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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.

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.

My brain is doing that thing again. Thoughts, ideas, worries, questions careening around and crashing into each other, leaving shattered fragments that no one is coming to sweep up. Neurons are firing and everything is aflame.

Here are some of the things I’m thinking about.

  1. Why do we think everything at Target will be cheap but we end up always spending so much money there?
  2. Why did we think COVID would be over by now and unsurprisingly it’s getting worse? I am depressed by the thought that this will be the third consecutive year that COVID impacts our kids’ school years (not to mention everything else, but I am particularly concerned about my kids. And everyone’s kids.
  3. Will we ever be able to stop dealing with COVID?
  4. Do other people have to reschedule everything as often as I do?
  5. I am pleased with myself that I convinced my teenager to do something she didn’t want to do–wear a baseball hat–while learning to row, to keep the sun out of her eyes.
  6. I am proud of her for spending 10 hours this week on the Anacostia learning to row. The sport is fascinating to me, and I love the idea that she knows how to carry a boat into the water, and row down a river, and it’s beautiful to watch. I am hoping she will join the high school crew team this year.
  7. Zoe and her friend are in our kitchen right now doing some activity that they have not revealed. They said it’s a science experiment. Maybe they’re making a cake?
  8. Part of me wonders if I’ve spent so much time away from church during the pandemic that I won’t go back.
  9. I have used various products and still cannot seem to get our towels to smell good. What’s the secret?
  10. I worry that as a straight, cis person, there are just too many things I will never understand.
  11. I am proud of myself that I haven’t had a Coke or Dr. Pepper in several years. I was addicted to caffeinated soda for most of my life. I wish I had quit sooner.
  12. There are only 38 days left till the first day of school! We need supply lists! We need schedules! We need orientation! Zoe’s never walked around in her new high school! Zeke needs an amazing teacher and some awesome friends! So many expectations and unknowns.
  13. I am amazed at all the things my children know.
  14. I am surprised by how much I enjoy reading Rick Riordan’s books with Zeke.
  15. Yesterday at the library I ran into a friend who was there with a large group of children who were looking for books. My friend’s colleague said she needed extra hands to help the kids find books they wanted. So Zeke and I helped them look up titles and authors on the computer, find them on the shelves, and browse through the shelves for books we thought they would like. Both Zeke and I really enjoyed it. I told the person who was wrangling the kids to let me know next time they were going to the library so we could meet them again.
  16. Zeke is going to play soccer this fall and I am so excited for him, and truthfully, looking forward to being a soccer mom again (in addition to being a mom who plays soccer). I really hope he has a fabulous coach and great teammates and makes friends.
  17. I loved the new Black Widow movie and I am thinking about getting some new piercings in my ear in the style of Natasha and Yelena. I’m probably never going to get a tattoo, so why not have a little more bling in my ears?
  18. Zoe is leaving on Sunday for sleep away camp for two weeks. It’s a long time away from us after a year and a half of always being with us, except for an occasional sleepover with family. She asked me to write her notes in advance for her to open every day while she’s there, in addition to the email and mail I will send her while she’s gone. People say it’s better for campers to immerse themselves in camp life instead of thinking too much about home, but Zoe seems to need the connection. This will be her sixth year, so I guess she knows what she needs.
  19. This could be a whole different post, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what a particular experience it is to go clothes shopping with a teenager who 1) has a much different body type and confidence in her body than I did when I was a teenager and 2) has a much more sophisticated sense of style than I did when I was a teenager.
  20. I am so angry and tired of the racism and sexism and ableism that continue to dominate the narrative in sports, especially visible now as the Olympics are starting. Women aren’t allowed to wear shorts because men want to see them in bikinis, or they want to wear shorter shorts that are easier to run in but they are deemed too short for running. They can’t wear swim caps that protect natural Black hair. They can’t compete because they are trans or they smoked pot months ago in a place where it was legal. Or they are Paralympians who are deaf and blind and have to quit the team because they’re not allowed to bring a personal support person to Tokyo to help them navigate the city. I feel like there are just dark, smoky back rooms full of crotchety old, straight, cis, white men who are doing their damnedest to make life as hard as possible for women, women of color, LGBTQIA+ women, and women with disabilities.

There’s more that I’m thinking about, but I need to get dinner started. That’s another thing to think about.

Over the past four weeks I have:

  • Sent my kid to robotics camp after he had been home or with family for 465 days. He did not like the camp, which was not at all what was advertised, but basically a reprise of various Lego camps he outgrew in previous years. They gave him an orange shirt to wear every day. Later, after the shirt had been laundered and returned to his drawer, he said we should “take it out and burn it.” The camp was held entirely outside. The second day it was canceled due to rain. On the fourth day, Zeke came home with a stuffy nose. I took him to get a rapid COVID test at an establishment called Same Day Testing that specializes in rapid COVID tests. That may actually be the only thing they do. Same Day Testing is adjacent to a shopping mall and looks like a day spa. The nurse? technician? person with the swab? had a lovely conversation with Zeke about their shared affinity for sloths. Thankfully, his test was negative.
  • Sent my kid to fencing and archery camp, which he and I both fervently hoped would be more fun than the aforementioned robotics camp. He enjoyed the archery and learned about different kinds of materials used in construction of bows and arrows. He hit an occasional target. In the afternoon, they went inside for fencing, where they used sabers. Apparently they wore helmets and jackets, but nothing protected their legs so by the end of the week his legs were covered in saber bruises. Fencing was hard and tiring, he reported. The highlight of this camp seemed to be the instructor’s personal collection of medieval weapons, which he brought in for show and tell. One of them was a pole covered in spikes. Another one was a hammer that Zeke said was, “designed to crush someone’s skull.” It’s all fun and games until someone gets their skull crushed, right?
  • Sent my kid to Broadway Disney camp. To my surprise, he agreed to this camp when I proposed it several months ago. He likes musicals, he likes Disney, he likes singing, and he likes dancing. However, when I picked him up after camp today, he said they “forced” the kids to sing “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” from Mary Poppins, which he refused to do. I said, “I thought you liked to sing. You sing all the time at home.” He said, “I only like to sing to annoy people.” And they “forced” the kids to learn a dance to a song from The Lion King, which he did not care for because it involved complicated footwork and squatting. He said he likes to tap dance, and sometimes other kinds of dance, but apparently not that dance. He acknowledged that he enjoyed the games they played, and making up a story with one instructor, and the time he was allowed to draw, during which he drew “an angry potato” and alligator Loki.
  • Gone shoe shopping with my kid, who chose slip-on Vans with elevated glittery rainbow soles that are really cool but apparently too heavy to run in. Fortunately we also bought rainbow tie-dye Skechers with a velcro strap because he says he won’t learn to tie his shoes until he’s 10 because he has other, more important things to do. The Skechers came from the “girls” section of the store, because obviously shoes must have genders. The tags I tore off when we got home said “Skechers Girl!” in swirly pastel letters. Because obviously only girls like rainbow colors. Boys can only wear shoes that are blue, green, red, or gray. Zeke said he cannot wear green shoes because, “green is my mortal enemy.” But I guess that does not apply to light green, because the Crocs he chose were light green and lavender. Also they were from the women’s section because the kids section did not have his size. Again, why can’t they just organize the shoe store in size order. Here are very small shoes, which you can see are appropriate for toddlers. Here are slightly larger shoes for young children. And so on, until you get to gigantic shoes for people with generously sized feet. Then people can come in and decide what color and style shoes they want that are in their size, without having to wade through gender and other labels. If Zeke is an 8-year-old boy (which he is) and the shoes that fit him are in the women’s section, the store is really missing out on selling more shoes to more people who don’t think to look across gender and age for the right size.

Heard my kid say numerous times that he doesn’t have any friends. Which is painful to hear, and also true. Not because he isn’t likable or great at making friends, but because I homeschooled him for over a year because of this damn pandemic. His best kid friend his is cousin, with whom he has a close but often fraught relationship. Apparently some of the kids at some of the camps have been nice, but he hasn’t yet met anyone with whom he really clicked. And of course it’s hard to do that in a week when you’re constantly in structured activities. I am sending all of my good intentions and positive energy into the universe that his third grade class will include at least a handful of awesome kids who Zeke will enjoy and who will appreciate him in all his cleverness and creativity and absurdity.

Read and listened to a lot of Norse mythology with Zeke. It turns out we both really like Norse mythology. We highly recommend listening to Neil Gaiman read his own book, aptly titled, Norse Mythology. And last night we finished the first installment of the ridiculously prolific Rick Riordon’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. Zeke has also sprinkled some Greek mythology into his reading, including Percy Jackson of course, but his heart is in the nine worlds.


Reading a lot of books and a wide variety of genres and authors was probably the best thing Zeke did during his homeschool tenure. Mostly, he would still rather play video games than read, but he did read and he still likes to read and we enjoy reading together. So that’s something. In addition to the basic requirements, we also focused a lot on animals, art and art history, and the kind of social studies most kids don’t get in school–heavy on the civil rights, Black Lives Matter, women’s history, LGBTQIA+ history, Howard Zinn, etc. Our biggest struggle was writing, but somehow Zeke managed to craft a story that ended up on the Story Pirates podcast, which was exciting for both of us. Homeschooling wasn’t always easy, but I am proud of what we did together, and I’m pretty sure Zeke learned some things.

There are three more weeks of camp after this one. Perhaps it is too much to ask for me to pick him up at the end of the day and hear him say, “that was amazing! I can’t wait to go back tomorrow,” and “I made a friend today!” But I’m still hoping. If nothing else, camp is forcing us both to slowly get back into the habit of a regular bedtime and packing lunch and getting dressed before noon. We will need those skills come fall.

  1. Does teenage angst have an evolutionary purpose?
  2. Why don’t people understand that it’s rude to have a protracted cell phone conversation in a confined public space?
  3. Why is it so hard for siblings to be kind to each other?
  4. Why aren’t all restaurants required to publish allergen information for their menu items on their websites?
  5. Why do so many products have soy in them?
  6. How do you find the right balance between teaching your kids to be independent and showing them what’s right?
  7. Why are there so many choices for anything you would possibly want to buy, at least in this country?
  8. How did someone invent the practice of applying hot wax to skin and ripping off the wax to remove hair?
  9. Why do dust and lint collect in little clumps? What makes them adhere?
  10. Why are certain words considered curse words while their synonyms are not? What makes something a bad word?
  11. What is the appeal of watching violence on tv or in movies?
  12. If it’s possible to have systems of law enforcement and criminal justice that are not needlessly violent, brutal, or corrupt, where did our country go wrong? Or were our systems doomed to fail because of the inherently racist founding of our nation?
  13. Why do some people feel threatened by LGBTQIA+ individuals?
  14. How are there people who have no books in their homes (but who could afford books)?
  15. Why are some birds extraordinarily colorful while others are just brown?
  16. Does anyone ever feel like they’ve figured it all out?

Do you have any answers?

On Saturday they wouldn’t let me give blood because my pulse was too high. I had no idea why my pulse was so high, as I have never experienced that particular problem before when trying to give blood. Later it occurred to me that the venti chai Frappuccino I’d consumed earlier might have been the culprit. But at that moment I had no idea and I was incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t donate. I have been taking supplements to increase my hemoglobin levels for several weeks, as suggested by the phlebotomist at the American Red Cross last time I donated, because I was only allowed to give whole blood instead of the double red blood cells I was hoping to donate. This is way too much detail, but all of this is to say that after they told me I couldn’t donate, I went out into the parking lot and got in my car and sobbed.

Of course I wasn’t just crying because I left with the same amount of blood I had come with. That was just the moment that the floodgates opened. Oddly, I have hardly been able to cry in recent months, even when I wanted to. I think some part of me feels like if I start crying now, I may never stop because there is so much to cry about. But on this particular day I was weeping for the loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, because of her humanity, her intelligence, her determination, her fierceness, and everything she did for women and other humans over the course of her legal career. And I was weeping because I know she must have been trying so hard to live through the election (hopefully) of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris so that her seat on the court would not be filled by a Trump nominee who doesn’t believe in reality, or humanity, or science. And I was weeping because the thought of the confirmation of such a justice during this already extraordinarily dangerous time for our democracy is terrifying.

All of this emotion may have contributed to my elevated pulse as well. Who knows? 2020 has proven reliable only in its ability to break my heart again and again.


Sunday I rallied. Perhaps the car cry was cathartic. Zeke and I made challah french toast in the morning, which was delicious. Then we went to the park by our house with the brand new basketball I bought this week, and a pink rubber ball like the ones I played with as a kid, and a tennis ball. Amazingly, the basketball court was empty except for a shirtless guy doing push-ups and jumping rope. So Zeke and I practiced some dribbling and passing. So far so good. Then I took some shots. I made a bunch of them. I tried to show Zeke how to hold the ball up and push it up in the air toward the basket. Although Zeke is tall for his age, he’s still quite a bit shorter than the net, and his shots mostly went straight ahead of him rather than up or anywhere near the net. After a few minutes, he got discouraged and shuffled over to the side of the court to pout. I tried everything I could think of to cajole him back onto the court to try some more, but nothing worked.

So we went to the next court–although I don’t know if it’s actually a court–it’s that area by the tennis courts where you can practice throwing or hitting a ball against the wall and catching it when it flies back to you. Maybe there’s a technical name for it, but I call it the ball wall. By this time Randy had joined Zeke and me, and he suggested we take turns throwing a ball against the wall and the other person has to catch the rebound. Randy and I alternated playing this with Zeke while the other person retrieved errant balls. It took Zeke a few tries to get the hang of this, but once he did he was excited. He started counting to see how many balls in a row he could catch. He figured out how to position himself in front of instead of off to the side of the incoming balls, and his throws got more powerful. Later that evening he said that playing at the ball wall had been “unbelievably fun.” I wasn’t quite as giddy as that, but I was definitely pleased we found something new he liked to do that involved moving and being outside. And we will absolutely try again with the basketball. Randy suggested going to an elementary school that might have lower baskets. We will investigate.


As soon as we got home from the park, Zeke’s long-awaited new desk from IKEA was delivered. Since we planned to start our home school curriculum the following day, I wanted to build the desk immediately. Zeke and I tore into the boxes and got all the pieces out. We studied the instructions together and assembled a drawer and part of the cabinet. Zeke hammered and screwed and refreshed his knowledge of the different kinds of screwdrivers. I estimate that he worked alongside me for a good hour before he became completely restless and wandered away. I soldiered on. Bob Marley kept me company. After another hour or so, Randy had finished his mandolin lesson and came up to assist. At that point we discovered we were short two screws, so Randy was dispatched to the hardware store to find replacements–which he did! For only 27 cents each! While he was gone, I built the hutch that goes on top of the desk. All by myself! When Randy returned, he helped me finish the desk, taking on the challenge of installing the hinges on the cabinet door. Then we attached the hutch to the desk and slid it into place. The whole process took about four hours. Zeke is going to use this desk for the rest of his life.

After I showered and we got dinner, I worked on the finishing touches for Zeke’s room, putting books and notebooks and pencils in their proper places on the desk, and putting the books that had been piled everywhere into the bookshelf that had been serving as his desk for the past few weeks. I created a little nook for him between the bookshelves. I cleared off all the junk from the dresser. I put some stuff under the bed. And I only ended up with one plastic bin of stuff that I have no idea what to do with. It’s in the hallway right now because I didn’t want to spoil the effect. We still need to put some art and photos up on the walls, but the room looks good. Zeke is excited to have a real big-kid desk. That he helped build!

A couple years ago we received a secondhand copy of the board game Guess Who? It’s kind of like a visual version of 20 questions, where you try to be the first person to guess who your opponent’s person is by asking questions about facets of their appearance.

We’ve played it many times, although every time it comes out if the box I get irritated that so many of the characters are white men. Zeke agrees with me, and we’ve tossed around the idea of replacing the cartoon faces with images of people with a wider variety of characteristics. Tonight we finally did it.

We started yesterday by brainstorming a list of people to include. Zeke decided we should use famous people instead of people we know. That way it would be easy for us to find pictures of them online and other people besides us playing the game would know who the people are. Because of the current and crucial resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests, activism, and awareness, and because this is Pride month, we decided to focus on Black and queer people, but we wanted to include lots of others too. I also wanted to make sure Zeke knew who the people were. So anyone I suggested who he couldn’t immediately identify, I shared the back story or showed him videos. I was slightly surprised that one of his nominations was George Floyd. I asked him, just to make sure, if he knew who George Floyd was. He told me that George Floyd was a man who was killed because a police officer put his knee on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes. He understood that this murder was one of the reasons we’ve been making Black Lives Matters signs and reading anti-racist books.

Here are the new faces in our Guess Who? Remix.

Bobby Berk (we love Queer Eye)

Beyoncé (Queen Bey)

Simone Biles (best gymnast on earth right now)

Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther)

John Boyega (Star Wars)

Karamo Brown (Queer Eye)

George Floyd

Tan France (Queer Eye)

Frida Kahlo (Zeke loves art and learning about artists and he recently studied Frida Kahlo and Yayoi Kusama)

Yayoi Kusama

Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton)

Barack Obama (our favorite president)

Michelle Obama (our favorite first lady and so much more)

Antoni Porowski (Queer Eye)

Megan Rapinoe (we love US women’s soccer, and Rapinoe is amazing personally and professionally)

Taylor Swift (Zeke is almost as much of a Swiftie as his sister is)

Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars)

Jonathan Van Ness (Queer Eye)

Emma Watson (Harry Potter plus activism)

Jacqueline Woodson (author we all love and recently saw on The Brown Bookshelf’s Kid Lit Rally 4 Black Lives)

Letitia Wright (Black Panther)

Gene Luen Yang (author we recently discovered while watching The Brown Bookshelf’s Kid Lit Rally 4 Black Lives and Zeke devoured the first volume of The Secret Coders and I’m reading American Born Chinese)

Malala Yousafzai (role model for all of us)

Zendaya (Spiderman and Greatest Showman and so much more)

Zeke and I split up the list and found photos online of each person and cropped them to focus on the face. Just so you know, he is equally capable of doing this as I am. He only occasionally asked for help spelling people’s names. Autocomplete is a gift for a seven-year-old on Google. Then I dropped all the photos in a template on PicMonkey and added each person’s name. I had to print the collage out a few times to find the right size to go onto the cards in the game. We used the laminator my mom recently gave us to laminate the photos. Then I cut out three sets of the photos. Zeke glued one of the sets onto the cards from the blue game board. I glued the photos on the red cards and the yellow cards from which you draw your card for each round. I trimmed all the photos and maneuvered the red and blue ones back into the little slots on the game boards.

And there you have it. I realized near the end that we are missing one yellow card. So unfortunately Bobby Berk is floating around in the box without a card attached. I am hopeful that someone who has an old unused Guess Who? game in their basement can hook me up.


After I put Zeke to bed tonight, Zoe wanted to play our Guess Who? Remix. The first round we played the traditional way, just asking questions about obvious physical characteristics. Then I suggested we make it more challenging, and ask questions whose answers were not apparent. Turns out, this is harder and much more interesting. Questions like, “Does your person get up in front of crowds?” Or “Has your person written a book?” Or “Was your person born in America?” Sometimes we still ended up asking “Is your person female?” Or “Is your person gay?” Or “Is your person Black?” but we tried hard to go deeper. And we had to look up some information online to make sure we were answering accurately. I imagine tomorrow when I play with Zeke he will have a few more gaps in his in-depth knowledge of all the people, but he is curious and I think we will learn together.

Last night around 7pm Zoe was taking a walk around our neighborhood. When she realized she was being followed by an older man, she texted me to ask what to do. She said the man had shouted to her, “You don’t know who I am, do you?” I told her to cross the street. She did and reported that he was still watching her from across the street and keeping pace with her. I offered to come pick her up and she said yes. When I picked her up she pointed out the man who was still directly across the street from where I found her. After we pulled back into traffic I asked Zoe to take a photo, just in case. We drive home with Zoe clutching my hand.

Once home, after many hugs and reassurances that she was safe, and after we ate dinner, I shared the story on Facebook. Several friends urged me to report the incident to the police. The thought had crossed my mind but I dismissed it, figuring that the man hadn’t committed any crime. He freaked out my teenager, but that’s not illegal. Eventually I decided to report it online, and Zoe described everything again in detail as I filled in the web form.

Afterward Zoe told me how glad she was that I had talked with her about how to handle situations like this. A few years ago when I gave her permission to walk to a shopping area with friends after school, I instructed her to always be on the lookout for people who made her feel uncomfortable and to listen to her gut. I told her if someone was bothering her she should go into a a store or restaurant and tell them what was happening and they would let her stay there and call me. I told her if she’s out somewhere and there’s no place to go inside that she should find a group of people to attach herself to until she can get somewhere she feels safe.

A friend (and mom of teenage girls ) on Facebook tagged a self-defense instructor in her response to my post, suggesting the need for online self-defense classes as so many kids are out walking now for exercise. I mentioned that Zoe is a black belt in martial arts. If she were standing on a mat with this man, she could certainly punch and kick and put him in holds. But she does that on the mat. With other martial artists. Not when she’s walking down a street feeling nervous. I took self-defense classes in my 20s and I struggled to get past the verbal part of the practice exchanges with potential assailants because I didn’t want to be rude. I feel like there’s a chasm between an impulse to escape to safety when you feel threatened and actually preparing to fight or defend yourself physically. I imagine the last thing Zoe was thinking of on the street yesterday was what techniques she would use if the man caught up to her and attacked her. But maybe I’m wrong.

A couple friends on Facebook also suggested I share the story on our community Facebook page to alert others, which I did. What I discovered then was that this man seems to be well known in the neighborhood. Several people who I do not know in real life commented that they have encountered the man many times and some know his name and his story. A few commenters said the man seems to show signs of “cognitive decline” and that “he drinks a lot” and acts “disoriented,” but that he’s “sweet” and “harmless.” A few people said they had been wary of him getting too close to them or their kids. A few said the man reminded them of relatives or people they knew with Alzheimer’s.

I noticed that most of the people in the “he’s harmless” camp were men, and more people in the concerned camp were women, but neither perspective was entirely along gender lines. Two women asked if Zoe was ok and praised her for being aware of a situation that made her uncomfortable and knowing to ask for help.

The gist of the discussion, which, keep in mind, was among people (with one exception) who do not know my daughter or me, was that this man likely meant no harm to Zoe. So that is somewhat reassuring. Except for the fact that he is evidently experiencing significant enough cognitive decline or disorientation or intoxication that he doesn’t know or remember it’s not appropriate to follow and stare at and shout at 13-year-old girls walking down the street.

So here’s where it gets tricky. One man on the community Facebook page said he talks to the guy frequently and that we should “treat him with the kindness and respect we’d want for our own parents.” While I am all for treating people with kindness and respect, I also hope and expect that I—and members of my family—will be treated with kindness and respect. And it did not feel kind or respectful to Zoe when this man was following her, watching her, and shouting at her.

I understand that this man has the right to walk around his neighborhood. I understand that he is friendly and talkative and seems to want to engage with people. I also understand that my daughter has the right to walk around her neighborhood without feeling harassed or threatened or unsafe. These things are both true at the same time.

Of course I want my parents to be treated with kindness and respect when they are out walking in their neighborhood. But if my dad was following girls around and staring at them and make them feel uneasy, I would be concerned about his health. I would want to make sure his freedom to enjoy safely walking down the street wasn’t keeping other people from enjoying that same freedom.

I try not to engage in weighty conversation with strangers on the internet because I know where that goes and it’s usually nowhere good. I’ve been trolled and vilified by strangers in the comments. I am so conflict averse that sometimes if I post something that ends up sparking debate or argument among my friends I will delete the whole thing. I keep considering taking down my post to the neighborhood group, but I haven’t. What about the kindness and respect we would want for our own children?

In 2020 I want to figure out how to

  1. Use my Instant Pot that everyone swears will change my life but I’ve thus far been scared to operate
  2. Not take it personally when my kids are in terrible moods
  3. Cultivate a daily meditation practice
  4. Read tarot
  5. Handle it when people serving our family in stores or restaurants refer to my daughter as “he” because she has short hair
  6. Make any money from my crazy art
  7. Get rid of a TON of the stuff in my house
  8. Get my children to ride their bicycles
  9. Eat out less while magically discovering what foods everyone in my family will eat without me having to cook everything
  10. Say no

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