Find the Good Where You Can, Even a Grocery Store Parking Lot

Asthma has really put a crimp in my schedule this week.  My little one’s minor cough morphed into an asthma event on Sunday and five days (and counting) of missed school.  He vacillates between being a sad little muffin and a jumping bunny on steroids, because, well, he is on steroids.

My capacity to leave the house has been quite limited.  Doctor visits, school obligations, and the grocery story have pretty much been my only “Get Out of Jail Free” cards since Monday morning.  Life becomes a bit simpler when you don’t really leave the house much.

I learned how to bake sourdough bread (and, lordy, am I going to write the hell out of the metaphors of learning how to bake bread) and did a lot of laundry (lather, rinse, make bed, vomit, lather, rinse, repeat).  My little one has been sleeping with me all week, the husband banished to the guest room, so I have been settling in by 8 or earlier every night.  Everything has slowed down.

There is a liberation to that, the slowing down.  Sometimes I feel like life is so busy and just a series of jumping from fire to fire, water buckets sloshing all the way.  Other times I feel like a pinball in a machine, not in any kind of control over my trajectory, just bouncing off of the hard metal objects around me.  DING!  DING!  DING!

It’s exhausting.

But still, despite the benefits of slowing down, like, say, warm sourdough smeared with butter, I have occasionally felt a wee bit, well, cooped up.  An energetic five year old can be a lot for this old broad to manage, but an energetic five year old on steroids who vomits when he can’t stop coughing is next level.

Twice I got out to the grocery store, which is not a lot for me, as I tend to shop for what we eat in the next day or two.  I go to the store while the kids are at school because dragging kids through mundane errands tends to cue their outrage.  It’s easier and more pleasant that way.  But there was no dragging a coughing, vomiting boy into a grocery store.  Nope.  So, there was not a lot of grocery store happening.

But on Tuesday morning at sunrise and Thursday evening at sunset, both times my husband was at home to take over kid duty, I ran out to the market to pick up a few groceries and some sanity.  And in those off hours, in those moments of the sun rising and setting, I looked up and saw two beautiful cloud filled skies.  And both times I was struck enough to pull out my camera phone and try to capture the beauty above me.

I don’t know if I was successful, as it’s hard to capture the beauty of a gorgeous skyscape on a camera phone, but I captured it well enough that as I was driving home yesterday, with the sky already changed and growing darker, I remembered the sunrise a couple of days earlier in a different grocery story parking lot I had also tried to capture.

Sunrise at the Mariano’s, 3.5.19
Sunset at the Jewel, 3.7.19

Seeing those two parking lot horizons reminded me of those days during my daughter’s cancer treatment when a solitary trip to the  store felt like winning the lottery.  The mundane is not a given.  The ordinary is extraordinary when you are living through sorrow and fear.

Asthma is not like cancer.  Thank goodness.  My son’s illness, while tense and scary at times, is pretty well managed through medicine and care that we have access to when needed.  Those are very good things and I feel lucky for them.

There was enough of a familiarity last night, the sunset behind me, the sense of liberation around me, that I remembered what cancer has taught me  — nothing is promised, nothing is forever, nothing is certain.  Grab what is good when you can.  Notice those sunsets and sunrises.  Look up.  Eat the bread, with the butter.  Take the picture.  Try to capture what you can.  Breathe it in, breathe it all in.

 

This Polar Vortex Has Me All Up In My Feelings, and What a Privilege That Is

If you’re lucky, the world stops in the middle of a polar vortex.  If you’re unlucky, nothing stops and there you are, working, making, doing, healing, delivering, surviving.   If you’re really unlucky, you are without a home, without proper shelter or food or gear or transportation.

I’m one of the lucky ones this go around with Mother Nature.  Our cars are gassed up, our fridge is fully stocked, the kids are in the background groaning about the iMovie app they’re trying to work on collaboratively.   Coen Brothers 2.0.  It turns out that 5 and 10 year old boys have very different artistic visions that result in noisy conflict.  Huh.

For many of us caught in this polar vortex, it is one of those precious moments that stretch into hours, sometimes days, when the world stops.  Attractions are closed.  Neighbors take the time to talk to one another as they stand in line in the grocery store or shovel out their cars on city streets.  There is a common enemy, shared experience, no blue or red, no north or south, less apparent difference.  It is us, together, against the cold, the chill, the snow.  We’re Chicagoans, strong stock, hearty, we got this.

Lake Michigan, 1.29.19. Photo courtesy of Robert McNees (@mcnees).

This weather brings out the sentimental, melancholy Irish in me.  The world is still around me, time feels suspended.  Is it Wednesday?  Saturday?  The outside falls away and the bright sun, thank goodness for the bright sun, shines on the thoughts and memories of other times the world stood still.

I made a pot of spaghetti sauce last night and I marveled that it felt like a hug from my Mom who died fourteen years ago, cliched as that may be.  The wine and the sugar in the sauce, the smell, the comfort of her embrace.  She kept me company in my kitchen last night, shared dinner with the grandsons she never met.  It was lovely.

And I can conjure my Dad in his bright red parka, bought for a steal at the Bargain Nook in Darlington, Wisconsin.  “It’s like wearing a grizzly bear,” he would say, the proudest of proud men, confident in his strength, unfazed by notions as man made as “wind chill.”  There was another day like this in Chicago, before we called it a polar vortex, when Christmas was cancelled in 1983.  I remember layer after layer after layer that he put on before going outside to start the car.  For those moments he was my very own Pa Ingalls.

But most of all, when the world stills like this, I think of Donna.  For a moment, when my daughter died, the world stopped with us, her Mom and Dad.  For a moment,  the world around us hung suspended with us in grief and disbelief and sorrow.  It is the stillness that recalls that core of grief, that moment of departure, that time my heart broke and before it started to repair itself.

Now in the stillness, Donna feels closer.

Yesterday, Block Club Chicago posted a story about a Spanish artist, Eduardo Vea Keating, transplanted to Chicago.  He makes murals out of snow.  They are ephemeral and simple and melt quickly.  I’ve been thinking about his words a lot since yesterday, in the stillness, “That’s usually how life is.  It’s full of moments.  Some are better and some are worse, but life goes on.  [The art] will melt.  Everything will pass.  Just enjoy what you have around you and try to stay positive.”

I can do that, I can find the beauty in the stillness.  Not all of us can.  Chances are, if you are reading these words, you, too, have found some stillness.  Take a moment, look around you, at the steaming Lake, at the thermostat that reads a number starting in a 6 or 7, at the gas tank on “F,” at the smiling/shouting kids wearing pajamas past noon, at the spoon covered in batter waiting to be washed.

There is a beauty and a comfort in the stillness and the cold, if you are lucky.  Can you see it?

If You Are Raising a White Child in America, Watch These Videos With Them

ADDENDUM:  Given that this story has been contextualized since this post was published, I wanted to add a couple of things.  At the time I wrote this, I did not know of the small group (4-5) of Black Hebrew Israelites who, as can be seen on video, were clearly harassing both the small group of Native Americans as well as the larger group of Covington Catholic students.  That harassing behavior appears to have influenced the subsequent actions of both  groups.  Additionally, I originally wrote that Mr. Nathan Phillips was a Vietnam veteran.  I have added the word “era” to my original post to reflect that while he served during the Vietnam War, he did not serve in Vietnam.  Other than adding that one word, I stand by my original post, even after having read much commentary and having watched a significant amount of video from other vantage points.  I believe the students from Covington Catholic acted very inappropriately on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and I believe their chaperones failed them.  

Yesterday in Washington, DC, the March for Life took place.  I know from the Twitter that lots of kids were there with lots of support from the adults that brought them to our nation’s capital in protest of a women’s right to choose.  Conservative commentator Laura Ingraham posted a photo of a group of smiling white teen boys at the march with the caption, “They are our only hope.”

Fast forward a few hours and we are seeing the ugly underbelly of “our only hope.”  A disturbing video of a group (some would say mob and they would not be wrong) of students from Kentucky’s all boys Covington Catholic High School who were attending the March for Life is making the rounds on social media channels this morning.  The boys are seen chanting and taunting and mocking and surrounding and intimidating a small group of Native Americans staging their own protest at the simultaneously held Indigenous Peoples March.

The first time I watched the video, I cried.  The second time I watched it, I resolved to show it to my ten year old and use it as a teachable moment.  The third time I watched it, I dusted off my keyboard and started researching and writing.

The older gentleman playing the drum is a Native American elder named Nathan Phillips.  Mr. Phillips is a Vietnam era veteran who lives in Omaha.  He is also the former director of the Native Youth Alliance and coordinates an annual ceremony honoring fallen Native American veterans at Arlington National Cemetery.

You can see the grace and resolve in which Mr. Phillips, known in the Native community as Uncle Nathan, continues beating his drum in the face of his teen harassers.  He does not back down, he is not intimidated, he does not debase himself or his community by engaging with these, lets call them what they are, thugs.  To the contrary, Twitter also informs me that the chant Mr. Phillips was singing was a medicine song meant to calm anger and toxicity.

Watch the video and see for yourself:

Reports from those on the scene describe that Mr. Phillips and a small group of Native Americans were leaving the Indigenous Peoples March when they came upon the group of 50-70 kids, many of whom were wearing MAGA hats and Trump gear.  Quickly, the group of Covington Catholic teens surrounded the group and started taunting them, mocking the Native chants, and hooting and hollering.

In this America where the President frequently mocks a Senator by calling her Pocahontas, none of this should surprise, but the visual of these white teens acting so hatefully, full of ugly bravado, is still jarring to me.

When we teach our children that it is acceptable to mock, taunt, intimidate, and harass, they will never Be Best.  When the adults around them cheer on bigotry and walls, that stink trickles down to the humans we are raising, as can be seen in the feverish ode to ugly these boys from Covington Catholic displayed yesterday.

If you are parenting white children, I don’t care how old they are, watch the video with them.  Teach them what is and is not acceptable behavior.  Teach them some actual history of Native Americans and how the U.S. government has treated tribes throughout its existence, and not what children are taught at Thanksgiving.

I’ve got no doubt that if you are like me, you won’t know the actual history.  There is no shame in that, as most of us were never taught it.  So, yes, it will require a bit of effort on your part.  To get you started, Google things like Wounded Knee, Trail of Tears, the Pickering Treaty, or Custer’s Last Stand.

I first got interested in researching this history when my family took a road trip through South Dakota a few years ago.  Now I regret never having written a post about that trip, but the title I was going to use still stays with me, “The Shadows of South Dakota.”  Perhaps it’s not too late.

After you’ve watched the first video with your kids, I strongly encourage you show them this one, with Mr. Phillips reflecting on the harassment he experienced yesterday perpetrated by the Covington Catholic boys:

Again, Nathan Phillips shows his humanity, the humanity lacking in those teens, wishing that they would put their energy into something more productive than mocking, taunting, and intimidating Native elders, to use their youth and energy into “making this country really great.”  The kind of great that has nothing to do with wearing red hats and participating in mob behavior.

I only hope that I can conjure the hope and grace that Nathan Phillips does when I watch these videos with my sons.  May you do the same.