To the Girl Who Made Me An Aunt

Dear Mathia,

I met you when you had just turned 5. It was winter and we all met at Grandma and Grandpa Mattern’s house. You were full of joy and curiosity. You sat on my lap immediately and helped calm my nerves: you didn’t know this, but I was meeting your family for the first time. And I was 6 months pregnant. And we weren’t married. Talk about the pressure! But you, with your little blonde pigtails, and big beautiful smile…you made everything feel alright.

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Later that day we were allowed to take you home and got a taste of what being a family was really like. You and Noah were in the backseat in car seats which we learned how to install properly with the help of your mother. And then our heat went out, in Minnesota, in December, so we bundled you guys both up and covered you with blankies. You both seemed to enjoy the adventure. We had to play Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boy” the entire way home-it was your favorite song. Two hours of that was torture, but we loved the feeling you and Noah gave us—the feeling of being more than just committed to one another, more than just responsible to one another, and more than boyfriend and girlfriend who were about to have a baby. You guys made us feel a part of something bigger. And that is when I realized I was actually going to be your aunt someday. This was a huge responsibility and I have not been there as much as I should, but tomorrow, when you walk across that stage, I want you to remember…

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Remember all the work you put in as an accomplished gymnast? You are more than an accomplished gymnast even though that IS A LOT. You are the work you put in every day for the past ten years. That work ethic is going to be necessary for the rest of your life and you will do well because of all you endured on the floor, in front of crowds on the beam, and flying back and forth on the uneven bars.

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Remember the pain? It has not been too long ago, and it may still be aching, but always remember the pain. If you do, everything in life will be much sweeter. You won’t take as much for granted if you remember the pain of injuries and loss.

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Remember that time we took the paddleboards out to lake Melissa and lost track of time? Your dad was pretty worried-that and he probably needed a break from watching the little kids! Call your mother. Call your father. Call all the grandparents. Time is short and when we get caught up, we forget that time has passed so quickly. Texting is convenient but a phone call will be magical in the eyes of your family.

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Remember how much fun we had tubing the river? Make time for fun. You work so hard and are so focused that you must remember to give yourself a break. Find a healthy escape. Go tubing! Go rollerblading! Go fishing! Have healthy fun.

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Remember watching fireworks and singing Katy Perry? Sing. It doesn’t matter if it is in tune or more like yelling—keep singing.

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Remember how often it was just you and Noah out on the water? Or down by the river fishing? Or tinkering with something in the garage? Although he is grown, he still needs his sister. Don’t forget about him when you are away at college. Make time for him to come and visit. Visit him at home as well.

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Remember playing Uno, Dominoes, or Five Crowns at Grandma and Grandpa Davis’? You would get so mad Grandpa wouldn’t let you win. Never lose your competitive nature, and never forget the lesson he was teaching you: play hard for what you want, but it is not always going to end in your favor.

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Remember how I would always buy you a book for Christmas? Keep trying to find one that you actually like. Once you do, let me know the author and I will send you all his or her books!

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Remember hunting with your dad? Find that peace in your daily life. Find that quiet moment—recognize it, and smile. Too often we live in such a fast paced schedule that we forget about those quiet times.

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Remember attending Uncle Paul’s graduation? Well my dear, now it is time for yours. Walk confidently and capture this moment. You have achieved so much, but what we are most delighted to see is the fact that you have empathy and are a woman who will continue to do what is right even when the others choose wrong. Your choices are going to be more challenging, and you will fall, but you have the strength to pick yourself up and move forward. You will learn from these mistakes and they will help you grow. Do not be so hard on yourself.

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Janis Joplin once said, “Don’t compromise yourself. You are all you’ve got.” I had this quote hanging on my locker in high school, and then took it to college. The first line still rings true today but Mathia, know that your family is here for support. You do not have to rely solely on yourself.

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And I am still here, waiting to rock out with you in the car on some random errand your mother will send us on to find a kiddie pool or chicken nuggets. Maybe Avril Lavigne will make a comeback.Who knows where our next adventure will take us? I cannot wait to see what the future holds for you.

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Happy Graduation. Thank you for making me your Aunt Carrie.

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Pearl is 4.

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Every day I come home from school and see a little blonde girl with the longest, darkest eyelashes singing her heart out in the front bay window…then she jumps down and hides in the living room when I pull in so that we can play hide and seek. That little girl is our third baby, the “middle” child turned natural born leader.

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Pearl was named after the spitfire “imp” or elflike child borne of Hester Prynne’s adulterous act in The Scarlet Letter. People don’t often ask where we got her name-they just seem to say “it fits her.” I often wonder if we would have named her another name, would her personality have been shaped any differently? Regardless, Pearl lives up to Hawthorne’s character who holds her head high when walking through town alongside her mother while all the townsfolk children ridicule her. She has no shame in being her mother’s daughter. I presume our Pearl will be just as stubborn when she faces challenges in the future.

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Pearl was our first scheduled induction baby. I was suffering from polyhydramnios-where there is too much amniotic fluid in the sac being carried-so my doctor thought it best to take her early. We scheduled a Tuesday night and went out to Tia Helitas for the last good supper we would eat for a while. Claire and Leo were excited, as were my parents. In fact, everyone came up to the hospital around 8-9pm thinking after I was induced, she would arrive. My friends were even there watching my parents square dance. It was quite a party-until I had an allergic reaction to the antibiotics. I felt like ripping my hair out so then I received Benadryl and grew calmer. Afar a few hours everyone left and I was not getting anywhere soon. My water finally broke around 3 am, and then she arrived, “full of piss and vinegar,” my dad would say. She didn’t cry for a moment which terrified us all, but soon that shrill filled the room. Paul went over to talk to her and she immediately stopped crying. My mom will tell you it was quite a sight-a dad’s voice being recognized immediately. They share quite a special bond. She is Paul’s mini-me.

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This year she started Montessori school and has fallen in love with learning. Lately she has been coming home and teaching us sign language-she says she remembers it as a baby, too, then shows me the sign for “more.” Her teachers say she is the social butterfly and tends to play with the boys more than the girls in class. We hear about her special friend, Brooks, daily, as he is the name of every baby and stuffed animal on her bed. I cannot wait to meet this guy at her party!

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She has another special friend called Miss Carla. They’ve been inseparable since Pearl was almost 6 months old. Carla and Peal have tea parties, eat out to lunch, pretend, and enjoy doing art projects together. We have been so lucky to have Carla enter our lives when she did to care for Pearl.

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As a sibling, she loves doing what the older kids do, even if that gets her into trouble. She is mischievous but always asks for forgiveness after she realizes what she did wrong. Jumping on the trampoline is one of her favorite things to do with the big kids, but that ends in someone being upset or hurt, so bike riding has been her latest adventure in the neighborhood.

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When you ask Pearl what she wants to be when she grows up it she is definite and confident in her answer. “A fairy,” she states, putting her hand up as if to say stop, this is it, and I will become this creature no doubt about it. I am sure she will be a theatre major-her performances are outstanding! If you have not seen one, check our bay window-that’s her in the fairy wings, leprechaun headband, Frozen dress with wand, and ballet slippers. It’s likely she will be singing a self-written song about babies and school and animals. You should stop and listen if you have time or wave as you’re going by. Happy 4th Birthday, Pearl Marie!

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Leo is 9.

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Nine years ago my water finally broke and I still wasn’t contracting. I was livid with Genesys for not admitting me a few days prior, so I decided to be stubborn and take Claire to visit the Easter bunny with her grandparents like we had planned that Sunday morning. After all, my water wasn’t gushing out so it didn’t matter, right? After Claire cried in line about sitting with scary bunny, we decided to leave and eat at Applebee’s before I would not be allowed to eat at the hospital for some time. I still wasn’t contracting so a hearty lunch seemed like a smart idea. I texted Paul in Arizona and my parents that it would be awhile, then went to eat with my mother and father in law. We told the servers to make it a rush order, and my Fiesta Lime Chicken never tasted so good. On our way back to the house I made a couple of calls and got together sub plans with a friend, and only then did we race to the hospital. Still no contractions.

My parents met us there, my mom racing from a conference, and also my dear friend Wendy. It was all excitmen and eagerness for our baby to arrive until the nurse (she debuts as hairy mole rat in the book, Welcome Little Leo) yelled at me for prolonging the labor. I told her that he wasn’t ready or I would have started contracting plus I wanted a good meal before eating disgusting hospital food. She clucked her tongue at me and so began the pitocin. My water still hadn’t fully broke yet, so the resident broke my bag (apparently there are two layers) by hand without an warning and she became my new arch nemesis-meaner than hairy mole rat. Thankfully my primary nurse told everyone to leave the room and she would be in charge from now on. It was pretty smooth after that…my mom, mom in law, and bff all helped welcome little Leo into this world and he was surrounded with love from his sister and papa soon after. It was nothing short of amazing to say the least.

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If you have not been around this kid lately, he has gotten his own You Tube Channel this year where he opens up Pokemon packs LIVE and details what is inside. He plans on doing more behind the scenes stuff and even videoed me last week at school teaching…undercover…not sure his plans on that footage just yet. You can follow him at: Sojourner IV.

He has also become quite the Gamer. Lately he has been on a Destiny kick and really enjoys his new set up from Santa and Papa: a TV in his room with video gaming chair and headphones. Now we can use the television in the basement to watch movies, but we still hear him above us jumping around like he is in the video game himself. I am sure he is not too far from getting some Virtual Reality stuff to make his experience even more realistic.

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Leo also has become a big brother again…to another sister…he was bummed a first but is quite smitten with Isla. She is the first person he looks for each day to kiss good morning and his last kiss at night. He wants to hold her as much as possible but hasn’t changed a diaper yet…I am working on that venture!

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Reading is is favorite subject this year because well, no math wars in 3rd grade. He has really enjoyed the “I Survived” series by Laura Tarshis. His favorite is I Survived The Nazi Invasion. He cannot get enough of these books and still loves Pokemon and Minecraft Guide Books as well.

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His humor can get us all giggling and he loves Fail Videos on You Tube. He met with the Breakfast Club at Carman a few weeks ago and said, “Mom. I think I found my people.” They  are all artists and gamers and I think he is right. I told him to start a club with Tammy Trombley next year at Gates. She is going to love him.

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His chattiness is always something I usually love to listen to; mostly it is a solid reminder that I need to slow down and be patient! If you are around Leo, he is very much like his dad in that he explains everything in full detail. At dinner when we ask Leo about his favorite part of the day, he gives us his entire schedule from the moment he wakes until what he is eating for dinner (which we can plainly see) along with who said what at lunch and who was on yellow or purple at school. He is looking forward to becoming an engineer but I think he may talk too much for that profession…we’ll see.

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We are so fortunate that this guy is a part of our family. He is my favorite son. I tell him this so often he gets annoyed! I know I am grateful for his testosterone and hugs, his empathy and willingness to try new things, and most of all his love for his sisters. He protects them fiercely. Happy 9th birthday! I love you more than ice cream.

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Dear White Friends,

I’ll start with this: I am no expert on race or relations, but what I have to share is from researching historical systemic racism and must be put out there since I continue to read ignorance and see nonsense from you on a daily basis even though most of you think you are trying to help.

Here are some tips on how you can actually begin helping the problem instead of continuing to be a part of it.

1. Stop saying all lives matter. This is redundant. We know all lives matter but we aren’t showing it. What we do not see is any importance devoted to black lives. We continue to see black men (and women and children) killed and we use their name for a few days, and wouldn’t you know it, another name takes their place in a tumultuous cycle of pain, fear, and intolerance the very next day or week. What we need to understand is that by saying this and believing in it, we are taking away from a movement called Black Lives Matter that is extremely necessary and important for us to share. Us being people of white skin. So maybe those who need to hear the importance of this movement will actually listen because white people are listened to. They have been for centuries. Supporting this movement does not make you anti-police or anti-government, it makes you pro humanity. If you think supporting this movement makes you anti-cop, refer to tip #2.

2. Quit watching the videos and posting about how it makes you feel. Your feelings don’t matter to those who have been murdered in front of their families and friends. Your feelings don’t matter to most of your “friends” on social media either. Instead, post about how people can help. We all feel helpless and angry and distraught and scared after watching an execution from the comfort of our own homes. So do your research. Post what can be done if you feel the need to post. Share references and books and organizations with your followers.

Start with these books:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/16-books-about-race-that-every-white-person-should-read_us_565f37e8e4b08e945fedaf49

http://www.bustle.com/articles/144531-18-books-every-white-ally-should-read

Plus Arc of Justice, especially if you are from Michigan, and The Warmth of Other Suns!

These articles:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/12/24/dear-white-america/?_r=0

http://www.tolerance.org/article/racism-and-white-privilege

and the organizations listed here: http://www.heartsandminds.org/links/racelinks.htm#Anti%20Defamation%20League

This podcast: There Goes the Neighborhood (start with episode 1)

This play: “A Raisin in the Sun

This video: What is Systemic Racism?

These resources should be a good starting point for research.

3. Join a movement. Vigils and protests are happening all over the nation, so if you want to be active, don’t say, “I wish I could help.” Go help. Show up. Bring treats. If there is not anything happening in your hometown, organize a discussion at the local church or school or community center. Picking up the phone and asking to use a space and calling a few representatives may take you a day or so of planning, but will open the eyes of many and provide an outlet that people in your community are longing for.

4. Help the children in your community. If we do not start there, this cycle will continue. Volunteer at the YMCA, be a camp counselor, serve food at a shelter or church, become a Big Bro Big Sis, visit a summer camp and drop off books, better yet, volunteer to read. The more we are able to reach our young community, the better our future will become.

5. Get involved politically. There are low key options as well as more committed positions if you look. First of all, be an informed voter. And turn up at every vote-not just the “big” ones. Keep in mind that we also vote by choosing where we spend our dollars. Spend locally. Then check out our mass incarceration rates. Compare those to our literacy rates. See the correlation? Our Geneseee County Corrections Facility does not have a library. If you find that hard to believe, contact me and help me create one there this year as part of my graduate thesis. Become an advocate for equality by sharing information on social media instead of spouting feelings or regurgitating someone else’s tweet that you favorited earlier in the day. Get ahold of your state rep and see where he/she stands in terms of public transportation, housing, education, gun reform, and funding of jails. Take an informed stand but then you must take action.

6. Shut your racist friends up. It’s not worth debating with people who have no ground to stand on.

7. Video any policing you see with an African American. Know you rights and how theirs differ from yours.

8. Educate your children, but not just about asking the cop to see the radar gun as my dad taught me. They should know their rights as a driver and a citizen. They should also know what to do in case they are pulled over and it is a diverse group of friends. My students of color have to act differently than my white students when pulled over. Think on this then educate your family. If you do not know what white privilege is, you are naive and have experienced it your entire life and you are lucky. Know what it is NOT and share with your children so they are aware and empathetic and activists.

9. Have the tough conversations with your friends of other races but do not look to them as experts-they have no answers for the atrocities our world is facing.

10. Most important, be an ally or an accomplice or associate for the black community. Remember, you’re white, so people will listen to you without pulling a gun first.

Sincerely,

Your concerned friend Carrie

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Surrounded by Sisters

“Don’t ever lose your sense of imagination.”

I stopped pulling wallpaper in the other room and listened carefully to my 8yr old son speak to his 3yr old sister.

“I’m serious Pearl, don’t ever lose it because it is super important,” he continued.
At that moment, I felt hopeful, like my kid gets it. And he’s 8.

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Often we do lose our sense of wonder and creativity because we grow up and even though we want to stay forever young in Neverland, we are faced with challenges beyond our reach. Challenges that stop us in our tracks when we least expect them. Issues beyond our control that our parents cannot shield us from or help us with anymore.

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Leo has probably started figuring that out a little, and he was giving his sister a warning that it is tough…growing up is hard. He continues to laugh and play and run and be a nuisance to his older sister, but he also ask deep questions about death, and other kids’ lives, and watched a classmate lose his mom this spring. The adult stuff is coming, and I hope we protect him from it as long as possible.

But with technology in his hands, it is tough. He has an email address, and he is a gamer who plays games against his buddy in Ontario. We can only hope to allow him to continue to use his imagination when the world around him begs to bring reality closer and closer to the privacy of our homes.

My parents have told me time and time again, Insulate don’t isolate. When you isolate you cause bigger mischief, but if you keep your kids as safe as you can, and as knowledgeable as you can, they will have the power to choose to do what is right when faced with a world that feels like it is crumbling beneath them.
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Leo’s world crumbled a little bit last week. Now it wasn’t terrible news by any means-he didn’t lose his papa or break a bone or get a video game taken away. In fact, he gained a sibling. A sibling who will be a better person because he is such a fantastic big brother. A sibling who is our rainbow child even though the kids have no clue what we went through this fall. A sibling who will complete the Michigan Mattern family. A sibling who is…

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…another girl.

As many of you know and probably guessed, Leo was dying for a brother, but he took his gender reveal cupcake and bit into it and still put on a brave smile. And days later he was giving his youngest sister wise words that she will be sure to follow because they came from her best friend, her big brother. I hope he heeds his own advice and that you do too. Happy Independence Day from our family to yours!
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On Writing Dread

There are two questions that every writer is asked at every event they attend: how did you get published and where do you get your story ideas from? Today I’ll tackle the latter. Stephen King would agree with me that writers are always writing. Even when they’re not physically writing, it’s all happening in their heads and percolating like a strong cup of Joe. King also says in his book, On Writing, that novels come from two opposite ideas thrust together to form a really unique plot. Something different. Like pig’s blood and telepathy. This is my story of two opposite experiences that shaped how Dread came to be my latest novel.

I have a talented writing friend, Dan Waltz, and we communicate fairly often, usually when I am in the midst of some publishing crisis and I cry out to him for his knowledgeable saving graces. The other times we talk are when we think of writing ideas which come at all hours and in all forms. Let me start by giving you a glimpse of Dan though. He is a zombie fan, who has written a terrifying novel called Viral Bound. We actually met at the Flint Zombie Walk years ago where he was photographing the Walking Dead and I was one of the undead that afternoon. He’s also an artist whose vehicle truly supports his work. You will know what I mean when you see him driving his billboard on wheels around Grand Blanc. Back to Dread and Dan though. It was nearing Nanowrimo, the national contest where authors write a novel in the month of November, and I had no clue of what I would be writing, but Dan did. He sent me an article that helped create one of the timelines for Dread.

 
It was really interesting to us both and I told him, there’s a ghost story in there I could use. Little did I know it would become the foundation for the entire mystery. Immediately after reading as much as I could find on that article, and others like it, I started researching the legend of Cry Baby Bridge. I could not believe how much folklore existed, particularly in Southern States, about a local bridge where something tragic happened and you can either see or hear a baby if you go there late at night and turn off your headlights. It was spooky.

So I had a piece of my conflict from the article: madman runs out of woods and scares stoned teens, then beats their car with a baseball bat. I would use this storyline for a 1970s timeline and channel my parents. And I even had a setting with the creepy bridge, but according to Stephen King, I needed something opposite to add to the mix. This didn’t take much thought because I had an experience a few years prior that connected in sort of an odd way.

Flashback to my beautiful cousin Cierra turning 16 and hosting a Black and White Gatsby Gala in Fayetteville, Georgia at her home. My mom, two babies, and I went to surprise her. We stayed the weekend and one evening at dusk, we were sitting out back around a campfire. I looked over and noticed a metal fence two lots down that did not blend well with the Georgia colonial mansions that surrounded us.

“What’s that lot?” I asked my uncle.

“Next doo- ya mean?” he drawled in his now Southern but born New Yorker accent.

“No, no. Down a ways. That metal fencing,” I said.

“Oh. That’s the slave cemetery,” he replied.

“It’s haunted,” my aunt chimed in, telling us various stories of teens going through on golf carts at night to check it out. One time, wine drunk, she hid and scared the hell out of a few local senior tough guys.

“Want to check it out?” he asked.

“Hell yes,” I said and we tromped through some brush and then climbed the six foot fence into the graveyard which was gated shut.

What I saw changed me forever. Broken headstones. Weeds rising up around graves. Misspelled names on headstones. Graves marked with crosses only and no names. Haphazard rows and columns. Graves marked with the word, Baby. Later that night in bed I continued to research slave graves and cemeteries, particularly down South where there has been a revitalization of reforming the system so families can trace their ancestry and visit their loved ones’ tombs. Then awhile after, I placed it into my subconscious and left it there, grateful my family has a place where we can visit our loved ones.

That was it, I thought, after Dan sent me the article. I could merge the two somehow: the article and the slave cemetery. So began the second timeline for Dread which occurs in the late forties in a small southern city surrounded by woods. How would these stories intertwine aside from sharing the same setting years apart? Now that’s why you need to read the book. Coming soon.

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Want a Good Book to Read This Summer?

Each year I post a few book suggestions for the upcoming summer. This list is composed of something for everyone whether you are looking for inspiration, a thought provoking read, a “fun” read, or something that gives you pause. Here are the picks for 2016 in random order:

The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta

Set in what feels like Ann Arbor, Michigan, a college freshman has dissapeared. Not only that, she was last seen arguing outside a bar with a frat boy who had raped her months prior. This story follows the investigation and includes actual research from various cases plus statistics that will alarm any reader… “Boys who join fraternities are 300% more likely to commit rape than non-frat members…”. In light of recent cases such as Brock Turner, this book enlightens the legal side of many rape cases in America since Leotta is a former sex crimes DA from Washington, DC. It also begs the question: Is being a good girl worth it anymore? Albeit realistic fiction, it is a must read for anyone, but essentially necessary for students heading to college this fall and all parents.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

You don’t have to be a fan of Bourdain to enjoy this shocking memoir of food, fun, travel and addiction, but after reading, you will become one if you aren’t already. Bourdain’s brutally honest voice as a storyteller captures the reader early on with sentences like: “In the kitchen, they were like gods. They dressed like pirates: chef’s coats with the arms slashed off, blue jeans, ragged and faded headbands, gore-covered aprons, gold hoop earrings, wrist cuffs…”(22). The imagery is captivating, especially for someone who has worked in the food industry before. Basically the book chronicles Bourdain’s early years as a chef and follows his descent into addicition during the hazy ’80s of cocaine use and later, heroin. If you like non-fiction memoirs with snark, sarcasm, and increasingly shocking stories, this book is must!

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

This YA fiction recommendation actually comes from two students in my 6th hour English 11 class. They gave me this read and I was riveted. It only took me a few days to complete this book and return to them with a full discussion on our reactions to the plot. Niven clearly details an accurate portrayal of mental illness during adolescense combined with a whimsical relationship that is set in the quirky state of Indiana. This irony is what really sets the tone for the plot to move as gracefully as it does in a complete cycle. Lines like this will resonate with the reader even after the book is through: “The thing I realize is, that it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave” (Niven 156). The maturity and wisdom that both young protagonists enlighten the reader with is refreshing and not at all cliche’. Be warned though, you will shed a tear or two. It is that powerful of a read.

The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer

This is an oldie but a goodie from a teacher friend of mine who I share a first name with, although she spells hers a little funny. We must have shared this book with every teacher in Brown City when it first dropped in our hands twelve years ago. The protagonist, Carrie (no bias there!), is forced to make a moral decision early on in the book when her boyfriend, whom she is about to break up with, decides to jump off a pier and becomes paralyzed. This is the story of Carrie’s journey through a life altering decision and the pressures others put on her when they think they know what is best. It’s also the story of loving oneself and becoming selfless. I recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the Ann Packer, or stories that put you in a sitation where you, the reader, are forced to think “but this is what I would do.”

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisis Coates

I first heard Mr. Coates when I was listening to NPR, in fact, that is where many of my “To Read” book titles come from. At this point though, he headn’t written a book, he had written an article for The Atlantic. I promptly pulled in my driveway and sat reading the article. The next day, I copied it for my seniors to read at school. The premise is this: Coates is a black man, with a black son, and he does not want his son killed. Simple, right? Not in our world today. The article reads as a letter, as does his longer version here called Between the World and Me. Passages like this resonated with my students: “Shortly before you were born, I was pulled over by the PG County police, the same police that all the D.C. poets had warned me of. They approached on both sides of the car, shining their flashing lights through the windows. They took my identification and returned to the squad car. I sat there in terror….But these officers had my body, could do with my body whatever they pleased, and should I live to explain what they had done with it, this complaint would mean nothing. The officer returned. He handed me back my license. He gave no explanation for the stop” (76/77). This is essential reading for someone who needs a shift in perspective, longs for equality, and as Atticus Finch told Scout you’ll never get to know someone “until you climb in his skin and walk around in it” (Lee 85).

The Park Service Series by Ryan Winfield

I may have suggested this series a few summers ago, but here it is climbing back up to this summer’s list! It’s that good! If you are a reluctant reader, or have one in your home, this series is a good fit. The books are intense and short, full of imagery and suspense. It is a post-apocalyptic setting (but better than we’ve seen from Hunger Games and The Maze Runner series) with two male protagonists. One is from the new world and one from the old (resembling Brave New World a bit here). They encounter difficulties with trust and acclimation, as well as conflicts once they encounter the new version of the national “Park Service.” Fans of Winfield will love his take on YA literature (known for new adult works Jane’s Harmony and Jane’s Melody) as well as his quick response time to posted reviews and comments.

Lucky by Alice Sebold

Another older recommendation, but in light of the Brock Turner rape case, this memoir may be a necessary read for many. Sebold, better known for her novel, The Lovely Bones, was raped as a young college student. This is her poignant memoir. From first glance at the cover and title, one might not realize the content of the true story, but it is evident in line one as she writes: “In the tunnel where I was raped, a tunnel that was once an underground entry to an amphitheater, a place where actors burst forth from underneath the seats of a crowd, a girl had been murdered and dismembered. I was told this story by the police. In comparison, they said, I was lucky” (1). Sebold’s tone is often sarcastic and clever, yet also humorous and hopeful. It is an inspiring read for anyone who has been humiliated and torn apart by sexual assault but also beckons to those victims of any type of trauma with a powerful, redeeming message.

Detroit:An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

Another snarky famous white guy who follows the wit of Anthony Bourdain is former Pulitzer Prize reporter for the New York Times, Charlie LeDuff. But this book, well, let’s just say it’s quite different from a typical memoir. This book reads as an investigation to why Detroit has become the poorest big city in America, and follows LeDuff’s quest to find the truth behind the downfall of his hometown, all the while reminiscing about his childhood. What’s even better is that he runs into catalysts who are shaping a new version of Detroit and trying to reconcile what was once one of the most profitable cities in America. If you love Michigan and humor, this book is for you. My only criticism is that it left me wanting more…get writing some new stuff, LeDuff!

Promise Me by Harlan Coben

Would you want a friend of yours from high school picking up your senior daughter drunk from a party because she needed a ride? Would you blame him if he dropped her off at a friend’s house instead of yours later that night? Would you kill him if he did not tell you he did this and your daughter went missing? These questions begin the mystery, Promise Me, by Harlan Coben. A work buddy of mine suggested this as we trade books often (he just completed Detroit) and I could not put it down. I read it in a weekend, and then begged him for more of Coben’s books. The protagonist, Myron, is essentially a guy who does good for people, or at least tries to save people and usually ends up getting mixed in with more than he bargained for. You don’t have to read Coben’s series about Myron to check out any of his books though-I wasn’t lost or confused at all and I think this is book #13. I loved Myron’s best friend, right hand man and assassin, Win. He is absolutely who you want by your side any time you face conflict. Check this out if you are looking for adventure and mystery with a drop off romance to complete the plot.

My two books, To Read, this summer are:

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes</a>

Writing my Wrongs by Shaka Senghor

Both above books come highly recommended by Stephen King (Beukes) and my husband (Senghor) so I will spending time with each. Please comment on any of your suggestions, or feel free to provide feedback on my list. And as my friend, Kat, always says, “Read a good book and then share it with a friend!”

 

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Fiction as Reality: The World in Which We Live

I hosted a Socratic Circle a few years ago in class after reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World with Accelerated English 11 students. We were discussing the idea of utopia vs. dystopia, but I should step back a moment for non-educators. A Socratic Circle is a form of discussion for comprehending others’ viewpoints after reading or viewing or even listening to something. The students are to lead the discussion by asking and also answering their own questions in collaborative fashion. The teacher is supposed to monitor and not talk, participate, or redirect. You can imagine how some of these turn out…usually it takes five minutes for someone to even start the conversation, and it is quite difficult not to correct them or make harrowing facial expressions as one does when they hear odd opinions spouted as fact. Well, on this day, the Socratic actually started fine. The kids defined dystopia and pulled examples from the book and then one girl asked the group, “What would your utopia include?” Immediately the quietest boy in class answered, “Rape everyday.” No one said a word. We were stunned. My face, however, exploded in fiery red emotion. The kids looked at me, taking in my social cues, then looked back at him. They kept quiet. And then, I lost it. Socrates would not have been proud of me that day. I broke all the rules, but I just could not figure out how a junior boy would dare to think that rape is perfect for “his” utopian society, or even think that it was something to joke about if that was what he was trying to do. I was baffled. Later I reflected on his why. Why would a kid think that is ok? Why do people, even adults, still make excuses for males today who continue to assault and victimize?

And that’s the issue at hand. We know the story. We’ve heard it how many times? The question should be: what are we going to do about it? One of my students this year, a senior, had an answer. She created an awareness powerpoint and visited classrooms and even held a presentation in the media center. Her research was shocking, especially to many of the seniors who knew they would be headed off to college soon. Things like, “Fraternity members are 300% more likely to commit a rape than any other male student on campus,” really got them thinking. Me too.

Did I want my son joining a fraternity? What about a sport? Sports are similar to groups of frats-I spent a lot of time at the SVSU baseball house, so there’s that. Wouldn’t I raise my son differently than how boys are objectifying women today, or is it too imbedded in our culture, our media, our film, and music? That it’s ok to catcall and whistle at that lady in a short dress or high heels. Well, it wasn’t ok for Emmit Till. But that’s because he was a minority-on all accounts, right? Apparently it’s always ok for entitled white males with money and prestige. You see, this isn’t a female issue; it is a problem among men who desire power who have not been taught that women are equal beings. It’s an issue of assault and struggle and pain. We keep lambasting our girls about tempting men with tank tops and short shorts, but how about we do something in terms of teaching young men appropriate discourse? Manners? The difference between a drunk murmur and consent? Perspective.

A close male friend of mine informed me that he is beginning to understand the female perspective by listening to Anna Kasparian discuss issues on an indie news station, The Young Turks. He is in his late forties. He is from an average midwestern American home. But he didn’t realize how soceity has shaped his unequal perception of women until he heard it from a news anchor. Think on that a moment.

My worried eleven year old shouldn’t have to take an additional pair of Bermuda shorts to school just in case her shorts are deemed too short by a teacher or principal. It is her body-her rules, but society keeps telling our women otherwise by continuously allowing men who have prestige and power to dominate women, and now our school-aged children fear the wrath of male scrutiny about their bodies.

What are college campuses telling our young men? And women? I just finished reading a book of fiction called The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in domestic violence, sex crimes, and crimes against children. I recommend it to everyone. It follows the “story” of a college freshman heading to her first on campus party, set in what feels like Ann Arbor, MI. The story is the one we all know too well, but what the author delves into is the legal aspects of the case. Perhaps what we all should be researching more of… Why entitlement is so rampant in the system and why so many young white males get away with assaulting and raping young women just like the recent story of the Stanford swimmer. Now while I know The Last Good Girl is fiction, research and statistics are scattered throughout the text allowing the reader an escape into a story, but reminding them of the truth: it happens daily on every college campus and we are not doing enough about it. In fact, even in the title, it begs women to think differently. Is being a “good” girl according to societal standards really worth it?

1 in 5 women heading to college this fall will be assaulted. That means 12 of my female seniors who just graduated will face this tragic moment that redefines their lives and identities in the next few months, probably during “Red Week” which is the week right before classes begin, commonly known as Orientation. Please arm your soon to be freshmen or friends’ kids with knowledge and safety precautions. Allow them to speak on this matter. Encourage them to use their voices.

I urge you to further your research and use your voice. Too many female voices are silenced each day due to humility, shame, fear, and frustration. We need to talk about this in an honest way with every gender and at all levels of socioeconomic status.

Start by reading and then sharing:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.qkPzq3b6AG#.nuZw7PvqNO

https://www.notalone.gov/data/

http://ope.ed.gov/campussafety/#/

http://www.aauw.org/resource/campus-sexual-assault-tool-kit/

http://www.someecards.com/love/reminders/poster-explains-how-to-not-rape/

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Happy Birthday, Baby!

I am stealing this tradition from a friend of mine over at http://thatswhyiloveyou-amie.blogspot.com. She’s also the magnificent running momma of my daughter’s best friend, Emerson. In lieu of Claire’s birthday, I thought I’d update the blog. Plus I have loads of grading to do and well, you can imagine how that’s going.

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This year Claire turned 11. El-ev-en! My baby. The lady who made me a momma. And she had a pool party with her closest friends, boys included. It was the easiest party I’ve ever planned, and one of the most fun to be a part of.

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But this year hasn’t been the most fun. Mom has had to work on her patience as Claire is beginning to grow into a young woman. Often she reminds me of Daria from the late 90’s animation by the same name. She really has this retro look down lately too. Fashion is something she is inspired by, and her choices to cut a shirt, or to wear combat boots with a dress are really fun, and brave. I try not to comment and just be proud of her independent decisions, but I also want to protect her still. It’s a fine balancing act.

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Like Daria, Claire is an introvert who loves reading. Her favorite reads this year included a few of my favorites too: Wonder (for the 4th time), The Giver, Bridge to Terabithia, and the Young Traveler’s Journal. She said the society in The Giver was stupid and with stupid rules and that we should allow kids to vote at age 11.

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You can see she’s gotten super political. Free Amir was a campaign that she got behind after reading his story. She made signs for our windows and they hung until he was freed.There has been a letter to Donald Trump this year, and President Obama. She threatened to bash Governor Snyder when she was interviewed for her Support Flint Blueberry Project on ABC 12, but we tried to convey that it was supposed to be a positive message about her fundraising for the children of Flint and not a political pulpit, although deep down part of me wishes she would’ve disobeyed on that one. She also is a Bernie supporter: wearing his pins, stickers, and shirts at least once a week to quite a conservative school district. Needless to say, we are proud of her, and her activism. She raised over $2500 for the Child Health and Development Fund started by Dr. Mona. But mostly we’re proud of figuring out her voice and beginning to use it…even if mom and dad disagree with some of her ideas, comments, or views.

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She is an amazing older sibling who is beginning to show the wear and tear that one does when puberty arrives. Her patience is waning but she still allows Leo to watch Saved by the Bell cuddled up next to her, and she still will sit with Pearl and have tea. The three of them also love bouncing on their new trampoline together, and swimming. There is always swimming.

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She swam with Carman’s varsity boys all winter, and one freshman thought she was on the team. Now he wasn’t the smartest, but she is pretty quick. She even challenged him to a race and was only a few strokes behind him. But he was disqualified on his start, so we took it as a legit win. The boys were helpful in teaching her to perfect her flip turns, and also how to get a better start. They tried working with her butterfly, but that stroke is just really hard. She begins practice with DAC Monday and is looking forward to competing again this summer.

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This summer. She wants to be up north and at the farm (Emerson’s house) as much as possible. I am sad that my baby is leaving my side, but I know she will return one day. This momma must be supportive and positive, and not take it personal. Growing up is hard-especially at 11. If we, as parents, could stress anything it’s that we want her to continue exploring who she is and what she stands for, and always use her voice. It’s taken a few years for her to find it, and with the help of a pretty phenomenal Mrs. Trombly and continued encouragement from mom and dad, she is starting to speak loudly and clearly. Let’s just hope others pay attention or they might feel the wrath of Daria (sighs).

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“Your Milk is Dancing Today, Momma”

I don’t recall a lot about my first few years as a mother-and that’s typical I think. Days are a sleepy blur and getting a shower was what I referred to as a good day. I was not educated about motherhood as much I was learning as I went, and that is something I am forever grateful for with my first child. She taught me so much. I am not sure she will ever understand the education she gave me. And the eternal unconditional love for all the mistakes I made.
There was a time where I was scared to nurse in public; we had just gotten our first haircuts as new parents and took our friend Charles out to a Mexican restaurant as payment for our beautiful new do’s. My baby was getting fussy so I learned real quick  what that meant. “Excuse me guys,” I said, snagging one more tortilla chip loaded with guac as I took her from the table. Here she was, a newborn, and I was making her leave the table where we were all eating. We went to the bathroom instead.
I remember the tile. It was a clay color with bright orange and greens and yellow Spanish designs that were beautiful and intricate, but there was also the smell. A rank stench that the bathroom had not been cleaned in a few hours after various patrons ate too much spice and had to use it.
There was also the discomfort. How do I hold her and sit without getting anything wet, including her blanket?
And the guilt.
I am feeding my child in a stall.
Like an animal.
At the time, I did not think much of this, naive and young and wanting to be perfect, and not attract attention, but what a disservice to my child. As I grew, she taught me. Her brother came along a few years later, and he and I had nursing experiences together. He nursed so hard and heavy that I couldn’t keep up which was a new problem for me. I learned to drink more fluids and eat food rich in nutrients to help my supply increase. And to also pump more often, as tough as it was.
We nursed more openly.
With my third baby, and longest nurser, I was more confident and prepared. Both my previous babies educated me that mom needs to take care of herself first so she can take care of us. My third child reaped the knowledge of her siblings. She was able to nurse close to three years. And she told me one day that “my milk was dancing,” and I laughed and said, “it’s dancing with you.” That’s when I knew I had to thank my oldest babies for this bond. Without listening to their needs, and learning from them, my youngest would not have been able to experience the openness I had with nursing on demand any where she needed, at any time she wanted. I received very few looks and only one real issue, but most people don’t even realize when it is happening.

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I think people tend to be concerned with things they cannot control, and they are also scared of asking questions, so they make judgements. If you find yourself in a situation with a question, I am sure that any mom will gladly answer. Most of us, who are blessed to be able to nurse, just want others to know that we are doing what we feel is natural and right for our children. No matter the location, situation, or age, our babies are growing and need nourishment, and as long as we can provide that, we will.

No human should be fed in a stall, and everyone who is able, should enjoy an eating experience where their milk dances.

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