Bad Choices

To the Parents of the Three Stooges at My Daughter’s Concert Last Saturday . . .

My daughter sang in a choir concert last week. Thirty kids. A couple of songs. It was lovely.

EXCEPT

The couple next to me brought three young children.

In my head, I got judgy. Really judgy. Like I couldn’t focus very well on the second song my kid was singing about nature because these three kids were talking and dancing and whining about an iPhone and throwing a baby doll at the ceiling.

I also have three children.

So I get it.

Three children is bonkers.

Three children is somebody always crying about the game and how it wasn’t fair or the bacon and how she got more or the bathroom and how it’s my turn or the elevator and how he got to press the button last time.

Three children is hard.

And having three children was kicking that mom and dad’s butt last Saturday. At least, I think it was. Because when I wasn’t judging, I was wondering. What is going on over there? Are they okay? Should I say something?

I wanted to. I think maybe I should have. The kids were actually closer to me than they were to their parents. I could have asked in a super-small voice if they could please keep it down because my little girl was up there on stage singing about fireflies and maybe could they please sit down or play the silent game for 45 more seconds? Pretty please?

Except, I did not know their parents. And even if I did use my best preschool teacher voice, mom and dad would have wondered who was that strange scary lady talking to their kids?

So I could have said something to the grown-ups. You know, in between songs, just crouched or scooted over there to say little Larry, Curly, and Trixie were kind of ruining my mommy mojo. Maybe tell them about the bake sale outside in the breezeway.

But I didn’t say anything.

Know why?

You can’t say anything.

You just can’t.

Those were other people’s children. Not mine. If they were my cousins or students or my best friend’s kids, I could have gently intervened. Dudes, pop a squat, my child is singing about wildflowers.

My own children have been corrected by strangers. I usually don’t mind it. I figure if it doesn’t apply, let it fly. And I appreciate when someone tells me: Your son is climbing on that window ledge. Or I think you left your daughter in the ice cream aisle. I will take all the help I can get. Mostly.

But not always. One time during church, when my grandmother was sick and my heart was aching, I just kind of handed over the parenting reins to Jesus. As I quietly wept, my kids argued over the hymnal and knocked over a kneeler on someone’s foot during the Sign of Peace. It was not our finest hour. And it was made worse, not better, when the well-intentioned stranger came to me afterwards to give me some parenting advice. She had a book, she said, and she would send it to me. It helped moms like me raise kids like those.

Moms like me. . . kids like those.

We never entirely know, do we, which kind of mom or dad anybody is. If you see me on my best day, I’m baking bread with my kids, reading, singing, dancing, gardening. We’re riding bikes. We’re playing games. It’s all love and joy all the time.

But catch me on a bad day and I’m swearing. Not at the kids, but definitely about them. And near them. Closing their car door, frackin’sacking-frackin’sacking, and then opening my own. Their are days when my kids feel like too much for me.

Maybe Mr. and Mrs. Choir Concert Crumb Bum were having one of those days. Maybe the games and the bacon and the bathroom and the elevator button had just done them in. Or maybe those kids weren’t even theirs. Maybe they were watching somebody else’s kids on that parent’s worst day and the babysitting adults were just as horrified as I was.

It is possible that they were just crappy parents. That’s what I was thinking for most of the song about sadness. And I wanted very badly to tell them that.

But even if they were the worst parents, they didn’t need my judgment right then. They needed my prayers. And my kindness. And looks of solidarity rather than scorn.

And I needed some perspective. It was just a kids’ concert, after all. Not an ordination or a wedding or funeral. And who knows? Maybe what looked like a family falling apart was actually a family trying desperately to keep it together.

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Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

What I Did Today Instead

I did not march today.

I thought about it. It seemed important.

I wanted to. But I didn’t.

I have been angry since November 8th. Just so angry. And tired. So tired of being so angry. I was worried that today would be just another day of anger. Dies Irae.

And, of course, like many who stayed away, I had reasons.

My youngest daughter had a birthday party to attend. Her first since we’ve moved here. It meant so much to her to feel included.

My oldest had a basketball game. It’s tournament season, and they were already down two players. She really wanted to play her part, and ended up scoring the only points for her team.

My son wanted to play soccer in the yard. And Frisbee. And Badminton. And Star Wars.

My husband was traveling for work.

Getting to a march seemed too much of a hassle, a disruption. Especially to go somewhere to be angry.

But the pictures I saw today were beautiful. So many people I love. And so many strangers. Emboldened. Hopeful. Strong.

But what were they fighting for? some dared to ask. Inclusion, equality, love. All the biggies. Ideas that have felt trampled in recent months.

Even though I did not join, I felt drawn in. I played my part at home. And I behaved differently today because of what was happening.

I have been a little wary of my neighbors since moving to this new town. Today, however, I went out and met some of them. We stood in the cul-de-sac in solidarity and civility, parents of different political persuasions and creeds, chuckling and conversing and watching our children ride bikes until sunset.

I called an old friend, someone I’ve been meaning to reach out to, but it always seemed to be the wrong time. Today, I decided, was the right time.

I had a nagging feeling. Would history judge me? Would I judge me? For cowardice? For silence? For being complacent on a day that demanded action?

But I chose love today. In my way. Quiet devotion to friends and family. Others chose differently. I respect that. More than respect it, I honor and admire it. And I dare to believe that many of you marched today with women like me in your hearts.

Thank you.

Thank you for reminding me of all the ways love can win.

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*** Thank you Kirstin and Leigh Ann for the signs, and, of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda, for the sentiment. For anyone unfamiliar with his sonnet speech at the Tony Awards, watch here or read here.

Ice Cream and Nostalgia

Top 5 Reasons 2016 Was One of Our Top 5 Years (of the Past 5 Years)

1.Oodles more readers. Yes, I’m talking to YOU. In case you missed ‘em, here are five of our most-read posts from 2016:

Our Kids Put the Fun in Dysfunctional

Operation: Airborne Lizzie

Be a Cul-de-sac

Swimming in the Rain

Finding My Voice

2. Family adventures. 2016 was an epic travel year. We kayaked with whales. We visited Iceland. We flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter I felt certain would kill us all. Most of all, we scampered hither and yon with our kiddos and actually, kind of, enjoyed being together [even though 3/5 of the family yacked all over Frankfurt, Germany . . . ugh, some things you just can’t unsee].

3. We published our first book. Which we have yapped about incessantly and ad nauseum, but which if you have somehow missed all of that you should still totally check out HERE. [Also, if you read it and liked it and have not yet rated it on Goodreads or Amazon, we’d love it if you could do us a solid.]

Here are 5 more awesome books we read this year:

Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple

Circling the Sun, by Paula McClain

The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead

The Somme, by Peter Hart

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett

4. Everybody is finally out of diapers and pull-ups – hooray! And 2016 was the first year when all of the children finally learned to sleep in their own beds and leave Mom and Dad alone – double hooray! For those keeping track at home, it has been 12 years of interrupted sleep. No wonder we look so old. Of course, as soon as everyone here was sleep trained, we decided to adopt a dog who is not.  Grrr….

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5. 2016 was the year we discovered podcasts – these awesome radio shows you can download and listen to on your phone when you scrub the bathroom or shovel snow. Podcasts take the menial labor of family life and make it transcendent. Do yourself a huge favor and subscribe to a few today. You’ll never look at dirty dishes the same way again.

Reply All – A show about the Internet, trained rats, and so much more. Ever wonder who invented the pop-up ad? Or why some websites make it almost impossible to reach an actual live person? Or what some of those weird Twitter hashtags actually mean? These guys decode the e-world for the rest of us. Try “Exit & Return,” Parts I and II, or “The Writing on the Wall” episode if you are looking for a place to start.

Revisionist History – Malcolm Gladwell looks back at ideas, events, and people in history and reinterprets them. I’m not doing the show justice in this description. The trilogy about higher education in this country is particularly terrific (“Carlos Doesn’t Remember,” “Food Fight,” and “My Little Hundred Million”).

Radiolab – We’ve been listening to Radiolab on NPR because it makes us smarter, but now we can get every episode and revisit them whenever we want. Don’t take our word for it. Go listen to them. “Patient Zero,” “Colors,” “The Cathedral,” “Birthstory,” or any of the dozens of other terrific episodes.

Heavyweight – Jonathon Goldstein takes people back to revisit a moment in their lives when everything went wrong, and whether it was being bullied at school or loaning CDs that you never got back, he tries to help folks fix what is broken, or at least make peace with it. Try episode #2 “Gregor” for a way in.

This American Life – Still going strong. Still the best in the business when it comes to storytelling. They are 600 episodes in. If you have not started listening yet, I am giddy just thinking about all the great stories just waiting for you.

*There are so many more we could have included here: We Turned Out Okay, Invisibilia, First Timers, 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop, The Writer’s Panel, StartUp, More Perfect, Science Vs, and, of course, Serial.

 

Where did you travel? What did you read? What are you looking forward to in 2017? We love hearing from you. Drop us a line at info@dadvmom.com or on any of our social media platforms.

Twitter – @dadvmom

Facebook – @dadvmomblog

Instagram – dadvmom

DadvMom.com

Holidaze

Merry Christmess

We were home for Christmas today. First time in years we have not lugged our cranky selves and suitcases full of presents across multiple state lines.

And I’m not gonna lie: it was great.

Sure, there was the miscommunication about the grocery shopping. I thought the hubs picked up the beef roast yesterday, and he figured I had done it. Turns out nobody did. And then there was the dollhouse. Did either of us feel like assembling it when we got home late last night? Nope. And the crazy early-bird children. Why do they always awaken at the arse-crack of dawn? Whose bright idea was it to put Christmas in the morning anyway? It should totally be a nighttime holiday. When I’m in charge, man, that’s the first change I’m making.

But rather than cataclysmic, most of this stuff was freeing. Because I was bonkers tired, I stayed in jammies most of the day. With no big showy main course, we got resourceful in the kitchen. Our dinner guests were all family. They were fine with the soup, salad, and quiche we tossed together. And unwrapping pieces of a dollhouse in a giant box turns out to be just as fun as unwrapping a whole house. Lizzie even enjoyed assembling the giant multilevel toy with Katie and Dad as helper elves. And even though there are still dishes in the sink and bits of wrapping paper all over the floor, I just put another log on the fire, and I’m heading into the living room to lie on the couch with my kids.

I like to travel. I like visiting folks and hobnobbing at big family functions.

But, especially on days like this, I like home most of all.

Wishing you and yours discombobulation, merriment, and sloth.

Happy Christmas!

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Talk to Strangers

Listening to Strangers

2016 was a tumultuous year outside of this blog, but it was also a pretty amazing year inside of DadvMom.com. We published our first book, put up more content than ever before, and connected with thousands of new readers. It was so great to hear from folks we know who enjoyed our book. But our friends are also totally biased. They even said nice things about the weirdly dry potato soup that Annmarie made last Wednesday. (How can soup be dry? I dunno, but it was. It really was.) So even more fun than the encouraging words from friends were the cool words from total strangers, folks we met on this writing journey who read the book, dug the book, and happily spread the good vibrations and glad tidings across the Interwebs. To them, we say a big merry thank you! And we encourage you to check out some good work via the links below.

Army Amy is a super lovely random stranger I found via an article she wrote about moving in the military. I so related to watching television and eating snacks with cardboard boxes judging me in all directions. Army Amy’s writing is simultaneously hilarious and heartfelt, and totally worth checking out, and she was kind enough to review our book:

The book bills itself as a parent’s guide but I think it’s so much more universal than that. Annmarie and Ken narrate alternating chapters as they recount their journey from college co-eds to a family of five in the span of 17 years with 11 (yes, 11!) moves in the middle of it all. Annmarie worked as a teacher with challenging students and her husband was in the Navy. They both eventually moved on from those careers, but you can tell that they answered a calling to forge a difficult path. I really loved that! Hat tip to people who choose the tough road. They shared their wisdom through all of life’s changes and challenges, and that’s what I was needing to hear right now. (Not to mention, the writing is beautifully lyrical; you don’t need to be going through a tough time to appreciate it.)

. . . You will love this book if you are in the military or a family member, if you live a topsy-turvy life, or if you appreciate a well-told tale. . . . This was a can’t-put-down book for me, and I can always use more of those on my nightstand.

 Read the full review, and check out Amy’s site here.

 

Another lovely review came from a writer at Queen of My Fairy Tale. (I know her name, but since she is sweetly anonymous on her site, I am not sharing it here.) I stumbled across her thoughtful blog late one night, and I immediately connected to the battle of raising three children and trying to keep your cool. About Here Be Dragons, she says:

Hands down one of the best books I have ever read. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend that you go buy it now….I mean right now! It should be given out to newly weds, new parents, 2nd 3rd 4th time parents, grandparents and everyone in between. There is something within these pages for everyone.

. . . It made me laugh, cry, shake my head yes (so many times!) that I felt like I knew these people. I related and it was a breath of fresh air, knowing that I am not alone in the crazy cyclone of a parenting world.

Read the full review and check out the fairy tale queen here.

 

There is still time to have this book in your hot little hands – or in the hands of someone you love – in time for Hanukkah, Christmas, or Festivus. Order yours today.

And thanks for hanging in there with us during 2016. Such a difficult year in lots of ways, but it felt great to have this safe space to call home.  Happy holidays, everyone.

 

Holidaze

I Can’t Believe It’s Almost Christmas! (Part II) What should I buy my Mom/Dad/Husband/Wife/Cousin/Sister/Best Friend?

Sure, they want gift cards. But what could be less personal than 10 or 20 bucks towards a meal at Panera or a mani/pedi?

Give the folks you love permission to turn off the phone, the television, and global politics, and disappear into a good, juicy book.

Here are just a few of our favorites:

For people who need a laugh, try Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, by David Sedaris, or Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple (though if you have not read Where Have You Gone, Bernadette? maybe read that one first).dadvmom-com_christmasbooks_dressyourfamily

For folks who might want to think about religion and the way it both hurts and heals, Searching for Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, is haltingly lovely and wise.

For someone who needs a story to disappear into for awhile, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, took the immigrant tale I thought I knew and made me rethink the promises of our nation. It was a sweeping story with really beautiful writing. In a different vein, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad really is as good as everybody has said, making us imagine what if there really had been a railroad beneath the ground transporting slaves, and what, if anything, freedom might have looked like on that journey northward state by state.

For the World War II buff, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, Mila 18, by Leon Uris, and The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, all take a familiar story and make it both strange and somehow more important. Similarly, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies take us inside the court of Henry VIII to consider a story we thought we knew through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell.

For folks who keep skipping book club, but want to catch up with both new and old favorites, try The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain (or her newer one Circling the Sun, for the Out of Africa afficionados on your list). Life of Pi, by Yan Martel, is beautifully written and metaphorical, and The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah stayed with me more deeply than I initially anticipated. Or try a Brooklyn trilogy – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith, Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson, and Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín, would make for a great comparative series.

dadvmom-com_christmasbooks_lifeofpiAnd if you are looking to escape into a world of romance, try the debut novel Just Enough, by Elizabeth Oaklyn, Austenland, by Shannon Hale, Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, or the Outlander series, by Diana Gabaldon.

Short stories are always a good bet for folks in between lengthier reads. Jhumpa Lahiri is one of my favorite writers of this genre. The first story in Interpreter of Maladies might be my all-time favorite, though Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth collection is also quite stunning. Similarly, books of essays are always a great gift. I love to revisit E.B. White essays, and love any edition that includes “This Is New York.” I disappeared into Joan Didion’s collected nonfiction last year. We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live is some of the best writing I have ever encountered.  And though I love Ann Patchett’s fiction, I especially appreciated her nonfiction collection from a few years ago, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.

Poetry books are perfect stocking stuffers. The Trouble with Poetry, by Billy Collins is always a good place to start for the poem-o-phobes in your life, and you can’t go wrong with anything by Mary Oliver. Dream Work is one of my favorites.

As a writer, I am a sucker for books about writing. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird was one of my first loves. And, though I never was a huge Stephen King reader, his slim book On Writing is a great look at the writing life.

And it is never too late to become the parent, the partner, or person you always thought you might be. Try Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, Love Warrior, by Glennon Melton, or Shrill, by Lindy West, to examine the assumptions many of us have about women, men, children, and marriage.

And finally, of course, there is always this old thing. If you have not yet picked up a copy of our book, we’d love to come hang out under your tree. Here Be Dragons: A Parent’s Guide to Rediscovering Purpose, Adventure, and the Unfathomable Joy of the Journey is a love story for families just trying to make every day a blessing.

All of these books are available NOW at your favorite independent bookstores or online stores and they are also super-easy to wrap. Grab some for people you love today.

Holidaze

Aack! I Can’t Believe It’s Almost Christmas! What Should I Buy My Kids?

 

When in doubt, our answer is always books, books, books.

Here are some of our kids’ favorites:

Ages 0-4Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. We sang this as a lullaby to each of our kids, sometimes changing the words to “I see Mommy looking at me” or “I see Henry looking at me.”  A quintessential sing- and read-aloud book.

The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown. Of course, all of our children loved Goodnight Moon, the perfect bedtime book to read again and again. But not everyone knows this story about a mommy bunny proving her love for her little bunny boy by describing all the places she would travel (the mountains, the circus, the ocean) and all the things she would become (a mountain climber, a fisherman, the wind) to care for her child. Our kids especially seemed to love this book when they were seeking reassurance and extra snuggles.

ABC, by Alison Jay. We LOVE Alison Jay’s interlocked illustrations in all of her books, especially the way stories are told between the pages.  This is the kind of book we came back to again and again with our kids and always noticed something different.  They loved looking for the “hints” between the pages.

Seals on the Bus, by Lenny Hort. Most younger readers will encounter the “Wheels on the Bus” song in preschool or at the library.  This book is a humorous rewrite with animals hopping on the bus (vipers instead of wipers on the bus, seals instead of wheels).  We laugh and snort every time we read it. www-dadvmom-com_aackitsalmostchristmas_sealsonthebus

Ages 5-7 –The Junie B. Jones books, by Barbara Park. I know folks are fiercely divided about these.  Some think the grammatical mistakes teach kids the wrong way to speak or that because Junie makes a lot of bad choices, the books teach children to behave poorly.  But I think these books are so funny, and they always end the right way, with Junie learning her lessons, and trying to behave better. There are 26 volumes in the series and we have read all 26 out loud twice, once to our now 11-year-old and once again to our now 7-year-old.  I anticipate reading them all again when Henry, age 4, is ready. All of these books are terrific for early and emerging readers, especially for children anxious about starting kindergarten.

The BFG, by Raold Dahl. Dahl’s books are such timeless, wonderful read-alouds. I remember first thinking that his books might be “too scary” for my kids, but they are always just the right kind of scary – a giant who turns out to be friendly, mean adults who get punished. The worlds Dahl’s characters inhabit are always safe and always funny for kids. Our 7-year-old daughter’s teacher read The BFG to them at school and Lizzie loved it so much that she came home and wanted to read it again with us.

 

Ages 1-99Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst. I know they made a movie about this a few years back, but the book is truly excellent. So funny, so lovely. Especially good to have on hand to remind kiddos that everyone, everyone, everyone has bad days . . . even in Australia:)

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The Missing Piece, by Shel Silverstein. This is one of those rare books that works for all ages.  It works for a beginning reader, an intermediate reader, a teenager and an adult.  Children will love the humor of the different shapes trying to fit in the circle.  More mature readers will love the metaphor of being their own complete person without seeking another person to fulfill them and meet their needs.  All three of our kids have reached for this book at many different ages.

 

And here are a couple of middle reader/tween reads.  Folks are always asking us for books for this age (aside from the awesome Harry Potter and Hunger Games series, of course).

  1. The Dork Diaries series, by Rachel Renee Russell. Our daughter began reading these as a 3rd grader and still enjoyed them through the 5th grade.  While they weren’t always my cup of tea, she treasured them and shared them with friends, and seemed boosted by the difficult days endured by Nikki, the main character.  Even now, in middle school, she still keeps the series on her shelf.
  1. The I Survived series, by Lauren Tarshis. These stories are great for both girls and boys, escorting children through a firsthand look at difficult days in history — earthquakes, hurricanes, the sinking of the titanic.  With a happy ending because the whole time, you know that your narrator survives the ordeal.dadvmom-com_aackitsalmostchristmas_isurvivedbooks
  1.  The Giver series, by Lois Lowry. Many kids encounter The Giver in middle school, but there are 3 additional books to fill out the quartet – Gathering Blue, Messenger, and Son. Our daughter counts them among her favorites.
  1. A Night Divided, by Jennifer A. Nielsen.  This is the story of 12-year-old Gerta, and her family, living on opposite sides of the Berlin wall. The book launched our oldest daughter into a reading spree about real historical events as seen and experienced in fictionalized stories narrated by children. Others like this include Fever 1793, by Laurie Halse Anderson, and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, by Jacqueline Kelly.
  1. Wonder, by R. J. Palacio. This is another book kids usually encounter in middle school. It tackles familiar topics of friendship and bullying through the eyes of 10-year-old Auggie who has severe facial deformities. It is a great book for middle readers to think about how they handle differences and nonconformity, and instructs them to be more sensitive and accepting.

 

Young Adult/Books for Teens

  1. Pretty much anything by John Green, but especially Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars. These books were not written when I was a teenager, so I had to read them as an adult, but they resonate well with teen readers looking for wry, wise narrators, and a little (okay, sometimes a lot) bit of heartbreak. Plus, with John Green books, smart kids are celebrated and awesome, not nerdy kiddos to be picked on.
  2. The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. A great read for the Science Fiction lover or kiddo not afraid of What Ifs. This is a story of what might happen if our days got just a little longer and a little longer. Such an interesting look at how an initially insignificant change can have much larger consequences.
  3. The Lords of Discipline, by Pat Conroy. I loved all of Conroy’s books as an adult, but this one resonated with my most as I was thinking about college. This one is a beautiful story about male friendship and courage, not to mention an ode to the city of Charleston, South Carolina.
  4. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. Death is the narrator here, helping readers navigate what it might have been like to be a German girl during WWII whose family is hiding a Jewish man. An important and beautiful read.
  5. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is not a book for younger readers, but it is an important book for high school students. It tells the story of Melinda who is being ostracized after calling the police at a teen party. This book gives voice to victims and those who feel powerless in the face of violence or bullying.

 

Yes, the children would probably like iTunes cards and movie theater tickets more. Or clothes. Or money. But reading fluency is the single greatest predictor of college-readiness, not to mention one of the best lifelong gifts you can give your child. For a very Merry Christmas, we say, bring on the books.

Have a wonderful book title for kids?  We’d love to hear it.  Leave a comment or email us at info@dadvmom.com.

 

Adventure

There Is No Such Thing as Lost

Sometimes the kids and I hop on a bus just to see where it goes.

I learned recently that most folks don’t do this.

Maybe it’s from a lifetime of ill-planning.

Maybe it’s because we have lived in so many places.

Maybe it’s because I am a discombobulated traveler.

I dunno.

But I am baffled by train schedules and bus routes, especially in foreign countries. And I have no patience for waiting at a stop while perfectly good vehicles unload and load, especially when my son is so enamored of things that Go! Go! Go!

Friends have pointed out that they prefer to know where their transport is heading before they climb aboard. They have concerns for my family’s hobo approach.

“What if you need a bathroom?”

We look for one.

“What if it takes you way out of town?”

It usually doesn’t.

“But what if it does?”

We hop off, cross the street, and wait for some form of conveyance heading back in the opposite direction.

What if? What if? What if?

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In college, I spent a summer semester in London. Except for a school trip to Canada, it was the first time I had ever left America, the first time I had ever lived in a foreign country or even a big city, the first time I had ever navigated public transportation on my own.

I was a student on a budget. I ate a lot of cereal that summer and ramen noodles. But I had a metro card for unlimited travel during the month of July. So I used it. After morning classes, I would often head to the nearest Underground station.

The London tube is pretty straightforward. Not complicated with numbers, letters, colors and the dreaded express vs. local decision demanded of subway travelers in New York City or Paris. In London, you just pick a colored train route and go. Sometimes, I would take the escalator to a line I had never ridden—the Jubilee or maybe Bakerloo—and ride it to a stop with a name that sounded just as interesting—Elephant and Castle, Piccadilly Circus, West Ham. Sometimes, I popped up in a flea market or in front of a theater. I browsed postcards or splurged on a ticket to a musical or play. Usually, I disembarked in a neighborhood. I walked along row houses with iron fences, or peered through hedges sheltering secret gardens. I crossed unfamiliar streets and made believe that they were mine.

I am not afraid to be lost. No matter where I go, somebody—most people, in fact—know exactly where we are. I just summon courage and ask. Or live in the not knowing. Which is another kind of gift.

Are we on the left bank of the river or the right? Are we heading towards town or away from it? There is something quite freeing about wandering a city and taking it all in. In Toronto, we found a restaurant serving homemade cinnamon rolls. In Paris, we discovered a jungle gym with a merry-go-round. In Germany, we stopped to feed goats.

I am a lousy tourist. If there is a long line at a major attraction or some tower to ascend, I would much rather linger in a café or stroll to a bakery and buy bread. When I travel, I want to feel what it is like to live in a place, not just visit for an hour or a day.

We caught a bus on my birthday that took over an hour to reach our destination. A subway train would have been faster, more direct. But we saw Oxford Street illuminated for the holidays and watched commuters scurrying beneath umbrellas. It was a dark and rainy night in London. And, accidentally on purpose, we breathed it all in.

Solidarity Brothers and Sisters

What Do I Tell My Kids?

I tell them about suffrage. About the women and men who fought for all of us to have the right to vote.

I tell them about the Civil Rights Movement. That bodies were beaten and spirits were crushed, and still, the people fought and triumphed.

I tell them America was not ready for a woman President this year. But that will absolutely change.

They will ask, “But why did people vote for a mean man, Mommy?”

And then I will have to defend President-elect Donald Trump. I will say that he probably is not as mean as he sometimes seemed during this campaign. He is a father and a husband. He might not believe women can be equal to men. But he is wrong about this. And, in January, it will be his job to be a President for everyone, not just the people who voted for him. And, boy, isn’t that a hard job? Isn’t that kind of crazy? But every four years, someone has to do that. It’s how America works.

They will ask, “But what can we do now?”

And I will remind them about how we are going to visit great-grandma Mary tonight. We will give her lots of kisses and an ice cream cone. We will go across the hall and invite her neighbor, Betty, to come play cards with us. We will comfort the sick.

When we get home, we will put non-perishables in our backpacks for the fall food drive at school. We will feed the hungry.

And we will finish our Veterans Day pictures paying tribute to those whose sacrifices we sometimes take for granted. We will strengthen this nation.

We will be the changes we want to see.

And we will hug each other. When I smell the innocence of their warm little heads and feel the love in their strong little hearts, I will remember they are the future, and that love – not fear, not anger, not disgust, or even sadness – but love, love always wins.

*And after I put them in bed tonight, I will listen to this song on repeat for awhile. For anyone who needs simultaneous sadness and healing. It is not a Christmas song, but rather a day after Christmas song.  And it is just right.

 

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

 

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music from the heart.

 

Poem by Howard Thurman (1899-1981)

Music by Dan Forrest (b. 1978)

www.danforrest.com