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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Sex In The Tudors, White Queen, and Turn

I hate NetFlix. Before we discovered it, when we had no cable, I watched one TV show a week, The Good Wife, and that only when I was recovering from foot surgery. Other than that, the TV went on for important sports events,  Judy Woodruff, and PBS Kids
If you were stuck doing nothing all day, as I was with de-feet, it was Sesame Street or reading or the dubious morality play of Judge Judy, with her sadistic little sermons aimed at poor people with little money and less education. 

Now, half the time we find ourselves parked in front of NetFlix, binge washing. Yes, I could develop the spine to cut it off. But then, what will I do while I fold my laundry? Watch PBS Kids? I could observe Caillou for home decor--I love its bold sense of color--but really. He's four years old and still has no hair? 

Hence The Tudors, The White Witch and Turn, three TV series filled with egregious, unnecessary, glorified violence and, in the case of the first two, questionable sex scenes. I will make certain that none of my children watch any of them, primarily because of the sex. 

Because in all three of these series, there are only two kinds of sex.

1) The kind where Good Women get grabbed by or grab their men (Good or Bad) and have at it with not a single second of foreplay--because these women and men are, somehow, instantly ready every time. 


2) The kind of sex that Bad Women have with Bad Men--and sometimes Bad Guy Victims. Only here, the foreplay is playful and languorous, full of giggles and pauses for more extended silly play. Clearly, both parties are enjoying the fun. (Here, the actress turned spy, Philomena, flirts with turncoat Continental General Charles Lee.)

Why do only the Bad Women get to flirt, take their time and have fun? It's incredibly unfair and not something I wish my children to imbibe as the normal state of things. 

Not that I plan to plant them in front of TV for their sex ed lessons, but the world being the way it is, they are likely to get exposed to this stuff, the way my oldest learned swear words on the last day of first grade (really, Sammy Nesmith, you couldn't have waited one day?) Or the way the kids were introduced to first person shooter games while on a playdate. Or--well, you get the idea. 

I guess this means another slightly awkward conversation with an adolescent. Sometime soon.

Back to folding laundry. Sigh. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

"I Know What It's Like To Be A Black Woman." Really?

I am in a stew. A bunch of moms standing around at Daisy and Brownie Scout pick up, and I heard from another mother that the principal of our school--a blonde woman of Norwegian ancestry--told this African-American woman,  "I know what it's like to be a black woman." 

How's that? Yes, she's married to a black man and also has step-children of color--but she does not walk around in brown skin. 

The mom said, "The top of my head about blew off. I told my sister, and she is a big, tough, imposing black woman--she can be scary--and she said, 'Let me at her.' But I just said, 'No. Let me figure out how to deal with this.'" 

The worst part was, this mom was in to have her child's IEP (individualized education plan--made to support a child with special needs) reinstated, or at least have him reevaluated  which is her right under federal law. But the principal also said, "Oh, no. We can't do that. We're not an IEP school." Another "say what?" statement. And a flat-out violation of federal law. It is not possible to not be an "IEP" school. Particularly not for a public school. The law requires that we, as a society, support our children with special needs while also providing them with the least restrictive education possible. 

I absolutely believed this mother. Why? Because her story repeats word for word what our principal said to another mom five years ago, when her son was terribly bullied--being called "fat, black and stupid," in the classroom, though the principal said, "I have been in that class and I see no bullying. And the teacher sees no bullying." Then, she crossed her arms over her chest and went on to lecture my earlier friend. "I am a mother of four, and let me tell you, by this age, we just can't get involved in their social life. I know what it is to be a black woman. Our children have to figure out how to handle this on their own." 

Months of struggles later, this earlier friend, (a widowed mother of two, with Multiple Sclerosis, no less, and living less than two blocks from our school) had to pull her ten-year-old son and home school him. This was because little Warren came home one day and said, "I've figured it out, Mom. The next time they call me fat, black and stupid, I'll just stab them with a pencil. That will take care of it." Months of an effective, experienced mother trying to get the teacher and the school to cope with horrible bullying in his classroom. I know. I had a child in the same classroom. My kid used to come home, terrified. "I have to keep up, Mom, or they'll treat me like they treat Warren." 

I told my friend I would explain that to the principal, to the assistant superintendent, to the press. I begged her to file a complaint with the state. 

But no. She felt helpless. I understood why. When your child is in trouble and the teacher refuses to do anything and the principal refuses to do anything and the assistant superintendent refuses to do anything, and the superintendent is crazy, and you don't have the thirty-thousand dollars necessary to go to an educational attorney, and the free Disability Law Center in your state has 2.5 attorneys who have to cover the whole state, (meaning your problem is not as much of a crisis as the mentally-ill teenager shackled to his desk) sometimes, you just give up fighting and try to do your best for your own child.  

Now, this terrible, evil principal is retiring at the end of the year, walking home with a pension. She took off half of this year because of some stress-related illness, which I can understand, because the parents and staff mostly despise her. I am not the only parent who has spent the last few years doing my best not to look at her when we pass in the halls. 

Then, I had to speak with her a few months ago on behalf of one of my children. After we had finished our little discussion, she sitting behind her big, dark office desk, she folded her hands under her chin and leaned on them and asked about the child of mine that she had failed as badly as she failed little Warren. 

I told her, calmly, what she had done to my kid. I laid out the consequences of her actions--possibly life-time consequences. "That's on you," I said in a voice as politely as if I were asking her to pass the tea. "When you decided not to support this child's disability. That's your responsibility, when you decided not to follow the science, when you refused to do what we know actually works. That's on you--you and the district. Your actions really harmed this child." I did not say I don't know how she sleeps at night, but I'm sure it hung in the air. 

She sat there, chin on folded hands, and nodded and made pursed her lips to look sad and said, "Oh." I nodded back, and got up and left, feeling surreal.  So many times, I had imagined what I would say to her, so many times I have tried to figure out how not to say, "You  ##$$&#&! You $##@###$$ my kid." I never imagined it would come out as calmly and rationally as that.

The odd thing is, the mom today heard me out and then said, "Maybe your conversation had something to do with it. Because suddenly, mid-February, I think, she calls me and says we should initiate an IEP evaluation." 

Mid-February would be about right, I think.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if my calm, unrighteous honesty had some positive effect? "We're not an IEP school," and "I know what it means to be a black woman," indeed. 

For shame wouldn't even begin to state it, but you've got to start somewhere. For shame. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Our Puppet Elections

No, this is not a serious post. Just--Has anyone noticed how much our current candidates look like puppets? Ted Cruz--what a great puppet face. He even looks like Punch. 

Just give him a stick and he could chase after Muslims. 

Or his new running mate, Carly Fiorini. I know she's not made of sawdust, I know there's someone alive in there, but--don't those eyes look like they're made a glass? 

Bernie Sanders is a given, a living Muppet. You could practically make him out of a sock. 

And of course-- Goes without saying. 

The only one who doesn't look like a puppet is Clinton. I know people call her fake, a for-politics persona, 

But even when she's just looking at the camera, there's clearly a person there, not a puppet. There's someone inside those eyes. 

Okay, if we look hard, we could find her inner puppet. 

On with the show!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Diana Wynne Jones--The Delight of Brilliant Fantasy.

So, I am still reading City of Fire. That is, I am carrying it around and hoping to have time to read it, thus building stronger muscles in my arms. (It is a heavy book.) 

I was forced to stop somewhere around the entry of the first female narrative voice, though that is not why I stopped. It was because of a child's insistent, persistent request that I read a favorite book. Well, really it because of the child's insistent, persistent disappointment that I had not read it yet

The Ruins of Gorlan was funny and lively. I understand why said child liked it. I am grateful to Mr. Flanagan for writing books that appeal to boys, and for writing (at least the first ones) fairly original works, though I do get rather tired of wholly evil super-villians who I am absolutely certain never do call their mothers (see earlier post.) 

I did not realize, however, that I was supposed to read the Whole Series--fourteen books that come to have too much of a muchness to them. Sure, I like terse battles, self-depreciating humor, a shorter, orphaned, underdog hero who can vanish simply by holding still--not through magic, but by dint of understanding human nature combined with a wonderfully mottled cloak. Sure, I enjoy the awkwardness (from a boy's angle) of young love always held at a distance. 

But before I returned to the denseness of City of Fire, I took a break with another children's book, Witch Week, by Diana Wynne Jones. 

To say I am a Wynne Jones fan is an understatement. She starts somewhere in the middle of the story, bam. And that middle is always a muddle, and that plot always races, helter-skelter, so that you have to go back and double-check, and search for the clues you missed. 

Like most Diana Wynne Jones books, Witch Week is dense, and beautifully written, but because it reads like a house afire, you might never notice the density. Characters, as in all her books, have to deal with making food or finding shoes or cleaning up the messes--real messes. And while they're doing that, things fall even further apart. 

And yet, the secret, the hint, the solution to the problem, often lies in precisely the grubby cleanup, or writing lines, or searching everywhere for running shoes that have magically disappeared. (Reminds me, I must mop the floor--the old, old dog just peed again. I hope therein lies the solution to my life's great thematic issues.)

Wynne Jones' characters are not just complicated, but unexpected and feisty, blind to themselves until they stumble across the truth, even if they refuse to accept it. Children and adults alike make real choices--like Dan in Witch Week, who is so tempted by the joy of power and the allure of anger that he would rather be nasty and evil than give them up; or Nan, who realizes that she loves the magic of description--of turning confusion into story--more than the burbling delight of real witchcraft. 

The threats are real, the humor comes out of people and every day life and interactions with one another. There are bullies and clowns wise teachers and foolish ones, while the understanding of true evil is always just beneath the surface--as when, at the end of Witch Week, the terrible, petty, evil Inquisitor terrorizing students with being burned at the stake, is transformed into a petty, complaining janitor who people have to duck or he will bore them to tears. Yet, with a new, queer double vision, we understand that both are the same, that given power, the janitor would happily become the Inquisitor and that his petty hatred could easily rule the world. 

Maybe that's what I find the most satisfying about her work, that its villains are not uber-evil, purring bad monster guys, but regular, nasty folk who have decided to misuse their power. 

Did I also mention how often her books are laugh-out-loud funny, and how frequently they ring absolutely true? Like when Nan, stuck at a miserable high table dinner with the awful Head Mistress, finds truly awful descriptions of the food--rice pudding as fly larvae stewed with old shoes, for instance-- pouring helplessly, from her mouth, to her great horror. How many of us have been there, babbling inanities in a fit of great nerves? 

I have never quite understood how J. K. Rowling's books have taken the adult world by storm, rather than Wynne Jones'. I was so sad when she died, in 2011. Diana Wynne Jones should have lived forever, and written on, and on and on. And I would have happily read everything she wrote.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

It's True. I Am Guilty of Cross-gender Toileting.

This happened when we lived in the Wild West, wild enough that we made some friends at a restaurant because we were so stunned to overhear Democrats at the next table, but not so wild that there wasn't a Walmart. 

We biked to the Walmart, the trail going alongside a beautiful river --once, I biked side by side with a flying bald eagle for hundreds of feet, nearly eye to eye--until the trail veered inward toward the industrial section of town, hence the Walmart. 

When we got there, I went into the bathroom, in a hurry. Some lady came in to the stall next to me. She was wearing sandals and she had the ugliest feet I have ever seen. I tried to find an image that was comparable and decided, nope, I'm not going to impose that on your poor brains. But, oh, my goodness, I thought. You have had to work very hard to get toenails that ugly. 

I came out, washed my hands--some of you are ahead of me here, I'm sure--and noticed that everybody around me was male. Yes, indeed, I had gone into the wrong bathroom. That poor women was, of course, just an overweight white guy with horrendous toenails. 
Okay, I lied. Those toes were just horrible.
Nobody seemed to notice. Nobody was at the urinal. Everything was just fine, pretty much like it was when I was little and had to go into the bathroom with my dad because my mother wasn't there or couldn't take me. 

Still, I am guilty. 

Also, I have, not once, but frequently, along with Other Women, (females joining against the opposite sex, no less) commandeered the mens' room at various theaters--in various states! There we stood, the lights blinking for the second act, stuck in our endless lines, while the men just zipped in and out (yes, pun intended.) 

Finally, in wild rebellion, we women girded our loins, blocked their paltry numbers and took over every stall, again using the bathroom of a gender to which we were not born. 

I have spoken with people who are in the process of changing gender. I was in theater, I lived in Los Angeles, I lived in New York near Ninth Avenue when the hookers there were mostly transvestite men. Also, it seems that young people in a state of transition gravitate towards employment at our neighborhood coop. 

I've had some very profound talks about the changes they experience as the hormones take effect--when they suddenly just have to talk about their feelings. Or when they find they suddenly just want to man-up and shoulder through. (Obviously, the choice depends on which direction they are transitioning.) It's fascinating to view my gender from either perspective. It's kind of fun to explain this to my children. ("Well, I think he used to be Flo when he was in school. I mean she. Remember? When she used to wear dresses and look miserable? And now, I think he's changed his name to Nico and wants to look like James Dean." 

Until, finally, you just wind up saying, to paraphrase a dear friend, "You don't try to explain a platypus. A platypus just is." And so is Nico.)

If any soon-to-be ladies wish to use my bathroom, or if any soon-to-be men want to use the same public restroom as my child, more power to them. May they be safe and well. 

The folks I'm afraid of sharing a bathroom with my little ones are heterosexual males, particularly those in power--of either party, and all religions. These are the folk most likely to sexually abuse a child of any gender. They are also the least likely to be held to account for their actions, for years and years and years. Like wrestler, ex-house speaker and Republican Dennis Hastert. Like ex-football coach and respected community member, Jerry Sandusky. Like Democratic Bundler, Terry Bean. Like the 2000 celebrities and politicians who the police in Great Britain are saying operated their child-abuse ring "within institutions." Men in power who avoid prosecution. Sometimes, they are caught. More often, they are not. 

Not some lone transgender woman trying desperately to avoid getting the shit beaten out of them if she should have to use the john labeled "Men."  

See you at the next intermission!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Voice, and Melba Pattillo Beals, who integrated Little Rock High School, and --"White Is A State of Mind"

Melba Pattillo Beals' memoir, "Warriors Don't Cry," is a seering roller coaster of a memoir. Reading it, you will never underestimate what the Civil Rights battles cost those who fought them, even those who were too young to understand what they were really taking on, like Melba, when at age twelve, she threw her name into the hat for integration, thinking it might be fun to go to that fancy, big Central High School. 

Her follow up memoir, White is a State of Mind, is more challenging, and to my way of thinking more illuminating. When Melba leaves--after hearing from a cousin who is not only passing for white, but a sheriff in a small southern town, that a bounty of $10,000 has been placed on her head--she is greeted by the Santa Rosa, California NAACP--a sea of white faces. When they put her in the car of one of their members, she is terrified, certain she is being kidnapped by the Klan, to be lynched or worse. 

And when she is dropped off at her new high school, Montgomery, she is so overwhelmed by terror, that she runs away, in a panic. She is not only walking into an all-white school, but she is doing so alone, without the press watching her. Surely, she believes, those students will murder her, as the Little Rock students would have done had they succeeded in their worst plans. 

Montgomery's student body, like much of Santa Rosa, is 99.9 percent white. The two other black students have little interest in being friends with her. Why should they, when they've been so successful fitting in? 

She is settled with a white, Quaker family of four, and cannot believe that they will not use her as a cheap slavey. In fact, this family welcomes her as family. Here, she learns that white people can be kind and loving, that cows like classical music, that dinner table conversation doesn't have to revolve around staying alive, and that young people can disagree with their elders without being disrespectful. 

When she goes home, she is stunned to return to a community. Her mother treats her like a child, her religion feels stifling and controlling, but most of all, life in Little Rock for people of color is one of terror--literally, they are terrorized by terrorists, because lifting her eyes to look white people in the face could result in her death, and every conversation with people of color revolves around sheer survival, whether that is financial or not getting murdered, as the integration of Little Rock High continues. Melba cannot wait to return to California, where the pressure is lifted and her opinion matters to her foster parents. 

When she has to leave this loving family, she is settled with an African-American professor and his wife who are far from friendly, and make sure that she realizes she is a temporary visitor who should keep to herself. 

Of course, this is before the days when African-American is the appropriate phrase. In fact, this professor sits Melba down and lectures her about how she must no longer use Negro or colored when talking about herself. The new, appropriate word is "black"--from which she recoils. Black in her home community is used as an insult.

But no, he explains, "black" is what we must use, to imply that we are proud and that this is our choice of a word. In a scene with hilariously patronizing undertones, he makes her parrot back his reasoning. 

And here's where the idea of voice comes in. Ms. Pattillo Beals is a wonderful writer with an incredible life story to tell. I'm sure she was a stunningly good journalist. And--if I were telling her story, I would have leapt into the humor, lean into what could have been outrageously, painfully funny scenes--like this one. 

Another scene I wish I could rewrite has Melba trying to fit in at her new high school, whose mascot is the Vikings. The girls, including her foster sister, Joan, take Melba to make Viking helmets for a pep rally. There's Melba, being presented with yellow yarn, to make the hair that goes under these helmets. Her foster father saves her from complete humiliation by taking her to buy dark yarn, so she does not feel like a complete idiot. Imagine that one written to emphasize both the comedy and the pain. 

Or Ms. Pattillo Beal's wedding night. In a recreation of her gratitude and admiration for the 101st Airborne soldier who saved her life and taught her to put feelings at bay when in a battle zone, Beals has fallen in love with another white soldier, John Beals (called Matt in the book) who has courted/stalked her with incredible patience combined with the allure of having someone to take care of her and protect her from everything. 

On their wedding night, she is rigid with embarrassment and fear. He takes out a textbook on close fighting, called "Kill or Get Killed" (she remembers it as Kill or Be Killed.) He reads this book aloud to her, while demonstrating the karate holds on her as an excuse to get her used to touching all over. 

Pattillo Beals tells us this touching story and moves on. I would have leapt all over that thing, hoping to write a combination of slapstick comedy, eroticism, and a hell of a lot of foreshadowing. Do you really think that a marriage consummated with the use of a textbook called "Kill or Get Killed," is likely to be successful? 

Racism follows Pattillo Beals to California, particularly when she is around the police, who are infuriated at a mixed race marriage. During a traffic stop for her husband's driving while being married to a black woman, the police almost cause Pattillo Beals' death and make her give birth prematurely when they partially separate her placenta by slamming her pregnant belly into a car.

And some of the greatest insights come in little clues--like after her husband abandons Pattillo Beals and baby daughter and she winds up at public housing in Oakland, befriending someone she does not know is a hooker, almost getting shot in the near-weekly violence, and being instructed how to deal with the Black Panthers--as per instructions,  when they come calling, she opens the door on these "angry men" heaps praise on them, (like she might on dangerous little boys) telling them she can't help right now, and shutting the door as quickly as possible. 

Voice. I love Pattillo Beals' poetic, thoughtful one. I love her faith. I love watching her struggle to find value in a challenging And part of me longs to rewrite her story with my own irony, comedy and questioning. 

Melba Pattillo Beals meets the 101st Airborne soldier who kept her alive in 1957--Marty Sammon.

Melba Pattillo Beals, is a journalist, teacher, more and memoirist. (Warriors Don't Cry; White Is A State Of Mind.) She is also one of the Little Rock Nine, those nine teenagers who integrated Little Rock High School following the thunderous Brown v. Board of Education that overturned the fantasy of separate but equal. 

Marty Sammon and Melba Patillo look over a Civil Rights memento at Dominican University in San Rafael, Calif. on Sept. 6, 2007. Sammon and Patillo share personal history for their part in the Civil Rights Movement in 1957. Sammon was a member of the 101st Airborne Division that was sent to Little Rock Central High School in 1957 to protect Patillo and eight other high school students, known as the Little Rock Nine, as they were the first African-American students to enter what was then a racially segregated high school. (Gary Reyes / Mercury News)
Melba and her fellows were kept alive by the 101st Airborne Division, sent to Little Rock High in 1957. This was "her" personal bodyguard, known in her books by a different name. Under orders not to interfere or get into arguments, but simply to keep her alive, Marty followed her around for six weeks, muttered, "on your right," and "Melba, pay attention," when students would try to knock her down stairs (the school was seven stories) or slam her into lockers. When a boy threw acid into Melba's eyes, it was Marty's quick thinking that saved her eyesight--he grabbed her by the pony-tail, dragged her to the bathroom, pulled away her hands, and drenched her eyes again and again with cold water. 

After six weeks, the Airborne was withdrawn, leaving Melba and her fellow students to survive kids trying to set fire to them in the bathroom, choking them, walking on their heels so often they still have tendon issues, tripping or throwing them downstairs, threatening to lynch them, and finally, taking out $10,000 bounties on them. Though these nine young people just wanted a better education than they could get in their own schools, the battles they fought were life and death. 

Here's a link to a wonderful article about the two reconnecting.

Name Your Daughter Mary or Jane or Alice If You Want Her To Stand Out

A list of children's names from artwork on the wall at school:

Xavier (twice)
Julian (twice)
Kahlia (pronounced Ka-lia.)

Clearly, Biblical names and Irish names are still big for boys while fancy names win it among the little girls. There are fewer Olivers than I'm used to and Ava seems to have passed its prime, though A is still a favorite first and last letter for little girls' last names. In my youngest's classrooms so far, we have had an Amaria, an Amaya, a Yamayah, an Allondra, an Ahlana, an Alyiah, a Kahlia, and Ana, an Anna, (pronounced Ahna) an Annie, and an Anika. K seems a close second, with lots of Kendras, LaKendras, Kaylees, Kaylahs, that Kahlia, and, of course, Katie-- but no Katherines. Hazel and Flo are starting to turn up. Maizie and Sadie have been around for awhile. There are at least twenty-five Zoes and fifteen Wyatts, as well as a Tyler, a Parker, a Sawyer and a Taylor and a Hunter, though, no Baker, Butcher or candle-stick-maker, i.e. Chandler. (So nobody is going to sail away in a tub.)

I have to admit that my favorite out of the whole lot is Fred, though Tesfaamlak comes in a close second.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Celebrate Freedom--From Passover Cleaning. Chag Samayach!

The Oreck Family seder. 
All around the world, Jewish women are frantically getting ready for that most wonderful of Jewish holiday celebrations, the Seder. This is a family powerhouse celebration combining food, prayer, religion and four cups of wine in one long, crazy, wonderful night. 

The preparation starts about a month before. I know people who clean their entire house, to make sure there are no crumbs or chometz, people who get down the two sets of Passover dishes, one for milk and one for meat, and pack up the two sets of regular dishes (ditto) and sling the into the attic or crawl-space. I know people who are even now covering their countertops with brown paper, or at our old synagogue, I overheard some women speaking longingly of being able to afford to buy plexiglass covers that could be brought up from the basement and put on every kitchen counter to prepare for every Passover. 

(I said, brightly, "Yes, just like Moses and the Israelites had in the dessert."

There is a reason why we no longer belong to that synagogue.) 
A Duluth family seder

Many people---whoops, make that women-- buy special breakfast cereal, ketchup, marshmallows and chocolate chips. 

So, yes, we celebrate freedom from slavery by having women slave away for a month or so before the holiday, for a couple of days before, and during the meal itself, bringing and taking away dish after dish after delicious dish of food. 

I hereby declare myself free of the obligation to do any of this. Okay, I'll mop the downstairs and clean the stove, but I'm not pouring boiling water over it to kasher it. I'm not hosting a giant seder. And I'm not keeping separate Passover dishes. 

Wolomin, Poland, 1920's. 

Remember, she kept Kosher with this stove and these pots.  Dayanu! It will have been enough!

New Crusade--Bring Back The Bells

The store's computer beeps alert until the cashier enters the data. The fast-food french fry machine beeps irritation until the worker lifts potatoes from the boiling oil. The phone in our pocket buzzes in alarm and sings when it rings. And I've figured out, finally, what's wrong with the world: we've lost our bells.
I'm sure you all remember little Zusu from the film It's A Wonderful Life. Yes, she's absolutely adorable, though personally, I find her sing-song irritating and always wish I could dub in another child's voice. 

Still, her messages holds clear: "Teacher says that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings." 

In It's A Wonderful Life, that angel is the bumbling Clarence Oddbody, with his childlike sweetness and his drinker's red nose, giving legions of ordinary clod-like Angels Second Class the hope that they, too, might someday someday hear that bell and get their wings. 

It must be obvious to all of us that buzzers and beeps simply won't do it. In fact, they are irritating as, well, Hell. 

No, we need more of this: 

And, of course, this: 

(Though I must point out that the broadly smiling woman, center, is one of two people of color at the impromptu party. And the maid.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Respect Authority? What To Teach Our Kids

I'm have no clue how to be a Daisy/Brownie/Girl Scout Mom. I usually leave that up to my fellow group leader, who actually was a Girl Scout. But she was late. So I had the children teach me the pledge, which led to them trying to explain the Girl Scout Law to me. I loved the questions that came out of that--do you have to be friendly and considerate to people you really dislike? (like our school's horrible principal?) 

The girls said yes. 

What if they are mean back to you? 

That provoked a lot of thought, argument between obeying the "law" but "respecting myself," and no final decision. 

What does it mean to be a sister to every girl scout?  I loved the answers to that one, just as I love that our troop has blondes, brown faces, girls in hijab, atheists, Muslims, Lutherans, Mormons and Jews who all take seriously being sisters to one another. 

But then, there's respect authority. I didn't mention it to the girls--the other Mom showed up and we started our meeting. 

But it sure gives me pause. What about the girl scout parent whose daughter threw a tantrum when we were camping, because she wanted to sit on the *other* side of her best friend--the side my little girl happened to be on? So that parent came and asked my little girl to move? 

I was across the room, too far to get there, but I heard my child calmly say, "I don't want to. I sat on that side this morning for breakfast." 

I wanted to cheer. 

What about the parent at synagogue who stormed up to the mom of a kid on the spectrum, saying, "He was so rude to me just now. He talked back to me and said I was a bad woman." 

"What happened right before that?" spectrum mom asked. 

"She told me I was an awful child and my children were to stay far away from him."

"Did you tell him that?" 

Well, yes." 

"And you were upset because why?"

"Because he spilled grape juice on my daughter's dress." 

At a synagogue, during the blessing over the fruit of the vine, when ever kid spills grape juice now and then. 

What about when the School's Principal tells your kid's psychologist that your kid has no disability because she doesn't see it? And thus refuses to follow the law and and science to support the child? 

What about when the authorities tell you to keep your eyes down and drink at a separate drinking fountain? 

What about when the authorities tell you that you must go to the city hall and register as Jewish? 

What about when the law says police can harass somebody and they should have no recourse--as we have personally observed with friends and adopted family of color? Or as happened to Chris Lollie, when he was waiting in a public space to pick up his children from preschool? 
Chris Lollie and his two-year-old son. 
No, respect authority is a challenging one. Maybe we should change that to--respect the authority of those whose behavior proves them worthy to wield it? 

Racial Identity En Mass--Of Course, I Do Understand

Was she Jewish?
I wrote recently about my class, pondering how different individuals are within the mass of a category--African-American, Asian-American, Native-American. Heck, if I had a nickel for every time someone had asked me to tell them "what Jews believe," --which can cover a wide spectrum--or "what Jews think" about something, or the times I have heard, "but all Jews are rich," or "Jews secretly control the world," or, "Jew me down," or my favorite--"But All Jews Go On Cruises--" I might even be one of those rich Jews who supposedly control the world. 

But there is a political reason for the teacher's stressing Asian-American or African-American. And he is very clear about that his motive is political. Asian-Americans can wield more political power than Japanese-Americans because there are more of them. My friend, the biologist, can gain political power as an Asian-American Muslim that she would never have as the brown mom who everybody thought was the nanny of her children, whose family is Pakistani, though she was born in Malaysia and raised in Long Beach, CA. and married a Mexican-Japanese-American man (yes, this was a Muslim/Catholic/Buddhist mixed marriage. And try to find that lobbying group.) (I should also mention, when we're talking about specifics, that she's a reformed Muslim who named her children Mary and Matthew, pretty much over her mother's protrate body.) 
Malaysian supporters of Pakistani soccer team--Pakistani immigrants are a large minority ethnic groups there.
The same lobbying power rules are true for my Filipino-American Catholic friend, who is now part of an Asian-American film organization, though I find it more interesting that she's happily married to a Persian Muslim. (In our mom's group, we ran the gamut of religion and ethnicity: Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and Jew, only missing Bahai, Yazidi, Zoroastrian, Mormon and followers of the Satmar Rebbe.) 
Still from K'na, the Dreamweaver, a Filipino film.
Plus, obviously the less than 2% that represents the Jewish vote matters because a) we are slightly larger minorities in key electoral college states--New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio--squeaking up to almost 4% in Florida. Also, Jew have been organized, though not unified in our votes for a very long time. Plus, we tend to Vote with a capital V. In municipal elections in off years. In one of those off-years, our vote means a lot more than in a year when many people are voting. 

As a writer, I lean toward the specific while trying to be aware of the general. I would never write historical fiction about how unemployment changes a character's life without mentioning the Great Depression--if I were writing about 1934. 

I would not write about a white woman fighting her husband's alcoholism without acknowledging property law stating that this woman, her income, her children and everything she owned legally belonged to her husband--if this were 1858. (Hence the rise of Carrie Nation rather than trying to change the property laws.)

Just so, I hope that our class writes of the particular while addressing the general--college quotas against Asian-Americans, the expectation that minority women (including Jews) are "exotic" and thus "more sexual;" negative assumptions about people with names like Latikqua, and Jayquan; pressure on Asians to be the model minority; the need to reassure nice white people that they are, in fact, nice white people; being forced to behave as an ambassador of  "our" people--I can still hear my mother say, "Remember, honey, you're the only Jew they will ever meet. However you behave, that's what people will think *we* all are."

It's that specific within the general that puts us right into the even more general of humanity, which I hope is where we most of us want to be.