Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, July 28th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

We are currently living through times unprecedented in so many ways.  This being the case, politics is a frequent topic of discussion in our home.  I am nearly certain this is not unusual. Growing up, I remember the word “Watergate” permeating many a discussion in my own childhood home.  Now, nearly 50 years later, I find myself the father of three young daughters, daughters who want to know things, who want to understand the outrage their parents are feeling.  Even my four-year-old wants to understand.  And this can be challenging to explicate at times.

But other times, not so much.

Take, for example, the current administration’s policy of seizing immigrant families seeking asylum and locking them in cages at the southern border.  This particular policy, just in terms of pure cruelty, has not been terribly difficult for my youngest daughter to grasp as reason for outrage (note:  my wife and I do not discuss the fact that many children have been permanently separated from their parents- that detail is left out).  When discussions of politics bubble up, this is an accessible entry point for my youngest.

A few nights ago at the dinner table, current events and politics once again surfaced as our topic of discussion.  My oldest daughters asked, as they normally do, numerous questions, which prompted my youngest daughter to ask why kids and families are  ending up detained in cages at the southern border.  “Well,” I began, “a lot of those families are trying to get away from bad people in their home countries.  They come here because they want to find a better life.”

“That’s like Babar,” interrupted my youngest.  For a moment, we all sat, silently processing her statement.  What was the connection? I wondered. She continued, “Babar was trying to get away from a hunter who got his mom.  Remember?”

A beat.

“Oh my goodness, you’re right, honey.” I suddenly caught onto the connection she was making to Jean de Brunhoff’s book, The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant.  “It’s like Babar! Babar fled from the hunter to a city where he found someone who was kind to him.”

I never cease to be amazed at the way children can connect, the way stories help them make sense of their world. Kissing the top of my daughter’s head, I affirmed her, “Great connection, sweetheart.” But inside, I felt so saddened by the context of her connection.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, June 30th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

“Oh no!  He lost his jacket!” Even with the rather noisy window air conditioner busily breathing cool air into the room, her words were clear, concise.  I shifted my gaze away from the illustrated pages of Beatrix Potter’s classic The Tale of Peter Rabbit to look upon the face of my four-year-old daughter.  Her eyes meet mine.  With her brows pulled downward, she pointed to Peter’s little blue jacket caught irretrievably in Mr. McGregor’s gooseberry net.  “Look!” she implored.

“Yes, honey,” I replied.  “I see it.”

Lying in bed later, I thought about that tiny moment of worry, the distress my little daughter exhibited for a character in a book.  A character, by the way, arguably undeserving of worry or distress.  After all, Peter does knowingly “disobey” the authority figure in the book, his mother.  And yet, my daughter expressed her fear for Peter’s fate anyway.

I recognized the emotion: Empathy.  And I thought about how reading is the way we build our capacity for this essential emotion. In my mind, Empathy might reside at the top of the emotional hierarchy. As author and scientist Maryanne Wolf writes and wonders in her book Reader Come Home (2018), “What will happen to young readers who never meet and begin to understand the thoughts and feelings of someone totally different?” She chronicles studies out of Stanford University that show a precipitous decline in empathy taking place over the last ten years or so in our country.  Wolf also describes a discussion between novelist Marilynne Robinson and then President Barack Obama during which Robinson expressed lamentation for what she perceived as a “political drift among many  people in the United States toward seeing those different than themselves as the ‘sinister other.'”

As I look around at what is happening in our country, I sometimes wonder what I can do to make a difference, especially as I watch the actions and repercussions of persons in power who exhibit no empathy for those different than them at all. But then I remember the young girl who was lying next to me earlier in the evening, her eyes glued to the pages of a book I was holding. And I remember I can make a difference for her.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, June 23rd, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

This past Sunday was Father’s Day.  A few days prior, I called my father, now 82 years old, and ashamedly informed him that I had gotten his present in the mail a little too late.  He would likely be receiving it the week after sometime.  In a forgiving tone, Dad said that was alright.  And he began to reminisce a bit.

“I remember a few months after you were born,” he began.  “It was sometime around my very first Father’s Day . . . I put you and your mom on an airplane bound for Portland, Oregon.  You both flew all the way there from Oklahoma, where we were living at the time.  I drove an old truck to meet up with you guys a few days later.”  Apparently, while waiting for my father to arrive, mom and I lived in a tiny apartment with very little in the way of worldly possessions.  I’m not even sure there was furniture.  But Dad, having just graduated seminary school, had applied for and received his first ministerial position at Lynchwood Church in East Portland.

The year was 1968, a year when civil unrest, the Vietnam War, and issues of social justice dominated the social and political consciousness of the country.  Dad told me one of the very first things he did upon arriving as the new minister of his church was to organize groups of Black churchgoers from North Portland, inviting them to his nearly all-White church in East Portland.  Apparently, this did not sit well with some of the congregation of the Lynchwood Church.  Dad recalls vividly being questioned for his integrative efforts on several occasions.  “We’re White here,” he remembers one woman venomously spitting out at him one day.

Over time, my father eventually began receiving invitations to preach at some of the all-Black churches in North Portland, the very community in which he would one day, after leaving the ministry, finish a hard-earned career in social work.  In my father’s recollection, he was the only White person to preach in some of those churches during that tumultuous period.

“What I’m watching on the news now,” he told me, “reminds me very much of the struggles for social justice we saw back then.”  Dad told me he was eventually fired from his first job.  Folks didn’t want to work toward social justice.  They didn’t want to protest the war.  They wanted to go to church on Sunday. So Dad went on to search for other ministerial positions.  After all, he had a family to support.

As I listened to my father on that sunny day last week, I could hear sadness in his tone as he lamented the fact that there was never any recognition or awards for the kind of work he was trying to do back then.  But then, I thought to myself- feeling so proud of my father- that is likely not why he did it.

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, May 12th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

The sound of the door knocker echoed through the house.  Now such a foreign sound, it almost felt jarring.  But only for a moment.  I poked my head into the sunroom, speaking quietly so as not to wake my sleeping toddler.  “Girls,” I said with exaggerated singsong lilt, “they’re here!”  Excited giggles and rushing feet approached and passed by me with shocking velocity as two girls slip-slid in their socks toward the front door.  In a moment the door stood open.  Behind it stood two dear friends: my oldest daughter’s classmate and her mother.

My two eldest daughters sprang out the door and into the sunlight, so excited to see a friend in person.  Due to the pandemic, we have kept ourselves isolated at home, hardly traveling anywhere beyond walkable distances. This unexpected visit, then, was entirely outside the current norm.  Keeping socially distant, my two girls flitted joyfully about like fireflies, gleefully chattering hellos, talking over one another in their boundless joy to find themselves in the physical company of a friend.

For nearly two hours, outside in the unseasonably chilly May air, the three girls chatted, played, built a fort, while my wife and I reveled in actual grown-up conversation with an outside adult.  How odd that this once-normal experience could now feel so abnormal and wonderful.  Who knew human interaction was so very precious?

Tuesday Slice of Life Story Challenge

Today, May 5th, 2020, I’m participating in Two Writing Teachers’ Slice of Life Story Challenge.

“Well guys, I gotta go.  My family is having dinner now.  Thanks for coming to my zoom party.” My daughter’s voice sounded flat.  Closing the laptop she turned to face me.  “Dad, I don’t know how to make a zoom party fun,” she quipped.

“Honey,” I said, “you tried your best.” I could sense her disappointment.  Even though we had known for weeks that a traditional birthday party was out of the question due to COVID-19, the reality of turning eleven without experiencing the physical presence of friends had begun to set in.  I thought for a moment about the many kids who likely felt the pangs of this let-down.

Time to pivot, I thought to myself.

“How about opening presents?” I offered.  Immediately, my daughter’s face brightened.  As is our normal birthday routine, we had been planning to wait until after dinner to open gifts, but the time seemed right.  The next hour brought much excitement, as my daughter tore open cards and presents from her west coast extended family and her east coast immediate family.  Her favorite dinner – tacos! – was then served, followed by mom’s home-baked six-minute chocolate cake and two types of ice cream.  All five of us then piled into blankets and pillows in the living room to watch a movie, compliments of our new Disney Plus subscription.

Before heading upstairs to bed, my daughter hugged me.  “This was the best birthday ever,” she said.  I watched her as she headed up the stairs, savoring the moment.  And suddenly, the rainy Monday night of her birth popped into my head.  How could that have been eleven years ago? I wondered to myself.  Even in quarantine, time continues to fly.  Switching off the lights, I headed upstairs to tuck my girls into bed.