Every day Mother's Day

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A group of gifted writers has gathered together at a new website that celebrates and gives voice to moms of all varieties. MakesYouMom.com publishes something new every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. At the helm of this new online publishing venture is my friend Laura Lynn Brown, author of Everything That Makes You Mom: A Bouquet of Memories, a book my siblings and I used to create a Mother's Day gift for our mother two years ago. Since Mother's Day comes every year, I thought I'd share this idea at the same time I pointed you to Laura's new site.

Everything That Makes You Mom is a gift book in which Laura has written memories and reflections about her mother as launch points for questions you can answer about your own mother. My sister and I started the process of filling out this book for our mother by meeting at a restaurant and going through the book, writing answers to its questions on a pad of paper. We took turns reflecting on the different questions and adding our memories. We ate a lot and wrote a lot. We laughed a ton. We continued on by emailing and texting about answers to more questions and sent my out-of-town brother a list of questions for his input. We didn't use all the questions Laura included, and we took liberties at adapting some questions to better fit our particular mother and sets of memories, but all her questions formed a wonderful place to start even if we didn't use all of them exactly as written. It shouldn't be surprising - but it often was - that the three of us didn't always have the same memories or the same answers to the questions.

We gathered up all our answers into one big typed document so that we could distribute them to grandchildren, and then we wrote the answers into the book pages. If we hadn't been collating all the siblings' responses together or if we'd all been in the same place at the same time, we wouldn't have gone through these multiple steps, but in the end we created a valuable document that tells a lot about our wonderful mother and our years of growing up together. More importantly, it tells my mother we saw her. This is what Laura's new website, MakesYouMom.com, is all about: seeing the mother you've had, seeing the other women in your life who have been like second mothers to you, seeing the mothers all around you, even the one inside yourself.

~~~

[Photo: taken of a page from the book my siblings and I filled out for our mother.]

What I learned last weekend about slavery

Last Saturday, I attended a symposium on human trafficking put together by my good friend who recently quit her day job and is pouring herself into this issue. Presenters included law enforcement officers, several men and women who run organizations to help victims, and musical and spoken word artists. It was eye-opening to say the least. That's exactly what it was meant to be. Who knew this was happening in our own back yard? How can a wrong be righted without this awareness among ordinary citizens? The stories we heard were graphic and shocking. 

Here is some of what I learned: Minnesota has the largest number of homeless youth per capita in the country. Not New York or California, but Minnesota. This doesn't even count the youth that are homeless but part of a homeless family. A homeless youth on his or her own will be targeted by a trafficker within 48 hours of being on the streets. Nationwide, the average age of entry into sex trafficking is 13 years. This trafficking is a form of slavery, quite literally, and is the fastest growing black market crime. In Minnesota alone, 8,000 to 12,000 women and children are being sold for sex. Some are locked in rooms and forced to provide services to a steady stream of customers; others are on the streets to attract customers under the watchful eye of their "owners" who will use baseball bats or any other means to make sure they stay on the job and bring in a certain daily quota. This doesn't happen only to girls from the wrong side of the tracks. Rich kids get trapped too. Traffickers are trained to see the vulnerable in shopping malls, on the streets, and, in rapidly increasing numbers, on the internet and lure them by affirming their beauty, promising to take care of them, pretending to be their boyfriend and so on, and then the trap is set. Overall, considering sex and labor trafficking together, an estimated 27 million people are enslaved worldwide. 

Nationwide, there are few law enforcement officers dedicated to human trafficking and fewer than 100 recovery beds for rescued women and children, with long waiting lists for those beds. Few churches or civic groups want to host awareness events and fundraising for this cause is difficult because the topic is too dark, too scary. To be honest, I don't even like having such darkness on this blog.

So what can an average person do? Here are some ideas from the symposium:

  • Pray. Never underestimate the power of prayer against evil. Check out Exodus Cry, which is a prayer movement to end human trafficking.
  • Watch. Be alert for children and women who may be victims; be alert for venues for this activity. Brothels with enslaved women and children can be (and are) in suburban homes as easily as city apartments. Here is the national human trafficking hotline: 888-373-7888.
  • Give. The people and groups that work against this evil need money to keep going. Some of the organizations discussed include: Source Ministries, Breaking Free, Mission 21, and Not For Sale.
  • Reject. Whenever possible within your sphere of influence, reject the normalization of pornography and all other forms of selling women and children. The experts say this normalization of porn in mainstream life directly increases the demand for the services of sexual slaves by increasing the appetite of customers and dulling their sense of right and wrong.
  • Buy. Look for fair-trade products. The coffee and chocolate industries are particularly likely to use slave labor. Fair-trade producers do not. Buy clothing and other products from companies who do not use slave labor. Check out Free2Work for a phone app that gives you corporate responsibility info from a barcode scan.
  • Love. If you have children or grandchildren, love them, love them, love them. Love them. Attend to them; care for them. Don't cause them to go looking to strangers for what they need from you at home: care and feeding, assurance of their value and beauty, security, attention, relationship. If you have a child who is a prodigal, always always keep an open path home.

Care packages and other causes of worry and guilt

Earlier this month and a couple days before my youngest son went back to school for his last semester of college, we were out to dinner with my parents. Some delicacy came to our attention and I said to him, "Hey, I can include this in your next care package." He and I both laughed, the joke being that I have sent few care packages during his and his brother's cumulative eight years of college. Many mothers box up their son's and daughter's favorite treats and comfort items at frequent intervals and ship them off to schools across the nation to the delight of their children and children's roommates. I have not been one of those mothers. Although I'm reasonably confident I've been a good mother--despite the care package delinquency--I'll admit to a little critic deep inside that gets busy sometimes tallying up my failures, deservedly or undeservedly, particularly now that I'm on the letting-go side of mothering. Like all myths, the myth of the perfect mother is tenacious.

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Leslie Leyland Fields, my former SPU MFA writing mentor and now friend, has a new book about other myths of parenting. In Parenting Is Your Highest Calling: And Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt, Fields tackles--with honesty and eloquence--distorted ways of thinking about parenting that are 1) not true, and 2) not at all helpful to either child or parent. As I read this book, I underlined what I wanted to remember for being a mother now, but wished that it had been around when I was new to the job. Unlike a parenting book that gives a list of rules (do this, don't do that), this book constructs a mental and spiritual context from which to parent, like a friend along the way. I'll gratefully use it now and give it with enthusiasm to new parents who always seem to receive more than enough onesies and rattles.