Brave and braver

Today is nephew, Izzy’s 21st birthday. The boy whose birth I was at who I was with at 24 hours old while a snowstorm blew threw Chicago, outside the hospital room. Not a little boy anymore, he is far away in Israel. Happy Birthday, Izzy.  

My world is a little topsy turvy. My sister is in a city an hour away for a retreat on the subject of white Jews (no we are not all white by a longshot) ending racism. I was supposed to be there with her– but a large last-minute work assignment kept me from going.  I drove for about four hours Friday picked up sister J at the airport in the city an hour north of here, hugged and laughed in the car while we drove to the retreat site, stopped and had dinner with her, then drove the hour and a half home to work on the legislation I’ve been tasked with drafting. I got to be with another of my oldest, closest, most precious Jewish woman friends who stayed here overnight on Thursday, on her way to the same retreat.   So two of my loves are close but just out of reach.

My daughter is going through so many changes– and she also feels close, but at times just out of reach. She and I have been at teenage-daughter/mother-of-teenage-daughter odds– Jewish female style to be sure. Criticize, criticize, criticize. We are both quick to anger these days. I cannot quite get my bearings in this new phase where I am so disappointed in and mad at myself when I am less than generous with her. And I find myself so easily acting angry and upset with her. Saying things I wish I hadn’t. I don’t like either feeling. I miss her snuggling up to me, wanting me by coming close. But this is territory where things get confusing. She wants me by throwing her anger and frustrations and fears at me, full force. Actually she did this all along, as all babies, toddlers, and young ones do, but it gets you so much more confused when they look and sound more like adults. And I slip and take the bait often and throw my own hard feelings right back at her.

What I know is that it’s a cool and beautiful, vibrant and interesting and also sometimes-scary world out there. I know that she is bravely stepping out further than ever before. You have to be brave to be a teenage girl of color. And you have to be brave to be the mom of a teenage girl of color. So here’s to brave and braver which is what we both have to be.

Here are three more videos–right on topic. Two by the singer songwriter-herself– Sarah Bareilles. The first is the funny, produced, quirky music video and the second is the singer, just herself and her piano and a big audience– live and honest.

And the other, my Jewish boys– the Maccabeats. Their version is great and touching and funny. But this time I think the girl/ woman/ singer-songwriter wins. If there ever was a contest to begin with which there really wasn’t.

Sarah Bareilles– live

And the Maccabeats–silly, awesome, Jewish guys who love to sing.

Burn

In the hours before we say goodbye to February, 2014– a month in which I have been way too busy for comfort and have posted nothing on this blog– I’ll leave you with this– just to have touched down with this blog, for my own sake. I love this song and I love each of these interpretations of it. I love artists working off each other’s brilliance and making something new with something old or at least older. And I am burning to share more. Which I will do soon.

So here goes– The original. By Ellie Goulding.

And then the Maccabeats own beautiful, brilliant version.

And last but definitely not least, one of my recent favorites, Ashanti Floyd performing Burn.

Wave bye bye.

When she was very little, I used to say to my daughter, “Ok, bye, bye sweetheart. See you in a few hours” “See you tonight, honey.” “Wave bye, bye, sweetie.” It’s the oldest cliche in the world to say that time of her being so little has passed in the blink of an eye. I guess it’s a cliche because so, so many of us parents feel this way.

There is so much to write about now. My children, my own one daughter, and the few other young people who I consider most mine, are growing up. I’ve been lucky enough to have some wise parents give me the perspective that as a parent you don’t have to give up one bit on the deepest closeness with your children, ever. But the nature of it changes. In reality it is changing constantly– from the moment they roll over, or hold their own bottle, or start to walk. Part of our relationship now involves doing my least favorite thing over and over. Saying goodbyes.

They are a variety of different goodbyes, but they are goodbyes. Goodbyes where my daughter does things with friends that she used to want me with her to do, goodbyes as young people travel abroad, goodbyes that are small and feel monumental as their focus shifts away from us adults to their own friends, ideas, plans and things to do. If I could manage to stop and cry a little with each goodbye, I’d be happier and better off for sure, but I don’t yet have that down.

I started the week this very morning, with two goodbyes. My daughter’s good friend came over and they huddled talking and then went off to school together as she does most days now, with her friend, instead of spending those last few minutes before a long day hanging out with me in the morning.

And there was the big goodbye for now to my nephew, Izzie; the boy whose birth I was part of, the boy who goes to college in our town and then lived with us and worked in our city last summer. A boy who, along with his brother, is definitely part mine. We got a lot of him his freshman and sophmore years here, and then he was away for the first semester of this year. He studied in Ecuador. Then he came home to his own home in the midwest and got ready for his second semester. In a hopeful, exciting and cruel twist of choice and fate (I’m very tongue-in-cheek when I use the word cruel), he got into another program in a different far-away destination to study for his second semester. Again. To Israel this time.

He stopped in with us for four days plus this morning to visit his academic advisors and his friends (and did stay with us) before departing for his spring semester in Israel. Just three hours ago we helped him load his two just-under-50-pound-suitcases into the car. And my sweetheart took us both in the car, dropped me at work and drove on to the airport and helped him get checked in. My short trip in the car with him was so like this time of life. I sat in the back seat wedged in with his giant suitcases– looking at him. And he sat in the front seat looking ahead.

But my house was the home-base this morning– for Izzie as he finalized his packing, and for my daughter and her friend too, who often go to school together these days with the friend’s mom.

I count my blessings for busy, chaotic mornings like this one, with all of them getting ready to go but with my dining room table and extra bedroom still the home base. With beds and towels a very happy mess throughout the house.

The morning was too busy to snap pictures of either of them. I discovered my nearly-teen girl was in her sweatshirt and no jacket this 38-degree morning once it was too late to turn back and my tall string-bean boy, in his chinos and old farmer’s market tee shirt and fleece pullover and traveling gear. Both gorgeous and handsome, excited for what comes next.

Izzie, and daughter-girl, when you read this, take some selfies and send them on. I’ll post them later. And you too, jj, back home in the midwest…

Welcome 2014, slowly

Ah, ah, ah. Another year. Happy New Year. Thanks to all of you who keep reading, despite my long lapses. For me, as a Jewish woman, a Jewish mother, the Jewish new year is the real spiritual marker of the year gone by and the year ahead. Nonetheless, I have to buy a new day planner (yes, I still use a paper calendar) at the change of the Gregorian calendar, and there is vacation time at our workplaces and school is out for two weeks. (Read up on the Gregorian calendar if you wish.)

These weeks of holiday down time have been full, in every sense. A few highlights, but not nearly all, follow.

The three of us traveled to Indiana to see my mother-in-law who, since September 1, 2013, has broken her hip, been moved to a retirement center/ nursing home, stopped driving, stopped living in her own home and faced one of the biggest life changes one faces in a lifetime. Although Christmas with that side of the family isn’t always the best for me as a Jewish girl, I had a good trip. I loved seeing my mother-in-law. For the first time ever, we stayed with my sister-in-law who I like and love more the more I know her. We talked, cooked, and hung out.

One of the loves of my life– the happy-birthday-girl in this post and her love/girlfriend/co-mother/close-friend-of-mine– of 20+ years got married on December 28. They live in a close in suburb of our city but they just bought a small farm about an hour away and I loved, I mean I really loved this wedding. (This is not my sentiment about every wedding.) I loved seeing my beloved friends into this new phase, I loved being on the farm where the wedding took place, I loved what I wore and the time in the car with another best friend who drove up with me. I loved arriving in daylight and the darkness that fell after we arrived. I loved looking at them and the light in their eyes and looking at the votive lights they had strewn all around the house and at the lights out the windows– from the stars above and the lights they have placed in different places outside. I loved that when I asked to see the rings they had exchanged, they said– “Oh these are rings we’ve had for years and years– nothing new.”

My friends’ son and my daughter are true miracles in the story of our two families’ friendships– in that my old friend D. tried forever to get pregnant and I tried forever to get pregnant and then our adoption took forever. And with those two sagas of forevers; the long, long stretches of waiting and hoping and disappointments– our two children were born three weeks apart and are close, beloved friends. My daughter N. wore a dress for the occasion and was a flower girl! Then she spent the night at the farm with her buddy and the sheep and dogs and chickens.

There has been ongoing wrestling with internal struggles that still plague me about work and career and hope and disappointment and my honest desire to do good work that changes the world and work with which I feel at home.

I’ve had two long, delightful coffee dates recently with a long-time acquaintance who is suddenly (and very happily for me) a new friend. And I’ve had two pretty impromptu dinner dates with an old friend with whom it was so grounding to catch up.

There have been good times with my daughter and a rainbow of feelings as I take in that she is truly entering her teen years. There is a real shift in her relationship with me and her other mom. It’s not worse or less relationship, but it’s different. I’m very much in a “ready-or-not” situation.

And then the very time-consuming mundane. A dishwasher leak that will require a new dishwasher and a new kitchen floor– the latter being installed as I write.

And there have been two fabulous hikes in the woods– just the three of us–on New Year’s day out toward our friends’ farm and yesterday in rainy-snowy-icy weather in our huge sprawling, urban, wooded park.

I send love and good, good wishes to all of you who read. I wish you a very good, growing, connected, brave, sweet rest of the Jewish year, 5774 and a very good 2014. I wish us all peace and justice and courage to tackle the challenges and to enjoy beautiful, interesting life ahead. Pictures to follow.

Most. Beautiful. Vespa. Ever.

Most. Beautiful. Vespa. Ever. I suppose none of you who knows me ever expected to hear that from me–but feast your eyes. There is something about the drudgery that set in with my earliest school days that makes me love being somewhere out of my routine. In that out-of-routine way, I often loved being at home, sitting, quiet and alone at the dining room table, working, or driving somewhere in the middle of the day– during the time I was unemployed. I really love being out walking on the street during the workday, to a doctor appointment or to come home for the plumber or electrician. A few weeks ago, I came out of a doctor’s appointment, rushing to get back to work. It was overcast and starting to drizzle. But walking east on a main artery in our city, I saw this Vespa, locked up on the sidewalk. I stopped in my tracks, and looked. I looked closely. Then I walked on. As I waited for the light to change at the corner, I thought it was starting to rain harder, but I had to double back to take pictures. Being out in the air during the workday is good and is doubly good if you come upon something so beautiful as this. I left a note wondering, who thought of this? Who did this amazing work? It’s good to live in a world where someone thought of such a thing. And did it. Thanks to whoever you are, for the traveling art.

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music. joy. Ashanti Floyd

I’ve been sick. Bad sinus infection, bad, bad cough, asthma and laryngitis– voiceless for days. I whisper. I’m fine, I’m healing. My two girls at home and others have actually taken very good care of me, but nonetheless this particular version of sick, with many hours spent awake and coughing at night, means a lot of time alone. Tired. My sister had a surgery yesterday, her third in less than a year, for a problem which has recurred and which I hope will continue to be benign and which I hope will resolve altogether. Soon. So I have had her on my mind a lot and my wish for her health and longevity, how much I depend on her and want the best for her.

I’ve always loved music; and the music I love reaches in deep — birth, death, time passing, fighting for what is right, the depths of connection to the people I know and love, and the connection to the beautiful, vast, interesting, busy, heartbreaking, good world. I often love people who make music. It’s such a pro-human, pro-living, pro-world thing to do.

Last night as my daughter was going to sleep we (in this new kind of world, instead of reading together) pulled her iTouch over with us as she sat in bed, talking to me. She played me a few songs she’s been listening to and though I often like her taste, they didn’t do it for me at all. When she drifted off I searched on the few words I could remember of the now very popular song, Wake Me Up by Avicii (an artist I had never heard of until I searched the song) and found it immediately. I listened to it two or three times. Then I found this cover which is jaw-dropping joyful, alive, hopeful to listen to and to watch.

Bending the arc toward justice. In my corner of the world.

Martin Luther King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I love this quote and it is both easier and harder to see the truth in it as I grow older. I have a longer view for sure, yet in in pockets where discouragement has built up, or has not healed fully — there are places I cannot hold out hope. By way of example, I would say that Obama’s first presidential election victory was one of the starkest illuminations of the fact that what I believed impossible was not accurate. I understood, after he won the election, that I needed to reexamine every corner where I feel change will not come.

It’s been another month without a posting. But a lot has definitely happened. Some of those things, which are small, small things, in many of your eyes– are welded to the part of the “arc of the moral universe” that I have my eyes on. Things have happened that have made me think about King’s idea that the arc bends toward justice. Also, I am, hopefully, on the brink of a very big and positive change in my own life, which I’ll write about if and when it happens. In the meantime, say a prayer and keep your fingers crossed for me.

So here are a few things on my list of the moral arc, bent toward justice. After my posting about the volleyball team dumping the less skilled girls, a small group of those less skilled girls bravely stayed together to practice and didn’t give up. Several girls did drop out so for those left, it wasn’t so easy and it wasn’t so noisy and fun. But after a few weeks, a number of girls had dropped out of the so-called varsity team and the so-called junior varsity team and so the coaches called all the girls back together as a single team. My girl played in the championship game which they lost. But losing was of little importance. Seeing all of those girls, ready, enthusiastic, hopeful and trying hard, was a small, but perhaps not so small, victory for women and girls everywhere.

On the racism front, the racism in school and in the fabric of the school has been more and more visible to my partner and to me. My daughter’s class had an assignment to do that involved crafting a proposal for a final project on the graphic novel, Frankenstein. For the umpteenth time– they were going to all submit their ideas and then the teacher would pick “the best” idea and that would be the assignment for the whole class. For the first such exercise (not about Frankenstein), the assignment of one of the upper middle class white girls, one of about four girls in N’s grade who are so often singled out as the best and the smartest, was chosen. But for the proposed project about Frankenstein, N’s proposal was chosen! N didn’t kvell about it (Yiddish for burst with pride, rejoice), barely mentioned it twice, but I think having a victory in the academic realm went in very deep for her. And heck, the prize for having your proposal chosen? You don’t have to actually do the assignment you proposed and you get an automatic A on that assignment. Victory on many fronts!

N is now preparing for her Bat Mitzvah which is just a few days short of one year away on the Gregorian calendar and less than a year away on the Jewish calendar. Some other time or never, I will write about what I did and did not require of her, what she objected to and how it was that she ultimately chose, with the option to reject, a Bat Mitzvah for herself. Along the way she decided that she wanted a double Bat Mitzvah– to do her Bat Mitzvah with another girl, which is common at our synagogue. Two years ago we approached and were turned down by not one or two, but four different families and it was very hard on all of us. It made me wonder if our “welcoming” congregation is really in deed, ready for a white lesbian couple with a daughter of color. We didn’t fully get over it, but we set it aside and went on with our plans and N grew more and more excited about her single Bat Mitzvah.

Change frame, change scene– then something kind of normal and something kind of amazing happened. We went our fall Girl Scout camping trip and a new girl had joined the troop. She too is adopted, she is from Ethiopia and is gorgeous, sunny and lively. Not unlike my girl. The two girls laid eyes on each other at the camping trip for the first time at Scouts and immediately recognized each other from Hebrew School.

A week later, N came home and said the Cantor had suggested that they do their Bat Mitzvahs together. Though I will admit I hesitated for a moment, I talked it over with my dear partner, with N and with my sister who serves as my advisor on all kinds of things. Then I called and talked to the family of the other girl, and we have decided to go ahead and have the two girls celebrate their Bat Mitzvahs together. H, their daughter, is wonderful, and I like both her mom and dad quite a lot (I don’t yet know her brother, but I’m sure he too is wonderful). So my daughter will celebrate her Bat Mitzvah, with her sister and her brother, their parents, and all her extended family around her, with her two moms who will be beaming with pride, and with another Jewish girl of color–up front and center with her– a new friend and a girl who with her, will bend the arc and bend the ark– toward justice.

Meet W. Kamau Bell– if you haven’t already.

Trying to face racism honestly and keeping my mind pointed at the reality of racism, ending it, and in particular, racism as it comes at my own daughter, is in large part, the reason I started writing this blog. If you’re white (yes, I am) and you have a child of color (who I love so much) and you keep your eyes and ears open (I do) you see racism– in the biggest picture– (think Trayvon Martin, think the things that have been said about and done, including by members of the United States Congress, in the direction of our own president, President Barack Obama, think economic and health and educational disparities in the US and think about a million other things). But if you are honest, you also see racism in every day life, coming at your child (think Student Council, think who is consistently touted as the best student in the class at school, who gets chosen for things– the lead in the play, the best poem or essay, etc., etc.). And then if you are white (which yes, I still am) you really have to start to look at and face your own racism which is harder to excavate honestly, but I do work at that too.

There should be posts about my own racism– what I have faced about how and where it is threaded into me as it is into all of us who are white, and about what I’ve done about it. But I don’t have the focus or courage to write about that publicly– not yet. For all of us, whether we are targeted by racism or members of the group that perpetuate racism, someone who has the gift to point honestly at racism and keep us laughing– has a goldmine of a gift. A black man who would bother to talk to us about these things and let us laugh at ourselves (if we’re white) along with him, someone who is black and who says “Ok, let’s take an honest look. Ok, now laugh really, really hard. Now let’s go back and take another honest look, a little longer this time, …now laugh some more”– That is someone who is going to help lead us out of this mess we’re in and to a world which we will someday have, without racism. He also does equally beautiful and hilarious work on sexism and tackles in some way, what it takes for men to face sexism honestly.

W. Kamau Bell is certainly that someone. He stands on the shoulders of other black comics and artists who have been so very important for all of us, but I’ve been looking to him lately. And you should too.

Three. And happy birthday to you, girlfriend.

1. Three years ago today, on the Jewish calendar, I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah and read from Chayei Sarah, today’s Torah portion. I was already in my 50’s. Today, three years later, I went with my own daughter to what I am calling our kick-off of her 7th grade religious school class Bar and Bat Mitzvah year. It was our kick-off because the Bat Mitzvah today wasn’t the first of her class, but the first she was invited to and attended– and we will have many others in the coming months. It was especially meaningful because the Bat Mitzvah girl today, who I like so much, read the same Torah portion I did. She a girl with a disability who read Torah and led the service beautifully, whose father cried when he spoke to her from the bima and who spoke very eloquently about the meaning she found in the Torah portion. It is the 3rd anniversary of my own Bat Mitzvah, and one year ahead on the Jewish calendar– will be my own daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. She was reluctant to agree to a Bat Mitzvah, but decided she would do it when we told her she could choose to do the Torah portion I had done, parts of which she can chant already. Three Jewish women, three different Bat Mitzvahs. I cried quite a bit during our young friend’s Bat Mitzvah today and I had the feeling that was just the kick-off on that too– that I will cry more and more as my daughter gets closer and closer to her own Bat Mitzvah day.

2. My mother-in-law is 88 years old. She’ll be 89 next week. She has lost a son (my partner’s very beloved brother) and a husband in the past eight years. She is a devout Catholic and I love her though mostly we haven’t been especially close for the roughly 25 years her daughter has been my partner, my sweetheart. She is an important woman in my life and I admire how she has carried on in the face of such hard losses, particularly the loss of her son. Her understandings of the bigger world and in particular of me, as a Jewish woman, are limited–at least to my way of thinking. But something else I admire about her is the fact that she is a devout Catholic. Her devotion and Catholicism and her grit have carried her through and I admire her steadfastness. On September 2, this year she was living alone in her home, still driving, cooking, seeing friends, calling us on the phone, going to church and watching a lot of football. On September 3, she fell and broke her hip, and things got much more complicated.

My sweetheart, M., is a devoted daughter. When her mother broke her hip we agreed– she shouldn’t wait, she should go, like on the next plane. She has been back to her hometown three times in seven weeks and has seen her mom through partial hip replacement, a slow recuperation that involved a long stretch of struggle to regain her mind after anesthesia, physical therapy that is still ongoing to regain the ability to stand and walk and do things like go to the bathroom and get dressed. She has been in a rehabilitation facilty and then a move, given the crappiness of the options for older people, and her strong desire to stay in her hometown, to a nursing home. So far, she has not gone home since she fell (she was walking back to her house on a fall morning after being across the street with her neighbor) and I don’t know that she will ever go back home. Her fall and what has followed has shaken me up. Thinking about her, about my own mother who will be 82 this weekend, about what those later years will be like for us– for me and for my partner and for my sister and other women I love–it’s, well, unsettling.

It is a shake up that has moved me in a positive direction. I am reminded in a good way that life is not forever and it makes sense to look at the goodness around me every day. I have found a new/ old tenderness for my partner, and certain things that we have fought about over many years have dissolved into non-fighting, something closer, and with more laughter. I feel tenderly toward other people I love, and I have had four exceptionally close and beautiful fall weekends– just me and my daughter– three while my partner was away. Then we had one Girl Scout camping trip in the mountains tossed in there– another gorgeous fall weekend. In the midst of her mother’s struggles, M.got the news of a potentially difficult health matter of her own, but the recent good news on that front is another reason to be grateful and I am. Grateful.

3. I have an old friend. To say “old friend” doesn’t even begin to describe the relationship or the significance of her friendship in my life, but there are no other better, more specific words, really, to describe her, other than an old friend. Today is her birthday. We met a very long time ago (more than 30 years) as very young women in our early 20’s. We met in Israel and her love, her enthusiasm for me, her loyalty and humor and generosity toward me has always meant the world to me. She has loved me so well and so much for all these years, despite the fact that in our 20’s something happened between us that was, on my part, one of my life’s larger breaks with my own integrity. I have apologized over the years but I haven’t completely forgiven myself. It is my good fortune that over time she seems to have forgiven me and has remained one of my deepest friends. We are both lucky Jewish women to have each other’s friendship and sisterhood.

There are great things about being in your 50’s, one of which is that having a friendship of this duration, and having been through a lot together– means this is unmistakably a friendship that will last for as long as we are on the planet. She is a wonderful woman, warm and generous and funny. Our lives in the past 12 years have been further cemented because by some astounding miracle, after we both tried to get pregnant and I didn’t and she did– and then after my partner’s and my lengthy adoption process, we had two beautiful children. She with her partner and me with M. Her son and my daughter were born three weeks and a day apart and the two are now themselves, very close. They call each other cousins.

She has her flaws, and I hope she will see both the truth and the tongue and cheek humor of this but one of those is simply that she doesn’t make enough time to see me, and she is too often in a hurry and we don’t talk– like really talk– enough. (I don’t make enough time to see her either, and I barely have time to talk, really, talk, but somehow, in my mind, that whole thing is her fault– why is that?). In any case, here we are in our 50’s with our 12 year olds, and again I feel grateful, very. Happy, happy, happy birthday, D.

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun…

I’ve been occupied with trying to address, sometimes elegantly and often less elegantly, several unrelated issues that have cropped up in my daughter’s life at her public school and at religious school. A career of mostly public interest law advocating for people living with HIV, gay men and people living with the effects of poverty, immigrants and people with disabilities– for much of my adult working life has only barely prepared me for the advocacy I’ve needed to pull off as a parent. My parental advocacy has been much harder for me, more fraught and brought only mixed results– because of course the solutions to most of the tough things aren’t really individual solutions– the solutions would require much deeper reorganization of priorities and ways of doing things. But I digress. Things come up that need to be responded to now, or often yesterday– whether I have the time and slack to deal with a particular issue or not. And I get upset—really upset about some things which only makes the job more complicated.

There’s something unfolding at my daughter’s school right now. My close friends (mostly, but not all women, some parents, some not) in whom I confide these things— seem to fall into two camps—some are outraged themselves or laugh hysterically or shout or curse along with me about the stupidities, indignities or mistakes toward our children— the things that get under my skin. Sometimes friends listen and get very quiet in that way that lets you know that they think you are off base but they aren’t going to cross you.

Here’s the issue du jour. If I sound a bit defensive, well, I’ll be honest, I am. I am still not certain that there is any consensus on sexism as a real thing or that there is any agreement that certain “small” things—have a profound effect and matter. I think this issue really is a great big deal and I think internalized sexism has something to do with all the ways I second guess myself.

My daughter played on a girls’ school volleyball team last year and joined the team again this year. It’s a big deal for her to play. She isn’t driven to play sports and her skills are such that she doesn’t get a ton of accolades. I remember when she was a toddler and woke up wanting nothing more than to play actively at our park. Every day. She would wake us and ask to go to the park starting at 6 a.m. and once we got there (at 8:00 if she was lucky, for a toddler this was like a month from when she had started asking) she didn’t want to stop playing. I can’t ever remember a time in those days, when she initiated our leaving and coming home.

When my partner and I both went back to regular jobs our parental limits caused us to offer her the cartoon “Caillou” in the mornings when she was about 2—so we could get ready for work—and therein we, ourselves, offered up an addiction to sitting in front of a television rather than getting outside and running and climbing. Huge mistake. I have cursed myself ever since.

We kept her in a preschool that kept all the young people very active for as long as we could, but then kindergarten and ensuing years of being forced to sit for so damn long took care of the rest. She isn’t as driven to be active and we have had to push her to join a team. There was a two-year basketball career—with her other mom, M, coaching (M still coaches the 4th and 5th grade girls teams) but the male coach of the middle school girls team was harsh in such a way that she lost interest. Then she joined the volleyball team. These are middle school girls. Some/ many have never played volleyball before.

Our school’s teams—basketball, cross-country and others have had a firm and unquestioned policy since the inception of the middle school program—a policy of welcoming every young person who signs up for the team and shows up to practice. There have never been tryouts. They’re all on the team. M has coached basketball teams of 25 with skills ranging from unbelievable to learning to dribble a ball. This year, there’s a new volleyball coach who is perhaps rather old school. I’ve not met her. My daughter started making noises that some girls would get cut from the team a few weeks ago. Then M’s 89 year old mother fell and broke her hip and M left town (twice) and we didn’t investigate. (M’s mother’s health is a major thing happening in our family, which deserves more attention than I offer here.)

Two Friday afternoons ago we parents and the girls themselves got an email saying that the volleyball team is too big. They would be dividing the team of 25 middle school girls into two groups. Fifteen would be designated “Varsity” and 10 would be designated “Junior Varsity”. I was not pleased but ok, whatever. But the email went on. The Junior Varsity team, it said, will only be allowed to participate in one of the three team practices a week and will not be permitted to play at all.

I have absolutely no first-hand experience being on any Varsity or Junior Varsity team ever in my life (and for this reason precisely, I have wanted my daughter to have something better). But I know enough to say– this isn’t the definition of any Junior Varsity team. This is a dishonest name for something else called being removed from the team. For the record, it was unclear to me at that point whether my own daughter would be designated Varsity or Junior Varsity and whether, if designated Junior Varsity, she would care. But I knew this was very wrong, regardless of the outcome for my own daughter.

As a woman in my 50s who didn’t play sports for a number of reasons, and has struggled to stay fit and to stay active, (and I am still fighting but far from winning) I have a certain kind of expertise. Here’s what I know. This is 2013. Title 9 passed a long time ago. Girls and boys should all participate in being active and should be part of sports at their schools and elsewhere. This should happen more and more and more not less and less. Girls, in particular, still need to be part of organized teams and groups to stay active.

In 22 years in my neighborhood with a nice, safe park a block away, I have walked through the park and seen boys and men playing pick-up basketball thousands of times. I have literally never seen a group of girls out playing. Grown women suffer heart disease at very high rates. It’s still tough for us females to stay active and to push our bodies hard. As a young female, especially if you’re not exceptionally talented, it’s easy to give up. Most everything still pulls many of us females, to give up on being active. Exercise, the habit and enjoyment of it matters. Not giving up matters. You know all this.

Being outraged about the composition of a sports team, for those of you who know me well, is perhaps the last thing you’d expect of me—but here I am. The more I reflected on this particular decision, the more, not less, outrageous it seemed. The more I reflect on a lot of things involving my daughter and her friends, the more I realize that it’s the seemingly little things that get you. There are things that to many of us would not be even really recognizable as sexism or racism that become the turning point (for the worse) in the lives of young people. I think these “minor” issues, the ones where we all settle for things being just kind of crummy or sort of unfair are often the places where the trajectory is set.

It’s almost 100% true that when I listen to adult women talk about when they gave up on something important, something that set them in a tough direction for the rest of their lives, it was always a small moment like this. The good coach left and they never played again. They played something for a couple years and then the team got competitive and someone said something crummy and they never played again… you get the picture. Since we don’t live in an open, legal apartheid system, it is almost always, 100% a moment like this when the sexism (or racism or some other ism) takes hold and no one has to oppress you anymore, you just do the dirty work of limiting yourself and your options all on your own.

Anyway, I kicked off a lot of drama-rama in the past few days—with a private email from me to the (generally wonderful and dedicated woman who is the athletic director) and to the school principal. I used dreaded words like—sexism. I also sent the email to three of the other moms who I trust as allies. My daughter learned that she was on the Jr. Varsity team and cried a very little bit. She was so disappointed but also clear-headed. She ranted with a certain deep logic. She said, why would the girls who have the least skills get less practice? We should get to practice four times a week!

There have been other not private emails from three other parents—one of whom has a child who the mother described as having been overweight and bullied for this for much of her school life. The mother says she has been witnessing a miraculous transformation in her daughter’s desire and will to be active and to work hard– after someone (well, ahem, the someone is my own daughter) relentlessly encouraged her to join the volleyball team and encouraged her that it was a fine place to be and to learn—regardless of skill and that other girls would help and support you there. She said she felt fearful that if the message is that trying hard and being willing to work isn’t, indeed, enough– that her daughter would never take a risk to put herself out there to be active, again.

There was a difficult email from a parent whose daughter is a very accomplished athlete —who basically said we should all stop our complaining. And there was the letter of a mom who I’ve always liked a lot and who doesn’t mince words saying, this is a horrible decision and it sends a terrible message. The message is—the most important thing is winning. There have been many conversations, private and public about the wisdom, fairness, dangers or lack thereof, of this decision. A predictable, ok, and semi-crummy compromise has been reached. The athletic director and a father whose daughter is on the varsity team will coach a Friday practice for the jr. varsity once a week and my own dear M (with help from the mom whose daughter took the big risk to play) will coach a Wednesday practice.

And all of this is just the roughest outline of all that has happened and says nothing of the emotional roller coaster I rode for several days. I am learning and re-learning a lot, but there are a few things that I need to hold on to. One is that when 25 girls ages 11-13 want to play together and they say there is only room for 15 of them– sexism is alive and well and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. I call on the phrase that I learned a long, long time ago—if you were a feminist of my era. “The personal is political” and what happens to one small girls’ sports team is not trivial because this is real life for those girls.

There’s no place else to go, nothing else but what happens in school and on the playground this year and the next and the next after that. These really are the things that shape their lives and their hopes and their sense of what is possible or impossible. These are also the things that shape their bodies and their health and their heart disease or diabetes or osteoporosis or lack thereof in the years ahead. For me there are many contradictions, one of which is that it is always hard to get myself to the gym and the recent angsting and writing of all these letters and emails was just one more time when I got too busy to go. But now my daughter has a Wednesday and Friday practice again—so maybe I should make a date with myself and go work up a sweat.