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Category: motherhood

A Wooden Bed on Which to Lay Your Head

My daughter lies on the floor of the hallway outside her bedroom door, an arm sprawled in front of her. The other is tucked in next to her side, her pale ruddy skin a contrast to the cheerful green of her dinosaur pajamas. She is soundly asleep and undoubtedly quite pleased at her independence.

I put her in bed properly a few hours earlier, of course. But Baba refuses to lie down in her bed, no matter how much you sweeten the deal. The very thought of it offends her, though she goes into it easily once she’s fallen asleep elsewhere. And so she has fallen asleep in protest on nearly every other surface of her room; the rocking chair, her personalized L.L. Bean couch and once, even on her changing table. For all of our sanity, I put a rug on the floor and it has become the favored location ever since.

Sure, kid.

But this night, when she managed to crawl halfway out of her room before giving in again to sleep, I turned on all of the lights and took a good picture. I put it as the wallpaper of my laptop, where it is displayed for all of my coworkers to see.

“What is she doing?” they ask.

“Being herself,” I say.

The most wonderful thing about young children is that they are so entirely themselves. Baba has no apparent self-consciousness. When she wants something, she’s willing to throw a fit over it, with no concern about the snotty mess that her face becomes or the unflattering way her skin goes splotchy. As soon as she has a thought, she tells you.  When the thought was hilarious, as it often is, and you laugh, she laughs with you. When she doesn’t know a word, she doesn’t hide it – she just describes what she wants over and over until someone supplies her the word.

It’s so wonderfully refreshing to be around. Even when I just, desperately, want her to put on her socks and go out the door and all she wants to do is stop and play with….whatever…she has suddenly fixated on, I can’t help but see the beauty of her nature. Perhaps this is motherhood, this effortless sense of understanding. Although I try hard to extend it to everyone in my life, to know that a person is more than just their behavior in the moment, it’s so much easier with someone so innocent.  And now that she is approaching three, I value these moments so much more, because I know that they can’t last all that much longer.

And how Baba makes me laugh, just by being her authentic self.

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A Weekend in Blacksburg

My friend is studying to be a wild life scientist, a trapper and catcher of information about the world’s dwindling carnivore populations.  He’s approaching his graduation date, but I am only just now getting in a trip to visit him, because after two and a half years, I am finally ready to be separated from Baba overnight.

And so, I find myself on an airplane by myself.  It’s a puddle jumper, as Virginia Tech is only a two hour flight away from home, and the plane is so small that I have managed to get myself a seat that is both window and aisle.

Glorious time, for an introvert.  Two and a half hours of the kind of solitude that I have become accustomed to, the type where you’re surrounded by strangers who need nothing from you.  Although I should be writing, instead I read the last 40 pages of Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Stay and Those Who Leave, the third in her famous Neapolitan novel series.  Somewhere near the end of the flight, I close the book on the last page and sigh, knowing that I can’t check out the fourth and final book from the library for another week.

But then I look up, to see that I have been lucky enough to arrive in the mountains in late fall, where the land is carpeted in hundreds of thousands of trees that are all turning red and orange and yellow.  Suddenly it strikes me how little I’ve noticed the turn of the season and how few trees really live on my street, although one thing I loved about my neighborhood when I moved to it were the size of the suburban trees.  But compared to a real forest, the  paltry sidewalks plantings of the suburbs are nothing.

When I land at 6 p.m., it becomes clear that we are the last scheduled plane and the airport is closing for the night.  There are cafes and bookstores in the terminal, but the employees have shut off all but the emergency lights and they chat with each other in a way that doesn’t encourage customer interruptions.

It is a relief to be out of New York City, to retreat to a calmer place, where the accents are slower and businesses shut down for the night.

In the morning, we go to Virginia Tech, which is a glorious campus, with serene and stately stone buildings nestled among majestic trees that create a campus that feels more like a well-kept city park than a university.  But you can’t go far without running into a memorial for the students and faculty that were murdered here a decade ago.  It is a too-solid reminder of the attack on New York last Tuesday, which hit me and mine closer than any would ask for.  But we try to move past it, darting between buildings in the gray rain, and watching the Virginia Tech undergrads like zoo animals, because the 15 years that separates us makes them seem like alien creatures.

I am here for a short visit – not quite 48 hours – and most of it is spent on friendship, asking about people that no one else remembers, reminiscing about the people that we were when we were the same age as the students around us.  We can’t help but wonder – is the world less innocent now than it was then?  Are we less safe now than we were then?

Then the news of the Texas church shooting breaks, so we know.

 

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The American Legacy

My daughter crinkles paper, blows
on the tree to make it live, festoons
herself with silver.
So far she has no use for gifts.

What can I give her,
what armor, invincible
sword or magic trick, when that year comes?

How can I teach her
some way of being human
that won’t destroy her?

I would like to tell her, Love
is enough. I would like to say,
Find shelter in another skin.

I would like to say, Dance
and be happy. Instead I will say
in my crone’s voice, Be
ruthless when you have to, tell
the truth when you can,
when you can see it.
Iron talismans, and ugly, but
more loyal than mirrors.

from “Solstice Poem”, Margaret Atwood

 

 


 

On the radio this morning, the hushed voices of NPR reporters break the news that the largest mass shooting the country has ever seen happened overnight. The details are still sparse, but I wait for the body count. In the back seat, Baba babbles about the birds she heard singing, while I wonder what new words she’ll pick up from the radio this time.

After the barest details turn into empty radio filler, I turn down the volume. There is time later to obsess about the increasingly competitive rampages of men with guns who want to die over and over again on the front page of every newspaper. And we fall into the trap, as we must, feting the murders on every radio station and in every newspaper in terse and gently probing tones. The President issues a speech that manages not to insult anyone. On social media, the cringey and meaningless posts about thoughts and prayers are echoed over and over.

We are helpless. We are hopeless. But yet, we want to be seen having compassion for people we would not know walking down the street, because the situation is so terrible that we must be observed to publicly mourn to protect our decency. And so we perform our grief, but it feels false. How can you have grief left to give to strangers, when we’ve done this show so many times?

This season, it doesn’t even have an intermission.  Hurricane, hurricane, horror, hurricane, slow response, mass shooting, horror.

Later in the day, Tom Petty dies, because how could such a well-loved American artist live out this terrible day? Although we know by now that it is simply not safe to go to work or ride a train or dance in a night club, music had been safe.  If you weren’t French.  Now, thanks to yet another white man with far more guns than anyone should ever own, that too has been defiled. Even Tom Petty’s death is ruined, because our thoughts and prayers are already taken.

Tomorrow, his record sales are sure to spike, because that is what happens every time. And we will do nothing else. Nothing and nothing and nothing.

 


 

About a month ago, I told Baba that it was time to leave to go to school.

She says, “No, Mama. I no go school. I have to murder my tiger.”

“You have to what?” I ask, as I walk into the living room, where I find her holding a long piece of plastic across the throat of a stuffed Disney-shaped lion that we have yet to identify.

“Ehm,” I say.

“Ehm,” I say a little louder.

Baba interrupts her sawing and looks up with curiosity on her sweet and feral face.

“You seem to be murdering,” I say, in what must the epitome of good parenting.

“Yes, Mama,” she says happily. “See, I murder my tiger! Like this!  You want murder my tiger too?”

“No, baby. Murder is not nice.”

“Murder is not nic-CEEEEEE?” she asks, cocking her head with an overdone smile that usually makes me laugh.

“No love, murder is not nice. Tell your tiger that you’re sorry, honey. Then we need to go.”

 


 

We have a madness that we cannot seem to shake off.   Already the old conversation about gun control has started. I think more about personal risk.  I don’t worry for myself, because I have walked through high-risk halls on my way to work so many years that I long ago accepted the chance that some violent man will take my life. After all, I ride trains. And, in 2017, we all know that bombs and trains go along very well.

Hopefully not my one, but you never know.

But no parent considers sending their child to school without also imagining the day when that decision became deadly. Because you never know.

And this is the world that I must explain to Baba. Now she is so young that her innocence about the world constantly surprises me.

One day she took down our Bernie Sanders card from the bathroom mirror and said, “Who dat?”

“That’s Bernie Sanders, love.  He reminds us to look out for one another.”

“Who Ernie Sandbars?”

I thought a while about how to explain it. “He’s a man who wants to make sure that everyone can go to the doctor if they get sick,” I said.

“Why you no can go doctor?” she asked.

“Well…” I said, at a loss for words.

What a world I have to give you, my Baba, my innocent and feral child. And that is my deepest grief. All I can arm you with are the words and poems of the fighters and the heroes and hope that you stay as courageous
as you were born.

And do better, child. Do better than me.

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Human Moments, No. 11

It’s 4:30 a.m. and the doors slams shut behind her.  Baba’s small and heavy footsteps scurry to my side of the bed.

“Mama, Mama!” she says.  Half-asleep, I have already moved over to help her climb in and she does so, settling in under the blankets.  “Mama, Mama,” she says again, clutching my neck and face obsessively before rolling over and thrusting her backside into my chest.

“Hi Baba,” I say.  “Now, shhh…it’s too early.”

“Mama,” she says, pulling my arm over her.  “You put your hand on my tummy.”

“Okay,” I say, settling in with my arm around her as my heart melts.  The warmth of her relaxes me, just as the warmth of my much-missed cat would when he would curl up next to my side.

My eyes just close.

“Mama!” Baba says impatiently.  “Don’t touch me.”  She returns my arm to me, indignant at my daring.

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The End of Summer

Somehow, Baba’s summer break snuck up on me.  Each year, her day care closes for the last full week of August, as the school prepares for a new year.  Since I have the more forgiving job when it comes to vacation time, I take it off each year to take care of her for a week of full-on motherhood.  This year I didn’t even realize summer break was here until Wednesday of the week before, so I had very little time to plan or prepare, either for my leave of absence from work or for activities to keep Baba busy, which is rather a requirement if I have any desire of keeping my house from utter destruction.

As it happens, I recently started sharing my car with my brother, who is working far enough from home for the first time that he needs reliable transportation.  That seemed like a great idea until I remembered my time off and that he’d have my car for each afternoon.  So…homebound for half the day with a two year old or limited to how far our feet could take us, which is a shorter distance than you might immediately suspect, since Baba still badly needs naps, but refuses to take them when she’s at home with me.  That added some challenges.

Every time I spend a week doing full-time parenting, I am bowled over by how hard it is.  This year, Baba has enough friends that we could fill most of the week with play dates, so it was less lonely than past years have been.  But now that she is so much more mobile, I could barely sit down all week.  (And there is that issue of no more breaks naps.)  My feet are throbbing, my back hurts and my calves ache enough that I have developed a potentially unhealthy loathing of stairs.  As much as I’ve loved the extra time with Baba, who has developed just enough logic and vocabulary to have become hilarious, I am very much looking forward to sitting at my desk for a blessed six hours in a row tomorrow.  Sitting on a train, sipping my morning coffee, writing another scene in another chapter on my novel — this feels like an unbelievably civilized way of living.

Seriously.  It is 7:30 p.m. and I am writing this from bed becuase the thought of having to hold my head up on my own is simply untenable.

Alice Munro frequently mentions that being at home with three children was why she got so good at writing short stories, as she never had the focus to work on anything longer.  I’ve always loved her work, but when I think about that and the last week, I can’t help but admire her more. This blog post is the first writing that I’ve done all week, because my days started when Baba climbed into my bed and only ended after the fight to get her to go to sleep.  By then, I was so exhausted that I could barely climb onto the couch and feed myself dessert, much less put together words in an order that could possibly make sense.

But tonight my frustration with my lack of progress this week finally manifested as enough energy to actually get some work done.  And, wouldn’t you know it, as I opened up my copy of Scrivener, I realized that the notebook that I’ve been writing in has gone off with my car to my brother’s job, which might as well be Timbuktu for as reachable as it is to me right now.  It will return to me in the morning, but doesn’t it just figure?

Virginia Woolf was so right about that room of your own.  If you’re not familiar with the essay, her point was that the men of her day were expected simply to work, while the women were expected to take care of their families and households, so if they were writers, it was that much harder, since they had no space to sit and think and no one working out their meals and laundry for them.  As a working mom, I feel this intensely, since every minute of my day is planned long before the day arrives, which is the only way to keep a job and a household running and still have some energy each day to spend actual quality time with Baba, much less my Beloved.  And I’ve certainly been frustrated with how much that slows down my writing, since I must write in 45 minute chunks of time, since my train commute is the only spare time I have all day.  But that hour and a half each day is a gift and I have missed it, even as my time with Baba has given me more experiences to write about.

In the morning, Baba will go to a new classroom, with the same children that she’s gone to school with since she was four months old. She’ll have a new teacher and spend her days with her friends, who she has missed while she’s been stuck at home with me.  And I will go back to work, both grateful to get back to my normal challenges and deeply regretful that I will have to wait for hours for Baba to throw her tiny arms around my neck in that clumsy strangehold that always takes my breath away.

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Easter Passes Me Over

I have been off of work for the last week, as Baba’s day care has been closed for the Passover and Easter holidays.  Not being a Christian nor a Jew means that this mostly turns into another one of of those holidays where everyone seems to need to be somewhere, but I’m not entirely certain where that is.

Apparently people get together for Easter?  And they eat food?  Also, sort of the same thing for Passover?

I’m not so culturally tone-deaf as to not understand that there are some significantly different religious underpinnings there, but my understanding is pretty vague.  Jesus rose from the dead; a miracle is celebrated.  The Jews were spared from the plagues that God visited on the Egyptians and were liberated from slavery — another miracle.  These are fabulous and powerful stories, even if you don’t share the faith behind them.

And I must admit that I rather like the idea of miracles these days.

These shoes were made for walkin’…on mulch.

Our celebrations were more pagan.  Baba was sent a chocolate rabbit and some bunny ears, which led to a full day of listening to Baba declaring her newfound love of chocolate. I spent the afternoon digging in the dirt in the garden and trying out my new garden shoes. (Sloggers!  Recommend!)  The house that we bought was uninhabited for four years before we moved in and the yard is showing the neglect.  I don’t know a great deal about gardening, as you could spit across the entire yard of our last house without really even trying, but I’ve taken on fixing this yard as a personal vendetta project.  I’ve been learning a lot about eradicating crabgrass and annihilating dandelions, which is very much the dark side of gardening.

Still, there are worse ways to celebrate a fertility festival than by making room for new things to grow.  Tonight, I sleep the sleep of the just, even if we still haven’t figured out how to make our mysteriously 9-zone sprinkler system work.

It has been really relaxing to be away from my normal routine for so long.  My grandparents were visiting for the week, which made my time with Baba very pleasant.  She has very much become a 2 year old, with the attendant fits and dramas that limited language and a whole lot of will power entail, and the extra adult hands around were greatly appreciated.  Our entertainments were pretty mellow, with many trips to the park and the grocery store and the back yard.  The weather finally turned for the season and, for the first time since we bought the house,  I’ve actually been spending time just sitting in the back yard, enjoying our tiny private patch of outdoor space.  I bought Baba some chalk and we’ve been working on decorating all of the bricks in the patio, which is just the sort of life goal that I’ve needed for some time.

Perhaps the lessons of Easter and Passover aren’t for my family, but all of the time together with Baba and my grandparents has felt very sacred, all the same.

 

Nap refusal is never pretty.
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May You Live in Interesting Times

This is not a great time to be a sensitive person walking the world.

I’ve read a number of lovely blog posts that are clinging to hope, despite the dark and interesting times that our new administration seems to have put us in.  I’ve read poems and shared in the general outcry of the many, many people that are horrified at the recent actions of our country to tear apart Muslim families.  As the wife of a former green card holder, it’s been difficult not to walk around in panic, because our story can’t be told without also being an immigrant story that is very much like the people that I am reading about now — people who are being detained not 10 miles from my house.

My heart is not light, so I’m finding it hard to write light-hearted.  I have half a dozen blog posts that are queued up in draft, because I can’t quite seem to get to the right frame of mind to put something silly and frivolous into the world.

There is much that I could tell you about, much that I should have told you about by now.  We moved into a new house at Hallowe’en and settled into it. There were new couches and holidays and visitors and movies and books. I’ve been deep in research for a big writing project that’s now transitioning into plotting and draft writing.  I even went to a really big feminist party the day after the inauguration and cried at the sight of the hundreds of thousands of people with me that were standing up to say that they were watching the new administration.

I even got a new hat.

 

 

But it all feels very trivial, when turning to news or Facebook is such an onslaught of terrible things.  I found myself crying at work as I came across an article of a breastfeeding 11-month-old that was separated from her mother for a full day because of Trump’s Muslim travel ban.  Each story of adult children just trying to get their elderly parents back home or spouses trying to reunite or refugees that nearly made it onto what were once safe shores has hit me so hard. My Irish in-laws keep asking me what is going on in my country and I am terrified by all the answers that keep coming out of my mouth.

It is very tempting to go hide in fiction for the next four years.  That is, actually, part of what I’ve been doing to restore myself.  Each night, after we talk at dinner of all the terrible things that have happened each day, I hide on the couch and cover myself in blankets and let myself luxuriate in story telling.  If I close my eyes, will it just go away?

Unfortunately not, not if I want the world to be a place for Baba, with her double passports and international family.  Not if I want to lift my head and look back at these days and respect myself for not standing by the side and letting others speak out against deep injustice.

And so.  There is work to do, even if it feels like my efforts accomplish very little.  I saw a tweet recently quoted somewhere that said that if you always wondered how you would have behaved as you read about history, then you’re getting a good chance to know, because whatever it is that you’re doing now is what you would have done then.

That’s stuck with me – as both a calling and a command.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dublin Airport Time

Dublin AirportThe flights to America leave from Terminal 2 in Dublin.  There was a time when arriving at the airport was a relaxing part of the trip.  It was a last chance to sit at O’Brien’s and have one last authentic fry-up, one last cup of well-brewed Barry’s tea before stuffing a real scone in my bag and heading back to the land of hot dogs and coffee.

Time has changed things.  O’Brien’s is not what it was.  The tea is a weak European blend that we don’t recognize.  The fruit is green and the sausages are no longer spiced in the Irish style.  The staff are eastern European, serving up a cheaper version of the Irish experience that has lost everything in translation without gaining any international flavor.  The beans are insipid at best.

But this barely matters, because we no longer have time to stop there for breakfast before our flight. New American security concerns mean that we must go through two sets of security screenings, as well as customs, before we even get to the gate.  Well over an hour later, when we’ve gone past all of that, we queue up for half an hour at the one restaurant in the American section of the airport, where I pick out a muffin that I don’t want because we no longer have time for the staff to heat up a panini.  The plane is already boarding, even though we’ve been at the airport for two and a half hours.  I swallow half of my cappuccino before throwing out the rest so that this time, thank God, we don’t end up running for the gate.  I burn my tongue.

It has been an exhausting trip, this trip back to Ireland to bury my brother-in-law.  I’ve cried a great deal more than I expected, while remembering more names than I anticipated.  My in-laws are a veritable tribe, a tribe that shows up en masse to major life events.  There are cousins and friends and adult children with children of their own, all of whom seem to remember my name.  When I ask my Beloved to clarify which cousin Mary that he had just referred to, he gives me a blank look at my dense incomprehension, then rattles off a string of names and relationships that I lose hope of being able to follow by the second sentence.  My family has been declining in numbers for a generation; I am simply not equipped with the skills to remember everyone, even after four years of marriage.  But I am getting better.

My sister-in-law brought pictures of my Beloved and his three siblings to the wake, one from shortly after the birth of the youngest and another from right before my Beloved left Ireland for good in the late 80s.  They are children in the first picture and barely more than that in the second.  The second photo hung in the family home for decades, becoming such an icon that my Beloved and his siblings retook it a few years ago.  I am so glad that they did now, though I remember being in a rush at the time, because there will never be another one with all four of them together.  That time in their lives has finished, long before we ever expected that it would.  So we passed around the pictures and told old stories to the new generation, while marveling at the changes in the family between then and now.  Baba wandered at our feet, pulling at the photographs and trying to find out what happens when you bend them.

My brother-in-law was buried on Saturday, so we took Baba and her cousins to St. Anne’s park on Sunday for some much needed downtime.  There is a playground there that is a Dublin institution.  The carved horses and cows had fresh paint once, but it has been worn off by generations of small hands climbing all over them.  Baba climbed up onto the Viking ship, which is far too tall for her, and her eldest cousin, who is a man himself now, reached up to keep her from falling.  We posed her with her two cousins, and tried to keep her still enough to get a good shot. She doesn’t understand why we would want to sit still in a playground, where there are so many things to climb and explore.  

Perhaps there will be a day, years down the road, where we’ll make another photo like yesterday’s, when Baba is old enough to understand, and marvel again at the impossibility of capturing time.

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A Subway Prayer

I’m on the downtown 2 train from Penn Station on a Monday morning.  It’s summer and the trains have been bunching up, so I get lucky enough to find myself a seat.  I settle into a book, half-listening to the announcements as we go from 34th Street to 14th to Chambers.  At Chambers Street, the train doors open to a platform that has so strangely silent of all ambient noise that I look up from my book. The doors open on scene of a mother and a stroller and a baby on the ground.  There’s a scream, then a chorus of screams as a rush of bodies move and surround the child, who is lying too still.

I have a perfect view of all of this.  My seat is in the center of the train, aligned perfectly with this terrible drama.  Or, I do for a moment, before half of the people on the train rush to the door to get a better view.  The doors stay open too long, as the train operators call for help.

I stay where I am because I know that one more body in that crush will not save the child’s life, if it is still possible to be saved.  The last thing that I see before my view was blocked was the back of a woman in a black skirt, who grabbed the child and rolled that tiny body onto its left side.  The doors close.  The train moves on.

I do not know how the story ends.  My mind wants to give it a happy ending, if only to control my shaking limbs.  As the train travels through the tunnels to Park Place, I have to move to escape the discussion surrounding me.  “What happened?” a man asks.  “Probably choking,” someone else says.  “Or a seizure?”  I walk to the other end of the train, because I feel like I might throw up and I know that I need to calm down before I get to the office.  How could I even begin to explain to my young coworkers why I was so upset?  It wasn’t my story.  It is only the brushing of time and place, the overlapping of the coincidences of so many strangers in such a small place, that made me a participant at all.  And yet, it was a public witnessing of the pain of another mother, a mother that is probably not so different from me.

New York is a strange place.  The millions of people living and working in such close proximity means that our lives overlap with strangers in a much more intimate way than you ever see in less congested towns.  This was actually the third medical emergency that I’ve been touching distance from, though this was by far the most horrifying.  In the first, a young girl fainted on a subway car so crowded that we nearly absorbed the weight of her body before dropping her to the ground.  When she woke, she cried, embarrassed, and begged to go home as dozens of water bottles were passed her way.  A woman she had never met before put her arm around her and said, “Just take deep breaths.  It’s going to be okay.”  And, although I had held the weight of her body for a moment, I got off at my stop anyway.

The second time, I was buying a box of tissues for the office when a man in the line in front of me fell into a seizure.  He was at the counter, his wallet out, when his eyes rolled up in his head and he fell, heavily, to the ground.  He writhed, but I froze, not even certain why I was so frightened.  And I was frightened, in the most primal and physical way.  Just like with the subway today, others rushed to him before I did.  When he stilled, breathing peacefully, I asked what I could do.  “Go keep people from coming into the store,” someone said, so I went outside, only to discover that the job was more than adequately filled already.  I looked around and hugged my shaking arms to myself and went to work, without the tissues.

Dozens of these experiences must happen across the city every day.  And perhaps the strangest aspect of my experiences is that I would not recognize any of the other people in any of these scenes if I were to see them again.  As a watcher, I don’t even feel the right to my own emotions.  Who am I to get so upset, so frightened, so afraid? These are not my stories.  These are just things that I saw, in an otherwise ordinary day.

Tonight I will go home to my Baba and hold her as much as she’ll let me.  Without a doubt, I’ll be even more cautious of how small I cut her food and of the many dangerous things in the world that find their way into her hands, despite my vigilance.  But what made watching that mother’s pain today so terrible was knowing how little control I really have.  To love someone is to be vulnerable.  To love someone the way that I love my Baba is to be very vulnerable.  And the only way that I could handle that knowledge was to pretend that I know the end of the story that I saw today.  In my version, that child coughed out a carrot and rose and held her mother until both of their hearts burst with joy.  The end.

Amen.  Please God, amen.

 

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Spring Tidings: Where Will We Land?

I keep trying to write to you.  I do.  I’ve started and discarded no fewer than four posts, on various topics that are filling my mind these days.  But now it is spring — and allergy season — and Facebook has just reminded me that I haven’t posted anything in twenty days.  Twenty days!

That is a lifetime in the Internet world, is it not?

We are so busy here at the moment.  We are very close to putting our house on the market, so every spare second over the last few weeks has been spent in a wild effort to paint all of the things and finish all of the projects.  Last week, I came home every night to work on our entry way, which is now much prettier than it ever was.  We hired cleaners to come in and give the house a scrubbing of its lifetime.  My Beloved installed new stone steps and finished a million other little projects around the house.  Our back yard has become a summer oasis, blooming with begonias and fresh paint and tidy trimmings.  Everything is now so spot on that the thought of selling the house and starting it all over somewhere else rather makes me want to cry.

I have problems with change.  It’s true.  I am trying to see past it, although the thought of moving has opened up all kinds of possibilities that have made me feel rather lost.  When I moved here, my only thought was having a back yard near the beach with a mortgage that I could afford.  Having a child has complicated things.  Now I worry about things like local schools, population diversity, the political environment.   I grew up outside of Washington D.C., in one of the two most diverse counties in America.  I had friends from all over the world.  Through friendships and school projects, I visited the homes of Muslims, Protestants, Catholics and Buddhists as a matter of course.  I knew that when  you went to Korean or Russian homes, you had to take off your shoes at the door.  I learned soccer basics from a woman who had played on the national team in Honduras.  I recently found a mix tape that friend made me in middle school, with tracks on it that her Vietnamese parents grew up on. I learned to jump double dutch and braid hair from all the Black children at the summer day camps I went to while my mom was at work.  When I think about the kind of education that I want Baba to have, growing up in a culturally diverse school district is a big part of it.

Here in Long Island, things are more segregated.  I imagine it is much that way across most of the country, but it seems an odd way to grow up.  The town that we live in is particularly severe this way — the local elementary school is 95% White, even though the surrounding neighborhoods are more integrated.  That concerns me, even more so because of the racist sentiments I see openly expressed on the town’s Facebook parenting group, which I like to tell myself are only possible because these people choose to be socially isolated.  How can you believe in stereotypes once you’ve made friends with people from that group?  And yet, while I try not to condemn them, the thought of Baba going into their homes, as she makes friends with other children, gives me the willies.  These are not the adults that I want in her community.  I certainly don’t want her to grow up seeing children of other ethnicities as foreign or different or wrong.

I’ve found myself researching nearby neighborhoods strictly on their demographics and trying to find an acceptable intersection of diversity, similar incomes and safety.  Long Island, like much of the country, is seeing a huge surge in the heroin trade.  As the dealers have moved in, they’ve brought their guns and their gangs.  Our new District Attorney is doing a great job of cracking down on them and so we see arrests in the local papers of all of the towns around us…but never in our town.  In our town, the biggest crimes being reported are all the forty-something women stealing from Kohl’s.

This makes the decision of whether to stay or whether to go so much harder.  I grew up in a poor section of town, in clustered apartment complexes where the kids were often unsupervised while their parents worked multiple jobs.  There were pot dealers in my middle school and more than one student was expelled for bringing in a gun.  I learned, by the age of twelve or so, that walking down the street without a male friend would inevitably mean harassment from men much older than myself.  By the time I was fourteen, I carried mace, just in case the creep that hung outside of the high school where I was taking a summer class decided to try anything worse than just following me and talking to me.

To this day, I am still wary of men, though I have long passed the age where I draw the kind of attention that I did as a teenager.  That’s precisely the kind of world that I want to protect Baba from.  I know well how blessed we are, because we’re in a position to be able to do so.  And yet, I feel guilty at the thought.  To be able to buy safety for her with such relative ease, to get her into a well-reputed school district with ample financial resources, feels like such a betrayal of where I come from.  And selfishly, I worry that I will have a hard time making friends with people who look on childhoods like mine with pity.  When I walk among such people, as I did in high school when my high level of academics put me among the privileged, I feel like an imposter.

I have had to face the fact that we are in a position to give my daughter a whole lot more, in a material sense, than I grew up with.   Money absolutely buys access to a better education and a safer neighborhood.  I hear my own privilege in this post.  I do.  It bothers me deeply.  Americans aren’t supposed to be class or race conscious, but of course we all are.  I remind myself that this is the world that I want for everyone — a world of prosperity and safety, where we can have authentic and honest relationships with people very different from ourselves.  I remember well how old I was when my school divided into cliques that were formed on the lines of skin color.  In the 90s, we all became color aware when we were twelve.  I remember it as a time of deep hurt for me, when many of my friends drifted away to new friendships, formed with people that looked more like they did.  Could it be different for my daughter’s generation?  Every time someone takes my pale skin as an invitation to air their prejudices, I have to wonder.

The political primaries this year have made it very apparent that these race and class issues are boiling across my country.  Today, Donald Trump — an actual contender for the Presidency! — denounced the decision to put Harriet Tubman on the twenty dollar bill.  Who could argue with Harriet Tubman?  Every time I pass a Trump banner in someone’s yard, I want to run as far from here as we can, even as I know that there are plenty more people that think like we do.  I hope.

In any case, we’ve pinpointed a few areas that I hope can give Baba the sort of childhood that I want her to have.  I have no doubt that our research will keep on for the next few months, as neither of us know the area well.  This will be our forever home, as hard as it is for me to admit to committing to New York, and we want to do a good job of picking it. We will land somewhere or other, at the end of this temporary and uncomfortable time of uncertainty.

Baba and I have the next week off, as her day care is closed for the week of Passover, and the weather is finally shifting into a gentle and warm spring.  The house is finished and photographed for sale, so  — at last — all we need to do is entertain ourselves and relax, as best we can.

 

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