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