Category Archives: serious blither

If I do nothing else

If I do nothing else

Today is Sean’s last day of Spring Break. Coincidentally, it’s also his belt test day, so the plan was to keep things light and fun.  He got a haircut, and then we pranced off to the bookstore with no worries about how long we spent there.  We went to TJ’s, to spend the $25 gift card I won on new things (aaaand since he got to choose, I know you’re all shocked that it was largely cheese, salmon iterations, and chocolate cookies).  We snagged lunch at Whole Foods, and piled into the bed to play the new angry birds side by side on our iPads.

And then, during a break from blowing up evil space pigs, I saw this:

My hand flew to my mouth, and belatedly I kicked myself.  Because, of course, the gesture caught his attention, and then there were questions.  How do you tell your 8 year old that a 17 year old boy was killed because of the color of his skin?

Straight up, as it turns out.  Straight up.  I told him what happened.  Where young mister Martin had been.  The actions of his killer.  The fact that there was now evidence that flew in the face of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ statute.  That I, as the mother of a white boy, don’t worry when I let him sit at a table in Whole Foods, or wander Barnes and Noble.  No one’s going to look at him in- yes- his hoodie, and baggy jeans and rumpled t-shirt and think he’s going to try to shoplift or steal a purse.  I taught him the word privilege and that he has it- oh, how he has it- because of the color of his skin (and, I added as an aside, his economic station and his maleness).  I mentioned classmates- how if L was a boy, and dressed like him, she could well be suspected just because of the color of her skin.  That’s not fair, he protested.  Darn skippy, I told him.

Hate stops with you and your friends, pal. If I do nothing else as a parent but teach you to be good to your fellow humans and not judge them based on the color of their skin, what god they believe in, or who they love, I will have done a good job. Be whatever you want- garbage man or president of the United States, brain surgeon or robot inventor or writer or whatever. Just be good to others.

He looked at the photo.  “So who are they?”  The concept that athletes so good they earn millions of dollars and are household names likely had to put up with racist bullshit like this as children blew his mind.  “It says a lot that they did that, doesn’t it?” he asked.  The conversation ebbed away, the thought of someone’s child being killed overwhelming him, the knowledge (It could be S! It could be B! he blurted, naming friends who are not lily white. I reassured him, even as I knew crap like this can happen anywhere) that there are people in this world who would judge- and kill- others based on prejudice making him burrow against me and hold Rhino tight.  I stroked his hair, reminded him that he’s safe, and let him retreat to the benign world of blowing up evil space pigs.

If I do nothing else in this career as a mom.  Let it be that he never forgets me weeping over a dead 17 year old in Florida.

The hard stuff

The hard stuff

Just because the world keeps spinning, the GOP shovels out an amazing amount of anti-woman rhetoric and actions, work piles up, and laundry needs to be done doesn’t mean the hard work of parenting eases up. Sadly.

A few weeks ago, I had one of the hardest conversations I have ever had with the kiddo. Because of a fundraiser coming up, it was long overdue. And so, he now knows that his beloved ‘Little John’ didn’t just die, he committed suicide. Sean is a processor. He asks a bunch of questions and then stews. And things pop out from time to time as he keeps chewing things over in his head. And so after a bunch of questions, some tears, and lots of sadness, I waited. Waited for the glimmers to start.

Sean has not wanted to cook with me very much since that horrible day in the fall. John had promised to bring him into the kitchen and teach him. John was his Brookside market buddy. So I had my suspicions. I’ve not pushed it, but have given him opportunities to help and join in, and let him scamper back to whatever he was doing when he hits the ‘done now’ point. This morning we made cheese crackers, and it was the longest he’s stuck with a recipe since the fall.

“This is fun!” he said, sounding mildly surprised. “Yeah, it is” I assured him, nudging him and grinning. After the crackers were all cut and ready to go, he slunk off, calling back ‘please bring me crackers when they’re done!’, but he was back downstairs before I could bring them up. As he popped one in his mouth he nodded appreciatively, then sighed.

I gathered him close and buried my face in his ridiculous hair. “We,” I whispered, “Can still have a wonderful time in the kitchen together. It’s not being mean to his memory. He would want you to love to cook.” Sean went wide eyed, as if to ask how did I know what he was worried about, then squeezed me so hard I gasped.

This is the stuff the books don’t warn you about. Sleep on the one side and don’t eat deli meat and no advil and don’t start regular milk too soon and and and. There’s no map for this. And so the Lad and I stumble along, armed with our verbal machetes, trying to clear a path for the little man.

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

It has been quite the year. We’ve had dizzying highs- Sean truly hitting his stride with his posse of friends, the exhibit I worked on for four years finally opening and winning some pretty awesome awards, some research the Lad had worked on getting submitted in a sweet paper, mom’s surgery being a rollicking success and her supposedly fatal disease handled, a trip of a lifetime to Alaska. But we’ve also had some nasty lows. Rough patches at both of our jobs. The Lad’s grandmother died suddenly this summer, my grandfather died 2 weeks ago after being in the hospital since mid-October. It can be all too easy to be mired in the day to day and forget the big picture.

The other day, driving the kid to school, he and I were chatting. We started talking about our holiday donations- his allowance is split between mad money, savings, and charity, and at the end of each year he picks what charity to support. This year he wants to do Child’s Play and Save the Rhinos. The longest part of that conversation was narrowing down the options and explaining that we actually contribute to charity all year long, as he was concerned that charities needed money all year but we were only giving at the holidays. With that debate handled, what, I asked, was he looking forward to most about the winter holidays? His answer stunned me. I expect an 8 year old to be voracious, capitalist, and all about the presents and in second place, the sugar. “Lighting the menorah and eating latkes at Chanukah.” he said. I practically drove off of the road. “Uh, really? Not Christmas morning?” He allowed as how he liked Christmas just fine, but Christmas morning can be a little crazy, and could he please spread out opening his presents a little more so it doesn’t feel so intense, and, he added, “Besides. What I like most is being together and doing stuff together.”

I am thankful I have somehow managed to, so far, not raise a total self-absorbed jerk. The world has plenty of those.

I am thankful that I went to a grad school that ultimately was a horrible fit for me, and didn’t go to Yale which would have suited me much better.

I am thankful I persevered when that guy in grad school told me no way was he dating while in grad school, and if he did he sure as hell wouldn’t date within his department.

I am thankful that I walked away from my first career love.

I am thankful when that tiny company said ‘we want to fly you out here to consult with us for a day. We’ll pay for your travel, and eventually maybe we can contract you, but right now you’d be consulting for free’ I didn’t say ‘no freaking way’ and instead said ‘ok’, against everything everyone in consulting had ever told me.

I am thankful that I didn’t listen to the parenting books that told me not to have the hard conversations just yet.

“What I like most is being together and doing stuff together.”

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone. May you not forget the good stuff.

Dear Starbucks at 76th and Good Hope Road

Dear Starbucks at 76th and Good Hope Road

Don’t you miss Sean and Jerry? All this travel. It’s nice to see places, but all this travel!
It’s ok Grandpa. We have a routine, and Sean’s getting better about it. Besides, this is a great museum project and it’s just to Atlanta. Trust me, I know where every Starbucks in Hartsfield-Jackson is.
That must get expensive! Those fancy coffee drinks!
Yeah well, I usually just get a coffee. If it’s been a rough meeting or I’m really missing the boys, I’ll treat myself to something fancier.

That’s when the Starbucks cards started arriving. “Treat yourself to something on the road. Love, Grandpa”, with his crazily looped handwriting. Every year, for my birthday and Chanukah. Grandpa’s been at my side from coast to coast, north to south, on the airport trams in Houston, Dallas, Atlanta. Every latte order brought a smile to my face. I sent him a photo of me pounding a Starbucks in Hawaii at a conference and the impertinent email came back. “I thought your mother taught you better. You should be drinking something with fruit juice and rum!”

Thursday morning, I told mom I was heading to a Starbucks. She gave me the ‘you are crazy, there is a ‘restaurant’ downstairs here in the hotel’ look, and pointedly looked out the window to the dizzily falling flakes of snow. I ignored her attempt at momming me and not letting me behind the wheel of our rental land yacht, and headed out. If I was going to be hand-shoveling dirt in the snow in some highly proscribed ritual which was not of my brand of belief, this was the least I could do beforehand.

How’d you get the idea, Grandpa?
There’s a Starbucks not too far away. They said they sold gift cards. Seemed like a good idea.

So, employees of the Starbucks at 76th and Good Hope Road, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I apparently stunned you with an order for a 4 shot peppermint mocha, which when pressed I had once told Grandpa was my ultimate winter travel comfort drink. I’m sorry I started to cry when you asked if I’d be paying with a Starbucks card. I’m sorry the funny, sweet 98 year old man won’t be buying gift cards from you again. But thank you for treating the sniveling wreck of a woman with dignity.

Okay kiddo! Love you! Give my love to Jerry and Sean! Don’t drink too much coffee!
“I don’t think there is such a thing as too much coffee, grandpa. Love you too.”

Shiny!

Shiny!

Recognize this?

I went absolutely nowhere

That’s a ‘Macintosh Portable’, released in the fall of 1989. My dad had one, because he was an absolute weenie for technology. From what I understand, this technological marvel was voted the 17th worst tech product of all time, but Dad was undeterred, and his love of Apple ran true and deep, and he was the very definition of ‘early adopter’. When I was 5 we got an Apple II+ with a serial number until 1000. To this day all I have to do is hum a few bars of ‘Turkey in the Straw’ and my mom will start singing along in a little ‘beep beep beep’ and then yell ‘goddamnit!’ when she realizes I have gotten her to do so.

2MB Ram, 40MB hard drive, oh yeah baby

And this is the PowerBook 170, which came out in the fall of 1991. That would be the fall my dad landed in the hospital, as a cascade of, in today’s parlance, FAIL proceeded to wreak havoc on his body. We went in before Halloween with a hurt back from a fall; he got out 2 days before I got home for Winter Break, the nascent staph infection it turned out he’d come in with having his the wound site in his spine and the valves of his heart, his kidneys having failed from medications coupled with his diabetes, and a congestive heart failure or three thrown in for good measure.

So when my husband regarded me askance when I announced my plan to actually stand in line for the iPad2, I felt it was my heritage to do so. After all. I’m the daughter of the man who from his hospital bed- in the days before everyone and their brother having high speed internet access and wireless in the hospital- managed to score himself a damn PowerBook 170. You know, while he was being listed for a heart transplant.

Tonight, dad, on the anniversary of your death, I salute you with the newest Apple shiny.

My answer, direct from the big G

My answer, direct from the big G

As a child, High Holidays were at first wonderful, and then horrible. Wonderful when we lived out west, and there was a JCC and I had friends at school who shared my faith. Horrible when we moved east, to an area where, let’s say, the KKK had a not tentative foothold and I was, for a long while, the only Jew in 3 grades worth of school. I got barbie dolls hung in effigy in my locker after high holidays. The less tolerant children would take note of which of us were in the attendance office the morning after RH and YK, and dole out the beatings later.

So this year, the issue of do we send Sean to school on YK arose. Needless to say, I was not gung ho on keeping him out of school. At first, I was planning to take the day off and spend it in some contemplative manner. But if I kept Sean out, maybe we could use it in together time and focusing on some morals lessons. Then I had a 3 hour meeting thrown on my calendar, then a 2 hour, and another 1 hour, and. So my thoughts of holding Sean out of school today to spend time in doing good works for others and also getting our own mental houses in order went out the window.

At one pm- still unshowered, 4 meetings into the day, stressed out beyond all possible belief- my call waiting beeped. I bailed out of meeting #5 to take the call from a number which wasn’t immediately familiar but hey I know that prefix oh shit it’s school.

Come get him. He’s running a fever. And so I put aside everything else- meetings that ‘couldn’t wait, and memos that ‘had’ to go out, and whitepapers that were ‘vital’- and went and picked up a sad little boy. Act #1 was snuggling. Act #2 was kissing, act #3 was stroking his hair back from his fevered brow and whispering that we’d get him home and into pjs and feeling better soon.

Thanks, Big G. I know what next year’s game plan is. Hopefully it will not take 102F to remind me of what’s important.

What it takes

What it takes

It takes an early morning, and shitty weather, and cold so swift and biting the only thing to do is hole up inside. Ruined gardening plans, and a round of errands, and shielding the kid from the crime scene tape and unexpected detour around where they found a body in Brush Creek, and disappearing into a game for a while, and not answering the phone. A small child needing things, and a birthday party gone awry, and a frantic flailing for safe cupcakes and picking up a friend and standing outside in the suddenly good weather grilling. And focusing on the here and now, the minutiae, the crushing headache.

And 14 years.

14 years for it to not be the first thing I remember, that Saturday morning, as I blearily stagger down the hall to the kid’s room. Just the second, third, fourth, fifth. Just the sixth and seventh, as I climb in among the wizards and dragons and ugly dolls and rhino, and wind an arm around the wriggly little body. Just the eighth, ninth, and tenth, as I bury my face in the corn silk hair, and breathe in. Breathe in to push it aside, so it is not the ceaseless drumbeat of the day, but merely rouses its sleepy, vicious head every so often to remind me. There is someone not here, there is someone missing this. There has been 14 years of missing whatever ‘this’ is at that moment.

“Good morning mom!” Sean chirps as he stretches, snuggling up to me. “It’s going to be a great day!”

Heartsick

Heartsick

Yeah, not much snark to be had in wenchville. Can someone please send me a stasis pod so I can crawl into it until after Election Day? I promise to go vote early before I enjoy the sweet blissful silence.

I am blue. Bluer than blue, and that’s not just a political pun there. The economy has my shoulders tight with tension- we’re fine, my job is fine, his job is fine- but ouch. We would like to retire some century, I would really like the kid’s college fund to not lose 80% of its value, and oh yes, his parents and my mom are retired and yeehaw did you see pension plans lost $2 Trillion in value? TWO. TRILLION. And while I implicitly trust mom’s very good financial advisor, I would really like her to be able to continue living in the style to which she’s become accustomed, and given that she lives off of her investments and annuities and interest, yeaaaaah. Tenure has my shoulders tight with tension- whoever designed a system where you essentially have to wait until May to find out is just mean.

But what truly has me blue is not the economy- though man that’s depressing- nor tenure- though what a lovely sword of Damocles you have there- nor my job- though jesus christ 5 talks due in under 6 weeks and 3 business trips. What has me blue is the election. More specifically, the rhetoric, and tone, and just plain hate. I am saddened by, quite frankly, the naivete. The hate that gets slung tht any supporter of Obama is blind. Why yes, there is a sort of fervor among some of his supporters, but that’s not to mean they support every position of his (guess what, I don’t) nor that they’ve failed to actually read up on his politics. I’m saddened that some people are so reflexive that they cannot make the following logical chain: McCain camp and allies: Do you really know Barack Obama? Beyond the speeches?

Well let’s see. There’s this, or this, or perhaps you’d like to read this or you could just download The Blueprint for Change in your own handy dandy pdf. You could look up his voting records in both the Illinois Senate and US Senate. You could review all of his campaign material from the past 2 years of campaigning.

Oh but wait. We don’t know him.

You know, I thought I knew John McCain. I thought he was occasionally testy, but ultimately did stand at least somewhat apart from his party, and would build on the rapport and attitude from his last major go-round and not engage in the kind of gross, insulting, hateful campaigning that I’ve come to expect from the GOP. But I was wrong. His campaign has engaged in the slickest of attempts to hijack the media:
“In an effort to head off the report, McCain campaign spokesman Taylor Griffin released the campaign’s own version of events. That report, which Griffin said was written by campaign staffers, says the Legislature has taken a legitimate policy dispute between a governor and one of her commissioners, and portrayed it as something inappropriate.”

Yes, because a report written by your team absolving you of wrongdoing is completely unbiased. In delightful timing, the New York Times released a thorough article on the same issue on the same day. Meanwhile, the Alaska Leg report is due out today. Attempt to get the media spin cycle to not focus on that? It failed, but damn man, that takes balls. And also, complete and utter contempt for the American public. Do you think so little of us that you think we will fall for that? Do you think that your efforts to subtly race and drug use, repeated raising ofWilliam Ayers and use of the word ‘terrorist’ will work?

My fear is, their contempt is well founded. That we are a nation so divided and so hateful, so partisan, that we cheer when we call an elected official a terrorist, that we equate a name like Hussein with evil, and gleefully use it to deride our opponents. I sincerely doubt any of those people who think Obama is a Muslim, because of his middle name, and is therefore evil would think the same of someone named ‘Christopher’ or ‘Mary’. We joke, with our friends, about terrorist fist jabs because according to Sean Hannity at Fox ‘News’, we lived in a “radical elitist enclave” and consorted with terrorists. But to many, they are incapable of seeing the ridiculousness of it.

Hell, I served on an education board with William Ayers, I realized this morning as I went through my notes from a damn old project. But the latest salvo from the McCain camp, any hope of decency- not that I had much left after this week- is utterly gone. And you know, they are counting on absolutes: they are counting on people not looking past soundbites. They are counting on us being stupid, obedient, sheeplike, easily lead, easily riled. Their contempt for us as thinking people drips from every ad and every speech. William Ayers, they note, said he “didn’t do enough”.

What is the full context of that statement?

“The one thing I don’t regret is opposing the war in Vietnam with every ounce of my being…. When I say, ‘We didn’t do enough,’ a lot of people rush to think, ‘That must mean, “We didn’t bomb enough shit.”‘ But that’s not the point at all. It’s not a tactical statement, it’s an obvious political and ethical statement. In this context, ‘we’ means ‘everyone.'” (Source, his own blog, see reprint here)

Do I disagree with Ayers on a lot? You fucking bet I do. Do I think the timing of his interviews given on Sept 10 coming out right after Sept 11 sucks? Oh big time (and this timing is something being capitalized on by the McCain camp- his words being posed as something post 9/11). Go look up his letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune on September 23, 2001, in which he wrote “I condemn all forms of terrorism — individual, group and official…Today we are witnessing crimes against humanity on our own shores on an unthinkable scale, and I fear that we may soon see more innocent people in other parts of the world dying in response.”

Kind of prescient, no? Kind of smart, no? The kind of thing one expects from a well-educated, in the world and of the world person, aware of our politics, policies, and the effect it has on others. Oh but wait, that’s elitist. Why would we want someone who has a global perspective in the white house? We train the hell out of our Navy Seals, our pilots, our doctors, but somehow…having someone who graduated 5th from the bottom in their class, or who bounced from college to college, is preferable to having someone literate, well educated, and focused on wringing the best from the opportunities they earned.

My heart hurts. I am torn. On the one hand, I want the Democratic campaign to not just lie down and take this crap. On the other hand, I want him to rise above- I want him to be able to not lower and debase himself they way McCain has, and still be able to win.

I’ll be in my stasis pod.


Edited to add: I didn’t get into my pod fast enough, and clicked on a link twittered by Dooce and you know what? How many of those people who are saying such vile things consider themselves well educated? Consider themselves good Christians?

How does the one man who states, in response to the protester who brings up the issue of Wasilla charging rape victims for their medical exams under Palin’s watch and how that would affect said protester’s female friends, “She should die” and then, in response to outcry, amends it to “she should pay double” look any woman he cares about in the eye?

Is this what this country has come to?

The road not taken

The road not taken

Worldview is a funny thing. If you’re smart, it changes and morphs, fed by experience, discussions (heated, drunken, and otherwise). It’s the people who dig in their heels and unthinkingly cling to their view regardless of data, evidence, opion, arguments, or giant flashing 42 foot tall neon signs to the contrary who scare the fuck out of me.

For a while, I clung, albeit not to politics- I had a death grip on my view of self. Middle school, high school, college. I was going to be a geneticist. I was good at science- nay, I was fuckin great at it, in that brief shining era when any girl who evinced both a more than passing interest in science and an aptitude for it was all but crowned with laurels and handed a golden key in U.S. public schools (the same cannot be said of girls and math, which I also excelled at but was always- despite years on school math teams, jaw dropping test scores, and ridiculous success- had an ambivalent at best relationship with, a course defined by a male teacher handing me my competition paper back in fourth grade and telling me to go do it again- I couldn’t possibly be done first and be right, girls aren’t good at math). But college did start to assail that nigh hysterical belief that what I was born to do was be a geneticist (a human geneticist, no less, teasing apart the worst of the burden that determines lives and more to the point, deaths), as I found myself wanting to double major with, by turns, medieval studies and then religion, and realizing that there was a whole wide world out there for me other than science- a world I was also good at, and I was good for something other than mixing test tubes.

By the end of my first year in graduate school, my heart was beginning to flag; by the time I survived my Ph.D. qual exams, distaste had more than a foothold, and by spring of my second year my love for science- the thing which had sustained me through 3 am experiment checks and horrendous o-chem exams- was on life support. So what I do now is my second career, and 99.9% of the time I have utterly no doubt I am doing the right thing for me, and that what I do has merit and beyond utility- that I have the power to touch lives, that I can spark a thirst for knowledge or a creative fire in people, and most important to me, in kids. But there’s that 0.1% of the time that I doubt. That I wonder if I did myself and others a disservice by not sticking it out, by not getting past the hump of grad school. After I left, one of the professors in my program went, to put it mildly, apeshit on the Lad (though not AT the Lad), lamenting that they had lost a good scientific mind. It would have been lovely had someone said such to me while I was in the program, but the Nietzschean attitude of the program precluded any hint of approval or encouragement, it seems. And usually I can look back on that memory and smile, albeit sadly.

Right now, at 35,000 feet, that 0.1% is kicking in. I cannot block out the sub-vocalizations, the unsoothable whimperings of a fragile nonverbal little girl. She has the limbs of a bird, fists curled in tight, feet flexing in a moro reflex without end. She is a good seven pounds lighter than Sean and is the same age. One look at her as they boarded and memory came flooding back; the intricate dance of chromosomes, pairing, parting; of DNA strands unwinding and revealing their secrets; of deletions and tests. I listen to her inconsolable noises and know this child was damned to this from the moment sperm met egg, a disease that’s a cruel roll of the dice- a random de novo mutation with catastrophic results. And now, of course, as a parent, the reality of the horror of clipped phrases like “the brief period of developmental progress is followed by stagnation and regression of previously acquired skills.” makes my heart constrict. Hearing this girl behind me, I knew her parents had 5, 6, maybe 10 if they were both lucky and horribly cursed, months of a baby who cooed, who smiled, who giggled, who triumphantly rolled over, perhaps sat up. And then as slowly as all that dawned in her it was all snatched away. Someday, she will die, and it will come quickly and unexpectedly.

Tonight I flag the flight attendant for another drink, and crank my iPod against the cries and the knowledge burned into my brain.

It's on

It's on

The yard signs and shirts are ordered.
The donation is in.
The car magnet is coming.

We found ourselves at a drive-thru last night behind a car sporting a sticker declaring,
“I love my country more than I hate John McCain.
McCain 2008

I love my country more than I respect, admire, and support Barack Obama. And that is not damning with faint praise.