As you may be aware, I have been working my way through a lengthy to-do list since my last birthday. As you may also be aware, I haven’t written about my progress on that list in some time. (LOL at the number of minutes it took for me to forget about Or Else I’ll Forget Fridays.)
But I did what I could. I’m almost all the way through Some Assembly Required, a 270-page easy read that has nevertheless taken me more than 365 days to complete. (Funny. I crossed this off the list in my last update, but that was a lie. It’s still sitting on my bedside table, mocking me, dog-eared and undone.) I bought myself a (couple of) pretty nice bag(s). Randy succumbed to my beseeching and gifted me a cherry red KitchenAid stand mixer for our new house. I have used it zero times, but it’s all mine and as Mike Cooley says, it’s there anytime I want it.
But the task of writing an essay for my son’s birthday was, this year, an ask too great to submit to willingly or on time. Moses’ birth on Election Day 2014 signaled the dawn of a new life for Randy and me, and since his birthday will always fall near Election Day — itself a symbol of great hope and change and possibility and anxiety — the annual celebration of his birth and the start of our next trip around the sun together seem inextricably linked to each election season’s spirit of renewal, resetting, refreshing. And this election season I was genuinely giddy about the refresh we were embarking on. We moved from California to Oregon. We finally made good on a decade-old promise to live within spitting distance of our favorite friends and their best dogs. We bought a house. Moses started preschool. And he made some new friends.
And we were about to elect our first woman president. I cried as I scribbled a heavy black mark in the bubble on my ballot. I peered over Randy’s shoulder as he scribbled his, and cried again. Then we high-fived while Moses stole our stamps for his sticker book.
We laughed. What a mischievous 2-year-old he is. We grinned like fools as we walked to the post office together and made a big to-do when Moses dropped our ballots in the box.
HORROR MUSIC PLAYS.
Is this really happening? Are we really going to elect our first woman president? I couldn’t wait to get this feeling on paper, in writing, for Moses’ birthday, for our refresh, as part of our family narrative.
AX FALLS ON PROTAGONIST’S DAMN HEAD.
So anyway. We all know how that turned out.
Over the next weeks and months, a wannabe autocrat would be elected president of these United States; anti-black, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and violence would see a sharp increase; the level of risk my son will endure as a Jewish person in an increasingly anti-Semitic America would begin to weigh heavy on my mind; strong evidence that a foreign and enemy power interfered with our democratic process would emerge; a man who claimed sovereignty over the bodies of women he did not know would be inaugurated as our 45th president; those of us who objected to this dangerous new world order would be told to sit down and shut up; a brand new pregnancy our little family had been quietly and lovingly nurturing would fail, and before we had even begun to recover, we would lose another.
So, of course, I wanted to write a love letter to my son about how he is our hope for a brighter future, but shit felt fucking bleak, man. The blessing of my child’s good health and relative safety was small comfort as I sat with my relentless heartache over Black mothers who teach their sons and daughters to de-escalate encounters with grown adult police and then send those babies out in the world not knowing whether they’ll come back. Tucking Moses in every night felt like an unearned privilege as I worried about undocumented and immigrant families who wake each day with the anxiety they might not go to sleep under the same roof that night. Even the profound sadness we experienced over the loss of our pregnancies — which were tended to and cared for safely and affordably by our elite medical team and superb health insurance — felt at odds with our neighbors’ experiences, as a houseless mother sheltering not far from where we live grieved her newborn who came into this world fighting the elements of Portland’s harsh winter, and left it soon after.
No matter how deep I dug, I just couldn’t find anything pleasant or joyous or hopeful to say to my son. So we retreated. We put our heads down and tried to get through our days without being overcome by despair. And at the end of every day, we would look at each other and stutter, WHAT THE FUCK DO WE DO NOW?
So here we are. Months after the election, after inauguration, after the first of many Muslim bans. Months after Moses’ birthday. Days after my own, days after I was supposed to have completed last year’s list (I didn’t, sorry). And we finally have an answer to the burning question of what to do now.
We write a new list.
We concentrate the entries on tasks that might make our little corner of the universe a nicer place to be. We focus our energies on the activism our new normal requires of us. We align our parenting practices with the immediacy of our goals. We endeavor to actually complete this year’s list. We make it easier on ourselves by reducing tasks from the number of years we are old, 38, to the number of months we have left till we write next year’s list, 12. And then we get to work.
- Write letters of appreciation to the women who inspired me to be a better woman.
This one is resurrected from last year’s list where I promised to mail a hand-written letter to my mother, but of course never did. It was a good idea then and it’s a good idea now, and to make it even gooder, I’m expanding it to include all the women who have made me a better mom, better woman, better human. So look out, ladies! Emotional feely times coming in hot to a mailbox near you.
- Consume more Black art. And don’t be a dick about it.
I don’t know how to talk about this one without acknowledging that racism is alive and thriving; acknowledging that we all, even/especially bleeding heart liberals like myself, are the problem; and acknowledging that it’s going to take a lot of uncomfortable work to dismantle systems that promote not just overt racist socialization but implicit bias. This one is on us, white people. We are the worst. So I’m setting forth to accomplish a thing I should have started a long time ago, but have thus far been too racist to do right. I intend to no longer passively consume Black culture as a thing I’m entitled to but not committed to appreciating or understanding the context in which it was made. Rather, I will deliberately take in the messages of Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, Nina Simone, Esperanza Spalding, Beyonce, Solange, Barry Jenkins, Jordan Peele — to make a space for amplification of voices that have been erased, to allow the meaning of their art to shape my understanding of the world and my place in it as an accomplice for equality, to do so without requiring any effort on their part to educate me (listen, Queen Bey ain’t got time for that), and to arm myself with the wisdom of direct and honest communication about the difficulty of difference so the world my child comes up in is less racist than my own. This one is important, Julie. Do not fuck this up.
- Resume old practice of clinic escorting regularly. Channel clinic escorting superheroes.
- Begin process of converting to Judaism. Race with breakneck speed to the part where we practice Tikkun Olam.
- Call congresspeople week after week after week until they know my name and number by heart and are like, great, it’s Julie again. Join efforts to support women candidates and mobilize liberal voters. Vote. Vote. Vote.
These next tasks were inspired by an old friend and clinic escort pal who runs a monthly giving club where he uses social media to crowdsource which community organizations are doing great work and which ones need our help most. He and his friends decide on each month’s issue or organization to support, and then everyone commits to sending them $10. What I like about this tactic is how they identify underfunded or grassroots organizations that are not likely to have the marketing power of bigger shops, but that nevertheless do important work with what little they have. So for the following “supporting efforts” tasks, I’d like to work with you to identify the greatest and most immediate needs and then hound you mercilessly until you join me in committing dollars or hours to the service of those needs.
- Support efforts to end police brutality.
- Support efforts to protect immigrant communities. Include refugee resettling efforts. OK, and while we’re at it, go ahead and support efforts to protect Syrian children from genocide.
- Support efforts to shelter my town’s houseless population.
- Support efforts to combat climate change even in the face of Donald Trump’s best efforts at choking us all to death on our own CO2.
- Grow tomatoes; share the bounty.
Growing and sharing is another task I resurrected from last year’s list, because this is the first year I have my very own patch of earth where I can grow my very own garden, but also because sharing is a nice thing to do and because I’ve heard pretty good things about photosynthesis.
- And speaking of vegetables and doing good, what’s say we finally finish incorporating editor comments into that self-help* book about vegetables we wrote once upon a lifetime ago?
*Very generous description of a book about a grown ass woman-baby who refused to eat her veggies.
What’s say we maybe even try to turn the book over to our publisher in the near future and, hey, see it in print sometime before we die? Good idea.
- Lastly, what’s say we strung out activists engage in some radical self-care.
Acupuncture. Therapy. Yoga. Movie night. Writing. Bursting into song. Getting busy between the sheets. Putting down the phone and picking up a book. Getting enough sleep. Committing to taking care of ourselves first so that we may better support our neighbors, our children, our lovers, each other.
I’ll go first.
Hits “publish” on long overdue love letter to son.
Collapses fat, happy and grateful on the eve of a brand new year.
Gets some sleep.
Gets to work.