Monday, February 17, 2014

A Hard Look


Scary Black Kid I
Scary Black Kid II
Clearly Up To No Good






Parents of black kids have been posting photos on Twitter to emphasize how ridiculous it is that by their very existence, our children are frightening and threatening to others.  Many people more eloquent than I have commented on the Dunn verdict in the last few days.  I have sat here, sputtering and spewing and finally came to the conclusion that I have really nothing more to offer than more evidence of how scary black kids really are.  Behold the terrifying trio that are my family:  my Older Daughter, my Younger Daughter, and my grandson.  His photo I find especially chilling because he has on those sunglasses.  Clearly, he is hiding something.  And if you look at them, you will see the "impact resistant" sticker still on them.  That's probably a gang sign, or, at the very least, proof that he is expecting to be in some kind of altercation.  Otherwise, why would you need "impact resistant" sunglasses?


See those weird square hats on my kids' heads?  Obviously, they cannot be real commencement garb, because everyone knows that there is no way they could have graduated from anything.  That one on top is pretending to graduate from Smith College with two degrees.  That rainbow pin on her gown?  More proof that she is threatening.  She may say it's because she is proud of her diverse family, but you and I both know that it means something much, much worse.  Probably a member of a car-theft ring.  And there we are together the day she pretended to get her Master's in Social Work, so she could help adopted kids.  She's probably just looking to find new, teenage thugs to help her with whatever trouble she's getting into.

The one in the red hat and holding the baby is T-R-O-U-B-L-E.  She may say she graduated from high school against all academic odds, she may say she's in college working on a degree in Criminal Justice while raising a son with her partner who works two jobs to support all three of them, but anyone who knows anything knows that this is not possible.  I mean, just look at how cold and hard she looks in these photos.  Obviously a seasoned thug.

These are my children.  This is my family.  These are the people about whom others speak as if they were less than...worse than...scarier than...

Take a good hard look.  Now ask my why I cry.









Monday, February 3, 2014

Forever After

There can be times in our lives, especially as teens, when our own parents are not the people to whom we turn for advice, companionship, reassurance, and support. Sometimes, we are lucky when there is another, more comfortable choice. This was the case with me when I was in high school, for sure. For several reasons, my beloved father struggled to be a present parent. But this post is not about him. It is about two other fathers, and their roles in my life. They were the fathers of two of my three closest high school friends. They have both died recently, after long, happy, productive, successful lives. George and Fred had much in common, from my innocent, teenage point of view. Their personalities were very different, but they were both kind, gentle, low-key, devoted to their families, and they both seemed to love me almost as their own. George was a tall, lanky man with huge hands, a sweet, understated way and a big, heart-warming smile. He died in November at 91. He was his family's photographer and historian. He catalogued the childhoods of his 5 beloved kids-two boys and three girls-and all their antics and activities and friends. He preserved their memories in a series of albums into which he lovingly pasted photo corners and inserted his black-and-white, and then color, and then Polaroid images. One of his greatest pleasures was to have someone (and that someone was frequently me) ask him to bring out the albums and go through them, page by page. My friend, Mary, is his third child. He knew that I didn't only want to see pictures beginning with her birth, however, because it was his love for his family shining off the pages that I wanted to see. I learned more about him through his photos than I could have by simply talking to him. He turned a blind eye to our teenage hijinx, knowing that if anything catastrophic were to happen, we would let him know. He loved to hear us talk, and had a hearty laugh that he generously bestowed on all of his children and their friends. His generosity of spirit was unrivaled, certainly in my world, and he made me feel welcome-for a minute, or an evening, or a week. When we were high school sophomores, we had a father-daughter barbecue and square dance in he parking lot of our school. At the last minute, my father was unable to make it. I was heartbroken. I called Mary to garner some sympathy, and she reassured me that I would survive. Moments later, my phone rang. It was George. He told me it would be his honor to take me with Mary to the party. That seemingly small gesture left a lasting impression on me. His greatest joy was to see his house filled with his kids, their friends, and their significant others. When Mary and I were in our early 20s, her family moved from my home town to Virginia, and it made me sad to say goodbye to George. After the move, Mary's older sister was getting married in Virginia and I drove down with Mary's then boyfriend (now husband of over three decades)for the festivities. I walked into the house and he offered his arms out to me for a classic George embrace and head tussle, looked me in the eye, and announced, "NOW the party's started!" He knew just what to say to each of us, to make us feel important. I loved him so dearly, and in his passing my only hope was that he knew that.


 Fred was 94 when he died last week. His oldest grandchild, Jen, remarked that "heaven received a great, great man." My friend, Jamie, his oldest child, sent me a text shortly before his death that said, "he's leaving with no unfinished business or regrets." Fred was a happy, happy man. He moved through life with a light-hearted spirit and a kindness that was contagious. He was inspirational in his goodness-despite my teenage angst and no small amount of cynicism, I could never be a jerk around him. It would have done nothing but embarrass me in his presence. I never heard him yell at anyone, I never heard a harsh word, and I never even saw an angry look pass over his face. During one particular high school escapade involving Jamie and me, he arrived at the parking lot where we were hanging out at some ungodly hour, rolled down his car window, and made one simple pronouncement: "Knothead kids!" That was it. He saw we were safe, there was no harm done, and he went back home to bed, from where he had been summoned by Jamie's mother to go find us. His eyes sparkled with good humor and the belief that the next moment of fun was imminent. And it usually was. Fred was never insincere. He didn't fawn over people, or pay empty compliments. When he was proud of one of us, he'd say, "Ya done good, kid." Fred was more than just interested in what his kids did, he was enthusiastic. When his son drove across country with friends, Fred pinned a map of the U.S. on his kitchen wall, and tracked their progress across the country after the weekly calls. When I stopped by during this time, he was excitedly awaiting a progress call, and I could hear the joy in his voice as he got the update. It didn't occur to him to worry about the boys-he just knew they were having fun and experiencing the sweet smell of freedom. Fred was brilliant, handsome, sweet, and such fun. I admired him, I liked him, I enjoyed him, and I loved him. While I know he will be missed, I don't feel sad. The world is a much better place for his having lived, and he leaves behind an amazing legacy of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to whom he brought nothing but joy. R.I.P.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The State of My Union

As I walked around my bedroom this morning, pulling the gray scarf off its hanger, rubbing the excess lotion into my hands, and preparing for my day, I was tuned in to the interview on NPR with Congresswoman Marcia Fudge regarding last night's State of the Union address. I nodded in agreement with everything I heard about the hope she had for bi-partisan support for immigration legislation, universal pre-K, and on-the-job training for American workers. And then she did it. She dropped the marriage equality bomb that drives me crazy. The interviewer said something like, "but government-supported on-the-job training is seen by some conservatives as too much government intervention." She countered with, "If we're going to talk about invasive government, what about the people who want to restrict abortion, or tell people who they can sleep with..." the rest of her sentence trailed off, because I was pounding my fist on the bed, yelling, "Oh no, Marcia! NO YOU DIDN'T!!" If there's one thing that I cannot stand, it's people equating marriage equality with sex. My desire to marry my partner of over 13 years has absolutely nothing to do with sleeping with her. Ask any pair of 15-year olds in the back seat of a car: "Do you want to get married right now?" I believe very few of them would jump at that chance. If marriage=sex, then what about all couples whose physical relationships wane with age, or those who due to illness no longer use sex as their avenue for intimacy, or those who for whatever reason choose not to have sex? Do they have to get divorced? Can they not raise their children together, file their taxes together, make medical and end-of-life decisions together? I don't know about you, but the amount of time in my marriage spent in bed pales next to the amount of time spent sitting with one another talking, working on our house, raising our children, paying our bills, visiting with friends, and simply making a life together. I live with someone who suffers from a chronic, as-yet incurable disease. Without a notarized, legal document in hand, if she were suddenly in need of medical intervention, I would not be able to stand in the hospital and take part in the discussions with doctors about her care. If I were to suffer a stroke and were left unable to speak, she would not be the person to whom the medical staff looked to be my advocate. Fortunately, we both have families who support us and our union, and who would defer to our choices for one another, but many, many gay couples do not have that luxury. I read stories all the time of gay couples whose partners' families have shut them out of hospital rooms, or worse...refused to allow them to attend the funerals of the people with whom they have lived and shared everything for years. When a straight couple goes to their parents to announce their engagement, how many of those parents immediately think about the sex their kids are going to have? They see two people in love, who are planning to make a long life together, perhaps raise a family or buy a house or rescue dogs or save the world. If their children choose not to have children of their own, do the parents ask them, "Are you not sleeping together?" Marriage and sex are not the same thing. Marriage equality is not about who you want to sleep with. It's about spending your lives together, Marcia, and even more than not wanting the anti-equality wing-nuts in my bedroom, I don't want them with me at the Home Depot choosing the color I paint that room.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Speak His Name

Daniel. Daniel. Daniel. I read a horrible story (to which I will not link) about the death of a young child at the hands of his mother and her boyfriend. I couldn't finish the article, because I cannot read about the details of child abuse without coming totally unglued. Call me a sissy. I have a dear relative, and now several friends, both in real life and through the blogging world, whose precious children have died. One of their common desires is for their children not to be forgotten. As hard as it is (and who am I to call it hard?) I make sure I don't shy away from conversations about their children who are gone. I send notes and texts and emails and poems whenever I can, just to check in and let them know that I haven't forgotten that their daughter or son existed. I do this because it's the only thing that I can do that might make a difference or ease their pain. There is nobody looking for this in Daniel's family, so I'm asking for it myself. If you have a minute, please speak his name. If you keep a list of those for whom you pray, or who you just hold in your thoughts, please add Daniel's name to the list. If you, like me, know that honestly where he is now (whether or not you believe there is "somewhere") is better than where he was for 4 miserable, long, pain-riddled, hungry years, then please send him kind thoughts. Daniel. Daniel. Daniel.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Elementary

If there is one thing that the events of the last several days has reminded those of us who are parents, it is just how vulnerable we are.
For me, the most vulnerable years of my life were not those fraught with the fear that the teenage years brought-by then I had a devoted, loving spouse by my side.  It was the years when my children were in elementary school.  We were strapped for money all the time, I was strapped for time, and I was working for the least flexible employer I have experienced to date.  I had wonderful neighbors who reciprocated child care with me, and I relied heavily on the people affiliated with our little neighborhood school.

They never disappointed.  The school community embraced my quirky family with acceptance and celebration, and walked shoulder-to-shoulder with me through an amazing series of shitstorms challenges.  The young woman who ran the after school care program at our school was directly responsible for our survival, in so many ways.   With her help, and that of her entire family and staff, my kids thrived and grew and learned cooperation and compassion and humor.  The teachers, almost without exception, were the perfect fit for the kids and me, and we were safe and welcome.

Our school principal was the best;  a man with a laugh that echoed through the school halls and filled the gym.  He was in many ways typical Boston Irish.  His complexion was ruddy, his hair a golden-red, and he possessed those smiling eyes of legend and song.   He was free with his sympathy and empathy.  He listened.  He encouraged and gave pep talks to the kids, and always had the kindest of words for the parents.  No child, no parent was a stranger to him-he met you once, and he knew your name.

At the first-ever silent auction fund-raiser for our school, he offered up for bid, "Be Principal for a Day."  To the highest bidder went the opportunity for a child to shadow him for an entire school day and help him make earth-shattering decisions such as which classroom he visited first or in what order to read the daily announcements.  I won this bid, and because my Younger Daughter was in Kindergarten which was only a half-day, he offered to let my Older Daughter take the afternoon shift with him.  They were thrilled beyond belief.  Younger Daughter went with him to the nurse's office when he got his flu shot.  It was her job to hand the nurse the band-aid.  Both of my girls felt important and special and loved by him every day, and especially that day.

He was every-day nice.  A good decision maker who supported his teachers and made our school proud.  We wanted our school to do well, not only for our children, but also because our success was a direct reflection on him.

In perhaps his greatest (and I'm sure many, many families have their own stories of his greatness) gesture of generosity and inclusiveness, he met me after school one day to hear a plea.  My dear neighbors had just adopted three girls-nieces, actually, direct from Africa.  They had had minimal school exposure, minimal exposure to English, and zero exposure to American culture.  The middle and youngest daughters were the same ages as my two girls, and their addition to our neighborhood was so exciting for us.  I met with Mr. L.  on a warm afternoon in early May to make my proposal.  There was a month or so left of school.  Our new neighbors knew us and nobody else.  Would it be possible, I asked, for the girls to come to school with my kids for the last month to sit with them in the classrooms, to meet other children, to see what school was all about, and to have a tiny leg-up in the fall when classes started again?  My expectation was that he would say he needed to talk to the Superintendent of Schools and he would see what he could do.  It was all I hoped for.

He had a way of rubbing his eyes that always meant, "Give me one second here."  After that second, he looked straight at me and smiled his huge, Irish smile, and said, "Of course.  They can start on Monday."

As I walked down the ramp from the double glass door to the sidewalk, lightly brushing my hand along the metal railing, I thought out loud that this man was straight from heaven, and I would never forget to tell him, not one single day, that he was changing lives with his love.

The kids all went to school together on Monday, the principal went to their classrooms to visit, and he took their new parents into his heart along with everyone else.  And every day I stuck my head in his office.  He'd look up from his desk and give me a nod and a wink.


                                                                  R.I.P
                                                                  R.W.L
                                                          4/3/1949-7/14/2013

Sunday, July 14, 2013

My Child

On a steamy, close summer day in 1990 we woke up early.  No alarm clock needed.  Older Daughter, as always, awakened happy and talkative, a stream of stories emanating from her heart-shaped lips and a thousand questions swirling like a whirlwind through the kitchen.  Within minutes, her favorite neon-bright suit was up over her bony little shoulders, the elastic on the legs tugged into place.

This was no ordinary beach outing.  We were beach warriors.  No small cooler-for-two with a couple of drinks and a peanut butter sandwich for us.  Our cooler was righteous:  huge and filled with ice over juice boxes, a quart of lemonade, some yogurt, freshly washed grapes and our go-to sandwich for days at the beach:  meatloaf.  I don't know why...but we loved meatloaf sandwiches at the beach.

She was always responsible for whatever she wanted to have with her at the beach, even at 2.  If she couldn't carry it, it didn't go.  Because a bucket, a little shovel, and a tiny rake were all it ever took to occupy her, she trundled out to the car with her stash and stood by the trunk, waiting.  She could barely contain her excitement.  This was the BIG beach.  The ocean.  We spent almost every summer weekend day for the first 10 years of her life at a lovely little lake beach, with shaded areas for mom and an easy walk to the water that stayed very shallow for a long time.  But this day, we were headed up to the North Shore to a proper ocean beach with real waves and tons of people.

At the shore, the day was gloriously sunny, not too hot, and with a lovely sea breeze that was enough to keep us cool but not so much that our meatloaf got sandy.  For hours, I read on the shoreline while she sat beside me digging and filling her holes with water, a running commentary going about the world she was creating in the sand.  She was the sweetest little girl, and at only two was incredibly verbal and to me, fascinating.   Occasionally she would come and ask to go back into the water, and I happily obliged.  I love to swim, and I wanted her to have a healthy respect for the ocean.  It was a perfect day.  In the afternoon, we weaved between the towels and umbrellas, up the beach and away from the water, and she fell asleep under a towel, her precious little thumb thrust deep into her mouth.  I pulled the brim of my hat down some to cover my sun-vulnerable nose and finished the Boston Globe Magazine, thinking life could not be any sweeter.  She was my constant companion, my pure devotion, my life's work.

After her nap we agreed to one more swim together before taking off for the ride home.  We wondered if we'd see an ice cream truck in the parking lot, and talked about what we might get.  The beach was packed.  People were cheek-to-jowl, and the smell of coconut oil permeated the summer air.  I looked around and noticed what I frequently did:  my beautiful, loving, brilliant child was alone in her blackness.  At a public beach with wall-to-wall people, one black person.  We folded our striped towels, threw out our trash, dumped the ice out of cooler, and took off for the water.  Along with dozens of other people, we made the slow migration down the beach, being careful not to kick sand on sleeping sun-lovers as we went.  She got a little ahead of me, only a few feet really, and I was able to admire her adorable little form in her green suit.  As we trekked through the hot sand, a woman wound up walking next to me.  She leaned over and said, in conspiratorial tone, "Figures.  The only kid on the beach whose parents aren't watching her is the black one."  My head shot to the right so fast I thought my neck might break.  I looked her dead in the eye and said, quietly, "that's my daughter, and I most certainly am watching her."

It was not the first or last time someone made a stupid, racist remark to me about one of my children, but it's the one that stuck out in my memory as I heard the Zimmerman verdict. 

Trayvon could be my child.

  




Thursday, July 11, 2013

Circles

I took this photo because he had a haircut-his first.  Because I have literally taken thousands of pictures of him, I'm very critical of composition, color, background, etc.  By most accounts, this is not great.  The bottom of the painting over his head, the gap of wall...none of that appeals to me.  But the photo makes me cry tears of joy.

I look at the light in his eyes and see the sparkle.  The tilt of his head reveals his attention to the person speaking, and the open-mouth smile is evidence of his happy demeanor.  His short hair is adorable, his square little shoulders are perfect, and his unique little ears are so endearing.  What makes me cry is none of this.

I raised his Mama from the age of three.  We didn't have the luxury of being together from her birth, or even shortly thereafter.  She moved a lot in the first three years.  She didn't nuzzle into my neck at bedtime, or call "Mama" to me from a crib, or crawl in my lap as a 1-year old for a story or a song.  Where was she?  What did she do?  How was she comforted or supported or taught?

The person at whom he is looking is his own Mama.  She is calling his name with such love in her voice, with such joy in her heart, and such connection...deep, deep connection.  His eyes have met hers, and he returns the love.   He trusts her implicitly to watch out for him, to be there when he tumbles, to clap when he dances or plays the piano, and she never fails to deliver.  She is a wonderful mother.  They have their own language, filled with nicknames and cues and made-up words.  She talks to me about how happy he makes her.  I have never heard her say that about anyone or anything else.  She has a marvelous partner in his daddy, a truly good man who loves her and loves their baby and does the right thing, time after difficult time. 

The circles of life are linked.  I had the joy of raising one daughter from infancy, I had the challenges-many of them joyous-of raising one daughter from toddler hood.  She, however, now has the joy of raising her child from birth, and it is obvious to me from the way he looks at her, the way he is with all of us, that the time invested in attempting to make up for lost moments with his Mama was worth every second.  The result is this, and what a wonderful "this" this is. 

I love you, baby boy, with all my heart.
Grammy