New Traditions

Posted: November 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

This week, the brother I grew up with has been dead 20 years. I wonder who he might have become. I wonder who we might have become.

Urban Tidepool

Over the last ten years, I have picked up a few traditions from my fabulous spouse and our kids, who happen to be Jewish. A couple of years ago, I was so proud of myself that I could remember the words for lighting the Hanukkah candles in Hebrew, which I do not speak, that it took a moment to realize that my fabulous spouse was laughing at me. I paused and asked (in English) what the problem was. She informed me that I had my Hebrew words mixed up and I had just blessed the wine…that we were not having. Twice. But it’s not all that bad. Some of these, I do get right.

One of my other favorite borrowed traditions is lighting a yahrzeit candle on the anniversary of someone’s death as a way of celebrating their life and symbolizing lighting their way to peaceful afterlife. October often feels…

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This past Saturday was the day of our big agency fundraiser, Dare to Dream. I joke about it being the 9th time we were running an event that we meant to offer just once. I am asked each year to provide a “state of the agency” commentary to bring our donors up to speed on new and/or fun things that have happened in the past year since we last met. Our landscape for LGBT service provision has changed. Our expectations have changed. I’ve changed. Here’s why.

From Youth Outlook state of the agency, October 21, 2017:

I promised the board members I wouldn’t get sad and sappy while I was up here so let’s pick up where we left off last year. Last year at this event, four days after the election, we talked about community, hope, persistence and determination.

Eleven and a half months later, I can tell you that determination has only grown. I’d love to be able to say we’ve been unaffected by the changes but that wouldn’t be true. A few weeks ago, I even wrote an open letter to the Youth Outlook kids which you will hear in a few minutes. (https://urbantidepool.com/2017/10/05/an-open-letter-to-the-youth-outlook-youth/) While most of the responses to it were positive, one parent did tell me I was fear mongering and then told me I was living in a fantasy because the world has never been and will never be safe.

My first thought to that was –is it fear mongering when I tell you outright what I am afraid of or I repeat what kids have said they are afraid of? I’m not sure I understand your use of that word.

My next thought to that was Wow. We will always believe in safe space. I know what we’ve done in just this past year to create safe, brave space for kids who were struggling with assault, homelessness, rape, and thoughts of suicide.

It’s not like we’re wearing blinders. We know what we are up against. Any one of the staff team can quote Southern Poverty Law Center information that anti-LGBT hate crimes have increased across the country, moving us from the number 4 spot to the number 3 spot since November, outranked only by anti-Black and anti-immigration hate crimes. Anyone of them can tell you that according to GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Educators’ Network, we had seen national declines in verbal and physical harassment and sexual violence for several consecutive years, until 2015, when we saw an uptick in every one of those categories and we’re hearing stories that suggest we will probably see another increase in those stats when the 2017 report is released.

We know those things are out there. We’ve seen the Confederate flags flying in our neighborhoods and we’ve led conversations with our kids about white supremacy, privilege and violence.

You know what else is out there? One–A new, rural Youth Outlook drop in center. We put our heads together with a wonderful group of people from the Open Table United Church of Christ in Ottawa last spring and before I could blink twice, we had a drop in center running there that became the second biggest program that we offer.

So that’s out there.  Two– We’ve successfully launched about one new drop in center per year. In a big year, we’ve done two, but those are the exception. This year, we’re averaging about one new request per month to come into a different community and open a another site. The need is there and people are responding to it in ways we have not seen before.

Three–About a month ago, we called together the first meeting of the leadership of the countywide networks of professionals that work with LGBT kids. The network groups are responsible for planning professional development in each of their locations. We started with one in DuPage County, then added DeKalb, then Kane, then Suburban Cook created their own modeled after ours, and now three other counties are considering joining this effort to keep putting accurate, positive information about LGBT kids out into the conversation.

Four–Last June, Youth Outlook had the busiest Pride month we’ve had in the history of the agency, as more corporations than ever asked us to speak for their events. We said yes—to everything. It was Pride month. We weren’t going to do sad and sappy.

In the background of those requests, I took a Friday afternoon off to plant some flowers in my back yard. Some of you have heard me reference my neighbors. They are a rough crowd. So here I am spending my Friday afternoon playing in the dirt, one of my favorite things, and I can hear the neighbors on the other side of my fence. It’s Dyke this, Dyke that, and hey how much fun is it to park that dyke next door into her driveway so she can’t get out past the fire hydrant and the end of my truck?  Yuk, yuk, yuk.

This is, unfortunately, not anything new. I’ve been listening to these people for several years. What was new this year was that it didn’t stop there. I did what I always do—I channeled my inner Michelle Obama and when they went low, I went high. I tuned them out. I tuned them out until one of them approached the fence near where I was working, unzipped his fly and urinated on the fence so that it splashed through on me.

It took two days for it to fully register with me what had happened. I am 52 years old. I have a master’s degree and I run an agency that helps kids. And that man called me a dyke and peed on me. I have to wonder—if it took me at 52, with my social network and my professional status, two days to be able to start processing that event, what about the 12 year olds whose families do not know who they are and they can’t dare say it? How are they managing these situations without support?

Later that week, Carrie, Carolyn and I all had Pride presentations to do. We had an agency to talk about and kids in six counties to support. We can skip the sad and the sappy. But by all means, let’s talk about determination. Let’s talk about defiance and standing up for ourselves and for our kids.

Let’s talk about looking around at what’s going on and saying not just no, but HELL no? This might have gone over in 1998 when I started working here. But now? This is not going to fly. We will not stop talking about what helps LGBT young people feel safe. Part of that is acknowledging what makes them feel unsafe. We will not stop talking about it, no matter how many times I am told that we’re living in a fantasy because we’ve already been told too many times that Youth Outlook IS the only safe space that some kids experience.

I believe we are in for some giant challenges in the coming year. That’s an opportunity for us to step up or step off.

Ask any one of us about this topic, determination. Stepping up is the only option.

boulder

This week I started my 20th year in my job running Youth Outlook where I (do my best to) support the drop-in centers and other services that we offer.  That’s a long stretch of time, especially when I stop to consider that when I started working here, most of you drop-in center kids weren’t even born yet. Matthew Shepard was murdered that week. We were looking forward to a new show called Will and Grace that actually had openly gay characters. Kids were wearing bell-bottom jeans and some cell phones still flipped. Can you believe it?

We’ve done a lot of work since that time. There has been an entire generation of young queerlings who came before you and paved the way, people whose courage and persistence was—and remains– nothing short of heroic. I feel like I need to speak up this week, though, because we’ve just been hit with several positively vile things, despite all of that hard work we’ve put in.

You are coming out at a time when we thought we had made the world a little bit better, a little bit safer for you. Now I wonder if it feels like we offered you a world with an illusion of safety and now that you’re coming out, these positively vile things are dropped on your heads. I wonder if it feels like the world offered you a place to sit and the last nine months have wrenched that chair out from under you.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said it’s okay if you want to serve your country and a few weeks ago, our elected officials announced a ban on transgender individuals serving. That is and will be argued, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed, but it does not change the fact that we are going to argue your right to serve your country. Right in front of you. Again. It does not change the fact that trans people who are serving right now have been put on notice that they are not worth being allowed to wear that uniform.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said you’re safe at your job and no one can discriminate against you simply for being LGBT. I’ve said that very statement to a number of Youth Outlook kids over the years. “You’re safe. You have a right to ask for a job there. Go git ’em!” Then a couple of weeks ago, our elected officials announced that they think it’s okay to fire someone simply for being LGBT.  That is and will be argued, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re going to argue your right to hold a job and not be discriminated against in hiring and termination practices and in benefits administration. Right in front of you. Again. It does not change the fact that people will be fired in the interim and they have been put on notice that their skills and talents are not welcome in certain settings.

It is unthinkable to me that we offered you a world where we said you have inherent value and you are important link in our interconnectedness. Then just a few days ago, our elected officials announced that the US voted against a United Nations resolution calling for a ban on executing LGBT individuals. Truly, truly unthinkable. We stood with countries who want to kill you. We did that. That is and will be argued, and even now the White House is attempting to “clarify” what it meant by voting NO, and I’m confident that in the end it will be dismissed. But it doesn’t change the fact that we just made a huge public statement about our representatives’ profound contempt for queer lives. We did that. Right in front of you. Again.

In a year or four or six, you will leave your teenaged selves in the dust and go on with your lives in whatever is left of the world. You will be the next round of heroes because we will need you to clean this mess up. Since I’ve met you, I have no doubt you’ll do exactly that, as scarred as you will be from this viciousness.

It hardly seems fair, does it? It is a colossal universal joke. We told you the world was safe, then in almost the next breath, politicians advocated to take away your right to serve your country, to be free from discrimination, even to be a living, breathing being on the planet, while you listen to them debate your value—while you listen to them debate your right to exist. When this hateful bubble implodes, as we know it will, you’ll be here to take us to the next steps of our humanity, bearing your scars like badges.

It is unthinkable to me that we ask such a monumental task of you. If we could clap our hands over your ears or cover your spirits with our spirits, to keep you from having to absorb this vitriol, please know we would do that.

You will be the heroes. It is unthinkable to me that you wouldn’t be.

Until then, you have my hands and you have my heart~

Nancy

hands and heart jpeg

Wow, these online dating websites are quite popular. I used a couple of them, myself, in addition to some Meet Up groups in my effort to make new friends following my gay-divorce.  (When you get gay-married, you have to get gay-divorced.) Curious process, this. While I did meet a few folks who became friends, I also had some experiences where I doubted that I was speaking the same language as the person with whom I was in contact. Up was down, black was white. Or grey. Or green. Women who claimed not to want drama were expert at creating it. One of the first women who spoke to me asked if I’d like to be Facebook friends and when I declined, she prowled through not-for-profit website after not-for-profit website until she found a photo of me and proudly told me how she tracked me down. I was totally creeped out. No did not mean no? I hadn’t hesitated. I had said NO. I began to wonder if there was a secret decoder ring that would help me understand some of the conflicting messages and language barriers.

Calling Capt’n Crunch! Ovaltine? Anyone?

Alas, not finding a decoding system, I finally decided to write my own.

Mind you, it wasn’t all bad. I like my new friends. They’re kind, decent folks who really were okay with the fact that I was just looking for friends, who became bike ride companions, hiking companions, lunch or let’s-get-coffee companions. Sometimes we compare notes on their experiences on the dating sites and what I saw, and we have found some remarkable similarities. That could be because it seems like it’s the same 40 or 50 women on all of the sites over and over again, so there’s bound to be some similarities.

I suspect these findings are not limited to lesbian dating websites. I suspect cis-het folks get their share of comments like these, as well as people who try to convince them that up is down and black is white. Or grey. Or green. In fact, several of my straight friends howled with laughter when I read this to them and then said, “It’s not just the lesbians doing that, baby!”  I can’t speak to that, though, as it’s been a long time since I went in search of a maaa-yun, or as I sometimes called my housemate, “An XY.” So take these with a grain of salt. Or even a shaker full of it, depending on your own experiences.

For the record, I am open to the idea that I just suck at meeting new people but if that’s the case, it’s a fairly new phenomenon. Like since I turned 50. I mean, it’s entirely possible that my ability to make friends has gone by way of “What did I come in this room for?” that we 50+ folks tolerate of ourselves on a daily basis. I do, however, recall some coaching in grad school about how when you repeatedly walk out of a conversation scratching your head, genuinely puzzled, wondering, “What the hell just happened here?”, it’s also entirely possible that the issue is not yours.

So who knows for sure? Let’s keep the door open to the idea that when I am faced with potential new friends, I draw a blank and can’t remember what I came in this room for. Maybe it’s an ongoing cycle of walking back to my office with a Diet Coke when I really needed to go get some scissors, just with people, instead. I meant to go out and make a friend, but once I got out there, I forgot what I was doing and came back with a puppy, a new refrigerator and someone who really just wants to get married. These things are known to happen, right? While we’re at it, though, let’s also make room for the idea that quite a few of these conversations truly deserved a head scratch and a “What the hell just happened here?”

Here is a list of the comments I heard and saw most frequently, coupled with the things I believe to be the unspoken real statement behind what was said outwardly.

No drama! Translation:  I’m going to treat you poorly and then when you protest, I’m going to complain about the drama you’re creating. Do NOT call me on my shit.

No baggage! Translation:  I have no true desire to get to know you or share with you anything that makes me real, usually because I don’t know what that is. Let’s just figure out if I want to get in your underroos or not, and then we can be done.

No drama/no baggage! Translation:  I’ll be in the wind ten seconds after we say hello.

I’m all about living in the moment.  Translation: What? There are people who actually write about and speak on the topic of mindfulness and it doesn’t mean I really just wanna get laid tonight without complications??? People study this shit? Are you sure?

Feminine only. Translation:  I’m still married and my husband will be involved.

Femmes only.  Translation:  I’m still in the closet and you have to pass as my platonic girlfriend.

Must like to laugh. Translation:  I can’t think of anything else to say about myself because I have no idea who I am.

Sports fan.  Translation:  I can’t have a conversation longer than 4 or 5 sentences that doesn’t involve some sports reference.

Sure, we can be friends, Version 1. Translation: But only until I find someone to date, then I can’t be your friend anymore.

Sure, we can be friends, Version 2.  Translation:  But only until you confirm that you don’t really want to date me, then I won’t be interested in being friends anymore and I’ll blow you off until you get the point, although I’ll never actually admit this out loud.

Sure, we can be friends, Version 3.  Translation:  Whatever, I’m about to ghost you.

No, I don’t want to be in a relationship, either.  Translation: …Unless you want me to be.

I am looking for my soulmate.  Translation:  I can’t make a decision on my own and need someone else to fill in the gaps in my wounded psyche. Please take over the decision making in my life so that when things go wrong, I have someone else to blame and I can be bitter and angry at you forever.

I am looking for my other half.  Translation:  I’ve seen too many Nicholas Sparks movies OR I attempted to recreate a scene from a Harry Potter movie that involved flue powder or splinching and…ooops… (As an aside, this comment often confused me. Don’t people generally want to date and make friends with other people who are already whole all by themselves?)

I am looking for my best friend.  Translation:  I’ve somehow managed to make it to 50 without making any friends, so if we start hanging out together, you have to promise to be EVERYTHING to me because I have no other life.

Family is really important to me, Version 1.  Translation:  Saying I’m doing anything with my family is a good excuse for when I don’t feel like getting together with you.

Family is really important to me, Version 2.  Translation:  I am a single parent and have three kids under 10. Or my grown children all still live in my house. Or I’m the sole caretaker for my aging parent(s), so getting on my calendar to do ANYTHING is impossible, but thanks, it makes me feel really good that you were interested. No, we don’t need to meet in person. I just wanted to introduce myself to a bunch of strangers so they could all know that family is really important to me and that I am unavailable.

I’m spiritual.  Translation:  I don’t give much thought to spirituality at all or how it influences my life. I don’t have an affiliation with any faith community, but I believe in something—I just don’t think about it. But I believe in it. I just don’t think about it. Go ahead. Ask me. You want another beer?

I know we said we’d do something today but now…  Translation:  You’re not on the priority list. You’re not even close to the priority list. But I’d like you to be available the next time I don’t have anything going on, so please keep your calendar clear.

I’m sooooo busy.  Translation:  I didn’t really want to be connected to you, I just want you to chase me.

Sorry I have to break our plans (followed by no attempts to make new plans).  Translation:  A lack of time with you doesn’t mean anything to me…and frankly, neither did having time with you, I just didn’t know how to tell you.

I’m not even sure WHY I set up a profile on that website!  Translation:  Please don’t ask about the other four dating sites I’m also on, there’s no need to talk about THOSE. Nothing to see here, people, nothing to see!

I’m looking for a long term relationship.  Translation:  I want someone who is physically stunning, has a great job with an awesome paycheck, is an elite athlete but still exquisitely feminine, can prioritize me immediately, and lives two houses down because I don’t want to put any work into having to get to the same space she’s in. I don’t drive or own a car, I’m more interested in the size of her waistline than the size of her heart, my conversation skills are limited to, “You have a great smile,” but hey, I’m a find—just ask me how much!

Head scratching and puzzled looks aside, I do tend to be a bit of a smart ass. That needs no translation. I’ll just own that. If you’ve gone exploring in the wild world of online introductions and potential dating without being ghosted, benched, or zombied, I wish you nothing but the best. If you have been ghosted, benched, or zombied, I’m sorry. We’re all grown ups here and it’s a reasonable expectation that another grown up’s communication skills would be better than those three options. But if you find yourself scratching and puzzling, you might want to consider your own decoder system. (Well, after 25 years of working in HIV services, if you find yourself scratching, that might be a topic for another blog—get that to the nearest clinic!)

Until next time, decoding fans!

decoder ring

 

 

 

Tenderness and kindness are not signs of weakness and despair, but manifestations of strength and resolution.   ~ Kahlil Gibran

Last fall, I took a plunge and brought a third dog into my house. I wasn’t puppy shopping at the time. I was really nervous about adding another set of paws to the 12 already living in my small home. The circumstances seemed right, though. Her family loved her and hated to let her go but they wanted a stable place for her. Her “mom” (my friend Lorrie) had died about 6 months prior and her “dad” (my friend John) needed to be able to travel for his job and wasn’t able to care for her.

We decided after numerous conversations that Kiara would become part of the herd here and with the friendship that had formed between her family and me, she could still see her people regularly. It was a great arrangement. She got to be in one place and her dad didn’t have to worry about kenneling her or finding her a dog sitter when he was out of town for work.

I can’t say it wasn’t a difficult start. During the first week that Ki moved in, her dad came over to see how she was adjusting. He had a glass of wine with me and she sat by his feet in this new, strange environment with its extra critters. The next day, every time I walked through the living room, I found her sitting beside the recliner where her dad had sat, with her chin on the armrest. It was so sweet and so loyal, it brought tears to my eyes.

Kiara spent the winter bonding with Chip and chasing the cat around the first floor, poking at him with one pointy paw when he’d let her get close. Mylo was a bit more reserved about having a newcomer and on the night of her arrival, took one look and promptly nipped her on the snout to let her know who was alpha. Kiara got the message. It was Mylo’s house. I don’t think Ki really cared all that much.

I’ve known before now that dogs have a sense of humor but I saw it surface in ways I hadn’t seen with other critters. Kiara played tricks on Chip. She would wait until all dog bowls had hit the floor filled with kibble with the little tablespoon of wet food on top to make it interesting. She’d wait just a bit longer until Chip was engrossed in his breakfast, then she’d run across the room at him, barking at the top of her canine lungs. Chip, rocket scientist that he is (how do I keep ending up with these super sweet, not too bright male dogs?), would fall over himself down the stairs toward the back door, bellowing his warning bark, then standing guard there against absolutely nothing, puffed up to about four times his normal size. He clearly didn’t know WHAT was happening, but SOMETHING was happening and he was going to stop it, by golly!  Kiara would casually swipe the wet dog food off the top of his bowl and go trotting back to her place in the dining room as if nothing had happened. Laughing. I KNEW she was laughing.

The best part of it for her –and maybe the funniest part—was that Chip fell for it not just once or twice. She pulled the Chip-alarm every day for weeks. I finally had to intervene and put a gate up so the poor guy could eat his kibble in peace, without being blown up into the unfortunate dog in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons. I could almost hear her saying to Seamus, “Hey, Cat, watch THIS!”

Kiara was the early riser in the family. She could be tempted to hit the snooze button once in a while if I loudly told her, “No bark!” but her response to that was to climb onto the end of the bed with her pointy legs, sigh, and fidget, while kicking me, until I got up. She had strong opinions about these things.

I think it is safe to say that this was one of the best decisions I ever made. She got it all. She got a house and a yard to romp in, and two new buddies to play with, and her dad could do his job and not have to worry about her and she got to see her other people frequently, which always brought happy sounds and a certain dance with those long, skinny legs. Last week, I needed someone to watch her for a few days so she went for the whole week with one of her people who loves her most in the world.

Kiara came home from her trip last Sunday, ready to romp with the other dogs and resume telling me what time to get up each morning. On Wednesday, we started our day as all days start—with a romp in the yard before kibble, then a walk to sniff around the street and see who’s doing what. We’d gotten only two houses away. She lagged behind to sniff the fire hydrant and the tree and I called her to step up the pace.

We didn’t get any further. Ki collapsed on the driveway, maybe 60 feet from our house. I heard it before I saw it. Bony dog elbows thumping concrete is unmistakable. It was quick. I don’t think she suffered. The vet said it was a sudden onset cardiac issue. There’s no warning, no sign of a problem, so the first time it makes itself known, it’s typically fatal.

My biggest regret is that when she collapsed, I was unable to lift her, to hold her, as she died. She’d gone to visit her person the week before because I had surgery on my shoulder and one week post-surgery, picking her up from a flat-out position on concrete was not a possibility.

I yelled for my neighbor to come help and he rushed outside to see what was wrong. His voice broke as he scooped her up and held her gently, telling her that she would be okay, to just hold on, that we were going to get her help. He talked to her the entire time we were driving to the vet office. “Hold on, baby. We’re almost there.”

She was gone before we arrived at the clinic. I’m not even sure that she was still with us when we got into the car. If she was, she died on his lap in my car. My neighbor, Scott, stood on the sidewalk of the vet hospital with me as we cried on each other’s shoulders and the techs carried her inside.

It is not lost on me that my friend Kiara got to spend a whole week with her person before she left us. Nor is it lost on me that her last morning consisted of a romp with Chip and Mylo, and kibble with her favorite wet food on top, and a walk with a fire hydrant and a tree to sniff. When time stopped for her, she was not alone. She was held and loved—some even by a man who didn’t know her well, but who treated her with the utmost kindness in her last moments.

It is difficult to lose a furry family member. But the focus of these last couple of days has been far more about what she gave us during her months with us and what her family and I were able to do for her to make her last year wonderful.

It is also not lost on me that in a scalding second of I NEED SOMETHING RIGHT NOW, my neighbor Scott appeared by my side and helped me escort that sweet pup across the Rainbow Bridge. I don’t know what he was in the middle of doing when I yelled for him. He dropped whatever it was, and he was right there for me, and for her, through the end.

No regrets otherwise. This is what I offered to do when I agreed to bring her home. In return, I got a year with a very cool, smart, funny dog. I shared her with a very cool, smart, funny family and we got to do something really special for her.

In her last moments, I got to see the absolute best of a person who opened his arms and his heart to help me do one final thing for her. There are times when kindness cannot be repaid. It can only be paid forward. I think this may be one of those times.

Happy trails, Kiara. The gate is open, sweet girl. Run as fast as you want!

Scott, I will never be able to thank you enough.

Kiara beds

 

This weekend, I spent $27 on making a bucket list item come true. It’ll probably be the only bucket list item I can do for $27 and that’s okay. It’s also two years behind schedule, but when it happened, it happened so good, I cannot complain.

I established many blog posts back that I am not athletically inclined. I don’t find it difficult to organize my life or my thoughts around that idea. I do things with this body that entertain me, like the occasional racquetball game or the occasional bike ride, but I’ve said it outright before—I’m no one’s idea of a jock.  Never have been.  In fact, I’ve joked about my “concerns” that the Lesbian Association of the Midwest (LAM, for short) would eventually figure out just how much not a jock I am and revoke my Lesbian in Good Standing status.  And where would I be then?

Oh yes…of course…I’d probably be standing in my lawn in my moose slippers and flannel shirt while watching Spike, the tow truck driver from LAM, back down my driveway, run a big hook through my LAM membership card, and cart it away.

But I digress. Y’all are probably used to that by now.

So this weekend….I did it. I took my non-jock, almost 52 year-old pudgy self and registered for a long distance bike ride with the local Kiwanis Club. None of my friends could sign up with me, so I signed up just as me. Maybe I’d run into some folks I knew once things got under way. Going alone was not about to stop me.

If you’ve checked out some of my earlier posts, you know that I’m not the most confident person in the world about my low level athletic ability. I find it kind of funny. You also know that over many years, I have (as many of us have) tolerated critical, often outright nasty, comments about my weight from significant people in my life…which I think tends to make all of us a bit shy about participating in athletic events. I don’t think that’s unique to me at all. If you hear often enough how fat and awkward you are, or bluntly if you’re called a “fat, useless fuck” or any version thereof often enough, it takes a toll on how you operate the body you’ve been put in charge of this time around.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this venture. I wasn’t even sure how I’d start when I first got the idea a couple of years ago. Where does one even FIND cycling shorts when one believes that one’s ass needs its own zip code? Check the stores. You’ll find lots of Smalls, the occasional Mediums, a rogue Large and the miraculous XL…which looks to be about a size 6 when I hold it up against myself. No offense, designers, I just haven’t been that small since I was in grade school.

As an aside—athletic clothing companies, take notice!  There are lots of us out here who could and would be more active! Being able to find appropriate clothing in the right size would be most helpful! After a tip from a good friend about Aerotech Designs, I figured it out and started to practice.

I’d love to say that if I did this every day, I’d fit into something that appears to be a size 6. But reality check…when I look at everyone else in my family…we are not slender beings. My siblings, my cousins, my nephews…If you’ve seen one of us, you’ve seen all of us. We are solid Irish stock.  I’m low to the ground and sturdy. There’s probably a step-stool somewhere in my lineage that no one is talking about.

As part of the Turning 50 Bucket List, this was a little harder to come by than some other things I want to do. During the summer that I turned 50, I bought a new bike to get ready to do this event and on my first ride, I ruptured my ACL and tore up a bunch of other things that one needs inside of a knee and spent most of the summer, including my 50th birthday, crashed out on the couch unable to walk. I signed up again last summer, one week before my 51st birthday, thinking it would still count. I was still 50, after all. I woke up that morning to a major thunderstorm and all cyclists were held at the registration site. The downpour continued all morning. Only the serious cyclists with their foul weather gear attempted to go.  I was not one of them.  I put on my sad face, collected my bucket list at the door and went back home.

So this was the year to make it happen!  Once underway, I had no idea what to expect. The roads were different than the rails-to-trail path I normally ride. It wasn’t as busy as I thought it might be, so there were long stretches where I was the sole rider on a road—no one else in sight. That was okay. It was quiet.

There was one moment of hesitation when I faced the sign that said 23 Mile Riders turn right, 46 Mile Riders turn left. I almost turned right. I could do the 23 miles and then just SAY I did the 46 I signed up for. No one else was out there with me, so who would know?

But this was BUCKET LIST. This was meant to be a challenge for my almost 52 year old, pudgy self.  I turned left. Not long after that left turn, I found myself pondering the mother dying at 47. She never saw age 52. I was seeing age 52 on a bike on a country road, feeling  my quads burn on hills and the pain at the base of my skull from being hit by a car a few months ago.  The mother is probably the one person in my family who might have qualified as skinny…but I think the technical term is “wasted”. She was thin when she was dying. I pictured myself, low to the ground and sturdy, and I kept pedaling.

I wondered if there would be any negative reaction to me being out there. I noticed very early in that I didn’t look like anyone else I ran into. But everyone was friendly. Everyone asked how it was going and if I was having a good ride. I also noticed after I made that left turn that everyone I ran into had a really nice bike and they were serious about this shit. They blew by me on hills, muscles bulging, greeting me with a sideways “Hey!” or “All good?” as I plodded on. That stood out for me. Here were these folks who were serious about this sport, all checking in, holding up thumbs to make sure I’d respond that I was okay, asking if I needed anything.  As a friend described last year, I was moving like a turtle stampeding through peanut butter. Did I need anything? Just time, kids! I need some extra time to make this happen!

Somewhere around mile 30, alone on a road lined by cornfields, I started to sing out loud.  “Just what makes that little old ant…think he can move a rubber tree plant…anyone knows an ant can’t…move a rubber tree plant…But he’s got hiiiiiigh hopes…he’s got hiiiigh hopes…he’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes….”

That was when the SAG vehicle pulled up alongside me. I’m guessing that some farmer called in a report of a free range boi biking down his road singing about ants and the Kiwanis said, “Oh, that one is probably ours!” and dispatched the support team.  They were very nice, my new friends in the support vehicle. They paced me for maybe half a mile, and I stopped singing immediately (not wanting to hurt them), and they eventually decided I had not truly departed from reality and went about their business.

At the rest stop at mile 32, I pulled up on my little Trek hybrid among road bikes that cost thousands of dollars and people wearing race shirts. Don’t get me wrong—I have a perfectly nice bike. For me. For the things I do. I was in a different world at that moment. I was the only recreational rider in the group. Okay. Set brain to setting:  Prepare for negative comments!

The last 8 miles were mostly into the wind. On hills. When big gusts would come along, I was forced to downshift even more than usual and could barely maintain 5 mph. The big kids on their many thousand dollar bikes swept by me like I was driving a Big Wheel and the sideways comments continued.  “You good?”  “You’re almost there!” “You can do this!”

I can do this, dammit!

At one point, I struggled to get up to 7 mph and the raw spots on my leg burned and I almost started to cry, wondering what the hell I had done this for.  I seriously considered calling the SAG vehicle to pick me up and take me in. Then I’d hit a stretch of downhill and gain a little speed and I’d be determined all over again to ride into that final stop under my own power, even if it was only at 7 mph.

Those last few miles took over an hour. I stopped to stretch out a cramp as I got back into the city limits and a nice woman in a car pulled over to ask if I had hurt myself and did I need any help. Thanking her, I got back on my bike, appreciating my burning raw spots and melted spikes and my pudgy, not athletically inclined- self and I pedaled to the destination spot.

I am no one’s idea of a jock. Oddly, despite all of that effort yesterday, I woke up this morning still pudgy and still low to the ground. But last night…oh…last night I fell asleep thinking, “I did it. I really did it,” and wanting to dream of buckets.

Come and git me, Spike. I dare ya!

bike

 

Are you ready? It’s Tuesday. Let’s do some myth busting just for fun. In my Facebook feed this morning, just in the first couple of minutes that I was looking, I saw articles on poor people, and working people, and poor people who work but can’t afford basic needs, and homeless people. Oh yeah, and comments about health insurance and who should have what and the inevitable comments from people who are tired of supporting health insurance for other people. Don’t forget those.

If I’m completely honest, it wasn’t a pleasant way to wake up this morning. Then beyond finding it irritating, it actually made me angry.

Yes, by all means, let’s talk about poor people and poor people who work and people who are homeless and what they all deserve. Here’s my angle on this, for anyone reading who has not met me in person. I’m probably as middle class as it gets. I have a great job that I love. I’m a home owner. I have some dogs that are very opinionated at all the wrong times of day. I have a master’s degree, I am involved in my community, and I’m nice to older people, little kids and puppies.

All of those things are true.

You know what else is true? I’ve been homeless. I’ve been poor. And I’ve been uninsured.

And are you ready for THIS? Here’s where it gets REALLY crazy.  I was working when it happened!

I know. I know.  Take a minute. You may have to percolate on that a bit. I didn’t become homeless because I did something “wrong”. I wasn’t trying to scam the system and get something for nothing. It didn’t ever occur to me to ask. The simple fact is that I became homeless…lacking in a permanent domicile…when my remaining parent died and the house I grew up in got put up for sale.

That’s all it took. It wasn’t a long, slippery slope of mistakes or accidents or bad judgment calls. It wasn’t bankruptcy brought on by medical bills that I couldn’t afford, although that happens all too often. It wasn’t unemployment, although a lot of folks are only a couple of missed paychecks away from becoming housing vulnerable or homeless. There was nothing about it that could be judged the way we tend to judge people who are homeless. I was 17 years old. I was suddenly and unexpectedly without a parent, then suddenly and unexpectedly without a home. Oh…the job? Yes, I still had the job. It was 1982 and I was making near minimum wage, flipping burgers in fast food. I earned $3.25 an hour. At the highest point in that job, I made an entire $3.65 an hour.

A few of my family members stepped up to help. I stayed for a while with a cousin. Then I stayed for a while with Marie, the father’s long-term significant other. Then I couch surfed with a friend. Occasionally, I told Marie I was with the friend and I told the friend I was at Marie’s and then I just slept in my car because I was so afraid to be a drain on either of them.  Then I stayed for a while with my sister. Then I went away to college on grants that my sister helped me apply for, because at $3.25 an hour, it would have been tough to pay for on my own.

In the space of ten months, I lived in six different places with four different family configurations, while attempting to cope with the father’s death and other circumstances of my family of origin. There’s also nothing in there to be judged. My family tried to help as best they could. There was nothing anyone could do that would have resurrected my dead parents so that I could go home.

You want to know the funny part? I was 27 before I realized that I had been homeless. That never occurred to me either. How could I have been homeless? I stayed with people. I had a car. I had a job. That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard! Of course, I wasn’t homeless.

Working at The Salvation Army Women’s Shelter in Syracuse, I heard the HUD definition of homeless for the first time. I worked in a homeless shelter. Go figure!  No great mystery THERE.  Anyway, hearing that concept sent me into a tailspin. In the language of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, I was a category within a category. I was an Unaccompanied Child within the larger category of being homeless.

Unaccompanied Children are people who are not part of a family or in a multi-child household during their episode of homelessness, and who are under the age of 18.   ~HUD definition of terms (https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2014-AHAR-Part1.pdf)

At 27, I had to reorganize myself around this. I had been…homeless…by all of the definitions that HUD offered. Having a job hadn’t mattered. I worked 39 hours a week from the time I turned 16, which was as many hours as I could legally take on without being called a full time employee. I worked those hours through my junior and senior years of high school, on the honor roll for most of that time. I did it the entire time I would have been considered homeless. In other words, I worked my ass off. And I had to take into consideration that I could have been viewed as a term a former supervisor taught me (and also taught me to fight against)—I was one of the “deserving poor” who had become homeless through no fault of my own, simply through a series of occurrences over which I had little or no control.

So here I sit these days, reading my Facebook feed and headline news and political comments about poor people and homeless people and I reflect on my home ownership and my master’s degree and I have to reconcile that every day that I am one of those people. I am one of those people that folks rail against, and not just because I ultimately became a social worker. I was one of THOSE. I was OTHER.

I am no longer homeless. I haven’t been in a long time. But a very smart person observed to me not long ago that we are always all of the ages that we have ever been. Don’t you love that idea? In a way, I guess that means I’ll always have a little part of me that is 17 and just trying to graduate from my high school, washing my school uniform shirt with a load of towels at work so it would be clean for the next day and waking up stiff and cold in my car in my employer’s parking lot.

If you haven’t had a chance to try it, I highly recommend that before you decide what anyone needs or deserves, that you sleep for a few cool, damp, spring nights behind the wheel in a 1973 Pinto in a fast food parking lot. Then come back to me and we’ll discuss poverty and what people who are poor and/or homeless deserve. The catch is, though, that if you have somewhere else you CAN go, it doesn’t really count.

People who are poor don’t look a certain way. People who are homeless don’t look a certain way. And they don’t need to look like what we THINK they need to look like to be the “deserving poor”. I looked like a 17 year old kid with a bad haircut and a Catholic school uniform. No one would have picked me out of a crowd. I went to school—and to work—day after day and no one knew.

People who are poor and people who are homeless aren’t all out there looking for a free ride and planning to stay on what scraps we deign to offer them as support benefits for the rest of their lives. Sometimes, we need a break. Sometimes we need a hand. I happened to get both. Sometimes we just need someone to be frickin’ kind to us. I got that too. Now I can’t help but wonder how much of my getting those things had to do with the fact that I was a white kid in a Catholic school uniform. One does have to ponder THAT question.

I grew up to be an executive director. Good stuff can happen for people who are poor and people who are homeless when they get A) a break and B) a hand and C) a little frickin’ kindness. So, for the folks sounding off in Facebook feeds and political posts about “the poor” and “the homeless” and “the needy”, seriously…until you’ve walked a mile in my sneakers, or slept on that park bench, or driven a few miles in my Pinto, as it were, I just can’t put a lot of stock into anything you’re carrying on about over what people need and deserve. Stop adding to the myths and misinformation out there and go find your bench.

Dedicated to the supervisor who taught me that there’s no such thing as the “deserving poor.”  Thank you, Liz.

bench