Ode to King, Woe to me.

“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today I’m having a hard time. Maybe it’s because I woke up to three wet beds, a kid with a fever, and one who couldn’t make a good choice for the life of himself. Or, maybe it’s because the one with the fever caused a reshuffling in my creative mom plan to celebrate MLK and to teach my kids about diversity and instead has kept us at home, indoors. Maybe it’s because I’m tired from a long weekend and it’s day 4 of solo-parenting, and because we’ve already had some pretty epic adventures this weekend.

But maybe it’s also because I have a hard time celebrating this day of “equality” when I still see so much inequality, hate, racism, ignorance, all around me. Maybe it’s because I feel like the “celebration” of this day, by a lot of us, is more of a pat on the back, a “look how far we’ve come”, “we are so glad that’s not an issue any more” kind of a thing. Maybe it’s because words, without action to go with them, frustrate the heck out of me.

Not too long ago I had a conversation with my 7-year-old daughter along these lines, which I think put some words to this frustration I feel. She was learning in school about Martin Luther King Jr. and about the civil rights movement. She learned about some of the great laws that were passed for equality in voting, in public places, in schools, etc. She was dumfounded by the fact that laws even needed to be made in order for people to have equal rights, but she was glad that they were in place, and that equality was mandated. But there have been a few things in her little life so far that have allowed her to see that despite the laws, everyone is still not treated equally, and this caused her great heart ache (and still does!). To her, the law is a good starting point (like MLK himself said, “(the) law can keep (a man) from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important”), but what she longs for is love*. And this is the important work that is still before us, the great divide between equality on paper and true equality.

So, YES, to good law for equality and for the protection and value of all people (we still have some work to do here, too!). But please, good brothers and sisters, let’s not just stop there. And let’s not just rest on the work of government and legislation and think we have arrived (or that we will through that avenue). We, the people, have our own guilt in this, and our own part that we play.

Which has me thinking: maybe the best way to celebrate Mr. King’s work is not to talk about how great he was and how far we’ve come, but to take a look at our own selves in the mirror. Where are we extending love and crossing boundaries of race? Where are we speaking out for those around us whose voice is diminished or silenced all together? Are we oblivious to the fact that there are people around us who are experiencing that reality still today? I can tell you it happens. I’ll tell you stories of my black friends in Newport Beach who are nervous to drive at night because they get pulled over by the cops for “suspicious” activity. I’ll tell you stories of my Hispanic friends, who are ostracized on their campuses and in places of local business that most of us can step into and receive quality attentive service, no problem. It happens. And unfortunately, our silence and blindness perpetuates it. Inaction and silence is compliance with oppression and so we had better figure out, friends, how to get ourselves involved in a fight that is still very real and very close to home.

So, here’s to a day of critical thinking and hard-question-asking, not just a day to celebrate our arrival at somewhere that we still are a long ways off from. Progress, yes**. Arrival, no. And now, this plea from Mr. King himself: “I want to be the white man’s brother, not his brother-in-law.” #mayitbeso

 

*This 7-year-old daughter of mine, in her desire to show her love for her black brother and sister, and her desire to see a different world for them to grow up in (no joke!) has requested to have a “Black Lives Matter shirt.” She will be the whitest, blondest kid to wear one, I think. And it’s going to make some people wonder about what she really knows or cares about all of this, but it’s her authentic expression, and I’m proud to support it.

**Lest you think I am not deeply appreciative of the work of Martin Luther King Jr. and the progress we have made, please be assured, the weight of his work and the distance we have come is not lost on me. Thank you Mr. King, and those who have worked (and do work) tirelessly for freedom and justice for all people. Forgive me for the ways I have made that your work, and not mine.

mlk-jr-i-have-a-dream

the mom I want to be

At a staff meeting a while back, we did an exercise where we had to think about and talk about what we would like written on our epitaph when we die. Mine was something like this:

Jessica Rae Ludwig, fierce in her celebration of life and her love for others.

This exercise got me thinking about how others, particularly my kids, experience me on a day-to-day basis. I feel they know me as a structure and rule-keeper who takes care of them when they need something and puts food on the table, but I’m not sure they often get much else from me (is there even time for anything else on most days?). Do they know me as someone who celebrates life and loves others extravagantly? Do they feel loved and celebrated by me, or do they just watch me do that for others? Do I allow room for adventure and beauty and unknown in our regular day-to-day relationship?

My epitaph didn’t say anything about leaving the kitchen really clean every time I leave the house, or having kids who do their homework really thoroughly, which is funny because these are things that I often use as measures of my daily “success” and things that are the result of my present strivings and intentions.

I’m working to shift my perspective, and their experience. I want to pass along to my kids more than just a love for order and the ability to make good choices. I want them to see life as a beautiful adventure and to live in a way that invites others to join the adventure, to uncover beauty, and to love well. So, we are making some changes around here.

I resolve to:

  • Celebrate the small things. This means every day, specific, individual, celebrations with and for my kids (the fact that its Monday, Owen putting away something that was not his, an act of kindness to a friend, etc.). This also means that we celebrate random, small, “holidays” in ways that are meaningful and fun.
  • Involve my kids in the celebration of others. I put a lot of intentionality into celebrating the people I love, but I rarely give my kids the chance to participate in the brainstorm, creation, and execution of these celebrations. I also sometimes have celebrations begin when the kids are in bed so that I can be more focused on the celebration. I’m trying now to involve my kids and to allow them to think about ideas to show appreciation and to help plan celebrations. I’m also trying to be more strategic to allow them to participate in at least part of the celebration for people who are important in their lives, even if it means staying up past bedtime and potentially consuming more sugar than I’d like (ha, but, really).
  • Eliminate the word “late” or “hurry” from my regular vocabulary (especially in the mornings). This is my quest: make mornings meaningful instead of maddening. Instead of rushing around and shooing my kids out the door and into the car so we won’t be late, I choose moving slower (even if it means setting my alarm a little earlier so I can get a head start, ugh). I choose to smile, to speak softly, to hear the requests of my kids (but likely not to accommodate them all), to look them in the eye, and to send them on their way feeling good about themselves and about the day. There’s no need for us to leave the house feeling stressed and frazzled, and it has occurred to me that it is up to me, by my language and my actions, to set the tone for the day. A few intentional choices here (like actually not using the words “late” or “hurry” even if we are or if we need to), and I notice the tone in our household and the disposition of our kids is drastically different. If this means we are a few minutes late to school, I think it’s worth it (though, for the record, I do value timeliness and want to teach my kids that too).

Sometimes, I get too caught up in the every day monotony of checking all my “boxes” to keep things going and in good order that I get a little short sighted and I don’t think about whether or not the things I am doing now are going to produce the results I am hoping they do in the future. In these times I also tend to forget that the formation of my self and my family are more important than the other items on my to do list.

beach play

from outside the bedroom door: what progress sounds like

Tonight, when I left the twins’ room after tucking them in bed, I stood at the door and listened for a while to the little voices calling out, “I love you mama” repeatedly in tones that were too sweet to adequately convey in written words. I remembered standing outside the same door just a few months ago, tired after trying to soothe anxious and upset babies, wondering how long the bedtime strife would last. Tonight’s noises were a wonderful reminder of the progress the twins have made in their adjustment to life as Ludwigs. There is other evidence of progress too- Cora’s 8 teeth that are just starting to come in, Elias’ need for size 3t t-shirts (he was barely filling out the 18month size when we came home in October), the ever increasing vocabulary of both kids, their huge smiles, their willingness to greet strangers and to share food, their normalized bowel movements (this one I am particularly thankful for), their fearlessness on the playground, Cora’s complete change in countenance and disposition, the continual singing and chatter that can be heard pretty much ALL the time, the dancing, the clapping, the wrestling… oh man.  Every day, these two seem to become more “alive” and more themselves.

To be fair, we do have our fair share of tears and timeouts. We have the battles of the will, testing of limits, a disdain for sharing, and a whole host of “normal” two year old struggles (times 2). But these challenges are developmentally healthy and normal and are actually signs of health and progress in their own ways. So, we celebrate them (at least in moments of silence at 2am, maybe not when both kids are throwing a fit in time out, ha!), and we embrace them, and we remind ourselves that, in the grand scheme of things, we are all doing really, really well.

I still can’t believe that we are all under the same roof. I remember not so long ago when I tucked a weepy Macy in bed as she cried for her brother and sister that she so desperately wanted to have home. I cried too. It felt impossible- the idea of all four of my kids being in one place seemed out of reach and a long way off. And now, well, I think I’ll go peek at the four of them as they sleep soundly in their beds…

#itwasagoodday

It may have been quiet on the blog recently, but I’ve been blogging… in my head. There are many things I’ve been thinking about, some that I’ve actually started writing about, and none that have actually made it all the way to publishing (oops). I think that time is coming sooner than later though, as writing continues to be an outlet for me to process all that I am experiencing, and, these days, I have no shortage of experiences to process. I just haven’t had the mental bandwidth for much creativity lately. The holidays (we pack in a few extra birthdays, and an anniversary with the  Christmas/New Year standards), the transition back to full-time work (after being away 4 months), and many other unique situations and special events have kept my plate full and my bandwidth minimal. It has been a season of celebration and transition, but I’m sure at least some stories and musings will show up here soon enough!

As for today, there are a couple of noteworthy things I thought I’d document (partially because I can’t believe they are real, and writing them here at least makes them exist somewhere outside of my head, ha).

  • This morning was the easiest start to a work day that we have had yet. Note: easiest, not easy. Things were far from leisurely over here- but they were peaceable, orderly, and, for the most part, enjoyable. Everyone ended up in the right place with some time to spare and no exasperated “hurry up, we are going to be late”‘s were uttered by mom (see my post about “experiencing mom” for more on that. Oh wait, that’s still in my head too, dang it).
  • For the first time, the kids self-divided for play based on gender. The boys played cars in the house, the girls ran around the yard together. This made me pause for a moment of appreciation 1) because everyone was entertained and 2) because Macy and Owen each wanted a brother and sister to play with so badly, and here they were, finally getting to relate and play together just as they’d hoped. #goodtimesahead
  • We made it through our Monday walk with just one meltdown and time out and returned home with everyone happy and smiling, without a single diaper blowout. Big deal. Last week I thought we were going to have to quit our Monday walking tradition just to save my sanity, and this week it actually felt like… a walk in the park. Mind you, we aren’t talking about a little jaunt- we are talking about a 5 mile trek that includes dinner by stroller, so the twins have justifiably required some time to get acclimated to this adventure. It seems they have finally decided they like it, and I do too.

on being. thankful.

Learning this year that living with a spirit of Thanksgiving doesn’t mean dismissing painful and difficult realities or seeing everything through rose-colored glasses. That Thanksgiving and sadness, as it turns out, are not mutually exclusive. That sometimes the things for which we are thankful are also things that we grieve and miss, and things that have come into our lives with some sort of loss attached.

Attempting today to embrace the beauty and brokenness, the nostalgia and longing, the laughter and sadness that seem to be especially muddled and poignant at this time of year. Figuring out how to somehow hold them all at once without dismissing the depth and reality of each of them. Finding there, in that place of being fully present and aware of it all, a thanksgiving that is weighty and, for me, more true.

Thinking today of our Ritz-family (missing your presence around our table and the way your warm hospitality always made every celebration more savory), my grandparents in Vermont (may your last Thanksgiving in the home you have built move extra slow and be extra sweet- how I wish we could be there too!), of Cora and Elias’ family in Uganda (how I miss you on behalf of those kids and how I long to share a table and daily life with you, how I long for your every need to be met and your bellies and hearts to be full of every good thing), of our beloved Dicksons (you are loved and missed more than you know), of all those I love so much and wish I could celebrate with today, of those of you who are hurting and questioning and alone (come to our table!), and of those who have suffered loss this year and who just might be finding it hard to “feel” thankful. May all of our “Thanksgivings” today be more about embracing reality and being present in whatever situation we find ourselves and in that, may we discover the gift of today.