What Happens When 3rd Graders Visit a Holocaust Museum

Yesterday I had the opportunity to chaperone my son and his 3rd grade classmates as they visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.  It was made clear to parents long before field trip day that the children would not spend time at any of the exhibits that focused on the atrocities of the Holocaust, but, within the education center, would focus on the concept of bystanders and upstanders.

Our docent did an incredible job of explaining the act of “taking a stand” and becoming an upstander in the face of bullying, but also in larger social and political matters.  She referenced “Mr. Hitler” and asked the kids what they knew about what happened in Europe during World War II.  The kids had a general understanding.

The docent (Hi, Renee!) then encouraged some critical thinking skills when the kids offered that Hitler had dropped bombs, set up concentration camps, and used gas chambers to kill Jewish people.  Through a back and forth, the kids were able to identify that “Mr. Hitler” did not act alone.  Despots are not made in a day.

Initially, the kids identified that soldiers were the people who enabled Hitler to do those terrible things, but with more discussion and questioning, the docent was able to help the kids understand that citizens who looked the other way were also a necessary step in Hitler’s rise to power.  By the time, she said, that Hitler’s intentions were clear, it was too late and he was too powerful to stop.

The moment felt profound to me, both as a mother and as an American who is struggling, mightily, with an administration that is increasingly favoring authoritarian regimes and bashing allies.

The kids took it all in stride, moving from activity to activity, absorbing and discussing what they were seeing and learning.  I could not stop the obvious connections between what happened in Europe between the 1920s -1940s and what is happening in America today from popping up in my head.

At one point, the kids were brought to a different gallery that displayed an exhibit called, “Where the Children Sleep.”  There is a long hallway with stunning, glossy photos of Syrian refugee children sleeping and resting in their beds, wherever those beds may be.  The children are photographed alone.  Some have stuffies or blankets to bring them comfort, others do not.  Some have clean sheets and walls, others have uncovered mattresses lying on the ground in the streets or the middle of a forest.




I don’t know how any American could have walked through that gallery yesterday and not made the connections between those Syrian refugee children, with their big eyes, alone, many full of fear, and the new American policy to separate children from their parents on the southern border.  One sizeable difference is that Syrian refugee children are allowed to remain with their parents and families.  They were photographed alone, but somewhere close is a mom or a dad who cares for and comforts them.  But not in America.

Today in America, it is policy under this administration to separate children and families for those crossing the border illegally into America.  This is a policy crafted by President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  They blame the Democrats, they claim it is the law, they use the Bible to justify it.  Those are all lies.  And too many damn Americans are happy to go along with this policy, believe those lies, and cheer on this practice.  Or, like many average citizens of 1930s Germany, ignore, turn their heads, not acknowledge the willful tragedy for what it is.

During the field trip, the docent asked the children what they do when confronted with wrongdoing — are they a bystander or an upstander?  She asked the upstanders in the crowd to raise their hands.  Joyfully, looking around to find me, my boy raised his hand.


Over the past two years I have done more, donated more, read more, and protested more than I ever have before.  My sons see their mom and dad doing all of this.  They have walked with me in marches and used markers at the kitchen table to make signs for science or against guns.  We are a family of upstanders.  I was proud in that moment.  Proud of myself and proud of my son and proud of my family.  I saw in his eyes the connection he made between why we march, why we read, why we discuss, why we speak up, and what can happen when you don’t.

Except later, I realized (after I was done patting myself on the back), I haven’t always been a great upstander under this Trump administration.  I’ve practically stopped writing my blog because I find that the only thing I ever want to write about anymore are the horrors of this administration and how America is transforming, in real time, into a place I don’t recognize.  I am angry a lot of the time.  When I’m not angry I’m worried or fearful or trying to lose myself into whatever series will allow me to escape on Netflix or Amazon.

There are little things that come up with my boys and in my mothering that I think, “Huh, a year ago I would have written a blog post about this.”  Not today.  Increasingly, it feels indulgent and insignificant to write about the cute and sweet moments in my life while our country and our world are reckoning with a new world order that is frightening.

So, yeah.  That’s where I’m at.  That’s where I’ve been.  Good times, folks.

Yesterday, chaperoning those children at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, was a moment for me.  Being an upstander takes work.  I need to get back to work.  I need to speak up, again, and continue speaking up.  I hope you join me.



Interested in visiting the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center?  Here are details.

25 Things Moms (And Dads) Can Do To Combat Climate Change

Hurricanes, floods, fires, tornadoes, sweltering temperatures, the polar vortex, melting ice sheets, hungry polar bears, dead coral, and on and on and on. Politicians can deny and ignore climate change, they can erase web sites and scientific data, they can discount the 97% of scientists who stand united that human activity is changing the climate of our one and only habitable planet, but it will not change the reality of what it happening to earth and all its living creatures.

It’s all a bit overwhelming, isn’t it?

It’s easy to stick our heads in the sand, assume that someone else will clean up the mess, but that’s not what we teach our kids, is it? We don’t teach them to trash their home.  We don’t teach them to not take responsibility for their actions or their messes.  So why do we excuse ourselves, our elected officials, and our own contributions to what is happening to our world?

Here are 25 things you can do to help combat climate change in your own little corner of our collective home.  Feeling helpless is only making things worse.  Stop relying on others and start doing something positive.  Today.  Now.  No excuses.

  1. Recycle.  I wash my garbage, yes, I do.  Call me crazy, but it makes me feel better.  It’s nothing for me to rinse out a milk jug or a can of beans knowing that it won’t end up in a landfill.
  2. Compost.  Food scraps = food for growing things.  Do it.
  3. Shop off virtual yard sales.  Does little Timmy really need a brand new train table when your neighbor is selling one in like new condition for $25?
  4. Buy clothing second hand.  Yes.  So important.  For your kids, for yourself.  I wrote about it here.  Oh!  And I am a convert to Thred Up.  Have you see The True Cost documentary about fast fashion?  It’s on Netflix.  Watch and learn.
  5. Use metal straws.  This one was a bit of a challenge for me, but learning the impact of plastic straws on the environment was a revelation for me.  Now I have to sew a little cloth bag so I can carry a couple with me in my purse.
  6. Ditch those paper plates.  Sure, if you’re hosting a big barbecue, carry on, but for every day?  Nope.
  7. Vote for candidates that acknowledge the reality of climate change.
  8. Eat less meat.  Reduce beef in favor of chicken, fish, eggs, or vegetables.
  9. Change out your incandescent light bulbs to LED or flourescent.  This one hurts, too, but Mother Nature needs it.
  10. Change your energy to “green” by contacting your electricity or utility company and switching to green alternatives or “green pricing,” that ensures all your electricity is provided by clean and renewable sources.
  11. Clean or replace your HVAC filters every three months.
  12. Use a programmable thermostat.  Why heat or cool an empty home?
  13. Wash your laundry in cold water.  Seriously.  The sky won’t fall down.  And hot water does not make things any cleaner.
  14. Stop wasting water in your home.
  15. Line dry your clothing.  This is one of those times I wish I had a back yard.
  16. Stop buying bottled water.  Just say no.
  17. Keep your car tires properly inflated.  Who knew?  Tires inflated properly run more efficiently and contribute to less gas.
  18. Bring your own bags to the grocery store.
  19. Introduce your kids to NASA’s Climate Kids website.  It’s super cool!
  20. Read books from the library.  Read all the books!  They’re free!
  21. Start listening to the Warm Regards podcast.  It will make you smarter.
  22. Watch and discuss Wall-E with your children.  You can get it from the library!  It’s really all about the environment.
  23. Celebrate Earth Day and Arbor Day  with family.  Together.  Celebrating our earth.
  24. Plan a local vacation — no planes and close to home.  We did it this year and it was both more relaxing and cheaper.
  25. Use cloth napkins.  So simple.  We’re still using some we got for our wedding, sixteen years later.


I Visited Civil War and WWII Memorials Yesterday and Then I Heard About Charlottesville

The feeling was palpable and even in the moment I knew that I was seeing the Civil War monument with keener eyes.  Yesterday  I spent a few hours in Muskegon, Michigan with family on our way home from our summer vacation along Lake Michigan’s shores.  We parked the car to give the kiddos a chance to run around a bit and figure out how we should spend our time before catching the ferry back to our lives that don’t involve sandy beaches every morning and afternoon.

In the middle of Muskegon’s Hackley Park, a tall granite shaft pierces the sky.  It was a beautiful sky yesterday — bright blue with big, puffy clouds. As I looked more closely, I saw it was a war memorial.  As I looked more closely, still, I saw that it was a memorial to the soldiers and sailors of the Civil War.

"To the soldiers and sailors who fought and to all patriotic men and women who helped to preserve our nation in the War of the Rebellion."
“To the soldiers and sailors who fought and to all patriotic men and women who helped to preserve our nation in the War of the Rebellion.”

“Not conquest, but peace,” was written on one side.  I walked around to see “and a united people” on the other side.  On August 12, 2017, I more fully understood our bloody Civil War that almost destroyed the United States of America in its infancy.  I could comprehend it in a way that I have never before.

Looking up at the sculpted soldiers and sailors and reflecting on the words that commemorated a war that almost broke our country, it seemed clearer to me how that degree of hate and bloodshed is possible.  The tone of our current divided America makes that understanding so much more accessible.

Today in America, nothing feels very united.  We are a nation divided. Again or still, take your pick.  What divides us?  The same things that have divided us since before that Civil War so long ago.  It really is as simple as black (or shades thereof) and white.

America was founded on white supremacy.  That is simple fact.  White Europeans landed on the shores of a new to them continent. They did not discover this land, as it had been inhabited by humans that happened to be native born, but they did colonize it.  When those colonies formed a United States, slaves were a foundation of the American economy.

At its core, the Civil War was about eleven southern states not wanting to cede to a country that was moving towards the abolition of slavery, which was central to the southern economy and way of life.  So what did they do? They formally seceded to continue the reprehensible practice of owning humans with a skin color darker than their own who were forcibly imported here from Africa.

After 622,000 men were killed, a full 2% of the population, the Confederacy surrendered.  They were beaten into submission, their rebellion squashed, their states almost unrecognizable.  But where does that hate go?  Does it just disappear?  Did the Confederacy merely lick their wounds and move forward, welcomed back to the United States with open arms, forgiven their sins?


The idea of the North as good and the South as bad is simplistic and inaccurate.  With the passage of the 13th (the abolition of slavery), 14th (all citizens having equal protection under the laws), and 15th (granting black men the right to vote) amendments, plenty of northerners were worried. Even my beloved and evolved Walt Whitman did not agree with giving freed black men the right to vote.

America lurched forward, inequality remaining firmly entrenched in our culture.  Slaves don’t just magically go from being owned to being fully autonomous.  By the time America entered into WWII (only after being attacked at Pearl Harbor), the armed forces of the US were still segregated. Integration didn’t occur until 1948.  And that forced integration was the result of an Executive Order by then President Truman, not a Congress that drafted bi-partisan legislation to make it the law of the land.  Think about that.

After Hackley Park and those Civil War monuments, my family made its way to the USS 393, docked in Muskegon and now a private military museum.  We toured this WWII era LST ship used to transport tanks and POWs and injured soldiers.  The ship now contains thousands of pieces of military ephemera, from flags to uniforms to weaponry.


Along one wall two flags were displayed — a tattered American Stars and Stripes, and the bright red Nazi flag.  I snapped photos of both, humbled to learn the ship had been at the invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day.  I tried to explain the significance of that day to my eight year old.  I failed.  As I snapped a photo of the Nazi swastika, my mother-in-law cautioned me against posting it on Facebook, “All those neo-Nazis will find you. You don’t want that.”  It still feels shocking to see a Nazi flag.  It has a potency that cannot be ignored.

Full disclosure, that week in Michigan was blissful.  It was so good to step away from following the news so obsessively.  It was good to be with family and in nature.  It was good to not think about what is happening in America. But, yes, it was vacation, and what is a sure thing about vacations?  They end.

Last night, after we had crossed Lake Michigan by ferry, I fired up Facebook and the news of the day came screeching back. Charlottesville. Nazis.  White supremacy.  Violence.  Hate.  Bigotry.  Insufficient condemnation from our president.

The murder of Heather Heyer while she was counterprotesting at the Unite the Right protest is where America is at in 2017.  There is a direct correlation between the Civil War and WWII and what happened in the streets of Charlottesville this weekend.  Connect the dots.  It is easy to do.

This is no longer reading about events in a history book.  This is not being inconvenienced by marches or other Americans who disagree about politics.  This is not visiting a memorial or a museum.  This is not about white guilt.  This is not a drill.

There are actual Nazis and actual white supremacists gathering and organizing and perpetrating violence today, right here and right now on America’s streets.  They are celebrating after Trump did not single out their actions in his remarks about the protests.  They are growing and emboldened and promising more to come.  They feel victorious and ready to rumble.

Thinking about those memorials I saw yesterday makes everything more real.  I wonder how soldiers dying on a field in Pennsylvania, or others sitting in a tank disembarking onto a beach in France to fight Nazis would think about the swastika flying in the breeze in Charlottesville, Virginia on a warm summer day in 2017.

How do you feel about it?  What are you willing to do to stop it?