How are you taking care of YOU?!

So….

Here we are.

We all saw it coming, we prepped, we shopped, we apparently raided toilet paper aisles (still not understanding this one, folks). We knew it was bound to get worse before it got remotely better, we knew “shelter in place” was likely coming.

And yet here we are. Day 2 of official “shelter at home”, Day…um….8? Of social distancing.

And some of us are handling this beautifully. Like we were born to be locked in a house with our whole family all day. Projects, organized school work, organized craft times. Dinner is planned for the week. There’s plenty of choices for lunch.

And then others of us are over here like “ummmm….wait. What? Do I tell the kid we missed his online class meetup? How exactly do I sign something and scan it and send it back to my doctor when I don’t have a scanner, much less a working printer?? Why did I not think about feeding people lunch in my planning? We have peanut butter. And peanut butter.”

I think I have too much peanut butter.

I know a lot of people are totally unbothered by the idea of doing everything solo. Truly introverted people have been training for this their whole lives. Introverts, enjoy.

Me? I’m selectively introverted. And mostly extroverted. Like I NEED to be around people. I need to make people laugh. I neeeeeeeeeed the random hysterical mess that is the earth at times. People are funny and I am happily the person that will go somewhere to simply people watch, to narrate what they’re doing with a friend of mine who is cracking up. I’m convinced that THAT laugh, a genuine laugh from a friend who is thoroughly enjoying your company is the best kind of laugh. 

Y’all. I am narrating the wildlife and feral cats in our neighborhood.

SOOOOO….

What are y’all doing for yourselves, NOT. OTHER. PEOPLE. FOR YOURSELVES to keep yourself happy and healthy (both physically and emotionally)? Have you started a new hobby? I’m currently attempting to convince my fiancé to turn the front yard into a butterfly garden we don’t have to mow, which has come after asking if I could please paint the kitchen counters (and was told noooope).

How are you handling the unknown? The unknown that lies in not knowing when we will go back to work, when kids will go back to school, when everything will be “normal” again. I mean, its a little aggravating sometimes but I attract the weirdest people in public places, like bookstores and libraries and coffee shops and waiting rooms and I would LOVE to go plop down in one of those places and let the weirdos come to me so I could tell a funny story later.

I mean, I have a psych appointment that’s gotta be done over this iPad instead of in person this week. I am trying to postpone my nervousness of where I intend to plop down in this house that never feels like it’s totally clean (because it isn’t with 2 kids, 2 dogs, 2 adults, who are all ruled by 2 cats) for a “telehealth conference”. Different worry for a different day.

Anyway, tell me what you’re doing for yourself. 

ANNNNNND GO.

Xoxo – Maggie

Handling a World Wide Pandemic Whilst Also Dealing With Everyday General Anxiety.


I SHOULD BEGIN BY SAYING — I am in no way, shape, or form anything close to a doctor or nurse. I’m not even the person that wheels your wheelchair down to x-ray for imaging. THAT SAID…I have decided to share my handy “how to” list while we all trudge through this plague bullshit.

1. Go ahead and think through that worst case scenario. Just go ahead and get it out of the way, because you know it’s gonna just sit there and bug the shit out of you in that weird corner of your brain if you don’t hash it out. Plus sometimes, to be honest, anxiety is helpful in identifying actual real concerns. Admittedly though, prepping for the end of the world as we know it and where the outer fence will go around our compound to protect from intruders, how fast and at what point we will assemble said fence, and where it will be monitored for safety and where people can be ready with weapons is perhaps a tad much. Especially since I don’t really know what these intruders would be coming after us for, because we sure don’t have a mountain of toilet paper, we have one bottle of hand sanitizer, and like 2 packs of egg noodles. 

2. At this point, you realize you are too poor to actually survive a legit medical disaster. Proceed to freak out about your child with asthma, your other child who just got over pneumonia, and your dad with a lung disease. COOL, COOL. 

3. Google recipes for homemade hand sanitizer. Ponder if it is too much, too extra to carry these handy wipes you are going to make everywhere you go and wipe everything. 

4. Remember you were told the stupid virus can also live in the air for hours. Meaning someone could have coughed this morning in the Dollar General you were in this afternoon and you could have breathed in their Corona. Just people’s lame ass germs floating all willy nilly through the air. For hours. Cool.

5. Watch as your neighbors carry in enough toilet paper to last a normal family a year and really start to wonder if there’s something about this you’ve missed. Is food not more important during a quarantine? Have I missed an important detail? Are these folks onto something? Do we need more than the like, 24 rolls we currently have? As my mom said, “if the world really was going to end, the last thing you wanna run out of is decent toilet paper.” Which….well….is pretty true.

6. Ask your friends WTF they are doing to prepare. Get myriad of answers. Feel torn between being underprepared and being overly anxious, because state by state seems to be approaching it differently. 

7. Ignore the voice telling you not to look and check the news again for virus update.

8. YELL AT YOURSELF BECAUSE OF COURSE THE NUMBERS ARE WORSE. Decide that smacking yourself in the head on your front porch may make you look crazier than you would prefer. 

9. Revisit this toilet paper issue. Seriously, what is the deal? Do these people know something I’m unaware of??

10. Attempt to not panic at the idea of schools closing and going to online learning, because you totally did not completely lose your shit earlier this week over four 7th grade math problems. 

11. Realize if COVID doesn’t take you, homeschooling might just do you in.

12. Wonder WTF an actual quarantine really looks like. I mean like, can we go to the store? Do the stores have anything? Are people working? How does this work?

13. Stop and realize you are a whole 13 steps in and have done nothing that is actually helpful, other than the googling of your homemade hand sanitizer, which you have not actually made yet. 

14. Seriously wonder about yourself for a bit.

15. Panic when you realize you haven’t given any thought to your income. How long can we stretch mac & cheese and spaghetti?

16. Question whether this is one of those situations where you fill up your truck with gas? Is that like….hurricane only or does it also apply to worldwide pandemic?

17. Breathe.

18. Drink a beer. Then some water.

19. OVERHEAR THE NEIGHBOR COUGH. TAKE THAT SHIT INSIDE YOUR HOUSE.

20. Get alert and read that just as you were afraid, all K-12 public schools in Louisiana are closed for at least the next month.

21. Immediately return to point 11.

22. Audibly curse.

23. Again realize you are over 20 steps in and very, very little actual planning has taken place here.

24. Ok. Shit together. Make list of meals, try to figure out how much can fit in freezer. Ponder that whole friggin’ toilet paper thing again. 

25. Decide you’d really rather wear a bandana on your face than one of those practically pointless puny masks. 

26. Laugh, and I mean laugh hard, at the idea of any grocery store or other establishment allowing you in wearing a bandana over half your face in a hoodie.

27. Make mistake of reading new update on virus.

28. To quote my father, decide “WE’RE DOOMED.”

29. Decide you should absolutely definitely make that homemade hand sanitizer. And yes, take it EVERYWHERE, ALL THE PLACES, with you.

30. Because honestly, you have ZERO. FAITH. in the human race handling this even halfway intelligently.

There we go. 30 steps to get almost NOTHING accomplished. Because….anxiety.

…and I’m still trying to figure out this toilet paper thing, folks.

stay safe. try to be smart, please. MAKE YOUR HAND SANITIZER. AND DO NOT USE TAAKA VODKA, MORONS.

xoxo,
Maggie

TURN OFF THE ALARM

“Maggie, let me try to show you something about the benefits of the right amount of anxiety.” My psychiatrist was determined to prove to me that there was a normal, healthy level of anxiety. Motivates us or something apparently.

He leaned forward in his seat, apparently trying to really make sure this hit home for me, and says very calmly, “when my alarm goes off, what would happen if I just didn’t have any anxiety at all about it?”

“UMMMM YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE AND YOU….YOU ARE GONNA DIE. EVERYONE’S GOING TO DIE IF YOU DON’T GET THEM OUT!” I blurted out in a panic. And then I saw my psychiatrist take a deep breath, lean back in his seat and kind of smile.

“Maggie. I meant my alarm clock. If I hear it go off and a tiny part of me isn’t a little anxious about getting up, getting ready and getting out the door so I’m not late for work or miss work entirely, that’s not good. 

It was by this point that I was in a full blown fit of laughter. 

HELLO, EVERYONE, MY NAME IS MAGGIE AND I AM A PROFESSIONAL CATASTROPHIZER. THE WORST CASE SCENARIO IS ALWAYS MY GO TO SCENARIO.

Somehow through my laughter I managed to choke out, “So this…this was not the reaction you were looking for, for this example of ‘healthy level of anxiety’ was it, Doc?”

“It…no. It was not. No.” And he closed his eyes again and took a deep breath. Because obviously, I was a slightly bigger project than he anticipated.

FAIL. I HAVE FAILED. AND THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN EASY. 

This is my life. And I tend to take failures like this personally, and I dwell in them instead of just shutting up my inner critic, that aggravating little voice that likes to beat me up about everything I’m doing wrong, have ever done wrong, will ever do wrong in the future. My inner critic is a damn punk, I’ll tell you that. There’s no one meaner to me than, well…me. I ought to give you the jerk a name, except that feels like I may be sliding a little deeper into the rabbit hole than I really wanna fall.

So here’s the deal. My psychiatrist outlined what I’m supposed to do upon encountering a situation that induces anxiety (so like…everything?) so that I can hopefully learn to find my “healthy level of anxiety”. 

Anxiety is an alarm going off. It’s something that has triggered your fight or flight response. I pretty much live in fight or flight mode CONSTANTLY at this point, which is….problematic. And why I am in therapy. And why I take meds.


So there’s an alarm going off. You have to first TURN OFF THE ALARM. Which for me, means figuring out where the hell it is, how to operate it, and find the off switch. And then once you aren’t being berated by the lovely sounds of “PANIC PANIC PANIC” (with no disco present), ideally, you can think more clearly on whether or not this is an actual alarming scenario. 

Lets say its not, and I’d like to come up with an example here, but even imagining a pretend alarm situation where I have turned off the alarm is impossible for me to envision at this point. But go ahead, imagine a scenario where originally you freak, but you slow down.

You’ve turned off the alarm.

From here, you can decide “Okay, this is not an actual matter of life or death. Now, how do I go about fixing this?”

For the sake of my own anxiety, should you stop, turn off the alarm, and realize that yes, this situation does indeed warrant fight or flight, well…get to fighting or flying. Chop, chop. House is on fiyahhhh.

So anyway, I’m supposed to try to head off these moments by sitting down three times a day and listing out my worries. And then put two sections next to them. First section is things I can do to alleviate some of the concern about this particular alarm (that I hopefully have turned off or will turn off when I see the solution there in front of me) while the second section is “I Can’t Do Shit About This and I Need to Not Worry About This Crap Because There’s Literally Nothing I Can Do About This” where one lists out what is out of your control. Please feel free to choose your own shorter title for this section.

The key then is you get to work on the “I CAN DO THIS TO FIX THIS” section and you just…ignore the hell out of that other category. 

Three times a day I’m supposed to do this. 

I’m not great at three times a day. But I’m trying. And that’s step 2 right? Because the first is saying “Holy shit you have a problem.” I’d assume trying to work on it is step 2. 

ANYWAY — 

Now I want to hear about what you guys do to lower your stress/anxiety/panic. How do you break it into manageable pieces? Or do you avoid? (I am 100% guilty of this and you get ZERO JUDGMENT from me here if your current choice is to ostrich from life.) What I’m having to teach myself though is that ostrich’ing (this is a word I have used for years to describe the days where I sit under a blanket and avoid all life and all of it’s problems and act like everything is fine, when in reality, there is a mountain of shit piling up around me and it just makes it worse. Ostrich for a day maybe. But no full time ostrich’ing. Everything becomes a non stop alarm. 

Some people meditate and they come out of meditation all relaxed and at peace with the world and with their head on straight. Meditation is a nightmare for me. Please don’t make me. But if it’s your jam, go right on.

Some people exercise, and they clear things through their head while working out. I feel like this sounds healthy. It’s also not something I do.

So all you fellow catastrophizers/anxiety riddled messes/perpetually panicked folks – tell me, what do you currently do and what would you LIKE to see yourself be able to do?

Come on tunnel people, open up and share. Even if it’s just to say “I DO NOTHING AND IT’S NOT WORKING AND THIS IS ALL AWFUL.” Get it out. I’m not a professional but seems healthy to get that out of the way.

Above all things, we have to love ourselves harder, deeper, more completely, and be committed to trying to make things better for ourselves. I’m trying. I really am.

But I’m telling you, you say “alarms were going off” I’m thinking burglar or fire so…baby steps.

Be kind to yourself. And others. You never know what’s going on in the mind, in the nightmares, in the chest of the person next to you.

Love you people. Gimme your thoughts.

NO BAD DAYS* (*bullshit)

Can we talk about this whole “no bad days”, “good vibes only” nonsense that’s like, everywhere now? It’s a little much, and I think we need to ask ourselves what kind of message it’s spreading to people. It’s a little interesting that the more I see people spreading mental health awareness and pushing for better mental health services, that these two “inspirational mantras” or whatever you want to call them, keep spreading like wildfire. And honestly, isn’t it a little…I dunno, contradictory to the idea of “it’s okay to not be okay”? I go to buy a new journal and there’s just notebook after notebook of “GOOD VIBES ONLY” and “NO BAD DAYS”. Well, dammit, I’d like a notebook where I can express my annoyance at my shitty day. 

I understand the whole “law of attraction” and getting back what you put into the universe. But this nonsense is impossible. Some days are bad. The end. They are horrible, bad, dark, messy, out of control, just…bad. There is nothing to redeem them. They are for crying, mourning, screaming at the universe at how unfair it’s being. Can you learn something from it? Sure, maybe, but sometimes the lesson is simply “life isn’t fair”. And sometimes you just aren’t simply ready to learn whatever lesson is presenting itself in the situation at hand. 

I have dark days. Is it possible to fake my way through a dark day and tell no one about it? Yes. I’ve done it a lot. I use humor to cover up, to put a mask on my face, to force good vibes out. Because ugh, no one wants to deal with someone having a bad day. But the reality is sometimes we need to be okay with not being okay. And these stupid little overly optimistic slogans do nothing but make a person like me feel like I’m doing this all so very wrong if I can’t muster up positivity for a day, because I didn’t ALREADY feel like I wasn’t doing much of anything right. Thanks, coffee mug in Target. I needed your reminder that there are supposed to be “no bad days”. And then, if you’re anything like me, you spiral into a “why can I not do life right?” downward drain. I’m doing it all wrong, clearly, according to all these t shirts and mugs and notebooks. 

I need real people. And real people have bad days. Real people aren’t always full of good vibes only. We’re human, and emotions are what make us human. At the same time we’re telling people their emotions are valid, we’re saying “hey, but not that emotion. None of that one. Mask those vibes.” I think we’ve all been told for a really long time that we’re only good people, good friends, if we are constantly on our A game and that’s just not true. I think, and this is just my own unprofessional opinion, but I feel like I’ve gained more friends, deepened existing relationships, by taking the mask off sometimes. By sharing the darker, less peppy vibes, the less than enthusiastic feelings. By sitting in the darkness with my people.

Because the reality is, none of us really know exactly what we’re really doing half the time. We all have bad days, sometimes multiple bad days at a time, and sometimes our vibes are complete poop. It doesn’t make us bad people.

It makes us real. And I am desperate for more realness from real people with real issues and real bad days and real tears sometimes…and for more people to be okay sitting with those of us in those dark days feeling like we’re doing everything wrong. I think it takes a lot more bravery and courage to say “this is a bad day and I am not feeling positive vibes currently”, to be real, to take off the smiling masks and let ourselves feel things, and to share our realness with each other. It takes a lot of courage to be willing to sit with your friends who may not be okay and listen to them.

I want us all to be okay. But more than anything, I want people to know there are other people, real people, who are out here having a bad day and trying their best not to bum other people out, because we don’t want to burden anyone with our poopy vibes. I want us to really mean it when we say “It’s okay to not be okay sometimes.”

That’s brave. 
That’s courageous.

That’s real.

The Choices We Make When We “Don’t Have a Choice”.

I haven’t written anything here in a long time but I’ve been stewing on this one for awhile now so…

just bear with me, friends.

Almost a year and a half ago, I was electrocuted at work. It’s a loooong, booooring story, and I’m still out of work and it involves a legal case so I won’t bore you all with details. What I can say though is I basically blew up 2 of the 3 main nerves in my left arm and hand. And what I have learned is, with nerve injuries, there is a wide spectrum of “normal healing”, “normal reactions”, “normal pain”, and “expected long term damage”. My left arm and hand don’t work right anymore, I don’t know if they’ll ever work the way they used to ever again, and I don’t deal well, in any situation, with unpredictability and unknowns. So basically, this is a nightmare for me.

If you’re a human reading this, I imagine you’ve been through what people love to call “a season of your life” that feels like a nightmare, possibly utter hell on Earth. And don’t you love that phrase? “This is just a season”, or my favorite “there’s light at the end of the tunnel”. Please. I have been hit by more oncoming trains behind those headlights in those tunnels than I care to admit. Like I think I maybe just actually live in a tunnel at this point and I am a tunnel person. This is my life now.

But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we respond to people’s amazement? amusement? disbelief? that we’re making it and not drowning. “I don’t know how you do it!”

Spoiler alert: I think I’ve realized most of us ARE drowning. We just choose not to tell you because oh God, do you REALLY wanna hear all that? Sadly, most of us have learned you probably don’t. We don’t know want to burden you with our problems, because then we feel like we’re whining, or we’re made to feel like we’re not strong enough, or, here’s a favorite of mine, not praying the right way or hard enough or doing enough good in the world. Like we’ve somehow brought a situation or a disease or imbalance upon ourselves because we suck as people. Thanks, what I was totally lacking was a little more guilt and shame. Appreciate your insight.

“I don’t know how you do it.” “I’m so inspired by your strength.” “I wouldn’t be able to do it.” “I wouldn’t know how to handle that.” All these kind of comments and so often, at least for me, they’re met with “Well, not much choice. Just keep on keeping on.” You know, Joe Dirt style.

And it wasn’t until unimaginable tragedy struck one of my best friends in May and I heard her say this repeatedly, that she had no choice but to keep going, that I realized that is utter and complete bullshit. Before you ask, I’ve asked Tyler’s permission to discuss her beautiful boy Mason and his life…and his murder this past May. That’s right. Her 8 year old son was murdered. The whole story, which is yet another legal case, is quite possibly just worse than you can imagine and I’m not going to rehash it here, though you can read the news article linked if you’d like to fully understand what an unimaginable tragedy this was and still is for his family. It’s an actual nightmare come real. And if you’re a parent, your gut reaction is “I don’t know how I would go on.” If you’d known Mason, your disbelief would be that much deeper, because you’d likely never met such a bright spirited, beautiful child. From the time he was itty bitty, it was clear Mase was sent here to brighten the world. He made every room lighter, he made smiles happier and laughs deeper, he made hearts pound faster and loved everything bigger. Mason was truly a gift to everyone who had the chance to meet him, much less know him.

And it was when, on a long phone call in the weeks after Mason’s death, where we both laughed and cried so much, that I heard Tyler say people keep asking her how she’s doing it and she just keeps saying “I have 3 other kids, I don’t have a choice but to keep living. I just get up and have to do it.” And I probably hollered and it was probably inappropriate because that’s my style, but I distinctly remember telling Mason’s mama that the statement “I don’t have a choice” is total utter bullshit. It isn’t that she doesn’t have a choice. She does have a choice. Just because she wakes up every day and tries her best to be a good mama to Mason’s big and little sisters and his baby brother does not mean she’s not making a damn hard choice. She is CHOOSING to keep going. She’s CHOOSING to not let this kill her. She’s CHOOSING to fight.

And a lot of us, in some way or another, are making these choices every single day. We choose to stay and fight, we choose to keep hanging on, we choose to not let something beat us, we choose to not let the waves overcome us.

Because sometimes it would be easier to drown.
It’d be easier to get rip roaring drunk.
It’d be easier to go numb and let our eyes roll back in our head.
It’d be easier to run away.
It’d be easier to just stay in the bed, in the dark.

It would just be easier to drown.

And we choose not to.

Every day, so many of us are waking up, getting up (which alone is a hard choice for many), and tackling things that were once easy and commonplace that have become mountains the size of Everest for us. Everest looks different for all of us. For me, it looks like an electrocuted arm and a very uncertain future. For others, it’s a divorce (oh I did that too lately), it’s a diagnosis, it’s a lost job, it’s a craving for numbness, or it’s a constant slew of reminders we’re missing someone.

One pain is not comparable to another, though. One fight is not comparable to another’s fight. Between circumstances, support, chemical balances (and a whole lot of imbalances), and hell, insurance coverage, coping skills vary for each of us. What is insurmountable for one may be totally tackle-able for another. And that doesn’t make us each worth any more or less or any more or less of a functional adult. AND YES, I AM TALKING TO MYSELF HERE.

But the more we share with each other, the less we lie about how hard life is, the less we tell each other we don’t have a choice but to just truck through, the more real we get with each other about the crap that we are all dealing with, the less alone we can all begin to feel. We say we want to encourage each other, but we simultaneously guilt the hell out of people who choose a different coping mechanism than we want them to, and in the moderation we want them to (because “Mommy’s Sippy Cup” is appropriate and “Wine down” is okay but full blown alcoholism? Oh no. Wrong choice.) Did you know you’re allowed to say “HOLY SHIT THAT SUCKS SO BAD” when your friend tells you something that, well, holy shit, sucks so bad? We aren’t always looking for solutions, we aren’t always looking for a fixer, we aren’t always looking for input. Sometimes we’re just looking for a solid “holy shit that SUCKS.” Because truthfully, some days are for living, other days just look a whole lot more like surviving.

Some days, we’re just choosing not to drown.

And if you’re reading this and thinking “oh holy crap, is Maggie okay?” the answer is “Nahhhh, not really, no.” But what I am (slowly) learning is that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. Because sometimes, truly, life is just absolutely. not. okay. Things don’t make sense, nothing comes together like you feel it should, everything is a whirlwind.

Love each other big, y’all. We’re all on this ride together and we might as well try to laugh and enjoy the parts of it we can, and at least be able to hang onto each other in the parts of it that are downright absolutely frickin’ miserable. (Misery loves company right?) Let’s try loving each other without any other motive than to love each other, not just when it’s easy. Hell, especially when it’s not easy.

Love big, love endlessly, love recklessly.

And together we may discover we know how to swim better than we think we do.

Also, drink some water. Take your meds. Get some damn sunshine. Pet a dog (or a cat if you must). Love yourself big first.

The Hancock Fabric incident and Keeping it Real.

I originally wrote this and read it as part of the Listen To Your Mother show in Baton Rouge last spring. And then I forgot to post it here. But now I remembered, so here it is.

Let’s Just Keep it Real.

I never spent much time before I was a mama thinking about the type of mother I’d like to be one day. I’m sure many women do, but honestly, I was a kid myself and caught myself a tad off guard. I was more concerned with the basic goal of keeping the baby alive than anything else for a long time.

But now that I’ve been a mama for over 10 years, I spend a lot of time thinking about the type of mama I want to be, now and in the years ahead. And it’s not just about who I want to be for my kids, but also other moms as well. And I have decided that I’m a hot mess and it’s ok, because honestly, motherhood is a mess, both literally and figuratively, and I am just going to keep it real.

And in my drive to keep it real, I’ve shared some rather, well, we’ll just call them “the not so flattering parts of motherhood that are often not at all funny at the time but are hysterical when you look back at them” moments.

One such moment that, for reasons unknown I am choosing to share right now, is what I fondly refer to as “the Hancock Fabric incident”.

Anyone who is a mother has been there…one of those times when you absolutely KNOW you should call it a day because you just know you’re about to be pushing the limits of your child’s patience with life in general, and yet, because you just need to get ONE MORE THING done, you push your luck.

I’d already taken him to Target, which we had to leave in a rush to head to the dentist because as I bent over to grab something off a shelf, one of my temporary crowns fell off my tooth and right onto the floor of Target.

“Is that…is that your tooth?”

So we went to the dentist, which is just a ton of fun itself for everyone. And then I decided to push my luck on this particular afternoon by taking my then 3 year old (I’m telling myself he was still 3, because 4 sounds like he definitely should have been too big to pull a stunt like this) to Hancock Fabric.

Hancock Fabric is absolutely not at the top of any preschooler’s wish list of things to do.

I am not a Hancock regular, so it took me too long to find what we needed, and I was REALLY pushing my luck. By the time we made it to the checkout line to wait behind several other guests, including a person at the register attempting to execute a return, an exchange, and then a purchase with multiple coupons, AND WRITING A CHECK, my son was completely over his entire day.

Commence meltdown. You know when you can just see it coming? I knew it was coming. He was starting to whine. He was asking how much longer. And the groans became more desperate.

And then, out of nowhere, my child SHOUTS, and I do mean he shouts, “I AM BEGINNING TO POOP.”

What small child says something like that? Not “I need to poop”, not “I’m going to poop”, but “I am beginning to poop.” Who says that? I’m struggling at this point because my mind wants to question the word choice and clearly, the more urgent issue here is the child is apparently beginning to poop. In the checkout line. Behind grandmothers. And that woman at the front is still trying to execute her entire check writing experience.

I’m scanning around looking for a bathroom sign when I hear splashing…because my dear son is now urinating on the floor of Hancock Fabric. He’s now standing in a puddle. Bless the grandmothers in line with me that day for giving me the “been there, done that” face as they waved me in front of them, and not the “what kind of heathen urinates on himself in a store?” face.

I’m trying to get my items onto the counter, while simultaneously trying to explain to the cashier that we need some paper towels for a clean up, and I realize my son is now taking off his shoes.

“I CANNOT WEAR PEE SHOES.”

“You cannot take those shoes off! We’ll get you cleaned up in the car.”

“I CANNOT WEAR PEE SHOES!”

Naturally, the cashier is the slowest human on the face of the earth. And the grandmas are trying to stifle their laughter at the situation that has unfolded in front of them, but honestly, they were doing a terrible job. But the entire time this was unraveling, they kept reassuring me “you’re getting close to dinner time. Which means it’s getting closer to bedtime. You’re almost there. Day’s almost done.”

But they lost their composure when my child began to take off his pants. Because, you know, “I CANNOT DEAL WITH PEE PANTS.”

So there I am, attempting to swipe my card and pay and GET. OUT. and I look at my son, who is scrunching up his face uncomfortably and I say, in my best mom voice, “You WILL. NOT. poop your pants right here, sir. You WILL NOT.”

And he looks up at me, and his face starts to unscrunch, and he says “Well, I’m not. I’m actually just trying really hard not to laugh right now.”

We all lost it. Because that’s it, isn’t it? There are some moments of this absurd ride of motherhood that are just too ridiculous to take seriously. Sometimes you just have to completely fail at everything, and laugh. And without those grandmas in that line with me, reassuring me that it was okay, I don’t know if I would have had the strength to just…laugh.

That’s who I want to be. The one that keeps it real. The one who can pat another mama on the back and say “Your day is almost done.” A mama who you can trust something just as ridiculous or embarrassing has happened to, and she’ll tell you about it. Someone that will pat you on the back in life in the most absurd moment and who will reassure you that “bedtime” is a perfectly fine thing to strive towards some days. Because sometimes, just surviving together is a feat in itself…and that’s okay.

Rain.

I have tried writing this in my head for days now, because it’s important to me, now more than ever, that I live my life without feeling like I’m hiding something. The funny thing is, I’ve been hiding for years and the same can be said for Stephen.

Everything is fine.
Until it’s just really, really not.

Stephen and I have been married for just over 10 years, together almost 12.

Which is why it feels weird to say we're done. It feels hard.

But I'd be lying if I said it didn't feel more right than a lot of things I've had to do in this life. Because I'm done.

I’m done trying to be someone I’m not.
I’m done feeling guilty.
I’m done attempting to make people treat me with respect.
I’m done not being a priority.
I’m done biting my tongue.
I’m done sacrificing who I am for people who don’t even care to know the real me.
I’m done dampening my fire.
I’m done trying to control the hurricane.

Because I’m not going to sit here and try to teach my children how to be strong, kind, independent people who aren’t afraid to speak up and go their own way while I live a life that’s a lie in complete opposition to those ideals. For a long time, I’ve stayed because I felt like I needed to stay for my kids, but I’ve finally come to the realization that maybe there’s an even bigger lesson for us all to learn in the strength it takes to finally say “enough” and walk away.

My kids are my heart. They give me life. They make me a better person. They make me want to be a better human every single day, because I can see each day how they’re becoming such cool little people and there’s nothing like watching them and wondering exactly how incredibly beautiful they may one day be. They make me strong.

But because they love their daddy, they make me confused too. I can’t look to them to be the answer to all the questions, because there are some questions they complicate.

But I’m lucky, because I also have some seriously badass, fierce people in my life. People who call my bullshit. People who I can't pretend around. People who have, over the past ten days, picked me up off parking lot pavement when the tears overwhelmed me, stayed up all night with me and raged with me, held me and refused to let me go, sat in Waffle House at 4 am with me, hate-watched Food Network and HGTV and TLC with me, smoked too many cigarettes with me, let me crash on their couch. People who have called the cops (no, I'm dead serious, life's been cutting up) and helped me speak when I couldn't even find the words to say anything.

People who finally took my bourbon from me and reminded me I can’t run from life.

People who have literally reminded me to breathe.

People who have reminded me I am strong.

When it rains, it pours.
But I’m done trying to stop the storm. I’m done trying to pretend I’m not a hurricane myself.

******************
For right now at least, the kids are staying here in the house and Stephen and I are going to be the ones shuffling in and out. We wanna try to limit the chaos in their life. So the only thing that really is going to change is that when Stephen isn’t traveling, he’s here and I’m just not. I’m not naive enough to think this will be the perfect arrangement right off the bat, so I know there’s going to be bumps to figure out how to deal with.

Honestly, one of my biggest concerns was something happening to Hooch while I wasn’t here, and whether Stephen would know how to handle all his needs. I laid in bed for hours 2 nights ago worrying about him, with him snoozing in the chair at the foot of my bed, and the very next morning, yesterday, when he couldn’t get up….I don’t know how my dog knew he had to go, but he knew. And he looked at me with eyes that told me he was done, and that I was going to be okay. That damn dog. When he went to sleep, he snored a deeply peaceful snore and somehow it was exactly what I needed to hear. Peace. I needed to HEAR that peace.

I’m gonna be okay.

I may need some of y’all to shake me periodically and remind me I’m gonna be okay because I know I'm going to beat myself up and tell myself I can't do this…but I’m strong enough for this because I have to be. Because my kids depend on me being okay. Because I DESERVE to be okay. Because I’m stubborn as hell and I’ll always root for the underdog. And this time the underdog is me.

I’ve avoided the hurricane that rages in me for a long time. But it’s time. It’s time to back off and let the floodgates go.

Because some things have to get completely wrecked to build them back up.

And the rain has just begun.

-Maggie

I’m not feeling it.

Dearest America,

I’ll preface this entire thing by saying I’m already annoyed with this holiday because my neighbors decided to set off fireworks that come in canisters the size of a small child for HOURS this evening, the 3rd of July, which sent my zoo of a household into a frenzy. Those things belong on the barges in the Mississippi, y’all. Not in front of your house under big ass oak trees. I don’t even understand why we DO THIS. It’s basically lighting money on fire. And rarely does anyone ever actually have the disposable, light on fire-able income to REALLY go all out and put on a full show, so it’s just annoying from start to finish because you spent a ton of money and it still wasn’t even great. WHY?!

Moving on.

Someone asked me the other day if we “had big plans for the 4th”. And I answered honestly, “Nope. Sure don’t. Not exactly feeling that whole ‘patriotic’ thing right now.”

In the past few days, I have listened to our president read statements the President has made on his Twitter account tearing apart journalists with a now very familiar taste of misogyny. I have watched the STATE. OF. MISSISSIPPI. tell the Federal Government where they can stick their invasive request for voter information. Buzz Aldrin gave me a reprieve in the middle of all this, as he was unable to control his face during a NASA press conference with the President and it was fantastically funny. But then to top it all off, I have witnessed this country’s president post a video from his Wrestle-freaking-mania appearance, edited to appear like he was beating up a news network.

BUT THEN!!

THEN I watched as Americans legitimately questioned, “is this appropriate behavior for a president?”

Sweet Lord. HOW IS THIS A QUESTION? How in the world is this a real question? We’ve for real lost all our damn marbles. All of ’em. THEY ARE ALL GONE. We have moved the standard of behavior SO FAR DOWN that we are now legitimately questioning whether this fool’s behavior is “appropriate”?!

Let me help:

‘TIS NOT.

I don’t want my elementary age children acting like this, much less the freaking President of the United States of America.

Which brings me to my next point:

It’s real interesting what we will excuse and what we choose to find fault in these days, on the whole.

President’s utter shit behavior? Excused. He won, get over it, blah blah blah, something about people in poverty and Medicaid and I’m tired of paying for your poor health choices and oh my God, don’t you have a job? (No, none of this is relative to his behavior, but that matters not, it seems.)

Can’t actually afford housing working full time? FAULT FOUND. Shoulda got a better job. Shoulda gone to college. Went to college? Should have majored in something better. Don’t look at me. I don’t want to pay an extra $.18 for my Big Mac just for you to be able to afford some sort of housing.

Police shoot (another) black man? Excused. Don’t get pulled over, don’t get stopped, don’t get questioned by police and you won’t have anything to worry about. Just act right and you’ll be fine.

Black woman with mental health issues shot by cops? FAULT FOUND. I’d like to say there’s some sort of argument in use here other than “Well, she shouldn’t have been mentally unstable and holding a knife” but that seems to be the best that America can do with that one.

Work to strip away healthcare from millions of old folks, disabled people, and little kids? Excused. Talk to Obama about that. Because that’s his fault. Shouldn’t have let “Obamacare” suck so much.

On that note, we did all see the footage of people LITERALLY BEING REMOVED FROM THEIR WHEELCHAIRS by police officers as they protested on Capitol Hill, right? Because if you didn’t, I’mma need you to go Google that real quick.

And then I want you, White America, to Google that dashcam video of Philando’s last minute on this earth.

And then watch that video of his handcuffed fiancee and her baby girl sobbing in the back of a patrol car. Listen to that 4 year old tell her mama she needs her to calm down because she doesn’t “want her to get shooted.”

And then, fellow White Folks, Google that survellience footage, errm, dashcam footage, ok, just realize the only footage we, the People, have a year later of Alton Sterling’s death is the video the store owner took that night as he watched his friend take 3 shots to the chest and then 3 to the back. So go read the DOJ report…then read the comments from Alton’s family about what the DOJ told them…and then go read the comments from the specifically chosen community members the DOJ held another meeting with, where they outlined how horrified they and their independent experts were by the escalation of the encounter, how they lost sleep over the investigation…Go read that.

Go watch the videos from Freddie/Walter/Tamir/Terence/Laquan/insert one of hundreds of names here.

Go talk to a real life Muslim. Be prepared though, he probably doesn’t actually want to kill you. Matter of fact, he’ll probably pray for you and wish you a beautiful day.

Go look up hate crime statistics. Look up what’s being done in the name of our Wrestlemania President.

Read up on the ACTUAL statistics of who benefits from Medicaid (SPOILER ALERT: It’s a whole lot of old people. And kids. And people with severe disabilities. And they’re mostly…white.)

Watch Ava DuVernay’s”13th”.

Then go watch the History Channel’s “War on Drugs”.

I’d tell you to read a book or two here, but there’s just too many to list that we should all read.

But then keep trying to tell me we’re all good. Tell me that we are where we are right now because we have all been given the exact same shot. Tell me we haven’t failed a large portion of this country (and honestly, we’ve taken hella advantage of a lot of places all over the globe. We ain’t above it). Tell me we haven’t continuously found ways to oppress and enslave people from the moment ol’ Christopher’s boat rolled up on the coast of this country he “discovered”. (note: you can’t “discover” and claim a place if there’s literally already people there. Think about that. It’s like someone coming in a few years behind a marine scientist who discovered a new species of fish that lives 283 miles below the surface and being like “Hey. Cool. Found a fish down here. Gonna name it after myself.” “But it already has a name because it’s already been discovered.” “Nah, this is gonna be my thing now.” and then he coughs on everything and all the fish and scientists get sick. But that might possibly get you an American holiday.     …I digress.)

So after all this research, PLEASE tell me it’s not at all because they’re not white and/or not wealthy. That it’s not because White America looks at anyone who is not obviously/outwardly the right amount of white as somehow “less than”. 

*shrug*

You can miss me with this “Independence Day” celebration this year. Because I can’t celebrate what we’re doing and how we’re acting and where we’re going, and this freedom so many people SHOULD have but still DON’T have.

I question the “greatness” of a country, as it bans immigrants and talks about building a wall, that seems to have forgotten we were nothing BUT a bunch of immigrants who invaded foreign lands, shoved Native people to the side, and then hauled black people across oceans by the thousands to literally build this country on their backs, with their blood, their sweat, their tears, and we STILL do whatever we can to ensure that we white folks stay a rung ahead of “them” on the Ladder of American Greatness.

I can’t celebrate telling people how they need to tug on their bootstraps a little harder when we never even checked to see if they had shoes.

I can’t celebrate the freedom to forget what it means to give a damn about other people.

Lest you think I don’t love this country, you know what I will appreciate on this Tuesday, July 4th?

For starters, I’ll appreciate that it’s still (for now) possible to write something like this and not fear for my life. (Though maybe we don’t send this to 45’s Twitter, deal?)

I’ll appreciate the ability to raise some hell when I disagree.

I’ll appreciate the freedom I have to tell my kids the good, the bad, and yes, the ugly of this country.

I’ll appreciate my whiteness and the privilege I’ve been given in this life because of the shade of my skin. I sure as hell didn’t ask for it, and for a long time I didn’t fully appreciate what it meant to be White in America. Hell, I still don’t. I’m not sure you can if you actually ARE White in America, because it’s pretty hard to see things that feel so very basic as actual privileges that aren’t given to everyone; to really see privilege that is nearly invisible to us because we’ve never been without it. We never had to gain it, never had to fight for it. Hard to notice something like that, and takes work to appreciate the weight of that. (note: I said ‘appreciate’. Meaning “understanding the value”. Not celebrate. There’s a difference, and my word choice is intentional, before anyone tries to come at me on this.)

But above everything, I’ll appreciate the hell outta my people. My people that I love fiercely, who come in all shades from white to black and all the colors of the Pride flag. Male, female, gay/straight/trans. Christian, Muslim, athiest, agnostic. Born here, immigrated here. Truly, not much makes me happier than how odd my friends really are as a collective group. Its our differences, its our messiness, the sheer imperfectness of it all that, to me, is so utterly American. By appreciating the diversity among us, we challenge each other to see further than we could ever see with only our own eyes.

The most American, patriotic thing we can all do is demand more of our ourselves and our country. Don’t tell me to get out if I don’t like it. I love this country…and that’s why I will constantly want better. For ALL Americans.

I know we CAN do better. I know we CAN be more.

I know we could actually truly one day be Really, Really Great. (Like, for…the first time. Not “again”.)

 

But it doesn’t come about by excusing pathetic behavior, enabling bullies, supporting oppression, and overlooking the need to see the humanity in other people

So this “4th of July”, I challenge you to really think about what you’re celebrating. Think about how you’re viewing everything these days: is it only through your own eyes? Or are you daring enough to try looking at things from another point of view where you may have to get a little uncomfortable?

It’s time to get back to those “unalienable rights” that we founded this country on: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.

It feels safe to say we are all in agreeance that 2016 left a tad to be desired. It felt like we got sucker punched repeatedly this year. Things flew at us from nowhere, other things flew at us from rather predictable places (looking at you, 2016 Election Season).

My daughter suffered a concussion in early March, with complications lingering until late summer, causing her to miss a great deal of her third grade spring semester. In June, I mourned for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, a tragedy that struck me in my gut, as so many of my friends these days are LGBT. I had celebrated marriage equality the June prior with so many of my friends, smiling and cheering on the state house steps. This year we sat at a memorial on the levee holding each other and wiping away tears. triple s balloons

Then, early in July, police shot and killed Alton Sterling here in Baton Rouge, captured on video. I took part in demonstrations around town, some uneventful, some too eventful. Our city’s deep issues with race were suddenly very out in the open (I wrote a blog post about this that got some attention). I had hard conversations with my children about the privilege they were born with…privileges their brown skinned family members don’t have. I awakened to low flying police helicopters over our home the morning six police officers were shot, 3 fatally, a quarter mile from my front door. I stood with my children on the side of our streets to pay our respect to these officers and their families as their funeral processions rolled by.

And then…it started to rain.

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I pulled people into boats, I played with soaking wet preschoolers who told me exciting stories about being rescued by helicopters from their rooftops, I held strangers’ hands 14021640_10104268015494657_6708199408212830551_n-2while they sobbed into their knees. I waded into chest deep water, holding the hands of strangers. I was sent back to people’s homes before they’d seen the damage themselves, forced to recount what I’d seen, the bearer of the worst news I’d ever had to give to anyone. I spent weeks working the night shifts at the flood shelter set up at Celtic Studios and felt guilty when I could come home to my dry house, to take a hot shower, and cook my own food. I saw so much devastation I still can’t wrap my mind around it and I’ve developed a deep distrust of rain.

The waters receded, and I took my 9 year old daughter to vote for a woman we wanted to be president. I stayed up with her on election night and cried with her, because so many people were heartbroken and afraid and I couldn’t answer her questions.

2016 broke my heart, over and over.

But also in 2016, I stood under magnolia trees as a bridesmaid and watched two of my good friends get married. I danced with my husband at a Mardi Gras ball
with my beautiful best friend. We took our first “just the four of us” family vacation in May, our son’s first trip to Disney World. 13310417_10104045315457317_6694937363769218293_n-2I watched my kids parade with Mardi Gras Indians at a community event in an often overlooked area of town. We celebrated new babies, birthdays, anniversaries, 15732629_10104714145915717_5638528790651603135_o-2new jobs. I was part of an excellent panel put together by Red Stick Moms Blog to discuss our city’s issues with race. My family of four became a family of 6 for a couple months when we had the privilege of being a safe place for a set of twin baby girls, post flood. I witnessed a Hollywood movie studio become a mini city of flood survivors, showing the world how well it really can be done. We adopted a bulldog and named her Wrigley AND OMG THE CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES, which I thought I might never see. I celebrated with friends at Baton Rouge’s mayor-elect’s victory party. I was honored to receive a community service award from the Metropolitan Community Church here for my work here in Baton Rouge.

 

2016 was an emotional roller coaster.

I got a tattoo last month to sum up 2016 for me. Some of my close friends here and I joked that “2016 was the year shit went down and we all got tattooed”, because really, it did and we did.

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Hallelujah. Usually a burst of praise…but sometimes our hallelujah is not a joyous shout, not an exclamation of joy, but rather a broken cry. This year more than ever before I learned the real power of those broken hallelujahs. The ones that are almost nothing more than an exhale, a sigh of relief. Sounds of grace, sounds of exhaustion, a desperate cry for help and thanksgiving in one. A sound of life. We’re alive. We’re still here.

2016. I’m not sorry to see it go, because it was anything but easy, but I am hopeful we have grown. 2016 forced us to confront the darkness, to tackle it head on, to find the opening for the light. We had to find the silver linings. We had to ask for help. We 14067927_10104300732724067_6862698445176236257_o-2had to lean on each other. We had to pick each other up and stand behind each other.

We found our beauty in the broken mess that was so much of 2016.

Grace. Acceptance. Forgiveness. Extended hands. Plates of food. Hugs. Smiles. Laughter.

Love.

So much love.

So here’s to 2016 for being the teacher we didn’t know we all needed and to putting our newfound strength, our voices, our resilience to WORK in 2017.

Let’s go.

It’s not getting worse. It’s been there all along.

I live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. State capitol of the bayous of Louisiana. Home of the Louisiana State University Tigers. Land where streets of stately southern homes are lined by rows of oak trees as old as the country itself. City where Mardi Gras beads hang from power lines year round. Home to crawfish and gumbo, beignets, and daiquiris in go cups.

And also home to the Jaguars of Southern University & the Human Jukebox & the Dancing Dolls. The location of the first bus boycott of the civil rights era, in 1953, organized by the Rev. T.J. Jemison & Mr. Willis Reed, Sr.* Home of the longest desegregation case in the United States, settled in 2003. Where nearly a third of children live under the poverty level. Where blacks and whites are still separated by our own Mason Dixon line that we call Florida Blvd. The city Alton Sterling called home until July 5th.

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2010 Census Data. I’m gonna assume you can figure out where Florida Blvd runs.

My husband and I both grew up in South Carolina. We’re more than well aware that racism still exists in this country, 60+ years after the civil rights movement. It took the slaughter of 9 people with brown skin in their own church at Emmanuel AME in Charleston to convince people that perhaps the Confederate flag had no business being on the grounds of the South Carolina State House, though people still seem unconvinced the white murderer was not just “mentally ill” and was, perhaps, a racist fueled by hate. The state prosecutor there is prepping for that case while also prepping for the murder case against a North Charleston police officer accused of murdering motorist Walter Scott during a stop there in the weeks before the Charleston church massacre.

We moved to Baton Rouge 4 years ago. We’d spent 2 years in Reno, Nevada for my husband’s job when we decided to take a move again and head back south. I missed the food, the people, the football, and was tired of the snow and wind. We didn’t have much time to find a rental and get things in order to get there a month after school started in Baton Rouge. We quickly realized rent prices were much higher in the areas of town we’d been told to look, so finding a place we could afford was stressful. We’d been warned the schools left a bit to be desired in Baton Rouge, but I underestimated the severity of the situation. I had no idea the eye opening experience we had unwittingly signed up for when we agreed to move to Baton Rouge.

It was 2012 and my daughter was the only white kid in her entire class of over 25 kids. And we lived in a neighborhood surrounded by nothing but white people and white children. It didn’t make sense. After her first few days passed, my daughter mentioned the kids were “petting” her. They told her they’d never seen a person with “hair like hers” or “spots on their face like hers”. These children had never been around white kids, even though the school was just a couple miles from our home. I noticed quickly the school felt far more like a prison than it did a school. The kids were never allowed to speak to each other unless they were outside on the square pavement where they had “recess” for 15 minutes a day. No talking in the bathrooms, no talking in the cafeteria, no group work together, no talking in car pool while they waited on their parents to pick them up. They seemed to spend most of the year coloring, while teachers barked orders and commands at them. Later that year, after my daughter started coming up with reasons not to go to school, we found out at least two kindergarten teachers were beating kids in the classroom, with one screaming so loud my daughter reported she had to plug her ears and rock in her chair. Every time I visited the classroom, where I didn’t exactly feel welcomed by the teacher, I was warmly welcomed by a whole classroom full of incredibly exuberant children who just wanted to tell me anything and everything about their life. They wanted to talk. They wanted to laugh. They wanted someone to hear them. They wanted to be kids and it was being squashed out of them in the name of compliance inside of a crumbling building masquerading as a school. As much as I wanted to support the idea of keeping my child in a neighborhood school, I simply couldn’t leave her there. I made the decision she’d either get a spot in one of the magnet programs (which she did) or I’d homeschool her. Because I have the luxury of that choice.

It didn’t take long for me to make a statement to my mom about how I never thought I’d see a city this segregated in my lifetime. Watching Ferguson unfold I remember mentioning specifically that I feared it would only take a small incident similar to Mike Brown’s killing to cause major unrest here because there are basically two cities within Baton Rouge, white and black. The public school system is 80% black kids, and that includes schools like my child’s magnet school, where the breakdown is closer to 50/50. In the heart of 70805, the racial breakdown in schools moves to 98-99% black children. The district parcels around the white children it has, putting special programs like gifted and talented services, in the neighborhood schools where they need white bodies. An area of South Baton Rouge, which just happened to consist of mostly (80%) white people and newer schools, attempted to create their own city in the last few years, like several other areas have successfully done, though they failed to gain enough valid signatures to form. The proposed new city, St. George, was the subject of a PBS Frontline special called “Separate and Unequal”. St. George proponents insisted it was not about race, and things “that happened 20-30 years ago” aren’t their fault.

And that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s not our fault. We weren’t there. We didn’t make anyone pick cotton, we didn’t make Rosa sit at the back of the bus, we didn’t sic dogs on people, we weren’t holding the fire hoses, we didn’t draw neighborhood borders, we didn’t deny people mortgages based on the color of their skin, we never lynched a black man. So, I mean…it’s not our fault.

Except we’ve let it continue. Don’t give me this “everything is equal” mess. It’s not. It’s not even close. My nonprofit, The Loveabulls Project, which I started 2 years ago with some of my dearest friends, puts me in 70805 frequently. There’s a lack of pet resources up there, just like everything else the area lacks, so my organization is the bridge between loving pet owners and the care and supplies they can’t reach on “their” side of town. I have met some of the most hard working, determined, fierce, and loving people on the “other side” of Florida Blvd. These are people who pay taxes, who go to parent/teacher conferences, who work multiple jobs to get food on the table for their children. People who wake up early to catch the bus or a ride with their neighbor to a job across town. People who spend half their life battling red tape for services and assistance that so many are concerned with people abusing for kicks. People who are just as tired of hearing gunshots and seeing drugs on their streets as you think you are. People who are trying to do the absolute best they can with what they’ve got to work with and what they’ve got to work with is a short hand of cards. I’ve gotten to know people, heard stories that would be hard for people to believe, hard for me even, until I kept hearing the same themes repeated in many people’s stories. Because they aren’t just stories. These experiences are their life. Their existence. These moments are them.

The people of North Baton Rouge are growing up in neighborhoods surrounded by despair, being treated like criminals in schools from 4 years old until they either graduate or drop out (EBR’s graduation rate is climbing, but graduation rates in North Baton Rouge neighborhoods linger in the 50-60% range)…they see how their neighborhoods are portrayed in the media, they see businesses flocking to South Baton Rouge, they see the investment put into areas that are not theirs. They watched their hospital close, then watched the only other emergency room that was easily and quickly accessible shut down due to funding, and residents of North Baton Rouge now face a 20+ minute ambulance ride to the closest ER in South Baton Rouge. They’re watching their families and friends ripped apart by a justice system that is determined to break the disadvantaged. Mandatory minimum sentences exist for drug charges, you can get life in Angola for non violent crimes under Louisiana’s habitual offender laws, and yet no minimum sentences exist for actual violent crimes like manslaughter, assault with a firearm, or simple rape (Check out this article by Steven Rosenfield for interesting information). The United States incarcerates more people than anywhere in the world. Louisiana incarcerates it’s citizens at a rate higher than any other state in the country. Prisoners are shuffled around private prisons with dollar signs on them and exit prison with a record, harder to employ, with less skills and relationship bonds. It should come as no shock people turn to hustling as a way of making money to keep food in their stomachs. More hustling, more police involvement thanks in part to a departure from community policing and a move toward the “broken windows” approach. And so the cycle continues to feed itself.

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Triple S convenience store on N. Foster in Baton Rouge. Site of Alton Sterling’s death.

What seems so hard for white people to grasp is this isn’t just about black people versus police. The issues with police are the flame points of a deeper, even heavier, even darker problem. We are a city, a country doused in lighter fluid and the men and boys and women killed at the hands of those paid to protect and serve all of us are the points where the fire is catching. This country was built on the backs of the same people we have spent our entire history excluding. You cannot deny this. People aren’t asking for special treatment. They’re asking for help breaking the cycles. They’re asking for people to stand with them while people attempt to change the systems that don’t better us all. When people scream “black lives matter” it’s not discrediting the value of your own white life. It’s a furious, panicked reminder to us that they matter, too. We live in a white washed world where it’s easier to picture a black man as a gang banger than it is a pharmacist or doctor or college professor. We devalue people’s existences without even realizing we’re doing it. When you reach for that door lock on your car at the sight of a black man in a hoodie, you’re doing it. When you refer to the “bad side of town”, you’re doing it. When you want to talk more about dead black men’s criminal records than their life that was lost, you’re doing it. Take a stand against it.

But don’t get it twisted – – black people don’t need our approval or our white advice on how to go about this. They’ve been fighting this fight a long time. Stand up, link arms with your neighbors, tell them you see them. Speak out against injustice when you see it, speak out against racism when you see it or hear it. The causes of the disadvantaged in our world are rarely popular. Stand up anyway. The craziest voices often are the loudest ones in discussions. We must be louder. Too often when bad things arise, the good moves away from it instead of standing amidst it and saying ‘no’. Stand up. Start discussions, but more importantly LISTEN to discussions. Start acknowledging and challenging your own prejudices, your own level of privilege. You want peace? Stand up with other people who want peace. And for the record, “peace” is not the same as “quiet”, so if you’re wanting a city, a country, where people stop protesting, then help them gain the peace on the issues that they feel the need to stand on street corners and outside buildings chanting about. Stand with them for peace.

together sidewalk art
We covered a downtown Baton Rouge sidewalk in a lot of chalky love last week, with messages of unity, before a prayer and worship service led by two churches, one predominantly black, one predominantly white, and we sang and prayed. Together.

We aren’t living in a world that’s going backwards in race relations…we’ve been stagnant, sitting right here the whole time. Sure we made progress, but a lot of it was just the execution of a good cover up job that made people feel better about themselves. Help people pull the curtains back. Expose the systems and the mindsets and the people that are consistently holding down poor, predominantly minority communities.

And for the love of all that is holy, stop shouting that “ALL LIVES MATTER!” We know. That’s the point. Right now it feels like some matter a bit less. No one fusses about March of Dimes raising awareness for premature babies. No one tells them “But ALL babies matter!” No one yells at the “Save the whales!” people, talking about how dolphins and sharks and seahorses also matter. I mean, come on, we had a hashtag for a gorilla. We created online petitions for a gorilla. I’m not saying he wasn’t important, but for some reason, having people with brown skin try to bring to light issues that affect them is not appropriate. “Black Lives Matter” is a rallying cry for people who want to bring attention to the very real issues that face the communities and people of color.

Just do your piece. Do your piece to make your community and your country better as a whole. However you can contribute. Step outside your comfort zone and have conversations with new people. Make new friends. Bridge communities, knock down barriers of race and economic status. Find your courage and stand tall. Keep talking. And more importantly, keep listening.

“You should be angry,
you must not be bitter.
Bitterness is like cancer.
It eats upon the host.
It doesn’t do anything to the object of it’s displeasure.
USE that anger, yes.
You WRITE it, you PAINT it, you DANCE it
You MARCH it, you VOTE it.
YOU TALK IT.
NEVER stop talking it.
-Maya Angelou

baton rouge protest maya angelou

 

*added Mr. Willis Reed, Sr’s name 7/19/16, with sincere apologies for originally leaving him out.