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diverse kidlit

In 2016, I set a goal to read more diversely both to myself and aloud to my kids.  As this year has unfolded, celebrating our differences has become more important than ever.  2016 has brought unspeakable tragedies born out of hate and ignorance – and the best way I know to fight those evils is to read books celebrating love and diversity.  This month’s diverse kidlit choice is Thunder Boy Jr., by Sherman Alexie.

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Meet Thunder Boy.  As our young hero tells us right from the start, Thunder Boy is, number one, his real name, and number two, it’s not normal.

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He also tells us that you’d think, with Thunder Boy being such a not-normal name, that he’d be the only Thunder Boy in the entire world.  But he’s not.  Alas, he’s a junior.

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It quickly comes out that Thunder Boy isn’t really bothered by having an unusual name.  What bothers him is that it’s not his own name.  He sort of likes the idea of having a cool name, if only it was really unique and about him – not his dad.

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Thunder Boy has actually given this matter quite a bit of thought, and he has some suggestions.

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Maybe a name that shows how brave he is?  (This is my favorite page in the entire book.)

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Maybe a name that reflects his love of adventure?

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Maybe a name that reflects his super awesome bike skills?

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Maybe a name that reflects his garage sale hobby?

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Maybe a name that reflects his love for exploring?

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Thunder Boy Jr. can’t talk to his dad about his feelings.  How do you tell someone that you don’t want to share their name?  Fortunately, Thunder Boy Sr. gets it – and he decides that his son should have his very own name…

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Now that is a cool name.

We’ve had Thunder Boy Jr. on repeat around here, as Peanut is crazy about it.  I’d never read anything by Sherman Alexie before (although The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is on my to-read list for sure) but I’m familiar with him as an acclaimed author and an important voice for diversity in literature – including in the literature read by youth.  Thunder Boy Jr. is a fabulous book about Native American and First Nations culture.  My favorite thing about this book is that it doesn’t try to do too much – it doesn’t attempt to squeeze the entire experience of living and growing in these cultures into a few short pages; instead, it focuses on one aspect of that experience and does that really well.  The illustrations are absolutely gorgeous and the characters are alive on the page.  (And how cute is Thunder Boy’s little sister Lillian?)

I’ve been on the lookout for good Native American and First Nations picture books to add to our collection, and I’m sorry to say I haven’t found too many yet.  (In fact, the only other one we have is Mama, Do You Love Me?, about Eskimo culture – which we love to read as well.)  Sherman Alexie’s contribution to the genre is much appreciated, and has been a fantastic addition to our home library.

What’s your favorite diverse picture book?  We’re always looking for recommendations around here!

 

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Today starts a very big week around these parts.  Tomorrow is my last day at my current job, and I’ve got quite a few things to finish up over these last two days in the office – and then I’m looking forward to having some time on the margins, as my friend Katie recently mused about.  Of course, we’ll be busy closing things out here, then making the long trek home to Virginia, but I know that all the work we’re doing now will be so worth it once we’re on the other side.

This weekend was an extreme of highs and lows.  On Saturday, we threw an early fourth birthday party for Peanut.  Her birthday isn’t actually for another month, but we decided to squeeze in a party before we moved so that she could celebrate with her friends around her.  Being that it was the week before the move, plenty of folks questioned my sanity, but I intentionally didn’t go all out with the party.  We had a picnic near our favorite playground in our old stomping grounds of Elmwood Village – I didn’t even book anything; just threw down picnic blankets and hoped for the best.  It worked out great – the weather was perfect, we had a good mix of school friends, family friends and grandparents, and everyone had a wonderful time.  It was a darn near perfect day.  And then late Saturday night, I strained my back putting Nugget in his crib and spent most of Sunday in agony before my painkillers finally kicked in.  Moving week is not a good week for a back injury, so I’m hoping and praying that I will be able to stay on top of it.

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Between party-throwing on Saturday and being in a painkiller fog on Sunday, I didn’t get much reading done over the weekend, but I did somehow manage to finish three books and start another over the course of the past week.  Earlier in the week I finished Belgravia, which was classic Julian Fellowes – predictable, but fun.  I also reread The Murder at the Vicarage, my favorite Agatha Christie mystery, on audio this time via the Audible app.  It was a lot of fun approaching my long-beloved Agatha via a different format, and I had to fight the urge to sit in my car in the parking garage and listen instead of going into the office – ha!  On Friday night I finished up Murder is Bad Manners, my last library book, and with that I’m pleased to report that I’m down to Inbox Zero – no books checked out, no books on hold – at the library, just in time to reactivate my Fairfax County library card!  And since I have no library books out, I’ve dipped into a small stack of my own books that I’m reserving for the next few weeks of moving, vacation, and settling in before my shelves are set up in the new place – starting with Wild Strawberries, the second book in Angela Thirkell’s Chronicles of Barsetshire.  I’m only about thirty pages in so far, but I’m enjoying it (and how gorgeous is that cover?).

On the blog this week, my July pick for my Diverse KidLit series coming up on Wednesday, and a farewell to Buffalo on Friday – check back!

What are you reading this week, my friends?

You Can Go Home Again

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The thing about blogging is that, when you write at all about your life, you have to decide what, and how much, to share – because it’s impossible to write about your entire life (and even if it was possible, I for one wouldn’t want to).  It’s a delicate balance that – if done wrong – can result in the blog coming across as either whiny (if the blogger errs on the side of sharing all the warts of life) or too perfectly curated (if the blogger is on the more private end of the spectrum).  I personally don’t like reading crabby blog posts, so I tend to err on the keeping it positive side.  Mostly, that’s been good – it’s encouraged me to look for the best in every situation.  But it has resulted in me keeping quiet about a Very Big Life Thing for awhile now.

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Three years ago, we packed up our northern Virginia lives and moved seven hours, and several states, north to Buffalo, New York.  The main reason for our move was that Steve had a wonderful professional opportunity – one of those “crazy to turn it down” chances.  Even knowing that it was a golden opportunity for his career, we agonized over the decision.  We’d lived in the DC area for a decade and we had long considered northern Virginia our real home.  It was the place we’d planned to plant roots and raise our family; the idea of leaving was almost impossible to imagine.  We wrote pro/con lists, debated endlessly, and ultimately decided that the professional opportunity for Steve was simply too good, and we had to go.  We sold our beautiful house in Mount Vernon, packed our belongings and headed north on a new adventure.  And even though I firmly believed that we were making the right decision – I still believe that – my heart broke the day I turned my car north and left Virginia, and it’s never quite mended.

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We settled into Buffalo and set about making it our new home.  We found places to hike, fun family activities, and new favorite cafes.  We spent time with our families – both of which were geographically closer as a result of the move.  We bought a house and planned to stay there for a long time.  Most importantly, we welcomed a new family member when Nugget was born.

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But no matter how hard we tried – and we tried really hard – my heart still longed to be at home.  I reached my tipping point in January of 2015, after an awful day at work – all of my homesickness and sadness bubbled to the surface and I tearfully told Steve, over pizzas at Elm Street Bakery, that I couldn’t stand it anymore.  I wanted to go home.

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We tabled the conversation for awhile, because we were just about two months away from welcoming Nugget to the world, we still weren’t unpacked in our new house, and it was all just too overwhelming.  I pushed my homesickness down – again – and decided to see if I could wait it out.  Nugget was born and we had a magical summer at home together, soaking up sun and exploring the best that WNY has to offer (which is a lot – don’t get me wrong; Buffalo is a great town and we like it here).  We made a trip to D.C. on our way to the Outer Banks for a summer vacation with my side of the family and tortured ourselves with visits to friends and places that we had missed so much that even seeing them again was painful.  I cried as we pulled out of Alexandria and headed north – again.  And at the end of the summer, I told Steve – nope, it’s just not working.

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The more we talked about it, the more we felt we needed a change. I won’t speak for Steve, other than to say that he was feeling as homesick for northern Virginia as I was. We spent the fall debating options.  Moving back to the D.C. area was our first choice, but it wasn’t the only possibility we considered.  We briefly explored a West Coast move after I was contacted out of the blue with a possible professional opportunity in Seattle.  (That was never really an option – just a pipe dream we kicked around for about thirty seconds.)  More seriously, we talked about Denver.  We liked the idea of living near my brother and sister-in-law, and we thought Denver might hold some interesting professional opportunities.  We made a trip out there, mostly to spend Thanksgiving with Dan and Danielle, but also to scout the city for a possible move.  I met with an attorney while we were out there, and we checked out neighborhoods in case we ended up there.  When we got back from our Thanksgiving trip, we started sending resumes both south to D.C. and west to Denver, and we agreed that wherever the first job offer came from, that would be our move.

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I started to get bites almost immediately, and between January and March I made four trips to D.C. for job interviews.  Meanwhile, we took our first step toward a move, putting our house on the market (which we would have done anyway; it wasn’t a good fit for us), selling it quickly and moving into a townhouse on a six month lease while we figured out the next step.  By Memorial Day, I had a fairly good idea that a lead I had was going to work out, and I was cautiously optimistic that a move home was in the near future.  Still, I was shocked when I got a call (on June 1st, only a day or so after we got back from our cross-state trip) from another firm – not the one I was expecting – telling me that I could expect an offer package within the next few days.  I was incredibly surprised, because I’d thought my interviews there had gone well, but it had been almost a month since I’d last heard from them and I’d moved on to what I considered a more promising lead (a small boutique firm where a good friend of mine worked).  I now had to wrap my mind around the concept that I’d be going to work for a firm that was on my short list of dream firms, in a job that I had barely imagined I would actually get when I first tossed off a resume and cover letter over the winter.

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I made one final quick trip down to D.C. and found us housing, but even as we checked items off our pre-move to do list, I was reluctant to share the secret that we’d soon be moving home – because it was a dream come true, and I was afraid it would all turn out to be just a dream.  We landed a fabulous rental that is near all of our old favorite places, I accepted the offer package and cleared conflicts and reference check, and we lined up movers and told our current employers we were headed home – and yet, it didn’t seem real.  To be honest, it still doesn’t.

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For three years, I’ve yearned for northern Virginia.  I’ve watched from afar as friends have welcomed new babies to their families – babies I should have been there to rock and hold from their earliest days in the world.  I read the Parish Life from our old church every week without fail and followed the search for a new pastor.  I decorated our home with art pieces from the Torpedo Factory and festooned our Christmas tree with reminders of Mount Vernon.  I longed for our beautiful house, our overgrown green backyard, and our quiet street with friendly faces waving from all of the front porches and stoops as I made my way home from a run.  I’ve enjoyed my time in Buffalo, and I will always have a place set aside in my heart for this windy town on the shores of the great Lake Erie.  But, as a wise colleague told me when I broke the news of the move, my heart is longing to be at home.  And a week from today, we will be driving south to start the rest of our lives in the town where we belong – the home our hearts never left.

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Summertime, and the reading is easy!  Well… maybe not easy, but certainly it’s the season of beach bag books, and reading on your back patio with a glass of lemonade into the long twilight… for everyone without kids, that is!   My reading schedule is pretty much as it is the rest of the year – a few pages here and there, snatched in the coffee line and for an hour or so after the kids are finally asleep.  ‘Tis the season of my current state of life.  But I’ve read some great stuff in those little stolen minutes this year, so here (only a few weeks late!) is a list, in no particular order, of the best things I read from January to June.  (As always, these aren’t necessarily books published in 2016 – I just happen to have read them this year.)

the road to little dribbling The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island, by Bill Bryson – Starting off on a funny note, I absolutely adored Bryson’s follow-up to his classic Notes from a Small Island for its twentieth anniversary of publication.  Bryson travels around his adopted home country and sprinkles his hilarious observations with funny family anecdotes and fascinating bits of history and general knowledge.  He can be crass occasionally, but that’s (mostly) part of his charm.

the immortal life of henrietta lacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot – This nonfiction bestseller had been on my to-read pile for ages, and I finally got to it in February, and WOW was I ever blown away.  Skloot tells the story of Henrietta Lacks, a cancer patient in the 1950s whose cells were harvested, without her knowledge, and became HeLa, a famous strain of cells which keep perpetuating themselves.  HeLa cells have been shot into space, blown up in atomic bombs, and made billions for the medical industry – and Henrietta’s descendants can’t afford health insurance.  It was a stunning, sobering look at medical ethics and race, and it should be required reading for everyone.

march 1March: Book One and March: Book Two, by Congressman John Lewis – I’m cheating a bit and adding both of the currently available volumes of Congressman John Lewis’s graphic memoir of growing up and becoming involved in the Civil Rights movement.  The books are fascinating, poignant, upsetting and uplifting – and feel more relevant than ever, in our current racial climate.  Lewis is still serving his country, doing important work – like leading a sit-in on the floor of the House, to demand gun control legislation.  The third and final volume of this wonderful graphic memoir is coming out soon and I can’t wait to get a copy.

greenbanksGreenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple – This was my first Dorothy Whipple (and the only one of her books that my library had in its collection) but certainly not my last.  I loved this quiet, unassuming, but powerful family drama set in England around the time of World War I and between the wars.  The strength in the book was in its characters – so perfectly drawn that they were fully alive – particularly matriarch Louisa and her young granddaughter Rachel.  I closed the book reluctantly when I was finished, because I wanted much, much more time with these people.

kindredKindred, by Octavia Butler – Back when I first started book blogging, a reader recommended Octavia Butler to me and told me to start with Kindred.  I finally got to it, and it was an amazing reading experience.  Deeply visceral and troubling – Butler does not shy away from describing the brutality of slavery – but incredibly engaging and powerful.  I had a major book hangover after finishing Kindred, and I’m already looking forward to my next Butler.

diary of a provincial ladyDiary of a Provincial Lady, by E.M. Delafield – Another one that had been on my list for awhile (which seems to be a theme for this year) I picked up Diary of a Provincial Lady and was laughing about three sentences in – and I didn’t stop laughing until the final line.  The humor was dry and British – just how I like my humor – and had me absolutely rolling.  The Provincial Lady describes all the tribulations of her life – French nannies, bad food, persistent lack of funds, hothouse flowers that won’t grow, and children who play the same pop song on repeat for days on end – and it’s one of those books where nothing much happens but it’s all wildly entertaining.

journey to munichJourney to Munich, by Jacqueline Winspear – A new Maisie Dobbs mystery is always an occasion for celebration, and this was a good one.  Maisie is tapped by the British O.S.S. for a secret mission into the heart of Germany, to retrieve an English political prisoner being released in Munich.  While Maisie is in Munich, she also takes on the task of persuading the daughter of an acquaintance to return to her family – a painful task, because the woman in question is the person Maisie holds responsible for her husband’s death.  Maisie confronts her personal demons while feeling increasingly troubled by the trajectory toward war that she is witnessing in Europe.  This was one of the best Maisie stories I’ve read – I love it when Maisie gets involved in spying – and I can’t wait to see what she gets up to next.  However, I have a request: it’s been two books now with hardly any Billy.  That needs to change in the next book!

tyranny of petticoatsA Tyranny of Petticoats, ed. Jessica Spotswood – I absolutely loved this volume of short stories about “belles, bank robbers and other badass girls,” collected from acclaimed YA authors such as Elizabeth Wein and Marissa Meyer.  Short story collections sometimes – usually – fall flat for me, but this one was an exception.  Every story had me on the edge of my seat – but The Red Raven Ball, a spy story set in Civil War era Washington, D.C., was my favorite.

summer before the warThe Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson – The new release from the author of the perennial favorite Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (which I still haven’t read – must correct that) was hotly anticipated, and I was excited to get my hands on a library copy.  It tells the story of Beatrice Nash, new Latin mistress (which is apparently a scandalous thing?) in the village of Rye (a real place).  Beatrice quickly falls in with the two beloved nephews of her patroness, and before long the three are good friends.  Meanwhile, refugees descend on the village, the boys go off to war, and love blooms.  It was a wonderful, sad, lyrical story.

the fifth seasonThe Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin – This was the first Jemisin I read (although I have a copy of The Killing Moon somewhere, and it looks amazing) and is the start of a new trilogy.  I had to press through about fifty pages before I understood what the h-e-double-hockey-sticks was going on, but once I got accustomed to the world-building and to the writing style, I was hooked.  By the end of the book I was in tears and clamoring for more, and I insisted that my BFF Rebecca (an avid reader who loves science fiction and fantasy) download it to her kindle and read it IMMEDIATELY so we could discuss it.  (She did, and she loved it too.)  I won’t even try to describe the plot, because it would take paragraphs – I’ll just say that it was captivating and I’m anxiously awaiting the second book.

Not too shabby for six months of reading!  I noticed a couple of themes in my reading throughout the year – or at least, in the books that impressed me enough to wind up on this list.  There was a lot of “I’d been meaning to read this for ages and I finally got around to it” – both in terms of books (Henrietta Lacks, Diary of a Provincial Lady) and authors (Jemisin, Simonson).  I read a lot of wonderful books about race and racism this year, which feels very relevant right now.  And there was a healthy sprinkling of new discoveries (like Dorothy Whipple) and old favorites (Maisie!).  I’m excited and energized by the books I’m picking up lately, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2016 holds.

What was the best thing you read from January to June?

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Hello, hello, hello.  That sneaky Monday is back again.  I feel like I say this every week, but – we were so busy this weekend (and all last week, really).  I worked late twice last week, getting home after 10:00 p.m. one evening and working on the couch until 8:30 another, and was going nonstop all day, every day.  This weekend we really needed to get a lot done around the house, and we knew it was one of those weekends where we were going to have to divide up tasks if we had any hope of getting it all done – because of mischief like you see in the picture above (Nugget is not supposed to climb behind the nightstand), which makes it hard to get much done when the kids are around.  As it happened, I lucked out with kid duty both days, which meant I got to go out and have fun (although make no mistake, wrangling two kids is work) while Steve worked  around the house.  On Saturday I took both kids out for a long walk in East Aurora, where we stocked up on tea at Elm Street Bakery and spent a gift card I had to the local yarn store (on some gorgeous orange and green Madelinetosh – now I just need to find time to make something).  On Sunday we were even more adventurous – leaving Daddy at home to do more work while we headed to the zoo.  (Make no mistake, I am not insane enough to take two kids to the zoo by myself.  The morning was possible only because Aunt Grace joined us – and we all four had a ball.)

jane prudence homegoing belgravia

I say this every week too, but somewhere in the midst of all this running around at work and at home and with kids, I squeezed a surprising amount of reading in.  First I picked up my second Barbara Pym.  Although I was unexpectedly lukewarm on the first Pym I read – Excellent Women – I fell hard for Jane and Prudence.  (And now I want to revisit Excellent Women, because I remember having a headache the whole time I read it and I wonder if that might have negatively impacted my enjoyment of the book.)  Then I picked up Homegoing, the acclaimed debut by Ghanian-American author Yaa Gyasi, and tore through it – it was one of those searing, wrenching, absolutely un-put-down-able books and I wandered around with my nose in it for two days.  After Homegoing, as you can imagine if you know the subject matter, I needed something lighter – a palate cleanser, if you will – so I picked up the recent hardcover release of Belgravia, a dishy, soapy historical epic by the creator of Downton Abbey.  I’m only a couple of chapters in but it’s making for the perfect palate cleanser after a very intense read.

After Belgravia I’ve only got two library books left before I’m down to Inbox Zero at the library – the finish line is in sight!  One is a fun boarding school murder mystery and the other is Barkskins, the new (700 page!) tome by Annie Proulx.  I think I’m going to read the murder mystery.

Coming up on the blog this week – my top ten books of the year so far (only a few weeks late!) on Wednesday, and then I’m finally letting the cat out of the bag on that big secret family project I keep mysteriously mentioning on Friday.  And no, it’s not a baby.  Check back, and have a great week!

What are you reading this week, friends?

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Well, this was a new experience.  I’ve heard of Touch-A-Truck or truck petting events before, but we had never been to one – unless you count Food Trucks ‘n Fire Trucks last year, which I guess you can.  A few weeks ago, when I was out of town, Steve had considered bringing Nugget to a Touch-A-Truck event in Buffalo, but the weather was nasty and he called off the outing.  Fortunately, we got a do-over last weekend, and the whole family got to enjoy it together!

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Touch-A-Truck is exactly what it sounds like – a free-for-all for truck-loving kids, who get to climb all over a selection of trucks, sit in the driver’s seats, honk the horns, and basically go nuts.  We knew that Nugget, who loves trucks more than any baby I have ever seen, would have a ball.  And that Peanut would probably tolerate it.

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Less talk and more pictures.  As you can see, Nugget was all about this.  His little head was on a swivel and he was waving like a maniac and greeting all of the trucks.

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Peanut had a pretty good time – there was a pink cement mixer that she thought was cool, and every kid loves fire trucks.

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But really, this event was for Nugget.  And he took every opportunity to live out his dreams.

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While Peanut alternated between having a pretty good time and whimpering every time one of the trucks’ horns honked.  Which was like every thirty seconds.  Poor Peanut!

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Nugget, weirdly, was not bothered at all by the horns.  I know his hearing is fine, so he just loves trucks that much.

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Waving to all of the trucks.  Bye-bye trucks!  Vroom!

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Basically, it was the best day of his life.

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Have you ever been to Touch-A-Truck?

Listening

These days, it seems like more and more often we are having outbreaks of violence and tragedy and heartbreak, and sometimes I barely recognize my country.  Last week we were buffeted, this way and that, by the news – first two more police shootings of men of color, and all the questions.  So many questions.  Why does this keep happening?  What is broken in our law enforcement system that allows this?  Where is the oversight?  My heart broke for the families of those two men.

And then there was Dallas.  And more news that is so hard to watch and to read about and to understand.  The heartbreak – more heartbreak – for more families, compounded by a sickening sense that our gun laws are out of control, our justice system is out of control, and our country is broken.

I don’t normally write about national tragedies on this blog.  Mostly, that’s because this is not a news blog or a current events blog or a legal blog.  But it’s also because I always seem to find myself silent after big national tragedies – not knowing quite what to say, feeling that everyone else is better than I am at expressing their feelings on these events, feeling that I have nothing to add or that my thoughts might be unwelcome because I can try to understand but I can’t really live many of these situations, so I will never know.

Still, what is that saying?  Evil triumphs when people stay silent?  (Something like that.)  I think we have come to a watershed moment where we all have to speak up for what is right and true, and we have to shout down the voices of hate with a stronger message of love and tolerance and kindness.

Most of all, though, we have to listen.

I can’t live the experience of a person of color, who is profiled and prejudged based on his skin color.

I can’t step inside the shoes of the mother who has to teach her son how to interact with police so he won’t get shot.  My son is white, so he will probably never be summarily shot by police (it does happen, but it’s far more rare than in communities of color) and he won’t be profiled because of his skin color.  I don’t have that worry, and I can’t imagine what that’s like.

But I can listen.  I can acknowledge that I have had advantages and opportunities that others don’t get, and that the reason is my skin color, and that this is unfair.  I can work to fix that by advocating for diversity and inclusion in all organizations of which I am a part, and I try to do that.  These are things that might be hard to say and to hear, but I have to say them.  And when people want to tell me about their different experiences, I want to listen and I must hear.

And while I can’t ever say “I understand,” because I don’t and can’t, I can relate.  I don’t know what it is to worry about my son being shot by police, but I already am worrying about teaching my daughter exit strategies and how to protect herself and get herself out of dangerous situations that she might find herself in by virtue of being female.  So I am listening.

I don’t know what it is to be targeted and harassed by racists using an ostensibly neutral hashtag like #AllLivesMatter because I have not lived that experience.  But I know how demeaned I felt by #NotAllMen.  So I am listening.

I don’t know what it is to fear the police because of my skin color.  But I do know that I often fear them too, because I fear unfamiliar men, and these unfamiliar men have guns.  So I am listening.

I don’t know what it is to feel the desperation of a community that has lost man after man after man to senseless and unjustifiable violence.  But I know what it is to feel desperate and small after seeing yet another rapist escape with a slap on the wrist (and a report of his athletic achievements), while another woman’s life is ruined forever.  So I am listening.

I hate the violence that we have seen over the past week; this country is unrecognizable.  And I am so, so sad for the families that have lost loved ones this week – all of them.  If we are to move forward and create something better out of this national tragedy, which I hope we can, we must listen.

So talk to me.

(Boring end note: the opinions in this post are my own and do not represent my employer.  Nothing in this post should be construed as legal advice.  Respectful comments are welcome, but any comments that are disrespectful to any individual or group, in my sole judgment, will be deleted.)

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