Sunday, July 16, 2017

Ode to Laura

I have known strong people.
I have known hilarious people.
I have known people who run fast.
I have known people who are kind and compassionate.
I have known people who light up the room when they enter.
But it spins my head to know someone who is all of the above.

I would like to be Laura when I grow up, all buff and intelligent and
Such a good story teller.
It hurts to run with her because
1) she is way faster than I am and
2) she makes me laugh so hard

When you are just trying to hang on to a pace, laughing is not at all helpful.
Elite runners might want to take this to heart, and tell killer jokes on the third turn of the track, just before you kick to the finish while your opponent is doubled over with hilarity.

When I have felt shame for my parenting woes, true kindness has been a hand reaching to me with words of solidarity and "it could have been any of us".

When I have felt shame for my health woes, true kindness has been a reminder that just being able to move is a gift and the speed demon inside is only waiting for the next best time to emerge.

When I have wondered what strength is, I get my magnifying glass out and check my Oxford English Dictionary.

Strength: 1. Laura McNulty.
Used in a sentence: Laura is strong as shit. Unbreakable pretty much.
Cuz females are strong as hell.

I have known strong people.
I am thankful for them.

And I am thankful Laura is no longer in my age category for road races. For the time being.

My goal: to be unbreakable as LM. And to be as kind as LM.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Orange is the New Black

When President Obama said "orange is not the new black" I laughed and laughed.

I am no longer laughing.

For profit prisons have no motivation to rehab their prisoners. And Mr. Trump has no reason to behave, because he was elected while wildly misbehaving. How can you tell your children to strive for a better education, a better understanding, a more compassionate heart so they can be successful, when the Oval Office is occupied by someone who does not read, does not care to read and apparently does not give a shit about his own country?

I like the show "Orange is the New Black", but as a parent of a prisoner, it is no longer just mild entertainment. My son is not a big person, and he has mental illness and he likes to please the people around him which is partly why he ended up in prison in the first place. But all of that makes him a target. I am terrified of what might happen to him. And I cannot do a damn thing.

The local online rag published his arrest, and the comment section was filled with hate for him and my husband and I. Now we are not perfect, but we are parents who love our children, and we both are solid citizens, and we did our very best. Two of our children are pretty darn successful at life--they are kind, smart, caring, funny and capable. And they are not on drugs. It turns out being on drugs really messes up a kid's mind. Naive as I am, I never imagined drug dealers would present themselves to my child's middle school with drugs and make them feel like big heroes with money by asking them to sell drugs for them. Seriously, I am not stupid, and I have cared for many a drug user and pusher in my work over the years, but in my little, rural town, who would've thought drug dealers can just walk onto campus and fuck up your kid?

Once there was a young man (20-30 years old) who was admitted to our hospital for cutting off his own penis in a fit of drug-induced insanity. He was not on my service, but my colleague caring for him commiserated.

I keep thinking of what I could have done better as a parent. Maybe I should have worked less. But they had a full time Dad at home. I grew up with 2 working parents, and I considered it a  luxury to have a stay-at-home Dad.

We loved and sang to and read to and educated and supported and travelled with and did I mention we loved our children? But it was not enough.

All that aside, today I did a house call on a 100 year old person and prevented an emergency room visit and hospitalization. After that, I got a haircut and my teenaged daughter said I looked "on fleek." I think that is good, but I am not absolutely sure.

Today I also ran on the beach and my dog was thrilled. The fog was dense at the beach, though cleared just 1/4 mile inland. I have learned to love the fog. It is mysterious and cool, and thankfully it keeps my runs from being 100 degree torture sessions. The sand was a little like molasses today and I was also not exactly on fire. But I ran, my dog frolicked, the birds ran away from my dog and I kept a 100 year old out of the hospital. So if I die tonight, let it be known, my last day was not so bad.

For profit anything might be super cool for rich people, but it is the pits for everyone else. For profit healthcare? Not compassionate. For profit education? Bullshit. For profit prisons? A good way to ensure young men, especially men of color, stay incarcerated and never get a chance to shine in life.

A house call on a 100 year old is not particularly profitable, in the monetary sense. But I beg the world to listen and understand: when you are laying on your back, with your eyes watching God, the only thing that matters is how much you cared.

Orange is the new black. Now, what exactly are we going to do about it? And how will we live this one precious life?

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Screen Doors

There are certain things I miss as a Californian. I have been here more than half my life now, and it has always felt right for me, with the ocean and mountains and relatively progressive politics. But there are some things I miss as a Californian.

One thing is screen doors. I grew up in a home where the front door was open all summer, as was the back. But both had a screen door to keep the mosquitoes and other sundry flying creatures from making residence inside. For sure, if you left that screen door open for too long, Mom would be on your ass to close that thing. It was almost as heinous a crime to linger with an open screen door in the hot Wisconsin summer as it was to lollygag with an open refrigerator door while deciding which snack (American cheese in those little plastic wraps? Braunschweiger on bread? Mom-made leftovers?) to devour. Refrigerator door lollygagging always led to the following statement from whichever parent was nearest: "Are you trying to air condition the neighborhood?".

We did not have an air conditioner, we had screen doors. An air conditioner might've been better when it was 96 degrees and darn near 100% humidity, but to this day I cannot really get used to air conditioners. Like when I go to a meeting in a warm place (Florida or Vegas) and know (after experience) I need to pack a sweater because in the dead heat of summer it is going to be 52 degrees in the windowless meeting room. When I was at a meeting in Fort Lauderdale several years ago, the beach was not even within running distance. My one free afternoon, I took a cab to the beach. The ride there took 25 minutes, and was uneventful. I walked the white sands, marveled at the entirely different universe that was Fort lauderdale compared to my home beach which is generally almost uninhabited except for seals, crabs, my dog and great white sharks. When I caught a cab back to my hotel, the cab driver was unfamiliar with the hotel, which was somewhere near some mall and which had highly efficient air conditioning. It took 90 minutes to get back, and several times along the way his GPS said "rerouting". During that ride, he told me his life story in a thick Brooklyn accent. He was pretty pissed at his teenaged son. At the time I could not relate, though now I sort of can. Anyway, he charged me only half the fare (which was still considerable) and I was just glad he did not rape me and throw me into his trunk. Guys out there-don't be shocked. I cannot think of a single woman who would not consider that possibility in such a situation.

When it was really hot in Wisconsin, the best place in the house was the basement, which is another thing California lacks. I mean there might be a basement somewhere in California, but I have never yet met one. Basements are innately creepy, but always delectably cool in the summer. My brother made his bedroom in the basement. I was not allowed down there much during those years, but sometimes would sit on the steps of death (as a physician catering to the geriatric crowd, I now know that was what these steps should've been called). There was no way those steps were built to any code, and it is amazing we all did not fall down them and die in a bloody heap at the bottom. Anyway, I would sit on the death steps and listen to my brother playing his Kiss albums when friends were over. If he found me there he got very angry, and I ran like a bat out of hell. Or maybe it was Meatloaf he was listening to on those days.

The basement held spider webs, darkness and the laundry room. We had a storage area and it was definitely crawling with vermin but sometimes in the winter you HAD to go in there to get your ice skates. My brother made a darkroom under the stairs, and he rarely let me in there either. I am concerned about those darkroom chemicals he was breathing in our haunted basement all those years ago. But last I saw he was biking around some mountain lake in California. Which is something we did not have in Wisconsin. I assume the chemicals gave him super powers to bike as he does. Maybe I should have spent more time in that dark room, like when he was not looking.

I sat on those fall-risk basement stairs with my hands over my ears when they came to take away my Dad's body. Now before then and since then I had and have seen plenty of dead people. I am not a serial killer, do not worry, rather I am a physician and it comes with the territory. Especially as a hospital physician, you get called a lot to "declare someone dead." It is an awkward moment, as usually loved ones are at the bedside grieving. I remember my Mom once saying to me "make sure I am dead before they bury me." I was probably like 10 when she said this and I will never forget it. The thing is I did NOT make sure she was dead. But I assume the doctor that declared her dead DID. It is a source of continued worry and guilt.

The other thing California does not have is proper seasons. Granted, I am not complaining. I get to run, bike and take my dogs out year round without freezing my proverbial or actual ass off. And I have become familiar with the subtleties of season change where I live: certain wildflowers bloom at certain times. The redwoods fronds pad my path with pillow softness in the fall. The ferns unfurl and tickle my legs when I run past in the summer. The birds sing in the mornings in the summer, and the frogs peep in the mornings in the late winter and spring. But in Wisconsin, there were at least two distinct seasons. It went like this:
Summer: Yesterday it was 50 degrees, today it is 90 degrees. Suck it up buttercup.
Fall: Oh man, those blood red trees are magnificent. Wait, it is 90 degrees again! Oh, never mind, it is snowing.
Winter: Cold. For at least 6 months. Which is so fun except when the snow turns brown with dirt and salt and it is April and you cannot get your back door open to let the dogs out because there is TOO MUCH SNOW.
Spring: "Professor, can we have class outside?". Three days later: summer.

I signed up for the California International Marathon in December. Can you blame me? It is a "net downhill course". The thing is I am conflicted because the North Face Endurance marathon in the Marin Headlands is in November. I won this race a few years back. It is grueling, with intense climbs. When I ran it, there was also the 50 and 100 mile races, so when people cheered me on I kept saying "Oh, I am just doing the marathon."

Who says that?

My runs lately have been lacking speed. I am not sure whether I have another marathon in me. I really want to PR (personal record) but this might be LI (literally impossible) as I am OOS (out of shape) and have an AID (autoimmune disorder). But my DOG (dog) thinks I should just run a lot to get ready for whichever race I end up doing, and take him along for the ride.

I had a dog in Wisconsin. My Dad named him Brandy because he was the color of brandy. I have never personally drank brandy but it is on my bucket list of things to do before I die. I had better not visit my childhood home and walk down the basement stairs before I have had brandy. And also I should not do so after I have had brandy. Conundrum.

My dog Brandy lived a long life, and he enjoyed walks and runs off leash because he was just that cool. One day I was running and realized he was not at my side. I looked over my shoulder and saw him about a quarter mile behind me running next to my friend's Mom. That's when I knew he was old.

Now I am my friend's Mom. My fate will be sealed when the elderly neighborhood dogs find me a compatible running companion.

Until then, I plan to be inspired by the greats. I plan to unplug my ears while sitting on the stairs of doom and face the realities of loss, aging and grief. I plan to keep the refrigerator door open for as long as I please. When I meet my parents on the Other Side, they can lecture me. I am looking forward to giving them a heavenly eye roll.

I plan to open the screen door of my heart and let it all in.

Except the gosh darn mosquitoes.

Joan Benoit Samuelson. How cool is she?

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Black Lives Matter

I am thinking it is time for another marathon. I have put it off due to slowness and sickness and tons of work and fear. But time just keeps ticking and I am pushing 50 and I think a marathon is in order.

Now both of my parents died in their 60's, so pushing 50 is no joke. When you are 20, time is endless, when you are 30, you still feel pretty invincible. When you are 40 you start to sweat a little, like shit I am 40 and I had better do all those things I meant to do 20 years ago but never did. Except when you are 40 you are likely busy, either raising children or building your career or having a mid-life crisis. But when you are 47 going on 48?

We got a letter today from our son at San Quentin. He is just barely 19 and in the special needs yard. Which is interesting, because he was considered "special needs" when we adopted him. At first that seemed accurate, as he needed thickened formula due to tracheomalacia. But as we got to know him, and saw him (literally) make other mothers nearly cry from jealousy in the sandbox when they realized that at 12 months old he was speaking in full paragraphs, we were not so sure. Then he went on to somewhat wreak havoc throughout his school life. And eventually find drugs and gangs and finally, prison.

My son is white. But I think he has some struggles that made it hard for him to survive and flourish in the world of academia and white bread success. When I think of his struggles, I cannot help but think of the black mothers who  have seen their children be killed. I do not pretend to understand the pain and fear of this phenomenon. But I continue to wonder at the repetitive aspect of this particular type of murder.

Philando Castile.

So marathoning seems a little ridiculous in the face of social injustice and racism. But what it provides is this:
A chance to test limits
A dance with the body and the mind
A glance at the impossible and improbable
A prance with all the other fools who choose to do this crazy race
A look askance at those who judge

I ran early this morning at the beach. It is day 2 of summer. The mist and fog sort of clung to the river feeding the beach. The sun was rising and painting the ocean pink. My dog was fucking crazed to chase the birds. My heart was pounding regularly at a rate of 143 bpm. My resting pulse is about 51. I ran along the sand thinking "will I ever be fast again?"

I think the answer is yes. I may need to lose my prednisone pounds. I certainly have some work to put  in:
repeats on the track
core work

But mostly it comes down to the mind. My son, in his recent letter from prison, said "I need to focus on the present. That's the only way I'm going to make it through this."

Be here now.

Recognize the struggles of those in your community.

Understand life is precious, limited and all in all, sort of hilarious.

Never stop fighting for what is right.

Black Lives Matter.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Sorry, Not Sorry

Caldera Retreat Center, Oregon, Blue Lake

I ran and wrote with 30+ other women in the wilds of Oregon, near a caldera lake that reflected all the trees and sky into its impossibly deep self, near a rushing stream insistent and serene and rapid all at once.

Caldera derives from the latin caldarium or caldaria, meaning a room for taking hot baths, or maybe a cooking pot. When magma erupts from a volcano especially rapidly, the support crumbles and a big depression forms, kind of a sinkhole. Complete collapse leads to stunning, almost mystical bodies of water. This particular body of water was decidedly not hot. Some of my retreat-mates did skinny dip one early morning in it, and I suspect their screams were heard in California.

Lauren Fleshman led us in running. She is wise and kind and funny and multitalented. One workout we did was "the predator", involving 2 minute fartleks back and forth on a dirt road at noon, wherein you found the last place you stopped a fartlek for the next one and changed directions. Thus someone was always being chased or chasing someone else. We started with warm up exercises to wake up the body and fast twitch muscles. We were hands on the dirt road, knees in the dust and when running dust kicked up and clung to legs, leaving a dirt tan at the end of the day. "Oh yeah, you will get dirty during this workout. Sorry-not sorry", said Lauren.

"Not sorry" came up as a theme, as women tend to apologize a lot. Notice this next time you are with a woman. Especially younger women. I see myself doing it less as I age, and my geriatric patients almost never at all, but almost never means there are still apologies, mainly for bothering me about something that ails them (what exactly am I there for as a doctor other than that?).

Marianne Elliott led us in writing. With her lilting New Zealand accent, she helped is to write wild and true. She is unassuming and inspiring, an advocate for human rights, a powerful presence. Plus she runs well. Lauren writes well. In fact, all of the women at this retreat, from all over America and the world, run and write with passion.

That is about all I can say about the retreat, because it was sacred. And although that may sound hippy-dippy, you will just have to accept it as fact. Sorry, not sorry.

One thing was this woodpecker. I was planning on meditating on the deck of the A frame where I was staying, early one morning, coffee cup near at hand and the light settling on me from the east, rising through the bent pines so gently. "Tap, tap, tap." I am instantly distracted. Opening my eyes I look to my right and there on a log is Woody the woodpecker. I decided that day to meditate on the red-headed woodpecker. He-she had this attitude which was frankly hilarious. So sure about where it was knocking on the log, first one place, then another, then over to this tree, then back to the log. At one point a squirrel was running up near Woody and he-she puffed out breast and feathers and raised wings to look threatening. Squirrel retreated. Sorry, not sorry, but this log grub or whatever it is that is worth pecking at bark for existence, is MINE.

Another thing was a 10 mile trail run. Now I run trails regularly, living in a rural place with endless running loveliness. But on my 10 mile trail run I fell three times. It wasn't like a slow motion "oh-I am fallliinnnggg" sort of thing. I just found myself face in dirt thrice, no warning. It was a metaphorical bonanza, the falling and getting back up, the falling and not giving up the run, the falling and licking dirt like it was humble pie. I was a bloody mess by the end, but Lauren patched me up and I added another thing to my bucket list (check-being administered first aid after a trail run by Lauren Fleshman). I figured out with Lauren's help that it was the polarized sunglasses, which I never wear at home on trails, as I run in the shadows of redwood giants. My eyes, not the best at baseline anyway (having been offered corneal transplants which I declined, sorry eye doctor, not sorry), could not discern root from rock from shadow.

Beneath her feet
Undulating roots
Rocks squat cowardly in shadows, then
Rise up and grab from
Beneath her feet
Separated as they are from trail
With an inch of rubber
Shoes made for gripping
Beneath her feet
Are also apparently made for flying
Then falling so
For a period of time there is nothing
Beneath her feet
Which normally carry her with confidence
So her eyes can gaze
At prehistoric monster-leafed plants and not focus on what's
Beneath her feet
Which love the unpredictability
Which trail offers over boring road
And at least the landing is soft
Beneath her feet
Soft, iron-tasting dirt
Mixing with iron-tasting blood
Where she leaves a bit of herself
Beneath her feet

There is so much to be learned from falling and failing and flailing, all of which I feel an expert. Recently, like in the last week,  Donald Trump's lawyer threatened to sue Berkeley Breathed. He was making fun of Trump, I suppose. A couple of things ran through my mind as I saw Breathed's response, which was to promise to cease and desist because he would rather not be sued by a rich and powerful asshole (side comment-I have respect for the presidency, but I just cannot cannot cannot respect the current president in any way, shape or form, sorry, not sorry). The things I thought were: DO NOT BE SORRY, MR BREATHED! People have been making fun of presidents since the beginning of presidents and we live in the United States of America, where freedom to criticize is one of our rights. I also thought, hmmmm, can this guy not take a joke? Can he not be humble? Can he not find himself face in the dirt and get up and dust himself off and continue on the crazy-assed road he calls his life? Finally, I thought, no he cannot. And he is teaching our children the following: admitting failure is for losers, you do not have to strive for excellence to do one of the most important jobs in our country, and a nerdy cartoonist with a penguin fetish is scary to the leader of the free world.

It was good to retreat, but I am back now, and I am not apologetic for my indignation about the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Pact. Whether or not you care about the beauty of the Earth or the right of its citizens not to find themselves under water or scorching to death due to climate change, it seems we could all agree that the end of life on our planet is a pretty grim prospect, and certainly not an economic advantage to anyone involved. I am not apologetic about my slowish running pace, because I have a disease with shitty drugs that have altered my body. Good news on that front, as a new potentially miraculous (ha ha , as a doctor that is pure folly, but as a patient one can hope) drug for my condition was recently FDA approved, and prescribed for me. I am currently wrestling with insurance to get the elixir to my hot little paws. My indignation about recent healthcare proposals is personal and political. My elder patients and my child with a pre-existing condition and my own little self is bound to be screwed by the overhaul being proposed by the Republicans. I do not apologize about my indignation, because I have been in the trenches and I am telling you now, whether or not you believe poor people and sick people have a right to have a chance at health, we can all agree that economically it would serve us better to care for everyone equitably so not so many dollars bleed onto the floors of our over-burdened emergency rooms and hospitals. Because we all pay for those under and uninsured folks in our own premiums.

It was good to retreat, but I am present. I am armed with some workouts to spark my speed engine, which has been sitting rusting in the corner of my proverbial garage for quite some time. I am present to my need for daily time in nature and meditation and woodpecker gazing and music and sitting and talking with wise and gorgeous people. Like my artist and philosopher friends of 28 years who came to visit this week and filled my heart and mind and funny bone to the brim with gratitude.

It was good to retreat, but I am not sorry to be nearly back to my daily routine. I do so love life, and though the pain is intense with illness, a son in prison, and a megalomaniac in the White House, I found in retreat that a falling down, a deep depression from hot magma boiling away all the supports can lead to a indentation that fills with the clearest water that reflects all the goodness around it and invites stillness, awe and abandon.

Naked abandon. Sexy? Nope. Sorry, not sorry.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

So There

I was feeling sorry for myself today, as I often do. I was running on a sunny day along the coast of California and feeling sorry for myself. True, I am fat, slow, injured and have a crappy autoimmune disease. But there were foxy digitalis plants and lilies abloom, the ocean was roaring, the sun was out, it was the perfect temperature and I was running. Not fast, but running. I passed a guy with what I think might have been cerebral palsy, walking awkwardly with his walker. I immediately checked my self pity. Not that he needs me to pity him, because he was just out for a walk on a beautiful day. He would likely not give two fucks about my self image. Slow. Fat. Injured. Sick. Wounded.

I received a letter from my son today, who is at, as he described, the "lovely San Quentin." Now as a Mom I have superpowers and though his letter was all light and airy and "It is all good", I sensed fear between the lines. Good, you say? Well, think what you must, but he is my baby boy. And his little tour through the for profit system of California prisons is costing us all a pretty penny. Ah, if only his parents had been better....

Back to running for a moment, I want the world to know I am going for 4 trail runs this weekend with  Lauren Fleshman. She will, obviously, be toning down her prowess several million notches. But there is this retreat I am headed for that she is helping with, bless her, and it also involves writing. And yoga. And some stand up paddle boarding if I am brave enough to don a swimsuit.

I took some extra work in recent days to help with some bills and found myself in an almost mystical place. No, hear me out. I randomly chose 10 days to be on call and found myself exactly where someone needed me to be at the end of their life. Someone I never met before. But with whom I immediately connected. Someone who needed me to sit and listen and respond and act. In return, I was reminded why I do what I do. Because sometimes it is hard to show up day after day with little accolades, less awards, and no acclaim. I run with the same results. I play piano with the same results. I parent with the same results. But ultimately, it comes down to moments in time that are so perfect that everything else just falls away. A deep instant connection with an ailing fellow person. The smell of the top of your child's head. The feel of your quads pushing against the earth on a perfect northern California afternoon, lupine at the trail side, salt in the air, waves roaring, and a good book playing through your sweat-resistant ear buds.

This past weekend I heard our local symphony play Beethoven's 9th. I admit, I attended with a slight trepidation. It is a very, very enormous piece. They nailed it.  Not perfect, because that would just be creepy, but it rose above all expectations and planted a Beethovenesque kiss square on my brain and heart and musical ear. Carol Jacobson is a marvel.

Humility is growing on me. As a music major, once I left music as a profession I stopped playing it altogether for years, because I was afraid of mediocrity. Now I am thankful I can play at all. As a runner, I am embarrassed by my recent slowness and lack of ability to race, but then again am thankful I am able to be so mobile in such a lovely setting. As a doctor, I sometimes wish I had more credentials, had gone for those fellowships, had stayed in academics, and was considered great at what I do. But today I was just so touched to be at the bedside of a dying person who actually dreamt about me the night before we set his treatment plan, and who is now comfortable and dignified. As a parent, I wish my kids were all on their way to Nobel prizes in terrificness. But wait, I do not. My children are who they are and the one thing I have to offer is unconditional love. And the smell of the top of their head? It makes me swoon, even now.

This weekend, I am going for 4 runs with Lauren Fleshman. So there.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

What to Hope For

As I was flying home tonight on my E-bike, listening to The Last Season, I was struck by a statement the author made about the subject of this biography and adventure story. It went something like this: "Randy (the hero of our story) was who he was because of his father."

Now it is true that Randy grew up in the Yosemite Valley with a father who loved the outdoors and had him scaling peaks at age 8 and identifying wildflowers and developing environmental ethics before he was old enough to drive, kiss a girl or accurately aim his piss in the pot. And Randy grew up to be an expert mountain wilderness Ranger.

"Randy is who he was because of his father"--This might be absolutely true, but it could also be the College Logic 101 Course fallacy in reasoning: just because A and B occur together does not mean A caused B. Was Randy a typical 8 year old, lying on his belly marveling at the wildflowers on the top of a 15,000 foot peak that he just struggled to climb?  I do not think so. I have known and raised a few 8 year olds, and a hike up a 15K mountain is not the way to bring out curiosity in wildflowers. That kid was clearly primed from the get go to want to do this, to want to love this, to want to be obsessed with this.

So I would say Randy became who he was because Randy was who he was. And I think his father probably just opened that particular door in his mind, through sheer, dumb luck (as Professor McGonagall would say after Harry Potter et al defeated a "fully grown mountain troll" in the girl's restroom).

It is on my mind as my son was sentenced to 13 years in prison the past week. Now I know for some, this will be "what he deserves." After all, he was addicted to drugs and committed a crime. Thankfully, no one ended up being hurt in the crime. Sadly, our DA sees it fitting to make an example of my boy, still so young, having recently celebrated his 19th birthday while in jail awaiting sentencing.

So as a parent what is it you hope for? Is it that your child will be in a wildly successful profession, making lots of money and providing you with beautiful and even more talented grandchildren? Is it that your child wins the science fair? Or runs faster than everyone? Or scores the most points? Or goes to the most prestigious college?

I have wished for all of these things, to be honest, even if just for a few fleeting moments before I came to my senses. I am, after all, the most type A person in my family and pretty competitive.

We as parents, do we "make our children who they are" like the author of the book I am listening to while risking my life on Highway 101 commuting home from work on my E-bike, which, by the way can do 28 miles per hour in a headwind, suggests?

My son would be the first to say no to this. He has expressed to us his love and sadness about choices. I am not so sure though, I just keep trying to think about the "what-ifs" and the "if-onlys".

A couple of things about at risk boys in American society I have observed:
-I am all for girls' rights and empowerment, but I think our boys are being disempowered.
-Boy are expected, in our town, to be tough, or stoners or thugs. If you are smart, you are not looked up to by your peers.
-I do not think this is unique to our town.
-If you are restless, bright and impulsive as a young boy in elementary school, you are pretty screwed, because schools want you to act like a good "girl"--sit quietly, speak when asked to, do not fight or or do things that make people uncomfortable.
-Not sitting still as a boy does not equal attention deficit disorder.
-We need a more flexible education system to tend to the needs of our boys and young men.

So what do you hope for when your beloved child is heading into the system of the American penitentiary? We have been given advice for him about how he should act, how he should "bulk up" to look tough, how he should avoid stockpiling commissary, how he should not reveal too much of his story to anyone.

I don't know. I am just thinking I should keep telling him the same thing I have been trying to tell him for his whole life. Which is have compassion, know you are loved, and do not give up.

Now about girls, I am one and have 2 daughters. There are, of course, many struggles. You have to look a certain way, be compliant and "good", and perform 10 times better than your male counterparts with the real likelihood of getting paid way less in your professional life. So my treatise on the empowerment of boys is not to discount our girls.

Which comes to my final point. Our very survival depends on holding each other up, not cutting each other down. Will putting my son in jail till age 30 make life better for anyone? What will it be like for him when he comes out? Do people addicted to drugs need to be put out of sight? Do we hate each other that much? Do we think that success in life is about money or fame or academic prowess?

Or do we actually know, deep down, that we want each other to be whole and well? I would say yes, even though so much evidence to the contrary exists in our daily news stream and in the very sad case of my young son. I think we are built for compassion. I think we are built to maintain community.

I just think we have a long way to go in putting this into action.

I hope for healing for my community, for my family and really for our country which seems just a tad off course. I do not actually think my own son is more of a danger to society than our current president.

Agree or not, there it is. I was taught to look at my fellow beings with compassion, by my parents. And so, am I what I am because of my parents or did they just happen to open a door for me in my mind and heart?

Try not to run over me on Highway 101. Hug your kids. Ask them to be compassionate and kind and to treat themselves with respect and love. And everything else? Just icing on the cake.