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Tonight I testified before my local school board in response to Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s recent threats against trans, nonbinary, and gender expansive young people. It was important to me that I make a statement, even though Arlington has expressed (in writing and at tonight’s meeting) its commitment to affirming LGBTQIA+ students and upholding current policies respecting their rights and autonomy (for which I was grateful). In recent days I have joined Arlington Gender Identity Allies, stepped up to play a larger role in Equality UUCA, and participated in a webinar by Equality Virginia to learn more about advocating against Gov. Youngkin’s policy. The 30-day public comment period for this policy begins on September 26. You can submit comments here.

Here’s my testimony:

Testimony before the APS School Board | September 22, 2022 | Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso 

Good evening members of the school board. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso. I’ve lived in Arlington for 25 years and have two children in APS. I am a fierce ally of LGBTQIA+ children and youth.

I applaud Arlington for being one of only 13 school boards to fully adopt the 2020 VDOE Model Policy for the Treatment of Transgender Students, which enabled students to go by their chosen names and pronouns in school and use bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Now Governor Youngkin wants to reverse the progress we’ve made in affirming our gender expansive kids. His newly proposed policies undermine young people’s autonomy, self-expression, and safety. What the governor wants to do is at best dangerous and at worst, a matter of life and death. 

In a recent survey by the Trevor Project of approximately 35,000 LGBTQIA+ youth, nearly half reported they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the past year. More than half of those respondents identified as trans or nonbinary. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Honoring someone’s gender identity is vital to preventing suicide. 

Trans and nonbinary young people are much less likely to experience serious mental health challenges or consider suicide when they are called by their chosen names and pronouns. Such a simple, yet deeply affirming act can be life saving. Not surprisingly, young people whose families are supportive of their identities are also less likely to struggle. Unfortunately, only one in three respondents to the Trevor Project survey said they live in a gender-affirming household. So for many of these young people, school becomes their safe haven–a place where trusted friends and caring adults fully value and respect them. Gov. Youngkin’s proposed policy would take away that sanctuary, increasing the likelihood that our young people could experience rejection in–or even ejection from–their own homes. 

Immediately after I learned of the governor’s proposal, I reached out to APS to ensure our schools would continue to uphold welcoming, affirming, and inclusive policies. I was heartened to receive emails both from Dr. Durán and our school principal reiterating their commitment to supporting trans and nonbinary students. I’ve seen firsthand what it means to gender expansive kids when their humanity–which absolutely includes their gender identity–is embraced and uplifted, and the devastation that can result when they are treated as less than whole, and who they are is disrespected, discouraged, and dismissed. It is up to us to do the right thing–to protect our kids and make sure they know they are loved for who they are.

Somewhere, somehow,
among the thrill of
knocking $40 off my total
at CVS (thanks to the
careful collection of
Extracare coupons)

three trips to Target on
three consecutive days to
find,
return,
find,
return,
and find
the appropriate school supplies

endless sorting and dissemination of
unwanted and outgrown items
(on Buy Nothing,
to Goodwill,
and literally left on the curb
in the hopes of making some passerby’s day
and saving myself another task),

I got lost.

Throw in the mix
obsessive playing of games
on my phone–
NYT crossword
Spelling bee
Wordle
so much
matching of tiles.

I am a sucker for
those teeny
tiny
hits
of dopamine.

Plus the undefined hours
since I took time off
to be with my kids
this summer
now they’re back in school
the enormous amount of
space in my brain taken up
by thinking about them
and doing my best to
advocate
encourage
nurture
without
helicoptering
smothering
alienating

There have been
many
naps.
Some amount of
guilt
about the naps.
But not always.

Underlying
all of this
is the fractured
uncertain sense of
community that comes
from living through
a pandemic
for three years.

I crave
belonging.
I have
felt adrift.
I need
purpose
to shape my life
meaning to
tie it together.

Yet the world still
unravels.

When I pulled up in front of her high school, Zoe ran over to the minivan to collect her backpack and duffel bag, packed the night before and stuffed with everything she thought she might possibly need for the next three days. I offered to carry something for her and she declined. I started to walk with her to the entrance of the school where the rest of the crew team and the coaches and the parent chaperones were gathered. She stopped me.

“I was just going to walk you over there,” I said. “And give you a hug goodbye.”

“Can you just do that here?” she asked. I got it. I gave her a hug. Told her to have fun and not get hurt and do a good job cheering or rowing, whatever she ended up doing. She told me not to cry and walked away toward her friends.

For the record, I didn’t cry.

I don’t think of myself as an embarrassing mom, but I guess no parent ever does. I went home and got a consolation hug from my husband.

Now, several hours later, my favorite app–Find My Friends–indicates that Zoe made it to Philadelphia and actually all the way to the river where the regatta will take place. I think they’re scoping out the course, or maybe even practicing, before the race tomorrow. Zoe was invited to go with the team as an alternate for the women’s freshman eight boat, because if one person in an eight gets ill or injured, the whole boat is sunk (not literally). So Zoe will be as supportive and enthusiastic a cheerleader as anyone could want, unless of course someone wakes up tomorrow with a fever or trips while carrying an oar and breaks their leg. I would never wish this to happen, but it’s hard not to hope just a little bit that my kid would get the chance to row in what’s apparently the largest high school rowing event in the country. She, however, seems perfectly content to go along for the ride–basically taking a field trip to a cool city with people she loves.

This is the last regatta she will participate in this season. Next weekend is the national championship, and although her novice women’s eight boat took silver in the state championships earlier this month, novices don’t get to go to nationals. Don’t ask me why. But truthfully, this fact has saved me some amount of stress, because she’s also a member of the courtship for her good friend’s quinceañera that weekend. If you’re not familiar with the quinceañera, it’s a huge party (maybe somewhere between a bar/bat mitzvah and a wedding?) to celebrate a Latina girl turning 15. And the courtship is like a bridal party. Part of the courtship’s responsibility is doing a choreographed dance at the party with the birthday girl. Zoe is helping choreograph. The morning of the party, the courtship kids are gathering to get hair and makeup done, and then taking a party bus downtown for photos. So this is, you might imagine, a big deal. Also we need to get her a gold, floor-length dress. We haven’t yet found said dress. But we will!

Rowing has been one of the most challenging and exhilarating things Zoe has ever done, on par with earning her black belt in martial arts, or maybe she would say even harder, as martial arts practice was never held at 5:30am. During the spring season, the crew team practices six days a week. Typically, freshmen and novices practiced in the afternoon and varsity in the morning (at 5:30, arriving at the boathouse in the dark). But on several occasions Zoe’s coaches asked her and various combinations of other newer rowers to come in the morning. The first time they asked her to come to morning practice, she was thrilled. I was slightly less so, since I was the one driving her at 5am, but I got used to it. And she did too, although there was definitely a night when she had been at practice in the afternoon and her boat (a double that day, not an eight) had flipped, and she hurt her foot when it got stuck in the shoe of the boat (where you put your feet while you’re rowing) and she was supposed to go to morning practice the next day and I sat with her in her room trying to reassure her because she was worried that she just couldn’t do it. Of course, she didn’t actually do it because when she woke up at 5 she couldn’t put weight on her foot and we had to go to urgent care. But she was back at practice three days later, preparing for the next day’s regatta.

Over the course of three months, the skin on Zoe’s hands was shredded from gripping the oars. She complained that everything hurt. She was exhausted. But she was tough. Every night she made her lunch for the next day, and packed her crew bag. We went to the chiropractor a few times. She took a fair amount of Tylenol. She spent a lot of hours rigging and de-rigging boats. She has learned so many technical and practical things about boats and rowing that are beyond my understanding. It took me months to understand the difference between novice and freshman, which is relevant because Zoe was moved back and forth between the novice and freshman boats throughout the season. A freshman can be a novice but a novice isn’t necessarily a freshman–just someone new to the sport, which can include 8th graders. So the freshman boat is usually just a little bit faster than the novice boat. There are always going to be people who are faster and people who are slower. Such is life. And even when you work really hard, sometimes you’re not going to make it into the fastest boat. But there are many boats to fill, and someone has to row in all of them. In the midst of all this I had a good conversation with a friend of mine whose kid also rows. She reminded me of his similar struggles the year before and how she, like me, was hoping he would make a certain boat and he wisely said to her, “I row where I row.”

Then there’s this tension. There’s my core belief that you should do things because you love to do them, and you have fun, and you make friends, and you work hard, whether or not you have any natural talent or skill, and whether or not you’re getting any better, and whether or not you plan to do the thing in the future or just for a season. It’s what I tell myself when I play soccer. It’s what I told myself when I was singing in gospel choirs. It’s what I tell myself when I make art. I’ve done all those things because they bring me joy. I don’t have to prove myself to anyone. I don’t have to win any contests or demonstrate excellence. I can just do it.

And yet. And yet when you see your kid doing a thing, especially a sport, you want them to be great at it. Right? That’s not just me, right? Even if it’s against all odds and you yourself were never good at a sport and none of it matters at all. It’s like this pernicious little voice in your head, that hopes your kid scores, wins, achieves, masters whatever it is. Even though in your heart you know it doesn’t matter. You know all the ways that doing an activity is good for your kid, whether or not they ever win or score.

Niki is on a soccer team. Most kids around here who play soccer start in kindergarten. So Niki is a bit late to the game, and it turns out the boys on his team take soccer a lot more seriously than the girls on Zoe’s elementary school team did. You can tell these kids all watch soccer with their dads from the way they yell on the field and their goal celebrations. To put it diplomatically, not all of Niki’s teammates have been patient with the fact that Niki is more of a beginner than they are. An enthusiastic beginner. A fast runner. Also an anxious player who has been known to crack their knuckles a lot while playing and sometimes hop toward ball instead of running. The main point here is I want Niki to enjoy being on the team. I don’t want the other kids belittling them. And of course if they were a little more skilled, the teammates would probably have less to say. But that’s not the point, right? They’re having fun, they’re exercising, they’re practicing teamwork. And they like watching soccer with their dad too.

So we go to regattas, we go to soccer games, we drive to practices, we wash a lot of gear, we make a lot of snacks and refill a lot of water bottles. And always we tell them how much we loved watching them do their thing, and how proud we are of how hard they’ve worked. And how we’re glad they had fun. That’s all we can do.

This morning I took the mouse that had been squeaking all night (because it was stuck in a glue trap designed to catch roaches and other insects) and carried it into the backyard and pried its little paws and matted fur off of the glue and left it in the grass. I have no idea if it will survive, but I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t kill it, although we’ve had mousetraps all over our house for months because of a persistent colony. When the mousetraps kill them, I bag the bodies and the traps and put them outside for the trash. The line between active and passive destruction is thin.

The mouse did not ask to be made into a metaphor. And yet.

There is nothing particularly wrong with me, any more than anyone else. I am more sensitive than most. I have a sleep disorder and other minor afflictions. But this world. The conflict. The cruelty. The confusion. The things that smell bad. It’s like layer upon layer of glue traps of injustice and illness and insecurity. No amount of alliteration can save us. Nothing we can do eliminates the suffering.

Today is Easter. Resurrection–to me–is another metaphor. An opportunity to remind ourselves of all the possibilities of life that emerge from the darkest of days.

This week we spent a few days at the beach. For most of our trip, it was cold and windy. Sitting on the sand and watching the waves was lovely but a bit chilly. The boardwalk was deserted at first. We spent time inside, reading and writing and drawing, and then it warmed up. Everyone else noticed too, and there were suddenly plenty of people on the beach, even though it was still too cool to swim. Who knows what all those other people were doing inside while it was cold, but when the sun came out, they did too. Possibilities opening up like the tulips that lined the sidewalks.

Traveling magnifies the intensity of parenting by 1,000. There are even more decisions than usual to make. Calculations become more complex when you factor in everyone’s desires, preferences, and needs–whether they are stated explicitly or you happen to know them or you’re somehow supposed to guess correctly what they are. Traveling reminds me that I cannot make everyone happy, and that no matter how much I might want to, it’s ultimately not my job and not within my power. I do a lot for my kids, but I can’t (and shouldn’t) do everything. The Easter Bunny did not come to our house today. I warned the kids yesterday that the Bunny was just not available this year, and that there were plenty of other celebrations happening, as both of their birthdays and mine are this month. They both said repeatedly that it was fine and they didn’t mind. Easter is much more of a cultural event to them than a religious one. They are both savvy about the nature of middle-of-the-night visiting creatures (our resident mice never bring us any treats). We just splurged on treats during our beach trip, and we still have plenty of candy left over from their Christmas stockings. Niki said, “I get it. The Easter Bunny is stuck in traffic, has bills to pay, calls to make.” They understand. They are not deprived. I had a couple flashes of guilt, but they were fleeting.

This afternoon I stepped outside to see if the sticky mouse was still in the grass where I had left them. I did not see any sign of them. I hoped that they managed to find refuge somewhere (other than back in our house, maybe?) and some way of removing the residue from their paws. I wonder if the mice still in here are missing that little dude. I can’t think too much more about this or I will become very sad. Absolutely there are much larger and more pressing problems in the world, but it comes back once again to my compulsion to bear witness to suffering, and examination of my role in alleviating it. The mouse remains a metaphor.

Dangerous Mole

I just ordered $100 worth of dairy-free meal replacement smoothies for my teenager, to pick up at Whole Foods tomorrow, because eating anything solid causes her severe stomach pain and she’s nauseated all the time. She came home early from school yesterday, with a COVID test in hand and instructions on how to take it with a certified COVID test instructor watching her on video. She has taken dozens of COVID tests already, and she knows how to do it, but I understand they want to make sure people are doing it right. Certified COVID test instructor Mhaxine (who must recite her script a hundred times a day) had us focus my phone’s camera on various codes on the box and on my ID and on the test results. Zoe doesn’t have COVID, which I already knew. But now you can’t be home sick from school or go to the clinic without testing. You can’t go back to school without emailing the negative test results to the school nurse and attendance office. Meanwhile, we are going back and forth with the pediatrician and the pediatric gastroenterologist and Zoe is scheduled to have an endoscopy in two weeks. She’s missed two days of crew–which you’re not supposed to miss any days of between February 21 and the end of May. Tomorrow I’m going to deliver an açaí bowl to her at lunchtime because it’s one of the only things she’s been able to eat over the past few days without feeling sick. When your kid is miserable, all your priorities shift.

At least she has beautiful nails. I took her with me to the nail salon last weekend and she somehow managed to get acrylic nails without me noticing until I had to pay the bill. Even if she can’t eat, she can at least admire her nails and enjoy the sound of tapping them on her phone.

I have a list on my desk of all the appointments I need to schedule: mammogram (oh I guess I need to see the gynecologist first, to get a referral), colonoscopy, dentist, kids’ dentist, my dermatologist, etc. All things I’ve been putting off or rescheduling since COVID. Hopefully I won’t have lumps or polyps or cavities or dangerous moles. I keep thinking I could just spend a day making appointments, but that would not be a very pleasant day. Since COVID seems to be never going away, I just need to suck it up.

Also tomorrow I am taking Niki to a camp that they don’t especially want to go to, even though it seems amazing, because they would rather stay home and play video games all day, which they think is awesome but I do not. Tomorrow is a parent-teacher conference day, so they don’t have school, but I still have to work. Someday we will have a house where I can have an office that is not in the same room as the tv and the xbox, but that day has not yet come. So off to camp they go. Last week I finally finished signing them up for summer camps and classes. This year they have fencing and archery, a camp where they drive to different parks and explore them and look for little creatures and give them names (at least that’s what they did at that camp last year), book illustration, art, and Minecraft camp (I consented to one week of this since the rest of the camps are active or artsy). Three of the weeks (book illustration and art) are just half day classes rather than full day camps because I don’t have to work those weeks and so Niki will not complain about having to go outside when it’s hot or eat lunch in a room that’s smelly. I would say my kids are spoiled, but truthfully I don’t like eating lunch outside on the ground when it’s hot or in a room that’s smelly, so I can’t blame them.

Oh, how could I forget Niki is also going to sleep away camp for the first time this summer. We all think they will love it. They’ve been to family camp at Camp Friendship twice already. They know the people, they know the place. They have not, however, slept away from us in quite a while. They can go to sleep if someone is at our house, but not if they’re at someone else’s house. And they still love to fall asleep intertwined with a parent. We are having faith that it will all work out when they are at camp. Zoe will be there too, but of course not in the cabin with them. We still have six months to prepare. Zoe was homesick at night for the first few years she went to camp, even though she loved it there. She says she eventually would fall asleep just because she was exhausted. I am constantly reminding myself that my kids are capable of things we haven’t seen them do yet, and they will be ok. Hopefully we’ll be ok too. Whenever Zoe is at camp I check the website compulsively for photos of her having fun, and race to the mailbox to look for letters. I remind myself that, during a rocky first grade year, Niki dreaded school–and then it ended because of COVID. Then we homeschooled for a year. And they did not especially want to go back to school for third grade because it was so much fun being home with me all day! And they never had to get dressed! And they played video games after they finished their work! It took a while for them to get used to school again (as it did for most kids I think, whether or not they were homeschooled or virtual schooled or hybrid schooled last year) and now they actually like school. They come home and talk about what they learned, and look forward to seeing their friends, and miss school when they have to stay home. I honestly wasn’t sure that would ever happen again, since it basically hadn’t happened since kindergarten. I had started to think kindergarten was some magical year that we would never experience again and school would be a battle forever. But it’s ok now.

And there is a nation of innocent people being attacked for no reason by an evil lunatic dictator. There are a lot of blue and yellow flags and lights and tributes. But I sure don’t know what to do, except wonder why our world is such a mess. The president stood up for LGBTQIA+ kids and mental health care in his State of the Union speech, but did not mention canceling student debt, or racial equity, or DC statehood. I did enjoy seeing two women–Kamala Harris and Nanci Pelosi–sitting behind him though, instead of two white guys. And maybe if the other old white guys don’t get in the way, Ketanji Brown Jackson will be confirmed to the Supreme Court and we’ll be just a little closer to having more justices who look like the people in our country and again, not all old white guys. No offense to the old white guys I love. They are not the ones I’m talking about.

In preparation for a meeting at work today I watched this video by Georgetown Law professor Kristin Henning, author of The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth. I have the book on my desk to start reading next week. As part of my new job with DC Action, I’m working with folks to reframe the conversation on youth and crime. Professor Henning describes in the video how Black young people are targeted and often arrested or harmed because they’re seen doing normal adolescent activities. DC Action and our partners are working to help District leaders, journalists, and others understand that there’s more to the story of a 14-year-old charged with carjacking than the need to lock him up for a long time or hold him accountable. Does it not occur to anyone that when 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds are committing crimes like these, we need to look deeper? As I’ve written in op-eds and blog posts, the people who need to be accountable are the adults who are failing to provide meaningful out-of-school-time activities, mentoring, emotional support, job opportunities, and mental health care to young people–especially young Black people–who have suffered disproportionately through the pandemic. I see the struggles in my own kids, who have as much support and resources as they could possibly need. So when I read every day about people trying to ban books by and about Black and brown people and LGBTQIA+ people (don’t get me started on Texas Gov. Abbott who would rather have queer kids committing suicide than offer their families support) and school systems prohibiting teachers and students from discussing race or racism, or people saying antiracism is actually racism, I get enraged. No wonder I can’t sleep.

This, I think, is why people are obsessed with Wordle right now. It’s not always easy, but it’s definitely solvable. You can point to it (which is why so many people post their scores, although I do not) and say, “Hey, I did a thing! I accomplished something despite my existential angst and general feeling of despondence about our country and our world and all the personal and global problems with which I am grappling.” Or maybe that’s just why I play Wordle.

I haven’t been back to church in weeks, even though they’ve resumed in-person services. Going to church has always brought joy to me and been so important in my life, but the thought of going back again where everyone is masked and I don’t recognize even my friends and hugging is no longer a thing just makes me anxious and sad. I know wishing everything were back to “normal” is futile and there’s no such thing as normal anymore. But I haven’t yet arrived at a state of grace where I can embrace the constant change and dizzying feeling of flux. Maybe some days. But not today.

Even before the pandemic we were online shoppers–it’s usually easier to find exactly what you want when you want it and we have better things to do than go into stores where there are other people. Oh wait, that second one was true before but is truer still today. And you can order something online in mere seconds. I recognize the danger in this. The allure of convenience is strong. Impulse buying is no longer just about candy bars. Is it instant or delayed gratification, when you know you have found what you were seeking, but you must wait for it to arrive? Does it matter? No, it does not matter. This is simply the state we’re living in, and we have (mostly) come to terms with it.

Here are some of the items we have bought online in the past couple months. You can guess who these were for.

  • Green Gobbler drain cleaner (worked great on our bathroom sinks!)
  • Snacks for high school teachers (the PTA is putting together goody bags–will these delicious snacks address the extreme mental and physical stress that educators are facing? Only time will tell)
  • A new recording of Mozart’s Requiem
  • A sample vial of the perfume that Hailee Steinfeld wears
  • Brightly colored extra large women’s underwear (they’re not granny panties if they’re not plain white, right?)
  • KN95 masks for kids and adults (hopefully the legit kind and not the counterfeit kind)
  • Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza card game (theoretically this was for Niki but I really love it. The whole family plays)
  • Iron supplements (who needs anemia? We don’t!)
  • Beethoven piano sonatas
  • Stainless steel cups and insulated tumblers with lids and straws because all four of us seem to break a lot of glasses and spill a lot of drinks. What is wrong with us?
  • Three angled plastic measuring cups (1 cup, 2 cups, and holy cow 4 cups! because see above we broke all our glass measuring cups)
  • Mozart symphonies 39, 40, and 41
  • A set of new Pyrex dishes with lids primarily because I was trying to make cornbread recently and realized our 8×8 pyrex was missing and remembered that we had broken it (seriously, why can’t we hold onto a piece of glassware?) and it turns out if you’re ordering a new 8×8 Pyrex it’s only slightly more expensive to order a set of 20. And this way we can phase out the plastic containers that you can never find the lids to and that crack and get stained and sometimes warp. The lids to the glass containers always stick around. They seem to be more loyal.
  • Subscriptions to Jenny Lawson’s Nowhere Bookshop Fantastic Strangelings and Happy Endings book clubs where you receive a new book each month (Fantastic Strangelings=a variety of weird stuff, Happy Endings=romance) because you know, I definitely don’t own enough books. But I do read them. And I love them. And they sustain me during dark times, which are currently all the times.
  • Tarot cards–I have a deck that a friend gave me when I said I wanted to learn to read them, but I realized that I don’t love the images on the deck and that has kept me from studying, so I started reading some books–still using that deck as a reference–but I found a couple decks online that look absolutely amazing and feel right to me. And Zoe ordered a deck because she wants to learn as well. I gave my first ever reading to her the other night (only using six cards from the Major Arcana, and completely relying on my notes) but she said it was amazingly accurate and made her think about her question in a new way. I’m excited for the new decks to arrive.
  • Venetian music from 700-1797 which comes with a very pretty book of paintings of Venice
  • Of course groceries.
  • And dinners.
  • And COVID tests.

So what does this say about our family? We are hungry and thirsty and clumsy. We love music and books and games. We are trying not to succumb to Omicron, but who knows if we will succeed. In the meantime, we will shop.

It’s just me and John Denver and the Muppets in the family room this Christmas Eve afternoon. I am wrapping presents. Everyone else is in their bedrooms, asleep or otherwise occupied by a virus (not COVID, we checked) or depression or a device. I am hoping the quiet alone time will enable everyone to muster the energy and good cheer required by Christmas Day with the family tomorrow.

Spread out across the kitchen table and counters are ingredients for treats that will likely not be baked tonight. Maybe if everyone rallies we will throw a few things together. Or not. I have secured two excellent vegan pies and a variety of appetizers and my brother-in-law is preparing the rest of the feast. Neither of my children have eaten much in recent days. My younger child suddenly doesn’t like any of the food they used to like. My older child has been dealing with stomach stuff. But we have another whole week of vacation so maybe people will be inspired to bake. Or not.

What I am giving myself this Christmas is the gift of letting go of expectations. The past 21 months have been like some kind of demonic algebra problem in which there are many more variables than constants. And even non-demonic algebra made me cry when I took it in junior high school. The universe is filled with ever expanding unknowns.


The kids and I just came back from a lovely drive-thru Christmas Eve moment at church. UUCA decided to cancel in-person services tonight after they learned from the Arlington Department of Health that COVID cases in Arlington had doubled from December 21 to December 22. Determined to share joy with the congregation, the ministers and staff set up luminaria along the driveway, the music director was playing carols outside on the keyboard, the ministers were festively dressed and waving their glowing Christmas wands and greeting families, then some mystery person was operating a snow blower so we enjoyed a moment of white Christmas Eve, and then the intern minister was handing out little goody bags including a candle we can light at home during the service, and he collected the hat and mittens we brought for the mitten tree. It was all very sweet and touching and we drove through a second time just to say thank you.


I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Jenny Lawson’s Broken (in the best possible way) and I am addicted to her honesty. She is absolutely hilarious. And she narrates all her own books so you definitely feel like you’re laughing right there with her. She also struggles with a host of challenging physical and mental illnesses, including severe anxiety and depression, and she holds nothing back when discussing them. Coincidentally, I just finished reading The Charm Offensive by Alison Cochrun, which I received at my friend D’s Jolabokaflod (book exchange party). Apparently I love reading romance novels now–some of my favorite books this year have been by Casey McQuiston (who I had the pleasure of meeting!) and Emily Henry. I always thought the genre was limited to the ridiculous Harlequin Romance novels I used to get from the library when I was 13 and flip through with my friend Diane to find the sex scenes and laugh hysterically. Or books you see in airport gift shops with terrible titles and pictures on the cover that make you cringe. But I’ve come to realize that there’s a new kind of romance novel that’s actually just a regular novel–funny and smart and compelling–whose plots happen to center on a romance and that include surprisingly charming sex scenes. Anyway my point here was actually that The Charm Offensive was a much about mental health and gender identity and how we treat each other as it was about romance. The book includes realistic depictions of OCD and anxiety and depression and self-discovery and stigma in our society.

I’ve read so many articles in the past year about how the pandemic has affected our mental health. As you might guess, or know for yourself, it’s not good news. For kids and young people, it seems to be even worse, because they’re mired just as deep in the intermittent isolation, the uncertainty, the constant churn of disappointment from cancelled plans, but they have so much less control over their lives and their choices than adults do.

My kids have been so happy to be back in school in person this year. Over the past four months they’ve made new friends, cultivated relationships with new teachers, and–not insignificantly–been able to leave the house every day, follow a predictable routine, learn things, see people besides us, and practice being their own individuals. I know the school system is prepared for a return to virtual learning if COVID demands it, but I dread that decision if it comes. Several schools in DC have already reverted to virtual learning for at least a few weeks as we ride out Omicron. It just makes my heart hurt to think about all of us home all the time again and trying to do work and school all at the same time in our little house and eventually driving each other berserk.


I love my kids so much. And I think they’re really awesome people. Not that I haven’t always felt this way, but you know how it’s easier to get perspective on people when they’re not staring you in the face 24/7? They are each unique, but they are also both funny and kind and creative. They both still want hugs all the time. They both love music. During the pandemic the four of us bonded watching live streams by Brandi Carlile, and we’re all going to get to see her perform live in 2022 if some freaking future virus variant doesn’t get in our way. For the past few Christmases, I’ve taken the kids to Five Below to shop for each other. They bought excessively sequined stockings there and filled them with treats they knew each other would like, and they opened them first on Christmas morning (in part to buy us time before we had to wake up). This year Niki learned that they too could be Santa, so at Five Below the kids chose treats for each other and for Randy and me. Today we’ve taken turns filling all our stockings with thoughtful surprises. I love being Santa and sharing Santa with them.


So we are moving slowly right now. And that is absolutely ok. We haven’t written any Christmas letters. Even my mom, who is the driving force behind this tradition, suggested that there’s not much to write this year because she doesn’t like to write about only negative things. Of course there have been silver linings. But there’s also been a lot of %*&(*^#@ (insert your favorite curses here). And when you’re surrounded by it, writing a cheerful missive seems just a little bit out of reach. We haven’t sent presents to our family members who live far away. You know who you are. I promise you’re still on our list, and we are grateful for the gifts you’ve sent that are currently under our tree. (At least we decorated our tree!) I have yet to send e-gift cards to any of my kids’ teachers. A few weeks ago I did remember to put out a box of snacks and drinks in front of our house for the delivery people. There are always a lot of delivery people and they are working their tushes off. I know they’ll still be busy after Christmas delivering the various things we ordered that are still sitting in Groveport, Ohio or Tucson, Arizona on Christmas Eve.

We’re doing the best we can. And I’ve learned this year that my best varies from day to day. Maybe even from hour to hour. Life is a lot. So many people I love have faced crises and losses this year. But we keep going. We provide shoulders for each other to cry on. We check on each other. And tonight we light candles to shine through the darkness. We hold onto hope. Neither the grinch nor omicron can keep Christmas from coming.

Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night. Sending you all love, peace, and health.

“Give back to the universe that which is not ours to carry.”

Lately this sage advice, included in the centering meditation that my spiritual director offers before every session, has become a necessary mantra.

Because there is so much that people throw at me, so much around me that my heart consumes, that I cling to, that I clutch tightly to prove to myself and the world that I am, in fact, a good person, it is easy to feel myself sinking under the weight of it all.

And so I examine each piece, peel it off my spirit (it makes that squelchy sound like pulling apart velcro) and metaphorically fling it into the sky. And then I feel peaceful and at ease and live happily ever after.

Kidding!

My overactive brain and “of course it’s my job to save the world!” nature don’t give up that easily. Still, I try. Still, I am frustrated when there’s nothing I can do. I love having something I can do. I have to remind myself, every day, many times a day, that sometimes all I can do is be.


In years past during November, inspired by friends who modeled the practice, I posted something every day on Facebook that I was grateful for. Other Novembers I’ve participated in challenges to blog every day, or write something every day, or create something every day. This year in November, I’ve gone back to the basics: make sure your kids get to school every day, fill out the COVID symptoms questionnaire from the school system every day, drink water every day, get dressed before 4pm every day, remember to take your meds every day. And. to be honest I know there have been some days when I have definitely not accomplished all these.

We’re living in a sort of reality purgatory right now. We’re not quarantined or isolated like we were last winter. Most things are open. We’re allowed to roam freely, but there is a constant lingering question of whether we should hanging over our heads. The new questions du jour whenever you see someone you know are, “Did you get your booster?” [no, but I’ve scheduled it for when I can afford to feel horrible the next day] “Which kind are you getting?” [not sure, whatever they give me, I guess?] “Where are you going to get it?” [through the county health department, where I got my previous shots] Sometimes the conversation turns to wondering why so many people refuse to get vaccinated, even when it costs them their jobs or various freedoms. This is a question for which I have no good answer. Another question is why is the newest threatening variant named omicron? What happened to the other 10 Greek letters after delta? Were those variants not important enough? And more substantively, are we going to have to live with COVID for the rest of our lives? Will they eventually have to start naming the variants after people, like hurricanes? Are we ever going to get to see the lower half of strangers’ faces again?


When my thoughts start spiraling out of control like this, I remind myself to give this business back to the universe. I definitely cannot carry the weight of a global pandemic, or even a neighborhood microdemic (a word I just made up), on my back. There is nothing I can do except make sure my family and I are vaccinated and wear masks and be aware of risks while trying to enjoy life as best we can.

Which leads me back to gratitude. Even when–or especially when–we are existing in this state of emergency that has lasted way too long to be an emergency anymore but it’s definitely not normal (note the accelerating approach to spiraling thoughts)–I return to gratitude. Even when conventions of punctuation and syntax fall away, I can be thankful. And it makes me feel better to share.

(in no particular order) I am thankful that…

  • My church has reopened for (fully masked) in-person services and a few other activities. Going back to church every Sunday gives me an anchor and a steadiness that I crave. The (absolutely essential) safety protocols kinda get me down, but I’d rather be in the sanctuary following the rules than not be there at all. I am glad that online services have been meaningful for so many people, but after a while they just weren’t doing it for me.
  • Independent bookstores are thriving, and I am able to support my local women-owned and Black-owned and queer-owned book shops. Last week I walked into One More Page to pick up some books I had ordered online, and asked a bookseller what books she recommended for middle-grade readers that feature non-binary characters (per the request of my non-binary child). She practically leapt out from behind the counter and said “YES! Middle grade books featuring non-binary characters!” as if this were a request she had been waiting for and she was finally getting the chance to fulfill it. I always love going into this store and chatting with the booksellers and reading the post-it notes that offer each bookseller’s concise personal reviews.
  • I had a highly amusing visit with my primary care doctor last week, who I finally made an appointment with to have him look in my ears. Back in August I had an inner part of each ear pierced, which I’ve finally acknowledged was a mistake. The piercings have been bothering me for several weeks but I can’t actually see them because of where they are, although I could feel that something was wrong. Anyway my doctor took a look and confirmed that something was wrong. I asked him if he could take out the piercings and he said, “I could … but I really don’t think you want me to.” Apparently he’d never had a patient come to him with problematic piercings, so I was proud of that. He sent me on my way with a prescription for antibiotic ointment and instructions to see my ENT next week.
  • My book club is meeting in person again and there are now two babies who are involved! Two of my friends had babies over the past year! And I get to play with the babies while we talk about books (and other things). Did I mention BABIES?
  • After 16 years of running my own business, I am going to start a new full-time job in January! I will be Senior Writer for DC Action, which I’ve been working with as a consultant for the past two years, and I am so excited to be joining the staff. I launched my own business before I had kids, in part because of an insensitive remark that my previous boss made to a colleague who arrived a few minutes late to a staff meeting because she had to take care of the unexpected needs of one of her kids. I decided at that moment that I didn’t want to work anywhere that didn’t understand that my (future) kids were my priority. So working for myself all this time has been wonderful and liberating and fun and also challenging and frustrating. But I’ve always been able to put my kids first. Now that they’re closing in on 15 and 9, they still need me, but not in such immediate ways. Since I’ve been working for myself, people have often asked me if I would ever go back to a regular job. I always said only if the perfect opportunity presented itself. There’s no such thing as perfect, but this job is pretty close. I’ve known and loved the executive director for many years, and one of her mantras is family first, so I know that if my kids need me, I can be there. One of the COVID silver linings is that we all know now that many jobs sure can be done from home. So I will not be expected to go to the office every day, but I will still get to have colleagues and work on a team! I’ll get a regular paycheck and not have to beg clients to pay me! When I do go to my office it’s in a cool neighborhood with lots of places to get lunch, and I love going out to lunch!
  • I was back on the field this fall with my soccer team Ice & Ibuprofen. I’ve been playing on this team since 2016 and it brings me such joy, although my soccer skills are rudimentary at best. COVID canceled a couple seasons, then this spring and summer the league sponsored loosely organized pick-up games for anyone who was interested. I played all spring and summer and was happy to be moving again, although I didn’t love playing with strangers as much. A lot of the women I played with (and against) in the pick-up games were in their 60s, a few in their 70s, most of them way better than me, and quite a few of them on the bossy side. I did get to know a few folks who I have seen again this fall since the teams have reassembled, but it’s great to play with my team of encouraging and laid-back ladies again. AND I recruited my sister to join us this fall. Despite her concerns that her soccer skills would be rusty since she last wore cleats in 8th grade, she was fantastic and an excellent addition to the squad. It was fun to do a grown-up activity with her.

There’s plenty more, of course. But that’s enough for now. To balance out all that I’ve returned to the universe to carry, I extend my gratitude to and for the cosmos. And Thanksgiving leftovers. And pie.

Because I have questions. So many questions. They are eating away at the inside of my brain.

For example:

  1. Why is my 9th grader going to learn Tchouckball this year? Have you ever heard of Tchoukball? Is it fun?
  2. How is it possible that a person who was incarcerated for 30 years has been sober for only the past 14 years. How do you get access to alcohol or drugs when you’re in prison?
  3. Why does my 3rd grader weave back and forth when walking down a sidewalk with us? Why does he pace in circles sometimes?
  4. Who invented those indentations on the side of highways and how did they make them and who decides which roads have them and which ones don’t?
  5. How does someone decide the best way to honor their deceased loved one is by naming an overpass or bridge after them?
  6. Why do some people consistently reply all when they only need to reply to the sender of the email?
  7. If companies can make a product with just five ingredients, or with all natural ingredients, why don’t they just change their recipe instead of offering one version with chemicals or additives and another version that’s healthier? Why wouldn’t you just sell the healthier one instead so it’s easier for everyone to buy?
  8. Why can’t all the stores put all your coupons electronically on your shopper card?
  9. Why would anyone think that being mean to someone will change their behavior?
  10. How much of one’s day must be spent resetting passwords? Why?

I am seeking actual answers to these questions. Please reply.

When you’re a writer who earns a living telling other people’s stories, it can be challenging to find time to write your own. And when there is a lot happening that you are compelled to write, and you don’t sit down to do it, a dangerous bottleneck of thoughts builds up in your brain, which becomes so crowded that it’s hard for any single idea to push through the crowd. Then when one persistent little guy makes it out (like that lucky sperm in those books about sex ed you read as a kid!), you start to write that paragraph and approximately 30 seconds later you wonder if it’s the most important one to write because all those others are trying to muscle their way through as well. And you question what important even means, and who you are writing for, and what everything means, and then you get distracted by Facebook and text messages and checking your credit score and organizing your art supplies and thinking about ordering more art supplies even though you’re running out of room to store the ones you already have. And so on.


Adulting is freaking exhausting. And adulting combined with parenting–especially when parenting during, say, the first week back to school after an 18-month pandemic-induced hiatus–is just too much. This week involved calling several doctors and driving to myself and the kids to five health and medical appointments (everything’s fine, just taking care of things that had been pushed off during the summer) and picking up prescriptions. And making lunches for school which I haven’t had to do since 2019. And filling out a million forms. You get the idea. And none of these things is too much by itself, but on top of the actual work I do for my job, and trying to communicate with my friends and family–all of whom are having their own intense adulting weeks–is a lot. I was talking with someone today who said that the past 18 months was like running a marathon, but instead of having time now to recover, we have another whole marathon ahead of us. News flash! The pandemic isn’t over yet! The world is still on fire! She said that we should just walk this marathon. Since sitting it out is not an option.

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