Teaching About Fear

We requested the Uber, as we do one or two mornings a week. My lovely teen Mimi has a trickier school schedule as five of the six kids do part time at a private school this year. But as luck would have it, on most days the classes they all take don't line up at the same hours. We have had a serious driving/timing challenge this entire school year.

So sometimes, she takes a driving service. It saves me time, gets her out of the door on time, and I can do more meaningful educating with the other children instead of us sitting in the car. It has been working.

Until a few days ago. I hit the "request Uber" button and it was taking awhile for a driver to respond so she walked away to pack her lunch.

I glanced down and the accepting driver's face appeared. My heart froze. Bad feeling flooded my body. I've never had that happen before. And I paused. I didn't want Mimi to go with this driver. And I hated myself that I was making a decision based 100% on the feeling I had looking at his picture.

I teach my kids every single day that looks are the least important thing about someone and that it is vital we continually check our gut assumptions about people because our biases and life experiences can get in the way. I drill home it doesn't matter what people look like.  They sadly know the truth that people like John Crawford and Tamir Rice are dead because people made wild, dangerous, cruel assumptions about them within seconds of seeing them.

And yet here I was, feeling like a hypocrite judging this man, trying to make a living, based on the picture. But the pit in my stomach was there and I couldn't deny it. Because that fear is a real thing.

I felt it when I was followed home for a few miles by men in a truck calling me all kinds of sexual names and promising they were gonna "give it to me." I've felt it when I was waiting for a ride outside my work, age 19, and a man pulled up in his car, no other humans in sight and begged me to get in the car with him, and then threatened to pull me into the car when I refused. I ran as fast as I could and didn't know when it would be safe to come back out of my work building. I have felt it walking home at night, while the words of my college RA echoed in my head Girls who wear ponytails are easier for men to drag... I thought of the all the times every day women are blamed for their own assault because if they just hadn't been in that place, wearing that thing, looking so tempting, they would have never been harmed and grew angry. I thought about the ridiculousness that most girls and women aren't taught they are more likely to be harmed by someone they know, or are on a date with than a random stranger and that even when we know it's still hard to believe.

All the lessons on consent, rape, fear, harassment and moments of pain wherein I'd learned of my friends and family being assaulted flooded back to me and I decided that it's all well and good to know we all make decisions based on bias and fear sometimes and it's essential check those feelings and thoughts and to challenge our assumptions about people...And then in the moment when fear hits, the fact remains: I don't have to send my daughter in someone's car who scares me. I can own that it's my gut, and maybe has more to do with me than him, but sometimes you just have to listen to your feelings and live with it.

I felt awful for "canceling request" and two minutes later, with a pounding heart request an Uber again praying the same guy wouldn't answer.

It wasn't him. Relief flooded through me. It was another driver and for some reason I felt better. I said out loud, This is stupid. I am a huge hypocritical jerk. This new guy could be a creep for all I know, what the heck am I doing? 

I sat with those conflicted feelings all day.

And then when I spoke with a friend about it, she reminded me I'd failed to do the most important thing: Tell Mimi. Tell her I was afraid when I saw that guy and for some reason I couldn't put my finger on, didn't want him to drive her, so I deleted the request and sought another person to drive her.

I fixed that as soon as I could. I called her to me and told her about those emotional few moments, the feelings of fear mixed with guilt that I was just being mean. But then said to her with all the pleading and sincerity of a mother who knows she cannot always keep her child safe:

Mimi, if you ever, ever feel afraid to get in a car with someone, don't get in. You have my permission to say no thanks and run like hell away from him. If you feel weird, get a strange feeling, feel like something is off, you listen to that. I will never be mad, it will never be a waste of time or money, and it will never be "too mean" of you. Whether its your awesome intuition, or God sending you a feeling in your heart you are allowed to say no and walk away, any time and every time a feeling like that comes. 

She nodded, quietly. Didn't say anything much. But I know she was listening. 


Bearing it

Got it over with: the first day of the year where it's warm enough to go the beach and so we drive, arrive, set up towels, blankets, the kids run off with buckets and smiles and I start bawling because I am so so happy. I can't even stop it.

It happens every single year, the first trip I realize how very seasonally depressed I was for so long, and how everything feels better when my feet are warm and bare in the sand, and I am baptized anew in sunshine and I don't put on sunscreen because I want the heat to stay in my skin for a few days.
I don't know if I will ever again live in a consistently warm place, and I don't know if next winter I will once again forget that the reason I feel so dark and hopeless is in part because I am cold and miserable when the temperature drops below 70 degrees.

My kids don't understand it, how I shiver in agony when they all feel fine. They don't feel the weight of darkness. I am glad they seem to be immune to it in a way I am not.



At the beach this week I felt hope that it's going to be alright. All the junk. Normal life junk. Nothing terrible but somehow over the last few months it all felt so heavy I have been staggering; paralyzed. And now, the junk is still all there, but somehow with sunshine on my side I can bear it. At least I feel hopeful. And that's a good thing.
Blue concurs.


Not a Pendulum

I was trying in my head to articulate how life feels lately. Today the image of a pendulum appeared to me and I immediately rejected it. I do not swing back and forth between joy and misery, stress and contentment. I am not moody.

Rather, I am in a place in my life where I have concentric circles nearly completely overlapping. The exact things that make everything painful and challenging and difficult and hard to hold happen to also be the same things that bring me satisfaction, joy, love. I find myself at various moments both profoundly content and proud of what I am doing and also convinced I am a terrible failure and completely unlovable.

I am trying to sit with this. The intensity of the challenge. I am a disaster but also simultaneously know that I do things that other people cannot conceive of doing; and I am happy and capable doing those things. It's not about other people, though. It's about me loving the mess that is me. Opposition is my middle name, and I am figuring out how to be good with that.

Other things I am good with today:

This old photo I found of my Cookie, who is almost eight-years-old. He was a seriously cute baby. He was a rotten sleeper, but golly he was cute.

The ridiculousness of these girls.

Ponies. Always ponies and kids unafraid of all kinds of animals.

The other day it rained while the sun shone. Brady screamed in excitement for a solid five minutes as we drove through the center of this rainbow and could see both ends meet the earth on either side of us. He was right, it was magic. After it was behind us and no longer visible he said "I miss our rainbow." I told him whenever he felt sad he could see the picture of it.


Yesterday I needed a Mom Time Out. I ran to the bed to breathe for a moment in relative quiet. Benji followed me and climbed on me to give me some head bonks and then purred into my arm pit. He knew I needed it. I love the many fur family members we have. They really give us all someone to love when the humans are bugging us.


Samantha still takes many breaks between home school assignments to stretch out and move. I love her growth in her sport and how strong she is. She rocks my world. And sometimes I say "That's enough, get out your spelling."


This winter was not very bad compared to last winter, weather wise. I cannot complain. But somehow emotional health wise it was brutal. Spring, despite the trick snowstorm this morning, I embrace you, I am ready for you.

And can you, my readers and friends, and I pretend that New Year doesn't start January 1, but rather, April 1? Can we have do over on new beginnings?



Stories of Ethiopia in a Few Thousand Words

The pictures, sillies. Each picture is worth a thousand words, right? I may slip in a few extra for context. And will still start off by asking you to please not steal these pictures - the good ones. The non selfie-in-bad-light ones. I already know you don't want to use those. All photos on this blog are my property and are copyrighted. If you want to use any photos please respect and ask. scoopingitup at gmail. Thank you.

I shared this already on FB, but if you missed it there I had a blissful 27 hour flight to Addis, the capitol of Ethiopia. The only words I spoke the entire time were 'thank you' to food vendors and stewardesses on plane. I loved my vow of silence and alone time. I read two and a half novels. When I landed in Ethiopia the young Habesha woman behind me said, "You go ahead, I am waiting for my brother." I responded "Thank you!" She asked, glancing down "And how far along are you?" I raised my eyebrows. "Excuse me?" She looked away and muttered, "nothing."

This is me, my youngest "baby" is five years old, and apparently I look like I am pregnant. Fabulous.

We're gonna talk more about this in the next post, but this is a file drawer, in a "medical room" that contained mostly destroyed and missing files at a now desolate orphanage where more than five thousand babies and young children were housed before they were adopted from 2004ish-2015. I walked through the buildings, empty of little ones and furniture while some workers pretended to try to get my child's original files. They bought themselves time while we toured around, sent us away with promises to give it to us the next day. Then they loaded it and hundreds of others into boxes, put them on a truck and move the files to another location before we came back. Because orphanage workers didn't already come in number one on my list of sneakiest liars... Again, more on this in the next post.


Excuse the shaky hands in the following shot. It was almost pitch black, that "bright light" only looks so because I held the shutter open for five seconds. I lay on my back taking a picture of the roof over my head, the roof of a house/hut built in northern Ethiopia, a house more than sixty years old, that had sheltered the birth of at least ten children. The grass smelled sweet and crunched a little as it padded my sleeping bag. I rested about five minutes in that sleeping bag. I arrived at this darkened hut in a place far from a town, and electrical outlets and toilets (this will get important later), and moments later, the wedding party woke and started to get dressed. I never slept.


Getting ready for traditional Tigray wedding, bride and helpers trying to see necklace clasps by light of solar lamp and my head lamp.


3am, I take advantage of the videographer's garish spotlight to capture the bride and groom and wedding party waiting for all the priests to come. I am fully jealous that the men are draped in the warmest of blankets, called gabis. It is chilly and I'd have killed for one. I had slipped my flimsy dress over the pajamas I showed up in just thirty minutes before. I looked awful and I will prove it soon.

A priest lights a candle right before a light comes on in a rock church, carved into the mountain, hundreds, maybe a thousand years ago.

I didn't know this going in or I would have found a spot to pee in the trees before the mass started, but this Ethiopian Orthodox wedding in the countryside north of Mekele was well over four hours long.

It may have been longer than five. There was no way to know. Some of the older aunties totally took naps during it. Here is the bridal party from the back facing the beautiful front of the church. I think this shot is about two hours in.


I am positive this service is successful in bringing people to God because after the three hour mark folks are leaning on their wooden shepherd sticks pleading Save me, Jesus. Come to me and save me.

(And PS. I love this old traditional ceremony, with someone checking their celly real quick.

It will be one of the most awe-filled, honors of my life to have witnessed and been part of such a beautiful ceremony. I felt like I was transported to a different time. Despite numb bare feet and having had no sleep, food, or potty breaks for way longer than feels humanly possible (TMI: I have a bladder capacity that is sublimely impressive. No one could have lasted longer than I did on this sleepless night. NO ONE.) I wouldn't have traded this for the world.



There was a small window in the back, eventually some daylight filtered in. And then I realized how very long it had been. This is me, right at the end of the wedding mass, ready to get outside and see what awaited me. I look like a train wreck. I was dirty and tired and delighted and grateful. Twenty four hours no sleep and completely worth it. (And I had a long time to go before I would rest.)


When we emerged from the rock church it was gorgeous sunny day. We picked our way down a rocky trail and I ran ahead of the beautifully robbed newlyweds to capture the hike we'd done in the dead of night, with my dear friend the bride in heels. I kept thinking We all did this in dresses and heels in the dark and no one twisted an ankle...how?


I am busy with home school and life and work and farm stuff so I hope you all know I do not have time to edit these for the blog. I didn't touch these photos. This is straight out of the camera shtuff. And on this 82 degree morning my family back in Boston was slammed with a snowstorm.


A traditional post-wedding snack for tired and hungry attendees.

The next day (after sleep, food, toilet access) there were many parties culminating in one large party/reception. The first was at a family member's home back in Mekele. I realized after a lot of time walking around taking photos that there didn't seem to be any sinks. Perhaps there was no running water. It seemed possible that all the water for drinking, washing dishes, washing hands and "flushing" (with a cupful) had to be carried in and carefully conserved. This guy was just outside in the street. Everyday I am guessing his main job is lugging water. Luckily, the wells are not terribly far. But it is not easy for sure for anyone, donkey or human.


You can't have a big Tigray wedding without horses



Or live music

Or dancing

Or a wonderful, humble, fierce, do-it-all-bull-by-the-horns bride who gets stuff DONE

Or stunning bride and bridesmaids

Or the cutest couple on earth

No srsly

Or a little help from your friends


Or shutting down traffic with a wedding procession that honks and beeps and beeps and honks and horses galloping alongside all over town.


At one point one of the bridesmaids gave up on her platform heels and pointed at my feet shrugging. I shucked off my low heeled sandals and handed them over to her. I put on the only other shoes I had. My worn and hideous but comfy Minnetonkas. I'd say no one was looking at me so who cares, but TONS of people were looking at me. I was definitely the only white person there, and some of the little ones maybe hadn't had much exposure because a few babies cried when they saw my face. Still, no one cared about my shoes.

Have a few roses when you ascend the tower to cut the cake in front of two hundred fifty odd people.

Oh, oh! my favorite thing was how the guests just hacked into that cake with violence. Massive uneven chunks with no supervision by a fussy cake cutting team. Just messy yummy glomp slipping well beyond the edges of the plate, enough to share with their neighbors and family, screw the forks and dig in one and all.

The couple who really is like royalty here throws candy (so much chocolate I thought I'd never smuggle it all into Ethiopia for them) to the adoring crowds.

And of course, there was dancing.

So. Much. Dancing. All in I tallied the dancing and festivities starting around noon and ending at 12:45.

I don't know who is more exhausted but we certainly know who is wearing it better.

A few more beauties randomly thrown in

My stalwart driver/translator/problem solver Abel, playing with a little friend of ours outside a hotel in Nazret. If you need a trustworthy helper in Ethiopia, do let me know. He is awesome. And he will race with you, rocks in hand, should you be in the situation where you need run from wild dogs and/or hyenas at night. Don't ask how I know.

I am a sucker for kittens in any country.

Some of the most intense and most joyful and amazing days of my life I owe to these gorgeous people who let me be part of the family and experience something up close so few others will ever get to do.


I am almost back into the groove of life at home. And I already miss it. Ethiopia, I will be back, friend. Next time, with some of my lijotch, or there will be a mass mutiny.