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Thursday, September 29, 2016

My Child Should Run for President

My oldest child should run for president--the kid knows the names of more foreign heads of state than one of our current candidates. My kid even knows the name of the guy currently bombing the crap out of the children of--what's the name of that joint in Syria again?--Help me out here, I'm having an Aleppo moment.
Johnson's VIP was finally able to haul up a name. But since he couldn't remember Merkle's first name (Angela, with a lovely hard g) Johnson could have been referring to silent film star Una, or to Ursula Merkle, the musical Bye Bye Birdie's hyperactive best friend of Kim, the teenaged second lead. 

On the other hand, Donald knows the name of at least one--Benyamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, though Donald thinks he's "not a happy camper." And he used to know the name of the Mexican president, because he met with the guy. Probably, though, knowing the Donald, he's forgotten the name Enrique Pena Nieto already, but we're all sure Donald could tell us all about some beautiful--truly amazing-- property he owns there. 

For those of you who, unlike two of our presidential candidates.  who would like to learn more about heads of state, here's a lovely article:

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Romance of Food Poisoning

So, I woke up in the middle of the night tortured by gut pains like Alien was trying to bust out. No position could improve the pain. I had to get up, and wait it out for a couple of hours--let's not get explicit here, but they were not fun. 
I ran a hot bath, hoping that would help me relax and survive the gut explosions, and it did for a bit, until I had to lurch out and throw up. (Let's get explicit here.) 
Not only my throat, but the insides of my nostrils burned from stomach acid and I was pretty sure this was food poisoning and not a stomach flu. I didn't want to wake the kids. I grabbed a chair so I could be more comfortable--if that's at all possible. I hate throwing up. (As if someone could love it?) I get all shaky, cold and hot at the same time. Maybe King Henry V felt like this while he lay dying of dysentery on the battle field he loved so well. I just wanted to lay my head on the cool, floor (in our house, perpetually covered with leaky dog hair) and leak. (Gotta love Hank Cinq's haircut--I think it's coming back in style.) 

Then, I staggered up the hall and woke my poor husband, who is recovering from a cold and needs his sleep.  Hubby stayed with me while I moaned and urped and released the poisons from various orifices. I said, "Tell me a story about when you were little." He started to trot out all the ones I know. "No, about school. Tell me a story about when you were little in school." 

He was leaning against the counter. He thought a minute and then told me, "When I was four, there was a boy, he was bigger than me. I remember that. And I kicked him in the stomach. I got in big trouble. I had to write the proverbial lines on the board." 

"Wow," I said. "You could write when you were four?" 

"Wait. My papa was already in the states," he said. "So I was five. No, six. He was in the West. Yes, I was six. I was scared about my Oncle Maurice. I remember my Tante Marcelle making faces behind his back so that I wouldn't be scared."

"You were scared of Oncle Maurice?" In the stories, he's a kind man who makes people do the right thing. 

"Well, Marcel was the easy-going one." (Yes, there's an aunt Marcelle and an Oncle Marcel--the names sound the same, and I think they were married to one another, which means even they must have spent their lives confused.) 

"What did you have to write?" (I figured if you're writing something a hundred times, you'll remember.) 

"I don't know, 'Je ne jamais livrer un coup de pied à l'estomac de Didier.'" At least that's what I think he said--my French felt as shaky as I was at the moment.

"Tell me another story," I said. "About school." I'm not sure why I was fixated on school, but I know I sounded like our little one who loves these kind of tales.

"Well, there was a boy--this was in the states--at my school who was big and an athlete--I wasn't an athlete by any stretch of the imagination--and he was rough and kind of mean but I could do a sideways futball kick. So, with kickball, he figured out that we would run up the court, me with the ball, everybody chasing after him, and I would shoot him the ball and he would score every time. So he would always pick me first. I was the first kid picked by the best athlete of the school."

I had never heard these stories. That's amazing.

"Another," I said, still sounding like our youngest. By this time, I was done throwing up, so I was just waiting for the rest to pass through me. Spouse took my chair and told me another, after mentioning how sexy I looked (!) 

"I ran for Treasurer in High School," he said. "I have no idea why. And my papa drew for me these posters--'Don't Fight, Switch, vote for--' and he put my name. There was some cigarette commercial that used the slogan, 'I'd rather fight than Switch.'"

"What did the drawing look like?"

"It was a guy with a black eye, like in the cigarette ads."

I had no idea his father could draw--another of many talents for this man I never met. I love to draw, though I rarely get time for it, and our little one is turning out to be a gifted artist, while our oldest, when he tries, can also draw very well.

I was, by this time, exhausted. (Bed times stories are designed to be relaxing and these had worked.) I was ready to go back to bed, but not certain it was safe. Hubby took a towel and laid it on the sheets, just in case. I was still in pain, so we could only hold hands. I fell back to sleep right away. 

I don't think of Food Poisoning as romantic, or tales from elementary and high school as courtship, or a wife in the throes of earping, (etc,) as sexy. 

And yet, the Night of the Food Poisoning, was romantic in its own crazy way, with Hubby wooing and winning my heart all over again.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Witness to Protest: Justice For Philando March Part I

On Sept. 6th, almost three weeks ago, I headed downtown for a protest march: “Justice For Philando.” 
I went because I received notification from AR14, which seems to me a wiser group than Black Lives Matter, and because three African-American adults whose actions I have admired were among those who went me invitations. I went despite my intense dislike of crowds, an innate wariness of herd behavior, and a learned fear of being on lists and being caught in large groups that comes from being part of a Holocaust survivor family. 

Our city is shaped like a large stone axe, surrounded on three sides by a giant bend in the Mississippi River. City Hall and the Ramsey County Courthouse are housed in a large, gorgeous Arts and Crafts building, which sits at the corner of one of the major bridges that cross the river, and directly in front from a main boulevard that fronts it. 

I was told via Facebook, that 700 people were going to attend. Nobody was outside when I got there a few minutes early. Naive, I went inside City Hall to ask the security guys manning the metal detectors if they knew where the protest was. (Protests are a part of our civil liberties, so I wasn't worried about mentioning this one.) 

They didn’t, but they did inform me that the protest couldn’t be inside, because they didn’t allow any signs in the building.

I walked around the building for a while, looking for people wearing the black they had requested.  Finally, I found some other youngish white people. We all walked to the front and waited. A few more people—black, white—dribbled into the crowd. Then, we saw a large crew walking across the bridge. They seemed cheerful, as if this were a picnic. Some of the younger ones were cavorting. That's the only word for it. A few wore shiny construction vests. 

I felt very much out of place. 

I’ve been looking for a group to join, someplace to go for Phil. I so want to be part of a community working for Philando. I was hoping this would be that place, and that community. I want to work for justice for him. I want to remember him. I want to have ways to make his life keep on living, although I know that’s not literally possible. 

Members of the crowd began to pass out signs. None of them said what I wanted to say. I should have brought my own sign--Philando was not a number--he was a good man. Or Phil cared about kids. Or His Mother Loved Him. Among the gathering crowd sat a young black man, dressed, despite the heat, in a black leather jacket. He was on the bench that edged a yard-sized planter, one arm on his knee, his head on that hand, and he was falling asleep. I knew he wasn't a part of the protest to come--no one spoke to him or even seemed to see him. He was one of the invisible, ones, the lost ones, the homeless, the mentally ill who haunt our streets, and he had to be either drunk, intoxicated, or completely exhausted to be able to fall asleep amid the crowd and the noise. As I watched, he twitched, his body slowly relaxing, muscle by muscle, leaning forward. I was afraid he was going to fall on his head on the concrete. I watched, waiting to leap for him if he started to fall. Finally, I woke him. I had to. 

He startled. I said, "Sorry, sorry. I didn't want you to fall and hit your head." 

He put his head back on his hand and started to fall asleep again. 

I said, "Where's your mother?" 

"Dead," he said. 

I asked, "Do you have somebody who can help you? Somebody who loves you?" And then wanted to kick myself. 

He said no. He was having a hard time getting his social security card, he said, and his legal i.d. He was hungry, he said. Did I have a snack. 

I usually do, but I didn't. Phil would probably have fed this guy, I thought. Philando fed people. That's what he did. The man asked if I could give him three dollars. I don't give money, but Phil was in my head. I gave him the only dollar I could find, loose in my backpack. He put his head on his hand and his eyes oozed shut. The dollar landed on the ground, next to a piece of paper. I picked them both up. It turned out to be his parole paperwork. 

Then, as the protest began to fire up, I went into the courthouse. I explained that I was worried about this guy. The guards called a Ramsey County Sheriff who said he could call St. Paul Police to do a welfare check, but, he said, they'd have to send a car and the officers would have to be in uniform and if they came out in the middle of a protest they'd have a riot. 

So, I went back out. The guy was sitting up, more alert, but still invisible to the crowd around him. The protest had spilled into the center of the street, to the narrow space between the yellow lines. The chant switched from "No Justice, No Peace," to "No Cops, No KKK." I had a huge disconnect. I had just gone to the police for help, for a black man. We need police, just not racist police who view anybody black as a terrifying monster or someone to dominate. 

I put my hand on the sleepy guy's shoulder. The paperwork had said his name was Lamont. (not his real name) I asked what I could do. 

"Can I stay with you tonight?" 

I said, "I have a special needs kid. That wouldn't work." 

He asked for twenty dollars for a room. I didn't have any money. The homeless shelter was three blocks away. And yet--I know people who've been in these shelters. They're crowded in a room with hundreds. It's noisy. They don't feel safe. They can't sleep. And this guy seemed much more alert. Maybe he was just exhausted. 

I dug into the open section of my backpack again, and out came twenty bucks that I didn't know I had. I handed it over and looked into his face. He looked back into my eyes. I said, "You matter. Your life matters. I'm not your mother but I'm a mother, and I know that you count. Just hold on. Get through this. You can make it. You can make a difference in the world." 

I might be deluding myself that he listened, who knows? It seemed to me that he heard it--heard a fellow human person, caring. He nodded, a couple of jerks of his head, and then he crossed through the protest and the crowd, and heading off, walking straight, not at all like someone drunk or on drugs. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Times We Lie

Yesterday, in the car, my youngest listed multiple times when she had lied about misbehavior. 

She had:

Scraped the fridge: "You know that little drawing on the side? I accidentally scratched the paint off with this paper clip and then I thought, I can make a drawing, so I kept on going." 

Drawn a head with legs and arms attached on the wall in the bathroom (when she was very little). 
Hid under a towel with a friend and a pen so they could extend the arms and legs of the drawing in the bathroom. 

Hidden under the bed with several children at a birthday party and drawn all over the wall down there with all of them. (More about this later.) 

Turned the fridge and freezer temperature so cold that the ice machine froze. (That one cost us 100 bucks on a service call--we thought the water main was broken) though fortunately, the repairman kindly also fixed something on both the dishwasher and the dryer for free.

I stayed completely mellow about these confessions, for several reasons. 

First: Oldest is the one who usually gets into trouble--though clearly Little One is fully as capable of doing Bad Things, but much better at getting away with it. And Oldest was in the car, listening to Little One addressing the balance. 

Second: Research Has Shown that all kids lie. Even ones who get beaten, punished or humiliated when they're caught in a lie. When children are punished severely for lying, that simply serves to drive lying underground. This may not mean as much when the lying is about who snuck the candy or drew on the wall, but it will mean a great deal when it's who is sneaking out of the house to run around with teenaged friends and possibly get pregnant/drunk/STD's/in an accident.  We have friends who severely punish their children any time they catch them in a lie. With very stern faces, they say to very young children, "We will always love you if you tell us the truth, but we will be very, very, very angry if we ever catch you lying." And, indeed, one of their children caught in a lie is severely punished. 

Their oldest middle child (they have several children) is one of then best and most frequent liars I know, who is often involved in my own child's admitted lies (see above, friend under towel, one of friends under bed, etc.) 

Third: I lie, too. "I have a previous engagement," with quiet and a good book. "I'm sorry, I did not see that email," when I resent the other organizer's request. "Thank you in advance for your prompt and thoughtful action," when I know that the action will be neither thoughtful nor prompt. "I love that haircut you just got," when I think it makes someone look like a hamster, but know they have a big job interview tomorrow.   "I'm sure that he was completely responsible for the divorce," when I know the opposite will never be heard and want my kids to still be allowed to play with their little friends. 

I even use bendy lies, implications, like, "I can understand how you would think you were responsible for your husband's adultery," and the subsequent child she is partly raising, when, in fact, I don't see how she's responsible for his callous choices. 

And we're not even getting into times when we have to lie to the boss because the boss is a controlling disaster and we can't get fired; or the many, many times when our relatives lied for their very survival, during the Holocaust. 

Lying, to me, then, is a continuum, and, indeed, a life-skill. Frankly, it's one I need to learn better. I was once booted from a writing critique group because I couldn't lie well enough. (The leader had pulled me aside and said, "she's not capable of learning to write any better. She'll never learn subtext or how to write dialogue. So when you make those notes, you just make her feel awful. You need to simply praise what she does.")

(Of course, the leader, too, had massive blind spots that needed tender-loving lies. In that case, I failed Lying 101, so out I went.) 

At any rate, as I heard Little One's list, I simply laughed with the rest of the family. When Little One said, "I'm pretty good at lying," I replied, "Well, sometimes we do need to lie in life, but I hope that, from now on, you'll tell us when you do something wrong. Look at us--we're hardly angry." 

"But that's because it's a lot later," said Little One. She may have a point. 

Then, Little One asked if I had ever lied to my parents about things I'd done. 

"Well," I said instantly. "There was the time--I think I was ten--when my best friend and I rode our bicycles far beyond the boundary we had at the time. We knew we could get back in time, and we wanted to explore. 

"Unfortunately, my front tire went wobbly. It wouldn't turn, so I couldn't bike. We didn't have any tools. We were too scared to ask for help.  So we had to run my bike home, holding up the whole front half of the frame, because only the rear wheel turned. My best friend took turns with me, thank goodness. We made it in time. We were exhausted and our arms ached, but we never told." 

And then, oddly, I thought of something else that I never told, also when I was ten. I thought carefully and decided to tell it. "There's this other thing that happened when I was ten that I never told about," I said. "We lived near this big drainage ditch that was kind of like a small river with riparian woodland all around it." (I explained riparian woodland and got back to the story.) We used to play there all the time. Gregson's Ditch. 

"And one time, when I was ten, these two girls, Kelly and Heidi, sisters, they told me they wanted to see my bra. I already had a bra. And they wanted to see it. And I said no. Kelly was nine and fragile, Heidi was eight and built like a horse. And when I said no, they wouldn't let me go. They kept yanking up my sweatshirt. I kept holding it down. I couldn't get away from them. Every time I managed to get Kelly's hands off my sweatshirt, I had to get Heidi to let go of my arms. I was crying."

"That was sexual assault," said my oldest, and I felt gratified that these days, kids know, that they are certain. We didn't know when I was little. Without that announcement from the back seat, I'm not sure I would have realized it with certainty today. 

"Yes," I said. "It was." Kelly and Heidi also pulled down Melinda's pants in her garage and stuck pebbles up her butt, all of which makes me think that somebody--maybe Mr. Ellinger--was doing something he shouldn't have been to his two daughters. In fact, come to think of it, I remember overhearing the parents talking about this, but they didn't report it, or forbid us to play with Kelly and Heidi or even tell us to stay out of their house. How times have changed.

"Anyway. I don't know how long we were down there. Maybe an hour, maybe less. I know that it felt like it was forever. I know that I thought I would never get away. I know that when I finally managed to escape them both and take off--red-faced, huffing, sobbing--my sweatshirt was so completely stretched out of shape that it never recovered. And they probably did manage to see parts of my white cotton training bra, despite all my efforts. 

"And I never told." I said. I'm still not sure why. I felt shamed. I felt besmirched. I felt stupid to have gone to the little paths at the side of Gregson's Ditch with only Kelly and Heidi, even though they had never bothered me before and I didn't yet know about what they'd done to Melinda in the garage. I felt there was something wrong with me that I needed a brassiere while Kelly and Heidi didn't. And I liked Kelly, though I did not like Heidi, who was often physically rough and hostile. In fact, I remember that I kept pleading with Kelly, reminding her of how awful her sister was, telling her I would play with her if she'd just get Heidi to let me go--it was Kelly masterminding this, or so I thought at the time. 

But I thought it was all my fault, somehow, and my shame, which is why I never told. "Do you think that was right, or wise?" I asked. 

"No," said my little one. 

"So I'm telling you this story because I want you to always tell us if anything happens. No matter if you feel ashamed or you're afraid you might have done something to cause it. " 

"It's sexual assault," said my oldest. "Of course, we'd tell." 

But I, with my Gregson's Ditch experience, I am still not so sure. The shame I felt was enormous. And the self-blame. "I will never, ever treat you that way. Because I know how it feels," I said. "That's not something you can ever lie about. Okay?" 

I got agreement, but of course, you never really know. Kids--all kids--lie. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

I Wonder What That Policeman Is Thinking Right Now?

"I wonder what he's thinking doing right now," my little ones says. "What he's doing." 


"That policeman."

I know immediately who she is talking about--Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who killed Philando Castile. 

"I don't know," I say. "What do you think he's doing?"

The little voice expresses disbelief. "How would I know? First off, I'm not a racist. Second, I'm not a cop. And I'm not even a grownup." 

I drive for a minute. "I would imagine that he's scared. And angry. On that video, he's shouting and he sounds so scared. He's probably looking around for somebody else to blame. That's what a lot of people do--they look for someone to blame. It takes a lot of courage to admit what you've done."

"I don't know why he'd be scared. He's off some place, and he's got his family, and nobody is attacking him." 

"I think," I say. "He would be scared because he knows that he's done a horrible thing. I would think that he's scared to look at that."

I hear a snort. "Well, nobody else shot Phil," says Little One. "Phil was doing what the officer told him to do. He was the one who pulled out his gun. He as the one who shot the bullets." 

"Well, that's true," I say and the conversation veers into what it was like the time this little one forgot a line in a class play, and just stood there. Just stood there, while the kids around whispered the line, just stood and stood, until the teacher finally called out Little One's name and spoke the line. 

"I felt so hot," says my youngest. "Like my whole chest and my arms and my legs were going to burn up with heat."

"Some emotions are hot ones," I say. "Embarrassment. Shame. They can make you feel like you're burning up with heat." 

That evening, we go to the school playground. There is a tiny black girl playing on the equipment. She is fearless, so she is flanked, all the time, by two women who turn out to be cousins, one the little girl's mother. We talk, as moms do at the park. They went to high school with Philando Castile. They express great sympathy for "your school's loss," and I to them for the loss of their friend. One was in a theater class with him, part of a production about teenaged feelings that toured to other schools. They knew him well. I am dreading going back into the school building for the first time, and I know that some of our kids are struggling, including my own. But these two women seem so calm, so happy to remember him with love.  It's better to be together, to grieve together, I think. 

So, I begin to repeat the conversation with my little one earlier this morning. "I wonder what that police officer is doing today?" I mis-quote. 

"He's alive," says one of the young women, bleakly. "He's alive. Which is more than Phil is." And we stare into the distance.