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.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Dear President & Mrs. Obama

Dear President & Mrs. Obama,

Today I saw the pictures of the two of you reading "Where the Wild Things Are" at the White House Easter Egg Roll. Besides being completely jealous of those who got to be there (that's right, I've entered the ticket lottery every year for the past 6 years since I had children of my own and not once did we get tickets...alas) I also found myself in awe, as I often do, of the two of you.

😱😱😱😱
Photo credit: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images                                                                                                                                                   
Ah! Too scary!
Photo credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters                                                                                                                                                           
You see, in looking at these pictures, I didn't just see two confident people reading in a goofy way to a bunch of kids. Nope. I also saw two examples of humanity, kindness, and confidence.

Its no secret that I am a huge supporter of your politics, Mr. Obama. Any visitor to my Facebook page or blog would see very quickly and easily that I have been and continue to be a huge fan of yours. But one of the things that makes me so proud to have both of you as the representatives of our Nation is that there is more to you than politics. You clearly have a sense, everywhere you go that you are not only representing your own political views. You know you're more than just representatives of the United States of America. It is clear that you both realize you are humanitarians. You are examples of good will. You are an example to the world of what it means to be human. You are an example to children and adults alike, of how to be confident in who you are. Today, when my 6 y/o son, Ryan, gets home from school I will show him this video of the two of you reading. 


 You see, just yesterday Ryan delivered his first ever "presentation" in front of his class. His homework for a few days leading up to this presentation was to practice in front of his family. Having grown up competing in speech and debate I was eager to help Ryan with this project. As he practiced his "When I grow up" speech (OK, so it was just 6 sentences, but I think for a Kindergartner we can call that speech, right?) I coached him on how to look at his audience, how to effectively use hand motions to get his point across, and how to speak loudly, and not into the paper he was holding. A few times he said to me, "This is embarrassing." He's getting to the age where he understands the concept of embarrassment. Recently, when we went to see Zootopia in the theaters, just me and him, I started rocking out to Shakira's "Try Everything." I mean, how can you not dance to that song? And so, dance I did. And what did he do? He crouched in his seat and asked me to stop. Just a year ago he would have happily joined in the dance. But now, he knew people could see me (don't worry, we were in the back row, and this was the closing credits, we weren't bothering anyone). He was embarrassed. And to be honest, if he was your kid, watching you read at the Easter Egg roll, he may have been embarrassed too. Maybe Sasha and Malia were? 


But he's not your kid. He looks up to you. He knows you're our "Big Leader Guy" and even if he didn't state that he'd like to follow in your footsteps as President of the United States in his first big speech (sorry, the allure of a train engineer is just too great at his young age. Plus, he's wise. He knows being President comes with a lot of stress, especially with the likes of Mitch McConnell as leader of the Senate...but I digress) he does respect you and think you're pretty cool. So, yes, I will show him the video of the two of you reading Where the Wild Things Are and we will talk about how it can be fun to be silly and goofy in front of a crowd. We will talk about how the two of you weren't concerned about what other people would think when you made those awesome faces. You were just having fun and being yourselves. We will talk about confidence and I will hope that just a little bit of the message sticks. If we're being honest, I will hope that a lot of your messages stick. 

Just this morning, I was talking with my husband, and I said, "I think this is as good as it gets. I don't think our children will ever see another President and First Lady who are better examples of how to be a good person" than they have seen in the two of you. And sadly, two of my three children will likely never remember your presidency. Zachary and Connor are only 3 years and 18 months. I'm not sure either of them knows who the two of you are. 

Michelle Obama has her arm around me. Squee! 
But, I promise, they will know. I will share stories of your honesty, your integrity, and your leadership skills with them. I will explain that when I had the great privilege of meeting you, Michelle, in 2009, when I worked at Children's National Medical Center I saw first hand that your kindness and compassion is not just a show; It is genuine and natural. At the time I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with Ryan. You asked me about my pregnancy. You put your hand on my belly, you wished me the best of luck. You didn't just go around and talk with patients and families. No, you sat with them, you engaged, you cared. 

Star struck! 
I know plenty of people disagree with the two of you on many issues. I know many people do not think as highly of you as I do. And honestly, I have a hard time understanding that. Politics aside, you are true role models for children and adults alike.

As you end your time in the White House, and begin to think about your legacy and the work you will do in the remainder of your careers, I challenge you to think of ways you can continue to have an impact on the youth of our world. I don't want any of my children to forget you. Please, remain in the public eye. Please continue to show the world what it means to be happy, confident, smart, fun, and kind. Show the world what it means to have integrity; to have strong beliefs and to stand up for what you believe. Don't hesitate to continue to be an example of a successful marriage raising successful children. Our Country and our world needs more of the two of you! 

Photo Credit: Craig Lassig/EPA                                                               
President and Mrs. Obama, our world may not fully recognize it yet, but we have much to thank the two of you for. I think in the years to come it will be more and more obvious. I, for one, am most grateful to the two of you for putting a face on what it means to be compassionate and human, and for never making yourselves seem "above" the people you have served and represented during your time in office. I believe you think of yourselves just like the rest of us do: people doing the best we can, to do the best we can, in all we do. You have succeeded. Thank you. 

With greatest admiration and appreciation, 

Kristen Caminiti


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When Lack of Life Experience = A Lack of Compassion

I did it again. I responded to a friend of a friend on Facebook. I engaged in political discourse that is likely to go nowhere. But this time, it stuck with me.

A little background. This friend of mine on Facebook is one of my most reasonable and intelligent Facebook friends. Yes, he's also a Republican. And yes, we differ in political opinions quite a bit. But I always enjoy his comments on Facebook and often find myself seeking to understand his viewpoint because I respect him so much as a person. I know him to be kind, generous, and forward thinking. So, when we disagree, instead of saying, "He's so wrong! What an idiot!" I instead find myself wanting to better understand why he thinks what he thinks. Now, this friend, being reasonable, will often state his strong opinions but rarely engages in discussion or argument (he says such discussions are for the dinner table...I'm still waiting for our dinner date). I think he knows his blood pressure is better off because of this rule he has set for himself. But while this friend of mine is reasonable, his friends are not. And I often find my own blood boiling at the comments some of them make. There was one today, regarding a flat tax that I could not let stand. So, I responded, and an argument ensued. You can see it below through screen shots. I removed the name and profile pictures so as not to violate anyone's privacy:




(Apologies for the language...I was fired up!)



So, yes, I get it. After engaging in this long discourse with people I've never met and likely never will, I look like one of the "unreasonable friends" I spoke of above. But bare with me.

As I said, this discussion really stuck with me. I have never met either of these people. I know nothing about them, but, I have to assume that they have had very few (if any) real life encounters with hard working poor people. People who have made the best choices they can in life, given their life circumstances, and who still struggle to make enough money to support their families. And if they truly have never met and had the opportunity to truly get to know people who fall into this category then I get where they're coming from.

My world view was drastically different before I started my graduate degree in Social Work. During my training I had two of the most socially transformative experiences of my life.

First, I interned at a homeless shelter for families. In my role here I met weekly with mothers and fathers who were doing the best they could to provide for their children. These parents were employed. They weren't just sitting on the sidelines looking for a handout. Employment (or well documented disability) was a requirement of this particular program. These were hard-working, committed, and desperate parents. They wanted to do the best they could for their children but life had given them few choices and few opportunities, and so this is where they were. Many of them came from drug addicted parents. Some of them grew up in violent areas where leaving the house every day to get to school was putting one's life at risk, and thus they didn't finish school. Being desperate for money to provide for their families some (but not all by any means) had engaged in illegal activity--theft, prostitution, the sale of drugs-- and had convictions on their record that further limited the choices they now had. I was young, about 23 when I first had the privilege of meeting these brave, inspiring fellow humans. And because of my interactions with them, my world view changed dramatically.

Then, in my second year of internship I interned at Boston Children's Hospital in what was called the Advanced Fetal Care Center. Here I met with women who were pregnant and their partners. Each woman I met with was carrying a baby who had a life threatening abnormality or disease. I sat with mothers and fathers as they learned the most devastating news about their children. I sat with them as they agonized about the decisions they faced: 1) to continue with the pregnancy hoping the child survived to birth and hoping for a few minutes with their baby before he or she died, 2) to continue with the pregnancy with the plan to intervene in any way possible, hoping to save their child and give them a longer life, or 3) to terminate the pregnancy. None of these parents took these decisions lightly. All of the children they were carrying were wanted. But yes, for a host of reasons, all valid reasons, some of them chose to terminate the pregnancy. These brave women taught me that abortion is many things, but most of all it is a private, personal decision, and not one that our government should be involved in making.

Yes, as I said, I get it. I get how you can be so very certain of "the way things should be" until you are faced head on with the people behind the opposing viewpoint. I am one of the lucky ones. I have had these experiences I described above, and so many more in my career as a Social Worker that have brought humanity at its best and at its worst into focus for me and as a result my world view has changed for the better.

So, what do we do? How do we help the people of our Country to have more experiences with more people, who will help them to better understand that the world is not such a black and white place? I know high schools are trying to do it by requiring a service component to graduation, but clearly its not enough. Many colleges have wonderful social justice curriculum and volunteer opportunities, and yet, these efforts miss all those who never go to college. It must start younger, and it must include parents.

We must find a way to include children and parents together in encounters with people who live differently than they do. We must foster discussion, at an early age, about social injustice. I'm not particularly religious, but I know and understand the valuable role that churches can play in this effort and we must challenge church leadership to truly embrace the spirit of Jesus and show care and concern for the least of our people. Our churches must get more people involved in service and must engage their congregations not just in service of others, but more importantly, interactions with others. I fear as a society that we will not change for the better until the majority of our citizens have an opportunity to interact with a wide variety of people from different classes, races, ethnicities, and cultures. We are a Country of many. We must step outside our own little bubble and get to know the many as best as we can. Then, and only then, will we be able to develop a truly compassionate, caring majority who seeks, as I've written about before, to do the most good, for the most people.



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