The Move and a Bittersweet End To an Era

How much stuff can a single family acquire over a span of fifteen years? Quite a lot actually, as I’ve found out.

We’d been considering moving for a number of years – really ever since my youngest came home from the hospital when the diaper boxes alone threatened to fill a room, but there was always something. The timing was bad, the lot wasn’t right, or the location too far away from our jobs. So we’d put it off, and put it off, and put it off.

Though we eventually didn’t have to worry about rooms full of diapers, we still had plenty of other clutter to find places for. My husband heard about minimalism and gave it a try, clearing out his closet of all but the essential. He tried to work on mine too – but I’m not quite as committed to the cause.

We found new homes for baby toys, only for the free space to be filled with Hot Wheels. We sold off furniture that wasn’t being used. Big boy beds took their place. We got creative with things like Murphy desks and multi-use space. Our kids were inconsiderate enough to continue to keep growing.

But our kids weren’t the only things to change over the years – our house started to show its age too. First, the water heater went out. Then there was the indoor waterfall (though in defense of my house, that one wasn’t entirely its fault). Then the air conditioner failed – twice. Not to be outdone, the furnace went out too. It was one thing after another. Suddenly, I felt less like I was in my home and more like I’d fallen into the plot of the movie, the Money Pit.

Even so, I loved my house. Or at least, I loved my location. I loved how close we were to the greenway, the series of wooden paths that run through my city where you can go when you need help visualizing what the world might look like after the collapse of civilization. (Necessary research in my case). As much as I wanted more space, part of me didn’t ever want to move.

I loved my neighbors and the fact my kids could run out at nine in the morning and be outside all day without me worrying about things like traffic or sketchy individuals. Seeing them play with kids next door and down the street brought back memories of my childhood, back in years we won’t mention when the news was a lot less scary. The last thing I wanted was to jeopardize all that.

But as I said, the darn kids kept growing and no matter how much my husband (and to a lesser extent, I) was able to offload or rehome, it never seemed to be enough. So, love it or not, we kept an eye out for something else. Then one day, quite unexpectedly, we found something that checked all the boxes. As much as I hated the idea of moving away from our block, it was a place where I could envision an equally memorable future.

We arranged for movers. A representative walked through our soon-to-be former home and gave us an estimate, saying it wouldn’t be too bad as we didn’t have all that much. Later he would learn just how wrong he was.

The day of the move came. Our neighbor snapped a picture of the truck leaving, captioning it with a sweet goodbye. However, the joke was on her – we had to come back for three more loads before all was said and done.

I’m still in the process of unpacking and learning where the new light switches, scissors, and curiously enough, the trusted zero key on my keyboard are (the latter being particularly annoying), but the place is starting to fill more like my own. As much as I hated the physical process of moving fifteen years of stuff from one location to the next while wondering why I kept so much of it for so long in the first place, I’m looking forward to this next chapter.

I just hope that in fifteen years time, if we move again, I’ll take more memories with me than clutter.

 

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Why Do We Walk on a Hot Summer Day

why do we walk on a hot summer day - www.alliepottswrites.comI went for a walk the other day.

It was hot, even by my southern standards. The mercury proclaimed the temperature to be somewhere in the mid-nineties. The density of sweat on the back of my neck suggested it was closer to triple digits (or thirty-seven for those who’ve long since abandoned the imperial system).

My children walked next to me until my youngest complained once too many that his feet were tired and was scooped up to be carried by his father. We still had at a mile or so to go.

Finally, we reached our destination. At least I thought it was our destination based on the number of people milling around. I honestly didn’t know.

I’d never gone on a walk like this before.

We lingered as more joined us in the square – bodies pressed together in the limited bits of shadow. Although there was insufficient protection from the morning sun, groups of people climbed up on planters, holding up cameras and snapping pictures of the view. More people arrived. Some shouted, some cheered, while others looked – much as I imagined we must have looked – confused and more than a little out of our depths.

My eldest son’s skin reddened as minutes ticked by. I handed him our single water bottle, encouraging him to drink. He looked up at me and asked for the tenth time that morning, “why are we doing this again?”

I glanced around, keenly aware that more than a few ears might hear what I had to say. “We’re here because this is one way to tell the people who make decisions that we think that certain things aren’t okay.”

“Oh,” he said. “Do you think they’ll listen?”

I looked at my son, who is now almost tall enough to meet my eye. I looked over his shoulder at the group of people holding up posters with witty, yet all too ignorable slogans. I listened to the shouts, some leaning more to the uncomfortable extreme. I looked into my son’s eyes once more. “No, sweetie,” I replied after some internal debate and a deep sigh. “I don’t.”

“Then why are we here?” he asked once more, taking another sip of water.

“Because I couldn’t stay away.”

I considered saying more, but then a siren sounded, a police car moved, and we were underway.

My son reached out and grabbed my hand as the crowd clumped and moved. “I don’t want to lose you,” he said.

I smiled, treasuring the moment in spite of the heat. “I don’t want to lose you either.”

We walked together that way – hand in hand – as a drum continued to play and pockets of individuals restarted their chanting refrains. My palms sweat, clutched so tightly by his, but he let go only to take another sip of water.

While we walked, he’d ask me questions, prompted in some part by the signs he read, which I did my best to answer as objectively as I could, considering the reason we’d left the comfort of our air-conditioned house that day. I wondered along the way if I was making any sense. I worried about how he’d taken my pessimism earlier.

A couple of days later the news showed a mother and daughter hugging each other. My son who’d been playing with his brother at the time looked up at me and smiled. “It worked, Mom. We did that.”

Technically, we hadn’t.

Aside from the fact that meeting of mother and daughter had been set up days to a week or so before, our particular contribution had barely registered as a blip on the news – overshadowed or outshone by bigger stories of the day. But as far as my son was concerned, that hug on the screen was his hug. He returned to his play, proud in the belief he’d made a difference in someone’s life that day.

Maybe he didn’t, but maybe he will.

Maybe someday he’ll go out there and truly make an impact, building on this experience, bolstered by the idea that we can make the world a little better even when it seems impossible. And all we have to do to get started is to simply leave our comfort zone once in a while, or get off the couch and try.

And that is why we walked on a hot summer day.

To my fellow Americans, I hope you all had a safe and happy Independence Day.

A part-time job and a lifetime’s worth experience with harrassment

A part-time job and a lifetime's worth experience with #harassment - www.alliepottswrites.com

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This is not a happy story.

One day, rather out of the blue, I decided that my teenage lifestyle could no longer be supported by the occasional babysitting gig. It was time I found a real job. Within short order, I was hired to work part-time at a nearby bagel shop.

The shop was a franchise with an absentee (putting it lightly) owner. While we saw him occasionally as he walked his dog, he left the day-to-day operations to a pair of men. One supervised the front of the store, let’s call him G. The other was the baker. Let’s call him Paul because that was his name.

Paul was in his late twenties to early thirties. I was in my teens. However, a pesky thing like an age difference or the fact that he was primarily working with minors never seemed to bother Paul. He routinely made comments that made me feel as dirty for hearing them as the dishes I was responsible for washing.

My duties at the store ran the gamut. I manned the cash registers, prepared orders, cleaned surfaces, and shelved inventory. One day when I was in the back of the store, I found Paul already there, facing the wall with his shirt untucked. No, he couldn’t possibly be…, I thought to myself. Hoping beyond hope for an innocent explanation, I asked him what was doing. He smiled at me and shrugged as if what he was doing was nothing out of the ordinary while confirming it was exactly what it appeared.

Stunned, I found G and told him what I had seen. G’s shoulders slumped. Paul’s behavior didn’t surprise him, it was just Paul’s way and I was told there was little either of us could do about it. Paul’s actions and comments were patterned behavior and the owner’s continued silence proved he was either stubbornly in denial or simply didn’t care. Without Paul, there would be no bagels, at least not until a replacement could be found, which would have required work on the owner’s part. However, G and I, on the other hand, were considered replaceable.

I could have walked out, but I didn’t. I suppose my ego got in the way. Why should I be the one to have to quit? The job was a good one – excepting the one co-worker. I suppose I could/should have better investigated my legal rights or called the health department, but I was a kid and that didn’t occur to me until years later. I suppose I might have told my parents, but I didn’t do that either.

Instead, I accepted most of G’s assessment – that very little could be done. After all, I told myself, it really wasn’t as bad as it could be. I accepted that for all his comments, all his suggestions, Paul hadn’t really done anything except make me feel uncomfortable.

I did not, however, let it go. I continued to look for alternative solutions to my problem. A friend allowed me to refer to him as my boyfriend as if my relationship status might redirect Paul’s attention.

It didn’t. If anything the comments became more suggestive.

I took to volunteering to wash more than my share of dishes as it allowed me to frequently carry several knives in each hand. This worked, but only temporarily. When that wasn’t an option, I tried to stay as far away from Paul as the store would allow.

It wasn’t a big store.

One day, while I was wiping down table tops near closing time, Paul came running from the back, laughing to the point of tears. In between giggles, he told me that he’d peeked under the bathroom door thinking I was the room’s occupant only to find that another woman, one he suspected was homeless, there instead. “I saw everything,” he gasped between chuckles. “Everything!” He laughed again like this was supposed to be funny. As terrible as this was on its own, I also had to ask, “Why did you look? If you thought I was in there, why did you look?” His only answer was more laughter.

As terrible as this was on its own, I also had to ask, “Why did you look? If you thought I was in there, why did you look?” His only answer was more laughter.

I wish I could tell you I left that same day and never looked back, but I didn’t. I wish I could tell you that the unfortunate woman called the police or at least registered a complaint, but she didn’t either. Maybe she, like me, was told there was nothing to gain from complaining. But most of all I wish this hadn’t been the first (or last) time I’d been made to feel at risk in surroundings which should have been expected to be safe.

I can’t go back to that time and demand Paul, the owner, or even G be held accountable for what they said, did or didn’t do. I still feel sick to my stomach knowing when I finally said enough – when I finally did walk out – my absence left another, even younger girl, alone in that store without a friend. I can’t change the past.

But I can help shape the future.

And you can too.

This wasn’t a happy story, but this doesn’t have to be a common story.

If a person tells you that they feel scared, threatened, or abused, don’t belittle them – believe them. Do what you can to understand their fears. Recognize that there might be a problem, even if it wasn’t your experience. Ask. Observe. And above all, listen. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Lend your voice and let those in charge know it isn’t okay. Show the person affected they aren’t isn’t alone and strive for a day when a story like this is the exception.

But whatever you do never, ever, accept you are powerless.

A vindicated truth and the downside of being right

A vindicated #truth and the downside of being #rightEarly in my high school experience, I had the joy of returning to my locker only to discover that someone had broken in and stolen not only my bag of gym clothes but a stack of three ringed binders as well containing all my homework.

Afterward, I took to carrying the full day’s notebooks, other day-to-day critical supplies in my backpack all day rather than trust the locker with anything that might affect my grades. Unfortunately, this left little room for my larger textbooks, which I would then have to load up in my arms and carry home separately as needed.

Therefore I was thrilled when it came time to study Shakespeare in my English class. My mom was (and is) a bit of a British History buff and possessed a huge volume of Shakespeare’s complete works, meaning I wouldn’t have to lug my textbook home for weeks. Oh, happy times!

The selection was Romeo and Juliet, specifically the balcony scene, and the assignment was simple; memorize the entire speech. For the next several nights, I read my mom’s book over and over, practicing the words out loud. On the day of the test, my pencil flew across my paper as I recited the lines in my head, and though I wasn’t the among the first to turn in my paper, I was fairly certain I’d aced it.

A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool. – William Shakespeare

Only when the tests were handed back, a large X crossed through a full section of my response. The words I’d used, well, they weren’t supposed to be there. Comparing my test with the others in the class, my response an entire extra paragraph and more. It was as if I had invented the lines, except, I know I am NO Shakespeare.

Flabbergasted, I took my paper home. Compared to my mom’s book, it to be a word for word copy. What in the world? I dusted off my textbook and opened it to the same scene. Sure enough, the words that I saw so clearly in black and white in one text were missing in the other. My jaw dropped as I realized my fellow students and I were being censored.

I struggled in light of this discovery with what to do. Surely my English teacher had to know the real contents of the play? He was supposed to be teaching it after all. But maybe not. Would he really accept that my version was the correct one? I’d have to admit then that I wasn’t using school approved books and the assignment had been to memorize the scene from the textbook.

In the end, I did point out to my teacher that my version was from another source, but didn’t challenge the grade further when my teacher didn’t immediately whip out his grade book in light of this evidence. It was okay, I told myself. It wasn’t like I was in any jeopardy failing the course over a few missed points.

Later, once we’d finished the section, our teacher rewarded us by playing the movie. The class sat back as the lights went down while the Montagues and Capulets exchanged verbal barbs. Juliet walked out on the balcony. A girl in my class started speaking along with the actress followed by another. I bit my tongue. The movie was suddenly exponentially more interesting.

The girls in my class stopped talking. However, Juliet didn’t. Instead, lines which appeared on my test paper, but not on theirs, poured from Juliet’s mouth. A general sound of huh? went up in the room. And there it was. I was vindicated.

But still my grade remained exactly as it was.

I found myself in the midst of another quandary. I knew I had just been indisputably proven right, but the only other person who knew that was my teacher. I could push again for a grade adjustment and shame him with the video evidence backing my claim, but in doing so I would have also proven the rest of the class, those that didn’t go rogue (for the sake of convenience) and memorize forbidden uncensored text, were as wrong as our teacher was. In short, I might get an A on one test, but I would have turned the entire class, as well of as the teacher, against me in short order.

I learned a long time ago the value of picking my battles, and this wasn’t one of them. Validation (this time) simply wasn’t worth the price.

I may have abandoned an unwinnable fight, but I didn’t, however, abandon my truth. The experience, so early on in my high school career, taught me the fallacy of believing everything you read, or trusting in one single source, no matter how credible they might seem. The truth is we are all human and humans make mistakes. And humans, even those with an education, a position of authority, and/or the best of intentions, can be equally lead astray.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” – Socrates

In the age of post-truth, it is easy to lock yourself in a bubble, surrounded by mountains of evidence that support all the reasons you know your truth to be right. So I challenge you this year to occasionally play devil’s advocate. Allow yourself to try out being wrong from time to time and see how it fits. Ask yourself, is your version of the balcony scene complete, or might there be other lines, unwritten?

While I don’t expect anyone to change their mind from the experience, I hope that by doing so you might be able to identify the gaps in your truth and become more willing to ask questions than accept a story at face value.

We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future. – George Bernard Shaw

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