Thursday, March 23, 2017

11.

Today Silas is 11, a "tween" as he called himself yesterday.

I have all kinds of angst thinking about a boy, my boy, moving into adolescent and teenage years, so much grief that I cannot protect him from SO. MANY. THINGS., and pangs that I have to let him go out there and grow up.

Recently I was talking to someone about praying for healing.  He said stuff like this:
you never know when God will break through and heal, so it's always worth asking.  No doubt God can heal, though a lot of times God doesn't.  We, especially in the West, tend to think the best thing for everyone all the time is to be healed, to have the problem or pain or grief removed.  
(of course we do)
But a lot of times that actually isn't what's best.  I never knew God so closely as after I lost my mom.  I would be heaving sobs and then in the middle of it, God's peace would come, and I'd be able, at least, to breathe.  God had never been so palpable.

I know this in my head.  I know we grow in the pain and come out changed.  Stronger.  With sturdier character.  A zillion illustrations in nature remind us of just that: the necessity of forest fires to keep the forest healthy, how gold has to be refined in extreme heat to be valuable, the deadness of winter, the new moon, bulbs that can sit in paper bags for months and then grow -- the list could be ages long.

But my heart protests all of it.  I don't want any pain.  I don't want any loss.  I don't want my kids to get hurt, to have to struggle through poor teachers, mean kids, bad choices, regret, hurting themselves, hurting other people, physical pain, even a cough!

Yesterday a friend told me that in a conversation with an older parent, she realized all of her parenting questions were about how to help her kid avoid bad situations in the future.  The older parent said, that's the wrong question; there are going to be bad choices and painful situations, the question is how are you going to be the parent who is safe enough to talk to during those times. 

And that's it.

That is the question.

So Silas boy, as you move into 11, the end of elementary school, know that we love you just as much in trampoline parties as in quiet pain, in strong choices as in choices that unravel order.

In one hour and 7 minutes, 11 years ago, I watched you born into a sunny room, ocean horizon out the window, a ring of beautiful people waiting to receive you.  Out you came -- Sunshine in my arms.  You changed me from that moment and teach me constantly.  I love you.  Couldn't me more glad to be your mom.

 


Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Second Semester

A weird week.

One of my kids' teacher's disappeared this week in a hurricane of rumors and an article in the paper yesterday speaking of a just-after-school-arrest for a DUI.  She is a champion long-term teacher, and the whole thing is sad, badly played, and full of whispers.  So that's happening, and a long term sub (who seems lovely).

Then there are the backpack capers: SOMEone is digging through all the backpacks (because remember this is Southern California and all the backpacks hang outside on hooks because pretty much the whole school is outside, including the cafeteria -i.e. picnic tables), and taking library books, wallets, phones, gum, poofy keychains etc.  And five of the packs of gum and one of the wallets somehow surfaced in the bottom of my kid's backpack.  The innocence seems clear, but still, that's happening, and sounds like the middle reader books I'm spending a lot of time with these days.

And the rain storms that now have flooded two of my camping (glamping) trips have blown over; the hills are greener than they'll ever be and bursting with California sunflowers; the air smells like sweet sage; and today the sun's heat felt like summer, which makes me restless and excited and want to buck routine.  So there's that, too.

I'm not a second semester senior (though this weather still stirs that), but I am in a second semester -- second semester of the move.  First semester was so many big feelings -- other people's -- that I held and hauled because I had to or just did, and it was exhausting.  There was so much *action* to help the kids, all of us, connect and settle.  And they did -- somehow post-Christmas, they came "home" and settled.  Now, it seems, the second semester is mine.

It's funny how when you're stripped of who you were and what you knew, even if you return to a familiar and beloved place, the ground shifts.

First it was all a balancing act on that shaky ground.  But now the movement's settled and it's looking at what's been unearthed -- a kind of treasure hunt.  There are all these tiny green sprouts, maybe an internal reflection of the spring breaking through back east.  You know when you buy a new house and spend your first spring there, you have no idea what's about to poke through the earth and surround you with blooms?  I feel like that -- walking the yard, bending down to see the green nosing up.  What will come? I keep watching.




Thursday, February 16, 2017

Flying Without an ID


Last Thursday I lost my wallet in another city, in a generic taxi for which I paid untraceable cash. Sunday I came to the airport empty-handed to fly home. 

The TSA website sounds promising: In the event you arrive at the airport without valid identification, because it is lost or at home, you may still be allowed to fly. The TSA officer may ask you to complete a form to include your name and current address, and may ask additional questions to confirm your identity.  

So I walked up to the TSA officer breezily: I'd done nothing wrong, was who I claimed to be, and had a purchased plane ticket; it was his job to get me through.

Do you have anything with your name on it?

No.

A credit card?

No, it was in the wallet.

A bill or doctor's form?

No. 

A medical bottle?

No. 

Nothing printed with your name on it?
Right.

Hold on. 


I had this conversation with three difference officers, each round becoming slightly more jocular. Then the hard ass head officer arrived. She came only up to my chin and explained with an aggressive air, how it would all work: she'd call IVCC, they'd ask questions that she'd relay to me, and I'd need to answer them precisely.  Answer with one word only.  Don't say anything extra.  If you fail this you won't fly.  I stopped joking around.

I'd arrived at the airport 2 1/2 hours early with no doubt that I'd board my plane; yes I'd lost my wallet, but flying home was a given, a right.  

Standing there I was keenly aware of how many people at airports were not sharing this "given."  
The questions began, relayed through the phone by the officer.  The faceless source on the phone knew where I live, what my email address was, who the members of my family were, all of the addresses I've ever had.  Despite my confidence that I'd momentarily walk through the gate, my palms started sweating and my chest got tight.  

Someone was tracking us.  Someone big.  And without any eye contact, any voice, any face, that Someone had the power to let me fly or not.  Let any of us fly or not.

What was the IVCC, that held all of this information?  (The officer didn't know).  What else did their database know and track -- emails, phone calls, whereabouts?  Who could access this information -- and why?  

In a few minutes, the questions ended, and I was approved.  I got a full pat down and sat in a chair for 15-20 minutes while a man unpacked and scanned every single item in my meticulously overloaded suitcase.  Then he apologized for the wait and helped me pack up. 

None of this would be particularly noteworthy except that it happened in February of 2017, in Washington DC, during the weeks when so many people have not been waved through and have certainly not been apologized to for any inconvenience.    

What would the process have been if my clothes had included a hijab, my accent had been stronger, or my skin darker -- or if I'd been a dark-skinned man with or without a beard?  Would I have been ushered through with the same relative ease?  Would my sweaty palms have reflected the eeriness of centrally amassed information, or the sheer fear that "They" might, indeed, bar me from going home? I'm not sure I would have made it to this Chipotle in terminal B, this basket of foil-wrapped tacos that will tide me over until I land.


Funny -- this same weekend, SNL said the same (as only Melissa could):



Friday, January 20, 2017

Post-inauguration Quiet

It is late, and instead of sleeping, I'm sitting at the table with buttery toast and tea too hot to sip.
My brain is full.

No doubt over the next days, weeks, years, there will be heroes who rise up, who speak and inspire, as there always have been.  There will be those who in the face of hatred usher us further into justice, bind us together in our humanity, remind of us grace.

But tonight is a darker night.

I am letting myself feel the darker before I stand again to fight for the light.


Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.
         
             -Wendell Berry

Thursday, January 12, 2017

To Miss a Plane (a Note to Women in Anticipation of The Women's March on Washington)

The other morning I rode to LAX with an Uber driver who talked incessantly and obnoxiously about politics, his weed farming and drug dealing in Santa Cruz, who swerved across lanes of highway twice because he was blowing by our exits, who forgot to start his Uber app to charge us, had his maps set wrong, and spent more time adjusting the air vents and radio volume than steering. It was 4:30 in the morning, and if I’d been alone, I know it would've been right to ask him to pull over so I could get a different driver.  I should have asked him anyway.  Why would I choose to stay in a dark car with a manic strange man whose hands weren’t on the wheel for 55 minutes and drove like he hadn’t passed drivers’ ed?  The decision seems beyond obvious.  But, I stayed in the car because if we’d pulled over, I’d have missed my plane.  (and, if I'm honest, the conversation would have been awkward and felt bitchy and embarrassing for both of us).

Sometimes our concessions, even when they put us at risk, feel like necessities.

For many people, electing Trump felt just like that: policies and supreme court judges trumped a toxic personality and disrespect for many of our citizens; voting for him felt like a necessary concession. 

As a woman, I am struggling to understand the implications.  “We the people” just elected a man who believes women are less worthy leaders, managers, and politicians than men, a man who’s gloated about his inability to control his body around beautiful women, who’s confessed that women are fine eye candy (and hand candy…) and that it’s a damn shame when they aren’t worth looking at. 

What does his winning the White House mean for me as a woman, for my daughters as pre-adolescent girls, for my nieces as teenagers?

The transcript of Trump’s Access Hollywood hot mic sparked all sorts of intelligent discussion and protest about assault (like Michelle Obama's response).  What surfaced -- again -- is that most women are familiar with sexual assault, that it can be verbal as well as physical, that it can be “playful” rather than classically violent, that it’s often kept quiet because women are too embarrassed to blow the whistle or be criticized for overreacting. 

We all know that cultural double standards still thrive: an outspoken decisive man is strong, and an outspoken decisive woman is pushy.  An angry man is angry, and an angry woman is a bitch.  A man who redirects inappropriate conversation has impressive character, and a woman who does the same is over reactive or touchy.  An aging man looks debonair and an aging woman, old.  A man without make up looks normal and a woman without make up looks tired and hasn’t “put her face on” yet.  An unattractive male presidential candidate is an SNL joke and an unattractive female presidential candidate is a deal breaker.

These standards breed shame and silence.  Of course, they, like Trump’s attitude, are not new or unprecedented, but our having freshly elected yet another man who brushes off/normalizes harassment as “locker room talk,” has pushed me to consider my own concessions. Sometimes what feels “necessary” is actually just easier. 

Growing up, many of us were indirectly taught to concede out of "necessity" – we can't pull over, or I’ll miss my plane; out of embarrassment – what will they think of me if I speak up?; out of sacrifice – he could lose his job; out of fear that we’ll be shamed and play the fool -- what if he says that didn't happen? what if I misinterpreted? 

And so we downplay:   It wasn’t a big deal.  Nothing really happened.  He was just joking around. 

But sometimes – a lot of the time -- it’s worth missing the plane. 
There are always other flights out.

We have a long way to go in our country and many habits to break.

Beauty and sex have always been currency and power, and we, women, are still learning how to wield them without letting them reduce us. (I'm on a plane right now and the slit in my flight attendant’s short, tight skirt is so high that I literally can see her butt cheeks as she delivers snacks and drinks.  à Not using it well).

As women today and over the next four years, let’s notice when we’re conceding.  Let’s challenge ourselves about what seems “necessary,” and let’s start missing planes because we’re taking care of our selves.

Monday, December 26, 2016

When Idealized Days Get Real (Christmas)

One fun thing about being back in DC for Christmas is that we got to visit our old church.  On Christmas eve,  Jamie  said  it's especially bad "when things go wrong at Christmas because it shatters the perfection" and I had to laugh.  Ben and I -- I'm slowly realizing -- do not thrive at Christmas.

And when we do it badly -- shall I walk through the years?: sit in the living room in smoldering silence, livid, as we set up hot wheels for our four year old boy; show up at the family dinner table after a full blow marital-rocking conversation hardly able to breathe;  stand in the sunshine together putting up a tent to surprise the kids with fire coming out of our ears because we didn't coordinate our efforts -- the discordance feels harsher than on other days because Christmas is supposed to be ______________.

It's the problem of special days.  Even the best kind of days when we celebrate the most important things: special days are supposed to be special.  And the "supposed to be" leaves them riddled with pressure.

I used to call this the Snow Day Effect because every time the kids had a snow day, I'd ram into my idealized expectations of what the day should look like (outings to the monuments, art projects all together at the table), and the pressure killed it for me every time (though they generally were happy to do nothing but play around in the yard and drink hot chocolate).

At church on Christmas Eve, Jamie talked about the rats in the barn.  I'd never thought of rats before, but of course barns have them.  Mary's baby was born in a barn that smelled like a barn and had rats in it.

And before that, she'd had to travel nine months pregnant (for those of us who've been nine months pregnant, it's pretty uncomfortable) SITTING ON A DONKEY (laughably terrible).  And after however many days of that, when they finally arrived in town, every place was full; she, possibly cramping, sweating, starting contractions, literally had no where to labor.

Talk about a bad Christmas and thwarted expectations.  (I bet there was at least a little marital tension in the mix, too).

And yet, that's where this beautiful moment happened, in the middle of a dirty stable that smelled like cows, between two poor refugees:  God came.

I would never say I'm striving for perfection, but I do get pretty bent out of shape when my expectations are jolted.  Or when I can't live up to the pressure I've heaped on myself.  And certainly if there are rats in (or near) my room, or if my house (or anywhere near it) smells like sewage.  Or there aren't clean sheets, or even soft enough sheets where I'm sleeping.

Mary might have bitched and moaned through her whole nine months, as they traveled, when she crouched in dry brush to go to the bathroom unable to see her feet because her belly was so big, the days or day when they couldn't find anywhere to stop.  She may have cursed angrily during her labor that straw was poking her legs or there wasn't enough water.  But I'm guessing she didn't.

The Christmas story, itself, is about "perfection" with all of its expectations, shattering.
It's about how the perfection's actually been shattered all the time, despite how we decide to orchestrate our snow days.

Next year will I head into Christmas knowing Ben and I will collide and probably wrap presents angrily together?  Probably not.  But maybe for a second I'll remember that everything went "wrong" the first Christmas, and something about landing in the barn made Mary, the baby, the stars, the gathering of all those unexpected people, more beautiful.


Thursday, December 08, 2016

Moana -- a Reminder

------------------warning: this is riddled with full blown spoilers (like the whole movie)------------------


This morning I heard a powerful sermon about the creation story, and one thing it reminded me of is the power of being named into being, or named back into being.  

Drawn by Lin-Manuel Miranda's music, my husband Ben's been set on our seeing Moana.  He tried to take us every day this week; we missed the start times, arrived after it was sold out, thought of it just as the kids melted down.  I casually suggested more than once that he take the kids without me, but no, for whatever reason, he wanted us all to go.  So finally today, we did. 

Though I liked Frozen well enough, I stopped hoping for an empowering Disney heroine after that --  Anna led the charge, sure, and sisterly love won out in the end, but her spunk and free spirit was undercut by her cutesy, beyond naive ways and her classic quickness to fall in love.  She was less than I’d hoped for my daughters.

Moana tips the tables.  The redemption is all over the place: -- SLIGHT SPOILERS -- she’s the “daughter of a chief” and a future chief rather than a princess; she makes much of her voyage alone; she gains courage from herself and her grandmother rather than the men in her life; she doesn’t fall in love with the ego-driven muscled demigod she’s with nor try to impress him ever—rare if not unheard of in a Disney film; and in the end she returns home to both of her parents.  There was much I reveled in.  What struck me most, though, was the revelation of the true self at the end of the film.

The terms "false self” and “true self" have been so utilized in the last decade that I'm rarely struck by their profundity anymore.  Yes, we have a false self, the Ego, that masks our wounds and parades around, loudly, distracting from our insecurities, and somewhere beneath that voice, is our quiet created true self that with healing, emerges more and more, engaging authentically and birthing our strengths.  

In the movie, as Moana follows her purpose, her singular task is to return the heart of the sea to Te Fiti, the goddess who created all life and then became an island, herself.  The most terrifying thing about returning the heart stone, though -- besides fierce adorable coconut pirates -- is the Lava Monster, a raging fire-throwing, she-beast.  

Tonight is the last night of Thanksgiving vacation and though we ate pie every day and got a Christmas tree (on the second attempt), we did have some lava-monster moments (the first attempt) over our five days at home. 

When the lava flares, we usually address it in one of two ways: hightail it outta there or fight lava with lava. Neither goes well.

Moana handles it differently.  In a turn of events -- MAJOR SPOILER ALERT -- Moana realizes that the lava monster is in fact Te Fiti, the goddess, raging without her heart, and without hesitating, Moana walks through the sea straight toward the monster who’s trying to kill her. 

When they face each other head on, instead of flinching, Moana leans into the creature's face, touches her forehead to forehead, and says, this isn’t who you are, this isn’t who you really are. Instantly, the monster’s lava flesh darkens to stone, and her flaming eyes close.  Moana leans in and replaces her heart.  Grasses and flowers burst to life along the monster’s charred black body and in seconds, she’s restored to the beautiful island goddess, vibrant green with mossy skin.  Her health radiates out into the sea, heals the “darkness” plaguing the islands and they all bloom again.  Te Fiti’s back to her true self. 

How often when my heart feels emptied – in large or small ways – do I, like Te Fiti, throw fistfuls of lava at anyone who comes near?  My kids would tell you it’s not rare.  What would happen, in our lava states, if someone came toward us, came forehead to forehead when we were trying to scare them off, looked in our flaming eyes, and reminded us: this is not who you are, not who you really are.  

Our hearts come back that way.

It’s a whole different kind of brave to walk into hate and speak a true word like Moana does.  
Like Te Fiti, we need others to remind us who we are so we can return to our selves as stunningly as she does at the end of the film.