Off They Go

If I wrote this post yesterday, it would be unrecognizable.

Yesterday, on the eve of my youngest child’s first day of kindergarten, I was a teary anxious mess. Internally. Outwardly, I was holding it together. By a thread.

I kept having these dual and seemingly contradictory thoughts:

I am absolutely ready for him to go to kindergarten.
I am absolutely NOT ready.

Both felt entirely true.

We spent our last official “Mommy Day” at one of his favorite places, the Crayola Experience, playing with model magic and posing for silly pictures beneath a cascade of melted crayons.

Off they go 1

I tried my best to remain present. Not checking my phone or thinking about the udon soup I planned on having for lunch. Instead I inhaled his sweet smelling head and tried to snuggle him as we rolled out clay and cut them into shapes.

“Stop it, mom,” he said with a smile, pushing me away. I went in for more and he put up his hands.

“Okay, okay, I’ll stop.”

I watched two moms enter the room with their matching set of children, a toddler and a baby each. They held their infants while attempting to reign in their antsy three year olds. One toddled off toward us, pausing to stare at Leo, who was too busy cutting out gingerbread men to notice. I thought about how not so long ago I’d been one of those moms, but now I felt the distance expand as I drifted out of that frame and into another.

After finishing up at Crayola, we left for our respective treats: for Leo, a frozen yogurt topped with M+M’s, and for me, a bowl of steaming hot udon and veggies. A couple bites in, I felt my throat tighten up. After a few more, I could barely swallow. Here I was, getting what I wanted, and yet, I felt no pleasure.

I wondered if tomorrow’s milestone would feel similar. After years of aching for a quiet house and time to myself, I was about to get exactly that, but I had no idea if it would leave me feeling hollow or filled.

Turns out, both. It’s always both.

This morning I woke early, making lunches, filling backpacks, with enough time left over to make a batch of pancakes. Leo had a hard time getting out of bed, my bed, where he had appeared sometime in the night.

“I’m scared, Mommy,” he said, burrowing beneath the sheet. “I don’t want to go to school.”

“I know, honey,” I said, giving him a snuggle before luring him downstairs with the promise of Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes.

And then it was time. Sneakers on, backpacks slung onto shoulders, and out the door.

My husband said, “how about a first day of school picture?” and I froze, thinking Leo might refuse, or suddenly realize the thing he had feared all summer long was actually happening. Maybe he’d cling to my leg like so many preschool mornings, or run back into the house. But to my surprise he smiled and posed with his sister.

off they go 2

Then the bus slid into view. I put my phone away, too nervous for photos, afraid that trying to capture this pivotal moment would somehow jinx it. I had led myself to believe it might not actually happen. Maybe he wouldn’t get on the bus. But it was. Happening. We crossed the street, his sister leading the way.

He hesitated for a second. “Go on,” I said, and he did.

My baby got on that bus and sat down, disappearing from view. My husband and I stood at the end of our driveway, watching the bus begin to pull away.

We waved, and to my surprise, my son’s face appeared. His sweet smile framed by the window, and his hand mimicking ours, and then he was gone.

I felt a swell of emotion begin to rise, but when my husband asked, “Are you okay?” it subsided. Tears reversed. All the worry and anxiety had melted away, leaving me feeling empty, but not in a bad way.

“I think so,” I said.

My world is changing along with my children’s. I don’t have babies anymore and this is both a relief and a grief. We graduated that stage, albeit a little reluctantly on my part, and my son’s.

We’d been clinging to each other rather tightly these past few years. Perhaps because I suspected he was my last, I’d been holding on a bit too hard, or maybe it was just the right amount.

But this morning I let him go, and then, hours later, he returned. My little guy bounded off the bus and into my arms, giving me the tightest, sweetest hug.

I don’t know what tomorrow will be like, or next week, or next year. I don’t know how or if my heart will break or swell when I drop him and his sister off at college.

Probably both.

off they go 4

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Time as a Wrinkle

I have whiplash from this year. It went by in a blink. Wasn’t I just meeting my daughter’s new third grade teachers at Back to School night? Didn’t I just sign up my son for his last year at his beloved preschool?

first day of school 2016 copy

First day of school 2016.

Last day of school 2017

Last day of school 2017

My son will be entering kindergarten in the fall and my daughter beginning fourth grade, both seem unbelievable. In September, both of my kids will be in fulltime school, my days opening up like a blank book. Isn’t this the light at the end of my stay-at-home-motherhood-tunnel? And yet as the light bears down on me, I’m struck with nostalgia and grief.

Recently I came across a saying about parenthood that stopped me in my tracks.

The days are long, the years are short.

Leo preK graduation 2017

He entered the school as a two-year old. Now he’s barreling toward six.

Yes, oh yes. But would I want to travel back to those early, painful, excruciatingly days of new motherhood? Long on exhaustion and tears, short on sleep and freedom? Maybe.

***

The tiger lilies are back, as they always are every June. A welcome to summer and a bittersweet tug at my heart. They were my mother’s favorite flowers, or so I tell myself. She’s not alive for me to confirm this assumption. But I know she planted them along the railroad ties holding up the massive dirt hill our house was built upon. Every year they returned. Even after she stopped walking. Even after she and my father moved out. Even after her death. Even now, ten years later.

tiger lilies 2017

Ten years. Want to talk about whiplash? Try looking back on a decade after a death.

In ten years, I went from my early thirties to my early forties. I went from being a young married woman without children, to an older married woman with two. I went from being a devout but sporadic fiction writer to a devoted and slightly frantic memoir writer. I went from losing myself to finding something new.

Two days ago, on June 21, I went to visit my mother’s mausoleum by myself. It felt less like a depressing pilgrimage than a welcome, dare I say almost giddy, escape from my family. (No offense, family.) I packed a bag filled with old journals, new notebooks, notecards, my mother’s book, and my computer. My plan was to write a scene or two of my memoir in her presence. It would be my way of honoring her, and myself.

That morning my daughter made a collage for me to tape on the granite wall, and I printed out a picture of my kids at the pool, their arms wrapped around one another, grinning with the promise of summer, plus a class picture of each.

10 years holmdel

The year before I decided to take the kids for (almost) the first time (Emma had been once as a baby, and Leo in utero). We had a nice day with my father. Spending the bulk of our time at the park across the street, as my mother intended, and then stopping briefly by the cemetery to hang our tributes.

9 years holmdel

Exactly what my mother would have wanted.

This year my daughter did not want to go. The day before I gave her the option, no pressure. “It’s too sad,” she told me, looking a little sheepish.

“It’s okay,” I told her. “You don’t have to go.”

She understands now, the significance, and she has always felt more deeply than most kids her age. “I had a talk with Grandma Susan’s blanket,” she told me earlier that day, “I wish I could have known her. I wish she was alive to meet me.”

Oh, me too. Me too.

Ten years in a blink.

Time heals all wounds, so the saying goes. Well. Anyone suffering a loss knows that is complete bullshit.

Time does nothing of the sort. Like one of my mother’s favorite books suggests, time is a wrinkle. It may stretch out taut over the years, growing smoother, but then in an instant it can snap back together, meeting at the seams, scrunching into a messy ball.

There is no finish line to grief. It’s a forever orbit. We keep going round and round.

Like the seasons, like the school years. The tiger lilies come back every summer, and thank god. They are a reminder of my mother, of her love, of her endurance in my life, and in my children’s, despite having never met them.

We bought journals the day after, my daughter and I. We are summer journaling together, an idea borrowed from a writing friend. Every day we will write or draw a little bit.

journal 2017

“What are you going to write about,” she asked me this morning. “Will it be something sad?”

Oh, this kid. She knows me so well.

“I might write about visiting Grandma Susan, but that wasn’t all sad.”

She looked confused, so I explained how beautiful my drive home had been. Blindly following the directions on my fickle GPS, I went down roads I’d never seen before, passing stunning farmland, huge cows with stripes that looked painted on, and red barns that gleamed in the post-rain sun. I looked for a rainbow, but found tiger lilies instead, stopping on the side of the road to pick a handful.

We sat down to write and she marveled at my speed, and what she thought looked like pretty script, but to me it was the usual messy scrawl, my fingers unable to keep up with my brain.

“It’s so good,” she said, after I read aloud what I had written.

I shook my head, gently steering her in a different direction. “Journaling is always good. It can never be bad.”

So much is a contest to her already. She’s entered the age of acute self-consciousness, anxious about how she stacks up against her peers, against me.

But it doesn’t have to be that way for us. I think about how my mother always wanted her children to exceed her, surpass her. But the truth is, it doesn’t have to be an either or. We can all shine. Me and my mother, me and my daughter, me and my son.

We continue on, rolling forward, and back. Repeating old mistakes, and learning from others. The lilies will wilt and die, but there is comfort in knowing they will return.

Surrendering to Spring

Shortly after a late winter storm blanketed our region with snow, someone tipped off Mother Nature about the arrival of spring.

In a matter of days our backyard went from a smooth expanse of crystalline white, to big messy swaths of slush, to sopping pools of mud and flattened grass. The thick slabs of ice I thought would never disappear drained back into the earth.

icy leaves

The night before the seasonal shift, after an entire winter virus-free, my daughter succumbed to the stomach bug. Within days the virus spread throughout our family, picking us off one by one.

While my son slept feverishly, I stayed in his room, fighting off my own growing nausea.  In the morning when I told my husband about how I literally willed myself not to throw up, a feat he unfortunately did not share, my daughter pointed out my hypocrisy.

“Mom, you always tell me it’s better to let it out.”

It’s true. I do say this. In fact, I just doled out this advice the day before when she was sick. She’s like me. We both fight it.

“You’re right, honey, but I needed to be okay to take care of your brother.”

But this wasn’t entirely true. I also needed to be okay because I hate getting sick. I’m terrified of surrendering to the will of my body, even if it knows best.

There was a moment in the night, at the peak of nausea, when I had to look away from my son’s lava lamp because the rising yellow bubbles made my stomach roil. I closed my eyes, breathing slowly, hyper aware of every internal rumbling, when a sentence popped into my mind.

We’re all just our bodies.

I felt a sudden nostalgia for all the nights I simply went to bed, without pain, without worry of being sick. Like many people, I take my health for granted until something goes wrong. We’ve all had this kind of realization. When we’re sick, or watching over a sick loved one, when we’re battling an illness, or facing a new diagnosis, we suddenly understand what’s at stake.

Without our bodies, we don’t exist. I suppose this is up for debate, but for me, that’s how it feels.

During my sick vigil with my son, his body was restless, and he moaned a little. I put an arm around him and my palm ended up against his chest. I could feel his heart beating quickly, every surge, every whoosh, almost as if there was no barrier between my hand and his most important organ. Under my hand was the sheer preciousness, and precariousness, of his life.

little guy

When my mother died, one of the strangest, and most painful things to come to term with was the fact that I no longer had access to her body. I couldn’t hug or sit beside her. One day her body was there, lying on a bed, struggling to breathe, and the next, gone. I didn’t just miss my mom. I missed her body. I had taken it for granted.

It’s been almost a full week since my daughter came home from a birthday party feeling nauseous and our family viral saga began. In that time, the snow has melted. While we’ve been recovering, winter has surrendered to spring. Uncurling its cold claw, making room for warmth, for new life.

The backyard is muddy, the trees remain bare, but there is new green grass sprouting, and one of the daffodil buds by our mailbox has a distinct yellow casing.

daffodil bud

I point it out to my son, warning him not to open it. He touches it gently with his finger as we marvel at what’s wrapped tightly inside.

Only Love Today

It’s been quiet here on the blog, as perhaps you’ve noticed. I’ve had a hard time writing since January’s presidential inauguration. While the Women’s March the following day was a balm, and a tremendously positive experience, my world felt unhinged with the onset of the new administration.

Writing, which has always been my anchor, suddenly felt frivolous. How could I focus on my memoir in the midst of my newfound activism? I also found it hard to read anything longer than an article or a Facebook post. By the time I turned off my phone at the end of the day, my brain was oversaturated, my heart overwhelmed.

Luckily, I received a book on January 23rd, and it’s been the only one I’ve been able to read.

only love arc

Only Love Today
Reminders to Breathe More, Stress Less, and Choose Love
by Rachel Macy Stafford

I’ve been hooked on Rachel for years, ever since I stumbled on her blog, Hands Free Mama, which, by the way, you don’t need to be a mom to love, and then reviewed her second book, Hands Free Life.

I was honored to be selected as part of her launch team* for Only Love Today, her beautiful new book, which is organized by season and written in both short poignant essays and prose poems.

After enjoying the lovely introduction, I started Part One: Spring. But something felt off. I quickly realized it had nothing to do with Rachel’s wise words or keenly wrought sentiments – I was simply in the wrong season. I flipped ahead to Winter and fell headlong into passages like this one:

only love hope

 

Most mornings I’d try to steal a few pages before the kids stampeded into the kitchen, or at night after they were in bed. A few minutes, a few pages, is sometimes all I had time for, but often, it was all I needed.

In the midst of a particularly challenging news cycle, when I felt swallowed up by despair, wondering if anything I was doing could possibly make a difference, these words appeared, rising up off the page and pressing into me with a tenderness I could almost feel:

“Maybe the bravest thing you could do right now is just decide this will not defeat you.”

Yes. Oh, yes.

Then a week later, I read this passage while calmly sipping my morning coffee, not knowing that later in the day, these words would serve as a lifeline:

only love fighter

The thing I always receive from Rachel, whether online or in her books, is love. Sounds kind of cheesy, right? But I mean it in all sincerity. Because Rachel is sincere. She genuinely wants to help people, and she does, through her writing and her actions.

She lives out her mantra, only love today, or at least she tries to. What makes Rachel and her books so approachable is that she does not profess to be perfect. She hasn’t figured it all out. Every day, every hour, is a choice. To choose love – not just for others, but for ourselves.

Sometimes I forget this. I put on my Only Love Today bracelet, and think, today I’m going to be better. I’m going to be more patient, more kind. I won’t yell at my kids.

only love bracelet

And then, I lose it. Maybe not even an hour later. My go-to reaction is disgust and self-loathing. I might even take off the bracelet, as if I’m not worthy of wearing it.

only love purple minion

This is what I feel like on bad days.

Then I remember – I’m the one who actually needs it.

The more love I offer to myself, the more generous I can be with others.

*Give-away update! The winner has been selected and informed. Thank you all for your comments here and on Facebook. I wish I had more copies to give away, but it’s worth checking out for yourself if you are so inspired. I hear Target is selling it in droves! xo

only love and pix

Cat not included.

*I was given complimentary copies of the ARC and hardcover as part of the Only Love Today launch team, but the opinions here are entirely my own. 

 

Choosing Discomfort: Time to March

hear-our-voice

Recently my husband complained about the weather. “I’m done with winter,” he said, glancing out our kitchen window at the muted gray sky. All the snow had melted leaving behind the messier side of the season.

I agreed. Winter without snow looks, and feels, especially dreary. But I know the monotony of these cold spare months will eventually turn into spring, and the contrast between the two will be a gift.

I’ve always felt this way about seasons, about life. How we need the light and the dark, grief and joy, to feel fully alive. If we want to taste all the flavors, we must drink out of every cup, even the less appetizing ones.

Choosing the cup of discomfort, for example, instead of ignoring it. This has been on the periphery of my mind for years, but it rose swiftly to the surface after my country’s recent presidential election result.

What a wake up call that was, to many people I know, in particular, white people. Getting more particular, white women. Even more so: Myself.

Women of color, people of color, were not surprised. There was a scathing and funny Saturday Night Live sketch about this “phenomenon.” A group of white liberal city dwellers (in a neighborhood that looked suspiciously like my old one in Brooklyn) choked on their glasses of wine watching the election results while their two black friends rolled their eyes and howled in laughter at their ignorance.

It’s uncomfortable being called out as a rube, even more so as a perpetrator, but that’s what you are when you stand by and do nothing. When you’re even a little surprised by the widespread virulent and rampant racism that has been around for decades, centuries, that people of color live with every single day.

A writing friend wrote a short and fiery post entitled, MLK Isn’t A Holiday. “It is a call to action,” she said. But more often than not, for white people especially, it’s a day where many Instagram and Facebook feeds are rife with hopeful images and love filled quotes, mine included. Then, nothing. Until next year, Dr. King.

I squirmed in recognition. I have been that person. I am that person in some ways, but I’m changing. It’s a daily practice. It takes effort, and often, it’s uncomfortable.

This Saturday I’ll be attending the Women’s March on Washington. I signed up in November, a week after the election. Early on there were rumblings of discontent. About leadership, about the proposed name (The Million Woman March, which had been an African American women’s protest in Philadelphia in 1997).

Some white women couldn’t understand why there was a controversy at all. Why they were being asked to “check their privilege” and let women of color lead the way (literally and figuratively).

But the women who sowed the seeds of this march knew why. As momentum gathered, it was clear that after an election where 53% of white women voted for Trump, they alone could absolutely not lead this march.

I was relieved when minority activists took the helm and the march was renamed. The Women’s March on Washington is a respectful nod to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous March on Washington in 1963, and came with a blessing from his daughter, Bernice King.

Racism within feminism has been a sticking point for decades. Transferring the bulk of leadership to minority activists was a chance for this march, and feminism, to go broader and deeper than the core concepts of equal pay and reproductive freedom. Those rights are vital, of course, but they are not the only ones that matter.

This quote from a recent Vogue article explores the layers of meaning behind the march:

“Where past waves of feminism, led principally by white women, have focused predominantly on a few familiar concerns—equal pay, reproductive rights—this movement, led by a majority of women of color, aspires to be truly intersectional. So though the Women’s March has partnered with organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America—and though second-wave feminist icon Gloria Steinem is now an honorary co-chair [along with Harry Belafonte] —the march’s purview is far more sweeping. Women are not a monolith, solely defined by gender; we are diverse, we represent half of this country, and any social justice movement—for the rights of immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, for law enforcement accountability, for gun control, for environmental justice—should count as a “women’s issue.”” 

Women’s rights are human rights, to quote Hillary Clinton, and on Saturday, January 21st 2017, the day after the presidential inauguration, women and men are coming together to raise their voices and their fists in protest.

womens-march
Can’t make it to Washington DC? Check out this incredible list of sister marches across the country – wait, let me amend this – across the globe.

https://www.womensmarch.com/sisters

A Light Goes Out

“As women, we are told that to be the guest is to receive. We are told that to be the host is to give. But what if it is the reverse? What if it is the guest who gives to the host and it is the host who receives from the guest each time she sets her table to welcome and feed those she loves?”

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

For many reasons, 2016 has been a year of loss. Politically, for the majority of Americans, and also literally, regarding so many notable deaths. But as the year wound down to a close, I found myself haggling over a life with a higher power I normally don’t believe in.

Don’t take Ray, I pleaded, thinking of the little boy I’d known years ago. The one his mother, Lucie, called “My Special Little” because he came years after her first two children, and really, he was special.

The sweet boy who my parents doted on like a grandchild, who spent many afternoons of his baby and childhood in my parents’ house while Lucie cared for my mother.

Little Ray, we called him, even after he grew up. It was a fitting name, because he was such a beam of light.

I didn’t know how to pray, but I did it anyway.

That’s what you do when the outlook is grim, but you dare to hope. I dared to hope and every night before bed I’d imagine him as a young man, approaching my mother.

They’d embrace, he’d play her a song on his guitar, and then she’d send him back to earth, back to us.

***

The day after I visited him at the hospital, we drove upstate. I checked my phone constantly for news. Nothing. We arrived to so much snow my husband had to drag our luggage from the car on a toboggan. I felt anxious. Fear folded and unfolded in my heart, but I ignored it. I made dinner. We put the kids to bed. I prayed again.

Midmorning the next day, I checked my phone. A message appeared. I took one dragging deep breath and then dropped to my knees on the floor.

It was the day before New Year’s Eve and he was gone.

***

We are all novices in grief. Each time we experience a death, we begin again.

I mentioned this to a friend and she asked me to explain. The only way I can is through parenthood. It’s like having a second or third child. You think you will remember everything. You have the experience stored in your body, in your mind, but with the new child you marvel at every detail, at all you’ve forgotten.

Ray was eighteen years old when he died. I knew him mostly as a baby, as a little boy, and only in passing. I was living in Manhattan when he was born, in Brooklyn when he was growing up. I’d see him on occasion when I’d come home to visit. I’d hear about him from my mother often. She loved talking about Little Ray. He brought her joy, made her smile.

mom-and-ray

When she was dying he came to visit with his mother. I watched him run around the rooms of a house he knew well.

He was a breath of life for her. For all of us.

***

New Year’s came and went. It was 2017 and I realized I never picked a word for the year as I had in the past. A couple days before the funeral, on my drive to therapy, I went through a dozen words. Nope, nope, nope. Nothing worked. It was a raining and the sky was a leaden gray. The wipers squeaked across the windshield.

Life can turn on a dime, Lucie said at the hospital, and I knew this was true. I wanted my word to act like a sponge. I wanted to soak up my life. The good and the bad.

I knew the right word arrived when I felt my eyes prickle with tears as I sounded it out in my mind. Receive. Yes. That was it. I thought about the quote from the memoir I was rereading, When Women Were Birds.

“What if it is the guest who gives to the host and it is the host who receives from the guest?”

If I looked at my life that way, maybe I wouldn’t feel so drained by my children’s incessant needs. Instead of feeling emptied, I could be filled. It’s a choice, I realized. A flip-flop perspective. Receiving love while offering it.

snow-heart

But I knew it wasn’t just love I’d have to be willing to receive.

You don’t get one without that other, messier package: pain, sadness, death.

***

The funeral was terribly hard. In some ways, it hurt more than my mother’s. He was 18 to her 58. Maybe it’s because I had a cushion of shock for hers, or perhaps I shouldn’t compare it because pain can’t be quantified.

I struggled to remain composed during the service, but sobs bubbled up my throat the moment it began. The packed room was muffled with weeping and the occasional gasp of disbelief, all of us wondering the same thing: how had this happened? How could Ray be gone?

Several times I had to remind myself to stay present. I wanted to check out, buffer the pain, but I kept going back. I told myself to stay. To receive.

Listening to his friends speak about him, his girlfriend, his family, it was like meeting him, and losing him, all over again. As I covered my mouth with my fist, I watched the people who loved and knew him best stand up at the podium and honor him with words and music, through tears and laughter.

Many said they could feel his presence in the room. Grief and love washed over me in equal measure.

At one point, a woman silently offered me a pack of tissues. Thank you, I whispered, and she nodded. In that moment I loved her.

We were all connected in that room, every one of us, strangers, friends, family, because of Ray.

From behind the podium, Lucie implored us to hold onto the love and peace her son embodied. Love each other, she said, and we did.

I weep for our loss, and the world’s.

I love you Little Ray.
Thank you for shining your sweet light on my family.
We will always hold you in our hearts.

me-and-ray

Speaking Up

It’s a cold and windy day. In so many ways, the world feels completely unhinged. Aleppo. Trump. Russia.

I stare out my office window, my fingers hovering above the keys. What to write? What to say? How to help?

We’re in the weeds, I said to my therapist the other week, meaning my family, my kids. Things are hard. We yell a lot. We yell about not yelling. In calmer moments, and even in the not so calm ones, I see the irony, but not enough to stop.

Yet, we’re lucky. So damn lucky.

“Aleppo!” I said to my husband this morning, when he asked if I’m stressed about the kids. “They’re supposed to be busing them out today.” Too little too late. Streets littered with blood and bodies. Children trapped in rubble, humans being slaughtered, saying their last goodbyes on social media.

The world is falling down, like the sky in the Chicken Little story I read to our son last night. But in some countries, it actually IS.

There is a rope hanging from a tree in our backyard. I see it from my office window. It dangles like a pendulum from a high branch. It used to hold a yellow wooden swing that my husband built over the summer. It was beautiful. But days later the paint began to swell and buckle. Eventually he took it down, but the rope remains. It hangs ominously. It reminds me of everything but the swing.

rope

No liberty is safe.

I said these words to a friend and my husband a couple weeks ago while our children played. We were talking about abortion rights. My husband said of course Roe v Wade was safe. I disagreed.

For the first time in my life, I don’t feel safe. My liberties don’t feel safe. I’ve been sheltered from this because of my privilege. Being white, upper middleclass. I’ve spent my life in comfort, both materialistically and psychologically.

While I am Jewish – and I’ve been reminded my entire life about my religion’s persecution, past and present – I’ve never had cause to feel worry.

I’ve never been afraid of getting pulled over by the police. No one gives me shady looks or denies me entrance when I’m shopping. For the most part, I’ve managed to slide through the world unscathed, except for the whole being a woman thing.

I know what it’s like to be taunted, heckled, threatened. I know what it’s like to be demeaned, intimidated, attacked.

But still, I’m lucky.

The other day at my daughter’s school, a boy at lunch said that anyone who likes Hillary Clinton is weird. They’re in third grade. Kids. This is a boy I like, one who stood up for my daughter when she was being bullied.

I was surprised, and yet not. There has been chatter among the children. They repeat what they hear at home.

Before I could ask what happened next, my daughter told me that she spoke up. Used her voice. I gripped the countertop with both hands. “What did you say?”

“I told him it was offensive to me,” she said with a shrug and a hint of a smile. Like no big deal. “But I said it in a serious voice,” she added.

I was stunned. My daughter who is terrified of dogs, getting up on stage, and walking to the bathroom at night wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. To stand up for her feelings.

Squealing with delight, I gave her a high five. “You spoke up for yourself, and you defended Hillary Clinton.” I beamed with pride. So did she.

Want to know what my next thought was?

Fear.

I was afraid. Because I know what can happen to people, girls, who speak up. How quickly and ruthlessly they can be cut down.

“What did he say?” I asked, trying to sound casual, bracing myself.

“Nothing.”

Relief. But she had another story to share. A different boy had made up a song about building a wall. She said it was funny, and started singing it. It was a song about a wall, and violence, all sung to the tune of Frozen’s, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”

I asked if she thought he was referring to Donald Trump’s proposed wall. She didn’t know. I told her not to sing the song, gently explaining how scary it could be to kids in her class with families in Mexico. How offensive and hurtful, even if it wasn’t the intention.

Words matter. Oh, how much they matter.

She agreed, and then asked me if she should tell the boy not to sing it.

My first instinct was a big fearful NO. I took a deep breath and said she didn’t have to, but it was up to her.

Clearly, it’s me who should be taking lessons from her, because the next day she spoke up AGAIN.

She asked him if the wall in the song referred to Trump’s, and it did. Then she asked him not to sing it. She explained what we had discussed at home. At first he laughed, and then he agreed not to.

“He could’ve been mean,” my daughter said thoughtfully, “but he wasn’t.”

I know that one day someone will be mean, but I can’t silence her preemptively. Out of fear. She is strong and brave. I will encourage her to speak up, teach her how to face both kinds of responses, and I will learn from her at the same time.

The world is coming apart at the seams. Our liberties are at stake.

And I’m through being quiet about it.

hand-microphone-mic-hold

Links for helping refugees in Aleppo and in the world:

https://app.mobilecause.com/form/gux8IQ

https://preemptivelove.nationbuilder.com/aleppo

Links for battling hate and discrimination, fighting for our liberties:

https://99waystofighttrump.com

https://www.womensmarch.com

http://www.thedreamcorps.org/lovearmy

https://www.facebook.com/TheGoodFightsOn/