Sunday, November 30, 2014

Clacker by Katie Carleton

My eight-year-old daughter wrote this book. She gave it to me for my birthday.

Clacker, By Katie

Clacker was an homeless pen. And he needed a friend to write on. He was makeing a sidewalk picture, when a gang was bullying and saying mean thing to him. And he was enbarssd! 
caption: A picture of Clacker when he got bulled.

When all of the sudden, the leader of the gang, Pennie, steped up, and looked at him, and said finnly. "Your my lost son, " She said. Katherine McKenna Carleton." And they all lived happle ever after. And also he is a girl.

The End

The author and her muse, Clacker, the pen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Stop Demonizing Black People

Stop demonizing black people. #Ferguson #MichaelBrown 

"Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike" 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Burning Black Churches

It's dark at four PM in Leeds the steeples pierce the skylight till the last of it bleeds
The absent sound of another day as it recedes into the shadows until it's nothing
Fax papers slipped under the hotel room door like food for the prisoner or the prospect to the whore
Well fed and halfway drunk I ache myself for more until I'm shadows of myself until I'm nothing
Sixteen black churches burning on the TV all the way from Texas to Tennessee
a politician locks my eye and says to me there is no crisis here there's no conspiracy
I crave inertia every move made so I can stop
Whatever this madness is in me spinning like a top on a bed of anxiety
over a deep dark drop down into nothingness into withoutyouness
Was it ever so evil creep like ivy, toe hold on the stronger half of nature's dichotomy
Beating back a path through nothing more than pure insistence
Until here becomes the distance
Hold my head love I'm sick tonight find the open hole and press your finger
there with all your might before the last ounce of my spirit bleeds
onto the pristine sheets of the hotel bed in Leeds

--The Indigo Girls, "Leeds" Shaming of the Sun 

"Leeds" is one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite musical acts, The Indigo Girls. I thought of it when I read this post. Michael Brown, Sr. is the father of the 18-year-old Michael Brown, Jr, a black teenager who was shot and killed in August by white police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. Last night after 8pm it was announced that the grand jury did not indict Officer Wilson. Protests and riots ensued. Buildings and police cars were burned down. Stores were looted. It was chaos. As expected. Our country has a long history of race riots.

Another building a mile away from the rioting also burned last night. But why? None of the other buildings around it were affected. It was far from the rioting crowds. Why would someone torch it?

The building is a church. The church that Michael Brown, Sr. belongs to. That's why. As expected. White supremacists have been burning down black churches for a long time. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, and even recently. It's nothing new.

Imagine for a moment that you are Michael Brown, Sr. Your son was killed. The killer got off. Now they've burned down your church. They take your son and leave you no place to grieve.

I pray for peace. I pray for justice. I pray that Michael Brown, Sr. finds another place to grieve.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bill Cosby and Brother Pat

America's Favorite TV Dad Assaults Women

This has been the recurring headline on my newsfeed for a few days. I'm stunned. And also, sadly, not surprised.

One thing I don't understand: the voices in the comments who complain about how long it took Cosby's alleged victims to report his crimes. Dude, that's Victim-Shaming 101. We're told not to talk about it. That's how we perpetuate the entire rape culture.

I should stop reading the comments.

The whole Cosby rape allegation story is disturbing, but I can't look away. Like a train wreck, or one more headline with the phrase Honey Boo Boo in it. Why do I pay attention to such depravity?

It's like how I listen to someone in our congregation read Bible stories. Talk about a camel-caravan wreck! Some of those stories in the Bible are messed up, morality tales like the best books by Sister Soulja. Especially in the Old Testament, although I've heard that Revelations is chock-ful of sick shit but I don't know because I'm too scared to read it. I don't like horror novels or slasher flicks either. Especially with religious undertones. My mom accidentally took me to see "The Exorcist" with my teenage sisters when it came out in theaters in 1973. I was three. 

I hate horror movies. I guess that makes my fascination with horrible news stories that feature real people who have committed unthinkable acts to undeserving victims even weirder.

I think it's because I want to find a reason for the atrocity. I want to dig deeper into the story to figure out where it all went wrong. I can't explain why Linda Blair became possessed by a demon in a movie. I have no real life experience with Satan. I don't even believe in one evil entity who is engaged in some overly simplistic battle with God over who controls our souls. I think that hell is the town dump, and when people shout "Go to Hell" they mean get the fuck out of here. We don't want your kind around.

Kinda like how we feel about people who commit crimes in our community. Steal your neighbor's shit: go to jail. Kill someone in the community: go to jail. Although kill someone half a globe away and call it defending your country and it's easier to ignore. They're not "our kind" to begin with. 

Communities like law and order. People like to know what rules we're supposed to follow. We need clarification and retraining before we get it right sometimes. A guide to follow. Life is tough.

Some communities follow rules from a holy book. Like how Christians and Jews and Muslims follow the ten commandments from The Bible. Other communities follow laws that were written for a secular crowd. Like our United States Constitution. Most people feel like if you break the rules, either religious or secular, you should be stripped of your right to continue to live freely within the community.

Whether you tell someone to go to hell or go to jail, you basically mean this: Get out of here! You're not one of us anymore!

I don't believe in The Devil, but I've known the demons, and they get off on isolation. I've seen them in other people and felt them inside myself.

You are sick. You should feel ashamed of yourself. Don't tell anyone or they'll think you're a bad person. 

It's hard, but I've found that when I fuck up, instead of keeping it secret, I return to a good place faster and more satisfied when I fess up and try to figure out why I did the awful thing and how I can do something different the next time I feel compelled to fuck something up. If I run away and hide, if I keep what I've done wrong a secret, it settles inside me and festers and metastasizes and consumes me. Making a mistake does not make you The Devil. Making a mistake makes you human. Forgive yourself and move on.

I think that's what Jesus meant when he said this:

Mark 12:30-31New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

" shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.'"

I'm not one of those people who likes a lot of rules. I prefer a couple of simple statements and then letting me figure it out myself. So here's how I paraphrase Mark 12:30-31: Love God. Love people.

Just because it's simple doesn't mean it's not fucking hard. Loving God is pretty easy when you see the spark of God within all living beings, but at the same time, it's really fucking hard because sometimes people resemble monsters. Sometimes people do cruel things that makes you not want to love them.

But that's what Jesus says to do. So I try. Why? Because it makes me feel better. Go ahead, Atheists, judge away. Jesus is my coping mechanism of choice and I deserve to feel good. 

But how do you love the rapists and child abusers? How do you love people who use their power and authority to keep others down? How do you love yourself when you've hurt someone else?

Oh, Jeez, it's so simple and so hard.

I don't like to think that Bill Cosby, the man who played one of the greatest dads in fiction, is a serial rapist. But the allegations keep popping up and I think, what if he is? Certainly I can't be expected to love someone who hurts other people.

Matthew 5:43-48 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."

Aww, crap. Are you kidding? I didn't sign up for this crap when I joined up. Love people is so simple and so hard.

But then I think of my brother Pat. My brother Pat died a few years ago at the age of 49.

Good people do bad things and make it worse by not talking about it, covering it up, pretending it's not true. My brother drank himself to death. He told me the pain was too much. His wife Sharon had passed away a month before Pat was diagnosed with liver failure. She was the only person who Pat felt truly understood him. When she was gone, he felt alone.

It's so strange. Pat had more friends than anyone I know. And yet he felt alone.

I know few people who had a rougher life than Pat did. He was abused by his alcoholic father, abused by our grandmother, abused by my dad who is his stepfather. Most of the authority figures in Pat's life treated him like shit. Our Mom didn't though. She loved him the best she could and she taught him to love people, all people.

Pat loved all people. He would sit on his front porch with a beer in his hand and a shot glass at his side and call out, "Hey, come have a beer with us!" to all the people walking by. He lived in midtown Kansas City in a residential neighborhood with lots of pedestrian traffic, so it was not uncommon to stop by Pat's house and see him chatting with someone on his porch.

"Hey, Beck! How's it going? Good to see you! You wanna beer? Hey, meet my friend, uh, I'm sorry but I've forgotten your name," Pat would say, looking toward the stranger on his porch, swigging down a can of Milwaukee's Best.

This is how I met all of Pat's friends. Many of them remained by his side throughout his life. Some of them moved on. Pat spent a good portion of his young adult life homeless, living on the beach in southern California, dumpster diving, drinking beer, playing his guitar, making friends. When Pat finally met the love of his life, Sharon, and they bought a house together and settled down, Pat would invite homeless people to sleep in their basement. That's how they got their dog Lo Mein. She was this homeless guy's dog. They had moved into Pat and Sharon's basement for a few weeks, and then one day the homeless guy disappeared. Lo Mein had no where else to go. The homeless guy didn't have a phone to call. They didn't know any of his family or friends. 

Every time I'd come over and sit on the porch and drink a beer with Pat and pet Lo Mein I'd think about what a great guy my brother is, to adopt a homeless man's dog. Pat would take one last bite of whatever it was he had been eating and toss the leftover to Lo Mein. That was one happy dog.

When we found out Pat was dying of liver failure, I can't tell you how many people called to wish Pat well and tell him how much they loved him and how much he made their life more meaningful.

It was great to watch Pat's face as he'd talk to an old friend on the phone. He relished the attention. He died in peace, feeling surrounded by love.

As soon as Pat died I spiraled into a deep depression. It lasted several months until I figured out a way to find relief. I started writing about the dark secrets Pat had asked me to keep when I was too young to be asked to carry such a burden.

While Pat was alive, I didn't want to write about what he had done to me when I was a little girl. Everybody loved Pat. Why would I want to turn everyone against him? I didn't. I love Pat. I want people to know why I hurt, but to also forgive the person who hurt me.

I was smart enough to understand that the people in authority who had abused Pat had taught him that abuse is normal. He probably didn't even think of what he was doing to me as abuse at all. In our sick way, when Pat would bring me into his bedroom and play his secret game with me, it felt really nice, like I was special and he was paying attention to me. But I was too little to know what I was doing, too young to give consent, too young to hold such a secret burden. Pat had told me not to tell anyone because if Mom found out about our secret game she would have another nervous breakdown and be sent to the hospital and probably never return.

I finally told. And Mom wasn't sent away. But we didn't talk about it for a long time.

When I was a teenager, discussing the abuse with my mom, she brought out a letter Pat had written to her when he ran away from home in his mid-teens. She let me read it. Pat went into horrible detail about the secret abuse he had suffered as a child when my mom divorced his dad and had to work and left the kids with her mom to babysit. 

It was disgusting, how our grandmother treated Pat. And the worst part of all? She told him never to tell anyone, because if the secret got out Mom would have another nervous breakdown and be sent to the hospital and probably never return.

It's hard to live with the knowledge that the person who sexually abused you had also been sexually abused himself. It's hard, but it leads to greater understanding, and ultimately love and forgiveness.

Sometimes people look at me weird when I tell them I forgive my brother for sexually abusing me when I was a little girl. Their eyes turn into slits and they turn their head slightly like they might have to be ready to make a break for it. Surely I am insane. You don't forgive people who have hurt you. You cover it up and pretend it never happened until the secret festers and consumes you and then you turn into the monster who preys on weaker victims to feel better about yourself.

But I say, hell no. Stop this shit. I will not let this cycle go on. I will not let this abuse go on. I will share the secret. I will let it out. I will not let it consume me.

Secrets kill our souls. Secrets condition the members of a community of well-intentioned people to believe that abuse is normal. Take the secrecy out of the abusive situation and you've got a foundation of support from the community.

No, Son. It's wrong to take advantage of a drunk woman. No, Hon, it's not your fault that it took you decades to find the courage to talk about it.

When it's normal for our society to blame victims and shrug our shoulders and say boys will be boys and men like to fuck around, when we accept that the world operates this way and that no one will listen to our one little voice when we tell our stories and share our secrets, when we worry we'll be castigated and cast out of the community, healing is impossible. But when we do the hard thing and love people, all people, neighbors and enemies and even ourselves, healing is possible. We learn that love is about sharing and not hiding, love is about seeking help and helping others, love is about feeling strong enough to support others who need us. We learn we are not alone.

Keep telling your stories. The more we share, the more we know we are not alone. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Teaching Awesomeness!

This is the shirt I wore at the girls' second pre-season game. I thought my hoodie covered most of it, but evidently the little sock monkeys wanted to watch the game.

The girls did great, much better than last week. They're in third grade, so they are still learning the fundamentals, like which direction to run and how to not throw a temper tantrum if they miss a shot. They seemed to have a greater understanding of what they were doing out there on the court this week than they did last week. I can see them maturing into a great team.

So we'd better hurry and pick a name. I asked the girls to think of a name, email it to me, and then I'd compile a list so we can each have one vote. Katie asked, "What if everybody picks their own name?" I gave her the same answer I give her to most of the questions she raises during this first season I'm coaching: "I don't know. I'll figure it out."

Just before the game started, the girls and I were in a huddle, talking. I'm sure the other coach was instructing his girls on a strategy or something coach-like. I don't know enough about that stuff yet, so I didn't have anything planned to say. After a couple of have-funs and do-your-bests, my girls and I started talking about team names. 

"I like the Racing Rockets!" one girl shouted.

"I like the Tigers!" another girl said.

"I wanna be the Sock Monkeys!" another voice chimed in.

"What? Who said the Sock Monkeys?" I asked.

The girl who said it smiled like she was trying to cover her teeth, but the smile was so big it looked like her lips were about to pop apart. She raised her hand half way up. 

"You?" I asked, pointing at her in a teasing way.

"Yeah!" she said.

"That name's not even on the list. Why do you want our team to be called the Sock Monkeys?" I asked.

She pointed to my shirt.

"Oh, yeah! I almost forgot. The sock monkeys want to wish you girls a good game! Have fun!"

The refs called them out to the court and I took my place on the bench.

Like I said, they did their best. They had fun. We scored a few, the other team scored more. But the girls know I don't pay attention to that kind of stuff. I want to make sure they're having fun, learning how to play the game, and practicing good sportsmanship. Or, sportspersonship, as I like to call it, but only in writing because it's too hard to say.

At one point during the game I was sitting on the bench with the three girls who were resting and getting ready to sub--everyone is guaranteed ten minutes of game play, although you know me and how time challenged I am. I just kinda rotate the girls in and out, ask them if they feel up to playing or if they want to rest, kinda let it flow, call them in when they look tired. It works. 

While I was sitting on the bench with my three resting girls, a player on the other team jogged up close to me, although she was still inbounds, and half shouted/half whispered, "I like your shirt!" 

I blushed and said thank you. It was the highlight of the game in my book.

The lowest point was when Will had to shout at me across all the noise of the parents in the audience, cheering. He saw me still huddled up with my girls, telling them how great they were playing, assigning positions as if they were gonna go in for one more round.


I looked up from the huddle and saw the other team lined up, ready to slap hands, the parents already on the floor with their coats draped over their arms.

"Oh, sorry girls. It looks like we'll have to play again next time! OK, line up to slap hands with the other team!" I said, as if I had any idea what I'm doing.

When it came time for the other team's coach to shake my hand, we smiled and he kinda laughed in a warm way and said, "Good game, Coach."

"Oh yes it was!" I agreed. "It was awesome."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Jesus Is a Pinko Commie

I'm not Catholic, but I sure love this new pope. My mom married into the Catholic faith, and her first four children were baptised in the Church, but she left the Church after she divorced her adulterous first husband and married my dad, a Methodist. Mom still reads The Bible. She still believes. She's the one who laid the foundation for my spiritual beliefs. She just isn't a joiner. We went to church off and on until I was about twelve, but never regularly or with any sort of enthusiasm. Mom doesn't need a holy building to love God and love people, which is pretty much how she summarized The Bible for me. Mom feels the presence of God in the comfort of her own living room, under her afghan, at the tip of her paintbrush, and coming out of the TV.

I had a Catholic girl tell me I was going to burn in hell because my mom and dad had both been married and divorced before they married each other and had me. She called me a child of sin. What a judgy little bitch. When I tattled on her, Mom basically told me the girl was full of shit, only phrased more gently for my second-grade ears. Other than that, the Catholic people I have known have been generous and warm and compassionate.

Still, I didn't used to like their church. I was never one of those anti-Catholic people who enjoy the company of hate mongers in white hoods. If people wanted to be Catholic that was their business. But I didn't like the news coming out of the Church. Abuse. Of power, of authority, for sex, for money, which was used for the Church's hierarchical sickness instead of for treating actual sick people.

For most of my young adulthood I was more on the side of Sinead O'Connor than The Catholic Church. I was one of the fans who still bought her records and defended her actions on Saturday Night Live all those years ago when she held up a picture of one of the old popes and ripped it to pieces on national TV in protest of the Church's silence over accusations of sexual abuse.

People called O'Connor crazy. They called her actions blasphemous. But I thought she was on the right side. The side that wants to see the Church help people and, you know, not fuck little alter boys.

But this new pope, Pope Francis, wow. The news coming from the Church today is so much better than it was with the old popes. It's all about, you know, helping people. Feeding the hungry, serving the poor, mending the sick and broken. The stuff Jesus was all about:

Matthew 19:16-24 New International Version (NIV)
The Rich and the Kingdom of God

16 Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”

17 “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”

18 “Which ones?” he inquired.

Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’[a] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]”

20 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth...

Jesus was always pissing people off like that. Telling them how they can make this world a better place, how they can love people and help people. If they'd only remove their heads from their assholes. Yeah, yeah, Jesus was the Prince of Peace and all, but he also battled the status quo with his amazingly simple words, "go" and "love".

I'm no pope expert or anything, but it seems to me that Pope Francis is way more Christ-like than the other popes I've seen. Take, for example, this brief article from Reuters, Pope to raffle gifts given to him to raise money for the poor.

Don't it just make you want to pump your fist in the air and shout out, "Yes!" to see this powerful man using his status for good. It's a rare thing of beautify in this cruel world.

Just as I used to be judgmental toward the Catholic church, I have a hard time not getting too judgy with rich people. Not all people who have acquired wealth are selfish or greedy, especially when they share it with those who are less fortunate. I know that my distrust of wealth is more psychological than spiritual: it has to do with my daddy issues, having been raised by an accountant who too often assigned more value to money than to people. But come on! I'm not perfect. Even Jesus himself is pretty judgy when it comes to people who cling to their material possessions. Look what he said to his disciples:

Matthew 19:16-24 New International Version (NIV), continued:

23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler by Heinrich Hoffman
image source

When I read that passage I always remember the time when I was an angsty adolesent in the middle of some stupid argument with my dad over whether or not it's ethical to eat fish. My dad grew up on the south end of St. Joe where it smelled horrible, but the slaughterhouse paid a living wage. His dad was happy to get off the farm and work for wages. Dad worked briefly at the slaughterhouse before he went to business college to get his accounting certificate so he could wear a nice white shirt to work and not worry about coming home with blood on it.

Here's about how close to working at a slaughterhouse I ever came: I used to make dinner for Mom and Dad and me when I still lived at home, and sometimes some blood would splatter onto my hand when I attempted to dump the ground beef from its styrofoam bed into a pot on the stove. I'd rush over to the sink and scrub my hand in hot water and soap for about five minutes. I'd shrivel up and die if I had to kill animals for a living.

My point is, when Dad and I got into a fight when I said I wanted to stop eating meat, he was coming from a weird place inside his mind. I bet he felt trapped between the old ways--his father's ways of proudly working at a slaughterhouse--and the new ways--his punk-ass kid mouthing off about not eating anything that has a face, or some shit like that.

"Jesus was a fishman!" My dad shouted. His face was getting red and you could see how fast his heartbeat was by how fast the artery in his temple was beating.

"Jesus was not a fisherman, Dad. He was a teacher. He was the Fisher of Men," I said in the most snotty "no duh" accent of a 1980's-era, white, suburban, middle-class teenage girl.

"My point is, Jesus ate fish. If fish was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for you!" Dad shouted.

I rolled my eyes and ran to my room shouting, "Jesus is a Pinko Commie!"

My remark was in reference to another time when my dad and I got into a shouting match over money and he called me a "Pinko Commie!" "Jesus is a Pinko Commie!" is what I had wanted to say then, but I wasn't brave enough yet to say it. So when I finally got up the nerve to say it during this argument over fish, I'm sure Dad didn't understand me, but it made perfect sense to me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Katie, Inverted

Tonight at the school's chili supper Katie's principal greeted us warmly as if nothing had happened. She smiled and talked to us like everything was back on track. She's either really good at forgive-and-forget or she's got so many other disruptive students to deal with, if a week passes it's off her mind. 

Last week when the principal called to tell me Katie was in her office, I reacted calmly. Which surprises me now that I think about it. I get uncharacteristically practical and focused when I'm called upon to tend to my child. I want as many facts as I can get so I can assess the situation and determine my course of action. The mama bear in me hears her kid's in trouble and she gets to work. OK, what are we going to do? How are we going to fix this?

"She's a good kid," the principal said to me over the phone. "I don't know what happened. It's like she just snapped."

Katie, Inverted

"And it was just over another girl snatching a photo out of Katie's hands?" I asked, amazed my gentle child would do such a thing. Then I remembered that earlier in the month my sister-in-law had reported to us that our sweet little innocent Katie had broken her cousin's sword in a fit of anger.

"Yes, that's what Katie said. She said the girl snatched the photo from her hands before her turn was up, and that's when she remembers losing her temper."

Apparently Katie pushed a desk. An innocent girl was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Katie scratched her like a rabid cat. Katie was exiled to the Principal's office and broke down crying about how sorry she was. 

When Katie's principal told me this on the phone all I could think of was, oh shit she's inherited my dramatic temper. We're screwed.

But the principal has more faith in us than we have in ourselves. Never once did the principal sound like she was scolding Katie, or me for that matter. She didn't talk to me condescendingly, like she knows more than I do what's best for my child. She talked to me like we're on a team and we're trying to help Katie do her best and find her way.

Will and I picked up Katie from the office. As soon as she saw us walk through the door, her eyes got big and teary. 

"I'm so sorry," she said.

"We know," we said.

We talked about the situation off and on for several days afterward. Katie wrote a letter to her classmates and her teacher apologizing for her outburst and for scratching her friend. It took her a couple of days to build up the courage to give the letter to her teacher, but once Katie did, her teacher read it to the class.

"And then what happened?" I asked.

"Well, she finished reading the letter and then everyone in the room clapped and cheered and I got a SOAR ticket I can trade for, like, a frog eraser or something like that."

After talking it over, Katie mentioned that the girl who had snatched the photo from her hand is the same girl who, a couple of days before, accused Katie of cutting in line and Katie said she didn't but the girl said she did, and Katie didn't know how to resolve the conflict, so she turned and pouted and stomped off to the end of the line. 

"You didn't tell me about that. Why didn't you tell me about it after school on the day it happened?" I asked Katie.

"I dunno. I forgot," Katie replied. She is only eight, after all. And really, even if they did have that tiff in the cafeteria, it's no reason for Katie to freak out. Katie seemed to understand this as we talked it over.

By the end of the week, as Will and I were walking Katie home from school, Katie said, "Guess what?"

We said, "What?"

Then Katie told us that her teacher told them a true story about how when she was a girl she got into a fight with her best friend and she ended up in the Principal's office, "And guess what they were fighting over?" Katie paused to finally take a breath. I've noticed as her vocabulary is building her sentences are getting longer. 

"What were they fighting over?" Will and I asked.

"They were fighting over a stick! Can you believe that?!" Katie said, shaking her head and laughing. After a few minutes of no talking and just listening to the crunch of the icy leaves beneath our feet, Katie said, "It's turned out to be a good week. It started out bad. I lost my temper. I made a mistake. I got sent to the Principal's office for the first time ever. I wrote a letter and said I'm sorry to my teacher and my class and now everybody is my friend again, and you know what the best part of all is?"

"What's the best part of all?" Will and I asked.

"The best part is I'd always wondered what the Principal's office looked like, and now I know."

I laughed out loud.

"No, I'm serious," Katie said. "I always wondered if it was like Miss Trunchbull's scary office, or more like just a desk and chair and stuff like in your office, Mom. And now that I've been sent to the Principal's office, I know it's not scary. It's just a regular office and you just talk about what you did wrong and now everything is back on track!"

Back on track? I think Katie might make a decent principal when she grows up. She's got the jargon down, and also, now, the empathy.

I Said Hustle Not Hush

After our game last week, the girls and I hugged and cheered and talked about how much fun we had, me watching them, and them playing. I was paying less attention to the parents than the girls. I assumed they were just as happy as we were. I noticed one girl who had played that night had already left without sharing a snack with the team, but I just figured they were in a hurry. Now I suspect her parents were disappointed that our team "lost," if you're into that whole score-keeping thing.

I'm not. At one point during the game, one of the girls who was sitting on the bench while her teammates were on court asked me what the score was.

"I have no idea. I'm just making sure everyone is doing her best and having fun," I said.

The girl beamed. I mean, shooting starstuff coming out of her eyes. Like she was saying oh good, you're one of us.

I get that look from kids a lot. Kids at Katie's school. Kids at the public library where I work. Kids in Sunday School. Now kids on the basketball team I'm coaching. People think I like to work with kids because I'm so giving and loving and kind. It's really so I can leech off their inner energy. Kids are so full of wisdom and understanding and love if you let them speak their minds and be who they are. And really, really listen to them.

Since last week's game, a couple of parents have emailed me, offering their help during practice. They want to drill the girls and teach them the basics of offense and defense and, you know, like, teach them how to play the game in a very straight-forward way. But straight-forward is not my way. And while I'm grateful for their assistance, and I want the girls to learn the fundamentals in their own time, I'm a tad insulted.

I know this is my first time coaching youth basketball. I know I haven't played on a basketball team in thirty years. I know I'm old, and short, and fat, and obviously too sensitive. But I'm the one who volunteered when the league asked for help, not you, and I'm trying. Just as the girls are trying too. Give us a chance. Believe it or not, I have a plan. It might look different than yours, but it's the best way I know how to build a strong team: through fun and encouragement. If you want to coach the girls another way, you should have volunteered at the beginning of the season when the league was foolish enough to accept my offer when no one else said yes.

As a coach of 3rd grade girls, my most important job is to encourage them and let the girls have fun. When I spoke to the girls during our first practice, I asked them what they want to get out of this season. The overwhelming majority said, "to have fun". The others said things like "to make friends" and "to do my best". When I asked them what kind of coach they want me to be, they said, "funny" and "nice" and "encouraging."

So that's my goal for the year. I'm going to let these girls have fun and learn how to play a game at their own speed and to their best abilities. I'm not going to focus on winning or obtaining high scores. That's cool and all, but I primarily want these girls to feel confident about using their muscles and being a part of a team and learning to help each other shine.

So, I want to be clear. I absolutely would love some help coaching. But only if the help is positive and uplifting. I don't want parents hollering at the girls or pushing them too hard. I want them to love to play the game because it feels good and they enjoy it, not because they feel pressured to please us.

Since I'm the one who volunteered to coach our team, I have the honor of defining what approach to coaching our team gets. Will has been helping me at practice, and a couple of times I've had to ask him to calm down. No, the girls don't need to run ten laps around the gym. I understand wanting to push them to excel. It's easy to get caught up in the feelings of pride we have when we watch our children play well together. Basketball is a game of balance, coordination, and agility. I want to make sure the kids feel well balanced, both physically and emotionally.

Monday, November 17, 2014

33 Snowfish

Why didn't you tell me about Adam Rapp? That amazing young adult fiction author who writes about homelessness, drug addiction, and abuse. I zipped through his indescribably ugly and beautiful book 33 Snowfish. And let me tell you. I've been too busy lately to read. I'm working at the library. I'm taking care of our kid and our pets and our family. I'm teaching Sunday School. I'm coaching 3rd grade girls basketball. Come on! I don't have time to read.

But I couldn't help myself. Rapp's words suck you in. The story is sick and sublime. Go read it. Now. Basically it's a story of three runaways fleeing their ugly lives. Do not read it if you're squeamish about the dark realities of life. But if you can take it, if you're strong enough, read through til the surprisingly hopeful ending.

So you know how when you've just finished a book and everything around you seems to suddenly be related to it? Things all around you that you never noticed before? That's how it's been for me ever since I finished reading 33 Snowfish. Everywhere. I. Look. It's all I see. Thank God I have PTSD or I might not have learned the skills necessary to tolerate despicable life events. Honestly: I think that's why I'm so emotionally strong. I'm a survivor of child sexual abuse and other generic traumas of growing up in a dysfunctional family. I've overcome so much that my life now feels like a triumph. The better I feel about myself and the better I cope with my abused and bruised past, the better I am able to see others who are going through what I've been through and to find ways to help them.

You're that way too, aren't you? When you feel good aren't you more apt to feel like helping others. And when you feel like crap, aren't you more apt to not even see the misery of others in front of your eyes? Most of us are like that.

But not all of us are. Some people who struggle daily just to stay warm and fed and safe are still awakened to the plight of others. For example, watch this incredibly inspirational video about a homeless man sharing his meal:

Too often in our society people who are homeless are looked down upon by the well-homed. Fuckin' lazy bums. Get off the street. They live in the trash so they are of the trash. They're just gonna spend that dollar you gave 'em on liquor and drugs.

I had the unfortunate luck of sitting next to my husband, who was on his computer scrolling down his newsfeed, when something so hideous and wrong we simply had to stop and look at it flashed upon the screen. Selfies with homeless people. Seriously. Go look. It really is as disgusting as it sounds.

Jesus Fucking Christ! Is Jesus really going to have to come back to earth to set you motherfuckers straight? It is not cool to ridicule other human beings. Homeless people are people. They deserve just as much respect as anyone. The President. The Pope. Beyoncé. Even you. Jesus said stop being an asshole and documenting your fun adventures with a bum and go sell your phone and give the money to the poor. I'm paraphrasing.

But it's not just ignorant narcissists who are disrespecting homeless people. Today I read this bad news about the City Union Mission, a religious-based homeless shelter in Kansas City. I've been a fan of this charitable organization for some time. I've shopped at their thrift shop. I've blogged about the good they do. But now I'm pissed.

They've decided that they will not allow legally married same-sex couples to stay together at their facilities. I'm so angered by this injustice I felt compelled to create this petition. Please sign it. I'd like to deliver it to the decision makers at City Union Mission as soon as possible. If you'd like to contact them directly, here is their info:

City Union Mission
1100 E. 11th Street
Kansas City, MO 64106
(816) 566-5085

Of course, not all religious organizations hide behind their interpretation of The Bible when they discriminate against their fellow sisters and brothers and others. Some groups of religious people go out of their way to try to empathize with people who live without homes.

Recently my church, Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church, hosted a camp-out for the youth. Only instead of tents or cabins like at scout camp, these youths and their adults spent the night outside in cardboard boxes and tried to imagine what it would be like to never know where you were going to sleep that night. It was literally freezing out. And they survived. They learned to love more and judge less.

GCPC "Homeless for a Night"
photo courtesy of Christy Soule

There are many other organizations around, trying to make life better for homeless people. There's this great organization in Wisconsin called Occupy Madison that is helping homeless people build tiny houses. I don't know if it's a religious organization or not, but regardless, I hope that they let same-sex couples stay in a tiny stable for the night. 

When did it become the way things are that people who follow Christ say turn away your gay neighbors and irreligious government officials say no, you must treat them as equal human beings?

Friday, November 14, 2014

Pantser Panic

It's unlike me to prepare for anything, but I figured I should at least skim the coaching manual policies and playing rules a few hours before the first game. I accidentally read that after the end of each game the coaches get rated and that "disciplinary action may be warranted for multiple below average ratings."

Holy shit! I didn't know I was being tested. I can't even remember all my girls' names, let alone the rules. Am I going to be the first 3rd grade basketball coach to get fired from a volunteer gig after their first game?

See, my friends. This is why it doesn't pay to plan. When you just wing it, you don't have time for any sort of pantser panic to set in. Isn't that a great word? Pantser. As in, a person who does things by the seat of her pants. I recently read it and decided it describes the anxiety I experience when I try to plan things. I am a total pantser precisely because I'm an obsessive planner. I get too bogged down in worry and give up too easily if I plan things out. If I show up unprepared, I can blame my awful performance on my lack of preparation and just have fun.

But I guess when you're a supposedly responsible adult coaching your daughter's basketball team it's different. There are so many freaking rules.

Left: Becky, age 13, seventh grade. Right: Katie, age 8, third grade.

I don't remember there being many rules when I played on teams as a girl. I just remember running back and forth across the wooden floor, dribbling, and passing, and catching, and shooting and having a lot of fun. I thought that's what it's all about. Fun.

So what's my plan for the first game? I'm going to try to remember what it was like to be a girl on a team having fun so I can understand how my girls out on the court feel. It's about them. Not me. Not the parents. Not the officials. It's about them, and making them love to work together and have fun.


Katie started crying during a practice basketball game. She said she was afraid the ball was going to hit her in the face. One of her teammates stopped everything and went to her to give her a hug. Then two other teammates went to her and started telling her about how they were scared and cried their first time on a team too. Now they've played a couple of years and they have fun. Katie immediately returned to the game and was laughing and running around having a good time.
I love coaching these girls. I'm going to learn a lot from them.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

This Is You

Our eight-year-old daughter, Katie, handed this piece of paper to me and said, "Here, Mom. This is you."

"Mom" by Katie Carleton, age 8

The first thing I noticed about the drawing is that my shirt says I love daughters, plural. Because I have but one daughter, I wondered if Katie is including an imaginary sister, or if she's including our female pets. Or, is she thinking more broadly, along the lines of my "daughters" being all the girls in the world. It wouldn't surprise me, since I often talk about how we need to help improve the lives of girls around the globe as if I'm a concerned mother. 

Once, when Katie was complaining about having to go to school, I shut down her negativity by saying, "Well, at least you don't live in a country where eight-year-old girls don't go to school because they are forced to marry middle-age men."

Kind of a modern-day clean your plate because there are starving kids in Africa.

When Will and I found out we were having a girl, the first thing to come out of his mouth was this:

"Good. I'm glad this baby will have you for a mother, because you'll raise her to be a feminist."

Beats my own father's reaction to being told I was a girl. My mom said the only two times she ever saw my father cry was when his mother died and when I was born. Dad already had a daughter from his first marriage. His first wife also gave birth to two other girls, and one boy, but none of them survived past the first day or two. When he married my mom, already the mother of two boys and two girls, I imagine he thought he'd struck uterus-gold. But alas, after I popped out of Mom's golden uterus, as Mom and her obstetrician smoked cigarettes and discussed how much damage I'd done to her body, the doctor chiding my mother, telling her that she shouldn't have any more children, Dad was wiping away his patriarchal tears.

When I became pregnant, I vowed to love and cherish our child regardless of how things turned out between its legs. I honestly didn't care if the child was a boy or a girl, or somewhat both, someone with ambiguous genitalia. In fact, my reaction to Will's awesome comment about how our girl would be lucky to have me for a mother so I could raise her to be a feminist reflected how I feel about gender in general. I said, "Whatever. I'd raise our son to be a feminist, too."

More than anything, my wish for all children is to just be themselves. Whatever that means.

My boss started this team-building exercise at work. She posted pieces of paper on the wall, one for each of us in the department. Everyone who walks by is supposed to write a positive description of the person on their sheet of paper. On mine, someone wrote, "herself."

 What is that supposed to mean, I thought. Since we were told not to use any negative descriptors, I did not take offense to the comment, which would have been my knee-jerk reaction to someone describing me in a way I didn't understand. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

"Just be yourself," we're told by people who love us when they want to encourage us to be our best.

Because I like to question everything, I decided to do a little research. I asked Google, "What does it mean to be yourself?" Here's what Google said, "Our true self is who we really are when we let go of all of the stories, labels, and judgments that we have placed upon ourselves. It is who we naturally are without the masks and pretentiousness." 

Oh, I like that. I like that a lot. It reminds me of this head-trippy video Will and I watched recently: 

The second thing I noticed about the portrait Katie drew of me is that, while my hair appears to be long on the sides, I'm completely bald on top of my head. Upon further inspection, my feet have been lopped off, but I focused on the bald head.

When I was about Katie's age, my grandmother told me that when I grew up I'd probably go bald like my dad. "But you can grow your hair out long on the sides," she said, cackling.

My grandmother was not ignorant, just mean. As the owner of a beauty shop, my grandmother knew that female baldness is rare, and that even though my dad started losing his hair when he was in his late teens, and that baldness is hereditary, it's generally only the male children whose bald genes get expressed. I didn't know this when I was eight, so I stared at my part in the mirror for years, wondering when it would start getting wider.

I actually had extremely thick hair when I was child. I remember my mom using "thinning sheers" on it so I wouldn't look so much like Roseanne Roseannadanna. Each time she'd thin out my hair, I'd worry that when I looked in the mirror I'd see Mom had gone full Telly Savalas on me.

She never did. Mom's not mean like her own mom was. Whenever Mom would take out the thinning sheers, I'd remind her that my grandmother warned me I'd go bald someday like Dad. 

"Oh, don't listen to her," Mom would say. The fact that Mom survived her childhood with an abusive mother and she herself turned out to be a good mother was enough for me to heed her advice. She must know what's what.

I stopped listening to obviously mean and crazy people as a kid, but it's taken a lifetime for me to learn to stop listening to anyone but myself. I don't know if it's my innate personality, or the fact that I'm the youngest of six kids and so I've never known what it's like to not be compared to my siblings, but it's hard for me to not judge myself against everyone around me.

I'm getting better. It's taken a long time.

A couple of months ago, I took Katie to a chop-shop to get a professional haircut the week before school pictures. While we were there, I glanced at the ends of my own hair and decided to have them give me a trim, too. I hadn't had it cut in about a year, so it's longer now than it has been since I was in high school. 

"How do you want me to cut it?" the hair stylist asked.

"Just trim it and shape it up a bit," I said.

As she trimmed my hair, we heard the other hair stylist, who was working on Katie's mop, say, "Wow, you have such thick hair."

I remember my mom saying the exact same thing to me when I was Katie's age. I looked around my stylist's station and saw a pair of thinning sheers. I hadn't seen a stylist use them on me in years.

I looked into the mirror at my long hair. I like the way it hangs around my face, accentuating my bone structure. I remember always hearing when I was kid that women over the age of forty were not supposed to wear their hair past their shoulders. Like wearing white after Labor Day.

"Long hair makes an older woman's face look saggy," I'd hear my mom and my grandmother say as if they were discussing sky blue refraction.

I looked into the mirror at my own over-the-age-of-forty face. My face doesn't look saggy. It looks well-defined. I'm going to be forty-four this month, and this is the finest I've ever felt.

Katie's hair stylist suggested "texturizing" her hair so it's not so prone to becoming a tangled mat under the top layer of her hair. I know that this is a modern way of saying that she's taking the thinning sheers to Katie's hair, just like my mom once did to mine.

"Do you want her to thin out your hair so it's easier to brush?" I called out to Katie, across from me in our spinning seats.

"Yeah!" Katie said.

"Does your husband have thick hair?" the stylist trimming my hair asked me.

"Oh yeah. He shaves half of it--in an undercut--and it's still really thick. Katie gets her thick hair from both of us," I said.

"Oh?" the stylist looked perplexed. "Did you used to have thick hair when you were a kid?" she asked.

I put my hand on top of my head and felt my part. It hasn't grown any wider over the years, but now that she mentions it, I realize the reason I like my long hair now is because it has gotten so much thinner that it doesn't grow out like an inverted triangle. I had long hair as a teenager, but I cut it off my senior year of high school because I got tired of fooling with it. In this last year that I've been letting my hair get long again, I thought I was just being feisty.

Women over the age of forty can't have long hair, you say? Let's see about that!

I thought growing my hair out long was primarily in protest to all the people who have ever said it shouldn't be done. But looking into the mirror at Great Clips, I realized the stylist was working on my hair in its current state with no awareness of the ultra-thick hair I once had. I had come to think of myself as a person with thick hair, just as I'm a person with green eyes or a person with blonde hair.

Oh wait. My hair started turning brown when I was ten, and it's gotten progressively darker over the years. Katie calls my hair "black" and I'm always like, really? I don't think of myself as a dark-headed person because my formative years were spent as a blonde.

Similarly, I was a tall kid. Always either the tallest or second tallest in the class. By fourth grade I was 5'3". At nearly forty-four, I'm still 5'3". I was a tall kid who stopped growing early, so now I'm a short adult. I was a blonde kid, but now I'm a brunette, and as the aging process continues, I find more and more silvery shimmers in my hair.

I like the way I look for the first time in my life. I'm myself, whoever that is, and it feels good.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Happy Birthday, Mr. Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut's U.S. Army portrait

Happy birthday, Mr. Vonnegut! Kurt Vonnegut is one of my favorite writers, but he's also one of my favorite humans. Too often I'll have the utmost respect for an artist's work but feel the bile belches coming up my throat when I think about the artist's personal life. See: Woody Allen.

Vonnegut died a few years ago. So it goes. I will forever be inspired by his soul. Especially today and every November 11th, on both Vonnegut's birthday and Armistice Day, the day the participants in The War to End All Wars chose peace. So fitting for a humanist pacifist such as Vonnegut. Here's one of my favorite Vonnegut quotes, from his 1973 novel Breakfast of Champions:

"I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

"It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old men who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind."

Tolkien and Post-Traumatic Growth

Happy Armistice Day!

"Tolkien 1916". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons -

One veteran of World War I--J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series--used his traumatic experiences in the war to create amazing works of literature. Hank Green calls it "post-traumatic growth". Green explains it in this fascinating episode of Crash Course Psychology:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Step Stool Sister

Thatcher (12), Annie (7 months), Sawyer (12)

Our cat Thatcher, and our puppy Annie got all excited when they saw a neighborhood cat outside in our front yard. Evidently our old dog Sawyer couldn't care less. She's been roommates with various felines over her twelve long years as the sweetest dog on the planet. She simply cannot be fazed by one more cat. I imagine Sawyer saying to her fur-brother and fur-sister, "Big deal. Wake me up when there's something worth looking at." Sawyer is so hardcore into her nap, she doesn't even mind being a step stool for her baby fur-sister.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Coach Carleton: First Night of Practice

Well, I didn't finish the Universal Class on How to Coach Youth Basketball before it was time to head to our first practice last night. You didn't really think I would, did you? We had fun anyway. And that's the goal.

It was my first time coaching, ever. Our eight-year-old, Katie, wanted to join a team. Soon after we signed her up, the league sent me an email asking if I could coach. Assuming other parents with more experience would volunteer, I said, Sure, sure. Sign me up. I've never coached. I haven't played basketball in thirty years. I probably haven't even watched a basketball game in at least a decade. But sure, if no one else can do it, sign me up.

Nube mistake number one. Never say yes when you really mean are you fucking kidding me?

Fortunately for me, when I'm on my meds and keeping my symptoms of PTSD at bay, I'm quite adventurous. I'll try anything (that will cause no harm to anyone) once. What harm could I do to these eleven third-grade girls? I figure the worst that can happen with me as a coach is we won't learn the rules, but no matter what, we'll have fun.

When we arrived at the gym there were already several girls running around shooting hoops. An incorrigible procrastinator and usually late to everything, I had thought arriving ten minutes early was good, but evidently my team leans uber-punctual. When the other couple of girls arrived, we sat in a circle in the middle of the gym and talked.

"When are we going to start practicing?" one of the girls whined.

"We are practicing. This is the first part of building a team," I explained. She didn't roll her eyes at me, so I marked that one a win.

"I want us to get to know each other so we can be a great team. I'm gonna ask you some questions about yourself, and we'll go around the circle and answer. I'll start," I said.

I told them that it was my first time coaching, but I was excited, and that I had played basketball on a couple of teams when I was a girl, so I know what it's like. I told them that I'm Katie's mom and Will's wife, that I work at the library and I like working with kids.

"And the one thing I want to get out of this experience is to have fun," I said, smiling. Surprisingly, they all smiled back. Beamed really. I'm lucky I got assigned to coach third graders rather than eighth graders. Too much teenage angst might trigger my anxiety.

We went around the circle and each girl gave their answers. Their name, what school they go to, have they played on a team before, and if so, how many years? That sort of stuff. The answers got more exciting after I asked them the two BIG questions:

The first big question was: "What do you want to get out of this experience, by the end of the season?"

I wanna have fun!
I wanna see how many goals I can shoot!
I wanna see how fast I can run across the court!
I wanna do my best and have fun!
I wanna make friends!
I wanna shoot more hoops!
I wanna do my best and have fun! (The copycat is my kid.)
I wanna have fun! (It was clear the girls were running out of ideas until...)
I wanna make friends and learn how to SLAM DUNK!

We all giggled at that last one.

"Well, that's a lofty goal," I said.

"What's lofty?" Slam Dunk Girl said.

"It's a big goal, something that will take you years of practice to achieve," I explained.

Slam Dunk Girl's shoulders sank.

"But it will be fun to watch you practice! It probably won't be this year, but I'd love to see you slam dunk some day!"

Slam Dunk Girl sat up straight and proud, smiling wide.

The second big question was: "What kind of coach would you like me to be?"

Nice, but make us work hard!
Nice and encouraging!
Honest, reliable, smart! (Guess which weirdo kid said that? Yep. Katie.)
Nice, and you can help us learn more!

I have a feeling that interviewing these girls about what they want to get out of being on a basketball team, and what kind of coach they want me to be, will be just as important as studying the rules of the game.

Still, though, I need to figure out the basics. It's two points per shot, right? What I remember most from playing basketball on a team when I was a kid was the fun, not the rules. Hopefully the girls and I will learn just enough of the rules that we'll feel comfortable and have fun.

After our mini group therapy session in the middle of the court, Will and I had the girls do dribbling drills where they weave in and out of the cones, shooting drills from both the left and the right, and passing drills.

Probably the harshest thing I said to one of the girls all night was, "Remember, you're passing the ball to your teammate. You want her to be able to catch it so she can score a point for the team. Yeah, it's cool that you can bounce the ball over her head, but that's not gonna help the team win."

No crying. No yelling. No one yelling "hustle!" No one pointing at me and laughing. It was about as chill a practice as I could imagine.

When we were picking up our coats to leave, I asked Katie if she'd give my first day of coaching a thumbs up or not. She said, "A quadruple thumbs up!"

That was awesome, but my kid's partial to me. The best compliment I got was as we were leaving the gym, one of the girls said to me, "You're a really nice coach!" My heart exploded with joy.

One more practice and then we'll have our first game. I'm excited.

Coach Carleton: The Beginning, Before the First Practice

My husband Will took a photo of me wearing my Halloween costume so I could Facebook-fish for compliments. In the caption I asked my friends to guess who I was.

"A sexy librarian" was the top pick, which made me smile, since that's what I was going for. I basically wore my day-to-day wardrobe of a cardigan over a dress, knee high socks, and clogs, with my hair up in a messy bun held together by a pencil. Only, to make it "sexy," I wore an industrial strength push-up bra, size 42DDD, mind you, and a tight dress. 

That's one good thing about having a Venus Figurine body type: slap on a fancy bra and a tight dress and you're ready to go out for the night. No need to fuss over your hair or makeup. Manicures and pedicures? Don't waste your money. You really think people are going to be looking at your hair and nails and not at your monumental mammary glands? Haven't you seen that episode of SNL where the women evolved to have eyes on their breasts so men would finally look them in the eye? 

Not everyone agreed with the "Sexy Librarian" guess, though. One friend suggested I looked like someone else, someone I never would have thought of: the awful Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's Matilda.

Sexy Librarian or Miss Trunchbull?

Ouch. Just when I start feeling sexy, I'm compared to that monstrous hag? I'm stocky, yes. I wear knee high socks like Miss Trunchbull, yes. But I'm no monster. I'm about as much of a stern disciplinarian as Miss Honey. Not at all like the sadistic headmistress who abuses children--the one my friend thought I had dressed up as for a kid's holiday.

Miss Trunchbull from Roald Dahl's Matilda
image source

I can kind of see it, now that she mentions it. I've been a librarian for twenty-one years, and just recently I was picked to volunteer to coach my third grade daughter's basketball team. No, stop laughing. I'm serious. Yes, they most certainly are that desperate, and yes, I do have delusions of grandeur so much I'm willing to try anything once. Remember? I'm the spiritually ambivalent non-churchgoer who somehow got suckered into joining a progressive Presbyterian church with my daughter last year. I absolutely love it. Now they've got me teaching Sunday School. I keep telling them that the kids know more about the Bible than I do, that they are teaching me more than I am teaching them, but they don't seem to have a problem with the concept of an adult learning from a child.

Katie, age 8, third grade.

Katie just finished "basketball school" and now she's ready to join a team.When the league emailed the parents to beg for a coach, I half-jokingly agreed, but I explained that I haven't played basketball in thirty years. I probably haven't even watched a game in a decade. Generally, when my Facebook timeline blows up with images and videos and conversations about most sports, I close my screen and pick up a book. I've always thought sports were more fun to play than to watch.

I used to be a great basketball player. I was on the all-star team two years in a row, and in seventh grade I won the layup contest by making 24 out of 25 baskets.

I had to quit basketball because of my boobs. Not because I'm a woman who has boobs in general. Just my boobs in particular. You see, I was an extremely early developer. I got my first bra in third grade. By high school I looked less like a baller and more like a Babushka. I had to quit playing basketball because my swollen breasts hurt every time I'd run down the court. Either there weren't sports bras back then or my mom didn't know about them, because when I finally told my mom about how much it hurt to run, she said it was OK for me to drop out.

I've played a game of HORSE here and there over the years, but for the most part, I haven't played basketball since I was 13, thirty-one years ago. I'm still fairly active in my own middle-aged way. I even own a sports bra now. I walk around the neighborhood, with my dogs, at the dog park. I play games with our eight year old in the back yard. I take walking breaks at work. I'm not a total slacker.

By the looks of my body, you'd think otherwise. I've been back on sertraline, used to treat my post-traumatic-stress-disorder and clinical depression, for about a year now. I feel more alive, more like myself. I love it. I never would have had the energy to get out of bed and coach a girl's basketball team, and teach Sunday School, and work at the public library, if it weren't for my meds. But I've gained almost thirty pounds, which is a lot on any frame, but especially a lot because I was already fat. My weight keeps creeping up over the years no matter how much exercise I get or how much food I eat or how many carbs or protein or fat or sugar or anything is in the food I eat. My doctor and I know weight gain is a side-effect of this medicine that makes me feel alive, and my weight gain hasn't hurt my good biometric ratings. My blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol are all within the healthy range. I might look pudgy and quite wobbly running along the sidelines, coaching my badass baller girls, but hopefully they can soon learn that health comes in all sizes and Coach Carleton will prove it.

Being a Health At Every Size activist these last three years, I'm not supposed to worry about my weight gain. I know better. I should practice what I preach. But body acceptance is hard in our culture. When I pull on a slightly tight t-shirt and sweat pants and a hoodie I have to give a pretty good heave to zip up, I worry what people will think when they see me. I love my body. My husband loves my body. My daughter is thankful for my body and loves it. Why should I care if a bunch of 3rd grade girls and their parents think my body is uncoach-like? One of the tenets of the Health at Every Size philosophy is to move your body in pleasurable ways. Not when you're ten pounds thinner. Not when you're fifty pounds thinner. Now. Right now.

That's my personal goal. This basketball season, I would like to learn to feel good about my body, to move my body in pleasurable ways in public, away from the safe walks around my neighborhood and under the sheets in bed with my husband. I'm ready to start coaching these impressionable young girls on not just how to play a game and love it, but how to feel good about your body. Right now. Growing up is hard. Bodies change at different rates. Lots of kids get pudgy around third grade, or else they can't put any meat on their bones no matter how many seconds or thirds they take at the dinner table. It shouldn't matter. Fat kids. Skinny kids. All kids should know they are allowed to have fun with their bodies.

So as of today, you can call me Coach Carleton, or, Becky the Baller Librarian, if you're not into that whole brevity thing.

A Baller Librarian, that's me. So I see my friend's point about my Halloween costume. Miss Trunchbull looks like a Baller Librarian. Only the scary old-fashioned stereotypes of the cranky, shushing librarian and the gruff, verbally abusive coach. 

I'm ready to reinvent what it means to be a badass Baller Librarian. I told a friend at work, who was chuckling at the idea of my nerdy ass coaching a bunch of little jocks that, just as I never shush people at the library, I will never yell at any of the girls to "hustle" on the court. Hustle. When I played, from age 11-13, I always hated it when my coach would yell, "hustle!" I felt like yelling back, "Damn, old man! Why don't you get out here and run beside me and see how much hustle you've got in you?"

Like I do at the library with noisy patrons, I'll approach a girl who seems like she hasn't got much hustle left in her, and we'll have a conversation, instead of me embarrassing her in front of a crowd.

At the library:

"Sir, some other library patrons have been complaining about the noise around here. Please be considerate of those around you..."

On the court:

"Chin up! It's a game, not an endurance test. Are you having fun? Do you think your teammates are having fun?" You know, that kind of uplifting affirmation type shit that calms kids down instead of the yelling approach, which heightens anxiety.

I'm going to be an empathetic coach. I have one goal: to have fun. Our team might never be basketball stars--heck, with me as a coach, we might never learn all the rules--but we'll have fun. 

So, how do we get to that point? First, I need to learn the basics of how to coach youth basketball before I can evolve into an empathetic coach. Because I am a librarian, I know how to find information. Haven't played basketball in thirty years, yet somehow got wrangled into coaching your kid's team and you have no idea where to start? Just ask a librarian. We'll point you to where you need to go.

Me, age 13
1983-1984, seventh grade girls' basketball

I found a self-paced online class through the library. It's called Universal Class, and through my library you can access it for free with a library card anywhere with internet service.

Today's the first day of practice, so naturally I haven't finished the course. In fact, I've only gotten through the introduction. I like it already. Which is why I'm taking it in so slowly. That, and I'm a natural procrastinator, so if I don't get through the whole course before I have to go coach tonight, and I royally screw something up, I can blame it on my ignorance of the subject matter due to a lack of time spent studying it instead of just my innate slacker awkwardness whenever I find myself in any sort of leadership role.

What I like best about the online class, so far, is that I feel like the teacher has empathy for my plight. Right from the beginning:

"Your child has just come home and starts talking to you about how much they want to join the basketball team. Tryouts are next week. They are waving a brightly colored flier in one hand and looking at you with those big excited eyes. All you want to do is take your shoes off, check your messages and have dinner. But, your offspring is relentless...They will work extra chores and be nice to their siblings. You know this won't last, but you succumb anyway...

"You start filling the forms out and notice a block on the bottom of the page asking if you are interested in becoming a coach. You think to yourself, 'Do they have a coach? Surely they wouldn't have tryouts without a coach.' Well, they do have a coach, but he is ready to retire the woman taking the registrations tells you, because he's tired and wants to enjoy his golden years while he can.

"You look over the box again and again, then look at your excited child and tell the woman that if they absolutely can't find anyone else, you'll consider it. Guess what? You get a phone call within three days asking you to become the coach, because they couldn't find anyone else."

--From "How to Coach Youth Basketball on Universal Class.

Amen! This teacher knows what I'm in for. Better get back to class.