Grace Paley came into my mind this morning as I sat down to write. I sat for a while and read from two of my favorites of her books. She was like no one else I have ever known in that she was a great, true, feet-on-the-ground-flyer-making-organizing feminist. She did big, big things in her life. Like writing important books and traveling with a Peace Brigade to Hanoi in 1969– to try to change the course of a US war.
She participated with many other women in the anti-nuclear civil disobedience protests the success of which I am always, but at this particular moment in history, terribly, terribly grateful for. Watching in fear and somewhat numb to the devastation I believe is really happening in Japan, and which I do not believe is really being fully reported yet– I am only sorry that more of us didn’t join in and make that movement even more successful than it was.
One thing that I think distinguished Grace from many of her feminist peers and from many of us of my generation and younger generations is that she both believed in women taking charge of everything and she believed and lived in many ways, that there was no work that was any more important (not that it was the only important work) than the work of raising children “righteously up” as she says in one of my favorite stories of hers. A Midrash on Happiness is the story. You really need to read the title story if you haven’t. And if you have, you should read it again. I keep her in my mind and my back pocket often these days.
A poem written later in her life called, “Stanzas: Old Age and the Conventions of Retirement Have Driven My Friends from the Work They Love” contains the following, the third stanza:
No metaphor reinvents the job of the nurture of children except to muddy or mock.
which is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with although not descriptive of all that I am doing. Certainly in this period of time, I have expanded my own job description as a mother to include things I didn’t have time for before. I walk my daughter to school almost every day, rain or shine, whether I am sick or well, whether I overslept and go in the tee-shirt I slept in or not and almost never take my partner up on the offer to take her to school. It is something I do right now. We talk, we laugh we fight once in a while– but I get to be with her and she gets to have me and I keep figuring things out. I do not make her lunch every day, my partner often does. I pick her up three days a week and sometimes more. If there is something to be done at the school during the day, I go. And then there are the constant days off for teacher training, for holidays, for parent teacher meetings and these days she is with me for all of the aforementioned. One thing I’ve known all along but I am developing discipline– is that it’s a lot about making yourself available and logging in the hours with your child. As in not on the phone or the computer or even thinking about too much else.
I go to the Read 180 (a special catch-up reading class at her school)– once or twice a week to help out. She is in Read 180 and they meet every day for one hour and fifteen minutes. But she asked me to go to the 5th graders and not her 4th grade class, which I do. I go because I want to have that depth of knowledge about her world and I think that teacher who interacts with her every day can use a hand.
But here are a few other things. I meet every single Wednesday morning for about an hour and half with another mom I am close to. We are different ages– she has two children and I have one, she is heterosexual and married, I am lesbian and partnered– she isn’t Jewish and I am but we have very similar sensibilities about mothering and we meet and take turns talking and listening to each other every single week. We laugh, we cry and we talk a lot. Then we say goodbye and go back to the job at hand. We really love each other, but it’s a very efficient operation and it works. After that there were two grocery stops, one for food the other for tall pussywillow branches, mailing a package and getting my daughter to Hebrew school.
There is more– more. We live in a small self-managed coop apartment building. I sit on the coop board this year. Early this morning I wrote emails about the bizarre thefts that have been occurring in the building– where several people’s boxes with stuff they ordered were stolen– but to be precise, the contents were stolen and the boxes placed, by a very tidy thief, neatly in our cardboard recycling– all broken down and everything.
I wrote the neighbor downstairs that he has to clean up his dog’s poop from the side yard and managed to do it in such a way that the guy didn’t get pissed at all.
I cooked black beans and did laundry and wrote about a dozen emails to schedule and reschedule different meetings. And I had extensive dental surgery yesterday so there was morning ice and ibuprofen and saltwater rinse. Before all that I sat and started this piece, read Grace Paley, wondered if you get tired of hearing about her, which you shouldn’t. And now with respect to this blog writing– I finish, just 15 hours later.