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.