In 1971 my mom was fired from her job as a public school teacher for being pregnant with my brother. She was married, but the law in Connecticut at that time stated that female teachers could not work past their fifth month of pregnancy.

The teachers union took her case to court, even though she was not a member because she couldn’t afford the $85 membership fee. First dismissed as a labor dispute, my mother’s case eventually was deemed a civil rights issue. A judge ruled that her termination was gender discrimination. My mom won the case. She changed the law for all women after her.

“I was so embarrassed!” she told me recently about all the attention she received. “I wasn’t an activist.”

I never thought I was, either. I’ve always found politics to be confusing, intimidating, and overwhelmingly negative—and that’s even before this last election. I never had any desire to discuss or debate it, and certainly not with strangers on the Internet. Not only did I not want to invite arguments and vitriol, but I believed I wasn’t informed enough to speak up. And I worried that talking politics would alienate and anger people.

Like many Americans, however, this last election changed things for me. I couldn’t ignore politics anymore. I couldn’t NOT talk about what was happening in our country, at least with my family.

My children are now old enough, at ages 7 and 10, to notice what is going on in the world. They are learning about American history and current events at school and they started coming home with questions. LOTS of questions. HARD questions that I couldn’t answer. I’ve educated myself as best I can, but up until now I have mostly been reading, observing, and processing. Besides voting, there was no clear action for me to take.

That began to change when I listened to President Obama’s farewell speech on January 10 in Chicago. “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted,” he said. “It needs you.” (Me?!) But what really got me was this part:

If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try to talk with one in real life. If something needs fixing, lace up your shoes and do some organizing. If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Persevere.

I’m not at the organizing or running for office stage yet. But he had me at the “getting off the Internet and talking to real people” part. And the “showing up” part. That’s what I wasn’t doing. I was all talk think, no action.

Then I heard about the Women’s March on Washington, and suddenly I felt compelled to show up. That’s the exact right word: compelled. Pounding heart, fluttering stomach, an unequivocal “Hell, yes!” Strong urges don’t strike me very often, so I paid attention.

But then I began to hear from people questioning my safety and the crowds and even what’s the point? I started to overthink it and fear took over. And besides, I had no one to go with and no way to get there.

Then I got a text at 11pm the night before the march saying a spot had opened up on a bus to D.C. I jumped. I went with a friend who works in public health, is married to an immigrant, and has a mixed-race daughter. Until now, she didn’t consider herself an activist, either. No pink hat for her. Ha!

Two women with signs at the Capitol for the Womens March on Washington

I didn’t wear one, either, but I did wear a pink scarf. I made a sign that said “Make America Kind Again.” My kids made signs for me that said “Peace for All” and “Be the change you want to see in the world.” They came up with them entirely on their own. #SoProud

Signs made by my kids for the Womens March on Washington: Peace for All, Be the change you want to see in the world

My friend and I rode a chartered school bus the 50 miles to D.C., then walked two miles to the Capitol along with many other marchers. We passed a half dozen National Guardsmen in Humvees, but for the rest of the day we’d see a total of maybe four police officers. There was no security checkpoint, however, attendees had been told to bring only clear bags.

National Guard Humvees in Capitol Hill, Jan 21, 2017

The mood was celebratory. People waved and greeted us along our route, and many people stopped to take selfies and group photos with their signs and banners. There were rows and rows of Porta-potties (labeled Don’s Johns, ha!). We passed the empty bleachers and seats still set up from the Inauguration the day before.

Don's Johns portapotties set up for the presidential inauguration in Washington DC, Jan 21, 2017

We followed the crowd and made our way over to the National Air and Space Museum overlooking Independence Ave. We found a good spot on a wall with a view of one of the jumbotrons.

I heard some astonishing speeches. Actresses America Ferrara and Ashley Judd spoke about immigration and women’s reproductive rights. Amanda Nguyen, a 24yo rape survivor, spoke about fighting for Congress to pass a sexual assault survivors’ bill of rights. I also heard speeches by Donna Hylton, a criminal justice reform advocate who was in prison for 27 years; filmmaker Michael Moore; and D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser.

Crowds on Independence Ave for the Womens March on Washington DC, Jan 21, 2017

Also, feminist icon Gloria Steinem. Gloria Steinem!! What a thrill that was for a Vassar grad… She reiterated President Obama’s points: “Sometimes we must put our bodies where our beliefs are. Sometimes pressing ‘send’ is not enough.”

By this time the crowd had grown… and grown. We feared being knocked off the wall so we decided to get a head start on the march and began making our way to the street. Only to be stopped by a solid wall of people. We couldn’t move; there was nowhere to go. At one point we were pressed so close to the people around us that I could inspect my neighbors’ dental work.

Crowds on Independence Ave for the Womens March on Washington DC, Jan 21, 2017

It sounds uncomfortable, and at times it was. There were a few people who got pushy and impatient, some because they were trying to maneuver a wheelchair through the crowd or get a child to the bathroom, and some were clearly feeling panicked and claustrophobic. Totally understandable. My friend could not even tie her shoe because her arms were pinned to her sides. A few of us formed the tiniest circle we could manage around her and another woman bent down to tie it for her.

This is where my yoga and meditation practices came in handy, I truly believe. Yoga helped me keep my balance and meditation helped me keep my head. “This will pass. We’ll start moving soon,” a mother from Brooklyn reassured her young daughter. Their whole family (dad, older sister, grandparents) was standing near us. The mood was remarkably upbeat, polite, and energizing.

Every so often, a chant would break out: “Start! The! March! Start! The! March!” We did not know at the time that marching was impossible because there were so many people clogging the streets. Here is an aerial video I saw later of the spot where we were standing. See that metal pyramid thingie? There I am!

Aerial View of Womens March on Washington, Jan 21, 2017, Independence Ave.

I couldn’t access the Internet so I texted my husband to find out what was happening. His reply, cut and pasted from the AP website: “With the crowd so big organizers cannot lead a formal march towards the White House.”

Many people had climbed up on top of Porta-potties and into trees to get a better view. “Tree people!” we called. “Tell us what you see!” “No one’s moving!” they called back. A short time later, another chant broke out: “Go that way! Then turn left!” Slowly, slowly, we began moving toward the Mall. Soon, we were actually marching. At last!!

By that time, we had to start the walk back to the meeting point so we wouldn’t miss the bus home. But we got what we came for. I know I did. Going to the march helped me clarify my role in all this. In my life, in my work, and in our democracy. (How’s THAT for a bold claim?!)

I realized it’s not my role to become a political analyst or pundit. We’ve already got one of those in my family. It’s not my role to share strong opinions or convince other people to believe what I believe. It’s not my role to explain or interpret or defend. My role is to show up and share what I see. My role is to shine a light on the positive, while not ignoring the negative.

Standing on that wall in downtown Washington, I saw a sea of people. So many pink hats with pointy ears. So many signs—funny, angry, hopeful, creative, colorful signs. I saw a rainbow of people—white people, brown people, black people; gay, straight, and transgender people; people in wheelchairs, people in headscarves, people with babies; people with white hair, purple hair, rainbow hair.

Crowds on Independence Ave for the Womens March on Washington DC, Jan 21, 2017

I read a comment by one of those strangers on the Internet: “We live in the greatest country in the world. What on earth is there to protest?” To answer that, you had only to look around at the signs carried by those millions of marchers:

Not My President. Dump Trump!

The Electoral College Is Going to Ruin this Country

Keep Your Tiny Hands Off Our Public Lands

Keep Your Laws Off My Uterus

Keep Abortion Legal

Keep Guns Out of Schools

Bridges Not Walls

Climate Change Is Real

White Silence = Violence

Black Lives Matter

Respect Women of Color

Japanese Americans Against the Muslim Registry

And one of my personal favorites, older women carrying signs that said: I Can’t Believe I Still Have to Protest This Shit.

Women sitting on a wall with their signs at the Womens March on Washington DC, Jan 21, 2017

It wasn’t all protests, though, and it wasn’t all angry. Many signs bore positive messages, such as: Love Trumps Hate; This Is What Unity Looks Like; We the People Are Greater than Fear. One of the most remarkable things about the day was that I saw no hecklers, no fighting, no vandalism, and I would read later that there were zero arrests. While attendance numbers are still being collected, some experts are calling the Women’s Marches across the U.S. the largest day of demonstrations in American history.

So back to my role in all this. While I started out in my career as a journalist and a fact-checker, what really interests me are personal narratives. I believe that first-person stories are what really touch people’s hearts. You can argue with a person’s politics, you can debate their opinions, but you cannot deny a person’s experience or feelings.

Especially now, in this climate of mistrust and made-up facts, if I can share my story and my family’s story and provide some perspective by giving an honest account of my experience, then I believe I am doing a service to my readers.

I went to the Women’s March in Washington scared and uncertain and, like my mom, a little embarrassed (who, me, an activist?). But mostly I felt excited and proud. In the conclusion of his farewell address, President Obama said of our democracy:

Presuming a reservoir of goodness in others can be a risk, and there will be times when the process disappoints you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America – and in Americans – will be confirmed.

On January 21, 2017, I saw it up close. I was energized and inspired. And my faith in America is confirmed.

Martin Luther King Jr quote on a sign in Capitol Hill, Washington DC on Jan 21, 2017

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I love it when different threads from different parts of my life come together. It makes me feel like I know what I’m doing, like maybe I had a plan all along. It’s like that Steve Jobs quote: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

Over-water bungalows in French Polynesia

When I was in college I would often fantasize about working for Club Med in Bora Bora after graduation. This fantasy derived from a combination of factors, including:

a) my fascination with tropical islands,

b) my love of travel, and

c) the fact that I was a French major and as such, had limited job prospects.

I can’t recall exactly why this didn’t pan out. Maybe because Club Med was inundated with applications from unemployed French majors? Maybe because of the vaccinations it would have required? (I hate shots.) Who knows.

Anyhow, my French Polynesian dreams were put on hold, though the fascination continued. In graduate school, I did a multimedia project on the island nation of Tonga, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. (Made famous recently by their shirtless, coconut-oiled flagbearer in the 2016 Rio Olympics.)

And years later, I found myself vacationing in the British Virgin Islands with my future husband. Those dramatic, peaked islands were just as lush and magical as I’d imagined Bora Bora would be. And the secluded, palm tree-lined beaches were straight out of the “Tropical Dreams” calendar that hung in my cubicle. The trip only fueled my island fever more.

Fast-forward many more years, to when I took my kids to see Disney’s Moana a few months ago. Have you seen this movie yet? I adored it. The colorful animations, the girl-power storyline, the catchy music. (Fun fact: the soundtrack features songs written by “Hamilton” superstar Lin-Manuel Miranda.) Back home, I did some research: “Moana” takes place in Oceania, the region encompassing those familiar Polynesian islands. No wonder I was drawn to the movie!

Disney's Moana Movie

Next, my random wanderings of the library aisles – which is how I almost always choose books, BTW – led me to Sarah Turnbull’s All Good Things, a memoir of her time spent living on Tahiti. I quickly realized I had previously read Turnbull’s first book about adapting to life in Paris, Almost French. More of those threads coming together…

Her second book gives an intriguing glimpse into what it’s really like to live on an island many consider “paradise.” Mostly it is, however, Tahiti has its share of crime and social problems (drugs, petty theft), just like anywhere else.

One part I found particularly fascinating was when she describes how their cleaning lady stops showing up for a few weeks, then reappears casually with a simple explanation: “J’etais fiu.” The Tahitian term can be translated as fed up, tired, or “over it.” (Or: my normal state in winter.)

Even more interesting is that Turnbull does some research into this condition, which is similar to depression, and finds that instead of denying or repressing it, “Polynesians allow themselves to succumb to it. Just like the wet-season rains, feeling fiu is considered a normal part of the life cycle and it is understood it will pass eventually.”

Turnbull discovers that “this ability to switch off and withdraw may go way back. For the first Polynesians, long ocean voyages were as much a mental challenge as a physical one.” Like parenting in winter. I’m not a bad mom, I’m just fiu!

There was a moment last night, on the third day of a loooong holiday weekend, when I hit a wall. I had nothing left to give. The thing I never realized about parenting is that your patience, energy, and positive attitude can run out long before your children’s bedtime. And if you’re the only parent there, you have no choice but to slog through. Oh, you can try using excessive amounts of screen time (for them) or wine (for you) as a crutch. But it’s only going to come back to bite you in the butt.

Somehow, we’ve all got to learn how to survive those mental challenges, those long, drifting sea voyages when there’s no land in sight. We have to figure out how to accept it, stick with it, and know that it will pass eventually. Someday we will see that bright, welcoming shore again.

The kids and I passed that interminable final hour before bedtime by doing every puzzle in the house. Including one of surfing dogs on a tropical beach. I am nothing if not consistent.

boys doing jigsaw puzzles

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Making Time, Holding Space

December 21, 2016

Monday, 2 p.m. T-minus 4 days till Christmas break starts and my free time ends. I don’t have much time. I should be running to Michael’s, Target, maybe Kohl’s (do I have that coupon?). I need to get picture frames for the kids’ school photos I was guilted into buying. (What kind of parent doesn’t […]

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One of My Favorite Things About the Holidays

December 13, 2016

I love them so much. The cheesier, the sappier, the more implausible, the better. I’m talking about holiday movies – the made-for-TV kind, of the Hallmark and Lifetime variety. Every year I try to watch at least one or two. The conditions have to be right, though. My kids can’t be around to interrupt me, […]

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My Picks for Uncommonly Good Christmas Gifts

December 10, 2016

{This is a sponsored post, however, all opinions and gift picks are my own. You’ll see…} I hate to admit it, but the Christmas gift-giving season fills me with dread. It’s not that I don’t like giving or receiving gifts. I do. In fact, nothing makes me happier than coming across the perfect gift for […]

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How The Nutcracker Makes Me Feel Better About Holidays with Kids

December 5, 2016

Fritz could be my kid! I was thrilled to have this realization during one of my many, many viewings of The Nutcracker. I love The Nutcracker—the music, the dancing, the costumes. I am lucky enough to have seen it performed professionally several times. My dad took me to see it as a kid and even […]

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Life Goes On

October 19, 2016

People still have to eat. Even in the midst of grief and loss and unthinkable events, people still need food multiple times a day. This was the thought that occurred to me two days after my father-in-law passed away. On some level, it seemed astounding to me that the world kept turning. I couldn’t believe […]

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You’re Killing Me, September

September 22, 2016

The September tsunami has hit. I had high hopes that this year would be different, and the back-to-school stress would be minimal. I tried. Oh, how I tried. I went school-supply shopping — blessedly without the kids (their idea) — painstakingly digging through the picked-over bins at Target, Michael’s, Rite Aid, and Big Lots (yep, […]

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I’ve Been Doing Self-Care Wrong

September 7, 2016

Turns out I’ve been doing it all wrong. The whole time I’ve been an adult, and especially a mom, I have been approaching self-care the wrong way. But first let me just say that it took me a while to get comfortable with that term, “self-care.” It sounded so… cheesy? Touchy-feely? Indulgent? Far less appealing, […]

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Dreaming of Water

August 1, 2016

“Mama, sometimes I dream something that happens in real life.” “Really?” I don’t tell him then, but this has happened to me, too. A room, a rug, a place—snippets of subconscious that come to life at a later date. A flicker of recognition, a feeling of déjà vu. Where have I seen this before? Oh, […]

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