One Last Hair Post…Courtesy of Our Buddy Todd

Buds is in K.C. to speak at a conference. I think he agreed to do it mostly because he’d get time with The Chan Clan.

Tonight he and Todd did a Beer Run of a different sort, and Todd created this awesomely wonderful video.

My favorite parts, the way Blonde Axl’s hair bounces when he bounds over logs, and the attempted box jump at the end.

Friends you can be yourself with…priceless.

Friends who make videos that cause your wife to cry with laughter…timeless.

Thanks, Todd R.!

Update, Todd added this to his FB feed, and I’d hate it to be lost to time:

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When The Past Presents

Buds is under a great deal of stress. He’s got several very busy weeks in a row. We’ve talked as a family about how his schedule is going to be for the next weeks, and what the children can expect from him in the evenings, so we all know his plate is very full.

Tonight when he got home from work, it was later than usual, and rather than a workout, we decided to get dinner ready as quickly as possible. Buster was unloading the dishwasher, Buds and I were working on parts of the meal, Monkey was back working in her bedroom, and Yessa was helping in that way she does.

Buster was feeling a little squirrely. Buds was a little grumpus, and at one point, those two sets of feelings collided and Buds snapped at Buster. (For Buds, “snapped” means a slightly harsh tone.)

Buster stopped the annoying behavior he was engaged in, explained to us why he had engaged in the annoying behavior, and went back to his dishwasher business with no indication of being upset. Buds settled back into working on his part of dinner, seemingly with the same slightly grumpus mood.

But me, I was roiling with emotion; I had been thrown back into my childhood.

Huge anxiety welled up in me and I felt the need to protect Buster from Buddie’s anger. I wanted to scream at Buds. It felt so tense and scary and horrible, and I couldn’t tell if other people were just hiding their emotions or if I was the only one who could sense it.

Because these are not feelings I’m willing to hold in, when we all gathered for dinner, I looked at Buds and said, “I wanted to scream at you when you spoke harshly to Buster. I am feeling so anxious right now and this brought up so many feelings from my childhood.” And I choked by the tears.

Buds’ face softened as he looked at me. He’s heard enough stories of my childhood to understand. Dinnertime could be fraught with yelling or stony silence, the quick lash of anger, or gentle storytelling and laughter. You never knew what you were going to get, and you had to be ready to handle whatever it was.

That is not the home we have created, and by anyone’s standards, Buddie wasn’t even really angry. When I asked the children how they felt about the interaction, Monkey looked confused, Buster said, “I’m reading over here.” and Yessa said, “Oh, yes, I could tell Dad was upset, but it was fine.”

Buds has always done a great job helping me remember that the children do not have the same reactions I do to things. Tonight was a great example of this. Overwhelmed by an upsurge of emotion; I was ready to fight to protect my child, my safety, my peace of mind. (To be clear, the swelling of emotion was completely outsized for the slightly negative interaction Buds and Buster had. This was clearly about my past, not the present situation.)

This is the first time in a very long time I’ve been confronted by childhood trauma so strongly. Decades of living with a balanced, loving, thoughtful partner has brought us both a long way in our ability to handle disagreements. Just yesterday Yessa was talking about how, “you and Dad don’t really argue.”

And Mom and I have spent a fair amount of time over the decade since Dad died talking about how to sort through the mixture of emotions. For one person to be so generous and visionary, yet manipulative and angry, and for us to see the changes in him over the decades, but to not be able to let go of some of the instinctive reactions that had been trained into us; it’s a lot to process.

I’m not even really sure why I’m creating this post. In some ways, it’s because I’ve been thinking of my dad so frequently as we help Mom prepare to move out of the last house they shared; the only house my children have known as Grandma’s house.

Or, possibly as a reminder that everyone has a story, and that we are all a bundle of the many different people who have shaped our lives. No person is all bad or good.

Or maybe even to remind myself that Buds is my own sweet Buds. He may get grumpus, but he will never lash out in anger; he will never give us the cold shoulder; he will never throw a fork across the room in anger. This family he and I have created; this family is safe and loved and peaceful.

I loved my dad, and as time has passed, I understand him better and better. He was the best father he could be, and family dynamics run deep. He was able to decrease the trauma he passed on from his horribly traumatic childhood, just as I hope to give our children a relatively trauma-free childhood, lessoning the power of negative family history, and passing on the best of the lessons my ancestry has given me.

Or maybe I’m writing this to remind myself that love makes the difference. I never doubted I was loved as a child, just as I pray my children will always, deep in their very core, know that they are loved, and just as I know I am loved now.

Just as I know I am loved.

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The above was written late at night last night. I wanted to sit on the post for a day and see how it resonated with me. In the middle of the night I woke up with a very vivid memory of an interaction The Buster and I had had earlier in the day yesterday. Suffice it to say, it ended with me saying, “And the person you should be angry with is yourself.” in a not very nice tone. I could sense the not kind part of myself coming through in my words and actions.

Parenting is hard work, even with a non-dysfunctional childhood. Being a child, tween, teen, adult, also hard work.

I’m doing the best I can. Sometimes my best isn’t good enough, but hopefully across the minutes and years of time, it all works out.

Buds…doing his best.

The children…their best.

My parents…always their best. I can only imagine some of the internal battles my dad must have fought. For every time he was emotionally difficult, he probably suppressed those emotions five other times.

At the end of the years, if there’s still a healthy relationship, you’ve done well. I have glorious memories from Dad’s final years and days. That’s what I’ll hang on to.

You did well, Elroy. You did well.

Transitions

A friend told me her college sophomore daughter wouldn’t be flying home for Thanksgiving. She wasn’t upset. She was pondering this transition.

This will be the first time their three children won’t all be home for Thanksgiving.

I remembered this conversation when our crew and I headed to the pumpkin patch this last week. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, over 80 degrees by the time we arrived at Lucky Ladd Farm.

We knew we wanted to choose our pumpkins, but we hadn’t decided if we’d make a full day of the farm or not. We ate our picnic lunch before walking from the parking lot toward the building to check in. A large sign board posts the costs for entrance, and as we looked at it, Buster said, “Wow, that’s expensive.”

And that seemed to set the tenor for the visit. It was a beautiful day. We were glad to be out and picking pumpkins was going to be fun, but paying a significant amount of money to spend a few hours there wasn’t at the top of our priority list.

At least, it wasn’t at the top of Buster and Monkey’s priority list. The two oldest children are starting to move past this sort of outing. Yessa and I, we would have spent the day there, no problem.

We have reached the fine tipping point of needing outings that meet the needs of youngest and olders. On this day, the pumpkin patch was voted down. We picked our pumpkins, then headed home.

Enjoyed the crazy characters, though.

Enjoyed the crazy characters, though.

Yessa pulled this in from the parking lot to be kind, and we were grateful to have it to carry our pumpkins back to the car.

Yessa pulled this in from the parking lot to be kind, and we were grateful to have it to carry our pumpkins back to the car.

Choosing just the right one.

Choosing just the right one.

I got this.

I got this.

This picture below pulled me back through time to one of my beloved picture from trips to the farm from the past:

A little different from the iconic picture of old.

A little different from the iconic picture of old.

Our trips to the pumpkin patch in VA might include ice cream. (I love this picture.)

Our trips to the pumpkin patch in VA might include ice cream. (I love this picture.)

And as I searched for the above picture, I felt the yin and yang of love for the pumpkin patch trips of the past and joy in the point life has brought us to.

These memories of past visits to pumpkin patches have me feeling slightly melancholy. I have truly loved every age and transition with these people I am blessed to live with. I sometimes wish I could jump back into these individual moments and relive them. (Which is why I write this blog, right?)

The first pumpkin patch with the solo child.

The first pumpkin patch with the solo child.

The pumpkin patch when there were only two.

The pumpkin patch when there were only two.

This is how we used to have to get to the pumpkin patch.

This is how we used to have to get to the pumpkin patch.

We might have the whole gang along.

We might have the whole gang along.

We’ve got our pumpkins for this year. We’ll enjoy the carving process and I’ll document it.

But for tonight, tonight I’m pining for the past. Those oh so brief years when we piled into the van and the adventures we found suited everyone.

I love these people I live with and sometimes I miss their tiny selves.

So much has changed.

So much has changed.

Transitions…

Thanks, Goodwill.

The crew and I popped to Goodwill yesterday to look for Halloween costume ideas and to pick up some sheets and supplies for the upcoming Hypothermia shelter at church.

As Yessa and I walked through the toy aisle, looking for additional pegs for the lite brite, we spotted this paper umbrella.

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It was Yessa’s umbrella that we donated to Goodwill awhile back.

“Hey,” she said. “I’d really like to have that back.”

And that’s why you don’t donate to the Goodwill that you regularly visit.

The umbrella is back home, safe and sound with its original owner.

I wonder what else we’ll have to buy back.

Sacrifice and Showing Up

When we built the big yellow house on the hill over 12 years ago, Jarod, the contractor who supervised the process, was a business associate of my brother’s, and a close friend of my dad’s. (He was a pall bearer at Dad’s funeral.)

While building our house, Jarod was also supervising a huge expansion at his home church in the next town over. This left his small crew of guys stretched to their limits. Unluckily for him, we lived in the tiny white house in front of our work site, so if I expected a crew to be working, and they didn’t show up for a day or two, I’d be on the phone to Jarod. (In my defense, I was pregnant with the baby that would be Buster, and we were having the baby at home…in the home that Jarod was building.)

Several times Jarod had to resort to using subcontractors to keep our job moving forward. It probably cost him money, but I’m sure not having me on the phone was well worth it.

One of the subs ended up being the team that trimmed out the house, including the fire place and bookshelves in the living room.

Here’s some of their work in that house:

Where they worked.

Where they worked.

Fireplace taking shape.

Fireplace taking shape.

The back of the fireplace.

The back of the fireplace.

Monkey and Nonni playing next to the bookcase on what ended up being the night before Buster was born in this house.

Monkey and Nonni playing next to the bookcase on what ended up being the night before Buster was born in this house.

While visiting with the lead carpenter from the subcontracting group, he shared with me that one of the men on his team had lost his young son in a horrible accident not long before. As a parent, my heart seized with sorrow for this broken man.

And in that same heart, I wanted to ask for him to not work on our house. (I realize now how horrible this thought even was, but this about being honest about life experiences, and that was the thought I had.)

In my pregnancy brain, I had some idea that his sorrow would soak into the very walls of the house. That in some way his pain and misfortune might be catchable.

I’m grateful I didn’t actually voice these horrible thoughts, but I suspect if I could talk to that man now, I’m sure I would not have been the only person who shied away from him. The pain of losing a child is almost too much to be born.

And yet, people do, with grace and eternal pain.

That man showed up. Day after day he shared his skills with us in making our new home beautiful. The home where two of our children would be born. The only thing that soaked into the walls was love.

That man, and another man came to my mind a few weeks ago. Terence Crutcher is the black man who was shot by a white female police officer when his car stalled in the middle of the street in Tulsa. That shooting…it hit me in the gut.

If it had been me with that stalled car, or a white man with that stalled car, we would not have been shot. We would NOT have been shot.

Shortly after, a local organization, NOAH, sent out a notice about Community Organizer training the following Saturday. The group description is:

Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) is a faith led coalition that is multi-racial and interdenominational comprised of congregations, community organizations, and labor unions that work to give voice to traditionally marginalized people. NOAH engages ordinary people in the political and economic decisions affecting their lives, acting as a unified voice for the faith and justice community to act on its values in the public arena.

NOAH members and delegates gathered to decide the key focus issues of the organization. They are: affordable housing; economic equity; and criminal justice.

Our church is one of the faith led organizations involved, but our family hadn’t been directly connected to its work.

The training was on a Saturday.

I didn’t want to go. I love our weekends. We get too little time with Buds and losing a whole Saturday with him was a blow.

Then I thought about Terence Crutcher. His family would give anything to have him back for one hour.

I thought about the man who showed up to work on our house.

How could I not be willing to sacrifice a Saturday? (Can I even call it a sacrifice?)

The training was splendid. A great deal of information that I’m still processing, and it deserves its own post eventually, but one of the things we discussed, and something our beloved new minister has pressed home to our congregation, is that showing up matters.

Your presence matters.

Standing up for what is right…matters.

Buddie’s mom stood (possibly still does) on a corner in their downtown with a cohort of peaceful folks, protesting U.S. involvement in our most recent wars. She did this for years and years, every week.

We stood with them for a few minutes in 2015

We stood with them for a few minutes in 2015

Showing up matters.

Sacrifice matters.

When you have time, listen to this Malcolm Gladwell podcast on Generous Orthodoxy. The big question: People want to know what you are willing to sacrifice for what you believe in.

At this time in our world, we are headed toward a moment when we will be defined by what we are willing to sacrifice. I live an incredibly comfortable, easy life. There has been pain and sorrow, but overall, I understand how blessed I am.

I am also a white, well-educated straight, cis-woman who has (mostly) lived a conventional life in the richest country in the world who has always had a roof over my head, food in my belly, and two parents to care for me in childhood.

What will I be willing to sacrifice?

Would I give up my church as Chester Wenger did? My home? My ability to travel wherever I choose? One meal a week? A day?

What about my family? No, I wouldn’t give them up, but would I give up some of the ease of our family’s life?

We have so much. Some have so little. How do we find, or can we find, safety and care for all?

Escalation

Back in my hall director days at Purdue with Todd, I was in charge of discipline in our hall.

Todd and me with one of our hall leaders.

Todd and me with one of our hall leaders.

One of our Student Advisors (We’ll call him “Chip.”) was a white ROTC member. He was also a responsible, friendly, great person. I liked visiting with him, but there was an incident where Chip and I saw two entirely different perspectives on an issue.

After a late night fire drill, Chip was helping to review student ID’s as sleepy residents filed back indoors. As a white male resident walked past Chip, the student responded to a question from Chip either by ignoring him, or by replying in a way that Chip found disrespectful. Chip chose to follow the student up the stairs as he made his way back to his dorm room, continuing to question the student.

The interaction ended with Chip being told off by the student, whom he then wrote up for disciplinary action.

I met with the student and listened to his side of the story. (Chip’s side was spelled out in the disciplinary report.) I believed the student’s perspective and issued no penalty or punishment for the interaction.

When I let Chip know my decision, he was both angry and confused. He sincerely felt I wasn’t sticking up for him and his authority. I asked him why he had followed the student up the stairs.

“He spoke to me disrespectfully. I had to respond to that. In the military it would never be allowed.”

And there was the critical factor: We were not in the military, and I expected Chip, as a staff member, to de-escalate situations. By following the student up the stairs, he was pushing for escalation. He was forcing the student to respond. Chip wanted a kowtow, and he wasn’t going to get it, so he attempted to force it.

Chip and I had a very honest, good discussion, but I don’t believe he was ever able to understand my perspective. From his perspective my allowing the student…and by extension every student…to not yield to staff authority would lead to chaos and anarchy.

I didn’t have children at that time, but having children has continued to teach me, sometimes brutally, that the person in authority has the power, and must make the decision for de-escalation.

Monkey needed to run back into the house for something back when we still had the funny van. I was feeling anxious about getting somewhere on time and said, as the back van door was sliding open, “Hurry, Monkey, hurry!” in a very pushing, anxious voice.

With a tense look on her face the poor kid tripped on something as she was stepping out of the van, falling out of the van door onto the cement.

That was completely my fault. I escalated that situation. It was in my power to make it low-key, and I didn’t. I followed her up the stairs.

Time and again, we have this choice. Sometimes we choose poorly. Sometimes we keep our cool. And sometimes an issue is worth escalating over.

I’ve been thinking about this in connection to relationships between the police and the African-American community. With my limited, privileged white perspective, it often looks like the officer chooses to escalate the situation. Is in fact trained to do so.

Here are two articles I read today. Both have links to videos which I did not watch because I find it too upsetting. Please choose accordingly.

Black woman calls 911 out of fear of police officer.

Black Man gets arrested for walking on the side of the road.

I have heard so many (generally white people) say, “If he (Black youth) would just have listened, been respectful, done exactly what the officer said, etc…he would have been fine.”

That’s like asking an assault victim what she was wearing.

The person in power makes the choice on whether to escalate the situation or not.

In my home, it can lead to hurt feelings or a scraped knee. In interactions with the police, it can lead to death, on both the civilian and officer sides.

My friend Kathy, who is a leader in the Nashville Metro Police Department shared a story with me about a police chief she heard speak who in his entire career did not have a single civilian complaint lodged against him. In a long career, that is an amazing accomplishment. When asked, he said it was because he was careful to always preserve the dignity of the people with whom he interacted. For some of them, that was all they had. If you take that away, they have nothing to lose.

I’m not sure if this is the same officer Kathy was discussing, but I think this post does a lovely job explaining the concept.

Speak peace from your place of power.

In your home, on the street, within your heart.

Williams 25th – The Permanent Record

Williams asked me to write a 25th anniversary summary of what I’ve been up to. Since this is the Gemignani permanent record, here it is. Names have been changed, because we are spies.

I had the extreme good fortune to meet Ginnie, my wife, partner and love shortly after graduation. We bonded over a blind date ballroom dancing (though not with each other), a shared love of L.A Story, snark and tackles.

Twelve years ago, I cofounded Juice Analytics with my brother Zach (erhm, Uncle Z). We’ve seen ups and downs and ups (and…). It’s been a great partnership. I’ve gradually transformed into a software developer, or even an engineer on my best days. I love building community, sharing my days with talented and dedicated folks, and honest laughter. Years at big companies (mostly Citibank) left me with more political weasel than I’d like.

Three beautiful, funny and quirky children share our nest. “Monkey” was born in 2002, “Buster” in 2004 and “Yessa” (She’s a girl!) in 2006. They’re now an age where their tongues are as sharp as rapiers, their memories like elephants, but their bodies still occasionally as snuggly as church mice. We homeschool and that’s allowed us freedom to travel. Last year included 7 weeks in Italy. One word, Sicily.

Ginnie and I ping-ponged from St Louis, Missouri; West Lafayette, Indiana (Ginnie’s move); Newark, Delaware (my move); Des Moines, Iowa (Ginnie’s move and where all three kids were born); Reston, Virginia (my move). Today we’re in Nashville, which feels like home. We’ve loved and buried four pets, found Crossfit and Unitarian Universalism. We’ve happily gone our own way, a small tribe of quiet half-rebels.

My time at Williams was sweet. In this open, internet world, I don’t know what Williams my children will find. Change comes and we try to meet it with an open heart.

Graduation with Sarah, Ellen, and Pete.

Graduation with Sarah, Ellen, and Pete.

Our family this year in Vinalhaven, ME

Our family this year in Vinalhaven, ME

Ladyfriends.

Ladyfriends.

Our wedding in 1995 with the Williams Crew.

Our wedding in 1995 with the Williams Crew.

Buster Hair

Lots of hair flying around here.

Uncle George spent a couple hours with us at Grandma’s house on our recent visit. I always love to see my brother, and I love to see how my crew interacts with him. Uncle George is a huge tease, but he really works to get to know my crew, asks great questions, pushes them to share their ideas and thoughts, and anything he thinks, he’ll say.

Uncle George also has a pretty clear set of social mores he thinks should be followed. It’s been tough for him to wrap his mind around Buds and me not needing to control Buster’s hair. He was telling Buster how much he loved his short hair on the Italy trip.

Buster’s hair hadn’t been cut since Italy, so over a year since the last time I cut it. And when we saw Uncle George, he began a campaign to convince Buster it was time to snip, snip, snip.

The great thing about George is that he’s a safe person for my kids to learn how to stand up for themselves with. I have, and would, step in with anyone who was bullying or crossing over a line with my crew, but Uncle George really is interested and cares about them. He doesn’t always understand our life or the decisions we’ve made as a family, but he’s not judgmental (or he hides it well.)

At first it was just questions about the hair, but once the children were sharing their plans for their allowance, and Uncle George learned that The Buster was in debt to Monkey for three months of allowance, he saw a potential lever.

“Buster, I’ll give you $100 to cut your hair.”

Thus began an hour long conversation/debate/bargaining/mediation.

Buster has a very strong sense of self and his preferences. And he hates having his hair cut for a variety of sensory/pain reasons. It was completely his decision, though both Buds and I mentioned how good it would feel to get out of debt, and that if he played Uncle George just right, this could be a money-maker for years to come.

Eventually the bargaining reached Uncle George’s offer to give Buster 12 months of allowance in return for a “boy” hair cut, meaning above the ears on the sides, and above the collar on the back.

We video conferenced with Buds so he could be in on the fun, funny discussion, and finally a deal was struck.

Like our dad...he still carries old school cash.

Like our dad…he still carries old school cash.

The next morning, we headed out to Grandma’s garage with a pair of sharp scissors, a spray bottle, and a comb.

We could have gone to a salon to have it done, but Buster would prefer I cut his hair, no matter how imperfectly.

Before:

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Before

Before

Let's get this DONE!

Let’s get this DONE!

If you have hair cutting skills, don’t watch the video because it will traumatize you.

My goal was to complete the process as quickly and painlessly as possible, and we got the job done.

The hair from the back.

The hair from the back.

Good look.

Good look.

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It will need to be straightened with the clippers at home, but we both survived, and he’s out of debt.

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We look even more alike now:

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One other aspect of this whole story that I loved was the chance for the kids and me to discuss gender norms. Uncle George has a definite sense of what a “boy” haircut should be. (I should have asked George to share the story of our dad’s threat to cut off the “tail” he grew in his hair when we were younger. That was you, right, George? Or was that David?)

This whole interaction was a good discussion about what our family believes; how Uncle George wouldn’t have made this offer to either of the girls because girls can have long or short hair; what messages society as a whole sends to boys and girls; and how you learn to stand up for yourself and what you believe. And it was a great chance to talk about having respectful differences in opinion and beliefs from people you love, yet you still love them.

It was a fun visit, and I’m so grateful my brother makes time to get to know our kids. And now Buster can grow his hair for another year. Who knows how much a haircut will be worth to Uncle George in a year?!

Monkey Hair

Monkey’s been comfortable with me cutting her hair, or cutting her own hair, for many years now, but recently she decided she’d like a chance to have a professional give her some hair insight. I like and respect my stylist, Kyle, so Monkey and I headed over to see him on a Wednesday morning.

Let's discuss what you want.

Let’s discuss what you want.

Of course the discussion began with Kyle telling her how much he loved the color of hair. She hears that all the time, but hearing it from a professional who has done Gwyneth Paltrow’s hair is nice. (Name drop.)

Monkey was open to suggestions on changing her hair, but Kyle opted to mostly even out the length, thin, and make it flow better, rather than any drastic changes for this first visit.

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We think this may have been the first time a hair dryer was ever used on her hair.

We think this may have been the first time a hair dryer was ever used on her hair.

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A professional cut brought out more of the natural flow and luster, and we had a great time visiting with Kyle and laughing. He was telling us about growing up as one of 6 kids. They were the only children in their neighborhood who hated weekends because his mom had them doing chores all weekend. He was the “baseboard” kid; wiping down all the baseboards in all the rooms every weekend.

That was a chore I hadn’t even considered for our crew!

Final snips.

Final snips.

She was tickled.

She was tickled.

Having a child who thoughtfully considers how she’d like to present herself to the world, while staying true to herself and what she values, is a joy. I’m thankful for the lessons she teaches me.