…but there was a lot about the old normal, that wasn’t good

If you don’t know anything about Rhiannon Giddens, you probably also don’t know anything about Our Native Daughters or the other three badass ladies who make up the group. Americana, y’all– check them out.

There are moments when an Instagram post succinctly summarizes all the noise that’s been invading my mind.

My local school district announced its plan for the start of the school year. Prior to the announcement, I did not pay much attention to the scuttlebutt around what might happen. I don’t know that I even filled out the survey they asked families to fill out. It seemed most logical to stick my head in the sand and assume summer would last forever and not think about what was to come. Beyond wearing a mask, washing my hands, and otherwise following the rules; there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to influence what was going to happen anyway.

The condensed version of the plan is students can opt for a hybrid model of instruction, where they attend school in person two days a week; or select receiving 100% of their instruction online. In a situation where there simply is no good option, I feel these are the best options the district could have possibly come up with. Still, my heart is quite heavy today; mostly with the unknowns. But also with the knowns.

Kids are going to go to school when they shouldn’t, when they don’t feel well. This will not be a new, COVID induced phenomenon. Perfect attendance is historically viewed as a virtue. My high school students tend to avoid missing school at any cost, because it’s so easy to fall behind. And, let’s face it, parents need to go to work because paid time off is at a premium; and very few parents have enough of it. There was a lot about the old normal that wasn’t good. Perhaps a silver lining is that, at least older students will feel they can stay home and opt for online instruction if they are feeling ill on a day they’re supposed to report to the building. But, who really knows? None of us know what this is going to look like.

My son is set to enter his senior year. The college selection and admission process is undoubtedly going to be a complete cluster. We are fortunate he sat for the ACT once before all this started, but had every intention of him taking it again in hopes of a higher score and, ideally, more financial aid. Many of his classmates hadn’t gotten around to taking it. Powers that be are saying we all need to let the ACT go, that colleges are not going to require it, but if anyone thinks this will alleviate stress surrounding college choices for students, they obviously haven’t been living in the same universe I have for the past decade. Granted, it could be a function of where I live (though based on recent standardized testing scandals, I don’t think Edina is all that unique), but test scores are life. Getting into a prestigious school is the goal. Achieve, achieve, achieve at any cost– go to school when you’re sick, cheat, schedule 722 extracurricular activities and volunteer projects so you’ll look good on paper, do whatever it takes to achieve AMERICAN SUCCESS. There was a lot about the old normal that wasn’t good. These attitudes are deeply entrenched. Having a guidance counselor say, “meh, you’ll be fine without an ACT score” is NOT going to undo years of societal conditioning. It just isn’t.

So, yes, there was a lot about the old normal that wasn’t good. There’s a lot about the new normal that’s not good. There are lessons we could take from this as we move forward. If we ever move forward. Are we ever going to move forward? Feeling lots of feelings today. I have no answers, just feelings.

Is This Normal?

COVID-ly speaking, I’ve been on a right nice streak of being in the moment, taking one day at a time, and accepting I cannot know what coming weeks are going to look like. Which is probably why I quit writing anything about it. Words are seemingly hard for me to find when I’m lacking angst.

I’m not lacking for angst today. It’s hard for me to point to a single concrete reason why, so I can only speculate it’s a number of factors, one of which is an increase in COVID cases. I do not explicitly take time to watch or read the news on a daily basis, but I believe I osmose enough through social media and physically distant chats with friends and family to know COVID cases are on the rise; here, there, and everywhere. And, I’ll admit to being somewhat surprised.

I think I’m surprised, because, for a long time, it felt like there were not necessarily consequences (outbreaks) for stupid people. I’ve heard nothing of an outbreak caused by the Memorial Day human stew photos we saw from the Ozarks. And, while it’s not surprising to see surges in places like Arizona and Florida; it is surprising to me that we didn’t see them sooner. And, life in my neck of the woods seems pretty normal, which I did not anticipate by the end of June. People who want to go to a restaurant can. One can shop in pretty much any store.

I guess though, I’m using ‘normal,’ as a relative term. When I go to the store, most people are masked. Worship services from my church are still online. All four of us are at home most evenings. And, although summer soccer leagues were completely canceled; my kid has been going to training sessions for both her club and school teams anywhere from 3-4 times a week. So, I guess some things feel like new normal and others seem like old normal.

I’m not going to spell out the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for youth sports, because I don’t actually know them. I know I’ve seen kids on baseball diamonds around town, and, as previously mentioned, soccer teams are gathering for training/conditioning.

I’ve been very ambivalent about this return to youth sports (and restaurants and whatever else), admittedly because I cannot wrap my mind around what’s going on with this damn virus. I don’t understand what had changed on June 1st when restaurants were allowed to open patios. I don’t understand what’s changed now suddenly making it ok to dine inside of a restaurant. And I really don’t understand why gathering kids up for baseball, where there’s a dugout involved, and sharing of catchers’ gear and bats and who knows what else seemed wise. The soccer conditioning I could kind of get, because so long as there’s no scrimmaging, distancing seems workable. But it has still felt incredibly strange to be taking my kid to practices. While simultaneously hearing cases are increasing.

Now, to be completely honest, I don’t know what the trajectory of case numbers looked like in Minnesota when things started reopening. It did seem like numbers were mostly increasing in the expected areas (lookin’ at you again, Florida and Arizona). I will begrudgingly admit it’s possible the Minnesota Department of Health knows some things I don’t.

So, I followed state government guidelines. Yes, I’ve eaten on a couple of restaurant patios and will tell you it felt absolutely luxurious to be served and cleaned up after. And we started soccer, albeit on a completely different level that what we’d normally experience in June.

I can’t tell you what overall numbers are looking like in Minnesota, but I can tell you my kid has been exposed to COVID at both club and high school training. I can tell you kids have been exposed during day baseball (my town’s starter league for little gumpers). I’m guessing a great number of these exposed kids are headed to their cabins this weekend to spend time with extended family. It feels like numbers in my town are getting set to skyrocket.

I’m not telling you this return to some bit of normalcy was the wrong move. Again, I simply do not know enough. But I can tell you it seems awfully strange that we asked high school and college seniors to give up so many lasts, particularly spring sports athletes; only to head back towards normal in June. And so help me, if this has any impact on what school looks like in the fall, if this sends us back to a place where distance learning is the only option; I will undoubtedly lose my shit.

It kinda sorta seems like American youth sports culture could be what makes this pandemic shit get really real. I’d like to say I’d find that surprising, but I don’t.

Thistles & Thoughts

We have a thistle issue in our yard, and have had for quite some time. This weekend, I spent a lot of time and energy working to clear a ridiculously large patch of them from our backyard.

Spending this time digging in the dirt, largely away from the noise of social media and my family; I had the opportunity to form some deep thoughts about thistles. None of said thoughts were earth shattering or even a little bit original, but I found them striking nonetheless.

1. Roots are amazing on countless levels, thistle roots perhaps more so than others. When you start to pull or dig one of these thistles out of the ground, what’s directly underneath is not a given; and getting the entire root is essentially impossible.

There are very few that seemingly resemble a tap root (very possibly the only term I remember from college botany) that goes straight down, and can simply be pulled straight up. But in reality, even with these seemingly straightforward removals, if I really look at the tip of what I extract from the earth, there will be a break. Meaning, i think, that instead of eliminating the weed, I simply mowed it. So, given a little time, sunlight, and rainfall; the thistle will rise again.

Far more frequently, as I dug down trying (ultimately in futility) to get to the very tip of the plant, I found roots that, instead of going straight down, made a sharp turn.

Why would a root pivot in such a manner? I can only imagine it’s to increase its chances for survival. These plants felt more anchored, harder to remove with simple a good strong tug.

And, there were lots of these.

Before looking below the soil, I assumed these to be completely separate entities. Upon close examination, I found them to be birds of a feather, so to speak. Holding onto one another in a symbiotic relationship, each helping to anchor the other making it harder for either to be removed.

After lots of digging, both literally in the dirt and figuratively on the internet, I learned these plants deveolp an extensive horizontal root system that works relentlessly and effectively to allow these plants not only to thrive, but to overtake large expanses of space.

2. Removing these things is a daunting task. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “Today is the day I shall make these thistles my bitch. I am going to go out there and show these MFers who is the BOSS.” Only to be quickly humbled by the already described roots and profanity inducing prickles that hurt like hell when my bare skin inadvertently encounters them. Also worth noting, I’ve yet to find a glove those prickles cannot breach. They. Are. Bastards.

3. There is a time for Roundup. Or put differently, to simply burn the shit to the ground and start over. Yes, Roundup is a drastic measure, one I try to avoid; but if the thistles have shown repeatedly they are not going to respond to lesser measures, I must be open to drastic steps.

4. There is no easy button to get rid of the thistles. Not even Roundup is the end all, be all solution. Yes, it will temporarily improve the situation, but the thistles require constant vigilance, even after seemingly having been contained. I say this with confidence, because we DID resort to roundup a few years ago. But then we quit paying attention, which led to my weekend of attempting to reclaim the corner of my yard.

5. While I think dealing with these thistles is a grade A prime pain in the ass, I’m fortunate in a handful of ways. I have the option of ignoring them. I have access to the necessary tools- shovel, spade, gloves (FAR better than nothing even if not 100% effective), and weed killer to best deal with them.

I can opt for a retired pair of shoes to tromp around in the dirt, and when I’m done, there will be time to sit on the porch and enjoy a beer while reveling in the glory of my labors.

6. Removing thistles can be painful and disruptive. As previously stated, brushing up against these things smarts. And, while digging yesterday, I inadvertently cut the line of our below ground electric dog fence. So, until I can get the repair person out here, I have to be more vigilant about making sure the pups stay in the yard. And I don’t even want to think about what the repair is going to cost. Ohhhh bother.

BUT, if I don’t remove them, if I don’t pay attention, they thrive. And they don’t only thrive on my property. Apparently they haven’t read the property deed and can’t see the fence, because they don’t hesitate to spill into my neighbors’ yards.

They thrive on my ignorance, neglect, and refusal to take the time to acknowledge and deal with them. And then their effect spreads. I ignore them at the peril of myself, which I can deal with. But ignoring them at the peril of others is inexcusable.

Is it possible I’m talking about something beyond thistles? Is it possible that when I speak of my neighbors I’m referring to more than those who live adjacent to me?

Yes, indeed.

Pandemic Project: Scattered Autobiographical Memories (or sometimes current events) of a Liberal Well Meaning White Woman, 600(ish) Words at a Time, Part III


I’d make a damn fine opera singer. Let’s talk about MEEEEEE again.

As I was preparing to go out the door for a run (admittedly using that term loosely) earlier, a friend texted me that her daughter was at a protest at the Edina Police Department. I decided to head that way and check it out.

I’ve never been one to take a phone when I run. Carrying my own damn out of shape body weight is plenty taxing, so even though I’d love to stream some tunes while trying not to pass out, it’s not worth the extra bulk. Which was unfortunate today, because I came upon a most beautiful scene. Thankfully, my friend Lisa’s got me covered. I think she was there about 10 minutes after I was.

Exceedingly happy to have a reason for a running break, I took a few minutes just to hang back and watch for awhile, cheering with them when a car would drive by and honk and enjoying a few rare moments of optimism. When I was ready to resume my run, I trotted in front of them, clapping my raised hands, and paused for a minute and yelled like a maniac, “If I had a horn, I’d be honking. You guys are awesome, KEEP GOING.” It had all just made me awfully damn emotional.

In retrospect, even though my words were ones of encouragement, I’m not real proud to have yelled at them. For a few of reasons. For one, I didn’t have a mask and was probably closer than I should have been. For another, I think when the young black lady leading the effort first saw me, I looked a bit threatening (nice white liberal lady).

The only thing those kids really need from me? To stay the hell out of their way. I mean that in terms of staying out of their physical space today and staying out of their metaphorical space moving forward. My generation and those before us are absolutely complicit in making this mess for them to clean up.

And, while that pains me terribly, it doesn’t change the fact that me wanting to applaud them and give them verbal props was largely about __________________. Can you guess what goes in the blank? Ya, you know. Me, baby! Me Me Me Me MEEEEEE. My need to establish myself as a good person, to prove I’m an ally, to make it known I’m not ok with cops killing citizens, to express my remorse at how completely and utterly we’ve fucked things up for them.

They have enough to contend with without having to help me carry my baggage, something I’m going to try to keep in mind going forward.

After I’d sufficiently made a fool of myself, I headed home. Up ahead I saw a black man walking. Having joined multiple facebook groups over the weekend who are committed to getting white people to do the work needed of us, the discussion of how to let POC know I’m an ally when I meet them out and about was fresh in my mind. Why did I so badly want him to know I’m not an Amy Coooper? Because I wanted to feel better about guess who? ME.

Also in my mind was this:

That’s hard to read, so go here and read the whole thing. I had a very real moment of sitting with the knowledge that I am a shark. Not only that, I’m a MOMMA SHARK. This guy had no way of knowing I don’t have a cell phone when I run, no way of knowing I just applauded the young protesters, no way of knowing whether I’m a nice shark (is that a thing?) or a shark who is terrified by his presence and wants to destroy him.

So, no, I was not entitled for him to know I’m a nice shark. There was zero onus on him to make me feel like a good person. He, like those kids, has no responsibility to help me with my baggage.

So, there ya go. A fun snapshot of where my mind’s been today. I’m over 600 words, so I don’t have space to tell you that none of this is saying there’s simply nothing I can do. Ohhhhh hell no. I have work to do.

Be Well, Friends.

Pandemic Project: Scattered Autobiographical Memories of a Liberal Well Meaning White Woman, 600(ish) Words at a Time, Part II

Titles may, indeed, grow longer with every post.

Things I should be doing instead of this glorified navel gazing:

Since my long title establishes this is a scattered account, I’m going to jump to now. Kind of. I’m glossing over a summer spent in Detroit and four years living in south Minneapolis. Except maybe I’m not going to completely gloss over south Minneapolis. In 2000 my husband and I relocated to the Twin Cities. Chris was fresh out of law school, I had one year of lab experience under my belt. We were feeling quite grown up and worldly– both gainfully employed, done with school, living in the big city.

After four years (whirlwind, much?), with a two year old and a bun in the oven, we opted to sell our first home and move to Edina, a first ring suburb known for entitlement and top notch schools. We’ve been here for 16 years, nurtured relationships with amazing neighbors, converted what was a cute little yellow rambler into our dream home, and transitioned from parents of littles to parents of teens. We’ve also, mostly, enjoyed the top notch schools. Turns out the reputation for entitlement was not completely unfounded, which has led to some moments of frustration; but speaking generally, we’re very grateful for the education our kids have received during our time here.

I have guilt over moving out of the Minneapolis city limits. I had it when the for sale sign went up, and I’ll have it when I die. Truth is, though, that 28 year old Anne was not all that far removed from the 22 year old clinical lab student Anne who, while on phlebotomy rounds during my year as a student, deemed a black teenage gunshot victim as worthy of my ridicule. Worth noting: From age 16ish on, there was never a time when I wouldn’t have counted myself as a nice white liberal woman with a slant toward social justice.

I know. Cognitive dissonance.

Anyhoo; ignorance, undiagnosed anxiety, an overwhelming need to do whatever would give my kids every advantage in life (with, as I can see now, zero regard for the bigger picture) led my family to the suburbs. It felt like an easy button I had available to me, so why not push it?

OK. Now I’m really jumping to now. Yesterday I drove a load of bottled water and snacks to a church in an affected area. I was glad to have a task that, at least in some regard, could be viewed as helpful. But I also felt like an interloper. Like simply driving into the area made me no more than a gawker, even if I was delivering goods. But then driving out of the area, heading back to my vastly different suburban world, felt like I was turning my back.

These conflicting feelings are privilege. Me whining about them is super duper gratuitous and tone deaf.

Last night a friend proposed going down to the fifth precinct. I’d done nothing when Jamar Clark was killed by the police. I’d done nothing when Philando Castile was killed by the police. And I’d done my part for white flight, moving my family out of the city. I guess now is as good a time as any to address the fact that this whole ‘moving my family out of the city’ narrative is utterly ridiculous. Our Minneapolis neighborhood was predominantly white, housing costs were high, my family’s quality of life would have been plenty good and high had we stayed. This is a journey, friends. I’m learning.

Anyhoo….Feeling compelled to do more than my nice white liberal lady hand-wringing, I took off with my friend Tara and headed down. I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do last night, and honestly, I don’t know now. There are those claiming I was simply fanning the flames, not considering the well-being of residents of the area; and I definitely have to explore that as a possibility. Perhaps my heart and emotion got in the way of my better judgement. This is one more thing I will be wrestling with til I die.

There are no easy answers here. And even though the issue is, at face value, black and white; there is a whole lotta gray to be figured out. Sometimes right and wrong are not clear cut. There is no shortage over things to be confused about and heart broken over right now.

I’m over 600 words. The weeds are calling.

Be Well, Friends.