Pandemic Project: Scattered Autobiographical Memories of a Liberal White Woman, Part I

Twenty-three years ago this month my then boyfriend graduated from Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas with a physics degree. A year later, I followed suit, the only difference being my piece of paper said biology instead of physics.

A few days after pomp and circumstance, I was on a plane to Frankfurt, Germany with something like 100 other A’Capella choir members and alumni; starting a choir tour and my first trip outside of North America. We spent 10(ish?) days singing and traveling through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The vast majority of us were hopelessly Midwestern, our crew was overwhelmingly Methodist, Southwestern being a Methodist institution. At one point we were oh so shocked (or amused, perhaps) upon finding the church kitchen we were in had a tap. For beer. In a church! Did I mention we were hopelessly Midwestern and overwhelmingly Methodist? Oh, how worldly and grown up and sophisticated we felt to having all these new experiences!

Days after my return from Europe, I loaded up a UHaul with my sparse belongings (yes, if you’re wondering, there was a papasan chair involved) and moved into an apartment in a Kansas City suburb. Less than a month after receiving my first college degree, I was attending orientation at Kansas University Medical Center, where I subsequently spent a full calendar year completing the clinical laboratory science practical year of education, then was grated another piece of paper.

Prior to my year at KUMC, I had spent essentially no time in an urban area. The area around the medical center had a reputation for being a bit on the seedy side. Whether or not that was warranted, or simply a reputation the area gained because there were black people about, I do not know. During orientation, a hospital police representative encouraged us to utilize their escort service if we had to walk to our cars at night (though, if God forbid, you were parked on the Missouri side*, you were SOL). My coursework never required me to be there after dark, so I didn’t have a need for such an escort; but it was nice to know it was available.

If ‘woke’ had been a utilized term in that day and age, I’d have fancied it applicable to myself. Ahhhh youth. Was I ‘woke’ the morning I returned from my phlebotomy rounds and regaled my {all white} classmates with the tale of the young black man I visited, who was recovering from a gun shot wound and yet was terrified of my li’l ol needle? God, I thought that was so damn funny. Big tough gangbanger scared of my phlebotomy tray. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Jesus Christ, have mercy on dumbass 22 year old self. I’ve previously referred to the Indigo Girls lyric, “Every five years or so I look back on my life and I have a good laugh.” I need an additional verse: “Sometimes I look back 20+ years and want to punch my young, stupid self.” I didn’t have the knowledge to deem him a gangbanger. And, for shit’s sake, WHAT IF HE WAS? What on earth gave me any right to judge??? My only job was to collect a blood sample, ideally in as compassionate a manner as one can possibly poke someone with a sharp object. Nothing about the situation required any commentary from me.

Woke. How incredibly inane. I’ll extend my 22 year old self a little grace here. Regardless of anything, there is only so much I could have possibly known as a 22 year old product of a largely rural Kansas upbringing.

I’m going to leave it here for today. It is so incredibly typical for me to be dealing with the heartbreak and unrest of my metro area by writing about myself, making it about me. Right or wrong, I’m feeling the need for a lot of self-reflection these days. Why I’m choosing to share said self-reflection in such a public manner is undoubtedly egotistical. But I hope there is also some vulnerability and confession coming through. More to come. Bear with me. Or don’t. Put one foot in front of the other and lead with love.

*If you are unfamiliar, and need some extraneous information, Kansas City covers two states, Kansas and Missouri. The medical center is very close to the state line.

Scattered Thoughts and Deep Sighs

A week ago I shared this article on Facebook, along with some incoherent words about how the headline pained me. There may have been wine involved. I was frustrated, because I knew the ‘Lutheran leaders’ the headline was referring to were not those of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is the organization my congregation is a part of.

Perhaps I should backtrack. I may not have known immediately. In fact, I think I had a ‘what the hell’ moment. But by the time I’d had enough time to blink twice and process a bit, I knew the headline was referring to a different Lutheran denomination than the ELCA. Why? Because I have context. I’ve been a member of an ELCA church for something like 15 years. I’ve heard the Bishop of the Minneapolis area synod speak on a number of occasions, I once drank wine in the church parking lot with her daughter (yeah, really, it’s a story for another day), and I’ve osmosed at least of the vast information my kids took in during their Confirmation process. Choosing not to comply with current guidelines aimed at slowing the spread of a virus is wholly inconsistent with everything I’ve heard, read, and seen from my time in the ELCA.

But, of course, I clicked it anyway. Due diligence or some shiz like that. And I was quickly reassured. The headline was referring to the Missouri Synod- a denomination who doesn’t ordain women, practices closed communion; and, I kid you not, has a section on their website expressing concern over the practice of yoga. This would be just the tip of the iceberg of dissimilarities to my experience in the ELCA.

For what it’s worth, this is what you see now when you click on the link.

Click here to see for yourself.

I appreciate the clarification, but still file this under incompetent journalism. I don’t have exact stats, but I feel confident in saying the number of ELCA congregations is equal to, if not greater than, the number of Missouri Synod congregations in the Minneapolis area.

In my experience, this is far more consistent with the Lutheranism I’m familiar with.

OK. Got that off my chest. Moving on.

Amy Cooper. Yes, I’ve got to go there.

This headline was WAY less shocking to me than the one stating Lutherans would not comply governor’s orders. Apparently much of the interweb had jumped to the conclusion Amy’s a Trumper. That thought never entered my mind. From the get-go, I had her pegged as a nice, white liberal lady. Just as unfair on my part, as none of us really had any right to be labeling her politics based on initial details of the story.

I like nice white liberal ladies. I count myself as one, though admittedly I don’t fancy myself all that nice. I know them. I know myself. And this is one group I feel I have no shortage of insight into. While I choose to believe we ultimately mean well, we are somewhat of an entitled bunch. We sometimes feel our donations to Barack Obama absolve us of any latent racism (and, perhaps, give us liberty to let our dogs off leash in areas where such behavior is prohibited).

If you’ve been here before, you know I was on a Civil Rights tour a little over a year ago. With people from my church, were anyone is welcome to Communion, the council president is a woman, one pastor is a woman married to a man, another pastor is a man married to a man, and our deacon is a woman married to a woman; which is why I get edgy about being grouped with less loving groups.

That was a digression. Back to my trip. I ate dinner in a church basement across the table from Joanne Bland. Our group leaders had prepared us for the fact that she would not mince words or sugar coat the truth, so I wasn’t terribly surprised when, in the midst of our conversation, she said, “You know what group I can’t stand? Liberal white women.” She elaborated about how we frequently need to tout our own virtues and let everyone know about our good works (which trend more towards words than actions). I didn’t argue with her, because what grounds would I really have for an argument? She’s right, and I’m guilty as charged. And even if I had thought her assessment was an erroneous over-generalization, that wouldn’t have given me any right to disregard her perception.

So, yeah. When I first read details of Amy’s encounter with a bird watcher in Central Park, I classified her as a nice white liberal lady. Maybe it was Joanne’s voice in my head. Maybe it was my own shortcomings. Or maybe I simply acknowledge we white liberal ladies have some biases, some shit to work out, and an irrational amount of fear dwelling within us.

I’m really not altogether certain why I’ve written about these two things today. I guess they’re just on my heart. As is, of course, George Floyd. Sighs too deep for words.

Speaking of sighs, this is where I see if you’re still reading. This morning I was tested for COVID-19. I don’t feel awful, but I’ve been dealing with shortness of breath for a couple of days, which makes it seem like I’m sighing more than normal. After texting with an acquaintance who is a family practice physician, exchanged FB messages with a friend who has recovered, and an online visit to Virtuwell; I decided to make an appointment to be tested. Results are expected in about three days.

I don’t know what to think. I don’t feel terrible, I’m just having a little trouble catching my breath. I have a long history with anxiety, but my manifestations have never been so overtly physical. And yet, I’m guessing there’s a mental component to what’s going on here. We shall see. More to come.

Be Well, Friends.

The Coronacoaster

High quality parents that we are, at a ridiculously late hour on Saturday night, Chris and I kinda sorta stole (er… ate) the better part of a pint of ice cream that belonged to Elise. When she groggily ambled down the stairs yesterday morning with every intention of eating ice cream for breakfast, I really wasn’t in a position to say no when she asked if I’d drive her through Caribou to get a bagel. The ultimate point of this confession is for me to tell you the car in front of us paid for our order. And perhaps to keep it real. Yeah, ice cream for breakfast is an iffy parenting move, but I’m doing the best I can here. Meanwhile, back at Caribou, we in turn paid for the order of the person behind us, but we most definitely got the sweet end of the deal; as we ended up paying about a third of what we’d have had to pay for our own order.

The moral of the story, obviously, is that it pays to steal your kid’s ice cream.

You’re welcome.

Kidding. Kind of.

I really love the Sunday of a holiday weekend. Not having the usual Monday morning rigmarole hanging over my head is freeing. I decided to use said freedom to take on some long overdue weeding, and Chris and I completed a series of other long overdue outdoor tasks which I will not bore you with; other than to say my body had worked hard, we’d accomplished the things we’d wanted for the day, and I was exhausted in the best possible way.

Having decided enough work had been completed for the day, I showered and plopped my arse onto the couch. I was ready to relax and start thinking about what we’d eat for supper. I may or may not have been dozing off when Chris informed me there was a spigot on outside and one of our window wells was filling with water, as was the basement.

Throw in neighbors equipped with both all necessary tools and hearts of gold, fast forward about 90 minutes, and this is what our basement looked like. There’s more fun to be seen if you actually go into the bathroom and guest room.

My role in this transformation was essentially to stay out of the way. While there was no shortage of work to be done, there was only one wet/dry vac; and I don’t think anyone would want me cutting out drywall or carpet pads. At one point I did actually ask what I could do, and my kind contractor neighbor said, “Just stay calm.” Which I like to think I did.

If this tale is not the most perfect illustration of the coronacoaster, I don’t know what is.

Man, I wish I’d have been the one to come up with that term.

In a matter of a few hours, we went from belting out Bill W’s Lovely Day to ripping up basement carpet. At around 8pm, Chris had a call (yeah, on Sunday evening of a holiday weekend– I don’t ask anymore and you shouldn’t either, but no he’s not part of the mafia).

And then we had a zoom meeting on the agenda. Of course. Elise was scheduled to log on with her soccer team and coach at 8, at which point everything that could possibly go wrong with technology did, indeed, go wrong. She was understandably anxious and stressed out, dad was on the phone, and I was spent.

So, when my friend asked if I wanted to come over and enjoy her fire pit, it took about 2.7 seconds for me to accept the offer. I couldn’t quite bring myself to leave my phone in the car, so while there I fielded a few texts regarding the zoom call, where I maturely told a fellow soccer mom we’d given up on the meeting and that I had zero fucks to give about it. Chris eventually called to question where I was and then sent a text:

You ok?!

Apparently leaving the house without a word to anyone causes concern. Who knew?

Yes, I was fine. I had a brief opportunity to run away from home and I took it. And am glad I did.

This morning, I’m definitely feeling like I’ve just completed the coronacoaster and stepped off the ride. My body feels as if it’s been thrashed around a bit, thanks to the weeding. My mind is decompressing a bit, processing the ride; and I’m hoping today is more a walk through the garden sort of affair instead of a trip to the amusement park.

Be Well, Friends. And make sure all your spigots are off.

Strength for Today, Urgent Plea for Tomorrow

Name that hymn, anybody?

You probably can’t, because I’ve changed the lyrics, as I’m wont to do.

Shout out to Pastor Anna for reminding me of the original lyrics early on in this saga:  strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

Bright hope is a little overly optimistic for a curmudgeon like me, so let’s get on to my urgent plea for when this ends; which I choose to believe it will.

Please stop Chloroxing all the things, including ourselves.

Disclaimer:  I have degrees in biology and clinical lab science and have studied just enough microbiology and immunology to be a menace to society.

When the experts deem the time is right, and it is safe to return something resembling the life we used to know; the antibacterials need to become the exception and not the rule.

My disdain for hand sanitizer is not new.  I historically think of it as something akin to Satan’s piss.  It’s evil and grosses me out.  There is a time and place for it (hand sanitizer, Satan’s piss probably not so much).  When visiting places such as El Salvador and Vietnam, where running water isn’t always a given, I used it often.  When I resort to using the Jonny on the Spot at a youth sports tournament or music festival, I utilize the provided dispensers upon my exit.

But, as a general rule, I do not  carry it with me.  And the liquid in my home’s soap dispensers is not antibacterial.  It’s just soap.  Used with water.  That’s it.  And, while I do keep some off-brand chlorox wipes on hand, they are used sparingly:  if I’ve been working with uncooked meats in the kitchen or occasionally when cleaning a bathroom (particularly the very scary one on the kid level of my house).

When working properly (and not in the midst of a global pandemic), the human immune system is a marvel.  So let it do its thing.  Bacterial resistance to antibiotics and antibacterials is also a marvel, but as opposed to the beneficial immune system, it’s some scary shit (and, in my hyperbolic opinion, what will ultimately be the end of the human race).

In summary, learn to coexist with germs; because if we’re constantly trying to kill them all, all the time; it’s not going to end well for humans.

I trust it is clear I’m speaking in generalities here.  If you’re immunocompromised, or scrubbing in for surgery, or working with a vulnerable population; you’re hopefully smart enough to know you have your own rulebooks to follow.

Be Well, Friends.

Well Within You - Don\'t Be a Germaphobe












All or Nothing, All the Damn Time

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Sometimes I can be a little hard on myself.  No, really.  It’s true.

I am prone, in these days of complete weirdness, to berate myself for things I took for granted (and frequently complained about).  I’ve already talked about missing soccer. I miss being a soccer mom and I really miss watching our MLS team.  Today I’m fondly remembering a mid-week trip to Eau Claire for a U15 soccer game, wishing I had some of that tasty Spotted Cow that can only be purchased in Wisconsin.

My sour expression in the photo, though, was not completely unwarranted.  It took over two hours of driving in rush hour traffic to get to that field.  My kid had to leave school early, we didn’t get home until after 11, and dinner consisted of McDonald’s eaten in the car on our ride home.

Also, there was only one ref.  Zero AR’s, which is soccer speak for bullshit when we’re talking about high school ball, in my opinion.  We lost by a goal on a questionable call.  I do not harbor ill will toward the poor ref, but there was some justifiable frustration at driving so damn far on a school night and the club not ensuring proper officiation.  Anyhoo.

Within a week, there was another game.  We didn’t have to go all the way to Wisconsin, but damn close.  We once again got home after 11pm and had late night quarter pounders for dinner.

May and December are ridiculous months for parents of school aged children.  Semesters wrapping up, holiday or end of year festivities, concerts, sports; all while school is in session.  Because we must jam in ALL THE THINGS before break!

If I had to choose between the way life is now and the way it was a year ago, I would most definitely opt for going back to ‘normal.’

But.  Always a but with me, dontcha know?

For the love of tacos, why do we have to be such a full throttle society?

We all want our kids to do all the things.  The sports, the music, the AP courses, the volunteer work that will look good when they’re applying for college; and it’d be nice if they’d add in a part-time job to earn their own damn spending money.

It stresses me out.  It stresses my kids out.  One will admit to that, the other would never say as much; but our society puts a pretty damn heavy load on them.

I long for balance, for both myself and my children.  I have no idea how to achieve it.  The answer, I suppose, is to work harder at enjoying the moment.  When life is ‘normal,’ I need to learn to find the joy in the harried schedule.  In these days, I need to learn to embrace this gift of time and not long for what used to be.

Serenity now, folks!!!  Wish me luck.

Be Well, Friends.