When Life Gives You Lemons, Write a Poem (Or Something Else)

 Finding Time for Writing, News about me, Parenting, Uncategorized, Writing, Youth Sports  Comments Off on When Life Gives You Lemons, Write a Poem (Or Something Else)
Aug 092018

Photo by Francesca Hotchin on Unsplash

My three children are athletes. They’re teenagers, and we’ve been doing the competitive travel team thing since the older two were in second grade. SECOND GRADE, PEOPLE. WTH was I thinking?

For 7 years, all three played soccer, which is essentially a cult I didn’t want to join. I put a lot of energy into resisting. I thought I could somehow support my kids’ enjoyment of the sport while simultaneously hating the time it sucked from my life. As an introvert, I found the social demands of youth soccer challenging as well. The other parents were nice enough people, but I didn’t want to hang with them all weekend every weekend. (I still don’t. Shhh.)

For years I complained about soccer a lot to whoever would listen. It takes all my writing time, I whined. I’m always in the car. I took a workshop with Andre Dubus III, and he told me to start writing in my car during practice. That helped. Then my friend Crista Cloutier, who helps artists market their work, said, “Why don’t you write a soccer poem?”

Now there was an idea. Instead of resisting the life I’d made, I could use it. I’m no poet, so  I started writing essays, articles, and humor about soccer. That lead to my big break, a 2014 essay for Motherlode at The New York Times titled Lackeys of Youth Soccer, That Arrogant Sport, a piece went all around the world and remains my biggest impact story to date.

At 13, my oldest daughter tore her ACL in soccer practice. After surgery and rehab, she decided to convert to volleyball, a sport I find slightly less exhausting than the so-called beautiful game. My youngest daughter sustained a concussion on the field at 12, recovered, and today is playing better soccer than ever. My son suffered a spinal stress fracture at age 15 and spent nine months in a back brace. Now that he’s back to soccer, the opportunity to catch him on the field doing what he loves feels special. We’ve been at this grind for a long time, we’ve sacrificed a lot, but finally I recognize that my duties a sports mom won’t last forever. I’ve learned to cherish the ways sports brings us together as a family, and to celebrate whenever all three kids are strong and healthy and ready to play.

So, I don’t waste energy hating the sports grind like I used to,  but I’m still writing soccer “poems,” like my latest for The Washington Post. If you’re the parent of a youth athlete, I hope you’ll take a look at this piece on injury prevention: Tommy John’s son wants to help kids avoid sports surgeries like the one named for his famous dad.


 Posted by at 6:12 pm

New Essay on Why #FamiliesBelongTogether

 Adoption, News about me, Parenting, Social Justice  Comments Off on New Essay on Why #FamiliesBelongTogether
Jun 252018

Yes, I know. Bad news is everywhere right now. Sometimes we have to turn away to recover and recharge, but then we must re-engage. We can’t afford not to.

In that spirit, I hope you’ll read this essay I wrote for Romper: I Adopted my Kids from “Third World” Countries — Where They Were Treated Better Than Child Refugees in the US. I’ve visited at least 10 orphanages in the developing world. All of them broke my heart — and yet, those kids received better care than migrant children in US custody.

Children’s bedroom in an orphanage in India that I visited.

My oldest daughter, now 16, lived in a New Delhi children’s home for the three years before my husband and I adopted her a few months after her fifth birthday. My son, also 16, and younger daughter, 15, adopted at ages 3 and 2 from Ethiopia, endured almost a year in institutional care.

I understand, in a direct and personal way, how institutionalization harms children.

The details of what my children experienced while institutionalized are not mine to share, but I can sum things up this way: My kids were lucky. They ended up in good orphanages — except really, there’s no such thing. I understand, in a direct and personal way, how institutionalization harms children. My job as an adoptive parent for the past decade has involved trying to undo the damage. Thankfully, my kids are thriving, but the future for the children in Trump’s camps is uncertain.

Read the full essay here.

 Posted by at 3:04 pm

A new essay from me up at The Washington Post

 Adoption, Memoir, News about me, Parenting, Publishing, Writing  Comments Off on A new essay from me up at The Washington Post
Jul 192017

I don’t usually write a blog post when I publish something online, but thus far 2017 has been a rough one career-wise, so I’m pretty excited to get some work that I’m proud of out into the world.

This essay, Unpacking the Adoption That Wasn’t, took awhile. I wrote the first draft in an online workshop with writer Emily Rapp Black. If I remember correctly, our assignment was to write about a photograph:

She stands on the threshold of St. Theresa’s Tender Loving Care Home, a 3-year-old dressed in a donated red turtleneck and matching red-and-white skirt, with the purple sneakers I bought for her at Shoppers Stop in Hyderabad strapped on her feet. It’s a hot day, and she’s clutching a bottle of water. The morning sun is bright, giving the photo an overexposed quality. Some ayah, one of the orphanage caregivers, has rolled her sleeves up above the elbow. Haseena’s dark hair, cut pixie style, appears damp and freshly combed, hinting that I must have just arrived for my daily visit. She looks straight into the camera, her brown eyes wide, a swath of bushes and a line of coconut palms in the background. She’s not smiling. I probably didn’t give her time to pose.

Later, I got stuck in revision, and hired Dawn Raffel to edit the piece. It took me another year to get around to implementing Dawn’s suggestions.

In the midst of my dry spell, I gave the essay a fresh edit a couple of months ago, then submitted to quite a few outlets, including The New York Times and O, where the piece garnered encouraging “try us again” rejections. I didn’t have On Parenting at the top of my submission list initially, because in 2015  editor Amy Joyce ran another essay of mine that looked at my failed adoption from a completely different angle, and I feared she might view this one as a repeat. Thankfully, Amy liked the piece and gave it a home!

Click here to visit On Parenting and read the essay…


 Posted by at 1:18 am

Announcing the winner of the YOU MADE ME A MOTHER GIVEAWAY — Plus an interview with the author, Laurenne Sala

 Authors, Books, Children's Books, Finding a literary agent, Giveaways, Memoir, Parenting, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Announcing the winner of the YOU MADE ME A MOTHER GIVEAWAY — Plus an interview with the author, Laurenne Sala
May 102017

I’m SUPER excited to announce the winner of the YOU MADE ME A MOTHER giveaway:


Congratulations, Ruth! Please shoot me an email via the online contact form here on the site and include your address. If you reply today, I’ll do my best to get an autographed copy to you in time for Mother’s Day!

Full disclosure: Ruth is a friend, but her entry was chosen using the random number service If you didn’t win this time, I’m sorry! Still, I’ve got a treat for you all in the form of an interview with the author of YOU MADE ME A MOTHER, Laurenne Sala, that aspiring writers in particular may find interesting…


How an Unpublished Memoirist Became a Big Time Children’s Book Author

Laurenne Sala, 35, founded an LA stage show where people reveal their most taboo secrets, wrote scripts for Funny or Die, and conquered the advertising world, but her dreams of publishing a book went unfulfilled, until an unexpected break made her an author.

“I don’t do things half-assed. Ever,” my friend Laurenne Sala says. “I always tried to write with my heart and give it my all, and then I was finally noticed. I see success happen to everyone who does not give up! ”

A little background: Laurenne grew up a child of divorce outside Chicago. At 10, she discovered her funny, caring dad was gay, but at 15, she lost him to suicide, a pain that stayed buried for years.

She left home to study communications at the University of Southern California. Next, she pursued a Masters in Advertising Copywriting at Miami Ad School. Then she had to move back in with her mom for awhile.

“I worked on my portfolio day in and day out,” she remembers. “I told myself that I wouldn’t shave my legs or armpits until I got a job. It took three months!”

Her first gig was writing commercials for Jack in the Box at a small ad agency. “The agency was great. They taught me the ropes. But my very first day at the office, I remember thinking that I had to write a book. I didn’t think I could swing a cubicle job for that long.”

With her ad career launched, Laurenne enrolled in an adult writing class at night, where she finally opened up about her father’s death. The relief she felt in sharing her story with her classmates led to the creation of Taboo Tales, a Los Angeles-based storytelling show with the motto THE MORE WE ALL TALK ABOUT HOW FUCKED UP WE ARE, THE MORE NORMAL WE ALL FEEL. She found more success writing for Funny or Die, but a memoir about her father’s death felt closest to her heart.

I should tell you that Laurenne and I became friends because of that memoir. We met a few years ago at the SDSU Writers Conference at the memoir table at the networking lunch.

“One thing I loved about the memoir was that the first half was told from my father’s point of view. I wrote the other half as if I was my mom,” she says.

Although I remember Laurenne getting positive comments about the book from publishing professionals at the SDSU Conference, her manuscript garnered more than 60 rejections from literary agents. She opted to put the memoir aside for awhile and carried on with her ad career and Taboo Tales. She also kept trying to publish short pieces, and landed an essay about her dad’s death in the anthology DANCING AT THE SHAME PROM, published by Seal Press in 2012.

Despite her intense literary aspirations, Laurenne never dreamed of writing a children’s book. Here’s how it happened.

She first created the text of YOU MADE ME A MOTHER as promotional copy for Boba, makers of baby wraps and carriers. At the time, Laurenne was single and childless, yet she clearly captured some new mom emotions, because when Boba made a tear-jerker of a video from her writing, it went viral.

After that came the big shock: HarperCollins called! The publishing giant offered to pair her up with popular illustrator Robin Preiss Glasser, of bestselling FANCY NANCY fame, to ensure the book’s success. YOU MADE ME A MOTHER won rave reviews and sold out on Amazon within 24 hours of its debut last year.

“The cool thing about YOU MADE ME A MOTHER is that it’s truly a mixture of everything I’ve done in my career,” says Sala. “It began as an ad! And it makes people cry! I’ve always wanted to write something that makes people feel.”

Today Laurenne is having all the fun reading her book to kids and encouraging them to share their feelings too. A sequel, YOU MADE ME A FATHER, will publish in time for Father’s Day 2018 (though you can get a sneak peek here in the video Boba has already made.)

“I struck while the iron was still hot with Harper,” she recalls.  “As soon as we had the mom book contract in the works, I sent the dad book manuscript! I figured I’d do that while they were still into me! It worked, and they bought it within 2 weeks.”
In other joyful news, Laurenne got married last year, not long after her book was published, and she’s expecting a baby girl this fall!! Her memoir remains on hold for now, but she’s got a new project in the works called The Grief Collective, a collection of data, experiences, and stories that all involve losing a parent.

“Anyone who has grieved the loss of a parent can join here:,” Laurenne explains. “You can sign up to answer one question a month, which helps me compare experiences and see what we all have in common when it comes to grieving.”

I can’t wait to see where this project goes!


 Posted by at 3:22 pm
May 062017

I’ve got a fun giveaway for you all, just in time for Mother’s Day!

YOU MADE ME A MOTHER is a heartwarming picture book written by my friend Laurenne Sala, with illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser, whose work you might recognize from the popular FANCY NANCY series.


This book would be a sweet Mother’s Day present for a new mom and makes a great baby shower gift. (But keep in mind that since the book deals with pregnancy, it’s not really a fit for adoptive parents.)

To enter, please answer the following question in the comments:

What’s your favorite children’s picture book of all time and why?
To earn additional contest entries, you can:

1. Sign up for updates from my website by clicking “Get updates” button on the menu bar, or let me know if you signed up previously. This delivers my blog posts to your inbox. I won’t share your email address with anyone else. Please comment to let me know you signed up!

2. Follow me on Twitter @sharonvanepps and tweet about this giveaway: Win a copy of YOU MADE ME A MOTHER by @laurenne published by @HarperCollins Enter at #Giveaway #ChildrensBooks

3. Like my Facebook page at Sharon Van Epps, Writer (or let me know if we’re already connected there)

4. Blog about the giveaway or post on your Facebook page, and link back here. Be sure to post your blog entry before you comment.

Please leave a separate comment for each of the above shares, to be sure I correctly record and credit all your entries!

We’ve got a quick turnaround, so don’t wait! Entries close Tuesday, May 9, at midnight PST. The winner will be announced Wednesday May 10, by 9 am PST, and Laurenne will hustle to get the book shipped to you by Mother’s Day!

Next week I’ll also share the inside scoop on Laurenne’s path to publication, so if you’re an aspiring or working writer, check back on May 10 to hear the inspiring story of how she became a Harper Collins author.




 Posted by at 7:33 pm
Oct 292016

This weekend the Out of the Binders Conference for women and gender non-conforming writers is happening in New York. The event known as BinderCon offers keynotes, like today’s apparently amazing opening address from novelist/NYT journalist Anna Quindlen, panel discussions, and speed pitch sessions, where attendees can propose story and book ideas to magazine and book editors, and literary agents.

Founded by writers Luz Alptraum and Leigh Stein, Out of the Binders is “a non-profit devoted to advancing the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers by connecting them with the skills, knowledge, and networking opportunities they need to get ahead as authors, journalists, screenwriters, TV writers, playwrights, poets, and more.” The name Out of the Binders references Mitt Romney’s remark during the 2012 presidential debate that he had “binders full of women” to consider for his team, and communicates the group’s mission to move women writers from the margins to the center.

The very first BinderCon was held just two years ago. The fast-growing organization has also helped create dozens of closed online networking groups for women writers; members are sworn to secrecy regarding what is discussed there. I participate in several of those groups, and the support and information I’ve gained there has boosted my career beyond my wildest imaginings. But I’m writing today specifically about the conference, which is public, and the attendance policies that have a lot of folks up in arms, including me.

Search #BinderCon on twitter right now and you’ll uncover endless bits of writing/career wisdom flowing from today’s sessions. You’ll also find Britni de la Cretaz’s name mentioned quite a bit. Britni,  a mother of two who writes about “the intersections of feminism, sports, addiction, and parenting,” for magazines like Rolling Stone and The Atlantic, appeared on today’s Reproductive Justice panel. During the session, a colleague was babysitting Britni’s 6 week old baby in a nearby coffeeshop because the nursing infant not welcome inside the conference venue.

BinderCon’s no infant/no child policy got some press last year  when organizers made it clear to writer Jade Sanchez-Ventura that she wasn’t allowed to attend with her nursing baby, even though Ventura’s mother planned accompany her as an additional baby whisperer. Ventura wrote about her experience for Mutha Magazine in an essay titled “My Baby Comes with Me,” which kicked up some dust at the time, but not enough, since the essay is still relevant, and getting fresh shares on social media in light of this year’s gathering.

Lux Alptraum wrote a rebuttal to Ventura’s piece at the time, also published in Mutha, that read in part:

Over the past year and a half, we’ve wrestled with the question of who BinderCon is for. Should men be allowed to attend? Should attendees be allowed to bring their children? Should talented teenagers be welcomed as attendees? After much discussion, our team – an impressive group of accomplished writers; some child-free, some moms – came to the conclusion that, in order to provide the best BinderCon experience for all our attendees, attendance must be limited to participants only. As a professional development conference focused on advancing the careers of women and gender non-conforming writers, that means attendance is limited to working and aspiring writers above the age of eighteen who identify as women or gender non-conforming.

Alptraum went on to say that, as a young, mostly volunteer organization, BinderCon faces financial constraints and can’t provide childcare, but they welcome donations! The conference currently offers some scholarships and childcare stipends of up to $250, which is wonderful. But bottom line: banning babies and kids is not about the money. Allowing a nursing mother to wear her infant in a sling costs nothing. Allowing a single mom/parent whose babysitter bailed to bring her introverted 4 year old along with some coloring books and juice boxes also costs nothing. Yes, children can be disruptive at a professional conference — but so can adults. Disruptive people should be asked to leave, regardless of age.

Inherent in BinderCon’s policy is the idea that mothers/parents can’t be trusted as professionals to respect the needs of their colleagues. Newsflash: other than nursing mothers, most of us would PREFER fly solo at a professional event.  An open and inclusive attendance policy won’t somehow transform BinderCon into a birthday party at Chuckie Cheese. What it will do is allow a few more parent writers to attend, especially nursing mothers, single parents, and low income folks.

The twitter campaign protesting the attendance policy is capturing attention. I’m told that BinderCon organizers interrupted the Reproductive Justice panel today to announce they’ve just added a moderated discussion on the childcare policy, set for Sunday at 9:30 am. Will the session prove to be a meaningful exploration of the issue, or simple damage control? We’ll see. But there are plenty of talented Binders standing by, eager to help craft a creative solution to the dilemma of childcare at the conference —  IF the folks in charge actually want to find that solution. How many moms will actually be in the room for that moderated discussion? Only the ones with childcare. Britni de la Cretaz asked organizers if she could bring her baby to the session and was told, “Probably not.”

Many of the writers speaking out about the BinderCon policy feel a little guilty. We love and appreciate The Binders, but sometimes you have to make waves or you’ll be stuck in that binder forever.





Sep 212016

bfb_facebook_bfbofchildrenrelease_new1_960x960px_0816_nodate  A few months ago, I published an essay in the Ties column at The New York Times called A Poster Family for Diversity. Soon after, I got an email from Nancy Traversy, Co-founder and CEO of Barefoot Books. Knowing I was interested in promoting diversity and inclusivity, Nancy asked me to help spread the word about her company’s latest release, The Barefoot Book of Children. Since the world desparately needs more diverse books, I said yes — and I’m giving away a copy here on my blog!

My own kids are teenagers well past the picture book stage, but The Barefoot Book of Children is the kind of book I would have bought as a gift for their elementary classrooms as well as for our home library. The text by Tessa Strickland and Kate DePalma communicates that differences in appearance, beliefs, and lifestyles among people are interesting and positive, and the colorful illustrations by David Dean are gorgeous! Here’s one of my favorite pages:


In an election season that feels especially contentious, we need to talk with our kids  more than ever about understanding and respecting others to help counteract the divisiveness and uncertainty that’s in the air. This book is perfect for sparking conversations about cultural understanding, diversity, and inclusion at home and in the classroom.

Founded almost 25 years ago by two young mothers in England, Barefoot Books has published more that 600 titles for children that encourage discovery, compassion, creativity and global awareness. In fact, Barefoot’s Mama Panya’s Pancakes was a big storytime favorite for my kids back in the day. I’m buying a copy of The Barefoot Book of Children for my infant niece, but maybe you’ll win your copy!

To enter, answer the following question in the comments:

Why do you think diverse books are important and meaningful for children?

To earn additional entries, please do the following:

Leave a separate comment for each one, to be sure I correctly record and credit all your entries!

1. Sign up for updates from my website by clicking the menu bar (or let me know if you signed up previously.) This delivers my blog posts to your inbox. I won’t share your email address with anyone else.

2. Follow me on Twitter @sharonvanepps and tweet about this giveaway: “#diversebooks Giveaway-Win a copy of The Barefoot Book of Children from @BarefootBooks & @sharonvanepps Enter at

3. Like my Facebook page at Sharon Van Epps, Writer (or let me know if we’re already connected there)

4. Blog about the giveaway or post on your Facebook page, and link back here. Be sure to post your blog entry before you comment.


This giveaway will be closed Tuesday, September 27 at 11 p.m., and the winner will be announced Wednesday, September 28!

 Posted by at 12:26 am

A List of Cliches That Apply to the Parenting of Teenagers

 Parenting  Comments Off on A List of Cliches That Apply to the Parenting of Teenagers
Jul 022016

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times.

Shit happens.

Handle it with kid gloves.

Bite your tongue.

Bite me.

Don’t let your mouth write a check your butt can’t cash.

Cash is king.

Brother, can you spare a dime?

Fork it over.

Idle hands are the devil’s playground.

Keep it simple, stupid.

Keep your chin up.

Kiss my ass.

Knock on wood.

Leave no stone unturned.

Put two and two together.

Nip it in the bud.

Save your breath.

Pack it in.

No shit, Sherlock.

You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.

Go out in a blaze of glory.

Don’t go there.

God willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

There is a God.

That’s no joke.

Why on God’s green earth?

Take it with a grain of salt.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Ignorance is bliss.

No good deed goes unpunished.

It’s not over til it’s over.


Thank your lucky stars.


 Posted by at 1:10 am

Remembering that terrifying pool party in McKinney, Texas

 Adoption, Parenting, Race and Racism  Comments Off on Remembering that terrifying pool party in McKinney, Texas
Jun 272016

Last week a grand jury declined to press charges against a former McKinney, Texas police officer who threw a teenage girl to the ground during a pool party raid last June. The family of Dajerria Becton, who is black, is pursuing a civil case against Eric Casebolt, the white officer who resigned shortly  after a video of the pool party went viral last summer. In case you’ve forgotten, here it is:

As a  mother, I found the images disturbing and haunting. I wrote an essay about it last year for The Manifest-Station that I forgot to share here on my site at the time. Here it is, if you’re interested.


A White Mom, Living #BlackLivesMatter


The day after 15-year-old Dajerria Becton was thrown to the ground by a McKinney, Texas, police officer during a teen pool party gone wrong, my 12-year-old daughter joined her friends for an afternoon at Mount Baker Beach on Lake Washington in Seattle. I wasn’t happy about her plans. She’d just had her hair freshly braided, and a lake swim would hasten the style’s unraveling, but the day was hot and childhood should be about joy and untidiness, so I let her go. She wore her new bikini for the first time, navy blue and pink, with a hot pink sundress on top, all gifts she’d just received for her birthday.

My son, age 13, also went down to the lake that Saturday with a group of boys. Another mom dropped them off, and I heard about the outing only after they’d left, when she texted me an update. Meanwhile, my 14-year-old daughter took off with her girlfriends for a matinee. I felt a little nervous about my kids scattering in three directions, but as we move into the teenage years, I know I have to allow them to test the limits of their independence. They are good kids, and I trust them, but I worry, all the time.

I am a mother by adoption. I am white and so is my husband. We knew when we chose to adopt outside our race that our children would face hurdles that we’d never encountered, but the recent tragedies that have birthed the #BlackLivesMatter movement have shown me that, despite our good intentions, we didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of our parenting responsibility when we started this family. Intellectually, I recognized that we’d need to have  “the talk” with the kids someday to help them learn how to stay safe while black, especially in encounters with police, but my initial attempts to broach the topic, made when the kids were about 7 and 8, felt clumsy and vague compared to the talk a black acquaintance of mine offered his 7-year-old son: “In the eyes of society, you aren’t cute anymore.”

I wanted my kids to stay cute forever. The year my son turned 10, I was forced to admit those charmed days were gone. A white day camp counselor, unhappy with my son for speaking out of turn during a game, ordered him to do 50 push ups as punishment. When he faltered and dropped a knee, she forced him to start over again. My younger daughter, then 9, saw the white’s of her brother’s eyes turning red from the strain and shouted that he was in pain and needed to stop, so the camp counselor — who just happened to be an off-duty cop, moonlighting for a little extra cash — forced my little girl to drop and give 50 too. Meanwhile my oldest, age 11, stood by, terrified and unable to speak up for her siblings, a shame that still gives her nightmares. A couple of months after that, a fifth grade classmate called my son a nigger. A little boy called my daughter “blackie.” Next came the death of Trayvon Martin, a boy just seven years older than my son. That was the year that my understanding of “the talk” moved from intellectual to visceral.

Today my kids are young teenagers. The simmering anxiety I experience each time I let them out of my sight me boils over in the McKinney videotape. A slender girl, dressed only in an orange and yellow swimsuit, cries for her mother as the police officer twists her arm, pulls her braids, and shoves her head down hard toward the concrete sidewalk.  Her girlfriends and a couple of boys react with alarm to the violent way the cop touches her. The scene is chaotic and in their fear and confusion, the boys approach the police officer from behind, surprising him. In his rage and hysteria, the officer draws his gun. That no one is shot dead outside the Craig Ranch Community Pool seems like a miracle.

My children know they have to be careful. After the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, and Freddie Gray, after the outrage in McKinney, after the heartbreaking slaughter of nine innocents in Charleston, after the burning of six black churches in seven days and still more fires burning, after the death of Sandra Bland, after the experience of racism in their everyday lives, they know. And yet they are kids. Likely to make mistakes. Likely to be misjudged.

As soon as I saw the McKinney tape, I knew how the public conversation would play out. Sorrow, outrage, and calls for justice from some, denial, blame and racism from others, conspicuous silence from most. By now the news cycle has moved on and on, each new incident more terrifying than the next, but the image of a grown man digging his knees into the small of a young girl’s back is the one that haunts me. That is my baby. My daughter, face down in the grass, calling for me, and I am not there. And that is my son, fleeing in terror from the officer’s pointed pistol. Every single time my kids arrive home safely from the lake or the movies, each time they return from a trip to the ice cream shop or stroll to the corner store, I remember. I cling to those hours when all three of my children are at home, asleep in their beds, the only hours when I can rest and pretend, just for a little while, that they are safe.


 Posted by at 6:00 am

The Courage to Be Kind

 Parenting  Comments Off on The Courage to Be Kind
Dec 172015

The signboard outside my neighborhood church got my attention: “Does kindness have a chance?”


Isn’t that what we’re all wondering these days?

Last month’s horrific attacks in Paris staged by the militant group ISIL, followed by the tragic murder of fourteen Americans in San Bernadino by a husband and wife team of ISIL sympathizers, has stirred anti-Muslim vitriol not seen in our country since 9-11. While Donald Trump touts a ban on Muslim immigration on the presidential campaign trail, violence against Americans perceived to be Muslim is at an all-time high. Here in Seattle, where I live with my husband and our three young teenagers, police are investigating the death of Hamza Warsame, a 17-year-old Somali-American boy. Hamza, a Muslim, fell from a 60-foot balcony at a local college last weekend. Many suspect he was beaten by white classmates, then pushed.

The thought of a brutal hate crime occurring in my city, perpetrated by kids just a few years older than my own, is wrenching. As parents, we all hope to instill a sense of kindness in our children, but what does that look like in the real world? The Oxford Dictionary defines kindness as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” Does teaching kids kindness mean reminding the little ones to say please, thank you, and share with others? Does it involve telling children not to bully? Does teaching kindness encompass teaching tolerance of people who are different from them, and from us?

I would argue that parents need to take those lessons even further. We must cultivate a deeper form of kindness within our children, and ourselves. The greatest barrier to kindness in our country right now isn’t a propensity for cruelty; it’s fear. Fear crushes friendliness, generosity, and consideration. Fear of rejection, fear of difference, fear of harm, fear of loss – those fears make us dangerous to one another. Fear makes us willing to turn away from our ideals, and reject the tired, the poor, and the hungry. Fear makes us cruel.

I believe that, as parents, we must try to model a form of courageous kindness. Our kids need to see us stretching beyond politeness toward genuine engagement with others. They need to witness us going beyond the “tolerance” of people of other races, religions, and backgrounds, to celebrating and learning from those differences. They need to see us embracing a diverse circle of friends. They need to observe us showing empathy for others, and affirming the dignity and worth of every human being. Our country, and our world, feels like it’s starving right now for the collective nourishment that flows from the kindness of connection and engagement.

As I write this, I fear that I’m sounding idealistic and more than a little preachy. Am I a saintly paragon of kindness for my children to emulate? Not at all. But I try, and something I observed in my neighborhood recently spurred me to try harder. We live in South Seattle, the same part of the city that Hamza Warsame called home, an area we sought out for its diversity. A couple of days ago I was driving down Martin Luther Kind Jr Way when I stopped at a crosswalk for an African mother and her children. The woman wore a long, colorful dress and a hijab, as did her small daughter, but it was her son’s outfit that truly caught my eye. The boy, about seven years old, was sporting a red, white, and blue sweater, with stars dotting one sleeve and stripes running down the other. As I watched the trio head for the park across the street, I couldn’t help but imagine the boy’s sweater as an immigrant mother’s heartbreaking plea for friendliness, for generosity, for consideration. I tried to catch the woman’s eye to offer a smile, but she remained focused on her children. As I drove away, I silently wished her well.

Later that night, I spoke to my own kids about standing with our Muslim neighbors. I told them about Hamza’s death, and though their school community is known for being warm and welcoming, I asked them to keep an eye out for their Muslim classmates, just in case. Does kindness have a chance in these volatile times? I believe it does, if we, and our children, are brave enough to stand up to the ugliness. Kindness always has a chance, if only we are brave enough to give it away.