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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

On Confessing My White Privilege

I grew up in rural Mechanicsville, Virginia. Just outside of Richmond: the former capitol of the Civl War's Confederacy.

There's a high school in my county named for Robert E. Lee and Jeff Davis. Their mascot? The Confederates.

It's a small town known for an iconic windmill and its tomato exports. Lots of open space. Lots of cows and horses. A place of safety and assurance. A place where lot of people who look, act, talk and dress just like me.

Where the crime reports in the local paper are Jay Leno-level comical. Where you can submit pictures of you reading it in cities faraway and they'll print it.

I remember learning about the Civil Rights movement in that small town, in my second-grade class with my teacher, Mrs. Valleys. We watched humans, humans with real souls, real dreams, real talents and gifts, get bludgeoned with sticks like animals. We watched them tumble over from the force of a fire hose. The same water pressurized and sprayed to defeat literal fire was used to defeat the force of the fire in sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers.

It was unreal to me. It made my young stomach turn over and over. It made me ashamed. It made me feel guilty. To the point where one night at church there was an older man standing behind me in line waiting for dinner. His skin was a different color than mine. I knew him because I was friends with his daughter.

I bashfully asked him if he'd like to get in line in front of me.

His brow furrowed and he spoke from the back of his throat. "Why?"

I still remember how my cheeks flushed bright red from his tone. I was embarrassed: it was because I was just learning about my skin-toned safety net. No one in my family ever had to worry about being bludgeoned with a stick or shot over with a hose. His did.

My elementary school logic told me the least I could do was let him cut in front of me in the dinner line.

Those fuzzy black and white images from my second grade class are burned into my brain. Perhaps because I was so struck with the pure meanness of it all.

"But this was a very, very long time ago," I assured myself in that classroom with a white teacher and my white best friends. "People aren't actually like that anymore. No one here ACTUALLY feels that way. No one would ever judge someone based on the color of their skin."

And because I didn't see anyone drinking out of a separate water fountain or having to use a separate bathroom I carried that false narrative with me until, honestly, graduate school. I dated a boy (the nicest word I can manage to call him) who, (aside from repeatedly assaulting me physically and emotionally) used the N-word repeatedly.

Much worse, he believed in all of the ideals behind the word. He had an incredibly high opinion of himself. Worshiped himself. Used the Bible as a weapon to put himself ahead.

I couldn't believe it: a real-life bigot. Someone who actually thought he was better. Because he was white.

When I confronted him about his (twisted) beliefs he shrugged me off. Called me naive. I have no idea where he is in his life or what he's doing now. All I know is that he was in school to study counseling and I shudder to think of what sort of backwards guidance he's giving vulnerable clients now.

When I learned this about him, my eyes blossomed like the day they were in the second grade. These people exist. They're real. Disguised in clean-cut khakis and collared shirts. In policies. In historical figures we choose to exalt.

My privilege was to learn about racism second-hand. My privilege was never asking the question, "is it because I'm white?" My privilege was being so far removed from hatred that I could believe that it wasn't real. My privilege was to never feel threatened because of my appearance.

My privilege was to, by default and DNA, grow up on the wrong side of history.

The first step to changing is admitting you have a problem. But these privileges are not just my problem. They're my generation's problem. And the one before ours. And theirs. And theirs. And theirs.

Charlottesville. Virginia. United States of America: open, open, open your eyes. It's real. It's here. It's among us. Always has been. 

The images I've seen in the news lately haven't been fuzzy. Or black and white. Or in a second-grade classroom. They're crisp. They're in high definition. They're now and they're everywhere.


Monday, August 7, 2017

Somewhere Only We Know

My sweet boy.

How can I express to you what these last few months have meant to me?You likely won't remember the 11 p.m., 1:30 a.m., 3:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. feedings of the first few weeks of your precious little life.

How when you cried it both broke my heart and made me laugh. Because your little world was falling apart. And you needed me. You needed us to be together.

But I will.

In the beginning, it seemed like this whole being-your-mom-thing was a lot easier when I was pregnant with you. When I knew exactly where you were at all times. When I knew you were eating enough. You came with me wherever I went without the clicks and snaps of a car seat or stroller. I could track your progress on my favorite pregnancy apps.

That time together we had was a place that only you and I will ever know – and I'll remember it always – but for all the hard work you are, I wouldn't turn back. I would only press forward. Because watching you grow is a joy. It's a gift. And it's full of the best surprises.

You likely won't remember how you didn't like to be put down.
How the only way to calm you down when you were crying was to pull you close to me and stroke your soft, chubby cheeks. How you looked up at me like I was your whole world when I fed you.

But I will.

You likely won't remember how my arms felt so much stronger with you in them. How I felt I could tear down a wall if something tried to hurt you. How keenly aware I became of smokers, loud noises, bumps on the highway or the sidewalk when we were out with the stroller.

You likely won't remember how your eyes followed me when daddy held you. How if I got up and walked away you looked at me like, "where do you think you're going, mom?" So cute.

You likely won't remember the first time you smiled at me when I came back into the room. How your face lit up in a way I'd never seen. This, after hours and hours and days and days of studying you and only you. Your habits. Your breaths. Your movement. The way you concentrate your tiny hands like they're the most fascinating things in the world (they are definitely in the top ten for me).

But I will.

You likely won't remember the first time I leave for the office, trying to convince myself to swallow down the lump in my throat. To put on red lipstick, hold my head high, carry in my breast pump and deal with it.

But I will.

You'll likely never know that I cried at my desk. Or that the hours seemed so slow compared to the ones I spent with you. Or that the choices your daddy and I are making right now are logically best for the family – but emotionally? They're the hardest. Most gut-wrenching.

But I will.

Because nothing absorbs me like you do, my sweet boy.You'll never know the woman I was before you came along. Boy, was she a whacky one.

Before she met you, she assumed that when it was time for her to return to work she'd find herself again. That this time together would be happy, fun, at at times awkward and hard. But that when it was time, she'd feel ready. She'd come charging in, ready to show the world what she was made of.

But your presence in my life unspooled me then wrung me up again. This time with you tucked in close to me.That's what motherhood does to a person. It makes you want to go back, back, back. To these places that only we know.

I'll forever come back to this place. Our first home together. The spot in the couch that is worn where I nursed you. Our very first 12 weeks together as a family. The place where you learned to roll over, hold up your own head, take baths (with a lot of help, of course).

And where I learned how to wrap myself in the identity of motherhood.

Where I learned that we can't really keep our children tucked safely in places only we know. We have to raise them up so they'll know more, do better, do wiser, incredible things.

But we'll remember the places only we know as we move forward. As quickly as everyone says time goes. I'll keep these memories, I'll keep this joy tucked into me.

I will.


Friday, August 4, 2017

Summer 2017 Fabulous Finds

It's such a cliche. But honestly, where does the time go?

A year ago this month my husband and I discovered that we were pregnant. Now our little squirmy-worm is laying on his play mat beside me as I write this, looking up at an orange fish and having a one-sided conversation with it.

Cutest. Kid. Ever.

Since he's come to live with us, so much of my life and preferences have been overruled by diaper brands, wipes, burp rags and squeezing in some running time around the city (what I affectionately call my "postpart-run").

I put off a post like this because for the last few months I've been nothing short of completely irrelevant. (For real, the only news I gleaned was from what was parodied on SNL.)

Still, there are a few bits of my life that aren't completely baby proof. But I did throw in a few of my favorite mama essentials. Because, who knows?

What I'm Wearing

Here's what I wasn't anticipating after having a kid: hardly any of the clothing I own is nursing/pumping appropriate. At work and in my day-to-day pre-baby, I leaned toward wearing a lot of dresses that zip up the back. I spent a small fortune clothing myself in maternity wear. If I'd had the presence of mind I would've concentrated my money efforts on tops that would work after my little fellah came.

Que sera. Now I have to shop. Which happens to be one of my spiritual giftings.

For nursing, I tend to lean toward comfortable, soft, flowy tops and t-shirts. I am obsessed with all things Camp Light Apparel. I forgot how I stumbled upon them, though looking back it was probably through Instagram. I saw their "Grace Upon Grace" shirt in pink and I had to have it. 

Then they released this pullover and this coffee tumbler, and what can I say? They just hopped into my cart and now they're on the way to my house where I'm anxiously awaiting a happy mail day. 

I've also never stopped wearing this hat from All Good Things Co. since I bought it. And it just so happens as I write this that they're having a sale on all of their clothing items. You're so welcome.

My pet peeve is overly loud Christianese t-shirts. To me, they're just...corny. Why would I wear something Jesus-y when my soul is supposed to reflect Christ? Ya know? 

But these messages as just subtle and stylish enough. And if someone asked me what the slogan on my hat meant that would open up the potential for a conversation about my faith. I'd rather share my story than let my clothing speak for me. Just a preference.

And now: lipstick. Y'all. I have found the one my soul loves. 

The matte to end all mattes.

I've tried a multitude of stains, glosses, mattes and lipsticks through the years. While I love the color of so many of them, none of them felt great on my lips. But. This. Matte. It's staying power is pretty strong (in spite of my chronic lip-licking habit), the color's great and it feels awesome. I don't think I'm turning back ever.

What I'm Listening To 

Lara Casey's latest book Cultivate: A Grace-Filled Guide to Growing an Intentional Life on audiobook, and I've really been enjoying it. She is such a breath of fresh, intentional air. I've been an admirer of hers from afar on Instagram over the last few months.

What I'm Reading

Should be titled: books that have changed my life and perspective.

Chasing Slow

I resisted this book so hard. Because the world didn't need another voice about saying no and self care. We get it. Women don't take care of themselves. Let's move on, shall we?

But this book is a treasure. Erin Loechner's writing style is smooth and smart. And hilarious. I ate up every word. It's my recommendation of the year.

The Magic of Motherhood

This book is the embodiment of "ah, I'm not alone." It's a collection of essays from moms. And it's really been such an encouragement. The author also has a podcast that I've been enjoying. They're smart, engaging, heart-wrenching stories.

Work. Pump. Repeat.

Another piece of hysterical literature for my breast-feeding mama's out there. So much anxiety as of late has centered on what my body can do for my baby: will it be enough?

This book has helped me understand that I'm not the first mom to return to work after having a baby. And I won't be the last. One of the best parts of motherhood is the community of fun, engaging, rock-star mamas it brings together. This read has been a delight.

What I'm Learning

That life, for all of its ups and downs is meant to be savored.

I thought that this season was something that I had to rise above. To keep ahead of. To outrun. I told myself that I was only allowed to concern myself with the day ahead and not get absorbed by the future.

But the truth is, if you don't think about the future, at least a little bit, while a baby is screaming in your face, you will lose yourself.

The baby will eventually stop crying. The baby will eventually start sleeping through the night. The baby will eventually start giving you more and more time in between feedings.

I'm learning to balance looking ahead while enjoying the spectacularity and wonders of the now. A lesson for life, I think.

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