May 1, 2017

May 1st is one of those days that makes me think of where I grew up. Until I moved away to college, I didn’t realize kids everywhere didn’t have to tell jokes to get their Halloween candy or share May Day baskets with their friends and neighbors.

I grew up in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa. Iowa was a fine place to grow up. It was nice, if not exciting. Growing up Des Moines was considered the most boring city in the U.S. As a kid, you wouldn’t argue. It has a lot more going for it compared to 20 years ago. A livelier downtown. A tiny bit of a tech/start up scene. More twenty-somethings want to live there. The amount of cool lofts and apartments built into old warehouses has skyrocketed (as has the rent). If I lived in Des Moines, I would want to live in downtown (or in the Ingersoll neighborhood).

But the suburbs? There are many types of places I can think about living one day (in a downtown, in a college town, by a lake, by an ocean, in the mountains, etc.) but the suburbs is not one of them. I get the appeal. They’re considered safer and the houses are newer but I had 18 years of suburb life and I have zero appeal to go back. My time growing up was incredibly sheltered. The schools I went to were the best in the state which ranked high in the U.S. But discrimination based on gender and race were things in the history books. Of course, I was a white girl who didn’t learn the subtle ways our society treats girls and boys differently, even in Kindergarten, until I was almost 30. I don’t know how it felt to be the one black kid in my elementary school. I didn’t know until recently a friend experienced prejudice growing up because she was Jewish. I guess “nice” depends on how much you look/are like the majority.

Moving to Kansas for college didn’t seem like a big change. I was ready to move on from my family and high school. I desired a new start, in a similar place. And really, Kansas is similar to Iowa. The politics are much more conservative as a whole in Kansas but there are still small towns and suburbs and cities. And there’s still a lot of white people.

My freshman year I was matched with a smallish town Kanas girl who, to this day, is one of my closest friends. For Halloween, our dorm opened to local kids for Trick Or Treating. I will never forget asking the first small group of children that came by if any of them had a joke (per my 18 year Halloween tradition in Iowa). They were young enough that when they looked at me blank, I gave them candy and shrugged my shoulders at my roommate. Why did you ask them for a joke, Becky asked. Thus, my mind was blown that kids EVERYWHERE weren’t required to tell a joke to get their Halloween candy.

It was really one of those steps to adulthood and greater learning of people. Another friend from college, who hailed from California, wondered if late-winter Iowa was always full of brown, dead fields. I scoffed at her. Driving through a luscious, green, California valley last January, I remembered her comment and how I had come to feel remorse for my response. She had never experienced a winter in the midwest. She was learning, too.

When people around me remark on a certain person’s actions now, I tend to think about why they said or did something and find a reasoning behind it. I think it frustrates Phil sometimes. As if I’m defending people — even if their action or statement was against Phil — instead of standing with him. But I think you can be a lot happier if you don’t assume people are intentionally trying to hurt you.

More forgiveness could go a lot farther in this world.

“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

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