didn’t yell at anyone all day. The kids didn’t fight. It was awesome. Of course now Zoe comes in and says she feels ill, which is probably because I let her have so many treats today. So, perhaps my fault. But otherwise it was such a lovely, peaceful day. You really need one of those every now and then.

 

 

IMG_8357Our fourth grade class had just returned from recess or PE when a classmate–nominally a friend–looked at me with disdain and said, “Betsy, you sweat too much.”

It’s true, I do sweat a lot. From what I’ve heard, it’s the body’s ingenious way of keeping itself cool while exercising. And at the time, it was perfectly reasonable that I’d be sweaty. We’d just been outside–exercising. But of course I didn’t point that out to her. I was just stunned by the way she’d taken a natural human bodily function–which of course I had no control over–and made it–and me seem disgusting. Thirty-two years later I can still picture the look of revulsion on her face.

Add to that my addiction to books as a kid (which happily continues) and aversion to sports, and that I was made fun of for years for being uncoordinated and lacking any athletic skills. I never joined any teams. I didn’t even learn to swim until I was 12, embarrassed by so many years of taking beginners lessons with five-year-olds.

So what am I doing on a 40+ women’s soccer team now?

Loving it.


When I first met my husband, I joined his co-rec soccer team because I wanted to challenge myself and because I was in love. His teammates were friendly and welcoming but I was consistently terrified at every game because I didn’t know what I was doing and everyone else did. Sometimes they would shout across the field, “Betsy, I’m passing to you!” just to give me the chance to participate (I’m looking at you, Chris Newton), but whether I would make contact with the ball was anyone’s guess.

My husband left the league because too many opposing players were trying to knock him down as if they were in the World Cup, so I joined a women’s team. They were, for the most part, insane. Everyone had played soccer in college and I was WAY out of my depth. I only lasted one season. I had kids. I wished I would someday find a team that was basically soccer moms, who didn’t necessarily know what they were doing, but who maybe had a coach or someone kind and patient to offer guidance.

A year ago I signed up for an adult beginner soccer clinic sponsored by the parks & rec department. Aimed at soccer parents who wanted to be able to keep up with or play with their kids and get a little exercise, it was tremendous fun and no pressure. I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn and play and the fact that I was surrounded on the field by other novices and there was nothing at stake. Not scary at all!

Unfortunately, after the clinic ended I signed up for a parks & rec sponsored pickup game, where I was knocked over twice within the first five minutes by giant steamrolling men who left me with a bruise on my leg that lingered for weeks. I took a hiatus.


This spring a friend who I knew from a freelance writers group told me she was putting together a women’s soccer team to play in the 40+ division and she wanted me to join. No one has ever wanted me to join a sports team. Also, she had never played soccer on a team either. She had also participated in the adult beginner clinic, in the session after I did, and loved it. I was ambivalent and nervous and actually pretty reluctant because what if it was a disaster? She persuaded me to join.

During my first game I messed up two throw-ins, prompting the referee to blow the whistle and award the ball to the other team. Playing left defender, I froze as a striker from the other team blew past me and scored. I assumed it was all my fault. I felt slightly better when the same played blew past other defenders when I was subbed out on the sidelines and scored three goals. It wasn’t just me. Still, I felt clumsy and unfocused and embarrassed. After that game I went home and cried. My soccer-loving husband reassured me that everyone has good days and bad days and that I hadn’t humiliated myself or cost the team the game or done anything terrible, really. I decided to go back.

And I got better, and our team got better, and I started having a lot of fun. I was proud of myself just for playing the whole game. Actually I was proud of myself for showing up. And  I wasn’t terrified. It turns out these women were extraordinarily friendly and kind. Most, if not all, of the opposing teams told our team that we were nice to play with and that they were glad we had joined the league. Everyone on the team–to a person–was encouraging and patient with everyone else. Only a few of us had serious soccer experience, but it did not matter. Those of us who were new gratefully took direction from those who had more expertise, always offered in the most helpful and constructive way. When players got injured, everyone else rallied around to offer support and see how the person was doing. After one game we celebrated someone’s birthday. We had a family night where all the kids and some husbands and even a dog or two came out to watch us play. We went to a Legwarmers show and got our 80s dance moves on and afterward half the team stuck around to keep me company while I waited for my Uber to arrive. I got knocked down (maybe tripped? Who knows?) a couple times, bruised a rib, but I recovered. I looked forward to playing every Monday night and felt exhilarated afterward.

At the end of the season I wrote an email to my team telling them a little about my previous fear of organized sports and utter lack of confidence in my abilities. One of my teammates–who I’d seen in every game run hard, kick well, evade opponents, and generally play fantastically–said this about her own history: “I was the scrawny, skinny kid who was picked last EVERY DAY on the playground for our daily kickball game.”

Our goalkeeper, who thankfully came to us already armed with mad keeper skills, said this: “I don’t think there are many things more powerful (except for perhaps your faith and your family) – than the sisterhood of a TEAM. You meet, from all different paths, and you work TOGETHER. You figure it OUT. You celebrate each other. You laugh. You help. You are a cheerleader, you are a grinder. You sweat. You hustle, and you try to shine and you try to make you teammates stars. Why?
So that you win together.
You grow together.”

Another player, who ruptured her achilles tendon in the last two minutes of the first game, but nonetheless cheered us on in person or virtually for the rest of the season, offered this: “I am also in awe of the courage all you newbies have shown, and not just because of the, ehem, element of danger involved. I thought it took guts to get back out there after 17 years, but it’s nothing compared with the guts it took to get out there for the first (or nearly the first) time after 40. Your ferocity was a joy to watch.”

Did I mention the team is called Ice & Ibuprofen? And that we had jerseys printed up with nicknames on the back? A self-described intense and perfectionist teammate called Sparkles said this, which I would never in a million years have guessed after watching her energy and tenacity on the field. “I decided to take a risk and play soccer for the first time since college intra-murals. And I was scared.to.death. What if I sucked (I did)? What if it was too hard (it was)? What if everyone was better than me (the majority of you are!)? What if I wanted to quit (sometimes I do because of all the reasons listed before this)? But five minutes into that first game I knew it was exactly the right place to be and this group is like a warm, cozy blanket of positive energy, support and crazy-ass enthusiasm.”

Which reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about and struggling with for a long time–this idea of not being good at–or good enough at–something and therefore not doing it. This is an idea that we grow into as adults. When you’re a kid, you’re typically encouraged to try everything and (until or unless you have teachers or parents or coaches who unintentionally destroy your little developing ego) it’s ok to do something that’s fun even if you don’t excel. But then we decide that if we’re not excelling at it, we can’t do it. Maybe we’re told that or maybe we just turn our back on a thing that may have brought us joy because we’re not the best at it. I was taught to excel, and be the best at whatever I did. In my mind that meant, if I wasn’t the best, I might as well move on to another arena where I could be.

In one of our games late in the season, my teammate Jonisaurus said I’d played the best game of my life. While the bar for me may be low, she was only commenting on what she’d observed and that she’d seen me working hard and playing Big_Hero_6_Baymaxwell. I have to say that felt pretty good. I know I am not going to become some kind of all-star athlete. I am not fast, as Baymax says in Big Hero 6, and I am overweight and I love junk food. But I am also strong, fierce, and determined. And it is so much fun to play soccer with these women.


For the past couple years I’ve been trying to change my definition of myself from the kind of person who…always returns calls and emails, always gets things done by the deadline, always remembers birthdays, always does the right thing, etc etc etc. The more mistakes I acknowledged making, the more I thought, “oh no, I’m not the kind of person who…” I didn’t give myself permission to make mistakes until pretty recently. I am working on eliminating this idea of being a certain kind of person from my identity. I am a human who tries hard to return calls and emails, get things done by the deadline, remember birthdays, do the right thing. But because I am human–and the mother of two kids and an entrepreneur and a daughter and a friend and a volunteer–I don’t always do it right. Things slip through the cracks. If you look closely at the cracks, you’ll find a lot of stuff stuck in there. And that is ok. It does not mean I have failed or am failing as a person.

Since I’ve been playing soccer this season, several women who I’ve mentioned it to have said similar things to what I thought before I played–they’ve never been athletic, they’re out of shape, they couldn’t keep up. Basically they’re not the kind of person who would play on a 40+ soccer team. But they could if they tried. I know it.

In celebration of the Summer Solstice, on Sunday (and Monday at a special service) at church we had fire communion, where we symbolically let go of something that was holding us back by lighting it on fire and throwing it into the air. You might think this is dangerous and a fire hazard, but Rev. Aaron has all these tricks up his sleeve, including using flash paper (technically nitrocellulose) in church. This is a little square of translucent paper that burns into nothing after you light it on fire. It’s used in magic tricks and theater. What we did was write down the thing we were letting go of and burn it up. I am letting go of this script that I am a certain kind of person, that there’s any reason to deny myself the opportunity for fun and joy and to try something I might love and never excel at. I am letting go of the absurd notion thatfront I can avoid making mistakes.

The mantra on this t-shirt runs through my head a lot.

Yes, I sweat a lot. That has not changed since fourth grade. I get stinky. And so does every other woman on my team. Because that’s what you do when you work hard–you sweat. My sweat is hard-earned and I am proud of it. I can’t wait to get back on the field.
Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 11.48.56 PM

The portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt that we talked about today on Zoe’s field trip.

This morning I spent chaperoning a third grade field trip to the Lincoln Memorial and the National Portrait Gallery. I completely rearranged my schedule to do this. It was not convenient. I’m not saying this because I deserve a medal (but I’ll always accept a cookie) but just to provide the context that I understood that my presence meant a lot to Zoe and it was the final opportunity of the year to go on a field trip with her class so I made it happen. All the previous field trips had been scheduled on days that I was required to drop off or pick up at preschool. I haven’t been asked to volunteer in her classroom this year (although I offered repeatedly) so I haven’t had the chance to get to know her classmates like I did the past two years.

So today I had a chance to check out the boy she has a crush on, and meet some of her friends who I had only heard about. I bounced along in the back of the noisy school bus marveling at my early childhood ambition to become a school bus driver. I escorted girls to the bathroom and tried to keep kids in line and handed out bag lunches. I watched in sympathy as two of the other chaperones who were 7ish months pregnant climbed up and down the stairs at the Memorial and in the museum. I appreciated not being pregnant.

When we returned to school, Zoe’s teacher said I was welcome to take Zoe home, as the class would not be doing any important work for the last 40 minutes of the school day today. I took Zoe to Dairy Queen where we enjoyed blizzards. We came home and Zoe took herself to the playground in our neighborhood while I sprouted a migraine and took a nap.

Then later in the afternoon when I mentioned to Zoe that I had a meeting at church tonight, she despaired. “I feel like you’ve been gone every night,” she lamented. I said, yes, I was out last night, when I left the house at 9pm, when she should have been in bed anyway, to play in my last soccer game of the season. I had spent every moment of the afternoon, from 4:45 when I picked her and her friend up for their soccer practice to 9pm, with her. This afternoon Zoe said to me, “I wish I could spend every minute of every day with you.” I know this is not true. I understand the sentiment behind it. The result, however, is both flattering and smothering.

At least last night when I left Zoe did not scream and wail like Zeke did. Zeke, who also should have been asleep but was not, desperately wanted me to put him to bed. He was clinging to me like I was about to disappear forever. This represents a recent recurrence of the all-mommy-all-the time phase we have previously experienced. We have also experienced all-daddy-all-the-time phases.

There is something so painful and sweet and confounding about these moments. It is excruciating to hear and see your child sob violently because you are going away, even if it’s for two hours and he’s going to be asleep, or at least calm, within five minutes after you leave. It is amazing and sometimes startling to be wanted so intensely, to know that you are the person that someone most wants to be with in the world at that moment, that you snuggling with him would provide complete contentment. And that snuggling and rocking and singing would provide contentment for you too. But at the same time you have to do other things sometimes. You have to exercise your body, cultivate grown-up friendships, nurture your spirituality, see a movie. You have to have a life of your own or that time spent with those little people who want you so much will feel less blissful and more resentful. You need to have a life so you can demonstrate to your children that you do have a life that does not revolve 100% around them. 98%, sure, but you need to squeeze out that 2% for yourself.

I have worked for myself for a decade now and I started my business in part because I wanted to be able to make my would-be kids my first priority, after witnessing bosses who were not particularly family friendly. I am thankful every single day that I get to be a mom, which I’ve dreamed of being since I was seven, and a writer, which I’ve planned on since I was eight. I try hard to be present for and involved with my kids while still giving them room to develop their own imaginations, relationships, and interests. Yeah yeah yeah. It is still really freaking hard to not feel like I’m disappointing them when I am not going to be with them. Zeke loves playing with the kids at his day care, loves his babysitter, is always smiling and happy when I pick him up. But he never wants to go there because he always wants to stay with me. My saying, “but I have to go to work” does not matter in the least to him. I don’t know why I bother saying it.

You can’t please everyone. You have to take care of yourself. You have to take care of your business-work, relationships, community. But all these reasonable ideas, rational concepts, true statements seem to dissolve like so many toddlers bursting into tears in the face of your children who want nothing more in the world than to be with you.

Screen Shot 2016-05-13 at 11.14.14 AMAll though high school I was a volunteer at Fairfax Hospital. They used to call them candy stripers, and yes I wore a goofy red and white striped jumper, but technically I was a member of the hospital auxiliary. The volunteers–both teenagers and adults–would sit in a room and wait for calls to come in from various wards and labs in the hospital. The day chairman–Lynn, a really great woman–would announce the job and whoever wanted it would grab the slip of paper on which she’d written down the task. Blood bank to 9 west, or 24-urine from 6 east to lab, or wheel someone from outpatient surgery to the lobby to be picked up by his family, etc.

I loved doing this. I never had the slightest interest in becoming a nurse or a doctor or anything else medical, but I really enjoyed helping people at the hospital. From that experience and from my own experience in hospitals, I have come to recognize that nurses are HEROES. During the labor and delivery of both my children, it was the nurses who did the lionesses’ share of the work. And when my kids have had surgeries, the doctors seemed to breeze in and out in a flash while the nurses helped us prepare and recover from the procedures. If you’ve ever been in a hospital, you know what I’m talking about.

So one of my favorite parts of my work for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society has always been interviewing the Society’s phenomenal visiting nurses. NMCRS has a cadre of several dozen nurses working around the country with combat-injured veterans, new moms and their babies, and retired service members and their spouses. The nurses visit whenever needed and for as long as they are needed, at absolutely no cost to the patient. They provide equal parts empathy, compassion, and education in addition to any actual medical assistance. They are counselors, cheerleaders, job coaches, social workers, surrogate moms and grandmas. They are there 24/7 for their patients.

Today is the last day of National Nurses Week, which began last Friday on Florence Nightingale’s birthday.

Here are excerpts from and links to the five profiles I wrote of NMCRS nurses. They are heroes, not only to all of their patients, but to me.

Greta Ellison:

In New Orleans, Louisiana in the late 80s, next to Tulane Medical Center, was the Veterans Administration hospital and Charity Hospital. While in junior high and high school, Greta Ellison would take the bus after school to Tulane, where her mother worked. Walking to the Medical Center, she would see patients and would-be patients with an array of injuries and ailments who were seeking medical care and other kinds of help as well. The need was vast, she observed. “It was utter chaos,” she said. “I had this extreme sadness and empathy at the same time, and I didn’t know what to do.”

When she was a senior in high school, a friend of Ellison’s was in an accident and was admitted to the intensive care unit at the charity hospital. She went to visit and was appalled by the patients lining the halls, and the hospital overrun with sick people. When she buzzed for admittance to the ICU, she was stunned by the angelic appearance, the poise, and the confidence of the nurse who welcomed her, gently but frankly explained the condition of her friend who she had come to visit, and guided her to his room. “I knew right then that I wanted to be a nurse,” Ellison recalled.

– See more at: http://legacy.planwithnmcrs.org/national-nurses-week-2016-greta-ellison/#sthash.t3ESy5h5.dpuf

Sandy Thompson:

(I really related to what she had to say about those early days of motherhood)

If you’ve never given birth, it’s easy to underestimate the intensity of the physical and emotional transition to parenthood. “It’s just a dark path and nobody shines a light on it,” explained NMCRS traditional visiting nurse Sandy Thompson. “I tell moms, ‘you’re not crazy. Your body will heal and you’ll return to yourself.’”

Thompson knows that those first days, weeks, and months of parenting a newborn can be beautiful but grueling. “The moms can’t tell day from night and they feel like they don’t have choices,” she said. “You empower them with personal choices. You show them that they do have skills. You’re cheerleading and building confidence. You’re pulling out people’s gifts.”

– See more at: http://legacy.planwithnmcrs.org/national-nurses-week-2016-sandy-thompson-shines-a-light-on-the-path-of-parenthood/#sthash.27mhFRPV.dpuf

Peggy Walker:

At 107 years old, Mary lives alone in her family home and walks out to the mailbox every day. She doesn’t drive anymore and someone comes in to clean, but she still pays her own bills. Mary’s independence is possible thanks to the Society’s visiting nurse, Peggy Walker, who checks in on Mary once a week, just as she does for dozens of other Navy and Marine Corps retirees or their spouses. “It’s so rewarding to be able to help people live safely at home, if that’s what they want,” Walker said. “Mary inspires me.”

No stranger to the services of the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, at 27 Mary had a high-risk pregnancy and had to deliver at a civilian hospital instead of the Navy hospital. Her baby girl weighed only three pounds. “She didn’t have the money for a civilian hospital,” Walker explained. “She asked her husband, ‘how are we going to pay for this?’ and he said, ‘don’t worry about it. I went to Navy Relief and they’re going to pay for it.’” Mary’s daughter is now 80 and lives across the street from Mary.

– See more at: http://legacy.planwithnmcrs.org/national-nurses-week-2016-peggy-walker/#sthash.lLwEAQhQ.dpuf

Diana Patterson:

(I wondered if she became a nurse hoping she would work with a doctor who looked like George Clooney one day. I didn’t ask that question.)george

As a high school student, Diana Patterson discovered nursing through the television screen. “I used to watch ER and that got me hooked,” she laughed. But after earning her bachelor’s degree in public health—thinking she would go into medical administration—she went to nursing school and realized she loved both direct patient care and mentoring other nurses. She returned to school once again to pursue a master’s degree so she could teach nursing.

Meanwhile, Patterson’s professional interests merged with her personal life when her brother deployed to Iraq in 2004 with the Army. “When I was in nursing school I had the opportunity to meet an admiral,” Patterson recalled. “He asked me if I could have any job, what would it be. I told him I would love to work with returning soldiers with PTSD. When my brother came back from Iraq I started hearing about the things he and his friends had gone through, and I was hoping there was something to help them.”

– See more at: http://legacy.planwithnmcrs.org/national-nurses-week-2016-diana-patterson-comes-up-with-creative-solutions-for-clients/#sthash.KwyjThsA.dpuf

Esther Valier:

Trusting her own instincts and her body’s ability to do what it was meant to do, Esther Valier gave birth to her daughter Leala (her second child) at home in rural Arizona in 1980, even after her physician fired her as a patient, refusing to provide prenatal care after she told him her birth plan. Unbeknownst to Valier, her daughter had an unusual congenital defect in which a small section of blood vessels in her intestines had atrophied, causing the baby to become extremely sick when she was only a few days old, jaundiced with a high bilirubin count. The local hospital rushed mother and child by ambulance to Tucson, more than three hours away, where they were better equipped to care for Leala, who required abdominal surgery a few days later. Valier and Leala stayed in Tucson for three-and-a-half weeks, which changed Valier’s life.

“My experience in the hospital with the nursing staff motivated me to become a nurse,” Valier explained. “The care we received, the role modeling from the nurses who were taking care of Leala launched my devotion to nursing.”

– See more at: http://legacy.planwithnmcrs.org/national-nurses-week-2016-esther-valier/#sthash.nhalh36a.dpuf

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Where I’m From

(After George Ella Lyon)

I am from newspapers, from Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies, and garage sale treasures.

I am from the copycat suburbs: nondescript, comfortable, safe for roller skating around the cul-de-sac.

I am from the dogwoods and azaleas, uneven lawns decorated with dandelions.

I am from board games and stubbornness, from Myrtle and Milton Jennings and Rosenblatt.

I am from the bakers and bringers of cakes and the suppressors of strong feelings.

From you can figure it outs and keep your chin ups.

I am from old hymns whistled in the kitchen, Nana’s white shawl over my shoulders in the pew, a dollar from her black patent leather pocketbook for the offering plate, from matzoh, and colored wax melting into the menorah.

I’m from Santa Monica, and a village in Romania that no longer exists, and Hungary and Scotland and Ireland, from deviled eggs and chicken salad and Kraft macaroni and cheese.

From the chewing gum Papa gave Nana as an enticement, which she washed off in case of “love powders,” the trains Papa rode as a child after his mother died and he was unwanted, and the dance in Yonkers where Max first laid eyes on Sally, with her red hair and green dress.

I am from trunks and thick albums and framed, fading collages documenting all the moments from all the decades, and the people who we hardly recognize now.

Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
May 3, 2016

 

How it came to be:

Because blessing is the theme for May at my church and because he is awesome, Rev. Aaron reminded us that the greatest blessing we can give to others is our whole selves.

At our worship team meeting last week, he shared with us this poem by Kentucky poet George Ella Lyon.

Where I’m From

I am from clothespins, 
from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride. 
I am from the dirt under the back porch.
(Black, glistening, 
it tasted like beets.) 
I am from the forsythia bush
the Dutch elm
whose long-gone limbs I remember
as if they were my own. 

I’m from fudge and eyeglasses, 
          from Imogene and Alafair. 
I’m from the know-it-alls
          and the pass-it-ons, 
from Perk up! and Pipe down! 
I’m from He restoreth my soul
          with a cottonball lamb
          and ten verses I can say myself. 

I’m from Artemus and Billie’s Branch, 
fried corn and strong coffee. 
From the finger my grandfather lost 
          to the auger, 
the eye my father shut to keep his sight. 

Under my bed was a dress box
spilling old pictures, 
a sift of lost faces
to drift beneath my dreams. 
I am from those moments–
snapped before I budded —
leaf-fall from the family tree.

Then Rev. Aaron handed this out–like a mad lib for spiritual history.

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name). 

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).

From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member). 

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

 

All of us filled in the blanks, and then we shared a glimpse of our histories and our souls, visualizing the house on top of the mountain in China where you could watch the storms roll in, tasting the grilled cheese like mom learned to make in the orphanage, hearing the crack of baseballs.

Rev. Aaron invited us to share our poems with the congregation as the call to worship in the service. Also he gave us handmade Bhutanese paper to hand write our poems on. For some reason this was the hardest part of the whole thing–overcoming my feeling that my words were somehow unworthy of the paper. He convinced me that the paper was waiting for my words.

When we give ourselves as blessings, we invite others to do the same. So today I read my poem and I shared my blessing, with people I love, friends and acquaintances, and total strangers, seen and unseen.

You can watch the service here. (Click on Archives, then on Sunday worship 11:15am Sunday, May 8, 2016–you’re welcome to watch the whole service, or you can skip to around 8minutes 30 seconds to find my poem)

If you write your own version of “Where I’m From,” I’d love to read it. Share your blessing!

 

alexander-childrens-book-disneyI struggle with a destructive habit of constantly tabulating the mistakes I’ve made and the things that have gone wrong when I’m having a bad day. I know about counting your blessings. I know the things for which I am thankful are abundant. But some days are just not good and I tend to make them worse.

My past two days were Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days. Actually they were mine. And I cannot seem to stop perseverating about my failures, large or small. I learned that word from a therapist who said I did it and I was embarrassed to not know what she was talking about. A failure in and of itself. My birthday is next week and somehow all these little injuries feel like bad omens. Shouldn’t I have my life more under control when I’m about to be 42?

Today I had part one of my first root canal. Tomorrow is part two. I have been a diligent tooth brusher my entire life, and only had one cavity ever until now, when I have several, including one so deep that it required a root canal. I felt convinced my tooth decay represented moral depravity on my part. I have an extraordinarily strong gag reflex. So I spent the time today in the dentist’s chair alternating between silently weeping and loudly gagging. Sometimes I did both simultaneously. The dentist was patient and nice about it. I was embarrassed. I felt sure that she and her entire staff sighed with relief when I left, although not that much relief since I have to come back tomorrow morning. She handed me prescriptions for antibiotics, ibuprofen, and valium in the hope that I could tolerate the rest of the procedure with less drama.

I won’t actually share my litany of troubles, because no one likes a complainer. Although many people like to complain. And I don’t like to complain. Just remind myself internally of all of my shortcomings and the world’s brokenness.

For several weeks now I’ve been listening to audio books in the car when I’m driving alone. I love music and I love NPR, but there came a point where every time I turned the car on I would hear, “And the death toll in [name any place] continues to rise.” Or “Today Donald Trump said [any revolting thing].” And I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I listened to The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy, as a tribute to one of my favorite authors, who recently died from pancreatic cancer. Although I knew something about Conroy’s family from his autobiographical novels, this memoir laid bare the lifetimes of abuse, drama, and emotional disfigurement that Conroy and his family experienced and foisted upon each other. Plus Conroy’s writing is inventive and lush. He describes so much pain with so much beauty. Part of what struck me about The Death of Santini is how, despite suffering cruel and bizarre treatment from each other time and again, most of the family never gave up on each other. I felt thankful that, however eccentric or idiosyncratic my family is, we are fundamentally kind. That counts for a lot.

I am thankful for my family, and for modern oral health care, even if it is unpleasant and uncomfortable. I am thankful that I could come home today from the dentist and take a long nap. I am thankful that I was able to help Zoe with her math homework, and that Zeke asked me to read Where the Wild Things Are, and The Mommy Book, and Maisy’s Book of Seasons to him at bedtime and that he snuggled in deep on my lap under his favorite crocheted blanket. I am thankful that my family liked the dinner I cooked for them, courtesy of my friend Trader Joe, even though I couldn’t eat any of it. I am thankful that people were cleaning our house today while I was at the dentist. I am thankful for the music I listened to at the dentist, and all music that brings me joy.

Yesterday Zoe and I listened to this song about 25 times. The fabulous youth choir at our church sang it and we found this recording on YouTube that the song’s composer created with a choir at Texas State University. I think I need to listen about 25 more times.

ec1339c108aec57a17d0843fc18b3414This is a poem I wrote as an assignment for the worship team that I am a part of at church. 

Newsprint brought my parents together
Defining my father still
down to his illegible note taking in the margins

Millions of pages in
thousands of books
hundreds of magazines
countless clippings
crowd each other all over their house
competing for attention

Voracious does not begin to describe
our collective appetite for words
try
compulsive
or better yet
ravenous

My parents save all of our words
published and unpublished
hastily scribbled and neatly printed
Our words are savored
papers and postcards
tucked away in files
stuffed in drawers
piled on desks

I typed my first newsletter
on my mom’s green typewriter
when I was eight
And I’ve never stopped

So much of the paper now is
invisible
stacked up inside digital devices
But it’s still paper
to me
extracting or repelling
juggling or reshaping my words

Words swim inside the paper
until they need to
come to the surface to breathe
They float or they sink
They crawl around the edges
clinging to what meaning they can find

I am less attached
to the paper than
my parents are
I can harvest the words and
give away the paper

Sometimes

Or heretically just throw it away, or recycle it

Sometimes

The words remain
The words are imprinted on me
I was born of paper, and now the paper is me

 

Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
March 2016

  He went to the dentist for the first time ever and was a model patient. He was quiet and obedient and his only move in the chair was reaching for my hand to hold it while the hygienist cleaned his teeth with the chocolate toothpaste he kept trying to eat. He was rewarded with a Spider-Man sticker (to go on his Spider-Man t-shirt) and a Green Lantern ring.

Then we went to the shoe store and he picked out Batman sneakers because he’s been longing for superhero shoes. He also got Avengers crocs (do you sense a theme?). He was perfectly behaved.

We went home so I could eat a late lunch and he played Legos until we went to the playground he requested. He had a fabulous time and climbed up every ladder and slid down every slide again and again. 

Then we took Zoe to martial arts class and he was relatively content, coloring and chatting until class was over and he seized the opportunity to grab a light saber (a piece of foam pool noodle they use to practice defensive moves with) and run in circles brandishing it, which is a fully sanctioned activity once classes have ended. 

Until suddenly he wasn’t fine at all, and all the other kids except mine had gone home and he didn’t want to relinquish his weapon and he didn’t want to leave and the tantrum began and I had to gather our things and scoop him up and walk to the car, hoping he wouldn’t escape from my grasp in the parking lot and hurl himself onto the asphalt. I had to leave my water bottle and his sippy cup on the ledge outside the studio because I needed to secure my grip on him and I hoped Zoe would see them there as she followed us to the car and bring them. She did.

I forced him into his car seat while he screamed and I flung his Batman shoes into the back of the car. Not the most mature thing to do, but it kept me from futilely screaming back at him. 

All the way home he screamed and yelled, shouting ow ow ow as if he were being tortured. I turned the music up to an uncomfortably loud volume to drown him out. 

At home I let Zoe out to go inside and Zeke and I sat in the parked car in front of  our house while he screamed. I could tell he was getting hoarse and losing steam. Abruptly, he stopped crying and said, “I’m calm now.”

And he was, briefly, until we went insid and discussed bathing. And then he wasn’t, but he did settle down to happily eat dinner and eventually consented to the bath after a brief standoff that was at least quiet. And after the bath I held him and rocked him until it was past time for him to put on his diaper and pajamas. Another fight commenced and after I struggled to diaper him, he took off the diaper and stood there defiantly and said he didn’t like it. I explained that once he started using the potty all the time and wearing underwear he could wear it to bed and not have to wear a diaper. “Oh!” He said, as if this were a perfectly reasonable revelation. Then I said, “let’s wear underwear to school tomorrow,” and he said, “nope!” But I pressed on. “You can wear your Green Lantern underwear!” He agreed. Who knows what his thinking will be about underwear in the morning. 

Unsurprisingly I fell asleep while putting him to bed and after I woke up all I could do was stumble into our bedroom and fall into our bed, unable to venture downstairs and face the dishes or read a book or talk with my husband, all of which I had been planning to do. I fell asleep wearing my glasses, without brushing my teeth or taking my pills. And then I woke up to the sound of Zoe moaning in her sleep. Fortunately she had quieted by the time I used the bathroom and retrieved a glass of water. And now I am awake, listening to Randy breathe beside me and waiting for Zeke to wander in and climb up into our bed, which is what often happens at this time of night. 

And here he is. 

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