Guns in America: Can We Do Anything? (My Story)

Regardless of where you land on the gun debate, in America the phrase, “gun violence” is a huge trigger. Historically when I write about guns, I get hassled. Better, traditionally, if you hassle me, my go to was to shut up, run or redact.

Nevertheless, the fact that people are dying as a result of mass shootings is far more important than my own discomfort. Gun control is personal (for all of us). In my case, I have these two beautiful and amazing sons. They are (obviously) impacted by the world around them, including gun culture. In fact, neither of them has known anything other than a culture in which school shootings are the norm, gun debates are common, and their friends encourage them to buy a gun, “for safety.” Recently, one of my sons was even considering purchasing a gun “for protection,” (when he is traveling alone). Of course my mind races to all of the terrible conclusions: I am worried about him getting in over his head, unintentionally shooting someone, or in a fit of uncertainty, using a gun to kill himself.

Because my sons are under the age of twenty-five, which means their brains are not fully developed, I imagine it would not be possible for them have completely reasoned through the consequences of owning a gun. Instead, they have been forced to navigate the intense gun culture they are surrounded by. Recently, in fact, a boy my son knew was shot to death in Salt Lake City. He was sixteen. That is when we learned that “Utah has no waiting period, no magazine capacity limit, no limit on number of firearms per purchase, no restrictions on the type or features on a firearm, ie, flash hider, bayonet lug, pistol grip, detachable magazines, collapsing stocks, etc…”

In addition to growing up in a gun-loving state, as a result of the more 311,000 students who have died as a result of gun violence in schools since Columbine, my sons have also been required to learn what to do in case of a school shooting, practicing active shooter drills more than I practiced Tornado drills as a child. (*I grew up in the Midwest.)  Moreover, my sons have seen that not only can anyone, stable or not, easily purchase assault rifles (at age 18, even when they are not allowed to purchase handguns until they are 21), they have witnessed a disturbing school-shooter phenomenon (perpetuated on social media):

Considering other people (predominantly young white men) have gained infamy shooting up a school, “unhinged” (*not necessarily mentally ill, only 11% are), school shootings are contagious, and shooters have a playbook: “Here is what I do when I am upset: “I log on to a social media platform and begin live streaming the massacre or I text peers to share my plan (and after it is too late for them to do anything to stop it), then I take my gun to school and kill as many people as possible.” 

Iraq War Memorial, Santa Barbara, California

On April 19, 1999, Dave and I were in a bad car accident. At the hospital, and after totaling our brand new and very first “adult” car [an Audi A4 wagon], not knowing if my neck was broken (it was bad whiplash and nerve damage . . .), before being x-rayed and even though I was certain that I was not, the nurses insisted on giving me a pregnancy test. 

“I have been so crabby. I am sure it is PMS.” I insisted. 

They insisted more fervently. The hospital staff did not want to wait for blood test results. Alternately, they opted for a urine pregnancy test. With the nurse’s help, somehow Dave and I wiggled my panties off. Another nurse quickly pushed a hospital barf receptacle under my bottom. While being strapped to a big yellow stability board, I peed into the barf receptacle as best as I could. Less than a minute and they announced that I was ABSOLUTELY NOT PREGNANT! Dave and I felt relieved as we waited for the x-ray technician. A few minutes passed. Rather than an x-ray tech, the ER doctor, accompanied by a nurse, returned to my room. The doctor sat quietly and grabbed my hand. Gently, he said:

“Beth, actually, you are pregnant (with Kyle, our firstborn)! We just did not wait long enough to see the results.”

Our world was changing. Dave and I cried. No. We sobbed, like hyperventilating sobs.

The next day, April 20, 1999, two students entered Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, killing twelve fellow students and one teacher. Then they killed themselves. I remember being fixed to the twenty-four hour news cycle. I could not imagine how this shooting could happen, or how it could ever be worse. It is now 2022. The United States has had twenty-three years to figure out how these mass shootings can be prevented.

Things are not better, and our son, Kyle, is finishing college.

Here it is. I am not anti gun. I do not like guns. I do not own a gun. I think guns cause more harm than good. I worry about the quick and irrevocable consequences of using a gun when angry or upset. I had a close family member suicide by shotgun after their girlfriend suicided by shotgun the year before. Once I had a gun pulled on me by a car full of men. I was alone. I thought I was going to die. As a young man pointed the gun at me, I really believed he would shoot. In college, in my friend’s bedroom, I shot a 22 caliber handgun into a telephone book (remember telephone books).

As a result of living in the pro-gun state of Utah, I believe I am more understanding about people who hunt. I get it, even though I don’t want to do it myself. I know. I know. We can use guns to protect ourselves during the zombie apocalypse. Don’t worry. Dave and I have already crafted a plan with our gun-owning friends: 

“You provide the guns. We will provide the gold from the Dream Mine [wink wink].”

Dave often tells the story about his father:

“My dad was twelve. His dad took him hunting. My dad accidentally shot his dad in the leg with a shotgun. Somehow they got my grandpa into the car. Then my dad, who did not have a driver’s license, drove my grandpa over an hour and a half to the hospital. Dave’s dad never went hunting after that.”

A few years ago Kyle discovered that his high school classroom doors did not lock from the inside. Because active shooter drills and mass shootings appear to be our norm, Kyle approached the school regarding the no-locks issue and suggested,

“In case of a school shooting, we should put locks on the inside of all of our classroom doors.”

Consequently, Kyle wrote about the door locks for the school newspaper. 

Here is an excerpt from Kyle’s article:

Picture this: a typical day at Highland High School. The halls are quiet. Students and teachers are busily working in their classrooms. Suddenly a voice rings over the intercom: ‘Students and teachers, there is an armed intruder in the building. Please lock your doors and go into your rooms.’ A charged sensation washes over the school faster than a rumor spreads. At once, teachers go check to see if their doors are locked. A few moments later they comprehend that they cannot lock their doors — not from the inside anyway. Throughout the school, in horror they realize: every classroom has to send someone outside of their room to lock the door. Who would be willing to risk their life over a poorly positioned lock?”

Not long enough after Kyle’s door-lock story was published, and before his story was a faded memory, locks in his school were changed (Go, KYLE!), and a family member invited Kyle and Eli to spend the summer at their home. 

“Why don’t you and Dave send them up for the whole summer and we will put them to work?”

Part of the sales pitch for this summer adventure opportunity was,

“We have a shooting range.” I paused to reread the words. In essence: “I own a bunch of guns, so both boys can shoot. The shooting range is right on our property! So we can walk outside and shoot guns. How awesome is that?”

With much trepidation, I asked Dave if he noticed the invitation. He had. As I listened to Dave, my heart sank at the following realization: what seemed like a super cool and obvious sales pitch to one, in contrast, felt to me like a vivid warning of danger.

Why do we see the world so differently? How can we express our position and not offend them?

I wish I had been more brave and told this family that our answer was no before I ever considered a yes. I hope to this day they know the love and care we have for them. Alas, I was a chicken. Here is what I did instead: I asked the boys how they felt about visiting and left out the part about the guns. I regret my approach. Thankfully before the guns were mentioned, the boys informed me that they were both too busy with required school extracurriculars. At that, Gun Camp was a bust. I took a deep breath and felt like I dodged many bullets – like the two bullets ending our sons’ lives (Oh thank God)!

Then at lunch last week, my eighty-one year old mother blurted out, “If your kids were school age, after what happened in Uvalde, Texas, would you send your kids to school?” She followed with, “I have never liked guns.” Eli, my youngest, piped in and said something about how guns and bad tempers do not mix. To which I said, “that is why I don’t own a gun.” 

It has been eight days. Are we still troubled by the Uvalde, Texas school and Buffalo, New, York grocery store shootings? Or has the twenty-four hour news cycle gotten the best of us? I imagine that most of us are not okay living in a country that makes it easy for citizens to walk into a grocery store, a church, a music venue or a school and slaughter innocent people. I also think we are at a crossroads regarding solutions to gun violence in America. Some want to melt all the guns. Others believe that arming teachers will save the day. Many of us want common sense gun reform. It is my impression that those of us who hope for safer gun legislation are worn down and feeling hopeless.

This is our American cycle: A shooting happens. We cry. People offer thoughts and prayers. We speak up. We demand, “Enough is enough!” The cycle continues. Then, as soon as gun right’s people hear triggering phrases such as, “background checks,” or, “gun control,” they, armed with prepackaged answers, become laser focused, and with expert-sniper precision, they hit back and they are good. They use high impact words, such as God and freedom. In fact, I am certain we have heard or have personally made the arguments:

“We need more guns to protect ourselves,” “We need to arm teachers,” or, “if we regulate guns, you are taking away our Second Amendment rights, and only the criminals will have the guns.”

We try to reason and talk about other countries and how they handle their guns. These interactions usually lead to vitriolic arguments, unproductive impasses, and eventually toward our own silence.

I definitely fall into this pattern.

Consider this: In Uvalde, Texas, trained police, who were literally “armed with guns” and were onsite, did not protect the twenty-one people who lost their lives. During the Buffalo, New York shooting, Aaron Salter Jr., a retired police officer and the store’s security guard, fired multiple shots at the gunman, and was then shot and killed. Good people armed with guns didn’t stop people from being killed.

If the argument with good people and guns really holds up, then why are these good people armed with guns killed? First and foremost, the gunmen were using AR-15 assault rifles. How on earth can one quickly defend themselves from a gun that shoots three times faster and with twice the force? Secondly, I would assert that someone going about their day is not mentally prepared to be shot. On the other hand, I would offer that just as the gun rights’ people are prepared with their argument-blunting answers, a mass shooter is prepared. A person caught off guard is no match for a prepared person. Regarding school shooters, for instance, Professor Jillian Petersen suggests

“I don’t think most people realize that these are suicides, in addition to homicides. Mass shooters design these to be their final acts. When you realize this, it completely flips the idea that someone with a gun on the scene is going to deter this. If anything, that’s an incentive for these individuals. They are going in to be killed.”

(If my words have not already chased you away), thank you. I am spelling things out in an attempt to be prepared myself and to be part of the solution.

Yet, at the end of the day all I have are my words, my actions my choice. Often the right choice is not always comfortable or convenient. In fact, after the Gun Camp failure, even though I know the right choice was keeping our boys home, unfortunately, our relationship with these family members deteriorated. Interestingly enough, what would have made a difference is if I had faced that awkward moment immediately and head-on. Perhaps what I can do is learn to be more uncomfortable. If I need to say, “no,” when no is the right thing to say then I should be less afraid of you rejecting me because I do not feel safe with your guns, or whatever else puts me in harm’s way.

I will end with this: If you are also feeling lost, numb or helpless, like the United States Gun Control issue is a Sisyphean task that resides in a bottomless pit of sorrow, may I offer a sparkle of hope (a gentle shove out of your comfort zone). I culled the internet and found a lot of useful resources, which I have included below. Feel free to copy, paste and share this information liberally.

Of course, please also demand our legislators, lobbyists and business people push to enact common sense gun laws. Tell them how you feel about gun control, background checks and assault rifle bans (AR 15s). Thank you!


  • PBS News Hour: PBS Newshour every current US senator was asked what action should be taken on guns.
  • Here is a Letter to Senator template, source, Please feel free to copy & paste.

Dear Senator,

As your constituent, I am urging you to vote yes on strong gun safety legislation and to confirm Steve Dettelbach as Director of ATF.

The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, in which 19 children and two adults were murdered, is another instance of the tragic gun violence we witness in America all too often.

As an elected official, it is your job to take action to prevent these senseless tragedies from happening. It is past time that the Senate take bold action to protect our communities. That starts with urgently passing common-sense gun safety legislation and confirming Steve Dettelbach as director of ATF to ensure the agency has the leadership needed to fully enforce our country’s gun laws.

We cannot wait for more lives to be lost to take action. Please do the right thing and pass gun safety legislation.

Sign off with name & contact information

  1. Introduction.
    ○ My name is _____ and I live in _____.
  2. A statement expressing your concern.
    ○ I am very concerned about gun violence in our country.
    ○ We are the only developed nation to suffer from staggering numbers of gun deaths every year.
    ○ I am alarmed by how common gun violence has become in the US and Michigan.
  3. A personal statement.
    ○ I do not want my children to be raised in such violence.
    ○ I want to feel safe in my city/workplace.
    ○ Gun violence has touched my life personally. (Explain.)
    ○ My family should feel free to go to work and school and to the movies without worrying that someone will shoot us on purpose or by accident.
  4. What you see as the solution.
    ○ We should be working to strengthen gun laws, not loosen them.
    ○ We need to keep guns out of the hands of irresponsible and troubled people.
    ○ We can maintain the right to own guns while implementing laws to protect public safety.
  5. What you are asking your legislator to do.
    ○ I would like you to vote for public safety and against gun extremism.
    ○ I would like you to work for strong gun laws that will protect my family and me.
    ○ We do not need more guns in under-trained hands, and I would like you to stand up for common sense gun laws.
  6. Sign off with name and contact info.
    About Wear Orange
  • Save the date! This year’s WEAR ORANGE is June 3-5, 2022, During National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange Weekend, join us as we honor survivors of gun violence.

(I am including Gun Rights Advocacy Organizations to help you know what we are up against & to better understand their position to help inform your own counter position.)
Gun Rights Advocacy Organizations

  • National Rifle Association (NRA): The National Rifle Association seeks to educate the public about firearms, defend US citizens’ second amendment rights, and lobbies for gun rights legislation.
  • Gun Owners of America: Gun Owners of America (GOA) is a non-profit lobbying organization formed in 1975 to preserve and defend the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
  • Second Amendment Foundation :The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) is dedicated to promoting the right of U.S. citizens to privately own and possess firearms. They carry on many educational and legal action programs designed to inform the public about the gun control debate.

Gun Control Advocacy Organizations (*sourced from Shippensburg University)

  • Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence: The Brady Campaign works to pass and enforce federal and state gun laws, regulations, and public policies through grassroots activism, electing public officials who support gun control legislation, and increasing public awareness of gun violence.
  • Coalition to Stop Gun Violence: The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) seeks to secure freedom from gun violence through research, strategic engagement and effective policy advocacy. CSGV comprises 47 national organizations working to reduce gun violence. Its coalition members include religious organizations, child welfare advocates, public health professionals, and social justice organizations.
  • Everytown for Gun Safety: An umbrella organization coordinating the activities of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors against Illegal Guns.
  • Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America:  Link to Moms Demand Action Chapters in Every State: Important grassroots activist organization formed by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
  • Mayors Against Illegal GunsMayors Against Illegal Guns is a coalition of over 1000 current and former mayors across the country who have joined together to prevent criminals from possessing guns illegally.

Additional Gun Control Advocacy Groups

  • Giffords: Giffords is an organization dedicated to saving lives from gun violence.
  • Gun Owners For Gun Safety
  • Sandy Hook Promise:  Protecting Children From Gun Violence. Sandy Hook Promise envisions a future where children are free from shootings and acts of violence in their schools, homes, and communities.

(*Please feel free to contact me with any additional advice, corrections or information. ❤️ )

Notes from a Plane: Melbourne to Sydney, Australia

Dave & I are on a one hour Qantas Airlines flight from Melbourne to Sydney. This is our first time flying Qantas. Minutes into our journey, the flight attendants serve us a beverage and meat pies. I promptly give Dave my meat pie.

“Oh wow! They are warm.” Dave happily exclaims.

Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

Now mid-flight, Dave & I begin planning our next Melbourne/Sydney trip. He tells me that he needs to return before the end of the year. Knowing I want to be better prepared the next time I visit, I start scheming a plan. I start talking with my hands, which bump into the armrests and the seat in front of me, as I eagerly suggest that next time I will load a duffle filled with my favorite gluten free food. As soon as I am done explaining how I will smuggle all the gluten free goodness into Australia, I look at Dave with enthusiasm and express the following non sequitur: “Dave, I am hopeful I can talk to our hotel into putting a microwave into our room. Then I can cook my oatmeal each day!”  My mind bounces and I imagine myself traveling Australia’s Great Ocean Road. 

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

As I type I am rocked by the turbulence. I am nauseous. (Turbulence usually doesn’t make me nauseous.) I am also listening to Michigan-born Sufjan Stevens’ song “The Seer’s Tower.” Achingly hypnotic, this song tugs at all my feelings. My son, Kyle, introduced me to Sufjan Stevens. Now I miss Kyle – of course. The songs I am listening to are playing faster than my thumbs can hit my tiny iPhone screen. Now I am listening to Johnny Cash’s cover of “I’ll Fly Away.” Johnny Cash’s deep, twangy and familiar voice is comforting. Before I finish writing my Johnny Cash sentence, I hear the lyrics, “you better be home soon,” by one of Dave’s favorite bands, “Crowded House.”

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

Keyed up from a slew of mournful melodies, I feel desperately homesick. I want to be home right this second. I imagine myself sitting at my kitchen counter, eating my oatmeal and drinking my green tea. I picture Dave and myself, enveloped in a sea of Southwestern spring blossoms and smells as we walk around our neighborhood. I hear Eli walk into the front door, yelling his familiar, “Hello! Hello! I am home.” Suddenly I am snapped out of my melancholy with the realization that I will be home soon. I recognize that homesickness really means I am having a hard time and that eventually it will be ok. As such, I decide to remain present in this moment. I (actually) want to be here and here with Dave.

Craig’s Hut, Clear Hills Track, Mount Buller, Victoria, Australia

Suddenly, I am distracted. First, I noticed the light. Then the man. He is in the seat in front of me. He is shining his phone light around his seat. He appears desperate. I wonder what he dropped? I hear the flight attendant announce that the plane is preparing to land and that we can find our baggage at carousel three.

Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

In the last few minutes I think about our last few days: Dave and I have four days left of our (just over a) month-long adventure. I love to travel. I loved our time in London. I have mixed feelings regarding both Melbourne and Sydney. I am sincerely surprised by those feelings. (See, I adored Australia the last time we were here. I wonder if it was because I was safe in our little family bubble and did not really have to interact with the world around me? Perhaps.)

Dave at our friend’s farm, Gembrook, Victoria, Australia

As a result, I also imagine it would be fair to attribute my mixed feelings regarding Australia to the following: After flying eleven hours from London to San Francisco (13 hours on the plane), then waiting six hours in San Francisco, Dave and I hopped on our San Francisco to Sydney flight. (Yes. We really hopped.) I celebrated my birthday for 16 hours on the San Francisco to Sydney flight; a flight we took while crossing the international date line, (hilarious – nope, but a good story). We left San Francisco on April 23 and landed in Sydney, Australia on April 25. My birthday is April 24. My guess is my jet lag was more noticeable as a result of my feeling a wee bit neglected. (Thanks a heap, international date line!) In the interest of full disclosure, Dave did wake me up at midnight and sweetly wished me a happy birthday. He also brought along two gifts, until he realized he left one of them at home. (True story: Dave still does not remember what the second gift was.)

Cake made by my friend Michelle, Gembrook, Victoria, Australia

My extended blue mood was immediately followed by intense PMS, which come on, aren’t I too old for intense mood swings and menstrual cramps? Wait. Don’t answer that. So of course my PMS contributed to my inability, or I should say, my slow-ability to connect with Australia and its  culture.

Me under the Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

Perhaps the following observation is the reason for my disconnect 🤣: Australians don’t much care for Americans (people from the United States, to you and me  😉). I can’t say that I blame them. I mean, when Americans are brave enough to actually leave our exceptional country, we are loud, we like ice in our water, and then we send said glass of water back until it has enough ice. To prove my point, while traveling through Australia, (and other countries), if I had a dollar for every time a non-American proclaimed, “You are an American. You must need ice in your water,” I could buy a small, lukewarm lake. As we sit in their countries, they are equally incredulous when I say, “I prefer my water room temperature.” “Really? I mean, we have ice. We keep it for the Americans.” “Nope. Just water.”

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

In truth, on week four of our adventure, I admit (and as an American) I became tired (weary/sad/oddly protective) as a result of the onslaught of put downs: our coffee sucks, said a woman who has only been to one Hawaiian island. Our pizza is gross, said another who had a slice in Sacramento. Our stores are too big and so are our serving sizes, said someone else. I will give the Australians the benefit of the doubt. I imagine they usually can slam on America without an American present.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Nevertheless, I must admit that beyond my Tall Poppy Syndrome bewilderment, I gained a greater and more positive understanding of Australia geographically and its culture. As Dave and I reflect, we recognize that because we spent a significant amount of time in each place, we became quite acquainted with each city. In Melbourne, for instance, I was delighted to find that the larger Collins Street was parallel to the smaller, Little Collins Street, and that similarly the major Burke Street was parallel to the minor, Little Burke Street. Naturally I assumed that Flinders Street, which was near our hotel, would obviously have a parallel Little Flinders Street. On our last day my mind was blown when I realized that what I thought was Flinders Street was actually Flinders Lane, (which should be Little Flinders Street, if you ask me).

Sydney Opera House from the ferry, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

 In each city, we actually talked to Australians, meaning we socialized. Socializing with Australians was amazing. We learned about cultural pride and not just pride in Australia itself, but pride in each region. I heard strongly phrased sentences such as, “Melbourne is better because it has more culture. And Sydney sucks, except for the harbor!” I also heard, “Melbourne is cold! Sydney has beauty! I hate Melbourne.” I admit I felt a little pressured to pick a side. That is why when I am pushed against the wall I will take the advice regarding the Tall Poppies and proclaim, “I love them both – equally!

Dave, Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia

By the way, travel is never bad. In fact, Australia was pretty great! For starters, they say, “Brekkies,” for breakfast and “Maccas” for McDonalds. (Ok. The McDonald’s abbreviation was a little weird.) I connected with two long lost college friends and their beautiful families. One of them called us, “Beth-O,” and “Dave-O,” because they say that’s what Australians call their friends. (Pretty cool.)

Even at the grocery store, they call it Brekkies. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
McDonalds, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

On a lovely Mothers Day drive, visiting Phillip Island, Dave and I saw a penguin hiding in its little penguin hole. We also have seen so many kangaroos and wallabies. We saw a lyrebird twice, one near my girlfriend’s farm in Gembrook in Melbourne’s Yarra Valley & Dandenong Ranges, and then again near Mansfield, in Melbourne’s high country, at my other friend’s cabin. Both of my friends declared, “do you know how rare it is to see this bird? Most Australians never see one.” Dave and I saw it twice.  We also drove up a crazy mountain road to see “Craig’s Hut,” where the movie, “The Man from Snowy River,” was filmed. It was stunning to see the undulating mountains fade into the rosy purple sunset.

A wallaby at Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

In the end, travel is always ok (better than ok, really). It is, however, challenging, (and probably why I was so homesick just a few minutes ago). Nevertheless, the hard part is ultimately why I love leaving home. I love problem solving after problem solving after deep breath after mispronouncing a word for the fourth, fifth and tenth time, cultural nuances, unexpected delight and deep, soul crushing sorrow.

Phillip Island, Victoria, Australia

Travel is doing laundry on a Sunday night at a crowded laundromat. It’s packing and repacking, bringing the wrong shoes and remembering the right adapters. It’s meeting people, seeing how they live, how they love and learning that lamb is consistently fresher and better in Australia and apparently beef is better in the USA. It’s talking about Australian history with Bernard, the kind cheese vendor, at the local grocer. Then as you exit the local grocer, deep in conversation regarding self love and self acceptance, you look across the street and the heavens open up and you see a gluten free bakery. “Let’s go show ourselves some love.” my friend and I gleefully said as we jay-walked ourselves across the street. (Australians are cool with jay-walking, by the way). Traveling is magical. It really does help me appreciate what I have and who is holding my hand when I have anxiety on a Tuesday evening flight, halfway around the world ❤️.

Us riding the ferries, Sydney, New South Whales, Australia
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How We Saved The Day: Our journey to England

If I skewed my words ever so slightly, I know I could easily make Dave and me look like the heroes of this story. Instead, I will avoid embellishment, and to the best of my ability, I will tell the straight truth. 

Here is our story: 

We decided to fly to London a few days early so we could kick the jet lag before Dave had to be at work on Tuesday. Dave and I arrived at Houston International Airport several hours prior to our flight. We spent that time in the overcrowded Amex Centurion Lounge. After spending a few hours crammed into a cafe table surrounded by our carry on luggage, I realized it was nearly time to board. I put my no-fun compression socks back on, shoved my things back into my travel backpack and we were off to the gate. Our flight to London would be nine to ten hours. Dave and I made our way to Gate E5 in the International Terminal. 

Weeks before our trip, Dave used our United Airlines miles to get on a waitlist for an upgrade to Economy Premium or Business Class. As we stood near the gate, we learned that we would not be upgraded. We would be sitting in our original seats. Dave and I both know that’s just how it goes. In fact, we are both top-tier elites at United and this year we never seem to get upgraded. Weird. 

Dave walked over to look out the massive floor to ceiling windows. They looked onto the tarmac. I continued to stand near the gate. From our respective places, we both heard it: “Ladies and gentlemen, our flight is oversold. We are offering 50,000 United miles to one passenger who is willing to give up their seat and leave on a later flight.” Before I could think the thoughts, “I bet Dave will want to be bumped,” he was walking over to me, “Beth, should we do it?” “Sure, I said.” (*I am sure in our minds we were both hedging our bets, hoping that if we left on a later flight, we would get better seats, or at least the next plane would not be as crowded.)

We walked up to the gate desk and the agent quickly told us they only needed one volunteer, “not two,”  she snapped. We took a deep breath and accepted our fate. Minutes later we were sitting  on that very same oversold flight. We left our aisle assigned seat open and Dave graciously sat in the middle seat. 

Right about then our cabinet guy called. I answered and we talked about warranties and waiting to figure things out until I returned to Utah. As I hung up, Dave said. “They made the announcement. They still needed just one person to give up their seat. This time they are offering a $1,500 flight credit. “Beth, why don’t you try this time?” My response was somewhere between annoyed, uncertain, and humorous: “what the hell, I’ll indulge Dave.”  

At that, I motioned to the closest flight attendant (Sara – not sure with or without an “h.”) She walked over to our seats. I asked and offered: “It needs to be the two of us. We are happy to take the credit for just one.” Quickly she texted something into her phone. I watched her read the message and then she asked me to follow her. 

I followed her to the entrance of the plane. We were surrounded by two other flight attendants. Sara asked me to share my offer with them. “Well, I have one person ahead of you.” One of the flight attendants interrupted. “I will take credit for one of us.” I responded. At once all three flight attendants looked at eachother, and in a cue Beyonce, “Who run the world, GIRLS, (girls),”  moment, they looked back at me, collectively shook their heads and said, “You fight for yourself! You ask for credit not just for you, but for both of you! You deserve it! Ask for what you want!” (Then I swear they said, “Beth, you are worthy!” But I may have only imagined that part…) I assured these epic flight attendants that I would speak up, that we would be ok, and that the world would be right. They made no promises. I thanked them and went back to my seat. 

On my way through the crowded aisles of feet, knees and elbows, a man in Premium Economy asked me about putting his name on this “give up your seat” list. In truth, I was not thrilled that he asked and I was also not very encouraging. I said something like, “There is someone ahead of us, my husband and I.” Then I felt guilty so I added, “Hey, why not give it a try?” I made it back to my seat, sat down and filled Dave in.

A few minutes later, the woman who had the middle seat that Dave was now sitting in, boarded. I could see her shaking as she approached our row. “You can have the aisle seat.” We assured her. Still shaking, she stood next to the aisle seat. She looked at us and began to speak. As she spoke, she began to cry. “This is my second very long flight ever! My partner and I want to sit together.” She motioned as if he were not simply across the aisle, but as if he were in another galaxy: “He is over there! I will wait here.” I could see from her passport she was from Spain. I also knew that she would be more likely to get someone to switch seats with her now that she had our aisle seat. 

Honestly, I remember the scary feeling of anticipating turbulence and sitting far away from your loved ones. I watched her texting and saw her body relax. “We have it worked out. We were able to switch places with someone.” She grabbed her things and moved across the plane. 

Within seconds I watched as a very large and hairy man walked toward our seat. “Oh no! I thought. “Dave is not going to like this.” The man smiled and sat down. Panic sweat drops covered my lip and the back of my neck. The large hairy main was at least three times as big as the sweet Spanish woman. My empathic anxiety (sweat droplets) were (obviously) for Dave, my middle seat stallion. (And this is why I asked Dave to remain in the middle seat: See, after one too many times of having men enter my personal airplane seat with their manspreading and thigh grabbing, I have learned that I need to have Dave, Kyle or Eli serve as buffers. No one crosses them and they keep me safe.) I felt Dave’s irritation. My heart dropped and I thanked him repeatedly for taking one for the team. “Dude, you are the best!” (In the interest of full disclosure, Dave mentioned that perhaps the man was not as big or as hairy as I implied. Dave’s words: “I mean, come on, he is not Hodor!”)

We settled ourselves. I looked around, waiting for the plane to take off. I saw her waving. She was waving at me. She started pointing at her phone. It was Sara, our lovely flight attendant. “You still want to take another flight? Quick! Grab all your things. You both good? I need to let them know you are in.” Sara stood behind our seats. I nodded and gave her a double thumb’s up. 

Dave, who I am sure did not immediately see her, was confused and startled. “Dave. No really. Quick. Grab all your things. We need to get off the plane.” “What? Really” We grabbed our things and followed Sara. She told us that they had accepted our bid and we would be on a flight to London the next day. 

For his seat-switching-generosity, I was hoping the giant hairy man would get the row to himself. After seeing the standby list, and listening to the woman scream at the gate agent, “How many four years olds do you know who are allowed to sit alone? Move my child now,”  I am certain the plane would remain packed.

There we were, standing back at Gate E5. Sara said she would wait with us until the gate agent confirmed we were good to go. “I don’t want you to get stuck in Houston. I don’t want you to miss your next flight.” We thanked her and said that the sad thing about leaving her flight was her and the other flight crew: “We fly often. It’s always so wonderful when we encounter a flight crew like yours. Thank you for being so awesome!” Sara sweetly smiled and walked back onto the plane. 

Monkey Island Estate

I continued to watch and listen to impatient, frustrated and angry passengers. Our gate agent was entirely focused on trying to situate Dave and me. Then Dave reminded him that we would be ok racing to catch that flight to Boston that they had mentioned on the plane announcement earlier. “Really?” He said. “Really.” we responded. “Well let me see if I can make that work.” He made it work. Going through Boston would mean that we would only arrive in London a few hours later than we had planned. It was a lot better than staying in a Houston airport hotel until the next day.

In the sea of screaming passengers, one clearly pissed-off the gate agent, all the other gate agents and the man working on our new flight, stood a woman. She was standing very close to me, quietly, graciously. I was so focused on myself that it took me several minutes to realize that maybe she was trying to get on that Houston to London flight as well.

As we stood waiting, I noticed her beautiful french manicure. She seemed a little nervous, kind of like our shaky, Spanish former seat-mate. I am someone who likes to talk to strangers. As a result,  I said, “I love your manicure. It is very pretty.” 

“My granddaughter goes to beauty school. She did it.” “She did an excellent job.” I said. I asked if she was trying to get on the flight. “Yes I am trying to get to my grandchild’s….how do you say the thing when they are baptized?” I noticed her Guatemalan passport and said, “I say sprinkling (Oh Beth), but I think most people say christening.” I responded.

 “Oh, Christening. Christening. Christening.” She said it three times to make it stick. She followed with, “Thank you for your seats.” That is literally when it occurred to me that this was the passenger we were giving our seats to. “Of course. We are happy to.” I said.

“Thank you very much. My husband died a few months ago.” She looked up in the air: “I told him that I really needed to get on this flight.” I started to choke up. She continued, “I don’t drive. My son-in-law is driving around the airport waiting to see if I get on the plane. My grandchild’s Christening is tomorrow. They gave me this ticket.” She pulled out her ticket and showed it to me: “See gate agent.” She did not understand that she was not confirmed on the flight. 

I looked at her and said, “I think your husband is listening. I think he wants you to get on this flight. He is looking out for you. He must have known what to do to get you on that plane.” We laughed and then we both cried. I gave her a hug and asked her her name. “I am Gladys.” “Gladys, I hope you have an excellent time in England.” I said. She had her seat and thanked us again. 

At that our super focused gate agent urged Dave and me to run to Gate C35: “Your flight to Boston is boarding now! I have confirmed seats for you.” “Are you sure?” We asked. “Yes. Now run. I will call the gate and let them know you are on your way.” Dave and I ran to gate C35. At first we ran like the wind and then, like at the halfway point I pleaded with Dave to slow down: “Dude, I’m going to pass out!” 

We arrived at gate C35. The gate agent dude looked at us contemptuously as we asked about boarding. “Um, you are not boarding. We’re not sure yet whether we’ll have seats for you. You are on standby.” Then he thrust his arm out in the direction of the seats: “Sit there. I will let you know if you can get on the plane.” We weren’t happy to learn that we were on standby. That wasn’t part of the deal.

Everyone boarded, even the people running from their tight connections. One man was turned away. A supervisor came out. I heard a lot of serious talk. We learned that some of the exit row seats were broken and that everyone may have to deplane. Then, Sharon, the very kind and wise supervisor walked over to us: “Don’t worry. I will get you on the plane.” She and I talked about Gladys, talked about being in the right place at the right time, and we talked about how the world could use some kindness. Sharon, the very kind United supervisor, got us on the plane.

Hours later, with my compression socks still suffocating my calves, we were arriving at the gate ready to board our Boston to London redeye when Dave and I realized the magic that had descended on our very weird and long day. It was at that moment we realized that we were on the inaugural United Boston-to-London nonstop. There were United executives at the gate doing a photoshoot, a balloon arch, and a table spread with fruit trays, tea, and shortbread. There were gift bags for all the passengers. They gave us little lapel pins with the USA and UK flags. It was a party and it was a pretty amazing experience. We made it to London just over three hours after our original scheduled landing. Our flight attendant was just as kind. He held my hand in said, “Thank you, Mrs. Adams. It was our pleasure to have you on this flight.”

We have been in London since Friday. We started the first thirty hours without our checked luggage. I was disappointed to learn that the United lost baggage lady misinformed us regarding assistance.

While our luggage remained in Houston, we stinky-Uber’d our way to our first destination, this amazing place called Monkey Island Estate near the village of Bray. We saw no Monkeys, but did find two three-Michelin-starred restaurants: The Fat Duck and The Waterside Inn. No. We did not eat at these fine establishments. We opted for sandwiches and yogurts from the Sainsburys grocery store. I promise we will be back and I am leaning towards The Fat Duck! While on our Monkey Island getaway, we also walked for miles and miles and miles just like Mormon pioneer children. To the relief of my blistered and bleeding feet, we found a Nike Outlet, and I was able to buy new sneakers. After our delightful weekend, we made our way to London via the best smelling Uber ever. Our driver, whose other job is as a counselor for people with Autism, was even better. 

London was a whirlwind of museums, epic walks, city bikes, one play (Neil Gaiman’s, “The Ocean At The End Of The Lane,” an amazing Graffiti Tunnel, crossing several bridges, and lots and lots of Tesco Meal Deals. I think I liked the Temple Church the most. It is the place where Dave and I experienced a total meltdown last time we were here. We visited the church together.  I took a picture in the bathroom by myself. We learned about William Marshal, the Magna Carta and the US Constitution and then we made our way over to the Museum of London, where we not only learned that the Romans were the first to settle London in like 20BC, we Face-timed with Kyle in a museum stairwell. On our way back to the hotel, we took the route that led us through Postman’s Park. There, at the end of this tiny, beautiful space we came across a covered shelter. The shelter is called, “The G.F. Watt’s Memorial To Heroic Self Sacrifice.” In it we found tiles dedicated to people who gave their lives to save another. Many were killed saving someone from drowning. Others lost their lives saving people from fires. And then there were Arthur Strange and Mark Tomlinson, “on a desperate venture to save two girls from quicksand in Lincolnshire were themselves engulfed on August 25, 1902.” It was an oddly and very humbling full circle moment. Dave and I gave our seats so a sweet widow could make it to her granddaughter’s christening. Arguably, we benefitted far more than the act of giving up our seats. And here we stood, learning about all these cool British people who gave up their lives for nothing more than to save someone else. 

Now we are back at the hotel. I have been in a relaxed frenzy reorganizing our things. I think we are packed. I should be asleep. We leave in the morning for Australia. 

(PS. I am posting from the LHR airport lounge. When I have a little more time, I will add captions to the pictures and add more links. Thank you for reading.)

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Traveling to London: Non-Traditional Families

My sister, Dominique, her husband George, Dave and I

Last week I found myself sitting in the Salt Lake City airport waiting for our departing flight. I was excited to learn that Dave and I had been upgraded to first class. My period had started hours before and I was excited to have a more comfortable flight.

We were traveling through Houston and then on to London. We arrived at the airport early.  I pulled out my phone to see that my sister, Brenda❤️, had texted me, wishing me safe travels. (She and I texted the entire way ❤️.) I responded and then began scrolling and decided to respond to my friend who asked,

“You have a sister?”

“Actually, I have three.”

My sisters

I thought about her question as I tried to respond to my brother-in-law, who was texting me at the same time. A few days earlier I sent Dave’s family the following text: 

“Dave was speaking with his doctor recently about having trouble sleeping. She mentioned that long term Benadryl use may contribute to dementia. She also mentioned that Benadryl can trigger restless leg syndrome. (You don’t need to use Benadryl long term to impact RLS). Anyway, your mom has mentioned to me that for quite some time she took Benadryl twice a night (something like that). She also mentioned struggling with really bad restless leg syndrome. I hope it is ok that I share this information with you. At the risk of offending you, I have pushed it off — for months. [Yet] the thought to share [it with you] keeps coming back. So I am doing it now. Please know I do care about your mom. I also feel a lot of compassion for the Adams’ Family delayed sleep phase issues ❤️. 

Anyway, I hope life is good. ❤️

much love, Beth”

NOTE: Experience has taught me that when I reach out to my in-laws, typically all the non-genetically related spouses respond, (which we usually acknowledge and then share some wonderful laughter). Occasionally I get a terse response. Eventually, the group text goes off the rails and my brother-in-law, who is married to Dave’s sister, begins texting me privately. True to our pattern, I received a “yup” from Dave’s sister and an accusation of being a gaslighter, “possibly” a non-intentional gaslighter, from Dave’s brother-in-law. In his defense, I was the first to ask a question. Of course, because I was raised to believe everything is my fault, I whipped out a frustrated, over-explain-y response. Because we were about to board a plane, I stopped texting so I could use the airport bathroom one last time. As I walked through the bathroom, I noticed that someone left their cellphone in a stall. When I returned to our gate, I observed that another woman abandoned her luggage near our boarding gate. September flying always makes me a little jittery. (I imagine I am not the only one.) I mulled my concerns over with Dave and then reported the abandoned luggage to the gate agent, who promptly thanked me and added,

“this is a weird time of year.”

“Yes it is!”

Within seconds, the gate agents made the announcement for us to line up and the plane began to board. Dave and I were in group one. We stood in line. Then everything came to a screeching and underwhelming stop. Announcement after announcement stated that our plane had mechanical problems. At that, Dave and I found a place to sit, which was also far away from the luggage abandoner. (Obviously, I had to make sure I would not get blown up from her suitcase bomb). Now forty-five minutes later everyone who had already boarded the plane was asked to deplane. Another hour went by and our beautiful, perfect-seats flight to Houston was canceled. Dave immediately hopped on the phone with United Airlines. I used the bathroom (again) and then decided to get in the long re-ticketing line. I stood near Ronny (a trucker and a farmer from Baton Rouge) and ZadRienne (like Adrien) from a small town in Georgia. (We are now Facebook friends and this was her second time on a plane.) After Ronny asked ZadRienne to put her mask over her nose (great ice breaker), we spent the next hour (and probably way more) discussing canceled flights, the pandemic, things like people who refuse to get vaccinated, and all the trucking accidents on along Interstate 80’s  Parley’s Canyon section. In truth, we spent the bulk of the time deconstructing the recent news story about missing (at the time) Gabby Petito and her boyfriend (still missing) Brian Laundrie. Ronny and I were convinced Gabby was dead. (Sadly, as the world now knows, they found Gabby’s body a few days after I arrived in London.) Ronny is a father of girls. I have sons and Z had just left her boyfriend (they had traveled from Georgia to SLC together). We all felt like we had skin in this dysfunctional relationship game. We talked about appearances. We talked about consent. We talked about the need to say no. We talked about emotional abuse and how dudes are really clever at appearing like the good guys. We wished the Utah police had arrested Gabby for scratching her way back into her van. Personally, I understand the frustration of “scratching” when you have had your worth beaten out of you. We also spent a lot of time talking about all the missing people, the ones who are not getting the same attention as blond-haired Gabby was. It is heartbreaking, and honestly, this conversation regarding domestic violence rattled me. Eventually, I motioned Dave to come over. Soon the gate agent was directing us to another gate.

“Run. Run. They can help you. I told them you are coming,” She said.

We ran. At the instruction of the gate agent, Z followed me. Now at the new gate, the gate agents were boarding another plane at the other gate. Everyone was confused as to why we were there. I helped Z get her new ticket. “This is only her second flight.” I told the gate agent. As I said goodbye to Z, we realized my and Dave’s flight (now to Chicago) was boarding at the gate we just left. Dave panicked:

“What about our luggage?” Will it make it to London?”

A male gate agent heard Dave, pulled out his radio, said something into his radio and ran away to do something — hopefully find our luggage. The gate agents confirmed we were on the flight to Chicago. In all the chaos, we realized that the door was about to close for our flight. At once I hear Dave:

“Beth, we aren’t checked in.”

The agents checked. We were not checked in and we lost our seats (again). Ally, (now I remember her name), the gate agent asked us to take a deep breath. We talked about the importance of being nice as she, Dave and I ran to our gate. Dave was clearly upset and struggled to contain his emotion. Ally kept assuring all would be ok. Now back at our original gate, the gate agents said,

“we only have one first class seat. Who do you want to have it?”

Dave was halfway on the plane and I said, “Give it to him.”

Right then Ronny walked over. “Are you ok?”

I think I said something like, “We are about to miss our flight. They forgot to check us in. I don’t know if we have our luggage. I am sorry, We have to go. It was nice meeting you.”

The gate agents asked me to, “hurry, hurry,” and I ran to my seat.

For approximately thirty seconds I was relieved to discover that no one was sitting next to me. I felt even better when the flight attendants announced, “Everyone has boarded the plane, We are going to shut the door and take off.” Usually this announcement signals that everyone is in their correct seats. Unfortunately, before they finished the sentence a large, partially-masked man plopped himself next to me and then let his body drift into my seat. Ew! I knew this wasn’t his seat. I wanted to tell him that I knew this was not his seat. Instead, I sat silent and began thinking:

“Dude, I had to take a Covid test to enter the United Kingdom. I have to take another Covid test two days after entering the country. AND, I may have to take another Covid test due to my flight delay! Put your damn mask on! Stop letting your big man-body touch mine!”

At that, I intently side-eyed him. He looked back at me and put his mask on, at least briefly. Gah! Perturbed, I decided to calm myself by scrolling through my messages. (Bad decision!) My brother-in-law texted again [insert big eye’d emoji here]. I have since deleted our entire text chain. I also took pictures of said chain — just in case. (Ask me about why I throw desserts away in the outside trash can. Deleting this text thread uses the same principle.)
Now confined and crammed up against the airplane window waiting for the plane to actually take off, I decided to deconstruct my interaction with my brother-in-law (in my head, of course):

Maybe it was because I had spent an hour talking about emotional and physical abuse. Maybe it was because the large man next to me felt entitled to sit where he did not belong. Maybe it was because I felt my brother-in-law’s tone was patronizing. In that claustrophobic moment, I did not like the (contemptuous) way I feel Dave’s family tends to see me. It was also clear that nothing I did would change that. Then I realized that I did not need to explain. Whatever was enabling my current emotion, I decided I needed a boundary. I needed to say no. I sent him a text and the plane took off.

(*Another time we were waylaid in Chicago)

Now in Chicago, it was late and our luggage was nowhere to be found. Dave and I knew the next day we would have to buy some clothes and supplies like tampons. I texted my sister, Dominique. She and her family live in Chicago. Then my mom asked if I was going to text her. Dave and I found a United airport lounge and spoke with Linda, who reminded me of my friend Carrie’s mom who is also named Linda and is just as sweet. Linda found us a hotel, gave us some meal vouchers, which were problematic to use (not her fault), told us to get some food upstairs and when we finished, she walked us out so we would know where to go. We talked about traveling. I told her I loved her hair color. She said it was Nice and Easy and was actually easy to do. She told us about solo travel and that she wants to visit the UK soon. We talked about Cornwall, the tiny UK country roads and our love of seeing the world. Then we were off to our hotel. On the shuttle we met newlyweds traveling home from their honeymoon. They were also supposed to be on the canceled Houston flight. In our room we heard the methodical bang of a headboard hitting the wall. I wondered if it was the honeymooners.

In the morning my sister, Dominique, texted me. She is actually my step sister. I have one biological sister and two step sisters. When my mom married their dad, they had this genius idea to separate the biological sisters from each other. (It was a terrible idea.) See, we were newly baptized Mormons and according to the LDS church we were now one big happy family. So from age one until age eighteen I shared a room with Dominique. We are very different from each other. She is tall and I am not. I cannot sit still. She is very talented and can sit still for days. She knits, sews, crochets, owns a tattoo/art studio, just had a fundraiser for Afghan refugees. She is married to a super rich hedge fund dude. She recently bought a house in Sedona to go with her 9,000 square foot home in Chicago. (I know it is 9,000 square feet because she volunteered to tell me a few times how big it was.) She complimented me for living in such a small house and seemed disappointed when I told her it was larger than she thought it was. A couple of years ago she commented on Instagram that I lived a “really charmed life.” Maybe it was the irony of her words that hit me wrong, or maybe it was because she and I were misaligned from the start. I never knew where to set the pain of our orchestrated relationship. I have not seen her since 2014 (at our family reunion). 

I love her ❤️ and I feel for her too. For starters, she had to share a room with afraid-of-the-dark, needs-her-blankie, short-tempered, rambunctious loves to run, plays-in-the-woods-with-boys me. Our relationship is strained, complicated and one neither asked for, but were given. I also care about her and I love her. I could write a book on us. One day I probably will, or at least, that is what I hope.

Somewhere in her text thread she said,

“George and I would really love to see you both. So if it means coming to you, we can do that.” A few texts later she said, “I’m trying to make up for so many lost times.”

At that, Dominique and I (George and Dave too) were spending the day together. We spent much of our day at some weird outlet mall near the airport. Dominique kindly waited as I looked for clothes. She assured me several times that she was there to help me. She wanted me to know they wanted to spend the day with us. She told me her very favorite trips ever is one she and George took with Dave and me. We took them touring throughout Southern Utah. It really was a fun trip. I was overwhelmed and not sure how to take in all of her generous energy. Like I said, our relationship is complicated. When Dave left his jacket in the mall, she sweetly suggested that they could wait in the super hot parking garage as we looked for it. I listened to her stories about her kids, her life and her business. I asked her about the tattoo on her arm. She talked about it being a work in progress. Dave suggested kebabs because he always suggests kebabs. George found a crazy Lebanese place about twenty-five minutes from the airport. They treated us to what was listed as a “dinner for 5.” I kept saying it was a dinner for fifty! We all laughed. At Target, she and I looked at pajama bottoms. She was like, “wait, that is not the fabric you like.” When Target didn’t have the fabric I like, she talked about fabrics she liked and that maybe they would work for me. I tried on a man’s tan zipper sweatshirt. I could not find any zip-up hoodies in the women’s section. I am pretty sure Dominique didn’t like her short sister in a man’s sweatshirt. She gently asked,

“Do you like sweatshirts so long?” Regardless, she was very nice and said, “I like the color.”

I was certain once we arrived at the airport that Dave and I would be out the door of their Tesla, the one with the crazy doors. Nope. Dominique found a parking spot. As we sat in their car, we visited and reminisced. Soon it was time to go. We gathered our things, took a few photos and they walked us to our terminal. I can’t say that things are exactly healed. I can’t say when we will see each other again. What I can say is that it was a good day. On this September day, she completely leaned in and was the best sister I could ask for. It felt good to be loved and for someone to consider me.

Dave and I arrived at our gate. I want this flight-to-London story to be over as much as you. I promise we once again had excellent seats. As we were standing in line to use our United meal vouchers, Dave’s phone alerted him that we were upgraded. Sadly, we lost our good seats and were in the middle seats of an “upgraded” section. I lost my mind, or at least I believe I had. We walked to the gate. The gate agent looked at us like we were crazy and made sure we knew he had no time for us crazy folks. I began to cry. He stared blankly.

“You can’t have your seats back. What do you want to do? I need you to get out of this line. I have other people to help. What do you want to do?”

I walked away, still crying. Dave followed. I flipped out and demanded Dave sit down and then I yelled at him. (*No autopilot in marriage: we still have worked to do ❤️.) Everything was wrong: one of us was sitting in one section and the other in another section. I asked Dave to see if he could get the gate agent to put us in the same section. We walked and gave the agents our tickets. One ticket had our new seat scribbled on it. We ended up in the upgraded middle seats. As we each climbed into our respective middle seats, a man seated next to Dave, who was sitting in the aisle said,

“Woah! I saw you two go at it out there. Are you ok?”

We assured him we are the kind of couple that puts it all out there. (Meaning, Dave does not put on a veneer of calm and wait to beat me at home.) Then the people in the section rallied for Dave and me. They said they were sorry we had such a crappy flight. Everyone was kind. Everyone seemed to get that we had already had a long journey. Our little section of our United flight Chicago – London restored my faith in humanity. So did my sister, Dominique. Before the flight took off, Dave asked the woman to his left if I could sit next to him. She was like,

“No problem,”

and offered to take my middle seat. I moved to the seat next to Dave. We held hands and were glad to (finally) be on our way.

We arrived in London the next morning. We were tired and happy to be here. 

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May is Mental Health Month

Recently I noticed that many of my posts are kind of dark, deep dives into heartbreak. I was like, 

“Beth, you sound depressed. Why all the big feelings? Are you always this sad?” 

Maybe I am depressed. I definitely have very large feelings. Please know that I am not always this sad. Yet, if I were “this sad,” I think that is ok too. Regarding my often pain-filled blog posts, I simply think I write when I have something I am working through (or most likely have been triggered). Writing helps. I have also come to believe that telling our stories is crucial to healing. Selfishly, I also recognize that a big part of my healing is having a platform. Honestly, at this point I am not sure who reads my words. Nevertheless, I am grateful I have a place to put them. I am grateful I am able to write them down. I am grateful for the opportunity to process and heal. Even better, I am grateful for those who do speak up, who do stand by me, validate and show me that I am worthy and I am seen. You are a gift. You have saved me more times than I can count. Seriously! Thank you! 

I only hope I can do that for you. 

Earlier I was watching Oprah’s new show on mental health called, “The Me You Can’t See,” when I heard the following quote,

“Therapeutic change is about healthy relationships. It’s about feeling like you belong and like feeling like you are connected.”

I love this quote and I agree. About the show, sure I cried all the way through and no, I am not going to review it except to say that it is vulnerable and it is good. I hope it reaches those who need to hear its message. 

Now onto my story:

The stars collided in such a way that I could not refuse their message. My mind is racing to connect all the dots that have brought me to this place. I see the intersection of my family and our relationship with the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints). I hear my best friend Marianne say, 

“Mormons are just like everyone else. They make mistakes. They care about social status, prosperity, power and popularity. They cheat on their spouses and talk behind your back. The problem is because they have Jesus, they think they are better. I would argue using your belief in God to justify your ‘Christlike’ behavior is even worse.”

I do not disagree. 

As I think about Marianne’s words I solidly hear my non-Mormon therapist say,

“You know, Beth, many people love being Mormon and do not blame the Mormon church for their problems.” Then I see her pause long enough to make sure that I am really paying attention. She continues, “I also think many of these same people grew up with families who gave them healthy tools to navigate such an intense religion. These were the families that also provided their children with a healthy sense of self.”

Immediately I feel inadequate. I want to throw up. I feel deep pain. I feel weird. As a young girl, I know I did not have the tools. I know I did not possess a healthy sense of self.

As I try to piece this rush of feelings together, I am thrust back in time. I see my trigger. I feel the pain and insecurity as I remember how I perceived the women at church treat my mom. Though not everyone was like this, the ones who were, were terrible. I let my mind remember. I see my mom’s good friend dropping her upon being accepted into a more prominent social circle. I remember perceiving like my mom felt inadequate and rejected. I remember all the phone calls from those same women, including the “good” friend. They always wanted to make sure my mom knew how bad my sisters were. I remember the rage and frustration I felt knowing that the kids of these same women were doing the same or worse. I felt powerless as I watched my mom appear to feel like it was all her fault. It was not her fault. Those women were cruel, exclusive and self-righteous. Many of my peers remember these women differently. I think that is ok. I imagine we can hold space for all of us.

Most of these women live in Utah now. So does my mom. It is my memory that they never have included my mom, or invited her to their Minnesota get togethers. I imagine they would tell her the same thing the local LDS moms tell me,

“We just didn’t think you would want to come.”

I imagine my mom feels less than, confused and rejected. I wonder if she thinks it’s her fault. Maybe she moved on long ago. 

Abruptly I move from these feelings of sorrow to the moments I needed my mom’s empathy and compassion. Instead, I hear her words every single time I shared my pain,

“They are such good people. Beth, are you sure there wasn’t something you did?”

What I have learned through hours of therapy and mistakes I have made myself is that what I needed is for my mom to believe my story (as it was). I needed her to stand by my side and to protect me.

Of course, we can always do better. I can do better. Regardless, what I keep thinking about is this: why do we live in a world where my mom or a person of color, or the whistleblower, the rape victim, the poor kid, or the family who no longer attends church has to shoulder the burden and constantly prove they are valid or that they have worth? Why does the burden of proof fall solely on the disadvantaged or marginalized? Why is the outsider required to carry the relationship? It makes no sense. Victim Shaming or shunning the outsider or whatever you want to call it, drives me absolutely bonkers! Unjustified rejection is my trigger. It is also my trauma.

I am certain this trauma goes right back to the moment my family walked into the doors of the LDS church. My parents were recently married. Both of them were on their second marriage. They were young. And somehow in my mom’s upbringing, I believe she was taught that everything was also her fault. I believe she wanted to have healthy relationships. I believe she wanted to fit in and to connect. As a young mom, who was raising a blended family with six children, I believe she did her best. What I remember is that her best was taking the blame, asking me to take the blame, and consequently, reinforcing our cultural belief that the burden falls on the disadvantaged. By the way, it is also my memory that the women at church had no problem letting my mom take the hits. I always thought it was so cruel. I don’t know if she realizes what I see. I am sure my truth would embarrass her and break her heart.

Honestly, how on earth could one expect her to give us a strong sense of self while she was reconciling her own past trauma? How on earth could one expect her to stand with confidence as a new member and within the confines of such a rigorous belief system and religion?  How could I expect her to navigate the nuance of prosperity doctrine, social status, the generational cliques, while at the same time incorporating Christ’s teachings of inclusion and love? I truly believe she did her best. I also believe many of these women grew to love my mom. She is kind and openhearted.

Nevertheless, as many times as my mom has owned these moments, the trauma is still deeply embedded. It is what it is. I also fear I have perpetuated this pattern. For me to heal, I recognize that need to be honest regarding my complicity.

As a result of this learned behavior, within these dynamics, I always felt like it was me, not them. I felt like if I could shove myself into their world, everything would be fantastic. I have come to believe that feeling like I am less than and unworthy is damaging. I cannot fix them, or better, I cannot heal their own damage, the damage that causes them to be mean. I can only surround myself with people who love me for who I am.

As a result of these experiences, I was determined to help my kids feel a healthy sense of self. I was determined that they would always feel worthy. I encouraged their dreams, their fashion sense, their interests. I look them in the eyes. I make sure to connect with them each time they leave. I tell them I love them. I tell them I believe in them. I tell them these things often. Regardless of these positive behaviors, I also feel as though I have failed my sons. See, I could have done better. I am heartbroken. Now, when I know they are actively being ostracized and excluded I have never said and then asked them,

“Kyle and Eli, they are such good people. Are you sure there wasn’t something you did?”

However, what I did do is when they were actively being ostracized I stridently tried to negotiate with the parents. For years, I worked on these parental connections as I tried to prove our worth. I bargained over and over and over again. I allowed my boys to needlessly suffer because somewhere inside of me I felt like it was my fault. Thinking about the moments my children were rejected, condemned, and excluded fills me with suffocating pain and shame. I see the damage I enabled. Instead of encouraging them to walk away from people who do not treat them well, I encouraged them to stay. I am so sorry. I think I really still believed that I was the bad one. I was the one who was unworthy.

I have apologized privately to my sons. I have actively held boundaries with those who have been so unkind, intentionally or neglectfully. Now I straight up call these folks assholes. My brain also breaks each time I hear someone say, 

“well, I mean, it was so and so’s plans. I did not want to step on toes.” 

I scream inside at those who know what is right and do nothing. I think they are lame. After repeatedly placing my sons in harm’s way, and allowing them to stay in a situation they were ill prepared to navigate, I finally see that there is nothing I could have done to change who these people are. Sure, these folks also exist in a belief system where I believe they think they did what was right (in spite of our sons feel less than). From my lens, this behavior is still not ok. Regardless, it was my job to protect them. I could have done a much better.

That is why regardless of where I am tempted to place blame, at the end of the day, the buck stops with me. (Accountability)

I should have encouraged better boundaries. I should have kept Kyle and Eli from this harm. For my failings, I will always be sorry. I pray for Kyle and Eli’s forgiveness. I hope they see that because I know better I am trying to do better. I hope they know that I always stand by their side. I have their back. I like them and I love them. They are good and they are worthy. Ultimately, I hope they are able to surround themselves with people who love them just the way they are, (and not people who are not determined to dictate who they should be). I hope they always have places and spaces where they feel connected and where they know they belong. I hope they know they are loved — because they are loved — always.

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Ropes and Rabbit Holes

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

[So many commas & parentheticals]

Earlier, Dave, my husband, and arguably my much taller half, made an off handed comment regarding how he is received (in the workplace). He was like, 

“If they don’t like my tone, then they can deal with it.” (In truth, I think he said something more nuanced like, “if they don’t like how I write, then maybe we are not a good fit.”)

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

WHAT? No. Like, really? WHAT? How can Dave so confidently believe that he does not have to step aside or change who is for the sake of someone else?

My brain broke. 

Immediately I fell 300 feet down a rabbit hole, or maybe just a giant figurative pothole, one that my short-circuiting mind could not see. 

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

As I tried to climb out of that deep, dark brain hole, Dave left the kitchen. I am certain he did not notice that I really could use a hand, or maybe even a very long rope, like that kinetic rope he recently purchased. Dave’s rope is shinny white nylon, long, strong and braids into an even stronger rope, “which translates into lower impact but higher energy transfer to the stuck vehicle.”

(Dave’s new kinetic rope arrived two days ago. Yesterday before Eli left for his friend’s cabin, and while standing next to the front bumper of our 4Runner, Dave sweetly and fastidiously explained how to attach the rope. Dave LOVES Eli! So do I. I love watching Eli become his own adult person. I love that he has grown his hair out and has found his own beautiful mountain man style. I also love watching Dave and Eli’s  connection. Eli was patient and also anxious to go. At that, Dave enthusiastically admonished,

“Eli, you can use it  for helping others out of tough spots.”)  

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Of course I imagined Eli helping his friend’s crazy dad free his Prius from a ditch. That dad is also the one who owns the cabin and who also [insert air quotes here] “accidentally” touched my left boob as Eli’s wide eyes met mine. (We still talk about the boob touch, of course with accompanying air quotes.)

Back in the kitchen I realized there was no kinetic rope in sight. I was still stuck in that emotional hole. Eventually, I decided to climb out myself.  

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

There I was. I was standing next to the trash can drawer. Then I turned, looked out the west-facing window, and noticed the spring blossoms.

“Everything’s so green and alive.” I happily thought to myself.

Dave walked back into the kitchen. 

“Hey buddy.” I gently said. 

He paused to look in the fridge. 

“I have been thinking about what you said regarding your writing. Honestly, I cannot wrap my head around your words.”

Dave stopped foraging and looked at me. Before he could speak, I blurted (in a nice voice — for real),

“Come on, man, how can you be ok with not adjusting yourself for someone else? It makes no sense. See,  I never thought I could just let someone, especially a work colleague, accept me the way I am. I come from the generation where a woman was told to hide her emotions. You know that place where a woman’s workplace tears are a sign of weakness. I come from the family where I was told if I want a man I should learn the rules of football. Thank God you don’t like football. I come from a religious heritage where I was told that a man is the boss of our home — a.k.a. the patriarch. As a result, what I have received is the message that my own thoughts, feelings and insights are insignificant, or better, that my thoughts are significant unless I check them with a man first.” 

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

I don’t know if I had fully processed what had  triggered me. I am certain Dave had no idea why my words were directed at him or how they had impacted me. I think that is ok. Should he? Possibly. I am certain no one ever told him that his directness makes people think he is a bitch, or that his effective organizational skills makes others feel threatened, or that his confidence would disrupt the ‘sorority-girl’ vibe, or that his human tears make him appear unstable, especially in the workplace. Nevertheless, I think it is ok that he (and men in general) understand this perspective. 

After I finished processing out loud, Dave walked toward the sink, turned on the faucet, and rinsed his hands. Then he walked in the direction of our west facing kitchen window. He paused again, turned toward me and said, 

“If anything I have been told to show more emotion.”

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

We both laughed and quickly fell into a tangent, where I compared his family to Vulcans from Star Trek: 

(According to Wikipedia, “Vulcans are a fictional extraterrestrial humanoid species in the Star Trek universe and media franchise. In the various Star Trek television series and movies, they are noted for their attempt to live by logic and reason with as little interference from emotion as possible.”)

I thought to myself, 

“Our therapist always says that logic is an emotion, (which I love more than I can adequately articulate here).” (She says “logic is an emotion,” in response to Dave asserting that all I ever care about are feelings not facts.)

I was not mad at Dave, yet I wanted to be mad. Somehow I managed to do some quick self talk. I told myself,

“Beth, it is time to stop. Please do not walk this strange and introspective moment into a heartbreaking fight.”

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Thankfully my self talk worked (enough). Instead of fighting, I quoted the most prominent Vulcan, Spok: 

“I do not understand your human emotions.”

Then I looked at Dave and said, 

“Dave, you are like Spok. You don’t understand my human emotions.” 

We laughed again. We talked about why Dave likes every incarnation of that television series from, “Deep Space Nine,” to “Discovery.” I said that it makes him feel closer to his people (as if to imply that he was raised not to consider others or their feelings). Even though I said it in a fun loving tone, I thought I was being mean. In truth, I was not mean, nor was I kind. 

 (*By the way, I call these humorous digs pain avoiders. Instead of feeling and processing pain, these funny slights are effective at undermining the impact of my words. Thus they keep me lodged in a self-reinforcing space, a space where I believe I need a man to tell me that I am ok.)

I was connecting. I was feeling the pain of my conditioning, the one that tells me my worth is based on the concept that I need a man to validate my worthiness. 

In the sunny afternoon light, I paused again, (not something that comes easy for me). 

I let myself feel the intense flood of my past pain and inadequacies. For a second I thought I would drown. I looked at Dave, and he became my kinetic rope. Thankfully, he took it, at least enough so I could catch my breath. 

Marriage. ❤️ 

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

A few hours later:

As a result of yesterday’s allergy shots, my right bicep is twice its normal size. Because we have dinner tonight with some relatively new friends, I am feeling terribly insecure. I reach for my new eggplant-grey colored shirt. I put it on. I love how the color looks on my skin. I walk over to the office wearing my new shirt and  ask Dave if he likes it.

“Not particularly.”

“Why?” I asked.

“It looks like one of those ‘Flashdance’ shirts.”

“That’s the point!”

“Well, you asked me if I liked it.”

Defeated, I try to muster a comeback. Nope. I feel myself falling. Then I say something like, 

“But my arm. I need something to cover my crazy swollen arm. Are you sure it looks bad?”

“It looks fine.”

“I wish you would throw me a lifeline. I wish you would like it.” I say.

Dave quickly responds, “If you did not want my opinion, you should have not asked.” 

“Dave, you are not wrong,” I say to him and then play those same words on repeat to myself:

“I should not ask for his approval. I should not have asked for his approval.” Then I add, “Beth, you should trust yourself.” 

Us, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

And really, what does Dave know about fashion? Have you seen his dark brown, bright orange bottomed snow sneakers he is currently wearing?  Eli often says that it looks like Dave is wearing potatoes on his feet. (I point out his “potato shoes.” We both glance at them.) The difference is: he does not care that we think his shoes are hideous.

Maybe that is it (at least for me). I have been conditioned to doubt myself and to seek a man’s approval/validation. Can’t I wear the shirt if I like the shirt? Apparently not. I am returning it. In between sentences, I am packing it up now. 


Artist’s rendering of my shirt (By artist, I will mean, while editing, Dave inserted this image into post):

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