In my last post, about my memories of a friend who has passed, I said that I write in order to remember, to share, and to heal. This week, the world has changed again, and I have asked myself what my role is as a writer. At times I have written to encourage and inspire. At other times, to entertain and connect. Today, I am writing to record, respond, and show solidarity.

It’s not enough and it won’t change the world, but after grappling with my fears of saying the wrong thing, I’ve decided that this is what I have to offer in this moment. And while no one needs it or is asking for it from me, it’s what is going on in my heart and in my home. My fear of anyone thinking that George Floyd and black lives are not on my radar or don’t matter to me is far greater than my fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.

I have spent the past week reading, watching, listening, hurting, and going way too deep into Twitter comments and IG Lives. All day on Tuesday I grappled with whether or not to post the “black square.” After much research and consideration, I finally decided that it was problematic and I did not.

I scrolled past list after list of links, resources, and books and thought about adding my own, but I did not. I thought about taking inventory in my own home of books, music, art, and toys showing diversity and posting a picture, but I did not. (I did take inventory, and came up with many books by and about people of color, plus a Black Panther T-shirt, but I did not post about it.)

Unfortunately for those of us in Baltimore, this is not new. The outrage over the death of an African-American man at the hands of police, or the related issues. In 2015, our city experienced what is now called the Baltimore Uprising, but was then simply called riots and looting after Freddie Gray died in police custody. I wrote about it here. It was not the first time I had talked to my children about racism, but it was the first time I had to figure out how to talk to them about police brutality.

I was in high school when the video of Rodney King being beaten by the LAPD came out; it was on the news but it was not on a phone in my hand. It was not in my hometown. My kids were 9 and 6 in 2015, and attending a school with a nearly 50% minority student population. Many of their classmates lived in the neighborhoods affected by the riots. Most kids were on or exposed to social media. There was no ignoring or avoiding the news.

In 6th grade, my son had a teacher who based the entire curriculum on Black Lives Matter, which this teacher called the modern-day Civil Rights movement. Most of what they read, discussed, and wrote about centered on this topic. I’m not going to lie—it was controversial. Many parents, white and black, clashed with this teacher and questioned the curriculum. I did not love that my 11yo was reading first-hand accounts of violence by imprisoned teens, but would I shield him from books about slavery or the Holocaust? No. In the end, my son did well in the class and I am glad he had exposure to issues I certainly wouldn’t have brought up on my own at the dinner table. And it laid the ground work for the dinner-table discussions we’re having today.

What I’m continuing to learn is that avoiding issues like systemic racism and police brutality is a privilege. Addressing them is imperfect and uncomfortable. Talking about them in your home is hard enough, and on social media feels near-impossible. There’s no shortage of people to shout others down, criticize them, call them names, or worse.

So why address it at all online, you might ask? Because silence doesn’t help anything. And because that’s where the conversation needs to happen.

I turned to one of my favorite podcasts for guidance: in Episode 156 of the Edit Your Life podcast, host Christine Koh interviews Amber Coleman-Mortley, director of social engagement at iCivics, Inc. on how to talk to kids about race. Amber shares what she said when her daughter commented that “all the black boys” on the playground played rough, and her video-game analogy for explaining privilege to her sons.

In response to a question I asked Amber on Instagram (@momofallcapes) about engaging apathetic teens who think “why bother speaking up?”, she replied:

“It’s so important to empower your teens to have courage to stand up. I’m finding that group chats, TikTok and Snap Stories are prime spaces where racism and racist cyber bullying is happening. Talk about community responsibility. Contextualizing allyship as ‘being a good friend,’ often resonates more. We must be vigilant.”

She also quoted educator and activist Angela Davis who said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

As beloved ex-royal badass Meghan Markle said in a video she recorded for students graduating from her former high school in LA, “The only wrong thing to say is to say nothing.”

LINK O’ THE DAY: I really appreciated this video by ex-NFL player and ESPN commentator Emmanuel Acho, which I shared with my sons. He gives thoughtful responses to questions he’s been asked, like “What good does rioting do?” and “Why is it OK for you to say the N-word but white people can’t?”

LAUGH O’ THE DAY: I can’t help it. It must be in my DNA to seek out humor, even if it’s dark. This reply to an “all lives matter” commenter made me chuckle:

“I’m curious, what is it about the statement ‘black lives matter’ that might suggest other lives don’t matter, or that other groups don’t also deserve respect? For example, if I said ‘save the coral reef,’ should one take that as a suggestion that I think all other reefs can go to hell?”

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My Friend Jim

by Abby on May 16, 2020

Well, this pandemic has not panned out like I thought. Is that a ridiculous statement, or what? My efforts to revive this blog, to write regularly, to hire someone to fix it for me, to guide my kids through distance learning, to navigate my own fears, stresses, and existential dread? None of it has worked out. I can’t examine or explain it. I’m too depleted. But today I sat down to write the way I used to, in order to remember, to share, and hopefully, to begin to heal. Here it is. 

Photo by Aaron Andrew Ang on Unsplash
Photo by Aaron Andrew Ang on Unsplash
This is not Jim, but it reminded me of him because he had a great head of hair.

My Friend Jim

“Abigail! It’s Jim [Fullname]. Just calling to see how you and the boys are doing. Can you believe what’s going on in the news? Reminds me of this thing my dad used to say… Anyway, call me back when you get a chance. I know you’re busy.” 

Once every few months I would hear the rumbly, rambling voice of my old friend Jim on my voicemail. We met 20+ years ago when I first moved to Maryland, and he lived across the hall from me in an old Victorian house that had been carved into apartments.

He swears he remembers the exact day, by the mailboxes, and me exclaiming “I’m only 22!” in response to his astonishment that I didn’t know something. (Like how to sign up for mail forwarding, maybe, or that the guy I was dating with the obnoxiously loud sports car would turn out to be a jerk. There was a lot I didn’t know back then.)

A Vietnam vet, a bachelor, and a free spirit, Jim’s apartment was chock full of art and plants and knick-knacks collected over his colorful life. I know this because he asked me to water his plants and feed his fish while he was away on business. I was happy to do it.

When he was in town, we’d hang out now and then. He’d take me to dinner or a craft show or a play. He was into the arts, and I was into hanging out with someone who was interesting and interested in more than going out to bars and talking about their job. 

We were kindred spirits. That might sound weird to some people, that a 20-something woman and a 50-something man could be true friends, but we were. I’ve never believed that friendship has to look a certain way or come in a certain package. I think if you’re lucky enough to find a few people in your lifetime who truly “get” you and make you feel like your best self when you’re with them, you’re very lucky. 

Jim was close to his family, who lived in his native Michigan. He talked endlessly about his clever and adorable nieces, his beloved dad, who’d passed away, and his “Ma,” a strong and capable woman.

One time we were driving through downtown Baltimore in his old blue Volvo and a car ran a red light, narrowly missing broadsiding us. Jim immediately pulled over and said “I gotta call my Ma. ‘Ma! Abigail and I almost got into an accident, but we’re OK.’” That struck me as so sweet. And, yes, he always called me by my full name for some reason. 

Jim eventually moved back to Michigan to care for his mom. We kept in touch over the years, exchanging Christmas cards and calls. I could always count on him to remember my birthday, June 21. “You’re my Summer Solstice girl!” he’d say. 

Our phone conversations followed a rough pattern: catching each other up on family news, political rants (he was not a fan of our current president, to put it mildly), and usually, a couple of dirty jokes. Jim had quite the repertoire–he rarely repeated a joke. Example: 

A woman goes to the dentist. To her dismay, the dentist tells her she needs a root canal. 

Woman: “Oh no! Is it going to hurt? I think I’d rather have a baby than get a tooth pulled!” 

Dentist: “Well, make up your mind. I’ll have to adjust the chair.”

Jim had a lot of health problems stemming from his time in the Vietnam War. When he’d talk about them, it was with frustration. His eye was bothering him again; his legs wouldn’t work the way he wanted them to. But after a few minutes, he’d be back to his gruff, cheerful self. “Ma’s going to be 97, can you believe it? She’s got more energy than I do. I have to tell her to slow down.”

Both Jim and his mom, like the rest of us, were growing weary of being cooped up in the house during the coronavirus quarantine. They were grudgingly adjusting to online Mass and having their groceries delivered and disinfected by his nieces, he told me the last time we spoke. 

The voicemail on my phone last week was from a Michigan number, but the voice was not Jim’s. It was his mother’s, telling me that Jim was not doing well. He had been in the hospital and his health was declining rapidly. I told her to give him my love and let him know I was thinking about him. Just four days later, I got another voicemail asking me to call her. With a pit in my stomach, I put the kids to bed and called her back. 

“Jimmy passed this morning,” she told me with a quaver in her voice. “I wanted you to know because you were so special to him.” 

“And he was to me, too,” I choked out. “I’m so, so sorry.” 

This was a real blow. So sudden, so unexpected, and so at the worst time ever. As if there’s ever a good time to lose a loved one. My heart breaks for his “Ma” and his family. And for me.

Jim was a true friend. A kindred spirit. A person who showed up for me over and over, across the years and the miles, to let me know he was thinking of me. I was lucky to have him in my life for as long as I did. I will miss him. And on my birthday, I will replay his last voicemail and listen to that rumbly voice once again. “Did you hear the one about the priest … ?”

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Experiencing All the Moods and All the Online Content

April 5, 2020

I spent $27 on gas in March. That’s an interesting and unprecedented accomplishment. It proves that we’re taking the stay-home order seriously. And so does the additional hundreds of dollars spent on food and booze, I guess? My grocery bill has never been higher, but our dining-out expenditures have never been lower. I did order […]

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Fitness for Cringey Moms and Grumpy Teens

March 26, 2020
Les Mills barre workout

Man, what a rollercoaster, huh? One minute we’re all, “This is an adventure! We’ll make waffles and watch movies!” And the next we’re wailing into our weighted blankets about how we’ll pay the bills or force our teens to do algebra for the next 2 months. Yep, as of yesterday, they’ve closed schools here in […]

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Thoughts on Anxiety at 3 a.m.

March 22, 2020

Two nights in a row now, I’ve woken up at 3 a.m. Why is it always 3 a.m.? It’s like my body has its own internal anxiety alarm clock. Time to wake up and obsess over every bad thing that could possibly happen!  This is particularly distressing to me because I am a big sleeper. […]

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How to Make Jell-O, and other Life Skills

March 19, 2020

So here we are, Day … oh, who knows? With schools closed and everything shut down, the days are all blurring together and each 24-hour period feels like 3 days. In some ways, though, our new reality is not that different for me. There are lots of jokes flying around the freelance/work-at-home community like this:  […]

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Parenting in the Time of Coronavirus

March 16, 2020

Hello readers, old and new! I haven’t been writing regularly on this blog for a few years, for a variety of reasons. But I’ve decided to start again, at least for the next little while. This is a historic time we’re living through, and it feels important to document it in my own words.  In […]

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Revisiting the Nutcracker

December 3, 2019

Here’s a look back at one of my favorite holiday posts. Ah, memories! 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 […]

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The Homeless Man at Breakfast

December 7, 2017

“Enough with the homeless man! Sit down and eat your yogurt parfait!” You know your parenting has gone awry if you find yourself hissing these words at your 8yo son in Panera, as I did one recent Saturday morning. Let me explain. Our family had decided to go out to breakfast. A rare occurrence, since […]

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Playing with Dolphins

October 20, 2017

It’s not every day I find myself on a standup paddleboard in warm, turquoise waters. But one morning last week, that’s exactly where I was, three days into a girls’ trip to the Gulf Coast of Florida. The trip could not have been better timed, stress-wise or weather-wise. I pushed for the paddleboards, having done […]

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