The past, the present, and the future

I am an eighth generation Kentuckian. My family has been living in Kentucky since the 1700s. My 6th-great grandfather Elias Lovelace fought in the Revolutionary War. My 4th-great grandfather William Sumner fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. During that time, he was taken prisoner and sent to Camp Douglas in Chicago where he died and was buried. 

I know William Sumner married my 4th-great grandmother when she was 13 and he was 27. I know my 3rd-great grandmother Celinda was only one year old when he left for war. I know he did not own enslaved people. 

The history of my family is incredibly important to me. My devotion to this place is in part because I can feel my family's presence here for generations. The sacrifices they made. The children they buried. The lives they lived that made the one I live possible. 

That's why I find the argument that those who oppose the presence of Confederate monuments do not respect history so incredibly frustrating.  

How do I respect the entirety of my history? How do I respect the ancestor who fought to form this union AND the ancestor who fought to tear it apart? Is the only way to respect my ancestors to ignore the terrible choices they made? Do I have to ignore their flawed humanness and turn them into one-dimensional heroes on a pedastal? 

I reject the idea that the only way to honor the people who came before me is to never question the decisions they made. I will never know what it was like to live during the Civil War. I will never know what choices I would have made during that time. I do know that others made different choices. I do know that people during that time made hard and difficult choices to stand against slavery and oppression and the Confederacy itself. 

The complexity of all these people and the choices they made is why the idea of "history" as one thing is absurd. I understand a desire for the simplicity of one narrative. For most of our two hundred plus years as a nation, we have pushed one version of history. The version where the founding fathers all agreed and were to be lauded as almost infallible heroes. The version where the pioneers were brave and strong and the American Indians were either villains or supportive costars. The version of the Civil War perpetuated by the Cult of the Lost Cause - where the Confederacy was a noble cause and fought bravely against great odds. 

Monuments all over our country have played a role in writing those singular versions of our history but that has never been the full story of the very real human beings who lived during times past. History is not composed solely of monuments anymore than human beings are composed of marble and metal. 

History is complex - as complex as the people who make it. We honor that history not by doubling down on simplistic narratives but by acknowledging that we can respect the contributions of those who came before us without endorsing a system they helped create.

No matter the story we tell, monuments aren't just an accounting of history they are endorsements. Some will argue that we are not endorsing the system of slavery with these monuments and to many perhaps we are not. But there will never be just one meaning for the symbolism of the Confederacy. We do not need to agree on what they mean to everyone to see that they have come to symbolize hate to some. White nationalists and neo-Nazis used these monuments and symbols to rally over 700 people to their cause in Charlottesville. This ugly and frightening use of "history" is a very real threat right now and I reject the idea that I must chose either the past or the present as my priority. I will not reject the fears and safety of the people standing next to me today in order to glorify the people who died long ago. 

I chose to move back to Kentucky in part because I wanted to be back in the place my family had lived for generations. It was also because I was pregnant with my first child and I wanted to raise my family in that same place. A love for my past and a devotion to my future both occupy space in my heart. 

When I look at these Confederate monuments, I think of my ancestors. However, I also think about my black and brown friends who's families have also been here for generations under very different circumstances than mine. I think of the stories they tell their children now when they pass these monuments. I also think about my children and how I owe them the truth above everything else. I think about what stories their children's children will tell about me and my generation. 

I hope they will say that I had a deep love for this place - this country - and the people who came before me that helped build it. I hope they will also say that I never let my desire for a simple story overcome my desire to give a full accounting of what happened before I was born. I hope they will say that I showed my devotion for this place not only by respecting its past but by working to build a better future. 

Gray hair


Can you see them? 

I have no idea how I missed this many for this long. They shine best in the light let in by my sunroof, which I've only begun opening recently. Maybe that's how. I never had quite the right light.

At first, I thought they were blonde. I kept looking and peering and brushing my hair this way and that. Finally, I plucked a couple. 

Nope. Not blonde.  

Gray. Gray hairs clustered right where my bangs start. 

I was inexplicably thrilled. It felt like something new and exciting. My body is long past important transitions. New phases that showed up one day unannounced. Pregnancy and birth and breastfeeding seemed like unchartered territory for years with all manner of experiences to add to my story. Now that that phase of my life has come to an end, my body seemed like an old friend who's every trick I already knew.

And then these gray hairs - which judging by their length have been around for a while - showed up and I remembered there's this whole other journey I get to take. 

And - despite everything - I am excited. 

For one thing, so many never get to walk this road. I've buried friends at every stage of my life from a friend in elementary school who was hit by a car while selling Girl Scout cookies to my beloved friend who died before her baby's first birthday. 

I thought of that friend immediately as I held that course gray hair in my hand. I thought of an alternative reality where we would have discussed going gray and whether or not we were going to color our hair.  

Aging in her absence always feels like the most bittersweet blessing. 

Plus, I've felt recently like my life is changing - transitioning. My kids are getting bigger and more independent. With the election and the growing success of Pantsuit Politics, I feel bigger and more independent in my own way as well.

 It feels right that my body would mark that transition.

It feels good to look in the mirror and realize my finite trips around the sun continue in big ways that are hard to wrap my head around and in small ways that sprout out of my very head itself. 

My word for 2017

My word for 2017 is humility. Inauguration Day seems like the most appropriate time to share that. Election Day 2016 seemed to open my eyes to the importance of humility in ways I hadn't fully realized - through my own electoral victory and Hillary Clinton's electoral defeat. 

I made continuing and deepening that understanding my focus of the year.

For me, humility means pursuing something bigger than yourself - even in the face of your own human weaknesses. For me, humility means working towards goals that can't be accomplished in your lifetime. 

For me, humility means accepting that life is not fair and sometimes goodness is not rewarded. For me, humility means acknowledging that the goal is not be rewarded at all but to persevere. 

For me, humility means looking with honesty and sincerity at my own brokenness so that I can fully accept the brokenness of the world around me.

For so long in my life, I found comfort in control and perfection - in the constant striving. By focusing on humility, I hope to grow more comfortable with the peace found in grace and acceptance and compassion. 


Running for office as a woman

I waited until after election day to write this post for a very specific reason. The unconscious bias I encountered while campaigning (and I do believe most of it was unconscious) is a lot of things but it is not a reason to vote for me.

I wanted to people to vote for me for one reason and one reason only - they thought I would do a good job. 

Election Day has now come and gone. So, I can share what I encountered without worrying about whether or not it would affect someone's decision to vote for me. I hope that in sharing people will have a better understanding of what women encounter when running for office, will think carefully about their own unconscious biases, and will encourage and support any women in their own lives who want to run. 

As most of you know, I knocked on over 5,000 doors during my campaign for Paducah City Commission. I did almost all of my knocking alone and during the day while my children were in school. One any given day a little over half of the doors I'd knock on would be opened and I'd get to have an actual conversation, instead of hanging my door hanger and moving on to the next house. 

Here are some of the comments I got that I'm guessing my male opponents didn't: Are you married? What does your husband do? These comments came from both men and women. I often got asked if I had children, which didn't bother me. What did bother me is that several people - again men and women - openly questioned how I would have time to be a city commissioner (a part-time position) while raising three young children.

The current governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin has NINE children - the oldest of which was born in 2003. Do you think anyone worries about how he'll do his job or asks him how he'll take care of his children? I'm guessing not. 

Now, when one runs for public office, you are opening yourself up to questions about your personal life but often these questions didn't feel like curiosity. They felt like judgment. They felt like people were trying to figure out why a young woman was doing something not a lot of young women do - run for office. It felt like they were trying to place me within the traditional roles for women and make sure that I wasn't straying too far outside of those.

I also got a lot of comments on my appearance.

Some were negative. I had three men look at the picture on my door hanger - a picture where I am coiffed, groomed, and photoshopped - then look at me as I stood in front of them sweaty from knocking on doors all day and ask, "You sure this is you?"

I laughed it off but it stung every time. It stung not because they were insulting me but because of all the things they could have asked me or talked to me about regarding my campaign they chose to take a cheap shot about my looks and reduce our interaction to one about my appearance.

I also got a fair amount of compliments on my appearance. I had men tell me I was gorgeous and ask me how old I was. I had men tell me my photo didn't do me justice. I had several men mistake my politeness for permission to touch me. Several gave me side-hugs. 

Every time I was by myself and every time I felt like I had no choice but to smile and acquiesce. 

I know a compliment on your appearance always seems like a good thing. We all want to hear we look nice, but running for public service is serious and important. I am asking people to trust me with their tax dollars, their safety, the future of their community. I am asking for their vote and how I look is completely irrelevant. Again, I think it's safe to assume my male opponents didn't receive many comments on their appearance.

Towards the end of the campaign, someone wrote a letter-to-the-editor to our local paper warning people not to vote for me or another woman who was running for mayor. The letter argued that we were "stealth" and "devious" and hiding our true political motives in running for office.

Both my race and the mayoral race was nonpartisan. However, I was still open and honest about my partisan leanings and told anyone who asked what party I belonged to. So, first and foremost, the attack was wholly inaccurate. However, I also believe that letter and a letter posted publicly at party headquarters were gendered. The letter posted publicly also accused of us being "stealth" and hiding our real ideas. 

Forbes recently interviewed some of the world's most powerful women and asked the stereotype they hated the most. 

Conniving was in the top ten.

The idea is that women can't rise to positions of power on their own merit - women only rise because other people are grooming them (as the letter also claimed about me), because they are deceiving people, because they don't really belong here and they must be lying about who they are or what they represent in order to succeed. 

It is incredibly upsetting and insulting. 

Now, in full disclosure, there are also benefits of being a woman running for office. No one seemed to feel threatened or fearful when they saw me knocking on their doors. I had a male friend tell me to make sure and always take several steps back from the door after knocking. However, I almost never did and no one seemed to care. As a woman, no one saw me as a physical threat. 

No one was openly rude or hostile to me because of my gender and I want to emphasize that the VAST majority of my interactions were amazingly positive and productive.

And every time the door opened and a little girl was standing there with wide eyes, every time I got to explain to her why I was there and what I was doing, every time she smiled back made every crappy thing people said to me worth it.

Still, making the decision to run for office is difficult for anyone, especially women. Running for office is psychologically and physically taxing. The voices that tell women they can't do it are loud - whether they are coming from within our own heads or from a voter. 

I guess all I'm asking is that the other voices be louder. If you know a woman who should run for office, encourage her. If you know a woman running for office, support her. If you hear someone commenting on a female politician's appearance, shut it down. Donate to organizations that support and train women running for office. 

Not because women are better or deserve special treatment, but - in the words of a pretty famous male politician - "when everybody is equal, we are all more free."

"Boys will be boys."

Last night, I laid in my hotel room and cried. I let Donald Trump’s ugly words wash over me and the stress I’ve been feeling for months as this race stretches on and on and I cried.

I cried for every friend I’ve had tearfully confess that she had a secret and then share the heart-wrenching details of her sexual assault. I cried over the fear I’ve felt every time I’ve had a man yell sexually explicit things at me on the street. I cried for the people I know – people I believe to be well-meaning good people – who defended Trump’s words and used words like “boys will be boys” and “that’s how it is.”

I cried for Daisy and Audrie, whose stories I had watched a few nights before. I cried for every girl and woman out there witnessing this national discussion and having their own wounds re-opened and exposed.

I cried for my boys. I cried because being their mother can seem like such a daunting task sometimes that I wonder if I have the strength.

You see I realized something as I watched people defend this man’s vile heinous language. I realized why I had been passionately fighting with my own family about rape culture over the past few months.

Because when you say “boys will be boys”, you mean my boys.

You’re implying there is something dark and carnal lurking deep inside my little boys. The ones I cuddle and hold tight. The ones who hold my heart in their grubby little hands as they run and jump and smile wildly up at me. “I love you, Mommy.”

You’re saying that they will grow up and become men and become capable of taking something that does not belong to them, of breaking it, of destroying it.

I am capable of accepting a lot of things about motherhood. I am capable of facing the vulnerability inherent in this endeavor. I can face the lack of control. I can face the frustration and the bittersweet grief. I can even face the inherent risk of losing them forever.

But I cannot and will not accept that deep in their core lurks a rapist.

Of course, there is another underlying presumption when people say “boys will be boys” – when you blame the victim for the fact that she was drinking or flirting or being sexual.

It’s that the boys aren’t dark and sinister for taking because you can’t take what already belongs to you.

I’ve seen it a million times in men who look at me and comment on how I look or how I walk or how I act. You can hear it dripping in every word Donald Trump says on that tape.

You are here for my enjoyment. You have no value outside of what I assign to you.

I laid in my bed and wept because these are the impossible choices available to me as a mother of three young boys in 2016. Believe that my children are capable of rape based solely on their sex OR believe that I have no value because of mine.

There is something dark and cruel lurking deep within but it's not deep within my boys. It's deep within all of us if we continue to support a culture that assumes men are driven to terrible things because they are men or that women deserve terrible things because they are women. 

Culture always wins, but culture can change. 

We can change. 

Exit the Echo Chamber: Bipartisanship As An Act of Faith

Twice a week, I co-host a political podcast with a Republican. I’m a Democrat. This means that twice a week I sit down and engage in political debate with someone who feels very differently than I do on a great many issues.

We start each show the same.

No shouting. No insults. Plenty of nuance.

Willingly volunteering for political confrontation is most people’s worst nightmares. It’s certainly my mother’s worst nightmare but I do it willingly because I believe we desperately need more civil discourse in the world. I believe that if we can’t discuss – even debate – the things we feel most passionately about then we are destined to fall for the siren song of rightness ringing in our own ears.