My First Visit To A Mosque

A week ago I entered a mosque for the very first time.

My visit was part of an effort by a local organization made up of everyday activists, like me, to be the progressive change we want to see in the world. The meeting of folks from my group and the mosque was part of an ongoing program to “Meet Your Muslim Neighbor.” The mosque routinely opens its doors to the community for an afternoon of education, prayer service, and fellowship.

Can you imagine in your own house of faith, routinely opening your doors to explain to your community that everyone who practices your religion is not a terrorist?

Me neither.

Before my visit I knew very little about Islam or Muslims except that it was a peaceful religion (anyone can radicalize anything if they’re looking for a reason to do bad things), their faith was different than the one I grew up with in terms of culture, and they were the subject of a lot of hatred that I didn’t understand.

Still, I’d be lying if I said I’d never been a bit anxious sharing a plane with a man of Middle Eastern descent. I consciously chose to not let fear, stereotypes, and popular culture win the fight against reason in my brain. But still, I can’t deny I had those thoughts, as fleeting as they might have been.

Luckily, I have since then tried to educate myself about Muslim religion and culture. I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a presentation on Islam by a local professor of Islamic Religious Traditions. From this brief presentation I learned the following:

  1. Muslims believe in only one God, the same God of Jewish and Christian faiths.
  1. They pray 5times a day.
  1. Sunni Muslims make up 85% of the faith. Shia Muslims make up 15%.
  1. Sunni Muslims are more like Protestants in that they rely on text for spiritual guidance.
  1. Shia Muslims are more like Catholics in that they believe in an Imam, a sort of Papal figure.
  1. They pay a charity tax of 2.5% of their income.
  1. Any Muslim culture that adheres to Sharia law for the faith community, does so acknowledging the country’s law supercedes it. In other words, the legal structure of the country in which a Muslim lives is the ultimate authority even if the religious community follows religious law within its faith.
  1. The head scarf worn by some Muslim women, the hijab, is usually a cultural choice made by the women who wear them. Not all women who wear the hijab are being forced to do so. In fact, many Muslim women wear it as an expression of femininity. Egyptian women wear it as a source of power.

That was the extent of my knowledge of Muslims before my visit to the mosque. That and the fact that several Muslim households live on my block. Since the election, I’ve often thought that I should reach out to them, let them know that they are welcome and all the hatred expressed toward them in many places is not representative of me and mine. I never acted on that urge to reach out to my neighbors out of fear that I would offend them somehow, me being fairly ignorant of their culture. What good would it do to reach out in peace and then be offensive or seem self-serving?

So I did nothing.

But I did go to the mosque.   I went for me, to learn, but also to support the Muslim members of my community who, yes, even in Lexington, are being targeted for harassment by ignorant idiots that are a waste of my Oxygen.

Ahem.

The mosque we visited is a new one, built in front of the old one on the same property. It’s not super-fancy on the outside, but it is brilliantly gold and round and shiny. Inside, though, while tastefully decorated, it was not fancy in any way. There were separate areas for men and women to store their shoes, as shoes do need to be removed before entering the prayer hall.

Why do Muslims remove their shoes upon entering a mosque? They do it to keep their prayer hall clean. When Muslims pray, they bow and then they kneel, or prostrate, on the ground.   They simply want the area where they come in contact with the ground to be clean.

I knew the mosque did not require visitors to wear the hijab. We ladies all brought a scarf just in case and while I did not intend to wear mine initially, I did have a friend help me with one before the educational presentation began. It just felt like the right thing to do.

Modesty in dress, for both men and women, is a key belief in Islam.

The prayer hall in the mosque was oriented toward Mecca, with windows all along the other walls, providing a very light and open worship space. Our educator for the day, a converted Muslim who is a professor of Islamic studies at another university in town, stood at the front of the room while visitors sat on the floor around him. He was very folksy and funny and honest about Islam.

I learned new things about Islam from him (and I apologize if I flub some terminology here):

  1. Muslims, Jews, and Christians are all religious descendants of Abraham, believing in one God.
  1. Muslims study Jesus as a prophet, just like Mohammed.
  1. Where Muslims believe Christianity erred is in elevating Jesus to the divine. They believe there is only one God, only one divinity, the one worshipped by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. They do not believe in the Trinity of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
  1. Islam puts an intense priority on how Muslims treat their neighbors. I’m paraphrasing here, but a lasting idiom in the faith goes something like, “better you die of hunger than to have food and not share it with your starving neighbor.”
  1. Muslims pray 5 times a day, scheduled to coincide with breaks in the day where you should stop and acknowledge God in your life. If Muslims can come to the mosque for prayer, that is encouraged, but they are taught to pray wherever they are.
  1. Prayers are recitations of the Quran, to be spoken melodiously, which is why sometimes they resemble songs or chants. If a Muslim is at a mosque, the prayers can be led by a faith leader. If a Muslim prays someplace else, the text spoken in the prayer is up to the individual.

Our educator was sure to tell us, though, that there are no prayer police that punish Muslims for not praying 5 times a day. They sort of go on the honor system, a concept I’m sure those of us in other faiths can understand and appreciate.

Just like in any religion, there are certain scriptures, certain texts, that can be taken out of context and twisted into whatever teachings madmen need to use to motivate extremists to do their bidding. Muslims don’t drink and believe in modest dress for both sexes. The 9-11 terrorists who got drunk in strip clubs and boasted about their 77 virgins…these were evil, misguided men who were not following the tenets of Islam.

Answering a question from the audience about the treatment and place of women in Islam, our educator answered that while Islam is a slow-evolving faith, most American women Muslims have the same rights as and are considered equal to men. American Muslims are intensely aware of women’s issues and are having conversations to further women within the faith. Disclaimer:   this is one of the areas in which I hope I am not butchering our educators words or intent.

As our educator enthusiastically answered our questions, I wondered how exhausting it must be to have to explain your faith over and over again, even if to such a well-intentioned audience as ours. No matter how excited he might have been to explain his beliefs, the context that he was doing so, at least in part, because some people believe all Muslims are terrorists, was inescapable.

As someone who grew up in a progressive Baptist Church, only realizing when I went away to college that all Baptist churches were NOWHERE NEAR as progressive as mine, I can’t fathom what it must be like to encounter those misconceptions on a daily basis. Even now, when I say I attend (sporadically) a very progressive Baptist Church, I must explain what that means because most people think of Baptists as extremely conservative Southern Baptists and that’s not remotely who we are.   The frustrations of our Muslim neighbors must be mine times infinity.

Our educator told us the story of how he and his wife can gauge what’s going on in the world by a trip to the grocery store. His wife wears the hijab and if she notices more dirty looks than usual while shopping, they can be guaranteed when they get home there has been a terrorist event somewhere in the world.

How sad is that?   These are people who live with this every day of their lives. These are peaceful people, faithful people, living in our community. People who give them dirty looks because they look Middle Eastern or wear hijabs is unacceptable to me.

Islam is the second largest community of faith in Lexington and while I am proud of my multicultural city in so many ways, it’s so apparently obvious we have a ways to go.

After the presentation was over, we were invited to observe prayer services. While it was interesting and beautiful to watch our new friends pray, I also felt like a gawker who was observing something private and sacred. I was happy they invited us, but when I attend again, and I will, I hope to be more participatory in some way and less someone staring at something I’d never seen before.

Our hosts invited us for food and fellowship after prayer. For someone who grew up with pot lucks in the Fellowship Hall basement, this was nothing new to me. Sure, I had the best falafel I’ve ever had IN MY LIFE, and you don’t get that often in Eastern KY, but the only thing different about socializing in the mosque was that we walked around in our sock feet.   The same laid-back, easy conversation talking about faith and culture and customs…while the subject matter was new, the act was not. The congregation was as welcoming, as funny, as real and true and personal as any church I’d ever been to. They even had to shoo us out of the reception area as they got ready for a congregational family night (we were invited to stay for that of course). I don’t know about you, but during my traditional Baptist family night gatherings, goodbyes took a looooong time and involved lots of shooing.

Later that afternoon, after my visit, I was thinking about the toll it must take on the health of the mosque members to be constantly on edge and wondering (they must be, I would) if they next time they open their mailbox or the door to the mosque that a bomb might go off. Being constantly on edge, constantly on alert, is not good for the human body. It raises our cortisol and inflammation levels and prolonged stress to the body can lead to an early death. I’m not exaggerating here…can you imagine having thoughts of hatred and bombs every time you enter your house of worship or simply because you look different than everyone else when you go out in public?

Me either.

And even later that night, I found out the mosque I had just visited, the congregants I’d just met, had received a bomb threat in the mail. A bomb threat received for no other reason than the misinterpretation of a faith.

I felt sickened. Literally, physically, sickened. I could not believe this magnificent day in which I learned so much, met so many wonderful people who were like me in so many ways, during which I’d hoped to provide a bit of support for my neighbors, ended with a cowardly, misinformed act of hatred.

I WAS FURIOUS. How dare these people? These idiots? These losers? I get riled up just thinking about harm coming to the people who had just opened their doors to me when they never know if the person they are letting in is intent on killing them. I’m reminded of Charleston, SC, where 9 people studying the Bible opened their doors to man full of anger and hatred and consequently lost their lives.

After learning of the bomb threat, those of us who visited the mosque sent letters and notes of support. Today in the mail I received a hand-written thank you note for my supportive card. The note said they’d received so many and were so appreciative.   The mosque has displayed them on a wall to remind them that they are loved and welcomed in this community.

So, one day this week or maybe next, my children and I will make some chocolate chip cookies and walk down to the end of the court and offer them to our Muslim neighbors. On the way, we will talk about how we are kind to everyone whether or not they look, dress, think, or talk like we do. We will talk about acceptance, and appreciation, and judgment. And we will begin a conversation.

Wait, Everyone Doesn’t Conduct Family Meetings in the McDonald’s Bathroom?

I’ve been in my share of McDonald’s bathrooms over the years…what with having Salyer Bladder (somewhat sketchy family affliction I blame on my mother and aunt), cruising in high school (not many other places to go), and numerous stops involving say, ingestion of too many foreign substances (college), but today’s episode is one that was never even on my radar, even with my multi-faceted experiences with the location.

As some of you know (and how could you not?), I’ve been experiencing a wee bit of stress in the last year and since the election, it’s just been compounded in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I have always had finite amounts of mental energy and brain space. I need time to absorb and process what I learn. I am easily overwhelmed.

Between single-motherhood and the three weeks since the President’s inauguration, I am more easily overwhelmed than usual.

My daughter has known for a few days now that today is the day she gets her stitches out. Two weeks ago she decided to slice her thumb open on a can of soup and received 5 stitches from the very super awesome Baptist Health Urgent Treatment Center at Brannon Crossing (for you local folks in case you ever need their services).

The anticipation of stitch removal has been weighing on her mind and as I dropped her off at school this morning she asked me if we couldn’t postpone it for just one more day. No, sweetie, we can’t. Today is the day.

So when I pick my lovely babies up at school this afternoon I’m anticipating a bit of resistance, so I come well-armed.

I’ve got juice boxes and snacks.

Daughter: I don’t like Goldfish.

Me: Since when?

Daughter: (snort) Since like, foreeever!

Son: I don’t like this juice.

Me: Well, have some of my water.

Son: I’m not thirsty for water.

Ok, so struck out with the snack idea.

Daughter: I don’t want to get my stitches out.

Me: I know, but you know it doesn’t hurt, right? I’ve told you that, your friends have told you that…

Daughter: But I’m still scared.

Me: I know. Here’s E.B. (her Easter Bunny that she cannot sleep without and that makes everything better even at her ripe old age of almost-9).

When we arrived at Baptist Health Urgent Treatment Center:

Me: Look, guys, there aren’t may cars here so we might get in and out pretty quick!

Daughter: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!NONONONONONONO!!!

Me: Oh dear God.

We get inside Baptist Health Urgent Treatment Center and register ourselves.

Me: (cue inner boot camp instructor:) Daughter, you will do your math homework until the doctor comes for you. Here is a pen and paper. No, I don’t have a pencil but I will email your teacher to tell her it’s all we had so you don’t get in trouble.

Son, you WILL write these sight words until you know them. Five times each. Go!

25 seconds after we are registered and impromptu homework stations assembled: Daughter’s name is called.

Well, glad I wasted time on assembling homework assignments, iPads, and books to get us through the long wait time folks usually encounter at urgent treatment centers.

Universe: You can’t make her (me) happy.

Daughter gets her stitches out. It doesn’t hurt. Boy is intrigued by stitch removal process, but also grossed out, so his eyes dart between stitches and iPad enough that I think he’s receiving subliminal messages from the Devil, so I remove the iPad from his tiny little hands and proclaim the medical treatment area an iPad-free zone because I said so.

I’d also packed a book to read to my daughter. This seemed to work as a calming mechanism when she got her stitches so I thought it might work to alleviate some anxiety about getting them removed.

The thought of the book comforted her, but as they began removing stitches, apparently the story and her loving mother were not sufficient to comfort her as she said, “Mom, read it with feeling!”

The poor doctor raised his hands up in disbelief and tried with all his might not to bust out laughing. He only half succeeded.

To daughter’s dismay, I boomed, “Once more with feeling!” and began to read dialogue.

Stitches were out, scab was inspected, and bandage applied. Life was good, though we still had homework to get to.

On the way to the urgent treatment center, I’d told the kids that after daughter’s stitches were out, we would eat out and then go to karate. It would be a reward for successful stitch removal and an early treat for son’s birthday the following day.

We get into the car and I say, “Ok, kiddos, who is up for McDonalds??!!” Son grunts and daughter proclaims she doesn’t like McDonald’s. Sigh. I didn’t even ask her when she changed her mind, as her palate apparently fluctuates based on her mood . Usually the only place those two ever want to go is McDonald’s. Apparently they have the best toys.

After telling them that was the only place we could go and get to karate on time, they both declared they didn’t want to go to karate.

I found myself taking lots of deep breaths.

“Well, kids, if we don’t go to karate we aren’t going out to eat. We’ll go home and have peanut butter and jelly.”

Daughter: Fine!

Son: NOOOOOOO!!!!!

Moans and protests from back seat of car. I was amazed at the amount of strength with which I was able to squeeze the steering wheel of the car.

Me: “You know what, we are going to McDonald’s because that was my plan and we’re on a tight time schedule and you have to go to karate because before we signed up we talked about the classes and the schedule and you agreed to go twice a week and there is no other night this week we can go and we aren’t wasting Mimi and PopPop’s money because they pay for you to go these classes and they paid for your uniforms and that is what we are doing. Period.”

I felt like Sean Spicer. With no alternative facts.

Silence from the back of the car.

So we get to McDonald’s and along with two grumpy children I lug in the Big Bag of Stuff containing karate uniforms, iPads, homework, books, gross juice, and intolerable Goldfish.

It turns out the boy was feeling puny because he was coming down with strep throat, but we wouldn’t find that out until the next day. Even Moms of the Year like me can’t always predict the future.

So I tell the kids to go find a table and I will order the food. I give the Big Bag of Stuff to daughter and ask her to take it to the table and begin her homework. She rolls her eyes, sighs, accepts the bag, and then immediately lets it drop to the floor like it’s too heavy for her poor delicate muscles to handle.

I spin around with the if-you-broke-the-iPad-because-of-your-attitude-we-are-going-to-have-a-come-to-Jesus-meeting-right-here-in-the-middle-of-McDonald’s-look glaring daggers at her.

In my meanest voice, I order her to go sit down and I grab the bag from her. As I did so, I slipped on a puddle of water in the floor. I didn’t go all the way down, but it was awkwardly close, and in hindsight, probably very amusing to the other patrons.

Turns out I pulled some kind of muscle in my right leg while doing my graceful save-face move, so I stalked/limped over to the table. I put the bag down, got the homework out, and dared either one of them to make a sound until I got back with the food.

As I’m limping up to the counter, my face probably red with frustration, I hear daughter whimpering from booth that I don’t love her. Oh, little tiny baby Jesus, help me.

We actually accomplished a lot at dinner. Son and I read two books and worked on spelling words. Daughter needed frequent reminding to work on her math and a common refrain was:

Me: Do your math, please.

Daughter: I don’t know how. I can’t do it. I’m stupid.

Me: Yes, you can, just do it step by step. You know you aren’t stupid.

Daughter: Then why can’t I remember my multiplication tables?
Me: I don’t know, honey, maybe you need to work on memorizing them.

Daughter: So you do think I’m stupid (sob sob sob).

Me: Sigh. Big sigh.

Daughter: Are you mad at me?

Me: No.

Daughter: Are you frustrated with me?
Me: Yes, I am. Please do your homework so we can just be done with it.

Daughter: You’re rushing me.

Me: No, I’m not rushing you, but you need to focus so we can get this done.

Daughter: You love (son’s name) more than me.

Me: No I don’t.

Daughter: (almost screaming): Yes you do! You never yell at him to finish his homework. I hate you!

Me: (wild-eyed, white-knuckled, through clenched-teeth with scary Mom voice): DO. YOUR. HOMEWORK. NOW.

Children: You’re scaring me.

Yep. I’m that Mom. In the middle of McDonald’s. That’s me.

After the homework was finally, sweet lord Jesus thank you, done, I hunchback-limped my way to the McDonald’s bathroom, dragging the Big (and apparently very heavy) Bag of Stuff, thumb-bandaged girl, and strep-infected boy behind me.

Once in the big stall, after ordering them not to touch anything they didn’t absolutely have to touch, I got them undressed and into their karate uniforms. After having several minutes of calm toward the end of dinner during which to find my composure, I told the kids we were going to have a family meeting.

Son: In the bathroom?

Me: Yes.

Son: (looking very confused) Why?

Me: Because we need to talk.

Daughter: Can’t this wait until we get home (eye roll)?

Me: No.

Daughter: This is so embarrassing.

Son: Can we sit down?

Me: No.

Son: But we always sit down for family meetings.

Me: Ok, guys, we have to learn to roll with the punches, OK? If we need to have a family meeting in the middle of the McDonald’s bathroom then that’s where we’ll do it.

And we did. We talked about the importance of being patient and understanding with each other. We talked about even when we have disagreements or are frustrated, the love that we have for each other never changes (saw daughter start to protest but after look of death she wisely changed her mind).

I told the kids that these requests apply to me too, that just like I’m asking of them, I also have to make an effort to be better at these things.

And then we washed our hands.

I’ve often thought to myself it’s hard to raise kids when I’m not done raising myself, but it’s true. We all do the best we can with what we’ve got every day. Today my mental energy and patience bottomed-out. My daughter’s Mini-Me personality got to me as it does more often than I’d like to admit.

Life is hard. Sometimes we excel. Sometimes we crash. Both of those outcomes are OK. I want to raise kids who can handle adversity (even the miniscule kind we experienced at McDonald’s) and roll with the punches and not be broken afterward. To set that example for them, I have to exhibit those abilities myself. And I’m working on it, but it’s hard. So very hard.

So, while I hope to avoid future family meetings in McDonald’s bathrooms, I guess you just never know when those opportunities for growth and discussion are going to occur. I’ve got to be ready for them.

**********

P.S. Son tried to swipe a Cadbury Creme Egg and a pack of gum from the grocery store today, just in case you thought I was picking on my daughter.

We Weren’t A Moment, We’re A Movement

It’s been less than two weeks since the historic Women’s March on Washington, although it feels like it happened eons ago. A lot has happened in the last 10 days, most of which turns my stomach. The Women’s March, though…that’s a movement, baby, and it ain’t going anywhere, and that gives me hope.

I don’t remember when I heard about the Women’s March, but I looked forward to it from the moment I learned Lexington was having its own sister march the same day. After such a horrifying campaign, an unbelievably frightening election result, this was something I could do to stand in solidarity with other women across the country who were as angry as I was.

I started thinking about what kind of shirt I would wear, whether I’d carry a sign, whether to take the kids with me… I wasn’t sure if I’d have child care, but I decided I was marching rain or shine, with kids or without, come hell or high water. The pull I felt to participate was overwhelming. I couldn’t not march. I’m betting many marchers felt the same way.

Since the election I’d devoured as much political information as I could, involved myself in progressive activist groups, armed myself with facts, and tried to understand the foreign political landscape in which I was now living. To this day, I’m still not quite sure how we got here.

As the day of the march approached, I witnessed my own patriarchal state legislature take away my rights as a woman. Of course they know what’s best for me. I was already angry, but I got angrier. I understand you’re mad you can’t have babies, boys, but get over it and get out of my uterus already.

A friend of mine from work heard I was marching and asked if she could come with me. Absolutely! She devoutly crocheted every night for a week to get her hat ready for the march. A friend from high school who I hadn’t seen for 27 years, though we are friends on Facebook, asked if she could march with us. Absolutely!

I had friends from California to Texas to Florida and Chicago who were marching in their own cities. I had friends from New York who went to DC. I know many people from right here in Lexington that went to DC.

The excitement building inside me had to be visible to those around me. I felt like I was literally vibrating. This day was going to be unprecedented!!! And it was.

I spent the night before the march getting my signs ready. Here they are. I stole the ideas for both of them from friends as I have no originality and as you can see, no artistic skills. Thank you, Deirdre and Lucy.

I’d picked up my shirt that afternoon. I was covered. I was ready.

shirt

The morning of the march I kissed my babies goodbye and watched them go off with their dad. I’d decided not to take them, the best decision for us, but one that I struggled with mightily.

Before they left, though, they asked me where I was going. I told them I was going to walk through downtown with a bunch of people who were as upset as I was about some of the things happening in the country. My daughter asked me what kinds of things. Trying to be as honest as I could, I told her I was marching because it’s not OK to be a bully. It’s not OK to think that someone else should be the boss of my body. It’s not OK to be mean to women. It’s not OK to make fun of people who don’t look or talk like we do or people who have needs we don’t have. I told her it’s not OK to hate people.

Once I had the house to myself I found a website that was streaming the speakers from the Women’s March in DC (thank you USA Today). As I was getting ready for the day I heard from people I respect for their work to advance women’s rights all over the world.

I watched the fabulously brilliant Gloria Steinem tell us that sometimes pressing “send” is not enough and we have to show up and make our physical presence felt.   She reaffirmed what we already know: it is our right as women to choose when and whether to give birth without interference from the government. And she predicted that each of us individually and collectively would never be the same again, a sentiment I feel more in my bones every day.

I watched Elizabeth Warren and Cecile Richards speak about the power of women in the United States and all over the world to rise up and find their voice; to be heard.

I watched Ashley Judd interpret a poem from a teenager from Tennessee about Nasty Women. She spoke powerful words. She spoke truth. She spoke words that many people are uncomfortable with, but in the end, what was so wrong with them? As a woman, I know what blood-stained sheets are. I’ve had them. So has every woman. It’s part of this magnificent power and gift the good Lord gave us as women so why should we be ashamed of it? Why does even thinking about menstrual blood or women’s reproductive functions make us turn our noses up in disgust? If you’re here on this Earth, male or female, you should be thankful women have had blood-stained jeans; it means they were able to produce you. You preach it, Ashley, I’ve got your back.

The voices of these brave and fierce women got me even more riled up for the march. By the time my friend got there in her pussy hat (and by the way, we OWN that word now thank you very much), I couldn’t wait to get out the door!

After we made our way downtown and parked, we looked for my friends carrying our organization’s banner.   Looking out over the courthouse square, I saw a sea of people. Thousands of people.

lex1

Women like me were there, sure, but I also saw way more men than I’d expected. Shame on me. I saw black people, white people, brown people, gay people, differently-abled people. I saw women. I saw men. I saw transgender folks. I saw old people and young people and I saw children. I saw college students and gray-haired grannies. I saw people in wheelchairs and kids sitting on the shoulders of their parents. I saw Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists. I saw people marching for women’s rights, children’s rights, LGBTQ rights, aged rights, immigrant rights, for the separation of church and state.

Thousands and thousands of people making a very strong statement to our new administration that bullying, hatred, discrimination, misogyny, and xenophobia were not going to be tolerated.

The atmosphere buzzed with electricity. The crowd was elbow-to elbow so you got to know your neighbor pretty quickly. While we couldn’t see or much hear the speakers at the podium because we were so far back, what we did do is meet new people and realize that we weren’t alone in being horrified at the actions of the man who is now our President. That’s a powerful thing.

When the march finally got started it was slow going, but not as slow as it would have been had the Lexington Police Department not shut down the streets for the march. They were not originally scheduled to be closed, but LPD amended the plan on the fly when they saw the number of people planning to march and we are very thankful they did. All along the march route, police officers were polite, courteous, and encouraging. We appreciated their professionalism and are lucky to have them in our community.

I’ve walked – and jogged a bit too – in the streets of Lexington during the Midsummer Night’s Run, but this march had an entirely different atmosphere and was most definitely a different experience. During the Midsummer Night’s Run everyone is a solo player. During the march, the entire purpose was to be together…to make our voices heard and to amplify our messages by saying them together. Together, we will make a difference.

Finding one’s voice, literally, is more difficult for some than it is for others. I was slow to warm up to the shouting of slogans like “Love Trumps Hate,” or “Rise Up,” even though I believe in those mantras, and for about the first ¼ of the march my effort at vocalizing was less than spectacular.

But then came “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Matt Bevin has got to go,” and suddenly it was much easier to project my voice. For those of you who don’t know, Matt Bevin is the Republican governor of the state of Kentucky. He believes he is smarter than me and has the moral authority to make decisions for me about my body. Bless his heart.

Then, though, about halfway through the march I heard the chant, “This is what democracy looks like,” and my voice boomed, deep and guttural, out of my throat and into the world as I repeated this new adage. And the world heard it. There is something visceral and almost overwhelmingly empowering about hearing your own voice speak up, rise up, and be heard. Hearing my own words encouraged me to be even louder and more passionate in their utterance, if that was possible.

And there we went, our merry band of protestors (thank you, Nema), almost dancing down Main St. in our rhythmic proclamation that this, we, all of us—this is what democracy looks like.   All ages, genders, and colors rising up at the indecency we saw in the world.

We weren’t a moment, we are a movement.

After my friends and I had completed the march, we watched the other marchers as they walked the route.   We cheered them on, encouraging them to find their voices as well. We saw cute babies, great outfits, and some really, really clever signs.

And the people just kept coming. It was amazing.

lex2

 

Perhaps the funniest moment of the day occurred when my friend was stopped by an older lady wearing a clerical cloth. The lady politely asked my friend about the significance of her hat. There were thousands of pussy hats marching in Lexington that day. I cracked up, because I am 12, at the sight of my pussy-hatted friend telling this charmingly distinguished woman of the cloth about the pussy hat. Friends, it doesn’t get any better than that.

pussyhat

After I got home, I took to the internet to devour any and all news coverage about the Women’s March. With each new tweet, each new Facebook post, each new interview on CNN and each new picture from a different city in this country, or the world, with each new estimate of people in the streets, well, I didn’t really know how to contain myself.

I’d been a part of that. My feet pounded pavement in solidarity with my sisters and brothers all over the world. We were noisy and we were active. And weren’t going anywhere.

I slept in my protest shirt that night. I couldn’t bear to take it off. I had to hang on to the power and emotion of that moment because in the end, the struggle for change is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And when you run a marathon (or so I’ve been told), you have to focus on happy milestones to get you through because there is a lot more pain than reward. I didn’t want to let go of my prize just yet.

So, the next day, when I felt like wearing the shirt again, I did. I wore it while I cut out pictures and articles about the march from the Sunday paper. I wanted to save them for me, yes, but also for my daughter and my son. One day soon I will remind them what Hillary Clinton said the day after she lost the election, “never doubt that you are valuable, powerful, and deserving of every opportunity in the world and every chance to pursue your own dreams.”

Then I slept in it my shirt again. I had to hold on to the moment, hold on to the feeling of being one with the millions of other people who elevated their voices in the name of love and acceptance to defy hatred.

Over the coming years as we persevere in solidifying our movement, we will get bogged down in political drama, policy details, and definitions of words, but we can never let it beat us.

I’ve heard the cautions about forgotten protests and movements that failed to produce change in our government and ourselves and those warnings have merit. And while I have no quantifiable data to ensure anyone that this movement will not fade or falter as it evolves in the world, my gut is telling me it’s here to stay.   The outrage at our current leaders is still as palpable as it was the day of the march.

Eventually I did take the shirt off, but I wear it every chance I get. We all need to be reminded that a woman’s place is in the revolution.

We aren’t going anywhere.

#Resist

leia

#DressLikeAWoman

 

Note: The pics of the Lexington crowds and the hat-wearing cat are not mine. They came from somewhere in the Twitterverse.

 

 

 

 

Why Aren’t More Women in Politics and What Can I Do About It?

Recently, as the Republican-controlled Kentucky General Assembly, with help from Democrats, rammed through two anti-choice bills that were signed into law by our Republican Deity-In-Chief, I found myself more politically active than I have been in years.  I’m mad, fed up, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

As I am making multiple phone calls to senators and representatives urging them to vote no on a bill that would unconstitutionally ban abortion after 20 weeks (before most women even have their first ultrasound to determine if their baby is healthy) as well as a bill requiring a doctor do a TRANS-VAGINAL ultrasound (if you don’t know what that means, look it up; trust me when I say it’s invasive) while describing the fetus and making the woman listen to the heartbeat, I noticed, and was for some reason shocked, that all the people on the committee hearing this bill were men.

Even as I made these calls, I knew these bills would pass. The Republicans in the General Assembly were like kids in the candy shop, rubbing their hands together in the anticipation of everything they could ram down our throats their first week in office. Because, of course, these are “emergency” bills that had to get passed the first week of their session, with votes being called for before new Assembly members had even received an orientation to their positions.

But I digress.

And while I’m mad at they hypocrisy of Kentucky politicians for the inept, uneducated view they have of we women who obviously can’t be trusted to make up our own minds about what’s right for us and our body and our children, I’m also angry at me. Kentucky was the last holdout among Southern states with one side of their legislature controlled by Democrats. Any idiot with a brain in her head could have seen this was coming in my state, even if she was convinced Hillary Clinton was going to be our next President.

What did I do? I voted. And talked to people, most of whom think like me. I chastised people who didn’t vote (I still do that…so freaking VOTE next time already).

But that wasn’t, and isn’t, enough.

We need more women in public office. Period. How can we expect a legislature made up of people who have never known what it’s like to be pregnant, or have a child, or lose a child, or have to scramble for child care, or lose pay because they had to stay home with a sick kid, to make our concerns a priority? We need more women in office. Period.

But what am I to do? I can’t run for office, even though Kentucky Democrats have a fantastic program to groom female candidates for elected office. Even though there are organizations developing new ways of thinking, communicating, and campaigning based on the epic Democratic fail of last November.

I am a single mother of two who works full-time. I do well to get evening and weekend hours of work covered by family or a babysitter and every time I get an hour or two to go to a meeting or an exercise class, that is a luxury I cherish.   And I’m lucky. I have family and friends and babysitters. There are many women out there who don’t have the luxuries I have.

I also can’t afford to jeopardize my job. I am lucky enough to be employed by a city government, and it wouldn’t take kindly to an employee doing election work on company time. I don’t have the luxury of “scaling back” at work or relying on another income to cover me while I run for office.

Also, there is that kid thing. Even if I did find a way to run for a local office while maintaining gainful employment, I would have to sacrifice formative time in the lives of my two children, both of whom are under 9 years old. That’s a sacrifice I can’t make it, even if I did have a spouse at home to cover me. I’m not willing to miss soccer games and gymnastics meets. I’m not willing to miss bath times (OK, sometimes bath time stresses me out and I could miss some of those), or bedtimes cuddles, or the tidbits about each kids’ day that they seem to divulge to me only as we cuddle in bed at night. I’ll never get that time back.

I am not alone and I don’t feel like I’m being selfish. I know other women who are way smarter than me and would make much better officeholders than me and that do have support at home and they can’t make that sacrifice either. Let’s face it, and with all due respect to the fantastic dads out there who do run households, it’s primarily the women, even those of us who work full-time, that manage the household. If we don’t do it, who will?

There was an article circulating on Facebook recently about the unseen second workload women face, the workload of managing the family schedules, making sure the doctors appointments are made and the school forms are signed and doing all of this while working outside the home and still doing most of the housework (although the guys should be commended for doing better at sharing household chores these days). It would be almost impossible to have the time and energy to campaign for office at the same time we’re commander-in-chief of our own households.

Being there for our kids and keeping stable households, we won’t get another chance to do that. We can always run for office…someday.

Or will we? I used to say in college, back in the early 90s when I was more politically active, that the one thing that would make me pick up a sign and march in a protest was the government trying to force its views on my body. And here we are.

And there I will be on Saturday, marching in downtown Lexington with my sisters and brothers who have sat silent on the sidelines for too long. Somewhere deep down, I don’t ever think I believed it would come to this: government not trusting me WITH MY OWN BODY, a rise in hate crimes against religious and ethnic minorities that if not caused by, is at least correlated with, the future President mainstreaming the behavior, a presidential cabinet made up of a bunch of foxes who will be charged with guarding their own hen houses, taking away health care from millions of people who only recently developed the ability to have some control over their own health, politicians who think they know better than 99.9% of scientists who know climate change is real, an education secretary who has no freaking idea what public education is or how to improve it, an energy secretary who thought he’d be in charge of oil and gas development, being afraid to flip on the TV for fear of hearing a news blurb about our future President and then having to explain the word “pussy” to my kids, and dear God in heaven, I could go on and on.

I’m a little bit fired up.

And I’m not alone.

I am privileged to be a member of two groups in Lexington who are politically active and who are working to improve the lives of all of us. I’ve also recently started paying attention to the Democratic Party of my county and state.   One of my groups has been an active and effective network for years while the other sprang up organically after the election and boasts over 4,000 members on Facebook. At our second organizational meeting held this month, we drew 78 people. 78 people fired up enough to be patient with us through our organizational process, before we can really even get down to the nitty gritty.

One thing I hear consistently from all of these people is that they are fed up and they aren’t going to take it anymore. Especially with the new group, many of these folks have never been politically active before in their lives. The established groups are reporting record turnouts to meetings and events and report similar increased attendance at affiliated groups all over the state.

At a meeting I attended earlier this week, I mentioned how I would come to more of their gatherings except for the child care issue. You know what they told me, this group of middle-aged to older ladies? Bring them. They said they’d never had anyone ask about bringing kids before and surely we could get a volunteer to watch them. I even suggested I could bring the kiddos and let them go at the iPad for an hour and a half while I plot the Democratic revolution in the state of Kentucky.

So you see, while it may be hard for me to be engaged as a candidate for office, I can be engaged and make my voice heard in other ways. How many women out there would be more actively involved in progressive change if they felt comfortable bringing their kids along?

We all have a voice. We all have a role to play. We just have to do it.

And from what I can see, women in Lexington, in Kentucky, and all over the nation are poised to make every one of our voices heard. We will not be ignored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Can Suck It

2016 can suck it.

Then suck it again.

Like so many of you, I was heartbroken to learn of Carrie Fisher’s passing yesterday.  To me she will always be Princess Leia, the tiny, feisty, original heroine to my 6-year old self. I saw her for the first time sitting at the drive-in watching Star Wars with my dad, already making plans to roll my brown hair up into donuts as soon as I got home.

I know she became an accomplished writer, mental health advocate, and feminist after her Empire-fighting days were over (until they weren’t over anymore, reemerging as General Organa in last year’s The Force Awakens, which was totally awesome), and those are all wonderfully creative and esteemed accomplishments for which to be remembered. But she’s Princess Leia to me. And she’d be OK with that.
When Robin Williams died two years ago, it affected me deeply. I remember wondering why I was moved to tears for someone I’d never known. The best answer I could come up with? A list of truths that intersected his life and mine. I tried to put a finger on why he meant so much to me, but as long as that list was, nothing on it was monumental enough to explain my despair. But my grief was real, my mourning genuine.

The same grief hit me earlier this year when Prince died. With Prince I could more easily explain away my sadness: I had my first kiss during a slow dance to Purple Rain. My cousin and I used to sing Peach at the top of our lungs on our way for a jog around the park. Who doesn’t smooch the air when Kiss comes on the radio? College friends, windows rolled down…Prince knew me in my youth, his songs corresponding to distinct periods of my life. He was sexy and dirty and talked about things in his songs I’d never heard of before.   He was there for me.

I learned more about Prince after his death than I knew about him in life. Eric Clapton called him the best guitar player in the world. He lost a child. He was the reason we have profanity warnings on music.

I can’t say anything about Prince that someone else hasn’t already said, and I’m not smart enough to figure out why I get so attached to these artistic icons . Even if I could distill my feelings down to the truth, I wouldn’t have the grace with words to convey it on paper. He was magical. Music matters. Art matters.

2016 has been shitty for everyone in many ways. While I know the deaths of David Bowie, Patty Duke, and Arnold Palmer were terribly sad, it’s a world without Alan Rickman that makes me tear up. “Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.” I try to perfect my Severus Snape impression every night while reading Harry Potter with my daughter. I’m pretty good.

It’s no more George Michael or Harper Lee. No more Doris Roberts, Anton Yelchin, Gene Wilder, or Gary Marshall.   No more Mohamad Ali, Florence Henderson, or Alan Thicke.

And now Carrie Fisher? It’s too much.

It’s just too much.

Princess Leia showed me how to stand up to bad guys, that it’s OK for a woman to be tough, but also to show emotion. She showed me petite women can be badass (we’re both 5’1″), that they can command armies, that they should be respected. She showed me what it meant to believe in something enough to die for it. She was my first larger-than-life heroine before I knew how important it was for young girls to have them.

Once again, these are not new sentiments. I am not insightful enough to make this an eloquent eulogy. But I miss her. And I’m sad. And I’m so thankful she existed.

Once again, I find myself learning more about Carrie Fisher after her death than I knew about her while she lived. Having heard of most of her books and remembering when Postcards from the Edge came out, I am ashamed to say I’ve read none of them. I should’ve paid more attention. Why do I feel that way? I don’t know! Maybe because I feel like I should thank Princess Leia. I should thank Carrie Fisher for bringing her to life and imbuing her with spunk and heart and badassery. I should appreciate the ways in which I feel enriched by her art and her humanity. The actor and the character blur for me, a melding that Carrie Fisher herself understood and welcomed.

I know that I’m halfway through The Princess Diarist and thoroughly enjoying it. Postcards from the Edge is on reserve for me at the library.

And I know I’m ready for 2017.

 

Postscript: I found out just as I finished this post that Debbie Reynolds has died. Fuck you, 2016.

Dear ESPN, et All Y’all

Dear ESPN, UK, U of L, the SEC, the ACC, and anyone else involved in the multi-gazillion dollar contract to broadcast the most bitter NCAA in-state rivalry in college basketball game tonight on ESPN,

STOP RUINING MY CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS!   You are supposed to be played on the Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s and you are supposed to air nationally on CBS!  I realize Donald Trump has just been elected President of the United States and these words now have an alarmingly scarier connotation to them, but HAS HELL FROZEN OVER?

I’ve had about all the change I can handle in the last year and this upheaval in my Wildcat basketball schedule is the straw that broke the camel’s back, or, that got on my last nerve, as it were.

My family used to have its traditional holiday gatherings on Christmas Eve.  As I’ve written about before, as my brother and cousins and I have moved to different cities and had our own children, those Christmas Eve gatherings became harder and harder to conduct.  Not only was travel an issue, but there’s also the quandary of the kiddos waking up in their own houses on Christmas morning to discover whatever goodies Santa has left them.

Always a hater of change, I developed the perfect holiday work-around.  We’d get together the Saturday between Christmas and New Year’s and exchange presents, exude holiday cheer, and bond over how many different ways we could make fun of Rick Pitino and play the who-has-been-in-jail-lately-Cardinal-Christmas-bingo game.  This arrangement worked perfectly for us for the last several years.

Until this year, when for some reason the money gods that exude power over the conference-NCAA-television schedule decided to place this traditional game on a Wednesday night, the Wednesday two days before Christmas mind you, when people are still at work, out buying presents, picking up kids, attending parties, and have general middle-of-the-week family responsibilities to attend to.

Stopping everything at 7:00 p.m. on a Wednesday night to watch a basketball game on a cable channel that I have to pay $20 bucks a month for (while better than paying $70 for stations I won’t watch to a cable company I detest), is not exactly the easiest thing for a single mother of two small children to accomplish.

However, as I cannot pass up the opportunity to root for my beloved Kentucky Wildcats while heaping some of my internal anger issues upon the Cardinals of Louisville, my evening will probably go something like this:

5:00 p.m.             Leave work to pick up children from their grandparent’s house

6:00 p.m.             Have lovely dinner with wonderful in-laws and post-grandparent-visit                                       wild children

6:55 p.m.             Glance at watch and gracefully exit restaurant with wild children

7:00 p.m.             Buckle kiddos into car seats and break the news they will have to listen to

radio broadcast of basketball game

7:01 p.m.             Begin listening to 40-minute cacophony of backseat complaints on drive                                    home

7:02 p.m.             Channel Malik Monk and bring out my best self

7:45 p.m.             Walk into house and tell kids they get to stay up past bedtime (yay!!), but                                  have to watch basketball game while they do so (MAAAAHM!).

8:00 p.m.             Let children open Christmas present at halftime. Also, break news there is                                 an hour of basketball left

8:01 p.m.             No, Beth, this is not the worst day of your life.

8:10 p.m.             Direct children to brush teeth at first commercial break

8:15 p.m.             Text cousin about how awesome UK is playing

8:20 p.m.             Direct children to get jammies on during second commercial break

8:30 p.m.             Perform quality control inspections on last two directives

8:31 p.m.             Issue corrective orders (possibly while observing tooth brushing by half-                                   hanging out bathroom to try to get clear view of TV

8:32 p.m.             Text cousin asking if Louisville is paying the refs

8:33 p.m.             No, Will, you can’t have a treat; you just brushed your teeth!

8:34 p.m.             Ask children if they want to cuddle while watching last 15 minutes of game

8:36 p.m.             Ask children again if they would like to cuddle, having had no response the                                first time

8:37 p.m.             Have 3-second thought that children might be in treat basket; decide who                                cares?

8:37 p.m.             Give up on children and resume watching game

8:45 p.m.             Text Pacific Coast Time brother asking him if he is watching game or doing                                 that DVR thing

8:46 p.m.             Text cousin telling her I thought that Cardinal was in prison

8:47 p.m.             Cackle hysterically at biting wit of cousin and self

9:00 p.m.             Celebrate another UK victory and herd children upstairs for bed while                                          telling them why this game used to be holiday tradition but isn’t anymore

9:30 p.m.             Snuggle and tuck in my precious, tired wild things

10:00 p.m.           Feel 0.2% guilty for indulging my own preferences over those of the                                            children, then remember a happy mom is a good mom and after all, a good                                 mom needs to teach her children about the importance of UK’s superiority                                 over Louisville, family, Christmas traditions, and teeth-brushing, right?                                     Mom. Of. The. Year.

So, you see, ESPN and deal-makers of NCAA television rights, I really NEED this game back on CBS the Saturday after Christmas. For the children’s sake.

This Is Not OK

Like the majority of Americans, I did not vote for Donald Trump.  Like many Americans, I went to bed last Election Day with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and woke up Wednesday to see my fears realized: Donald Trump was President-Elect of the United States.

This is not OK. The United States just elected a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, Twitter-Troll bully of epic proportions to become the next leader of the free world.  I walked around most of Wednesday like a zombie, joining my coworkers, even those who voted for Gary Johnson, in a state of disbelief. What were we to do now?

Because this is not OK.

I consoled myself for a few days reading news articles and Facebook posts explaining the hows and whys of how this could happen.  I commiserated with friends.  I just couldn’t fathom how even if you hated Hillary Clinton, have not seen your own economic recovery yet, how you could vote for someone who mocked a disabled reporter. Someone who perceived a personal legal injustice based on the judge’s last name. Someone who egged on violence toward people who didn’t support him. Someone who bragged about grabbing your mother, aunt, sister, or daughter by the genitalia.

To be honest, I felt helpless.  Trump will be the next President of the United States and I had to accept that.  I read testaments to being true to one’s own beliefs-be nice, be kind, be accepting and supportive of those not like me.  I get that and I try to do that every day and to teach my children to do the same. Love does trump hate.

What else could I do? I was already politically active, right? I took my children into the voting booth with me at every election and on this last one in particular, stressing the historical significance of being able to vote for the first female President of the United States.  My 8-year old daughter was particularly proud that we did this together and I don’t think I imagined her confident gait, head held high, as we left the polling station.

I constantly talked about political issues with friends and family and tried to practice the art, sometimes the very difficult art, of listening to opinions that differed from mine with attention and respect.  Sometimes, God forbid, I even learned from them.

Still, I didn’t understand the rejection of a seriously qualified Hillary in favor of a reality star buffoon. I believe that most of the white working class voted for Trump despite his hateful words and not because of them. I cannot, will not, believe that all the people who voted for him are racist or hate women and Muslims. I believe as with most elections, we vote with our pocketbooks.

However, neither can I ignore the fact that reports of racial and ethnic slurs on the University of Kentucky campus are up significantly in the week since Trump was elected. I can’t ignore KKK pamphlets being distributed at Mississippi State, or the Hillary supporter who was PUNCHED IN THE FACE WHILE AT DINNER in Brooklyn by a Trump supporter who didn’t like what she was saying.  I can’t ignore the racial epithets aimed at Michelle Obama by elected officials in West Virginia just like I can’t ignore the note left on a black woman’s car in my own area of Lexington that said she lived in Trump Nation now, (insert the n word), and her time was up.

In Lexington. Right here in front of me.

I grew up the daughter of a single mother who worked full time yet still never had enough money to rise above poverty.  I come from white working class stock and no matter how big my house is or how educated I become, I will always see myself as that poor girl from Eastern Kentucky. I understand economic frustrations and the very real fear that most of us are just a job loss, a divorce, or a serious health problem away from worrying about putting food on the table and paying the rent. Many of us are struggling with these problems right this very minute. I understand that.

What I don’t understand is how voting for Donald Trump is going to change any of that. I don’t think it will. At best, he’s a liar who will never be able to follow through on half the hateful promises he made during the campaign, and at worst, he really does have animosity in his heart toward women and anyone else who doesn’t look, act, or think like him.

Hence my frustration.

And then, through a fortuitous friendship on Facebook, I learned of a group of people who, like me, were looking for a way to express, in productive terms, that a President-Elect Trump is not OK.  At the first meet-and-greet of this group, one of the organizers told me she expected perhaps a couple of hundred people to join.  The last time I checked, there were over 3,000 members in my local area.  We all have powerful voices, and there are many of us looking for a way to express our outrage at the current situation in this country.

One of the first calls to action came yesterday in the form of a request to phone the Senior Senator from Kentucky and the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Mitch McConnell.  Yes, the same one who declared his primary mission was to obstruct President Obama at every junction and who believes money is speech. But I digress.

Our forum decided to call McConnell’s Lexington, Louisville, and DC offices, as well as his Majority Leader office in DC, and urge him to use his influence to persuade Trump to reverse his appointment of Steve Bannon as White House Chief Strategist.  For those of you who don’t know, Steve Bannon is responsible for a news machine aligned with the “alt right” conservative movement in this country; basically a racist white national movement.  I won’t glorify him with any more discussion of his beliefs.

So, I thought, OK, here is something I could do.  I have a voice, that combined with other voices, might actually have the possibility of enacting change.  I first called McConnell’s Lexington office and spoke to the lovely and polite Hannah, who took my information, told me she would pass along my request, and told me the phones at the office had not stopped ringing all afternoon.  I also got through to the Majority Leader’s office, but the Louisville and DC offices were “experiencing a high call volume and could not accept my call.”

Boo yah!

The thrill jolting through my body at this slight effort at activism stayed with me for a while as I sat at my desk and wondered what to do next.  I had that jittery, shaky, excited feeling that left me with butterflies in my stomach. It was a wonderful feeling.  I did something. I spoke up. My voice was heard. It might not change anything, but I spoke out. It reminded me of the old-school pavement-pounding campaigning I used to do in my younger years.

I also woke up. Yes, we may be hearing more about racially provoked violence in this post-Trump election era, but I realize the insults, fear, violence, and hatred have been festering long before I internalized their reality.  People who aren’t like me live in fear every day that they will become the target of some wacko’s vengeance for the way things used to be (Make America Great Again). They worry about sending their kids to school only to have a misguided youth espouse the hatred and fear they hear at home.

And that is not OK.

I still believe people vote with their bank accounts, but part of me can’t help but wonder how many people did vote for Trump based on the hateful vitriol he spewed during this campaign? It’s an ugly part of America that I’m just waking up to.

And it’s not OK.

So, I will continue to practice kindness, generosity, and understanding to the best of my ability toward those who are different than me. I will teach my children to do the same. But I will also pick up my phone, burn up my keyboard, and speak up loudly when things are not OK.

And now I’m going to go make a donation to Planned Parenthood in Mike Pence’s name.