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“It’s like they’ve all moved on
and forgotten about everything
that just happened,”

she told me.

I nodded.

On instagram
she said, kids were now
posting notices about
soccer tryouts and
other such ordinary
things

Instead of posting
the fundraiser for
the funeral of the freshman boy

His name is Sergio

who died
from a drug overdose
After being taken
from the school in an ambulance
on Tuesday morning

while my daughter
sat in her psychology class,
wondering, like everyone else
exactly what was going on

I will never forget his goofy grin
His green soccer jersey
in the picture his cousin posted
to ask for help burying him
He was just a kid

I can’t stop thinking about his family
Who I heard were uninsured
about his friends
four of whom were also close
to overdose that day

About what he might have taken
knowingly or not
I’ve read the stories and
I’ve seen the news

Opioids are everywhere

Opioids are everywhere

Opioids are everywhere

I see that someone who suffers from
“opioid use disorder”
hits different than
“drug addict”
And many kids who OD think
they’re taking an advil for their headache
or percocet for their sports injury
or adderall because they forgot their own
ADHD meds that morning

Then on Thursday,

My girl was in the gym
dressed in sweats for PE
when the announcement came
over the PA about another lockdown
“This is not a drill,” they repeated,
but some of her friends still thought it might be
because drills are so commonplace now
where they make kids hide silently
in dark, locked closets and classrooms
left to pray or wonder or wait

As five minutes became thirty became two hours
they knew it wasn’t a drill

That day the instagram posts
taken through the narrow windows
of classroom doors
were of policemen in tactical gear
with long guns
and shields
moving through the school
in search of the “trespasser” who was there
to retaliate for some other act of violence
or perceived slight
I don’t even know

Kids posted tributes
to the principal too
None of us signed up for this
No one

Another face flashing
in my mind is that of
the boy they arrested

Later

Long after I picked up my daughter
and hugged her and exhaled
and tried not to cry
I took her and her friend through
the drive-thru because they’d been held in the gym
and missed lunch

They were giddy at first
relieved to be free
and alive
all the other feelings
came later

The boy they arrested
had three guns
at his house

The boy they arrested
could have opened fire anywhere
in that school
His intended target
could have been in the gym

It is a miracle that he didn’t shoot anyone

At least not on Thursday
not in my daughter’s school

I think about that boy’s family too

They canceled school on Friday
but ran the buses
so kids could eat breakfast and lunch
or talk to someone

I was thankful for that

I don’t know how you move on either
I told my daughter
even though you have to
you have to keep doing
what’s expected of you
what you need to do to get by
Still
I am paralyzed

Stuck

Because I don’t know what to do

You know me, I am a doer.
I solve problems
I come up with a plan
and then a plan b

But these problems are

Too much

Too wide 

Too deep 

too everything

I can help my daughter
or at least try
I can even help her friends
or at least try
I can listen to my parent friends
I can support the teachers

On Wednesday, between the overdose
and the would-be shooter
I got trained in how to save a life
with Narcan
which I will carry with me now

But getting at the roots
saving all the other children
giving the parents what they need 
getting rid of the guns
I can’t do those things

On my own
I can’t solve those problems 
They are staring us all down
So how to move on? 

As soon as the lights dim and the first notes of “Silent Night” are played, the tears start flowing. I can never sing the first verse because I’m crying. Usually I make it back in time to join the shepherds as they quake. Is it the song itself? The passing of the flame from candle to candle along with whispered wishes for peace or Merry Christmas? Or is it simply the weight of decades of Christmases past reenacting this particular tradition in different churches, surrounded by different people, but always with family beside me? No matter how I’ve been feeling throughout the day on Christmas Eve, “Silent Night” always undoes me.

Tonight especially I’ve been thinking about FG, and missing her fiercely. I keep a bottle of her signature perfume–Charlie–in the back of a drawer and I pulled it out tonight to put some on my wrists before church. I wore one of her scarves and worried it between my fingers during the service. It’s funny because I don’t recall her actually coming to church with me on Christmas Eve, but everything else about her was Christmas to me.

When I was small and we visited High Point at Christmastime, she would find a night to drive me around to look at the lights. When I was a bit older, she would invite me to come with her to do last minute shopping–even on Christmas Eve–at Westchester Mall or some other venue that was equally alluring to me at that age. But she didn’t do everything last minute. She would always have prepared sausage balls and cheese rings and trash and a million kinds of cookies before we arrived. In more recent years, when we didn’t see her for Christmas anymore, she would mail big boxes to my parents’ house filled with gallon-sized ziploc bags filled with treats.

As an adult I’ve tried many times to make her and my Nana’s creations, with varying amounts of success. For years I loved cooking something from the family cookbook not only to enjoy the recipe and share it with my family and friends, but because it gave me an excuse to call FG to ask for clarification about the ingredients or directions. She was the keeper of kitchen secrets. Our family recipes are incredibly tasty and maddeningly vague. Many of my favorites call for a package of one ingredient or a box of another, rather than any measurement you could reliably replicate. The times and temperatures are often equally mysterious. There’s a lot implied in the recipes, like you’ll know when it’s soft enough or hard enough or moist enough or just right. There’s also the matter of my family’s dairy allergies, and substituting ingredients as best I can. Although FG didn’t attempt to bake with non-dairy milk or butter or cheese, she could usually provide some sort of guidance, and would always patiently walk me through whatever I was trying to do, explaining on the phone what it should be looking like at each step.

Now my cousin Melissa is willing and ready to solve recipe dilemmas as best she can, since she made all these same foods alongside her mom for many years. I am grateful, and I know she’s happy to help. Now my daughter has taken it upon herself to tackle the recipes, and surprise the family with FG’s treats. She calls on me to help, and I text Melissa when things aren’t going quite as expected. I wish I could send FG the pictures of what we’ve made. I wish I could call her to tell her the funny stories of our failures and hear her laugh and say, “Bless your heart!” I wish I could share with her a taste of everything to see her enjoy it.

The Christmas Eve service ended hours ago, and the food is all finished, covered in foil or divided into plastic containers to distribute tomorrow. The presents are wrapped. We didn’t go to the mall today, but we did go to Target and I felt the thrill of the last minute details. Everyone else is asleep. FG would always be up later than everyone or wake earlier than everyone to get whatever done that needed to be done. She might snooze in the recliner between tasks, but she would always make sure everyone she loved had plenty of their favorite everything to eat. I can’t claim to do the same, but I do what I can. I wish that tomorrow morning I could see her, or at least call her. Ask her how she’s doing and hear her say “hunky and dory!” one more time. For now, I can smell her perfume on me and know how much of her I carry on. Merry Christmas, FG. I love you.

1. Strong pelvic floor muscles

2. A bespoke suit. Or a bespoke dress. Or a bespoke outfit or any sort. The word bespoke is really cool to say and I love the idea of someone taking my measurements and making something that’s just for me.

3. Never having to enter a password or retrieve a password or reset a password ever again. Ever.

4. Migraine meds that always work. Asking for an end to migraines would be too greedy, obviously.

5. Insurance companies that always cover everything without first denying your claim or pretending you don’t have coverage that you know you do or deciding they know more about your health than you and your doctor do. Excellent health insurance for everyone. That includes vision and dental because eyes and teeth are actually parts of your body.

6. One remote that enables you to find and watch all of the shows you have access to through any device or streaming service, which you can operate entirely on your own without asking your kids or husband for help. And the remote never gets lost. If it falls between the sofa cushions, some mechanism ejects it automatically and returns it to the coffee table.

7. 500 more square feet of house. I know it would be too much to ask to have a new house, but I would love just a bit more space so I could have a room of my own in which to work or read or meditate or hide. A room with a door. That no one else claims as their own. Or leaves their crap in. Ha! Even if I had such a room other people’s stuff would inevitably end up there. That is the way of the world.

8. Bras whose hooks never get bent or stab you, and are always easy to take on and off, and that fit well and are flattering. And that you don’t have to shop for! Bespoke bras.

9. Moisturizer that is appropriate for my skin type. That I don’t have to shop for. Bespoke moisturizer!

10. A family pet whose species my family can agree on adopting. And who comes with free food and meds and fully paid vet bills for at least the first year. A pet that everyone will love to snuggle. Although I would prefer to snuggle babies from time to time. But I’m pretty sure the family will not agree to adopt any babies.

People keep asking what I want for Christmas. This is probably too much to ask, especially with Christmas the day after tomorrow. So I’d be happy with some soft, warm socks. Or chocolate chip cookies. Or a hug. I’m easy to please.

When you tie-dye a t-shirt, they tell you to keep it in the plastic bag for at least 24 hours, or several days more, to allow the dye to soak into the fabric so the colors of your shirt will be vibrant. What they don’t tell you is that after those first several days have come and gone and you’ve more or less forgotten about the tie-dying because you’re home from family camp and fully transitioned into school year mode, your wet shirt, which has been scrunched or twisted up and secured with rubber bands and enclosed in a sealed ziploc bag, will become fertile ground for colonies of mold. Or possibly mildew. I am honestly not sure of the difference, when it comes to gross spots growing on something I was planning to put on my body. Either way, when you remember to take the shirts out of their bags and start the chiropractic appointment-inducing process of rinsing them out in the bathtub, and you see the grayish brownish spots clustered across the shirts, you make a face that indicates an unpleasant mixture of disappointment, frustration, and disgust.

Yuck.

Your research reveals that a possible remedy could be soaking the shirts in vinegar. Although in your gut you feel like they’re too far gone, you have to try. Surprisingly, three different stores you visit are completely out of white vinegar. Finally, you order some online from Target, in one of your midnight shopping sprees where you make other exciting purchases such as frozen burritos, saltines, maxi pads, paper towels, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. You are living the high life.

Because that’s the way you roll, it takes a few more weeks for you to actually soak the shirts, although they have been rinsed and are dryish and you are pretty sure no longer nurturing the fungus (if it even is fungus?) besmirching them. You’re just feeling kind of defeated by them. The giant jug of vinegar sits in the hallway, mocking your bad decision making and poor time management skills.

As time passes, you think a lot about preschool. One of the many mantras at your kids’ amazing cooperative preschool was “process, not product.” Emphasis on the kids doing whatever they wanted to do with the materials put in front of them — or that they unearthed while playing in the mud garden or tromping through the woods — rather than the ultimate creation of something recognizable or a specific end goal. This is a good rule of thumb for life with little ones, as products rarely–if ever–turn out as expected. Also a good thing for adults to remember, although we are usually held to the standard of producing some kind of acceptable end result. And process is how you learn. Process is the journey. Process is the sensory experience of getting your hands dirty–or stained with dye in the arts and crafts cabin at camp. You recall the peaceful hour spent with your nine-year-old carefully choosing tie-dye patterns, helping them rubber band the shirts, and finding exactly the right color combinations. You each made a shirt or two and a couple bandanas. The bandanas are easy but not quite as satisfying as a result.

If you’re being truthful, each of you already has several tie-dye shirts in your drawers, that you made at previous family camps or on summer vacations during the pandemic. So you’ve enjoyed the process many times before, and even managed to make some decent shirts.

Now that you have soaked the shirts (and stunk up the house with the aroma of vinegar) and washed the shirts and dried the shirts, you discover that three of the shirts still have enough remaining mold (or mildew!?) stains to make them unwearable. Somehow one shirt emerged unscathed, as well as two bandanas.

You wonder if there is anything useful to do with the rejected shirts. You already have enough dust rags for a squadron of Cinderellas. You fleetingly imagine cutting up sections of the shirts that aren’t stained and sewing them into something else. But what? A doll-sized blanket? Plus, you can’t sew. You think of your friend who can sew and wonder what she would do. In addition to sewing, she is an expert at tie-dying, and you’re certain she would never have made the mistake of allowing tie-dyed t-shirts to languish in their baggies until they grow things. But her kids attended that same preschool, and you know she would appreciate your “process not product” attempt at consolation.

Lately I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Somehow more than what I expect from myself, as if I am more than human. My new mantra, although I am many decades out of preschool, is process, not product. I am still learning.

If my teenager devotes as much time and attention to preparing for and applying to college as she has plotting and organizing her efforts to buy tickets to see Taylor Swift, she will get in anywhere she wants with scholarship offers to boot. In fact she has said that she and her friends (both real life and online Swifties) are comparing receiving the magic presale code by text (required to buy tickets before the general public, if any are even left at that point) to hearing whether you’ve been accepted to your first choice school. Her excitement and anxiety around this concert tour have been enormous. She has said many times, “I am so scared.” As in, that we won’t get tickets, or maybe won’t get tickets for the right show, or won’t get good seats. The emotional intensity is palpable. I get it. This is someone whose music and persona she cares a lot about. I’ve certainly felt that way about musicians throughout my life. I know that problems, like gas or water, can expand to fill up all available room, regardless of their overall seriousness or significance. Hopefully we will be able to get the tickets tomorrow morning and all will be well. And between now and two years from now when she is actually applying for college, we will take lots and lots of deep breaths.

Meanwhile, we are also facing the superficially less dramatic but actually much more daunting prospect of her learning to drive. She and I attended a mandatory two-hour presentation about driver safety and education last week. Her school auditorium was filled with other sophomores and their parents and I wondered what was going through all of their heads. Here’s what I learned that night:

You’re no longer supposed to position your hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel. Now 8 and 4 are recommended, so you don’t have to cross your arms when you turn and if the airbag goes off you’re less likely to sustain injuries from your arms being crossed, and to reduce fatigue from driving. I thought this was an interesting tip, and wondered why no one is making an effort to tell adults who have already been driving for years to change their habits. There’s also a new way you’re supposed to position your side mirrors to eliminate the blind spot and avoid accidents. I know if you have a newer car you have the fancy indicators that tell you when someone is close by in the lanes next to you, but I drive a 2010 minivan so I have no such luxury. There were actually a few driving tips that seemed useful and I wondered why adults are required to do so little to renew their licenses. Not that I want extra administrative hurdles in my life, but I am sure my driving has gotten worse and I could use a little refresher course. I guess that’s what I was getting last week.

Allegedly, parents have the most influence on teens’ driving habits. The presentation was heavy on telling us to get ourselves together to both model proper behavior when we’re driving and set the rules and to feel free to take away driving privileges. We are supposed to go through step-by-step driving lessons in the booklet they gave us, and log 45 hours of driving practice with our kids while they have their learners permit. And review and sign and make them sign various contracts in the back of the booklet outlining what they are and are not allowed to do and what happens if they mess up. That is all in addition to the classroom portion of driver’s ed they take during gym class, and the behind-the-wheel training they have to take with licensed instructors. No pressure. The driver’s ed teachers who were presenting emphasized the importance of establishing a bond with your children to effectively encourage safe driving habits. If you haven’t already established a bond by the time they’re 15 and 6 months, it may be a challenge to start now. The slide show also included a smiling dad and daughter sitting in the front seat of a car and advised us to leave our family problems at home when we practice driving, to make it a fun experience for everyone.

I wondered how kids who don’t have reliable parents, or parents who drive, or parents who own a car, are supposed to manage all this. Today as part of my job I was downtown meeting with DC Council Members and their staffs to discuss issues related to youth homelessness. Included in our group were three young adults who have experienced homelessness and are now advocating on behalf of themselves and their peers for tailored workforce development programs and mobile mental health services that meet their needs. One of the service providers mentioned that abundant driver jobs are available in the DC area, working for Amazon or FedEx or UPS, among others. And many young people she works with are eager to apply for the jobs, but they don’t have driver’s licenses because they grew up taking public transportation, and they don’t have parents available to teach them to drive, or cars to learn on. One of the young people said that the logistical barriers are so significant that many teens don’t bother with them, and drive anyway, often taking cars that don’t belong to them because they literally have no legitimate way of getting a license and buying and insuring their own cars.

Which brings me back to the driver’s ed presentation and the talk by the police officer. He was there, ostensibly, to talk about how to behave when you’re pulled over while driving. He did that, but only after he offered a lot of his own perspective on teens and driving and how judges where we live don’t like to see teens in court for traffic violations because the judges know the teens should know better and are very strict. All of it felt like a lecture designed to scare the kids, which it probably was. But it irritated me. Perhaps because this is not my preferred parenting technique and I am not a police officer and I know a lot of the people in the audience probably bristled the moment the officer walked up to the front of the auditorium. I should mention that the officer was Black, and at least half if not three-quarters of the young people in the audience were people of color. So the officer said that if you’re pulled over, you should roll down the windows and put your hands on the steering wheel where they’re visible. He said that if the officer asks for your license you should say, “it’s in my pocket, can I reach behind me and get it out of my wallet,” or “it’s in my bag on the passenger seat, may I reach over and get it,” or whatever the case may be, so you have permission to move. “So we don’t have any accidents,” the officer said. Which translates to, “so we don’t shoot you and kill you for no reason,” I guess. He said, “Be polite. When you’re pulled over it’s not the time to practice your trial lawyer skills. If you feel like the officer did something wrong, your parents can deal with that later. It’s your job to be polite.” Are your parents really going to sort it out later? Whose parents are going to do that? Maybe parents who actually are trial lawyers? The more he talked, the more I did not want to listen.

I am a middle-aged white woman who has been pulled over a handful of times for stupid things. Mostly I have avoided getting tickets, perhaps because I legitimately didn’t know my tail light was out, or I wasn’t actually drunk but just trying to get the hair out of my eyes with a barrette (that did actually happen). Maybe I just seem idiotic and pathetic when they pull me over because I get flustered easily. And I seriously didn’t know that it’s illegal to drive through a parking lot in order to get onto a different road if the traffic is bad. Did you know that? (I did get the ticket for that one, and as a result I was even later to pick my kid up from day care). I am acutely aware that I have never been racially profiled and no officer has ever pulled out his gun when I reached for my license or registration. My daughter will likely be treated the same way because she is white. Unfortunately some of her friends and some of the teenagers in that auditorium will not be. We have to do a lot more to change the way police officers behave or even at a more basic level how we approach and achieve community safety with or without police, so no one else who is unarmed, nonthreatening, and completely innocent, gets killed by a cop for any reason.

Our lives are not perfect or without challenges, but I understand how privileged we are. Listening to the stories of these young people today talk about times in their lives when they were trying to find a place to stay from day to day, without any support from family, was important. One of them, who is currently studying for the LSAT and trying to figure out her path to law school, was homeless for her final two years of college. Another talked about the value of his lived experience as a prospective employee. He wants to be a social worker and he can draw on his knowledge of earning his GED while incarcerated, having been part of the foster care system, and being a parent, to help others. He’s already doing that by serving on several advisory boards and speaking at meetings and events across the city.

I try to provide all kinds of fun and enriching experiences for my kids. I want them to be exposed to all kinds of things. But hopefully they will never have to know what it’s like to be homeless or involved in the justice system or profiled by the police. Hopefully I will be able to model good behavior when I’m driving so none of us will crash because we’re distracted or sleepy. Hopefully my daughter will get a job so she can afford the concert tickets and the merch and the meals out with friends and excursions to Starbucks. And we will all keep in mind that even when we struggle, we do it with privilege.

Picture this: I am making a delicious lunch for Niki to bring to school because although they woke up at 7:45, they have decided at 8:25 that they want to bring lunch and will not eat the “baked fish treasures” on offer at school. They are supposed to leave for the bus stop at 8:30.

They are dressed except for socks and shoes, which they claim they cannot put on until I help them put their halloween costume in a bag. I have not yet done this because they came downstairs saying, “You need to put my halloween costume in a bag,” and refused to rephrase this as a polite request instead of a direct order. I told them I do not take orders.

Meanwhile, as I spread the sun butter and strawberry preserves on bread, I am suddenly overcome with an urgent need to use the bathroom. I drop the knife on the counter and sprint to the bathroom. On the way I somehow encounter a shard of something (glass? plastic? no idea) that impales my foot. I make it to the bathroom but while I am on the toilet my foot is bleeding all over the floor. I try to stop the bleeding with toilet paper, and end up with bloody toilet paper stuck to my foot and all over the floor. Niki is asking through the door if I’m ok and what’s going on and I am shouting instructions about filling their water bottle and putting it and their lunch bag into their backpack and where to find a tote bag for their halloween costume and oh by the way can you ask Daddy to come downstairs with the bactine and bandaids since I am bleeding all over the floor. 

Randy (who is weak and feverish from his covid booster yesterday) comes down with first aid supplies and cleans the floor while I clean my foot. I hobble upstairs and roll up Niki’s axolotl costume (size adult medium because that’s all that was left when they decided on a costume) and they stuff it in the aforementioned bag. I gingerly put socks on over my bandaged foot and slip on my Birkenstocks to drive Niki to school, since we’ve long since missed the bus.

They insist, as usual, on taking an umbrella. They repeatedly try to open the umbrella in the hallway despite the fact that it’s not necessary to do that in the house AND IT’S NOT RAINING. They insist that it is “rainy” and I counter that no precipitation is happening and tell them they may not open the umbrella at all. I say (because we are currently reading a book together that takes place on a submarine) that that’s an order from their captain. They say “you’re not my captain, you’re my mom.” I say, “moms are captains.” They say, “no, moms are caretakers.” I say, “They are both captains and caretakers.” They say, “I’m not taking orders.”

AND scene. 

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.

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