(originally published on Invocations.blog)

Before my second baby was born
I used to worry (a lot) about 
having a boy
thinking, “what would I DO with a boy?”
as if he would turn out to be a different
species than me
rather than another gender
and that we would lack a 
common language

Now he is almost six
and I understand that 
what I was afraid of
was that he would be 
a stereotype
of a boy
or that he would 
(alarmingly)
be a clone
of boys I had known
who had scared me
or disgusted me
because of their 
aggressiveness
or
crassness
or 
insensitivity
which I wrongly 
attributed
to testosterone
and the Y chromosome

My son loves to kiss me
and snuggle and 
make art
together and 
battle bad guys (not with me, because that’s not my thing)
and build Legos (sometimes with superheroes and bad guys 
but sometimes not)
and watch the Great British Baking Show
and do martial arts
and play with his multitude of stuffed animals, 
all of whom he has given names 
and identities 
(some straight, some gay, some trans) 
and family relationships 
(usually interspecies)

He likes to wear pink and purple (and sports shorts and Adidas) 
I told him that I’m glad he knows 
pink and purple are colors 
for everyone
and not just for girls
He said unfortunately not everyone 
at his school knows that
and not everyone at his school thinks boys 
can wear nail polish
but he knows 
how much fun it is 
to get your nails done
and how cool it looks 

I used to worry 
that people would think
I was a boy
because my hair is short
because I mostly wear 
t-shirts and jeans
In high school when I wore Doc Martens
I was told “those are men’s shoes.”
(Now I sometimes shop in the men’s department for my size 11 feet
and I receive many compliments on my brown leather wingtips)
In college when I asked the boys down the hall
to use the clipper to shave the back of my hair
I was told “that’s a lesbian haircut.”
and because I wore plaid flannel, 
“you dress like a lesbian,”
(but seriously, it was the 90s)
A little girl once asked me, “are you a boy?”
I said no but she still said, “I think you’re a boy.”
When I wake up and stumble into the bathroom 
in the middle of the night or
first thing in the morning
so many times I’ve looked in the mirror
and wondered if I looked that day like 
Richard Simmons or Andy Gibb or Michael Moore
it’s always a weird male celebrity I see
I used to think that if I didn’t wear earrings 
when I left the house
people would think I was a man
even though plenty of men
wear earrings when they leave the house
like my daughter’s 5th grade teacher 
who was a middle-aged married father of two
who wore basketball shorts to teach and sported
a gold hoop in each ear

My son notices when I have new earrings
and is the first to compliment me 
when I get my hair done
He often does not care if his clothes
are clashing colors
but sometimes he wants me to brush his hair
and help him choose the perfect outfit
for the occasion

My son recites the names of all the Avengers
(and their friends such as the X-Men and the Fantastic Four)
and their unique capabilities
and asks me what powers I would like
and then endows me with them
and says, 
“I love you with all my heart and all my dreams.”
and falls asleep with his forehead touching mine
and his arm around my neck

(originally published on invocations.blog)

When I get a massage
I am polite
but quiet
because in the past 
I have made the mistake 
of being too friendly
and inquisitive
and hearing too much troubling
information about a person
who was supposed to be
helping me relax

Chida is my massage therapist now
She is usually polite and quiet too

Last week she was 
bubbling over 
with excitement
because she and her five-year-old 
daughter are going back 
to Thailand for a month 

Chida said she has to go 
so her whole family 
can participate in the rituals
to say goodbye to her father
who died several months ago
but who neighbors say
they have seen 
sitting on his front porch

Chida’s mother told her
“You have to come home
or your father’s spirit
will be stuck here.”

“Miss Betsy,” Chida said to me.
“Do you believe in ghosts?”

When the motorized scooter was delivered to our hotel in Orlando, the scooter guy assembled it, and showed my parents what to do. My sister shared an instructional YouTube video with us even before the trip so we could familiarize ourselves with the assembly and disassembly process. Even so, the first morning of our adventure, after my mom drove the scooter up to my parents’ minivan, it took several adults several (10? 15?) minutes to take it apart and stow it in the back of the van.

When we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, we put it together slightly faster, but when it was assembled and my mom put the key in the ignition, there was a lot of beeping. So much beeping that it was clear that the scooter was telling us something. Like, “don’t drive me.” We took things apart and put them back together. Finally, we discovered that the lock/unlock switch was in the wrong position. It may have been Zeke who figured it out. We flipped the switch and the beeping ceased. The only sound was a cheer from everyone.

By the end of the week, we (and by we I really mean Randy, because he did the lion’s share of scooter assembly and disassembly, usually with some assistance from my dad or me) could transform the scooter in 30 seconds flat. But the real scooter master was the driver–my mom.

The dashboard of the scooter only has one dial, which goes from turtle on the left to rabbit on the right. My mom definitely preferred to rabbit away on that scooter. She zoomed through the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Legoland, Universal Studios, and Disney Hollywood Studios like it was a getaway car, deftly maneuvering through throngs of people, around couples and wayward toddlers and large unruly families like ours. She sped up ramps to the scooter and wheelchair accessible entrances to rides and attractions. She executed tight turns. She sometimes gave rides to the youngest members of our party, who could most easily fit on her lap, when they got tired of walking. She cruised through gift shops. She circled around to find the perfect shady spot to park in while waiting for others to go on roller coasters or anything fast or spinny that wasn’t her cup of tea. She did not, as far as I know, run over anyone except for the feet of some family members when we were standing around not paying attention to when she was ready to drive. Not really her fault. And she never crashed. She sidled up to a handsome young guy on a scooter to ask how long his battery lasted because hers seemed to be fading midway through the day. They compared notes companionably.

We noticed during all five days at the park that the scooter rental companies in Orlando are doing a booming business. And the drivers of the scooters are diverse. You might expect most of them to be older people with mobility issues, which certainly accounted for many of them, but not nearly all. The man my mom chatted with couldn’t have been out of his 20s. I wondered if he was a combat-injured veteran, but really he could’ve had any kind of condition that made walking long distances challenging. It didn’t matter. I also saw pregnant women driving scooters. I remember just walking through the National Zoo when I was nine months pregnant and desperately wishing I could flag down an employee driving a golf cart to give me a lift. The fact is that these parks are gigantic, and you often have to criss cross back and forth to go on the rides you want to go on when the lines are shortest, and you cover a lot of territory. If walking far is difficult or painful, as it is for many people, the scooter is genius.

Often during our trip as I watched my mom’s back as she zoomed away, I imagined how powerful she must have felt driving that scooter. She didn’t have to use a cane or be pushed in a wheelchair. She didn’t have to ask anyone for help. She didn’t have to hope that the rest of us would wait up while she took a break on a bench. She didn’t have to miss anything. And she could go fast. I don’t know when the last time would’ve been that she could get somewhere faster than the rest of us, but it’s been a while. Sometimes we would be standing around trying to figure out where our next destination was and suddenly realize she had sped off, and we’d have to run to catch up to her.

While we were on vacation my mom mused about how having a scooter like this at home would enable her to do things she hasn’t been able to comfortably or easily do on her own for years, like go shopping. She wondered why they don’t have scooters for rent at Tyson’s Corner. I wondered that too. While the concentration of people needing scooters would not be quite as large as at Disney, surely there would be enough to make it worthwhile for the mall to have some on hand. They rent strollers, why not mobility scooters?

I’ve thought about the power and independence my mom could reclaim if she had a scooter at her disposal all the time. But she couldn’t take it out of the car and put it together and then take it apart again and put it back in the car by herself. And if she had to have someone with her all the time to do that for her, she wouldn’t really have the independence that she wants. She’s not in a position where she needs a custom van with a scooter lift. She can walk. I don’t know the solution to this yet, but I feel sure it’s out there somewhere. If we did get my mom a scooter of her own, we would have to customize it so she could have her Diet Coke easily accessible and it wouldn’t spill, she could fit her purchases in a large basket, and there would be red flames painted on the sides because she loves speed.

One of the best parts of the vacation for me was seeing my mom go full rabbit on her scooter all through every park, knowing that she had all the power she wanted.

(originally published on invocations.blog)

So much is out of our control
who moves in next door
who doesn’t clean up 
after their dog 
on the sidewalk 
in front of 
your house

When the bus finally arrives
Whether the check
is in the mail
How your boss
behaves
How anyone
behaves

Who lets you in when 
you’re trying to 
turn left out of your 
neighborhood onto 
Columbia Pike 
Who stops when
you’re trying to 
cross the street

Who is having a bad day
and takes it out 
on you
who holds 
the door open for you and
all the kids you’ve brought along
and smiles and doesn’t seem to mind
that they are oblivious to the fact of the door

How viruses mutate
whether the nurse assigned to your room 
has ever taken care of a patient like you before
Whether the people in charge of your country
decide to start a war 
against another country or
against you
Whether someone who looks like you–even a little bit
commits a crime
What DNA you inherit
What your mother did
or did not do while you were 
becoming human
Whether she brought you 
into the world with joy
or despair

Whether you get put in the class
of a kind kindergarten teacher
or one who should have
already retired or found
another steelier line of work 

So much is out of our control 
it is a miracle that we find
at the end of the day that
a single thing we set out to do
has been done

A testament 
to our optimistic persistence 
that we write out
yet another to do list
naively determined to try again
even though
so much is out of our control

(originally published on invocations.blog)

My main skill
on the soccer field
is getting in people’s way

Also I can cheer

I am not fast

No matter how many 
games I play
or watch
I cannot see
what needs to happen
beyond my need to kick
the ball away from me 
toward someone who will 
know better than I do
what to do with it

Nothing that happens 
on a field
or with a ball
or on a court
or in a pool
or on a track
or on a mat
comes easily to me

This is not to say I am weak
because I AM strong
I can be fierce
and determined
and endure
but it is
never
ever
easy

I watch my teammates 
sprint toward the ball
maneuver around our opponents
boot the ball gloriously 
through the air
with what seems 
to me like
no effort at all

I hear them talk about the other team’s 
offense and defense 
and which players 
are the ones 
to watch 
“All we need to do is…” 
they explain
on the sidelines

but I don’t 
really 
understand

still I will jog onto the field 
and see who I need to 
get in the way of 
when she has the ball
and maybe steal the ball
if i’m lucky
and pass it
and cheer loudly 
for whoever
takes it down the field
to score

I keep thinking about these positive self-talk charts I see from time to time on Facebook. They’re usually designed for teachers to use with students, or for people with ADHD or various learning differences. Here’s one example I found after a quick Google search.

So even though it’s not specifically listed here, I’m trying not to keep saying, “I am terrible at following through with a plan to do something every day,” such as, say, writing 100 words. Because I can clearly demonstrate that I am capable of doing some things every day. I brush my teeth. I feed and care for my children. I feed myself. And usually I do a number of other required tasks also, although not necessarily every day. So I am trying to remind myself that even if there are days that I haven’t written here (because rarely does a day go by that I’m not writing something) that doesn’t mean that I should give up on the challenge.

Last week Zoe and I went to see Jacqueline Woodson–one of our favorite authors–speak at Central Library. Woodson has written many middle grade and young adult novels and memoirs as well as amazing picture books. After she was interviewed by librarian Diane Kersh and she read a couple of her picture books, Woodson took questions from the audience. One woman asked if Woodson keeps a journal, which it turns out she doesn’t. Woodson said whenever she’s tried to journal, she just feels like she should be writing something for one of the books she’s always working on. The woman who asked the question said she keeps four journals, each with a different purpose. I don’t remember what her four journals are for, but I was exhausted at the thought. There are always so many things in my head that I want to write about but that amount of time and differentiation is beyond me.

On top of loving Woodson’s writing, I really enjoyed what she had to say at the library. Zoe and her friend Andrea, who we ran into at the event, asked Woodson how and when she started writing. She said (and she mentions this in her memoir in verse–Brown Girl Dreaming) that when she was a child she frequently got in trouble for lying. Until one day a teacher told her that if she wrote it down it wasn’t a lie–it was fiction.

When Kersh introduced Woodson, Kersh cited someone whose name I didn’t catch who had talked about the importance of kids reading books whose characters were “mirrors and windows,” meaning the readers see some people like themselves with whom they can easily identify, and other characters who are different in any number of ways, who provide a window into other identities, cultures, backgrounds, etc. I love this concept. And I especially love that, after a lifetime of reading mostly mirrored books, I am flying through one window after another after another. And that Zoe, who has only been reading novels for a few years, has already read enough windows that I feel confident she will not get stuck in her own mirror. I love the fact that so many phenomenal authors are telling stories that are mirrors for kids who’ve had painfully few mirrors, and windows for kids who are thirsty for new views. Especially as I’ve spent a lot of time in my church and in my community and in our country learning about white supremacy culture and white privilege, I am reminded again and again about the power of books to cultivate understanding and empathy. I am convinced that there are some books that, if every human read them, humanity would be changed for the better.

Recently at my church we had an outstanding workshop called Beyond Categorical Thinking, designed to help our congregation think more openly and broadly about ourselves and the kind of minister we want to call, as we are engaged in the ministerial search process. Rev. Keith Kron, who led the workshop, (and has led this workshop in UU congregations hundreds of times before), said that one of the most common concerns in congregations about calling a minister of color, or an LGBTQIA+ minister, or a minister with a disability, is that they will be a “single-issue minister” and all they will preach about from the pulpit is race, or sexuality, or ableism. One of the activities we did during the workshop was to discuss in small groups how our childhoods and lives might have been different if we had been born a different gender or sexuality, a different race or ethnicity, a different religion, or with different abilities. I encourage you to think about that. What opportunities would you have had or might you have been denied, in any of those scenarios? There’s a lot more I could say about this, but as usual it’s past midnight. My point is that it isn’t actually that hard to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, through a book of windows, or imagining an alternative path for your life.

Jacqueline Woodson said everyone has a story to tell and everyone has a right to tell their story. I believe that 100%. And what’s more, I think we have an obligation to bear witness to the stories that others are telling.

While we did not set out to do a long hike or traverse rugged terrain, my family did walk 44 miles in five days during our recent trip to Florida to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary. My parents generously treated the four of us and my sister and her husband and son to a fabulous tour of the Magic Kingdom, Epcot Center (which has such eclectic attractions we decided Epcot stands for Every Possible Combination of Things), Legoland, Universal Studios Orlando, and Disney Hollywood Studios. None of our kids had experienced Disney or the rest of the parks, and the grown-ups hadn’t been in years, so this was a monumental and thrilling vacation for the family. We decided to fit in as much fun as we could stand.

Turns out that was a lot of fun. Some of the highlights for me from our day at the Magic Kingdom:

Learning that Zoe loves roller coasters. Although she is almost 12, she had never ridden a real roller coaster before this trip. Now she is absolutely hooked. Although she still fretted and gripped my hand while we waited in every line, worrying that each ride would be too scary. None of the rides were too scary for her. The moment she lifted up the safety bar, she exclaimed how amazing the ride was and how she wanted to do it again. She never felt sick. She raised her hands in the air. She screamed. She soaked up every second of the ascents and the plummets and the twists and turned and loved it all.

Rocking out to the tunes of the birds and the flowers in the Enchanted Tiki Room, because apparently that is my sister’s happy place. I did not have the slightest memory of the Enchanted Tiki Room, but my sister remembered it fondly and grew up listening to the tiki song on a Disney tape we had (where was I during this part of her life? I do not know.) The Tiki Room is decidedly low-tech compared to a lot of the newer CGI and 3D-infused rides. It is old school and a classic. But those charming and chatty birds delighted my sister, which delighted me.

I don’t care what anyone says, I like It’s a Small World. I know the song is repetitive, and the subject of much mocking, but I think the ride is sweet, and it’s one of my mom’s favorites. It was a great one to start with when we arrived at the Magic Kingdom. And I enjoyed laughing at my husband’s and sister’s and brother-in-law’s running commentary as we drifted through the world being serenaded by all its peoples. Is that last part of the ride, where everyone is dressed in white, actually heaven? Quite possibly. And I like all the signs at the end that say goodbye in different languages. Farvel everyone!

Taking my mom to the County Bear Jamboree. After most of us had ridden Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (a great coaster and the only one that didn’t make Zeke feel sick), my mom spotted Country Bear Jamboree and wanted to go, but it wasn’t open yet. A little while later after the group had split up to try different rides, she asked whether it was time for some jamboree action. She and my dad had a special moment with one of the country bears early in the day, during which the bear greeted her like a long lost friend, so perhaps she was eager to reconnect with the other bears. Not unlike the Tiki Room, the Country Bear Jamboree is old school animatronics, but well-paced and funny. If the Tiki Room is my sister’s jam, Country Bear Jamboree may be my mom’s.

The unexpected amusement of the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. After my sister and her family had gone back to the hotel, and my husband and kids were taking another spin on the Astro-Orbiter, I accompanied my parents to the nearby Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor. My expectations were not high, but my stomach was not feeling like another ride, so I was willing to give it a chance. My parents haven’t even seen Monsters Inc., but I have and enjoyed it, so why not? Turns out the Laugh Floor was hilarious. This attraction uses technology in which the animated characters on the screen are able to “see” and interact with the human audience. Screens on the side occasionally show members of the audience with funny–but never mean or mocking–captions and comments. Everyone is in on the joke. It was funny and it was air-conditioned. What’s not to love? As a bonus, in Tomorrowland where the Laugh Floor and Astro-Orbiter are located, we found a snack bar that sold delicious churros (with chocolate sauce on the side) and the Mickey Mouse-shaped soft pretzels (with cheese sauce on the side) that I came to know and love. The amusement park food lacked a certain diversity or nutritiousness, but I would have those churros and pretzels again anytime.

A side note about the food. Some of us ate lunch at a baseball-themed hot dog restaurant, where I enjoyed a ridiculous meal that featured a hot dog topped with mac and cheese and bacon. Not something I should repeat, but it’s always good to try new things. Anyway, while I was ordering food for everyone, one of the cast members (Charlotte, from Melbourne, Australia, according to her name tag) behind the counter noticed my button that said “I’m celebrating my parents’ 50th anniversary” (my sister had arranged for all of us to have these buttons) and she congratulated me and gave me two little cakes to bring to my parents with her best wishes. Charlotte was training an older woman who was operating the cash register with careful deliberation. Although I ordered six meals, after I paid I realized that only four were listed on my receipt. I returned to ask Charlotte to correct the mistake, and got out my wallet to pay for the missing meals, but she waved me away, saying she would take care of it. Thank you for your kindness, Charlotte from Melbourne.

Next up–reflections from our day at Epcot, or Every Possible Combination of Things.

Never in my life have I imagined that so many people besides my mother love matching shirts. Growing up, I thought my mom’s penchant for buying matching dresses for my sister and me, or matching sweaters for her and me, or custom-made matching sweatshirts that say “Hugging is My Favorite Exercise” was excessive. I must now apologize to her because I have seen first-hand thousands of families demonstrating a much more extreme degree of matchiness.

Before you stop me and say, “Wait, didn’t your whole family wear matching t-shirts to the Magic Kingdom last week?” I will acknowledge that yes, of course we did, in honor of my mom and in celebration of my parents’ 50th anniversary, which was the occasion for our trip. My friend Annie designed the shirts and my sister and I gave them to everyone for Christmas. So I am not trying to be hypocritical here, just expressing amazement at the level of matching we witnessed on our trip.

We spent five days at five parks in and around Orlando, and every day in every park we saw hundreds or maybe thousands of groups sporting matching or coordinated shirts. Some were parents with kids, some were couples, some were groups of girlfriends. These families were white, Black, Latinx, and Asian. Most shirts were t-shirts, but some were tank tops. Most shirts featured the iconic Mickey Mouse ears, but many had slogans like “My real home is Fantasyland” or “I’m here for the snacks” or “Best Day Ever.” (Although I also saw a cynical shirt that said “Most Expensive Day Ever.”) There were also plenty of Harry Potter shirts, particularly in Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure where the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter live. People were representing their Hogwarts houses and favorite Quidditch teams or displaying the Deathly Hallows. In Legoland we saw a large group wearing white and yellow baseball style shirts that said, somewhat meanly in my opinion, “I hope you step on a Lego.” A kinder, gentler shirt sported by an older gentleman read, “I would walk across Legos for them,” meaning his kids or grandkids I assume.

In both the Disney parks and Legoland, many families had shirts that identified each member, not necessarily by name, but by their role in the family. Like “Husband” and “Wifey” (ew). Or “Daddy” and “Mommy” and the names of each kid, like “Isabelle” or “Ryan.” I didn’t see shirts that said “Son” or “Daughter” but I did see “Sister” and “Brother.” I also saw “Birthday Girl” and “Uncle of the Birthday Girl,” etc.

Somehow these shirts that reduced their wearers to their familial role only in relation to the other people present rubbed me the wrong way. I might wear a shirt that said “Betsy” but I would feel weird wearing a shirt that said “Mommy” even though I am very proud and honored to be the mom of both my kids.

Similarly, I am not a fan of the shirts that say, “I’m with her” or “I’m with him” with many Disney-themed variations.

The only shirts in that vein that I liked were from the Star Wars shops in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

I also liked this one. I liked it because not everyone in the family has to wear it for it to make sense. It’s relevant and positive but it doesn’t only work if you’re in Hollywood Studios while you’re wearing it. The shirt demonstrates a sense of familial unity without being cutesy.

I love our shirts and I’m delighted that we wore them to Disney World. I just had no idea that everyone else was going to wear theirs too.

My dad and me in our shirts on the first day of our trip.

In the airport on our way to Florida last week, we passed by this row of seven Nutcrackers with their backs to the wall. Four in red and three in green, all sporting ringlets and tall, plumed hats.

Why were they facing the wall? Sure, it’s a few months past Christmas so they may not be needed in an official capacity, but where’s the shame in that? Are they turned to the wall because they’re off-duty and they’re getting a little shut-eye, even still standing at attention, so they won’t embarrass themselves or their station? Are they playing team hide and seek? Closing their eyes and counting to 100 while seven other Nutcrackers march swiftly around the airport looking for places to hide, which may be tricky when you’re a six-foot-tall statue, although it is a large airport. Are they turned to the wall in sad resignation because they no longer feel useful and cannot bear to see the passers-by glance at them in puzzlement, or worse, derision? Do they feel dejected because they worry they have been forgotten, abandoned for more than 10 weeks when their fellow Christmas decorations have long since been carefully packed away. What if they are left to face the wall until next December? Oh, the horrors.

Yesterday I fell asleep before I had the chance to write my 100 words for the 100 words a day for 100 days challenge I’m doing with Zoe. But to be fair I had already written a few thousand words earlier in the day. Those words were about high school students meeting with construction industry professionals to get help with their resumes, high school students participating in classes about how to live drug-free lives, and high school students using their math skills to measure their classroom and price out paint and flooring as if they were going to remodel the room. I also wrote a bunch of words about how to get end your marriage if you live in Ohio. Apparently if you and your spouse agree on all of the terms, you can get a dissolution, which is faster and cheaper than divorce. I’ve never heard of this, but I’ve also never tried to get divorced in Ohio. I’ve learned during the course of my work for this particular client that there are a lot of fees you have to pay if you want to get divorced or change custody arrangements, and that’s not even including attorney fees, if you can afford an attorney.

I started today at home and am finishing the day in a hotel in Orlando. Truthfully all the travel went as well as it could’ve, even though it required several different vehicles and a lot of long lines and there were seven of us including three kids. We met up with my parents at the hotel, as they had taken the auto train here. While it took a lot longer, it sounds a lot more relaxing. And in eight hours, the nine of us will be making our way to the Magic Kingdom. Mickey awaits!

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