Receiver

Today started out as a day of giving and turned into a day of receiving.
I dropped my son at work, got a snack and headed to Evanston hospital to donate blood. There was an urgent need for the victims of the Highland Park tragedy so I signed up. Giving blood is how I help when I feel helpless.
I chose to take the advice of my friend Julie and wear my Free Mom Hugs shirt. Entering the hospital, I got a few looks from people.
Soon I was seated in the donation chair and one of the phlebotomists said, “I like your shirt!”
“Thanks!  Need a hug?”
“Really?” I nod.
“Sure…” She says.
So before I get hooked up to all the machines, I give her a big hug. She smiles and says thanks. 
As she is removing needle, one of the other women says, “11:11!  Make a wish!  That was your official finish time!” I laugh and she then pulls out the pink bandage…it was like they knew me! 
We 3 chatted while I recovered and then I left.
I walked toward the exit and an elderly man said, “Really? Hugs?”
“Yup!  Want one?”
“Well I guess so….” And we did sort of side hug as that was what he could manage with his cane.
“That was really nice. Thank you.” And he shuffled away.
Once I left the hospital I was feeling all sorts of things. So, I decided to take a drive. I found myself driving around the Northwestern Campus. As an homage to my old man, I clicked on my old school Spotify playlist and the soothing sounds of Billie Holiday filled the air.
I gazed you the window at the old and new buildings. So much has changed over the years. I wound up in the older part of Evanston and grabbed a coffee. I treated myself to a fancy lavender latte (at the suggestion of the barista).
“Do you really give hugs?”
“Yes!  I love it!”
She took my payment and directed me to coffee pick up. While I was waiting, she walked around the counter and, “Can I have a hug?”
“SURE!” and we hugged in a café full of people.
She said thanks and went back to work, handing me my coffee. I got back in my car and headed home….the long way….along Sheridan Road, past the Baha’i Temple, Lake Michigan and beautiful homes all the while listening to old jazz and my girl Billie filling up my heart.
Today was a reminder of my many gifts. A reminder of my blessings. A reminder of times gone by. I keep hoping that my daily excursions…. giving some hugs, spreading a little kindness and putting some love back into the universe…. create a little more peace for others. It certainly soothes my soul and replenishes my spirit.
Peace.
#tutulady
#forwardisapace

Choice

I will begin with a trigger warning.
*This post contains opinions on abortion.
*This post contains opinions on faith and religion.
*This post contains facts that may change your perception of me.
******
All that being said, it is time. I have authored this post over and over again in my head for years. I have thought about the way in which I wanted to tell my story. I have talked myself out of sharing this time and time again ….. mostly due to shame.
Over 30 years ago, I had an abortion.
Full stop.
The story of how and why…those are mine to own. I do not have to share my reasons with anyone. I share those parts with those who deserve the details.
I live with the choice I made each and every day. To dismiss my choice by saying it was the easy way out is to not understand the weight and gravity of the choice.
I remember every part of the events leading up to and after the day of my appointment. There are certain sounds and smells that trigger the memories when I least expect it. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my whole life……and I went alone. I lived with my secret for years out of shame from my church, from my friends and my family.
I was raised Catholic and taught Catholic school for over 20 years. Once I got married and had more children, I raised them Catholic. I went to mass every week and I prayed every day for forgiveness. But the longer I stayed and prayed, I could not escape the nagging feeling that the God I loved thought less of me because of my choice as a young woman. The God, the Jesus, the Mary that I pray to each day were ones that believe in forgiveness. I just needed to forgive myself. Not for having the abortion….but for allowing the church and others to make me feel ashamed for the choice I made.
Once I forgave myself, I made another choice. The choice to leave a church that preaches shame over empathy, condemnation over acceptance and hypocrisy over sincerity.
I have written before about my faith. My faith is steadfast and strong. I still pray daily, but I pray to the loving, accepting God that I believe created each of us in their image.
I live with the choice I made every single day. But here’s the thing….I HAD A CHOICE.
I had a choice because the government recognized that the choice is personal and should be made with a medical professional not a priest, pastor or politician. I am fortunate enough to live in a state that protects a woman’s right to choose but I fear for my children, especially my daughters. They now live in a country with less reproductive rights than I had at their age.
The reasons a woman would choose to have an abortion are as individual and unique as each woman. Each and every woman should have agency over her own health and choices.
I realize that finally sharing my story opens me up to criticism and commentary. I am ok with that. If the fact that I had an abortion in my 20’s changes the way you feel about me, well then that is your choice to make and I respect that choice.
I will always help those who need support. I will always be a safe space and place for any woman. I will always support a woman’s right to choose.
Peace.
#tutulady
#forwardisapace

Ally

About last night….
I was invited to represent Free Mom Hugs on a panel,  Allies for Equality, at Grant Thornton in Chicago. I have never done something like this and the corporate world is a foreign concept to me but I stepped outside my comfort zone.
I spoke to the need for us all to listen, make mistakes and be vulnerable in our journeys as allies. I spoke to the need for us all to create safe spaces for all to experience kindness, feel seen and just breathe. I spoke of the power of a simple (and not so simple) hug.
Before and after the panel I listened….I listened as people shared their stories with both my son and me. Yes, my son accompanied me on this adventure. He is one of the main reasons I began this journey with Free Mom Hugs.
One man came up and said, “I love you and love everything you said but have to share what will stick with me…..I looked over at your son as you were speaking and saw him taking your picture. His face was so tender……”
I smiled and blushed, “It is usually me that is taking the photos of him….”
Later that same man came up to both my son and I and said, “I told your mom that what I will remember is the moment I saw you taking her picture…it was so sweet…”
“She is always the one taking my picture so it was my turn now…”
My son and I stayed, hugging everyone more than once…it was as if we could not hug them enough. When we finally left and walked to the car I was emotionally and physically spent…but in the best way possible.
Remember Ally is a verb NOT a noun, always be kind and NEVER underestimate the power of a hug.
Peace
#tutulady
#forwardisapace

Hugs

Saturday I went to Pridefest.
I got in line to get in and the girl in front of me looked and said, “Are you here by yourself?”
“Yes why?”
“Wow! I would never do that. You are so brave! Are you gay?”
“No”
“Oh wow……” she looks at my shirt and then my hat….“Would it be ok to ask for a hug?”
“Sure….. “ and we share a long tight hug.
“My mom hasn’t talked to me in years…. Since I came out”
“When was that?”
“When I was 18….. I’m 24 now. I’ve been on my own since I was 18.”
“That must be hard…” I say and the line begins to move.
“Yea….. but it’s better. I like living my life as me and not as someone else.”
“Well then. You are the brave one.”
We continue to chat as we make our way in. She says “happy pride” and skips off as we enter.
After that I was stopped so many times.
“Can I have a hug?”
Some people just walked up to me with open arms. I heard older men tell me that they had been disowned years ago, that their moms had died without acknowledging them, that kids had left home rather than hide in the closet….
As I was watching a performer, I looked over and noticed a Woods ring! The girl had just graduated! We hugged and then I decided it was time to go.
As I was waiting for a light to change, a couple walked over.
“Can my girlfriend have a mom hug?”
“Sure!!!”
As we hugged the girl that asked said “she misses her mom but her mom says she is dead to her…”
I held on until the other girl pulled away. Her face was wet with tears……
”I miss my mom so much. Thank you for giving me a piece of her for a minute.”
We three hugged together and cried a minute.
“You are loved and you matter.” And we parted ways.
I walked 2 miles back to my car and enjoyed every minute of that walk.
Never underestimate the power of a hug.
Peace.
#tutulady
#forwardisapace