Thursday, July 27, 2017

No Magnet This Year--Storytelling, Advocacy and My Kids

"I don't want a magnet this year when we go to D.C.," Wade informed me before we left for the first part of our road trip. 

"Okay, why not?," I asked.

"Because I don't want President Trump on a magnet on our fridge," he said. 

I silently agreed. 

"Maybe we can get a different souvenir this year, maybe a magnet with a picture of the Lincoln Memorial or heck maybe a Nationals hat," I suggested. "Hopefully there will be a magnet with a new president added in 2020 that we want to get."


Last year I took the kids to D.C. to a rally to call for more attention to and action on climate change. We also met with Senate staff. We had talking points. We took pictures in front of the White House. We listened to the Hamilton soundtrack on the way there, and quoted it and sang it all over D.C. It was fun and interesting. I was grateful for the opportunity to show my kids that they have a voice and encourage them to use it.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a few more memorials and went to a gift shop and bought postcards, a parchment type paper with a copy of the Declaration of Independence on it and a magnet with all the presidents.  

This year was different in so many ways. First of all, Trump. Maybe that's the last of it all too. Instead of moving forward, D.C., with Trump at the helm, feels like it's moving backwards...denying climate change, the budget, healthcare, shaming people, all the tweeting, all the negativity and the bravado and the coldness and the corporate-ness and Jesus, all of it. There was no f&*$ing way I was getting a magnet.

But I did want to try and make a difference and connect with staffers and maybe a Senator or two and try to create change, or at least help stop the backward motion. I didn't just want to encourage my children to use their voice in their government and their community, I wanted to urge them to. And show them the way.

We went with a group that I am so proud and honored to be a part of, Moms Clean Air Force. They have taught me so much about climate science, activism, advocacy, how to be a part of it all and help make a difference. 

In the park beside the Capitol building, we attended a "Play-In." There were activities, speakers, musicians, prayers and hula hoops. There were Republicans, Democrats, women, men, mothers, grandmothers, teenagers and babies. And a drum line! 

I am not kidding when I tell you that marching with and dancing to a drum line was an actual dream of mine.
Dream realized. It was amazing.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse spoke to the crowd.

After the Play-In, we headed over to the senate office buildings. This wasn't our first rodeo, we felt prepared. We had practiced our talking points the night before in our hotel room. During our first meeting of the day, I turned to the kids and asked if they had anything to share. I sat back proudly watching and waiting for their rehearsed answers. They said nothing. They shrugged and quietly said something about how they want to protect the environment. Um, what? "Children, what about your prepared statements?," I said through a smile like a nervous stage mother. 

But then I remembered why we were there. We were there to tell our stories and tell our elected officials what matters to us and why it should matter to them. So, the kids started talking about how they love to fish. JT and Wade talked about the giant catfish they caught at their grandparents' cottage on a lake in Michigan. The senate staffer talked about how he liked to fish. That led to a discussion about protecting lakes from pollution. That led to talking about protecting the environment from corporations that pollute, and ultimately a conversation about climate change. 

After our first meeting, we were all more comfortable telling our story and asking people to work to protect the health of our lakes, our air and our future.

As we walked the halls from meeting to meeting, several people stopped us and thanked us for being there. "It really makes a difference for people to come to Washington and meet with us," one staffer told us. "It's a bubble here and it really helps when regular people like you guys come and talk to us and remind us why we are all here."

Our senator from Michigan, Senator Gary Peters, was gracious and kind. His staff has always been so great with my kids too. And Sen Peters happens to have a great record protecting the environment, helping to take action against climate change and working toward environmental justice in our area.

Our last meeting was with a U.S. Representative that probably has a magnet with Trump on his fridge. I was happy that his staffer agreed to meet with us, but also a little nervous.  As we sat down the kids starting talking to him about their love of fishing and sports. They all seemed very comfortable with each other. We spent the longest time in this office and actually enjoyed our time there. We talked about other issues like financial aid for college, public education and more. Even though I am not sure we changed his, or his boss's, mind about climate change, we connected. We found common ground. We didn't sit down with him and angrily shout at him about our agenda (sometimes in some places that is necessary however), instead we found a way to start building a relationship and start moving forward, not backward. A lesson I'm going to take back home with me, better than any souvenir. 

But we still didn't get a magnet. Maybe we'll get one in a few years.

I want them to know their voice matters and that they can have conversations and relationships with people that don't agree with them. Even if their fridge magnets are different.

I want them to know their health and their future is worth protecting.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Totally Unprepared Road Warrior

We drove straight to the beach. The kids piled out of the minivan and ran into the ocean. No bathing suits. No towels. Just sheer excitement and a hell yeah we drove a billion hours to get here we are going to jump in right away kind of attitude.

We arrived three hours too early to check into our rental house, so we eventually found a public bathroom to change out of our wet clothes from our spontaneous ocean dive and into our bathing suits. But nobody remembered to pack towels, so we drove to the nearest gift shop. I searched for the cheapest towels in the shop. I found some for $6.99 a towel. They weren't the most colorful but they would dry us off, I hoped. 

The towels did indeed dry off the kids as they got out of the ocean. But they were also the kind of inexpensive towels that left little bits of cheap terrycloth all over after patting dry. No need to wonder which kid was mine on the beach....not the one with the bright orange rash guard, nope mine was the one with little bits of blue terrycloth sticking to his wet/dry skin. 

Who drives a billion hours to get to the beach and forgets to pack towels?  This experienced road tripper, that's who.

That story is from last year's road trip. 

I leave tomorrow for this year's epic journey across a few states. I'm feeling nervous because I'm not packed and my plans are loose. But then I think about how unprepared I was last year, and really every year, and how much fun we've ended up having.

If there is one thing I've learned after driving thousands and thousands of miles with my four children over the last decade, it's that road trips are the best of times and the worst of times and make for the MOST INCREDIBLE MEMORIES THAT LAST A LIFETIME AND MAKE THE GREATEST STORIES.

Forgetting the towels is one thing, driving through Georgia in a minivan with no air conditioning is a whole other thing.  But yeah, I did that too. It was so hot, but funny and ridiculous and we survived with some funny stories.

One year we were (okay, me, I was!) obsessed with The Sound of Music. We watched the movie and sang the songs through six states. My motto if anything went wrong was "what would Maria do?" The answer was usually sing a song and feel better, so that's what we (I) did.

A lot of times I forget to plan beyond the destination. Like the time my goal was Graceland. After we did the tour, my kids asked "now what?" and I said "I have no idea."

One year I didn't really have a plan of where or what we were doing, but I made T-shirts for everyone. Priorities! 

Up until last year, I didn't use my phone or even a navigator thing-y. Nope, I looked up the routes on my laptop and wrote it out on whatever I had handy the night before, usually paper plates. That sounds so old school but remember using maps?! I mean what a lost art. Maybe I'll go old school and use paper maps one year. 

Over the years, we have collected maps; had countless McDonald's fries and milkshakes; spontaneously stopped at the birth places/museums of former presidents and inspiring people like Helen Keller and Martin Luther King Jr.; we've stumbled upon amazing art exhibits and fun free concerts in parks; we took goofy pictures everywhere with state signs and different props; bought peaches every year from our favorite fruit stand in Alabama; seen sunrises and sunsets over mountains and oceans and highways that are simply unforgettable. 

We have been road trippin and finding silly photo ops for forever. This picture is pre-Wade.

My favorite place that sadly closed down after a million years. SOOOOOO glad we stopped several times over the summers. When in doubt, stop and experience...that's my motto on road trips.

We always look for the genie.

I LOVE tours.

We've visited family and stayed connected to people and places that help tell the story of who we are. We've laughed over and over and fought with each other, and laughed again. We've learned so much about our country and people and ourselves.

Looking through old pictures and memories I found this from 2015 and it is the perfect reminder of WHY I keep doing this and why I hope I always will:

"Hitting the road with no real plans, a minivan full of kids and a heart wide open helped me be less afraid.

This road trip wasn't full of fairy tale endings, monorails, parades or fairy dust--it wasn't Disney World. 

Instead it was a real world adventure that connected my kids and me to pop icons, civil rights leaders, inspirational women and political leaders and cousins and family members, and a region that has a complicated heritage, and the idea of slowing down and listening and learning and paying attention, making the most of wrong turns and hitting the open road, and it connected us to each other."

I'm completely unpacked and unprepared, but here we go. 
We leave tomorrow for THE summer road trip.

Friday, July 7, 2017


When I turned 40 I thought I had figured some things out. I thought well, now I've totally got this. I know how to say no and set boundaries, I've had the babies and I'm over that stage, I got a couple jobs and became a working mother, I didn't think twice about panty lines or a little extra  weight, I felt accomplished because I was still in love with my husband. I mean I really had my shit together and I was ready for the 40s and beyond. Or so I thought.

I've been 43 for about a month and I can tell you, I'm way less certain about everything.

The 40s aren't exactly like I thought they would be. I'm still wildly happy in my marriage and still have a couple jobs to manage. But this parenting older kids worry coupled with perimenopausal hormone surges and anxiety, um it is rough.

This is how I felt right before I turned 39. This picture was taken at my first Listen To Your Mother show in Detroit.

This is me at this year's Listen To Your Mother show in Detroit. Um, are worth a thousand words. This is how I feel about 43 and beyond.

It's weird because I feel stronger in some ways and more accepting of myself and others now that I'm in my mid-forties. But I also feel so worried about everything---my kids driving, putting too much pressure on my kids, not putting enough pressure on my kids, drugs!, people I love getting sick, me getting sick, football, not enough money, college expenses, global warming, war, my kids driving, drugs!....and the worry loop continues. I mean I'm not worrying about these things every minute, but the worries get so big with big kids and it can be overwhelming.

I'm still a positive person, but also a worry person. I'm more vulnerable and I'm trying to find strength in that instead of just resentment and fear. I guess the older I'm getting the more I appreciate everything and I'm so grateful for my life, and I'm afraid of losing it (it being all the good stuff).

That's my truth right now. This is my fortysomething. This is me at 43.


People may accuse me of being a little kooky and a worrywort or an oversharer and a lot of other things. BUT they can never accuse me of being a poker face or unemotional. I own it. I'm cool with it. I actually find it pretty funny.

This made me laugh...