Changing for the better

silence-quote

Hey, there. It’s me.

It’s a new year, that time when we all make promises to ourselves to do things better, to make different choices, to improve ourselves. Some call them “resolutions.” I prefer to think of them as goals.

I generally make several goals as the year changes. Almost every year, for example, I set a goal to be more organized. Mixed results on that one. Sometimes I tell myself I’ll work out more. Again, mixed results.

This year, I’m pledging to speak out.

It’s been a while since I’ve written in this space. I can make up all sorts of excuses, but they don’t matter. I just didn’t write.

This year, I’m pledging to write about the things I’m speaking out about.

Here’s why:

I’m a Democrat. I’m a liberal. And I was – I am – an unabashed, unapologetic Hillary Clinton supporter. I like Hillary Clinton. I wanted her to win. I donated money to her campaign. I slapped a “Clinton-Kaine” sticker on my car and planted a “Clinton-Kaine” sign in our front yard.

And I was so convinced that Hillary Clinton would win that I ignored all the signs that pointed otherwise – the anger of those who supported Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the fear among many whites of immigrants and minorities, the hatred of a certain segment of the American population for the Obama family and liberals in general.

I lived in a bubble, as so many of my fellow liberals did. I felt like a country who could elect Barack Obama twice could never elect someone like Donald Trump. And I truly thought that people would not vote against their own best interests.

But I didn’t speak out. I let others lift their voices, but I didn’t speak out. I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of my friends and relatives who are more conservative than I. I didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable around me, although I felt very uncomfortable when they spoke untruths about the Obamas and Clintons. I didn’t speak out.

So when Donald Trump won the Electoral College and it seemed like hatred suddenly oozed from every crevice in America, it felt like a punch in the gut. I never saw it coming.

And when people I know and like and maybe even love laughed at my visible discomfort and told me to “get over it,” it hurt. It hurt. How could someone find delight in others’ pain? And how could someone who did ever be or have been my friend or relative? It hurt like hell.

Had I treated my more conservative friends in this manner when my candidate won in 2008 and 2012? I didn’t think I had.

So I didn’t speak out before Nov. 8. I’m not deluding myself into thinking that had I engaged more I could have changed the election’s outcome. But I didn’t really do much to effect that outcome except vote.

But starting today, I’m making a change.

I will speak out against intolerance and racism and xenophobia and hatred and bullying and just all around meanness. I will speak out against these things when I witness them. I will speak out against these things so that I can stand in solidarity with those who are disenfranchised and mistreated and look differently than I do and come from different backgrounds and places. I will speak out so that my children know that bullies will not prevail in our neighborhood, in our town, in our state, in our country, in our world.

I will speak out so that I can sleep at night knowing that I tried to make a difference. And I will speak out in this space as often as I can because that’s one small thing that I know I can do to try to make the world a better place.

Some folks who read this blog might be offended. They might stop reading. I hope they don’t because I think we need to try to understand other points of view. You don’t have to agree, but you should be able to respectfully listen to someone’s ideas and viewpoints.

I invite civil discussion and want to hear what others have to say. If you’re one of those readers who disagrees with my views, I invite you to stay but understand if you can’t or won’t. If you leave, I’ll be sad.

But I won’t stop speaking out.

Please stick around.

 

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Love (delayed) is a many splendored thing

Oh, the drama of third grade. Who knew?

Last week, my 8-year-old asked me to eat lunch with him. That request usually comes not because he’s dying to spend time with his mom, but because he wants the chance to have a conversation with his buddy Alex during lunch.

At his elementary, talking is verboten! And if the lunchroom crone spies with her beady eyes any unsuspecting student actually conversing with another, be they kindergarteners or fifth graders, she screeches that they need to eat ON THE CHAIRS! That would be some cold metal folding chairs lined up near the stage in the cafetorium.

Yes, it’s quite Draconian and Dickensian and just plain awful. I mean, if you get your jollies bullying little kids, you’ve got a screw loose somewhere.

So anyway, I don’t mind having lunch with Tom and his pal every so often. I got there Wednesday about the time they were coming in from recess. Tom gave me a fist bump as he walked by, all confidence and third-grade swagger.

A few paces behind scurried A. (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will be shortly revealed.) She’s a cute little thing with long blonde hair and thick glasses that hide pretty blue eyes. She loves Tom. L-O-V-E-S him. She told me so last year. She walked up to me this day, as she does many others, and gave me a hug.

Then she looked plaintively into my eyes and said, “Would you please make Tom ask me to eat with you? I’ve been asking him since last year, and he always says ‘next time.’ “

She batted her eyelashes.

“Oh, gee, A.,” I said. “The thing with 8-year-old boys is that they like girls as friends, but they’re afraid people will think they LIKE them if they ask them to eat lunch with them. We’ll work something out another time, OK?”

She smiled and walked on to the lunch line.

About five minutes later, out walked Alex carrying a tray of food, followed by Tom carrying a tray of food, followed by A. carrying a tray of food.

“I don’t care if she eats with us,” Alex said, pulling out a chair at the table in the hallway.

But Tom clearly did care. “Mom, make her go back to the cafeteria!” he said. I know A. heard him because she was right behind him. But she just put her tray on the table and sat down.

I told Tom it was OK, that we could all eat together. But he persisted. “She’s so annoying,” he whined.

I looked at A. to see if the barb stung, but she looked for all the world like a little girl who was getting what she wanted.

“Listen, honey,” I said to A. “I’m not sure we can have two friends eat with us in the hallway. The principal doesn’t like that.”

“Oh, no, it’s OK once you’re in the third grade,” she said, taking a dainty bite out of her breaded chicken patty.

That’s not true. But I didn’t want to send A. back into the gulag for many reasons. The Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher would surely banish her to the chairs, for one. But also, it would have been mean. What was the harm in sharing lunch? I would never in a million years want a kid to cry over this.

However, my own started crying. He was looking panicked, and big tears welled in his eyes and spilled over onto his ketchup-stained cheeks.

“Mom!” he said. “Please! I can’t stand it!”


 Meanwhile, Alex just calmly ate his lunch.

“You two talk amongst yourselves,” I said to A. and Alex. “You, mister, better come with me.”

I pulled Tom around the corner for a little come-to-Jesus meeting.

“Listen, buddy,” I said, “you need to pull it together. It’s just lunch.”

“Mom,” he said, looking up at me pleadingly, tears streaming down his face, “she’s SO annoying! I can’t stand it!”

I can’t help it. I wanted to laugh. He was so sincere. But I kept a straight face.

“You sound like a mean boy,” I said.

He nodded defiantly. “I WANT to be mean!” he said.

But I told him that he’s not a mean boy. He’s a nice boy, and he didn’t really want to hurt A.’s feelings. And telling her to go back to the cafeteria would definitely do that.

“And you know,” I said, “you might be annoying to some people. And I wouldn’t want anyone to be mean to you.”

He just shook his head.

I sighed.

“OK,” I said. “I guess I’ll just go home, and all three of you guys can go back to the cafeteria.”

He sniffed, wiped his eyes and nose with his shirt, and said, “Never mind.”

We went back to the table, where A. commenced making the best lunchtime conversation. She talked about what she’d done the last weekend, how she likes to spy on her teen-age brother, what she wants to be when she grows up.

Alex joined in, and Tom grudgingly said a few things.

Then A. got up to go get a napkin, and Tom pounced.

“She’s so annoying, Mom,” he said.

“Stop it,” I said. “She’s not annoying.”

He looked panicky again. “I cannot be seen with a girl!” he finally said.

Finally. We get some truth.

After eliciting promises from Alex that he would tell everyone A. was NOT Tom’s girlfriend, Tom relaxed. A. returned, and lunch calmed down. Pretty soon, it was time to dump their trays and join the other third graders.

As I walked back home, I remembered part of the problem. A. has loved Tom since kindergarten, when she was Mama Bear to his Papa Bear in the kindergarten music program (until Tom bailed at the last minute because he had stage fright.) But they haven’t had the same classroom teacher since kindergarten. And A. has all this bottled up unrequited love just bursting inside her.

Plus last summer, Tom and I were at Dollar General, and he was ding-donging me to get him a playground ball. I was tired and hot and trying to get home to fix dinner, so I acquiesced. We were on the way to the car when we ran into A. and her mom.

I started talking to A.’s mom about her son, who’s my older son’s age. And A. started talking to Tom, who mostly grunted in return.

Then I heard A. say, “Why does your ball say ‘Girls Rule?’ “

Tom looked at the black-and-white ball, and sure enough, in hot pink letters, it screamed “GIRLS RULE!”

“Aw, geez,” he said at the time, and A. just smiled.

 I think she’s pretty quick on her feet, that one.