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Writings on Motherhood, Judaism, and Happily-Ever-Afters

Overwhelmed

Is it just the holidays?   I feel as though I’m running, running, running all the time and never quite getting caught up with all that I have to do.  Forget the housework, I can barely stay on top of dishes/laundry/vacuuming (those are my top three that HAVE to get done – everything else is a bonus).  And there’s stuff getting missed, I completely missed Julianna’s book fair this week, spaced that Jessica had an outdoor field trip on Thursday and sent her to school in a sweater instead of a winter coat, and Sam… actually, I haven’t forgotten anything with the Boy.  Or I have – but haven’t remembered it yet.

(a holiday pic from 2009 that was so cute, I threw it into the blog instead of an actual Hanukkah shot from this year.  Confession – I haven’t actually taken any Hanukkah shots this year yet.)

It’s the fourth night of Hanukkah, or maybe the third.  Or fifth.  I really can’t remember.  But I do know that we’ve only managed to light the candles at home that first night.  Marc’s been working every other night since, and by the time we get home from picking him up, lighting the candles keeps falling to the bottom of the list, with putting the kids to bed, finding jammies, reminding everyone to brush their teeth, etc – taking precedence.

Jessie and I went to a funeral on Wednesday, for my friend Annie’s mom.  Annie and her daughter Glennys are forever friends of ours from almost nine years ago when we moved to the apartment under theirs just before Sam was born.  Glenny is a year older than Jessie and I was so glad that I had taken her out of school that day to go, because when Glenny saw her she ran into her arms and then burst into tears when I hugged her.  She’s my fourth child, and I was extra glad to take her home with us on Tuesday night for a bonus visit before she went back up to NH with her mom.

That might be part of why I’m feeling so off – the whole week was confused with the mid-week trip to RI for the funeral, and then having Glenny here for Wednesday night and all day Thursday.  It’s like we’re on vacation, sort of.  School vacation starts next Tuesday.  Julie’s been sick with a cold all week – not sick enough to BE sick, just sick enough to be ultra-clingy and crabby.  She’s sniffly, and slightly feverish.  Our car overheated on Monday and had to spend the day at the mechanic – which meant that Sam missed school for the day because we couldn’t get him there, and both kids missed religious school.   Then he missed Wednesday as well.  He started complaining his stomach hurt, and I yelled at him.  I thought he was faking – or worse, just not even trying to go.  I knew he probably didn’t feel great, but he wasn’t running a fever, wasn’t throwing up – and had already missed Monday.  So he stayed home, but I was bitter – and he ended up vomiting about an hour after I left to go the funeral.

Ugh – it’s just been a crazy, stressed out sort of week.  On the upside, this has to be one of the least drama-filled Decembers we’ve ever had.  Part of it is simply that we don’t have a lot of extra energy to invest in emotional drama this year – between Marc’s job and the schedule and the running around – everything is so busy and rush-rush-rush, we don’t have TIME to invest in a big existential debate about the spiritual identity of our family and where Christmas fits into it.

But a bigger part  of it, I think, is due to  experience.  Last year, I struggled with the whole Christmas tree/Hanukkah thing – seeking approval from everyone.   I learned from that – and this year, I went into the holidays with a very different attitude.  There were two lessons that really resonated for me, and I’ve tried hard to keep them forefront in my mind. Number one, the holidays are what I make of it – and seeking out commentary on choices we’ve made is a recipe for disaster.  If I want the holidays to be happy and filled with light and love – I have to make it so.  And second – December is just going to be lonely for me.  I’m a Jewish girl with a tree – and my Christian family is going to be a little perplexed and a little hurt that I downplay the holiday, and my Jewish community is going to look at my tree and be a little freaked out by it.  There’s one time during the year when I’m going to feel the most distant from Marc – and it’s going to be the week or two leading up to Christmas. That’s okay – and if I don’t want to hear the comments, don’t ask.  I didn’t chair a December Dilemma discussion group this year, and very deliberately have avoided any pointed conversations with everyone.   December isn’t going to last forever, and a week from now, I’ll be breaking down the lights and repacking all my boxes.

I love the holidays, and suffer through them at the same time.  They aren’t easy, and they always raise questions about identity and heritage and I’m always going to over think them and analyze every little aspect – because that’s how I roll in December.   But I’m getting better at them, and that’s enough of a reason to celebrate for me.

 

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Rearranging

I like to rearrange. Or rather, I like the results of having rearranged. I like the way a room looks completely new when you move the couch from one side to another. But I have a big couch and a little living room, and sadly, there’s aren’t a lot of configurations for my living room that actually work.

What I do have is bedrooms. And bedroom furniture that works for boys or girls, and kids who are always up for a change. This last weekend was the last one for a while where I’m home alone with the kids without other plans, so I figured it was a perfect opportunity. My husband does not enjoy rearranging – he’s always pretty sure wherever we last had it (whatever “it” happens to be) was perfectly fine, and moving it is a waste of time and energy. I’ve learned to limit my house reshuffling to days when he’s at work all day.

In theory, it should have been quick and easy – except that none of my kids got the memo on making sure their rooms were clean first. And once I was in the mood to move, I just plowed ahead, ignoring entirely the prep work that should have gone into it. Midway through the day on Saturday, with one bed broken apart and moved out into the kitchen, three bookcases emptied (with their contents strewn all over the living room) and bedding, laundry, and lego guys all over the place – I began to regret it. The kids were enthusiastic helpers, as long as what I was doing was fun – like emptying bookcases ( or the case of my older daughter, arranging all of her dust catchers, books, notebooks and figurines back on the bookcase). But they were not really all that helpful about shoving dressers back into place, or hauling giant queen size mattresses hither and yon all over the place.

It’s three days after the fact, and we’re still not done. Oh, the furniture is moved, and the beds are made. The bookcases are even restocked. I donated three bags of toys and outgrown clothes this morning, and filled another two bags with broken toys, trash (and why kids think that stuffing trash under their dresser is a good idea is a mystery I’ll never solve….). But the giant pile of dresses and jackets that need to be hung up in my daughters’ closet is still waiting, and the stuffed animals appear to have mated and reproduced while we weren’t looking (where else would they come from?? There are thousands…).

My goal was to have everything all organized and put away before decorating commences. I dug out the Christmas/Hanukkah boxes and even managed to get the Hanukkah candles purchased. But we are a long way from organized. Fortunately, the next three days of rain postpones our tree shopping, and I’ll have the rest of the week to finish putting the house back together and ready for the holidays.

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Mornings still aren’t my favorite

It’s the only time when I’m really alone, and awake.  I end up falling asleep after I get the kids in bed (actually, I’m ashamed to admit that Jessie has stayed up later than me on more than one occasion…).  But mornings – that’s the time when I’m awake, can get things done without little voices talking to me, and prepare myself for the upcoming battles.

(this is from a few years ago, but she still sleeps with a dozen stuffed aniumals and looks like an angel)

Not that I’m battling with the kids – because mostly I’m not.  It’s not perfect, but for the most part, they roll out of bed, and start getting ready.  But getting them to eat, finding socks (WHERE do they all go???), and packing the lunches are never ever fun, never ever easy, and on mornings like this, when I’m still groggy and the two cups of coffee haven’t done anything to help… the idea of getting up and actually starting this process is overwhelming.

I woke up at five thirty, and then remembered that Jessie needed her GSA t-shirt.  I thought it was in the dryer,but if it wasn’t, I’d be in trouble.  It was, so in theory, I could have gone back to bed for a bit, but then I saw the Elf.  Marc didn’t move him last night, so I had to find a spot to shove him.  At this point, the coffee I’d started when I got up was ready, so I poured some and decided I’d take advantage of being up so early – and promptly tripped on the laptop cord, dumping the coffee and dropping the computer.

Tempting to give up and go back to bed… but the minutes keep clicking by and the time when I need to go poke kids is creeping ever closer.

Is it Friday yet??

 

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It creeps in regardless

I vowed that this year would be different.   It would’t be a repeat of last year or years before that.  But it sneaks in anyway.

The kids wanted to get antlers for the car this year.  And a red nose, of course.   My car isn’t anything to brag about in the looks department, it’s super old and a little battered (my fault, I ran into a snowbank last year and damaged the undercarriage of the front of it, and backed into a fire hydrant earlier this fall and cracked a tail light.  In my defense, I’m in the car a LOT.  I don’t hit things a lot more often than I do).  So I was totally in favor of sprucing it up, so to speak.  Give it a little style, a little holiday flair.

Except… we’re Jewish.

We’re Jewish and celebrating Christmas, and as much as I try to pretend that it’s totally smooth sailing and easy-peasy to straddle this cultural divide, it’s still kind of a hot mess.    Because the thought of decorating our car with such a public symbol of Christmas made Marc uncomfortable, especially in light of our new schedule that involved me parked outside the synagogue five days a  week (if we survive the next three months leading up to her bat mitzvah – I’m going to go into synagogue withdrawal when it’s over – between studying with the cantor, meeting with the rabbi and regular religious school, I spend more time there than in my living room).

So we didn’t get the antlers.  I started to go the route of over-analyzing what this meant – where we saying that we needed to HIDE that we celebrated Christmas?  Would the kids be getting the message that they need to be ashamed of traditions that come from my side of the family tree?  But then I stopped.  Because it’s a deliberate thing – this whole peaceful acceptance and focus on celebration and family and togetherness, and as easy as it would be to sink into the angst – it’s not helpful for anyone.  If I want December to mean more to my kids that the advent of my annual angst-ridden drama fest, I have to make it happen.

I got them an Elf on the Shelf instead.   I explained that it wasn’t really respectful to have the car decorated for a non-Jewish holiday and they were okay with it.  Especially because I followed it up with “… and I’m getting you guys an Elf on the Shelf tonight because you’re so awesome.”  The older two, especially, really, really wanted one.  And as much as I hate the thought of adding on another task (because you know I’ll forget to move it), they were so delighted about our new Elf (named Chocolate Chip Cookie) that they promptly forgot about the antlers and focused on that.

And the added bonus is that Marc was so appreciative that I didn’t push for the antlers that he moved the Elf for me last night when I forgot.

 

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Hospital Phobia

No kid likes getting shots or bloodwork, and mine are no exception.   Of the three, I think Julianna handles it the best, but it’s possible that it’s just that she’s younger and I’m more experienced.  Sam and Jessie are both an absolute disaster when it comes to the possibility of a needle (Sam might be slightly worse, because he goes to rage and fury as opposed to terror and begging for mercy like Jessie).

Jessie’s had more than her fair share of injuries, far eclipsing Julie and Sam combined.  Actually, neither Sam or Julie has ever had a serious injury, with the exception of the concussion that Sam had (when Jessie closed the door on him – but on the upside, then they were concussion buddies).  Poor Jessie had had stitches on her face twice, a broken foot, broken wrist, finger sprain, there was an ankle injury in there too somewhere.   And a random knee injury that required an MRI and a visit to an orthopedist.   So she’s been there, done that when it comes to injuries.  Her two stitches incidents were when she was very young.  The first one was on her little cheek when she was two years old, she was jumping on her cousin’s bed, fell off and cut her cheek open.  The second one was just after Sam was born when she was three and a half (slipped while running and slammed into the table, cutting her head open again).  She doesn’t really remember the stitches, but remembers enough to know that it wasn’t a fun experience.

And of course, she had to be the one to slice her finger open.  We were at my parent’s house, and they have one of those old-fashioned glass door knobs on the bathroom.  We had close to thirty people there on Thanksgiving, and she had to be the one who grabbed the door in exactly the wrong place.  The cut stretched along the inside of her middle finger, thru one knuckle and deep enough so that I was worried.  Actually, there was a big crowd of family members who all huddled around her, worried and convinced that she needed to go to the hospital.  She freaked out, begging me not to make her go, asserting that she WASN’T going, no matter what I said, and then switching back to pleading and begging.

It was so bad that even Marc (traditionally, not a man to rush to the ER) agreed that she should go, if for no other reason than to show her that she could do it.  She was so afraid of going, it was almost painful to watch her beg and plead for us not to make her.  Meanwhile, the cut is bleeding and bleeding, because the more agitated she got, the more the blood pumped.

She went, and was actually okay during the visit.  It helped, obviously, that the doctor said she didn’t need stitches, and that we only had to have it thoroughly cleaned and then glued back together.  Now she’s got her finger wrapped and in a splint that’s making her nuts – and she has to wear it thru Tuesday.  By then the cut should have healed enough that she can unwrap it and the glue will just flake off, I guess.

It’s fine, there’s no lasting damage and it’ll heal with hopefully only a tiny scar.  But wow – I know I’m really tired of having her readjust and rewrap and complain about yet another splint or cast, I can only imagine how much it sucks for her.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

For my mother – because Thanksgiving is our holiday.  More than any other, this is the holiday where I celebrate mothers and daughters.  Because this is now Jessie’s holiday too – and I know that the only way my mother will give up hosting it in her house is when Jessica is old enough to host it in her own home, because Jessie is the only one who loves it as much as she does.  This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for my mom, and for my oldest daughter, because you guys make my Thanksgiving a day to look forward to every year.

For my husband, who created traditions with Sam and Julie that mean as much to them as Jessie’s traditions mean to her.  You three will go out for dinner tonight, somehow, in the show, and will snuggle up together to watch movies and then watch the parade tomorrow morning.  I’ve watched the anticipation build – and those kids are so excited about having this special time alone with Daddy.

I’m grateful for the past few months, for the struggle and the worries and the stress.  Not because I’ve enjoyed it, because I didn’t.  And it’s not over, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and I’m proud of us for coming thru it.  This hasn’t been easy, there’s been no time.  The kids and I have missed Marc, Marc has missed us.  Between working and studying – our time together has been reduced to a few snatched minutes here and there.  But we’re still here.  We’re still us – he’s my partner and my love, and our kids know that we do this together.

I’m grateful for the teachers and staff at Flagg Street School, Goddard Scholars Academy and the JCC.  Because my kids are thriving, and excited to be learning.  Each one of them are growing and changing in new ways – and I’m so grateful for the environment that they get to be in each day.  For the friends and the math homework and the powerpoint and the letters and the Cam Jansen mysteries that challenge them, inspire them, and make up such a huge part of their days.

I’m grateful for a car that may be held together with wire and tape, but it starts for me every morning, let me change the radio station and enables my kids to rock out to Bob Seger, The Eagles and Carol King, as well as sing in a foreign language.  The doors may be decorated with their sticker collection, and it’s never really clean – but it’s where we spend a huge portion of our days, and there’s magic that happens there.  There’s a lot of yelling and squabbling too, but there are conversations in that car that surprise me and makes me grateful.

I’m grateful for the Beth Israel, for the place where my kids feel safe and loved, and are able to embrace their Judaism in a way that I love so much more than I ever anticipated I would.   I would never have predicted that I’d have a synagogue on a gratitude list, but there you go.

This hasn’t been an easy year.  But it was a year with enormous growth and challenge and change, and I’m grateful to have survived it.  I’m grateful to be here, in this place, with this man and these children.  And I’m also grateful that they’re all still asleep, and I have time for a second cup of coffee and a hot shower before the chaos begins.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

 

 

 

 

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Waking my baby for preschool

I’m not good at it.

She’s only four, and I find myself thinking that the sleep will do her more good than the two hours of playing and running around that she’s going to do.  Plus it’s swim today, and Girlfriend hates swim.  I know she has to learn, I know it’s part of the class (and part of why I signed her up for the class in the first place), but Tuesday mornings are becoming my least favorite of all the mornings.  Because her day starts with tears and ramps up until they have to pry her off of me at drop off.

Okay, that only happened once, but it had an impact.

Sam’s staying home today too.  I don’t really think he’s sick, but he might be.  Stomach ache, head hurting, maybe his head is a little warm.  Of course, one of the realities is that EVERY kid’s head is a little warm when they first crawl out of bed, but he sounded really pathetic when he asked if he could stay home.  He rarely asks, and it’s the day before Thanksgiving.  How much are they really going to learn?

So two of my kids are home today, and one is still sound asleep.  I did try to wake her.  I turned on the light and knocked hard on the door.  That’s after singing to her, and gently calling her name.  Then I crawled into bed next to her and rubbed her back.   She kept snoring.

Life is short, and one missed morning at preschool isn’t going to make a difference, in the overall scheme of things.

Plus, is this not a girl who generally embraces the day?  

 

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Bring It On

It’s here, the season is upon us. I’ve bought my Thanksgiving turkey (actually, I bought two, one for my mother’s house and one for Shabbat dinner this weekend). We’ve got our plans for Thanksgiving finalized – on Wednesday night, I’ll take my oldest daughter down to my mother’s so we can get up super early and cook with my mom. My husband will keep the little ones at home, for Chinese food and cartoons I won’t let them watch (Spongebob is their Thanksgiving tradition). We’ll meet up at my parent’s house, eat until we can’t move and then end the night at our friend’s house for dessert.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I’ll take down all my colored turkeys the kids have made for me, all the scribbled little gratitude lists they make each year in school and put them all away in my not-Hanukkah-and-Christmas holiday bin, and dig out the three or four bins of holiday decorations.

BeFunky_girls hanukkah.jpg

Last year, I promised myself that I was going to celebrate the December Dilemma is all it’s glory. To teach my kids that December is not a month where their mother is completely stressed out and frustrated, where Hanukkah and Christmas are embraced and appreciated. I’m going to sing Christmas carols and buy enough Hanukkah candles for the sixteen menorahs I managed to collect over the past few years. I’m going to create new traditions for each night of Hanukkah, and make cocoa with candy canes every night. I’m going to throw snowflakes up all over the walls, buy oceans of twinkling holiday lights, and read all the PJ Library Hanukkah books I can find. I’ll take the kids to the menorah lighting in Newton Square, I’ll listen to the Christmas CD my mother gave me ten years ago.

Most of all, I’ll try and remember that these are the memories I’m creating for my children. If I want them to grow up loving their Jewish identity, while still embracing the traditions and history from my side of the family, I have to show them that they can exist peacefully together. And this is incredibly hard to do, but only in December. In December, our family tradition includes a lot of angst, and endless debates about why we put up the tree, and if we’re doing enough to make sure that Hanukkah isn’t getting overshadowed by the candy canes and pretty lights.

The December Dilemma has always been an issue for us. We are not an interfaith family, we are a “dual-heritage” family. In December, those heritages are at odds, and it’s never an easy season. But this year, I’m promising myself that I’m going to hold tight to that image, the one of a peaceful and content and gratitude-filled holiday season, where the focus is on spending time with family and friends, eating latkes and cocoa with candy canes, and bringing as much light and celebration as possible into the cold, dark winter nights.

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My favorites

I’ve been on a writing haitus lately – for a bunch of reason.  Some of them time-related, some of them mood-related (because when I write, whatever I’m thinking or feeling comes out first, and I don’t think anyone really likes reading my rants about my schedule).  But despite the time challenges, despite the chores and financial woes – there’s an awful lot about my life right now to appreciate.

I’m married to possibly the kindest, smartest man in the world.  He’s still my best friend, he’s still the person I most want to be with, and I’m forever grateful for whatever I did in a past life to deserve him.  No matter what, he’s my partner, and I could not possibly do what I do, the way I do it, without him.   This is a particularly challenging time in our lives, no time, not enough money and far too much to get done, all the time.  But I’ve never, not once, wanted to do this without him.

My oldest daughter, Jessica, is in the middle of the loveliest transition from a little girl to a teenager.  Her milestones are not as anticipated, there’s no baby book for the first time she goes away for the weekend on a youth group retreat, or uses her cell phone to call home for a ride.  I worried about the transition, about adolescence.  I’ve been warned about it so many times, ever since she was an infant.  She’s so dramatic, so moody – everyone told me that puberty would be horrible.  And they were so, so wrong.  I’ve often thought that Jessie is the kind of person who didn’t like being a kid.  The older she gets, the happier and more focused she becomes.  Watching her turn into who she will be is one of the nicest parts of my life these days.

My son, my Sammy, my little guy – he’s come through so much.  He’s a fighter, and he had challenges that I don’t think I’ll ever fully be able to understand.   Watching him overcome the anxiety, the fear, and learn how to handle the emotions and push past them to be able to live his life – he’s so much happier now.  He’s himself now, all the time.  It’s very rare that I see the anxiety taking over anymore, and he’s able to talk about it when it happens.  He bounces into school and religious school without hesitation, he’s social and friendly and engaging and I’m so, so proud of his journey.  He’s the most relaxed and social of my kids, I can plop him down into a group of kids and know that by the time we leave, he’ll have made friends.   All of Julie’s friends ask for him at playdates, and he’s got a buddy here every single day after school.   He collects old cardboard boxes and carves them up and tapes them together to build buildings and spaceships.

My Julianna – my baby.  She’s such a love, literally.  Her favorite spot is still my lap, she kisses me a thousand times before she cuddles to sleep.  She’s doing everything on her own these days, pouring her own drinks, getting herself dressed and picking out her headbands.  She’s off to kindergarten next year, and I’m still trying to fully believe that.   Because she’s the youngest and the only one still at home with me, she’s had to deal with the killer schedule, hours in the car, and afternoons spent playing on the floor at the synagogue.  She’s so adaptable, almost all the time.  Unless you cross her, or try and do something that goes counter to her version of the way things should be done – like put on her socks before her pants, or yank on her coat before she’s fixed the arms of her shirt.  She’s got an incredibly strong personality, but tempers it with this flexibility and laid back attitude.  Girlfriend has a good sense of perspective – and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  Unless the small stuff is incredibly important to her, in which case, she’ll force the entire world to bend to her whim.

 

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Confessions of an Uneducated Voter

I like to vote.  I registered to vote on my eighteenth birthday, and have proudly voted ever since.

(photo from Blue Nation Review)

I believe in voting.  I believe that women, especially, have to vote, because it wasn’t all that long ago that we were considered incapable of it.  I still remember the utter shock and confusion (and honestly, sense of betrayal) when I realized that was so incredibly recent – 1920.  In 1980-something, when I figured that out in history class, I was stunned.  I’m a child of the 70′s – it had simply never occurred to me that there was a time, in the not so distant past, when I would have been forbidden from voting.  I read everything I could find about the suffragette movement, and vowed that I’d never take that right for granted.

But I failed.

Not on the “taking for granted” part – but I’m not an educated voter.  Not by a long shot. At least not anymore.  I might be again, but right now, at this stage, educating myself about the people running fell to the bottom of the list of things to do. I read the questions carefully, read a couple of articles about them, discussed them with a few people.  I even wrote up the cheat sheets for my family (a tradition that dates back to high school when I wasn’t old enough to vote and wanted to desperately – I’d decide how other people in my family should vote and provide helpful cheat sheets for them to take to the polls).  I’m a Presidential Election Junkie – I love the Presidential elections.  I watch all the debates, it’s never too early to discuss the next election, and I really, really love all the ads, articles, debates and discussions that surround the Presidential elections.

But I’m utterly clueless about the local elections.  I don’t know who’s running for what.  I blithely decided who’d I’d vote for on the whole Seth Moulton/Richard Tisei match up (a local election that it turns out is not at all in my district and I can’t vote for either of them).  So I’m going to go to the voting booths this afternoon, and guess who I want to vote for.  It’s just a guess – I think I’m probably going to vote against the incumbent – because I think change is good, and I’ll probably vote for the woman who keeps dropping flyers off in my mailbox, trusting that if she inspired that many volunteers, then she’s probably okay.

I’ll take my kids to vote this afternoon, because they love it, and I’ll hope that they’ll be better voters than I am, when their time comes.  I hope they’ll pay attention to the local races, because I KNOW that this is where the decisions get made.  I know these votes count more than my carefully considered vote in the Presidential elections (especially because I live in MA – the Democrat is getting my electoral votes, MA ALWAYS goes Democrat).  I want them to vote not along party lines, but because they’ve carefully considered the candidates, and thought about the issues.

But I’m a crappy uneducated voter – and I’m a little ashamed of myself.  Those women in the picture above would not be proud today.

 

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