Saturday, May 27, 2017

Weekending


{Before}
{and there is no After}

Every year, I forget how the last day of school goes down.
They wake up spastic and funky, in a hurry, yet still asking for two waffles at 7:32 when they knew we're leaving at 7:33.

It's field day.
It's movie day.
It's help the teacher pack up her room day.

It's everything.

Every year, minutes before they arrive home at the end of the day, I wish I had done some Fun Mom sort of thing, maybe strung up a few streamers or rigged up an End of School paper plate banner. Something.

But I haven't and I didn't, so I committed to plan B, meeting them right at the door with whoops and hollers.

Only when I fling the door open, they are standing there sobbing.
Indeed, they have walked the three blocks home together, utterly bereft.
They cannot control their breathing.
They miss everyone.
They hate everything.
They want me to rub their backs then jerk away like true, emotional basket cases when I do.
Summer is the worst.

It's not that I can't relate. I cried myself into a low-grade asthma attack at the end of second grade, and I'm not even an asthmatic. My teacher was moving away, leaving our school forever without her perm and her perma-press knits. Dang, was she beautiful. She gave us each a photocopied form letter with only our name hand-written at the beginning and end. The last line had something to do with her great love for me because, "Shannan, you are YOU!" For years to come, if I wanted to make myself cry, I would pull it out and read it.

(Sometimes girls want to make ourselves cry.)
(It's our party, etc...)


So summer break is upon us, even though it's still chilly outside and we keep forgetting to plant our zinnias. We're making our plans, even if they're futile.
This is the promise of hope.

I'll be stocking up on toilet paper, cereal, and Spaghettios.
I'll pray for decent watermelons and we'll collect junk for a new sculpture.
I'll pretend we're going to make chalk pain and then we'll accidentally watch too much TV instead.

It's not even day one, so I'm not making promises. But I'm ready. For sleeping in! For books! For sea-glass hunting and milkshakes!

My comedy crush Melanie Dale says it all so well. I cackled in my bed reading her post this morning.

:: This Summer Will Be Different by Melanie Dale
"This summer I’m going to be Fun Mom. You know the one. She surprises her kids with trips to the movies and never minds holding everyone’s bags while they do the water slides at Six Flags. For bonus fun in the afternoons, she pulls out the old school Snoopy Snow Cone machine and her arm never gets tired cranking and cranking minuscule piles of shredded ice out of that thing."



Here are some other fun/interesting/gripping reads from my week:

::  I've carried his story with me for weeks.

::  I don't think anyone feels comfortable meeting someone in their grief. This might help.

::  I'm always trying to balance the artistic expression of social media with just living my life, no audience necessary. I loved this.

::  We all understand that Anthropologie is basically straight-crazy, right? But they have overpriced eye candy ON LOCK and this behind-the-scenes catalog shoot was so fun to read!

:: Ever wonder what it would be like to live in generational, American poverty? Read this.

::  This is the perfect antidote to the large-scale tomfoolery happening in this world.

::  I dare you to not watch this 1,000 times.

::  My friend Jerusalem Greer released a stunning book and I was among the first to read it! At Home in this Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises is a hopeful liturgy of endurance. It's the perfect summer read.

PS - Our teacher gifts were a jar of homemade jam (blueberry rhubarb or pineapple rhubarb,) a loaf of sourdough bread from Aldi, and a small bag of local coffee beans, along with a note. Each gift was around $6! You can find the "recipe" over at my Instagram account.

Happy Memorial Day weekend, Homies!
Invite someone lonely over for a cookout.

xo
Shannan


Thursday, May 25, 2017

Really Loving Anne (with an E)

Two nights ago, despite the fact that the air outside was the pitch-perfect shade of Spring, we opted to hunker down inside. Neighborhood living demands this sometimes, and we're learning to listen. I baked strawberry shortcake and we queued up the new Netflix series, "Anne With an E."

I began blogging almost ten years ago. From the gates, there were a few things I caught onto, here in this online subculture. Everyone was gaga about drinking coffee (and wine,) a surprising number of people were runners, and quoting lines from Anne of Green Gables served as a sly litmus test for friendship compatibility.

Not surprisingly, I failed at all three. I couldn't order a specialty coffee drink if my life depended on it, all wine smells the same to me (bad,) and the only things I knew about Anne were that she had red hair, was quirky and bookish, and tossed around the phrase "kindred spirit."

When Ruby and I attended the high school performance of the play last year, she spent the two hours utterly transfixed while I spent them spackling the holes in my Anne deficiency with newfound context. Anne was an orphan. She was adopted by an older brother/sister duo, and she had a classic love/hate romantic interest named Gilbert. I still had a lot of catching up to do.

Netflix's "Anne with an E" stopped me in my tracks just a few moments in. I wasn't in full-journalistic mode (yet,) so I'm paraphrasing here, but she says something along the lines of, "I have never had cause to belong to someone."

This is the language of my heart, this desperate longing to be known, to be chosen, to be seen and valued. This is the unspoken pulse shuffling down my streets. It knocks at my door. It rattles in its cell. It calls me up after dark and during the most inconvenient hours of my workday. I know this pain, mostly secondhand. I could pluck its voice from a crowd.

Anne had my attention.

We continued watching, Calvin and Ruby rapt on either side of me. Through flashbacks of abuse, gut-wrenching sobs, tension tight as a cello's bow, I was grateful for a family-friendly show that didn't dodge the realities of trauma. I was beginning to understand the appeal, and surprised I'd never known the depth of the story.

Later I learned about the ire the adaptation is drawing, Anne's loyal fans in full despair that the show has taken a darker turn than the original. I'm in no position to draw comparisons or critique the remake. All I can tell you is that I exhaled. Finally. My heart, its resting state always at least half on-edge for the lonely and the suffering, snapped awake with hope. I felt a certain kinship with the droves of women who have held this story to their chests. Maybe we were kindred spirits all along, and I just hadn't known.

I took notes as we rode along in the horse-drawn wagon with Anne and Matthew, their hopefulness electric for different reasons. Anne imagines a future whose luck has finally turned. She's about to cash in on every injustice the world has dealt her. At last, she is wanted. Someone came for her. She will be loved. "Home," she sighs. "What a wonderful word."


This is what we come for, right? This is why we're here, to watch this lush Canadian unfolding of a wholesome, newborn family, before our tender eyes.

We want it, but only from a safe distance.

Why? Why does our compassion for the orphan, the poor, the difficult, the cast-out, so often meets its capacity before we've crossed over from hypothetical to real-life messy? How can we root for Anne, cry real tears for her, love her with our whole hearts, dream about sharing her with our daughters one day, yet be so disinclined to invite her into our actual homes?

I know so many Annes with an E.
We all do.

This morning I drove an Anne to a church food pantry downtown. I stood awkwardly at the periphery, twitchy-skinned from my nearness to her need. I watched as she was kindly told she could take two items from each bin - two boxes of off-brand spaghetti, two cans of tuna, two boxes of rice, two cans of peas. She moved haltingly, hesitant to accept all that was offered. She made eye contact, thanked the older woman profusely, attempted small talk. I watched and waited, trying not to feel too much.

I know an Anne who gets four hours of free time every week, but has no where to spend it. "You're the only sober people I know," she told me once, shrugging her shoulders.

I know an Anne who is sixty-five years old, and needs the occasional comfort of chaos like she needs blood pressure meds and air.

I know Annes with no teeth who smile anyway. I know Annes with tattooed necks and shredded confidence. I know Annes desperate for affordable housing, desperate for a job, desperate for someone to understand who they have been and love them anyway.

I know so many Annes who fold in on themselves, dreaming up a new narrative because the real one scorched their long-term memory and they're scared to death of remembering. Their lake of shining waters is an income tax return, a debt finally paid, the baby growing in their uterus despite everyone saying they aren't ready, they'll never be ready, they won't do right by that baby.

They wrap themselves in name-brand shirts and pretend to be kings. They choose new names because the one they were given has never been enough, never served them well.

The Annes I love lash out with their words sometimes, but we don't applaud their resilience. We don't admire their quick wit or commend their courage. We call them crazy, not whimsical. They're disrespectful, not "sassy."

"You can't make up a family. Only kin is kin," Marilla Cuthbert tells Anne upon her mistaken arrival. Anne already knows better. We all know better. We know how this story will end, and we cheer from under our Target throws, under our mortgaged roofs. Our hand hovers salty over the popcorn bowl and we smile. We watch Anne's family unfold, transfixed. Marilla has no idea! we think. She's so wrong!

But is she?

Is she wrong enough that we will prove it?

I think we will. The biggest change is often measures in fractions, in blinks. It's long in the making and I'm encouraged. I read your emails and hear your stories. "What do we do?"  you ask. "Where do we start?"

We start right here, wherever our feet are standing. We start right now.
We swallow Anne's raw backstory and begin to understand we can do that for anyone. We walk toward her discomfort, admitting along the way that maybe we ourselves are not "fine" after all. Not by a mile.

And then it gets even better.

Because if our hearts can ache for a literary heroine with wounds that reach the depths of despair, we can bleed for the heroes living just past our line of vision. If we can wait with anticipation for Marilla to come around to authentic love and unconditional acceptance, we can find those in our midst lacking both and offer them with open hands.

I'm only on the first episode, but my hunch is that this is no ordinary orphan tale, where Anne is the spit-shined project and the scales lurch off-center. I'm guessing the Cuthberts bear a burden of gratitude equal to Anne's, in it for the long haul, love unending. I know this in living color.

If we think God is above tending to our souls through the glare of our TV screens, we are underestimating him. He will do whatever it takes, the earth, the air, the streaming and electric all firmly beneath his feet.

He wants nothing more than to bless us, and he tells us how it will all go down. Poor, needy, sad, and humble. We will be blessed. Hungry, angsting, lavishing mercy. We will be blessed. Pure of heart. Dissatisfied with status quo. Exhausting our bodies for the sake of peace. We will be blessed.

We will be blessed as we learn to love those he loves.
We will be blessed as we trade our treasures and pay attention to what (and who) makes us cry.

It's in us, I know it is. You can't convince me otherwise.

All that's left to do is find our unsuspecting Anne out in her howling wilderness and choose it all, the tension, the practiced defenses, the inconveniences, the knotted roots, the mud, and the rain that sweeps it away.

"What is your name?" we will ask.
"What does it matter?" she'll counter.

This will be our moment, the one where we cross over, climbing into the drama and heartbreak playing out in real time on the soil that grounds us. This will be the beginning of a very long story, an epic tale, where we simply stay until Anne stops asking, where our circle widens, and where we're all so much better for it in the end.


"Family was meant to live on a loop, a hazy beginning with no end in sight, the pulsing bass line that God's kingdom on earth is alive. Right here." - Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Teaching Our Sons to Walk


There are few things that suck the joy from my soul more than talking on the phone. As an introvert in the cyber age, I find calls taxing, senseless even.

But I always take Robert's calls.

When his name popped up last week, I grabbed it. I was standing in the bathroom covering my dark circles, about to head out and tackle a couple of errands.

"Mom? Can I borrow twenty dollars?"

These calls are not outside the norm, but his heavy breathing was. I could tell he was running.

"I'm at my probation meeting and I left my money in my other pants. I'll hit you back later today. I promise. I got it. Can you please help?"

Of course I could.

"I'm almost there. I gotta hurry. My PO's gonna kill me if I take too long."

~

An hour earlier I had gone looking for my Bible and couldn't find it. I searched all of the usual places. Nightstand? Coffee table? My purse? No, no, no. I ran outside to the van, remembering my hands had been full the night before after Bible study. I had grabbed the empty soup pot, the giant bag of paper goods, and my purse, leaving the Bible on the middle console.

Now, it wasn't there.

I ran inside and called Cory to see if he had borrowed it. No, he didn't have it either.

It hit me that my Bible, with its cover split along the seams, held together by strips of tape, filled with notes and underlines and the picture of my friend out there somewhere strung out and chasing death, had been stolen.

Moving to the city hasn't cured us of leaving our doors unlocked, not even after having several things nabbed overnight - a power tool, a jar of change, a Red Robin gift card we were saving for a rainy day. The drill was the most expensive loss and in each case, it was easy to assume the taker needed whatever it was more than we did. We hardly gave it a second thought.

But my Bible? That one was both easier to swallow, and much, much harder.

~

I was still getting ready when he burst through the door, panting. He bent over at the waist to catch his breath, having run a mile from the courthouse to our front door - his front door, where he knows he never has to knock. He yelled back outside, "You can come in!" then looked at me and shrugged, "I guess he doesn't want to." I still have no idea who was out there, but it's not unusual for him to show up with extras.

We talked for a second about his meeting with his Probation Officer while he clutched the waistband of his baggy, black shorts so they wouldn't fall down around his ankles. Silently, I questioned his choice of attire for this meeting where he already knew he was in hot water. He could have at least tried, I judged.

He was upbeat that day, as usual. But lately, I've noticed a thin layer of paranoia skimming the surface of his mundane, and he's never been one to borrow trouble. It used to worry me, the way he seemed almost oblivious to this world he's very much in, whether he acknowledges it or not. There was the time he laughed it off when he was pulled over five times in one weekend for having a tail light out. He was proud of himself for willingly sitting on the curb while his car was searched without a cause or a warrant.

Last week, after complimenting my hair (just like Silas, he notices these things and I love him for it) he brought up a few stories that had been in the news. He talked politics, which almost never happens. He flexed his hands, open and shut, counting the years since he's been caught up in the system, "I've passed every drug test. I've done everything they want me to do. I just want to live."

Then he kissed my cheek like he always does, drew a sharp breath for the run back, and blew out the door. Ten seconds later, he bolted back in, guzzled a glass of water from the tap, and was gone again.

~

I grabbed my purse moments later and headed out to the van, wondering if I would drive past him and his friend, wondering how fast they ran. I wished I had thought it through and given them a ride.

My purse felt heavier than usual and I peeked inside. Right at the top of the stack of granola bars, chapsticks, earbuds, and old grocery lists sat my Bible. I still have no idea how I missed it when I had checked earlier.

Just as I hopped into the driver's seat, an unfamilier Jeep with rusted wheel wells pulled up behind me, blocking my path. A stranger approached me, her face set and serious. I rolled my window down.

"Ma'am, are you missing anything from your van?"

I glanced behind me, thought about my Bible. How did she know? It took me a second to reconcile reality. Wait, no one took it. It's right here. 

"Nope," I smiled. "Why?"

"Well, we drove by a couple of minutes ago and saw some very suspicious activity outside your house."

I immediately knew where the conversation was going, but let her continue.

"Two guys were acting very suspicious." She paused, waiting for me to react. Leaning in closer, she lowered her voice, drawing out the next nine syllables. "They were African American."

I swallowed hard, held eye contact. "Yes," I said. "That was my son."

~

If she'd been seated on a ten-speed, her back-pedaling would have set her five miles North in no time flat. She apologized profusely, backing away from my van, ashen.

"They seemed fidgety" she stammered. "They were running."

"Right. They were late for a meeting." I hated myself for offering an explanation. I hated her for stopping. I hated the world, every shaded corner, every block where the truth has been twisted in knots.

Still, I knew her intentions weren't harmful.

I asked if she was a neighbor. I'd never seen her before, and there aren't many I don't at least recognize. I thought maybe she'd slipped under my radar, that she was actively involved here enough to at least think she knew the comings and goings of this place.

No. She was just passing through.

Over and over, she tripped on her own explanations, stopping mid-sentence to weigh each word. All I could think was, "Lady, I get it."

I have been her before, to some degree. This is how insidious racism has become. It has colored the air we breathe. It hangs in the air between the best of us. And I am not immune. But it didn't stop my cheeks from burning. It didn't stop me from forming a long string of words I wanted so badly to level at her. It didn't stop me from sitting there silently, far more graciously than my son deserved, defaulting to the avoidance of conflict and knowing full well that there was nothing I could do to shame her into greater awareness.

For the rest of the day and the days that followed, questions spun on a loop. Would she have circled the block to warn me if Robert and his friend had been white? More middle class looking? Would she have bothered to stop if my house was a little rougher around the edges, like so many of the houses in my neighborhood?

The truth became unavoidable. The guys caught their attention because they were two black men with rippling biceps, locs in their hair, and sagging pants. They dared to run into a pristine, middle-class looking home, then run back out. They didn't fit the frame. They didn't fit her ideal of "safe". They didn't fit me.

My heart couldn't help but take it further.

What would have happened if she had called the police? They'd have seen two men fitting her description running through the streets. What would Robert have done? He has always complied in the past, even when he knew he hadn't done anything wrong. But he was already late to his probation meeting, that day. His neck was already on the line. He was almost there. His PO would help him explain. That's the logic I imagined him constructing. What if he'd kept on running?

My heart stopped cold. What if?

I'm not sure running is safe for a black man anymore, or even a black boy. I'm not so sure it ever was. Yesterday a neighbor sat on my front steps reading a comic book while he waited for me. Just as I pulled up, an officer crept by, coasting more than driving.

I nodded toward the cruiser, "What's going on up there?"

"I don't know," he shrugged. "He keeps driving by, looking at me."

~

Later that day, Robert stopped by, just as he had promised. "Mom?" he asked, "what do you think the neighbors think of me?"

He had no clue about the confrontation with the woman in the Jeep. In four years, he has never asked a question like this.

I told him the truth. He's a grown man raising boys of his own. He needed to know.

"It don't surprise me," he shook his head and laughed. Sometimes, in an unfair world, laughter carries the frequency of pain. Some boys learn it's their safest response. "It's like all the sudden, I'm noticing the way people look at me."

My son is under the thumb of an oppressive, messed-up system because of a mistake he made over five years ago. I will go to my grave believing I wouldn't have been punished in the same way for the same crime. But he still has two years to go. And he'd better be perfect between now and then, because people are watching. They're watching his hair, and his clothes. They're watching him drive. They're watching his skin. They're watching him run.

~

A year ago, I set out to pay closer attention to my world. At first, I thought I was just walking my kids to school. But those trips up my street and back down turned into a condensed sort of weekday church, and then they turned me inside-out. Rooted in my unique place, I noticed the boy on the bike, and the one walking around in the middle of the day when he should have been in school. My heart grew heavier, quieter, fiercer. I began to care about different things, read different books, listen in a different way.

I watched as my oldest son became anxious, always teetering on the razor-thin line between proving everyone wrong and breaking under the weight of the pressure.

I listened as my two youngest sons unpacked sad stories of schoolyard bullies, one of them believing along the way that he is "ugly" and "looks funny," the other growing quieter every day.

I thought I might write all of this down, for me, for Robert, for the lady in the Jeep. For you. I thought I might draw parallels to the all-familiar headlines flashing across our screens, each of us choosing sides before the last word loops back to the first.

Instead, I picked up this book and devoured it in two days. I fell into the story, only in my version, Khalil was six foot four and calls me Mom. And in my version, Starr was a young man with tired eyes, code-switching between the world he's always known and the one that exists between these four walls.

A few days later, Jordan Edwards was murdered, and it felt like deja vu.

So, here I am, writing this down, believing all of it matters.
We can waste our time if we want to, trying to decide if Robert is Khalil, or if he's Jordan.

The truth is, he's neither.
The truth is, he's both.

He's my beloved son who makes me proud every day.
He can run into my house whenever he wants to.

He never has to knock.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What We Keep of Childhood {& Last-Minute Mother's Day Ideas}


It's my earliest memory. My mom sat on the edge of the couch pushed up against a wall and I stood in front of her in my long, Laura Ingalls-style dress while she tied the bow in the back. There were hard floors and light poured through a door or window to my right. I have no idea why this particular moment lodged itself in the archives of my childhood. My mom says I was awfully young to remember it, but she wouldn't put it past me.

There are a handful of isolated snapshots from the years and homes that came after. I remember running down the halls of the brick ranch for the first time, the floor plan, the flowered brown couch, the time our neighbor boy Jimmy got stuck in the mud and it took several grown men, my dad included, to yank him out.

"A successful life is measured in successful days, and successful days are measured in successful moments. Successful moments hide in places where we don't think to look at first, but they are waiting there to be celebrated." - It's Okay About It by Lauren Casper

I remember moving to the farm, the way the upstairs walls would thicken with frost in the corners each winter and how it sometimes made the most sense to sleep down on the living room floor next to the wood stove. Summers meant gardening, canning, stacks of library books, push-up pops. I remember the annual trip to K-Mart to buy a few pairs of shorts, a few tank tops, and flip flops. And I remember asking my mom why her things were still in the bag. "Oh," she said casually, "I think I'm going to go ahead and return those. I don't really need them." I remember knowing she did need them, and the quiet tension of struggle and understanding hollowed a sacred place in my soul, bit by bit. We crafted slip 'n slides from the roll of plastic found in the eaves of the barn. We put a trash bin at the bottom of the tall slide and called it our swimming pool.

Along the way, my parents sacrificed for us in ways I'm only beginning to understand. School activities. Picture days. Extravagant bags of bing cherries and fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt because my mom knew I loved them. Perms to try to keep my large ears from poking through my thin, lank hair. Our one family vacation, where we drove from Ohio to California in a Pontiac Sunbird. Angel food birthday cakes with strawberries in June. Cheese and pickles in front of the tiny, black-and-white television. Michael W. Smith cassette tapes. Youth group trips. Hot breakfasts. Prom dresses. College. A wedding that wasn't, and eventually a three-tiered wedding cake and pots of lavender for each table.

It's equally thrilling and terrifying to imagine which moments in time will be carried by my kids into adulthood. Over the years, I've boiled down my role as a mom into five little words: Feel Safe and Feel Loved. If I can accomplish that, I can sleep at night.

But what I've learned from my own mom, from the first mamas of my kids, and from battling selfishness myself is that road to safety and love is paved with surrender, sacrifice, and relentless optimism.

Today, I'm feeling grateful for Nancy Louise, and for all of the women who have mothered me along the way.

~

I'm here for you with a few last minute Mother's Day gift ideas!
* I'm obsessed with these hand-cut paper silhouettes. (Nici's entire shop is SO RAD.)
* Find a cute, vintage mug and fill it with teabags, coffee beans, or a gift card to a coffee shop.
* A photo canvas makes such a special gift! We use Canvas People and they're running a 65% off sale right now.
* Flowers and plants always win! Stick one in a vintage colander to bump up the special factor.
* Books 4-Ever!!! It's Okay About It: Lessons from a Remarkable Five-Year-Old about Living Life Wide Open by Lauren Casper came out this week and it was such a sweet read on motherhood, adoption, special needs, and discovering the joy of being surprised.

PS - If you subscribe and receive my updates through your email (and I hope you do!) I accidentally got overly sentimental while writing this post and loaded it up with links to a bunch of posts from my archives. (Some are 9 years old!) I'm still not the best at this tech-trickery, but if you have trouble seeing all of the blue links, just click through the email and read it in your browser. And if it's totally not a problem at all, just forget I brought it up. ;)