Monday, June 13, 2016


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!