We Have to Do Better – for All Our Young People

A young man close to me, who also is an aspiring police officer, broke down last night, choking back tears. He talked about what he wants for himself – and for his friends of all colors and backgrounds.


“I just want this to stop. It’s getting worse. The world is getting worse. People are dying. And now we have this violence and I worry about more people dying because everyone is just so frustrated and angry. And I want to be able to get a job and provide for my family and find the best schools that I can for my kids. I want a good life – and I want that for everyone. But it’s getting worse, it feels like the world is getting worse – just going to hell. And it’s a lot. I want it to stop and I don’t know how.”

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com


COVID was already hard on our young people – and continues to be. This violence and unrest are horrifically difficult. It feels hopeless when year after year after year, we see black people brutally murdered at the hands of police – while other officers are trying their best to protect and serve within an incredibly flawed system. It feels like we repeat the same events and talking points and heartache over. And. Over. And. Over. Again.


And like him, I don’t know all the answers. I don’t have the right words. But I know I need to do what I can to do right by him, and to make sure that the ship is righted when and where I’m able to right it.


God help us – and me – and him …..

A Meaningful Moment is More than Enough

“It’s too much,” my friend said on the phone recently, her voice catching. “I’m trying to work from home and I’m supposed to be homeschooling and making meals. I’m also apparently supposed to be preparing for major changes in the economy and checking on all my friends and neighbors. Oh, and saving money and supporting local businesses. I’m supposed to be making this time calm and magical for my kids, too. There are supposed to be forts. And chalk art. Bear hunts. Keeping a COVID journal for my great-great-granddaughter. All this stuff. But most days, I’m not even showering. I can’t do all this stuff.”

My friend’s words hit me hard. Hearing all the expectations she is shouldering – right now made me feel overwhelmed – not just for her, but for all of us.

How do we honor our commitments to our families, our work, and ourselves during such unprecedented times? What does our “best” look like right now?

Something in me has shifted in the last week, as we enter week 1,793 of sheltering in place.

Life is being distilled down to the moments. I’ve given up on being magical 24/7 – or even 3/2.

Instead, I am being intentional about little moments.

Yesterday, I spent what felt like way too long sitting with my coffee in the kitchen, gazing into space. I lost complete track of time. Somehow, almost two hours passed. The coffee went cold. My thoughts churned, my stomach knotted and unknotted and knotted again.

“Ugh! I feel so unproductive!” I told a colleague mid-morning. “I don’t even know what I am doing with myself right now!”

But then, I pushed myself back from my coffee cup. I could be intentional – just for 10 minutes. I gathered up my teenagers and my husband – the dogs and a jabbering parakeet joined in, too.

“Hey. How are you guys? What are you learning? What do you need?” My kids spoke through broad smiles and through tears – sometimes in the same breath. My husband made a corny dad joke – something about ear hair and not being able to hear and the bit 5-0 looming large.

The cobwebs in my brain and in my soul cleared – at least for a while. A sense of gratitude and encouragement washed through the room. It was fleeting, but it was a moment. And now, just a day later, I see that it’s a memory – one that will carry us through our week.

Maybe it’s not about being great and shouldering all of those expectations. Maybe it’s about rallying as we can – being the architect of those little moments of encouragement and love. We can do it.

Now, where did I put that coffee cup?

A Letter to My Young(er) Mom Self: Report Cards and ACT Scores and Tryouts Don’t Matter

Dear Monique,

Whew. This love you feel for your elementary school-aged babies is intense, isn’t it?

But there is something else intense within you – a desire to safeguard them from the ups and downs of life.

You and Matt feel you have had to fight so darned hard to be where you are today financially. You want your kids to be OK – not just now, but when you are gone. And you want to be able to safeguard them against the need for so much luck.

Photo by Srinivas on Pexels.com

Achievements as a Trust Fund ?

Since you don’t quite see the pathway to a massive trust fund (first generation college kids usually don’t), you try to give them a different inheritance – achievements. You want them to be excellent – academically and athletically and musically and in service.

I love you for this sort of focus and intensity, Young(er) Monique. There is so much love and good intention and fight in what you are doing.

But I also see you becoming borderline hysterical because one of your growing babies made a B in third grade social studies. Really? A B in social studies? That’s not so bad. It’s even kind of good, actually. And besides, that grade was based on a couple of foldables and an unnecessarily boring reading passage. If anything, that grade measures the ability of your child to follow other people’s directions.

We also need to talk for a minute about sports. Your kids enjoy sports – a lot. They love soccer and baseball and swim and basketball and football and volleyball. That’s not just you thinking they love it – they really do!

But I want you to know there will come a time when they will want to try other things, too. They will want to play drums and be in the diamond girls and all sorts of clubs. Your daughter will stun you by wanting to do beauty review! They will realize that competing to play college sports isn’t their top priority.

So enjoy the sports. Relish and reinforce the lessons. Take lots of pictures. Smile. Laugh. Treat these experiences like some of your very best memories – because they are. But don’t worry so much about every roster and tryout and race time – every practice that is missed because of a fever or a sprain or a sore pitching arm. It will all be OK.

Get Ready for Some Sci-Fi Craziness

Now, I am about to tell you something that is going to blow your 30-something mind. Are you ready? Sit down. No. Seriously. Sit. Down. This is beyond intense:

In the spring of 2020 – when your kids are buzzing along in their first and second years of high school, a pandemic is going to completely derail their lives and yours. I know. I know. It sounds like something out of a low budget sci-fi movie, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, my sweet and naive younger mom self, it is real.

Right before the pandemic hits, you will still be obsessing over achievements in spite of yourself.

One of your children will make an actual C on their report card in their very best subject because they lost some papers. Or didn’t complete them? Or never got them? Or got them and the teacher lost them? (Unlikely, but possible.) You will lose your MIND about this C. You will be convinced that it is going to ruin their chances of securing money for college, and you will rant at them about the oppressive nature of student loans and how this one grade could negatively affect their lives. You will be a hot mess. And you will know it, but you will still rant.

Then, the pandemic will hit full throttle. You and your little family – and two crazy dogs and a parakeet – will be sheltering in place at home – for weeks and weeks. The last nine weeks of school will happen online, and there will be a grading scale that really makes a lot of the focus on schoolwork seem downright absurd.

You will read news reports at night, when everyone else is asleep, that caution about things like the likelihood that distance learning will have to continue – possibly through your older child’s senior year. There may be no high school sports. No band. No academic awards assemblies or face-to-face service projects. No internships or exclusive summer camps.

During the Shelter in Place order, your daughter will come to you, talking about the ACT Prep you have repeatedly emphasized. And all of a sudden you will look at her and realize: It doesn’t freaking matter. Little of it matters – not much, anyway.

What Matters Has Shifted

Because all of a sudden, colleges are cutting deals with kids to get them to even come to college. And because it’s likely all college learning will be distance learning for months on end, it feels like where they go doesn’t even matter. It might even be beneficial to just take a year off.

One of your kids will begin thinking that they aren’t sure they even want to go to college at all, and this will suddenly seem very reasonable, because who knows what anyone at all is even training and preparing for anymore? How do you prepare for this wild new world? How do you spend four years preparing for a career when you don’t even know which careers will be sustainable?

And that is when it will hit you, my dear, well intentioned younger self: you were focusing on the wrong lessons. Because what matters in this pandemic – and on the other side of it – is that your kids have healthy coping skills. You will look at your carefree child – the one you shouted at to try to make them understand the horrors of earning a C – and you will realize that this carefree nature is actually a freaking superpower – not a deficit.

You will all but weep as you realize that what matters now is the relationship you have with your kids – that there is love and mutual respect and mercy between you.

You will look at your kids and you will see that all those sporting lessons – and the school ones, too – were just ways to learn resilience and coping skills. You will recognize that more than grades, they need to know how to pivot and learn new things. They need to be creative and innovative – to think beyond what’s right in front of them. They need to be able to do their own research and analyze the validity of statements that are made in the media and beyond.

Signs You Will Be OK

One night, around the dinner table (you will eat meals together again during the pandemic, too. Crazy, right?), they will look at you and say something like, “We will be ok. We aren’t worried. We will adjust. We just don’t want more people – even people we don’t know – to die.” These words will touch you at your very core. You will be so darned proud of them – prouder than any achievement could ever make you.

They will have the best coping skills! They will do videoconferences with their friends and their boyfriends/girlfriends. They will play HORSE and do church youth group scavenger hunts virtually. They will create their own schedules, where they are sure to make time for work and exercise and talks with friends and time with you, too. And you will know, with so much gratitude in your heart, that they learned what they truly needed- in spite of you.

It’s going to be OK, Young(er) Monique. THEY are going to be OK. But it won’t be for any of the reasons you thought. Enjoy those sweet, growing people of yours. And help lead your family with heart and grace and love and strength. (Also, invest in Zoom. And Charmin. And hand sanitzer. Seriously. Don’t ask. Just do it.)

Also, I love you. And you are enough. You always were – and so are your kids.

Things Cracking Me Up in the Midst of Chaos

I did a lot of my growing up in the newsroom of a daily newspaper, where I started working at the age of 16, and somewhere along the way, the experience taught me to appreciate gallows humor.

Sometimes, the only feasible thing to do in a crisis is to laugh – hard – and even inappropriately. Journalists aren’t the only ones who share this sense of humor. Paramedics, firefighters, police officers and ER staff also are known to laugh in the face of crisis. It’s not about a disrespect for life – it’s about understanding that bad things happen, life goes on, and none of us can afford to take things too seriously.

Becoming a mom of two small humans and going into public education has eliminated a lot of that behavior, but one of the things that surprises me in this strange, unprecendented season is how quick I am to laugh about most anything. Here, for your viewing (or scrolling pleasure), are a few things cracking me up these days.

  1. The idea that every darned person I encounter online seems to believe they are at least a part-time epidemiologist. People who can’t even correctly spell the word with consistency have strong opinions about why it is or is not wise to continue shelter in place orders, send kids back to school or close the playgrounds and fishing holes. Often, these people even insist that I should believe them, over, say, internationally recognized doctors, scientists and researchers. Hilarious, right?
  2. Dogs. All of the dogs are making me laugh these days. My own two crack me up because early on in the shelter in place order, I was convinced they were plotting together – possibly with our parakeet, Beignet – to kick us out of our own home. They downright glared at us when, day after day, we refused to leave their house. Now, they seem to have settled into a new approach: They are allowing us to remain here, but only if we serve them in a way that meets their expectations. This includes taking them on multiple walks in a day, feeding them like clockwork and doling out snacks repeatedly. And it’s not just my own dogs making me laugh. I’ve become the person that laughs aloud at random, poorly executed pet videos on Youtube. If this doesn’t tell you I’m on the brink, nothing will.
  3. People on parenting pages who are fretting about how to make sure their college student continues to do their coursework online. Seriously? Weren’t they living in a dorm and successfully getting themselves to class, turning in assignments and preparing for tests without your support before they were forced to return home? Were you doing their coursework then? If not, why are you tackling it now, just because they are under your roof? (I would argue the same is true for high school students. I check for completion with both of my children. If they are stumped, I encouraged them to reach out to their teacher. If that doesn’t work, I try to help them find a solution. I realize this isn’t feasible for students who need extra support, but for the average high school student, it seems reasonable.)
  4. Ads for pricey dress clothes. Really, Anthropologie, Macy’s, etc.? You think I need that $250 dress or pair of strappy dress shoes to “be summer ready? Let’s see if I will even be seeing anyone beyond my dogs, my husband and my teenagers first. Consumerism has always been a little ridiculous, but it’s downright laughable right now.
  5. College recruitment materials aimed at my high school freshman and sophomore. I still really hope both of my kids will go to college and land in a career they love. But I also am painfully aware that the world is changing at a breakneck pace. The idea of taking on significant debt to go to an out-of-state school – or even an in-state school immediately – just seems foolhardy right now. Community college or an online program that doesn’t include the cost of room and board is very appealing these days. It’s hard to know how to choose an education when you can’t even begin to picture the sort of world you are being educated for. That makes brochures and postcards showing cushy libraries and coffee shops and jam-packed athletic events feel laughably absurd right now.
  6. My own tendency to fret over things actually has become a prime source of amusement. I mean, I have invested a lifetime in trying to anticipate the next bad thing in hopes of being prepared. I’ve anticipated and planned for all sorts of things – getting trapped in quicksand (thanks, 1980s Saturday morning cartoons), amnesia (thanks, handful of soap operas I saw at Grandma’s house), cancer, the death of pretty much everyone I have ever loved, wrongful imprisonment (thanks, Scared Straight assemblies at my Title I middle school), and drug addiction (thanks, creepy newspaper articles about LSD laced stickers at parks in 1982-1984). I’ve also spent decades dodging parked cars, because at some point my mom warned me that someone might be waiting in one, crouched over and ready to leap out and attack me, possibly with a butcher knife. But I somehow never got the memo that I should be fretting about a pandemic that forced everyone I know to stay at home – possibly for months on end – as the economy collapsed around us. I like to think this will break my habit of worrying – since clearly I have devoted a lifetime to worrying about the wrong thing. But not worrying? Well, it kind of worries me.
  7. Zoom bingo. It’s so juvenile, but it cracks me up how at some point most Zooms include unofficially mandatory sayings like “Unmute yourself! We can’t hear you!” And, “can you hear me now?” And, “Hi. Is X on the call now?” The awkward silence before meetings officially kick off also make me snicker. There seems to be some sort of emerging norm about not making small talk with each other while waiting for a work Zoom to begin. What is that? Why wouldn’t we make small talk the same way we would while awaiting the start of an in-person meeting? Amusing ….

What about you? What are you laughing about in these strange times? Do you find you are quicker to chuckle while grappling with crisis? Or am I alone in that? Because if so, that worries me – kind of like quicksand …..

Here are a Few Things Giving Me Joy, Hope or Comfort During These Strange Days

If you turn on the news, it’s especially easy to become consumed by negativity right now. The media isn’t to blame for this. The news in our world is awfully grim right now, and it is the responsibility of journalists to keep us informed about how to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe, while also calling out systemic issues that need to be addressed, too.

But while awareness of what is going on is important – and potentially life-saving – it can’t consume all our time. We have to find ways to look away from the darkness and to see the good and opportunity around us. Otherwise, we will absolutely not be able to maintain our sanity during this long stretch of isolation/social distancing. Pacing ourselves and monitoring how much bad news we consume is essential.

Part of pacing ourselves is looking for the good around us – things that give us hope, bring us joy, or make us laugh. I will even go with things that distract us right now, allowing us to think about something beyond ventillator shortages and shelter in place orders.

Here are a few things getting me through.

  1. Creative people continuing to use their talents to brighten our worlds. See the photo attached with this post? This comforting greeting at the front of our neighborhood was created by three of our neighbors. They wanted to use their talents to create a sense of hope and they did what it took to make that happen. I admire that they didn’t stop to overthink it. They didn’t wait for someone possibly more talented or with better resources to take action. They didn’t worry that some people might not agree with their artistic vision, or that everyone would not appreciate it. They had an idea and they executed. There is something to be said for taking action during such an uncertain world. I’m awfully thankful my neighbors did.

2. Opportunities to regroup and possibly do something new. Many of us don’t like change. But me? I have always reveled in it. I have long felt like I am at my best when something new needs to be created. Paradigms are shifting right now – more quickly than we can even recognize. While the uncertainty can make me a little nervous for my finances – and the future my children will inherit – there also is something really exciting about all that needs to be created right now, in this moment of great shift.

3. Reminders of who – and what – matters most. Some of our core values as a nation have been off kilter for a good while now – if we ever even had them right in the first place. This crisis has reminded us of who is and is not essential. The superheroes among us right now are not professional athletes or musicians or financiers. We are reminded – in dramatic ways – that we desperately need our grocery store workers. Nurses. Respiratory therapists. Teachers. School cafeteria workers. Sanitation workers. Pharmacy techs. Public health experts. State funded researchers. Scientists at the CDC. As we continue deeper into this, we are going to see that school counselors and social workers and therapists are out there doing essential work every day, too. I continue to hope that when we come out on the other side of this, we will look at the pay structures in place for folks who do such important work.

4. A shift in what is viewed as “women’s work” by many. I think that women, particularly, are revolting right now against expectations being placed on them, and are finally openly saying, “Nope. I can’t do this alone.” We are recognizing that no, we cannot – and do not have the desire to – work full-time, “homeschool” full-time, and care for the emotional and physical needs of our children and aging parents full-time. We also most definitely cannot do it all perfectly. I have noticed a shift in work loads, and in who is doing what. With more men working from home, many seem to be stepping up, as children are home and still expected to learn. This will, I hope, lead to a greater sense of equity in the home going forward. Maybe it will lead to more men working from home long-term, too.

5. A greater appreciation for mindfulness and living in the present. Whew. Have you noticed that everyone seems to be giving mindfulness and meditation a shot right now? And do you see how absurd it can feel to worry so much about the future, when no one knows what it will even look like – or when our “new normal” will even begin? While we need to be prudent and proactive when possible, we also need to recognize that really, we only have this moment. Nothing beyond that is guaranteed. So, let’s hug our kids. Pet our dogs. Listen to the music. Skype with our family and friends – even the ones that maybe we were a smidge grumpy with before all this madness started. Let’s savor our dinner and enjoy the feel of the sun our faces for a few moments longer. This is what we have, for sure.

6. Recognition that some things just aren’t that serious. I am finding myself really appreciating entertainment more now than I have in a while. My 16-year-old and I have marveled at the joy that the utterly ridiculous Tiger King documentary on Netflix has given us. It will not change the world, or make us smarter or better humans. It will not help my kids secure higher ACT scores or better grades or additional service hours (I mean, are we even COUNTING any of those right now?) But sometimes, you just really, really need a laugh. (Take it where you can, all you cool cats and kittens. )

What do you think? What is getting you through during this time? What makes you happy or gives you comfort or hope going forward? What is entertaining you just when you need it most?

COVID-19: What I’ve Learned So Far

While experts continue to remind us that in the U.S. we are still very much in the early stages of this COVID-19 outbreak, I can say that this challenge is teaching me vital lessons.

man wearing face mask
Photo by Korhan Erdol on Pexels.com

Here are three things I have learned so far:

  1. Fretting Truly Can’t Prepare You

As much as I might fret and try to plan for challenging times, it is often impossible to anticipate the challenge that actually stops you in your tracks.

I have always been a person who feels better trying to prepare for the worst.

At any given moment, I can typically rattle off some sort of contingency plan for challenges including job loss, illness, death of a loved one, or even natural disaster. (At least those natural disasters most common in the Deep South, where I spend most of my time.)

And yet, despite spending all that time and precious energy diving deeply into frightening “what ifs,” this particular crisis was not something that I had fully considered until it was bearing down on us. That is how life goes, it seems. The things that end up sidelining us take us by surprise.

It’s Helpful to Focus on What You Do Know – at Least Right Now

My mind can click into overdrive with little to no preparation. This is apparently especially true in crisis. There have been moments in the past few days where I have analyzed the “what ifs” of this situation to the point that I mentally have myself¬† struggling to breathe, staggering penniless through the streets of New York City searching desperately for food, water and life saving medical care. (Don’t ask me how I’ve come to be on the streets of New York, panicked and alone, while also sheltering in place at my home in the Deep South. I just am. My fretting is rarely rational.)

Just like you, I do not know what tomorrow will bring. But I know that in this moment, I can breathe. I don’t have symptoms. Those closest to me don’t have symptoms. I know that I have supplies to last a few days. I know that the sun is currently shining outside my window, my dogs are getting a smidge sick of my nagging at them for barking, and my teenagers are engaged in a water ballloon throwing contest with each other on the back patio. In this moment, that can be enough.

It is Relationships – Both Close and Not So Close – that Matter Most

OK. I already knew this one – at least in theory. But I have received a powerful reminder in the midst of this outbreak. I have been surprised by some of the relationships that have brought me comfort these past two days.

I have received encouragement from my husband, my teenagers, my father-in-law, my parents, and a handful of friends that have been important to me for a decade or more. Their honesty about where they are emotionally, what they are thinking, and how they are getting through have been great comforts.

But I also have had people I am not quite as close to to reach out and say hello. There have been neighbors beyond my immediate ones (who are awesome, by the way) that I don’t communicate with as regularly. They have texted or called just to say “Hey, how are you? Are you guys at home? Do you need anything?”¬† Some new friends have checked in with me in ways that feel important and I can feel our connections growing, even with this social distancing mandate in place.

My church is still formulating plans for how we are all going to stay connected and love each other during this weird, admittedly frightening time. I have enjoyed those updates – even when they didn’t carry much in the way of actual news because there is so much we don’t know.

I have taken comfort in knowing that teachers and our new youth pastor are all working hard to figure out how to keep supporting our kids. That has made me grateful and also taken a bit of pressure off – that even in a crisis like this where we are hunkered down at home, I do not have to be all things to anyone, even my own kids.

This morning, I took some time to email or text with most of the educators I am fortunate to serve through my work. We bantered back and forth a bit about the craziness and stress of this moment. We shared movie, book and podcast recommendations. Multiple people told me that – like me – they are currently binge watching Parks and Rec and have found it oddly helpful. I offered them an idea or two about things they might want to think about next in their schools. We were of use to and service to each other. And in these moments, that feels downright sacred.

There will be more lessons, of course. And by tomorrow, odds are good that my stubborn, prone to worry self will need to relearn some of the lessons from today, too. But I hope this is helpful to someone out there.

What are YOU learning during this strange season? How are you?

 

 

Our Kids Still Need Us – Even When they are Bigger than We Are

You know that saying – if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck?

Well, it doesn’t necessarily apply when dealing with teenagers – and that’s a difficult lesson I re-learned this week.

My two teenagers have both been taller than me for more than two years now.

attractive beautiful beauty black and white
Photo by NEOSiAM 2020 on Pexels.com

They are skilled at dealing with everything from waitresses in restaurants to angry parents at the soccer fields where they referee to tech support staff on the telephone – and have been for a couple of years already. They handle most social issues themselves, without my hovering. My daughter even has the same driving freedoms that I enjoy as an adult, minus a state-imposed curfew for new drivers.

When I listen to them speak, they often sound just like I do – especially when they are making a case for why they should be allowed to do something.

In so many ways, they appear to be adults. And honestly, that appearance has lulled me into a state of complacency at times.

Because the reality is they are not yet adults.

Their brains will continue to develop and form new, important connections for several more years. They do not always have the capacity to understand when they are in a dangerous situation, and the fact that they have successfully navigated childlike problems in the past does not mean they are fully ready yet for the grown-up world.

That hit home for me in a big way this week, when we realized that our kids had been shouldering a very difficult – and adult – situation for several months now without our boundaries and support. While I had heard bits and pieces of the problem, I failed to fully connect the dots and it made them less safe as a result.

They and some of their friends were in over their heads and needed help from us – even if they didn’t quite ask for it.

When I realized how long I had let them grapple in relative silence, it hit me like a punch to the gut. They might seem OK on the surface, but these teen years are difficult, and our kids still need our help to process things – a lot.

It is our responsibility to loan them our fully developed adult brains and to give them structure to process problems they aren’t quite ready to handle alone.

We are admittedly regrouping a bit at our house right now – talking more about safety and being realistic and candid about some of the dangers in this difficult – and ultimately broken – world of ours.

I share this with you as a gentle reminder: We can’t operate in a place of paralyzing fear. We should not over-protect our children at this age, since very soon they will be called upon to fully function in the adult world, often without us.

But we have to continue being vigilant, even if we feel our kids are mature and (mostly) responsible. We have to listen like crazy, trust our gut (I ignored mine for a little too long on this one) and support as needed.

Our kids’ very lives may be at stake. Hang in there, friends. These years are both beautiful and achingly difficult.