First Line

I’ve had a pin attached to my bag since last summer. The pin commemorates the centennial of the National Park Service, which was founded in 1916. Rightly, the NPS filled 2016 with much celebration and our family delighted in exploring new parks and participating in some of the special events taking place during such a special year.

My discovery of the National Parks really began when I moved to Washington D.C. in my twenties and embarked on a job in the city. I spent many lunch breaks strolling the National Mall, weaving in and out of tourists visiting the various memorials and monuments. Witnessing the construction of the National World War II Memorial was especially moving. After Henry arrived, he became my constant companion on these walks. I would swing by his daycare, two floors down, sweep him up, plop him in the stroller and off we would go.

As our children have grown older and with our move to Richmond and now Northwest Virginia, our National Parks exploration has expanded. I will forever refer to this time of our lives as The Battlefield Years. We’ve hit a lot of them. Like, a lot-a lot. In our various visits to Gettysburg and Antietam and Appomattox and Cedar Creek and Harpers Ferry and Petersburg and Yorktown, we’ve never – not once – had a negative experience. We have always been met by extremely competent and friendly park employees excited to share their knowledge with us, with our children.

I’m always left in sort of a state of awe after a visit to one of our national parks. It’s hard to believe that such an opportunity exists for us. To revisit so easily a part of our country’s past that’s preserved and protected solely for our enjoyment. That people work so enthusiastically and doggedly to fulfill that mission. That for $20 (and a musket for Charlie from the gift shop) we get to see, and get to show our children, what it was like to live, to fight, to survive in an era when this country was filled with so much turmoil. (There’s also ALWAYS nice potties and access to snacks in a national park. I won’t downplay how important bathrooms and a constant stream of sustenance is to a successful family outing.)

Charlie’s biggest dream is to become a park ranger and I’m pretty sure nothing Henry and Millie could ever do could top that. Sorry, you two! It’s really impressive how you became Secretary of State, Millie, and how you became President of The Lego Group, Henry, but Charlie’s a National Parks employee living in a tent on a fire tower in Wyoming with only his binoculars, a typewriter and some CLIF bars so he wins. You’ll both just have to try harder!

We’ve barely even tapped the breadth of the National Park system either. That’s one of the driving reasons for my camper obsession – so we can head west and visit as many parks as possible with the kids. There is so much to see! and to do! I want to go to ALL THE PARKS. (But, I definitely need the camper to make that happen, Bob.)

That these parks are so accessible in an era of budget cuts and funding issues is amazing. That large swaths of pristine land is preserved and prevails in an era of destructive environmental practices is amazing. That a staff of dedicated park service employees are such champions for their landscapes is amazing.

I’m a big fan, is my point. I’m like a National Parks groupie. I’m John Cusack, standing outside their gates with a stereo held above my head blaring, “In Your Eyes.”

So, it was with profound disappointment that I read about our new administration’s gag order, to include all social media posting, covering the Department of Interior and, thus, the National Park Service. Although such orders are not necessarily unprecedented and will hopefully be lifted, the focus of the orders on climate change information amounted to a blackout of scientific data. (You can read about the details from a reputable outlet here.)

This seemed retaliatory in nature and was instantly met with subversive tweets from social media managers at a variety of national and state parks and agencies in direct defiance of the gag order.

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I mean, come on. This is fantastic! These park rangers are not having any of this. They are amazing. Especially that last one. I like the cut of your jib, US Fish & Wildlife.

Additionally, several alt-Twitter accounts have popped up recently to better disseminate information about legislation and actions that may negatively affect the parks but which the parks are no longer allowed to report on.

The response from everyday Americans to the assorted National Parks’ Twitter accounts was extraordinary. I followed all week as tributes popped up to the work the NPS was rather slyly engaged in. I was delighted to see a spotlight shone on the parks and people that I consider to be such treasures. Also, some people are really, really funny.

Some of my favorite tweets from the past 10 days:

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(A reference to Mirriam Webster and Teen Vogue’s coverage since the election.)

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(#leslieknopeforpresident)

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Image: Captain RibMan / John Sprengelmeyer

I’m going to need that last one on a t-shirt. And, a tote bag. Also, a commemorative pin. Quite possibly, a tattoo.

Making Memories

Nothing signals the arrival of that most magical time of year quite like me yelling at my kids to stop messing with the Christmas tree.

Millie and I decorated the entire tree this year while the boys were at school. We saved a few of Henry and Charlie’s favorite ornaments for them to hang when they arrived home. Which was a fun process for all of approximately four minutes before all three of them started rearranging ornaments (NOPE) and then started dropping things through the branches of the tree for fun (SUPER NOPE). Ornaments were falling, kids were fighting, my patience was quickly evaporating. So, naturally, I hollered at them to CUT! IT! OUT! with the tree (I might not have used such judicious language).

Then, like some kind of rookie, I wrapped all of the presents super early. I was really proud that I was winning my Christmas to-do list but my eagerness was rewarded with the kids digging into the pile of precariously stacked presents under the tree, searching for names and shaking boxes (“DEFINITELY LEGOS!”). Some of the wrapping paper on the oddly-shaped presents started to rip and, listen up, I certainly didn’t spend three afternoons locked in my bedroom watching The Good Wife reruns just to have my kids destroy all of my hard wrapping work. So, naturally, I hollered at them to STOP! TOUCHING! THE PRESENTS! (I might not have used such judicious language).

I’m so happy my kids will have such charming memories of a warm and loving holiday season to reflect back upon when they are grown.

There is glitter wrapping paper mixed in there and let it be known that glitter wrapping paper is always, always a bad idea.

There is glitter wrapping paper mixed in there and let it be known that glitter wrapping paper is always, always a bad idea.

I spent a lot of time this year carefully selecting presents for the kids that I thought they’d really enjoy (as opposed to just grabbing random things from the clearance endcaps at Target). Some were requested (LEGO! always, until the end of time), some will be a surprise (Snap Circuits!), some are throwbacks (Rubix Cube! Twister!) but there’s an awful lot of thoughtfulness and love and time and effort and money underneath that tree. I mean, I learned how to replace the ribbon in an antique typewriter for Charlie this year. They better appreciate it, is my point here, because I took my gift game up several notches. If any of my children look even REMOTELY disappointed with their presents on Christmas morning, I swear I will do a Real Housewives table flip, walk out the front door and find another family to celebrate with.

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I don’t want to brag or anything but Bob casually mentioned he was going to take the kids to the Walmart in West Virginia on Saturday so they could pick out a few things to wrap and place under the tree for me. You can probably guess my delight. Obviously, Bob and the kids are taking just as great care in selecting my presents as I took in selecting theirs. I can’t wait to unwrap my new spatula!

ALSO, Bob turns 57 years old today! Happy birthday, husband! Hope you treat yourself to a little something extra special from the cafeteria at work because I’m pretty tuckered out after all of the tree policing, present wrapping and kid hollering.

Having two December birthdays in our family, one five days before Christmas and one five days after Christmas, I can definitively state that pre-Christmas birthdays are rough. Everyone is in stressed out, frantic, pre-holiday mode. By the time Henry’s birthday rolls around on December 30, the holiday work is all over and we’re in more of a celebratory mood. Bob explains every year that he was never supposed to be a December baby and was actually born five weeks early. He also claims that he was dropped on his head as an infant by his sister and, coupled with his premature birth, offers it all up as an excuse whenever I question some of his purchasing decisions (the BB gun, the bow and arrows, the slingshot, shopping at a West Virginia Walmart on Christmas Eve). Anyway, every year I try to make Bob feel special on his special day. I’m not sure if I always succeed but I’m pretty sure he should just be grateful that he didn’t have to plan for, budget for, shop for or gift wrap any of the presents underneath the tree.

In other news, our basement renovation is scheduled to begin the first week of January. That means, we need to have everything currently located in our basement located somewhere else entirely within the next two weeks. We’ve been planning this project for a solid year so you’d think that we would be on top of the basement clean and clear but you would be wrong. Procrastination is my superpower which means we’ll be spending Christmas Day hauling things up and out of the basement and placing it all… somewhere else. I just assume we will chuck things in every available corner of the house, which means I’ll have to step over a camp stove and seven empty suitcases just to crawl into my bed at night. The boys are really going to enjoy the loveseat and ottoman we’re adding to their room!

To summarize, EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING ALL AT ONCE.

Also, you cannot watch this without smiling and dancing a little in your chair. You can try to resist but it’s futile. CHRISTMAS, LET’S DO THIS.

A Revolution of Kindness

A few days prior to the election, a friend added me to a secret Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation. As the name implies, the page is filled with messages of love and support for our favorite pantsuit-wearing presidential candidate. When I was added, the group was already around 900,000 members strong. All different ages, all diverse voices, all with their own stories, from all over the world. I spent the days leading up to the election reading posts on the page from inspiring men and women. They wrote about their lives and their votes and their wishes and dreams for our nation.

By election day, the Pantsuit Nation Facebook page had swelled to more than 3.5 million members, many of whom had donned pantsuits on their way to cast their ballot. Images of men and women and mothers and grandmothers and sons and fathers and daughters – all doing something so historic – filled the page. It was unbelievably exciting and promising. That day was filled with so much hope.

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Backyard sunset on November 9. Accurate representation of a country on fire.

In the days after the election, my attention alternated between streaming CNN, reading the racist comments of strangers on Facebook, and navigating the terror of Twitter feeds predicting end times. I could not look away from any of it. My shock and grief rendered me incapable of turning any of it off.

Eventually, I was compelled to leave the house. I needed to procure food for my family and I was also expected at work. I mean, I knew that life had to go on but it felt like it shouldn’t go on. Like we should just all freeze in place, life paused, taking in the gravity of the situation. I was just so emotionally raw. It was like my disappointment had manifested itself physically. I was sensitive to the touch and facing the world – the world that elected him – made my heart hurt.

It also made me suspicious. I headed to pick up some essentials at Target and found myself wandering and wondering at the same time. Did that person vote for him? Did that one? Where are the people that didn’t vote for him? The people that didn’t want any of this? They’re here, too, right?

I headed to the checkout with a cart filled with some supplies for my family and not an insignificant amount of wine for myself. As I, comically, loaded bottle after bottle on to the conveyor belt, the woman in front of me turned and we made eye contact. As I plopped the last bottle down, I looked at her and said, “It’s been a rough few days.”

“It really has,” she said, her eyes welling with tears.

We chatted for a couple of minutes and when she had paid for her things and grabbed her bags, she turned to me and said, “I hope you have a really good rest of your day.” I wished her the same.

It was instantly comforting. The gentleness. The shared sorrow.

It was the “revolution of kindness,” my friend, Jill, had prescribed the day after the election.

On my way out of the store, I had to make a quick return and when I stepped up to the counter, I noticed the employee helping me was wearing a safety pin on her shirt, a symbol of solidarity and refuge that had emerged in the first few days post-election. While I was standing there, another employee walked up and asked if there were any more of “those safety pins” and if she could have one. As the team lead at returns handed one to the employee, she asked if anyone else in line would like one and I mentioned that it was the first thing I had noticed on her shirt. She quickly explained that it wasn’t something “official” that Target was doing but just something she had wanted to do. I voiced my appreciation as she handed me a pin.

It was instantly comforting. The safety. The shared resolve.

Then, as I was standing in line at a restaurant, waiting to order lunch before work, two ladies walked up behind me and started chatting about the election. When their talk turned to “giving him a chance” and “he hasn’t done anything wrong yet,” I knew which camp they fell into.

“They’re all just so weepy and sad,” one of them lamented.

“Sore losers,” the other one chimed in, as if this were simply some sort of Monopoly game and we were upset that the board had been flipped.

In a move that surprised everyone, including me, I turned and said, “I’m not a sore loser. I just have grave concerns over the direction this country is headed since the MOST repugnant man has just been elected president.” Then, I stepped up to the register and ordered my salad to go.

It was instantly upsetting. The rhetoric. The bitterness.

Is this how it’s going to be now? Sadness, suspicion, division, loneliness, outright anger? Is every day going to feel like the comments section has come to life? What can I do?

And, then I thought about that Facebook group. A page filled with more than three million people that are all feeling the same loss and anger and division I’m feeling.

Those women and men started almost immediately to plan, to organize, to prepare to take action. Within hours, someone had purchased a domain so the group could better share information. When the call for website creation assistance went out, I watched on my laptop screen as, one by one, in the comments, volunteers lined up to work.

“I can build it.”
“I’m a software designer. I can help.”
“I can code it.”
“I’m an editor but can still help.”
“I’m a writer and would love to help.”
“I don’t know how to help but I want to help.”

Hundreds and hundreds of people offering to donate their time and effort. Both women and men but so many women. Smart, angry, resolute, unwavering women offering solutions and safety and solidarity and determination. So much determination.

That’s what we can do. We can fight. In a hundred different ways, we can fight. We can rally against what we know isn’t right. There are so many of us. We’re the army.