Day 80: The End of Our Captivity, Sort of / Black Lives Matter

In our America, black lives matter poster

And on the 80th day (which was this past Tuesday), R went back to nursery school, effectively marking the end of this period of isolation for our family.

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Our count-up calendar is over, at least for now

She was so excited. We had talked about how things would be different there, and she seemed fine with it, as long as she got to go back and see her friends and her teacher. Hearing my 3-year-old ask about seeing her best friend again, “Can I touch her?” was just heart-wrenching.

She’s back for a shortened amount of time, and it’s very early in the day, as they are staggering the times the small groups attend. But it’s something! E is in Year 2, which is not one of the groups the government has said can return to school yet, so we just have to continue with home learning for her.

As I cycle down our high street, Northcote Road, I’m reminded of that scene at the end of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, where all the people in and around the castle are waking up, emerging from their enchanted slumber, and attempting to pick up where they’d left off.

Some restaurants have reopened (for takeaway, not seated dining) and shops are preparing to open on the 15th, with new precautions in place, of course.

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This was the first Thursday night in 10 weeks that we didn’t go out onto our front doorstep to “#clapforourcarers.” R was pretty disappointed it ended; she loved it. It’s now slated to become an annual event, on March 25.

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I’m wary, though. I think we could very well end up back in lockdown again in the autumn, when people are spending more time indoors, so I’m conscious of remaining cautious. This summer’s easing of restrictions and our stepping out into this funhouse-mirror reflection of normal life is probably temporary.

As the panic about COVID-19 is waning, the conversation has turned to what’s going on in America right now, after the recent murder of an unarmed black man by white police officers. Again.

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All these names, and more. And now George Floyd, whose murder was filmed, and then broadcast around the world. A modern-day lynching.

Black Lives Matter protests are happening all over, as they should be, but it’s problematic during a pandemic, because of the current rules that ban gathering in large groups. Which is only worsening the people vs. the police situation.

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This is unequivocally, horribly wrong.

I’m sick to my stomach. All week I’ve been feeling outraged, helpless, anxious, ashamed, despairing, and frustrated.

I have made the difficult decision to not go to a protest in London right now, because I don’t want to contribute to the spread of the pandemic. Too many innocent lives have been lost due to racism; I don’t want more lives lost because of this virus, if we can prevent that from happening. And London is just too densely populated to make it possible to socially distance at a protest.

But I feel so guilty that I’m not going. I want to make it clear that I stand with the protestors who are exercising their rights. Or kneel, or lie down with them, as the case may be.

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Protesters lying face down, hands behind their backs, for 9 minutes on the Burnside Bridge in Portland, Oregon

As a white person, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what the right thing to say is, and I’m sure that over the years I’ve probably said the wrong thing many times, and made many mistakes.

I’ve been reading about and thinking through the concept of systemic racism, and I hate that I’m a part of this system, and that for me, it’s not something I ever had to think about before.

I’ve enjoyed an easy life of white privilege, growing up in a middle-class majority-white community, with every opportunity to pave the way for my success.

The only encounters I’ve ever had with the police have been getting pulled over for speeding as a teenage driver, and getting let off with a warning. Lucky me.

This makes me feel very uncomfortable. Apparently that’s good, I should feel uncomfortable. I have to wallow in my discomfort, and use that uneasy feeling as a spark to change.

I consider myself an empathetic person, but I just can’t know what life is like for people of color. The closest I can get to understanding this is comparing it to explaining to my husband what it’s like to be a woman. The discrimination and harassment I have faced because of my sex/gender is something he can only sympathize with, not empathize with. He can be supportive, but he can’t truly understand. As a heterosexual white male, the system has always been in his favor, and politicians have never tried to take away his rights or tell him what to do with his body.

I’ve spoken up for women’s rights, and been all too keen to go march for matters that directly affect me and my daughters. I’ve spoken up for LGBTQ rights. But I’ve been too quiet when it comes to speaking up about racial issues, because I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing. But I’m learning now that the actual wrong thing is not saying anything at all. I didn’t march with the Black Lives Matter movement back in 2015 in Baltimore, after the death of Freddie Gray, and I should have. I regret this immensely. I keep reading that it’s not enough to simply not be racist, we have to be antiracist.

I want to be an ally in this fight for change. I want to personally commit to proactively increase my understanding of these issues and take a stand against structural racism. The injustices black people face every day, and have faced for centuries… ENOUGH ALREADY.

One particular quote that resonates with me is this one from the wise Maya Angelou:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

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So, maybe I don’t know what to say, so I need to educate myself. Ignorance is not bliss; ignorance is dangerous.

What can I do right now, if I’m not out there with the protestors?

My friend Anne, who has a much more professional expat blog than I do, wrote a great post this week on the subject of how to be an ally, with lots of resources, and I urge you to please read it at pret-a-voyager.com.

The easiest thing I can do from home, right away, is read. My friend Amber and I both got this book, How to Be an Antiracist, and are planning to discuss after each chapter, holding one another accountable as we make a concerted effort to learn and change.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

And I got this one, Raising Antiracist Kids, as well:

Raising Antiracist Kids by Rebekah Gienapp

A crucial step for me is learning how to talk to my kids about race, and raise them to be better, and do better. We’re starting the conversation by watching the Sesame Street CNN Town Hall on Standing up to Racism that’s live streaming today.

My father was what I’d call a quiet activist. He wasn’t out marching in the streets (at least in my lifetime, I didn’t know him in the ’60s), but he gave so many hours of his life to volunteering for causes he cared about, especially affordable housing, which helped so many people he didn’t even know. I can be a quiet activist, or a loud one, but one thing I’m not going to be anymore is silent.In our America, black lives matter posterAnd now, as I’ve done in several recent posts, I’m going to end this blog post about a very difficult subject with something uplifting. If you’re still with me after all that!

If you follow me on Instagram @ewalkphoto, you’ve probably seen this already; otherwise, scroll on.

The kids and I have often walked past this house on our road and wondered about this curious little hole next to the front door.

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It’s not connected to a drain pipe or anything at all. Is it some sort of coal hole? The place the milkman left the milk bottles? A Floo Network portal to the Ministry of Magic, house-elf service entrance?

The girls and I decided a while back that it must be a very fancy mouse hole, for a very posh mouse.

So last week, we made a mouse and some decorations and moved him in. (Free pattern and instructions for a hand-sewn felt mouse found here.)

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I just had to cross my fingers and hope the home owner would get a kick out of it and not consider it vandalism! (Or charge little Mousey rent…) We’re just trying to make other passersby smile, during a difficult time.

After I posted about this on social media, I learned from some London friends that this fancy hole is actually a Victorian-era boot scraper! There would have been a crossbar in there to scrape the bottom of your boots on before entering the house.

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Example of a Victorian boot scraper

We checked on Mousey a few days ago, and discovered he’s got a new roommate and they are apparently preparing for both Christmas AND Easter, or perhaps whatever might hatch from that egg!

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My girls were thrilled to discover a “secret note” tucked under the new mouse’s arm.

'Thank you for welcoming me' note

It’s so fun to see our little diorama growing, and see the positive reactions people have had. Though if too many more friends join the mice, we should probably sew them some tiny masks…

Day 64 of Our Captivity

After Boris Johnson’s televised announcement last Sunday evening, restrictions have begun to ease a bit in the U.K.

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We went from the messaging on the left, to the new one on the right

The prime minister was quite vague in his Sunday speech, and left a lot of people with more questions than answers. It wasn’t until Monday evening that the government published a 50-page document outlining the recommendations, and offering some clarification, and held a news briefing Q&A. Continue reading

VE Day

Last Friday was the 75th anniversary of VE (Victory in Europe) Day. What everyone needs right now is something to celebrate, so Londoners got pretty into the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day and attempted a “social distancing street party.”

The girls and I got into it too, decorating the front of the house with bunting and both Union Jack and American flags. Continue reading

Day 48 of Our Captivity

Let’s see, what’s new this week… not a ton, really. Hard to believe we’re approaching 50 days of isolation.

A very empty Clapham Common on a lovely spring morning

Our household has the same story as many households. We’re at home. We’re safe and healthy. We’re going a bit out of our minds but, overall, we are very grateful for our circumstances: a comfortable house, a paycheck, food, our health, connection with others via the Internet. Continue reading