Tag Archives: young people

United in Anger– ACT UP for all ages

I don’t actually write about it all that much.  Not because it doesn’t matter, it so very much does matter.  But with race and adoption and Jewishness and the general state of things for young people in the mix– I just barely get to it.  But let’s talk.  I am a lesbian mom.  It’s a big deal– even if I wish it weren’t.  In many ways, if I’m honest– life is harder because of this.  I don’t mean at all that it’s worse– it isn’t.  Not in the slightest.  But many things are harder.  And some things are just plain unbelievably amazing.

All of this next paragraph is full of important things about which I could write many words, but for today, these things are just important backdrop.  AIDS 2012, the first international AIDS conference hosted in the US because of our previously terrible immigration restrictions for people with HIV, was here until Friday.  In my town, blocks away.  I did AIDS law work for a very long time and I miss that work and the community of people with whom I did that work a great deal.  At times acutely.  I did not attend the conference at all, but I did get invited to an event honoring many HIV lawyers and HIV legal programs including the program I led for many years.  At that event, I reconnected with two women, from very different parts of my life– neither of whom I had seen in a very long time.  Both of whom are special to me.  And since I am going for candor here– one is an ex-girlfriend and it had been an exceptionally long time since she and I had seen or spoken to one another.  My heart swelled and expanded to see her, talk to her, reconnect.  It did my heart good.  Like me, she has an 11-year-old, two months younger than my daughter– a boy I’ve not met.   She and I had written but until last week had never spoken since we became mothers in our respective cities.  But this too, is another story.  It was she who told me I should come to see the screening of the documentary film, United in Anger.

So last Wednesday after work, I headed to United in Anger, a documentary about New York ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power).  Earlier, as my partner and I were making all our week’s childcare plans, I decided that for reasons logistical and for reasons not logistical , I wanted to bring my daughter with me to the film.  I wanted her there for reasons both educational and familial.  Like in any family and not because we are a lesbian family– there are so many things she doesn’t know about me.  My life is full of many experiences, cultural references, things that happened with great emotional resonance, that are not part of her experience or point of reference.  But perhaps because we are a lesbian family some of these things are more hidden and certainly less commonly shared.  My experience is not hers because she is a different generation.  But my experience is also not the experience of most of her friends’ parents.  Because I am lesbian.

To be very clear, I was never an ACT UP member but I was a supporter.  And I was a witness.  I told her only a little bit beforehand– about AIDS and about the fact that people didn’t get what they needed and so people were scared and they were angry and sad; they organized.  That was about it. We were late and there were no seats left when we got there– except for one lone seat in the front row.  I headed down the dark aisle for that seat and pulled her onto my lap– but a guy sitting next to me gave up his seat, over my objection, and she sat next to me.  Scared or thrilled, or air-conditioning cold– I don’t know, but she curled into me and wrapped her arms around me like a very young child and she held onto me and I held onto her throughout.  And we watched.  There were demonstrations, crowds, talking heads, meetings planning demonstrations, discussions of the terror of that time, anger and outrage, humor and silliness and the great, enthusiastic, brilliant, shining, creative, courageous energy of ACT UP.  There was plenty of courage to go around, and that shines through in all that footage.

In the dark with the film rolling, the questions came.  She wanted to know — what is civil disobedience, why were the police carrying people away?  Were they getting hurt?  Why did they have (fake) “blood on their hands”?  What were they doing now?  Why did they “practice” their civil disobedience, were they scared?  What was he saying?  What did that sign mean?  What is that woman talking about?  What is a condom?  Where was that bus taking them?  Why were they protesting in a Catholic church?  Look, that guy is wearing a Jewish star, he’s Jewish, like us!  That was funny, and that seemed scary.  Why are they yelling?  Where did they buy that casket or how did they make that prop? And on and on and on.

I answered dozens of questions– as many as I thought I could, given that people around us were watching the film.  There were many more to which I said– that is such a good and interesting question– but it’s too long, I’ll talk to you about it later.   More than once I said simply– I was there, I was at that demonstration.  She was so alive and lively watching and it carried over into the next day.

Next day, next scene, dinnertime at our lesbian household.  Around the table my daughter and my partner were eating dinner and I urged her to tell my partner– who wasn’t there the night before, about anything she wanted to tell about the film, what she thought about and what was interesting.  And she did.  Her eyes shining and her beautiful smile breaking across her face as she told things funny, poignant.  And then because she has the heart of humanity– because she knows important things without any lecture or being “taught”– she asked the big question.  She was just about ready to end this conversation and get up from the table and she asked– such an important question– of my partner and me.  Did we win?  I loved the question and I loved the clarity of her understanding of who she is in this world.  She didn’t ask, did they win.  She asked did we win.  In that moment, I understood many things I had not understood on many fronts.  Yes, I said, we haven’t yet won everything we need for people, but yes, yes– we did.  We won.

Columbus sailed the wide ocean and my daughter’s big mind.

I don’t like to face it in certain ways, but we are just a little tiny– I mean teeny, bit out– from my daughter turning 10– which seems like a big milestone in the life of a young person and certainly in the life of this mother.  I don’t know exactly how this post will work (as in well or poorly) but I am trying to write some about the mind and perspective of my daughter as she gets older.

This is also my call to those of you with children who are no longer very young children, to do the same.  Sarah— more, more about your older children!  Mama C. get ready, and tell us more as Sam gets a little older and then later, Marcel!  Others of you blogging about young people 10 and up, more about their ideas and the things you are discussing with them, wrestling with– and watching them wrestle with– not just how problematic it is (and no longer cute) to pick up their laundry, and not just about the feelings we have as they turn their attention away from us.  But I want to hear more, and learn more about issues of identity, perspective, ideas– theirs.  I want more about what is on their minds and then what is on yours as you listen.

I almost never write about going through elementary school again which is, in a certain way, what one does as one’s child goes through elementary school.  For sure I am not going through it again in that I am not subject to all the arbitrary and harsh and often unfair rules, I am not subject to the oppression of being a young person, and I don’t get out there and do great things like run around and use my body every day the way many (mine among them) elementary school students do each day until they are made to stop.  I don’t learn new things at the drop of a hat, as my daughter has taken up Latin Dancing with barely even a nod from me. (Really, she learned about, went to one Latin Dance class after school, and then decided to rearrange a standing tutoring session so she could attend Latin Dance– who knew?)

But I did stand at the counter, making dinner the other night, and asked my daughter to pull out her homework and work on it in the little table in the kitchen with me.  I learned that she was doing a segment on Columbus.  Oy, I sighed silently to myself, and silently, inside of me said, “another instance of mother-needing-to-pull-against-the-grain to teach her something real.”

I began mentally trying to figure out where on the shelves did I put the book I bought many years ago, the Rethinking Schools publication called Rethinking Columbus.  I mean this was a big moment.  My Chicana daughter learning about Columbus.  What and whose perspective was she going to learn?  I said to her, testing the water, “what have you learned so far?”  She answered matter of factly.

And these were, I think, her exact words, “that he slaughtered a lot of people.”  I said something like “well that’s a useful thing to know” and I asked (because she works with several teachers in her bilingual school) who was teaching this unit?  It was Mr. R.

This year she has a young, African American man as her teacher– Mr. R. (also Coach R. because he coaches the 4th and 5th grade boys basketball team)  and he is great.  He is the essence of “cool” and she and other young people love that– but that isn’t what I love about him and actually, when I think a little more deeply, I don’t think that is really, really at the heart of what she or they all love about him.

What I love about him is quite simply, his perspective.  For one thing, he likes them.  He likes the boys who are always in trouble.  He likes my daughter.  He gets her, as far as I can tell, in a way few of her teachers have really understood who she is.  And besides liking and getting her, his whole perspective, as far as I can tell, is quite different from any she has encountered yet in school.  Actively anti-racist, actively pro-young people in a very profound sort of way.  Much later, that evening, when I talked to my partner–and told her what my daughter said to me about Columbus, she just said, “think about who is teaching her this.”  I did and I do.

I could see her mind, as she wrestled with this material, was really at work, in very fine form, engaged in thinking about the “discoverer” and the so-called “discovered”.  I won’t go on about the writing she did about Columbus with me listening and helping a little, but I am tempted to publish the short piece she wrote and if she gives me permission I may yet do so.

Book review and give-away: Adoption Nation

When I decided to become a mother, I tried to get pregnant.  I read a lot during that time.  I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting; I read Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions and a bunch of other new-mothering books.

Time went on, I wasn’t pregnant, and we started planning an adoption.  A lot of other things and emotions happened, but that is the short version.  It wasn’t an easy transition, there were tears and very hard days, but we made the transition.  My reading list changed.  I subscribed to Adoptive Families Magazine (to which I still subscribe) and I read and read and read books.  I read to learn and I read to fill the space in my heart that was there because I had thought I was already going to be a mother by then.  And I read for the joy of it.  As a woman in a lesbian relationship, who had been part of a lesbian community for many years– I loved the part of our lesbian culture that was about making new ways out of old ways of being.  Making community, family, culture out of whole cloth–figuring things out.  What is a family?  What do I love, care about–that I want to pass on to a child?  What kind of home will we make with a baby?

It didn’t take me long to notice that many of the people who wrote about adoption were (not always, but often) also thinking about very fundamental questions about family and kinship and closeness in a fresh way.  They were thinking about race and racism and about culture– the one you are born into and the one you grow up with.  They were thinking about the deep question of what is it that binds us together, as humans, in love, that has nothing to do with genetic lineage.  They were trying to figure out some things about what young people actually need.  I got more and more excited and I kept reading.  And reading.

On my shelves today I count 36 books related to adoption.  Because we are long out of shelf space for books, I have many books in boxes and at least two of those boxes are full of more books about adoption.  I probably own about 100 books about adoption and there are many more out there than the ones I own.

Until last week I not read Adam Pertman’s Adoption Nation.  The book was first released in 2000 and was just re-issued with updates and revisions.  I have mostly been drawn to very personal accounts of adoption.  Adoption Nation is indeed a different book than my usual reads.  But I am very glad I read it and very glad Adam Pertman wrote it.  It provides something we don’t have so much of, but should– which is actual data and comparative discussion of laws surrounding adoption.  It tracks actual history of adoption practice, both domestic and international.  We need to know these things in order to inform decisions and policies about adoption practice as we move forward and to understand what we are a part of as individual adoptive families.

I think Adam Pertman and I have much in common.  He is an adoptive parent; he clearly adores his children; he is Jewish and he cares very passionately about adoption.  And like myself, he wasn’t content just to parent two children who came to his family by adoption (a big enough job)– he wanted to know and to think more and deeper about adoption.

Adoption Nation is long and not a quick read.  It is divided into three sections; one called “Don’t Whisper, Don’t Lie– It’s Not a Secret Anymore” about the long history of adoption in U.S. culture as a practice rife with secrets and lies– to birthmothers and to those people who were adopted out of their birth families and into a new family.  The section does a great job of detailing some of the history of international adoption and the role of the Hague Adoption Convention.  The middle section of the book, “Sensitive Issues, Lifelong Process” discusses issues affecting each of the members of the adoption triad; birth mothers, adoptive parents and adoptees.  He does not shy away from discussion of the many abuses that arise in the context of adoption, nor does he trivialize these abuses.

In matters like adoption, where those of us who are touched by adoption have such deeply personal experiences and views, there is so much that is important, but that we actually know so little about— or worse, that we think we know, but where our “knowledge” is based solely on personal experience– which is important, but not enough.

I hope Adoption Nation becomes just one of what I hope will be a growing body of more comprehensive work on adoption.  We need discussion of adoption as he provides, not just as it plays out for individual families, but in the context of the whole of the societies affected.  Adam Pertman is knowledgeable and writes about a much bigger picture than just that of his personal experience– which is depth that I think we need.

I learned a lot and I am sure I will open it again in the future as a reference for information I will want and need as I continue to think and write about adoption.  It is quite a feat to have compiled so much useful data, considered adoption from the standpoint of each member of the triad and discussed a wide array of state laws regarding adoption, international adoption law and practice as well as practices that are not codified anywhere.

My criticism of the book is not in what it is, but in what is missing.  Throughout the book, Adam Pertman talks a great deal about birth mothers and about the data regarding race– who adopts, who is adopted.  There is a lot of discussion about the increase in transracial adoption and many aspects of that shift.  But he does not ultimately place his discussion of adoption directly in the context of two of the larger social issues which I believe are at the very heart of why adoption, as we know it in the U.S., is what it is.

He does not write directly about racism nor does he write directly about sexism.  The omission of this overall context is most significant in the third and final section of the book, “Tough Challenges in a Promising Future” in which he discusses the public adoption/ foster care system and also offers a frank discussion of the role that money does and should or should not play in adoption.  Yet all of this would be a fuller, more meaningful discussion if placed in the context of the larger social forces that are at play in all of these issues.

I think it is inescapable that the conditions that give rise to the placement of so many children of color in the U.S. and throughout the world are utterly connected to racism.  I am neither pointing a finger at any one person or family nor blaming adoptive families in the slightest.  But I am saying I can’t fully understand my wonderful daughter’s life story, without understanding racism and its effect on her Chicano people.  We all, individual families and policy-makers alike, need to look at this bigger context as we look at adoption.

Likewise, I believe that any real discussion of adoption history and practice must be at least in part, a direct discussion of sexism.  By this I mean discussion of adoption must include discussion of the sexism facing young women and single women, women in marriages and the level of control and economic autonomy that women do or don’t have.  Adoption in inextricably bound with the conditions facing birth mothers, all of whom are women.

The individual reasons that any individual woman or family chooses an adoption plan for a child, or abandons a child are as myriad as the individual birth parents who make such plans.  And yet all women’s lives, and especially our economic, reproductive and child-rearing lives, are circumscribed by sexism.  Sexism isn’t the reason for every adoption, but no adoption happens outside of a world in which sexism has a profound effect on the lives of birth mothers as well as adoptive mothers.

Nonetheless I am glad this big book exists, and very glad to add it to my collection.  I am glad the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which Adam Pertman directs, and which may be the only institute dedicated solely to adoption research, exists.  I hope I’ll meet Adam Pertman one day, and I hope to continue to play a small or perhaps even a bigger role as our thinking and the understanding of adoption continues to grow.  There is certainly room and a need for many minds at work on this important issue in our world and in our families.

Last of all, if you read through to the end–this is your last chance to participate in my first Blog Book Giveaway!!  If you’d like a new copy of the book, please email me your name and address at laurawrites1  at verizon dot net no later than Saturday and I’ll do a drawing and send off two copies of Adoption Nation.

Alfie Kohn’s “Bad Signs” and Patricia Smith on “Keepers of the Second Throat”

My new issue of Rethinking Schools just arrived.  I love Rethinking Schools.  They are a low-budget publication with minimal advertising– and they are, as far as I, a mother with a child in a public school, is concerned, the heart and soul of the world of progressive K-12 education.  I’m going to get all bossy here in this post. Whether you have children or not, whether you have school-aged children or not, if you don’t yet subscribe to Rethinking Schools, you should.  And you should ask them to start your subscription with the Spring 2011 issue.  We need them out there doing what they do.  Even better– when I went to insert the link, I see a special gift for you.  The whole Spring 2011 issue is right there online, for free, for you to read the actual articles that I am about to write about.  After reading several of the pieces, there are two I couldn’t help writing about.  One that made me laugh out loud, then hopeful and the other that made me cry while my heart filled with hope.  We’ll start with tears and hope.

The poet extraordinaire, Patricia Smith (Blood Dazzler and Teahouse of the Almighty), whose work I have referred to several times before, writes a piece called “Keepers of the Second Throat“.  It is a rich, honest and beautiful piece, in four sections.  It’s about language, the colonizing and de-legitimizing of language, the erasure not only of voice, but of people, their lives and their history.  The erasures in this piece are about black people, Patricia Smith’s people, though I do think of Patricia Smith as my people.  Her piece begins, “Chicago not only stole my mother’s tongue, it also stole all her yesterdays.”  She also writes about teaching in a sixth grade classroom and her fight to give her students not just language, but their own language, un-corrected, un-“fixed”, and through their own language, she wants to give the important knowledge of their right to tell their own stories, about their own lives.

She finishes this section saying, “I celebrate every single word a child says, every movement of their pen on paper, and I’m mesmerized when those stories begin to emerge.  I stop what I’m doing and I listen.  We’ve got to teach that every utterance, every story is legitimate… In the beginning, it doesn’t matter if anyone wants to hear.  What matters is what you have to say.”

I hope you will read this article and then hold it in your heart and back pocket– as you talk to young people, all people, about their true stories.

On to laugh-out-loud hope.  Alfie Kohn, whose name I know, but whose work I am not very familiar with at all, contributes a piece called Bad Signs.  The sub-title reads, “Because they’re so pervasive in schools– and accepted so uncritically, it’s worth digging into the hidden premises of inspirational posters’ chirpy banalities about self-improvement.”    I was especially thrilled to read this for three reasons.  For one, it relieved me of the obligation to write something similar, though these signs have gotten under my skin since the first days we walked through the door of my daughter’s school.  In finding that Alfie Kohn, an educator and writer of books, is especially bothered by this trend too– I was relieved of feeling like the crankiest, most fault-finding person on the planet.   Secondly, I just liked sharing this perspective with him.  And third, the piece made me laugh out loud.  Hard.  It is hilarious, and he offers some important thinking about the not-so-hidden subtext reflected in those posters as well as his thoughts about what he believes should be reflected on the walls of our children’s schools.  One of my favorite lines is when he comments on a poster that he has seen in many different kinds of schools– one which reads, ‘Only Positive Attitudes Allowed Beyond this Point’.  He writes, “I found myself imagining how its message might be reworded for satirical purposes.  Once I came up with “Have a Nice Day…or Else.”

I have no way of knowing whether this kind of thing makes you laugh until tears roll down your cheeks as it did for me– but it was good to have a laugh with Alfie Kohn.  I hope that our public schools will continue to exist, not privatized, not full of advertising.  I hope that more and more, rather than less and less, they will be real places for young people to learn, to speak their minds in their own voices and languages and to have a chance to do what Rethinking Schools and Patricia Smith and Alfie Kohn do so well– try out new and original and hopeful ideas on behalf of children, on behalf of us all.

The blog entry that wasn’t

Sometimes I think the real story of women’s lives is the story of how you got anything done at all between the interruptions.  Or maybe it is the untold story of all the things you actually did before you got to the part you counted as “doing something”.  I have to go back and check but I think that is what Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing was about.   And also several stories in Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.  So I am not the first woman to think of this or to bother to write it down. 

Although men get interrupted a lot I am sure, for all kinds of equally bad and equally interesting reasons, there is something about our lives as women that makes this story strangely the norm, unquestioningly the norm.  And although many of you are so familiar with this it will seem strange to have bothered to write it at all, still I want to write it.  If you could hear me, you’d know that though I do complain about many things, I am really not complaining.  And I could be more disciplined about managing my time.  This is a completely unremarkable account of a few hours of my day yesterday.   

I came home from work early.  Quite early, like 1:30.  I wasn’t feeling so well and I brought work from my office to do at home after I finished with a long morning meeting at work.  I had in my mind that I wanted to sit and write just a little.  I wanted to start a longer piece about adoption and race  generally.  I was also thinking about a particular, interesting email dialogue I am having with someone and thinking maybe I would write a little about that.  Or maybe I’d write about something that has been rattling around in my mind about girls and gender roles in third grade, or a next piece, more about race and racism, to follow up from the writing I did earlier here, called “Student Council”, because there is more since then to tell. 

It took me awhile to sit down at the computer.  I really wasn’t feeling so great.  As I said.  I got into my pajamas, which is unusual for me.  I did read a really lovely and interesting article that a friend sent me about meeting and developing a friendship with a woman artist whose background is remarkably similar to her somewhat extraordinary background, which did admittedly take a little time to read, and I don’t want to be dishonest here.  I did get to read that piece.

Then there was the something I had to write for work which I did.  Then I was hungry.  I watched a very few minutes of the Olympics and fewer minutes of “Ellen” while I ate.  I also cleaned up from lunch and from breakfast which we had abandoned in a hurry earlier.  By then I thought about taking a nap, but there is something incredibly inviting about a quiet house in the daytime, while the sun is out, as a time to sit and collect my thoughts and write.  So I opted for that. 

As I was settling in to write, I heard the blinds rattling in the other room, which is a common occurence in winter in our slightly overheated apartment where the windows are cracked open a bit but it was especially loud so I went to look.  It turned out not to be the blinds.  Nor was it noise from the hallway of the apartment next door with which we share a wall.  In fact it was a key in the door, which initially scared the hell out of me.  

But it was my partner, home much earlier than planned.  With three children.  Our one and two from up the street.  This stop at home with daughter and two friends definitely wasn’t in the plan for the afternoon.  My partner was going to pick up daughter and go directly to basketball practice.  They entered with their backpacks and their three different versions of a long day at school, needing attention and snacks and they entered with all their interesting ideas and their tangles with each other and all their homework pages.  And so this is just one version of the unremarkable story of the blog entry that wasn’t.  At least not yet.  Not yesterday.

Student Council, third grade

This post is introduction.  Or it is not introduction, but it is a first try at what might really be a longer essay– a group of essays, a book of poems that I would like to write sometime.  But to start, let me just tell this part.

I have been struggling lately, watching my daughter struggle with racism.  It is painful.  I understood from the start, from the moment we decided that we would adopt transracially, and then from the moment I learned she was born at 4 days old, and from the moment she was put into my arms at 12 days old, that it would happen.  Racism that is.  Not actually that it would happen, but that it was happening all around us; that the world she was born into had this in it and it was coming at her.  And that it was mine to join together with other mothers and fathers and young people and other adults and stop it.  Racism that is.  To end it.

Along with lunches and medical appointments, permission slips, play dates and summer camp registration, I am trying to figure out where I can throw the weight of my mind and heart and conviction to end racism.  I don’t say this to distinguish myself from your average parent, I think we all grapple with these things– more or less effectively, which is defintely my track record.  Sometimes more and sometimes less.

Racism didn’t become a pressing issue to me for the first time when my daughter came into my life.  Far from it.  But all that is another story for another time.  But from the start of our lives together as a family, I knew racism was happening , and I knew I would do my part to do the emotional work I needed to do.  Things I knew were that I had to keep facing it, to clean up as much as possible of my piece of it, to have courage to stand up for my daughter and for people of color, especially other young people of color, especially parents of color.  I knew I would do the work  I needed to do to be able to talk about it and also to be able to listen.  A lot.  To people of color and to white people struggling with their own racism, struggling to figure it out.

But the concrete– watching it come at my daughter like a train rolling on down the track, that’s a tall order some days.  Last year and then this year again, there have been some things she has wanted to do– one of which is to be on the student council at her school.  And it so happens that in her class of mostly young people of color, it is only white children who have been chosen.  Last year and again this year.  I like those girls a lot— the white girls who are the student council reps.  I like them, and they are good kids; they aren’t the problem here.  They are utterly worthy.  But they are definitely and utterly not more worthy.   So there is a problem.

My daughter talks about this and what she describes is racism– external and internalized.  Without using the words or talking about skin color, she describes the racism that we white people are all unwittingly handed and asked/ demanded to agree with– the notion that we are somehow better or smarter or more deserving.  And without using the words or talking about skin color, she talks about the internalized oppression– the collusion, of other young people of color and her own growing internalized oppression.  Which is what I can hardly bear.

What she actually talks about, is an exasperation,  a longing, that she wants to do this thing, that she tries to get people to vote for her, but that in the end, what they say basically– is that she isn’t the right kind of person to get to do that.  That some other kind of person gets to do this, but not her.   And the hardest part is watching her grapple with the question in her own mind, about whether perhaps she is not, in fact, the right kind of person to do the things she wants to do.

Some days when we talk about this, it is almost as though I can see the inside of her mind.  Teetering on the fine edge between outrage and disbelief and captitulation.  I see her struggling with whether to resign herself to this or whether to maintain her indignation about it all.  Whether to go for it again or whether to give up.   I do not yet know what to do.  I have some ideas, and most of all I am determined to try.  Something.

What I can figure out now is this.  I want to keep her hopeful.  I want to to keep her wanting to be the student council representative, while I try to figure out how to help her go for it.  I want to keep her indignant and puzzled rather than resigned.  I am taking some time to cry privately about the big disappointments of grade school so I carry as little of my own baggage or low expectations into my conversations with her.  And we keep talking.  While I try to figure out what to do next.

Flip Day

If you have a tendency, as I do, to slide toward feeling down, depressed even, or like things are bleak– I highly recommend taking a young person to school every morning.  Or once a week.  Or whenever you can.  It’s such a better way to start the day than the national news.  It’s for real, and it’s interesting.  It turns your whole perspective inside out.  You can take your own child.  If you don’t happen to have a child or children, or yours are grown up; someone else’s works fine.  When I walk into my daughter’s school, despite many things that are hard or not right for the young people–it is, much of the time, a completely exuberant, interesting, lively and hopeful place full of energy and enthusiasm about the coming day.

With the recognition that many of the young people get tired and less attentive (or for some, more awake and more attentive) as the day wears on– this year our public school instituted “Flip Day”– a day, which happened to be yesterday, when we were exactly half-way through the school year and they flipped the schedule.  So the things they were studying and doing in the afternoon are now in the morning and the morning things are now in the afternoon.  Lunch is still at lunch-time.

Our households had gotten a message the night before that the young people were encouraged to wear flip flops (yes, it is very cold here), clothes inside out, flipped out hair, or other things to recognize “Flip Day”.  Though I overslept and my partner was ready to take off to get daughter and our neighbor’s girls to school, I threw on clothes at the last minute and we both drove daughter and two sisters from up the street to school.  Normally only one of us would drive, and normally they no longer need us to walk into the school with them, but I had to go in and see it. 

In honor of flip day, they set up a long table and two electric griddles and the assistant principal and a teacher were flipping and then distributing pancakes.  Our assistant principal, who always dresses for the occasion, was in a big apron and chef’s hat along side the other pancake-flipping teacher.  A third teacher was standing at the table distributing the words and singing a song with made up words about “Flip Day” over and over and over like an endless tape loop.  Children came through the doors with backpacks and coats, excited, or sleepy or not quite with it, but they quickly gathered up close to watch the pancake action and get their pancakes.  

Last night when the day was done my daughter said, “can we get those pancakes some time?  they came in a blue box.”  And the most amazing thing, for my sweet-tooth girl emerged.  My partner asked, “how did they do this?  were there plates and forks? was there syrup?  Jam? butter?”

My daughter said, “no, just a pancake– on a napkin.”  “And you liked it without syrup or jam or honey?”  Vigorous nodding.  Flip day indeed.

Field Trip

We went on a field trip yesterday.  I went with my daughter and her third grade class.  It was a treat for me because the older they get, the less we, the parents, get into the classroom and the less we can figure out about what goes on in there.  I don’t even mean with their school work.  But more their relationships, how the group works together, your own child and all the things you worry about late at night when you’re troubled and under slept…so it’s nice to get in and see for yourself sometimes.  These children are the children she’ s been in school with since she started kindergarten. 

There is a ton to say about the dynamics of race even now, in this third grade class.  But I can’t figure out how to write it yet.  But there’s simply the trip itself.  We rode the subway, visited the great and beautiful Library of Congress, the Capitol.  We visited the office of our own fierce representative– a black woman (I thought they should have done a lot more explaining about how we don’t actually have a voting representative, and what an outrage that is– right here in the heart of democracy…but we didn’t go there) and ate lunch in a House office building cafeteria.  Our beautiful young people brought a little life to the place.  

There was a lot of back and forth between buildings, some outside and some in those Capitol tunnels underground.  Touring (and listening to the tour guides lectures) was actually a lot of fun and very interesting for me.  But the in between times, the walking back and forth and lunch is where the action is in terms of seeing what really goes on with the young people. 

Two of the boys– both high energy and perfectly delightful, kept asking me for a turn to use my camera which I was strangely relaxed about– so I let them and I got to build a little bit of a friendship with each of them.   I love those moments when I get to know them a little more– on their own terms– when they actually show me what interests them; something they figured out they want to try. 

My daughter and I got along really well too– we laughed (at the expense of my partner) about the fact that her other mom had packed her, what we dubbed “the lamest lunch ever”, and I shared some of my slightly better lunch with her.  We collected beautiful bookmarks from the children’s reading center of the Library of Congress and she asked me to read to her a book that creates a mouse-inhabited Capital city and Library of Congress with names like James Fenimouse Cooper and the Mouse of Representatives.  We bent our necks back at difficult right angles to our bodies to see the beautiful, ornate high ceilings of some of the buildings.

The mom of one of girls arranged the whole tour.  She (the mom) has, what I learned is an even more significant job on the Hill than I had previously understood, even though I’ve known her for four years.  She’s a terrific woman and I loved seeing her in her element clomping around in her high heels and seeing her with her daughter, who is clearly so proud of her.  

At the end of the day, when we had a little time to kill before going on to the last part of the tour, mama- tour- planner brought us all into the empty Committee room of one of the more powerful and visible House Committees, and they ran around, sat behind microphones in the seats of some of the most powerful members of the House and played while I, the only one with a camera, wrestled with the camera’s dying battery to get some photos.  I figure they will remember that chance to play and horse around and do make believe in that House Committee room better than most of what my daughter generally refers to as the “blah, blah, blah” –adults going on about topics that don’t especially interest her, in this case the short historical lectures they got on the tour– though she did absorb and talk about more of it than I expected afterward.  

Watching them– this class of mostly girls it so happens, and mostly young people of color, I remembered back to one of the first days of this school year.  It was September, just 8 months into the Obama administration, when I went to get my daughter after school.  She was playing with the girl whose mom arranged the tour and with another girl; both African American girls.  Somehow they got onto the subject of what they will be when they grow up.  The daughter of our tour leader said she wanted to be the first African American woman president of the United States.  The other girl said she too wanted to be the first African American woman president. 

My daughter, who shies away from the lime light and has always said she wants to be an artist, remained quiet.  Then another mom, a peace activist who was standing with me and listening, said to all three of them, “well, if you run for president, you have to have a platform– something you want to get done.  What do you want to do if you are the president?”

The two presidential hopefuls were stumped by this at that moment.  I guess for each of them, being the first African American woman president of the United States would actually be the platform and I certainly don’t disagree.  But my daughter, who had been reading the young reader’s version of Fast Food Nation smiled and piped up– I know an idea of what I want!  What? we asked??  No More McDonald’s!! my girl said proudly and vehemently.

Then I mentally fast forwarded wondering if some of them will take those seats for real.  Wondering if I’ll get to see a House with many more people of color and women someday soon.