The Day After

I am not marching today, the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as 45th President of the United States. I feel far more conflicted about this than I expected. Today, my fellow women in all 50 states and on all 7 continents (yes, even Antarctica!) are marching in opposition to Trump’s stances on various issues. Among these women are dozens whom I’m privileged to call friends. My hearts are with them.

Marching — an action I’m not naturally quick to jump on — proved to be too logistically complicated on this particular weekend. Instead, I am protesting by writing. My two oldest daughters are protesting by going to see Hidden Figures (a film about three female African-American mathematicians who worked behind the scenes of NASA’s early space missions) with our Victoria. My two youngest daughters are protesting by assembling furniture with my husband. This morning, we all protested by driving up the mountain for some cross-country skiing.

Barack Obama began his first term in office when my firstborn was one year old. She rode on her father’s shoulders as we joined a jubilant crowd to watch the inauguration on a big screen in U.C. Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. We felt so fortunate that our children would be born into this historic era of hope and promise.

The hope and promise of that day eight years ago didn’t last, of course. And here we are.

I have now lived through 11 Presidential inaugurations. But never in my life have I felt the type of crushing sadness that I felt yesterday.

In trying to figure out exactly why I felt the way I did — why this inauguration felt so different from all others to me and many of my friends — here is what I came up with:

For me, this is not, first and foremost, about political parties, or even policies. I’ve seen Presidents from both parties come and go. Some have espoused views and policies that I agreed with, and some have not. There have been times in the past when I’ve been disappointed — distressed, even — over the person taking office. But I’ve always had faith in democracy and the political process. I’ve been able to take the view that “You win some, you lose some.” And while we’ve had some very flawed leaders on both sides of the aisle, for the most part I’ve had confidence that our government was trying to be on the right side of history, to do what would best promote freedom and justice in the United States and the world, even when those efforts proved sloppy or misguided.

No, my sorrow yesterday was not sour grapes; it was not whining because my side lost.

Nor were my feelings, at root, targeted anger towards Trump’s policies. Yes, he made campaign promises that, if he’s able to deliver on them, are incredibly alarming; policies that, if implemented, I believe will harm people I love, their children, and our nation as a whole. If some of these things come to pass, then you likely will see me marching. But the fact is that, as of yesterday, Trump hadn’t been in office. He’d made some troubling promises and nominated some troubling people, but he hadn’t really done anything yet. So I cling to a small strand of hope that what’s said on the campaign trail and what’s actually possible to accomplish are two very different things. I’m willing to wait and see what unfolds, instead of wasting my energy on “what-ifs.”

When I questioned my own sadness, I remembered a discussion that I’d had with my eldest daughter right after the November election.

She’d started saying, repeatedly, that she was “scared about the wall.” She meant, of course, Trump’s promise that he would build a wall along our country’s southern border with Mexico — and make Mexico pay for it.

Just where my daughter heard about “the wall,” I’m not sure. Certainly not from my husband or me: My daughters are so prone to fear and drama that I try to shield them from the darker facts of life, for better or worse. And honestly, for much of the election cycle my husband and I (foolishly) thought that a Trump Presidency was a logical impossibility, so we didn’t bother discussing anything he said in front of the children.

But wherever she heard about it, the fact remained that my daughter was scared about this idea of a wall. Finally, I asked her why: Just what was it that she was afraid of?

“I guess because it means that we’re just not that nice,” she said.

And that right there — my daughter giving voice to her realization that this election revealed that “we’re just not that nice” — that is why my heart broke a little yesterday.

We have just installed as the highest leader in our land a man whose entire career has been built unabashedly upon greed, self-promotion, and the objectification of women. A man who tweets out knee-jerk, angry, demeaning, juvenile insults at anybody who questions him. A man who has used the most offensive language possible to talk about women — and bragged about acting on that language. A man who, throughout his campaign and even in his inaugural address, has fed off of anger and fear — which, as any young Star Wars fan can tell you, basically means that you’re going over to the Dark Side.

There is a darkness around our new President. I cannot trust him to be responsible with his words or his actions, and thus I would not trust him — our country’s leader — in a room with my children. (And note that I’ve not even touched upon the possible dark deals with Russia and issues of business ethics.)

Have we had morally questionable leaders in the past? Absolutely. But in the past, they’ve always tried to hide their misdeeds behind polite rhetoric. And, when discovered, they usually apologized and paid the price in terms of loss of public confidence and votes. What’s different about this situation is that we knew all of these things about Trump before the election, and we elected him anyway.

I recognize that there may be value in ripping the band-aid off of the polite rhetoric that we’ve come to expect from our politicians. I recognize that the anger and fear that Trump tapped into have been simmering for a long time among certain citizens of this country, and that the needs of these citizens deserve to be heard and addressed. And yet, it feels as if we’ve sold our souls in a misguided attempt to save our country.

“We’re just not that nice,” my daughter said. “Nice” can be an insipid term, difficult to define. But when I think of my country, I think of a place that’s always tried (in halting, imperfect fashion) to enfranchise as many people as possible, to welcome refugees, and to fight for justice worldwide. “America First” may appeal to our patriotism, but it’s essentially a defensive posture, a circling of the wagons that leaves a lot of people out in the cold.

This is probably idealistic; the reality may well be that the United States isn’t “nice,” and hasn’t been for a long time. What breaks my heart, though, is that now my daughters know it.

Like any mother, I try to shield my daughters from the darkness. I attempt to preserve their innocence for as long as possible. I teach them that love wins, and that bullies and cheaters lose in the end: I teach them to be “nice.” So yesterday I mourned that, in order to continue to instill these ideals in my daughters, I now have to shield them from their President.

For the past two days, my eldest daughter has worn her Star Wars “Resistance” pin, which she promises she’ll wear daily for the next four years. We discussed what “resistance” really means, for our family. The answer, of course, is that to resist the slide into being “not that nice,” we will have to be nice.

So we resist by hugging loved ones, by having friends over to play, by going to church, by playing “Ode to Joy” on the piano, by finally getting our compost bin built. We resist by sharing meals, volunteering, donating what we have, reading March and listening to Hamilton. By promoting what is loving and beautiful and true. Until grander actions become clear, this is how we resist: Small things with great love.

Teaching Our Children About History

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One afternoon earlier this month, my daughters and I gathered around our kitchen island for a snack. I began asking my eldest daughter about a book she was reading. After a few one-syllable responses, she was tired of my questioning. Looking me right in the eyes, she said:

“’Every man his own priest,’ Mommy.”

She was quoting the followers of Martin Luther (“The original, not King, Jr.,” as my daughters are fond of saying.) During the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, Martin Luther started a movement that changed many of the practices of the Catholic Church and put the Christian faith more firmly in the hands of the people. “Every man his own priest,” was the rallying cry of those who advocated translating the Bible and making copies more widely available, so that people could read and interpret it for themselves.

In other words, my daughter was using a cheeky historical reference to tell me: “If you’re so interested in what I’m reading, read it yourself!”

One year ago I started homeschooling my two oldest daughters, who are now in 2nd and 3rd grades. As much as I’ve taught them over this year, they’ve taught me more. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is just how much children love history.

Click here to continue reading this week’s latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

The Stars At Night

by Campbell Gong

Drawing by Campbell Gong

The other night, I took the dog for a walk down our driveway.

The job of walking our dog after dinner usually falls to my husband; on these frigid winter nights, he dons hat and gloves, ski goggles and earmuffs, snow pants and winter parka, before disappearing into the snowy, blow-y dark. “Hope you make it to base camp!” I’ve been known to holler (unhelpfully) into the mudroom after him, while our daughters collapse in a pile of giggles.

Those daughters are the primary reason why my husband is the designated evening dog-walker: I’m usually occupied by dinner dishes, bedtime stories, and tuck-ins.

But on this particular night, a few days before Christmas, I needed the fresh air and the quiet. My vision was getting fuzzy from all the gift-wrapping, baking, and holiday logistics. Besides, I had a few last-minute Christmas cards to put in the mailbox.

So, after donning my warmest gear (minus the ski goggles and earmuffs), I set out down the driveway with Gracie, our clinically anxious labradoodle.

Let me set the scene, for those who have a more suburban vision of the word “driveway:” Our driveway is a ¼ mile-long, dirt-and-gravel road. We share its initial length with a neighboring house; about halfway down, the driveway branches in two, with one section leading left towards our neighbors’ house, and the other section winding to its conclusion at our front door. The driveway is unlit, as is the main road where it ends. At night, the only light comes from the single bulb outside our front door, and a handful of lights from neighboring houses – the neighbors with whom we share our driveway, the farm beyond the trees, and one or two homes across the main road.

All this to say: At night, the walk down our driveway is dark – very dark. The journey may take upwards of ten minutes round-trip, because ice and snow on the gravel drive make it necessary to step carefully. Ten minutes in single-digit temperatures can feel like a long time.

The night I walked our dog was cold and dark. It was also a clear night, so when I looked up about halfway through my walk, I gasped aloud.

We don’t see the stars much these days, do we?

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

A Brief Meditation on Failing Christmas (Again!)

Every year, I make a concerted, intentional effort to keep Christmas low-key. I buy only four gifts per child (something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.) I try to keep our schedule reasonable and open. I attempt to keep expectations — my own and my family’s — low. I wrestle to emphasize the quiet, reflective practice of Advent, and de-emphasizse the unwrapping frenzy of Christmas morning. I would not touch an elf on a shelf with a ten-foot pole.

So, here we are on Christmas Eve. The boxes are checked: Tree and decorations up. Presents bought and wrapped. Advent candles lit and calendar doors opened. Goodies baked. Christmas cards with smiling photograph of family addressed and sent. My children will likely be dressed, with hair (mostly) brushed, when we attend tonight’s Christmas Eve service. There is even, as I write this, a perfect snow falling over the fields.

It would look to any outside observer like I’ve nailed another Christmas. But I know better: I’ve failed. Again.

I’m not referring to minor logistical slip-ups (I forgot stocking-stuffers for the grandparents, we didn’t make it to the train display before Christmas.) I’m not even referring to more noble goals (We could’ve done more for the needy in our community.) I’m referring to my heart.

Every year, I expect to reach Chrismas Eve filled with a sense of inner peace, of quiet joy, of spiritual renaissance. I expect to feel the way that every nativity scene Mary looks: Serene. Holy. Full of love.

Instead, I feel unsettled. Stressed. Frustrated with myself and others. Exhausted. All the Advent devotionals in the world can’t made me feel more holy. If you were to look inside, I would appear more Lady MacBeth than Mary.

One thing is different this year, though: This year, it hit me that it’s okay to approach Christmas feeling broken. Not only is it okay, it’s kind of the point of Christmas. Christmas is, after all, about a light shining in the darkness. And me? I’m part of that darkness.

It’s a good thing to try and downsize Christmas, to deemphasize consumption and packed schedules and all of the other perfect trappings that we expect from ourselves. But it’s important to recognize that we can’t, by ourselves, like up to the ideal of a peaceful, holy, “Silent Night” kind of Christmas, any more than we can expect piles of gifts and mounds of food to fill up our emptiness.

We are the darkness. And if we’re trying too hard to be the light, then we’re not letting the real light — the real point of Christmas — shine as brightly as He should. We’re the moon, not the sun. And the moon by itself is just a dark lump of rock.

Put another way: The baby Jesus was laid in the straw of a feeding trough in a dark cave-stable, and that was good enough for Him.

When I remind myself of this, then I can relax into my unsettled, imperfect Christmas. I hope that you can, too. Maybe this will be the year when we rejoice at having failed Christmas, again.

A Thank-You to Snow (with correct link!)

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Sorry — this post went out to many of you prematurely yesterday, without an active link. Here it is, with a link to the full article. 

For the past several months, I’ve sensed a heaviness in my writing, an unbroken seriousness that leaves me with the uncomfortable feeling that it’s time to crack a joke.

My recent columns have reflected what I believe to be the prevailing mood of late. The news, both national and international, has been mostly bad – at least for those who did not vote for Donald Trump at home, or who are distressed by humanitarian disasters abroad. Closer to home, family members have been ill, friends have lost parents, appliances have needed repair, and the pace of life has afforded little time for rest or reflection.

The time will come when this column will again regale you with lighthearted stories about how our daughter introduced herself to a stranger by saying “Prepare to meet your doom!” (“I said it in a welcoming way!” she protested later.) Or about how our dog escaped and ran over to the neighbors’ Christmas tree farm to harass their horses – at the exact moment a charter bus full of camera-toting tourists pulled into their driveway. Or about how the very loud smoke detectors that my super-safe husband placed all over our house, keep malfunctioning at late hours.

But this will not be that column; today I’m going to write about snow.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Lessons from a Lightsaber

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The cultural world of our daughters – our two oldest daughters, in particular – currently revolves around the Star Wars saga. They have watched four of the seven films created by George Lucas: a multi-generational epic of the Skywalker family’s adventures on the dark and light sides of the Force, “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” They have read every book about Star Wars that they can get ahold of, including a biography of Lucas himself. They are so well versed in Star Wars trivia that they know the backstory of every minor character, can sketch out the Star Wars galaxy from memory, and measure time in terms of B.B.Y. (Before the Battle of Yavin) and A.B.Y. (After the Battle of Yavin.)

Last month, one of our daughters celebrated a birthday (Star Wars-themed, of course.) Her aunt and uncle gave her an online gift certificate for Amazon.com. It was hardly a surprise when she decided to use that gift to buy herself a lightsaber: the weapon of choice for both Jedi and Sith.

She spent a great deal of time perusing the lightsaber options. “I want to make sure that it’s not junky,” she explained. She counted the days until it was delivered to our doorstep. When the chosen lightsaber arrived, it was all that she had wanted: an extendable blade, complete with lights and sound effects.

Several minutes later, I was preparing to break down the lightsaber box for recycling when this same daughter approached me with a melancholy expression.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “I guess the lightsaber’s just not as exciting as I expected.”

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Let’s Act Like the Kids Are Watching

On the morning after the 2016 Presidential election, I took my daughter to preschool. This preschool – a magical place that looks and feels like a throwback to 1970s Vermont – has a daily morning “circle time,” during which parents and children sit around the carpet to hear a story, sing songs, and greet each other. As I looked around the circle that morning, the contrast between parents and children was dramatic. The adults were haggard; nearly everyone appeared exhausted from staying up late watching the election returns. And although I can’t pretend to know how everyone had voted the day before, most of the adult faces around that circle bore glazed looks of shock.

Then there were the children: These three-, four-, and five-year-olds did not look exhausted, shocked, or anything other than excited and ready to begin the morning’s activities. If their world had changed overnight, they seemed unconcerned. They were busy just being kids.

So, in a performance that felt slightly unreal, we adults put on the show of a normal morning for our children. We helped stash lunch sacks and choose daily chores, we listened to a story, we discussed the day’s craft. We kissed our children goodbye and told them to have great days. We saved urgent, whispered conversations for the parking lot.

It felt like the best thing I could have done that morning. Even when the world does change overnight, what can we do but continue to breathe in and out, to put one foot in front of the other, to take our children to school?

Click here to continue reading my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.