Long Haul

It feels like something has shifted. I’ve only been at this for a short time but this feels different. People who have been at this their entire lives, for decades, say that this feels different. If the New York Times bestseller lists of the past week or so are any indication, people are at least buying the books that will help them get started. Key word: STARTED. More people have reached out to me in the past two weeks about what to do than in the past three years combined. Others have asked what the solution is – why we keep ending up wringing our hands and getting nowhere. I honestly think that until more people learn more about the history we weren’t taught, we won’t be open to the solutions that are being proposed. They’re going to feel like “too much.” If you’ve spent some time learning and reflecting, though, you’ll probably think more along the lines of “this isn’t enough.” We’ve been in this mess for 400+ years and it’s going to take more than a summer to get out of it but I’m feeling more optimistic than I have that people are ready to face that history in a meaningful way.

People who have known me for a while know that I’m a voracious reader. I read every night before I go to bed (there was only one six week stint that I didn’t read and that was when I first became a mom in 2013). The books I’ve been reading of late have been like junk food for my brain – thrillers, romance, YA. I think it’s what I needed to cope with the start of this quarantine. People also know, though, that in the summer I put together a short stack of deeper, nonfiction reading because I generally have more time to read during the day. Here are the four books I’m planning to focus my learning on this summer and why:

  1. The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee by David Treuer – so much of my learning over the past few years has focused on anti-Black racism. I have deep deficits in my knowledge of indigenous people. I was planning to see David speak at the Antiracist Book Festival in April but….#globalpandemic
  2. The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein – I have a pretty solid understanding, relatively speaking, of systemic racism in education and the criminal justice system. I want to know and understand more about redlining. This book was recommended by my friend Rachel who said it was fantastic.
  3. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. I’ve never read anything by James Baldwin. I need to fix that and this was what my friend Julia recommended as a starting point with his work.
  4. We Want to Do More than Survive by Bettina Love. I heard Dr. Love speak in January and she’s the voice everyone needs in their ears when they’re considering what education needs to look like to serve all children – and what it absolutely should NOT look like.

It seems like a lot of us are going to be doing a lot of reading in the coming months. One thing I need to be cautious of, and I encourage everyone to have the same caution, is that I don’t stop with just reading. Reading and learning are important to ground our work but reading and learning by themselves won’t change anything. I need to think about how I’ll apply my learning in my daily interactions, my work, my spending, and my voting.

What are you reading this summer?

Welcome. Now, stay.

Three years ago, I wrote about racism for the first time. It was 2017 and I had just watched something happen in Charlottesville that I thought was long gone in this country. I thought the only reason this blatant display of white supremacy in present day was because of the current administration. My question of “how is this possible?” led me down a long and windy path of learning that has really served to show me how little I know about the truth of “democracy” in the United States and how much work I have to do.

This post is for my intended audience: white people who want to legitimately do the work.

Over the weekend, I saw my various social media feeds flooded with white people who had never spoken up, finally speaking up in a very public way about their commitments to know, do, and be better. I have gotten so many texts and DMs about where to start. I’ll get to that. The first bit of advice I have for you: DO NOT, I REPEAT DO NOT, TURN TO YOUR BLACK FRIENDS AND ASK THEM TO VALIDATE YOU AS A GOOD WHITE PERSON. DON’T DON’T DONT. Don’t ask them to tell you all the ways white supremacy has shown up in their lives. Don’t ask them ANYTHING except “What do you need?”

So much of the work needed at this point is a whole heck of a lot of self reflection and learning to see how white supremacy has shaped our lives. White supremacy is a smog. We are all inhaling it. Daily. It most obviously shows up in burning torches and angry white faces. But it shows up in so many more insidious ways. Ways that end with violence against Black bodies. For those just beginning, I recommend starting with history and then follow with three fantastic books that give you the language you need to do more, deeper work (many books will probably be sold out in the links I share – I encourage you to support a local bookstore with this purchase):

  1. Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi or Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram Kendi. Jason Reynolds does the audiobook for Stamped and it is fantastic.
  2. So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo
  3. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  4. Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad

For those of you in Fairfax County, I curated this resource back in March that you’re welcome to use to guide your learning (always looking for feedback so please let me know any thoughts you have). I know not everyone likes to read so I organized it by reading, listening, and watching options for different perspectives. You’ll be able to tell where I’ve focused most of my work over the past three years and where I need to focus more attention. Remember, if your antiracist work isn’t intersectional, it’s oppressive.

Take a look at your social media feeds. Who are you following? Who are you listening to? How diverse are the voices filling that feed? How challenged do you feel in your white comfort? I am of the belief that if you as a white person don’t feel at least a bit uncomfortable when reading about racism, you’re probably not doing it right.  Pay attention. Reflect. And when you start to feel uncomfortable, rather than acting like a typical fragile white person, lean into that discomfort to see what it can teach you. This was a short list of must follows on Twitter I posted several months ago:

Cornelius Minor – @misterminor

Val Brown – @ValeriaBrownEdu & @ClearTheAirEdu

Kelly Wickham Hurst @mochamomma

Clint Smith III @ClintSmithIII

Christie Nold @ChristieNold

Nate @natebyr0n

Tricia Ebarvia @triciaebarvia

Julia Torres @juliaerin80

Marian Dingle @dingleteach

Dr. Debbie Reese @debreese

shea martin @sheathescholar

Once you learn how to see the patterns of white supremacy, you see it everywhere. None of this was accidental. It is literally woven into the fabric of the United States. Once you see it, what are you committed do doing about it? How much are you willing to cash in your white privilege? Dr. Bettina Love likens white privilege to an ATM with no withdrawal limits, an eternally replenishing ATM that we did nothing to earn. How are you going to use that power to elevate issues and voices that need to be seen and heard?

Most importantly, we have to stay vigilant. We can’t let this go once it stops being “cool” to be outraged. Jess Lifshitz so eloquently calls us to action to REMEMBER OUR ANGER.

Lastly. Regarding the protests (I will not call them riots because that is racially coded language). Violence isn’t a good thing. But for the LOVE OF GOD. What would YOU do if you didn’t know if you or your husband or wife or your child or your friend was going to be the next hashtag of the day? What would you do if NO ONE was ever held accountable? What would you do with that understandable rage? You’d let it all burn until someone took you seriously. So I say let it burn. And let us build something actually resembling justice and democracy out of the ashes.

Welcome. Now, stay.

FFTs

I’m not sure if Brene Brown realizes how timely the launch of her podcast was going to end up being but Lord is it helping me get through some big feelings in the past 24 hours. Her first episode talks all about how so many of us end up feeling when we find ourselves in a first time situation. We’re all currently in a first time situation (unless any of y’all reading this have been a part of a global pandemic before?) and we’re all responding differently. I got a few emails (related to work and distance learning) in the last day or so that have sent me spiraling out of control mentally. I haven’t been sleeping well, I’ve been clenching my jaw and it’s killing me, and I’ve basically been on the verge of tears for much of the day. Having listened to Brene’s first episode, I finally reminded myself “Katie, you’re in an effing (censored) first time. Normalize it. Take perspective. Reality check” (those are the steps she explains in the episode). Having words to name big feelings and situations is very helpful to me. I still feel like crap right now but I know I’m for sure not alone. I still don’t know how in the world I’m going to be a part of all of the virtual meetings I’m supposed to be on next week while also parenting my own children simultaneously (excessive screen time turns them into monsters so that’s not going to work for us). I know we’re all doing the best we can and I know people who are making decisions are doing they best they can AND I can also feel my feelings. I’d gotten so good at compartmentalizing my work and home life so that I could feel successful in both places and now that they’re all mushed together I am having a hard time seeing a path forward. I know it’s there. I just can’t see it, yet.

Thank you for reading my tear-filled vent post.

Expectations

“Expectations are resentments waiting to happen.”

Anne Lamott, quoted in Brene Brown’s podcast

Apparently I’m going to be using this platform as my own form of therapy for the foreseeable future. Today’s therapy session will focus on my issue with feelings of resentment. The above quote was referenced in Brene Brown’s new podcast, the first episode, when Brene is talking about effing first times (FFTs) and how hard first times can be for most people – the stories we tell ourselves and spirals we get ourselves into that hold us back. When she shared this quote, I literally stopped the walk that I was on and had so many flashbacks to moments where I’d felt full of resentment. When I thought about those moments I could also remember how I’d expected those moments to go and how what actually happened didn’t match expectations. *mind blown*

This is really hard for me because one of my top strategies for getting through something I’m anxious about is to visualize how I want it to go. This was a strategy I learned from swimming and I’ve transferred that skill to all other aspects of my life. What am I currently most anxious about? Being home with my kids for five months. What am I currently trying to visualize my way through? Being home with my kids for 5 months. How often has what’s actually happened matched what I visualized? About .01% of the time. How resentful am I feeling right now? I’ll let you draw that conclusion.

I’ve decided there are a few things I want to learn how to do over this early start to summer 2020 (although I’ll still be working – structure of which is very TBD and also producing much anxiety):

  1. Play the ukulele
  2. Manage my expectations, specifically looking at my visualization strategy, so I don’t feel so resentful and anxious

I have some strategies for number 2 and they are helping. Rainy days make those strategies a bit less effective, though.

Deep breaths. Deep breaths.

WTAF?

Two weeks ago (March 9), I got home late from a staff meeting at one of my schools thinking about next steps with that staff in the coming weeks. I woke up the next morning and went to work at my other school as usual. At 2pm that Tuesday, we got an email that the following Monday would be a teacher workday for us to prepare for a possible extended school closure related to COVID-19. The rest of that week was a blur for me, being a part of both schools’ leadership teams trying to prepare, but all of us expected to be in through the week. We went home on Thursday fully expecting to be at work on Friday the 13th. So much changed that night and over the next week. We still held out hope that we might be able to come back – mid April? Early May? Surely we’d get to see our colleagues and kids again? Schools had limited hours today for staff members to retrieve essential items (laptop chargers, books, half eaten bags of chips left behind). So many photos like this popped up in my TL after the Governor announced that Virginia schools would remain closed for the remainder of the year as learning was going to be going virtual:

Hearing those words at 2pm today wasn’t unexpected but it didn’t lessen the shock or grief so many of us are feeling about the loss of this school year and how it came about. I give the leaders of FCPS so much credit for trying to do this the right way – calling a teacher work day early to give families and schools time to prepare – and then, because these are literally unprecedented times and no one can really be sure of the best long term decision, having to completely shift gears. I do believe that the leaders most directly in charge of my life are doing the best they can with the information available, always keeping the safety and welfare of those in their charge at the forefront (my beliefs do not extend all the way to the top where your worth is completely based on your bank account).

We still had about three months of school left. My heart breaks for those who won’t get to experience various rites of passage they were expecting this spring. My heart breaks for the athletes who won’t get to finish what they started….for the teachers who weren’t going to be returning to their schools next year and may not ever see their students again. So much breaking.

I know we’ll get through this. I know we’ll get through this because we have to and because I am stubborn AF. It’s one of my most challenging character traits but also the one of which I am most proud. I might initially cry but then I put my game face on and get to work.

We can do hard things. First the pain, then the rising. Be still and know. (if y’all know Glennon, y’all know).

A New Normal

I’ve been trying to be mindful of not spending my entire day scrolling through various social media platforms and have been doing a pretty good job of intentionally leaving my phone in the other room so I’m not tempted. Yesterday, during one of my mindful scrolling times, one of my fave food bloggers (Defined Dish) posted a video of a full rainbow going across the sky in Dallas. I started crying immediately. Like full on ugly crying. This morning, I went for a walk and listened to Brene Brown’s first podcast episode about FFTs (y’all need to listen) and started crying again. Apparently I’m feeling some kind of way about whatever this new normal is.

And so as we adjust to whatever this is that we’re calling life now, I’m trying to be reflective about what it’s teaching me. Here’s a shortlist of what I’ve learned (some of it’s not new, I’ve just been reminded) in week 1 of #socialdistancing:

  1. I do a good job of pretending I’m flexible but it’s a real struggle for me.
  2. Inhaling and exhaling are super helpful.
  3. I love my job and feel lost without it.
  4. Literally watching flowers bloom is good for the soul.
  5. It’s okay to not be “productive” every second of my life.
  6. My 4 year old (5 in a month) is so much like me it’s unreal. I know this is why I struggle with him more than my oldest. I also know this is why he needs a whole hell of a lot of grace during this weird time.
  7. Crying is therapeutic. So are long walks. So are baths. So is reading for fun. So is just sitting somewhere in the quiet.
  8. I joke that I would love this whole quarantining thing if I was actually by myself but I know that I’m so incredibly lucky to have the three people I love most in the world with me.
  9. It’s okay to advocate for what I need to feel sane. This includes locking myself in my room with my Headspace app for 10 minutes of meditation.
  10. I’m introverted to the core and part of that introversion means I cherish my few, close relationships so much and I value quality time with the people I love. I’m grateful for technology and the ability to see them and talk to them so easily. When will we get to be together again?

This is a weird connection, but these are weird times – I remember thinking about deciding if I was going to have an epidural with either of my children. First time around, I held out as long as I could but then it got to be too much and the angel in yellow came in and delivered me from the pain. I remember talking to a friend about it after the fact and she said she’d have been able to hold out if someone could assure her exactly how long it was going hurt. Like “yes, this is going to hurt like nothing else but it will be over in 4 hours.” The uncertainty was the thing that made the pain so scary. I’m feeling the same about this situation. If we knew that in four weeks, life was going to go back to normal, I’d be like “alright, deep breath, we got this.” The fact that no one knows is the hardest part.

How’re you doing?

Going Upstream

There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (cited in Untamed by Glennon Doyle)

My favorite thing to do when I have free time is read. I suddenly have an abundance of it so I’m taking advantage of these opportunities to work on the growing stack of books on my night stand. Most of the titles in that stack have to do with “going upstream” and figure out why people are in the trouble they’re in – who caused it and who’s continuing to benefit from it?

Going upstream, to me, involves finding answers to questions that have come up for me more and more frequently over the past few years – how did 45 become president? Where did these white nationalists come from in August 2017? Why does my school look so much different than a school a few miles away in the same district? Why does the prison population look the way it does? Is it really true that certain demographics of people are more prone to criminal activity? How did our founders not laugh in horror at the mental gymnastics they had to engage in to justify enslaving human beings? Isn’t racism gone? We had the bus boycotts and a Black president after all…

It seems like every time I find an answer to one of my questions, a dozen new questions emerge because I now have a deeper understanding of issues I didn’t even know existed. When we know better, we do better and we work harder to demand solutions from those in decision-making positions. And to be clear, all of us are in decision-making positions at many points in our lives especially working in education- decisions that will impact outcomes for others for better or worse.

Some of the best titles I’ve read over the past few years that have answered as many questions as they’ve created for me:

  1. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson (the movie is also fantastic)
  2. Stamped from the Beginning: the Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X Kendi
  3. Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi (highly recommend listening to the read aloud version! Jason Reynolds crushes it).
  4. Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
  5. White Rage by Carol Anderson

And if you’re an FCPS employee, I have a curated google doc with a whole bunch of resources to read, watch, and listen to if you’ve got questions and want some answers….which will generate even more questions…which will lead to more answers and then more questions and…you get the picture. Let me know if you want it.

Almost through our first week of social distancing and I’m trying REALLY hard to embrace this as a new normal for the foreseeable future and be grateful for this slower pace.

Cheers…from >6 feet away.

Day 3

Day 3 of social distancing with my two lovely angels. I knew today would be the hardest so far – novelty of being home is wearing off, anxiety of what the heck is going to happen is starting to peak, taking frequent inventories of what we’ve got food-wise and considering how long things will last us in the event that grocery stores aren’t stocked/open.

Being home with my children for long stretches of unstructured time is the most anxiety-producing part of parenting for me especially when we have no idea how long this is going to last. With some states cancelling school for the remainder of the year, I’m really starting to spiral. I’m trying to remind myself that this is a marathon and not a sprint and while I’ve not stuck with a perfect color-coded schedule (I knew I wouldn’t) we have gotten some good habits in place for the first three days (mainly around no show watching until 3pm or later). And really all of the things I’m worried about also include things for which I should be grateful – we are all healthy, we have space in our house to separate, we have a big backyard, we have resources to keep “learning” going, James and I both have jobs that are still paying us for the time being, and we have cabinets and refrigerators and freezers with plenty of food.

Today I’m grateful for a run around the neighborhood by myself while listening to Pod Save the People, a family walk before lunch, watching my youngest work so hard at drawing Mo Willems characters, and watching my oldest read independently. I’ll focus on those when I step away from my laptop in a few minutes to break up the 784371084738176 fight of the day.

Deep breaths, y’all. We will be okay.

You Can’t Fight What You Can’t See

“If you are willing to dare to look white supremacy right in the eye and see yourself reflected back, you are going to become better equipped to dismantle it within yourself and within your communities.”

Layla Saad, Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor

Last February, I downloaded what was then a free workbook from Layla Saad’s website called Me and White Supremacy. Since that time, she found a publisher and now her book has become a New York Times bestseller. If any of y’all are looking for something to do over these next few weird weeks, this would be a great book to get your hands on.

Once the book was released, I got my pre-ordered copy and started re-reading it. This is definitely a book you can come back to many times over. I’m not the same person I was a year ago when I first started digging into what is meant by white supremacy and I’m seeing and understanding the text with a different lens now.

An idea I’ve been grappling with for the better part of a year (and am still very much grappling with) is this idea of personal work versus systems work; people taking the necessary time to engage in deep self-reflection about white supremacy and commit to taking actions in daily lives versus the system functioning to produce equitable outcomes. I’ve been pushed to think about these two different types of works from so many people I’m learning from – Melissa, John, Cornelius, DeRay. I find myself simultaneously being overwhelmed by the huge systemic issues our world is facing but also feeling empowered to change things within my sphere of influence.

The more I think about this the more I realize that I’ve been thinking about this as a “versus” situation rather than an “and” situation. The question isn’t personal versus systems work; it’s personal AND systems work. It is critical for people to take the time to know exactly what it is they’re fighting to change at a system level. If we don’t know how white (male) supremacy is the toxic fog we’ve all been inhaling since before we were born and how that’s showing up in our own daily lives, we won’t be able to see how it’s impacting those at the margins and we won’t know what policies we should be demanding.

Anyone reading this either already worked through or planning to work through Me and White Supremacy? Let me know – would love to share reflections with you.

Quarantining

What if we used our mothering love less like a laser, burning holes into the children assigned to us, and more like the sun, making sure all kids are warm?

Glennon Doyle, Untamed

This time last week, the thing teachers were most concerned about was the confluence of a time change, full moon, and Friday the 13th happening all in one week. What a difference a week can make. The only way I know how to describe how I’m feeling is weird. Trying to stay calm but also prepare for being holed up at home for an indeterminate amount of time. Trying to get my kids into a routine but also remembering that it’s okay if the schedule isn’t followed exactly. Grateful that the weather is at least nice so they can go outside. I’ve already gone to town on our storage room and really should have considered ordering a dumpster for the purging I’m going to have time to do now.

I’m planning to carve out time daily to write. I haven’t been making time and now that I seem to have nothing but time I’m going to be able to get to things that often get shoved to the back burner. I have a list of things I want to write about that I’ve been thinking about for months. Today’s post isn’t one of those. Today’s post is more about forcing myself to write and post….write and post…write and post without worrying about “perfection” or “innovation.”

The quote at the top of today’s post is from Glennon Doyle’s new book Untamed. I devoured this book during the first two days of our #coronocation. I felt connection to this quote on so many levels. Glennon often talks about there being no such thing as other people’s children. The number one thing my friends and I were most concerned about with this school closing? The families for whom schools are the only social net available to them. Our society expects schools to be so much more than schools. They provide so many necessary services to the most vulnerable in our communities. And when that social safety net has to close its doors, who is going to care for these people? I certainly wouldn’t expect the current administration to do anything meaningful anytime soon unless you’re already wealthy. I encourage people to remember this moment when they’re considering how to vote in November.

Time to get back to the homeschool schedule I made for my kiddos – we’re about to head into an hour of quiet/alone time…here’s to hoping I can actually get them to separate from each other.