Thirteen days. That’s how long it took for us to get a message from Luke’s school that he has been exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19. We have very little concern that he actually contracted Covid-19. First, he had it last fall. Second, he’s been vaccinated. Third, his high school has a high rate of vaccinations among students. Fourth, the students wear masks inside classrooms. Fifth, Luke has a suspicion about which classmate might be Patient 0, and he knows he had no direct contact with them. So, we’re probably safe, but Luke will get tested tomorrow just in case.
I knew that Covid-19 would affect this school year, but I had hoped it wouldn’t be as impactful as it was last year. In April and May when the US was vaccinating millions of people per day, I got my hopes up that maybe this fall at least could be somewhat more normal for students. Maybe they could be back in classrooms. Maybe they wouldn’t need to be masked. But then the vaccinations slowed to a trickle, and I knew we might end up right back in the same boat. It’s not the same boat, though. Last year, there was no vaccine available, so our boat was lost on tempest tossed seas and we were all in it together, not knowing when we might be able to get back to normal. This year, we got vaccines to help get us on the right track, but they only work if the vast majority of the population gets them. Since so many people decided to opt out, our boat has leaks. So here we are again. As the more transmissible Delta variant rages through the population, sending many of the unvaccinated to hospitals, we’re now fighting about mask mandates and vaccine mandates, public health versus personal freedom. It’s crazy. We’re our own worst enemies because we’re anything but united right now.
I’ve been noticing this week how much we’ve become a nation of people out for themselves. I see it when I am driving. I see it in stores. I see it everywhere I go. We’ve become a nation of people more concerned with personal freedom than the freedom of the country as a whole. Covid-19 is our mutual enemy, but some people don’t see it that way. They think the government and their fellow citizens are the enemy. Until we get ourselves collected and facing the same direction, I will probably be getting more notices from my son’s school.
As I recall the events of 9/11 and our unity on that day, I am heartbroken looking at our country now. How far we have fallen in twenty years. If an attack like the one that happened then occurred now, I’m not certain we would see the same cooperation and personal sacrifice that we saw that day and in the days and weeks following. Twenty years from now, we may still be a nation, but I’m not sure we’ll be able to say we are a great one. Once we’ve lost the ability to selflessly do for others in our communities, to step up when our government is asking us, to get a vaccine or wear a mask because it might save someone else, we can’t really call ourselves the United States of America.
We took a different route on our dog walk tonight. We usually walk the same way, the same distance, but we were strapped for time and cut off a street earlier than we usually do. On our nightly walks, we see a number of houses with American flags. Some of the houses have two US flags. Some of them have US flags and flag banners. And tonight we saw a house with light strips under the eaves over their garages. The light strips alternated between red, white, and blue.
In the past five years, I have seen more flags (US, Donald Trump, Blue Lives Matter, Don’t Tread On Me, Confederate, etc.) and patriotic displays than I saw in total for the 48 previous years of my life. I can’t drive anywhere without seeing at least one pick up truck, its bed filled with between 2-4 flags in any combination of the choices listed above. My response is the same every time. I shake my head.
Displaying your patriotism is a good thing. I think a home should fly the American flag on each and every federal holiday, the way people used to when I was a kid. On July 4th, it’s completely appropriate to festoon your house with all manner of flag paraphernalia. If you’re hosting a holiday barbecue on the 4th, by all means, put out paper plates and napkins emblazoned with the flag. Wear the flag all over your body. Eat red, white, and blue jello. Whatever floats your boat. On the nation’s birthday, it makes sense to throw an over-the-top birthday party. Every American should also visit a cemetery and place flags on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. We should make an effort to remember and honor those who fought and died safeguarding our freedoms. It’s part of being a good citizen and recognizing with gratitude the privilege of living here.
I just don’t understand why suddenly some people feel the need to go overboard. Is there some sort of competition I missed a memo on? Like if you fly just one American flag at your house, you’re not as American as the guy next door flying two flags? If you have two American flags in the bed of your truck, you’re not as American as the guy with four flags flapping their way, tattered to shreds, down the highway? If your neighbor has a flag up and you put up light strips that cycle through the red, white, and blue all night long, you clearly must be more patriotic, right? This is the only rationale I can discern for this behavior. It appears to be all about one-upmanship and a prideful sense of superiority.
We fly the American flag here at our house on federal holidays and sometimes just because we feel like it. The rest of the time we fly our Colorado flag. This past June we flew our pride flag. I’m certain there are people who feel our displays are not enough (or, in the case of the pride flag, are perhaps too much). But it’s not up to anyone else to judge our level of patriotism. Patriotism isn’t determined by how many flags you fly or where you fly them or how tall your damn flag pole is. Honestly, the constant flag waving by my neighbors doesn’t make me feel less patriotic, nor does it impress me that they are more patriotic. It’s just flag waving. Patriotism isn’t about the flag. It’s about loving your country through the good and the bad. It’s about striving to become a more perfect union, not saying that we are already perfect. Flying multiple flags doesn’t mean you’ve cornered the market on being American. It just means you spent more money on flags. While I’m not a constitutional scholar, I don’t believe there is anything in that amazing document that says you aren’t American if you don’t have an American flag flying in your truck bed.
I know it’s your right to fly as many flags as you want. It is a free country, after all. I just want you to know that I don’t for one second believe you are a better, more worthy, or more honorable or patriotic American than I am. If all your flags make you feel more secure about that, though, knock yourself out.
Yesterday was one of the most memorable days of my life. It was not my first political march. It won’t be my last. But this one, completed with my husband, sons, sister, brother-in-law, sisters-in-law, and mother all united in this cause with me, was life altering. As we stood in the sunny cold of Civic Center Park waiting for the march to begin, people near us sang. An impromptu band formed when trumpet and trombone players found the tubas in the middle of the park. Signs were ubiquitous and mostly filled with positivity and love. Some were a little cheeky. Some were outright funny. Some displayed beautiful imagery and artwork. My fellow marchers were courteous, peaceful, and patient. The mood was ebullient. As more and more people gathered and the crowd swelled to well over 100k people, we realized were weren’t just witnessing something incredible. We were part of it. We weren’t demonstrating. We were showing the world what democracy looks like.
I’m not sure what I thought the new administration would say about the marches, but I guess I thought they would say something. Anything. My eternally hopeful side kind of thought we’d provided the president with an ideal opportunity to prove what he had said at his inauguration. He wants to unite us and he is giving our country back to us. It was a perfect moment to say a simple, “I acknowledge you and I hear your concerns.” I expectantly turned on the national news and waited. After Sean Spicer spoke bitterly about the dishonest media representation of the numbers gathered for the inauguration the previous day and left the podium without mention about the millions of marchers who had assembled, reality set in. The Trump administration had sent its own message. The president didn’t care about the millions of us who showed up to share our collective concerns.
I read a lot of negative responses to the marches during the hours that followed the press briefing. Comments like:
This is a one-time thing. They got their attention. It’ll end here.
There is in-fighting among the Democrats. They’ll never come together enough to organize a real political movement.
What a waste of time.
What was that supposed to accomplish?
Comments like this might once have dampened my spirit, but now they have the opposite effect. Now that the march is over and we know haven’t been heard, now that I’ve had a chance to sort through some of the reactions to our organized actions, I understand how much easier it’s going to be for me to continue forward. I will engage in peaceful protest and political activism because mouthpieces like Rush Limbaugh think it’s okay to belittle women, by referring to us as “broads” and by dismissing our efforts as “nothing but a golden shower.” Because Michael Flynn Jr., our new National Security Advisor’s son, tweeted “What victory? Women already have equal rights, and YES equal pay in this country. What MORE do you want? Free mani/pedis?” I plan to show up regularly at my conservative senator’s doorstep to check in. And I will use my liberal elite education, status, and dollars to affect change because of inane comments like this one too: “This public display should’ve been called the PMS PARADE instead, more spot on and pissed off liberals at their most stupid! Poor Trump lit their tampon strings. God Bless Trump and family!” And shit like this and this and, especially, this will keep me fired up and ready to go.
I know there are men and women in this country who found the marches silly, pointless, infantile, and unnecessary. And I respect their right to express those opinions. I just don’t happen to agree with them. So, I took to the streets yesterday with a husband who thinks I’m his equal partner and who treats me with respect and decency. And I brought our sons because there were lessons to learn there about the price and the privilege of being a United States citizen. But I also wanted them to experience firsthand what happens when you marginalize, ignore, threaten, dismiss, denigrate, and in every other conceivable way piss off women, especially liberal elite women, the kind of women they will encounter in higher education and the workplace someday, the kind of women to whom they are related, the kind of women I hope they marry.
If there’s one thing I know about these women, it’s that underestimating us solidifies our determination and ignoring us increases our volume. This was not the end of it. We are not going away. Mock, ridicule, doubt, and chuckle about us all you want because you’re adding kerosene to our fire. As one clever marcher’s sign succinctly put it yesterday…
If you didn’t like my feminism under Obama, wait until you see my feminism under Trump.
For the past couple months, there has been a whirlwind of activity in my little brain. I’ve had a lot to think about. I can trace the upheaval to November 9th, the day I moved from the backseat to the driver’s seat in anticipation of some unsettling revisions to life as I have known it over the past eight years. During the past two months, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, some changing of habits, and a bit of reaching beyond my comfort zone. The universe, it seems, is hell-bent on providing me with growth opportunities. Another one of those opportunities knocked on my door two nights ago.
My father sent me and my sisters a forwarded email message about Kellyanne Conway entitled Trump’s Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway Reveals How Faith In Jesus Led To Huge Success. In his comment on the forwarded message, he stated that Kellyanne is just like his three daughters, “educated, working diligently, family centered, and lovely.” While the message began with a comment that the attached message was “not political,” the forward outlined Kellyanne’s accomplishments and her role in conservative politics and many times invoked her Christian faith and her pro-life views. I assume a conservative Christian would read the message and get a boatload of warm fuzzies about Kellyanne and her new role in the White House as counselor to the president.
Here’s the thing about email forwards. It helps if you know your audience before you hit send. A one-sided religious or political message sent to a likeminded person may be appreciated, but the same message sent to someone with differing views may feel at best didactic and at worst totally out-of-line and heavy-handed. In this case, my father didn’t consider his audience. He sent a message in praise of Kellyanne Conway, a religious, conservative, pro-life advocate, to his atheist, liberal, pro-choice daughter. While as a rule I take all religious and political email forwards from my dad and relegate them immediately to the Trash folder to avoid conflict, this time something hit me. I can’t expect my father to know his audience when to avoid uncomfortable conversations with him I’ve not been explicit about who I am, what I believe, and what I am willing to stand for. I’ve allowed him to think I agree with him by not disagreeing with him. I’ve been complicit by accepting the forwards and not presenting my beliefs in contrast.
I know my father meant no disrespect by sharing that message with me. I know he felt he was paying me a compliment. He could only believe that, though, by not knowing me at all. So, last night, at the ripe old age of almost 49, I hit reply and shared my views with my father unabashedly for the first time ever. I explained why I am pro-choice and why I support Planned Parenthood, and why, while I can appreciate all Ms. Conway has achieved in her life despite her personal struggles (we all have them), I don’t appreciate his email forwards about religion, politics, or the pro-life movement. I reminded him I have been a functioning adult for thirty years now and, as such, possess my own beliefs, which don’t happen to coincide with his. I told him I don’t share email forwards supporting my views with him because I respect that he has the right to seek his own truth. I also mentioned that I know he meant no harm or disrespect to me, even though my ego felt it.
Our country is deeply divided. There is rancor everywhere you turn. I would like to see us move to a place where discussion is possible, but that type of discussion is never going to be possible unless we as a nation are 1) brave enough to share our views openly, 2) comfortable enough with others to try to understand where they are coming from and consider the points they are making, and 3) willing to acquiesce on some of our stances to meet in the middle somewhere. At some point, we decided that compromise is weak and accepting less than 100% of what we want undermines the legitimacy of our beliefs. We are a nation of contrasts. We can’t possibly all get what we want. Compromise is crucial. It is democracy at work.
Last night I took my first step towards improving the conversations in my life. I was brave enough share my views rather than remain silent to preserve a false peace while my insides roiled with dissent. My second step will come this weekend when I participate in the Women’s March on Denver with my family in support of Planned Parenthood. I am going to continue to work on my mindfulness skills so I am better equipped to take deep breaths and enter into crucial open dialogue with people of differing viewpoints. I am going to work towards practicing compassion for others when they test my open-mindedness and poke me with their sticks of self-righteous certainty. It’s going to be a process but, then, all good things are.
“Never argue with a fool. Onlookers might not be able to tell the difference.” ~Mark Twain
You know what makes me tired? I mean, mother-of-toddler-triplets tired? The non-stop, exhaustive, political and religious divisiveness presented in the daily media. With Hillary Clinton’s long-expected announcement about her second presidential bid, things have become even uglier in my world. It’s not that I’m not interested in politics. I am. Like most Americans, I have plenty of opinions about our government and whether we have become the kind of nation our forefathers envisioned when they drafted our Constitution. Most of these opinions I keep to myself because I’ve learned that bickering with people whose minds are made up is a Sisyphean task. People say they’re capable of open-ended, honest, fair, and cooperative discourse about opposing views, but I’ve seen too many dinner parties turn into shouting matches over who is right and who is stupid to believe it exists. And the more polarized we’ve become as a nation, the less likely it seems that we will ever be able to have friendly discussions about opposing political or religious views. It’s a shame, really.
I have a significant number of family members and friends who never seem to tire of political and religious controversy. In the days before I knew better, I got into “discussions” (yes…that word needs quotation marks) with these people about my views. Some of these people wrote me off. The rest, however, made me their pet cause, which has proven to be worse. These people have since made it their life’s work to enlighten me about how misguided I am in an effort to save my soul. This, too, is exhausting. There aren’t enough free hours in my day to read the emailed articles sent to inform me of my inherent and unacceptable wrongness. So, I don’t read them. Somewhere along the line it occurred to me that I had a choice…I could save established relationships with people who disagree with me or I could spend my life defending myself and my views to them while becoming increasingly agitated about my need to do so. So I chose to let go. The emails sent for my edification go straight into my junk folder where they remain unopened in communication limbo. Every once in a while, I hit delete for the whole lot of filtered messages in a ritualistic, spiritual cleansing.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” ~Abraham Lincoln
Some people think that my unwillingness to go into battle over my beliefs is cowardly. While they proudly spout their views in every possible public forum under the guise of free speech, repeating news-generated talking points or quoting pieces from partisan publications, I remain silent. And my silence merely reinforces their opinion that if my beliefs held any merit I could defend them. It’s a nasty cycle. I suppose I could catalog and save statistical evidence to offer while disputing my detractors, but how would that ever be worth the effort when they are so convinced of their moral higher ground that they would find a way to dispel my proof and continue along in their assertion that I am at best misguided and at worst completely wrong? I’m female and, despite having been raised Catholic, I now identify more as atheist than Christian. I’m an anomaly. According to a Pew Research study in 2012, only 2.4% of US citizens identify as atheist. Of that 2.4%, it’s been estimated that only 25% are women. I’m so far out there right now, statistically speaking, that I’m nearly a unicorn. Some don’t believe I even exist.
Because I am different from the majority and do not myself fit in, I work on accepting others where they are because life is hard enough without creating controversy where none is necessary. In 2001, we bonded over a previously unimaginable horror. In those moments after the Twin Towers fell, there were no labels. It didn’t matter if you were Democrat or Republican, Christian or Jew, pink or brown. In those moments, we were all simply Americans. While I would never wish for those days back, I do have some nostalgia for the feeling that, as different as we were, we were all in it together. And I wonder sometimes at how in 14 years we’ve slid so far away from the united in the United States of America. Us versus them is now a continual ideological battle being waged within our own borders. It serves the best interests of no one.
So, I won’t debate you if our politics and religious views don’t mesh. I won’t unfriend you on Facebook merely because we don’t agree. But I won’t support this pervasive notion that any one group has cornered the market on morality in this country. There is no one way to be more intrinsically American than another, and no one group deserves a greater say than another. As a young child in the early 70s, I learned that we were free to be you and me. We were all unique, but we all somehow belonged here together in our differences. Maybe that was really idealistic, but I liked that message. I’m not exactly sure when things changed and we became so intolerant of the value of each individual within the confines of our united society, but I’m not buying into this new paradigm. I’m not defending my beliefs. I’m not kowtowing to the majority you create that leaves me on the outside. And I’m not teaching my kids with my actions that they have to explain why their opinion counts. It just does. They’re free to be whatever they want, and they don’t have to fit in to belong. This is America, dammit. And their mother is a frigging unicorn.
We live in Jefferson County, Colorado. You might have heard about us in the news lately.
Recently, one of our newly elected school board members, Julie Williams, initiated a call for a review of the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, with which she takes issue because she feels “it has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing.” I am not a history teacher and have no experience writing college-level curriculum so I can’t imagine championing a revision of a course created by college professors and AP teachers. Ms. Williams, however, whose extensive knowledge of U.S. history must come from her previous position in the health industry running an orthodontic office, feels qualified to suggest such a revision. And in making this suggestion, she inadvertently sparked an uprising.
In a press release distributed last week to defend her position, she seemed shocked that anyone would be upset, noting that rewriting the curriculum is not unprecedented because “the Texas State Board of Education has voted to set aside the new AP U.S. History Framework in favor of its own state-mandated U.S. history curriculum.” What she failed to mention about Texas in her press release is that a sample revision to the history books in that state includes the mention of Moses. Yes. THE Moses. Now, I’ve got nothing against Moses, but I’m fairly sure that he had nothing to do with the founding of this nation, given that he had been dead for thousands of years before colonists settled these shores. I’m not sure what happened to the notion of separation of Church and State, but the idea that a textbook in a public school could contain the names of persons mentioned in the Bible seems to play against it. It was around this point in her argument that I determined that there might be a political motive at work in her rewriting the history curriculum. Turns out that Williams and her fellow, conservative cohorts on the board would like to see history courses promote “citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, and respect for authority.” While there is nothing wrong with those topics in and of themselves, if we include them while eliminating discussions about race, gender, ethnicity, and grievances against government, we’re creating a very one-sided discussion. That doesn’t seem accidental to me, and it doesn’t make me comfortable. We’re not the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. We’re both.
Recently, students at local high schools have made national news by walking off campus to stage demonstrations against Williams’ suggestion that the APUSH curriculum is not appropriate and should be replaced by curriculum that reduces discussion around grievance and civil disobedience. By doing so, the students have shown exactly why our country is great. We are free to express grievance and perform acts of peaceful, civil disobedience. Students at several area high schools left class last week by the thousands and, with their parents’ permission, stood along busy intersections to voice their dissent about the proposed review, which they feel will limit their education. (It is possible, perhaps, that some of them were simply excited to ditch class. But I like to think that somewhere along the line even those kids gained some insight into the importance of citizens’ rights, free speech, and freedom of assembly.) In any case, I’m sure these protests were the very thing Julie Williams was hoping to quell by changing the curriculum. So much for not raising little rebels. Lesson learned.
My husband and I have been talking a lot over the past year or two about how we can broaden our sons’ experiences to prepare them for the world they will enter as adults. We inhabit a complex, continually changing planet, and we believe our sons need to be ready to accept that nothing is forever and that there are lessons to be learned everywhere, from all people, on all continents. There is no one “right” way of doing things but, instead, a myriad of options for every situation. We want for our sons a truly liberal education in the sense that they should become well-rounded citizens of Earth, open-minded, deeply thoughtful, generous of spirit, and globally aware. We would like them to know that there are good people in every nation and that a few mean-spirited, misguided bullies (hello, ISIS) do not represent the whole of the world’s people. We want for them hope for their future, knowledge that we are united in our common humanity, and the belief that together we can change the fate of this planet. Cue “It’s a Small World After All” and you will get the gist of our dream. None of this means that we do not love our country or are not patriotic. We are. We just don’t happen to believe that the “American Exceptionalism” Julie Williams would push necessarily equals patriotism. Our sons don’t need didactic, closed-minded, pro-America speeches to turn them into patriots. They need exposure to the world at large so they can value and appreciate what we have here.
I don’t love the idea of teaching our children to respect authority without acknowledging that sometimes authority is messed up (ala Hitler). I hope my children learn to question things, to dig deeper, to bravely consider all viewpoints. Call me crazy, but I honestly believe that is what our forefathers imagined when they dreamed about this great nation they were creating…a place where people could think, share their opinions, and compromise successfully when necessary for the betterment of all. I think our nation is facing a political crisis now due to a lack of critical thought and the non-stop, mindless repetition of talking points and sound bytes. We aren’t doing our due diligence as citizens to understand what is going on or what is at stake. We’re watching our 10-minute blurbs of cable news and allowing them to be our Truth. It’s the type of information cleansing that Ms. Williams is espousing that leads nations to ill-guided notions of supremacy. Taking the ugly out of American history is a mistake. It’s only when we are willing to bear witness to the ugly, the confusing, and the difficult that we learn and grow.