Monthly Archives: June 2011

Ten for further discussion.

I’m back.  I wasn’t actually away and I haven’t been too busy to write nor have I felt I didn’t have anything to say.  In fact, there’s been so much filling my mind and so much happening, it’s been hard to choose one thing and finish and post something.  There are many short pieces of things started.

Here is the long-ish short list of some of what I’ve had on my mind to write about:

1.  Lots of change and growing up around me.  My oldest nephew, my nephew whose birth I was present for– has just graduated from high school.  He is coming here to our city– a long way from his home, to go to college starting in August.  I cannot wait to have him in our lives in this new way.  And I, who has always felt terribly sad as part of almost every big life transition, other than the arrival of my daughter and when I moved in with M, my partner–  cannot help but feel sad too at his leaving home.

2.  The end of my daughter’s school year has felt like my liberation.  Three weeks of daytime arts camp has begun for my daughter.  Hooray.  Just two of the offerings in which she is ensconced are:  girls’ rock band, taught by a long-time lesbian rocker in our town and green screen (a digital video making class– which happily I had heard of through watching ICarly with my daughter).

3.  My daughter is 10 years old.  It’s different from 9 years old.  In some ways very different.  And it’s not all been smooth sailing but I am learning a lot this summer.  About 10.

4.  Mama C has a very interesting dialogue she’s begun about some things she is trying to figure out as the white mother of two African American boys… One of which is the question of whether it does or does not make sense to leave her majority white community (with a huge support network and much to recommend the community from the sound of things) for a place where her two sons will be around many more boys, girls and adults who are African heritage.  Like them.  A flood of thoughts and stories have been prompted by her posts and the comments.

5.  One of the things on my mind, for months and months has been the emerging picture of how racism and internalized racism affect my daughter as she grows older.  How we white people need to move in some big ways if things are ever to change.  Racism is not a verbal complaint of hers, but it is all around her and clearer as she gets older.

I have wanted to write about segregation.  There she is at a very diverse public school.  A school that is both diverse and “good” by someone’s educational and conduct standards.  A school that middle class white people (like me) clamor to get into and to send their children to– because it is a good school; because of the diversity.  Diversity— is what the white people say and I know they/we mean it that they/we want it.  Yet this year, not so different from last year, but more obvious and stark, and very different from kindergarten and first grades– this year I popped over several times at lunch time.  Each time I came upon the group of 4th grade girls I know and have known for years now, sitting out on the front plaza eating their lunches.  They aren’t one big tumbling, chasing, laughing mass anymore.  All the middle class white, blonde girls were always seated on one side of the front entrance, clustered together.  Apart from all the brown girls.  My girl and many other black and brown girls like her could be found on the other side of the front entrance at a table, laughing and trading food and talking.  A diverse fourth grade?  Yes, it is.  But the world as I hope it will be someday– race and racism-wise?  Not even close yet.

And these two starkly segregated groups don’t even get talked about.  At all. Unlike, say, bullying which is on posters and the tongues of teachers, parents and children alike– all at the ready to take up arms, figuratively speaking, against the bully.  He or she is apparently someone else’s child.

5.  On my mind is also the story of the woman I should really refer to as my other daughter— F.  What gives? you ask.  Many, many years ago– like 17– my partner and I informally fostered– invited F, in her late teens, who came to live with us.  She was living through a very difficult period in her teens.  She had dropped out of high school and left home.  She was traveling with someone much older than she and because we had built a relationship with her, she would call periodically.  She took us up on the offer to come to live with us and stayed for just shy of a year.  Although she has lived far from here since she left us, and she has two perfectly good parents here whom she visits and who visit her–my relationship with her is an important one and I’ve not written about it yet.  F. visited from England (where she lives) recently– without her husband  but with her new baby boy.  And so I have really been thinking about the fact that in a particular and important way– I am actually mother of two.  And a grandmother.  Wow.  It was so wonderful to see her and so wonderful to be with her boy.

7.  Many of the above items remind me that I am now, even with just one child, an experienced parent.

8.  Many interesting upcoming travel plans for our summer vacation.  To Nova Scotia and to Wisconsin.

9.  I have read and loved the feminist, anti-racist, Jewish Women’s journal– Bridges–since they started publishing about 20 years ago.  I’m still not quite sure I have the whole story, but I think they have either just published or are about to publish their last issue.   Another end of an era– and a big loss.

10.  Jobs– several very interesting (by my own standards) things on the horizon, more interesting than in some time, but the question remains, what do I really want to do with my time and my mind?

And there is more, but every time I’ve sat down to write, I cannot pull one thread out and just follow it through to the end.  So I thought I’d try laying down all the threads, or at least several of them, right here before your eyes and then go from there.

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Last weekend; our weekend of sister and brother and six kitten siblings

Just before the big celebration at brother's house.

my daughter loves, besides her brother, Tiger.

Five out of six

just one of many kitten-love pictures

Brother and sister together, In the pool of oobleck (do not worry if you don't know what that is!)

I cannot believe it was a week ago already.  These were all taken on Saturday and Sunday– June 4 & 5 last weekend.  Oobleck is a mixture of cornstarch and water, which creates a substance that is neither really a liquid nor really a solid– but it is messier than many families will allow (but not the family of N’s brother, which is one of many great things about them) and is really, really fun to play in and with.  As part of the party– people brought, as requested, boxes and bags of cornstarch– they were emptied into a pool, water was added and quicksand-like, solid-like, goop-like experiments and play ensued.  Hands in, feet in, cornstarch in hair, swimsuits, on feet and everywhere else.  The bottom photo is the two young people at play– standing in the oobleck the next day– when they had the pool all to themselves.  Below is a Youtube video of two adult men running across a (much deeper) pool of oobleck.  But you really have to see and touch it with feet or hands, to know what the heck I’m talking about.

On this mother’s mind; lies, greed and truth–Poem of Ocean Vuong

I cannot remember if this came through my subscription to Split this Rock or through my sub to Blog this Rock– two arms of the same effort; poetry of witness, peace, protest.  I would also say poetry of truth.  I’ve been thinking a lot about things I will write about bit by bit.  But some of what has been on my mind may be best expressed through poems, as well as essay or long post.  These are big topics, but I seem, these days, to always start from the perspective of a mother, raising a daughter, trying to raise her right.

I’ve been thinking about fairness–what is fair and what isn’t and what I/we do and do not face about what is fair and unfair in the world. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about greed and about how this plays out in our homes, our schools, our friendships, in the “small things” as well as the big political acts of greed. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of poets and protesters and writers in telling the truth– and about the right wing in this country.  I’ve been thinking about  the fact that some of what I think is most dangerous, most destructive and most challenging about the right wing in our country, are the ongoing, deliberate and generally successful efforts at obfuscation, at distortion, lying, hiding and mis-shaping, the truth.  So I’ve also had my eye out for the truth-tellers, those who reopen the histories about which we’ve been told lies, those who who retell the stories that were told to us wrong, those who continue to make beautiful and hopeful, the truth, even about subjects that are blindingly hard to look at square on.  I came across this.  It is just one of many poems that I consider part of the antidote to lies and misinformation.   I love, among many things, that this is the work of a very young poet. 

Poem of the Week: Ocean Vuong

Kissing in Vietnamese
My grandmother kisses
as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,
where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes

through the kitchen window,

as if somewhere, a body is falling apart

and flames are making their way back

through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,

as if to walk out the door, your torso

would dance from exit wounds.

When my grandmother kisses, there would be

no flashy smooching, no western music

of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe

you inside her, nose pressed to cheek

so that your scent is relearned

and your sweat pearls into drops of gold

inside her lungs, as if while she holds you

death also, is clutching your wrist.

My grandmother kisses as if history

never ended, as if somewhere

a body is still

falling apart.

-Ocean Vuong

Used by permission.

Ocean Vuong emigrated to the U.S. in 1990 at the age of one and is currently an undergraduate student at Brooklyn College, CUNY. His poems have been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and appear or are forthcoming in the Connecticut River ReviewNorth Central ReviewPANK, and Asian American Poetry among others. He enjoys practicing Zen Meditation and lives with an 84 year old roommate in Brooklyn, NY.

Vuong appeared on the panel Children of Warriors: Inheriting War Anthology Reading during Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness 2010.

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Celebrating big family, old friends, sibling love. Traveling with daughter, celebrating her brother and Cloudy-with-a-chance-of-Meatballs and his five siblings.

In my small family, we have split up just for the weekend and gone off in different directions.  My partner decided just a few weeks ago to attend a college reunion. It’s the first and only she has attended since she was in college many, many years ago.  She went to a small Catholic women’s school just outside of Chicago and is back there this weekend with old friends, many of whom she hasn’t seen in over 30 years.  She visited my mother who lives in Chicago, yesterday.  In the realm of wild coincidence, a couple of years into my relationship with my partner (so 20 or so years ago), we figured out that the wife of my first cousin, before my partner had come to many family gatherings of mine where she would have seen for herself– was one of her college roommates.  Small world.  So she will be at her college reunion with my cousin by marriage, who is very much family to all of us– my partner, me, my mother, my sister, our respective children.

My daughter, as I have explained, has a brother twenty-two months younger than she.  He is a wonderful, beautiful, lively, smart and loving boy.  Just a little over two years ago our family learned that he has been born and adopted by a different family.  He was at the time, six, and my daughter was about to turn eight.  All of that is complicated in many ways and also quite, quite simple.  These two only children in their growing-up second families, became children who were not “only children”, but children with siblings– after a phone call from our mutual adoption agency– telling us that they were closing their doors and that by the way, our children were siblings and if we all agreed they would connect us all.  There is even much more to the story– but not for now.  Three of the four adults involved met in the office of a trusted friend and counselor/therapist within days of this news– and the children and the four adults all convened within a month.    It was most definitely love at first sight for them.

By further coincidence, N’s brother L– is also growing up in a lesbian family and our families became family to each other almost exactly two years ago.  It was a remarkable meeting and it was remarkable watching the children take each other in with such ease and love and big hearts.

Though their birthdays are some months apart– both were adopted– that is to say met and became the children of their families– in early June of different years.  So my daughter’s adoption anniversary has just passed and his is coming soon.  They live in a suburb of a different city in an enormous, old, rambling house with many, many animals.  We live in the heart of our city in an apartment that is big by apartment standards, but– well– very small compared to the house of N’s brother.  They have pets– many.  We have allergies and no pets at all.

This year when they invited us, for the third time, to their big June festival celebrating his adoption– I said sure.  As it worked out my partner decided she wanted to go to her reunion, so my daughter and I made the several hour drive (we won’t say how many hours it was supposed to be and how many hours it was as a result of getting lost in the final leg…) last evening and arrived a little after 10:00.

We were greeted by L and his two moms, the two dogs– one large and one small, the four cats who live here and  the six kittens they are fostering.  I was lucky that they have a packed house with L’s special uncle in from out-of-town– and the only sleeping arrangements they could figure out involved L sleeping with his moms and N sleeping with me– rather than our usual arrangement where N leaves me completely in the dust once she is with her brother.  We woke up this morning, talked and snuggled in bed– until my daughter had to go pee.  When she returned there was a lively kitten with her– whose name I learned– is, Cloudy-with-a-chance-of-Meatballs.  Kitten with five siblings, two siblings of the human variety– with two different families, two moms from our family  in two different cities for two different kinds of celebrations, just the way I like it.

Adoption Day at our House, June 1, 2011

N. in her funky peace tee shirt and with her Picasso figure. 10 years later.

Today is Wednesday, June 1.  It’s a big anniversary in our family– in a month of big anniversaries.  This is the 10th anniversary of my partner’s and my very early morning flight to Texas to meet our daughter for the first time.  It is the anniversary of falling in love and becoming parents.
I remember many things in great detail.  I remember much more than I will write here but I remember one last trip down our hall that morning, to grab one last thing before we left for the airport.  I bumped into my partner and started to cry.  I said, “I’m scared.  This is the biggest (and in fact the only) blind date of my life.”  I said, “I’ve loved my life with you, just as it is, just the two of us.”  It was one of a few times in my purposeful and long march to parenthood that I felt scared about becoming a parent.

I remember landing in El Paso, both of us suddenly starving after getting up so early and being too nervous to eat– and I remember our hungry, delicious, lunchtime meal in a small hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant at the airport in El Paso– not in the cool, clean air-conditioned corridors of the airport, but a restaurant on the grounds of the airport– where baggage handlers and mechanics came to eat their lunch.

I remember pulling up into the driveway and then walking through the door of my daughter’s foster mom’s home which is where we met and adopted our daughter.  I remember Stephanie, her foster mom, standing holding her in the doorway, talking, talking to her.  I remember my daughter’s alert and watching face.  She knew something important was happening and she paid close attention.  And I remember looking at her and taking her in my arms and all the relief and love and certainty that I felt.

I wrote about one important part of that first meeting in Saying Goodbye.  I wrote and I wanted to write more– about that fact that adoption day was a joyous day for us, but it was a very, very hard day for my daughter and is hard for many, if not most, children who are adopted and who leave behind everything to start lives with new families.

In the year after our first June 1 (2001) and for years after on this day, we used to talk about the day and wake up nostalgic and happy and play a wonderful John McCutcheon song called “Happy Adoption Day” to my daughter.  But recently she has let us know that she has different feelings than we do about the feel of that day.  It was so, so good she came home to us; it was and is good we are her parents; it is good we are exactly the family we are.  I have absolutely no doubt about that.  But it was, in fact, a very hard day for her even though it led to good things.  Not long ago I recited, as best I could remember, my piece called Saying Goodbye to her– while I was driving and she rode in the back seat and I looked back and there were tears running down her face.

So this year the night before our Adoption Day anniversary, I asked what she wanted to do.  I got up early with her and we played– Barbies, and watched an old Get Smart episode together.  We worked together to finish up her Pablo Picasso puppet for a school project.
She dressed her 10-year-old self in new clothes; gifts from one of her Aunts for her birthday.    And I pulled out the clothes she was wearing when we met 10 years ago, and laid them on the sofa for us all to look at and smile over.  As it goes, the adults in the family–my partner and I– with our eyes on her and our minds also disbelieving that that past is over, cannot fully comprehend how our tiny baby stands before us, so big and grown.  But her mind is mostly on the coming day and the weeks and months and years ahead as she gathers her things and heads to school.

So, I love you, N.
Your Mommy and I had very good lives together before you came along.  And yet life is completely better, funner, funnier, more interesting and just better, deeper, richer and more lively and hopeful– since you came along.

N. with just one of her two very proud moms. June 1, 2011.

What she wore 10 years ago-- on June 1, 2001.