Monday, November 19, 2018

The Spark for my Civic Engagement

In a world where plenty of people have something to say, my mom finds something to do

My brother (left) and I joined my mom at her most recent
School Board Election Night celebration. My mom has 
earned people's trust because she listens and is clear about 
what she thinks. There's no mystery about where she stands.  

I suppose some people operate unconventionally by necessity and for others, it’s just who they are. My mom wants you to believe that her unorthodox nature is due to necessity, but I’m not buying it. I am qualified to call her bluff and tell the world that one of my mom’s greatest gifts is that she unabashedly does things her way and the world is more colorful because of it.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I would like to share a tribute to the most compelling person I know. My mom influences me to follow my passion and serve others.

When it came to raising us, my mom was poised to try just about anything. In elementary school, there was a phase when she dressed us for school the night before so getting out of the house in the morning would be less stressful. As a parent, she operated like a mad scientist. At one point she gave up trying to keep me and my brother from fighting and set up a ring in our living room and refereed until we tired. I remember being bent over the arm of a chair squirming for air in my brother’s headlock while he argued with my mom about the rules.

My mom’s entire parenting experience was a case study in resourcefulness. 

The grandkids are building their own collection of 
KK stories that add to the lore.
I think she was entertained by finding new ways to teach us life lessons. Or maybe she was just flying by the seat of her pants? When I was twelve, my mom basically made us join her in assisting elderly blind people around the Grand Rapids Art Festival. I’m pretty sure she waited until we got to the volunteer tent to check-in before she told us how we would be spending our day. Then there was the all-nighter she pulled completing my brother’s high school biology project by finding and pinning insects to a pizza box and swearing every step of the way. My mom’s entire parenting experience was a case study in resourcefulness.

Growing up under my mom’s watch meant that we spent time with people from different walks of life. Whether it was having dinner with the elderly parents of her out-of-town friend or going to a Michael Jackson concert with her black friends from Grand Rapids, I grew up noticing there wasn’t anything that made my mom uncomfortable. And the best part of all - we tagged along on a lot of her adventures.

My mom and her trademark sun-
glasses. My mom has always had a
flair for style. Uniquely KK.
I guess I have never known anyone who balances a little bit of crazy and a lot of devotion the same way as my mom. We get to joke about the crazy, but it’s the devotion that makes my mom special to so many people. Truly.

When I was a boy about Kavaun’s age my mom would shoot hoops with us and play H-O-R-S-E. She never hesitated to grab her ball glove and call balls and strikes. It’s just what she did, and most of the time it was her idea. My mom was the perfect match for two boys with a lot of energy.

My most colorful memories growing up with KK involved sports. I have shared the golf course with my mom and on occasion, I winced as she would exchange golf tips with my brother. I remember snickering at her frustration when she would play tennis with Ryan and I would marvel at how the pins would jump when she punished them with her bowling ball.

Bowling alleys. Softball and baseball fields. Golf courses. Gyms. For most of the 80’s that’s where you could find our family when we weren’t at my grandparents. Listening to my mom and grandpa carry on passionately is something I miss from my childhood. For me, it reinforced that having some fire is a good thing.

Given my mom's fierce sense of advocacy, my most valuable lessons about civic engagement were learned watching her when I was a teenager. Intensity, determination and an unwillingness to back down - that's my mom. 

We all have stories about my mom that make us
laugh, and most of them reference either her re- 
sourceful nature or her intensity.  Here, I brought 
my mom to tears by reminding her about one of 
her creative parenting methods.
I have a ton of memories that reveal a spirit and energy that is unique to my mom. The best part is when my children and my nephews unwittingly reveal KK’s special brand of vitality.

With my mom, there is a push and pull dynamic at play. She is hard-wired for independence and on the other hand, she is deeply devoted to friends and family. Her friendships and love - especially for her grandchildren - are as much a part of who she is as our funny stories about the questionable babysitters she hired and her tendency to fall asleep on the couch. In the dozen or so years when my brother and I played organized sports, my mom never missed our games and I am a better parent because my mom was so dependable. I appreciate the remarkable difference my mom’s dependability has made in my life.
This photo of my grandparents was taken ten 
years before I was born. My grandparents taught 
us about the value of giving back to others and 
serving your communityI am mindful that their 
lessons can reach my children by the example we set.

When I suffered a serious knee injury in junior high my mom reached out to college and pro athletes so they would send me autographs and words of encouragement. She endured my mood swings and prodded me to become a better student. Because of my mom and grandparents (my entire extended family really), I always knew that whoever I was at any given time - including when I was a smartass teen - I had enough space to grow and enough eyes on me to stay grounded.

My mom ran her first school board campaign when I was sixteen and she won.  She has strung together five or six election victories over three

In 1992 when my mom was elected to the school
board for the first time, Bill Clinton and George
HW Bush were campaigning for president.
My introduction to politics came at an
exciting time.

decades, evidence that she is a trusted voice in her community.  In a world where plenty of people have something to say, my mom always finds something to do. She is the most determined person I have ever known. Given her resolve and her fierce sense of advocacy, and my front-row seat for all of it - it makes sense that my most valuable lessons about civic engagement were learned watching her. Joining her fight for meaningful causes and witnessing how she engages in the political fray continues to make an impression on me.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I proudly acknowledge that my mom taught me why it is critical to care and how to use my talents to help others. She showed me very early in life that my voice matters and fighting to be heard is worthy of praise, not condemnation.

Bigger than the struggles and more meaningful than any single mission, my mom has shown me that taking risks and challenging the status quo requires humility, grit and the commitment to stay true to yourself.

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