Tag Archives: friendship

Wisconsin; 68,000-strong, continues to rock

I had the privilege of spending time on the phone with a woman very close to me who is a teacher in the Madison public school system– listening to her describe the local union meeting of attended by almost 3,000 people yesterday. She told me stories that made me laugh and cry– about how they didn’t have the technology to count votes on many issues on which they had to vote, so many times over they all filed out of the room and then walk back in either through the yes or the no door and be counted. She told me that she took the microphone and spoke of Nachshon who, when the Jews were fleeing Egypt and slavery, was the first to step into the Red Sea– not knowing, of course, what would happen.  As things always are– in a critical moment, there is always a person or a small group who take that first step.  Uncertain of what will follow, but knowing that they must take that step forward.

She told me how deeply teachers worry about public opinion and that the teachers worried about what is being said and thought of them.  She spoke of Rosa Parks, saying that when Rosa Parks sat down and refused to move to a different seat on the bus, they thought this would be a short, perhaps one-day or days-long boycott.  Which went on for a year.  And that when the all important bus boycott began, public opinion had not been on their side. That what was on their side was that they were right.

I listened to her as she figured out what she wanted to communicate when she will be one of a panel of speakers on a Madison radio station today– representing the viewpoint of teachers in Madison. As I have watched and listened, I understand more and more about how we can make each other hopeful and inspire each other to take bold action, to keep going, to do right, to not be passive and to believe that we can do big, significant things.   We need to keep letting them in Wisconsin know that we are watching, behind them, proud of them, on their side and standing with them.

There are about 68,000 people protesting in Madison today. I caught a glimpse of a protest sign that sums up my perspective on the meaning of preserving collective bargaining rights. It read: “Teachers’ Working Conditions are your children’s learning conditions”.

Today I cheer for the teachers, the parents who are supporting the teachers, the students out in support,  the firefighters and police who have resisted Scott Walker’s attempts to divide people, the working people not grumbling but figuring out alternative arrangements for their school children and for all of stand-up Wisconsin.

Here is the link to a NY Times op-ed piece called Wisconsin Power Play— about why this matters to all of us. The tag line is “What’s happening in Madison isn’t about the state budget.” I am glad that at least some parts of the mainstream media and the East Coast are catching on here.


Update/ Houskeeping

Note to myself– I need to go back and add tags to many of my entries.  In the early morning hours of January 2, I received an interesting, no doubt computer generated WordPress summary email– showing me how many entries, how many comments and what searches have led readers to me over the past year.  I must admit that as I approach the first anniversary of my first blog post, I am thinking about this and other blogs.

It is percolating slowly and quietly in my own mind, but I know I want to do more writing this year and I am hoping for a bigger readership too.  So I am thinking about what are the technical improvements needed, while at the same time committed to a focus on writing, not on something that looks like a marketer made it.  I need to make the blog– perhaps– prettier, better looking.  I want to add many more links than I have here on my sidebar blogroll.  I look to and learn from and feel a connection to so many bloggers and I want it to be easier for you to find them too.

Clarifying that there is just some heavy baggage for me about New Year’s Day– I woke up early Sunday morning, the day after New Year’s Day which had felt bleak and enormously sad– with an enormous burst of happy energy.  My daughter was gone at her second sleepover in three days (a first for us– two in three days) and my dear partner was still snoozing comfortably in a warm bed.  I was organizing, writing, emailing, sorting and cleaning up the kitchen.  Happily.  I was hopeful and busy and happy for the new day in a new year.  I paid for renewals for my own and my sister’s New Yorker subscriptions.  I’ve been buying it for her for several years now and thought it a no longer exciting gift– but as I said to her, it is a lousy substitute, but the closest thing I can figure out to a book club for her and for me– we’re more likely to read and talk about the same thing this way.

In keeping with the housekeeping theme– both here and related to my own New Year’s Day recommendations– I can report that today is day three of no sugar consumption.  It’s hard for this self-proclaimed salt-and-fat girl.  I will say that if this is to be good for me, it will be interesting.  But easy, it is not.  Do I want that piece of sugary soft candy that I love every day right now?  I do.  Have I stopped craving it or seen that my life is better without it.  Well no, not yet.  We’ll see where it leads and I do not promise to keep reporting in– too boring, but I thought I would let you know that I am trying out one of my own recommendations.

On the less mundane, I was also so happy to get Sarah B’s comment on my New Year’s recommendations.  She adds that it is good to make and have friends of different ages.  Friends much younger and much older than you are– I think I was hoping for that in my recommendation that if you don’t play– you should.  But I love that she wrote it and sent it to me.


Too quiet

I was too sad yesterday.  I picked my daughter up at school and she was in an especially good mood.  We worked with her art teacher to find and print and laminate a picture off of the internet of Bernice Johnson Reagon, who my daughter has chosen to be the subject of a portrait each child is doing of an influential person–artist, politician or other.  Then we came home.  The house was a little disheveled.  I was more disheveled– internally. 

I had left in a hurry early yesterday morning when I planned to be home, to go to a funeral.  There was clean-up to do after emptying a cabinet to take care of a plumbing problem, dishes on the table and small piles of paper that seemed more daunting than usual.  So when we got home from school, I didn’t get to hang out with my daughter too much, I was pulling it together because we were having a good friend and her two daughters over for dinner. 

We had a nice noisy evening with a good meal that we had mostly cooked a day ahead of time.  My friend and my partner and I got to talk while the three girls played– it was so nice to be together and catch up.  It’s different now than when the girls were younger, when their needs were more demanding and different from the year when the three of us adults were urgently trying to figure out together what school(s) we would get to send them to. 

Days ago when we made the dinner plan, they had invited my daughter to come home with them after dinner for a sleepover, but she had told me she wanted to sleep home and go over to their house early in the morning.  That was more than fine with me.  Then last night she had a change of heart and left with them.  Ok, good night, see you tomorrow, I said. 

Now my partner is sound asleep and I have the luxury of being awake in a quiet, cleaned up house before I leave for the many things I have to do today.  It turns out it’s way too quiet.  My daughter and I are usually the first up, often me then she, but sometimes the other way around.  And when we are up early together I am sometimes sneaking off to write or read.  What a mistake.  Here I am missing her, wishing my noisy, walking around, awake- with- many- ideas girl was here.  I hope she’ll call soon.

At the table

When I wrote the entry, Girls, Undefeated, I wrote about the lovely mom of the fierce little point guard (she really is little) on our school’s 4th-5th grade girls basketball team and how that mom sat down next to me and said warmly, almost admiringly, “you’re the coach’s partner aren’t you?”  I enjoyed that game and that mom that day.  I remember thinking that no one at the school had ever talked to me in that tone about my partner– although years ago when my partner was doing the public, important feminist/literary/community work she did earlier in our relationship, people spoke of her to me in that admiring, warm way often.  And they did again when later when she had an important role in a national lesbian and gay civil rights organization.  

I had never met that mom before that day, but I have seen her several times since, and a very wonderful thing happened last week.  The girls won their division championship and the season is almost over.  They are still undefeated.  It was an exciting game; a real game with a score of 19-10 at the end of the game and when it was over, I got to watch the girls unabashed joy and excitement.  Hugging.  Each other.  Their trophy.  Their moms.  Their dads.  

When the buzzer sounded and the game was over, in my mind I could hear the music rise in the closing scene of a wonderful documentary we have watched over and over at home about another triumph of young inner city competitors in another city, another context as they prevailed in something they worked hard for and they win the championship trophy at the end of the documentary.  Like in that movie, my mind slowed things down at the end of the game– the girls were moving in slightly slow motion and I savored the good ending to a perfect season.

There was so much warm, heartfelt appreciation for my partner and the other coach– from the mothers of the girls.  Hugs, high fives, laughter and many kind words.  I was touched by the warm feeling and some of it spilled over onto me.  They wanted to pull me aside and tell me how much they appreciated the fine work of my partner and her love and support of their girls.  I told each one who spoke to me how much she loves coaching, how her contact with their daughters makes her life better, our lives better.  It was such a good, nice afternoon and I was glad to be there to be a part of it. 

But later, mulling it over that night, it brought some bitter, sad tears to my eyes.  Not so much the tears of triumph, but a sadness about the things we hardly think about, yet live with every day.  For one thing, though I didn’t know most of the basketball moms before my partner started coaching, my mind slid to the group of women we do know and not all of the women we do know at school have always been kind to us.  Never unkind overtly, but we are a slightly older, lesbian couple.  For the most part they don’t invite us to dinner or coffee, to brunch on Sunday or to whatever else they do together.  In almost four years with our daughter at school our track record with so many of the parents– (though not all),  for social contact that we didn’t initiate is never.  Never.  Why this fact and its meaning has taken so very long to dawn on me is the real mystery.  Why I have so often made excuses about why it would be that way is a mystery.              

There is another story too.  It also took me awhile to register.  Weeks or longer.  Actually if I recall, it was my partner who first talked about it with me.  Before I fully came to be aware of it.  Last year my daughter made a close friendship with two girls; one white, one black.  They played together often at our house, and at the homes of the other two girls as well.  The white girl comes from a fine family, affluent and active in the school.  Friendly with everyone.  Involved and generous with their time.   The school year ended and our daughter had a busy summer schedule.  She was in an interesting summer reading program, attended an interesting science camp for a couple weeks and an arts camp that was beyond wonderful.  We went on vacation and before we knew it, the school year was starting again. 

This year neither girl was in my daughter’s class.  My daughter was sad that they wouldn’t be in the same class, but she was ready to resume her close friendships with both girls as soon as they were back in school together again.  But with the white girl — well here is where it gets murky.  Though maybe only to me.   My daughter started reporting that her friend wouldn’t speak to her at school.  Wouldn’t really speak to her at all.  Not angry– the girls are still an age where they show it when they are really angry with each other.  But her friend was just quiet, wouldn’t speak or engage.  As though maybe she was told that they couldn’t be friends anymore.  I have seen it myself as well as heard my daughter’s puzzled reports. 

Early in the school year my partner said that amidst the noisy excitement of dismissal and the children careening around, she started to notice that the after school plans for my daughter’s friend, the girl who came home with us many times last year, seemed always to be planned by her mother; one girl going home with them, or little groups of girls going home with them.  Never my daughter.  All white girls.  No daughters of lesbians.

I want to say, “I don’t know what to think.”  But I am sure if this were you, someone else other than me, and your family looked like our family and you told me this story with as puzzled a tone as I feel about all this– I would not say “I don’t know what to think.”  I would probably say quietly, “you know what that is.  I know what that is.” 

These are the things we don’t often speak about.  We speak about racist violence.  We speak of teenagers put out by parents who learned they were lesbian or gay.   Or the town or the school that drove a child or a family out– because they were black or the child was gay or the mother HIV-positive.  We speak about astounding rates of poverty and unfathomable rates of incarceration of people of color.  And well we should, we should be screaming from the rooftops about these things and many more.  But some of these things, so subtle you think it is you–so quiet and slow you  think you must have imagined something– we don’t talk about easily, or at least I don’t.  And there is some feeling of shame that these things have happened to you.   Or that they got under your skin.  They confuse you about who you are, or undermine your confidence.  You were the kind of someone who would work on these issues, but you were bigger than these things, they were the things that happened to other people in other less enlightened places.     

I am reminded of a brilliant black woman I have had the pleasure of meeting who has done a great deal of leadership work with groups of black people but with white people also, on ending racism.  Many years ago, in the organization where I met her, she had started a campaign directed at white people who explicitly wanted to work to end racism.  It was the simplest program you can imagine, at least in terms of the length of the to-do list.   

Her instruction to white people was simply this:  Make friends with people of color.  Build close life-long friendships with black people, the people descended from people brought to this country as slave labor, and with other people of color.  Just do that.  Face what you need to and make the mistakes you will make, then clean them up if you need to, apologize.  Pursue friendships with people and face it if they seem not to want a friendship back.  Then try again.   With the same person or with someone else.  Show people that they are wanted.  Welcome.   But make friendships.  Real friendships.  Persist.  She often talked about who you had at your table for a meal, and whose home you went to.  That kind of friends.  There was a lot to it, and I understood instantly when she spoke of it; she was talking about the gap between the theoretical and the real.  The resolutions about diversity in our schools and our organizations vs.  who we could each actually reach for to sit down to eat lunch with.   Dinner.  Who could you really count as friend and love and listen to?  Whom will you trust to tell your troubles to? 

I am also reminded of the commandment in Judaism to love the stranger, “for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”  In Eastern Europe this meant that a traveling Jew could always find a home to be invited into, a table at which to be welcomed for a Shabbos meal or for Passover seder.  The tradition was not that you will say hello to the stranger and set up affirming policies about strangers, diversity training.  But you will open your home and your table and welcome the stranger. 

I don’t worry that much about the loss of this one friend of my daughter’s or that family’s friendship.  And we do have some wonderful friends at the school, and often it is ok if we do the inviting.  But I do want to face the why of the loss of that one friendship, and the why of the many times we do the inviting and reaching out, rather than the other way around.  I think I have to honestly understand these things for myself and my partner and for my daughter.   

And I do get hungry every single day and I often like to share a meal with people whose daughters and sons are growing up in our neighborhoods, figuring out all the complicated things like science fairs, friendship, ending racism, basketball, reading, swimming and ending homophobia and sexism.   I like a group around my own table at home.  But I also love it when we three– two adult women who love each other and our brown daughter who loves so generously and wholeheartedly, are gathered, laughing, talking around someone else’s table.  Welcome, wanted, at home.

Digging Out; In praise of long friendship

We are digging out.  Literally and figuratively.  It has been a beautiful and interesting time; this enormous snowfall and huge disruption in our normal routines.  But it has also been for reasons I won’t go into, or perhaps reasons I don’t yet fully understand, a kind of dark and sad time for me beginning a week or two before the snowstorms.  Since it snowed, I have not been writing and I have missed it.  I have also not been sleeping much, which is an on and off chronic struggle for me– more serious than I often let on, although people who know me well, know that I often don’t sleep well.  But the fragility of my sleep has been challenging me lately despite this past 10 days with seemingly so much time on my hands. 

Today was our first day of both work and school since February 5.  After work, with both my daughter and partner along with me, we stopped in at one of our favorite independent bookstores where we ran into a very old friend of mine (and a friend of my partner’s in another context), E.  I don’t see her often, though we live less than 2 miles from each other.  She figures importantly in my life.  She was a brilliant and loving and interesting and encouraging teacher of mine with an amazing life history.  She is a Jew, a Yiddishist, a holocaust survivor, a feminist, lesbian, a mother, a writer, a literature scholar and a teacher.  Among other things.  Now past 75 she has a second Ph.D, is a dancer and does a whole variety of interesting things I cannot even recount.  I cannot wait to see what she does with the next 25 years. 

E. is almost exactly the same age as my mother and it was no coincidence that soon after I arrived at the university (the second time, after dropping out of a smaller school the first time) I asked her to be my undergraduate advisor.  I did then and still do have a kind of intention about friendships and mentors, but I was less scared to go out on a limb then than I am at times now.  I think I knew then that I was asking her to be my friend and advisor for longer than my undergraduate years, but I figured that was a reasonable amount of time to start with.  

She has remained my friend through perseverence, shared history, a love and respect for one another and a series of interesting threads of common interests and concerns–as well as the coincidence and good fortune of having met in the midwest where she was a professor and I a student, and then having moved to the same east coast city for completely different reasons within a year’s time 2o+ years ago.  She has also– consistently encouraged me to write, which is what I have always wanted to do, loved to do, done or not done, but wanted.

I will not recount our conversation tonight which was brief, but very important to me.  Which is exactly what I could say about many of our conversations over many, many years now.  Tonight, as at other times, she helped me dig my way out of a tough spot and get back to writing which is just what I want to be doing.  Although we often go a year or more without seeing one another, I have had more contact with her since the first of this year, than we have had for awhile.  And it was a deep and serious conversation with her at a party in January, about adoption, race, racism and the nature of family, that made the party for me, but much more importantly, jumpstarted this writing that I have been doing.

She had a wonderful and interesting 75th birthday party two years ago, at which I read her two poems, by Grace Paley, another Jewish woman, now gone, who was also very significant to me.  It was E. who introduced me to Grace Paley’s work.  At E.’s party I think I tried, as I am trying now, to let her know that in general, and particularly as a teacher, you never know what you have meant to people, but you can assume it is likely that often it is more than you know.

The big snow

I thought I would do a lot of writing.  Or some.   But instead I’ve shoveled snow, talked to my neighbors.  I’ve walked outside and marveled at the world, changed.  I’ve played a lot with my daughter and her friends, indoors and out.  I’ve gotten to know those girls even better.  It snowed on Friday afternoon and night.  And Saturday.  It snowed.  And snowed.  Our Saturday afternoon walk looked like this.  And with this, I take what is a small step for you digital natives, but a giant leap forward for me.  I upload my first photo onto this blog.

our block February 6, 2010 at 4  p.m.

To L, my first blogging partner

My friend L called me a few days ago.  She is one of my very best friends– and of the people I have known a long time and am still very close to, other than my sister, I think she is my oldest friend.  She is a completely central person in my life, both because of our friendship now and because of our history.  We live on opposite coasts.   

Cell phones have made our lives and our connection to each other better and worse.  We can talk once in awhile when I am on my way home from work or she is driving to take her daughters to their many activities.  On the other hand our conversations are full of bad connections, technically speaking.  Poor reception, weird delays in the pace of the conversation, as well as wrong turns as a result of being distracted by the phone and then rushing off suddenly to actually pay attention to what we are supposed to be doing or where we are going.  It’s one way to keep up but it sure isn’t the same as sitting down over coffee or tea or on someone’s bed or sofa late at night for a nice long talk like we used to do, both in person and by phone.

L and I met when we were 18– I think on our second day at the small liberal arts college in the midwest where we both started school and then both dropped out.  I dropped out before the end of the semester which was the source of great and grave anger and sadness between my father and me.  I am completely serious when I say that I don’t know if he ever really got over it.  My friendship with L is the only thing I left that school with.  I feel more sympathetic now to the feelings he had about the lost tuition– I didn’t even finish the semester or get the credits for his hard-earned money. 

On the other hand, I wish that before he died I could have helped him to understand the immeasurable value of my lifelong friendship with L and now her whole family– her mother and father (now gone), L’s sister, L’s two daughters and her partner.  If I could now repay my father for the cost of that semester, I would do so and consider it a tremendous bargain because of the friendship.     

What I am remembering now is that in our late teens and early twenties, L and I visited each other a lot.  I did less of the travelling , but she would come to visit me for a summer at a time for 4 weeks or 8 weeks sometimes.  She was much more adventuresome than I.  Once she took a cross country bicycle trip with a plan to finish in the Madison, Wisconsin where I had gone back to school and she was coming to stay for the summer.  She called from pay phones along the way.  And then one day she called me, told me what street corner she was on and asked directions to my house.  She was an LPN and could almost always get work within a week of starting to look, so she could visit and and work.  I would go to California to see her too, but never for a month.  Either way our days often included one of us going off to work, while the other hung out waiting for the work day to end and our visit and talks and adventures to resume.

Why I am writing this now is that looking back, she was my very first writing/blogging partner.  We both kept long, detailed, involved journals.  Mine went on and on and on writing-wise.  Hers did too, and were full of interesting things pasted in as well.  Train tickets, ticket stubs, photo booth photos.  I don’t remember when exactly, but there came a time in our friendship– when we developed a tradition.  When we saw each other, one of the things we would do early on in our visit and completely by agreement was that one would spend several hours reading the other’s journal.  And then we would talk about it later– like the comments part of the blog, only more expansive.

After we started doing this, our journals, our experiments with writing and our own thoughts and feelings about so many things, were no longer only our own– they were soon-to-be-published pieces, with a very, very small and particular audience in mind.  I like to think of that time as I do this work– and I like the immediacy of the blog– and I like to think of you who I know and you who I don’t out there– reading, thinking like L and I did back then.