To Dream the Impossible American Dream

Potential-CandidateI have a dream.

It goes something like this: A candidate comes forward. In my dream it’s meaningless if they are man, woman, donkey or elephant. There is no need for a stage or podium, mics or teleprompters. There is no need for a moderator or live twitter feed. They are there to deliver a message. It’s not a message of hope or promise.

It’s a message of choice.

It starts something like this:

“No one person or party is ever going to please everyone. No one platform is going to embody the ideals and goals of everyone. We are too vast. Too diverse. Too impassioned. There will always be debate. There will always be dissension. There should be discussion and disagreement. But ideally there is compromise. There is give, and there is take, and by chipping away at the differences, we often find the bedrock of similarity. But….”

…and this is where it goes from dream to impossible dream…

“We are broken. No, we’re not broken. We are past the need for casts and x-rays, past the need for painkillers and bandages. We are bleeding out, on the way to mortally wounded. Don’t be fooled. This will not be a quick and painless death; a good death. No, this death will be long and lingering: a painful death during which we watch a history’s lifeblood slowly pool around us. It will be long enough to lament. Long enough to contemplate all the chances we had, all the chances we wasted. We will limp and twitch and stumble to the end. Until we are a mere footnote. A lesson for someone else.

And it will be no one’s fault but our own.

Because hear this, and hear it well:

God is not the problem, but God is not the answer either.

Hear this:

America has a race problem. No, problem is not the right word. America has institutionalized policies of racism so deep-rooted they’ve become impossible to detach from the American Dream. Much like the fortunes of the Unites States were built on the backs of slaves, the current embodiment of the American Dream requires a scapegoat. In order to ascend, you need something to lift you up. And yet instead of that something being education and infrastructure, it’s yet again the backs of the poor, the disenfranchised, and minorities.

Women’s bodies do not need to be regulated by religion or backdoor legislation. Women’s sexuality is not something to be brought to heel.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are not harvesting the brains of babies for sale on the black market. If you are against the legal transfer of stem cells and fetal tissue, then you should also deny access to medical care and technologies which have come as a result of research from the same.

Abortion is not going to go away. To reduce the number of abortions you must implement more intensive sex education, easy access to and information about birth control, family planning, and yes, free and easy access to medical care. Unless you are ready to fund and fight for those things, then shut up about it.

School shootings are not going to stop. Mall shootings and church shootings and mosque shootings and movie theatre shootings are NOT going to stop. There will only be more bullets, more bodies. There are two choices and only two.

Gun control and legislation. Or….

Sit back and let it continue to happen.

You choose.

There are always going to be people who need help. People who make poor choices, people who didn’t have the choice to make in the first place. There are always going to be those who take advantage of loopholes. And loopholes come in all shapes and sizes. Is the welfare scammer worse than the corporation who avoids taxes? Shall we condemn one and reward the other for cleverness? What kind of nation refuses to help those in need, those whose choices have been thwarted from the beginning, those who are looking for a better life. Is that who we want to be?

Right now America is keeping itself alive on a steady diet of hypocrisy.

You can’t proclaim yourself a believer in life if you don’t believe in curbing deaths. You can’t believe in the sanctity of life in the first three divisions of cells and not demand that something be done to protect the lives of those who are living and breathing. Unless you are willing to protect all lives—from guns, from violence, from oppression and racism, from diseases that can be prevented–then how dare you cloak yourself in the hypocritical banner of Pro-Life and wash your hands of it all.

You can’t believe in truth if you pick and choose those truths or if you simply make them up.

You can’t believe in freedom if you are denying it to others.

You choose.”

I have a dream that person exists–I’m clinging to it with ragged nails.


I’m With the Banned

kidreadingSomewhere out there right now is a child or a teenager or young adult about to pick up a book which will change their lives.

Maybe it will be the book which cements a love of reading. Maybe it will be the book which opens new worlds, or sheds light on something they’re struggling with. Maybe within those covers, within sentence and story, they will find a character who seems familiar; one in whom they can recognize part of themselves. Maybe they will read a scene which will strike a familiar chord, dissonant or not. And maybe–just maybe–because of a book (a book!) that child or teenager or young adult will open a window to a new way of viewing the world.

A book.

Somewhere out there right now is an adult or a school board or a group of parents who want to remove certain books from libraries and book stores and class rooms. Who want certain books banned because they feel the stories they contain are sexually explicit or contain scenes of alcohol use or masturbation or nudity or racism. Sometimes they want them banned because they feel those books promote ideologies different to their own. They feel they are anti-family or promoting an agenda of homosexuality, politically offensive or culturally insensitive.

A book.

Yet…every time you challenge a book because you don’t like the brutality of its truths you are invalidating the experience of someone who has or is experiencing those truths. Every time you challenge a book for inappropriate values you are implying the thousands who are living knee deep in that value system are not worthy. You are insinuating their lives are somehow reduced because they are not “appropriate”. Every time you challenge a book you are telling kids and teens and young adults their stories are not valid or valued. You are telling them they should be silenced and shelved because they don’t fit into some manufactured, imaginary mold.

Yet books continue to be the one place those marginal voices can still be heard, loud and clear.

Thank goodness for books.

We cannot shy away from the bad and the ugly and only focus on the good. We can’t do it in the present and we certainly cannot erase it from the past. Our literary past is just as important as any history book. It’s why Huckleberry Finn is still a meaningful teaching tool more than a century later. It’s why Gone with the Wind, that love song to the Confederacy, is a cultural spring board for conversation. It’s why Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s Americannah is relevant today. Is it uncomfortable to see the word ‘nigger’ in print? I hope so. It should be. Is it uncomfortable reading about the way we enslaved a population? I hope so. Is it uncomfortable reading about how skin color is just as marginalizing as an identifier in today’s US? I hope so.

Trying to ban those books from classrooms and shelves is not going to make the past disappear. It’s not going to change the experiences of those who are going through it every day now. Banning books about teens who are molested, who grow up in dysfunction or poverty or amid drugs and alcohol, sex and violence is not going to erase the very fact that all of those things exist. Painful or not, they exist and there are lives which are defined by them. Lives that just maybe find a modicum of solace in reading they are not alone.

Two boys reading outdoors

Thank goodness for books.

How dare we try to dictate the experiences of others. How dare we force all the squidge and squash into a cookie cutter mold and cry foul when it overflows. We cannot change our pasts, but we can learn from them, we can better ourselves from them. We cannot take all the bad things that happen in the world out of it, but we can shine a light on them. We can let those who recognize themselves in there know they are not alone.

How dare we try to silence them.

Reading a picture book about two male penguins who adopt an egg is not going to make your child gay. Reading a young adult novel about a high school kid who views his life through a filter of alcoholism and poverty is not glorifying alcohol. No, instead those books are saying ‘hey you out there–you who hasn’t led a life of black and white, but of gray–you who doesn’t have typical, Redbook approved family or a perfect life–hey you! Your life counts too!”

Thank goodness for books.

Imagine how the landscape of your own literary history would be different without having read books that have been challenged over the years. The Handmaid’s Tale and The Outsiders, Blubber and Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret. In Cold Blood. A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, The Kite Runner, Brave New World. The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, The Color Purple. Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen.

The point is, if people had succeeded, the map of my literature would be completely changed. GWTW, which led to Rebecca which led to Jane Eyre which led to the rest of the library, which opened up the world to me. It never would have happened if a challenge to ban had been successful.

bbw2012-2013_imageThank goodness for books. For the power they contain between their covers. The power to inform, to educate, to include and expand and illustrate and incite; to light a fire under our passions and ultimately to connect us to one another. Sometimes slowly, sometimes painfully, one page at a time.

Thank goodness for books.


September 27 through October 3 is Banned Book Week. Use your Freedom to READ.

American Library Association’s list of the top 100 challenged books from 2000-2009
ALA’s list of the top 100 challenged books from 1990-1999
ALA’s list of the top 10 challenged books from 2014

I shamelessly stole this post’s title from the Robert E. Kennedy Library (and very possibly others.)

And finally….this is W&C(D)’s 300th post! Fitting it should be about books as I’m just about to embark on the 3rd and hopefully final draft of my own before starting to shop it around. Happy reading to all!


We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

New-Month-New-Decade-Welcome-to-the-1950s-STAT-5.3.13Recently a mom friend rocked up to the school-yard with her latest accessory: a brand new bundle of squirmy baby-liciousness. Within moments, every woman within a hundred foot radius who still possessed vaguely functioning ovaries felt a primordial tug toward her. As one multi-limbed Earth Mother entity we made our way over to her to coo and coddle, goo and gaa, and just plain marvel at that new little life swaddled and peaceful in the dappled autumn light.

For one quick heartbeat, one small butterfly wing stroke of time, I felt a twinge of longing. You know the one. In that briefest of blinks, I felt a pang. For just a flicker, I mourned the idea of never again feeling a new life kick within me, at never again smelling the scent of possibility that hides in the folds of a newborn’s skin.

And then…oh then the sun went behind a cloud. Or maybe I blinked, or exhaled away from that yummy baby bundle. The flicker was quickly replaced by the hundreds of things I don’t miss about having babies around, about having toddlers around, about having little ones who require my constant supervision and conversation around. I shook off that momentary longing and firmly planted myself back in the realm of thank God my kids are older and I can pee by myself territory.

Gosh, there are so many, many things I don’t miss about having little ones anymore. I don’t miss diaper bags bursting at the seams with baggies full of snacks and cups of Cheerios. I don’t miss sippy cups, cleaning out valves and replacing straws. I don’t miss reaching for the last baby wipe only to find it dry and useless. I don’t miss triple checking I have a pocket full of matchbox cars before every outing. I don’t miss the constant redirection of a frustrated toddler; the impossible exercise of explaining why it’s not ok to scream in line at the bank even though it’s exactly what I want to do too. I don’t miss the mindless chatter, the pointing out and naming, the never-ending one-sided conversation of life with a baby and toddler.

Reed newborn

I don’t miss traveling with a stroller and a car seat and extra diapers just in case. I don’t miss trying to explain to a nine month old why 4:55 am is not a reasonable wake up time. I don’t miss interrupted sleep. I don’t miss filling the long hours of nap free days with things to do and places to go. I don’t miss the pockets full of rubber bands and bottle caps. The twigs and rocks and socks full of sand.

I don’t miss cribs or high chairs, bouncy seats or Baby Bjorns. I don’t miss the jigsaw puzzle pieces of a five point harness or contorting myself to put my child in backward in a two door car. I don’t miss spit up or poop-plosions or the sickly sweet cloying scent of the diaper pail. I don’t miss trying to contain the flailing limbs of a tantrumming toddler or playing “Baby throw the spoon on the floor six hundred times and Mommy picks it up.”

I don’t miss the boredom or the monotony of life with small children, the strict obsessive routine to avoid meltdowns. I don’t miss worrying about crying fits in restaurants or booking a flight at the right time to avoid tears. I don’t miss counting down the hours to bedtime. I don’t miss mashing up food or making pasta with butter for dinner 349 nights of the year. I don’t miss cutting grapes in half or quartering hot dogs.

I don’t miss the way my heart bleed out during bouts of separation anxiety or the way time stopped the first time someone rolled off the bed. I don’t miss the guilt, the anxiety, the neurotic chasing around the playground with a tofu dog. I don’t miss the hawk like vigilance every time a small body of water was nearby or chasing them around the parking lot of Applebees while other people ate hot food that wasn’t cut up into minute bits. I don’t miss changing poopy diapers in small airline bathrooms or dirty playgrounds. I don’t miss asking do you have to pee? sixty-eight time a day.

ROWAN23I don’t miss feeling like I was missing out on conversations or grown-upness or second guessing every thing I did or didn’t do. I don’t miss the pointed questions designed to place me in a parenting ‘type’. I don’t miss hoarding screen time or all the nevers I swore I would never do.

I don’t miss any of that.

Of course in the space of that blink, that breath, I remembered too. I remember it all: the way my babies folded up into me like tiny, little hedgehogs, the way a fist curled around my finger, that milk-sweet breath on my cheek. I remember the way their eyes opened in the morning and sought me out, how “Mama” was the first thing they asked for in the morning and the last thing they asked for before going to sleep. I remember the way they kicked and stretched in a jazzy womb dance, a ballet to the soundtrack of my heart. I remember watching in amazement as that second line turned pink and how everything, absolutely everything, changed in those tiny moments of time.

Oh there is much I don’t miss, but don’t be misled.

I would do it again in a heartbeat, in a flicker, in a small butterfly wing stroke of time.

I wouldn’t change a thing.





Needed: New Emergency Contact

cocron1Most folks who have spent any time living away from home would agree that saying goodbye to friends is one of more unpleasant side effects of expat life. I am no exception.

In December we’ll celebrate our four-year anniversary here in Denmark. With that milestone, Denmark will officially become the place my children have lived the longest, pipping NYC at the post by two months. After four years here, it also means I’m now considered part of the Old Guard. There are expat families who have been here longer, but not too many.

In everyday terms staying put in a posting for this long simply means I’ve figured out most of the ins and outs, the quibbles and quirks. I know what to do with the crud that gets stuck in the cracks and the limescale that builds up in my kettle, when to shop the sales and how to piss off a Dane. In the larger sense, it means I’ve seen a lot of people come and go.

For the last few years I’ve had a fluid, yet core circle of friends. I’ve had a Mom tribe, the ones you can confess your parenting sins to without fear of judgement, the ones you can let your gut out in front of. More than that, however, we’ve had a solid group of couple friends. When you make a Mom friend and she has a husband who gets along with your husband, well, that’s pretty great. When you have a few of those combinations and you trade weekend dinners and have impromptu barbecues and celebrate birthdays together, it’s pretty darn nice.

Two Junes ago a good-sized chunk of our everyday social circle left for pastures greener, drier, colder or more distant. The dynamics shifted, but the ‘here’ was still bigger than the there or anywhere. That will change this year.

This is the year that a good number of families who have been here as long or longer than us are clipping their last Klipperkort here in CPH.


Some are friends; not just friends but good friends. Sunday dinner friends and godparent candidate kinds of friends. Friends that trust me with their children overnight and friends I wouldn’t hesitate to call in the wee hours of the morning if I needed help. Emergency contact kind of friends. Those kinds of friends.

When you’re the one leaving, it’s hard to say goodbye. It’s hard to wrap your head around the idea of starting over again. But let me tell you, over here on the other side of the fence, it’s no picnic being the last man standing either. Despite all the rain we’ve had here in Denmark, the grass doesn’t seem any greener.

A few weeks ago my husband asked me why I was going out more than normal, why my acceptance vs. decline rate was higher than usual.

“I’m investing in our future,” I said.

It’s easy to become lazy and complacent in terms of friendships, relying on the easy relationships that come after spending a few years in the same place with the same people. Soon that will change and the very idea of it makes me tired. I am exhausted simply writing about it. It means I will have to be on my best behavior. I will have to hold in all my verbal farts for a while. I don’t do particularly well with best behavior for very long. If I go too long without swearing I get bloated.

But really, what choice do I have? I’ve got to fill the empty Sunday dinner spots. I’ve got to find a new emergency contact.

7221461_f520Of course we can never replace the friends who are leaving, even if new bodies fill their spots at the table. Even if the new bodies become friends. Even if the acquaintances we have now become more than that. It won’t be the same. It doesn’t mean it can’t be as good or even better, but it won’t be the same.

We expats talk a lot about the ones leaving, the difficulties of re-settling, of finding new friends in a new place. What we very rarely talk about is being left behind and making new friends in the old place.

It’s like the age-old question of the chicken and the egg. Is it better to be the one to go, or the last man standing?