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Invocations

How you organize your life
is up to you

Your choices may bewilder me
but that’s on me

I may not understand what you smoke or why

how you learned to shoot

where you put your trust

who you worship

everything you are willing to sacrifice

But you offered me orange juice
and crackers

You made me laugh

You did not give up
(on me)

You never
turned me away

You may question my trips
through the drive-thru

My vague idea of bedtime

Nearly everything I allow my kids to do
and where I draw the line

You may think my priorities are sadly misguided

and that it’s embarrassing
that my heart so often shows up
naked
on my sleeve

You may judge me by my
worst day, my stupidest
mistake

Fair enough

I confess I don’t have a clue
what motivates you
why you don’t care
as much as…

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When we arrived
after an eight-hour drive
he ran in circles around the car
and the yard
eager to move his body

Inside he found some toys
in the back room
with his six-year-old sixth sense
and set up games for himself to play

He paged through a craft book
sticking post-it notes to 
every activity he wanted to try

He admired the sewing machine and 
said he wanted to learn to sew
“that’s a useful talent,” he said.

He helped set up a TV and 
its accessories and discussed
power tools with my cousin

Way past usual bedtime
he said he needed something else to eat
so I led him to the pantry
“they have a pantry?” he asked in awe
I pointed out crackers and fruit cups and applesauce
He backed into the pantry and closed the door

A few minutes later he emerged
after my cousin opened the door for him
He had been stuck
but evidently not alarmed
and emerged with a box of Reduced Fat Wheat Thins
which he brought into our bedroom
He ate crackers while reading to me the
nutrition facts and marketing ploys on the box
I tried to explain “less is more.”

Then we read an Elephant and Piggie book
I was Elephant
He was Piggie
We snuggled
and fell asleep

by Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
October 2019

  1. Why are people so mean to other people?
  2. Why does our bathroom smell like pee no matter how much I clean it?
  3. Why do I always smell things no one else seems to smell?
  4. How do they make the crosswords get increasingly difficult each day of the week?
  5. What would motivate my kids to learn to ride the bikes that have been sitting in our hallway all summer long and have seen exactly one sidewalk since June?
  6. Why do I have random dark spots and little growths and things on my skin? Should I have them removed? What are the philosophical and physiological ramifications of elective procedures on your face? (OK that’s three questions wrapped up in one)
  7. How can people ardently disagree but still both be right?
  8. Are there any countries or cultures that are not racist?
  9. Why does my six-year-old ask so many questions that I can’t answer and should I try harder to answer them?
  10. Are repentance and forgiveness truly possible in our culture or have we reached this point where we are not allowed to make mistakes? Or are there some kinds of mistakes that are forgivable and others that are not?
  11. Why do I always assume people will judge me? Are people actually judging me?
  12. Do I expect too much from my children? Or not enough?
  13. Why doesn’t everyone care about being a good person?
  14. How is it possible that we can understand things about a person by looking into their eyes? What are we actually seeing?
  15. Why don’t we eat a wider variety of vegetables?
  16. Why do prices at gas stations vary so widely depending on the geography of the gas station when it’s the same gas?
  17. What is it about a good movie trailer that gives me goosebumps?
  18. Why do humans drink other animals’ milk that is intended for the animals’ offspring? (I love milk, but still I find this bizarre)
  19. Why is it so hard for us to do things we know are good for us and avoid things we know are bad for us?
  20. Who decided that men should be hairy and women should not?

Do you have answers? Or your own questions? I’d love to hear them.

Invocations

One night I let a man in the house
where I was living with a dozen
other students because he said he was a friend
of someone’s and I didn’t know any differently

Then he stole the TV

Twenty-five years later
I still tend to believe everyone is
telling the truth
about who they are

even though I should know better
by now

And when I find out what’s real
I wonder who I am
and why I never learn
because I know I would
open the door again today
and let anyone
take what they wanted

~Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
July 2019

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Invocations

No room left in my brain for
completing a task
even a simple one like
editing an article
or making a salad
or sorting out an insurance claim
(ok that’s never simple)

All my constructive, purposeful thoughts
are crowded out, shoved to the side
or hiding under benches
as the what ifs and the worst case scenarios
jockey for position
shouting above the already deafening decibel level

The what ifs and worst cases are bullies
of the worst kind because they are subtle
not resorting to physical violence, but mostly
trafficking in intimidation
knowing the good thoughts will slink away in fear
with a sour taste in their mouths
because of too many hours and days deprived
of fresh air and healthy food
all that’s left to do is sleep
when they aren’t allowed to exercise or
even move about freely

Meanwhile, the what ifs and worst cases gain strength

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Invocations

He asked me in the car,
“What is sand made of?”

And I said I didn’t know.

I said I thought it was just part of the earth,
like dirt, and trees, and mountains.

He asked me if it came out of the ocean
and I said no, I didn’t think so.

He said he thought it was made of
tiny pieces of smashed-up seashells.

Maybe some of the sand is tiny seashells,
I conceded.

“That’s definitely what it is,” he said firmly.

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This place seems as good as any to see a ghost
this tantalizing space between vulnerable and safe
the constant creaking of wood
wind shaking the tops of trees
the insistent clank of boats knocking against their moorings
lapping of the dark water on the banks of the invisible canal
distant chorus of frogs
I can see no one
but I am surrounded by the night

All evening while everyone else was
playing and eating and swimming and reading bedtime stories
I was plastered to the bed by a migraine
only vaguely aware of anything else
Still more hours lost to pain

And now, while everyone else sleeps
I keep watch from the screened porch
of someone else’s house
who I have never met

Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
July 2019


In a few minutes I’m headed to a school board meeting to speak on behalf of protections for trans kids in our school system, such as training teachers to effectively support them, and letting trans kids use the bathrooms and locker rooms in which they feel comfortable.

Here’s what I plan to say:

Good evening members of the school board. Thank you for the opportunity to speak. My name is Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso. I have lived in Arlington for 22 years. I have two children in Arlington Public Schools, and I have been a school volunteer for several years and an occasional substitute teacher. 

The summer after fifth grade, my daughter’s best friend came out to her as non-binary and later as transgender. I know the evolution of their identity was not out of the blue, it was not on a whim, and it was certainly not easy. Thankfully, their parents have been supportive, and their school has helped ease the transition. 

People have asked me how my daughter reacted to her friend’s transition. My daughter has not missed a beat in her unconditional love and support of her friend. Why would she? The only thing that’s changed is my daughter is now incredibly well-informed about the LGBTQIA+ community, and she is quick to correct me if I accidently use the wrong pronouns. 

I’m also glad my six-year-old son has had this personal experience to learn about gender diversity. He creates elaborate family structures with his collection of stuffed animals. Some are straight and some are LGBTQIA+. This little purple sloth is named River, and he is female to male trans. My son decided this, on his own. He gets it. He loves all his stuffed animals for who they are.

I know a lot of LGBTQIA+ kids, some of whom are trans. I have several friends from our Unitarian Universalist church and the community who have adult kids who are trans. They all have their own unique stories of recognizing their gender identities, but I know in every case, these identities did not develop out of the blue, or on a whim. It’s not easy to come out and live as who you know you are inside, even if that isn’t how you’ve presented before. It’s so important for APS to train teachers to support trans youth and to ensure schools foster an accepting and inclusive climate. These are critical factors in reducing the high risk of attempted suicide among LGBTQIA+ youth. 

Trans youth and adults are often on the receiving end of bullying and assault. They are not perpetrators. Trans youth and adults are not pretending or dressing up as another gender so they can harm others or have an advantage in sports. They are trans because owning and identity is necessary for their survival, even if it’s incredibly challenging in mainstream society. No one takes a transition lightly, whether they are 5 or 15 or 55. They do it so they can be at peace with themselves and feel as fully human and whole as they were born to be. 

I support the school board’s proposed policies to protect the rights and safety of trans kids in our schools, and to train teachers and staff to effectively support these kids. Our community must demonstrate that we support and embrace kids for who they are. All of us are worthy and deserving of that respect.  

(originally published on invocations.blog)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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