Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Year in Review

Tis the season to receive lovely holiday cards, filled with pictures of families (one year older!) and cutesy stories of the past year.  The Whomptons do not send such a card, so check out this page to fulfill your curiosity.

Professionally, Krystal switched to teaching a different grade-level, started coaching track again, and helped launch and staff an after-school academic support program.  She served on the Ethical Society Board and the Ethical Society Nursery School Board, continued anti-racism efforts, and co-led two Girl Scout Troops.  Major firsts include co-presenting at a national conference, being interviewed on TV and NPR, and having a super-brief cameo in a HBO documentary.  She ran the Go! Saint Louis half-marathon in April – setting a personal record – and had the awesome experience of running across the Mississippi River on two different bridges!  She campaigned for candidates and against initiatives for the November 2016 election and started volunteering for her State Senator Jill Schupp. 

Eric celebrated year 14 at Thomson Reuters and is firmly entrenched in middle management.  He coached Lola’s basketball and soccer teams and invested tremendous energy into both.  He took ownership of Lola’s superhero birthday party and designed a truly memorable experience – the kids had missions to complete and actual villains to defeat.  Eric brings fun with him wherever he goes and he really loves being involved in his daughters’ lives.  He is teaching the girls how to be geeks:  they watched Star Trek The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager and now are working through the entire Marvel universe. 

Samantha amped up her volunteer commitment.  In addition to her Ethical Society volunteering, anti-racism efforts, and abortion clinic escorting, she facilitated multiple Witnessing Whiteness groups, connected with Concordance Academy to be a sponsor for a new parolee, joined Senior Connections and befriended a lovely woman in her 90s.  Samantha’s dog Roxanne passed away in February and we gained Keyboard, a pit bull / Boxer mix, around Lola’s birthday.  Samantha loves going on long walks with the dog!  She continued practicing yoga and began Zumba as well, and she led her MICDS Walking Challenge Team to a strong 2nd place finish. 

Raina started middle school.  She skipped 5th grade and 7th grade math; she is now a 6th grader in 8th grade math.  She focused heavily on engineering: attended multiple “girls in engineering” events, took an engineering camp, and tried robotics and coding in lots of ways.  Raina earned the Bronze Award, the highest leadership award for Junior Girl Scouts, and her troop’s project focused on encouraging healthy eating.  She went to Girl Scout sleepaway camp again this summer.  Raina started taking cotillion / etiquette classes, continues to play the piano, and has started learning the flute.  Mostly, though, Raina spends her time reading and we are ever grateful to the Saint Louis County Library for keeping her in books.

Lola is now a 2nd grader.  She is a joyous, loving, and enthusiastic person.  Lola played basketball for the first time and made a lot of progress; she really developed as a defensive player.  She also player soccer, mostly as a mid-fielder or forward, and she scored her first goals ever this year!  Lola moved up to Brownie Scouts and headed out for her second summer at Girl Scout sleepaway camp.  She really unlocked her love of reading this year and she devoured books; she made her way through the Harry Potter books this summer and is claiming books off of Raina’s bookshelves.  Lola is highly infatuated with the dog; they have similar high energy states, so they are a good match together.

The women camped at Meramec State Park, hiked and explored many caves, paddled down the Meramec River and tipped their canoe.  The full family went to Congaree National Park, learned about cypress swamps, and earned the awesome Junior Rangers Centennial Badge, which smells like wood smoke.  The Whomptons + Comptons + Astorians vacationed at Litchfield Beach, South Carolina, in the summer and spent a week together in Nashville in the winter.  Watching the Independence Day fireworks while on the beach is an amazing experience and we’re incredibly lucky to have done so twice.  We saw evidence of loggerhead turtles – so cool! – and marveled at the biodiversity displayed at Huntington Beach natural reserve.  Eric and Krystal explored Portland, Oregon, trekked all over town, and tried to see every waterfall in the Columbia River Gorge.  They successfully hit 300 flights of stairs and 35,000 steps in a single day of hiking, which was a fantastic and tiring achievement.  The Whomptons are all about the hiking.  In addition to hiking in all the aforementioned placed, they gallivanted in Castlewood State Park, Cuivre River State Park, Shaw Nature Reserve, Queeny Park, and Rockwoods Reservation.  There was one serious tick disaster in that mix – hundreds of ticks, all over each person – but that was just one hike out of dozens this year.  Not bad. 


The family frequently volunteered at the Saint Louis Area Foodbank.  The only other major focus of the year was Hamilton: The Musical.  The Whompton females are mostly obsessed with the musical, listen to it non-stop, and religiously follow Lin-Manual Miranda.  The music is SO GOOD and comes highly recommended by us.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Becoming Better People: One Vigil at a Time

The family who vigils together stays together, right?  We Whomptons feel that a bit.  Samantha and I organize a monthly Black Lives Matter vigil and many times the full family has joined us on Clayton Road to stand in solidarity and bring awareness to justice reform.  My youngest made her first Black Lives Matter sign when she was 6 years old and she’s been proudly showing it since. 


I want our daughters to grow up ready, able, and willing to speak out on behalf of others; a first step in that process is to routinely stand quietly with and on behalf of others.  We’re training, practicing, and reminding ourselves to be better people.

Participating in a vigil is a simple act; people hold signs that affirm the worth and dignity of every person.  We wave at the people as they drive by, try to make eye contact, recognize the humanity in others, and share a positive message.  We vigil in Ladue, which is a predominantly wealthy and white community, and the community support (as measured by waves, thumbs-up, and honks) has increased steadily in the past two years.  I won’t lie and say that every response is positive – one individual in particular is incredibly negative and he regularly stops his car to yell statements like “thug!” or “[fill in the blank individual] deserved to die!” – but on the whole it has seemed that minds were changing.  Or so it seemed to me, at least.

And then November 8th happened.  Depending on who you ask, you might find out that November 8th was the day that Americans elected a misogynistic, xenophobic, racist bigot OR the day Americans chose a business-focused Washington-outsider who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is OR, you know, both.  I anticipated our vigil on November 13th to be hateful, as in “filled with hate,” because many Ladue residents voted for Trump and either expressly or tacitly gave his racist comments a pass.  The community response was different.  The overwhelming positive support – the honks and waves – from the drivers that day was a welcome surprise and helped my heart heal a bit. 

A different organizing group established a vigil in our hometown of Creve Coeur and we joined them on the 19th.  The other vigil attendees were excited to see us, and beyond thrilled to see Raina and Lola.  Kids holding signs that say “Hate never wins; love does” is always a powerful sight.  Unfortunately, the first driver response I heard was “n-----!” which is not a word I ever heard shouted in Ladue.  There were plenty of middle fingers shown our way.  Little Lola was confused because she’d not seen that message before and she thought it was a different way of waving.  We corrected her quickly when she started waving her middle finger back to a driver.  Some folks shouted a variety of pro-Trump statements at us, although none of our signs made political mention at all, and others had some aggressive thumbs-down responses.  On the flip side, the intersection was LOUD as people honked their support for justice reform, ending the school-to-prison pipeline, and showing love not hate.  

We’re adding the Creve Coeur vigil to our calendar and making it a priority to be there every month.  Change has to start somewhere, and amplifying voices in our own community is a good place to start.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Running while Female

Early autumn mornings are made for running.  5:00 AM is temperate and cool, dark (no sunscreen needed), the right time to see wild animals, and populated with very few people.  My neighborhood does not have street lights, so the darkness is all encompassing.  I see plenty of stars each morning, and I have practiced the same route over and over again so I know where to step so I don’t trip.  (Okay, so I still trip on occasion.)  I run alone – just me, my thoughts, and my daily meditative experience – and I love it. 

About five years ago during one of these morning runs, a vehicle followed behind me for quite a distance, then pulled up next to me and kept pace, passed me by a bit, and then slowed down and rolled down the window.  At that point, panic took over, I broke into a full-out sprint, and I didn’t calm down until I was back in my house with the door locked.  I genuinely feared for my safety and it took me a long time to work up the courage to get back out there again. 

I told this story to a few male friends at the time and each scolded me for running by myself, for risking rape and kidnapping and death.  They mansplained that the threat of attack was ever present, and that I shouldn’t ever go out alone like that again. 

Right, like being alone would protect me.  Sexual assault happens all the time.  I was 10 years old the first time someone grabbed my breasts and tried to stick his hands down my pants.  We were in a roomful of people.  When I was 14, some random guy patted my butt as I entered the hospital to volunteer.  My dad and brother were less than 10 feet away.  When I was 21, a guy walked up to me at a busy intersection, grabbed my breasts, smiled, and walked away.  During my 20’s, I went to bars and clubs knowing that guys would play the game of grab-ass as well.  (I started going to lesbian clubs because then I could dance without much fear of, literally, being manhandled.)  Sexual assault happens, it happens all the time, and being with other people is not protection.

I refuse to live my life in fear of assault. 

This week I had another unusual and scary experience on my morning run.  A truck tailed me, u-turned, u-turned again, followed me down my street, passed me, parked, and then 2 minutes later came back down my street.  My panic level increased, I mentally began thinking of ways to protect and defend myself, and I did not stop running until I had reached my house.  I’m sure there’s a perfectly good reason for what the driver did – maybe they forgot something, maybe they were picking someone else up, maybe they were playing Pokemon Go – and it is unlikely that I was a target.  I cannot let this type of fear stop me from living my life the way I want to.

I got back out there the next morning.  It was hard emotionally but I did it.  My solo night run was much worse because there are more cars and people out at night.  I repeated “these are my neighbors and they don’t want to hurt me” over and over again.  I couldn’t get into a groove because my attention kept being pulled towards panicky feelings.  And then a little dog ran right up to me, stopped, licked my ankles, and flopped over to expose his belly.  It was such a gesture of trust and, I won’t lie, it mended my heart a lot.  The little guy was lost, needed my help, and recognized that I was a neighbor who wouldn’t hurt him.  I spent the next five minutes tracking down his owner and, in the end, I felt really good about recognizing the humanity in others.


I opened a fortune cookie today and it had one word for me:  Run.  And that’s what I’m choosing to do.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Complacency

I teach children.  I teach them math and compassion and resilience and humor.  I teach them inspiration and partnership and responsibility and love for other human beings.  And I teach them how to respond in case of armed intruders.  We drill and role-play various scenarios multiple times a year because their lives are at stake every time they walk into a classroom.  These “safe places” for learning have not been safe for years.

When I learned of the horrific and tragic shooting in Orlando, I hung my head in grief and shame.  We have been here before.  Individuals get upset, bring weaponry, and destroy lives.  Shootings have become commonplace in the United States; so much so, in fact, that there’s a clear pattern to the response.  Horror.  Rhetorical and shock-laden “How could this happen?” questions.  Statements offering sympathy and prayers.  Temporary Facebook profile picture changes.  Vigils.  Calls for increased focus on mental health assistance.  Calls for gun access reform.  Devolving debates between the groups.  And then the conversation fades away.

Let’s be clear.  Each one of these responses is temporary.  Each is a reactionary measure.  Each is predicated on the assumption that this is all that CAN be done, both individually and collectively, or, worse, that this is all that NEEDS to be done. 

I grapple with the knowledge that I am complicit in these murders because I have not done enough to prevent them from happening; I bear some responsibility for the event and I have a significant amount of anger at myself as a result.  I have not worked enough for systematic changes to our culture of violence, vengeance, and othering.  I have not worked enough for my trans, queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning friends to be accepted by the wider community, enough for them to be safe to be themselves all the time.  I have not worked enough for systematic mental health assistance or systematic gun access reform.  My complacency, our collective complacency, has resulted in more tragedy.  Did we think the cycle would end because the last time was so horrible?!  Have we decided that a certain amount of loss of life is considered normal and okay?  When did we lose sight of the humanity in others?


I struggled to get to sleep last night.  Normally I use mindfulness meditation techniques to calm my mind and body and settle into sleep.  Didn’t work.  I couldn’t calm down using any of my standard methods, so I tried a new one.  I recited Assata Shakur, over and over again, as a way to find control and hope in this situation.  “It is our duty to fight for our freedom.  It is our duty to win.  We must love and support each other.  We have nothing to lose but our chains.”  Those four sentences bring it all home for me. 

Countless queer and trans folks, mostly individuals of color, have been on the front lines of the Black Lives Matter movement, reminding us that their safety is not guaranteed.  Queer Lives Matter.  Trans Lives Matter.  Trans Women’s Lives Matter.  These individuals have been othered and victimized and threatened and scared for far too long.  Folks should not die because we, as a society, have not taken adequate measures to put safety and well-being and love at the forefront.  These people have been sacrificed as a result of our complacency. 


So, I say it again.  It is our duty to fight for our freedom.  It is our duty to win.  We must love and support each another.  We have nothing to lose but our chains.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Making Memories, One Campsite at a Time

Relationships are built and strengthened by time together; I have to purposefully slow myself down, remove myself from all other work temptations, and actually be with my kids.  Camping is my solution.  I have this lofty goal of taking my daughters on a camping trip – just the three of us – each year. 

Last year, the girls and I headed out to Johnson’s Shut-Ins..  I got lost driving out there (no cell phone, no GPS, fending on my own), Lola puked in the car, and we arrived downtrodden.  Then we explored the Shut-ins together and realized that all the unpleasant steps that got us to that moment were worth it.  We clambered over rocks as the river water rushed past, we rock climbed the bluffs, we hiked a bit, we roasted marshmallows, and we enjoyed each other’s company.  When we got back to STL, we all laughed about the unfortunate start, told all sorts of positive stories, and acquired a puke bucket for the car. 

So, for year #2, I picked a different state park: one that I knew had lots of awesome nature to explore AND had easy-to-understand directions from STL: Meramec State Park!  We hiked a lot – logging over 11 miles on Thursday alone, so much that Lola complained about her legs hurting.  The girls successfully skipped rocks; I taught them in the same way my dad taught me and my kiddos soon matched me in number of skips.  They were gleeful at their new accomplishment!  We saw deer, hummingbirds, turtles, and herons and regularly did tick checks for the less desirable creatures.

A major highpoint was Fisher Cave, a wild cave that is actively growing deposits.  Fisher wasn’t commercialized like Meramec Caverns or industrialized like Bonne Terre or sprawling like Mammoth.  The up-close-and-personal experience resulted in awestruck wonder at each point in the tour and in lots of questions from the girls.  They became so impassioned about caves that we explored two more, Sheep Cave and Indian Cave, and did a hike solely so we could walk past two other cave entrances.  Nature’s air conditioning!

Folks were incredibly friendly and helpful – neighbors offered ample assistance when we struggled to start a fire each night and I was incredibly grateful for their offers.  We stayed up late, read books, gazed at the moon and stars, and slept hard.

Raina wanted to canoe part of the river, so we made that the conclusion of our trip.  We paddled peacefully between the bluffs and trees and rarely encountered another person.  Having the river to ourselves was an amazing experience until our canoe capsized and the river’s current started sweeping my daughters away from me.  Good gracious, that was a terrifying experience.  Resolving that problem – getting both girls to land, emptying the canoe, trying to calm everyone down, convincing them that we had to canoe more and it would be okay – had my adrenaline pumping, my mama bear tendencies come through, and my wishing that more people were around to help.  But the three of us successfully managed on our own.  We are strong, resilient, and full of stories to share!