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This is the part of my car that is no longer attached.

I still have the driver’s side mirror that came on my Honda Odyssey, but it’s currently sitting on the floor of the back seat. Maybe a little Gorilla Glue will take care of that?

But let me rewind to the earlier excitement in my day.

Zeke stayed home from school today after receiving a diagnosis of flu b yesterday at the doctor’s office, where I took him at 8:30am because he had a high fever and seemed utterly miserable. There are many times when a parent wonders whether to take the kid to the pediatrician or just wait it out, but this was not one of those times. So I drove him to the doctor, dropped him off at home, drove to the pharmacy, discovered the pharmacy doesn’t open until 10am on Sundays, drove home to eat the breakfast sandwich that Randy got for me on his way home earlier in the morning when he realized he had shown up a day early for his volunteer shift at the Arlington Food Assistance Center, and drove back to the pharmacy at 10.

Anyone who is a parent knows that this diagnosis on a Sunday requires immediate canceling and shuffling of plans. Zeke couldn’t go to church. Randy had to cancel his mandolin lesson because I had somewhere else I had to be and we didn’t want to require Zoe to babysit while Zeke was sick. I did some frequent checking in from the place I had to be. I had to find someone to replace me at a job I was scheduled to do and then pay them. And on and boringly but necessarily on. The ripple effect of a child’s fever and the instructions to be at least temporarily quarantined are far-reaching.

I had to take Zeke out, however, to pick up Zoe from school. It was pouring rain and I didn’t want her to have to walk the mile and a half home. Zeke was contentedly reading the latest Dog Man book in the car while we made the quick trip. On the way home, we were turning left from Walter Reed onto 9th Road South. This is a street lined on both sides with garden apartments. The two-way street has service roads on each side, which are also narrow parking lots for residents. As I turned left, another minivan was turning the wrong way down the street and suddenly pulling out toward me. I honked and swerved out of the way, but not wide enough to prevent her from hitting me. Somehow, most of the damage was to her car, although mine was scraped up, nothing was hanging off of it.

Thankfully the kids were ok and I got out of the car to talk with the other driver. She did not speak English. I tried for a while to ask about insurance or the police and she responded but not in any sentences I could quite understand. I had no idea what to do. I gave her my insurance information and my phone number. She gave me nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t ask for her phone number. I guess I wasn’t sure if she could provide it, although she had two phones with her in her hand. I don’t know why she had two phones. One didn’t seem to be working. I knew I should call the police, but I was also worried about my kids sitting there in the car, in the rain and cold, especially with Zeke having the flu. I kept thinking I could get arrested for leaving the scene of an accident but I didn’t know how the police would communicate with the other driver and I just really wanted my kids to be home.

Meanwhile, a gentleman with a mustache pulled up on the service road on one side and asked if we were ok. I explained the situation and he got out of the car and said, “I know a little bit about these things.” Not sure what things he meant, but ok. He looked at my car and looked at her car. He asked me, “what do you want to do? Your car seems ok.” I told him I just wanted to go home, but I wasn’t sure what to do because I couldn’t get any information from the other driver. He went up to her and said, rather close to her face, “She’s going to forgive you! This is why America is a great place! This is clearly your fault but she’s not going to call the police.”

This patriotic bystander seemed like he might have been an immigrant as well. He spoke English with a slight accent. The other driver did not really respond. I have no idea if she understood him or not.

I was, understandably, flustered by the whole thing. So I left, without getting any information from the other driver, or the witness, or the other car. I did not remember to do any of those things that you’re supposed to do.

So we went home and Zeke and Zoe and I played a board game and Zeke and I watched a movie and I folded laundry. I had left my phone upstairs and missed two calls from “unknown number” and two accompanying voicemails from a man saying he was calling this number because “a lady named Betsy hit his car and needed to repair it” or something to that effect. He did not leave his name or number, but a phone number that I later realized belonged to MY insurance company, that I had given the driver (presumably his wife?).

Then I remembered to call my insurance company. I felt ridiculous not having all the information I was supposed to have, but the guy on the phone was super nice about it. I’m guessing things like this happen more often than I realize.

After Randy got home I had to pick up Zoe from martial arts. It occurred to me that I might be able to find the car that had hit me if it was parked close to where the woman was inexplicably pulling out the wrong way. So in the dark and in the rain I had Zoe jump out of the car to take a picture of the license plate of the offending van.

Then I took Zoe to Giant because she needed yellow and blue sprinkles for a cupcake competition she’s doing at school in one of her classes. Giant has many things but yellow and blue sprinkles are not among them. We decided to head to Michael’s to check out its extensive inventory of dessert decorating accessories. I began backing out of my parking space in the garage at Giant when a massive cement pillar interfered with my exit by knocking the driver’s side mirror clean off of my car. I picked it up and put it in the back seat.

When we got to Michael’s and got out of the car, Zoe asked if she could give me a hug.

While Zoe located blue and yellow sprinkles and decided to make candy letters to spell out her school’s motto, I went to the bathroom, where I discovered I was getting my period (sorry for TMI but it’s germane to the rest of the story, I promise).

We checked out and I remembered to use some of the coupons that Michael’s sends me rather aggressively, and saved $5 on Zoe’s $15 worth of baking supplies, thinking that savings would come in handy when I had to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars to get my mirror reattached to my car.

Back in the car I texted Randy that I had a) knocked the mirror off the van b) gotten my period in the store c) received a $5 discount. Randy replied that that was a weird reason for a discount, which made me laugh and laugh and laugh. And I showed Zoe and she laughed with me.

Oh, and did I mention that my mom is having heart surgery tomorrow?

Oy.

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

For the past several years, each day of November I have posted on Facebook about what I am thankful for. Or, I have posted every few days a few things I am thankful for. I find it challenging to stick to doing any given task every single day beyond the basics required for hygiene and decent parenting, even if it is a task I want to do and set out for myself.

In recent weeks (maybe months?) I have found myself more anxious and stressed than usual (which is saying a lot). I have struggled to focus my attention on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I am getting plenty of sleep. I am walking a lot. But my brain is just on overdrive all the time. It feels chaotic in my head.

I am contemplating the causes of this (not that hard to figure out, really) and working on solutions (harder). One thing I know I need to do is express gratitude. I am absolving myself from any requirements of eloquence or grace or even complete sentences. I just want to put some things out into the universe.

I am thankful that

  1. Zeke has finally made two friends in his first grade class and I’ve finally managed to contact one of the moms and have actually arranged a playdate for next weekend. I am both relieved and excited.
  2. My sister has been coaching me in how to say no. You might think this would be simple for me, but you would be wrong. I am rehearsing these lines in my head and planning to use them soon. In fact, earlier today I offered to do something for a group I am in and then I thought about my lines and I rescinded my offer! It felt good.
  3. Several people I care about are dealing with life-threatening illnesses or taking care of loved ones with life-threatening illnesses right now. This is not what I am thankful for. What I am thankful for is that these people all have access to excellent medical care, and more importantly that they are surrounded by family and friends who are providing unwavering love and support. AND that some of these people are willing and able to share what they’re going through online so that the wider community of people who care about them can know what’s going on and offer continuous love and comfort and encouragement. It’s so unnecessary to suffer alone.
  4. Tonight I watched Zoe help Zeke with some martial arts techniques with confidence and patience I have never before witnessed in that situation. It would seem that becoming a black belt and taking a recently added leadership class at EvolveAll have really made a positive difference. She was kind and enthusiastic in instructing him and he was receptive to her teaching and demonstrated immediate improvement. I was proud of both of them.

    (I was going to try to write 30 thankful things here because there are 30 days in November but as the words seem to be just spilling out of me I’ll go for 10 tonight and do the other 20 later).
  5. I have a new client that I am so thrilled to be working for and whose work is making an enormous impact on our country with the potential to seriously change things for the better in the next year. This client completely fell into my lap unexpectedly and I am thankful for the referral from someone I worked with years ago and for the new relationship.
  6. My husband is keeping up with the impeachment hearings so he can explain everything to me. He is more attuned and seemingly better able to understand political news and analysis than I am and he loves to discuss it and doesn’t mind answering my questions. And I am thankful that (hopefully) some people are finally going to be called to account for their unethical behavior. There’s so much more they should be called to account for, but I guess we have to start somewhere.
  7. There are so many extraordinary books in the world and I get to read some of them. I have read (or listened to) some absolutely stunning books in recent months, including The Dutch House; Olive, Again; The Miseducation of Cameron Post; Normal People; Every Note Played; The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl; Children of Blood and Bone; Unsheltered; Sing, Unburied, Sing; Evvie Drake Starts Over; Starworld; Little Fires Everywhere; How Not to Die Alone; City of Girls; and The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. This is not an exhaustive list. But a good one.
  8. We have a washing machine and dryer and a dishwasher in our house. These are the kind of conveniences we often take for granted, but they are actually huge. We do so much laundry in our house. I am so grateful that I don’t have to take it all to a laundromat. We have nice clothes. We have warm clothes. We have plenty of choices of what to wear every day. We can be as clean and as cute as we want to be.
  9. I have choices. I am so fortunate to have plenty of options in my life. At times it may seem like too many, but what a luxury to have too many choices. What to eat, where to go, what kind of work to do, who to spend time with, how to raise our kids, what kind of vacation to take, what camp to send our kids to, how to entertain ourselves. We have immense amounts of freedom and privilege in how we conduct our lives.
  10. I play soccer with a phenomenal group of women. I love my team and I love playing with them on Monday nights and I am pretty happy with the fact that I have become a better player over the past eight seasons. And we have new jerseys for the spring season! Stay tuned for pictures come April.

    It’s time to put Zeke to bed. I am thankful that he still loves to read and snuggle with me.

When I was taking Biology 101 the first semester of my freshman year at William and Mary, and I realized I was failing, I went to see the professor. I told him I didn’t understand why I was failing–I’d never received lower than a B in my life, with the exception of some rough spots in Calculus and Chemistry in 11th grade. I had certainly never failed a class.

I had also never had to study that much. It turned out college classes were just a wee bit more rigorous than what I was used to in high school. The Biology professor asked if I was an English major. I said yes, but I didn’t understand how that was relevant. “You have to know the parts of the cell,” he explained. “You have to identify each part and where it goes and explain what it does. You can’t just understand the idea of a cell or describe the meaning of a cell.”

I realized I needed to get my act together to pass, which I did by a hair, with a D minus. I also avoided taking any further biology classes until my last semester of senior year, when I enrolled in “Insects in Society” to fulfill the science requirement I needed to graduate.

Between college and now my abilities to pay close attention, to adapt and apply focus to a variety of tasks, and certainly to take new challenges seriously, have all improved. Thankfully I have learned a few things since I was 18. But in most cases I couldn’t pinpoint where or when I figured out how to step up my game. I just evolved.

In recent years I have been privileged to watch my daughter’s transformation in martial arts from someone who understands the idea of the techniques and gets the concept of martial arts to someone who literally embodies the precision, power, persistence, grace, and strength of a martial artist.

Zoe began taking martial arts classes the same week she started kindergarten. She was energetic and determined and cute. She was not especially powerful, focused, or coordinated. Not that that matters so much when you’re five. Emerson Doyle, who owns the studio that was Creative Martial Arts when Zoe started there and which later became EvolveAll, has always emphasized that martial arts is for life. Studying martial arts is about each individual’s journey to grow, learn, and yes, evolve. The staff at EvolveAll has high but age-appropriate expectations.

Master Emerson and his team of instructors have consistently encouraged and motivated Zoe and her classmates. They are patient and kind but also unwavering in their demands that students push themselves and do their best.

I have always appreciated how in martial arts, unlike in many other settings, Zoe struggled–and sometimes failed–to pass a particular test or master a specific technique in a given time period, but never gave up. EvolveAll’s instructors have always made it clear that you will always get another chance. You have to work, and nothing is handed to you, but you will always get another chance.

For a long time I watched Zoe practicing martial arts and, while of course I was proud of the hard work she was doing with her body and mind, I wondered if she was going to really get it. Even though every parent knows they’re not supposed to compare their kids to other kids, when you’re sitting there watching other kids seemingly excel at a difficult task with ease, it can be hard not to wonder why it’s hard for your kid. Sometimes I felt like Zoe was performing a dance–which was beautiful–based on martial arts, rather than actual martial arts. I remember for the first few years she was practicing, Mr. Christian would constantly remind her to kick higher–above her belt. I remember watching her during class and seeing her mind wander as she got distracted or played with her hair or her belt or just gazed out the window. I would try to get her attention with my mind and look intently at her, motioning that she needed to look at the instructors and pay attention. I’m sure I said it out loud more than once. Probably not that helpful.

Christian and Emerson talk about “the switch” that students make at some point in their martial arts practice. The moment where they truly get it, where they lock in to how to master their bodies and their minds–at least for 45 minutes at a time–when they start to understand the black belt mindset. For a long time, I didn’t have any idea when Zoe would reach that point. She didn’t either.

At every growth ceremony when we watched students completing their black belt requirements, I would ask Zoe if she could see herself in their position someday. She would always shake her head no.

From the beginning, when she was in kindergarten, she said her goal was to become a black belt, but she couldn’t quite picture how that would actually happen.

When Zoe was nine, she earned her red solid belt, which is the final step before black belt at EvolveAll. For all the lower belt ranks, there are a series of specific, concrete requirements for students to advance to the next belt level. Once you’re a red solid, however, the process becomes exasperatingly intangible. Instructors are looking for the blackbelt mindset. They’re looking for “the switch.” And you really can’t predict when it’s going to happen.

I was worried at one point when Zoe’s friend Ellie, who she had been in class with for years, earned her black belt, and Zoe didn’t. Ellie was two years older than Zoe, and significantly bigger and stronger. It was clear that Ellie had made the switch, but I was afraid Zoe would be upset or feel like she’d been left behind. Instead, Zoe seemed to be genuinely thrilled for Ellie, and definitely nowhere close to ready to follow her. I had to trust Zoe’s knowledge of herself, which can be hard. It’s always tough to know how much to push your kid and when to back off. I’ve had to remind myself many times of Emerson’s mantra that martial arts is for life, and there is no rush, no race for Zoe to finish. There is conditioning, community, and challenge, and that is plenty.

Then, a couple years ago, Zoe started to envision her path. She made becoming a black belt her goal, not just for someday, but for that year, and then the next year. She stopped asking if she could skip class when she was tired. She started going to more classes. She asked me to take her to the studio for extra practice when a test was coming up. She started helping teach the lower belt classes. At first she was not good at teaching and had no confidence in her ability. Then she got better and gained confidence. She stopped being afraid of sparring and embraced it. She started winning some of her grappling matches. Meanwhile, she grew several inches and learned to kick higher than I thought possible.

Every growth period includes a black belt pre-test, which all red solids and black belts are invited to participate in. Master Emerson works these kids hard during these tests. It is intense. Over 90 minutes they do hundreds of exercises and demonstrate techniques and grapple and spar. At the end of the test, all of the current black belts gather with the instructors to discuss which red solids are ready to move up, and prepare to become black belts.

At the test this past June, all the current black belts and the instructors thought Zoe was ready. But Zoe did not think Zoe was ready. So Master Emerson said she needed to wait. If Zoe didn’t believe she could become a black belt, she shouldn’t become a black belt. Yet.

The next black belt pre-test rolled around this October. This time, Zoe knew exactly who she was and what she could do and she did it. After Master Emerson announced that she would be one of three red solids who were selected to prepare to become black belts this time around, all the girls in the class mobbed Zoe in a sweaty group hug. Mister Christian walked off the mat and gave me a hug, because he has seen how much time I’ve spent watching Zoe practice and had countless conversations with me about what she needed to do to reach her goals and how we could help her, and now she was there. Or almost there.

One week from tomorrow, Zoe will attempt to complete the requirements to earn her black belt in martial arts.

She will break five boards using five different techniques. She will grapple and spar with her friend and mentor Sophie, who has been patiently helping her train, insisting that Zoe use more power, more power, more power. She will read from the essay she’s written about her journey from white belt to black belt. Once she has successfully conquered these challenges, she will take off her red solid belt and hang it around her neck. Sophie will take off her own black belt and tie it around Zoe’s waist. Zoe will receive an actual sword. And she will chop fruit with it. I will probably cry.

Most importantly, Zoe will know that she worked toward this moment for seven years. Just like she was in kindergarten, she is energetic, determined, and cute. But a lot has happened since then. Now Zoe is strong and powerful, persistent and resilient, generous and graceful. Of course I will be proud. But I’m already proud, not because of what she’s about to do, but because of who she is and what she has learned about herself.

Zeke turned to me this afternoon
from his position sprawled on the couch
watching Spider-Man cartoons
and asked if I knew what he did
when he arrived in his classroom
this morning
on the first day
of first grade.

I asked what
and he said he cried
because he was feeling really shy.

I said I was sorry
that he had been so upset
and asked him what happened
when he started crying
he said the teacher came over
and talked to him
and made him feel better.

I asked what she said or did
to make him feel better
but he didn’t remember.

He said he only cried
for twice the amount of time
it takes him to brush his teeth.

He said there’s no one
he knows sitting at his table
but there is a boy who
speaks another language.

“What language does he speak?”
I asked
Zeke said,
“A language I’ve never heard before.”

At least at recess Zeke got to play with Jack
his best kindergarten buddy
who is in a different class
and moving to Chicago soon anyway
they played hide and seek and Zeke said
Jack is really good at hiding.

Last night at bedtime
Zeke seemed relaxed
although he said he was nervous and excited
then he told me I smelled like cheese
and I said I had brushed my teeth and
washed my hands and face
and hadn’t even eaten any cheese recently
he was not convinced
He was clutching his stuffed owl, named Even
I said, “maybe this owl smells like cheese!”

And he became deeply offended
that I did not
call Even by his name
“Why did you say this owl?” he demanded
“You know his name!”

At which point I realized
he was more upset than he had let on.

I had to leave the room to make sure
Zoe’s first day outfit was in the washing machine
and when I returned
and climbed back up into the top bunk
to resume snuggling with Zeke
he began to weep.

He asked me if I could come in the classroom
with him in the morning
even though he knew he was riding the bus
and I told him no, that wasn’t the plan
and he just cried
and wouldn’t speak
and wouldn’t answer my questions
just burying his face in Even.

You know how much I love to shower. My showers are quick and I prefer them cool–especially in the summer, I shower early and often. Growing up, I usually showered every day, but when I moved into my un-air conditioned dorm my freshman year in steamy August Williamsburg, I made multiple showers a day my way of life.

Twenty-seven summers later, even when I had to walk across a woodsy clearing, wearing my Adidas slides to protect my feet from sticks and rocks, and carry my soap and shampoo and towel and clothes with me, each of my three showers a day at family camp was bliss.

Of course, family camp was much more than a chance to bathe with bugs, but when it was 97 degrees every day and we were kayaking, climbing, dancing by the lake and simply walking across camp from one activity to another, I earned those showers. Not to mention that sometimes I was carrying my 50-pound child on my back when he alleged that he was too tired to move.

(For those of you who know me and have made fun of my affinity for showers for years, please note that I did not shower first thing in the morning any of the days we were at family camp. I brushed my teeth and put my clothes on and went to breakfast without showering, like a good camper. I only showered after I did something that got me really sweaty. Which, of course, is almost anything.)

Driving home yesterday some of those muscles I didn’t know I had were sore, but in the best possible way. Most of our stinky clothes are now clean again and most of our gear is unpacked, and we are already talking about what we will do next year when we go back.

This summer was Zoe’s fifth at Camp Friendship, but our first at Camp Friendship’s family camp, held for a week at the end of the summer when regular camp sessions are over. Family camp includes a lot of the same activities that the kids do during the summer, but with fewer counselors and rules and more flexibility.

Zoe loves Camp Friendship fiercely. She counts down the days until she can go each summer and it takes a while when she comes home for her to come out of her post-camp funk. She has made deep connections each year with campers and counselors and she has challenged herself to try new things every year and push herself . This summer during her second week at camp, she was named Camper of the Week in the Junior Girls Village, voted unanimously by the Junior Girls supervisor and all the counselors because of her enthusiasm and willingness to help out and because she was a friend to everyone. Zoe was modest about it when she told us, but when I talked with Kerry, the Junior Girls supervisor, she said Camper of the Week is a big deal. I was very proud.

My only sleepaway camp experience growing up was two weeks at the Young Writers’ Workshop held at the University of Virginia. While this was a phenomenal and formative experience for me, I stayed in a dorm and took writing classes, so I never experienced the typical sleepaway camp activities. For the past five years I’ve been both impressed and daunted by Zoe’s descriptions of her summer adventures at Camp Friendship.

This year I decided Zeke was old enough that we could go to family camp without him needing to stick by my side all the time, so we signed up for a half-week of camp. After watching the videos that Zoe showed us multiple times, Randy observed that family camp seemed like “an introvert’s nightmare” and opted to stay home. Now that we’ve been, I feel confident that he would enjoy most of the activities and he could easily sneak off for some quiet time when we’re singing cheesy songs or having a dance party. Anyway it was just the kids and me this time around.

Here’s what I LOVED about family camp:

  1. Being away from my phone and computer and all other screens for three days. Devices aren’t prohibited at camp but I decided our family did not need to use any. I used my phone only for the alarm clock so we wouldn’t miss breakfast, and to take occasional photos, but I had it on airplane mode (plus I don’t have any service in Palmyra, Virginia) the whole time and it was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t have to check anything for myself or my children or respond to anyone’s requests or even feel the constant buzzing in my pocket. I loved that we could just make a plan and write something down on paper and I didn’t have to text anyone to see where they were or tell them where I was or ANYTHING ELSE. And I didn’t have to bug Zoe to get off her phone. No one was asking for screen time. It was lovely.
  2. Not having to drive anywhere or even carry my keys. The only time we were in a motorized vehicle was when one of the staff members drove a van full of us back to camp after we enjoyed tubing a couple miles down the Rivanna River. We walked everywhere. As I mentioned earlier, there was a heat wave and we were hot and sweaty, but it was such a relief not to have to drive and great exercise. And I wasn’t even counting steps.
  3. We were archers! Zeke and I used a bow and arrow for the first time (Zoe has done archery every year for five years) and I discovered that it’s really fun and not as hard as I expected. I managed to hit the target most of the time. I don’t think Zeke did, but he made a valiant effort. I am eager to find someplace close to home where we can practice.
  4. We kayaked! Randy is a big kayaker and Zoe has kayaked a lot at camp, but I had only been in a kayak once or twice and was intimidated by it. Zeke had never done it at all. We started out in a kayak together but I quickly remembered that two people in a kayak is way harder than one, so I kicked Zeke out and made him get his own kayak. And he did it! And I did it! We paddled around the lake, forward and backward, under a little bridge, through a fountain, and we didn’t fall out!
  5. These are not in order of importance, because one of my absolute favorite things about family camp was that my kids could go wherever they wanted without me and I did not have to worry about them at all. Of course I knew Zoe would be fine on her own since she knows the camp much better than I do, but I wasn’t sure how it would go with Zeke. But he figured things out quickly and easily and I was delighted and relieved. He walked the 100 feet to the bathrooms by himself, even in the dark. He got food and drink for himself in the dining hall. He floated along in his tube down the river. On the night when everyone gathered at the beach by the lake, he explored on his own and built sand castles with some other kids and a counselor while Zoe and I were playing cards and dancing. When we were at friendship bracelet making, Zeke got frustrated and decided to go down to the pottery class instead, where he made a penguin and a Camp Friendship sign. One morning Zeke did kids camp–going on a scavenger hunt across the entire camp, culminating in a swim at the pool–while Zoe and I did other activities. On the night when we were at the lawn party, we played cornhole and volleyball and lawn bowling, and then he decided he wanted to play night tennis. He has been wanting to learn tennis lately, so he told me he was going to the tennis courts, and he left. He met up with us later for ice cream. He also had a lesson with a tennis pro another day we were there. It was wonderful to be in a place where I knew the kids would be safe, there were a million friendly counselors and staff people around in case they needed anything, and whatever they were doing would be something good.
  6. I did not have to cook or buy or order any food for myself or my children or anyone else. They served us three delicious hot meals a day, with plenty of healthy options. They had an ice machine where I filled up my water bottle a million times a day. They had endless lemonade. And they had 24-hour bagels, bread, cereal, and fruit available in case you needed a midnight snack. We only availed ourselves of this the last night we were there, after the dance party. We discovered some teenagers in the dining hall playing Cards Against Humanity and a cluster of kitchen staff watching Netflix on someone’s laptop. For many people, especially parents, or maybe just me but I think it’s many people, figuring out what to feed yourself and your family is a lot of work. It was such a relief to not have to worry about this at all for nine entire mealtimes.
  7. I met counselors and staff from England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, and South Africa. There were also American staff, but because many colleges in the US start in mid- to late-August, a lot of the American counselors have to leave before family camp. The international staff often have more flexibility. Everyone who works at the camp was incredibly friendly and kind. Almost every single person knew and loved Zoe. She was like a celebrity there and I was part of her entourage. By the time we left, a lot of them knew Zeke too. This job is an intense one, where you’re on duty nearly 24/7, so it requires a certain kind of commitment that’s different from scooping ice cream or mowing lawns. I talked with several staff members who work there year round, never having expected to make a career out of camp. Some of the counselors are in college or taking a gap year or just graduated, and some of them work in other fields, and some are trying to figure out what to do next, but in the meantime they are having a fabulous time at camp and those kids adore them.
  8. Zeke went fishing. I did not have to participate. Zoe played cards with Kerry while Zeke fished. Zeke did not catch anything but he had fun. And I didn’t have to participate. Did I mention that?
  9. I kinda learned how to make friendship bracelets. This is an extremely popular pastime at Camp Friendship. Every camper and counselor wears several on each wrist. I’ve seen Zoe doing it for years and it always seemed very mysterious. I have yet to complete a perfect bracelet, but I’ve made a couple for Zeke, who is quite forgiving, and I’ve started a couple more. This may not be a skill I will put on my resume, but it’s kind of cool and can be meditative to sit and play with string.
  10. My kids and I had fun together at camp. We were outside most of the time doing all kinds of cool activities. I didn’t have to pitch a tent or cook over a fire (although we did make s’mores, the supplies were provided for us–we just had to find sticks). We made tie-dyed shirts. Zoe and I tried to climb an insanely difficult high ropes obstacle. Zoe and Zeke zip lined across the woods. I didn’t have to worry about anything. It was hot and sweaty and exhausting. We had a great time. And I took plenty of cold showers.

originally posted on Invocations.blog

I feel like about half 
of my parenting challenges 
are deciding when to 
say to my children

Sometimes you have to be 
tough and 
brave and 
stick it out 
do hard things 
be independent 
you can do this
you got this

and when to say

It’s ok
you can take it easy
sit this one out
relax
skip this one
don’t worry about it
rest and
you can snuggle with me

There is 
no formula
no equation
no guidebook 

that tells me
which way to lean

I just have to 
figure it out
over and over again
every
single
day 

~Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
August 2019

Last Sunday my friend D and I led the service at UUCA, on the theme of Embracing the Mess. D wrote a great scene in which our kids (and one bonus kids) demonstrated how to make a mess and we figured out how to deal with it. This was not much of a stretch for any of us.

A moment from our “Embracing the Mess” service on July 14.

If you’d like to watch the service, visit http://www.uucava.org/livestream/ and click on archives and click on the July 14, 2019 service.

Here’s my reflection from Sunday:

One of the reasons I became a Unitarian Universalist after spending many formative years as a Presbyterian was that I wanted more variety than the Bible seemed to offer. When I discovered that UUs looked to many sacred and secular texts as sources of inspiration, I was delighted. As a writer and reader, I love discovering wisdom from new people and places.

That said, I acknowledge that the Bible includes some great stories. They’re not always easy to understand, universal truths are embedded in those parables. My perspective on Jesus is that he was a kind, compassionate, and generous person and a powerful teacher. When I think about embracing the mess, I keep coming back to this story from the book of Luke, chapter 10, verses 38-42.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Picture the scene. You have an unexpected celebrity guest—plus his entourage—and you’re working frantically in the kitchen to find something suitable to serve. You’re pouring chips and salsa into your best bowls. You’re searching for the corkscrew to open a bottle of sauvignon blanc. You’re preheating the oven to pop in some Trader Joe’s appetizers. 

And you’re doing it all by yourself, while your sister is in the other room laughing at your guest’s amusing anecdotes and not lifting a finger to help you. Maybe it’s not your sister, but your significant other or your roommate. Regardless, you’re growing increasingly frustrated at them for having a good time while you’re working your tush off.

I have a question for you. How many of are familiar with the enneagram? How many of you are type 2?

For those of you who don’t know the enneagram, it’s an ancient tool used to help us understand motivations and behaviors. The enneagram can be a useful way to examine the choices we make and help us to become emotionally healthier. 

Type 2 is known as the helper or the giver. Martha was likely a type 2. A bunch of guys show up on her doorstep and she immediately gets to work making dinner. There is a need to be met, and she assumes it is her responsibility to meet it. She does not understand why no one else is helping, because it is so obvious to herthat there is work to be done. 

I will confess that I am also a type 2. After years of emotional work, however, I would like to think I am a healthy 2. This means I would probably head to the kitchen to get snacks for Jesus and his friends, but then I would order pizza so I could join in the conversation sooner. I might ask the apostles to take everyone’s drink orders. 

Unhealthy 2s plow ahead with all the work themselves, becoming increasingly resentful. Healthy 2s will ask for help when they need it, or even decline a request that someone makes of them. My spiritual director calls this “the holy freedom to say no.” The enneagram provides a direction for each type to move toward in order to balance out unhealthy tendencies. For type 2s, we are guided toward 4, known as the romantic or the individualist. I suspect Mary in this story was a 4. When Jesus showed up at her house, she knew exactly what she wanted to do, which was sit and hang out with him. What could possibly be more important?

I can’t count the number of times when I was younger that I cleared the table and started doing dishes when I had friends over just to get the mess out of the way. And then missed out on time I could have spent having fun and laughing with people I loved. The dishes will always be there. I have learned that community, conversation, and connection are much more important. 

A couple months ago, a friend of mine from college emailed me to say he and family were going to be in town and wanted to get together. He asked if we wanted to meet at a restaurant, but I suggested they come to our house, knowing it would be more relaxing, and that the kids could play, and we would have more time to talk. He agreed, although he suggested we get takeout and he offered to bring wine and dessert. I ordered dinner from Bangkok 54 and we had a fabulous time, and I did very little work.   

Of course, I’m not saying you never have to clean your house, but that embracing the mess provides an opportunity to cultivate both connection and creativity. 

How many of you have ever lived in a house overrun by Legos?

This has been my house for the past decade. 

We have built Lego sets of a lunar lander, Hogwarts, the Millennium Falcon, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, countless superheroes and villains and their vehicles, and many more. We have thousands of Legos that have been used to build fabulous creations even more imaginative than the sets you buy at the store. Everyone at our house is a builder, but Zeke in particular is on his way to becoming a master builder. Where I see Legos scattered all over the coffee table and the floor, he sees superhero hideouts and innovative spaceships and cars that can dive and fly and so many technologies that might actually come to fruition someday. I have no doubt that he could become an engineer and design the prototype for an actual car that flies.

Our house is also littered with overflowing bins of art supplies, books piled up next to densely packed bookshelves, and magazines with ideas for making new stuff out of old stuff you have lying around. Sure, sometimes I wish my house looked like something out of a magazine, where you’re sure no one actually lives there because there’s no stuff. But at the same time, I wouldn’t want to give up the time our family spends making art, reading, and creating with everything that surrounds us. 

Embracing the mess opens up possibilities and allows for freedom. This can be risky. And liberating.

Both my kids attended AUCP, the phenomenal preschool located here at UUCA. After Zoe graduated and before Zeke started, AUCP launched a program called Timber Tuesday, where, every other week, a class spends the entire three-hour school day in the woods near Long Branch Nature Center. Rain or shine. I have never been an outdoorsy person, and I was skeptical about this at first, but AUCP’s director Susan Parker quickly sold me on the value of spending this time outside. Kids who struggled to conform to classroom expectations thrived outside when given plenty of space to explore. Kids with sensory or motor challenges pushed themselves to climb rocks and touch trees and splash in the creek. As a parent, one of the most important lessons I learned was that it’s ok to get messy. Just bring a change of clothes. Or be prepared to ride home in your underwear. 

I remember sometime after I had become a Timber Tuesday convert that my kids and I were out after a rainstorm. Instead of instructing my kids to avoid a puddle, I encouraged them to jump in it. They were astonished. 

They have certainly taken that encouragement to heart. Two weeks ago, our family was on vacation in Lewes, Delaware. One evening we went to the beach to watch the sunset. One minute we were walking with our toes in the water, and next thing I knew both of my kids were laughing and splashing, submerged up to their chests in the Delaware Bay, fully clothed. Then we went to get ice cream. Because why not?

(originally published on Invocations.blog)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2018-09-20 at 11.10.16 PM.pngFor dinner, I ordered fried catfish with potato salad and mac and cheese from Margaret’s Soul Food Truck. The food truck was parked outside my daughter’s middle school, along with several others, for the gustatory enjoyment of parents who were attending back to school night tonight. Before back to school night, there was a PTA meeting scheduled in the library. With my styrofoam container of deliciousness and my cold can of Coke in hand, I asked someone wearing a school polo shirt whether I could take the food into the library. “Of course!” they said, as if nothing would delight the librarian more than the aroma of fried fish. My desire to participate in the meeting overcame my concern about bringing food into the library so I went in.

At the PTA meeting I learned about the prodigious school garden, where students can volunteer for community service hours and whose produce helps feed our community. The school also operates a food bus program where food that students buy but don’t eat is delivered weekly to our local food bank. I learned about the used book far and the Booktopia new book giveaway, where every student goes into the gym and chooses one free book from among boxes and boxes of new books.

The school principal told us that this year’s sixth grade class (of which my daughter is a member) is the largest in the school’s history, with 426 students, bringing the school population up to 1,140. No wonder every classroom was crowded with parents as we followed her schedule in 10-minute class increments. Fortunately most of her core classes are clustered together in her team area so she doesn’t have far to travel. I have to give the principal credit too for remembering Zoe’s name after the first time we met her. How does she learn the names of 1,140 students?

I still remember my teachers from my first year of junior high school–Ms. Hamilton (English), Mr. Rycroft (Algebra), Ms. Duncan (social studies), Ms. Mills (science), Ms. Kramer (home ec.), Ms. Beck (art), Mr. Andrukonis (speech and drama). I do not remember, however, having such a clear understanding of what was expected of my classmates and me. Tonight every teacher shared their syllabus, gave a PowerPoint presentation (which is also available online), and gave us their email address (I realize there was no such thing as email addresses in 1987). We know exactly how our children’s grades will be determined and where and how to view their assignments and up-to-the-minute grades on homework, tests, and other projects. All of this is accessible to our kids as well, and they are expected to stay on top of it. They have school-issued iPads on which they can log in to see their homework assignments, study guides, academic calendars, and more. They use their iPads every day in class and can access any texts or primary sources or any resources they need for any class. NONE of Zoe’s teachers have issued textbooks. Her science teacher said she received five copies of the textbook and that she may refer to it occasionally but it doesn’t include all the material she wants to cover. If you do want to read it, however, you can read it all on your iPad and you can even press a button and it will be read aloud to you. Other teachers said they have textbooks if a student desperately wants to read one, but they by no means rely on them, if they use them at all. For English class, students are expected to bring their own book that they’re reading to class every day, and read every day for 30 minutes for homework. They can basically read whatever they want. If the teacher feels like the student needs to expand her literary horizons or challenge herself more, she may recommend other books. All the teachers said they would accept late assignments through the end of the quarter, and that the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme, which is the foundational curriculum of this school, requires that students be graded on the content of their work (according to prescribed rubrics) and not on the timeliness of it. Most teachers said students could retake tests on which they performed poorly, and the teachers wanted to ensure the students had mastered the material. Best of all, the science  fair projects are completed ENTIRELY IN CLASS by the students, with the help of their teacher and their peers, with zero parental involvement. Hallelujah.

My point here is these teachers all seemed eminently reasonable and fair and sensible and smart. I’m sure the teachers have their quirks and the program has its flaws, but it seemed like this system and these classes are designed to give students the benefit of the doubt, to trust that if they’re doing the best they can that they will be able to succeed. There’s tutoring available four days a week after school. Any student or parent can contact any teacher about any concern. There is a counselor for each grade and a vice principal for each grade and so many staff people who seem designed to help.

Obviously when I was in junior high school I had the perspective of a kid and not a parent, and I know that when you’re that age you’re often more concerned with navigating social situations than knowing what your GPA is at any given time. And obviously the technology we enjoy today was not available then. It’s a different world. But I like this world. It makes so much sense. You know what you have to do and you can do it. I know this is all theory and we’ve only had three weeks so far to put it into practice, but I am hopeful.

And that catfish was so tasty.

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