Monthly Archives: January 2010

Happy Birthday, Dad

It snowed here yesterday.  Second big snow of this winter, in our city which doesn’t, unlike where I grew up, get much snow at all.  Here we can go all year without any snow at all.  I miss the snow.  A lot. 

So I love a day like yesterday when it snowed all day.  And like today when you wake up and it is bright, white all around and the snow makes our rooms brighter.  Through the closed window I can hear that familiar sound of someone’s shovel crunching through the snow and ice, the drag and scrape along the cement, and the silence while the shovelful is dumped, and then the next crunch and scrape.  That first look in the morning, of the neighborhood, covered in snow, and that sound of shoveling– those must be two of my earliest childhood memories.  For me that look and that sound are profoundly good and deeply reassuring. 

Today is the birthday of my father.  He was born in Chicago and if he hadn’t died, almost 7 years ago, he would be 84 today.  I miss him terribly sometimes.  I always imagine him being born in the middle of a Chicago winter and I imagine the next day being a day like today, white, bright, covered in good snow, but a little bit of a project for his dad to travel through to go back to the hospital where he was born.   I imagine what the weather must have been, and what the world looked like when he was first taken outdoors, when they left the hospital and brought him home. 

He and I were born in the same hospital on the south side– now known as Obama’s neighborhood.  I think that it is possible that the last winter of his life was the only winter of his adult life, when he gave up shoveling snow.  He loved that kind of physical labor.  So, it is only fitting and right that today, on his birthday, it is clean and white and fresh and cold outside and that soon I will get a sweater and coat and boots and go downstairs and start shoveling.  Happy Birthday, Dad.

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Flip Day

If you have a tendency, as I do, to slide toward feeling down, depressed even, or like things are bleak– I highly recommend taking a young person to school every morning.  Or once a week.  Or whenever you can.  It’s such a better way to start the day than the national news.  It’s for real, and it’s interesting.  It turns your whole perspective inside out.  You can take your own child.  If you don’t happen to have a child or children, or yours are grown up; someone else’s works fine.  When I walk into my daughter’s school, despite many things that are hard or not right for the young people–it is, much of the time, a completely exuberant, interesting, lively and hopeful place full of energy and enthusiasm about the coming day.

With the recognition that many of the young people get tired and less attentive (or for some, more awake and more attentive) as the day wears on– this year our public school instituted “Flip Day”– a day, which happened to be yesterday, when we were exactly half-way through the school year and they flipped the schedule.  So the things they were studying and doing in the afternoon are now in the morning and the morning things are now in the afternoon.  Lunch is still at lunch-time.

Our households had gotten a message the night before that the young people were encouraged to wear flip flops (yes, it is very cold here), clothes inside out, flipped out hair, or other things to recognize “Flip Day”.  Though I overslept and my partner was ready to take off to get daughter and our neighbor’s girls to school, I threw on clothes at the last minute and we both drove daughter and two sisters from up the street to school.  Normally only one of us would drive, and normally they no longer need us to walk into the school with them, but I had to go in and see it. 

In honor of flip day, they set up a long table and two electric griddles and the assistant principal and a teacher were flipping and then distributing pancakes.  Our assistant principal, who always dresses for the occasion, was in a big apron and chef’s hat along side the other pancake-flipping teacher.  A third teacher was standing at the table distributing the words and singing a song with made up words about “Flip Day” over and over and over like an endless tape loop.  Children came through the doors with backpacks and coats, excited, or sleepy or not quite with it, but they quickly gathered up close to watch the pancake action and get their pancakes.  

Last night when the day was done my daughter said, “can we get those pancakes some time?  they came in a blue box.”  And the most amazing thing, for my sweet-tooth girl emerged.  My partner asked, “how did they do this?  were there plates and forks? was there syrup?  Jam? butter?”

My daughter said, “no, just a pancake– on a napkin.”  “And you liked it without syrup or jam or honey?”  Vigorous nodding.  Flip day indeed.

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Digital Native

There is a woman I know, though not at all well.  She’s a teacher at a private school.  We have gotten to know her only through a monthly potluck that she and her husband and now their amazing new daughter– often go to–as do we.  One night over dinner I heard her, engaged in another conversation across the noisy table, use the term, “digital native”.  New to me, but I loved it instantly.  “What does that mean?” I shouted to her. She explained and I understand it this way.  Digital Native.  As in my daughter is, and I am not.  As in daughter takes a new camera that I bought and starts recording a video when I truly didn’t yet know that the camera had that function.  As in, she did this before she could really read– and therefore figured it out without looking at the instruction manual.  Without having seen anyone else using the camera this way.  She’s a digital native.  She speaks the language; it’s in the pathways in her mind.  Me, I’m kind of in digital language immersion school, but I am learning slowly.  And now, enthusiastically. Each post on this blog is like having done the next homework assignment / quiz in my this-semester’s- digital- immersion- class.   My partner, she mostly just asks someone else who she thinks knows the language better than she.

So– soon I will be downloading (or do you upload?) pictures into these posts.  Maybe Youtube clips, maybe clip art, maybe links to things big– like speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King– or small, like an NPR piece pro and con about Amazon’s Kindle– at which time I will weigh in about why I still love hard copy.   I will learn as the expert texters and Twitterers do, to write posts way shorter than 200 hundred words, maybe under 100.  We’ll see.  Shortly.

Field Trip

We went on a field trip yesterday.  I went with my daughter and her third grade class.  It was a treat for me because the older they get, the less we, the parents, get into the classroom and the less we can figure out about what goes on in there.  I don’t even mean with their school work.  But more their relationships, how the group works together, your own child and all the things you worry about late at night when you’re troubled and under slept…so it’s nice to get in and see for yourself sometimes.  These children are the children she’ s been in school with since she started kindergarten. 

There is a ton to say about the dynamics of race even now, in this third grade class.  But I can’t figure out how to write it yet.  But there’s simply the trip itself.  We rode the subway, visited the great and beautiful Library of Congress, the Capitol.  We visited the office of our own fierce representative– a black woman (I thought they should have done a lot more explaining about how we don’t actually have a voting representative, and what an outrage that is– right here in the heart of democracy…but we didn’t go there) and ate lunch in a House office building cafeteria.  Our beautiful young people brought a little life to the place.  

There was a lot of back and forth between buildings, some outside and some in those Capitol tunnels underground.  Touring (and listening to the tour guides lectures) was actually a lot of fun and very interesting for me.  But the in between times, the walking back and forth and lunch is where the action is in terms of seeing what really goes on with the young people. 

Two of the boys– both high energy and perfectly delightful, kept asking me for a turn to use my camera which I was strangely relaxed about– so I let them and I got to build a little bit of a friendship with each of them.   I love those moments when I get to know them a little more– on their own terms– when they actually show me what interests them; something they figured out they want to try. 

My daughter and I got along really well too– we laughed (at the expense of my partner) about the fact that her other mom had packed her, what we dubbed “the lamest lunch ever”, and I shared some of my slightly better lunch with her.  We collected beautiful bookmarks from the children’s reading center of the Library of Congress and she asked me to read to her a book that creates a mouse-inhabited Capital city and Library of Congress with names like James Fenimouse Cooper and the Mouse of Representatives.  We bent our necks back at difficult right angles to our bodies to see the beautiful, ornate high ceilings of some of the buildings.

The mom of one of girls arranged the whole tour.  She (the mom) has, what I learned is an even more significant job on the Hill than I had previously understood, even though I’ve known her for four years.  She’s a terrific woman and I loved seeing her in her element clomping around in her high heels and seeing her with her daughter, who is clearly so proud of her.  

At the end of the day, when we had a little time to kill before going on to the last part of the tour, mama- tour- planner brought us all into the empty Committee room of one of the more powerful and visible House Committees, and they ran around, sat behind microphones in the seats of some of the most powerful members of the House and played while I, the only one with a camera, wrestled with the camera’s dying battery to get some photos.  I figure they will remember that chance to play and horse around and do make believe in that House Committee room better than most of what my daughter generally refers to as the “blah, blah, blah” –adults going on about topics that don’t especially interest her, in this case the short historical lectures they got on the tour– though she did absorb and talk about more of it than I expected afterward.  

Watching them– this class of mostly girls it so happens, and mostly young people of color, I remembered back to one of the first days of this school year.  It was September, just 8 months into the Obama administration, when I went to get my daughter after school.  She was playing with the girl whose mom arranged the tour and with another girl; both African American girls.  Somehow they got onto the subject of what they will be when they grow up.  The daughter of our tour leader said she wanted to be the first African American woman president of the United States.  The other girl said she too wanted to be the first African American woman president. 

My daughter, who shies away from the lime light and has always said she wants to be an artist, remained quiet.  Then another mom, a peace activist who was standing with me and listening, said to all three of them, “well, if you run for president, you have to have a platform– something you want to get done.  What do you want to do if you are the president?”

The two presidential hopefuls were stumped by this at that moment.  I guess for each of them, being the first African American woman president of the United States would actually be the platform and I certainly don’t disagree.  But my daughter, who had been reading the young reader’s version of Fast Food Nation smiled and piped up– I know an idea of what I want!  What? we asked??  No More McDonald’s!! my girl said proudly and vehemently.

Then I mentally fast forwarded wondering if some of them will take those seats for real.  Wondering if I’ll get to see a House with many more people of color and women someday soon.

Skin

Skin.  We all have it.   It’s one of the things you see right away about someone when you meet them.  It is, by common sense and according to various books on the human body, a very significant organ.  It has also been the excuse for racism, for many hundreds of years now, and oddly, and heartbreakingly, we are, in this world, quite strangely and rigidly organized in certain ways, around skin.  

I have fair skin– as a child I burned but didn’t tan much, I got freckles, and stayed freckled all summer.  Now I don’t really do sunbathing anymore, even with sunscreen.  I am a white woman; an Ashkenazi Jew with origins in Hungary, Russia.  As a younger woman my hair was dark brown and now it is, well, brown with a lot of gray in it.  Or maybe you would say, gray with some dark brown remaining.  Or maybe you would just say that I have gray hair– I don’t know exactly what you would say.  But my skin is– well beige or pinkish or some color that we call white.   A little over two weeks ago, at the very beginning of January 2010, I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma.  A skin cancer.  This is not very serious in the scheme of things, but it is, after all, a cancer and I got on the phone and called some of my friends and sent emails back and forth and found a wonderful woman dermatologist who spent what seemed a long time looking over every spot, freckle, mole and blotch on my skin, noting them, measuring them, studying and pondering them.  She will see me again in three months to check on my skin.  She sent me to a surgeon to cut out (they say excise) the skin around the spot that was diagnosed as cancer and now I have roughly a 2 and 1/2 inch incision on my forearm and some stitches and I expect that will be the end of it when this all heals. 

I have a daughter, well we have a daughter who came to our family by adoption and who is by birth heritage and appearance, Chicana.  She is beautiful.  Really, she just is– in every possible way– inside and out.  Her skin is definitely brown and our adoption of her made us a transracial family.  She is brown and we are both white.  I thought a lot about race and racism before she was born and before she came into our family, but I sure think about it a whole lot now.  We all do.  We talk about it quite a bit and I think about it a lot. 

I think about racism in her school, in our neighborhood, on tv and  just so much everywhere.  I think about how racism has done terrible things to people of color.  I have also been thinking for quite a few years now about what it has done to us white people to have been set up to play the role we play in this system that divides people by skin/ race (as well as class and many other divisions).  My life, my perspective on race and racism is certainly  different — and more acute since I became my daughter’s mom.  

I knew that adopting her meant that I never could and never would turn back on challenging racism, looking as honestly as I could figure out how to at what it is, and where it lodged in me and in white people I love.  This is not only a human responsibility, but now, it is even more clearly my responsibility as a mother. 

I am ever watchful, but I know she experiences things every day that I am still stretching to understand and to pay attention to.   

And then there is this incision, so I am really thinking about skin.   

It is also the weekend of the holiday commemorating the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.   We went to two wonderful MLK events this weekend. 

One, a Shabbat service at our synagogue– where two predominantly black choirs came and joined with our adult synagogue choir and our synagogue youth choir and the whole service was just beautiful, beautiful music sung by young people of color and young  Jews of color (our synagogue has quite a few Jewish young people of color– many adopted into their families–though fewer adults of color) as well as the adult Jewish choir.  It was very hopeful to be there in a synagogue with so many people of color with my beautiful daughter by my side.   Our rabbi said the theme was “standing up for ourselves and standing up for others”– he said it over and over.

And then yesterday we went to hear the amazing Sweet Honey in the Rock perform their annual MLK weekend youth concert which was gorgeous and hopeful.  Listening to them sing is glorious but there is something else, more, deeper, bigger about who they are and what they give to an audience.  I don’t know what to say about the women and the work of Sweet Honey in the Rock, but they create a powerful glimpse of a world without racism.

Hello world!

This is my first blog.  It’s a toe, or maybe the whole foot into a new world for me. I’ve been reading a handful of wonderful blogs for about 5 years now, since my daughter was about 3 and I went back to work after some time at home.  Those blogs that I have been finding and reading have been an amazing lifeline for me, a window of hope and fresh air, clarifying my perspective and connecting me to other people, especially, but not only, to other mothers, activists, writers (many of the people whose work I have read, I would consider all three).

I want to blog about being a mom. a Jewish mama, a mom of a daughter, an older mom, about writing and reading, about adoption, about race and racism, and the work in the world to end racism, about family and what that actually is,  about the big issues and about the small things that are the daily life of this particular woman and about who knows what else?