Monthly Archives: October 2011

Happy Birthday! How old are you?

I’ve been thinking a lot about age lately.  Not “old age” but just age.  What people are like and what life is about at different ages.  I was at a party recently with very few people I knew.  I met many people, a couple of whom where about 18 months old, and I liked meeting those youngest ones– so open and welcoming of me, big smile my way, obviously happy to see me even though they’d never met me, ready to play and engage.  Right off the bat.  It’s obvious but still worth saying that it’s just very different with the adults in terms of openness and welcome and liveliness and it was so noticeable as I worked my way into that crowd of mostly people I didn’t know.

On Tuesday I was at my daughter’s basketball practice with a whole slew of 9 and 10 year old girls mostly.  Toward the end, the younger brother, age 3, of one of the girls arrived with his dad and he and I started in playing right away.  I didn’t know him and knew his dad only by sight.  But I just knew right away when he and I started to play, that he was three.  And I was right.  There’s just a certain way of being at three even though that boy was so uniquely himself.

Today is my mother’s 80th Birthday.  She is a different kind of person than whatever ageist images I have in my head of 80– in a completely good way, so that is her gift to me.  Happy Birthday back at you, Mom.  My sister and I have been working hard on plans for a party that we are giving for my mom in Chicago on Sunday, near where my mother lives.  My daughter and I are traveling today and I’ll get more time to reflect on age when I’m with her and with some of her long-time friends, many of whom are now 80 and older.

I’ve been solo mama for the past several days while my partner has been visiting her own mother.  My daughter and I have a rhythm all our own when it’s just the two of us and it works, it rocks even.  Yesterday she was just so, so tired and she asked and I let her stay home from school.  She is, to use a word that has only been invented very recently, a tween.  At about noon she was sitting in the living room in her pj’s and I was getting ready to work for a bit at the computer while she read.  I asked if there was anything she needed before I sat down and she said exactly the following to me;

“Mama, can you bring me that sparkly bunny and the books from my room about puberty?”

I guess “tween” really is a thing, at least in this capitalist culture with many stuffed animals and many books to teach you about puberty.  Age.  It’s an interesting thing to ponder.

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Not a family fight and not the store, phone or computer, but apples, real apples.

Last Monday was a no school day.  There’s been some crazy dynamic in the family lately and for a while on days when we have a whole luxurious day ahead of us– with nothing but possibility.  The possibilities become some serious kind of liability.  We don’t remember to organize a playdate ahead of time.  We call one or two or three people who are busy and everyone feels bad, or let down or bummed out, and my daughter gets despondent and feels that no one wants to play with her and we adults get despondent but spend the whole day saying, “well, what should we do?” with tones of forced cheerfulness.  And we wait to hear back from someone or feel disappointed that they were busy.  Then we’re miserable and we fight with each other, saying, “I’m not going to let this day be ruined because…” as we are in fact approaching that precipice of the ruined day or at least a day some portion of which will go very badly.  This is a kind of nuance no one I know writes about, and it may seem silly, but this is the stuff of family misery.  For our family at least.  Other families have their own version–the thing that happens over and over and always ends badly but about which it takes some time to figure out what should go differently.

My daughter and partner were camping with my daughter’s girl scout troop over last weekend which was a beautiful, fall weekend.  I was going to be with my daughter for the no-school-day on Monday.  I said, before they left, “I will make a playdate for you with one of your friends.  And if I cannot we will not call people on Monday– we’ll go to the farm where we can go apple-picking.  We’ll spend the day together.  Just us.”  Which is just what we did.

In the orchard. October 17, 2011

Piglets. October 17, 2011

Our neighborhood school, race and racism; by the numbers

It must be a part of the package of privileges that are attached to being white– the package of privileges that I have– that I am so stunned by certain things.  Or at least part of the package that I would remained stunned by certain things past the age of about 30 which I am well past.  I carry with me some basic expectation of fairness, some sense that if things are wrong someone will notice and step forward to do something about it. On some level this is still my sensibility.

I have written in passing about the lunch tables– the now-segregated lunch tables at my daughter’s school and perhaps I will write more.  If it weren’t a set of young people involved whose parents should give permission, I’d go and take some pictures of these beautiful, lively girls and boys– arranged now so carefully with, for the most part, dark-skinned children together at one set of tables and white children at another set of tables.  They are laughing and tossing things and telling and shouting and generally having a good time–with some food-trading and some eating in the mix of the scene.  But things have happened and the effects of racism and its enforced divisions have sunk in and been absorbed and for the most part the children eat separately divided by race and by class.

I had hoped for better in the world by now– hoped that things wouldn’t look quite so starkly like this for children 10 years old.  But if you came to our school at lunch time with your eyes open you could see for yourself that racism and the resulting divisions according to race–are alive and well at this good school.

Toward the very beginning of this blogging project I wrote a piece called Student Council, third grade.  I cried while I wrote that piece and I cried many times as I talked to people about the incident I had written about– my daughter literally saying to me that she guessed you “have to be a different kind of person” to get elected to student council– and then naming by name– the young people who were the “different kind of person” and all of them white people.

I cried because I was witnessing her sadness, her self-doubt, her internal struggle not to give up on what she wanted which was, on that day, to be able to run for student council and win.  And I knew that this wasn’t only, or even mostly a personal struggle, but something more like a tsunami of hundreds of years of mistreatment and racist laws and institutions and struggles that brought us and her to that day and her singular question about what kind of person can run for and be on the student council.  But she didn’t know that.  To her it just felt personal.

My heart broke that day and many times over after that day.  I don’t know what to do about it.  I have, as all of us do, an obligation to fix that situation and I have not fixed it.  As her mother, I don’t want the conclusions that seemed to be forming in her mind, to take hold of her brilliant and interesting mind in any way.  Preventing that is, in my mind, the battle alongside the battle to end racism forever.

Now time has passed, not a long, long time, but a significant amount of time in the life of a 10-year-old.

Yesterday she came home and told me about still another student council election.  This year she didn’t run for student council and she didn’t seem sad, she was pissed off.  She helped another friend of hers– another girl of color to run.  But still she said that everyone said (she mimicked jeeringly) that the smart kids should be on student council.  And again, when I asked who those kids are– it turns out the smart kids are all white, every single one.  Seven young people ran and three of the seven are girls of color– good friends of my daughter’s.  Three young people won and all of them are white.  My daughter told me of her efforts, some successful, to get others to vote for one her friends.  To my credit, I didn’t lecture her about not giving up.  I decided, to not even point out– at just that moment, that there is something else at play here.

Instead I listened.  And then I went and did a little research.  So here it is.  The demographics of her middle-of-the-city, “desirable and succeeding” urban school.  The student body of the K-8 school is as follows: 662 students.  9% of the student body is black;  57% Latino;  3% Asian;  3% mixed race;  28% white.  So 72% of the students are young people of color and 28% are white young people.

Every year when the Student Council elections happen– with the exception of last year when she had a young, very aware, African-American guy as her teacher–she comes home and tells me about two or three white young people who got elected.  It’s the same young people, it’s different young people, but the demographics and the story are the same, year after year after year.  There is so much to this of course, that many, many books and academic papers fill our shelves and journals– but it comes down to racism and internalized racism and there’s not really a lot more to say on that front.

I mean, really– is this acceptable at our public school?  It cannot be acceptable. I have a lot to figure out, and that is indeed my job– as a white Jewish woman in this world and as the lucky woman who is the mother of my Chicana daughter.  I’d better get moving and for certain I’ll need your help.

Enough already.

If the line for a new iPhone on Friday morning for a new iPhone offers some imprecise temperature reading– on the state of the economy in the suburb I drove to just outside of my city, or perhaps an indicator of how often Apple can release a new version of the iPhone and get the attention of a big group of consumers–and if those things really matter ( I would say the former does and the latter definitely doesn’t)–then I would say that as to the former we are in trouble and as to the latter, I’ll leave that analysis to the Apple marketing people.

I’ll just say three things and then it really is enough already (well it was enough before I started this post, but I’m asking your indulgence).  One is that I got there just as the store opened rather than a half hour earlier as I had intended.  There was a line of about 8-10 people ahead of me and I waited about the same amount of time to start and complete the whole transaction as I think I did the first time in the retail store there– when I got that old-fashioned iPhone 4 just two weeks earlier.

Two is that because of our schedule that day, I did bring my daughter with me for this transaction– and she was very cheerful and incredibly good-natured about the whole thing.  I really love her for this cheerful, helpful way she can be and her good, good company.  She spent the whole time we were in there at the side, playing with the iPhone 4s and then taught me to use certain features on the phone as soon as we got in the car.  You go, girl.

Third is that from all the reports, I am very happy to be able to say that there were, as far as I could tell– far more people participating in Occupy Wall Street that Friday, than there were people waiting for a new iPhone.  So, though I didn’t quite have my own actions and priorities just right on Friday, many did.  Phew….Really.

I do have a new phone, I had a great time out with my daughter early in that morning and it was much and I do mean much, ado about nothing.  And despite a very, very rainy soggy day, my daughter and partner headed out for a Girl Scout camping trip not long after we got home and had a beautiful weekend.  For a number of reasons I didn’t go on this trip, but I missed them a lot.  And, as promised, I met my sister who arrived in town Friday afternoon to see her older boy after his first seven weeks of college, and Isaac and we headed to Shabbat services, where we really do turn off our cell phones for a couple of hours.

A poem, not mine, about some of what is on my mind. The low road, by Marge Piercy.

This a poem that is not new, but that I heard, I think for the first time, read by a wonderful younger spoken word poet, almost two years ago to the day–at a glbt rights march and rally.  It comes to mind often since I heard it.  It has come to mind as I read about the Arab Spring, about the massive demonstrations for social and economic justice in Israel and it comes to mind as I read and learn about Occupy Wall Street.  I’m glad Marge Piercy wrote it.  It is possible I have posted it here before.  If so, read it again and accept my apologies for posting it twice and if so I accept your thanks for offering it a second time.

The low road

What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know you who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.

 

Marge Piercy 

 

From “The Moon is Always Female”, published by
Alfred A. Knopf, Copyright 1980 by Marge Piercy.

 

i’M Getting Up Early

My old flip phone is just about completely broken down.  It’s almost completely broken today and it was on its last legs 13 days ago.  Its capacity to hold a charge for a long, long time was why I chose it three years ago. Now it shuts down, battery exhausted, after I’m on the phone for 20 minutes, after having been charged only hours ago.  I need  a new phone.

I plan to write about Occupy Wall Street and some of what it all means to me.  In the meantime though, in an honest, open showing my own internal human contradictions and inconsistencies–I will tell you the length to which I’ve gone and will still go– to get the newest iPhone.  I don’t fundamentally think that loving and enjoying some things– some consumer goods– is necessarily in conflict with a stand on behalf of economic fairness and social justice.  But mostly I really do.  And the rub is we have a hard time facing that these things we “just happen to love”– are not freely chosen.  We don’t actually “just happen to love” (say for example) Apple products.  There’s not one iota of “just happen to” about it.

As I am fond of saying with a sympathetic smile, to mothers of children melting down at Target or the toy store– they (not the mothers and not the toddlers) do spend billions figuring out how to get us to want.  Things.  And in so doing they do get us to give up a little or a lot– on wanting what we really do want– fairness, community, peace, close connections, the creative flights of the mind, nature.  A just and equitable and peaceful world.

I will spare you much more wordiness and get to the point.  On September 30th– after our wonderful second day of Friday Rosh Hashana services– I went straight to the retail store of my cell phone carrier, looked half-heartedly at a few things and bought an iPhone.  My first ever, first smart phone, too.  I love it.  The gorgeous and ingenious design– the amazement of a small thing I keep in my purse being able to do so many things.  The I’m-really-cool factor.

It was early morning four days after I got it that I awoke to the radio broadcasting about the release of the next iPhone.  I mulled it over, spent precious hours researching my options and talked to one of the nicest, most up front guys I’ve ever encountered on the help line of my wireless carrier.  He told me exactly how I could still return my now “old” iPhone 4 and get the “new” 4s.  In short I succumbed.

So tomorrow is the big day.  My breakfast is in a small container in the fridge.  My tote bag with paperwork, receipt, old phone and a book to read– all the at the door.  My daughter, who has no school tomorrow has been coached.  Tomorrow we get up early– really early together and head out to stand in line in the parking lot of my phone carrier.  To get a shiny, even newer, phone.

Fortunately for all of us– later in the day she and my partner will go on to do something meaningful in a life.  Camping.  In autumn.  Stars above at night and fall leaves and cook fire and friends.  Something you cannot buy or return or even break.  And as for me, my sister flies in to visit Isaac and we’ll all go to Shabbat services together.  Where we will shut off our cellular devices and put our minds on the very same autumn, stars above, fall leaves and the hopes we have for ourselves and for daughters, sons, nieces and nephews.

Isaac arrives. again.

 

My sister and her son, Isaac. August 2011

There is a special feeling, a special kind of excitement that goes with a new relationship.  I don’t mean a romantic relationship, I mean any/every new relationship that is deep, alive, genuine and that offers the promise of a certain kind of real-ness, depth and permanence.  It’s an alive feeling and it permeates everything.  It makes things interesting, colorful, energetic.  My daughter still has that sound when she comes and tells me– full of excitement– that she made a new friend !

I remember this feeling– hope and excitement– when each of my sister’s two sons were born.  And I remember the feeling even before I met my daughter– but as soon as I knew about her, my soon-to-be-daughter.  I still feel this way about all three of them.

Each of my sister’s two sons is wonderful and exceptional.  Each in his own way and each in his own relationship to me (and to my partner and to my daughter but those relationships aren’t what I’m talking about here).

Going back many, many years now, my oldest nephew arrived well after his due date.  Although the plan had been for me to visit several weeks after we assumed he would have arrived, my travel day came before he did.  And so I had the good fortune to have actually been present for his birth — as in, in the delivery room with his mother, father and the many attending medical people.  He was born at 1 a.m. in the winter of 1993 on a very cold night in Chicago.  Later, maybe 2:00 or 3:00 a.m.– I went home with my mother and father who had been in the waiting room of the hospital awaiting their first grandchild.  My sister and brother-in-law and new baby Isaac, stayed the night in the hospital.

Whoever makes these decisions in a hospital wanted my sister and her newborn son to stay one more night in the hospital.  My brother-in-law came down, over the course of Isaac’s first day of life, with a terrible cold.  He called me at about 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon, saying that my sister needed someone there in the hospital with her but they didn’t want the new baby to get sick and could I come and stay the night.  Which I did.

I remember many things– odd details as well as enormous profound feelings–about that night in the hospital.  Most of all, I remember the excitement as I slept and woke throughout the night, about this new person, and the realization that I would be close to him forever– for the rest of my life.  This was not only a hope but proved, over time, to be true.

18 years and a month or two later, Isaac decided to come to college– about 800 miles from his home and about two miles from mine.  He is now 6 feet tall and we have been close since that first night together.  It’s a different kind of arrival–but here he is again.  We are navigating– all four of us– me with him and my partner and daughter with him, and he with us– new relationships.  This is the first time ever that we have had him so close, but here for reasons other than to be with us.  I have new things to learn about him and he about us.  His first year of a very demanding college life means, among other things, that he comes over from time to time and sleeps for about 9-12 of however many hours he is with us.  Sometimes I run my errands in the part of town where he is in school– just for the feeling of knowing he is nearby.

This year, he was with us for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.  Another arrival.  Walking out into the sunny parking lot with Isaac on a break between services, I went to say hello and to wish a good year to a woman who is a friend of mine– the wife of our rabbi.  Without quite knowing what was happening–I watched her eyes get big and saw her focus on us as we approached her.  I greeted her, wished her a Shana Tova and then introduced– “this is Isaac, my nephew”.  I guess there must be a family resemblance– or the closeness we have with each other is obvious.  Or both.  She visibly regrouped and said, “Oh, I see.  I was thinking ‘ here you are with your second child you never told us about'”.  And so I mark his arrival in different ways.  Again.