Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: America

Week 5: The Hospital Bill Arrives (A.K.A. Why You Can’t Shop for Health Care)

One of the major talking points of Republicans about their plans for replacing the Affordable Care Act is that…

“It will encourage Americans to shop around for their health care.”

To which I say…

Bullshit.

“Shopping around” for health care isn’t a thing in the United States.

You cannot shop around when you don’t know the prices ahead of time.

I mean… Duh.

(You also cannot shop around if there is only one hospital in your area, as is true for all Americans who live far from larger cities.)

If we’re “consumers” of health care, shouldn’t we have the same amount of information that we have when we are consumers of cars or computers, or even breakfast cereal?

But we don’t.

We often don’t know how much our health care costs until we tear open the bill that finally comes to our mailbox weeks later.

Surprise!

***

Before we had this baby, I tried to figure out about how much it was going to cost us out-of-pocket.

You know. For budgeting.

For planning our Flexible Spending Accounts.

You know. Because we want to be responsible. Because we want to make sure we’ve saved enough money to cover our health care costs.

We’re not in poor health. We don’t have pre-existing conditions. We’re fairly young. We’re gainfully employed.

Republicans should love us. Any plan put forth by them should definitely benefit us right? We’re kind of what they had in mind for good American health care “consumers.”

But the truth is you can’t blame “consumers” for the complicated mess that is the health insurance industry, nor can you blame them for the high costs of health care. You can’t tell Americans to just save their money and choose wisely.

I tried that approach and it didn’t work. Not because I didn’t try hard enough, but because the system is not designed to be transparent to patients.

The patients are an afterthought.

***

Our health insurance provider had some estimates for the costs of giving birth in the two main hospitals where I live. These costs were based on their negotiated rates for medical procedures with those hospitals.

But they were just estimates.

So I called the hospital’s pricing line, staffed by the billing department, for a more precise answer.

Ha. Ha.

First, no one picked up the line. It went straight to voicemail. Over and over again.

So I left a message.

Someone called me back the next day.

When I asked the billing department’s representative about specific prices for having a baby at their hospital, he said that he couldn’t give me any prices.

The pricing line. Couldn’t give me any prices.

So I got specific. I told him that I would be giving birth in the birthing center that is attached to the hospital, where I would be rooming in with my baby 24/7. So we wouldn’t be using the nursery. Would we be charged a fee for the nursery? I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it’s available to you.”

“So how much will the nursery cost us?”

“I can’t quote you a price on that. It all depends on your insurance and how long you stay.”

“But don’t you have average prices for average stays? Anything?”

“We have a price sheet you can look at, but it’s not going to be inclusive of all of your expenses.”

“I’ll take whatever you have,” I said.

So he referred me to this pricing list, published on the hospital’s website. Why he didn’t give this to me at the beginning of the phone call, I’ll never know.

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Indeed, these charges showed up on my insurance claim for the birth.

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But so did this mysterious $3500 charge. And a boatload of other charges that are all labeled “Ancillaries” and have no identifying characteristics other than a medical code that only medical transcribers can interpret.

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I mean, really. Don’t I deserve a little more information than this? If we’re going to pay $1800, I’d kind of like to know what it pays for.

So I wait for the hospital bill to show up. Maybe they have more information than my health insurance company.

Not really.

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From this bill, I can see that the ambiguous $1850 charge on my insurance claim is actually for the “Recovery Room.” But the other charges?

Who can tell?

The underlying message here is,

Please just accept this price. Your insurance company and the hospital have already decided on a negotiated rate and it’s really just best that you accept this price, pay it, and move on. See how expensive this birth was? You’re lucky that your insurance company is paying so much. So just suck it up and pay. There’s no free lunch, Friend.

***

I’m not the only one who has a problem with this.

“Childbirth is the number one reason why people go to the hospital,” reports Vox’s Johnny Harris in this well-researched video on this very topic. He finds that prices for uncomplicated deliveries in the United States vary from $1189 to $11,986.

I have to admit, I am slightly jealous that their out-of-pocket expenses were only $841.

But who am I kidding? Many, many Americans now have deductibles as high as $6000 now, making my $1000 deductible seem enviable.

The truth is that knowing the costs of this birth would have been helpful for me and my husband, but it didn’t break our bank. We earn enough money jointly that we can absorb a financial blow like this.

But what about the millions of Americans who can’t save $5000 to have a baby in a hospital?

What about those Americans who are “too rich” to qualify for Medicaid, but not rich enough to afford any kind of useful health insurance plan? One that doesn’t deter people from seeing the doctor simply because of the cost?

So politicians, quit telling people that they should learn how to make wise choices so they can save for their health care costs.

And quit telling people that they should “shop around” for their health care costs. 

Not only is it demeaning, but often it is completely impossible.

What Bleeding Taught Me About Trump’s America

Betsy DeVos. The refugee travel ban. The Syrian War. Trump/Bannon. Alternative facts. The war with the press.

It’s just so much that it nearly paralyzes you.

Then part of you thinks, Hey, it will be okay. Things will work out. They always do. Let’s just see what happens.

To that voice in your mind, I say this:

Fight.

Fight like hell.

Fight for your life.

Fight for the future of this country.

Don’t listen to that voice. Don’t be lulled into thinking that things will take care of themselves.

This country is bleeding. We are bleeding.

It’s true that if we’re healthy, the bleeding will stop on its own. But does it seem like we’re healthy? And if you feel like things are okay, are you blind to the signs that you see from everyone else?

Do you see the pain of others or do you blame them for their pain? Or worse, do you belittle their pain?

Do you realize that you are bleeding? Or will you allow yourself to bleed until you’re too weak to fight anymore?

***

I’ve been thinking a lot about blood loss in the past few days.

Just a week ago, I suffered from a postpartum hemorrhage.

I was afraid something like this would happen. I even wrote about it in my book, Becoming Mother. Dissatisfied with the difficulty of having an unmedicated labor in a traditional hospital setting, I decided to give birth in a natural birthing center attached to a hospital for my second birth.

Sometimes, people would ask me if I would ever be interested in a home birth.

Here’s what I wrote:

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Eerie.

To lose that much blood moves your mind into a place of limbo, caught somewhere between reality and dreams. Awareness and unawareness. The physical and the spiritual. You become light. Hazy. Detached. Almost as if you’re drifting off into sleep.

But it doesn’t feel quite right.

It feels like you’re leaving something behind.

Let me take you into those moments just after it happened to me.

At first, it’s uncontrollable shaking. I’m so, so cold. Nurses cover me with heated blankets upon heated blankets, but still I shake and shake. Then, the weakness. I can barely lift my head from the pillow. The nurses won’t let me walk to the bathroom, so it’s the bedpan for me. Once. Twice. Three times. Four times. With all my strength I push my hips up so the bedpan can slide underneath me.

When they finally let me stand, each of them takes an arm and helps me to my feet. They tell me to look up, not down. They ask me if I’m ready and I say yes.

“Actually, let’s wait on that,” one of them says. “Your lips are blue.”

Then, the fogginess. I can see my husband talking to the nurse, but I don’t immediately understand their words. My understanding is on a several-second delay. The nurse tells me to drink the entire contents of a giant plastic cup of water. I don’t know what to do with it until she puts it in my hands. Using both sight and touch, my thoughts finally click into place. I should drink this.

My husband asks me if I want to eat. I say yes and he hands me the menu. I hold it for a moment, my eyes seeing words that I know are food, but that I don’t understand. Turkey hot shot? What is that? Salmon… is a fish. Salad… Vegetables. Side items are… oh, like fries. Dressings… are for salad. 

The menu falls against my face and I doze off.

But when the food arrives, I eat like a mo-fo.

My husband feeds me bits of burgers, fries, carrot cake, cheesecake, salad, juice, more juice, water, soda, salmon, broccoli, pizza, waffles, sausage, fruit cups, and more. I eat it all and with each bite, a breath of life comes back to me. My mind opens and clears. Voices make more sense.

I feel myself coming back.

The next day is deceptively good. The happiness of new life and the excitement of going home overshadow how hard it is to walk and move from one place to another. I tell myself that I’m already doing better than after my first birth. Look at you move! I praise myself. I didn’t tear this time, so I can sit (mostly) comfortably.

I continue to eat and eat and eat. Chicken, kale smoothies, lamb, mushrooms, baked potatoes covered in butter and salt, granola bars, bananas, apples, thick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, spoons of peanut butter straight from the jar.

It makes sense later on, this hunger. For fun, I check my Fitbit stats during labor. Look at this.

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I know what you’re thinking. The peak must have been during the pushing phase.

You. Are. Wrong.

That period of peak heart rate happened when I started to hemorrhage. As blood poured out of me, my heart pumped more and more blood to keep delivering oxygen to the tissues and cells that were under attack.

It began after I delivered the placenta. My midwife noticed the bleeding wasn’t slowing. She massaged my uterus. A nurse gave me a shot of Pitocin in my right thigh. Another nurse was prodding my left arm, trying to get an IV started as my tiny veins rolled and rolled. I apologized to her as she stuck me and dug and dug and dug for the vein. Stick after stick.

When the Pitocin didn’t work, the midwife gave me Cytotec.

But I kept bleeding.

The nurse finally got my IV threaded. Pitocin and fluids entered my veins.

But warm blood kept flowing out of me.

If you’re cringing in pain, don’t. All that bleeding was completely painless. My body sent me no signals that I should fear it.

What my body did feel were all the people trying to save me. The nurses, poking and prodding me with needles and IVs. The midwife grinding and massaging my uterus to help it contract. It was those who were working to keep me here that I protested against. My body didn’t understand that those pains were signals of my salvation.

I asked my midwife how much I had lost so far.

“500 ccs is what we usually want to see… You’re probably at 1,000 right now.”

And I kept bleeding.

More uterine massage. I groaned. I moaned. I looked for my baby, but I couldn’t see him. I heard my husband talking and figured that he was the one holding the baby.

I must assure you that I wasn’t afraid when any of this was happening.

You forget.

I just had a baby.

I had climbed the highest mountain I had ever attempted in my life and I had pulled both of us up by fingernails of sheer will and grit. This birth was nothing like my first, which had been a thirty-six hour humbling of body and soul that felt more like spiritual possession.

No, this birth was a struggle. From beginning to end. This birth was a seemingly impossible task that required me to engage and confront over and over again. (Don’t worry: I will write more about this later.)

So as I lay there on the bed, painlessly bleeding life out of me, I was not afraid.

What I was feeling was relief. Peace. Profound gratitude. Love. All covered with the surprise that I had just given birth to a boy.

Then, finally, the drug that works: methergine.

***

The seriousness of what had happened to me did not fully set in until the next day. My husband told me that he could tell from the expressions on the nurses’ faces that the situation was getting tense. That we were probably only minutes from a true emergency.

But hey, I had come through and I was fine. Right?

All’s well that ends well. Time to move on and forget about the whole thing.

After all, I had another hurdle to overcome: establishing breastfeeding.

But just like the last time, inverted nipples and poor milk production have their way with me. Every few hours, I try something new. In the beginning, I use a nipple shield while my husband drops formula from a syringe onto the shield to encourage our baby to not get frustrated and continue to feed. Sometimes, my husband feeds him with a bottle while I pump. Sometimes, I just pump between feedings. Then, I try to get him to latch without the shield.

I don’t realize it at first, but I’ve started to lag behind in my eating and resting.

It’s not something I do on purpose. It happens naturally as my mind focuses on what we can try next to continue breastfeeding.

Then comes the Dreadful Day Four Postpartum. The day when my body starts to register the absence of my placenta, which just days ago was flooding my body with estrogen and progesterone. But now, like a baby rooting for nourishment, my body cries out for that hormonal lifeline that is no longer there and will never return.

This is when the shit hits the fan for me.

At first, I’m doing okay. Marveling that I’m not the sobbing, crying mess that I was with my daughter. After my first birth, I would be tearful and weepy all day long. But it’s different this time. I tear up every now and then, but I’m mostly composed and collected. Is it because of some different hormonal cocktail that I’m experiencing because I had a boy instead of a girl?

But at the end of the Day Four Postpartum, I’ve decided to stop breastfeeding. I climb the stairs to where my baby boy is sleeping in the bouncer, and I have to stop to catch my breath. My Fitbit reads 116, 115, 117, 114, a fat-burning heartrate. I hold onto the walls and allow my breathing to slow.

Then I see his face and it’s over.

The crying starts. The choking sobs build and I don’t make an effort to push them down. I close the door and let it out. All of it. I let all of the thoughts surface. All of the memories of when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter come forth, as clear as the day they happened three years ago. I let them come and talk to me. I let every doubt and fear and reassurance express its voice.

I don’t deny myself the right to feel any of it.

These are my emotions and I’ve learned that I need to let them out.

One voice says:

You shouldn’t give up yet. We have so much breastfeeding stuff! Pillows and the pump, nursing pads and bottles, lanolin lotion and nipple shields. Your milk is coming in this time. Give it a chance!

Another voice says:

You did all you could. It’s okay. You know he’s going to be fine. You know it. And fuck anyone who even subtly holds this over your head. They don’t understand. 

But the loudest voice of all says:

Sharon, seriously. You cannot do this again. Your body cannot go through that hell again. This is the last baby you will give birth to and hold and care for. Don’t you dare rob yourself of the joy of enjoying your child. 

That final voice is right. I know it.

But, God, it still hurts.

I call for Doug and he holds me while I cry. But now the afterbirth pains have skyrocketed because of the weeping and I’m moaning in pain. Doug leaves for a moment and I’m in the bathroom, feeling a tiny stream of blood falling from me. And when I stand, a golf ball sized clot falls into my hand.

That blob of jet black jelly now stains my skin blood red.

I shudder.

I call for Doug.

***

But it gets better.

The next day, I’m relieved that the weaning has begun.

But then the tiredness has returned. At the baby’s first doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician comments that I look really pale.

In the car on the way home, I review my hospital bloodwork that was drawn on the day after the birth by accessing my on-line records. My hemoglobin and hemocrit are way down. I read a brochure about life after a postpartum hemorrhage and I understand that I need to take this more seriously.

I need iron. I need to eat and eat and eat. And rest and rest and rest.

So I do. Eating and resting is what I do.

After I make breakfast, I’m completely spent. So I eat and sleep. Then I rise and I shower. I sleep again. I get up and eat lunch. I rest on the couch and talk with my mother. I sleep some more. I eat a huge snack and I sleep again. I let my friends bring food and I eat and eat more. I sleep.

I do not do the dishes.

I do not do laundry or even pick up my clothes.

I don’t take out the garbage or get the mail.

I forget about any plans to go on a walk anytime soon.

Instead, I conserve and gather my strength.

Every time I eat, I feel life coming back into me. I feel my body swallowing life whole and absorbing it.

I feel reconnected. I feel my mind hook into awareness and reality.

I start to crawl back to the living.

***

This is what I want you to understand about blood loss: it doesn’t just get better on its own.

You have to know that you are not okay. But to know that you’re not okay, you have to rely on more than just your instinct to respond to pain.

Bleeding is painless. It’s the wound that hurts. It’s the attempts to stop the bleeding that hurt. And once the bleeding is over, you can still be slaughtered by it if you don’t equip yourself with enough armor for the battle. If you spend too much of your energy preoccupied with things that don’t ultimately matter, you have halfway lost that battle. And once you realize that you are too weak to fight, it will be too late.

Right now, I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

Right now, I’m fighting to bring myself back to independence. Part of it is because I didn’t appreciate my own condition. Part of it is because I neglected to understand my own limitations. That instead of pouring energy into nursing, I should have been strictly eating and resting.

Right now, I fight for myself and for my son and we are slowly winning. I look down at his face.

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And I think, we are going to be okay.

But not because things naturally become okay.

Far from it.

We will be okay because I’m recognizing and engaging this weakness and tiredness. I’m conquering it with food, food, more food, and rest.

I am not sitting back and assuming that my body will naturally take care of itself.

This is a struggle.

The same is true of our country. If we sit back and assume that our county will be okay because God blesses the USA and screw everyone else in the world, we are in for destruction.

Things don’t naturally become okay. We need to work for it.

But when I read the news, do you know what I see?

Hope.

That’s right. Hope.

I see so many of you fighting. Protesting. Calling our senators and representatives. Even my husband now has Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown on his speed dial and is planning a group meeting to sit down to talk with our U.S. House representative.

Many of you are responding to the pain of watching your rights and freedoms threatened. The right for every child to access good public education. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. The right for every American to have health care.

These battles are good and just.

But we need to vigilantly search for the ways that we are painlessly bleeding.

Where is our attention and what are we missing?

Men, do you fight for women’s equal pay?

White Americans, do you speak out against racial profiling?

Cis-gender Americans, do you squash the laughter when someone points at a transgender person?

U.S. citizens, do you fight to create a welcoming environment for those who are fleeing war and systematic killings on par with the Holocaust?

Christians, do you seek to understand your Muslim brothers and sisters? Or do you paint them all with the same broad brush of suspicion?

Which wounds do we not feel or see yet?

When you can’t see your own wounds, you need to be willing to hear when others tell you that you need help.

Because we need you. We cannot afford to blind ourselves from the truth of what is happening.

Because we are fighting for this future.

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We are fighting for this planet because, in the end, this is what we truly leave behind for our children and grandchildren.

We are fighting against insatiable greed for power and the deceit that feeds it.

We are fighting because we see ourselves in those who are fleeing war and displacement and fear.

We are fighting because we understand that it’s not such a crazy reality to imagine that we could be the ones who are fleeing next.

We are fighting for the future.

For life.

For love.

This world still smells like everything I hate

But I’m learning to love, ’til that’s just not the case

And all my friends, they feel the same way too

We look inside the mirror, and all we see is you.

The water’s still rushing and the blood is still gushing

From the wound you left inside.

….

My eyes have seen the glory of your love

And I won’t turn back this time.

No I won’t turn back this time.

Week 30: Sitting in the Discomfort

I wish I were talking about the physical discomfort of pregnancy. The concrete discomfort that grows heavier and heavier as these third trimester days pass one after another.

But I’m not.

***

I was struggling with the idea of going to church on this first Sunday after the election. I knew that I would be worshipping God alongside people who had voted for this man. I knew the anger and frustration that I would feel. I knew someone would say something that would send my blood pressure soaring.

But I went.

Because I needed healing. I needed to hear, Help,  save, comfort, and defend us, Gracious Lord.

I sat in an adult Sunday School classroom in which, at nearly 35 years old, I was the youngest person in the room.

We listened to an episode of a DVD series by Max Lucado called You Will Get Through This. Before the election, those words had comforted me through the difficult moments of pregnancy. Now, those words address a completely new range of emotions.

I told myself, No. You will not bring up the pain of the election. You will not be the one to instigate a conversation. You are not here to argue. You are here for healing.

But it didn’t matter. It was on everyone’s mind.

I mean, look at this last election, an older man said. And now people are protesting like this? What has happened in the last twenty years? How did we get here?

I think it’s an erosion of values. Look at the young people of today. They have 1,000 “friends” on Facebook, and they think that’s connection. When I was a kid, we talked to each other. Young people today aren’t really connected to each other.

Yes, I’ve noticed that too. When I was a kid, there was more expectation of looking out for your neighbor. We’ve lost that neighborliness. And we need to bring that back.

It’s Christian values specifically that are being eroded. I mean, I can’t speak to what Muslims are teaching, I don’t have an understanding of it, but we’re starting to see a real decline in Christian values among our young people.

Right! Young people aren’t going to church the way they used to. And why? Where did they go? Why aren’t they coming?

Well, there’s a lot of reasons for that, ones that I don’t know that we can get into now, but it’s having an effect for sure. We see those values falling away more and more.

It was at this point that I thought about leaving. My heart was racing. I was fuming.

Geez, I have no idea why Millenials are leaving the church, I sarcastically mused. Could it be because they don’t think there’s a place for their opinions? Could it be because they are being labeled and dismissed as whiny and disconnected? Erosion of values? What about the values that more Millenials have than Baby Boomers? Values like respect for sexual orientation and differing religious views?

I am a regular contributor to this class. I don’t just sit there and say nothing. I open up. I offer personal stories from my life. I allow myself to be vulnerable in this classroom because, usually, I feel surrounded by supportive fellow Christians. But the next words out of my mouth were going to be full of hurtful, angry words.

So I shut up that morning. Because my words would have only fueled the fire already ablaze in that room. Because there was only enough time to really get pissed off at each other. Not enough time to actually talk through an issue.

Not that morning. That morning, I needed to calm down and think.

I needed to sit in the discomfort of being generalized and labeled and dismissed. I needed to feel the way that millions of working class Americans have been feeling for years. I needed to shut up and listen.

I haven’t been doing enough of that lately.

I let this room full of Baby Boomers talk and I listened to their concerns. I listened with the intention of understanding how they were drawing conclusions.

***

My epiphany didn’t happen in that moment. It didn’t even come to me on that day.

The next day, as I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition, I heard a segment on interviews with working class voters in New Hampshire. Then, a light bulb.

The way that I felt in that Sunday School classroom was the same way that many of the rural, working class of America has felt for years. They have felt that their ideas and concerns have been too often generalized, labeled, and dismissed. They have felt forgotten and unimportant. And in Donald Trump, they saw a person who has pledged to not forget them.

The racism, the sexism, the xenophobia, the lying, the bad business practices… All of that just comes along with Trump’s package. But for many of these voters, all of those vices are not horrible enough to deny Trump their vote. And as disturbing as I find that dismissive attitude, I have to acknowledge that their decision is coming from a need for self-preservation.

He’s going to make America great again.

He’s going to bring back our jobs.

He’s going to bring life back into our dying towns.

Even if he doesn’t accomplish all that he says, at least we’ll get something.

And what about racism and xenophobia? When everyone in your immediate social circles is white and native-born Americans, these vices tend to not rank high on the list of disqualifying characteristics in a candidate.

After all, it doesn’t affect you.

It doesn’t affect your family.

Sure, it will probably affect someone. But that someone is probably a “bad person.” They probably deserve it. And it won’t affect your life.

Perhaps it’s quite telling that the people who have been downright mourning this election for the past week are people who have family, friends, and coworkers who belong to the targeted groups that Trump has scapegoated for the past year and a half.

For them, this election has hurt those they love. They have real fear and anxiety over the future and those fears aren’t completely groundless. Overt racism and hate crimes have jumped since this election. At my own university, faculty and students of color have reported racial bullying on our campus.

***

It used to be that tensions were higher between different cultural groups. Now, tensions are high even between generations of the same cultural group. Our realities are wildly different.

In talking with my own mom, I saw it.

Why are people just now acting racist like this? She wondered aloud. What makes them think they can act like this?

Mom, the racism was always there. It was just under the surface. Now, it’s coming out.

I just can’t believe that.

Of course she has trouble believing that.

Because she grew up in white Christian America. She doesn’t have a non-white friend who was flipped off by white men in a pick-up truck sporting proud Confederate flags. She doesn’t have students who were denied entrance onto a public bus, “unless they took their burqas off” (they were wearing hijabs, but I’m sure the driver didn’t know the difference).

For my mother, it is incredibly difficult to see this racism–because she doesn’t have much interaction with people who aren’t white and aren’t Christian.

But I have to admit that I am also blind.

Because I have benefited from globalization, I don’t have to live in a world where I can’t find a job. A world in which I have been outskilled by a younger, more educated workforce. I don’t have to face that everyday.

Believe it or not, I have empathy for this situation. Because it happened to my father.

He was a working class man with a high school education who was left further and further behind by the increasing technological demands of his job. The burden became so great, he had to retire early. For a man who relied on his work to define his identity, the blow of leaving his job was so crushing that he never truly recovered from it.

***

We have to start recognizing our blind spots.

We have to start trying to understand why many of us view this election as another example of how racism and sexism continue to go unchecked, overlooked, or downright condoned.

At the same time, we have to start trying to understand why many of us view the ability to consider racism and sexism in this election as an absolute privilege.

I can just hear the working class voices right now: Wow, must be nice to be able to be upset about racism and sexism. I’m furious that I can’t pay my rent every month. That I can afford even Obamacare. But, you know, sucks to be you.

When we say “let’s come together,” God, I hope we mean, let’s compromise.

God, I hope “let’s come together,” doesn’t mean, “Just accept that you’re wrong already and come over to the good side. The ‘American’ side.”

But we can only hope to recognize the importance of compromise if we find those spaces in our lives where we connect with people who are different from us. Different in education, race, religion, social class, and on and on. We need to hear different voices. Many different voices. And if we can’t hear them in our immediate communities, we need to seek them out.

***

The other day, I went to seek out how some of my more conservative family members–aunts, uncles, and cousins–were responding to the election. I looked up a few on Facebook and read through their recent posts.

When I got to my uncle, I did a double-take.

Do you know this person? Facebook asked me. Then it showed me a green button to Add Friend.

My uncle had unfriended me on Facebook.

I thought it was a mistake.

But no. He had definitely unfriended me.

Did I say anything to him to offend him? Did I like or react to something that he didn’t like? What did I do?

I still don’t know. Other than being a left-leaning family member.

My heart ached.

To be fair, I didn’t grow up with regular contact with this uncle. We lived in different states. We might have met a few times at family reunions. But just two years ago, he drew close to me and my siblings when my father, his brother, passed away.

He started sending me and my siblings weekly remembrances of my father, who had just then died. Every week or so, he would email some thoughts and memories that he had of my dad. He opened a window into who my father was as a young man. In time, he fell out of the practice of sending us those stories. I didn’t begrudge him of that. We’re all busy. Grief remains, but time marches on.

Our connection to each other became his occasional pictures in my Facebook feed. Fishing and flowers, lakes and his shadow on the ground. Picture of his wife, my aunt.

Now: Gone.

No more window into my father’s life.

What this election is doing to families is sad. Just plain sad. Politics shouldn’t override family relationships. Family should be sacred. We might disagree with each other, but families shouldn’t decide to cut each other off because of political disagreements. Just because what we say to each other makes us uncomfortable.

So I will sit in this discomfort.

I won’t walk away from the table.

I’ll keep going to church.

Even though we are a divided country, I will continue to show up. I will continue to represent the groups to which I belong.

Millenial. Mother. Liberal. Academic. Lutheran.

I’ll keep showing up. I’ll listen to you.

I hope you’ll keep showing up. And that you’ll listen to me.

 

My Baby’s Due Date is Inauguration Day

The timing of this is not lost on me.

I started this pregnancy in May 2016 to the devastating news  of the measly 3-month sentence of Brock Turner, a “man” from my own hometown of Dayton, Ohio. A man who raped an unconscious woman.

Then, the Harambe the Gorilla madness.

Then, a crocodile eating a toddler at Disney World.

Then, the Orlando mass shooting.

All of this set against the backdrop of this shitty election, the Syrian refugee crisis, and constant shootings of unarmed black Americans.

Now imagine having a full month of nausea day in and day out while living through this.

But we pulled through.

Once a Bernie Sanders supporter, I swallowed my pride and embraced Hillary.

I believed that Donald Trump would certainly crash and burn.

I think we all thought that.

And when Pussy Gate happened, I breathed a sigh of disgusted resolve.

Certainly, now, there is no way enough people can stomach the reality of voting for this numb-nuts. Look! Every decent Republican is withdrawing their support! They are finally saying he has crossed the line. They are showing that they care about women. 

And then Election Night 2016 happened.

***

We bought pizza and champagne to usher in the first female President. We invited our friends over and we were festive. It’s like Christmas morning! we cheered.

And then Ohio was called.

We shouted. We felt betrayed by our own neighbors. We looked at the electoral map by county. The only blue counties were the ones with the major cities. Clear as day, you could see Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland, and Toledo.

And then we understood.

***

I’ve cried a box of tissues since this news broke.

I’ve had to look my international students in the eyes and tell them, without totally losing my composure: “No matter what anyone else says, I welcome you. am not afraid of you. I think you matter. This is not the message that I am sending to the world. Please do not think that the way that Donald Trump acts is the way that Americans are.”

I’ve sat in my colleague’s cubicle, spilling my fears about the future, so thankful that she was willing to listen to me and tell me that she still believes in the goodness of people. (I love you, Jeri.)

I’ve cried all the way home from work, listening to gleeful Trump supporters on All Things Considered share their excitement that Trump was going to bring their jobs back (yeah, right) and build the wall (you seriously believe that?) and stop abortions (whatever).

I’ve cried on and off for hours, while my husband listened.

I told him that what hurts the most is that multiple facets of my identity and my values have been insulted by this man who now wants to lead me.

The pain is not coming from a different political party having power.

The pain is coming from being told that who I am (woman, academic, teacher) and what I value (diversity, humility, inclusivity, compassion) are worthy of insult.

I told my husband that I could barely keep from breaking into tears in front of my international students because I realized that I could no longer pretend that our country is the chief beacon of shelter and protection for those who are persecuted. For those who are striving to attain the civil rights that so many of us take for granted.

Canada is stepping into the shoes that we’ve kicked off and tossed into the face of the world. They are becoming the new face of a country of immigrants–and they’re doing it with compassion and community.

It’s ironic to me that so many white Americans are proud of their immigrant ancestry–yet they cringe at the thought of extending a warm welcome to today’s immigrants. They create these untrue historical narratives about our own ancestors. They say they gave up their culture and their language to become Americans. They say they came here “legally.”

But the truth is, we didn’t even have the vocabulary to consider immigration legal or illegal during the great immigrant influx of the 19th and early 20th centuries. (See Episode 47, “Give Me Your Tired…”) People just came. And we just took them. Because we needed them. The Civil War decimated our population. So did World War I.

And those immigrants took a long time to “Americanize.” They kept their home cultures for one or two generations. They spoke their native language. And they were scapegoated for problems in America, just like so many of us are doing today.

So “Make America Great Again?”

That’s a knife to my heart.

How far back should America go?

Should we go back to before women’s suffrage? Or forcing Native Americans off their land? Or Japanese internment camps?

Or how about those Leave it to Beaver days, which white Baby Boomers keep referencing with sweet, untainted nostalgia. You know. The days when black Americans were lynched for voting in the South and the Freedom Riders were attacked and killed.

“Make America Great Again” makes sense if you are a white Christian–and if you cannot imagine this country through the eyes of someone who isn’t like you.

It’s ignorant and myopic.

Donald Trump’s plans for “making America great again” creates a vision of America that looks like this:

20 million Americans stand to lose their health insurance if Obamacare is repealed.

11 million undocumented immigrants stand to be deported from their families and the lives they have built here.

3.3 million Muslim-Americans have been told that they are responsible for reporting “suspected terrorists” to the proper authorities. (Do we ask Christian-Americans to do the same? Did you just do a double-take of the word “Christian-Americans?” Did you stop to think about why?)

And this land of immigrants wants to completely shut its doors to 11 million Syrian refugees who are fleeing from ISIS. We’re completely content to turn our backs on our European allies who are struggling to figure out how to integrate millions of refugees.

***

I told my husband that I’m working through such immense grief about this election. That the last time that I can remember it being this hard to teach through my pain was on the day that my dad died.

And I still went in to teach.

I told my husband that our baby deserves better than this.

Better than sexism, racism, and xenophobia. And better than the rationales and excuses that his supporters make on behalf of this man who cannot control himself. (You’re the puppet! No, you’re the puppet!)

Better than fear-mongering and blaming and ignorance and hatred.

Childbirth is painful. Fucking painful. And I’m familiar with every bit of that physical pain because I did it without drugs.

But believe me when I say this: The physical pain of bringing this child into the world under this next American leader does not compare to the emotional pain that it brings.

Physical pain wanes. Emotional pain scars.

Emotional pain changes the landscape. It can make you callous and cynical. It can leave you hollow and numb. It can drive you to recklessness and disengagement. It can drain your expectations and your faith in others.

But there’s another side to emotional pain that survivors of trauma will unanimously tell you.

It can make you a fighter.

And every time I feel this baby pummel me in the ribs or the stomach, I know that I’m carrying a fighter.

***

My body, and thus this child, have been put through the wringer since the beginning of this pregnancy. At times, my anxiety has been high, but nothing like what I’ve experienced in the last two days. I can only imagine how much cortisol has been coursing through my system.

This morning, I strapped on the pregnancy belt and when for a third-trimester walk/jog. I was still hurt. Still pissed. Still angry.

Then, I started to notice something.

All the political signs were gone.

All the Trump signs that lined our street had been taken away.

And replaced with American flags.

img_20161110_074445

I do not have words for the emotion that I felt in that moment.

But let me draw an analogy.

It was like being punched in the face. And then as my vision returned, seeing an outstretched hand for a handshake.

In the cold, morning light, I started sobbing.

Again.

I thought I was through the pain. But no. It’s still very much there.

Do you mean it? I wanted to ask my neighbors. Does your patriotism extend beyond self-preservation? Beyond white Christian America? 

I wanted to kiss those American flags and set them on fire at the same time. 

How could we all love this country so much and understand it so differently?

This is the complexity of living in a pluralistic democracy. This is the love and this is the pain. There are setbacks, but hope lives on.

I kid you not, as I walked this path of flags, crying into my hands, not caring if the neighbors saw, perhaps even hoping they would see, this song came up on my Pandora feed.

I’ve never heard it before. It’s called “After the Storm” by Mumford and Sons. Let me share the lyrics with you.

And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
On my knees and out of luck,
I look up.

Night has always pushed up day
You must know life to see decay
But I won’t rot, I won’t rot
Not this mind and not this heart,
I won’t rot.

And I took you by the hand
And we stood tall,
And remembered our own land,
What we lived for.

But there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And now I cling to what I knew
I saw exactly what was true
But oh no more.
That’s why I hold,
That’s why I hold with all I have.
That’s why I hold.

I won’t die alone and be left there.
Well I guess I’ll just go home,
Oh God knows where.
Because death is just so full and man so small.
Well I’m scared of what’s behind and what’s before.

And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

***

Today, I have finally reached my enough point.

Enough crying. Enough sadness. Enough frustration and disillusionment.

Because my baby doesn’t deserve any of that either.

I remember what I once told myself on a desperate January morning in 2014.

When I woke up sick again.

For the third time in a month.

And my 6-month-old baby was sick.

And I still had to go to work.

And there was three inches of snow on the ground.

And I had an 8:00 a.m. class.

And my voice was gone.

Get up, I told myself. You are fucking fierce. You’ve been through worse. You’ve felt worse.

Get up. 

And I did.

But honestly, this time, I cannot do it alone. I’m going to need help. From my family. From my friends. Even from readers of this blog whom I’ve never met in person.

I’m going to need to feel your hands, pulling me up from the thick mud of this grief. I need to feel reassurance that many, many of us are still standing after this massive blow to all the American values that I hold close to my heart.

I need to hear you out there.

I need to know that we’re in this together.

That we are still moving forward.

To all current Millenial Parents out there and all those Millenials who will be parents in the next ten years, I say to you this:

We. Are. Next.

We are responsible for raising this next generation of children. What we teach them matters. How we talk about people who are different from us matters. Whether we are serious or joking, our children hear everything. They see what is acceptable and what is completely unacceptable.

And if our kids’ history textbooks whitewash away the pain and oppression that the ancestors of so many non-white Americans have suffered, it is our responsibility to tell those stories. Those stories matter. Those stories are America, too. Even if these stories are painful, we must tell them so that this next generation is equipped with the empathy that this country needs to engage in effective communication in a globalized world.

Let’s raise these kids to once and for all value everyone’s voice, not just the voices of those who have always been the loudest and most heard.

Let’s teach our kids that the road to our own prosperity shouldn’t be paved with the suffering of others.

And to White Millenials specifically, I say to you this:

Let’s stop churning out entitled white children who never interact with anyone of a different religion or race or language. That shit matters. It matters that our kids have friends who are different from them. Because when you have friends who are different from you, you stand up for your friends.

You don’t let people tell your friends that they aren’t what makes America great.

In 20 years, when the Baby Boomers have lost their political power and the Millenials shift the political landscape, let’s make certain that our children will not have to face an election like this ever again.

Are you with me?

My Heart is Broken

how-to-break-up-with-someone-0-1024x512

My heart is so completely broken today.

My heart is broken as a woman, who cringes at the words,

I moved on her like a bitch… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.

As an academic, who values facts and information and evidence-based decision-making.

I just see how I’m feeling and go based on that.

As an educator, who values critical thinking and acknowledging the limits of my knowledge so I can learn more.

I know more than the generals. Believe me.

As an intercultural communication practitioner, who values the richness, complexity, and benefits of respectful communication between cultures.

(Mexicans) are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.

I propose a complete and total shutdown of all Muslims entering the U.S.

As a mother, who wants to support her nation’s leader as a role model.

(About his 1-year-old daughter, Tiffany): She’s got great legs.

If I weren’t her father, I’d be dating her. (his daughter, Ivanka)

 

But most of all…

 

My heart is broken as a fellow American

who now knows that there are enough angry and disillusioned people in this country who would rather upend the whole system than try to fix what’s broken.

(Not paying taxes) makes me smart.

We’re going to completely repeal Obamacare.

We’re going to tear up our trade deals.

We’re going to have a deportation force.

We’re going to build a wall. And Mexico is going to pay for it.

 

My heart is broken as a Christian

who values fighting for the poor and the marginalized

How smart can poor people be?

who values humility and forgiveness

Why should I ask God for forgiveness? I don’t make mistakes.

who values compassion

There are simply too many examples to list here. And they all break my heart.

***

I want to believe that I’m being overdramatic. That things won’t change that much. That our system of checks and balances works well enough to stop this ridiculous man-child from engaging in nuclear war when someone insults him.

But there are enough people in this country that have decided that this

racist

sexist

uneducated

narcissistic

6-time bankrupted businessman

buffoon of a human being

is more qualified to be president of this great country than someone who has spent her life serving the public.

***

I fell asleep at 11:30 last night and woke up at 2:40 a.m. with a pit in my stomach. The baby was going crazy, flipping and nudging and turning inside of me. I tried to go back to sleep.

I couldn’t.

I was so sick with worry.

So at 3:10 a.m., I looked at my phone. Hoping for a miracle.

Instead, I lay there in the darkness, overcome with anxiety, tears coming down my face. Deep denial coursing through me.

It’s impossible, I kept thinking. There aren’t enough people in this country that could possibly think he’s a better choice.

And then the fear.

Replaying all the hurtful, painful, idiotic things that he has said over the past year and a half.

And then imagining all the people in my life who voted in favor of those very words.

All the people who really thought that placing this man in the White House would actually result in benefits in their lives.

(For the love of God, I wouldn’t even let this man into my own house , not to mention in the same vicinity as me or my daughter.)

Listen, Americans who voted for Trump.

Donald Trump cares about no one but himself and his image.

He taught us that when he spent $20,000 on a painting of himself. Out of funds from his “charity.”

Write it down. Carve it in stone if you want.

Americans who voted for this man, he will break your heart.

Just as you have broken mine.

trump-photo

Portrait of a White, Suburban Ohio, College-Educated Woman on Election Day 2016

I wake up at 6:00 a.m.

I roll from my side to my back, feeling the weight of 29 weeks of pregnancy.

I put on some maternity leggings, several layers, and the ever-so-sexy pregnancy belt.

Carrying 27 pounds of extra weight, I walk and jog in the cool darkness, the road lit by the occasional lamp post. I watch my heart rate rise and fall.

I count the political signs.

I run on.

At 6:45, I return home and wake up my husband.

Our three-year-old daughter, still asleep in her bed.

I make her lunch and set out her vitamins.

I eat a bowl of oatmeal, topped with raspberries.

Take a breath.

Climb the stairs to coax the kid out of bed.

She is pissed.

Her voice is hoarse, so I know she’s getting sick.

Through screaming and tears and some negotiation, we get her dressed and vitamin-ed.

Then off to daycare.

In the car, she asks for music. I played her favorite, Grouplove’s Tongue Tied.

Then, she bursts into tears.

Yeah, she’s feeling pretty miserable, I think.

I set out her breakfast once we are in her preschool room. Today, she insists that she does not want milk on her cereal.

She gives me a hug. And a kiss.

Across from daycare, the church is a polling place. There is extra traffic. Turning left without a stop sign or stoplight is a nightmare.

Back at home, I make a second breakfast. Because pregnancy.

Eggs and English muffin. And coffee. Because second pregnancy.

I listen to NPR’s Morning Edition.

Shower. Dress for work. Make-up.

My husband is running behind.

So we decide to vote together.

We have a nice conversation in line for 30 minutes. We talk about last night’s dinner with friends. Our daughter. Our church. His work’s potluck.

Then, we vote.

Because we are Americans.

Because we are parents.

Because we are feminists.

Because time moves forward. Not backward.

We hold hands on the way out. Give each other a quick kiss and hug.

We go to work.

voting

Love: It’s What Makes This Election So Different

I’m tired of this.

Tired of my Facebook newsfeed filling up with “grab them by the pussy” and “doesn’t pay any taxes” and “33,000 deleted emails” and “Lock Her Up.”

Ick. Just. Ick.

***

As an American teacher of international students, I look out at my classroom and I tell them, “Guys, really… We are so much better than this.”

They have questions:

Will we be sent home if Donald Trump becomes president?

Why don’t people like Hillary Clinton?

How did Donald Trump get this far in the race?

Some days, I just don’t feel like I can take it anymore.

Some days, I wonder just what in the hell the other side is thinking.

How can we think so differently about what our country is right now and what our country can be in the future?

***

And then I came across this episode of the podcast, “Hidden Brain” by Shankar Vedantam.

hidden-brain

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/493615864/493761293

In this episode, “When It Comes to Politics, Family Matters,” Vedantam discusses linguist George Lakoff’s exploration of family metaphors in American political discussions.

He identifies two major camps in which Americans fall in regard to how they talk about what they want in a political candidate.

Camp A: The Strict Father

“…the job of the father is not just to support and protect the family but also, with respect to children, to teach them right from wrong so they have the right moral views.”

This struck me, especially after seeing this clip from Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, in which correspondents interview Trump supporters about why Trump is so appealing to them.

Pay attention around 4:09.

Trump is going to be daddy. And whether you like it or not, you have to listen to daddy. And if you don’t, you get the belt.

As Lakoff points out in his analysis, families are the first place where we learn about rules and governance. For some people, this strict parenting model is what resonates the most with them because it’s the model that they grew up with. But more important, they believe that it is effective in governance (i.e., raising children). As a result, they’re more likely to seek out models of Strict Parents in presidential candidates.

They’re more likely to take hard stances and showcasing power to other countries as a means of keeping the country safe.

They’re more likely to decry efforts to expand government assistance and entitlements to citizens.

They’re more likely to champion strength, self-reliance, and independence.

They’re more likely to see the world as a big, scary place from which we need the protection of our fathers and their strong guidance so that we can survive in this world.

And then there’s the other side.

Camp B: The Nurturant Parent

“…feel their job is to empathize with their child, to know what their child needs, and to have open two-way discussions with their child.”

Those who find this parenting style more appealing are more likely to seek out presidential candidates who practice humility and find value in dialogue and negotiations with other countries.

They’re more likely to emphasize the importance of government programs that provide financial help to citizens.

They’re more likely to see the world as a place where kindness and goodness can be found everywhere.

They’re more likely to encourage our children to not be scared of difference, but rather seek to understand it.

***

As Vedantam points out, many of us grew up in families where both of these parenting styles were at play. Sometimes, our parents were the strict authoritarians who told us No means no and Get to bed this instant! At other times, our parents asked us What’s wrong? and asked us how they could help us.

What determines our orientation is how we judge the effectiveness of each model.

If we think that The Strict Parent doesn’t usually have a place in our families, we’re more likely to cling to the Democrat side.

If we think that The Nurturant Parent doesn’t usually have a place in our families, we’re more likely to cling to the Republican Side.

But most of us lie somewhere in the middle.

Most of us see the value in both. Especially if we are parents.

We’ve experienced those moments when our children need strict leadership. But we’ve also found ourselves in moments when our children needed compassion and acceptance.

***

I love Vedantam’s observation that,

The nation is in the middle of a parenting dispute.

I will add on to Vedantam’s observation and argue that we are so divided and polarized on so many issues because we’ve lost our respect for the opposing parenting style.

We want to pretend that we only need The Strict Parent. That he’s going to be the one to solve all of our problems because he’s strong, knows a lot, and will protect us from all the “bad guys.”

We want to pretend that we only need The Nurturant Parent. That she’s going to be the one listen to what we need, to make sure that no one lacks needed care, and to help us keep the peace around the world.

In this great American parenting dispute, we have name-called each other and pointed fingers and blamed each other. Then, we feel utterly mystified at why the other side can’t see the world in the way that we do. What we don’t understand is that,

The idea that we have alternative worldviews is not part of our discourse.

Vedantam is right.

The truth is much harder. What fuels our inflexible certainty isn’t stupidity or callousness: It’s love.

That is where I find my comfort in this bizarre, soul-crushing election season.

That even though I so passionately disagree with supporters of the other side, I find comfort in the fact that their intentions and decision-making are driven–just like me–by love.

Love: Because we all want what is best for our country.

We just disagree about “best” means.

And that’s okay.

If we love our country and truly want what’s best for it, then I think we might get through this.

***

But… is that true this year?

Are Trump supporters simply seeking out a candidate who is a Strict Parent?

Or is there another stronger force at work?

I think that’s it.

That’s what is so difficult about this election.

Usually, I disagree passionately with the other side’s policies about what is best for our country. I’ve felt that the political discourse was becoming increasingly divisive and polarized. I’ve felt that we were starting to demonize each other and create assumptions about each other’s intentions.

But not until this year did I feel like the political discourse was full of hatred.

During previous elections, I could see the opposing side’s good intentions because the debates focused on the issues instead of personal attacks. Although plenty of personal attacks were made on the sidelines, the official political debates stayed civil. I could force myself to open up and see that even if we disagreed about how to help our country, both candidates showed their sincere desire to improve the country.

But this year, Trump has told us that…

  • Mexicans are rapists and drug smugglers.
  • Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen.
  • Muslims should be banned from entering the United States.
  • We shouldn’t accept Syrian women and children refugees. Because they could be terrorists.
  • Prisoners of war aren’t good soldiers.
  • Veterans who suffer from PTSD aren’t strong.
  • A good tactic to fight ISIS is to “bomb the shit out of them.”
  • It’s normal for men to talk about grabbing women’s genitals without consent.
  • Political opponents should be jailed after elections. (Can I just say, this is truly, truly shocking and one of the most anti-American statements yet.)
  • The 19th amendment should be repealed so women can’t vote (This one is courtesy of Trump supporters).

And this is just a sampling.

Typically, election years are full of hyperbole, generalization, and oversimplification. We’re used to those.

But this year, Donald Trump surrounds us with racism. Sexism. Xenophobia.

Then he tells us that’s not what we’re hearing.

Lies. Lies. Lies.

Hate. Hate. Hate.

I’m truly struggling to see the good intentions at the heart of the Trump campaign. I’m really struggling to see Trump as fitting into that Strict Parent model.

Because the Strict Parent operates from a place of love.

What love is there in this campaign?

Do you see it?

For the life of me, I cannot.

The Hunger for September 11th

September 11th hit me a little harder than usual this year.

I think it might have been a presentation that I gave to 180 college freshmen a few weeks ago—the way they looked at me as I told them my story about where I was on September 11th.

I wasn’t presenting to a political science or history class. It was just a one-credit first-year class for undecided majors. Just a slot in their schedule to hear about different topics to get them thinking about what they might want to do in the future. Because I work with the international student population at my university, I offered to speak to them about the importance of intercultural competence.

As I planned that presentation, I thought about these college freshmen. What I could possibly say to make them understand why communicating with people from other cultures is important?

I thought about my own college experience. I had no international friends. I didn’t even really know any international students on campus. I was in college from 2000-2004—an all-time low for international student enrollment, since the U.S. practically closed its borders after September 11th.

How old would these students have been in 2001?

Four or five years old.

Good grief. They don’t even remember it.

And that was when I decided that I would tell them how I—as a sophomore in college—learned the news of the terrorist attacks and how I had reacted. Because they could see themselves in my shoes, as a young college student.

I would tell them that I didn’t watch the news that morning. That I didn’t even check my computer.

That I had walked all the way to my 9:30 anthropology class, only to be told by my professor that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center.

That he didn’t know what else to do besides teach class.

That I had tried to get lunch after class, only to walk away from the dining hall, sick with worry as I listened to the news being played over the loudspeakers.

That I couldn’t call my parents because I didn’t have a cell phone.

That I sat in a French class while my classmates–strangers that I had only known for three weeks–cried together and raged about those people throwing candy and dancing in the streets—and how another classmate defended those people by pointing out that they were Palestinian—and their homes had just been bulldozed by American tanks.

And the fact that this heated and tearful debate had pushed me to think.

To really think.

Are we really good?

What do other people think of us?

Why are people angry at us?

What have we done?

Miami's student newspaper, two days after the attacks

The student newspaper of my alma mater, Miami University, two days after the attacks

I said all of this. It was a powerful, emotional speech that froze all 180 of them in their seats for a solid nine minutes—no easy feat in the age of the smartphone.

But after all 180 of them had filed out of the lecture hall, I was bothered.

Had they really understood?

Could they ever really understand?

Probably not.

They don’t have the emotional memories that I have.

And that’s not their fault.

Just as I barely remember the Challenger explosion—which happened when I was five—these students wouldn’t really remember September 11th.

Still it bothered me.

A lot.

Why?

(AP Photo/The Daily News, Todd Maisel, Pool)

For me, after the dust had settled, what September 11th left with me was a profound sense that I didn’t understand everything.

Perhaps I knew this intellectually, but as I watched the coverage of the United States turned upside down and inside out, I started to feel the limitations of my own understanding. Anthropologists call this phenomenon “strange-making” and it is a key element of rituals of transformation. To see your world turned upside down and inside out shatters your mental constructs and forces you to accept that anything is possible.

Like many Americans, I was transformed by the experience of September 11th. It ignited in me an insatiable curiosity about how the United States looks through the lens of other cultures. That curiosity compelled me to ask questions, to change my major, and to volunteer to teach English to adult immigrants. That curiosity brought me into contact with people from all over the world. And through that contact, I have had the great privilege to vicariously experience the world through a kaleidoscope of different cultural lenses.

My curiosity sent me abroad, and it was through those experiences that I was able to feel culture. Culture was no longer a bolded word in a textbook. Culture became as big, as pervasive, and as powerful as God. And I began to understand just how different my culture was from French culture, Chinese culture, Turkish culture, Saudi culture. And that within these monolithic “cultures,” there is incredible diversity that I cannot begin to fully comprehend and articulate to others.

I feel humbled and blessed to not only have understood this in my lifetime, but to live it every day as I teach international students.

Awesome Turkish people, Istanbul, Turkey, 2008

Awesome Turkish people, Istanbul, Turkey, 2008

At the same time, it bothers me.

It bothers me that I cannot simply just pass on genetically what I have learned.

It bothers me that although I can pass on my eye color and my stubbornness to my daughter, I cannot pass this on. My daughter will still have to learn all of these lessons for herself.

There is even the possibility that she won’t learn these lessons—just as I haven’t learned all the lessons that my father wanted to pass on to me before he passed away.

In the span of American history, I’m sure it bothered many women of my grandmother’s generation that they couldn’t transplant into their grandsons their own emotional memories of watching their fiancés and husbands go to war halfway around the world–as a kind of antidote to war-hungry men.

Just as the mothers of the Civil War couldn’t recreate for their grandchildren the grief of not being able to bury their sons who had died hundreds of miles away.

I’m sure plenty of great Americans went to their graves hoping and praying that someday their grandchildren and great-grandchildren would realize all that they had sacrificed for us so that we may live better lives.

My grandmother, Virginia Tjaden--a woman not to be trifled with.

One of those great Americans: my grandmother, Virginia Tjaden

But we can’t pass this on.

Because what we want to pass on is hunger.

Hunger is felt individually. It emerges from an emptiness, a realization that something is lacking. Hunger cannot be taught. It is felt. Hunger drives us out of our safe havens and sends us searching.

Too often in American parenting, the goal is to ensure that our children want for nothing. We believe that “providing all that our children need” is the hallmark of good parenting.

But this is an illusion.

We can’t provide everything our children need.

Just as good teachers acknowledge that teaching isn’t just transplanting knowledge into a student’s brain, good parents acknowledge that parenting isn’t just telling our children what to do—it’s letting them experience so the lessons stick with them.

But with September 11th, my daughter cannot share my experience. There’s no recreating it.

While the emotional part of my brain never wants my daughter to feel the way that I felt on that day, the rational part of my brain craves that experience for her. I want her to reach the limitations of her own understanding. I want her world to be turned upside-down. I want her to go searching for answers—and then to keep going when she realizes that there is no end to answers.

I want her to feel hunger.

The hunger that will send her searching.

And if I’m always trying to make sure that my daughter is “full,” when will she ever be hungry?

Nutritionists will tell you that it’s not healthy to never feel hunger. Our bodies work best when we allow enough time to pass between meals. Our stomachs speak to our brains and our brains speak to our stomachs.

The same is true of our emotions. We cannot make it our goal as parents to create a life that is always “happy” for our children. Our children need to learn how to experience sadness, frustration, anger, embarrassment, guilt, disgust, and everything in between. When our emotions emerge, we need to make sense of them. We need to feel them so we can move through them.

When we numb ourselves to our emotions, we lose our humanity. Not only that, but we lose the ability to remember, for emotion is a powerful vehicle to transfer experiences into long-term memory. Emotion creates an authentic context. It makes those threads in the web of our memory particularly sticky.

And as I stared out at those 180 eighteen-year-old faces, I saw the truth that September 11th had not stuck to them at all. They had come through those years having no emotional memory of that day. They were unchanged by this day in our history.

But as they listened to my story, their faces darkened. Their foreheads furrowed. They froze in their seats. You could hear the proverbial pin drop in the back of the room in the pauses in my speech.

Telling my story had given them that an authentic context. It had allowed them to vicariously live that day with me. It had given them a reason to pay attention. It had shown them the value of what I was telling them. I love stories for this very reason. They can provide the emotional context that we need to help others who do not share our experiences.

So although we cannot pass on our hunger, we can pass on our stories.

And we should.

We cannot know how they will receive our stories, but that’s not the point. The point is that we tell them. The point is that we give them the context.

Then, we hope that they listen.

And we pray that they learn.

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