I Didn’t Come This Far

My eye’s widened when the rich black velvety coffin box was opened. Inside was a sterling silver Eagle medal, an Eagle Scout embroidered emblem, an oval pin for the Eagle’s mother and one for the dad. The Boy Scout Eagle Presentation kit was impressive.

I was silent, contemplating the honor of being an Eagle Scout and the work it involved: 21 merit badges, camping requirements, an Eagle project, paperwork filled out and verified.

Everything about this presentation box was great, except one thing.

“Juan Jose’ has two moms,” I said. “Can I exchange the dad pin for another mom pin?”

“I don’t think that’s a problem,” the female receptionist agreed. “Let me check.”

I didn’t come this far in scouts with Juan Jose’ to get a dad pin.

Juan Jose’ and Beth

I reflected to first grade when he joined his Tiger den. I thought that I’d be able to drop him off at the meeting, run an errand, return and pick him up. I soon found out that dens were as strong as their parent volunteers. It was also clear that our Tiger den leader needed help with our group of boys. The male den leader and I became a team. I organized the projects and the field trips, and he used his booming voice to bring the boys to attention. When he couldn’t make the meetings, I’d surprise the boys with my wolf whistle when I needed them to listen.

Juan asked me why he had to be in cub scouts. Because you have two moms, I told him. You need to know how to navigate in a group of boys. There are things I can’t teach you. He responded saying he liked his life and I could be his dad. It doesn’t work that way, I said, though his words made me feel good.

Our den at a field trip to city hall.

I was proud of the fact that our den of ten boys stayed intact for five years, with many of the cub scouts receiving their Arrow of Light and going on to join boy scouts.

I had agreed with Juan that once he reached this point, he could make the decision to go on for his Eagle or to stop scouts. I thought for sure he’d quit. Especially, after the camping trip that was supposed to show how fun it was to be in Boy Scouts which seemed more like an evening of hazing. That night, the worst of nights, when it was darker than dark, we were both crying. I reminded him that he didn’t have to do this anymore. He could be done.

During troop visits, he found one he liked, and he stayed. I told him that I’d support him, be right at his side, but since this was his decision, quitting scouts wouldn’t be an option until he earned his Eagle.

Arrow of Light

I touched the softness of the presentation kit. I could hear a woman telling the receptionist that I could swap the dad pin for a mom pin in the Scout Shop downstairs.

In the Scout store, I opened the kit and asked to swap the dad pin for a mom pin. “My son has two moms.”

“Oh no, we don’t do that,” the man said. He was my age, greying at the temple.

“That’s not what they said upstairs,” I told him.

“Who said that?” he countered.

My voice raised, “The only two women up there. The receptionist and the woman she asked.” I was ready to go to battle. He didn’t understand that I didn’t spend all this time in scouts to get a dad pin. The fact that I had to argue about this was ridiculous. Two moms in Juan Jose’s life had been normal for him since he was eight months old.

“I’ll take it up with them,” he said. “Just a moment.”

When he came back with the mom pin, I smiled. I watched as he undid the dad pin, replacing it with the mom pin.

I couldn’t help it, my smile grew. “Maybe two dads will come in and you will have another dad pin,” I said.

He grunted. I laughed, knowing I had spoken his worst fear and that it could happen.

 

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Thinking About Good Friday

 

Tomorrow is Good Friday, an important day in the Christian Holy Week, which culminates in Easter Sunday, but I won’t be going to the services. Although I have spiritual beliefs, I am not an active participant in a formal religion. It’s odd to feel the pull of a religion I no longer practice.

As a Catholic grade-schooler, on Good Fridays, I spent the hours between 12:00 and 3:00 p.m. in church in a vigil with Jesus while he suffered on the cross. Even if I summoned all of my imaginative powers, I could barely conceive of the pain. Was the crown of thorns like a skinned knee but a thousand times worse? Would having a spike through your hand be like the time my sister stabbed my hand with a meat fork while we were fighting about the dishes? (I don’t recall what I did to her, but I’m sure it was just as bad. Or worse.)

To better appreciate the sacrifice Jesus had made for us, I tried to imagine how miserable he was, but I had so little concept of real pain that torture was beyond my understanding. Instead, I squirmed in the oak pews, kneeling up straight, then slouching, then straightening up, trying to do better for Jesus. If he could be crucified, I could at least kneel up straight for a few hours.

At 3:00, the church bell tolled for Jesus’s death. Our teachers told us that in Jerusalem on the day Jesus was crucified, the earth quaked and the temple curtain was torn. That day, there might even have been an eclipse that darkened the earth for a while. Solemnly, I walked out of church into the sunny afternoon, relieved that the Stations of the Cross and vigil were over, but too respectful to say so.

After church, I was subdued and at loose ends at home. It didn’t seem like I should just play like I always did. Ride bikes, tag, Barbies. For a while I hung around the house. By suppertime—tuna noodle casserole, or fish sticks with tartar sauce, or maybe baked halibut steaks—life felt back to normal. The next day was Holy Saturday, a lighter day when my family would hard-boil and dye eggs. Maybe I’d try on my new Easter dress and shoes and look forward to wearing them to Mass.

More than fifty years later, Good Friday is a nearly normal day. Most businesses are open and people are shopping for their Easter meals, hoping to beat the Saturday-before-Easter crowds.

Despite my nonreligious ways, I often feel a twinge on Good Friday.  At 3:00, I might glance at the sky to see if the sun is darkened and think of Jesus.

 

I’m (Not) Sorry

 

Brenda behind mug

Guest blogger Brenda van Dyck is no longer in a sorry state

I’ll admit it—I don’t generally set a lot of goals for myself. I live in Minnesota, after all, the land of the naturally above average. But I have set a big goal for myself: to stop saying “I’m sorry.” I blame my Minnesota roots.  It didn’t even occur to me that this was a thing until I saw a mug at the “I Like Me” store booth at—where else?—the Minnesota State Fair. It was a simple mug with the shape of Minnesota and the words “I’m Sorry” written across the front. It was a forehead-slapping moment.

Here in the North Star state, we have much to apologize for. We apologize for these harsh Minnesota winters. Who would willingly subject themselves to subzero weather and live in a climate that keeps us hidden from our neighbors for half of the year? And then there is the mosquito, the unofficial state bird, that attacks any exposed flesh for the three nice months of the year.

And we’re not even as nice as our moniker “Minnesota Nice” would suggest. I was shocked to hear that non-natives have trouble breaking into our tight web of social and familial connections. Of course, I felt bad about that.

We Minnesotans have perfected the art of passive-aggressiveness. We have trouble being direct and assertive, for fear of confronting people; we couch our behavior behind the cloak of “I’m sorry.” When someone budges in line at a store, we say, “I’m sorry, but I think I was next.” Or when the waiter gets our order wrong: “I’m sorry, but this isn’t what I ordered.” We’re not sorry! We just don’t want to come off as too brash, too–might I say–East Coast.

But it’s more than just being from Minnesota, the land of perpetual guilt. Growing up Catholic adds to this sorry state. I remember preparing for my first confession as a child. While I was not perfect, I was stumped when it came to confession, something that I had to tell the priest I was truly sorry for. Without being able to come up with anything egregious, I may have said that I was mean to my brother. The memories are fuzzy now.  The truth was that if I was mean to my brother, he probably had it coming. He usually did.

We’ve all encountered people who fall over themselves unnecessarily apologizing for things. These are people who feel bad about everything. At least I’m not that bad. I think.

Over the years, I’ve perfected the art of the “apology.” I apologize when I have to ask for something and I’m afraid the person will say no.

I apologize when I think I’m bothering someone. “I’m sorry to call so late…” even when it’s not really that late.

I apologize in order to ingratiate myself to others. “I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you earlier…” when I knowingly procrastinated.

I apologize sometimes to spare someone’s feelings, “I’m sorry, but I have to go.”

I say “I’m sorry” as an imprecise verbal filler, as in “I’m sorry to tell you this, but your skirt is tucked into your tights.”

I have said, “I’m sorry to have to ask… “ “I’m sorry you were caught in the middle of that… “ “I’m sorry to be a bother….”

I’ve had to stop myself from starting emails with “I’m sorry, but…” as a buffer to break bad news.

Maybe apologizing is an effort to be perfect. Often these words simply come out of my mouth because I don’t want to cause offense and I fear falling out of people’s favor.

Alternatively, we’ve all heard the “non-apology” apology. “I’m sorry IF you were offended…”

Then there are the insincere apologies of children, the sarcastic “I’m ssooorrrrryy,” we force them to make to classmates or siblings. But if I say I’m sorry and I’m really not, isn’t that the same thing?

Why have I been doing this all these years? Can it really be that I am afraid of offending people? That I’m afraid of what people may think of me if I offend them, even unintentionally? Yes. And yes. There it is. Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that I should be a little braver in my everyday life. That I should stand up for my true feelings instead of acting and reacting the way that I think people expect me to. Or in a way that risks putting me in disfavor.

I’m sorry that I’ve been saying “I’m sorry” all these years without giving it a second thought. Now when I find myself composing an email and I have more time for reflection, I delete the words “I’m sorry” from the beginning of an email. And in speaking to people, I’ve stopped myself from saying, “I’m sorry” when it’s not appropriate.

If I only say I’m sorry for things that I am truly sorry for, doesn’t that make my apologies more sincere and meaningful?

I would like to try the tactic of replacing the words “thank you” for “sorry,” as the comic artist Yao Xiao illustrates in her comic strip Baopu #15. She suggests, for instance, instead of apologizing for being late, say “thank you for waiting for me” or when you feel like you’re rambling, not to apologize but to thank the person who is listening to you. It’s a subtle verbal shift in words, but a seismic mental one.

I am not sorry about not saying sorry any more.

 

Brenda van Dyck is an occasional guest blogger on WordSisters. To learn more about her or our other guest bloggers, click on Guests above.

Uncomfortable in My Own Skin

A few weeks ago while in Kauai, I was reminded of events that happened during two previous visits, episodes that made me aware that I may be freer to walk in the world, because I’m white and middle-class.

During my first trip, I had an afternoon free before I had to return the rental car and fly home. I wanted to spend my last few hours in paradise at the beach. However, checkout was 11:00 a.m. I had to turn in my keys and couldn’t use the chaise lounges at the resort condos where I’d been staying.

A nearby resort routinely put out a slew of chaises on their lawn overlooking the beach. Guests didn’t have to check out chairs. I figured I could blend in with actual guests and hang out there for a few hours. I looked the part of a paying customer—I was wearing clean clothes and had a backpack, towel, and an iPad. Not the profile for a homeless person.

It was a small gamble. Who would wonder about a middle-class white lady? Turns out, no one.

Another time in Kauai, I went for a long walk to Shipwreck Beach. Along the way I enjoyed the red and yellow hibiscus, hot pink bougainvillea, and orange bird of paradise blooming in the resort gardens I passed.

On my way back, I was in full broiling sun and the walk began to seem more oppressive than fun. I could feel myself getting seriously overheated. So I decided to take a break in the air-conditioned lobby of a nearby hotel. Again, I hoped to blend in. The desk clerk smiled and nodded to me. She probably thought I was waiting for someone. After 15 minutes or so, I had cooled down enough to leave the hotel and continue on my trek.

In each case, I wasn’t bothering anyone, but I was trespassing. Perhaps that’s why I started to speculate—would I have been treated as nicely if I were a black or Latina woman? Would somebody have asked, “Can I help you?” with the imperious tone that really means, “What are you doing here?”

 

When It’s Your Children, Your School. Rumor of Threat.

Without much reaction, I read the email from Steve Unowsky, Superintendent of Richfield Schools. I figured his email was a patterned response to the Florida shootings, stating the school takes all threats seriously.

Immediately after I received a text from Juan Jose’.

Did you guys get an email from school?

Yes. About your safety.

Yeah. I’m not sure what it says on the email.

 His text compelled me to read Unowsky’s email closer. I sat upright. My senses now on high alert. Email came at 9:30.

I wasn’t alarmed because of my experience with the Richfield school district and the Richfield police department. I trusted that the school and police department had matters in hand and that the safest place for Juan Jose’ and Crystel was to remain in school.

On many occasions, I’ve interacted with school administrators because of concerns for my own children or other children. At times, I’ve asked them to intervene and have a conversation with Juan Jose’ or Crystel, or to check in on another student that might be struggling. There are times I’ve been an advocate for my children and at times, against my children’s wishes, a proponent for Richfield schools.

Richfield administrators have regarded my concerns seriously and with empathy.

Jody, Coach Marty, Beth

Jody and I also volunteer at many school events and have been active in Juan Jose’s and Crystel’s sport activities. This has allowed us more occasions to interact with teachers, coaches, and school officials.

As an active volunteer police reserve officer for over ten years, I trust our police department and the men and women who serve.

Even so, I imagined something happening, not today, but in the future in Juan Jose’s classroom. Tears welled up. Stop it, Beth, I told myself. That’s not what is happening now.

I continued my text: If anything ever happens let me and Mama Jody know. We can go home and put on our police reserve uniforms and be near the school. I’ll forward Unowsky’s email to you.

He responded: Kids are leaving school because of the email. Parents are just pulling them out.

It felt important to keep Juan Jose’ and Crystel in school. To trust what I knew that I could trust. My experience with Richfield schools and the Richfield police. I don’t think we need to do that. It’s just a message saying they are on alert. I sent you the email.

I got it. I heard a couple of people saying their parents want them to go home.

 You’re okay. They are just checking out rumors.

 I know. Just checking in.

I sent a heart emoji. If we get a call out to be a presence around the school, I’ll let you know.

 Okay. Thumbs up emoji.

 Just read this email. I agree. Jody texted.

 A little later Juan Jose’ texted: Everyone is freaking out. I’m like the only one who’s not.

I didn’t want other students to see Juan Jose’ and Crystel leaving. They know their moms are in police reserves. When Jody and I are at school events, we are also watching over their kids. Please tell your sister. There is nothing to worry about. If there is Mama Jody and I will come to the school.

 Okay but I never see Crystel.

Send her a text. It is helpful being a part of the police department. And Mama Jody and I are. Mama Jody and I even have patrol tonight. 

 Okay.

 Jody texted. We just got an update from Unowsky that basically confirms decision to stay at school. I forward to you.

Juan texted: There’s a few people who have just left class.

A little later, Everyone left. He sent a photo.

 Woah. Not you, though. I texted.

Ya smiley face emoji. I was proud of him.

I’ll pick you after school, I said.

Crystel and Juan Jose’ playing games on McGruff (me).

That evening volunteering as police reserve officers, Jody and I spent time being a presence at the Richfield middle school dance and at the High School for the girls’ senior night basketball game. Both events were mellow and low key.

I continue to trust the Richfield schools and the Richfield police department.

Because, I trust you and me. We are the police. We are the school. We are the community.