Questioning authority

July 29, 2015

My son turned one recently, and that milestone brought an enormous package of emotions along with it, most of which I don’t even know how to unpack yet.

The point is that his birth — and the frenzied period of time that led up to it — has been on my mind a lot lately. When I went past my due date, my doctor insisted on inducing labor, even though I wanted to wait for the baby to come naturally. I begged for more time. I offered to go to the hospital every day and have additional tests to make sure the baby was still thriving, even though it meant paying for those tests out of pocket.

For this my doctor labeled me as “noncompliant,” and made a note in my file that I was a problem patient. She scheduled my induction and said if I didn’t show up to the hospital, she’d drop me as a patient and I’d have to deliver the baby on my own. The more I tried to reason with my doctor, the angrier she became, which was incredibly frustrating for both of us.

I cried. I didn’t understand why, if my baby was healthy, my doctor wouldn’t allow me to have the birth I wanted. Why didn’t I have the right to be in charge of my own body? I wasn’t making an outrageous request; I was merely asking for time.

Eventually I submitted. I was too vulnerable and frightened. I didn’t have the strength to question the doctor’s authority, even though I was certain I was right, and I ended up with a surgery that could have compromised my health and the life of my son. One year later, I still wonder if I would have had a better birth experience had I been more assertive and stood up for what I believed.

All of those memories were fresh as I watched the Sandra Bland arrest video, and it reminded me of my own standoff with an authority figure. The escalating anger and frustration. The questions that were met with aggression. A situation in which mere protest became a threat to someone with the upper hand. The dehumanization that followed.

The difference is that Sandra Bland didn’t waver. She knew her rights, and she didn’t cave. She displayed the courage I wish I had.

Do you remember those “Question Authority” bumper stickers? I used to have one of those, slapped across the inside of my locker in high school. It’s a phrase ripped from a Benjamin Franklin quote: “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority,” because it’s a good thing to challenge conventional thinking, to assert opinions, and to be critical. Somewhere along the way, that part of me fell silent.

I don’t know where to place all the rage and sadness I feel over Bland’s death. I don’t even know if my feelings matter, since this isn’t about me. It’s about the complex, sticky web of injustice, and the lack of empathy for those who at their most vulnerable. How do we even start to fix that?

My friend, Natashia Deón, posted this on Facebook when asked, “What can I do now?”: “You have your wisdom, your voice, your vote and your poetry. Even if you’re not a poet, the ACTIVE pursuit of justice is poetic. Be brave and Godspeed.”

This is what I want to do moving forward. I want to listen and learn from others, and cultivate empathy and compassion in the face of fear and injustice. I want to find that tiny voice inside that has been silent for far too long. More than anything, I want to be brave and outspoken, always questioning. Always, always questioning.

I hope you’ll join me.


Little Man: The One-Year-Old Update

July 21, 2015

How are you a 1-year-old already?

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It wasn’t so long ago when I would place you on your tummy and coax you to roll over. And now you’re running.

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It’s so bittersweet. I love how quick you move, how much you learn every day, your fierce and wild independence. Yet the faster you walk, the more I feel you pulling away from me. You’re becoming a little man already, and it stretches my heart out like salt water taffy.

Most everybody tried to warn me. “Enjoy it!” they said. “It goes by so quick!” Even perfect strangers said, “You’ll miss this when it’s gone!” I hated those people. But I was delirious from a lack of sleep, my body was sticky with spit up, and I often felt like I was stuck at the bottom of a long well with a purple eggplant. A purple eggplant that screams.

If I’d realized that someday you’d stop falling asleep on my chest, I’d have relished those long, lazy afternoon naps. If I’d known how you’d leap from infant to pre-toddler, I might have appreciated those early newborn days a little more. I still wouldn’t have enjoyed the colic, but overall I might have cried a little less.

Anyway, now you are one. But it won’t be long before you are two. And then 22. And then I will die, because ACK! Too soon. I can’t handle it.

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Frankie the Fox. Oh my god, do you love Frankie the Fox. In fact, one evening as I put you in your crib, your eyes searched the mattress, your breath quickened and you started to panic, right up until you saw Frankie in the corner. I thought, “This is foreshadowing,” and that very night your dad bought a backup Frankie for us to keep in reserves.

You also love playing outside. Your family. Lemon and Kung Pao Kitten. Duplos. Swings. Bruno Mars and Daniel Tiger. And books — it makes me proud to see how much you enjoy turning the pages to see what happens next.

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Favorite foods:

Watermelon. Kiwi. Mango. Banana pancakes. Homemade oatmeal “cookies.” Peanut butter. Sweet corn on the cob.



Bubble bath. Swim class. Diaper changes, which are like trying to pull the skin back on a snake after he’s already shed it.

You also weren’t crazy about your birthday cake, which made me happy. That’s your last taste of sugar until you turn 18. I hope you enjoyed it.

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The day love won

June 26, 2015

Today when I heard about the Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage, I tried to memorize the morning. The mug of French roast coffee. Michael Franti singing on my iPhone. My husband on the couch, reading sports headlines. A scroll of news on my computer. My 11-month-old son crawling on the floor, building a tower of soft blocks. It was so normal, so everyday.

And yet, it was extraordinary.

I wanted to imprint it all on my brain so someday, when my son asks about the historic day all Americans received the right to marry, I could tell him every detail: The pale haze that diffused the sunshine. The humidity that hung thick in the air. The whirr of a lawnmower. How history was just a moment after breakfast, when everything was the same and different all at once, and a cup of coffee was suddenly underscored with great importance, and I was joyful.

Then I realized my son might never ask me about this day at all — because he will have no reason to. He will grow up in a country where people just get married. No qualifier.

This is all he will ever know: That people love and are loved.




Thank you, America.


Secret Starbucks Drink Menu of a Marriage

March 29, 2015

Recipes for happiness.




Liquid Meet-Cute

– 4 shots of espresso over ice in a grande cup

– 4 pumps of white chocolate syrup

– Add one woman, fragile with fear and grief, and send her up in a plane

– Combine with one tender-hearted skydiving instructor who offers to skip the skydive and ride the plane down instead

– Jump anyway. Jump with this man, even when your hands shake and your stomach is in your throat. Make one skydive, and then make another, and make hundreds more after that. And when the instructor asks you on a date, say yes. Yes! You’ve already trusted him with your life.

– Drizzle with chocolate.



Warm Sugar Cookie

– White mocha hot chocolate

– Hazelnut syrup (1 pump tall, 2 grande, 3 venti)

– Vanilla syrup (1 pump tall, 2 grande, 3 venti)

– Sprinkle raw sugar on top

– Add the winter day on the steps of Immaculata Church, warming your hands on a thermos and watching the sun rise over Mt. Adams.



Amazonian Honeymoon

– Start with raspberry syrup (2 pumps tall, 3 pumps grande, 4 pumps venti)

– Add strawberry, orange, mango and very berry juice to the first line

– Fill with lemonade to top

– Spend days chattering with monkeys, rowing the Amazon and drinking rum on a sugar plantation. Fall asleep in a thatched rainforest hut, smeared with deet, bodies tangled like jungle vines

– Add ice and shake!



Stormy Days Tea

– Earl Grey tea semi dry misto

– 2 pumps vanilla syrup

– 2 pumps of caramel syrup

– Add one skydiving accident

– A move across the country

– One stolen car

– Your mother’s death

– Fertility issues

– Miscarriage

– Illness

– Moving. Three more times.

– Cling to each other because the world feels too vicious and sad to navigate alone.



Anniversary Cake Frappuccino 

– Vanilla soy frappuccino

– 2 pumps hazelnut

– Add 1 beautiful, boisterous baby

– Toss in 2 teeth cutting baby’s gums

– A broken dryer and a clogged kitchen sink

– Burn the pancakes and forget to make the coffee

– Call the babysitter

– Drive away giggling because the dishes can wait and the laundry will air dry, but this is your anniversary day

– Go to the movies and hold hands for two hours, as though you just met

– Get massages to work out the kinks

– Kiss in the car

– Never forget how lucky you are

– Add whipped topping (optional)

We are a family

March 4, 2015

“When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.” — Dian Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist

Dear Everest,

Once, on drizzly Rwandan morning when the Virungas were swathed with mist as fine as cotton candy, I hiked into the mountains to follow a family of mountain gorillas. To get there, I sliced through tangles of vines and branches with a long, solid machete. When the mountain got particularly steep and slippery, I used the machete to carve steps into the mud. Finally, after a few hours and a lot of sweat, I reached the gorillas.

They were remarkable. Truly. Gorillas aren’t aggressive unless threatened, and I think this group knew they were among friends. The silverback walked past me and put his enormous hand on my shoulder before moving on. He paused at the edge of a clearing and surveyed the landscape.


There were other adult gorillas. Some male, some female, although I didn’t really know how to tell the difference. They were gentle and kind. And there were babies, joyful baby gorillas, who plucked ripe berries from the bushes, scratched their heads, and awkwardly tried to swing from one tree to another.


I watched as the gorillas nurtured their young, the babies riding on their mothers’ backs or nestled in the crook of an arm.


One of the adult gorillas flattened some of the foliage into a nest and placed her baby there to rest. When the baby was good and comfortable, the mama perched nearby where she could keep watch. They were so much like humans.


Even so, I remember thinking, “Nope. Not me.” I didn’t think I could ever care for a child in that way. I didn’t have that capacity for selflessness, and when I searched within myself, I found zero maternal instinct. I was a woman who wielded a machete in the mountains, after all, not the type to nurture anyone.

Even when you arrived, I was unsure about this arrangement. I spent the first few months struggling to figure out how to make room in my life for a baby. Your bassinet was shoved between my bed and my nightstand, and it always felt like I was trying to wedge you into someplace you didn’t belong. Someone said to me, “I guess you’re done traveling now,” and I wondered if that was true, if my world was shrunken and small now.

But somewhere along the way, my world didn’t just stretch to accommodate you — you completely expanded it.


In fact, I suspect now that everything I’ve ever experienced, every skydive and every sunset, every place I’ve ever been, every trail I’ve ever walked, it was all leading me to you. And everything I have yet to experience, it already seems bigger and brighter because I’ll be experiencing it for two.


I get it now, this primal drive to care for another being. All I want to do is build a nest for you, a place to keep you safe and warm while I stand watch. We are a family.


Love, Mama