“She Is Worth The Risk”

This is someone whose initial hesitations changed into the title statement of this post. She is a professional photographer who took pictures of our mutual friend’s wedding. I have her black and white of my younger son (who was the ring boy) framed on our staircase wall. She is also a loving foster mom. She has mothered a handful of children who have given her many invaluable gifts. One of these gifts is an awareness to racism that led to this powerful picture and these heartfelt words.

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I’ve debated on whether or not I wanted to post this because I know there will be some people ready to come at me with negative comments, but I’m going to post it because this little girl matters. I know, I know, every little girl matters, but she is the first little girl I’ve ever had in my life that might not have the same opportunities I had growing up, simply because of the color of her skin. I know, I know you want to tell me that if she works hard, there is no reason she can’t have all I’ve had. I wish that was true, but we live in a society where racism is alive and well, and white privilege is something that is so ingrained in us we don’t even see it or realize we have it. Not to say she won’t be successful in life, but she will have to work harder than I did. I do everything I can to protect her and sometimes I might be too sensitive or overprotective, but racism is new to me. It’s something I never had to think about before and the idea of “Princess” ever having to experience it breaks my heart. We can deny that it is a problem or say things like “I don’t see color” or “if we don’t talk about it, it will go away” but that isn’t going to change anything. If we could all just admit it’s a problem and there is something called white privilege we could move forward together. If you are still doubting that racism is a problem, I found this video super informative and very eye opening. Please take a minute to watch it:

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Polly’s Run 2015

Last weekend the boys and I participated in Polly’s Run, the Albuquerque race to cure pancreatic cancer. As far as running goes, I had been battling with recurring lower back pains and had reduced my frequency and distance for the past month. The day before I woke up with a sore throat that was starting to bring a little extra mucous. My boys were doing the kids K, and as usual their hard-core training was one afternoon of running around the couch a few times. ;)

My Polly's Run crew!

My Polly’s Run crew!

Maybe we were not in peak physical condition, but we were more than ready for this particular race. What we lacked in pace or stamina, we made up for in heart. We were running this race for our dear friend, Grace, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 2014. She has put a personal face to this aggressive disease. We wanted to raise awareness and help fund needed research to give hope and encouragement for her, her family, and all who have been affected. From the start, it has been a family affair. We had already been praying for her daily. The boys and I checked our fund-raising page regularly. Each of us contributed even from our kid-sized piggy banks. We each decorated blank bibs to wear why we were running.

We ran in honor of Ms. Grace.

We ran in honor of Ms. Grace.

Like all races and running in general, it was physically hard for me. It was not easy for the boys either. But we made it. It was not my personal best time, but it was THE best time. There were over a couple hundred folks running and walking for the cause. Some had personalized T-shirts identifying them as “Team Richard” or the encouragement to “Never stop fighting.” I noticed a father and daughter running together for their brother/uncle. It made me think of all the stories behind each participant. When one of Polly’s sons thanked the crowd prior to the start, the tears rolled down my face as soon as his voice cracked with emotion. As a mother of boys, I wanted to tell them how proud Polly is of the continuing work they do in her memory. I think they know; I am sure she tells them in her own way.

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The kids are off!

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I was amazed that Ethan ran the whole thing!

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Connor crossed the finish line just behind his bro.

I believe in a good God. I believe He answers prayers. I believe He is trustworthy. I believe His love knows no bounds and His power has no limits. Yet, the biggest struggle I have had in understanding Him lately is how His perfect will allows for my 35-year-old friend to be diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. How He allows for her to experience the most harrowing forms of treatment that beats her up physically. How He allows for the most devastating of thoughts to slay her emotionally. (Why should she have to worry that her 2-year-old son may not remember her? She should not.) How He allows for her to journey to the darkest places spiritually. I know all the “right” answers. I just cannot always reconcile them to my hurting heart. This hurt never leaves me. Sometimes when I am singing songs in church, it keeps me from blindly echoing words on a screen. I cannot simply go through the motions. It brings hesitation because it produces the recurring “but…but…but…” in the midst of words I usually sing with immovable faith.

Just as ever-present as these struggles of existentialism is thankfully the constant proof of the goodness of humanity that I personally believe reflects the true nature of God. How else could we survive in this sometimes painful and often irrational world? All the things that counter those evils keep us going. It provides the belief for my unbelief. For this instance, it was the team of people who donated to our fund. Some were mutual friends of Grace and mine. Some were friends of ours who never met Grace. Some were friends of hers who never met me. Some were complete strangers to us both. However, they generously and graciously gave. They cheered us on in our efforts. Team Grace became the biggest fund-raiser for the race with a grand total of $2,250, and most significantly it gave our friend Grace some precious hope in her difficult fight.

For our fund-raising efforts, we were presented with a beautiful quilt honoring those affected by pancreatic cancer and the hope for a cure.

For our fund-raising efforts, we were presented with a beautiful quilt honoring those affected by pancreatic cancer and the hope for a cure.

Hard things will always happen; goodness will help get us through them. While we cannot always reconcile the truly difficult, we can always take an active part in bringing the redemptive good. Thanks to all who donated and to all who are doing their own acts of goodness every day in their particular parts of the world. You give us all hope, strength, and belief in the power of Love winning.

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Have You Hugged a Teacher Today?

The end of the school year is the time when teachers are filled with uncontainable joy. We parents know how they feel because despite loving our offspring like nobody’s business we are pouring mimosas and skipping out of the school parking lot 3 months later at the start of another academic year. We don’t blame them for their Cheshire grins. We know they have worked hard for 9 months teaching our children, grading papers, checking homework, staying late to write lesson plans, coming up with creative ways to engage our kids, and instilling social-emotional health in our little citizens.

Sadly, the end of this year for New Mexico teachers coincided with the receipt of their evaluations. Not even the start of summer could produce the usual happy dance. Instead their slumped shoulders were weary from a year of over-testing and then being told that despite living out their passion to educate young minds that they were deemed “minimally effective” by an error-filled system. We chose our particular school because of its high ratings and sound reputation. We know that the vast majority of teachers at our school are highly effective. We have seen our children learning and have learned from them ourselves. We have no doubt that we leave our kids in capable hands every day from mid-August to the end of May. To be honest, if they were truly minimally effective, we would NOT be sending our kids there.

The current evaluation system that teachers are subjected to is inaccurate and unfair. From our school alone, a teacher who received high marks from classroom observations by her administrator and has a great reputation among parents for her skillful teaching, caring heart, and experienced organization was given a minimally effective rating. For her, it was because 50% of the evaluation is based on student achievement which is largely dependent on high-stakes testing and a hodgepodge formula that leaves more confusion than clear understanding. Despite having students who were reading several grade-levels higher than expected, her poor rating will endanger her license renewal if she is unable to show growth. The difficulty with showing growth in a high-performing school like ours is obvious. Just because the test scores do not show this change does not mean that she was not effective in teaching especially considering her students are performing well above average.

Another teacher in our school had to have surgery which she purposely planned near a school break as to miss as little teaching time as possible. However, because she still had to take some of the sick days she is rightfully granted in her contract, her rating dropped from highly effective to just effective. Although she knows the unjust reason for the reduction in her rating, she cannot help but feel demoralized in not officially achieving the standards she sets for herself as a teacher. Does this not violate an employee’s right to use a sick day when needed, employment lawyers? It can’t be right.

These were only a couple of the examples from our school that had many more similar ridiculous stories that left me feeling so badly for our hard-working teachers. Then I attended a town hall meeting and heard these stories and more were common across the entire Albuquerque Public School district from kindergarten to high school. There were countless examples of frustrated and devastated educators from every type of school existing in our area. It was almost comical at times to hear how absurd these stories were. It is obvious the evaluation system is highly flawed and needs to change. Already we have lost highly skilled educators (our school lost an awesome teacher I wish my younger son might have had the chance to have next year), and we are in danger of losing more. This will drastically affect the quality of education for our children. APS is already experiencing a teacher shortage and with existing teachers feeling unsupported and under attack, the future could be very bleak unless things change.

Change happens when action is taken. Here are 3 steps you can take to help support our teachers:

1) Sign a petition by clicking here. The teachers have filed a lawsuit against the New Mexico Public Education Department (PED) who is responsible for establishing this current evaluation system. The PED and Secretary Hanna Skandera have requested the case be dismissed. The petition is simply asking the judge to hear the teachers’ case out and not immediately dismiss it. He will be making this decision on June 17th so all signatures need to be in place before then. It takes less than 60 seconds to read and sign. Then share it with everyone and anyone. You don’t have to be a teacher or a parent to sign. Any concerned member of the community who cares about public education can.

2) Write letters stating your support of our educators and concern regarding the evaluation system’s inaccuracy. If you need more stories and points, talk to your teachers. They will have plenty. Send these letters to your legislators. If you are not sure who they are, look it up easily here in 2 seconds: NM Legislator Lookup. It only takes 10 letters from constituents on one topic for it to stand out dramatically. You can also send these letters to your local Board of Education and the editor of your paper. Most of all, send them to the PED who has the immediate power to change this system:
Secretary Hanna Skandera
New Mexico Public Education Department
300 Don Gaspar
Santa Fe, NM 87501

3) Share all of this to educate the community. Post it on social media. Join a group in support of your teachers such as the newly formed Concerned for Public Education group here in Albuquerque. You can request to be on their list serve by emailing concernedforpubliced@gmail.com.

Lastly, hug your teachers. They might really need it right now.

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Behind the Social Media Post

Today I posted on Instagram and Facebook this picture and caption:

Beautiful morning for a hike in the foothills

“Beautiful morning for a hike in the foothills”

It captures the beauty of the mountains and skies. It shows Ethan trying to make a silly pose and Connor smiling sweetly. It tells of a morning spent enjoying nature and getting many steps on the pedometer. Ahh, how wonderful. It qualifies for a “life is good” post.

If I left it at that, I would be guilty of Facebook Fraud. Truth be told, my older son was complaining about being forced to hike today. About 30 seconds after I took this picture, he went on to say how tired he already was and that he wanted to go back. I had had high hopes for this hike and brought 2 large bottles of iced water. I dropped one right away, and it lay lodged underneath the car so far in the center that it was well beyond reach. One bottle it is! With boys begging to turn around every minute, only one bottle was needed anyway.

It felt like we had barely started when Connor asked if it was time to stop and eat a snack.  After warding snack time off for as long as possible, I finally relented and we sat and ate, but not before Connor in his excitement to devour his raspberry fig bar tripped and fell. He surface-scraped his knee, but one might have thought he was in danger of bleeding out the way he carried on about the site of red on his skin. At least Ethan was genuinely happy since he was finally getting the rest he had been asking for the last (when did we leave the car?) 10 minutes straight.

The (not so) long-awaited snack time

The (not so) long-awaited snack time

At some points they were holding my hand not in an act of motherly affection but to try to get me to pull them along the trail which only made my feel like an ox of the early settlers. I lost count of the times I was asked, “How much longer?” I was running out of distracting tidbits like “Look at that rock!” or “Hey, another cactus!” One of my tidbits (“Look at this little anthill!”) was a little too successful. They not only looked, but they squatted and set up camp for so long that I could have walked 4 miles to the peak and back and surely found them still there. The only way I got them to move was to wave the white flag of surrender and agree to turn around at that point. Immediately they severed all attachments to the ant colony and jumped up to head back with glee.

Paralyzed by the excitement of an anthill

Paralyzed by the excitement of an anthill

There was so much glee that my younger one ran. Ethan (who would rather do a million other things than run, or hike apparently) and I were looking at bees pollinate a cactus flower. Sometime during that observation, Connor must have bitten the dust yet again. We heard his shrieks of despair shortly after we snapped this picture.

Cactus flowers with bees inside

Cactus flowers with bees inside

This time there was more than one surface-scrape, and he was crying hard. He had a full glob of gooey snot the size of his fist hanging out of his nose. I know the size because that fist knocked it off his nose and onto his T-shirt. Even the beauty of cactus flowers cannot erase that gross image from my mind. We hobbled back to the car, retrieved the dropped bottle after backing out, and went home making the $1 parking fee NOT the deal of the century had we been there for a 2-water bottle hike, but instead akin to the exorbitant cost of a brief 2-boy hike time in downtown Chicago.

In reality, all they really want to do is play Minecraft on the Xbox.

Their hour of pure bliss today

Their hour of pure bliss today

The full picture behind the post picture includes all these mishaps and not so pleasantries. We reveal what we choose when we post on social media. Like most things, there is so much more behind each one. This does not mean that life isn’t good. The boys and I saw dragons and elephants in the clouds of blue skies. We saw an unusual lizard; Ethan dropped some knowledge that it was probably a collared lizard who had grown immunity to rattlesnake venom. Thanks to a mom-speech about living things, they were actually cheering on the busy ants instead of destroying the hill as they confessed they had done in the past. Even though there is little that can compete with Minecraft, a morning hike in the foothills is definitely worth the pain and torture they make it out to be. Ahh, life IS good.

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The Becketts’ Pandora Commercial

If you have not seen the Pandora commercial making its advertising agency proud with every Facebook share, grab a tissue and watch it here:

I admit that I felt the tear ducts activate a little while watching it. Anytime there is moving music with children and their parents (even if the ad is selling tampons) I will probably tear up a little. I also admit that the big skeptic in me wondered how many takes they had to do and did all those kids REALLY know their mom. I also admit wondering would my two boys be able to pass that test or would we be the embarrassed ones cut out of the whole sequence once they chose a total stranger instead of me.

Then I came to my senses and realized that without a doubt in the world, my blindfolded boys would know unequivocally that I was indeed their mommy dearest even if there was double the line up of (very attractive–all those moms and kids were cut from a catalog and not just any catalog but the J.Crew one) women.

First they would follow the scent of the un-showered mom. How do I celebrate Earth Day all year around? By not showering every freaking day. How’s that for water conservation? It is not just those days my hair is in a pony tail and under a hat (which ironically is today even though I DID splurge on a shower but I HAD to wear my Connor’s Blackhawks cap to celebrate their triple overtime win last night). Even if I looked ready to go out on a hot date with my husband, there is no guarantee that I cleaned myself that day.

After their noses led them reliably to me, their little hands would reach out and feel my dry, cracked hands for confirmation. They would know that no matter how much lotion I apply multiple times a day white flakes of dehydration cover my paws more elaborately than the most skilled Henna application. I try to drink cupfuls of water each day, but the dry Southwest and my daily coffee and wine intake are formidable opponents to soft, supple skin.

After my leathery limbs cued them in to linger, I would kneel down to their level. They would reach out and feel the lack of deeply set eye folds and know right away that these small openings belonged to their mom, who would then be the only Asian in that line-up. It’s ok that Pandora did not have any women of color. We don’t like charm bracelets anyways.

Lastly, the final kicker that would have them flinging off their blindfolds confident that they had landed the right lady would be the damp circles under my armpits. You guys, I have a serious problem. TMI, I know, but when have I skirted from the truth? I like to exaggerate it but never run from it. You may suggest that were I to shower regularly my problem would be solved, but alas, you would be wrong. Even on freshly showered days, it happens. Despite using the strongest deodorant I know (not Secret or Dove, but the more industrial-sounding Mitchum), it happens. Even when my body is cold so that my fingers are icicles, it happens. It is so embarrassing. I do not know what to do about it except be comforted that were my boys to be put on the spot and pressured to pick their mom from a line-up blindfolded it would lead them shamefully to the right woman with the sweaty armpits. And that right there is why they could not be blamed were they to wrongly pick a total stranger on purpose. Who wouldn’t want to pick a J.Crew model with dry armpits and soft hands?

Come to think of it, they would be confused from the get go. The required silence for the experiment would throw them. Their ears would be listening for the sweet, sweet sound of my nagging and the daily yelling I vow not to engage in but chronically fall into as I prompt them for every portion of their day: “Get up! Eat breakfast! Pack up your stuff! Don’t forget your lunch! Buckle up! Stop fighting! Be nice! Stop whining! Hurry up! Do your homework! Practice your piano! Chew with your mouth closed! Fix your attitude! Go shower (not every day, can’t be that hypocritical)! Get your PJ’s on! Read a book! Go to bed!” My boys would start this commercial just standing there savoring the silence. They would probably not move for longer than a Blackhawks’ playoff game to luxuriate in the absence of my barking.

Even with all these (maybe exaggerated) truths, my boys do love me…I think. I am their mama, unique in that God chose me for them and them for me. The best gift they can give me is not expensive jewelry but dry, never sweaty armpits. In all seriousness, they ARE my best gifts and I would not trade them for the driest armpits in the world.

Go, Blackhawks!

Go, Blackhawks!

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This Is Thriller Night

This evening was a thriller for me. For the first time in my life, I was in possession of a dangerous weapon. I probably should have waited to handle it when my husband was home in case I needed someone to drive me to the nearest emergency room. After all, I am fully capable of injuring myself with even the most benign objects. I had done so twice in the past two days.

Yesterday I noticed that my cotton T-shirt was looking quite wrinkled. It was freshly washed and hung but still managed to look like a Shar Pei, only not cute and a poor reflection of my domestic priorities. Every dress shirt Mike owns is a non-iron shirt for a reason; I do not like to iron. I was definitely not going to book a rendezvous with that darned contraption for just a cotton T-shirt. However, as I had done in the past when facing a similar dilemma, I thought I could simply expand my curling iron’s duties. After fixing my hair, I grabbed the grossly wrinkled v-neck for its first ever hair-styling adventure. Before I could think about how cleverly MacGuyver-ish I was being, I felt real pain from my neck. I managed to scorch my skin. Obviously, millions of people out there can totally relate to me. We have ALL burned our necks ironing our shirts on our bodies with our curling irons, right? No? Well, I must be in the elite league of dorks. That day, despite the temperatures reaching into the sunny mid-70’s, I had a lovely scarf tied tightly around my neck to hide what looked like a hickey gone wrong. I may have been sweating all afternoon from my overheated neck. Not only was I extra sweaty, but my shirt was still wrinkled.

Today I was dutifully applying sunscreen in preparation for a run outside. This is not normally known to be risky behavior. In fact, my young children manage to conquer this feat unharmed on a regular basis. They may have residual white marks finger painted all over their bodies, but they do not draw blood. While liberally applying broad spectrum protection on my arms, I again felt pain. Somehow my right hand had scratched my left arm skin that I found under my fingernail. My arms may be safe from skin cancer, but what will protect them from my own claws? The flesh wound (“It’s only a flesh wound!”) looked like many of the canyons I see in the Southwest. (I may be prone to slight exaggeration, but in truth that is what came to mind.) Now to complement my neck hickey, I had what looked like needle tracks on my inner arm. How badly would it look to wear a scarf around my forearm? Would I rather have my fashion sense questioned or be suspected of IV drug use?

Tonight’s thriller involved a friend’s gun she let me borrow. It was small, but still knowing my recent self-inflicted injuries, I was slightly anxious about using it for the first time. As if to accentuate how out of my element I was with this, it was a pink gun covered in animal print tape. Did I mention it was a hot glue gun? You may think the descriptive of “glue” makes is totally innocuous, but not in the hands of someone who has never stepped inside a Hobby Lobby or created a Pinterest account. Having two boys, the only other pink thing I saw today was my newly exposed skin in my baby canyon on my arm. I am more used to being told that one brother farted on the pillow and then told the other brother to smell it. Yet like most hip and happening, wild and crazy party animals, I was dedicating a portion of my Saturday night to making photo booth props for the upcoming school book fair. In my desperate Google searches, I read somewhere a recommendation for this foreign object called a glue gun. Luckily my book fair co-hort is very creative and resourcefully crafty. When I asked if she happened to have said object, she not only had it but offered one of many. I am so glad I got the pink, animal print one. It heightened the excitement of my weekend.

Thankfully I successfully made the props without anything remotely close to bodily harm. At one point while the boys watched their mom, I wondered if they would be reliable enough to call 911 were I to cover myself with hot glue. They might think, ‘Mom, if we can trick each other into smelling our own farts, we are genius enough to dial 3 numbers.’ I am glad we did not need to test that theory. While crafting with a hot glue gun should be considered high-risk behavior in my book, the only things to join sky-diving and bungee-jumping this weekend were curling irons and sunscreen application.

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Flag Rant

Today was the 2nd time I saw this big pick-up truck driving around town with these HUGE flags flying from each side of it. They flowed like massive banners alongside the back bed. One was an American flag. I am all for that. Go, America! The other, however, was a Confederate battle flag.

Really? Still? In Albuquerque? To me, it’s like saying, “We sure miss those good old days of slavery. We were willing to make a whole new nation so that we could continue dehumanizing others for free labor and make ourselves wealthy off the whipped blood, forced sweat, & agonizing tears of people we felt we had the right to own. But gosh, darn it, we lost. Oh, well, we can still take pride in what we TRIED to do.” Perhaps I lived too long in Chicago because I did not think people still boldly flew that flag in public, maybe in their SAE frat house, but you know, hidden, like most racism is these days. So for someone to boldly fly it around town all the time…it makes me want to keep my cell phone video handy in case a chant starts.

I do not buy the southern heritage pride argument. How many Germans go around flying huge swastika flags out of German pride? They don’t say, “Oh, it’s just to remember how powerful we were then and how we almost took over all of Europe but not at all about the anti-Semitic, racist, 11 million plus people murdered thing.” They choose to leave it in the past because of its shameful associations regardless of anything remotely positive connected. (Is there anything remotely positive about it?) They concentrate on something else to take pride in like Volkswagen’s or BMW’s. So instead of using a symbol rooted in racism, can you just focus on something less shameful for your southern pride, like cheesy grits or cowboy boots? I would proudly boast of delectable shrimp-n-grits or handcrafted footwear, but never the Confederate battle flag that was especially resurrected in more modern times when segregation was being challenged.

You may not think you are racist because you proudly display the Confederate flag. You may not be. Those 2 frat boys also did not think they were racist, but suddenly they find themselves chanting the n-word complete with lynching references. Just don’t play; put it away. It may not be as flagrant as a frat boy on a bus, but it still means something more than you think. That something is more horrible than whatever good you think you are honoring.

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