Monday, February 9, 2015

On Racism and Politics and Children


Tiny Pants finds a lot of things wrong with the world, and when he grows up he's going to get to work changing laws. I think he'd make a great politician, because he's smart, charming, and has a flexible view of truth. His brother has too strong of a moral code to make it in politics. 

Right now Tiny Pants has two pressing issues on his agenda:

1. Eminent Domain (He feels very strongly that no one should be able to force you to sell your house to put up a Target or a highway. He feels it's un-American.)

2. Saving tigers  (He thinks we should adopt them and take them home to protect them from hunters.  Seeing as that's not possible, he wants stricter laws against hunting, like life in prison.)

We were driving yesterday, which seems to be when we have a lot of important discussions. This is kind of inconvenient, because I am only half able to form good answers while avoiding hitting other vehicles. Driving is not my best skillset. 

TINY PANTS:  Mama, was Martin Luther King Jr. shot because he changed the law?

MAMA:  Yes. (A little simplified, but I was driving after all.)

TINY PANTS:  Well, I want to change the law, too, but I don't want to be killed. 

And that right there is the problem with the world. 

MAMA: Well, he was changing all of society. A lot of people back then didn't think black people were as good as white people. They weren't allowed to go to the same restaurants.

TINY PANTS: They had to use different drinking fountains and sit at the back of the bus and go to different schools. 

MAMA: Right.  The word for people who think one color is better than another is racist. And a lot of racist people were angry to see things change. (I struggled to explain why someone would think this.)  They weren't very nice people.  I think people are a lot nicer now. (Lie)  I don't think anyone would shoot you for changing laws now.  Laws get changed every single day in this country and no one gets shot over it.

Of course I instantly thought of all the school shootings and how he has more of a chance of being shot going to school than as a member of congress. I didn't say that, of course.  But I thought it. 

I wanted to say that all the big fights, the ones that enrage people like racism, are over and solved and in the past.  But that's too big of a lie to tell him. 

Oh people, can't we learn to behave better so I can explain things more easily to my six year old? He just wants to protect tigers and not let the government force people out of their homes.  He doesn't know things like racism and sexism and homophobia still exist, and that people still get so crazy they shoot each other over them.  He doesn't know it's still not legal for his grandmothers to marry in our state. He doesn't know that Mama gets hate mail for writing about feminism. He doesn't know that people are shot every day over race in this country.

I want him to change the world. And I want the world to be safe enough for him to fight to change it.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Tooth Fairy Got Played

I try to be a good tooth fairy. 

Last night Tiny Pants lost a tooth right before bed. I found the tooth box, we wrote the required note asking the tooth fairy to please, please let him keep his tooth, and put the note under his pillow and the tooth box beside the bed. 

Thirty minutes later, good old Tiny Pants is bouncing on his bad and has "hid" his note for the tooth fairy on the floor in a little secret space between the nightstand and the wall. Clever, isn't he?  I threatened to remove the  tooth until the next night if he didn't go to sleep. 

I set an alarm to remind myself, because last year the tooth fairy fell asleep  which caused all sorts of chaos and confusion. When the alarm went off, I snuck back into his room, dug the note out from under his pillow and slipped the two dollar bills underneath.  OK, shoved is perhaps a better description than slid, if you must know.  Tiny Pants woke up but I got him back to sleep in under 3.3 seconds. Win.

This morning Big Pants woke up first. "I wonder if the tooth fairy left me anything?" he asked.  Shizah!   

When Big Pants started losing teeth, Tiny Pants was so jealous that the tooth fairy started bringing him a lollypop when his brother lost a tooth. It seemed easier. I had forgotten, or at least had hoped he had forgotten. He hadn't. 

I ran back down stairs and rummaged through the cabinets for the new Dove chocolates I had bought (myself) and ran upstairs with them cleverly concealed in my hoodie pocket.  I very sneakily slid them under the folded clothes at the end of the bed that he was supposed to wear today. 

Meanwhile, Tiny Pants was up and looking for his tooth fairy loot and Big Pants had found his chocolate. The dollars were nowhere to be found. 

Look, I know I put it under his pillow. I was stone cold sober and in retention of all of my faculties last night. I did not dream it.  But the money was gone. We took the pillows out of their cases. We used a light to look in the crack between the bed and the headboard. We picked up the mattress completely off the bed. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

I ran frantically back downstairs, luckily found two more dollars in my wallet, and ran back upstairs. I fluffed his sheet and let them fall like little autumn leaves onto his bed. (Of course neither child was looking at the time, which was a shame because my slight of hand was Vegas worthy.)

Problem solved, or so I thought. 

Tiny Pants commences to get dressed, and inside his UNDERPANTS beneath his pajamas he pulled out my neatly folded original two dollar bills. He was astonished.  
Or acted it.

"Four dollars Mama! I got four dollars this time!"

I think I've just been played by a six year old. I'm starting to look forward to the day they stop believing.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Small Conversation Destroyed my Magical Thinking

Tiny Pants and I were sitting at the computer, which was placed an an antique flip-top desk.  He pushed down on the folding desktop — something he knows he is not supposed to do — and I said something like, "Do you know how mad Mama would be if you break this desk?"  

"You would never forgive me," he answered.  

"There is nothing you could ever do that Mama would never forgive. Never." I replied.  I was glad of this conversation, because I wanted him to always remember that he can depend on my love, even when he's a teenager, even when he does bad things. It often seems likely that of my two children, Tiny might be more likely to cause some major havoc someday.

"There's somebody I will never forgive," he answered.  I still didn't realize that the conversation was bigger than just breaking rules and unconditional love. 

"Who?" I asked, still thinking about what a good job I was doing talking about love and forgiveness.


And then I realized I wasn't doing that good of a job at all. 

Last month one of Big Pant's classmates died from complications due to asthma. I tended to assume Tiny Pants wasn't that close to the child, so didn't have as much grief. I forgot that the two-and-half-year age gap between my sons left my youngest vulnerable.  I had focused primarily on the loss his older brother had experienced.  Tiny may not have known this child as well, but he was still wrecked by it. 

"I know, Honey," I said, and hugged him. I thought it was over. It wasn't. 

Big Pants had fallen and bruised his knee earlier that day and was, in my opinion, milking it to avoid doing homework and going to bed on time. Big Pants had had a hip injury in the fall resulting in a hospital stay, and I made some comment about how if he kept having problems with his joints we'd have to go back to the hospital for some tests. This was partially a scare tactic (and a bad one) to get him to go to bed, but also voiced some real concern.  The doctor had said that continued joint pain might be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis, and I was just enough of a hypochondriac to worry, even though I knew the cause of this particular injury. 

At bedtime Tiny Pants started to cry. "I don't want Big Pants to go to the hospital," he said. 

At that moment I knew that this little boy's head was full of fear and death and mourning, even though he acted fine during the day and only complained about things like putting his plate in the dishwasher.  Our not talking about his grief and fear had not made them go away.

Sometimes all we can do is hold our children when they cry.  Sometimes we utter reassurances that we know we can't sustain, but we have to say something. 

Today, this week, I will try to be sensitive to the fact that sometimes there is a lot more going on under the surface than I realize, that acting normal doesn't mean that grief has passed.  Why should I expect a six year old to mourn any less than an adult?  My hope that he had magically healed hadn't made it so. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Great Latke Incident of 2014

recipe and image:

My son had to do a big project for his cultural party. First, he had to pick a country. I slightly manipulated him into picking Israel, because we are half-Jewish and it's the only foreign country where he has real cousins residing.  I told him that we would make latkes. He had never eaten a latke, and to be honest, I haven't eaten a latke since I was around nine, and I've never cooked them. Still, I enthusiastically filled out the form and sent it back to his teacher.

Then the world came crashing down around our ears. A beloved classmate died unexpectedly. The whole family got the flu. Big Pants missed school for a week. Suddenly, the project was due and we had one night to do it, plus make the latkes. This entailed creating a banner, a flag, and ornament all of which had to contain researched facts. It wasn't that much work, really, but it was a pile of stuff to do. I knew I wasn't going to have time or energy to make latkes for twenty. 

I asked two "real" Jewish friends (not half, like me) if there was some sort of cheat I could use. Like perhaps frozen hash browns or something. They both denied all knowledge of any such half-assed latke making technique. 

I got potatoes, which Big Pants happily peeled.  I went out and bought a grater. I held the potato and slid it across the grater, and realized this was more work, time, effort, energy, than I was capable of. This was going to take FOREVER. 

My S.O. wandered into the kitchen, innocently thinking he could refill his coffee cup and escape again, but when he saw my slumped shoulders he stepped up to the plate. He taught Big Pants to grate, and that boy grated all the potatoes and chopped all the onions -- the two of them laughing over the grunt work. All I had to do was fry 'em up in a pan. 

I fried, and was unsure if I was creating something at all successful. Big Pants held up the recipe with glee, "Mama, it looks just like the picture!"  Success!

It turned out that this latke cooking event that I had dreaded for days saved us.  It was the first time that laughter and smiles were sustained for a long period of time. It was like we were all normal again.  We even succeeded at making an edible product that every one liked except Tiny Pants, who refused to try them. 

I always understood the idea of "food is love" to mean, "since I love you, I will cook for you."  I never really understood that making food together can be love.  That everyone chopping and slicing and laughing together in a hot kitchen is an experience we all really needed, much more than we needed latkes.

Turns out, they sell Latkes frozen at  Trader Joe's, but I'm glad I didn't know that at the time.  I wouldn't trade last night for all the perfect easily reheated latkes in the world.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Watching Your Child Greive

I took my kids on our annual trip to see Santa. We make a production of it. We take the Unnecessary Train – we could drive there faster, but trains are fun – we see the Christmas show and do our holiday shopping.  The Santa bit is a twenty-minute experience in a magical workshop filled with colorful elves.  

This week my nine-year-old lost a classmate. A boy that he really liked, even though he lived too far away for many play dates.  A boy I really liked, and liked his parents.  I always wished he lived closer.   This week I watched a classroom of kids hear of the death of their friend.  I saw children weep, and others turn their bodies hard and curl inwards, folding a paper over and over and not looking at anyone.  I saw two boys squeeze into a small chair together and just sit there, not speaking.   

I saw teachers crying in the halls and carefully watching their students for clues as to how they could help – a hug, a tissue, a chance to run around or sit by themselves.  I realized teachers spend more time with these kids than practically anyone else, certainly more than most relatives.  I saw the whole school’s staff try their hardest to pull themselves together for their classes.

This week I saw my son consumed by grief. Mama, I don’t know how to close my eyes to go to sleep. Every time I try I just cry and cry.  Oh, Honey, Mama cries and cries, too.  The whole world lost a sweet and beautiful child.

My child cried driving to the train. He cried during the slow part of the Christmas  show.  He cried waiting to see Santa.  I picked up my child who is now too big for my lap and held him as he cried. I held him on the floor when there wasn’t a chair.   I started to tell him, don’t cry, it’s OK, but I corrected myself. You can cry. Nothing about this is OK, I told him instead.

I’m sure the other parents waiting to see Santa wondered if my child was autistic, had an emotional disorder or cancer. Thankfully, no one asked. I could not have answered without crying myself, and I was not going to cry in Santa’s Workshop.

I thought about the Christmas presents our friend’s parents must have already bought and will never be opened. It was really hard not to cry in Santa’s Workshop.

When we went in to see Santa (and we are all still Believers) my boy could not speak to Santa at all – he was too near tears.  He was only a millimeter more not-crying than crying, just enough to keep the tears from spilling down his cheeks.  When Santa asked him what he wanted, he couldn’t come up with a single word and just shrugged.  I reminded him of his list: a hat with a pompom, slippers to leave at school. He just shook his head. None of it mattered to him anymore.

 God Bless that Santa for understanding. Do you like surprises?  elicited a nod.  Than you’ll be excited to come downstairs and see a mountain of socks and underwear under the tree?  My son laughed a real laugh, and the photographer caught it just inside the frame, but barely. 

I ordered the one picture that had a smile from the Santa-Picture-Pushers because I was so happy to see my boy smile, even though it was off-center and made no sense to the photo-pusher who preferred pictures with their subjects neatly arranged on Santa’s lap, not half-falling off.  That picture was my miracle.

When I got home, though, I didn’t bother taking the picture out of the envelope.   The picture I bought was a lie – a souvenir of a happy day that never existed.  It was one of those moments you can look back on in years to come and remember only the happy times, but that’s not who we were that day.  We were so sad we ran out of our house an hour early because we couldn’t stand the feel of motionless time moving backward.

We watched Charlie Brown Christmas and that seemed to help. I’m sad, too, Mama, even though it’s Christmas. It helped him to feel not so alone.  Tiny Pants created a new language and there was a horse named Buttocks and I heard real laughter for a moment.  I know he will alternate being okay with not being okay for a long time. Perhaps I should take that Santa picture out after all, to remind me when I lose hope that there’s a smile waiting just around the corner.  Maybe that’s Santa’s gift to me this Christmas. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

My Child Has Been Eaten by Aliens

My kid  has obviously been eaten by an alien and replaced with a really convincing replica. 

Nothing else makes sense. I didn't notice anything unusual until Friday. The new boy looked just like Big Pants.  He sounded like Big Pants.  He even fought with his brother and pouted just like Big Pants. 

He was so cute and normal once.

But the Aliens got one or two things wrong. 

Last week Big Pants made a startling comment as we drove to school.

BIG PANTS:  Mama, I want to talk about my allowance.

MAMA:  OK. (Thinking, great, he's gonna shake me down for more $$.)

BIG PANTS:  Well, we used to do chores for our allowance.  Now we don't do chores and we still get allowance.  I don't think that's fair. I think we need to do more chores. 

DING! DING! DING!  This is not a human child.  This child has obviously been switched by a higher race that believes in equity and compassion towards Mamas.

But it got worse, much worse. 

He used to be a regular child. He cried when he didn't get all of my attention every minute of every day. He refused to eat vegetables. He said he would rather smell the dog's breath than do just one math problem. 

I'm not sure when the switch happened. Perhaps it was when he got the free hot towel at SportsClips

Aliens may use hot towels to
lure their victims.

Perhaps it was when he had an MRI this past September and stayed in that tube for 45 minutes.

I didn't notice anything peculiar.

But it happened, believe me.  On Friday I picked the boys up from school. Here's what happened. 

TINY PANTS: Do we have school tomorrow?
MAMA: No, tomorrow is Saturday.
BIG PANTS: Yay! But, also not yay. Because we don't get to go school tomorrow.

Dee dee dee deee….. I should have been suspicious when he started loving math. 

I know this is what is going on under his skin.
I'm taking no chances with his brother. One alien replicated boy is enough.

Bubble wrapped for his own protection.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Which is More Important - Diversity or Ideology?

I am a solid Democrat and I generally vote a straight party ticket, but this year's election results made me think a little harder about diversity and ideology. 

Republicans put forth candidates that included women, minorities and even (gasp) gays. 

Just let that sink in a little before you go off on how female Republicans are just like men that will set back the woman's movement 100 years.  Take a moment to realize that the party I've grown to associate (some say unfairly) with racism, sexism and homophobia presented us with a whole bunch of non-male, non-white, non-male candidates. They even ran some openly gay men, though they lost.  


I don't think I would vote for a Republican woman over a Democratic man. I'm not saying that x and y chromosomes, skin color, or sexual orientation are more important factors than political ideology in my elected officials. But I have to admit that my heart rejoiced a little bit to see diversity in the other party.

Susan B. Anthony wanted all women to vote, not just women that shared her beliefs. I would think that she would want women in Congress, even if they did not share her political beliefs as well. I'm not saying good ole Susan B. would vote for any woman that ran for office, but she would fight like hell for their right to run, of that I'm sure of, and she would probably think more women in office was a good thing for America. 

This made me wonder, which is more important to me as a feminist - that women are represented equally in Congress, or that people holding feminist values are represented in Congress?

The truth is, of course, that I want both. I want both feminist men and women to be elected to all elected positions.  I want my political party to win, and I want a government that is representative of all of America. I want our leaders to look like us, and Americans are a diverse group of people. 

My ex-husband and I used to argue decade ago over who was more electable, a white woman or a black man.  I always said a white Republican woman, because feminist women would cross party lines to vote for her. I assumed I would vote for any woman that ran for the oval office.  That was before I had heard of Sarah Palin.   

When Hillary was running against Obama in the primary a few years back, my lesbian parents nearly came to blows. (OK, not really, but it was a little tense.)  One parent wanted Hillary because she was a woman, the other wanted Obama because he wasn't business as usual.  I voted for Obama.  It helped my guilt that he was black.  Was I a traitor to my gender and feminist beliefs by doing so?

The fact that we have a choice between a woman and a Democrat is a good thing. I like that the Republicans are sloughing off their "bunch of old white guys" image.  I love that our society will elect women even if I don't care for them personally.  This is huge growth. 

My point is that were the suffragettes here today, they would be ecstatic that so many women were in office.  Hopefully we will see truly equal representation between both parties someday for all minorities.   I see the light at the end of the tunnel.