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What is This Day?

Fourth of July 2018. I am having a difficult time finding a reason to celebrate on this day. I am having a difficult time celebrating the malformation of this once great country, fueled by the hatred in the White House and the bigotry in the hearts of so many of its citizens. I am ashamed of what we are saying and doing to other countries, I am ashamed of what we are doing to the people in our own country, and I am ashamed of my own naiveté. I never thought we needed to “make America great again” because I thought it was great all along.  Until now.

When I first learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance in 1stgrade, facing the American flag in the front of the classroom, with my right hand over my heart, I said it with gusto.  After all, I was part of the “republic, for which it stands,” part of the “one nation,” and I believed in “liberty and justice for all.” My friends thought nothing about their status as Americans, but I never took my citizenship for granted because my mother would tell us stories about how she earned her citizenship after marrying my father.  She earnedit.  She had to pass an extensive written test in English (not her native language) to qualify for her citizenship. When I was a child, the prospect of a simple spelling test would strike fear in my heart; my young mind boggled at imagining having to learn everything I could about the history and laws of this country, for the privilege of living here. That Pledge of Allegiance?  I bought that thing, hook, line, and sinker. My chest puffed with pride, and when I sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” tears sprang to my eyes; I sang it over and over at home so I could memorize every word. “The Star-Spangled Banner” chokes me up every time, even today. They touch me because I am keenly aware of the meaning of the words. We really were “the land of the free, and the home of the brave” because our ancestors fought for their independence, and then they turned around and paid it forward, allowing more of our ancestors to immigrate here. I was a child of the Seventies and an American diplomat’s daughter, living in Moscow during the Cold War.  You can’t even imagine what the Bicentennial meant to us in 1976.  Our country’s 200thbirthday! We could not have been prouder. I grew up with my parents constantly scolding us to behave properly in public because while we were living in foreign countries, we represented all American children.  If we were rude or behaved poorly, the citizens of those countries would think allAmerican children were rude or behaved poorly.  I learned the term “Ugly American” when I was seven years old: an American citizen abroad who makes an ass of himself and the country he represents, by throwing his privilege and entitlement around while belittling those in his host country.  I would never have predicted that this great country of ours would stoop to actually electing an Ugly American to be President.

The thing that bothers me more than the Ugly American in Office (our Constitutional checks and balances shouldn’t allow for any President to have a disproportionate amount of power), is my dawning realization that our country is populated by many more racists than I ever could have imagined.  I am not entirely naïve – I understand that racism will never go away completely because there will always be fear and ignorance to some extent in the world. But I really felt things were improving when we elected President Obama – it really felt like great changes were taking place.  Today, I have a sneaking suspicion that all of our forward progress didn’t actually eradicate any racism, it just forced the bigotry underground.  They were shamed into hiding over the years, as racism was publicly renounced. Now that we have an Ugly American in the White House, it is suddenly trendy to raise that particular freak flag, in the name of Nationalism. Wait. Doesn’t that sound familiar?  I seem to hear history screaming…and repeating itself. All the bitter resentment in the hearts of people who were so quick to blame other races for their problems, those embers of anger secretly kept smoldering under cover, fanned to a roaring fire, and fueled by the brazenly racist actions of the current leader…are we sure this isn’t July 4, 1942?

Are you one of the secretly racist? Do you get nervous if anyone with darker skin than yours walks by you on a sidewalk or sits next to you on a bus? Do you blame others for your economic problems? Do you resent having to share the rich resources of your country with others because you feel they should stay in their countries of origin? Check yourself. Chances are, a few of your ancestors left their countries to pursue happiness in the New World. Chances are a few of your ancestors may have murdered some of this country’s original residents just so they could get their hands on a few acres of land. Chances are a few of your ancestors then reached out and brought a few more of your ancestors over to join them in this country. Did you know that the very first arrivals on Ellis Island, back in the 1800s, were three unaccompanied children from Ireland? They travelled here to join their parents in America. Don’t you find it tragically ironic that we have done the opposite with our latest would-be immigrants, separating children from their parents? You may comfort yourself by pointing fingers at ICE and blaming them for these horrendous acts, but if you are U.S. citizens like myself, then you need to accept this responsibility.  This is our country. You did this. I did this.  We did this. Other countries of the world are shocked by this country’s callous attitude towards basic human rights and we should all hang our heads in shame. Not enough of us voted for the right things in November 2016. Too many of us were so caught up in voting against candidates we hated that we neglected to pay attention to voting for the right issues. In our division, we allowed the unthinkable to happen, and now we are living with the consequences. We made this mess, so it is on us to clean it up. In four months we have great chances to vote for people that can represent us and help us with this chore. Your citizenship is not just about the right to speak or the right to pursue happiness; it is also a responsibility to keep this country honest and noble. We have new opportunities every two years, to do such things, but right now we have to take our heads out of the sand and see that we have failed.

So, what exactly are we celebrating today? Surely, you can’t be celebrating the “national pride” that led to the election of a bigot. Surely, you can’t be proud of an Ugly American representing you, giving the impression to formerly friendly foreign countries that all Americans are racist, greedy, and selfish. Surely you can’t be hiding your head in the sand and throwing “hopes and prayers” at these problems like our country tends to do following the never-ending mass shooting murders of school children? Pride in this nation today is unwarranted. Americans who celebrated July 4, 1945 – now they really had something to celebrate – they actually stood up and fought against hateful oppression and won; and they fought that war not only for us, but also on behalf of people in foreign countries. Today, we cannot even protect people in our own country. Independence Day?  Are we celebrating an independence from rational thinking and compassion? I look around and see lots of flags waving, I hear about burgers and beer, and my poor dog experiences the fear of fireworks exploding. This is what this holiday has been reduced to.  It has been relegated to the shallow celebrations of those days of the year that we mark as special while not really knowing why. July 4, 2018. Happy Halloween, America.

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Today is Just a Day

Mothers’ Day has always been a day of conflict for me. When I was a little girl, and my elementary school teachers would help us make cards and gifts to bring home for that special day, I always presented them to my mother, heart bursting with pride, hoping she would see how much I loved her by how much glitter I glued on the construction paper. Of course, my mother was an artist, a world-renowned artist. “Thank you, that’s nice” was the best I could hope for, and one raised eyebrow at my stick-figure drawings told me my artwork was not so nice. I recall most of my time with my parents filled with my yearning for a mom and dad like my friends’ moms and dads; parents who enjoyed their children and who wanted to be parents. My parents always reminded us that #1 all three of us girls were meant to be boys to carry on the family name, and #2 my mother was especially careful to let us know that she never wanted children (we interfered with her blossoming art career) but she did it to make our dad happy. My childhood heartbreak gradually hardened in my teenage years, into a resolve to find or make a family that would love me as much as I loved them. I stopped paying attention to Mothers’ Days because the only mothers I ever met who I wanted to thank, already belonged to other people like my friends. Oh, how I coveted their moms. My best friend Kirsten’s mom even let me call her Mom while we lived in Shanghai. For years, that gave me the greatest comfort.

Finally, I grew up and had the baby I always dreamed of loving. The moment our eyes made contact, I felt hit with a bolt of lightning; THIS was what I was meant to do, to be the most loving mother to this baby girl. Every single bad memory of my family took a back seat to my new priority. As a first time mother, I had very little to help guide me. Not only were my parents completely disinterested in being grandparents, I was quite certain any grandmotherly advice was useless, coming from a woman who never wanted her own children. As my baby grew into toddlerhood and her independence grew, little conflicts arose. Tempted to lose my temper in the face of tantrums or naughty behaviour, I always stopped myself with one thought, “What would my parents do?” A very twisted version of What Would Jesus Do…whatever the answer, I made a deliberate choice to do the OPPOSITE. My parents would have spanked a toddler who drew on the walls, spanked a child who wanted to wear her underwear on the outside of her pants, spanked a child who talked back. My father always told us that children were cabbages until they were old enough to carry on an intelligent conversation. I chose to learn about the concept of Time Out, let my child choose her own clothing, and learned how to use my words. I am sure it was much more frustrating and time-consuming to do it the long way, versus the shortcut of beating. But I have very clear memories of the leather belt with moons and stars cut into it, that would beat my bare legs and bottom until those moons and stars were imprinted on my flesh. I will never forget the fear and dread when my father would tell me exactly how many smacks with the belt I would get; most of the time in the double digits. I would know it was coming because if I talked back or lied or did anything wrong in my mother’s eyes, she would screw her face up in rage, point her finger at me, and scream, “Just WAIT until your father gets home!” And when I was a teenager, and the only thing I did was roll my eyeballs, as teenagers do, she didn’t even wait for my father. Her teacup full of hot green tea would come flying at my head. Maybe that’s why I became a goalie in soccer in high school; I learned to not flinch in the face of flying objects, to take the impact on my body, and to keep going.

As the years passed, the negative connotations I associated with Mothers’ Day slowly faded. Gradually, Mothers’ Day ceased being about my mother, a reluctant mother. I started to see that it was a day about any human being, man or woman, who CHOSE to care for another. My own children brought me homemade cards of construction paper, glue, and glitter, on the breakfast tray in bed. I have saved every one of them. My oldest, Emily, ever since she could write, has written silly poems and hilarious rap songs. I cherish every one of them. Even when I went into labor with my youngest, Simon, little Emily made colourful little posters to tape on the hospital room wall to cheer me on, “Laber is Fun!” I still have that little poster, misspelling and all. “Laber” isn’t all that fun, after all, but this family sure is. Last year, my husband cared for me and the children while I battled breast cancer; he became the best example of a mother I have ever known. I look around my life, and there is no more room for bad feelings on Mothers’ Day.

This morning, for the first time, I woke without my husband and my oldest child on Mothers’ Day. Markus is out in Seattle, working hard to make a new home for our family to move to next month. Emily is in Phoenix with her best friend to celebrate her graduation from university. Feeling slightly sorry for myself, I opened my eyes to find my two younger children, Hanna and Simon, holding a tray of breakfast and a coffee in a Love Cup. “Happy Mothers’ Day, Mama, we love you!” A feast of eggs and kale and onions, and their happy faces beaming at me while I ohh’d and ahh’d. Simon told me, “My gift to you is that I am going to scoop poop in the yard and mow the lawn!” And they both promised to help me clean the house for company tonight. That’s a minor miracle right there. I opened my email, and there was a letter to me, from my Emily. Not her usual funny rap or poem, this is what she wrote:

“Hi Mama Bear!

This isn’t my usual rap, because I felt that I had a lot to say that wouldn’t be very easy to rhyme. It’s Mother’s Day! You’ve gone through three “labers,” none of which could have been all that fun. You’ve raised one semi-adult who has so far managed not to perish out in the real world, one sassy teenager who loves to shock us all with her rebellion and independence, but who will one day undoubtedly shock us with incredible success, and also one hilariously weird boy who has the exterior of a hardened thug, but who’s insides are filled with love and an amazing sense of kindness. On top of all of this, you work hard to maintain the most beautiful marriage that I have ever seen.

When I was first processing that you had been diagnosed with breast cancer last year, they were some of the scariest feelings I’ve ever felt. First off, what kind of universe did we live in if someone as caring, sweet, and undeserving as you could possibly be dealt an early entry into Heaven? I realized we had all taken you and everything you did for us for granted; something I still sometimes catch myself guilty of. You are the only constant I’ve had in my entire life and I’ve literally known you for forever. How am I supposed to ever be expected to navigate through this stupid world without you to call and complain to? Without you to cry and scream and vent to, without hearing your 100% honest advice on something as small as what to buy at the grocery store, all the way to making life-changing decisions that I’m too weak to deal with on my own? That’s why when you were diagnosed, I never really considered it an option that you could ever disappear from my world. Nothing was strong enough to take you away from me, because you are mine and I couldn’t let that happen.

This was a very idiotic and naive approach to your newly discovered cancer. Because I wiped away this possibility, I did not embrace the seriousness of your illness, nor how important it would be for me to move back home. Even when I finally did, I look back and see how little I contributed to the family, how much more I could have done to lessen the burden of your surgery and healing. I know I can’t make that time up to you, but I am sorry for being a noob.

I have so many amazing memories of times we have shared. Obviously we have had some really bad times, horrible screaming fights and sometimes deafening bouts of silence. You’ve said before that you have blocked out most of your negative memories from your childhood, because they were too painful to keep around. But I think that the reason I remember less of the bad and all of the good is not because the bad is so bad, but because the good is so great. You and Papa have given us such an amazing life, full of the most love and laughter out of family I could ever imagine. I love when we’re all out for dinner, and half the conversation is purely brought-up memories that make my mouth burst out with laughter, and my heart burst with all the love we all share.

You are the coolest, funniest, most welcoming and biggest hearted mom (and person) I have ever known or even heard about. Even without ever meeting you, my friends give you rave reviews. I’m so sorry it took me so long to realize that I chose the best possible person to not only raise me, but to be my very best friend. I love you the most and I hope you always know that.

Happy Mother’s day Mama!!

Love,
Emmy”

Mothers’ Day is not a happy day for many people. But I believe you do not have to settle for what Life dishes out to you. If you can survive to adulthood, you can make the changes you need to find happiness. Leave the bad behind, or if you choose to keep it in your heart, use it to make your life better. There are some shitty moms out there getting some pretty damn good love from children that deserve more. Stay strong, kiddos. There is love out there, and it doesn’t have to come from your bio mom. If you can’t find it, you make it yourself. The more love you make, the more love just bubbles up and overflows.

This is it. I am here. I made it. I am the mother I always wanted, with the children I always wanted, in the family I always wanted. Dreams do come true. Happy Mothers’ Day to those who can, and I wish a Future Happy Mothers’ Day to those who will make it so down the line.

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