Yesterday I found myself in a predicament. I had an appointment at my new dentist with the Endodontist, which is a fancy name for a dentist who specializes in treating and diagnosing tooth pain, and performing root canals. Now I am no stranger to the root canal. My teeth are jacked up (remember my implant that I just had placed like two months ago), I have always been a “problem” patient. “Problem” meaning that I am both completely terrified of the dentist and “problem” meaning I always have something that needs attention. Which I guess also makes me an ideal patient since I pay a lot of money to whichever office I frequent. Because obviously dentists are just money-hungry, Wall Street Tycoon types who desire patients with loads of problems who need to be given Xanax before a simple cleaning and have panic attacks during cavity fillings. Ahem…
Yesterday’s appointment was because I had complained of tooth sensitivity to my new dentist here in Georgia. She did x-rays and wondered about a root canal I’d had performed many moons ago. Like 15 years ago. It was my first root canal and I had it done when I was like 20. Yeah, fucked up teeth. Anyway, she thought maybe it was failing me and that the Endodontist would need to retreat that tooth, something that he does quite a lot and seems to be no big deal. She put me on a round of antibiotics because I had developed an infection under the failing root canal. So I was all, cool. In fact, that was my only problem. I have zero cavities (something that has NEVER happened when I do my annual check-ups). I finally felt like I had my mouth under control.
Then I got to my appointment yesterday. The Endodontist was a funny guy, middle-aged, and graying. He had a soft voice and was very gentle in his movements and his demeanor. He looked at my x-rays and said that while my 15-year-old root canal (tooth #30) was in fact failing me, he thought that wasn’t my only problem. He explained that while I did have an infection, it wasn’t a big deal, and surely wasn’t the reason that I had sensitivity, since I had a root canal done on that tooth. That is when the real pain started.
He explained to me that he was going to dip a small piece of cotton into a container that would make it four degrees, then he would touch that to a couple of teeth and see how I feel. He told me to raise my left hand when I felt the cold. First he put it on the tooth with the root canal and after a few seconds I felt a little cold so I raised my hand. Cool. Cool. Then he put it against the tooth next to the one with a root canal and after a couple of seconds I almost jumped out of my damn chair. Having this small cotton ball, measuring four degrees, against this tooth (#31) was the absolute worst pain I have ever felt in the dentist chair. And it lingered. It lingered in my mouth, even with my tongue over it to warm it up, and my hand to my cheek. Then a top tooth started to hurt. I asked him why and he said it may have moved to another tooth. So he did the same thing with a couple teeth up top. For the first one I felt cold, but no pain. For the one next to it (#3) I almost hit him in the face. At this point I suspected he was doing it to be mean. He assured me he was not, and that he would stop.
So what does that mean? I need two root canals, on top of the one retreat that I also need. Both teeth that responded to the four degree cotton ball had cracks in them. Cracks from fillings. He explained that when a filling is too big, it expands and can crack the tooth in minimal ways so that it is not seen with the naked eye, but it can be cracked to the root. Which turns out, is my case. For both teeth. So I went from having most of my ducks in a row to being in the dentist chair for three and a half hours yesterday to get one of the root canals started.
Now this dentist is thorough. Did I mention that? That is the reason that I liked my old dentist in Denver, NC, Dr. Ellis. Dr. Ellis is thorough, and he would explain all that he was doing and he was reasonable. He would say things like, “Well this is going to cost you $10,000, so let’s do it in parts.” Reasonable, right? Same with this Endodontist. He suggested we start with tooth #31 and work our way in. So I had an unexpected root canal on a bottom tooth yesterday and I was not super, uber happy about it. But, there was a moment, when I had two men rooting around in my mouth, sunglasses on my face, and they were discussing Megan Markle’s baby, and the show Sons of Anarchy, and whether or not kids would eat Tide Pods this summer, and suddenly I felt at home. At peace. I went to a very zen-like place. And then smoke started coming from my mouth, and there were sizzling and popping sounds as the rubber melted into my empty canals and the Endodontist was all, “This is normal… well for me I guess, probably not for you.” And just like that I was alert again and wondering where my life went wrong.
My 10-year-old son threw the ball fast at my head and yelled, “Line drive!” I wasn’t ready. I’d been gazing up to the gigantic nest in our Pine Tree wondering what was inside. I looked back in time to instinctively shield my face from the ball, while I turned my body to the side, and winced in anticipation. The ball hit hard against my glove and fell to my feet. “You dropped the ball,” he yelled from across the yard. I know. I know. I shook my head and rolled my eyes up to the sky. It was the third time I’d dropped the ball that week.
The first time was Tuesday, when I wrote a scathing email to the Home Owner’s Association concerning my subdivision’s lawn policy, only to find out that I had misread the policy, and that my yard was not at risk of having the Health Department called.
“Still,” I scoffed later to my rather presumptuous husband. “I intend to keep the HOA, and their wacked-out policies, in check.”
“Sure,” he acknowledged. “After all, someone needs to weed out the crazies.”
I ignored the condescension and placed a half-burnt chicken breast in front of him.
On Wednesday I had an appointment with the dentist. I’d made the appointment six months prior, assuming I would cancel last minute with some lame excuse. In between deciding which excuse to go with, “My (insert relative) is having a surgery,” or “PTO responsibilities have tied me up,” I began to worry that some expensive, probably deadly, gum disease was raging war inside my mouth. The worrying, as is my nature, lasted up until that morning, when I called the office to tell them that I was planning on coming in for my appointment, but then last minute I found out that my mother was going in for knee surgery at that very moment, and I had to be there with her. When the front desk woman reminded me that my mother lives 1,500 miles away, I tacked on the word spiritually. Spiritually I had to be with my mother. And she concurred. Going as far as suggesting I come in for my appointment as a way to take my mind off my mother’s apparent surgery. It turns out that I did not have gum disease. At least I don’t think I did. I don’t really know. They gassed me for the entire appointment.
Then there was Thursday. Spring Picture Day. My son told me the week before that it was a “dress down” day, meaning he needn’t wear his school uniform for the picture. He gave me this information so that he could absolve himself the burden of remembering that important point. He’s sly like that. Like his father. And he’s a little lazy too. That part he gets from me.
The school, to do their part, sent out a reminder text, and they stuck a bright, round sticker on my son’s stained uniform polo on Monday afternoon. “Remember Picture Day!” it said. I rolled my eyes. How could I forget?
After bedtime on Monday it occurred to me, over a half pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and a sad Netflix documentary, that the next day was picture day. I needed to ensure my son had a clean shirt for his picture. It’s was usually a fight to keep five uniform shirts clean, and occasionally we had to rummage through the hamper in the morning, arguing over who is responsible for getting his clothes to the laundry room, as we frantically smell arm pits in all his shirts and try to rub out crayon stains. But it was Spring picture day. He needed a nice, freshly-laundered shirt. I was so proud of myself that I remembered, that I immediately stepped into action. I tip-toed into my son’s room, quietly overturned the hamper and, by the light of the nearest bathroom, I rifled through its contents for the perfect, stain-free polo. My eyes sparkled when I found that stain-free Robin’s Egg Blue polo. I held it close to my chest for a moment, taking in its sweaty, salty odor, then I shuffled my socked feet to the washing machine.
The next morning went like normal. Snooze. Creaky knees. Electric toothbrushes whizzing. Breakfast. Book bag. Car. I whistled on the drive to school. My son smiled from the backseat, his nicely combed hair with its wild cowlick he is always trying to keep down shimmering in the morning light, while he smoothed his hand against his clean, fresh school polo. It wasn’t until we pulled into the carline and I saw a sweet, little kindergarten bobbing alongside her mother in a pink, frilly dress that my mouth went agape.
“Mommmmmmy,” my son whined from the backseat. “It’s dress-down day!” Right. What to do? What to do? “I’ll bring you up a suit and your favorite tie,” I said, trying to calculate how long it would take me to make the turnaround. My son is a snazzy dresser. Always has been. He doesn’t get that from either one of us. He likes polos, and ties, and the occasional three-piece-suit. He knows how to combine colors. He understands, instinctively I suppose, that you don’t wear socks with sandals and that your belt needs to match your shoes, especially if your shirt is nicely tucked in. And your shirt should be tucked in. He often goes as far as to question my husband and I about what we wear. “Are you going out in that?” he will occasionally ask me, when I am in “pants” that I bought in the pajama section of Old Navy and a sleeveless shirt that is either two sizes too small or two sizes too big for me. “I’m just going to Target,” I will counter, and he will role his eyes with a sort of disgrace that, if I am being honest, I thought would come much later in his life.
So there we are, in the car, frantically looking at one another. The line is shifting up and my son and I are eyeing the pastel dresses and short sleeve button ups with sharks, and baseball bats, and cacti on them. “Mommy, hurry,” that is all he says before he exits the car, hyper aware that he is in his school uniform.
I race home. I speed, at times scaring myself and considering the number of one-hand movements I am receiving, probably other drivers too. I get home. I run into my son’s room and flip open his closet. I fumble in the dark for the light switch. Where is the damn light switch? I decide I don’t need the light. What is he wearing? Is it khaki? Yeah, he’s in khaki pants. I choose a solid, white button-up. I run over to his dresser and slide open the top drawer. My anxious Poodle, the one who has been hopping on his hind legs at my apparent exercise is humping me, as I am hunched over my son’s dresser looking for a tie that says, “hip” but also “Spring” but also “fun”. I push my poodle down and hold a plaid pastel number in my hands. Yes, I think to myself. You did it, girl! Mom power! I race back to car, out the driveway, blow past a stop sign or two, and screech into the school parking lot a mere 20 minutes after leaving. I park in the “No Parking” fire zone and run to the front door. I look inside to make eye contact with the secretary. Does she see me? Do you see me? She isn’t at her desk. I ring the doorbell. I make eye contact with a kid sitting outside the nurse’s office. I motion to the locked door, and hold up the clothes frantically, but trying to smile as to not scare the kid. I wave the shirt and tie around like this second grader is supposed to know what I am doing. The kid doesn’t budge. I ring the bell again. I smile broadly and wave a little to him. He shakes his head no. He won’t be opening the door for this crazy lady. The secretary walks out to her desk, spies me, and remotely unlocks the door. I go inside and explain my morning while she smiles and calls for my son to come to the office. I eye the second grader and smile a “told you so” smile. I silently hope he has head lice.
My son comes through the office door relieved to see me. He tells me he was the only one in his class in his uniform. I apologize and say I will do better next time, even though I know the chances of me doing better next time are slim to none. He knows too but smiles and hugs me just the same. And right before he races to go change his shirt he stops, turns around and looks at me. My heart fills my eyes with water. I think, we did it, Dude. “Mommy,” he says. “Yeah,” I ask eagerly, anticipating an “I love you” in front of the office staff. “You forgot my belt,” he says, before he walks back through the blue swinging doors.
The other day my family and I were out and about and we stopped in for lunch at a local fast food restaurant to grab burgers and shakes. It was a pretty busy day and there were a ton of people in the restaurant. It was loud and crowded and everything was running a bit behind, but we had no where to be so we sat down at our table and talked while we waited for our number to be called. A couple of minutes later a man and his young son sat down at the table next to us. The tables were pretty close and we could hear their discussion. The son was about Jackson’s age and was wearing a Minecraft shirt. The son was polite, and quiet, and he smiled at me when I looked over to him. I smiled back, thinking Jackson and him could probably be friends. Until I heard his dad started talking to him.
It wasn’t what he said, at first. At first it was his tone. The dad was a meek guy. He was a little small, sat hunched over a bit, and didn’t really give off a “My dad could beat up your dad” vibe. But his tone was biting. In fact, I started to eavesdrop when he was discussing their order and the dad was sort of berating the kid for what he ordered. The kid just sat there and listened to his dad. This wasn’t the first time he was made to feel bad for a decision he had made. It was rather odd, though. I didn’t know if the dad was putting on a show for us, because our tables were so close together and he was trying to assert himself as, I dunno, a tough guy? Berating your kid makes you tough, maybe? Or maybe he was just in a bad mood and he was taking it out on his kid. We all have bad days, I reminded myself, and maybe this was his. The poor kid just sat, his eyes on the table and listened to his dad bitch about everything he did. Then their number was called. The boy jumped up to go grab the tray and the dad yelled after him to get him a lid for his cup. Though the restaurant was pretty loud still, so I doubted the boy would hear him. I lost track of what was happening at that point, until the boy came back without a lid for his dad’s drink.
“Did you hear me?”
“Hello, I asked you to bring me back a damn lid? Did you not hear me?”
“Should I just go get my own lid?”
The boy, unsure of what to do and obviously upset about his dad’s behavior, was trying to put their trays down on the table, so he wasn’t making eye contact with his dad.
“I still need a damn lid, cause I guess you didn’t hear me.”
The boy put the trays down in a hurry and he ran back to get his dad a lid. By this point my husband and I had made eye contact with each other and wordlessly said, “This guy. What a dick.” I sort of lost track of their conversation then, as our food had arrived, but their body language told me that if the boy was a dog he would have his tail between his legs right now and the dad would be kicking and screaming at him while he was chained to a fence with nowhere to run.
And then it happened. I went to take my first bite of my cheeseburger when I heard:
I looked over at their table and they had their heads bowed in prayer and the father was speaking.
“Thank you for this beautiful day. Thank you for this food we are about to consume. Thank you for our wonderful lives and all that we have. We are grateful for you love. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
I looked at my husband once more who didn’t look shocked at all. And why should he be? As a man who doesn’t want anything to do with organized religion. As a man who knows that he doesn’t need the fear of God to make him do what is right, as a man who would never treat his child in that sort of degrading way, in public or private, he just assumed this other man was a Bible-thumping Christian. Meanwhile, I had to pick my jaw up from the floor.
I didn’t make me happy. It didn’t make me feel better for this child. Or see this man in a different light. It infuriated me. Here is this man, obviously someone who is secure enough in his religious conviction and bold enough to intentionally show everyone what he believes, belittling his child, over and over again, then bowing his head like he did nothing wrong. And who knows. Maybe inside he was asking for forgiveness for being a dickheaded-dirtbag, but my money is on no.
My husband and I just looked at each other. He gave me one of those, “See, they’re hypocrites” kind of looks and I continued to sit dumbfounded. I don’t really have a point with this post, except maybe that parentings is tough, y’all. Like really tough. And we all have our own ways of doing things, but if you are not leading from a love-centered place, what are you actually doing? If you child walks around afraid of you, what are you doing? If you have to constantly pray to your God for forgiveness for the way you treat your child, what are you doing?
I’m not pretending to have all the answers, y’all. But I know that this man, regardless of how religious he is, should be reprimanded for the way he treated his child. And I constantly worry when I see people act like this in public. I worry, because what happens when they are in the privacy of their homes?
The incident did remind me of a book I came across once. I don’t remember where I was, or how I came to be thumbing through it, but it was called “To Train Up a Child”. It was billed a “Christian Parenting Book” and it put a lot of focus on whipping and beating and talking down to your child. People honestly believe that parenting this way is the best way. People honestly believe they are doing God’s will by raising their children like this. This isn’t leading from love, y’all. You simply can’t learn love from a book.
We have to do better as parents if we want things to change in our lives, our children’s lives, our communities, our country. It starts from home. I’m just asking you to be more aware, as a parent, be more aware and more loving. We aren’t raising stubborn mules, we are raising human beings with large hearts who only want to make you happy.
It’s going to storm tonight in Atlanta. It’s stormed more often than not since we moved here last month. I don’t mind the storms, but they do make me a little anxious. I’ll get a book, curl up on the sofa and try to read, while the rain pounds on the side of the house, and on the tall pine trees, and on my small, robust garden. I’ll try to read, but I’ll get so engrossed by the sounds that my mind will wander, and before I know it I’ll be consumed by worry. I’ll worry about the things that might go wrong. What if one of those pine trees should fall? What about the baby birds in that nest? Who would I call to rescue them? Who would I call to rescue me?
I used to prefer the dark sky. I preferred the gloomy days. The mix of grays, and blues, and blacks. As a child I would sit on my mother’s stoop and watch the sky change. In Kansas you can never be too sure how long the storm will last. You can never be too sure which way the wind will turn. If a funnel cloud might reach a long, black finger down. You can never be sure. It’s a kind of anxiety that becomes comforting after a little while. Or maybe you just learn to live in it.
Nowadays I prefer the sunshine. I’ve learned that my body needs the sunshine to function properly. I know this. Finally. At 37-years-old. I finally know that my body needs the Vitamin D. And so does my mind. So do my emotions. My nerves. But sometimes, on days like today, when the storms are lining up to roll on through and I feel prepared, and my mind is free, it is different. Sometimes, on days like today, when my soul feels well, I can sit on my porch, take in the smell of the coming rain, and I can look forward to the storm.
On April 19, 1999 my mom took me to the doctor because I woke up with ear pain that wasn’t going away. My doctor diagnosed me with an ear infection. He put me on a round of antibiotics and told me to stay home from school the next day. I was grateful because the pain was pretty intense and I tossed and turned all night. I woke up late the next morning. My mom was at work, a note stuck to the refrigerator said to call her if I needed anything. I was a junior in high school and I scoffed at the note: “Love, Mom”. Geez, mom, I’m fine, I can take care of myself. I made myself a bowl of cereal and set up shop on our old, comfy couch. I grabbed the remote control and flicked on the television. I’m not sure what was on tv. Maybe Price is Right, maybe one of those daytime talk shows, Sally Jessy Raphael or Geraldo, was he on the air then? I flipped the channel between bites of off-brand lucky charms, stopping occasionally at a funny commercial or to raise my hand to my throbbing ear, did I take my medicine already? At about 11:30 a.m. I stopped on Channel 9, KBMC, the local ABC affiliate in Kansas City, because something caught my attention. The scene showed a SWAT team, with automatic weapons drawn, running into a high school in Colorado.
The tragedy that unfolded in front of me that day on KMBC, was the catalyst for my high school to implement a safety protocol for an active shooter situation. I suspect Columbine, and the 15 students fatally wounded, was a catalyst for many schools across the country to implement comprehensive safety plans. To teach their children how to respond in an emergency situation. Bombs. Active shooters. School Emergency Response Plans. School Preparedness. They assessed by color. Code Black. Yellow. Red. Blue. Unsafe odor. Lockdown. Even for a Kansas kid, this was a lot. Kansas kids are used to drills. Leavenworth kids were able to tell the difference between a tornado siren and an inmate escape siren. We knew when the doors to school locked. We remembered when the doors to our school didn’t lock. We wrestled with our anxiety. Our constant barrage of drills, butting up against our desire to be cool and unbothered. The day after the Columbine High School shooting, though, things changed.
Our lunch room chat was spent on deciding with your best friends where you would meet if it ever happened to us. We all developed our own action plans, unbeknownst to each other. Those of us in the journalism room, we knew how to lift the handle of the dark room just right to jam it a little. We knew it would buy us time. We started getting cell phones. Little brick Nokias with emergency numbers and a game with a long snake. Active Shooter Drills became commonplace. We dreaded them. We stood in lines across the street from the school as the administrators would “sweep” the classrooms. We laughed and talked. Secretly assessing who we thought would be wearing long, black trench coats at our school. Our teachers told us to be quiet. They listened intently on their walkie talkies for the all-clear. We joked and made fun of their seriousness. But inside, we were a mess.
At home my mother would want to know what happened. “Where do they send you?” she’d ask, as she sloshed mashed potatoes onto my dinner plate. “How will you call me at work?” I’d shrug off her questions. “Stop worrying, nothing is going to happen at our school.” Still, she asked more. She started to leave detailed instructions on the fridge for me after school. Chores, directions to start dinner, anything to keep me home, keep me safe. “Call me if you need anything,” they would say. “Love, Mom.”
I stopped sleeping altogether. My anxiety crept up. Panic attacks started. Once I was in the back of our library. I was working on a research project. It was the big one. The last big project before school was out for summer. I was doing a close reading of a poem. I was engrossed in the book I had, sitting along the back wall, the stacks covering my view of either door. I heard a loud bang. My heart leapt into my throat. I froze. A moment later the librarian walked around, looking for each of us, asking if we were okay. She said someone slammed a door across the hall. We smiled, eased our backs into our chairs again Laughed a little. “We’re fine,” we said. “Totally good”. We were not fine. We were not totally good.
Years later I was sitting in a classroom at Missouri State University when my professor came into the room in a panic and told us to evacuate. She saw a man walking into the building with a gun. By this time I was a mother. I had a toddler at home. I froze again. Someone tapped me on the arm, “Let’s go!” We all ran down to the basement of the building. We grabbed our phones, waited for the all-call. The text to come in. The beeping and the signal: Run. Hide. Shelter. Fight. This was drilled into our head from the first day. That familiar feeling crept up into my throat just as my teacher walked down the stairs. The man was a plain-clothed officer, she explained. He forgot to notify anyone that he was coming into the building, and he hadn’t taken his gun off his hip. She felt bad for overreacting. She was clearly distraught. I hugged her. I didn’t mind her overreaction.
In grad school at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, we had routine preparedness thrown at us. Text messages would go out, followed by emails. Drills. Make sure the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has your cell phone number. Make sure you are getting the Niner Alerts. I was diligent. Drills don’t bother me anymore. Overreacting doesn’t bother me. Be Niner Ready they would say. I was always Niner Ready.
And then the day came when all the practice, all the prep, all the drills became useful. Thankfully I graduated last May. Thankfully I was not on campus last Tuesday. Thankfully I didn’t need to get a Niner Alert. Or sit in a classroom, crouched against the wall, desks stacked up against the door, calling loved ones on the phone to check in, to say that I am okay. But there were people who did. And there were, as we soon learned, people who were not okay.
Kennedy, the building the shooting happened, is a lovely building. I led class discussions in that building when I was a Graduate Assistant for Prospect for Success. I remember that it was very high-tech, for being such an old building. The outside was deceiving. On my first week of grad school, I sat just outside Kennedy, out in the fresh air surrounding the Belk Tower, which was dismantled my second year, wondering how I was so lucky. How I had managed to get into a graduate program. Wondering how I had landed my cool new job at Colvard, the building just across from the Library. My library. Our library. Whose full, bright, stacks I occasionally roamed with no purpose other than to be in the library. To smell the familiar smell of books, and feel the collective tension of students with heads in books, and in computer screens, and in their own thoughts. Kennedy is near the library. It is near the Career Center. It is right next to the Counseling Center.
I had friends on campus, and thankfully they are all okay. I had friends, professors, former classmates, and fellow Niners. I’ve checked in. I’ve seen their “Marked Safe” flags. I’ve cried for them. For my school, my community, the city that I miss. But, I can’t cry anymore. We can’t cry anymore.
You never think it will happen to people you love. You never think until it just does. And then when it does, all the pain, and all the fear, and all the anger builds up inside of you. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Will this happen again? Why is this okay? I was shocked and afraid on April 20, 1999 as I watched armored officers run into Columbine High School. I was afraid it could happen at my school, to my friends and to me. I was afraid, but I was hopeful. I just knew that this incident would be the one that would make my country work together to ensure that this never happened again. I just knew that our politicians, our representatives, our parents and teachers, the adults in charge, would protect us. Would work together to ensure that every child was safe while they were at school. Yet here we are. Twenty years later and mass shootings at schools and universities have become so commonplace that we don’t even blink an eye. We jus shake our head and say, “Heaven’s sake” or “Christ, it happened again,” while we make dinner, and help our kids with homework, and turn the channel to a comedy. We send thoughts and prayers. We make memes. We make hashtags.
Honestly, very honestly, I was angry the first time I saw the image on the top of this post. I was very angry. How can they sum up what just happened, hours before, into a picture. It felt too soon. It felt wrong. It felt like it was already made, just sitting there on someone’s hard drive, waiting to have the newest school’s tragedy stamped on it. Yes, I thought, Charlotte is strong. Yes, UNCC will come together and they will mourn and remember. Yes, my school, my community, my people will do the right thing. But what about everyone else?
Listen, I’m don’t want to get too political here. And all I can say is what a million angry mothers and fathers, and teachers and officers have said. We have to do better. And in order to do better we have to make major, sweeping changes to our guns laws, to mental health care, to insurance, to the angry in the community, to how we treat and respond to the bullied, the marginalized, those in poverty, those misunderstood. We have to revamp the systems. The public school system. The higher education system. The welfare system. The foster care system. And I know that is a lot, and I know it makes people afraid because it seems like it can’t be done. But it can, with small steps. It starts in our homes. In our backyards. In our communities. It starts with the way we treat each other every single day. Who we vote into office. Who we allow to represent us. It starts with boots on the ground.
Yesterday another gun attack happened, in another Colorado school. And today, like all the other days after a tragedy like this, we are learning of those killed and wounded. Learning about how they had to run, hide, shelter, and fight. These are children. Children. Children whose parents could not protect them. Whose teachers and administrators and classmates could not protect them. Who may have thought they didn’t need protecting from anything. I can’t stop thinking about the parents. About the mom of the boy, Kendrick Castillo, who tried to stop the gunman. I can’t stop saying his name. Wondering what his mother is going through. What about Riley Howell’s mom? What about Reed Parlier’s mom? They won’t leave their children notes on the refrigerator ever again. No more reminders of appointments, no more directions to bake the lasagna in the oven, no more “Love, Mom”.
I’m not sure what my plans are from here on out. But I have a 10-year-old son, and middle school is fast approaching and I am terrified, y’all. I have been, since April 20, 1999, and you should be too, and together we should work toward a solution. Together we should protect our children, at all costs.
Vulnerable. Ick. I don’t even like to type the word. Vulnerable. It sounds vulgar. Vulnerable. My trusty Pocket Oxford says the word means: “That may be wounded (lit. or fig.); exposed to damage by weapon, criticism, etc.” Vulnerable. Bad. Vulnerable. Weak. Vulnerable. How not to be. This word has been kicking around my noggin all weekend. Mainly because I started a Brene Brown book. And listen, if you haven’t read Brene Brown, well, I won’t tell you to read her. Or watch her Ted Talk or her Netflix special. But you know, if you are so inclined, I promise you won’t be disappointed. She’s a research professor at the University of Houston. She’s spent years researching shame and (gulp) vulnerability. She has a fun Texas drawl, and she doesn’t think prayer and cussing are mutually exclusive, so you know, she might not be your cup ‘o’ tea, but she is my kinda gal.
Anyway, Brene Brown has been teaching me about vulnerability. And when she first started explaining the concept, she said things like “exposed” and “easily wounded”. And immediately I thought to myself, “You’re not a vulnerable person, Missy. No worries. You have your ducks in a row.” Because who would want to be vulnerable? Weren’t we supposed to be strong and brave at all times. Especially now, in this dumpster fire of a world we live in? So I decided, nah, I’m not vulnerable. But then I kept going back to what I said, sorta like how my dog keeps sniffing his own butt, even when it appears to be fairly clean. I know my butt is clean. I am 100% sure of it. Right?
I couldn’t figure out why I felt like I was lying to myself. Brene was all, “Missy, girl, it’s okay to be vulnerable.” And I was all, “That’s bullshit, Brene! You’re bullshit, Brene! Just another whack-job, wanna-be-self-help-guru, and I’m not gonna listen to you!” Then I turned off the television and continued to eat my Cheetos, and tell myself I am strong, and I am brave, and I am not vulnerable. Then I woke up in the middle of the night with the butt itchies and realized, holy hell, I’m like, super vulnerable.
Let me try to explain. I’m a writer. No need to apologize, I did it to myself. I write mainly creative non-fiction. That’s my bread and butter. I love to explore my own life, my own stories, my past, my present, my future, and share it with whomever will read or listen. Full stop. That’s vulnerability, right? I mean, every day, just sitting at my desk, writing my random-ass thoughts out for the blog-sphere is pretty vulnerable. Especially in the age of social media, anonymous chatting and commenting, and the intense showmanship and competition that comes with all of this.
Then there are the friendships I’ve had over the years. I am a pretty open and honest person. I’ve come to learn over the last year or two that not everyone appreciates that about me. But what Brene helped me realize is that my friends do appreciate when I am honest with them. They also appreciate when I tell a funny story, or allow them to see me make an ass of myself, but they don’t appreciate my vulnerability because vulnerabilty scares the shit out of people. They don’t know how to be vulnerable, or to act around someone who is. And I get that, I really do. It’s tough to be vulnerable. We’ve been trained our whole lives not to be.
So what does this all mean? Look it, I don’t know. Brene seems to act like she knows, but I don’t think she does either. What I do know is that I am taking this new bit of information I have realized about myself (with help from Brene) and I’m moving forward in my life with a few new rules.
Rule #1: If someone is not ready to be vulnerable, or to watch me be vulnerable, then I am walking away. There are so many other people out there who can handle me, and my butt, and all that comes with it.
Rule #2: I’m going to try not to worry about the critics. There are a million people out there who will criticize me at the drop of a hat. Most of them are too afraid to be doing what I am doing. Most of them want to step out of their comfort zone, they want to make a change in their life, but they are too afraid. It’s easier to sit back and watch other people fail (and Brene says I will fail, a lot) then to find their own courage. Courage to quit their job and follow their true passion, relying on their partner, giving up control. Courage to take that step to put their lives out into the world. Courage to be open and honest with their loved ones. These people make up a million excuses why they can’t do it, and I try to rationalize that when they criticize me. But I can’t do that anymore. If you can’t stick your butt in the fire, you have no right to tell me about my butt, even when it’s in flames.
Rule #3: The people who do care should be depended on more often. The ones that have been cheering me on, those are the people who matter. Those are the people to listen to when criticism needs to come my way. They do it from a love-centered place. They do it because sometimes I need to be slapped. Sometimes I say and do crazy things, and they need to tell me because they care about me. And I’ll listen. I may be mad when they are saying it, but I’ll listen.
So, I guess, uhhh, wish me luck? And maybe watch some Brene Brown? And maybe try to decide if you are vulnerable? And if you are not being vulnerable, then ask your self why not? Wouldn’t it be worth a shot?
Home has always been a tough word for me. Home means sad, tragic at the worst times, ambivalent at the best. I don’t come from a place that is totally electric, or unusual, or even beautiful. I’m not from NYC, or Las Vegas, or one of those small southern towns with quaint shops around a city square, and rampant white supremacy. I am from the midwest. From Kansas. From Leavenworth. Perhaps you have heard of it? Maybe in an old John Wayne western, or a documentary on the military, or a book about famous serial killers? Perhaps you just know it sounds familiar, but you can’t quite place it? Yeah, that’s it. That’s Leavenworth, Kansas.
I left Leavenworth 15 years ago this August. It wasn’t the first time I left, but it was the only time I ever left and thought, yep, I’m never moving back there again. And this year was the first time in those 15 years that I contemplated moving back there again. I’m not sure what it was, the draw to go back home. But it was there, on my mind, when my husband and I were going through possible relocations with his company. Kansas City popped up on the list. Bonner Springs to be exact. Bonner Springs is in Leavenworth County. It is about 20 minutes from the high school we graduated from. Twenty minutes from my mom, and my sisters, and my best friend. And we thought about it. Like really thought about it. Then ultimately we decided against going home again. For good. For now.
But as I type this I am gearing up for a trip home tomorrow. I am gearing up in the physical sense. Washing a last-minute load of laundry. Making sure I have an appropriate outfit for a graduation. Gathering Jackson’s toys. Packing healthy road trip snacks. I’m also gearing up for a trip home mentally. It has been over a year since I have been home. Last year we decided to take other trips. We visited New York City, and Tucson, Arizona, and Chicago, rather than spending time at home. And while those are all lovely places, home still called.
It used to be that when I went back home, I wanted to leave as soon as I got there. I was immediately transported back to that feeling I had in high school. That feeling of being stuck. Of suffocating. Walking the tree-lined streets of downtown made me tense up. Seeing the same old buildings I had grown up with, the familiar people. Unchanging, other than the wrinkling faces and graying hair. After a weekend of being home, I would squeeze my husband’s hand and say, “It’s time to go.” I’m preparing for that feeling again, even though the last time I went home that didn’t happen. In fact, I wanted to stay longer. To enjoy the people and places more. I was surprised and I didn’t take notice of how or why it had changed. And I still don’t know. And I don’t know if this time will be the same, or if I will want to run away after 48 hours. But I’m prepping myself for both.
I don’t know what to do with these feelings about home. How sometimes I want to never look back, and sometimes that is all I want to do. Leavenworth is always there with me. Right on the fringe of my memories. It touches all that I do today, and most of what I write. And well, I should be grateful. Maybe this is me, becoming grateful.