Browsing Tag

bravery

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.

Babies

How The Worst Typhoon In History Taught Me To Appreciate Crying Babies

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Adapted from Our New Book, Here Be Dragons

 

I never really liked babies. I love my own, of course. But that’s a genetic imperative. Other people’s babies? For most of my adult life, my feelings ranged from mild disinterest to barely concealed annoyance. I never found their outfits particularly cute or their peek-a-boo games terribly entertaining. And travelling with them on airplanes? I always said I would rather be stuck in the back-row-middle seat next to the toilet, than be sitting anywhere near someone else’s baby in flight. Until, that is, I went to the Philippines. In November of 2013, forty minutes after sunrise, in the wake of the worst typhoon in recorded human history, I changed my mind about kids.

When Typhoon Haiyan made landfall on November 8, 2013, it brought sustained winds of 196 miles per hour, and gusts topping 250. Had it hit the United States, its outer bands would have stretched from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, CA. I flew into the disaster zone with a medical relief team, on one of the first Marine Corps C-130s carrying aid workers. We landed on a pitch-black runway in a city with no lights. Amidst the rubble of a military barracks, we established our forward operating base.

The next morning, at first light, we boarded a Philippine Air Force Huey and headed south. What we saw confirmed our worst fears. Nothing was left intact. Even the sturdiest buildings had their roofs ripped away. The storm surge had rushed for miles, reducing houses to matchsticks. Ships lay hundreds of yards inland, like toys dropped amid the debris. I have been in warzones. But nothing compared to the devastation I saw flying along the Philippine coastline.

We circled the village of Tanauan and identified what we assumed was the clinic. Between the scattered rubble and crowds of people, there was no way to land. So we diverted to a strip of empty beach a few miles away. As we approached, people sprinted towards the descending helicopter. The pilot hovered a few feet off the ground, and we leapt. As our ride lifted away, a crowd of villagers gathered. We had been warned that they might try to take our supplies. The opposite was true. They were hungry and scared, but grateful, and they helped us make our way to the clinic.

The makeshift hospital was set up inside the former city hall, one of the only buildings left with walls still standing. Hundreds were already gathered, seeking medical help. Most had walked miles. Wounds were starting to fester, and the air stank of gangrene. I made my way to the second floor where a surgery was underway.

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All day and all night, patients arrived in a steady stream, bearing gaping, jagged gashes, many of them showing signs of gangrene. For a rookie like me, those injuries were at least straightforward. Open, clean, disinfect, pack, and bandage. That I could handle.

The “injury” that knocked me off balance, oddly enough, had nothing to do with the typhoon. Late one evening, a pregnant woman arrived on the back of a moped. She was in labor, but struggling. The clinic was blacked out, lit only by the occasional flashlight and our headlamps bobbing up and down as we worked. Patients lay huddled in groups on the floor. Our OBGYN led the expectant mother to the “operating table,” and immediately determined a normal delivery was out of the question. Because of how the baby was positioned, a C-section would be necessary to save the lives of both mother and child.

The surgeons decided to begin the operation at dawn. When the first ray of sun split the horizon, I said a prayer. Please help this mother. Please save this baby. As the surgery began, a few of us huddled on the floor around a camp stove. Someone brewed a pot of tea, and we sat in silence, sipping from tin mugs, straining to hear the doctors talking softly to each other as they worked. Then, a sound I will never forget. A baby’s cry, healthy, strong, and defiant.

I felt the sun warming my neck, looked down into my cup, and wept. I tried to make my tears less obvious. My team in the Philippines included some of the toughest people I have ever known: combat medics, Special Forces operators, a paratrooper from the French Foreign Legion. When I looked up, I could see we all felt the same thing—our faces wore identical expressions of exhaustion and relief, but above all—joy. That baby may have been crying the loudest, but we all joined in varying degrees.

Six hours after that sunrise, we called in a Philippine Air Force helicopter to evacuate our most critical patients. A cardiac case, an amputee, a new mother, and a six-hour-old baby girl were airlifted to Manila. Miracles do happen. Even in the wake of tragedy. To this day, whenever I hear a baby cry, I smile inside.

Even on airplanes.

A version of this article originally appeared on Fatherly.com.

Skool Daze

Crying at School

I was 19 years old the first time I cried at school.

Okay, actually, that was the third time.

The first time I cried at school was because I spilled grape juice on my white corduroys. Nobody was home at my house to bring me new pants, so I had to go back to class and the other kids laughed at me.

The second time I cried at school was when I lost the Arbor Day poster contest to my classmate, Tracy. I was jealous. I thought my poem about a tree was better than her picture of a tree. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.* When I did not win, I told my friends at recess to play 3-square instead of 4-square, so Tracy could not play. Which was a total dick move. (Tracy, I’m so sorry. Seriously. I don’t know where you are living right now, but if you are ever up for a game of 4-square, please give me a call.) Tracy told the teacher, who pulled me aside and pretty much told me I was being a dick, and when we went back to the classroom, I put my head down and cried until the bell rang to go home.

If we are being technical, I also cried in the bathroom during junior high dances because Steve was dancing with Allison and not with me. But everybody cried about that, plus, it was after school, so I do not think it should count.

But the other first time I cried at school, the one I remember most vividly, was not an occasion when I was clumsy or jilted or mean. It was because someone was mean to me.

I had prepared a presentation about the poet, Elizabeth Bishop, who was not only a luminary writer, but someone who fought during her lifetime to be recognized in the literary canon, which was snooty, and patriarchal, and totally biased against the contributions of women. I gave my presentation with all the exuberance of a college sophomore. I was naïve and excited and proud that I had quoted so many of Bishop’s poems in my presentation, which I thought made me seem smart. I argued that Elizabeth Bishop had paved the way for all poets to unite beneath the banner of POETRY and that even though it was sad she did not reap the gains during her lifetime, I did not think there was any longer a need for a protected space for women’s poets. WE HAD ARRIVED. It was about at this point in my presentation that my professor, an avid women’s poetry guru, interrupted me. “Had I learned NOTHING in her class?” “Had I not been listening to the way women’s voices are SILENCED?” She announced she could not hear one more word from me, and if I did not have something better to say then I should sit down.

In the days that followed, I thought of many better things to say:

–“As a matter of fact, I do have more to say, but I don’t want to hear one more word from you. Good day, madam. I said, good day.” At which point, I flipped my cape over my shoulder, and strode boldly out of the room. (In this version of the daydream, I am wearing a cape, but not a weird cape, more like a sort of poetry ninja/superhero.)

–“If you are so concerned about how women’s voices have been silenced over the years, why are you silencing mine? Please sit down, professor. I am not yet finished.”

–In one version of the daydream, I simply return to my desk, gather my things, and walk to the door. At which point, I turn and say to the rest of the class, “Are you going to sit there or join me in the fight?” One by one, my classmates gather their belongings and exit the room, leaving my professor with her shame. She calls later and begs me to return, begs all of us to return, but we refuse. Instead, Mary Oliver—who was an actual guest professor at my college that term and who, because I was too busy suffering from poetry abuse down the hall, I did not even learn about until much later in life—Mary Oliver agrees to teach me and my classmates about women and poetry.

Instead, in the real version of events, I shook my head, quietly indicated that No, of course I did not have anything else to say, and sat down. As the next terrified presenter took her place at the podium, I began to weep quietly. And though there were 14 other young adults in that classroom, no one said anything to me. No one even looked my way. No one wanted to ruin a chance of an A. Only Dana, who sat in front of me, a usually flamboyant and playful fellow, who had sung “Beauty School Dropout” in a recent school production of Grease, reached over and took my hand. He awkwardly held it for the remaining 45 minutes of that godforsaken class. Afterwards, he said we should go see the dean and file a formal complaint. There was no excuse for the way I had been treated.

But I was cowardly and afraid and thought I had done something wrong by floating an idea with which my professor had disagreed.

I did not fight for myself.

And I did not allow someone else to fight for me.

Instead, I attended that horrible class for the remainder of the semester, accepted my B-, and never took another poetry class again.

 

When I talked to my kids about going back to school this week, I did not harp on the homework or the spelling tests, or how they should eat their vegetables at lunch. I just told them to be like Dana.

Whenever you see someone left out of four square, go to her.

If you see someone sad about posters or slow dancing or a presentation or pants, comfort her.

When you see someone crying at school, reach out your hand.

And, if that person needs help that is bigger than you, find it. If someone does not know how to stand up for herself, help find her voice. Tell a teacher, tell a grownup. Find Mary Oliver. Don’t let anyone be schooled at school.

Be a Dana.

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*What does it feel like to be a tree?

Swaying your branches and shading me.

Does it hurt when you get stung by a bee?

. . .

The poem languished on for about ten stanzas, but my poster paper was really only big enough for about eight, so the final lines had to be squashed in at the bottom, letters smaller and smaller, like the opening credits to a terrible Star Wars prequel.

Adventure

Findings: Days 6-14

 

For the first few days of our cross-country trip, I was on a roll. We drove, ate candy, argued about the iPad, and just when we thought we could not stand one more moment traveling together, we arrived somewhere magical.

After that, the kids fell asleep and I wrote about it.

Then I fell asleep and we started all over the next day.

It was a pretty great routine, but like most charmed journeys, this one was unsustainable.

Somewhere around day 5 ½, instead of writing at night, I ate half a bag of Cheetos and went to bed. While this is not a dietary practice I can recommend, succumbing to semi-slothful behavior after several weeks of packing boxes, lugging furniture, and saying goodbyes . . . well, that’s something to which I can give my full stamp of approval. To everything there is a season — a time to laugh, a time to cry, a time to pack, a time to move, a time to write cathartically about friendships and farewells, and a time to process all of that with junk food and sleep.

Thus, while I had hoped to amass two weeks of pithy truths and inspiring stories of my family triumphing in the face of roadside adversity, what follows, instead, are the briefest of highlights — some awesome, most ordinary — from the rest of our trip across America:

–We swam beneath a small waterfall. I fell into a muddy creek carrying our only towels. Ken and I argued about crossing other people’s rivers.

–Lizzie, Katie, and Henry rode horses. Ken and I did not.

–I grew tired of carrying Henry one morning, and accidentally set him down in a pile of red ants. The hundred or so crawling up and down his legs bit him/stung him (note to self: look up what it is ants do) at least a dozen times before I realized my mistake and swatted them off. Poor boy had legs like chicken pox. He could only be consoled with watermelon.

–When it comes to catching them, kids love fish. When it comes to eating them, not so much.

–There are good people living in San Antonio, Dallas, Oklahoma City, St. Louis, and Cincinnati. (There are good people living lots of other places, too. We just didn’t go there.) Without exception, even when we had to battle traffic, weather, or adjust our itinerary to make it work, visits with old friends were a delight. If you do nothing else today, look at a map, and scheme a trip to see a faraway friend. You won’t be disappointed.

–I am a mustard snob. I get a little judgy when restaurants only have yellow mustard and not stadium or Dijon.

–I had a grown-up, mostly civil, in-search-of-common-ground conversation with a gun owner and we parted, I believe, understanding one another better. I was reminded to seek out those with whom I disagree. How else will we change the world?

–Lizzie led a horse to water and it did, indeed, drink.

–When we waved goodbye to Texas, a scorpion scrambled beside our car and waved back.

–The closest I came to crashing in 3000+ miles of driving occurred an hour from our destination when the car in front of me slammed on his brakes because someone was weed-whacking fifty feet away. Prior to this, I had never considered gardeners a threat.

–We had Dairy Queen for dinner two days in a row. The food was not good. But I loved it both times.

–I have not been flossing.

For the many folks who have asked, we are safely in Ohio now. Staying with family and living out of suitcases while we search for a new home. Thanks for blanketing the road before us with warm thoughts. We are excited about this new chapter, and looking forward to the big things to come.

More on that next time . . .

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Adventure

Adventures Are Worth the Mishaps

After a series of decisions that, in retrospect, may have been unwise, I am driving from Los Angeles to San Antonio and back. Alone.

I will confess: until I looked at a map, I thought the two cities were closer together. But in order to save face, I left my husband with our three kids and embarked on this fool’s errand anyway.

Up until about an hour ago, the trip was going pretty well. The 1987 station wagon that I drove for the first 1400 miles was surprisingly reliable. It only stalled twice, and only once at high speed. When I hopped out the second time to push it through the Starbucks parking lot, passersby were super-chill. As though they saw women pushing cars and carrying cappuccinos all the time. I did not run out of gas this time, even after I forgot to fill up the tank and drove 19 ½ miles past empty. All in all, to quote the policeman who cordially ticketed me in Arizona: “I was surprised by how fast that car could drive.” The lack of air conditioning was a bummer, especially in the desert, but the radio worked, and when I finally figured out the cruise control near El Paso, it was smooth sailing from there.

The problems started when I picked up the other car, or truck rather, from my in-laws’ ranch north of San Antonio. First off, it is a stick-shift vehicle. Which was actually no trouble at all, because, unlike the babe in the movie version of this story, I can totally drive a standard. I’m only including this information because it reminds me what a badass I am. Which is important, given what just happened. I was towing a trailer. Which is also not a big deal, since I hauled a bunch of canoes around for a job after college. But I did misplace my sunglasses earlier today. Which prompted me to stop and buy new ones, along with a cable to plug in my phone, so I could listen to music and podcasts and audiobooks instead of annoying AM talk shows, which seemed to be all I could get on the truck’s radio. I was listening to an episode of WNYC’s Radiolab (don’t worry Jad and Robert, I don’t blame you) when the trailer tire pretty much exploded. I pulled over on a desolate strip of I-10 and thought about what to do next.

This is the point in my story where I feel like readers might be tempted to insert a lesson: You see girls, that is why we don’t drive across the country alone.

Except I went into this trip knowing there might be trouble. In anticipation of 2800 miles of mountains and desert, I took precautions. Both vehicles had tune-ups. New tires, new brakes, topped off fluids—the works. I brought tools and spare parts for fixing the kinds of things that usually go wrong. I had a spare tire for the car, a spare tire for the truck, and a spare rim for the trailer. I had 2 emergency bags with water, flares, and a tire-patch kit.

But none of those safeguards prevented the blowout and ensuing (small) fire after I drove twenty miles to the nearest town on the rim.

So now I am sitting in a Burger King in Fort Stockton, TX (population: friendly), listening to an audiobook, eating the first Whopper, Jr. I have had since college, and waiting for a mechanic that the nice cashier Maribel called to see if we can fix any of this.

Maybe we can. Maybe it will be 20 minutes and some lug nuts. Hopefully, 75 bucks from now, I’ll be on my way.

Maybe it will be trickier. There is a pretty big hole where the fender used to be. The brake rotor looks melted, too. My choice to drive for help might have messed up the axle. It’s possible the trailer will live out its days here in west Texas, while I head out with the pickup truck, my Radiolab podcasts, a little less dignity, and this novel I’m listening to about women of the French Resistance in WWII.

But here’s the thing: I am a grownup girl and perfectly capable of navigating all this. While the breakdown has been inconvenient, it is not a catastrophe. If I am to raise my own daughters to be independent and brave, to demonstrate chutzpah and panache, I need to blaze some trails, even occasionally on one wheel. Adventures are worth the mishaps. I want my kids to live in possibility, not fear, and to know that surmounting an obstacle or eight makes a person stronger, smarter, and more comfortable in her own skin.

In The Nightingale, one woman risks her life to transport Allied soldiers across the border into Spain. Another forges identity papers and hides Jewish children. We all like to believe that—in the face of danger or injustice—we, too, would do the courageous thing. But how will we ever act with valiance in the face of peril if we don’t occasionally practice a little everyday pluck?

I may have sacrificed some time today, some nutrition, and maybe even a whole trailer, but for me, the message is clear: You see girls, this is why we drive across the country alone.

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New DadvMom.com on NY Observer today.

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Dreams

Best Supporting Actress? Mom

As a child, I was a bit…theatrical.

I tap-danced at nursing homes, directed talent shows on the front porch, and composed original works for my recorder club. I memorized songs from The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, and repeatedly staged Annie in my upstairs bedroom.

But it was not until high school that I actually auditioned for anything. In my first play, Working, a musical about Americans and their jobs, I sang backup for the factory worker and the housewife. I had no lines, and no costume changes, and I spent roughly eleven minutes on stage pretending to either weave fabric or clip coupons. I spent so much time off stage that I could make a McDonald’s run during the show and still be back for curtain call.

My hopes were higher in our next play, a French comedy entitled The Miser. Indeed, I was rewarded with my first line. Well, not a line so much as a word. And I didn’t exactly deliver the line in the show. I was cast in the Troupe de Comédie, a fancy name meaning, “kids who did not make it into the actual play.” We wore funny hats and tumbled onto stage to announce important information like, “Act 1, Scene 3,” or “The Play is Over Now.” I spoke my single word, “tock,” during Intermission, when we informed the audience that they had a ten-minute break, and the clock was ticking. And tocking. We were the human equivalent of the playbill.

And so it went. I had two lines in Bye-bye Birdie, but I delivered them in darkness during a scene change. (“I found a lock of somebody’s hair. I wonder if it’s his?”) In Carnival, I played a puppet that helped talk a young girl out of suicide. It was not exactly Singin’ in the Rain.

By senior year, I got my big break with a solo in Godspell. Except my boyfriend and I broke up a week before the show, and I was so distraught that I caught a cold and lost my voice for opening night. I had to lip sync my own number while another gal sang for me. That one was actually quite a lot like Singin’ in the Rain.

As I look back on these bit parts and botched scenes, I find it amusing that I grew up fancying myself a singer, dancer, and actress. It is utter poppycock. I am no more an actress than I am a snake charmer. But the things we try as children stick, even if they don’t turn out to be true.

Which is why I am so proud of my daughter, Katie, tonight. It was the opening night of our community production of Peter Pan, in which – failing to follow in her mother’s footsteps — Katie was cast as Wendy. At 4:30, I applied her make-up. At 5:30, I dropped her at the theater. And at 6:15, I received an urgent communiqué from the stage manager: “Wendy needs you.” I found my little girl hyperventilating near the snack bar, insisting she could not play the part. Situations like this were not covered in the parenting books I read, though they most certainly will be when I write one. Chapter 1: Preventing 5-year-olds from Calling Heavyset Women Pregnant. Chapter 2: How to Remove Poop from Furniture. Chapter 3: What to Say When Your Child Threatens to Flee the Theater Fifteen Minutes before Curtain.

Poor Katie had the flu last week. She missed the tech rehearsals and costume fittings, and never had the chance to become at ease with the lighting and live music. As the audience was being seated, she became more agitated. What could I say to make her feel better? I considered, “Don’t be nervous,” but Katie was clearly petrified. “Try to calm down,” seemed likely to have the opposite of its intended effect.

I pulled her into an empty rehearsal room and wracked my brain. When in my life had I been truly scared? And what had people said to ease my fears? I was robbed once in a parking lot. It was terrifying, at first. But I turned out to be as broke as my assailant, and all the guy got was six bucks. Some crooks broke into my house a few years back, but I slept through the burglary, and only felt afraid after the fact. Truthfully, the most alarmed I have been as an adult was the night my daughter was born. For months, I worried I would not know what to do, that the pain would overwhelm me, that the baby would suffer because of my mistakes. How had I made it through that fear? I vaguely remember people encouraging me to breathe.

As a rule, children do not like to hear their birth stories. They do not want to be reminded of how you wiped their private parts, and held them to your breast, or how they were once fully a part of you. I spared Katie the intimate details. Instead, I told her the funny stuff, and reminded her to breathe. The doctor was annoyed to be working that day because the Super Bowl was on. Breathe in…2…3…4. Breathe out…2…3…4. During the contractions, Daddy said he was “getting tired,” and I yelled at him when he leaned on my bed. In…2…3…4. Out…2…3…4. Sweet baby Katie did not cry for the first week at home, and fooled us into complacency about “what a breeze” this parenting thing would be. In…2…3…4. Out…2…3…4. Then that same baby shrieked inconsolably every night for the next four months. She cried so much she threw up. We had to pull the car over and bounce-walk along the highway to try to quiet this tiny, furious angel. “You were one of the worst babies I ever met,” I told Katie tonight. “But you have grown into a spectacular kid. You were dramatic from the get-go. You can do this. It’s in your blood.”

She had stopped crying by then, but was still unconvinced that she should take the stage. “Mom, what if I’m not any good?” I thought back on my years of theater and realized that I had never been much good at any of it. I learned confidence and poise, experienced playfulness and joy. But I did not learn to act.

“Katie, you are performing this show for an audience of your family and friends,” I told her. “Even if you walk out on the stage, say ‘Meow,’ and pee, everyone is still going to love you.”

In the end, I am not entirely sure what did the trick. Maybe she just decided it would be less dramatic to stay and do the play than to deal with the fallout of leaving. But when the lights came up, Wendy took her first cue, and Peter Pan sailed on from there.

I did not take my own seat in the audience tonight. Instead, I stayed backstage while the principal actors, my daughter among them, sang and danced and flew. The feeling of watching from behind the curtain was a familiar one. Hidden in those shadows, I realized that my years of waiting in the wings had actually prepared me for this moment, for the biggest theatrical role I will ever play: the chance to be someone’s Mom.

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(Originally ran in Feb. 2015 on DadvMom.com and HuffPo.)