Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Why I Am Not An Ally

I know I was late to the party, but the first time I heard the word ally was several months ago when I saw a conversation on facebook that was alarmingly sexist. There were several people involved whom I know in passing, and I didn’t want to go on a rant to them. Instead I went to my own page and posed this question: If you see someone say something sexist, do you speak up? When, or when not? Then, to add another dimension to the question, I added, If someone says something racist, do you speak up?

Lots of my friends were eager to jump in and say that we must always speak up against racism. Be an ally, they said. My first thought was, oh yes, I want to be an ally. I like that word.

(Interestingly, not a single person expressed concern about being an ally of women by speaking out against sexism.)

Later I thought, wait a minute. I’m half Asian, though I sometimes forget it, because I was raised by WASPS, and where I live, there aren’t Asian people so everybody just assumes I’m some kind of tan white person. But I am a person of color. Am I not? I’ve been told that Asians don’t count as a minority. I have no Asian cultural heritage, can’t say that I’ve suffered for my olive skin, except that I look ghastly in neon green. Maybe I’m just racially confused. And when people start talking about cultural appropriation, it gets worse. Which culture am I allowed? Being adopted and of mixed heritage, I’m a mess. Am I an ally? Or in need of allies? I’ve grown gradually less enthusiastic about the term.

On Mothers’ Day weekend I went with my birthmom, Barb, to the John Brown museum in Osawatomie, KS. We were joined by Barb’s (white) husband; her (white/black) daughter, my half sister A whom I met when I was 22; Barb’s best friend N (white), and her best friend’s daughter S (white/black). This is Barb’s patchwork family, some by blood and others tied just as strongly by love and choice.

We all had a nice time, but one comment S made to me stuck out in my mind. She said that there are a group of people in the city where she lives who very much want to be allies, but they don’t really know what to do, and maybe they could organize a field trip to come down to the John Brown Museum. I was trying to read a plaque at the time, so, sadly, I didn’t give her my full attention. I just said, “You mean, they should be more like John Brown?”

“Well, maybe without the violence.”

It’s taken me three weeks now to figure out what I think about that. A field trip would probably be a great idea, and fun as well, but here’s what I would like to say to S: What white people need is to feel that racism doesn’t just bring down people of color. They need to understand that the losses are their losses, and feel the pain as their own. This is true because we are all connected. We live on one planet, we breathe the same air, we drink from the same well of compassion and when we sleep, our dreams mingle in the same empathic, morphogenetic fields. When we know that, and feel it, action follows.

This is why I choose not to call myself an ally: because it bolsters the belief that race defines and separates us, that that separation leads to some of us being victims and others of us condescending to assist them, when what we really need is to break down the walls and fully feel our humanness, our pain, our love, for, on behalf of, and with others and ourselves. We must own it all. My white half is not an ally to my Asian half. I am one.

The Big You

hst_carina_ngc3372_0006

Image credit: NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team

Do you ever find yourself obsessing
over small things, because it makes
you feel big? A far bigger You
watches you with amusement:
sitting hunched in the doorway,
counting grains of sand,
never crossing the threshold.

Do you want to be big? Forget the sand,
step up, step into your Large Self.
Be as big as you already are.
Claim all the space you require,
we’ll walk together among the galaxies.
There’s a nebula I’d like you to meet.
See Her stretch beyond every imaginable
horizon of human consciousness,
transcending form, vibrating with
light and sound, pregnant
with a million stars.

Witnessing the End

Autumn Hills

We were told that there would be difficulty,
betrayals, losses, and lack.
We expected to make sacrifices for
love and worthy causes. There
would be demagogues, tyrants, and
CEOs who lacked empathy.
And there would be beauty,
in a face or in art or in nature.
And we were taught to love these things,
to be comforted by them in times of
suffering. But did anyone tell you
there would be days you would
walk the streets openly weeping,
drowning in the world and the grief
of knowing you are witnessing the end.
It’s time to say goodbye to everything,
to giraffes and orcas, the butterflies
that migrate a thousand miles to share
warmth through the winter. To the wild
places that save us. To earth not driven
to hiding from relentless attack by those
who would plunder, extract, and leave
her for dead. And leave us for dead.
Say goodbye to life not owned by profiteers.
We were advised to remember
that time isn’t linear, and we are immortal
beings of light far greater than the
speck of dust we know here now. That
all these things we love are eternal,
in some way we cannot understand.
But still here I am, immersed in
sunlight on grassland in winter,
red-tailed hawk circling overhead.
And there’s a man from a city in Japan,
standing on the Kansas prairie weeping
to discover that there is still such beauty
in the world. Say goodbye to it all, my friend.
The voracious maw won’t stop until
every last drop of water has been tainted, every
wild animal eaten or caged. Every heart
and mind given over to the demagogue
and the masked man behind him. Say
goodbye with every breath and impulse,
every moment, every truck that passes
on the highway, every word or beat or
image clamoring for attention. Goodbye with
every step, walking hip deep in tall grass,
or pounding unyielding pavement of city streets,
or wandering the bright-lit aisles of a dollar store,
openly weeping.

50 years: forties

This’ll bring us up to the present. First decade, second decade, twenties, thirties.

41. Kiran was about seventeen or eighteen months old when my Mom died. “Baba” was grandma since Rowan started to talk, and we saw Kevin’s mom frequently, so my mom became Baba Leona. A few weeks before she passed, Kiran started calling her Bona.

There was a period when Caryn Robson came over for a couple hours every week to watch the girls so I could write. I didn’t get much writing done, but knowing she would be coming every week was a lifeline. Often we would spend much of the time chatting, or I would be just getting around to putting lunch on the table when she arrived. After Mom’s funeral, the next time Caryn came over, we ended up sitting on the floor of my bedroom, Caryn behind me, releasing trigger points in my shoulders. When I started crying, she wrapped her arms around me and held me. Kiran was nearby, solemnly watching.

The next day, or maybe the day after, she said to me, “Bona died.”

“Yes. Bona died.”

“I saw Bona.”

“We saw Bona at the funeral home.”

“Bona was hugging you.”

“When was she hugging me?”

“Miss Caryn was here.”

“I was sitting on the floor and Miss Caryn was hugging me.”

“Yes. Bona was hugging you.”

“Bona was hugging me when Miss Caryn was hugging me?”

“Yes.”

“You saw Bona?”

“Yes.”

I had many more questions, but we seemed to have reached the limit of her ability to verbalize. She stopped talking then, satisfied that I’d gotten the main point, that after mom died, Kiran saw her with me, holding me in my grief.

Kiran doesn’t remember it anymore.

42. I wasn’t sure I wanted to send the kids to school, and preschool seemed like basically an ad for school. Rowan was very attached to me anyway, but because she was born in early November, she was almost four by the time the school year started. Still, I hesitated. My mother-in-law was on the preschool board, so I felt a certain amount of pressure to send her. I resisted. If she went to preschool, it would be that much harder to say no to school later. She would think of homeschooling as a deprivation.

One day Rowan was driving me crazy. Whatever I said, she ignored. Whatever I wanted her to do, she did the opposite. It went on all day, and really it had been building for a week. Clearly I had no control over this child whatsoever. Finally I’d had enough, and the words just came out of my mouth: “That’s it! You’re going to preschool. We’ll see if someone else can do any better with you than I can.” Sending a child to preschool because she was beyond my control seemed like the weakest possible reason, but I really was at my wit’s end. I couldn’t think of any other way to deal with her.

Her behavior changed immediately. Rowan started preschool a couple weeks later. She loved every minute of it, and was even disappointed when she found out it was only two mornings per week. Later I looked back and realized that it was precisely what she’d needed: to assert her individuality, to take the next step in separating from me. The words that popped out of my mouth were exactly the right ones.

43. I don’t remember what we were thinking when we planned this trip, but Mark Ferguson was getting married in Chicago, and I wanted to see my sister in upstate New York, and Niagara Falls was between the two places. When I saw it as a child, I was impressed, but as an adult, it was profoundly moving. We took an elevator deep into the earth, then walked a long tunnel to a boardwalk so we could walk right up to the edge of the falls. A little stream broke over a rock and fell onto the platform. That tiny stream was immensely powerful. This place where the water would devour the earth, were most of it not diverted before it even gets to the falls. And yet, this little bit of the remainder packed easily enough power to knock a person down. I planted my disposable sandals on the wet wood and held out my arms to open myself to the full force of the water. It was a ritual bath. It was a baptism. For days I was stunned, wondering that anyone could leave that place not knowing it is a sacred node of water energy.

As we returned to the surface, five-year-old Rowan said, “That’s the wettest I’ve ever been in my life!”

IMG_000744. I was working on the novel that would become Post Rock Limestone Caryatids. I was well into it with maybe 40,000 words. That doesn’t sound like very much now, but it was a huge struggle at the time. One day I was sitting in front of the computer, not feeling too inspired, when the phone rang. I got up to answer it, and when I came back, Toulouse was sitting on the keyboard, and the screen was blank.

Yes, the file was empty. The cat had deleted my entire novel.

Yes, I had a back-up copy. I only lost a few sentences.

45. Trying to learn and use Photoshop had always been an exercise in pulling out my own hair. I asked Kevin to help me design a cover for my book, but he bogged the project down with alternative ideas that would make the whole design much more complicated, but, in my opinion, wouldn’t improve it significantly. I decided to bite the bullet and learn Photoshop. Whenever I had a question, I googled it, a strategy Kevin often espoused. Each step took forever, but somehow I managed to create a workable design. It was an amazing achievement for me.

Later, when I tried to make a cover for another book, I found I could neither remember nor figure out how to do what I’d done before. It was as if it had never happened.

46. After a couple years of occasional puttering, I got my studio not entirely complete, but into a condition in which I could work in it. Steve Thompson did a lot of work. Without his input, I  couldn’t have gotten it done. I chose a gaudy, sunshiny yellow for the walls. Steve thought that color was totally wrong, and tried to talk me into something softer, but I ignored him. It’s a room where I’ve had days of sitting at the desk for hours, writing, revising, publishing, promoting. I go in as early as I can get there in the morning, and if I let myself, I can get lost in the work.

Costa Rica Journal47. Our trip to Costa Rica straddled my birthday. It was my second time there. The first I wished I’d journaled more; so this time I made time during the trip to write down as much as I could remember, most days. After we got home, I started blogging our experiences in this magical place, and intended to write at least one post for every day we were there. I did several, before the project faltered. But still, I think the Costa Rica Diary blog posts are some of my best writing here on Veronica’s Garden.

48. Shortly after the new year began, before the end of my term as a 48-year-old, I made these goals/resolutions for the year:
Have a working dishwasher.
Girls have their own rooms.
Publish 2 more short stories.
Have a solid draft of Witchcraft novel by year end, ready to seek an agent or self-publish.
Find my birth dad, George Mah.
Manage my health effectively for lasting wellness. (Yoga 4x/week)
Massage Kevin regularly, minimum of 12 times through the year.
Clear/organize house.
Make progress on back debt.

I published four stories, so I exceeded that goal. I’m averaging yoga twice/week these days, and seeing benefits from it. Massaged Kevin three times. As for the others, I failed every last one.

49. What I did instead of working on those goals was spend most of the year struggling with bureaucracies. The Kansas Dept. of Revenue was claiming we owed back Transient Guest Taxes from the motel we’d closed two years prior, while our health insurance premiums grew to unmanageable magnitude. Talking on the phone, navigating institutional websites, hunting through files for papers, these became my unpaid part-time job. Astrologer Kaypacha, aka Tom Lescher, said repeatedly in his weekly forecasts that 2016 would be a year of purification. Apparently, for me, purification means doing the tedious business of managing finances.

Sometimes it occurs to me, normal people do all these things all the time. I don’t know how they do it. And people who work forty hours/week, when do they do these things? Living as a normal adult continues to be my biggest struggle, my most persistent failure.

50. On my birthday, I had a wonderful massage from Lana at Southwind Health Collective in Lawrence. A few minutes into the session, she said, “I’m getting that there’s something that you’re really, really worried about. Is that right?”

I said, “Yes.”

She said, “I’m also getting the message that it’s gonna be all right.”

***

So there we go. It may be as hard for you to believe as it is for me, but I have lived fifty years. I have the memories to prove it.

50 years: thirties

Part four, a memory for every year I’ve lived. First decade, second decade, twenties. Here are my thirties.

31.The best Valentine anyone ever gave me was when Kevin (the cool bass player from last decade) surprised me by renting a car and driving from Chicago to Strong City to bring me our cats. It was a difficult time in my life, and having them with me helped me maintain my shaky sanity.

Toulouse and 23

Toulouse in the foreground, the late 23 behind him.

32. Another time he was visiting me and drove me to work at a fitness club in Emporia, then took my little ’85 Celica for the day. (All-time favorite car, stick shift.) While I was working, a big storm came up. When Kevin came to pick me up, the sky was dark and menacing. Back in Strong City, the cats were outside, so we rushed to get there and bring them safely in. The rain was so heavy, we might have waited it out in Emporia, had it not been for the cats. On the highway, visibility was severely limited. We had the radio on, and the remote reporter was talking about a barrage of hail near Saffordville Road. Before we got there, the hail pelting the car was deafening, and the reporter’s voice dissolved to static. Kevin was at the wheel. We were afraid to stop. A vehicle approaching from behind might not be able to see us before we were all dead. I kept my eye on the white line to make sure he didn’t cross it, until the hail and rain were so thick I couldn’t see the line. I couldn’t bear to think what terror and danger the cats were in.

Finally I could see the line again, then the hail was behind us. We were past Saffordville Road, in an ordinary thunderstorm at night. We got to my house a few minutes later. The cats were waiting for us on the front porch, barely wet, their luxuriant coats not the slightest bit ruffled.

33. I celebrated the birth of a new millennium at The Light Center in Baldwin City. Shortly after that, I moved back to Chicago. Kevin appreciated me and supported me, and it wasn’t clear that I made much difference to my family in Kansas. He deserved me more.

34. One of the things I did in Kansas was go to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, the third weekend of September. Kevin went with me the second year I was there, and when September rolled around again, we decided to make the trip from Chicago. We didn’t want to leave our precious cats for any longer than we had to, so we decided to drive them to Kansas and board them with Kevin’s parents, who are animal lovers too. 23, the tabby, would suffer motion sickness in my little Celica, so we thought it kinder to rent a nicer, bigger car for his comfort. On the day we left, first thing in the morning, we got in our car to drive to the rental agency. Kevin turned on the radio and we found out that the World Trade Center had been destroyed.

We still managed to get the rental car. As we left Chicago, not yet knowing the extent of the attacks, I felt that I had what I needed, if we never came back. The cats were in carriers in the back seat, my violin and guitar were in the trunk, and we were together.

We dropped in on my Dad in assisted living in Emporia before we went to the festival. Years prior, he had been disabled by a stroke, which left him unable to speak or write. Kevin and I came into his apartment to find Dad hunched in front of the TV. When he saw me, he made a frantic noise in his throat, and held up a hand imploringly. It hit me that for two days he had been watching the nonstop coverage of the collapsing towers and their aftermath, unable to tell anyone that his daughter lived in New York City. “Melora’s okay,” I couldn’t tell him fast enough. “I talked to her. She’s okay. Sebastian’s fine. Hollis is fine.”

35. Before we married, we went to an astrologer named Bovani for a consultation. She told us that if we married in June, it should be after the 21st, because Gemini isn’t a great sign for beginning a marriage, but Cancer is much better. She said there was no doubt we were meant to be together (which we already knew), and that Kevin’s job was to keep me uplifted, while my job was to ground him. Being on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius, he was really an Aquarian, but came in on the goat side to ensure he’d be good at getting things done. She also said that when we have sex, the angels like to watch.

36. I was thirty-six when I read The Corrections, by Jonathan Franzen, after Amy Carlson gave it to me for Christmas. I had a strange affinity with every character in the book, as if I could be the person that character was modeled after. They were like mirrors of my essential nature, even though they were all different from each other. The main character Chip is kind of a loser who’s never been able to get his shit together, despite high intelligence. His lack of success is a source of anxiety, and whenever confronted with failure, he looks for the nearest attractive woman and creates a fantasy about her. At one point his anxiety is particularly acute, but there’s no one he can fantasize about because he’s in Manhattan and every woman in the vicinity is thirty-six and pregnant. I wasn’t pregnant, but I felt I could be one of those women.

37. We had a contract to buy a motel in Strong City, near both of our parents. We quit our jobs, packed everything into a truck, and took our cats to Kansas to purchase our first property and start a business at the same time. Shortly before we left, we found out I was pregnant.

38. After Rowan was born, I had an incredible surge of creative energy. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. I’d always been creatively stifled, but suddenly I knew I could do anything. But how long would it last? I was terrified that this newfound ability would pass, and I’d have done nothing with it, because I had a sweet little baby who needed my constant attention. I could get about thirty minutes between nursing her to sleep and having to pick her up again. So I put her in her little baby rocking chair just inside the patio screen door, and went into the back yard. There were some switches that had been trimmed off the hedge. They were mostly around three or four feet long, and flexible enough to weave together into geometric shapes, which I hung on the fence around the yard. Kevin was baffled as to why I was doing that, and I couldn’t really explain it either.

39. Rowan had night terrors. It was terrifying to me too. She would huddle up to me, stiff with fear, and bury her head in my arm. I would ask her what she was afraid of, but she was too afraid to talk.

40. Both times I was pregnant, I slept as prescribed on my left side. As my belly got bigger, cat Toulouse found my torso and belly made a nice spot to sleep on. It was comfortable for both of us.

 

50 years: twenties

Part 3 in my series to prove that my birthday this week will be my fiftieth, by presenting a memory from each year. First decade, second decade.

21. My first apartment was in downtown Galesburg, Illinois. It was a beautiful apartment with wood floors, and quaint little windows looking out into the hallway and between rooms. The building had a wide, flat roof, and there were birds that flew around over the roof at dusk. I never saw them, only heard their call, that sounded like “braak, braak.” In my mind, I thought of them as the brack birds. Many years later I learned their real name, nighthawk, probably Chordeiles minor.

22. I graduated from college in 1989. I had no idea what to do, but my parents’ house needed a fresh coat of paint, so I did it, and called it my job. Being in the town where I’d grown up had a strange way of making me feel like a kid again. I wandered around the yard, carrying paint cans and ladders and saying to myself, “I’m twenty-two,” to remind myself of my age. Not seventeen, or fourteen, or ten. “I’m twenty-two.”

23. That winter I was in Madison, Wisconsin. That was where I learned to dress for cold weather. Once there was a blizzard, but my roommate Dennis McGreevy and I very much wanted to see a band that was playing about a mile away from our apartment. The venue was a little bar which I think was called the Willy Bear. Buses weren’t running, so we put on all our clothes, double socks and three or four shirts and a couple sweaters, a wrap around my neck and a woolen shawl around my shoulders and over my face, and more. We walked to the bar through blowing snow that drifted up to our knees. There was hardly anyone else there, so we took off our excess layers and made a pile of clothes that was as tall as my hips. The band played for a dozen people, maybe, and we had a great time and danced so hard we were soaking with sweat by the time they finished. Then we put all our clothes back on, piece by piece, and went back out into the blizzard to walk home.

24. I moved back to Galesburg and ended up in an apartment on Allens Ave. The owners’ daughter lived below me, with her boyfriend and three small children. They were horrid, hateful parents, who didn’t hesitate to call their children “stupid,” or “fuckin’ asshole.” One time they went outside and the kids locked them out. The parents pounded on the door and cussed at their children to open it, while upstairs I was secretly cheering for the kids.

25. By this time I was living in Eugene, Oregon, with an anarchist who was a raging control freak. Don’t knock it, his ideology was probably the only thing that kept him from locking me up in a basement. He was a brilliant gaslighter and loved to pick verbal fights. Once we traveled with a group of people to San Francisco for a conference, which I think was organized by Food Not Bombs. When I got there, I found out that the women had organized an all-day event at a different location, and they talked most of the women into going to their event instead. It was an introduction to Model Mugging, which was a self-defense class in which the male instructors wore body armor and a helmet that looks like a beekeeper’s hood. The women had to defend ourselves in role-playing scenes by kicking the men in the crotch as hard as we could, and poking at the netting that protected their eyes. The men back at the conference were mad at us for leaving them, but that class changed my life. My nightmares of being victimized changed to nightmares in which I fiercely fought my attackers. Then I left the gaslighting anarchist. Walking away from him was the biggest achievement of my life up to then.

26. I knew some people in Chicago, and they invited me to come there when I needed a place to be. My friend Jonathan Joe told me that his girlfriend Amy Carlson was looking for an apartment and could use a roommate, so we got an apartment together with her sister Lori. Amy and I did a lot of intensive partying. Bars close at 2:00AM in Chicago, except for the ones that don’t, which are called four o’clock bars. (Not related to the flower, Mirabilis nyctaginea.) One of the four o’clock bars was the Blue Note, which was on a residential street that didn’t have buses late at night. Amy and I would leave the Blue Note at closing time, walking and eyeing the dark streets for a cab or bus. More than once the sun rose on us as we walked the full two miles home.

27. Amy got an exciting job in New York and moved away. Abbey Ripstra moved in, then, later, Mary Vukovic. Abbey was an artist I knew from Knox. Mary had a septum ring and tattoos. I though she was super cool. Mary introduced me to the music of Mazzy Star, Leonard Cohen, and Beck.

28. I only worked part time while I went to massage therapy school, so I was usually broke. But I was dating an amazingly cool bass player who waited tables, so he always had cash. Sometimes I would sheepishly ask if I could borrow five dollars for bus fare to get to school and back, and he would open his wallet and hand me a twenty.

29. The bass player and I had been living together for a while when we adopted two kittens who were left at Empty Bottle, where he worked. By the next day they were exploring the apartment, while I delightedly followed them, laughing and exclaiming with amazement, “I love you!”

30. I moved back to Kansas because I wanted someone to be closer to my aging parents. Their house was big and eerily quiet. Sometimes I would stare at the ceiling and see lines of yellow energy zigzagging around up there. If I got out my violin and played for a while, the energy would shift to purple, which I preferred.

50 years, second decade

Continuing with a memory for each year.

IMG_010311. I went to sixth grade in a school made of two buildings on opposite sides of a major street. There was a tunnel that ran under the street, but it had been closed for years. Once my teacher and the teacher from the next classroom over opened the door for me and a friend to look into the tunnel. The doorway was thick with spiderwebs, and half a dozen striped spiders skittered away when we opened it. The teacher said, “Be careful, I don’t know what brown spiders look like.” Now I know that they were wolf spiders, which most arachnologists consider to be harmless to humans. The one in the picture is carrying her babies on her back. They don’t usually look quite like that, but you can see the stripes.

12. I went to seventh grade  on the other end of the forbidden tunnel, in some mobile units set up beside the building. I took a test that determined that my interests were most like those of a computer programmer. (They had those, back then? I didn’t know of any.) My second occupational recommendation was bricklayer.

13. My mom made me go to summer orchestra. I had to get up early (!) and walk all the way to the school, carrying my violin. After an hour of playing, it was already hot for the walk home. I secretly kind of liked the playing, even the “4 Finger Club” exercises, but seriously??? Summer orchestra???

14. Oh, what a big year. First real job (Vista Drive-In), first big purchase (a new 10-speed bike, silver), first year of high school, stuff I won’t tell you about . . . In the summer before we went to high school, Michelle Wycoff told me that she didn’t have a group of people to hang out with. I said I didn’t either, so we would be one, and we were.

15. I sat next to Shelli Emery in chorale. One day I could feel the vibration of the sound through the paper sheet music I was holding as we sang. I told Shelli and she thought that was really weird, but not in a mean way.

16. There was a boy in Debate who would put Peppermint Schnapps in a bottle labeled Chloraseptic. It took a lot of spraying to get a buzz.

17. I switched from vocal music back to orchestra. We played in the pit for the musical, which was The Wizard of Oz. The music was really hard, because it was written in a key for singers, with more flats than I could count on one hand. I thought we were cool because we were allowed to perform in sweatpants and eat candy, as long as no one heard the wrappers crinkling.

18. Three weeks after I graduated from high school, I had a dream that I went to school as normal. After I’d been to a few classes, I realized I hadn’t done any school work for three weeks! I’d have to get on the ball, or I might not graduate. Then I realized I had already graduated. I tried to tell my Physics teacher, Mr. Buster, that I didn’t need to be in school, but he didn’t believe me.

19. When I came home from my first year of college, Anne Calvert introduced me to The Full Moon Cafe. We hung out there all summer. They had awesome cheesecake.

20. My sophomore roommate was Cheryl Stone (who is now Cheryl Richardson, but not the motivational speaker). She was a great roommate, and never complained about what a slob I was. Erin Legris (now Erin Beck) was in our suite, and she did complain. In a nice way.

 

 

50 years

IMG_1417It will come as a surprise to some that I will be celebrating my fiftieth birthday this week. I can say without bragging that I look younger than my age. When I turned thirty, it occurred to me that I could lie about my age and get away with it, but then I decided that I won’t. There isn’t a year or a day that I would prefer not to have lived. Even the crappy times I might just as well forget about, I survived, and I claim that. I want credit for everything.

So to prove to the doubters that I have truly lived fifty years, here is a memory from each one of them, excepting the first, which I would think would go without saying that I don’t have to remember. Today we’ll have the first decade.

2. My earliest memory is of a memory. I was eating lunch in a high chair in the TV room of the house my parents built in Salina, KS. I suddenly thought of some people I hadn’t seen in a long time. In the memory, I was lying in a room in the dark, and they were silhouetted in the light coming from behind them in the doorway, watching me.  When that image came to me, I realized that I would never see them again., and I cried. My baffled mom wondered what I was crying about, and offered me a slice of bread and butter, the lack of which wasn’t what made me sad, but sounded good anyway, and it was.

This picture was taken in the room where this happened. rachelasnewbaby

Over the years I’ve concluded that those people were the foster parents who cared for me as an infant before I was adopted. I would like to meet them again, if I knew who they were, or at least to see a picture, if they’re no longer living. Would they look familiar?

3. My sister and I took our daily naps in cribs placed on opposite sides of the room, but the cribs had casters, so we could stand next to our respective railings and push our cribs, a little at a time, across the room to meet in the center. My sister said, “Wanna trade cribs?” It sounded like fun, so I agreed, and she swung her leg over the rails and got in my crib. I swung my leg over the rail and discovered that her crib was very wet. She wouldn’t go back, though, so I tried sleeping in my crib with her, but it was too crowded. I ended up back in her crib, trying to curl up at the top, away from the pee.

4. Sometimes us kids would gather in our parents’ bedroom in the morning, and once I was lying on the floor with my legs up, feet resting on the side of the mattress, and my parents were talking about moving to Emporia. I said I didn’t want to. My sister said she did. We got into a friendly yes-no thing and I punctuated my nos by tapping my feet on the mattress. Of course I didn’t think my parents were going to make the decision based on my preference, and I didn’t really mind the idea of moving, I just liked how things were, and didn’t see any need to change.

5. There was a boy who sat next to me in Kindergarten. I tried to make friends with him, but I think he may have been a bit spectrum, and he never responded in any way whatsoever. On the first day, he discovered that if he rubbed his pencil on the edge of his desk, it would scrape the colorful paint off the pencil. I guess he preferred a natural finish. He scraped it every day, all around the pencil, until the teacher told him not to do it anymore.

6. I loved first grade. My teacher was very progressive and let us work as fast as we wanted. I competed with a boy in my reading group to do more SRA reading units, but we were pretty evenly matched.

7. I had a best friend named Lisa Thomas. She was from Elgin, Illinois. She was always fun and easy to talk to. She’s at the far right front in this picture of all the Suzuki violin students, though I’m not sure why, as she played piano, not violin. suzuki70s

8. My second grade teacher was Greta Thomas (no relation to Lisa). She was old school, and strict, which I didn’t like, though later I realized that she was an excellent teacher, just not of a style that inspired me. She was the first person who ever told me that Columbus wasn’t the first European in North America.

9. I was nine in third and fourth grades. My third grade teacher read to the class after lunch every day. Whenever a character did something eagerly, it sounded like she was saying “iggerly.” When my fourth grade teacher leaned over my desk to help me with a question, she smelled like smoke. I liked them both a lot. Lisa moved back to Elgin.

10. Fifth grade was a difficult year for me. I didn’t have friends. I was the first girl in my class to have periods, and I told some girls whom I wanted to like me. Of course it didn’t work, and they told some boys, and they all called me Mrs. P for the rest of the year. I never told anyone this; I’m not sure I have to this day. Shall we name names? They were Marcy Nail, Shelly Dingman, Thane Thompson, and Roy Wells. They might be perfectly nice people now, but as kids they were assholes.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about my second decade.

 

Bad Friend

Writing is like a needy, bad friend who comes
uninvited and never leaves. She plants
herself on the couch, turns on the tv,
lights up a cigarette. “What’s for dinner?”
I try to remember all the good times
we’ve had together, the light that
would radiate from the space between us
when we were deep in conversation, the
magic tricks she used to entertain me with,
but I can never get anything done
when she’s in my life. She eats all the food
and sighs when I ask her to move her feet
so I can bissel up the crumbs. Day after day
she’s on the couch, chain smoking,
channel surfing, demanding my attention.
It wouldn’t be so bad
if she’d kick in a hundred now and then,
but ask her for money and she just
sticks her hand in her pocket and pulls out
a couple crumpled singles and some change.

Kick her to the curb. “Get out of my house,
bad friend, Writing. You’ve driven away my
true friends and put me in debt.” But
she’ll never leave, nightmare witch girl
who keeps coming back,
no matter how brutally I beat her.

She’s gone, now, but not far. A hint of smoke
drifts in the window from the trees behind the back yard.
I hear her cough, lurking there, waiting.

I Know My Kid

As soon as we got to school, my daughter realized she’d forgotten her lunch. She had a field trip today and didn’t have another lunch option. It’s not very far, and I wasn’t in a hurry, so I went back home and got it.

I was a little self-conscious because I’ve been seeing that meme going around facebook, about not bringing your kids their lunches and homework when they forget them. It’s supposed to be bad parenting to help your kids these days.

Sure, that meme was aimed at parents of kids in high school, but most of the comments I’ve seen on this subject don’t specify any particular age. My daughter is only in sixth grade, but she’ll be going to the “big school” next year. Right now, I know this kind of help is good for her.

When I was newly a mom, and trying to figure out what on earth I was supposed to be doing in that capacity, I found a lot of good advice in the community at mothering.com. It’s an amazing, large, and diverse community that I would recommend to any parent for advice on practically any parenting question you could think of. Mothering.com mamas come from many political, religious, socioeconomic, and racial perspectives, and everyone gets along (or gets gently corrected by a moderator). What they have in common is a preference for natural, compassionate parenting.

One statement I saw people make frequently on the forums was, “I know my kid.” “I know my kid so I trust him not to bow to peer pressure.” “I know my kid so I can leave her at home alone.” Reading these comments, I always thought about the things my parents didn’t know about me in adolescence. I had no idea who I was, and often tried on different attitudes to see how they worked. Could parents know their kids better than kids know themselves? Are all these people kidding themselves?

Here’s what I know about my kid today: she isn’t very good at remembering things. She’s lost more than one item of value, things she really cared about, because she set it down and forgot to pick it up again. But I also know that she is more self-motivated than any kid I know (I’m sure there are more self-motivated kids, I just don’t happen to know them). She sets high goals, and strives to achieve them. When she fails, no one is harder on her than she is on herself. She may not be able to take the burden of remembering things off of the adults in her life, but she won’t hesitate to take on the burden of making herself feel bad. She’ll do it on our behalf, if that’s what we teach her. “Making her suffer” the consequences, lecturing, and anger do not enable her to do better; they break down her confidence and self-esteem. I can imagine the possibility that those strategies might work for another child, but they do not help this one. I know because I know my kid.

Sometimes kids need tough love. Sometimes they need compassionate assistance. Who knows when to do which? This is what I know: those people making memes and snarky comments, blogging about parenting, they don’t know my kid like I do. They don’t see the way she struggles to grow herself up, the ways she already suffers her own perceived inadequacies. They don’t see her kindness, or willingness to help others, or the ways those qualities might be connected to my choice to model them, by helping her. They may see the ways that I have failed to make her the kid they think she should be, and for that I do not apologize. She is her own person, with strengths and weaknesses, both known and unknown. We’re all just trying to figure out how to live the best we can, and today that means giving my daughter a little help.

rosadie

She likes to wear cat ears, but she’s a dog person at heart.

 

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