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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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The Wildflowers Still Will Bloom

My annual order of wildflower seeds arrived in the mail, and I've never been so eager to start something new — something beautiful and immune to the virus taking so much away.

I love reading aloud the names of the flowers that, in theory, will thrive here in northeast Ohio.

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Take Heart, For The Sake Of Your Children

 

This has become too rare, I suddenly realized — this unscheduled gift of a moment.

I was sitting on the small sofa in our front room, watching our 3-year-old granddaughter Carolyn as she arranged a family of toy mice on top of the trunk that doubles as a coffee table. She was softly singing a made-up song, seemingly oblivious to me until I heard the ending: “…and Grandma is right there, watching me.”

She looked up at me and smiled. “I see you,” I said.

Her soft mention reminded me of what her mother, Liz, had once yelled during a family gathering when she was 5 years old. “When I say, ‘Please pass the grandmother,’ it means I want some attention.”

I didn’t know Liz back then. I didn’t even meet her until the year before I married her father, when she was still a teenager. Nevertheless, I know many of her and her sister’s funny quotes from childhood because, for more than a dozen years of his single parenthood, Sherrod wrote down their exchanges in his “Funny Book.” By the time I met him, the “Funny Book” had become a cherished family heirloom. He hand-copied every page, twice, so that he could give each daughter a copy on her wedding day.

Early in my columnist career — 16 years ago, to be precise — I wrote about Sherrod’s “Funny Book,” in the hope that it would inspire others to start their own books for the children in their lives. Back then, I used to share personal stories fairly frequently, on the advice of my editor, Stuart Warner. Revealing the less political parts of me, he argued, might close the distance with more conservative readers who thought we had nothing in common.

Maybe they hated my views on abortion, for example, but could appreciate stories from my life as a single mom. The same people outraged about my long support for same-sex marriage might see themselves in my love for Springsteen and Motown, my faith in the comforts of a denim jacket and my over-the-top affection for my dog. Some of my favorite reader letters begin with, “I hate your politics, but…”

In the last three years or so, I’ve lost touch with that part of myself as a columnist. Our country is in crisis, and sides are bitterly drawn. After Donald Trump was elected, I started thinking that virtually every column I write must deal with Very. Serious. Things.

Well, what could be more serious than the state of our hearts?

When our first grandchild started talking, I bought a leather-bound notebook. The “Grandparents’ Funny Book,” we call it, and it is slowly filling with stories of our seven grandchildren’s lives.

Page 14: “Grandma,” 3-year-old Jackie said as I was cooking at the stove, “sometimes I say #*@^ and I’m not supposed to.”

Fortunately, I’d had prior warning of this new habit. “Well,” I said, “sometimes I say #*@^, too, and I’m not supposed to. How about we both agree to stop saying it? Deal?”

“Deal.”

Page 5: In the summer of 2012, Sherrod was walking 4-year-old Clayton into preschool.

Clayton: “Grandpa, wanna know a secret?”

Sherrod: “Sure, buddy.”

Clayton: “I go a lot faster if you stop saying, ‘Go faster.'”

Page 21, thanks to a Facebook post from son-in-law Matt: “Lately, Leo has been waking up in the morning and joyously screaming: ‘It’s the next day! Look, the sun is out! It’s the next day!'”

Reading these pages full of our grandchildren’s words slows my pulse and reminds me why I’m still in the fight. It sounds cliche to say you want to have the right answer when your grandchildren one day ask what you did during this time in our country — until you imagine being on the receiving end of that question. It turns out that the mother who never wanted to let her children down is now the grandmother who hopes to make their children proud.

As I am writing this, I am on a flight to visit my 3-year-old grandson Milo and his younger sister, Ela. My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow, and this trip is a surprise, thanks to her husband. I used to think no one could love my Cait enough, until I met Alex.

Milo and I have big plans. We discussed over FaceTime last week what we would bake for his mother’s birthday. “Mommy wants a cake and cupcakes,” he assured me. “She needs both.”

Well then, that is what we shall make, and I will make note of his instructions in our “Grandparents’ Funny Book.” Years from now, I want Milo to know that, in this time of great turmoil in our country, Grandma Connie was hanging on his every word.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Connie Schultz’s husband — and co-grandparent — Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Excuse Me. So Sorry. Excuse Me…

Until this week, I’d never witnessed this on a plane.

I’d read numerous stories and essays about passengers trying to shame seat-mates for their weight, but I was not prepared for what that sounds like or how it looks.

We were a full plane, except for a single open seat in first class. I was seated in the immediate row behind that section and had a clear view of the remaining spot. I fly a lot but usually not with this airline. My upgrade was as likely as my exiting the plane a foot taller than when I had boarded.

A man three rows back thought he should sit there, and not because he had paid for it or qualified as a frequent flyer. His “circumstances” entitled him to it, he said, because he was seated next to a large man.

I didn’t know his reason at first. I heard the airline attendant patiently explaining how upgrades work and thought nothing more of it. A few minutes later, that same passenger started yelling at the attendant to take a picture with his phone. That’s when I pulled out my notebook. A columnist’s habit.

“Take it,” he said, holding out his phone. “Take a picture of us to show how ridiculous it is to make me sit next to him. Look at him. Why should I have to sit here?”

Several of us whipped around, and at least a couple of passengers sitting closest to him made disapproving sounds. The man did not care. “Take the picture,” he said, his face growing redder. He pointed to the passenger next to him. “Take the picture of us so that I can prove what happened here.”

The passenger he was attempting to humiliate was still and quiet, staring straight ahead. The airline attendant remained calm, explaining that he could not take a picture of both of them. “If you want a photo of yourself, hand me your camera,” he said, “but I can’t photograph another passenger.”

The angry man finally gave up, but the damage had been done — and nobody can explain why better than Tommy Tomlinson.

Tommy has been a reporter, columnist and essayist for about three decades and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2005. Like countless others, I am proud to be his friend because he is also a kind and gentle man. His recent book, The Elephant in the Room, chronicles his lifelong struggle with obesity.

In an excerpt published earlier this year in The Atlantic, he describes taking a crowded subway in New York City, scared that he might fall and hurt somebody. “None of them could take my weight,” he writes. “It would be an avalanche. Some of them stare at me, and I figure they’re thinking the same thing. An old woman is sitting three feet away. One slip and I’d crush her. I grip the pole harder.

“My palms start to sweat, and all of a sudden I flash back to elementary school in Georgia, standing in the aisle on the school bus. The driver hollers at me to find a seat. He can’t take us home until everybody sits down. I’m the only one standing. Every time I spot an open space, somebody slides to the edge of the seat and covers it up. Nobody wants the fat boy mashed in next to them. I freeze, helpless. The driver glares at me in the rearview mirror. An older kid sitting in front of me — a redhead, freckles, I’ll never forget his face — has a cast on his right arm. He reaches back and starts clubbing me with it, below the waist, out of the driver’s line of sight. He catches me in the groin and it hurts, but not as much as the shame when the other kids laugh and the bus driver gets up and storms toward me—

“and the train stops and jolts me back into now.”

Sharing cramped public spaces is often uncomfortable. Impatience can sneak up on us like black mold, turning us into someone we don’t recognize and quickly leave behind. But anytime we try to shame someone else, only one of us gets to walk away and act as if it never happened.

After our flight landed, I joined the long line of passengers waiting for a gate-checked bag. I was on the lookout for the man on the receiving end of that passenger’s rage. I just wanted to smile at him, and I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one.

He just looked down at his feet as he walked. “Excuse me. So sorry. Excuse me,” he said — all the way up the ramp.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

If You Run for President, You Should Talk to Journalists

 

Earlier this month, my husband, Sen. Sherrod Brown, went on a listening tour of four early-primary states as he considered running for president. I traveled with him to Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, as did a caravan of political reporters waiting to see if he would announce that he was in. (He’s not.)

After one of Sherrod’s news gaggles, a reporter pulled me aside and said, “How long before you guys shut down access?”

“To whom?” I asked.

“To us,” he said, pointing to the pool of journalists behind him.

This was in late February. At every public stop, Sherrod and I talked on the record with reporters. This has always been my husband’s practice, and long before he married me. I’m less accustomed to being on this side of an interview, but it would be an act of unforgiveable hypocrisy if, after nearly 40 years as a journalist, I were to start avoiding reporters.

Besides, we trust journalists.

“Why would we stop talking to all of you?” I said.

The reporter shrugged and rolled his eyes, as if I were putting him on. “Because every presidential candidate does,” he said. “You know that.”

Over the next few days, I made a point of asking veteran political reporters about this, and to a person, they agreed. Virtually all presidential candidates — and plenty of congressional candidates, too — regularly treat journalists as vermin to dodge and mislead. This is as true of Democrats as it is Republicans.

That’s disappointing — that’s not the word I want to use — but I can’t say I’m surprised. This disdain for journalists is increasingly common in the very people who have always needed our coverage to reach voters.

I have stood in the back of a rally and watched one of my husband’s colleagues praise freedom of the press to the cheering crowd. An hour later, at a private event, I listened to that same senator bash journalists as malicious and willfully stupid, as heads nodded.

Because I’m married to a senator, too many members of Congress, from both houses, have felt free to recite their litany of complaints about how journalists make their jobs harder. My response is always the same: If you think accountability to the American public is a hardship, journalists are not your problem. I’m not the most popular Senate spouse, but that’s never been an aspiration.

One of the things I noticed during our few weeks on the trail was how hard journalists work to cover these presidential races. Sherrod had a lot of events and meetings, and long drives to get to them, but we had a crew of staffers traveling with us. Their job was to make our lives easier. We never had to book our flights or drive ourselves, nor did we have to worry about directions or the healthy meals that miraculously appeared just when we needed them.

The journalists on the trail, including photographers and videographers, had to get themselves to everything. That’s a lot of schlepping, and a lot of caffeine, too. They had to stay awake on those long drives. We catnapped on the road.

I’m pointing this out because most of the America public has no idea what they ask of the journalists they expect to keep them informed. They also don’t know about all the obstruction and outright abuse inflicted on journalists by campaign staff members following their bosses’ orders.

 

Not all coverage is fair or accurate. Some of it is plain stupid. Journalists are human, and make mistakes. But what other profession so immediately and publicly admits its errors?

Every Democrat running for president should give journalists the access they deserve. We keep saying Donald Trump is wrong to call journalists the enemy of the people. It’s time to act like we mean it.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Photo of Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) by Ohio AFL-CIO/Flickr