Endings and Beginnings

Juan and Crystel’s graduation is this week.

There are graduation parties, athletic banquets, Senior party, after grad parties, and bonfires.

I was kicked out of school the last week of 12th grade. I was banned from attending my senior party. I was unpredictable. Impressionable. Dangerous. I never attended a prom. It wasn’t because of COVID.

Juan and Crystel are experiencing life differently than I did at their age. They have more of a life, more joy, more celebration, more love.

It makes me cry.

A different life from what I had is always what I wanted for my kids.

“You have great kids,” a track coach said at their athletic banquet.  “I don’t know what they are like at home but here they are awesome. Polite. Happy.”

I cried some more.

Plaques lining both their walls say, “MVP Award, Rookie of the Year, Most Improved Award, Work Horse Award, Most Valuable Distance Runner, Most Valuable Teammate, Spotlight on Scholarship, Eagle Scout.

Jody and I have great kids. We have done a lot of things right. And, when we haven’t, we have apologized and explained why we had the reaction we did.

In middle school, Juan nudged me out of his room when we had a disagreement about his phone. I said words that I’m not proud of. Later that evening, I called a family meeting. I apologized to Juan and I told him that my reaction was because I lived with violence growing up in my house. I told him that our home would not ever be like that. We were never to touch one another in anger.

Jody and I are frequently asked, “How does it feel to be empty nesters?” 

I just shake my head.

My mother made it clear that when you graduated high school you were not to come home, again.

Wherever we are, Juan and Crystel will be.

The porch light is always on.

I always wanted to know what love looked like. I know.

Broken Dreams

Aniya Allen’s funeral was June 2, 2021.  Six years old, the newspapers said she wore a sparkling tiara in her small pink coffin. The second to die of three young children caught in gun violence in Minneapolis this May. One is still in hospital. On a local television news show, young Minneapolis school children talked about being afraid to play outside or go to the park or to see friends. They asked, begged, demanded that older kids and adults put down guns and give peace a chance and kids a chance to grow and dream. 

Unfortunately these two families are not the only ones who have lost their very young children to the senseless and unexpected gun fighting of young men with disagreements that should have been resolved with discussions, even strong words, maybe fists. Not guns shot in an alley. Not a shootout on a street corner where parents drove home from grocery stores or taking a child to McDonalds. These babies cannot be replaced, these families’ broken dreams cannot be rebuilt.

According to Brady every year 7,957 children and teens are shot in the United States. More than 1,600 will die from gun violence. Gun sales in the United States grew over 65% increase in 2019 and continue strong in 2020. Like icebergs, there is no true tally of general U.S. gun possession that accounts for arms purchased illegally or stolen. 

A child’s funeral is about the saddest gathering on earth. Eulogies for a child describe their smiles, their bright eyes, their wonderful laugh, their love of sports or dancing or swimming, their helpfulness, of pride in being a big sister or brother. All the ways a young child’s life should be talked about when families gather for birthdays or holidays, but not in a solemn church or temple service while mourning the one resting in a small pink coffin.

We have all lost Aniya Allen and Trinity Ottoson-Smith and the other 1,600 children and teens dead because of gun violence.  So many broken dreams.

Ready, Set…Disconnect

This fast, fun and friendly book, Austin Kleon’s third on creativity, kept me going this past year.

In it, he offers exactly what the subtitle promises…and exactly what I needed to hear:

  • Take one day at a time.
  • Establish a daily routine.
  • Finish each day and be done with it.

Over this past year, I took this and his other advice to heart, especially one directive that really resonated with me: “Disconnect from the world to connect with yourself.”

This phrase became my daily mantra, helping me see my COVID-induced isolation not as a punishment but as a gift.

That said, disconnecting was a challenge, especially early on. Like many others, I missed attending meetings, joining colleagues for coffee and going for walks with friends. I even missed shopping, a task I’ve never much enjoyed.

So, I was delighted when first one friend and then another invited me to Zoom with them. However, it took just two friend calls plus a handful of work-related video calls for Zoom Fatigue to set in. Even the thought of joining my beloved book club online wasn’t enough to get me to log back on.  

I stayed in touch in other ways. I called my 94-year-old aunt every odd-numbered day of the week and a friend or other family member every even-numbered day. Plus I mailed at least one letter and a handful of cards each week and sent numerous emails.

But as I embraced Kleon’s advice to disconnect, my reaching out to others fell by the wayside. So did my posting on social media. Nobody seemed to notice.

Until this week.

On Tuesday, my friend and fellow writer Diane reached out to ask if I was okay as she hadn’t received a reply to an email and realized that my last Facebook post was on April 2 and my last tweet on April 5. Today, I received a similar email from Maery, also a friend and fellow writer.

My friend Laurie also checked in, wondering how I was doing with what she referred to as “reverse pandemic whiplash.”

The answer? I’m not sure.

After a year of isolating from everyone who wasn’t family, I finally got vaccinated and ventured out to get a long overdue haircut and join my book group in person for the first time in more than a year. It was wonderful to be together, outdoors and face to face on a beautiful Saturday morning.

However, getting together made me realize I’m still not ready to return to the out-and-about life I led pre-COVID.

Instead, I am still eager to connect with myself and, as Kleon states, that means disconnecting—not because I’m afraid of the virus, but because I want to thoughtfully add back in only those people and activities that fit the person I am now, a person I don’t yet know very well.

Am I the same go-go-go person I was or have I become more of an internal seeker rather than external doer? Are all my friendships ones I want to carry with me or are there some I am ready to let go of? What about my hopes and dreams? How have they changed?

These are some of questions I’m striving to answer while I get to know myself and before I once again find myself caught up in the busyness of life.

What about you? Have you disconnected from others to connect with yourself? If so, what have you learned along the way?

Farewell to Masks?

I don’t enjoy wearing a mask. The elastic turns my ears elfish. Wearing my glasses cocked to hold down the mask alters my vision. And whoa, somebody’s breath sure stinks inside this mask! You’d think I’d be ecstatic that the CDC has said that in many settings, vaccinated people like me no longer have to wear a mask or distance. 

Instead, I’m discombobulated. Not quite ready. I understand the rationale behind this policy change, but am struggling to process it.

COVID has been a harsh teacher. The randomness of who got deathly ill or who experienced long term debilitating effects kept me careful. My sister, who is a respiratory therapist, told me stories of her grueling ICU shifts. Awareness that COVID was real and deadly became a form of low-level anxiety. Unwinding that daily concern will take time. 

When a friend I rarely see said she’d be in town and asked if we could go out to dinner, my immediate reaction wasn’t yippee! It was, I’m not sure. Am I ready to eat inside a busy restaurant? Could we do patio dining instead?

I do love hanging out unmasked with vaccinated family and friends. Masked, you learn to look at people’s eyes to see if they’re smiling or preoccupied. Now the full range of our expressions is visible. 

Nevertheless, I’m not throwing out my masks. After 14 months of caution, I recognize the risk is reduced but not gone. Besides, although the state of Minnesota rescinded the mask mandate, Minneapolis and St. Paul have maintained it for a while longer.

Yet I remind myself that the point of living through a pandemic is to be alive. Fully. Masking narrowed my vision and limited my sense of possibility. After more than a year of looking inward, turning outward again will be good. 

mi casa es su casa

No persons of any race other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or any lot.

A covenant is a provision, or promise, contained in a deed to land.

I prayed it wasn’t true.

I had often been proud of living in Richfield with its diversity. Student population at Richfield Senior High is 43% Hispanic, 26.8% White, 17.6% African American, 7.1% Two or more races and 4.9% Asian.

With their Guatemalan origin Juan and Crystel fit right in. This was important to Jody and me. Already they were unusual for having two moms and being adopted. Let them blend in on occasion. Get a break from being special.

Jody and I have owned our home for over 25 years. We welcomed Juan and Crystel into our home when they were infants. In one month, they will be graduating from Richfield High School. Yet this covenant is on our property deed.

I had read about the Just Deeds Project on our Richfield Community Facebook page. To find out if our home had a discriminatory deed I simply needed to type in our address on the interactive map. I was sure our home didn’t have one.

I’ve experienced the scorn and contempt of others for being different. Wouldn’t I inherently know discrimination? And, wasn’t it our family that always had the play dates, the school parties, and the block parties at our house to show everyone we were just like them? That we weren’t a family to be afraid of.

Instantly, I felt ill.

I did have a covenant on my home. Jody’s home. Juan and Crystel’s home. In 1968, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act, making covenants and other discriminatory housing practices illegal across the nation. Still, our house is marked. There is a pox on it.

Real estate developers began writing racial covenants – race-based property ownership restrictions – into property deeds in 1910. They were banned by the Minnesota state legislature in 1953 but not before a racial covenant was written on our property on November 29, 1946.

Richfield is home to 3,714 of these covenants.

No persons of any race other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or any lot.

How do I tell Juan and Crystel that a deed on our house states that no persons of any race other than the Caucasian race is welcomed in our home?

I can still be proud of Richfield. On Tuesday, April 13, the Richfield City Council took action to support the Just Deeds project. Starting May 1, 2021 Richfield homeowners can discharge the racial covenant on their property records. I immediately submitted an online Just Deeds Request form to start the process.

I want the next owner of our home to understand that I disagree with any type of racial covenant on our home. I want the owners to know that we made an effort to remove the mark, the pox, the stain on our house.

I can easily see one of our children owning our home and if not them a family that is not Caucasian. In fact, I would welcome that. Mi casa es su casa.