Everything, and Nothing, and Citizenship, and Us All

I don’t want to rant. Ranting makes it sound angry, and colors the statement with a lack of reason, of thoughtfulness, of dispassion. And dispassion is usually the route I prefer to take in discussing matters of politics. It makes the most sense to me, because these matters are typically those that incite such extreme passions in those who engage them. They are not only sensitive issues; they are at the core of many people’s fundamental beliefs. They are important. And so, as a matter of respect, I try to be circumspect in the way that I encounter people’s views, arguments and ideas on politics.

But here is my problem of late: I’ve found myself facing, with ever-increasing frequency, viewpoints and arguments that simply do not merit the kind of serious reflection that I usually like to employ. The knee jerk reaction of some reading this may be to call me arrogant: “who are you to decide which and whose arguments are worthy of reflection??? What happened to tolerance and open-mindedness??”

Perhaps they are right. Perhaps I am arrogant. Or perhaps, as I believe, there are some viewpoints that truly do not merit the decency of a tolerant reception. These include views that are based in falsehoods, racism, sexism (or any other discriminatory ideology), or that are concerned more with distorting an existing viewpoint than in offering any original content that’s put forth in the spirit of genuine reflection.

The last point mentioned above is a big one. This distortion of viewpoints is becoming a commonplace tactic in oppositional politics today. If one party presents an idea or platform, those against that idea will twist it into a warped alternate, and ultimately opposite, version. When Black Lives Matter, suddenly All Lives Matter; when political correctness becomes prudent, its overapplication quickly becomes lambasted as oversensitivity and weakness – leading to the implicit acceptance of racist, extremist language that proper political correctness is designed to reduce.

When the rise of “fake news” sites makes the rounds of popular culture and punditry, actual news sites suddenly become the targets of such a label. The tactic of twisting a message into its exact opposite has proven to be an effective means of both undercutting the original idea and motivating supporters to rally behind ridicule.

The consequence, of course, is that when ideas lose their meaning, and truth becomes relative, we become lost in a great churning sea of myths, falsehoods, and hubris.

Indeed, absolute certainty is perhaps the last thing I would expect of any notion worthy of serious contemplation. Even in the realm of science, when an overwhelming amount of carefully documented evidence leads to the acceptance of a theory, the notion of 100% certainty does not exist. From inertia to gravity, the most we can get out of the scientific consensus is near-certainty. 99.9%, perhaps, but never 100.

And even in writing the last paragraph, I can see the distorted message taking hold from those who don’t agree with these thoughts: if even SCIENCE isn’t certain, then surely ALL science must be questioned….isn’t that the real takeaway? We must be skeptics! We must revolt! Down with the scientific establishment and their “theories” of no real value!

I’ve written on skepticism before. I’ll leave that for my prior post to discuss. But the short answer to this objection is no. Of course we should not discard established scientific methodology, which yields as close to certain results as we can get, in favor of impulsive appeals and random thoughts. The point that is intended here is that while little is indeed certain, much can come close; and moreover, that the PATH to determining what we can state with the highest degree of objective certainty is crucial, perhaps even more so than the ultimate result.

The process of investigation into any idea – scientific, philosophical, moral, religious – is the most critical part of its development in an individual as well as on a societal level. We must think deeply and reflect honestly on the issues and notions that affect us in any significant way. We must ponder what concepts matter, and why; we must question things, without prior motive or intent to distort. We must come to understanding in a way that befits our honor and integrity not only as citizens, but as human beings.

Perhaps this is becoming too lofty of an exhortation. Perhaps the appeal sounds overzealous. But I can only assure you that the intention behind it is honest. Critical thinking is, perhaps more that anything else in modern society, left behind in the midst of technological life. We exist more than ever in a world of sound bites and momentary interactions. We pass memes to one another without investigating even for a moment whether they are based on facts. We desire ‘cliff note’ versions of speeches, articles, books, and events. We cast judgments quickly as a result of those fragments; we eschew nuance for a world of black and white, good and bad, wrong and right, with little in between.

And our discourse, as a people and as a civilization, cannot help but be stunted as a result of this. The meme-ification and connectivity of society has led to a culture of conceit, where everyone has an opinion and no expertise is as valued as much as one’s own inclination. If I can Google it, I can understand it. And don’t bother to counter my “researched” opinions, for once formed, they are eternally set in stone, no matter how much counterevidence may be presented.

I don’t have a definitive answer to this problem. For the problem, it seems to me, is not the access or inquiry into information, but rather the generalized tendency for all of us to accept without true consideration any morsel of knowledge that first piques our interest. How do we change a culture? How do we encourage careful thought? How do we move from sound bite reflection to full and serious contemplation of issues, with all their relative nuances and complexities?

Without recognizing the many facets and complications that exist in nearly every issue facing our nation at this moment, we cannot help but to reduce these issues to mere caricatures of themselves. And our elected leaders will reflect these tendencies: they will embody the bold certainties that we embrace, without the critical study that they require.

I don’t have the answer. I can only continue the dialogue. What do you think?

Post-Election 2016: Where Do We Go From Here?

I’ve needed some time to process what happened last week. I’m sure many others are in the same boat. There are things I want to say — so many things I have to say about not only the election results, but also the aftermath: the shock, the rage, the exuberance, the arguments, the calls to action, the calls for peace, the pledges for unity, the pledges for revolution.

Here’s what we know right now: Donald Trump won the presidential election this year.

Here’s what we don’t know: how closely his presidential initiatives will mirror his campaign promises, how Congress will interact with him, what life will be like under his administration, if the abounding animosity and divisiveness will wane or intensify.

The unknowns, for me, are the most terrifying as well as the most comforting aspects of this season in our national history. We don’t know what will happen. It might be devastating, but maybe it will lead to something great. We don’t know. We can’t know, but we can hope.

One thing I will say, though, is that some of things I have heard and experienced since last Tuesday have concerned me.  We hear a lot about the phenomenon of confirmation bias in our social media activities — that is to say that we surround ourselves with so many like-minded people and perspectives that our constant feedback is affirmation of these views. At a certain point, the constant affirmation leads to a sense of false security and lack of awareness of just how many other and different viewpoints exist in the world. Perhaps the realities of this election will highlight just how jarring that confirmation bias can be, once it is removed.  But even more noteworthy, I think, are the number of people even within these circles of confirmation bias that have secretly, or at least quietly, held their tongues until immediately after the election. Among circles of Clinton supporters, previously-silent Trump supporters seem to have suddenly become more vocal in stating their support, denouncing those who identify them as racist or misogynist, and increasingly gaining confidence with the knowledge that their views are perhaps not quite so unpopular as the pre-election data would have had us believe. The resultant surprise among Clinton supporters is added to the initial shock from Election Night: You voted for Trump? How could you? Why? How did I not know this before?

Is this trend the result of privately racist or bigoted viewpoints that have now been given a national platform of acceptance? Or are more people comfortable with voicing support for the candidate who won while clarifying that their support is for other reasons — economic, party-oriented, or driven by social issues alone?

If Trump’s win has emboldened his supporters to speak out, it has equally horrified his opponents enough to express their outrage. There are rallies, protests, and a wellspring of secret online communities springing up as support systems for those who are devastated by the election results and fearful of the future that awaits.

The only certainty of this season, for now, is uncertainty. The national mood is a mottled mix of elation among Trump supporters, confidence among party loyalists, dismay and dejection among the anti-Trump crowd, and mistrust abounding everywhere.

I’d like to say that the future of our country is definitively on the upswing; I’d love to express my hope for American national unity, for peace and stability, and for minorities to feel accepted and their interests represented in our government. But for now, I can’t say or express those things. There are too many unknowns.

Where do we go from here? We all want to know. The only answer I have for now is to wait, see, and continually strive to work for the things that matter. It’s all we can do. I hope it’s enough.

RIGGED ELECTIONS EVERYWHERE

This election is rigged,” says Donald Trump.
He’s on to something,” say a bunch of white men (and women) who follow Donald Trump and love conspiracy theories.

Just how is this election is rigged? Though a wide web of conspirators, of course! This web is so wide, and so pervasive, that it manages to span all levels of government (local, state AND federal), parties and party operatives, voters, and, oh, also the media. But hang on, hang on, not all media — just the ‘lamestream‘ media, of course. Any other outlet, especially any reporting on this whole rigging conspiracy, isn’t privy to the key action of the intrigue. They can only glean tender juicy morsels of these seditious machinations — usually through reposting rumors and blog posts that use BIG CAPITAL LETTERS and lots of exclamation points (!!!!) to show how serious and mind-blowing they are.

This would normally be the point at which I’d laugh and be like “psyyyych!!!” and then you’d be like, “haha, good joke!” — except that people aren’t joking about this, and actual humans with flesh and (presumably) functional brains buy into this lunacy as plausible and even likely.

Meanwhile, let’s dig out a short refresher on the history of elections in this country, where elements actually WERE rigged against certain subsets of American voters and citizens, shall we? For instance…
– when black Americans weren’t able to vote until 1870
-when women weren’t able to vote until 1920
-when poll taxes and literacy tests were instituted to suppress (usually poor and minority) voters
-when voter intimidation at the polls once again aimed to suppress (usually minority) voters
-when political tactics to suppress or disenfranchise (usually minority) voters have occurred in nearly every election cycle, including the present one.

So to all the largely white, largely male citizens including Trump and his followers who are raging about nefarious schemes to produce a rigged election (and don’t get me started on non-existent ‘voter fraud’…) before it even begins? Let me put my response in terms you best understand:

!!!!!!!THIS IS A SHOCKING TURN OF EVENTS THAT EVERY TRUE AMERICAN CITIZEN MUST STAND AGAINST, BECAUSE RADICALS WITH QUESTIONABLE MOTIVES ARE TRYING TO TAKE OVER THE COUNTRY WITH DANGEROUS AND RIDICULOUS CLAIMS BASED ON LITERALLY NOTHING OF SUBSTANCE!!!!!!!!!! DON’T BUY THEIR LIES!!!!!!

Or in other words —

No.

You’re wrong.

And please go away.

Remembering What’s Important

Yesterday was an all-too-familiar scene in our house, hectic and scattered. We had a baptism to attend at a church a half an hour away, and our planned departure time came and went with astonishing swiftness. By the time we actually made it out the door, I grimaced as I did a quick once-over of our appearance: my husband was okay, but the boys’ collared shirts were both wrinkled (I had failed to fold them very well in the back of the clothing drawer, and couldn’t tell you where we keep an iron in the house if you paid me $100), pants not much better, and the only shoes we could convince them to put on were dirt-dusted sneakers. My own clothes were passable, but those ‘nice’ black boots I had pulled out of the closet to wear for the first time since last winter? Peeling at the toes. Badly. I considered, but thought better of, coloring the peeling bits with black Sharpie marker as I used to do to my heels in college. But I wouldn’t have the the comfortable camouflage of dark bar lighting to blur the marker’s obviousness here, and somehow felt more comfortable with the thought of feigning ignorance about my dilapidated shoes (should someone notice) than with having to face the embarrassment of displaying my amateur cover-up job to the world.

I was tempted to go back inside, figure out better options, reset our family “best foot forward” look. But there was no time. We needed to go.

And by the grace of God, we arrived on time — even a few minutes early. I glanced around at the other people in attendance and my eyes quickly fell upon a well-dressed woman around my age. Her purple chiffon dress was chic and stylish, her tights perfectly smooth (with nary a stray fuzzball or run in sight), ankle boots in perfect (non-markered) condition. Of course, her accessories all matched perfectly; even her diaper bag, gray and sleek, looked lovely hanging on her arm. It was also roughly 1/3 the size of mine, which at present was overflowing with snacks, diapers, spare t-shirts, and a pile of books hastily thrown in to keep the kids occupied during the service. I shouldered my bag uneasily, again feeling painfully aware of how bedraggled our crew must look in comparison to her and her adorable family.

Oh, the family. Did I forget to mention that part? Her two boys, only slightly older than mine, were dressed in adorable (smooth) collared shirts and pants, appropriate (clean) shoeing, and even had ties on. TIES. How in the ever-loving world did this woman manage to get her boys to not only put ON, but continue to WEAR, TIES?!!!! My internal sigh was so loud. So, so loud. It’s probable that there was an external sigh as well, though hopefully less pronounced.
But hey, we had a thing to do, and it demanded our focus. So I did my best to bury my embarrassed insecurities and enjoy the morning — which, fortunately, I managed pretty well.

By the time the reception rolled around, I was beginning to feel more relaxed. People were chatting as the kids all started running around and playing together; ties became loose, shoes came off. And I realized, at some point in watching my kids there, that despite their wrinkled shirts, they looked good. They were polite, kind, friendly, and, while not perfect (because no kid, and no one, is ever perfect), pretty darn awesome.

I felt a creeping sense of shame come over me at this realization. Why had I been so concerned with appearances? I know myself pretty well by this point, and despite my best efforts, I know I am never going to be the mom whose kids have designer clothes and perfectly coiffed hair to match my own fabulous, color-coordinated outfit. My diaper bag is functional, if disorganized and unmatched to anything we ever wear, and while I’m no Martha Stewart, I do spend every spare minute of my days doing my best to keep a clean home, with cooked (if not always organic) food on the table, and clean (if wrinkled) clothes for everyone.

Most of all, though, I really try my best to be a good parent: to teach my kids about morals, and friendship, and love; to play with them; and to try to lead them by example to the best of my ability.

I realized in that brief moment that it’s okay to appreciate the skills that some other parent may have — and I did, and do, appreciate and admire how that put-together mom can manage to make herself and her family look so polished and nice. But that doesn’t mean that I need to feel ashamed of my own shortcomings in those areas, because there are so many other places where I, along with my family, can shine our own light.

The things that matter most in parenting are the intangibles: love, comfort, acceptance, togetherness. It is in these where I am best able to place my efforts, and you know what? That’s okay.

It is enough. I am enough. And though it’s cheesy to say — if you’re trying your best at this parenting thing? So are you.

Trump’s Latest Scandal and Why it Doesn’t Matter

Another day, another horrifying skeleton from Trump’s closet of disgustingness (yup, real word). As everyone has heard, Trump apparently was caught on tape a decade ago making lewd comments about women with a surprisingly receptive Billy Bush prior to a taped segment the two were doing. Trump brushed it off as “locker room banter” but then apologized after the backlash. Which, short of being unprecedented for Trump, was also basically worthless to everyone who was worked up about the clip, because ew.

I have to give credit to whoever dug up that audio, because how dedicated must he or she be to bringing down Trump? (I’ll give you a hint: the answer is incredibly effing dedicated. Like obsessively dedicated. Like Lifetime-movie-stalker dedicated.) But here’s the sad reality, Everyone: it really won’t matter. I mean, yeah, the Republican establishment — meaning most of the Republicans who are you, know, actually loyal to the party — will denounce the behavior, and everyone who already despises him will be even more righteously outraged, and maybe his running mate will finally realize he’s aligned himself with a raging fireball of orange-skinned stupidity, and maybe some things within the GOP will happen because eeeek, how far past the line of reasonable behavior must we go before we cease to defend it??? Because guys, we are already soooooo far past that line. Which, you know, are some significant things.

But for the election? Not gonna make one bit of a difference. There is virtually no chance that the ballots are going to change between now and November — I mean, people are already voting! Trump won’t pull out (in any sense of the phrase). Even if Pence drops his bigoted, misogynistic, narcissistic and pretty non-presidential in every way running mate, Trump will go on. Trump doesn’t give a shit.

And guess what? Neither do his voters. Seriously, can we even count how many horrific, awful, insulting things he’s said in the last few weeks, much less months or years??? The man is a walking asshole. And his people still want him. There’s a reason why he once said that he could go out into the middle of the street and shoot someone because no one would care. That reason is because No one. Would. Care.

They didn’t care when he called Mexicans rapists and criminals. They didn’t care when he wanted to build a wall to keep out undesirables. They didn’t care when he wanted to ban Muslims from the country. They didn’t care when he openly mocked a disabled reporter. They didn’t care when called women pigs, disgusting, and worse. They didn’t care when he made derogatory references to a journalist’s menstrual cycle because he didn’t like her questions to him. They didn’t care when he called his daughter a piece of ass. They didn’t care when he did or said or TWEETED (for God’s sake) umpteen other horrible, nasty things. So yeah – they don’t care when he talks about trying to forcibly have sex with a married woman, grossly objectifies her and other women, and brags about how he could grab women by the vagina because he’s a rich, powerful dude who can do whatever he wants and still get away with it.

Donald Trump has already proven that statement beyond any conceivable doubt: he’s a rich, powerful dude who can do whatever he wants and still get away with it. There are no repercussions. His voters still swarm around his bristling brand of arrogance like moths to a a flame.

So keep hoping, NeverTrumpers. But don’t hold your breath. He’s already grabbed millions of people by the pussy. And just like he predicted, they’re letting him.

Dear Open Letter Writers to Donald Trump Supporters

First of all – hi. I’d like to start off by commiserating with you a little bit, because I get what you’re doing. I totally do.

It’s so, so frustrating to sit here feeling like our country is on the verge of political apocalypse, watching poll after poll report jarring, increasingly insane results.  It’s frustrating to feel like our hands are tied; it’s compelling to want to do or say something — ANYTHING — to turn the tide of voters back towards reason and sanity. It’s annoying to see disillusioned Americans lament how “we are screwed either way,” because “my God, how did we come up with the two worst candidates everrrr?,” without them seeming to realize that the difference between the candidates is far more striking and fearsome than a kind of general public distaste for both; they somehow fail to recognize how the havoc wreaked by a Trump presidency would be more than a mere stone’s throw away from a tempered and stable, if initially widely disliked, Clinton administration.

So, yeah. I get it. But here’s the thing:

The Trump supporters you’re targeting aren’t reading your open letters to them. They aren’t inspired by your impassioned descriptions of dire consequences; they aren’t swayed by your carefully crafted prose or your meticulously researched evidence. It’s not that your letters aren’t good — many are spreading like wildfire online, right? (You’ve gone viral! You’re making a difference! People must be listening!)

No.

You’re writing to an audience that you assume to be rational. And truly, most Donald Trump supporters, at this point, cannot be considered rational. They aren’t seeing your letters. They aren’t reading your letters. And even if, by chance, they are — they aren’t affected by your letters.

So what can we do? Should we stop writing open letters?

I mean, maybe. If it means it might free up some of your time — go for it. Because honestly, they are not changing squat for serious (serious??) Trump enthusiasts. But on the upside, people who agree with you are positively eating that stuff UP, so that’s something you definitely have going for you. And there’s the added benefit that in publishing your letters online you’ve firmly established yourself in the public eye as a person of sound reasoning, logic and sensibility, so, you know — go you!

But maybe it’s more important at this juncture to target those disillusioned voters more than anyone else — to implore them to recognize the crucial differences between two vastly disliked, but still vastly disparate, candidates for the highest office in the land. To hope against hope that their disillusionment won’t translate to their refusal to vote in the November election. To encourage them that a vote for Clinton is not necessarily a vote for “the lesser of two evils,” but rather a vote against our national, potentially global, downfall.

Otherwise, I don’t know that all these fervent appeals to Trump supporters are making much — or sorry, any — headway toward getting them to see the light.  Because if his deranged Twitter rants aren’t turning them off…can anything?

Sad.

Sincerely,

Just Another Open Letter Writer

The Clinton Campaign Goofed – Big Time

If there is an air of feeling unwell in the Clinton camp over the last few days, it probably has more to do with the campaign’s handling of the whole pneumonia debacle than with Secretary Clinton’s actual illness.

My social media feeds of late have been positively flooded with comments on the most recent presidential campaign headline: “Clinton Leaves Early from 9/11 Event, Collapses, Is Later Revealed to Have Pneumonia That Was Actually Diagnosed Days Ago, Also Did She Use a Body Double That Day and Could She Possibly Be a Robot?” Or some similar (set of) variation(s).

Many of the headlines try to put on a positive spin. “Clinton Powers Through Illness Because That’s What Women Do,” etc. But I think that these tend to miss the bigger point in all of this, which is that her campaign made a pretty major mess out of what should have been a minor issue. And extending from this, they blew a HUGE opportunity for sympathy attention in the process. More on that in a moment.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument (and lack of credible evidence to the contrary (… yet?)) that the events of last weekend occurred exactly as the campaign depicted them. This means that Hillary received her diagnosis on Friday, did not disclose it to the public at that time, proceeded to attend various weekend events that culminated in the ‘overheating’ episode Sunday morning, and then finally explained the illness. We’re taking all of this at face value. Even in this case, the campaign’s decision not to disclose her pneumonia diagnosis right away is baffling.

Clinton stated, by way of explanation, that she”didn’t think it would be that big of a deal.” In an electoral contest where literally everything is a big deal — from offhand comments to facial expressions — this is is not a wise defense. It certainly gives the appearance of a cover-up, whether there actually is one or not.

So if these events as stated are accurate — that’s pretty bad.

If they are not accurate — that’s even worse.

Another fairly shocking failure is in the whole sympathy contingent. Pneumonia is a treatable illness that many people can relate to. Had they revealed it on Friday, the arguments blowing up from her supporters (‘we should be applauding her,’ ‘people get sick, let’s move on’) would have been deserved and probably well received. Now, in the face of apparent deception (no matter how trivial), these arguments seem strained.

Her illness is not the issue – and could probably have been a boon to the campaign if properly handled.  The sour taste left in the collective mouth of public opinion (um what? shhh it works as a metaphor) is now what she and her tarnished campaign must work overtime to clear up.

For the record, and since we’re speaking of full disclosure, I’ll note here that I am a Hillary supporter. But I don’t jive with the idea that all supporters should follow their candidates blindly and without question. This is against the principles of informed reflection. My honest critique of a candidate I like is that here, in this case, she goofed. Let’s hope she can turn it around soon.

What’s Wrong with Gary Johnson?

There are two ways I might be tempted to answer this question.

One is to say that, in light of his most recent ‘Aleppo-gate’ gaffe especially, what’s wrong with Gary Johnson is simply…well, Gary Johnson. The guy might be nice and all – and is clearly physically fit – but, yikes. To his credit, he asks questions when he’s not sure of what something is. To his detriment, those questions have included “Who’s Harriet Tubman?” and “What is Aleppo?” And there’s not really a lot of coming back from that as a presidential (slash leader of the Free World) candidate. (I would think, at least.)

The other way to answer is to frame the question more broadly – so as to speculate that what’s wrong with Gary Johnson, most critically, is not so much that he’s prone to embarrassing gaffes, but that his platform is build on perilously rickety legs.

A friend of mine mentioned recently to me that he was planning to vote for Johnson this November. “Why?” I asked.

“Because he has a combination of all the best ideas,” he said.

My friend liked that Johnson, in keeping with many millennial voters, trended toward socially liberal views. He loved that he also remained a fiscal conservative, aligning with Republican sentiments on that front. And you know – blah blah blah. I’m fairly ambivalent on all that. I hear about it frequently these days, largely from youngish Republicans with socially conscious leanings (anecdotally speaking, of course).

Where I really take issue is with Johnson’s — and by extension, the Libertarian Party’s — and by further extension, most libertarian-identifying adherents’ — support for non-interventionism. To my mind, this is not only ridiculous, but dangerous as a guiding political position.

I don’t mean for this to become a full-fledged critique of libertarianism. The criticisms are already out there, take them or leave them. But in this one particular area — which is in many ways also a cornerstone of libertarian ideology — I must voice my skepticism.

Any form of isolationism, even when framed in the softened terminology of “non-interventionism,” is untenable in the current global climate. Humanitarian concerns have become even more pressing in the face of more and more sophisticated weapons of war. They cannot (or at a minimum should not) be ignored. Even setting aside humanitarian concerns, we as a nation would be foolish — if not bat$#+% crazy — to eschew all foreign alliances in today’s world.

The United States may be somewhat isolated physically speaking, but figuratively? Our existence is undeniably connected, and grows ever more so by the day. Technology, industry, economy, and even — as libertarians like to so often rely upon, morality — all require us to recognize that shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world isn’t just impractical; it’s wrong.

So what’s wrong with Gary Johnson? A lot of things, probably. But perhaps most of all, he’s fundamentally out of touch — and voluntarily so. For a U.S. presidential candidate, that’s pretty alarming.

The Day I Lost My Kids

It was a perfect beach day. Temperatures in the mid-80s, not too much wind, tons of sun. I had packed up my kids that morning and loaded them (along with our 5 thousand tons of stuff) into the car for the half-hour drive to a local river beach. When we headed back home after a few glorious sandcastle-filled hours, our moods were light and we were happy – though all us were quite ready for a nice, long nap.

I noticed my almost-2 year old was nodding off in the backseat as we pulled up to our house. “Wake up, Baby!” I urged him gently. I knew if he fell asleep here, he’d never sleep for naptime. He rolled his head toward me and smiled. I smiled back, unbuckling him and then reaching over to unlatch his 3 year old brother. Together they climbed out the car, scampered up the steps to our house and settled into the porch chairs on the top step as I unlocked and opened the front door.

“Stay here! I’ll bring in the stuff,” I called to them on my way back to the car. We lived on a busy street, at the intersection of a smaller, popular cut-through from another major road. It was rare to see a break in traffic. Because the location of our home made me nervous, our kids had been well-trained to avoid standing anywhere near the road and to stick to the bricks of our front path and/or the grass in the yard – and always with an adult present. Still, they were toddlers, and prone to heed their impulses far too often for me to ever fully put my guard down when we were outside.

I had a clear sightline of them on the front porch as I made my way back and forth between the car and the front entrance to our house, again and again, hauling bags of toys, towels, wet clothes and other assorted gear. On my last trip, I slung the final bag over my shoulder and closed the trunk when I heard a voice to my left side. I turned. It was my next-door neighbor, pulling out of her driveway with the window rolled down.

“You heading to the beach?” she called.

“Just coming back, actually!” I replied.

“How fun! Hey listen, I have a birthday present to give to the little guy. Maybe we can get the boys together tomorrow afternoon?”

“Sounds great!” I said, thanking her as I turned back to the house and she drove off.

The chairs on the front porch were empty. “Hey boys?” I walked inside the house and set the bag on the floor. “Guys, time to come out!” Silence. I circled around the main level. “Boys, if you’re hiding, I need you to come out now. We need to wash hands.” There was no answer. My heart started to pound.

If you know anything about my younger son, you’d know that he can’t stay quiet for longer than about 5 seconds. His idea of playing ‘hide and seek’ is to scream and run out of his hiding place the instant the finder counts to ten. And if there is ANYONE he can’t resist running to, it’s his mommy. He is constantly my shadow, attached to my hip, reaching up to say “Carry me, Mommy!” approximately 400 times per day. So when I had scanned the rooms, opened doors, and called for my boys to come out and still was met only with deafening silence, panic started to set in.

I ran out the door and around the corner of our house to where another neighbor was washing his car. “Did two little boys run by here?” I asked him breathlessly. He shook his head no. I raced to the edges of each street on the intersection, eyes straining for any sign of tiny running creatures. There was nothing. I ran back to the house, my voice beginning to rise to a wailing pitch.

“BOYS! IF YOU ARE IN HERE, YOU MUST MAKE A NOISE NOW. DO YOU HEAR ME? RIGHT NOW! THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT!” There was nothing. No baby crying for me. No giggles. No cavalcade of footsteps. The quiet was eerie and unnerving. This house was NEVER quiet. Where the hell were my kids?

I stood in the front hall amidst the mountain of beach bags. I couldn’t entirely process what was happening right now – the kids were supposed to be here. We were just in the car, happily returning from a great morning adventure. They were supposed to be right here, laughing and chasing each other, pushing and arguing until I wrangled them upstairs for nap. But there was no one here, and I was on the verge of total panic

Back outside, the neighbor had summoned his sister and they were both pacing the streets nearby. I began to scream for the boys. Surely they would come running if they heard my voice. Minutes and more minutes passed, each one feeling like an eternity. I screamed until my voice was raw, running from corner to corner of the intersection, cars stopping or slowing to gape at this frazzled woman shrieking in the street in her flip flops and beach cover-up.

Neighbors and passers-by had started to form a crowd outside my house. Others I saw peeking out of windows or coming out to stand on their front porches; my eyes, desperately seeking any sign of movement, saw everything but my kids. I ran back to the house a third time, crying and screaming, again checking rooms, making sure they couldn’t be hiding in there. Still only silence. God, how I wanted to hug them. They had only been out of my sight for a few seconds. How could this have happened? Where could they have possibly gone?

Back outside, all I could here were questions. What were they wearing? How old? I struggled to answer, consumed by fear and worry. A woman in business clothes had pulled over in front of my house. “I have police dispatch on the line,” she said.

“Okay. Thank you,” I managed to respond. I went back to the intersection and screamed for the boys again. Had someone taken them? Could they have pulled them both into a car that quickly? The woman with the phone came over to me and handed it to me. “You need to speak to them,” she said gently.

“Ma’am, I need you to calm down,” the dispatcher said as I put the phone to my ear. Was I sobbing already? I couldn’t breathe. “How long has it been since you noticed them missing?”

“A few minutes….just a few minutes! They were just here!” I managed to say.

“Okay, ma’am, we have an officer on the way right now. I need you to tell me what they were wearing.”

The question was jarring. Were my kids going to end up on “Missing Child” posters? Were they about to be the focus of an Amber Alert? Oh my God. My kids. MY KIDS! I struggled to think. What were they wearing? Beach clothes were the first thing that came to mind. But wait – I had changed them out of their beach clothes for the trip home. What color shirts did I put them into? One was green, I told the dispatcher, but other one…I….couldn’t recall. What kind of mother was I? First I lose my kids, then I can’t even remember their clothes?

“Excuse, me, but – is that them?” an older lady with her husband were standing nearby, watching the house. I followed her gaze to my front door. Sure enough, there were my two boys, in the flesh, holding hands in the doorway. The shock was still fresh enough to immobilize me briefly; I remained standing there, phone to my ear, for a long moment. “They’re here! They’re found!” I shouted to the dispatcher, handing the phone back to the businesswoman and running up the front steps to embrace my kids.

“Where were you????! Didn’t you hear me screaming for you??? What were you doing!!!!” I bombarded them with questions as I held them close.

“We were playing hide and seek with you, Mommy,” the 3-year-old replied. “We were behind the shower curtain and were as quiiiiiiiet as we could be.” The shower curtain. I had been in the bathroom, but didn’t pull it all the way back.

My relief was quickly compounded by anger. “Don’t ever do that to me again! You scared me!! Did you hear me when I called?” Sheepishly, he nodded. We were going to have a long talk about this later.

I turned to the crowd outside of our house, thankful, relieved, and now feeling pretty embarrassed by the level of my hysteria that they had just witnessed. Tears still streamed down my face as I waved, thanking them, still hugging my kids. “Hang on to them,” an older woman called to me. I nodded. Yes. That I would do. Slowly the people dispersed, back to their homes and cars, and I finally closed the front door.

The next few minutes were a blur of tears (mine), laughter (my kids) and lots of hugs. By the time the police officer knocked on the door a few minutes later, I was calm enough to explain things to him. He took my license number, listened to the turn of events, and was thankfully compassionate.

“I would have done the same thing,” he reassured me.

It took me an hour to stop crying, and several to finally stop feeling shaky. Even today, it’s been almost 24 hours, and I still shudder at the thought of it all. I still don’t know how those two boys – who fight over EVERYTHING – had managed to stay still and silent for that long. I don’t know how it happened the way that it did.

But what I DO know is that I’m thankful – that there are good people in this world, who will stop everything to help a frantic mother in the middle of the street; that we have police officers who are competent, kind, and thorough; and most of all, that my kids are here, safe, and perfectly sound.

Sure, I may be embarrassed to run into my neighbors ever again – but it very easily could have been a different story that I am typing here. And thank God, thank everything, that it wasn’t. I lost my kids yesterday in the blink of an eye. It can happen so fast – something most parents know, but perhaps (like me) don’t fully grasp until it occurs. If nothing else, let my story be a reminder – kids are fast, unpredictable, and nothing short of utterly bizarre sometimes. Watch them always. And maybe invest in a good leash.