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Year of activism #12

Activism can take so many forms – you don’t need to take to the streets or shout from the rooftops. Being a public health advocate can be as simple as washing your hands, staying home and getting a flu injection – they are the actions I have taken this week along with millions of others around the world. Joined up actions that create a movement of well-being and saving lives is exactly what activism is all about. My personal favourite action this week has been neighbours popping bears in their windows and bringing to life We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, a 1989 children’s picture book written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

I have been reflecting on entrepreneurship as activism this week when some of my closest entrepreneurial spirits have been working over time to invent, pivot and create what is needed in these times to keep women’s businesses afloat, build community, strengthen bonds and embed the legacy we want when we come out the otherside. We don’t want business as usual, or stimulus packages to support industries that have used futures. We want this time to be a gift to our planet. We want to honour those who have died and will die over the next month by being better, bolder, braver. We want our national heroes to be the doctors, nurses, immunologists, medical researchers, cleaners, cooks, teachers, emergency service workers, medics, supermarket staff, drivers and carers.

Going back to business as usual will not cut it. We can’t go back we must go forward, and in this time get in place what we need to be ready to come out the other side with at least the beginnings of the foundations of what we want to see. Imagine if, we gave everyone a universal basic income? Imagine if, we had revolving credit in the hands of communities, think credit unions at the local level or superannuation funds investing in local infrastructure instead of creating off shore shareholder value. What about community co-ops of childcare workers supporting families in their neighbourhood? And power generation owned and used where the sun shines and the wind blows? Many of these systems improvements have started and are incubating – but now is the time for capital to invest in these initiatives to help us all take a step closer to a community led and community owned future. I know there will be times when national and regional leadership will always be needed as this pandemic illustrates, but imagine the strength of a more community connected when this happens again.

Like so many I tune in to Jacinda Ardern each day as I can’t bear to hear the bumbling and incomprehensible communications from my national leaders. I figure New Zealand is just a few days ahead of us in Australia and her clear, consistent and compassionate words help me to know what to do and also I feel like I get a masterclass every day in how to communicate in a time of fear of anxiety and how to deploy the ordinary in these extraordinary times. I loved seeing her set up her home office, show video of factories making masks, taking questions from children, sitting on her couch in her ”putting her toddler to bed” clothes – these are all comforting and contrasting to complicated and convoluted messages that don’t make sense from some of the other leaders they pop up on my screen. I am deeply encouraged by all the acts of neighbours working together and creating new pathways, although I feel quite isolated in the physical community I have moved into, I am deeply connected in time and space to family and friends all over the planet, it is not quite the same.

I am feeling a bit tired and a little teary most days, despite working from home for most of my working life it hasn’t involved so much screen time and I am not the car travelling to and from appointments and airports. This has given me an insight into what I love about being in a car – seeing the coast line, listening to books and organising my day around when I am still and when I am in transit. I had the great idea to spend a day in the car and drive to different beaches and take a meeting at each beach and this really lifted my productivity and my spirits. I got to see the beauty I was missing, and the landscape that holds me, feel the warmth of the sun through the windows and the liberation of travel. No one was harmed I stayed inside the car and I began to imagine car parks as co-working spaces!

Jacinda’s advice, to have a bubble to be in during this time of your loved ones, is truly clever at so many levels. It will contain the viral spread to smaller groups, it keeps mental health and well-being in tact, it shares the load of alone-ness and gives definition and promise of a time beyond these days when we come out of our bubbles. It is inspired. I am grateful to be have been invited into a bubble that includes other generations. If you have a teddy bear pop it in your window this might be the most profound act you can do in these times for the well-being and health of our planet, while our scientists go on a hunt for the vaccine.

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Year of Activism #11

Well that was one crazy week …. and this one has started the same. It is nearly 5pm and it is the first time since I woke I am having time alone.  The COVID-19 might be bringing social distancing, but it is ramping up connectivity, creativity and community in virtual places and spaces.

Activism can take many forms and the arts have always given us so much to learn from and in these times we will get to see and hear many more ways the arts will help us through and then be there to help us heal. Famous musicians are holding desktop concerts, offering to play a song from Facebook requests, others are reading stories to children and doing tours of their gardens or record collections. There seems to be no end to all this talent oozing out from screens. The digital divide is real, and for some this isolation will be deadly for their mental health if not their physical health.  The poverty gap will be exposed and the veil will drop from features once considered taboo topics like universal income in Australia and universal health care in the USA. The women leaders around the world are showing how to communicate effectively to build the trust bank and sure up public safety. German Chancellor Merkel gave her address with poise, simplicity and clarity. Jacinda Adern from New Zealand held a conference for children as well so they could ask their questions. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reminded everyone of their humanity and we are not invincible. The death rate from the virus is as high as 70% male; when Tesla said the “future is female” he might well have been onto something!

I have chosen this week to do some sonnets for my post. They were first invented in Sicily in the 13th century and I was most inspired this week by the Sicilian’s who took to their rooftops and little balconies with their pots and pans and musical instruments to cheer each other up during the isolation. They need a bit of work, but to keep my promise to myself to get this out today I am leaving them here.

I am using Elizabeth Barrett Browing’s to her beloved Robert this sonnet which we all can remember a line from as my re-writing guide. Here is what she had to say:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
In these times, our whole species is under attack from something not even considered alive and are mainly thought of as being on the edge of life. When we fall in love the intoxicating effects can leave us infected and we find there is no cure except a barrier, a distance or an inoculation or a joining with the other. COVID-19 has fallen for us and we have to find ways to ward off its overtures. Like a narcissist it only cares for itself and how it can replicate, infect and make us its home. I have been musing on the Sonnet it is making to us:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee with anxiety, tears and fright
My nodes reach is far and out of sight
For each virion being finds an ideal space.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and ultraviolet light.
I love thee freely, as a promiscuous Knight:
I love thee purely, with agnostic Praise.
I love with a passion put to use
In every age and with age old faith
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost cares, – I love thee with my breath
Touches, coughs, sprays of my life – and if God choose,
I shall love thee more with your death.
I am also reflecting on how the virus might be a gift, called up by Gaia to help knock some sense into us. There will be friendly fire, collateral damage, but it might be a small price to pay for a long term benefit for our planetary home. These dark thoughts fuel fear for many. They are also the crucible of incredible acts of generosity and innovation. I have spent most of this week creating in the garden, in virtual teams, designing new ways of working and connecting, dreaming up ideas and finding ways to feel peace and joy and celebrating the incredible community that holds me. What might
Mother Earth’s sonnet to us, be in these times?
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee with all my being, dark and light.
My oceans and land til out of sight
For each one of you unique in place.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need for sun and moon light.
I love thee freely, yet you cause my plight:
I love thee and I ache from lack of Praise.
I love with a passion you do not use
In my hills, valleys and in good faith
I love thee with a love you do not choose
With all my powers, I love thee with my breath
Gifts you throw back – and if Gaia choose
I will still love thee with your death.
I want a sonnet that expresses how I feel about the people around me and people I don’t know even. These people are so varied and are everywhere. This is an incomplete litany:
The lady next door who left a bag of fruit and vegetables on my doorstep, enough to make several meals.
My pals in developer and co-op land who I worked with to create smartcitizenry.com during the week and who have been distributing notices to neighbours offering their free support.
My ‘sisters’ in social enterprises and collaborations who have worked with me to design responses, influence public policy, draft up models for innovative responses to help keep businesses and jobs flowing.
To a senior community member who said how much he wanted my input and common sense and ideas to support an industry.
A young man who is living abroad sharing news of his love and life in these times.
An old friend in Italy telling me about the way her town and friends are using neighbourhood flash mobs (at a distance from balconies) for recognition of health and emergency workers
My immediate family for checking in on me
…. and I could go on and on …. this past week I have had a harvest – a cornucopia of kindness, which leads me to my own sonnet to those extraordinary and ordinary humans who have and continue to enrich my life.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee for your kindness, and to delight.
For what starts with grit and ends with grace
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight
I love thee carefully, as we strive to ignite:
I love thee purely, as we turn to r(a)ise
I love with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my celtic faith.
I love thee with a love twas mine to lose
With my gained saints, – I love thee with my breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! – and if She choose,
I shall love thee better until death.

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Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

Year of Activism #10

This quote from Theodore Roosevelt rings very true for me this past week (forgive the lack of gender pronoun inclusivity as a sign of the times it was spoken):

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I went back to this quote after listening to the researcher Dr Brene Brown talks about shame and vulnerability and her own experience of stepping into the arena and coping with the consequences. I have been accused of a lot of things this week, being nice, not meeting expectations, failing to demonstrate rage, playing favourites. Keyboard warriors one and all as far as I can tell. In the mean time I have showed up and met with elected officials, debated long and hard with facts and evidence on how some changes can be made with high impact and low action, what levers can be used that will unify and get a result, held myself to account by using non-violent communication techniques, practicing adaptive leadership and trying to have some fidelity to Kahane‘s approach to collaborating with the enemy. I have had mixed results from my practice. It is very hard with the enemy is within, and speaks their own truth from their own arena. One of the reminders for the week is the need for times to withdraw, retreat and indeed cut off supply so that you can recover and stay in the arena you are being called to be in. Daring greatly is the quest to keep showing up in the arena, because as Roosevelt says its not the critic who counts.

While we need the critics to sharpen our senses, help steer a course even sometimes, they aren’t the ones who show up in the doing. The role of the critic maybe akin to the modern day medieval jester, substituting the rattle for a keyboard, ringing to draw attention to arrival and departure. How effective their power is deployed is determined by the amount of attention we pay to their bells and buzzing. Unlike the role of the fool in Shakespeare however not all modern day jesters speak the truth, they often amplify fake news and use their voices not as speaking truth to power or offering up a riddle to decode, they make noise to draw attention to themselves at the expense of the issue. Some of our most famous ones are in the media – think radio shock jocks and columnists, social media junkies.

As we are on the verge the largest shared responsibility action in human history, people choosing to stay home to help ‘flatten the curve’ of the COVID-19 are helping their neighbours, showing care and support acting to support one another and may lead to more community, more safety for all and have the surprising side effect of supporting the aged, infirmed and vulnerable. It maybe a time too for those jesters with microphones and keyboards to have deeper impact, so beware that in times of fear seeds of anxiety can rapidly be watered and grow into out of control weeds. Stay in the arena by connecting and having conversations, give yourself a break if you need to have one, cut of supply if it becomes toxic for you and use that time to regroup before you go back. I have been thinking about what I can do to support connectivity at this time for myself and others. I have decided to do three things: not going to the shops without asking at least one person if they need me to bring something to them, offering up a nightly zoom to anyone who might want to jump on and say hello to others and working from home. I also got a call about a project this morning that I think could be a game changer so stay tuned for that in a future post. This is a time for community strengthening because of social distancing, not in spite of it. The virus might spread community spirit and community responsibility and that may well be its gift to our times – it is bound to be helping out Gaia to take a breath! Such a paradox with so much potential.

The dynamics of a virtual arena are going to take us to new edges and unleash innovation, lets not count the critics contributions, instead notice and celebrate our leadership marred by dust and sweat and blood, and meet the cold and timid souls with warmth and courage. That seems to be the quest: to hold these tensions together without quite falling apart yourself.

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Covid-19

Year of activism #9

This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is generation equality. Can’t help feeling the ambition in this one!

Let’s start with infanticide and selective sex abortion. This practice continues and shows up even when hidden and outlawed when a disproportionate number of females are visible at population levels.

Then let’s look at going to school and who gets educated. You don’t have to be in Taliban land to see this at work. In my own experience, in a number of families I went to school with boys were sent to the more exclusive schools while their sisters were sent to schools with lower costs and less status. Less investment in educating girls. We know educating women and girls is the fastest way to increase GDP and slow population growth – two good arguments to support the climate emergency too.

Then we come to world of work. Australian women are still esrninv 21% less than the average weekly earnings of men. Despite consistently kept our number #1 status in ‘Educational attainment’, in the World Economic Forum report on eve of 2020, Australia is ranked #44 in the world for gender equality, dropping year after year now for more than a decade.

Women are still doing more than their male counterparts in the home – physical and emotional labour – from child rearing and caring through to caring for the seniors and those with extra needs. This is one giant generational equality area being addressed with more men taking parenting leave. Highly recommended reading is The Wife Drought on this topic. For years I used to fantasize about a wife, a research assistant and a driver being the perfect team to support me as a parent and partner.

I could go on and on and I am sure readers are making their own lists.

Being a feminist is my anchor as an activist. It is so easy to apply a gender lens as an everyday practice. You don’t need a PhD in gender studies (although proud to say I have a daughter with one) you just need to notice and ask a question and before you know it you have taken a step towards solidarity with other women and begun disrupting the patriarchy.

For me this is a practice and it needs the discipline of a practice. To pop.a gender lens over the inequality and inequities we see usually unearths variables and surprises previously invisible. There is a treasure trove of structural examples of this in Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women. With a forensic examination of the application of data for design she exposes the dangers, including death for women.

On this International Women’s Day I am remembering all the women who have gone before me to get the vote, who have created learning opportunities, cared for my children, offered me friendship, a roof over my head, who have held me and listened to my tears and frustrations, who have given me opportunities and advice, who have been my friends. I have no sisters or aunts or cousins and bereft of many women in the family excepting my mother, two daughters, four neices, and sisters-in-law I want to celebrate my women friends who continue to bless me with acts of solidarity and come from across all generations. Viva the sisterhood!

Continue reading

Year of activism #8

Former Irish President and international leader Mary Robinson says climate change is man made and will be best addressed by femimist solutions. These solutions can come in so many forms and if you want to hear what she and fellow podcaster Maeve Higgins have unearthed have a listen to Mothers of Invention. In my little spot on this blue dot, like thousands of others, I too have am gathering up ways to give Mother Earth a hand to resist and recover the effects of our insatiable appetite for growth at all costs.

Some of the lessons from the week gone have been easy to identify, others a bit more subtle. Starting close in – there was the recycling and composting from my singular existence and the improved discipline (but not perfect) of using my keep cup and drink bottle. There was also the consumer activities of spending in fire effected areas and this was not without personal benefit – after all good needs to feel good to help the habit take hold. I now have more wine and spirits under my roof than I have ever had, wine regions being particularly effected! It was easy to self organise and get a group together to go visit Kangaroo Island and a dozen of us injected $3k into the economy in less than 7 hours! Quite a feat given two of the party under 18, another 2 underemployed, 1 with a seniors card!


The less visible actions were side conversations about wellness, community strengthening tactics, gentle prompting with questions to help take another step towards just future for all humans, accepting compliments and holding onto non violent communication techniques when under fire. It is in the seams where so many fibres and threads come together and when our fragility and vulnerability is sewn or woven in I can see a beautiful garment emerging. There is no garment without the seams.

As we head into International Women’s Day I have been talking to other generations about how patriarchy is showing up for them. We need to recognise and unpack the relationships holding our planet right now and work out what seams need to be sewn together before Gaia is naked in the Garden.

Here are some of what I saw and heard this week and I wonder if you too can see the connecting threads?

A woman in her 30s being overlooked for a more senior role because in her words she was a liability and might get pregnant, having ovaries still functional was her rationale. Another woman on the cusp of being 40 clearly experiencing gaslighting the more confident and questioning she was of those in leadership; sexual tension at play in that circumstance. Another also in her 30s being treated as the least knowledgeable about power in a room full of decision makers; where in fact the depth of her experience is far superior to others but her knowledge has never been interrogated. She is seen as a threat, and hides her light under a bushel, because she is scared she won’t get picked for next big thing. She embarrassingly told me she has been spending more time focussing on her appearance to get noticed. On the flipside I connected with men this week who were only interested in ideas who celebrated the women contributing to the future, men who shared principles and values around equity and justice and whose respect and acknowledgement of women included acts of solidarity, affirmative action and old fashioned courtises and good manners.

I draw these threads together thematically:
– being seen and being heard are two different things
– disrupting needs a crowd

– self-organising needs weavers and skills in connecting and curating

– applying a lens that factors in diversity, inclusion, power and privileges the least will reveal some hard truths

We are on the edge of time, on the edge of extinction and all aboard the voyage of the Dawn Treader. The part of Kangaroo Island most destroyed was the far west, the last place Aboriginal ancestors understood as the location as the last place your spirit self would be on land before you stepped off to join the great Dreaming. I wonder if this is a prophetic message from the island?

Stokes Bay Kangaroo Island

Year of activism #7

The sunsets are spectacular at the moment and it is the particles in the air, probably from the bushfires, that is making them so. The sun and our blue dot spinning around in the galaxy, with the light waves bouncing off the horizon inviting us in each evening to reflect on what has been, what the darkness is calling us to and as a constant reminder of the rhythm of nature. What meaning do we put on the beauty in the skies? Do we know what we are seeing? Is gazing into the beginning of darkness and being captured by the wonder of it all, desensitizing us for what might be ahead? The glow of summer in the heavens, might well be a version of the afterglow of an affair with a narcissist. We have been seduced by lovers of fossil fuels, so seduced we didn’t listen to our mother, we didn’t notice all the acts of infidelity along the way. And then when it was almost too late we woke up and yet still wanted to go back to the way it was, surely it could be fixed? What did I do wrong? Can’t I make it better? Could we try again? But it is not about us the ones who are waking up. We have do to the breaking up, the aching and grieving. We have to get stronger everyday and keep turning our backs on our old lover. We have to know we were seduced and it is over, give up our addiction and find friends who can keep us on the straight and narrow who can keep us ‘sober’.

We will fall and we will have moments of failure and self-loathing. These sun sets are a version of gaslighting undermining us and giving us fake news about what is really going on. Like a hit of dopamine to keep us in the game and bring on amnesia. We have to be strong and resist – that’s what friends are for – people who can hold us steady, not blame when we falter and who will show us and support us to find our way back.

I have real trouble with people metaphorically shouting at me in their writings and actions about what has to be done. I am sometimes paralysed. The kind of help I need is compassion, understanding and gentle encouragement. I find I need to be coaxed not yelled at. To be noticed and encouraged when I make a little adjustment and take a little more responsibility, really helps me.

Perhaps we need a 12 step program as a world so we can recover from our addiction to fossil fuels? I am sure I am not the first person who has thought of this. My adaptation of the 12 steps for a activist in these times:

  1. Admit you were powerless over fossil fuels — that your life had become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe that a power greater than yourself (Mother Earth/ Creation) could restore you to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of Mother Earth
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of yourself.
  5. Admit to Mother Earth, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of your relationship with fossil fuels and where it has led you
  6. Be ready to have Mother Earth remove your defective ways
  7. Humbly asked Mother Earth to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all species, beings and places you harmed, and become willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends wherever possible and find ways to bring your contributions to join with others on the same path
  10. Continue to take personal inventory, and when you falter, admit and move on.
  11. Foster a spiritual relationship with Mother Earth and all of creation.
  12. Be informed by your spiritual practice on how to invite others to join you

Despite this approach it is structural and even my best efforts and the ones of those around me aren’t enough to turn this ship around. We are tug boats in the harbour, but maybe with enough of us it will be enough. Thinking my little bit isn’t much use is seductive. As Brene Brown’s research has taught us how shame takes hold with two messages: “you are never good enough” and “who do you think you are?” I wonder if this is what is turning up as activists too? Brown says shame is a focus on self and guilt is a focus on behaviour. So picking up that thread I can take some tiny steps, maybe not all the big 12 steps, towards kicking the habit and not being seduced by shame because my efforts do matter,
I am making a difference and when my difference is added to another’s there is the potential for structural change and for today that is enough. Keep a focus on the practice, the behaviour and not on the self, surely another instruction from Mother Earth who spins and toils with the rhythm of night after day. And give up the shame of being seduced by sunsets.

Year of activism #6

There is loss and grief in the life of any activist.  The feelings that you haven’t done enough, the expectations that are met (mostly of yourself over others), the fraud you seem to be by not completely walking the talk … the litany goes on.

I was reminded this week of Teddy Roosevelt’s quote: Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. And that is more than enough.  It’s not too different to Mother (now St) Teresa of Calcutta’s mantra: Bloom where you are planted. When I was young mother I held onto these instructions and took up the mantel of trying to be a household that had at its centre the notions of justice and peace (and the truth that there can be no peace without justice). I had plenty to guide me, especially once the children were in kindy – the local kindergarten was a school for us all – we all learnt about community there. I also had my Catholic social teaching to draw on and the local library which is where I found the McGinnis book Parenting for Justice and Peace, it was the only parenting book I ever really had. It was the crucible of my activism and set many of the foundations for the decades ahead.

This weekend has been filled to the brim with responses to the bushfires. I was involved in a fundraiser at Mt Compass where the locals through their Supper Club and the generosity of singers and musicians raised funds and had an entertaining evening. The choir I belong to belted out tunes and enjoyed having the opportunity to make a contribution. With my pals at Collab4Good we hosted a Heal and Hustle day with activators who shared lessons and provided spaces for reflection and learning starting with an expose of where unexpressed loss and grief comes from and how its suppression through the centuries via colonisation has led to destruction of our Mother Earth.  It was quite a day.

I am truly tired to the bone. It is time to rest, to put down the lyre and sob on the banks of the river. To feel the loss. To be sad. To bleed. To grieve.   I am hearing despair in many voices, and anger and frustration is just below the surface in so many people I meet and they are falling away from hope. I hear them clinging on to despair, for fear if they let go of despair then the abyss will appear.

David Whyte writes: Despair is a necessary and seasonal state of repair, a temporary healing absence, an internal physiological and psychological winter when our previous forms of participation in the world take a rest; it is a loss of horizon.  I am developing an understanding of the necessity of despair as an activist. In the northern hemisphere it is seasonally connected to winter as Whyte figures, I think the season of despair in Australia, is summer. Our horizon has been lost in the smoke and in places where day felt like night and where the land and the sea and the sky all fused into one … and no horizon to be seen.  The externalities finding their way into our lungs at our most cellular level.  We are exhausted by the heat and horror. It turns us inwards just so we can catch our breath and dig deep to refuel – but we cross over into despair before we can find our way back. It is a way for us to have some respite. We become separated from hope when we are in despair, we have reached a rock bottom and so the only way left is up. In fact the word despair comes from the Latin to come down from hope.  Maybe it is the moment of a reality check, that calls you to humility about what you can and can’t do, or perhaps the moment that holds your hand gently and reassuringly that you are not alone.

My experience of despair is it can be very bleak, and it needs to befriended and understood as loss, then grief and it needs to be treated as a season, and like any season will evolve and take shape over time as something new. It is not resilience or recovery that despair calls for, it is renewal.

Just like the child who grows into an adult and the reminders I had in my parenting, there are many seasons and moments of despair in parenting. And there are days when it feels like four seasons in one day!  This revelation might be a takeaway for an activist too.