During the recent Polar Vortex of 2019, I loaded myself and my son Vinny into the Resistance Mobile (my terrible minivan bedecked with political and justice related stickers) and for the first time in my life drove to the State House in Concord, New Hampshire to rally and testify in support of Senate Bill 1, the bill to provide Paid Family and Medical Leave as a benefit for New Hampshire residents.
Why is this newsworthy? Well, a little background. I am a happily married, stay at home former punk rock mom to three wild kids. They’re fantastic. I have twin boys who are ten and a seven year old daughter. My twins were diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age 2.5. One of the twins has co-occurring mental health issues. My daughter is “neurotypical” and she was born exactly six months after the boys initial diagnoses. For the past 10.5 years my life has revolved around the kids. Therapies, IEP meetings, having our home lead abated and dealing with the guilt that perhaps if we had known about it earlier some of the behaviors our kids have might not be as severe, learning all of the Pokemon characters and their evolutions and how to play Smash Bros without just mashing buttons… you know, the works.
Last spring, I was nominated by a friend to attend the NH Leadership Series. It was uncomfortable to be told by this woman (who I’d been standing up for coffee dates for the past year due to kid and my own personal anxiety issues) that I was the perfect candidate for this opportunity. I hesitated but eventually went with it, submitted my application and was floored when I received my acceptance letter.
I’ve been attending monthly Leadership training since September 2018. We have learned about what it takes to be a leader in our communities, how to navigate the personal and public worlds, and really, how to get the hell out of your own head and look at what the bigger, scarier, more rewarding outside world has to offer. I absolutely love all of it.
Part of the Leadership Series is learning how to find legislative bills that relate to the world of disability and family and how to to testify at hearings in support or against these bills. This is scary for me, I have strong opinions on these things but my usual forum is the “comfort and safety” of my Facebook friends and family- well that’s not entirely true, I have emailed my legislators in the past for an issue or two that really struck a chord with me, but have never addressed them in person.
Last year the bill for Paid Family and Medical Leave in New Hampshire was defeated. It has been re-addressed this year and I fully support it. In fact I’ve written testimony to that fact. HOWEVER… the same woman who nominated me for the Leadership Series asked that I show up to testify in person at the Senate hearing for this bill. I said I would, then realized that my son would have to attend with me (he is homeschooled, which is another can of worms best left covered for now) and said I’d provide written testimony instead and then a few days later I changed my mind again and decided that my son Vinny and I would indeed show up.
The day of the hearing was frigidly cold, we were to be getting a snowstorm in the evening and my couch was quite comfy. I flip flopped out loud about going to Concord. I was thinking that it was okay if we didn’t attend. Except something in my gut kept stirring. With every passing minute I had the urge to get up and get dressed. It took a few false-starts but I did it. I got dressed, helped my son choose a “cool outfit” and we hopped into the Resistance Mobile.
Walking into the State House for the first time in my entire life (I’ve lived in NH for 36 of my 40 years of life) was amazing. The architecture, the old flags, the floors, the big heaters at the base of the windows overlooking the courtyard that felt so great blasting on my ice cube hands okay, perhaps that’s just a personal thing. So I take this all in, give my son a minute to get acclimated and we see to our left a large group already gathered. They’re smiling and holding signs in support of Paid Family and Medical Leave. I put on my brave face and we walk towards them. A kind young man offers us support stickers and a sweet hand lettered sign. He shows me where to sign in and thanks us for supporting the cause. There is not a soul in this gathering that I recognize and all of this makes my anxiety rise, but my son is with me and I’m providing a model of behavior for him so I smile and suck it up. Eventually my crew, these women and men whom I’ve only known for less than six months arrive and we stand with them in support.
The hearing was standing room only and the crowd noise was beginning to make my son anxious (which he was able to verbalize beautifully) so we talked it out and decided that we’d leave. I made sure my testimony was given to my dear friend and “get off the couch mentor” and we made our way back home.
It felt wonderful to be with the like-minded activist friends and new people even though it scared the life out of me inside. It was hard and rewarding. I’m excited to say that next week Vinny and I will be attending the hearing in the legislature for the Paid Family and Medical Leave bill. I am proud to say that I although I am still anxious about group activities, I know that this will be a meaningful experience and can help more than just my own personal anxiety.
It is hard to do something that doesn’t feel comfortable and I abhor commonly used motivational phrases, however doing something uncomfortable can also give you a sense of accomplishment that will carry you to continue to seek out more uncomfortable situations. It has for me.