The Trees Have Had It: Some Utterly Useless Reflections During a Pandemic

Exactly 48 hours ago, a massive weather event known as a derecho (pronounced de-ray-cho) ripped through my little corner of the world, in the northern most point of Chicago. That was exactly 12 hours after hundreds of folks looted stores in and around Chicago’s tony Magnificent Mile.

Mondays in the year of our Lordt 2020 are hard, but this past Monday in Chicago was excrutiatingly, wrenchingly, brutally, achingly hard. Next level stuff, folks.

This morning was bright, sunny and unscheduled, so I convinced the kids to check out Rogers Park with me, a sprawling city park full of soccer fields, tennis courts, a playground, baseball fields, and a perimeter of massive mature trees. After I learned yesterday on Twitter that there was an honest to goodness tornado smack dab in the middle of that derecho that clocked in with 110 mph winds and touched down in the park just three blocks from our home, we walked over to survey the damage. I was not prepared for what I saw.

There is something visceral and profound when seeing what was once a collection of stately, dignified trees that, in a matter of minutes (seconds?) of devastating wind, have become uprooted and felled, no match for the cyclone that whipped through the neighborhood before circling out over Lake Michigan.

A hundred plus years of roots and growth are gone, violently, in an instant. It looked like arboreal hari kari writ large.

Walking through the fields, I had to watch carefully where I put my feet because the grass is strewn with roofing shingles, random pieces of what looks like dried insulation, metal remnants of street lights, and jagged branches that will smack you in the face if you step on them just so. A hurt and sadness grew in me in that grass, with my ginger steps working to avoid the botanic debris in every direction.

My older boy was satisfied to peer from across the street, but he reluctantly, at my request, joined his brother and I as we crossed into the devastation. He left within minutes. He was out, he’d had enough, just like the trees. I get it.

Looking around me as we walked through what can only be described as a tree cemetery, I couldn’t stop thinking of the glaring metaphors those unmoored trees presented in the midst of the chaos of 2020. It’s twee and maudlin and every other Victorian era word used to describe overwhelming self-involved sentiment, but gotdamm, self-involved sentiment is what I’ve got right now. I blame too much time alone, away from other humans whose socks I do not launder.

I feel those trees deeply. I relate to those roots, upturned and homeless, crying out for dirt and dark, just epically out of their element, left to languish and be gawked at, reduced to being the latest neighborhood selfie station in our Instagram world.

These young mothers popped their babies on the fallen limbs to snap their photos and remarked how “cool” the scene was.

2020 is hard. So freaking hard.

George Floyd Called For his Mama, Amy Cooper Called 911: Resources to Understand Systemic Racism in America and How to Help Change It

Two weeks ago, George Floyd died in police custody. A Minneapolis police officer used a restraining tactic of placing a knee on his neck, applying pressure for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Mr. Floyd was unconscious for nearly three of those minutes and for a full minute after EMTs arrived on the scene to provide medical care. Among his last words, George Floyd called out for his Mama.

Earlier that same day, Monday, May 25, 2020, Amy Cooper called 911 after a man requested she leash her dog while walking through the Ramble, a popular destination in New York’s Central Park. The two were alone in the area, beloved by bird watchers. Instead of complying with the law and leashing her dog, Amy Cooper instead called 911, raising her voice, sounding fearful and hysterial, reporting that an “African American” man was “threatening” her life.

In these instances, white people contributed to the trauma and death of Black Americans. Why? Because of racism, one of America’s original and seemingly intractable sins.

In the two weeks since, America has marched, gathered, protested, rioted, looted, took a knee, took a stand, yelled, denied, assembled, honked, held up a fist, threw bottles, ran away in fear, and been pushed in a thousand different ways — good and bad.

Friday afternoon, the hashtag #IAmASuburbanMom started trending on Twitter. That same day and through yesterday, I noticed pictures popping up in my social media feeds of protests in predominately white suburbs and neighborhoods of Chicago. I also saw photos and reports of anti-racism protests in small “sundown towns” in different states, referring to towns that Black Americans know are unsafe for them to be out in or travel through after the sun sets.

Is the tide turning? Maybe. Maybe not. As always, I choose hope.

Taken at a “Honk-In” protest in my Chicago neighborhood on Friday, June 5, 2020.

In that vein, I realized that a lot of folks, like those suburban moms and folks living in predominantly white locales, were looking to educate themselves and learn more about systemic racism and police brutality in America. I also know that most of my readers are white women and mothers and in a unique position to redefine and shape what their children are learning and exposed to about the truth and extent of racism and police brutality in America.

There is a lot of emotional labor involved in asking your BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) friends and family to educate you about what they experience as a a matter of walking through their lives and days. Instead, white folks must learn to educate themselves and take the proverbial bull by the horns in working to understand racism and police brutality and how these ingrained systems can begin to be dismantled and changed.

Here are some resources that can be used by you and those in your circles. These are not exhaustive in any way, but they are a great place to start and learn. Share the information, start discussions or reading groups, talk with your kids and their teachers. Take a risk and challenge your uncle (cause we all have that uncle, right?) at the next holiday gathering.

Speaking up and showing up is so important. I stopped speaking up and showing up in this space regularly a few years ago after this President was elected. I regret it and am ashamed of it, but guilt is useless. What matters more is what you do today, tomorrow, and moving forward. Use your voice, use your power to change this world we share. Here is a place to start, read, and learn:

158 Resources to Understand Racism in America from the Smithsonian Magazine

Anti-Racism Resources for White People

The Sesame Street/CNN Town Hall for Children on Racism

Selma, Just Mercy and other titles that are free to stream on digital platforms right now

Here are a sampling of posts I have written myself over the years about race, racism, and parenting:

6 Valuable Tips for Talking About Race With Young Children – an interview with Dr. Jeanne Robbins, Head of Early Childhood Division, Catherine Cook School

What To Do When Someone Uses the N Word Around You – advice from a friend after a stranger called her this racial slur while at the 7-11

When Your 7 Year Old Asks If Slavery Is Still a Problem in America – spoiler alert, yes, it is

A Tale of Two Chicagos – a personal reflection on growing up white in Chicago and the racism that goes along with that

Another thing that has helped me tremendously is following along on #BlackTwitter. I guarantee you, it will be a gut punch of awakening, but crucial to grow and learn and evolve in the effort to be anti-racist. #BlackTwitter gives white people the invaluable opportunity to be the fly on the wall. Listen and learn, less speaking and more reading. That pit of defensiveness in your stomach may be very apparent. I encourage you not to act on that. Sit with it. Examine it. Try and understand it.

Also crucial to understand that Black Americans are not a monolith — there are progressive voices and conservative voices and young voices and old voices and male voices and female voices and LGBTQ+ voices represented here, but it barely scratches the surface of what can be learned by listening to and following Black voices on Twitter.

@AdamSerwer – writer and The Atlantic

@AdrianCJax – activist and software creator

@AdrienneWrites – Adrienne Gibbs, editor and writer

@agordonreed – Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard Law Professor, author

@ava – Ava DuVernay, film director

@blackgirlinmain – Shay Stewart Bouley, writer

@_CharlesPreston – Chicago activist and organizer

@ClintSmithIII – writer, poet, father

@deray – activist, author, podcaster

@dianelyssa – a great Twitter follow for the young crowd

@DrIbram – author and historian

@IjeomaOluo – writer, author of So You Want to Talk About Race

@iSmashFizzle – Ashley C. Ford, writer and podcaster

@JamilahLemieux – writer, cultural critic

@JasonReynolds83 – Author, poet, National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature

@kashanacauley – TV writer

@MatthewACherry – director, writer

@nhannahjones – Nikole Hannah Jones, journalist, just won 2020 Pulitzer for 1619 Project

@thearmchaircom – Ally Henny, writer

@TheRoot – digital magazine that presents the Black perspective

@WendellPierce – actor, jewel of NOLA

Be like this gal. Photo taken at Warren Park “Honk In” on Friday, June 5, 2020.

If there are other resources that should be included, please reach out to me at

1:30 – 2:30

Whew. It’s 1:40 in the afternoon, which has become a bit of an oasis for me during this required time of isolation with family. 1:30 -2:30 is “Quiet Time” on our new family schedule. We’re into week two right now and the time has been going slow and fast, simultaneously. Slast. The time has been going by so slast.

My boys are 6 and 11. Their needs and interests are different. Very different. Typically, our schedules are set in such a way that the weekends are when we look for things that will make both boys happy, satisfied, and engaged. That weekend need has now multiplied to seven days a week. Weekends are now more clearly a construct of time and schedule, but man made, manufactured by union leaders of the past. Thank you, union leaders of the past!

Like so many other families sheltering at home during this time, we are winging it. Our trajectory, if Facebook has been any indication, is a wee bit different than other families we know. Last Monday, the first official weekday of Illinois’ ordered shelter in place, I got a bad toothache. This dental phobic gal knew exactly what that meant. Dammit all to hell is what I kept telling myself, wishing the pain away, hoping it was phantom, borne of stress, and like that miracle President Trump talked about, would just go away.

By Tuesday, it was clear it would not. By Wednesday, I got up the nerve to call my dentist and learned that dentists are not really in the business of dentist-ing right now. I was referred to an oral surgeon. Root canals are also not an option during this period of extreme caution, so they proposed to rip that sucker right out. With a lot of precautions, I had a rear molar removed last Thursday. I got IV sedation, which was the absolute calmest I have felt in a couple of weeks. A couple of days later, I realized I had taken about 16 photos of my feet in the recovery room that I had no memory of whatsoever.

So, yeah, after that and some other nonsense, it’s taken a bit of time to find our groove for this enforced time together. We are working to try and stick to a schedule that I posted on the Mary Tyler Mom Facebook page earlier on. It’s a little Pinterest perfect pie-in-the-sky, but with a few modifications, it has met our needs.

One of my favorite hours, I am not too proud to admit, is this one we’re in right now, between 1:30 – 2:30. Quiet time. That means my boys must rest in their beds, either napping or reading. Mama needs this hour. To breathe. To panic. To nap myself. To watch an episode of Nurse Jackie (why had no one ever told me about Nurse Jackie before this?). To catastrophize in damn peace, thank you very much.

Sixty minutes of mostly quiet. Sometimes giggles. Sometimes loud laughter. Sometimes little faces popping into whatever space I am in and asking, “How much time left, Mama?”

I need this hour. I need these sixty minutes like Nurse Jackie needed an intervention. I need these 60 Minutes like CBS News needed a ratings bump in the 1970s. And, for the most part, I am using it exactly as directed — quiet time. My time. Not family time or academic time or ‘get outside and walk’ time or chores time or kitchen time or ‘wiping every surface I can find with a too quickly dwindling supply of Clorox wipes’ time.

I use this hour to try and connect with some peace within, to quiet the fear and worries and dread and doom and gloom that is so very loud in these days. Today, I am sharing it with my keyboard. And you. And it feels quiet. And manageable. And familiar. And comforting. And necessary. Really and truly necessary, because the future is so uncertain right now and that can be a really scary thing.

It’s 2:30 now, folks, and the littlest one just came out, poking his head around his door frame. “Mama,” he says. And with that, quiet time is over.