September 11, 2018

We Don't Have a Village

Parenting isn't for the faint of heart.
It is of course, wildly fulfilling and but also terribly consuming. It makes me unbelievably happy and fulfilled and yet, there are days that I want to pull out my hair and run away.

In the busy and delicate balance of juggling work, parenting, and marriage we are told not to forget about ourselves. We are encouraged to find time away from the house with friends. We are told to pursue our individual interests. We are told to find time to indulge. We are told to prioritize our marriage.

What we are not told is that all of those things are harder to do when you don't have a village.
Villages are supposed to raise children. But our family does not live in a village.
Our family resides on an island. With a single house. And perhaps a partially rusted skiff tied to the dock.

Parenting is harder on an island.
On our island, there are three humans. One of them is fairly small but quite demanding.
We tend to revolve around her.
And the two larger humans are sometimes exhausted and cranky.
Okay, fine.. we are often exhausted and cranky.

Our island occasionally gets visitors. Grandparents drift in with general supplies and offers of childcare services. Their visits are nice and always appreciated. But they don't live on our island. They don't live anywhere near it. Sooner or later, they depart our little piece of shoreline and once again, we will find ourselves alone.

In the day to day of life our island is quite lonely. And it can be tough.

It is pretty difficult to escape our island. If we want a date night or any time away together, we have to make arrangements for someone to come to our island. And they don't make the trip for free. This means that our nights out are usually spent constantly watching the clock so that we can get back to our island before it costs us a small fortune. And of course,  picking the most frugal and often-times least fun activities so that we can even pay for the privilege to leave our island. 

I must admit I am often jealous of parents with villages.
I'm sure a village has drawbacks, but I long to have a reliable village to raise my daughter in. A village that would support us in our parenting goals and methods. A village that could offer her encouragement and love in our absence. A village that I knew I could count on when life got tough. A village that my daughter could come to rely on.

As I sit on my lonely shoreline, I see other islands. I see other parents in need of companionship and support. I see other islanders desperate for respite. And I start to wonder... maybe we should form an archipelago?

We could connect our islands.  We could actively form pathways between them.
I can pledge to be there for another mom and she can pledge to be there for me.
My child becomes hers and hers becomes mine.

What if, instead of dreaming of a village I don't have, I just make one for myself?
For my family. For my daughter.
For your family. For your children.

Children grow best when they have broad experiences and exposures.
Children grow best when their parents are intentional.
Children grow best when mommy and daddy have a little sanity left over at the end of the day.

So I propose that islanders like myself decide that we longer live on a lonely islands with only our children. Rather, let's dive in and connect our lives to create a massive chain of islands with lots of children.

Perhaps children do grow best in villages.

But maybe they can grow just as well in an archipelago.

I'm certainly down for trying.

August 13, 2018

Ruffling feathers

I was born and raised in the South.
Despite its flaws, I love the South and for the most part, I love the way I was raised.
I was taught to respect my elders.
To always say "Yes Ma'am" and "Yes Sir."
I was taught to be kind.
To always be nice and agreeable -- especially to people in positions of power.
I was taught not to ruffle feathers or to cause a scene in public.

But....

Children are senselessly dying or killing others after gaining access to unsecured firearms.
Mothers are being murdered in front of their children by partners with histories of domestic violence.
Men are killing each other over parking spots and cell phone conversations in movie theaters.
Teens are taking their own lives with weapons they can easily obtain from family members.
And of course, as we know too well by now, we all live in constant fear that a madman with a gun will storm our office, school, grocery store, local restaurant, or park.
And despite these things, our culture and our politicians tell us that all we can do to protect ourselves from this nonsense is pray and pack heat ourselves.
They tell us that it is all about "defense" and that there is no offense we can play in this game.
I grew up where the Friday Night Lights shined bright and I know that there is always an offense.

It is time to ruffle feathers. 
It is time to cause a scene. 

Last week, I had the immense pleasure of attending Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America's annual leadership conference aptly named, Gun Sense University ("GSU"). Even though I've been a volunteer, member, and leader for the Arkansas Chapter of Moms Demand Action for quite awhile now, I was eager to meet up with other mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and yes, gun owners, who like me -- desire to see some sanity introduced into the "gun debate" in our country.

In the event you do not already know, Moms Demand Action is a non-partisan organization that (much like Mothers Against Drunk Driving) was created to demand action from legislators, companies, and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun safety reforms. The organization is not "anti-gun" but rather, believes that the 2nd Amendment and common-sense gun safety measures can (and should) co-exist. Moms Demand Action envisions a country where our children and families are not constantly plagued by gun violence and it works towards this goal by educating, motivating, and mobilizing supporters to take action that will result in stronger laws and policies at local, state and national levels.

GSU was overwhelming for me in a lot of ways. I spoke with survivors of gun violence. I hugged mothers who had their children murdered by someone who should not have had a gun. I sat and talked about self-care and racism with a woman who had been shot five times (3 of those in the head) by her partner in front of her two young children. I listened to friends and family who lost someone they loved dearly to firearm suicide. I learned from police officers and community health workers who talked about real-world consequences of the number of guns on our streets and how they end up there in the first place. I danced alongside those who once contemplated taking their own life but were able to get help before they were able to find a gun. Hell, I even got to share a belly laugh with a celebrity I've always loved who shares my passions.

I was so inspired by people with full-time jobs and multiple kids who despite having just as much time in their day as the rest of us, still manage to care so deeply about gun violence prevention that it has become their life's work.  I walked away from GSU knowing that things can change. Even better, I walked away knowing that things are changing. And they aren't changing because a handful of full-time activists are coordinating huge national strategies backed by millions and millions of dollars either.

They are changing because a single mom in Indiana chooses to write postcards supporting Gun Sense Candidates during her kids' nap time.

They are changing because a working father in Florida enters volunteer information in a Moms Demand Action data bank at night rather than spending an hour scrolling through Facebook.

They are changing because a grandmother in California who has never "been political" learned who her state representatives were and decided to go talk to them during the legislative session about how important gun violence prevention is to her and her family.

They are changing because a teenager who watched the aftermath of the Parkland shooting decided they didn't want to live in fear anymore so they attended a meeting with peers to talk about things they could do to help.

They are changing because an Aunt in Arizona attends a festival and hands out free gun locks and a flyer to people who pass her table.

They are changing because a stressed out mom in Texas, who juggles a full-time job and boatload of responsibilities at home, decided that she could find one hour a week to contribute to the cause.

You see, they are changing because average citizens are finally mounting an offense. Our offense is currently 5 million volunteers strong.

Activism is sometimes scary.

It can seem overwhelming and hopeless. It can seem as if you are already treading water and that adding one more task might cause you to drown. It can seem like you don't have anything of value to offer to a movement or cause. Or for those like me, it can seem to go against your nature or the way you've been raised.

It ruffles feathers. It can cause a scene.

But activism doesn't have to be scary.

Activism can be brainstorming gun violence prevention strategies with friends over dinner. Activism can be making a few phone calls a month. Activism can mean wearing a t-shirt to the grocery store and being prepared to explain it to a random stranger who may ask. Activism can mean giving up one hour of TV or Facebook a week to do something that will have long-term meaning on the world that children (perhaps, your children) are growing up in.

Activism can be as simple as texting "JOIN" to 64433 today rather than putting it off any longer.

Activism is offense. 

I've had #Enough so I'm in the game.
Are you? 
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