Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Trail blazer

In the big group photo the parents were trying to grab as the fourth grade was about to get onto the yellow school bus taking them to an "Oregon Trail" overnight camp, some kids were hanging on each other, or arms slung around shoulders, or triumphant fists in the air, or some splayed out in the front on their sides.

My kid was hiding in the back.

He let his serious, furrowed browed face appear in one that I caught but in the rest, he purposely stood in the back where no one could see him.

A few minutes before, the cabin groups were called out.  There are a lot of athletic boys in this class, and two groups in particular let out loud cheers and fist pumps and high-fives when they found out they'd be together in a cabin with one of their dads.  It was all very bro-tastic.  Funny how that starts as early as fourth grade.  That herd mentality.  That thing of the strong and loud grouping together to the exclusion of the quiet watchers.

When my son's cabin was announced, it was just quiet.  All the boys in his group like each other but they are definitely not "bros" at all.  They are not the team sport guys, though a couple of them are on teams.  My son is in a friendship rut with one of the boys in his cabin, and he looked at me in frustration when the announcement was made.  Another kid in their cabin is a good friend of his but also a mama's boy who is nervous about this first overnight away from home.

I watched some of the parents drop their kids off, wish the chaperones well, laugh about the chaos, barely tell their kids goodbye since their kids were the confident ones who had either already done overnight camps or were at the center of the fist-pumping bro culture of fourth grade.  Their kids are the winners.  The ones with no worries.  The ones who climb into bed at night and just fall asleep.

That's not my kid.  My kid lays in bed and night and wants me to lay next to him.  He sprays his stuffed elephant with "peaceful sleep" essential oil spray to help him calm his nerves.  As I lay next to him every night, he asks multiple times what we are going to do the next day.  Sometimes he talks about his recent dreams.  But he never just gets into bed and falls asleep.  Not ever.  Going on an overnight is a huge deal for him.  It's not easy.

I was the same way as a kid, and as I stood there this morning beside the school bus taking my baby away to overnight camp, all the memories of being an outsider in my private school came flooding back.  I was not one of the winners.  I was not one either that just fell asleep at night.  I always stood on the edge of school activities, quietly judging these loud winners and trying to convince myself that I didn't want to be one of them.  I always wished that these events were easy for me the way they were for some kids.

It's not easy for my son.  I know exactly how he feels and managed to hold my tears in until I got into my car.  I had to resist the urge to jump onto the school bus so I could see who he was sitting with for the ride to camp.  He did stand up to wave at me, which I was grateful for.

I came home and started looking through videos of when he first started walking.  My heart is beating hard in my chest, hoping this toddling baby is confident with his other quiet friend who also likes to sleep next to his mom at night.  I hope the two boys build each other up instead of feed into each other's anxiety.

Momming is scary and hard at the best of times, and when you let them go for 36 hours...oy...

We will make it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A lesson in bias

In one of the first photos we saw of our son as an infant, he looked presidential.  People commented on the seriousness in his expression.  In his passport photo at seven months, my husband said, "This looks like his first grade photo."  First grade rolls around, and he was right.

This look of his has led to his being sought out at times for photo shoots.  When he was three, he did an ad for a local store that ran in the Sunday paper.  His hands were in his khaki-pants pockets, an easy smile on his face.  He ended up being bored by the process and never asked to do another ad, so we let it drop for a few years.

Last month though, the parent of a friend mentioned a guy she knows who wrote a childrens book about science who needed child models for the book.  So our son and two of his friends have spent three sessions doing photo shoots for the book.  It was a fun process for them because they got to do science experiments and have good snacks plus just be togther as friends.

Today was the last session, and as the photographer/author was writing my son his payment check, he started to compliment my son.  He talked about how easy he was to work with and how photogenic.  As he attempted to elaborate,  I watched in what seemed like slow motion these words come out of his mouth: "Your son has an intelligent look about him that most African American kids don't have."

Yes, he said the words.  I was stunned.  I blinked hard and turned it back on him, offering him a way out with, "What do you mean by that?"

"Well, I just mean that he has a serious look about him.  His friend has a look of wonder that is really captured on camera.  Your son has something different that most kids don't have."

I replied, "I know what you mean, and we have always heard this about him since he was an infant.  But I find it interesting that you said what you did about African American children.  I doubt you would have said this to me if I were black, right?"

He sorta laughed, "Well, no probably not."

"So do you think that African American children are not intelligent?"

"Oh no, that's not at all what I meant!"

"But you agree that this is what you said.  You said that my son is different from most African American children, speficially how you see him as having an intelligent look."

"Well I mean that all children have unique looks and....blah blah blah...." as he tried to cover his ass.

"I encourage you to think before you speak because what you said was extremely offensive and not true."

I thanked him for giving the boys a good experience, got the check, and left.  

At home I talked to our kids about what the man said.  I brought it up with them because they need to know that many people out there will judge them differently based on their dark skin.  We talked about the complexities of internal hidden biases.  We talked about how all people have them.  My daughter has a bias against nature documentaries; she assumes she will not like any of them before ever experiencing one.  My son has a bias against cheese; when encountering anything that is not orange cheddar, he turns his nose up.  All people have biases, even nice really nice people.  They both talked about how nice this photographer was but that he had a hidden bias against people of color.  He never said the words, "I think black people are less intelligent than white people" but this is exactly what he revealed about himself by his "compliment" to my son.

I encouraged our kids to speak up when they encounter a person revealing their hidden bias.  In the spirit of treating people with kindness, a gentle confrontation can actually help the person.

I may send a follow-up email to the guy, letting him know the value of looking inward and that despite having a great experience, we will not be working with him again.

And hopefully our kids will speak up.







Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Neskowin

This morning there was a dog, a big brown lab, splashing around in the creek that runs by the hotel.  It was pretty loud actually.  He had a frisbee in his mouth, and his owner was frustratedly following him at a distance, trying to get him to come.  It wasn't happening.  He kept running away, always out of reach.  As I write these words, another family with another big brown lab is walking to the beach via this creek.  This dog just run  through the creek in the same way but stopped to poop.  Everyone let out a "aw man" and stood deciding what to do.  The father of the group looked around, apparently to see if anyone saw who might complain, and they kept going.  Now there's big brown lab turds in the little creek.  Dogs are gross.

Yesterday I ate salmon tacos at $5.50 a pop in Pacific City, the little surfer town 15 min up the road where big trucks get to drive on the beach.  They were tasty.  Not a place I felt like hanging out though so I headed back to Neskowin and headed to this beach, avoiding the way via the creek.  I prefer to walk through the neighborhood with the cute but empty beach houses.  It was cloudy, so I had my jacket on.  I set up a spot with my towel leaning against rocks in view up Proposal Rock, the big one I've yet to figure out how to climb (though my husband and dog did last year).  I started reading Saba, by Jane Kurtz until I got so sleepy that I had to lay on my side, jacket as a pillow on the rocks, and fall asleep.  A nap on the beach is a wonderful thing.

I've been doing a lot of sitting around staring at waves, like a big cliche of what one is supposed to do while alone for two days at the beach.  I've been hoping it would be a 'reset' button for me for living life well.  My faith has been in shambles for well over a year, and one thought that came to me was about how I owe it to the people who raised me in faith to at least read through the Holy Book from start to finish, the way my friend R has done numerous times.  He's now an atheist.

Another thought that came to me while pressing 'reset' is something about how I've always been led and how I'll continue to be led and how our kids will be led too.  It was a deep knowing, I think more than just my own dumb thoughts.  Am I saying I'm tapping into the divine?  Does this make me crazy?  If so, a lot of other folks are as welll, so at least I'm in good company.  It gives me peace at any rate, and this has its value right?

That father with the dog came back and picked up that big brown lab's turd from the creek.  Good for him.

There's a fair amount of noise in this condo, despite there being so few people here.  I found myself needing to go to bed when I noticed the little girl next door having gone to bed since they'd be up earlier than I care to.  She's cute though.  She keeps appearing at the balcony where I am, her little face peering at me saying 'hi' when I notice her.  I'm reading a memoir about a childhood in Prague, and she reminds me of the girl in this book.  I don't mind her little voice even though yesterday she kept yelling "quit it!" over and over.

Embrace all of it.  Throw your arms around your world.  If you believe you're being led, then what's in front of you? Embrace it.  Whatever it is.

Check out isn't for a couple more hours, but I'm going to head out and drive up the coast.  The long road back home.  There are more waves to stare at before heading inland.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

For Jill, while at the beach by myself

I just "unfriended" my first Donald Trump supporter for telling me I "drank the cool-aid" and "must be pro-death."  She used a lot of "U" instead of "you" which was probably reason enough for the unfriending, nevermind the scary political rhetoric.  She'd been the only person in my list of social media friends who has been actively posting pro-Trump stuff, and I'd kept her around out of curiosity.  But then James Dobson went and said that Trump "got saved" and that we should all pray for him, and I pointed out on a mutual friend's post about this that it's funny how no mention was made of praying for Clinton or Sanders and how convenient was the timing of this newfound rebirth.  So I have indeed drunk the cool-ade of rational thought.

This condo is 1970's creeptastic with olive-colored kitchen counters and a smell of disinfectant.  Not many people seem to be here, but somewhere nearby there is the thumping of a kid's footsteps, which may not bode well for insonmiac me.

I wish I had my dog here.  Neskowin seems to be the sort of beach that folks don't mind if they're off leash.  As a matter of fact, a little terrier is running along the stream outside the balcony.

My friend Susan is on a writer's retreat currently in California, and I might feel the same if I had anything to say besides a recording of this balcony.

Fresh cherry pits spit off the balcony, a cup of Irish tea with sugar and cream, good wi-fi, a charge to my phone, cheese and crackers and a glass of wine for later, a memoir of a childhood in Prague, and the question of a solo hike.  I don't miss my family yet, but I've only been here an hour.  The shadow of clouds moving across the sand and the barking of a dog.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Momming

Yesterday after managing to rein in my impatience at two dramatic eruptions of childish dissatisfaction, A came outside to the porch where I was sitting reading.  He sat down on the rocking chair to pick at the healing cut on the bottom of his big toe (achieved at the beach in Lincoln City two weekends ago).

"Mom, you're really good at momming."

"I don't feel that way a lot of the time.  What made you say that?"

"I don't know.  You're just good at momming."

These words are a blessing I will hold dear for a long time.

Tonight, he and his best friend O walked with me to the library.  O is, thus far, less of a reader than A who devoured all seven Harry Potter novels in less than six months.  On the walk back home, A walked and read while O picked at plants and flowers, tasting most of them.  I told A that he should put the book away since his friend was with him, but O's response was, "Why? We went on a walk to the library and now he's reading.  I don't care."  These two boys get each other.

We stopped by the cherry tree I knew about that was in full production.  O scampered up and shook branches to get the fruit to fall down.  I stood in the street to guard my son from passing cars as he collected the cherries that fell, but what happened was the opposite.  A grabbed my wrist and said, "Mom, watch out, there's cars" and pulled me rather forcefully towards the curb.  He felt grown.  He held on to my wrist and continued leaning down to pick up over-ripe cherries, making sure I didn't wander again into the street.

I caught a glimpse of the future, the way future, my kid taking care to keep me safe.  It was weird and endearing and a comfort.  Apparently he too is good at momming.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Love Thyself

A beautiful woman we know from our years in Los Angeles has a 'secret' FB group for women.  She is skinny and very thin.  She posted a video of herself, her "real" self to, I think, jump start a core strengthening video or something.  I'm all for being strong and fit, but the way she lifted her shirt to show her belly pooch and jiggle her ass rubbed me the wrong way.  So after sitting on this for a few hours, I had a glass of savignon blanc and sent this response:
This may very well be Lori Rooney overthinking things in that annoying way she does but Imma express myself anyways.  I went through about five years of being hungry.  My goal every day was to keep the hunger at a manageable twitch in my gut because I knew when I woke up the next morning, my stomach would be flatter, my clothes a little looser.  I was not healthy.

But here's the thing.  I'm now 41 and am 15 pounds heavier than those days.  I now treat my hunger pangs with real nourishment.  My children snuggle in to my soft sides and call it lovely.  

A few nights ago, my kids ran across a picture of me hosting a party at our house in Los Angeles, and my daughter literally gasped at how thin I was.  This was right at the end of the hungry-years.  She expressed how terrible she felt I looked and how thankful she is now for my current body.  My son came to see and echoed her sentiment.

You beautiful mamas out there who have endured pregnancies and childbirths and the pangs of living this magical life, please know: if your body fits within the 'normal' range on the BMI scale at your doctor's office, you are good.  You may be flabby.  Your tummy may jiggle.  You may have some muffin top and prefer to wear some loose tops.  But goddamit, life that life.  LIVE YOUR LIFE.

Your children love your body. They love the acceptance you offer to them day in and day out as you nourish them with food and love.  I am certain your husbands would jump straight into the sack with you with one wink, no matter your BMI range.  Men are like that.  

If you want to make your body leaner to be strong and fit, go for it.  Just make sure you reflect every moment of each workout and turned-down glass of wine or slice of beautiful cake that you are a creation loved by those in your orbit. just as you are.  Honor yourself.  Peace and love.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Africa in Portland

A full day.

I got to take an elder to the Humane Society for their Tuesday "free pet" day for seniors.  She picked out a 9-year-old white with orange splotches cat named Lola who had been given up by her previous people for pissing and pooping with wild abandon.  The intake paperwork actually said "I'm at my breaking point."  My client is not functionally literate, so I made sure to explain this to her.  She's willing to take Lola on.  Lola sorta stunk of piss.

At work, a young woman from Gambia who volunteers at reception gave me a full home-cooked by her traditional Gambian dinner, enough to feed my whole family.  This evening, I opened the two containers to find some foods I'd never seen before but happily tried.  A whole fish, cut in three parts. Head, middle, tail.  Alongside it, two carrots, a white tubular root, a boiled okra, a long purple vegetable (I think an eggplant), and the hottest little orange pepper I ever did try.  My mouth burned for half an hour from one nibble from the end.  Another container of spiced rice, I'm guessing that was cooked in the fish broth.  A small container of spicy, vinegary, green sauce to put on it all.

An elder from Somalia brought his nephew to see where he spends his Tuesdays.  His nephew lives in South Dakota, and I got to tell him about how respected his uncle is, how funny and mischevious, how everyone likes him, everyone.  This elder had wrapped up in a plastic grocery bag a container of six muffins to take home for my children.  He passes on gum, candy, granola bars for them at times.  They each ate one tonight after the Gambian dinner. (to be honest, the kids tried the Gambian food but were a bit put off by the fish head in it so they ate mostly Christmas Eve leftovers and quesadillas they made for themselves).

My daughter had her first real haircut and flat-iron tonight.  It was a Christmas gift.  While we definitely make sure she knows how much her naturally curly hair is a beautiful wonder capable of braids and twists, she had been longing to experience straight hair for the first time in her life, if for nothing else to see how long her hair had grown since it was shaved off when she was four years old (almost five probably).  The stylist I had hoped to get was overbooked so we were given another one I didn't know anything about.  As we were chatting about the history of my daughter's hair, and Ethiopia came up, the stylist turned and said, "I'm from there!"  I had no idea.  She's from Shashamene where many of my clients are from.  Turns out her best friend's grandmother is one of my clients that I had just spent time with today. She also goes to the same church as my most favorite coworker, a dear friend I say I wish were my life coach.  Truly.  Small world.

My daughter has worn the following: free afro, yarn twists, box braids, flat twists, box rope twists, box braids with extensions, cornrows with extentions.  These were all beautiful and all had her looking like a little girl.  But today as her flat-iron started to take shape, I looked at her in the mirror and saw her as a teenager, and I was not ready.  I had to choke back tears.  I had to look away.  I was not ready for her to be this beautifully grown-up.  For now, this style makes her happy. She swings her hair around.  She protects her head so vigilantly from even a drop of rain, knowing it would ruin the flat-iron. She will take care of this style to hold it as long as possible.

  I love seeing her so happy, and I also look forward to taking her for cornrows in a couple weeks.  I'll do the beads myself.