Every single one…..

I was at the giant gas station right off Hwy 10 on the outskirts of Detroit Lakes filling up when I noticed the woman about my age at the pump directly across from mine.  The 40 mph wind roaring across the prairie from Fargo and points west had created a wind tunnel effect and for one horrid moment, I feared she’d  been flash frozen in place, clutching the pump handle in a bare, manicured hand.  She stood in heels staring eastward with a  Grumpy Cat  “I can’t BELIEVE this !@#$!! WIND!!!” frown. Suddenly, she caught me looking her way and smiled, shrugging in the way we do here in Minnesota when there’s not a darn thing we can do about -15 windchill factors and hard windshield washer fluid in mid-November. I shrugged back and forced a sympathetic smile of  polar vortex solidarity and thought,  hold on, Sister.  We’ll get our tanks filled and get back into our cars and blow on our hands and be warm again, I promise.  We will  live to buy a turkey.  Maybe even bake a pie or ten.  All will be well, my frozen friend.  All will be well.  It’s nearly Thanksgiving.

As legend and history tells us, for many of our forefathers and foremothers,  the first Thanksgiving was about having survived a winter in a harsh new land and then thanking God for dark-haired people who probably just  felt a moral obligation not to stand by and let their clueless, light-skinned new neighbors with funny hats starve to death.  But what a concept.  A holiday dedicated simply to being grateful.  For the big things and the small ones, too.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could walk into a Gratitude Station and fill up our hearts with thanks the way we fill our cars or our bellies?   I think that maybe that’s what church is for, for some folks.  For others, it’s a sunrise that starts as blaze orange right before the sun peeks over a lake on November mornings.  Maybe it’s a doctor’s call that tells you that your most recent scan is clean, or the sound of boys and men full of turkey celebrating a touchdown in the family room. Maybe it’s a passed class or a new job.  Maybe it is looking around a table laden with familiar food and seeing the people you love best gathered for another Thanksgiving happy, healthy, and whole. And then, thinking, this is all that matters.  This moment.  This tribe. This memory. This.

And in that moment, counting one’s blessings.  Every single one.

Happy Thanksgiving.


A fly on the wall….

I was never bullied.  And, while there were certainly unkind kids in the elementary and secondary schools I attended while growing up in a very small town, for the most part, my childhood and the childhoods of most of my friends were spent worrying more about things like makeup, boys, and whether the makeup we wore was the right kind to attract the boys we liked.  We had our disagreements, and sometimes those disagreements morphed into stony silences. However, I don’t ever recall a time growing when I felt unsafe in school or in the neighborhood where I grew up.

Bullying, like stealing candy from the grocery store or getting drunk enough to pass out, was not considered to be socially acceptable behavior among my peer group back then.  Bullying was what cowards, not cool kids, did. And though we were often self-absorbed and thoughtless and had our cliques, to be sure… we all knew what the rules were and usually followed them. Our parents, teachers, neighbors and church families monitored us, and when it was needed, stepped in to stop us from behaving badly toward each other.  I didn’t like everyone at school, and I know for sure that not everyone liked me.  But I tried, hard, to be kind.

I felt better about myself when I was kind.  I still do.

This seems so simple.  Or at least it used to seem simple to me.

I am struggling this week with the knowledge that there seems to be a sense of resignation when the topic of bullying comes up…in them, and sometimes in their parents, too.  Like it’s a given that it will happen.  That kids will be kids.

Many of my college freshmen write essays about the living hell that high school was for them and how cyber-bullying over Facebook and Twitter have replaced being knocked into lockers for many young people.  Their stories make me sad for the teens they were before I knew them as college students.  It’s a world I admit I know very little about and one I should have known much more about when my own kids were in high school. I think about how easy it would have been for one of them to be cyber-bullied without my being aware that it was even happening.  They had computers and cell phones and a were certainly more technologically savvy than their mom was even when they were in junior high school.

I think about the community that protected all of us from each other (and often, ourselves) so long ago.  How the Village stopped us from being idiots most of the time.

And then, I think about the virtual village my students and my own children resided in as adolescents.  It was, and is, an enormous, anonymous land of words and pictures.  Parents visit this place  to see how their kids are doing.  But here’s the kicker.  When we visit, we see only the things our children dare to show us.  We don’t speak the language  and don’t understand the culture and this is a problem.  A big one.

I remember reading the book Lord of the Flies when I was in high school.  Maybe you did, too.

From what I’m hearing, and reading, too many of our young people are living on a technological island that makes the terrible, fictional one in the book look good by comparison.




One more…

I am old enough to be her mother.  Even so, we are the best of friends.

She is scary-smart and determined, this young friend of mine. She is still young enough to have the energy to fight the good fight with teachers, social workers, and anyone else who stands between what her children need and what society tries to give them. As an adoptive mother to two children herself, she is well versed in a range of topics when it comes to special education, medical interventions, race relations, and the flaws in the foster care system  She is a formidable advocate and voice for children who are waiting for their “forever” families through adoption.  She is fierce.  Fierce.

And for as long as I’ve known her, I’ve been both in awe and terrified of her.  Especially in November.

November is National Adoption Awareness Month.

In Minnesota alone, there are currently hundreds of children in foster care dreaming of families of their own.  Hundreds. Let that sink in.  One state with hundreds of children of all ages and races who are without permanent homes. Without parents to see them through the peaks and valleys of childhood, adolescence, and yes, even adulthood.  Now, multiply that awful reality by the number of states in the United States of America.  And then, try to imagine what it is like to be a child who has to navigate through life alone.  What it’s like to imagine a lifetime of Christmas trees without a single ornament on it you’ve made yourself.  What it must be like to live a temporary, and not permanent, existence through no fault of your own. How it feels to always be a guest in someone’s house and family and life.  Imagine what it must be like to be good because you live in fear that showing a social worker or foster mother the dark and angry places in your heart will result in your being even less wanted, less loved. Less.

What if we spent more time as a society being outraged by this?  What would it mean for all of us?  What would it mean for the children?

A couple of decades of hard work and a parent either reaps the rewards or lives with the consequences of parenting decisions made during those years of active parenting.  If we’re lucky, our kids still want something to do with us once we’ve aged out of the ‘hood and they bring us grandchildren to spoil as a peace offering for all the ways we messed up.  Because we all do.  That’s just parenting.  It’s messy business.

That’s what I tell my fierce friend.  I tell her I’m too old.  That I’m waiting for the next stage of my life to begin.  She implores me to consider one more.  I hide from her and tell her that my family is raised.  That we are at different stages of life, she and I.  That I don’t have it in me to raise one more of anything much less  something as important as a healthy human being.

But then, November rolls around and I am haunted by  those hundreds of children.  The ones who are older, or darker, or high need.  The ones who wait for none of that to matter to someone who finally says to them, “You are mine and I am yours and this will never change.”  My fierce friend is relentless.  She tells me I could be that person to a child as she shoots down every excuse I have in my arsenal.  She reminds me for the hundredth time what it means to change one life for the better.  She reminds me that adoption does that.

I tell her that I know that as well as she does.

I know, because it changed mine.

Do you have room for one more?

For more information on Minnesota’s Waiting Children, go to http://www.mnadopt.org/waiting-kids/



They wore red wool pants with suspenders over woolen long johns.  Red wool shirts with patch pockets that held packs of cigarettes and candy bars just right.  Red caps, too. When they gathered at the kitchen table in the evenings, after they’d shed that layer,  the men sat around the table in long-sleeved thermal underwear shirts wolfing down bowls of soup and homemade doughnuts and oatmeal cookies.  They would linger there for hours, telling stories and smoking and laughing.

But mostly, I remember the color red.  Pure, bright, perfect red.

I was a November baby.  There have been more than a few years that I’ve shared my birthday with the start of deer season, though I’ve never spent a single one sitting in a tree and have no plans to do it this year. When my son asks why I don’t hunt, why I’ve never hunted, I tell him that I got the gathering gene, not the hunting one.  The truth? I’m lazy and I get cold. And then I start to whine, which is never helpful in the woods. Ever.

The other truth? I belong to a generation of family members that is comfortable and too busy and for the most part, pretty far removed from the family rituals associated with hunting. It was different a generation or two back. Then, shooting a deer in the fall meant that there would be plenty of venison in family freezers until springtime.  Killing a deer wasn’t considered a “sport” then.  It was just what people in my family did.

They gathered.  And then they hunted.  More and more, we’ve become like the children of immigrants who grow up taking English for granted and have forgotten how to speak the language of their grandparents.  We are proof that evolution in a family isn’t always a good thing and that comfort comes at a price.

One November evening long ago, I opened the garage door at the house at the lake and found it bustling with busy men and women dressed in red.  I must have been seven or eight years old at the time. Two large bucks hung from the rafters, split wide and dripping blood onto the cement floor below.  Their wide stares and long necks pulled taut by the ropes around them made them look more than a little surprised.  I remember wisps of cigarette smoke wafting up, encircling their heads like halos while the hunters laughed and talked about the shots they’d taken.  I remember  smoke and sweat and wet wool and dinner smells from the kitchen.  I remember the faces bathed in the light.  People my children never met.  Our people.

A wool shirt with patch pockets that belonged to my grandmother’s only sister hangs in my closet.   It is tattered and has been mended on both elbows with scraps of red yarn. I wear it to run errands in November until the snow starts to fly and I switch to my down jacket.  When I wear it, I remember her standing in that garage so many Novembers ago.

It is red.  The color of warmth and hunting and blood and memories and love.

Mostly love.