Why is “Knocked Up” So Much Fun to Say?

 

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Before I was Melissa with three big, wacky kids, I was Melissa with two big kids and one in the oven, working through my life here in Japan. I was pedaling my bike until I couldn’t anymore and getting the strangest looks. I was a mom of three, but first two, and one, and before my eldest was born, I was just me, me trying to figure things out in my new home of Tokyo. Me, daily reconciling the differences between my two homes, Florida, America, the family, friends, and sunsets I left behind, and the home I was just getting to know, alongside my husband.

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Obgyn, heck, dentist appointments can be uncomfortable enough in the culture you know, but here, with a different language and forms to fill-out, and a variety of cultural differences and norms? When you’re becoming a mother, you want to feel somewhat capable, like a real adult who can communicate and later advocate for your child and family. You don’t want to feel childish, unable to convey your needs or clearly word your questions. I left some of those appointments in tears. (Picture break-downs and here-and-there success at bookstores, public offices, shops, and train stations).

Writing, through all of these times, has been empowering, and therefore, healing.

So, too, has mothering.

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I’ve come out of all of these experiences a stronger and more confident me. Motherhood is challenging in any scenario, wherever you live, with a great number of supports or especially solo. With writing, I’m finding my voice and connecting with others. As women, as mamas, it’s powerful to know we’re seen, we’re heard, and we’re supported. It’s important to read of bravery in its many forms, of pioneering and making it work.

I can now say that I’m part of a great and splendid project with the expression, “Knocked Up” in the title! Hooray! The book showcases 26 women in 25 countries, all navigating the unique experiences of giving birth abroad and really, daring to make a life with kids.

I’m grateful for having an avenue, a gorgeous book in which my essay, my little baby, found a home. I can’t wait to read the other stories! From my essay and used by the wonderful editor, Lisa Ferland, in our Kickstarter site:

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I ask you to spread the word and share this project. Support, tweet, give, do anything you feel led to do.

Join in, please. I know if I would have had a book like this going into it, I’d have been greatly encouraged. We are never alone, but it can feel that way sometimes. Books, words, stories that connect, all have power.

Come on, don’t you want to say/share/tweet you’ve been, “Knocked Up Again?”

To GIVE click here!

To SHARE click here!

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**Gorgeous black and white photos above by the amazing Mel Willms.

Merci, thanks, and arigato!

 

How to Make Sukkot Your Own

Are you familiar with Sukkot, the Jewish festival also known as the Feast of Tabernacles or The Feast of Booths? Booths, you ask? Not telephone booths, not dunking or kissing booths, but temporary shelters the Israelites lived in during the forty years of wandering in the wilderness.

(This post is part of something larger, hosted by Multicultural Kid Blogs!)
Jewish High Holidays for Kids | Multicultural Kid Blogs

So the Israelites left 430 years of slavery in Egypt in what was the largest exodus, or migration of any people–2.5 million people!

They didn’t stop to make condominiums or apartments. No need for realtors or neighborhoods with cul-de-sacs but rather, be unencumbered to keep trusting and moving as G-d led them using a cloud by day and a fire by night. Exodus 13:21

So they dwelt in these booths and this was one of the ways the Lord provided. This was tough terrain! No misting sprays or air-conditioned cars, no camel packs, or sports drinks. They trusted and went, each week shaking off some of their old securities and insecurities as slaves.

Sukkoth always begins on the 15th day of Tishri, the Hebrew month which uses a lunar calendar. It’s always a fall festival. In Japanese, as is relevant for my family and the place in which we live, it is called Kari o no Matsuri.

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(This is the lovely Hakone, Japan, not the infinite buildings of my Tokyo).

In the book of Leviticus,  23:42 on, we are called to dwell in these booths for seven days. There is much to say about it, but if you were to construct a sukkah, you’d need very basic walls. They can even be frames alone. The roof should allow the light of the moon and stars to be seen. Again, it’s temporary. No one will win any contest for building a mini model home. Its very purpose is temporary.

In fact, one thing I love about Sukkoth is the parallel between our life on earth and the building. Our lives are sadly, quite temporary. But even so, we see the beauty of God’s creation. We fix our eyes on that which will remain.

The light streams in, even in the night. Life on earth can be fraught with difficulty, but Sukkoth is a festival accompanied by singing and dancing, a celebration of water, blessings over wine. Taking place at harvest time, kids often string fruit and vegetables indicative of the harvest.

Jewish people have been spread out over the earth in the term “diaspora”. Heck, I’m in Japan, right? Everywhere Jews are building and seeking to dwell in their own temporary booth to celebrate God’s faithfulness and the harvest they have been able to reap. So the branches that cover a family’s sukkah in Israel will be different branches than a family in Buenos Aires or in Washington DC. The fruit that hangs, maybe mangos and avocados in Miami will not be the same fruit a child ties to strings in his family’s sukkah in Lisbon.

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And then there’s the meal! In our sukkah in Tokyo, Japan, we may bridge Japanese foods with Ashkenazi Jewish foods and include some American touches, too. But the greenery, the plants? All of that reflects where we are now, where the same Mighty God is leading us. Last year, we made our seven-day beauty of a booth on the roof of our building and looked out at trains on a monorail. Our children strung Japanese veggies like renkon (lotus root), kabocha, and spiny cords of rosemary stretched overhead filled the space with fragrance.

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There is “Feast of Booths” written in Japanese, Kari o No Matsuri.

We feasted at night and slept under the sukkah, under moon and stars. It’s like combining Thanksgiving and camping! With food! And wine! And glad hearts. You may have game night inside, singing and guitar playing. Every bit of your sukkah and dwelling inside will reflect who you are as a family or person right now in this season. 

So my point is, don’t merely go the Pinterest route, thinking it has to be one way. Use what you have and build it with love, whether on a roof, on the sand, near a clump of trees, or using a wall of your garage. It sure was easy to get plenty of palm fronds for our sukkah when we lived near the beach in south Florida. You could ask anyone for snippings from their yard and get loads of banana leaves, too. Here, in Tokyo, a mega-city? Not so much.

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So we use what we can get. This is city life, right? One friend even drives down from her parents’ home almost two hours north. You threaten to go to public parks and cut down their trees, or help yourself to our rose garden’s gorgeous ginkgo branches. In the end, though, God always provides.

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Draw inspiration from your heritage as Jews and as people sojourning on this earth, speaking dialects and enjoying the fruit of whatever land you’re in. Make it your own. 

One wonderful friend makes her sukkah in Phoenix, Arizona, where her family resides. Last year they used brilliant bougainvillea to cover the roof. Gorgeous, but she says they won’t do that again. Too spiky, she said.

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This is the same sukkah at night. (Don’t worry if yours is more cardboard and newsprint than such luxury! Just be inspired). It’s amazing what a little swatch of cloth and some stringy lights can do! Talk about inviting!

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I know, isn’t it grand? You should here about their menus–a rich mix of Sephardic recipes and produce that reflects the southwest and Mexican flair of the region. I joked that they could just sling a saguaro cactus up on top to really reflect the desert. Follow @blooming_the_negev on Instagram for more from my friend!

Another friend says she and her children keep the decorations year to year. I think this is great and wonderful and I’d probably do it if the paper chains we make didn’t get so smooshed or tired-looking holding up to the wind or passing showers. Thing is, there weren’t any huge Tupperware bins from Target or Walgreens for the Israelites to store their craft stuff in and drag it round and round. They built as they went and we can trust, too, that we’ll have just what we need year by year to celebrate all God supplies.

For more specific guidelines on building your sukkah, click here

This year, on the roof of our building at some very tiny location that Google Maps can pinpoint, we will be there, feasting and laughing, under the booth. Under the same moon and gleaming stars as all of you, the same celestial body that our ancestors marveled at. We’ll wave the same lulav and etrog, whispering and declaring the same prayers.

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It’s the scent, though, the spice in our meals, the flowers that we weave under the canopy of stars that tells of our migration and Exodus, everything leading us to this point. It is the continuation of a festival, every year a bit different, that tells our story.

It doesn’t have to be the hottest thing on the internet, pinned by a thousand women on Pinterest. Enjoy! Have fun in the building and then dwelling inside, unfettered by all of the distractions that take place inside our regular homes. Get ready to marvel at such simplicity of design and all the ways you’ve made Sukkoth and this booth your own.

Jewish High Holidays for Kids | Multicultural Kid Blogs

The High Holidays are a very special time for families, and we’ve got great ideas for how you can celebrate with the children in your life! Visit the blogs below, plus see our blog hop from last year, and be sure to visit our Jewish High Holidays board on Pinterest:

 

All Done Monkey on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Gluten Free Rosh Hashanah Recipes
Melibelle in Tokyo: How to Make Sukkot Your Own
Kelly’s Classroom: Kids’ Writing about Rosh Hashanah
Moms & Crafters: Apple in Honey DIY Felt Rosh Hashanah Toy

 

More interesting takes on the sukkah:

On wheels, Pedi-Sukkahs in NY city and four other global location

A sukkah with living, green walls in Park Slope–inspiring innovation many of us would want to spend inside

An LA man hunts for the perfect canopy, or schach–corn stalks, dried flowers, and bamboo mats are mentioned

What kind of sukkah will you make this year?

Any Ring is Commitment, Even One Made of Fire…

Published in the beautiful Kyoto Journal, this is my piece on life on the Ring of Fire–perhaps apt to share as we’ve just moved through a pretty decent string of typhoons and some recent tremors.

…I was not prepared for the bevy of personal emergency toilets, or non-cook rice or spools and spools of floor-to-ceiling plastic sheeting for who knew what. Eight years later, I have a giant suitcase and half-a-closet of earthquake stuff. Because being prepared means I can breathe. It’s just what you do in an earthquake zone. It’s not about being Type-A anymore. It’s just what we do to be safe, maybe all we can do…

Please view the PDF of this piece, Ring of Fire, in its entirety because Kyoto Journal makes it look so polished and professional! Everyone should have the joy of seeing what this journal does with their words.

To buy the entire issue, click here.

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Your 500 yen, roughly $5.00 goes to support the beauty and quality of work Kyoto Journal is known for.

I do hope you read my piece and many others!

Please let me know what you think! This was a piece I was passionate about writing and continues to be a touchstone to many wonderful prayers and conversations.

May we not be terribly shaken. May we be firm like Mt. Zion.

Love always to the people of Tohoku,

Melissa

 

 

 

In Our House, Birthdays Last All Year

In our house, birthdays last a month. They have to. They’re too much to get done, too much to fill! (See? I already sound hyper and quite juvenile).

In the space of one day, what can you cram without too much pressure for some perfect day, the stuff dreams wish they were made of? You’ve got to be able to play it cool, let the cards dribble in, the sweet notes on social media sit in a virtual pile. You’ve got to have time to paint your nails, go out in heels maybe, and also plop on the couch with ice cream and some form of yoga pants. You just can’t do it in one day. You need the husband date, the kid time, the family time, the me time, the real life, everything that still has to get done time, like for instance, work and have the kids eat.

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Nope, we in my family prefer the slow crawl, the luxury of time plus a bit of delayed gratification. If a friend or co-worker hands me a card or a wrapped gift ahead of my birthday, that card or that wrapped gift is sitting on my desk, waiting for the day, and practically the minute I was born. You can’t rush this stuff!

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I may sound spoiled, but it’s just that I get the enormity of life and the miracle that each of us was born! It’s not just cake and ice cream; I get really deep. None of us had to happen. The fact that we are each alive is grace, is a miracle, is some magnificent power! Each of us is more than incredible, a distillation of family, and at least a small reflection of God. To be given life and be loved? There’s too much to celebrate.

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Anyway, my sister and mom are both known to send multiple birthday cards–there are so many flavors of card out there. They’ll want to express humor in a silly card (please please let me receive one of those talking cards with the funny voices!!!) and something way more sappy and heartfelt in another. My sis is known for sending our Grandpa multiple, multiple cards at which he would crack up. She must have spent $50 on cards and postage each year.

So as I continue to enjoy the day of my birth two, going on three days after the fact, wondering how else to celebrate, I’m realizing one thing: for as much as I love birthdays and want to lift up a person in the air, raise them up on a chair like at a Jewish wedding or Bat Mitzvah, I’m coming to terms with how sucky I am as the giver when stuff has to get in the mail. Really really. By the time my friend’s son graduates kindergarten, or maybe veterinary school, I may find a way to mail his “congratulations you were born” card.

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People give me the “Oh, don’t worry! You were pregnant” and “puhhlease, you kind of just had a baby” line, kind of like validating my parking fine, but really? I’m a birthday louse.

Admittedly, it is harder, much harder to get cute cards and get them out when you’re living across the globe from your kin as I am. There is no Target, no Walgreens with aisles of cards for every occasion and relationship, even your dog. Japan does cards much differently.

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Add to that the fact that we cannot plunk outgoing mail in our own mailbox. No, instead we must get our bodies and our young children out of the house in the sweat or in the torrential downpours, speak a foreign language, weigh the envelope, pay for postage, and try to do all of this a good two weeks before our loved one’s big day. This is of course after we’ve whipped up a homemade (crappy) card or gone on another train to go find a card at a far away card shop.

This is my life. This is why I send out telepathic sticky notes for Mother’s Day and Grandparent’s Day. This is why Hallmark isn’t making any money off of my smoke signals. I’m a birthday-fraud and I’m sorry, dears.

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I do solemnly pledge to get my act together and find the ways to my post office in time. While we continue to inhabit this earth, in this lifetime. I do swear.

And the funny thing is I’m already in the future! I am one day ahead of most of my friends and family! One day may just not be enough. But hey, I’ll make due.

I’ll put my thankfulness to good work and make it happen for others. Time to turn over that rumpled, thirty-seven-year-old (omg) leaf.

 

Can We Pay For Your Cab?

Today the grossest parenting thing happened, like ever. It couldn’t have gotten too much grosser. I am in the entry to the house, now, having stripped my kids and thrown them in the shower. I did contemplate cutting off their clothes, all of our clothes with scissors, but instead, I have them soaking for forty-five years in the washer. Shoes, too, and my fancy new baby carrier. 

If I could walk you through a slow-mo reel played in reverse, that would be best.

I’ll try.

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We have just been let out of the cab. A little distracted, I couldn’t pay attention in time to direct him to just outside of our house. Instead, we are getting out of the cab like a people in the throes of bad drugs. Or crack whores. We are covered in vomit. Covered. I hold their school bags and three umbrellas. I also have my two-month-old in a carrier. The big kids, five and three-year-old, they are the culprits. They are sick.

I have just allowed him to keep the change–as if 1,000 yen (ten dollars) is enough to absolve this, enough to rid his cab of what has gone on. Like it’s a steam vacc or a sage smudge stick to clean out the negative space. What I really think he should do is pull any valuables from the glove box and drive it into a river. Try to stay under the radar of being called on insurance fraud.

The automatic door waits for me. I am embarrassed and horrified, but I’m stifling a laugh like a crazy woman because it really couldn’t have been worse. And the setup, too–he started with white seat covers, with knit doilies fashioned for passengers’ heads. Grimmace. No, my 1,000 yen is hardly enough to do anything to fix this. It can buy him a beer.

“Get me out”, my boy says. He is also deeply horrified. It is hard to pick out a spot on his person that doesn’t look like a bucket of sick, the poor boy. At just three and a half, this is the first time he has lost his lunch in public, and only the second time he has ever thrown up. Now he is caked with it. My daughter, too. We look like we’ve come out of something bad. Bad bad. Something like war or a horror movie hospital ward. I’m glad none of my neighbors are out.

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“I look like I’m laughing; I’m not.” I try to convey how sorry I am, what bad fortune as we walk towards our driveway, but oh, this is one for the books. I cannot wait to tell their dad.

I strip off their clothes. I think about that poor cabbie and how he will never again, perhaps, stop for any family with a child. Especially not when it is mid-day and he is asked to pick up a family from a school, as this very obviously implies that someone is going home ill. I don’t know what miracle there is for the cab, what product can make this okay. He may do the noble thing and drive it into a river. Or pour bleach over all of it, do I don’t know what before the evening crowd needs rides out for drinks. My kids have soiled his baby. See, here in Japan, cabbies own their own cabs. They take pristine care, always shined, always waxed, hence the white gloves and white seats. Not his. Not anymore.

Now that I have the kids washing in the shower, I call their father. I am giddy when he picks up. “You know that part in Stand By Me? The part with the pies?”

Silence, and then, “No.”

“Oh, yes. It was bad. First J- and then K-. They were seat-belted in. Seatbelted in when they threw up and then he did it again and then she looked and started, too. And it was both of them again and again.”

I feel a small thrill of holding him mesmerized by the sheer grossness of our ride. Normally I tell such boring stories, but this one? This really is one for the books. Legendary. This is when, if not before, I win some badge.

I cannot even tell him about the details. It is way too bad. The state of the driver’s seatbelts is just too bad to get into detail about. I know I shall have to find him one day Oprah or some Japanese talk show. I will have to give him a check for the equivalent of five grand in Japanese yen.

I do tell my husband that as we walked up to the door of our house, my daughter looked at her stunned, shell-shocked and puke-covered brother, assessing, “You look like you stepped into one hundred cakes. One hundred stinky cakes”.

 

Poor kids. Poor driver. Poor washing machine. I stand stronger for having survived all the mothering it took to arrive.

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Observations and Love at the Kitchen Sink

She is washing her hands in the kitchen sink after clearing her dishes and filling her bowl with water. The scent of mint dish soap feels extra summery, extra clean after another hot day. Her vacation burn/tan has peeled, giving way to new skin across the bridge of her narrow nose and the high apples of her cheeks. She smiles and looks up.

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“I just love watching you do things like pick dead leaves off of the plant.” What a funny thing to say. She makes it sound like poetry. Just ten minutes prior, I had to pluck off sad, withered leaves that utterly broke, became mushy when I put and left them out on the veranda. She was curious about what flowers they would have grown and how beautiful they would have become. Now, she recounts that she loved watching me deal with the dead houseplant.

“And I love watching you when I tell you there’s a big bug on you. To see what you will do.”

Can you believe that? Like anyone who pushes buttons, she wants the reaction, loves the effect.

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But isn’t this love, I think? To want to simply be with the one we love. To watch them, whether they’re swatting a fly or pouring maple syrup. Even through day-to-day annoyances, we are locked in at the eyes, keyed in at the heart.

Life can be exhausting. I’m thinking specifically of the kind of exhaustion with two big kids and one infant. Diapers. Dishes. Today both kids stayed home from school. We’ve had fevers and potty-training. Science and art activities. Everyone is phenomenal at pushing each other’s buttons, especially the kids to each other. I chose to step into their shared shower just to play ref, therapist, and bruiser. We work at de-escalating a lot. Getting back to forgiveness and the tenderness of kids who know how to be in love. They are infatuated with baby now. If only I would let them sit perched on the edge of wherever their baby sis is laying, look with her at whatever has caught her infant-eyes.

Family is getting back to remembering that this is a person you love. Deeply. Wholeheartedly, without malice. This is true for a good marriage, or maintaining any good friendship. What did you first love? What continues to draw you to this person?

And here she said it. Even through the summer heat, the prickles of her wanting more independence and sometimes acting annoyed, she just wants to watch me. To throw whatever at me (a bug, a hug, another invitation to read a favorite book, a whiny whine) and see how I respond. Because she loves me.

We leave the sink and she volleys, “Mom! There’s a giant roach.” Just to see me squirm. To see me fight back with a gleam. We hold onto each other’s eyes. We see each other. The dishes aren’t so overwhelming and the next button I allow to be pushed may not seem as big. I’m on a sort of display, but she knows how to watch, intently, with her heart. She knows how to wear it on her sleeve.

We take each other’s hand and walk upstairs.

 

 

How We Respond to Rape in the News

I don’t usually make a whole post to point out an article I’ve written on another site. My husband doesn’t usually highlight something I’ve written, sharing it with a “Good job, Meliss” on Facebook. But maybe this subject is different. It’s more than about me.

It impacts more than a handful of kids. Way way way more.

This is about rape, abuse, tough words like “consent” and the sickening blurred lines. I actually penned three versions, all responding to the prominent Stanford Case. Who could believe that the parents of the abuser would not only come to his aid but vehemently argue his case? Never once was the woman, the abused and victimized, mentioned.

Like so many, I was so beyond frustrated with this specific case and so many cases before it. I couldn’t stop reading the details and it just kept fueling my disgust.

My article featured on the terrific, Parent.co.

At any college or university, abuse can occur. On a date. After the library. Preppy clothes, a solid GPA, urban or rural. Loose jeans or whatever. None of the variables matter. We live in a broken world. We must speak about the tough things—words like “appropriate touch” and “consent”. We beat back the darkness by shining a light. We use our words.

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Rape is just too prevalent. Too sickening. Voices are lost to shame and a legal system that can be flawed. We saw that with Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer and his parents. We saw that with the judge.

I sit with my children, watching the innocence, the fabric of their days, their joyous interactions, and I know there is grief in this world. Most children are sexually abused by someone they know, a figure they trust. Known or not, our girls may be blamed instead of the attacker.

I know that my sister, my children’s auntie, hears reports while away at college–reports of yet another incident, another attack on the college loudspeaker. It can seem like every night they are told to be careful, perhaps stay put. And the harrowing part is that most incidents of rape and assault go unreported. Mostly, a woman may be blamed and open to additional threats, should she go out on a limb and choose to report. That is if she can believe her own self-worth at that point if she can muster up the strength to look in the mirror and use the voice that has shrunk down so deep.

What is a parent to do? What can I do to battle the darkness now, even in this season of teaching my girl how to swim, of battling the formidable hill called Pottytraining? I mean, I’ve got milk leaking. What can I do? Rather, what must I do, for my son and my daughters? For others’ children, too? What am I called to do?

Speak about it, in the most direct, absolutely appropriate ways. To a four year-old, the talk will be very different that the way we speak with a sixteen-year-old. Of course. But talk. Talk. Let it be part of the family culture to talk about the tough news, the way abuse impacts lives, not just one. Talk about the way kind, respectful actions can go on to bless generations. Talk.

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I’m sparked, I’m on. I want to volunteer at hotlines. I want to organize nightly watches on campuses and in between parties. I want to offer young women a way out, even after they’ve already said “yes”, but feel otherwise. I want to hold tight, bring hurt girls and boys the freedom they need and desperately lack. I want to teach them to use their voice and treat others with some form of sacred respect.

In the end, I penned this piece (linked again) on what parents of young kids (and all kids) can do. It’s amazing what writing can do to soften the heavy emotional loads we carry. It’s a step, anyway.

Let this be the beginning of the kind of help I’ll do. Even if it is just towards my kids, let it be the start. May even the most grievous news catalyze, spark the understanding and a joy to help.

We’ve got to start somewhere. Let it be here, in this season, while my kids are 5, 3, and an infant. Let the light beat out the darkness, here, starting now, for all of us.