Wednesday, August 16, 2017

It's time to start listening

Lily and Jovie. By Lily.

A couple weeks ago, Jovie broke my heart.

She looked at me with her giant blueberry eyes, tears waiting in the wings, "Mom, Lily was born first."

"That's true," I said.

"Well that means she's had more time with you."

"She has."

"So you love her more than me. Because you've had more time together." Jovie buried her head into my abdomen both to hide her face and use my shirt to staunch her tears and snot.

"Oh Jovie! That's not true," I said, holding her close. "I love you both so, so much."

And because I know that explanation isn't really sufficient for a down-trodden second born (I know this because I was the fifth born) I went on.

I told her that I loved her the second I knew she existed in this world. That a mother's heart isn't just one size for life. That it expands with each child. And that her love for her children is limitless. It extends infinitely back into time and stretches infinitely forward. That, as a mother, I was created to share exactly the right amount of love my children, my family and my community needed at any given moment. 

I finished my little pep talk feeling pretty good about myself. Like I'd shown Jovie an MRI of my heart so she could see the scales between her and Lily were perfectly balanced. Exactly equal amounts of rainbows, glitter, unicorns, bedtime stories, cookies, special songs, hugs and kisses. 

Jovie finished listening to my little pep talk and looked ... skeptical. I mean, she wasn't crying anymore. But she was doubtful of my claims. Which I get. Latter borns I think always suspect their parents gave it all away to first borns. 

Lily didn't help matters by taunting her in the background, "I was born first! Mom loves me more!"

As much as I wanted to, I didn't tell Lily who was my favorite child in that moment. Why? Because I didn't need two children bawling at me for failing to love them sufficiently. That would've made me just hole up in my room, probably with the dog. Who I'd snuzzle while whispering sweet nothings in his (slightly) stinky, silky ears. Because he'd accept my affection without whining or gloating.

Unless he gets smug with the cats when my back is turned. There's always a pecking order, right?

I remembered this conversation with Jovie today while thinking about ... well the elephant in our nation's living room this week (which is probably a separate elephant than the one in the room last week. Or the one that stopped by last month or last year. Or the ones that have shown up probably billions of times over the course of our human history. Actually, now that I think about it, maybe it's all just the same elephant (maybe wearing different clothes or something) that we haven't properly cared for. (Wait. What? Elephants don't wear clothes! This metaphor is falling apart! Abort! Abort!). 

I'll stop stalling. 

I don't want to step in the land mine that is having any opinion on what happened in Charlottesville this weekend. Because somehow up is down and left is right and declaring yourself to be a Nazi or White Supremacist or a member of the KKK and then showing up by the glow of tiki torches or the glare of daylight doesn't necessarily mean you're universally reviled. I still think it's mostly reviled. But it's not reviled enough. Not when they feel comfortable enough to come out of hiding. It feels sinister and shocking. 

This week, somehow stating, unequivocally, that the worldview held by Nazis, White Supremacists and the KKK is repugnant opens you up to criticism and dissection that is equally weighted to the criticism levied at the Nazis, White Supremacists and the KKK. 

We're in a rabbit hole down to bizzaro world trapped in a fun house mirror in an alternate universe.

But, of course, we're not. 

We're here in 2017. In reality. 

Our reality.

This is what's in front of us.

This smoldering rage that has girded our nation since the arrival of the first ships carrying human cargo is catching fire. In Charlottesville and Baltimore and Ferguson and Charleston and Chicago and. And. And. And. And. On it goes. The Ands could go on forever, I fear. 

And that's the problem. Fear. Fear is the emotion we need to address. Fear is the elephant we need to tend to. It's Fear at the root of our fire. Fear, I think. Not hatred. There's hatred to be sure. In massive volumes. But dig into that hatred and you'll find fear at the core. 

I see fear when I see my children battling each other. It looks like hatred. In fact, they'll tell me outright it's hatred. "I hate Jovie," Lily screams, swatting at her sister. "I wish she was never born." And Jovie wails in anguish that her sister and sometimes best friend could say something so terrible. But I know Lily doesn't mean it. I mean, she means it in that moment. But these outbursts always, always, always come when she's spent too many hours with her sister and not enough one-on-one time with Brad or me. It's insecurity screaming. It's fear screaming. Fear that she's not loved. That's she's somehow less than.

I don't tolerate physical violence in my house. And I don't tolerate them speaking so unkindly to one another. I tell them they can complain about each other's existence to me, but not in earshot of each other. They can get all those ugly thoughts they store up in their heads to me. We all have hurtful, hateful thoughts that pop up in our brains that are mostly temporary. Things that creep in one moment and disappear the next.I think that's human and normal. Sometimes we need to air out the ugly.

I know my girls' relationship with each other will last much longer than their relationship with me. A lifetime, hopefully. They'll need each other. I don't want all the ugly moments of their childhood to disrupt the potential for beautiful moments of the rest of their lives together.

I think about this as I think about our country.

I worry that we're so polarized we're less able to hear each other. We're entrenched. Or, we're nearing entrenchment. Images of World War I come to mind. Which is pretty dismal. I worry we're assuming the only possible way to be heard is to yell louder. Attack our brothers and sisters. Throw things. Light fires. Fight. Destroy.

All because of fear. 

Fear that as the makeup of our country evolves, they'll be no seat at the table for us. Fear that we never had a seat at the table to begin with. Fear that we won't belong.

But this is a country made up of us. All of us. And we all belong. We all belong. 

The creation of a nation is an enormous task. Our Founding Fathers had the right instincts. But like any parents, they're left with unruly children squabbling for the most and the best. Not only that, but they were imperfect, too. Just like the rest of us. They were smart enough to recognize their imperfection and left plenty of flexibility in the Constitution to evolve with its people. 

And that was the most brilliant part of their design. Their willingness to see past their own beliefs and values and self-righteousness to allow for changing ideas and societies – that was an act of humility, I think. And love. Even if they wouldn't have used such sentimental language to describe it.

We need both humility and love right now. Like, to wake up in the morning and be humble about the life we were given. And to enter our day with love. Even when it's really, super, super hard. Which it often is. Because fighting siblings and White Supremacists.

Our Founding Fathers get all the credit for the creation of our nation.I have to assume that beside them were an equal number of Founding Mothers politely (maybe impolitely) making suggestions for a better Constitution (obviously, some of their best suggestions were vetoed) and I'm grateful for them. Because one thing I know about a mother, is her heart has an infinite capacity to love all her children. I think our nation is imbued with this quality. We have an ever-expanding table that can fit all who want to sit at it. 

But this doesn't happen by magic. It happens by us. By us being willing to listen. By us being the parent who hears out all the ranting and whining. All that fleeting ugly stuff, because if we listen hard enough, we'll hear about the fear at its root. We listen because it gives us the opportunity to build deeper, more meaningful, more profound relationships with every new generation.  

We have to do this now. 

Because a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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