Paris, Art and Holy Ground

Last night, I went to the theater with two of my oldest and dearest friends and two of our children.  We arrived at the restaurant we had agreed upon for a pre-show dinner, Paris unspoken (as the children present varied in age and need/appropriateness of information that could be shared) but heavy on our hearts.  A phone was discreetly lifted, revealing a rising body count.  We swallowed our sorrow, but I know we all we carried it into the theater with us later.

The musical we attended provided moments of transcendence, moments where I forgot what was happening outside the walls of our shared space, as good theater often does.  We laughed riotously with the audience at times, sat somber in other moments, and at intermission, the cell phones powered back on, were brought back to the jarring reality that is the co-mingling of grief and also joy in the present moment.

Half a world away another audience had gathered in another theater to share in the collective experience of live art at a concert.  As I drove home, safe in the comfort of my car with my son lost in his book in the backside, I finally let the tears fall, thinking of the more than hundred vibrant lives that wouldn’t make it home from that other theater halfway around the world. 

It felt like an attack on holy ground.  There is something otherworldly about a concert, a play, a symphony, something extra that happens when a small group of humans gather together to collectively experience the transformative magic of creativity expressed.  Out loud.  Live.  There is a palpable energy in a concert, a moment when voices are raised together and you swear that maybe your heartbeats are in sync with your tapping feet.  There is a moment at the symphony where the instruments swells and you think your heart might burst from swelling alongside it.  There is a moment when a performer is storytelling the truth onstage in such a vulnerable way that you remember that we are all connected.  That we are sharing this human experience.  That we belong to each other. 

So I’m not surprised that those who wish to terrorize and destroy life would deliberately choose to attack those committed to living creatively.  Living collectively.  Embracing the tenacious and vulnerable and diverse expressions of humanity.  I’m not surprised they would choose a place where humans are gathered to celebrate the beautiful source of creativity within us, no matter how we choose to define that source.  It’s perhaps the closest thing we have to a church that embraces all of humanity.

 But I am devastated and a part of me is worried.  Worried that we will continue to slowly pull back from collective human experiences.  That we will continue to retreat into ourselves, our private spaces, our safe homes in order to protect ourselves.   That we will continue to qualify and categorize humans into groups, easily identifiable good guys and bad guys, so we can have answers now.   I am fearful that the easy answers, the ones that come wrapped up in pretty paper with a bow on top, the ones that promise swift and thorough solutions to the world’s most ancient and complex problems will win out over the hard answers.  The complicated answers.   The answers that require much more than the course of one lifetime. 

There was a moment last night when my friend commented that he just wanted to get on a plane to Paris.  I knew the feeling well.  When we are confronted by unspeakable tragedy, we want to help.  We want to do something, even if we have no clue what that something is.  I see the collective prayers, love, light and energy being sent out to the city of Paris from around the world and I have to believe that is something.  I see the lines of people in the streets of Paris waiting to give blood and am reminded that there are tangible action pieces we can take. 

But it’s more than that, more than the desire to help.  I think we also desire to be there to simply mourn alongside those who are suffering.   To remind us that they are our own brothers and sisters.

So we will do just, mourn alongside Paris.  But I think there is one more thing we can do, all of us.  We can keep creating.  Keep sharing creative space with other humans.  We can keep making our art and playing our music and writing our books.  We can go to a play and laugh generously.  We can attend a concert and sing way too loudly.  Dance with abandon.  Look at the people standing next to us, look them in the eye and see ourselves reflected in them and them reflected in us.  We can renew our commitment to participating in this thing that helps define us as humans, our desire to make something with the lives we have been given. 

 I am hopeful that we will do just that.  In the immediate hours following the breaking of this news, this illustration began to circulate on social media, and it was followed quickly by many others.   Thank you Jean Jullien for your work, for reminding us to respond to violence with creation, to despair with hope. 

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It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all its tainted glory, and still love it.”  – Oscar Wilde

Let’s be courageous together.  For Paris.




I’ll Have a Peppermint Mocha With a Side of Outrage

This morning a news article popped up on my Facebook timeline about how people are upset about Starbuck’s 2015 Red Cup design.  Like a total Internet dummy, I clicked on that link.

There I was confronted with my first “War on Christmas” faux outrage article of the year.  And it’s only November 6th.

In a nutshell, some people are upset about Starbuck’s cup design because it is plain red, and does not feature any seasonal decor.  Look, I hear you, to a point.  The cup is kind of boring.  I imagine this is how the graphic design meeting went down.

Red Cup Designer 1: Hey, I’ve got an idea!  Let’s make the Red Cup red this year.  Just red.
Red Cup Designer 2:  We can’t do that!  We can’t just have a plain red cup! You’re an idiot.
Red Cup Designer 1:  Hmmm.  You make a good point.  Two shades of red?
Red Cup Designer 2:  Brilliant.  You’re a genius.

source: Starbucks.com

But to turn this into some kind of battle in the so-called War on Christmas because the cup is missing its usual (secular) holiday graphic snowman is just lunacy.

Every year when this debate rears its head, memories of my childhood float to the surface.  I remember the greeting cards from relatives that said “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” and I also remember no one being offended by them in the least.   But memory is a capricious historian, so I did a little digging.

Last month, the Wentzville Community Club held an event celebrating the town’s anniversary and it featured a plethora of memorabilia from clothing to washboards, from old toys to newspapers.  The newspapers were my favorite part.  I flipped through articles written in the 1950s and marveled over the commonalities to themes our town still faces today, like funding for the school district in a growing community.  But things got really interesting when I stumbled upon the papers released near Christmas.  Page after page of the paper featured paid advertising from companies all over town, many wishing newspaper patrons “Merry Christmas” and many others wishing “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” or “Holiday Cheer.”

Just look at those ads.  Talk about a war on Christmas!  It’s no wonder Kelley’s Beauty Shop is nowhere to be found in Wentzville these days.  I’m sure that Kelley was run straight out of business after she featured that heathen child holding a stocking. 

This one is the most confusing of all.   First it says “Happy Holidays” but later it mentions Christmas, then it references the Pagan holiday Yule but there are angels decorating the tree which makes it unclear if that tree is a Christmas tree or a Yule tree and the babies are naked.  How do we know if we are supposed to be offended or delighted?

The ads went on for pages.  It was immediately clear to me why the streets were filled with angry mobs demanding an abolishment of the words “Happy Holidays” in the 1950s.

Oh, wait.  No, no they weren’t.

It turns out that outside of one pamphlet released by a communist conspiracy group, most people in the 1950s were able to view these egregious advertisements and instead of feeling offense feel … joy?

Crazy, right?

They saw words of merriment where today we see words of political agenda.  They gladly accepted their neighbor’s wishes of joy instead of ascribing malicious intent.   In short, they behaved like rational grown-ups.

Every year, writer Rachel Held Evans posts this very useful graphic to help you determine whether or not you are being persecuted during the holiday season:

Source: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/holidays-persecuted

Because the truth is, there are very real examples of religious persecution happening in this world every single day.

Being handed a plain red cup at Starbucks is not one of them.

Here’s the bottom line.  We can either accept one another’s holiday wishes in any form with gratitude, or we can dismiss them because they don’t meet our expectations of what should be said.

When we choose the former, we are reminded that for the most part, people mean well with their words and actions.

When we choose the latter, we must accept the fact that we are the only ones taking the Merry out of our own Christmas.

And if you still can’t move on, draw your own snowman on your Starbuck’s cup. 

Refugees Welcome


We’d been on the road for an hour.  I’m not even sure it qualified as a road actually, it was more of a bumpy, dirt-trodden path, and with every twist and turn I felt the familiar lurch of motion sickness and silently wondered when we would stop.  I held back my request to move to the front seat.  I was here to learn, to volunteer.  I was among the privileged and was embarrassed by my own trivial concerns.  Surely I could stomach a little nausea.  I looked back out the window like they always say to do.


We pulled up to the small, isolated fishing village thirty minutes later, our backpacks stuffed with trinkets for the kids and our arms full with heavy bags of rice and beans.  

“Maybe you could help out this mama,” someone suggested as we approached one of the huts. “She has a two week old baby and is struggling to nurse him.” 

Walking in the front door, I mentally prepared myself to go through the lactation counselor motions, check the latch, the suck, the tongue for a tongue-tie.  Ask about wet and soiled diapers and nursing patterns.  I was new to the field, but had already amassed a naive confidence in the ability of the breastfeeding mama to overcome most obstacles in her path.  

Until I met her.   

I watched her put her tiny, newborn baby to her breast, perfectly latched, desperately sucking.  Their combined weight could not have been more than a hundred pounds.  In her kitchen area was a hanging basket with a tomato and an onion.  It was the last available food in her house.  The beans and rice we brought would last her until next weekend.   

She didn’t have a breastfeeding problem.  She had a hunger problem.  I was completely impotent in the face of her struggle.  There was no amount of on-demand feeding or finger training that would turn this around.  I said a prayer of thanks for the formula that was in the van, held her hand and told her that her baby was beautiful.  He was, beautiful.   

I didn’t share this story with many people when I returned home, but was met by a similar response each time that I did.  “Didn’t you just want to take that baby with you?”  

No.

I wanted to take the mama with me.  I wanted to find a way bring her and her child to a place that could offer more than a bag of rice and beans, more than the economic opportunities of a washed-out fishing village, an hour and a half outside of the drug cartel violence of the border town many of the village’s members had already fled.  I flew home to my own beautiful baby boy, abundantly fed and privileged to have been born on the soil of a country only a hundred miles away from this other world, where homes were built on landfills.  Where a few years after my visit, 72 bodies of drug cartel victims would be found in those landfills.  

Before that trip, in my previous work I got to meet the families who left, who found a way out of economic despair, or a political crisis, or in some cases, violence that threatened their cities and lives.  Most of these families were considered immigrants, though a few qualified as refugees.  It is important to make that distinction because while we also have a migrant crisis, international law says that countries have a specific responsibility to protect refugees.  I saw first-hand how there is sometimes a fine line between the two, how the difference between fleeing a violent drug cartel and fleeing a war results in different opportunities, and, in this country at least, a different reception.  I wonder if our long and complicated history with immigration informs our attitudes towards to refugees, anesthetizing us to their plight, stripping us of our shared humanity.

Fortunately, in our line of work, the distinctions didn’t matter.  The families welcomed me into their homes and lives, feeding me and sharing their struggles and victories in acclimating to their new home.  There were times when I wondered what they must have left behind to come and live packed into one bedroom apartments with extended families, in communities that were not always welcoming, overcoming language barriers and bureaucratic obstacles to create a new life.  I would go home and hold my newborn baby and wonder what kind of conditions it would take for me to leave everything I had ever known, strap my baby to my back and cross a dangerous river, or get on that boat, or climb in that truck and run.  Extreme hunger?  A war?  A community overrun by violence?  

Yes.  To all of those things.  I would flee for my child.  And likely you would too. 

“no one leaves home unless 
home is the mouth of a shark 
you only run for the border 
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.”
– Warsan Shire, continued here…


You only leave home when home won’t let you stay.

I thought of that little baby boy yesterday when I read the stories about Aylan.  When I shared in the collective weeping over his image, and read his dad’s heartbreaking words.  I wondered where he is now.  I wonder if they too fled.  I wonder if he and his mama made it.  I wonder where it even is.  

I watched the news pour in yesterday and I did what I always do when I am overcome by sadness.  I looked for the helpers (and there are so many helpers) and then I took the small steps I could to become one.  I made donations, I shared on my tiny platform, I followed up with the local refugee agency I’ll be volunteering with this year.

It never feels like enough.  

It’s not enough.  

The response to this crisis has to come from us all.  We have to find the courage to turn our collective tears into collective action.  


And sometimes, standing on this privileged soil, this soil I was simply lucky to be born on, that can feel impossible.  While citizens of Iceland and Germany push back at their governments, offering up their homes to refugees if their leaders will allow more people to come, we listen to presidential candidates yell about who can build a bigger wall around our country and what type of weaponry will flank that wall.  While others around the world attempt to use their collective force for good, we are on social media talking about Force Friday, using our collective wealth to purchase more toys we don’t need.  We, a nation of immigrants and refugees, make the argument with each new generation that America is done growing now, that it’s time to close up shop.  That it’s essentially time to remove the famous plaque from inside the Statue of Liberty.  That this generation constitutes the real America.  No more room at the inn.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

I’ve said before that I don’t have a single political or militaristic solution to the crisis in Syria or the threat of ISIS.  I still don’t.

But I’m going to keep talking about refugees and immigrants.  I’m going to keep asking that you join me in this conversation.  I’m going to keep asking that you take one small step today to help.  Make a donation to one of the many organizations with people on the ground trying to bring food, resources, medical supplies and support to refugee camps.  Call your representatives and ask them to raise the quota on Syrian refugees from 8,000 to something higher, something that makes a dent in the three million Syrian refugees that exist today.  Contact your local agencies for immigrants and refugees and find out how you can help those already here.  

I’ll include links at the bottom of this post.  

Please join me.  

Five Practical Ways to Help

The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR)


Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) International, or Doctors Without Borders

International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS)

Refugees Welcome


Refugee Legislation

St. Louis local?  Check out these resources:

Immigrant & Refugee Women’s Program

International Institute

 

Redefining Optimism

About a month ago, I sat down in a university auditorium with several hundred thirty-something year old women including my own teenage bestie to listen to my favorite childhood author, Judy Blume, speak about her new novel and writing process.

I might as well have been a eleven-year-old girl at a One Direction concert.

I took surreptitious pictures from the audience, choked back tears as she spoke, refrained myself from jumping out of my seat when she answered the question I had submitted, and could barely contain the shaking in my hands as I waited in line to meet her afterward.

Please read the rest of this post over at Mamalode … 

Let It Come In Waves

“Mama,” he repeats, over and over, as he presses his body closer to mine. He speaks my name like an inquiry, like he’s trying it out to see if it still fits.

I wonder if the days of “mama” are numbered, if soon I’ll become “mom” to my youngest just as I did to my oldest. I wonder if he senses this too.

I continue reading aloud, running my hand through his wavy hair, remembering the ringlets of his toddlerhood. He has an undercut now, and likes to style the top in a mohawk with blue hair gel. He says he wants a man bun. 

This piece is published in its entirety at Mamalode.  Please continue reading here

The Speed of Summer

Every year around this time a huge red and white tent is erected on the corner of the county highways that intersect near my house.  Every year I think the same thing, “It’s awfully early for fireworks, isn’t it?” And every year, it dawns on me that it is already the middle of June, that it is in fact not too early for fireworks to be on sale, and that time is a capricious tease.

I swear the Earth actually speeds up its trajectory around the sun in summer, and that its maddening pace can only be felt by those over the age of eighteen.

All of the old adages about time creep to the front of my mind.  It gets faster every year.  Don’t blink.  Carpe diem. The days are long but the years are short.  And the thing is, they are all frustratingly true.  No amount of eye rolling in our younger years can prevent the truth behind these words from catching up with us down the road.  

There’s a large poster affixed to our refrigerator door that says, “Before You Say You’re Bored, Have You Considered…” and goes on to list dozens of activities the boys thought up for the long summer days ahead.  I, on the other hand, cannot remember the last time I’ve uttered the phrase “I’m bored.”  We wake up each morning and stare down the same 24 hours, yet we view the hours through such different lenses, me and my children.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to see the hours through the eyes of a child again.

But I do know one secret to slowing down time.
I do know one small trick that stops the Earth in its tracks.

Be present. 
Being as present as humanly possible slows the march of time.

Be right where you are. 

Be with the people you are with.

Engage your senses in the task at hand.

Aiming for attentiveness in a world of distractions is not an easy task, but it is a worthwhile one, and its rewards are so sweet.
  

The smell of the vines on your tomato plant while you pull weeds.

The taste of rain as it falls from the sky.

The sweetness of mint chip for lunch.

  The icy cold shock of the deep end in June.


The sound of a band that makes you get up and bust a move.

The way you get lost in the pages of a book.

The freckles on a sun-kissed, sleeping face, waiting to be counted.

The sound of the ice cream truck through your kitchen window as you chop vegetables for dinner.

The warm sun on your arms as you sit in traffic.

The friend’s voice on the other end of a long-distance call.

The goodbye kiss on the way to work, and the welcome home embrace at the end of a day.
We can’t add hours to our days, but we can add life to our hours.  We just have to pay attention.  And this is the extent of my summer bucket list this year:  Be present.

“Ten times a day something happens to me like this – some strengthening throb of amazement – some good sweet empathic ping and swell.  This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.” – Mary Oliver 
 

On Becoming Safe Places


“It seems like we need more Safe Places than just a couple of gas stations.”

My ten year old’s eyebrows furrow the way they do when he is trying to reconcile a perceived wrong.  I follow his gaze to the sticker on the gas station window.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Bite down hard on my bottom lip to keep the tears from coming.  I’m not ready to explain all of the things that I know about this life to my child.  I’m not ready to explain how much I don’t know.  He’s only ten.  

But he’ll be eleven soon.  A middle schooler.  A tween, whatever that is supposed to mean.  The librarian had the audacity to hand him the Teen Summer Reading Program sheet.  Time marches forward no matter how loud we protest.

So, I’m not about to lie either.  He’s too old for false reassurances about abundant imaginary safe places.  

“Yes, yes it really does,” I respond.  

And I ask him what he thinks a Safe Place is for, and he already knows, and we talk awhile about how to be a safe place for the people we love, in all contexts.

That was just last week.  

This week I was reminded how true his young words are.

Yesterday, Vanity Fair released an article on Caitlyn Jenner.  Within my small circle of friends online and in real life, the response was overwhelmingly affirming.  When the article was shared, the comments were about her bravery or her beauty, or gratitude for living in a time and space where we can celebrate someone’s choice to live authentically.

But today, some other responses slipped into my online world.  Someone’s “like” of an article clearly written from a place of fear, someone else’s comment on a small-minded attack.  

And the first thing I thought of when I saw these remarks was my ten year old son.  And in that moment, these people I know, and in some cases know and love, became unsafe places.  

Because when Caitlyn Jenner says  “I’m not doing this to be interesting.  I’m doing this to live,” I believe her.  I don’t know what it is to be transgender, but I do know what it feels like to carry some part of ourselves that is difficult to reconcile with what is asked of us by this world, or by our smaller communities or even our own families.  And I know many of you do too.  When this happens, we are left with some difficult choices.

We can choose to repress or hide or attempt to eliminate a part of our being.  Some of us make this choice every day, and die a slow emotional death as a result.  

Some of us choose addiction.  We choose to numb the pain of living a lie.  Some of us have stood on the other side of addiction and watched someone we love disappear even as they stand in our physical presence.

Some of us drown.  Some of us cannot find a lifeboat and we choose to leave this world and the people we love behind.  Even more devastating, some choose to take someone else along when they go.  

These are the tragic choices.  These are the choices of those who cannot find a way out.  Sometimes these are the choices of those who simply cannot find a safe place.

And then there are the Caitlyn Jenners.  They are the ones who are able to find a lifeboat, grab on for dear life, and paddle to shore, even if it means living differently than everyone around them.  The Caitlyns, they survive.  They get to live.  And some of them shine brightly enough to become a lighthouse to those who are still trying to find their way to the shore.  I’m so damn grateful for the Caitlyns.

I know that those of us who pontificate on the Internet are not in the business of changing hearts and minds online.  I know that those of you who agree with me are shaking your heads and saying, yes, yes to all of this.  I know that those of you who don’t, if you are even still reading, are shaking your heads and saying, no, you are so very wrong.  I know that some of you clicked unfollow before you even opened this link.  

All of that is fine with me.   I’m not writing this for any of those reasons. 

I’m writing this for that one friend, that one family member, that niece or nephew, that cousin, that aunt, uncle, next-door neighbor, lifelong friend, high school acquaintance, mom from my son’s baseball team, friend I met on Instagram, I’m writing this for my sons, my husband, my own parents, for any and all of my people that need to hear this.  I’m writing this for you.

I want you to know that I am a safe place for you.

If you need to talk to someone, I will listen to every word. 

I will not pretend to understand exactly what you are going through.  

I will not attempt to give you advice.  

But I will listen to your story, and I will believe you.

And if you are ready to swim to shore and live a different life, a life that you have always known you were meant to live, I will be there waiting to celebrate with you.  

Joining Ranks With the Sisterhood


“Kids Have Surprising Results If Mom Works Outside the Home”

“Wealthy Moms Receiving Wife Bonuses for Raising Families”
These are the headlines this week.  They are the headlines every week, the words simply rearranged, a different study found in the footnotes, a variation on last week’s vitriol in the comment section.
I’m not here to talk about these headlines, not this week or next week or the week after. 
I’m here to make a promise to you:  I won’t ever use this blog as a platform to participate in the media-driven mommy wars while there are actual wars on mothers and their children.  
I won’t use this platform to debate the merits of choices we are privileged to even make when a woman like Sozan has to choose which children to bring in a shipping container that doesn’t have room to carry them all to an uncertain future where their safety is not guaranteed.  
Sure, I’ll talk about parenting, and share my own struggles and tiny victories.   I’ll use my voice to speak up when our freedom to make choices is threatened, but I won’t use this platform or my mental energy to decry a loving and intentional parenting choice that is different from my own when there are thousands of children without a parent to make any choices on their behalf at all.   
I want to have a different conversation about women, with women, for women, and I know that a great many of you do to.  I want to have a conversation about what is possible when we refuse to participate in an orchestrated argument with one another and instead reach out and boldly declare that we belong to each other.  I want to talk about what is possible when we come together to use our talents, our gifts, our resources, and our privilege to lift up women here and abroad.  Because the truth is, if we have any energy left at the end of the day to fight with a stranger on the Internet about breastfeeding or sleeping arrangements, we are coming from a place of privilege and that privilege can be squandered or it can be gifted right back to the sisterhood of mothers.  
This week, there is a particular struggle that is weighing heavily on me.  I read the piece linked above about Sozan yesterday, and if you haven’t read it, I encourage you to take a moment to do so now.  It’s written as an open letter to the North American (Christian) Church, and while I certainly believe that the church is an appropriate recipient of these words, I also believe that Sozan’s story and the stories of thousands of people and families murdered and displaced by ISIS are for everyone to hear.  
I don’t have a single political or militaristic solution for the escalating violence in Iraq.  Not one.  But I keep coming back to the same place I always do in times of violent conflict in this world.  I keep coming back to those who fled, those who declared through their furtive and terrifying escapes that they want no part of this terror, that they want to live, that they want to see their children survive.  I may not know what to say when I call my representatives about how to intervene in conflict, but I know that I will plead on behalf of the refugees.   
If you have read this far and want to take action on this particular issue, I’ll include some additional resources and organizations to consider supporting at the end of this post.  There are many more out there, and many people more knowledgeable than myself on this issue.  Please share your resources, I’m listening.   I will also include the contact information for your representatives, as well as information about current legislation impacting refugees.  
I want to say one more thing.  I’m asking you to consider donating to women in desperate situations but I understand that you might not have extra money in your own bank account.  I get it.  Our family lives on one income, follows a tight budget, and doesn’t have a lot left over at the end of the pay period either.  But yet, I spend money every day.  I spend money on groceries or utilities, I spend it with every shower I take, every sprinkler I run, every time I fill my gas tank.  I spend some of that money with little thought to the opportunity cost, and I’m challenging myself to really think about that.  I can pass on a new swimsuit this year so another mother can dream of a better future.  I can let my yard go a little brown as my sprinkler sits dormant so another child can get access to fresh drinking water.  
I’ve spent the last few months letting go of material possessions that brought little meaning to my life.  When I mentally add up the cost of it all … I can’t finish typing this sentence without crying.  It guts me to think what that money could have done.  
I’m hopeful when I think of what it can still do.
So this is it, the only type of mommy war I’m willing to engage in.  I’ll speak for my sisters whose voices are silenced, and I’ll advocate for children who don’t have parents to make choices for them.  I’ll support women who are trying to build a better future for their families.  Because the mommy wars?  They’ve got enough foot soldiers.  I’m joining ranks with the sisterhood.   I hope you’ll join me.
Additional Resources: 

The UN Refugee Agency

Refugee Legislation

How Grover Cleveland Got His Banjo

For the last few months,  I’ve written a lot about the stuff that is leaving my home, why, and where it is going. 

Over that same time period, I’ve noticed a trend occurring.  Anytime one of my friends invites me over (okay, anytime I invite myself over to a friend’s house), they preface the invitation with an explanation of how messy their home is.  I think some of you might be envisioning my recently de-cluttered space as a lot more pristine than it actually is, so today I want to clear the air about a couple of things.

1.  My house gets messy too. 

Seriously messy.  Every single day.  This house is lived in.  We learn, play, eat, sleep and dream in this house, and that means that on any given day, we use a lot of stuff.  It’s also not a big house, which means that we do all of those things in the same, multi-purpose area.  In addition, we have a dog whose favorite pastime is taking our dirty clothes or smelly shoes and decorating our furniture and backyard with them. One of our children still insists that he likes his room better messy, and I’m not fighting that battle (except on Fridays…I fight it a little on Fridays).   We also have a small obsession with our public library that leads to random piles of books on all surfaces of the house.  Just last night, Jason was clearing our table after dinner when he looked over at me and declared, “We’re weird.”

“What do you mean, we’re weird?” I asked, taking the bait.

He proceeded to show me the assortment of items he was cleaning off of our table:  several library books, a sign up sheet for a Yu-Gi-Oh tournament one of our boys created (complete with “official” member ID numbers), a jar of fake money, the latest iteration of a chore chart, three rocks absconded from a local creek bed, a postcard from a family in New Mexico that we don’t actually know, and a tiny banjo in a tiny banjo case.  And we had eaten dinner at that table without paying a bit of attention to any of those items. 

So friends, please don’t feel like you have to prepare me for the level of mess in your home.  Even if my home were truly minimalist and perfectly swiffered (which it’s not), you still would not owe me any explanation or apology for your home.  I love my friends for who they are, not how they keep house, or what they keep in their house.

Which brings me to the second thing I need to tell you.

2.  We still have stuff.  And a lot of it is… um… interesting.

Meet Grover Cleveland. Grover is our indoor garden gnome who recently became unemployed when he failed to manage his only task of keeping the succulents in our master bedroom alive.  Grover has been lonely and a bit despondent since he lost his job, so we decided to find him a new hobby.  Enter the tiny aforementioned tiny banjo.  We realize we could have just purchased him a new indoor plant to care for, but frankly, we’re not sure Grover is up to the task.

Sure, we may use poor Grover as an excuse for our own inability to keep our houseplants alive, but the truth is, Grover’s unlikely presence in our master bedroom brings us joy.  It’s illogical joy, but joy all the same, so he stays. I’ve said before that joy is subjective, and Grover Cleveland certainly illustrates that point.  I’m sure there are plenty of you thinking that a garden gnome in a master bedroom is the first thing that you’d get rid of, and that’s okay.  I’m not about to tell you what should bring you joy.  

Grover is not the only thing that made the cut.  

This, my friends, is a mantle fish.   You put this fish on your mantle and it keeps evil spirits away.  You probably want to know how you can get your hands on one of these.   Lucky for me, my husband makes them, but in very limited editions.  I know.  Back off ladies, he’s taken. 

There’s more.  We kept all of our musical instruments, piles of art supplies, a whole lot of Legos, two shelves worth of board games, an assortment of costumes for dress-up play, more hats than one family needs and a broken lawn mower.  We’ve still got some work to do, but for me, de-cluttering is not intended to be the end, but a means to an end.  For me, that end looks like creating a space that amplifies the values and interests and purposes of the members of my family.  At the end of the day, I’m not hoping to arrive at a truly minimal house without any possessions, but rather a house that is a place to grow and learn, to live and love, a house in which our possessions don’t possess us, a house that isn’t always clean, but when we do pick up the stuff, that stuff brings a smile to our face.  A house where friends and family are welcome to just drop in, even if I didn’t sweep that day or put away the rock collection.  A house in which a quiet little gnome like Grover Cleveland can be both a gardener and a renowned banjo player.   In other words, a home.  

So there you have it.  My home still gets messy, and it still holds some truly random stuff.  But moreover, I want you to know that I’m not comparing my home to yours.  This de-cluttering journey is really just an outward expression of my own set of issues, which I pour out on the internet mostly for your entertainment.  So friends, here’s my proposition:  no more apologizing for our homes.  I won’t apologize for Grover Cleveland or the bra you just sat on (thanks Hobbes) and you don’t apologize for the dishes or the dog hair.  Instead, we’ll just pour a cup of coffee (or open a beer, your choice) and enjoy each other’s company, which is really what matters most.