Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Letter to My Sons After Donald Trump's Election

My Dear Ryan, Zachary, & Connor,

I thought a lot about the letter I would write to you after this election. And this is NOT the letter I thought I would be writing. I thought I would be writing about how proud I was of our Nation for electing our first female President and for voting against a bully who represented hate and for a candidate who sought LOVE for all.

But sadly, that is not the letter I am writing because, that bully won. Last night Ryan, as we were snuggling before you went to sleep, as we do every night, you said in a most somber tone, “I just really wanted to see the first girl become President.” Me too, buddy, me too. And that fact that we are not celebrating that today and for many years to come is devastating.

My sweet boys, you will hear a lot of negative things said about Hillary Clinton. I know you’ve already heard many of them. And like I always told you, she is not perfect. She made mistakes. She did things she regrets. But she has also been under a microscope for the majority of her adult life. That means people have watched her every move very, very, closely. And we all know that if everyone watched my every move as your mom that they would see me make mistakes every day. Making mistakes does not make us bad. It does not make us unworthy of leading. They do not disqualify us from holding very important jobs. It is how we respond to those mistakes that defines us. For the things Hillary did that truly were mistakes (i.e. having a private e-mail server, calling a lot of people “deplorable” etc) she apologized and expressed regret. We believe in forgiving each other. Just as when I make a mistake as your mom, I always, always say I am sorry, I do my very best to do better, and I hope with all my heart that you will forgive me. Sadly, too many people refused to forgive Hillary and instead let her mistakes define her…not as a sign of her humanity, but as a sign of being unfit for the job. They were wrong.

There are two major differences between the mistakes Hillary made and the ones Donald Trump made:
1.       Hillary never spoke in hateful ways about large groups of people. Donald Trump spoke in hateful ways about women, Muslim people, Jewish people, Black people, Hispanic people, and people with disabilities. Hate is something that cannot be tolerated. It is something we must ALWAYS speak out against. And even though Donald Trump will be our President we must continue to speak out against the hateful rhetoric he spewed throughout this election.
2.       Donald Trump almost never said I’m sorry. The one time he did he qualified it—his horrible talk about how women can be treated—by saying it was “locker room talk” and his wife called it “boy talk.” You three know that we never speak in disrespectful tones about women, and the fact that the future President of our United States doesn’t know that is horrifying. But we also understand the importance of a sincere apology. Sadly, Mr. Trump does not understand that.

I hope that history will look fondly on Hillary Clinton. I believe she was a strong, capable, determined candidate and the morning after she lost the election when she gave her concession speech I was never more convinced of that. 

She was poised, honest, respectful, and real. She would have been an amazing leader for our Country. I will never stop believing that and I will never stop being grateful to her for all she did to advance women’s issues and to try to teach the world that women truly are just as good as men. She helped you three to understand that and I am proud that you’ll grow up never thinking otherwise.

As for the leader we are stuck with? I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that I’m having a really hard time with the fact that he was elected. I know you saw my tears many times yesterday. I know you understand how sad and angry I am that Donald Trump won. I am angry and sad because the people who voted for him saw and heard the hateful things he did and they voted for him anyway. And as I’ve always told you, standing up for what is wrong is one of the most important things we can do as people! And all the people who voted for him DIDN’T DO THAT!  I will not say, “It will be ok. Our Constitution will hold firm and protect all of us.” Because unless an awful lot of us stand up and refuse to let hate take over, then it just might.

But, at the same time, I am soooo relieved that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. This means that more people actually voted for her than for Donald Trump. And sadly, because of an out-dated system, she doesn’t get to be our President. But knowing that the majority of people didn’t vote for her is a relief because it means we do have a HUGE group of people who will help us fight against hate and spread kindness.

And spreading kindness is what we are going to work really hard to do. We started yesterday. We gave out Hershey’s hugs and kisses to strangers; we brought cookies to the office staff at Ryan’s school; We brought cookies to the Firefighters at the fire station, and we bought two strangers’ coffee at Starbucks. So, when you think about the day we learned Donald Trump would be our President I want you to remember the joy we felt in seeing the smiles and hearing the gratefulness of the people we spread kindness to yesterday. I want you to remember that warm feeling bubbling up from somewhere deep within you that said, “This is right. This is good. This is how we spread love.” I want you to remember the pride we felt in knowing that instead of wallowing in fear or despair we went out and did something good.

Donald Trump may not be a good man. But he will NEVER keep us from being good. And while there is very much work to do to make sure that the majority of our Country understands what it means to be good and seeks to act out of goodness every day (and use our privilege of voting for good and not hate), I am confident that if you, and I, and our friends and family continue to spread goodness that it will in fact grow and make a difference in this world.

So, my kind, thoughtful, sensitive boys, the greatest thing you can do for this world is to embrace that sensitive side of yourselves. Look deep within yourselves and be proud of the fact that you have cried when watching a sad movie or when coming upon a dead animal outside. Be proud of the fact that you love to wear toenail polish (and do so with pride and joy) and love rainbows and bright colors like hot pink. Be proud of the fact that you know what it means to be sensitive to the feelings of others and have expressed sadness yourselves when seeing someone you care about who is sad. These characteristics may not be the most common among boys in our world, but they should be. And when more boys are like the three of you, then this world will be a better, more understanding place and we will one day elect our first female president.  

Spread kindness my sweet boys. Show love, be brave, stand up for what is right. Stand against what is wrong. And always, always, always choose to be kind. No one, especially Donald Trump, can take that away from you.

Love always,


P.S. To clarify, because a lot of people have been making this an issue in the past day and a half: Speaking out strongly and forcefully against hatred does not make you a hateful person. Hate is something we must ALL stand against. Hate wins when we are silent, or worse, when we make excuses or exceptions for people who are being hateful. So, always choose to be kind. But also always choose to be loud in your disagreement with those who are being unkind. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Opening the Conversation: Race in America

I have three boys. My neighbor is currently pregnant with her third boy. We live in the same town, in the safe affluent neighborhood, on the same street, two houses from each other. Her boys and my boys come from parents with advanced degrees. They come from loving homes full of opportunity. Her boys are kind, outgoing, and polite. Mine are too…most of the time. Her boys and my boys will go to the same schools. And yet, I know that her experience as a mother, particularly as her boys get older, will be vastly different from mine. Why? Because my boys happen to be white and hers are black.

I will fear for my sons’ safety as they learn to drive and get behind the wheel of a car because of reckless drivers and the poor decisions teens sometimes make. She will have these same fears, but she will also have to fear that her sons’ lives could be in danger for buying a bag of skittles or driving with a broken taillight. I’ll worry that my sweet boys don’t get caught up with a “bad crowd” or that they aren’t picked on or bullied at school. She will worry the same. But she’ll also worry that her sons will be seen as a threat to someone else’s safety if they happen to choose to wear a hooded sweatshirt. She will live in fear of how people will falsely view her children and how they might react when they sense a false threat.

Parenting is a fear-filled endeavor for anyone. But having that fear magnified by 1000 simply because of the color of one’s skin is an unfathomable injustice. I can’t begin to imagine what it is like to live with that fear. I would be angry…I would…Actually, I don’t know how I would feel. And the truth is, I will never know. I was born white and so were my boys. And because of that pure luck, and because I will never know what it’s like to be anything other than white, I have a responsibility to try my absolute best to understand the experience of people of color, like my neighbor, her husband, and their three boys.

The recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have put in pristine focus for me the extreme ways in which other human beings react in a moment of perceived threat.  People can believe what they want about Mr. Sterling and whether he did something to attract the attention of the police. But that is a moot point. He was tackled on the ground and clearly overtaken by the police officers. There is no reason he should be dead. As for Mr. Castile, there are no reports anywhere that he did anything other than drive with a broken taillight to attract the attention of the police. He reportedly told the officer involved that he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon, which he disclosed was on his person, and that he was getting his wallet and identification as was asked of him. And now he is dead. Perhaps worst of all, as these men lay dying the officers involved did NOTHING to provide aid or prevent their death. They did not provide first aid. In the case of Mr. Castile, who it seems was shot only in the arm, imagine if instead of pointing the gun at his girlfriend and handcuffing her if the officers had instead placed a tourniquet on his arm. A simple show of humanity could have saved his life.

We have all walked or driven through areas that we perceive, sometimes quite accurately, to be unsafe. But what we have to remind ourselves is that those areas are not unsafe because black people live there. They are unsafe because there is little opportunity in those areas. There are few programs for children and adolescents. The schools and other educational opportunities are limited. In the areas most in need of services and support, even basic needs are more difficult to attain. There are fewer grocery stores and department stores. People have to drive/walk/use public transportation to go further to get less. And when people are desperate, and they lack education, and resources, and support, they react out of fear and desperation, and do things and behave in ways they otherwise would not. Yes, these situations are desperate, and no, there are no easy solutions. Knowing where to begin, and what we can do to help is challenging and sometimes seems so impossible that we freeze. Donating money seems superficial. Volunteering time can be a struggle when we are doing our best to care for our own families. But one place we can all begin is by opening the conversation and committing to better understanding all of our fellow human beings.

I read today an article on race that compared racism to a gigantic societal-sized boot. The author asked, if racism is a boot, then who is “fighting the hardest to avoid being squashed by the boot?” Yes, people of color. And who is it that is wearing the boot? Yes, white people. And who then should be responsible for stopping the boot from squashing anyone? The people who are already fighting against the pressure of the boot or the people wearing it?

I hope you came to the correct answer yourself. But if you didn’t, let me spell it out for you. White people. White people have a responsibility to stop the boot. This author was not saying all white people are racist, and neither am I. I certainly don’t like to consider myself racist, and I hope I have never acted in a way that is. But, I also know that I have not openly acted in a way to challenge the racist beliefs of those I encounter. And as a white person, I am in a unique position to open the dialogue and potentially change the viewpoints of other white people who may be racist; a position that people of color are not in at all. And so, with this post, that is what I am attempting to do.

I also commit to better understanding issues of race in our country. I have already reserved the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” by Michelle Alexander at my local library. It was on hold and I am 3rd in the queue. This fact in and of itself gave me hope. Maybe other people in my community have had the same idea I did.  If you too would like to better understand issues of race, so you can open a dialogue that is not at all open enough, then check out the article I linked to above and check out this article which includes links to a reading list on issues of race.

Now, I started writing this article on Thursday before the horrific shootings in Dallas occurred. And so, I would be remiss to not address that tragedy. Those officers were assassinated. The actions of the people who carried out those killings are not justified…not even a little bit. Those individuals were no doubt angry. But they only made the situation worse. Instead of drawing greater attention to issues of race, injustice, and excessive force by some police officers they have provided fuel to the fire for people who will say, “See? It’s them. They are the problem.” And that will only serve to shut down an already difficult conversation even further.

And I fear that because of the actions of these snipers in Dallas that the overwhelming message will now be “black lives will only matter when police lives matter.” And that is not true. In fact, Dallas was an exemplary example of how the black community and the police community can work together. The police were out in full force making it safe for a Black Lives Matter protest to proceed peacefully and successfully. And yet, so many people seem to believe that you either have to support law enforcement or support people of color; that police lives and black lives can’t matter simultaneously. But they can, and they do. As John Stewart (seriously, when will that man run for office?) so eloquently said today “You can truly grieve for every officer who’s been lost in the line of duty in this country, and still be troubled by cases of police overreach. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. You can have great regard for law enforcement and still want them to be held to high standards.”

And so, we will all struggle with what to do and how best to react to the tragic events that have occurred this week. But please join me in my commitment to more conversations, more understanding, and more willingness to see both sides of this issue; an issue that is of utmost importance to the survival and success of our great Nation. It is my hope that I will raise boys who will grow up completely confounded by the idea that someone would ever judge someone differently because of the color of their skin. It is my hope that my three boys and my neighbor’s three boys have life experiences far more similar than I expect they will given the state of things at this time. But I have to believe there is hope that can change.  

Together, let’s ask questions. Let’s try to understand. Let’s accept that some people may not use the exact, most politically correct words when trying to better understand and instead of judging, let’s educate. The future truly rests in the hands of our children and it is our responsibility to raise children who will make this world a kinder place than it is now. We can only do that by opening and changing the conversation, by working together to lift the oppressive boot of racism. Start now. Start tonight. Open the conversation at your own dinner table. I know I will be.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Let It Begin with Me...and You

When I was 16 years old my parents planned a surprise birthday party for me. They invited a group of my friends to Planet Hollywood in Washington, DC. The day of my party also happened to be the day of the annual Capital PRIDE celebration. In order to get me to Planet Hollywood my Dad and brother framed it as “let’s just go check out DC for the day.” We headed into DC and started walking towards Planet Hollywood with the plan that my brother would just casually suggest eating there for lunch. In order to get there we walked smack dab through the middle of the PRIDE parade. At one point we were practically in the parade. I remember watching my Dad’s face to see his reaction. I remember the smirk on my older brother’s face as he smiled about the surprise that awaited me and probably imagined my mom walking through the same parade a few minutes prior with a group of my good friends, some of whom she didn’t know that well. I remember smiling in awe as I took in the bright colors, open expressions of love, and colorful personalities that surrounded me. It was a joyous event and one I have not and never will forget. We eventually arrived at Planet Hollywood and I was indeed surprised. But whenever I retell the story of my 16th birthday party Planet Hollywood doesn’t even get mentioned.  I like to tell it as “Mom and Dad planned a surprise party for me at the Capital PRIDE Parade. It was AWESOME!”

And awesome it was. This was my first true experience of LGBT culture and I don’t remember much except the immense feeling of joy and warmth that came from being a part of that parade. My Dad, brother, and I must have stuck out like a sore thumb walking through; But not for a second did I feel out of place or uncomfortable, because everyone there stuck out for their own unique style, beauty, outfits, hair, costumes, love, energy, and excitement. It was a wonderful feeling.

A number of years prior, when I was about 10 I remember standing in the kitchen of my grandmother’s house when I overheard a conversation in which I learned that my beloved cousin Paul, was gay. At the time I had recently heard in the news about there being a greater number of people who were gay who were contracting the AIDS virus. So, my first thought was one of worry. I just wanted my cousin, whom I loved dearly to be ok. Once I talked to my mom and learned that he was completely fine, then so was I. I loved him, and who he loved didn’t matter at all to me, or to my parents.

A number of years after that I remember meeting my cousin’s boyfriend (also named Paul!) for the first time at their apartment in Greenwich Village. I was there with my boyfriend, and the four of us went to lunch at a local restaurant. Paul and Paul had been dating for some years at that point but this was the first time I had the chance to see them together as a couple. I remember being struck by the tender and sincere love and affection that they shared and still do.

Since that time, through college and work I have been fortunate to call many men and women who are gay or lesbian, my friends. And from each and every one of them I have never felt anything in return except love, acceptance, and friendship.

Why do I write all this? It is to tell the Orlando shooter (who I will not even name) that he messed with the wrong group. Mr. Shooter, your heart may have been filled with hatred. And your goal was to spread that evil far and wide. You likely sought to silence and scare a group of people you rejected as “other.” But we will not be silenced. We will not be brought to our knees in fear. We will rise up. We will spread love. We will reject hate. And we will make this world a stronger and better place in light of the evil act you committed.

Yes, I say we. For the attack may have been directly against the LGBT community, but all of us who are their allies and friends will stand with them to spread the love further. We will recall the kindness, joy, acceptance and openness that we feel when surrounded by the LGBT community and we will seek to take the lessons they teach and preach so well, and we will raise better children; we will be better people; we will love more and hate less.

The same cousin I mentioned above currently lives in Florida. He posted a video this morning from a memorial service he attended last night in St. Petersburg. In the video everyone was singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” I cannot think of a better way to honor the 49 men and women who died in the wake of such evil. Their deaths will not be in vain. For each of those brave brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, I say:

“Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let there be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.”

Will you join me? 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

What Scary Mommy Taught Me

Earlier this week I was published on Scary Mommy for the first time. And yes, given that my piece was about the Obamas I was more than a little scared (see what I did there?) to see what the response would be. But who knew that such a simple experience could be a reminder about humanity in all its forms. These are the things that I learned as a result:

1.        Haters gonna hate
I chose to write about one of the most polarizing families in my lifetime. So, yes, I knew there would be some negativity. And of course there was. There were people who made obnoxious comments who clearly hadn’t even read the article. There was one particularly noxious woman that said I must be “Obama’s lover” to have written such “garbage.” There were people who made accusatory and false statements about the President of the USA that border on treason. But, I was also pleasantly surprised.

 2.       The vast majority of people are reasonable and kind
      There were many people who commented on my post and readily acknowledged that while they don’t agree with the Obamas from a political standpoint, they could still respect them as people. This was the intent of my post, and it was heartening to see that people “got that” and were willing to openly state their belief in someone’s value as a person despite their disagreement with their political views. Also, I was so surprised and flattered that so many people didn’t just comment on the post, but also took the time to compliment my writing. They had nothing to gain from that and I was touched beyond measure. Lastly, I realized…

3.       Some people are exceptional human beings 
 This morning, when I checked the e-mail account associated with my blog, I found an e-mail from a woman who, in her words, “I read your letter to the Obamas on FB, which led me to your blog, which led me to some of your writing and photos. (You know how the crazy labyrinth of FB works!)” She went on to tell me how she, too, is the mother of three boys. But the difference between her and me is that her sons are grown. She shared how she felt when she learned her third child was a boy (a bit disappointed), how angry she would get every time someone would ask “will you try for a girl” (I hear ya, sister!) and offered advice on raising kind, caring men who value their relationship with their mother (I’ll take all the advice I can!). She even included pictures of her three boys. As I read this heartfelt message from a stranger, as the tears rolled down my cheeks I was overwhelmed by her kindness. She went out of her way for someone she’d never met.

When friends and family started to realize that my article had been published on Scary Mommy I was warned “Don’t read the comments!” And as I read the comments I saw people who posted their expectation that the comments would all be negative and full of vitriol. But, they were not. They were far from it. So, thank you Scary Mommy readers. You have renewed my faith in humanity. I am grateful and I am honored to be among the ranks of readers and writers alike who are—for the most part—kind, caring, and compassionate people. Truly, thank you.

The Cam Fam has been Published on:

Scary Mommy