Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thank Heaven for Engineers

Specifically, my engineer, J.

Yesterday, I found myself repeatedly whipped up into a froth over the situation in Ferguson. Even though I do not usually watch the news, I found myself transfixed by coverage of Ferguson when I turned on the television to put on an episode of The Wiggles for the kids.

One tidbit that the news decided to report on was the racial divide in how Americans view what happened to Mike Brown. Apparently, 57% of blacks believe that Officer Darren Wilson is guilty of murder, while only 17% of whites do.

This set me off. I was horrified. How could 83% of whites look at the facts and not come to the conclusion that Mike Brown was murdered?

I mentioned this information to J. His immediate response was so straight to the point and rational that I wondered what the hell was wrong with me.

"How can anyone have an opinion on whether the officer is guilty of murder," he asked, "since no one knows all the facts yet and there has been no trial?"

Thank you, J.

You're right. There may be a court of public opinion in our 24-hour news cycle, but here in America we give everyone his day in court. My white-hot anger at this situation has made me irrational and made me forget the fact that I don't know exactly what happened and that Officer Wilson does have the right to defend himself in front of a jury of his peers.

Thank heaven for the engineers and economists and lawyers and others who are able to look dispassionately at the situation and recognize that their emotions are not the same as facts.

Without that kind of dispassion, there is no way forward.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Thinking About Ferguson, MO

Photo courtesy of Loavesofbread
I am a white woman, and I do not know what to do or what to say about Ferguson, Missouri.

My heart is broken for the young man who was shot to death in the street. (Yes, I know that he allegedly stole from a convenience store and pushed over a clerk who was half his size. I frankly don't give a shit. Death is not an appropriate punishment for theft--or even robbery--and no punishment should ever be meted out by the police. It is not their job.)

There is a divide between black America and white America, and no matter how sympathetic I am, I cannot ever understand what it is like to be afraid that my sons might be shot by police. I do not have to coach my boys on how to safely handle interactions with police officers.

In a lot of ways, I feel like this gives me very little to say. As a woman and a feminist, I do know how frustrating it can be when well-intentioned men swoop in and try to talk about women's issues. Though they truly do want to understand and help, there is a sense of "Be quiet now, ladies, the mens are talking and will take care of that little issue for you." The line between meaningful support and being patronizing is so very easy to cross unknowingly.

I have no doubt that there is a similar line when well-meaning white folks want to understand and help the black community when it is hurting. That's why I try very hard to keep quiet about issues of race, since I understand that I don't know and will never know what it is really like.

The problem with keeping quiet, however, is that it can lead to inaction. Yes, I sign petitions and tweet (a little bit) and try to talk to my son about issues of race in good NurtureShock fashion. But mostly, I am glad that I don't have to worry about my sons and I am so glad that they will inherit an easy, privileged, white American life.

In the deep, dark heart of me, I am relieved that I can consider Mike Brown and the issue of injustice in America not my problem.

I am ashamed of these feelings.

And the thing is, no matter what I tell myself, Mike Brown's death is my problem. I am an American, and I am part of the problem with race in America unless and until I become part of the solution.

I'm not sure what that solution looks like. I just know that I have to get over my fear of speaking up--because, make no mistake, I am afraid. I'm afraid of sounding clueless and angering people and drawing the attention and ire of racists. But none of those things I fear compare with the fear of losing a child to violence. Nothing can compare with the heartbreak of seeing your son's body lying on the street for hours. I tell myself that I don't speak up because I don't want to make such tragedies be about me, but my real reason for not speaking up is all about me.

I hope that others who feel as I do will start to speak up, as well. I hope we can add our voices to the ones that are already raised in protest, and we can enact meaningful change. I hope that fifty years from now, we will not still have to protest this shit.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thank You, Robin Williams

Image courtesy of Darsie
Every night at bedtime, I tell LO the things I am grateful for. He and his brother and his daddy are always at the top of the list.

Last night, I told LO that I was grateful for a man named Robin Williams.

I know that LO had no idea what I was talking about. He was wondering why I was sad last night and asked me a couple of times if my head was okay. (Since I had a headache last week, that's his go-to question.)

The reality of it is that I am mourning a man I never met. And even though I have seen an inordinate amount of his work (I keep recalling other movies and appearances that I had forgotten about), I never actually knew this man, either. It seems likely that very few people knew him, even among his intimates.

But Robin Williams was not just an actor and a comedian in the background of my life, and the lives of so many of his fans. He was the hub of a circle that reached out and connected a great many people.

I can remember watching Dead Poets' Society with my father and discussing the ending with him. Dad had thought it was the lovesick Knox Overstreet who might cause the teacher's downfall, but knew it would either be him or Neil Perry that would bring it about. As a 10-year-old, I had no idea that the movie was headed in that direction. That conversation with Dad helped me realize that my father really and truly understood movies and stories and that I wanted to have that kind of understanding of story tropes, myself.

My sister and I went to see Aladdin together in the theater, and we talked afterward about how we needed to see it again because we were laughing so hard at Williams's genie that we missed other jokes. I think of that time, when Tracie was still in high school but old enough to drive us around, as the halcyon days of our relationship. The friendship has lasted, but after she left for college in 1994, we would never live in the same house again and be able to drop everything and go see a funny movie together. We didn't need Robin Williams to bring us together, but for that particular afternoon, he did.

It wasn't until after watching What Dreams May Come that I finally sought out Richard Matheson's work. I had been meaning to read him ever since I learned what an influence he was on Stephen King, but it was Robin Williams's incredible performance as a man discovering heaven with his children and rescuing his wife from hell that finally made me read through Matheson's entire collection. I found Matheson to be incredibly and obliviously misogynistic, but I have no doubt that he and Stephen King and many of Williams's movies have had an influence on my writing.

And it was a short, sweet (and kind of racist) moment in What Dreams May Come that affects my parenting to this day, even though I was 12 years away from motherhood when I saw the film. Williams's character meets a beautiful Asian woman named Leona, whom he comes to recognize as his daughter. She reminds him that he once remarked upon the beauty, grace, and intelligence of Asian women, and she decided she wanted to be like that when she grew up.

 
That movie moment has stayed with me for years because it helps me to remember that you never know what your child is soaking up from you, and so you should always strive to be the parent you want your children to remember.

So Robin Williams connected me to my sons, even though they have never seen a single one of his films.

Everywhere I look back over my 35 years, Robin Williams is there in some form. From the Mork & Mindy reruns I used to watch after school to the films I watched with my family and friends to the stand up routines I sought out in my teens because I so loved comedy. And I am just one individual to whom he brought laughter and entertainment.

I am sad that he is gone, and sadder still that he was so depressed.

But I am also grateful. I am grateful for his humor, his manic energy, his lovely/sad/funny/thought-provoking movies, and the way he weaved himself through the fabric of my life, and the lives of so many other people. I just wish we could have had him for longer.

Thank you, Mr. Williams. Thank you for sharing your talent with all of us.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I'm Clearly Unqualified For This Position

This morning, BB decided to crawl into the bathroom with me. Since I am a member of the over-connected generation, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone. That's why it took me a second to realize that the sound I was hearing was splashing.

Let me back up. BB has reached the age wherein splashing liquid is a major form of entertainment. Most days will find the dog's water bowl spilled over the floor and a drenched and unrepentant BB sitting in the puddle with a shit-eating grin on his face. (And, as you will see, that particular metaphor has now taken on horrifying implications.)

Though BB's big brother LO has reached an age and a height wherein he can basically reach the actual toilet unassisted, he still likes using the little potty. It's *his.*

This morning, LO had made his usual deposit of micturition upon waking. I had not yet emptied the potty.

You see where this is going. Let us now return to the splashing sound I was hearing.

The second I realized what I was going on, I paused my own constitutional and immediately threw the child into the bathtub and turned on the water full force. BB was wearing nothing but a diaper at the time, which I unfastened but otherwise left on. I figured I could get him out of the diaper and clean him up once I had completed my own bathroom errand.

I was washing my hands preparatory to beginning the process of de-grossifying my child when I saw something horrifying. The diaper had filled with liquid and drifted away from the child, revealing the fact that BB had beshat it at some point. The tub was rapidly filling with floating turds. Which BB was reaching for, fascinated.

I screamed at him to stop, and got him out of the tub and into the sink before anything happened that both BB and I would be in therapy about for the next 30 years.

Thankfully, that ended the elimination portion of our morning's entertainment.

I scrubbed BB from stem to stern in the sink, and was pleased to see him reaching for the bar of soap on the counter.

Once the child was clean (although there's a part of me that worries he may be forever unclean), I rediapered him and got to work setting fire to the bathroom and putting the house on the market bleaching the bathroom within an inch of its life.

I fished the diaper out of the tub and put it in a garbage bag.

BB reached for the diaper.

I put it out of his reach.

Turd-cleaning the tub progressed with bleach and paper towels.

BB reached for the begrimed paper towels.

I started wondering if there was something seriously wrong with my poop-fascinated child as I put the paper towels out of his reach.

Once the tub was clean(er), I emptied LO's potty and bleached it, despite the fact that urine is sterile to begin with. Having already learned that BB's gross-meter is out of whack, I did this as far out of his reach as possible. BB looked disappointed.

Finally, everything was as clean as better-living-through-chemistry can ensure (although I did wish I knew where to find a flame-thrower), and BB and I are now relaxing in the living room, where, as far as I know, there is no shit for him to play with.

It's only 8:30, but I think I need to go back to bed.
"What? It's just a potato. Get your mind out of the gutter."

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

You Mean I Left the Bar for This?

At around 11 am on the day my dad passed away, a Catholic priest arrived at his hospital room to perform last rites.


My father was not Catholic. He was not any particular religion, and he was definitely not Catholic. There must have been some mixup on Dad's intake forms.

Dad's two best friends, his step-daughter, her husband, and J, all of whom happen to be Jewish, were sitting outside of his room when the priest arrived. The priest could have stepped out of Central Casting for the role of Father Flanagan. He was clearly an Irish Catholic priest, complete with dog collar, beautiful white hair, and broken blood vessels in his cheeks giving him a rosy complexion.

Father Flanagan stepped into Dad's room, after giving Dad's friends and family an odd look, took one look at my (Jewish) stepmother, and traipsed back out again, exclaiming "This guy's not Catholic!"

The subtext, which was left unsaid, was "You mean I left the bar for this?"

J and I have chuckled several times over this incident. We know that Dad, who delighted in irreverence, would have been tickled to know that he managed to tick off a priest as his final act.

On Sunday, I had another conversation containing that very same subtext (although possibly with a different locale from which the subtexter may have departed.)

You see, we woke up to find that BB had developed a rash all over his body. It didn't seem to be bothering him much, so I put a little ointment on it and got to work on my Sunday. Several hours later, I found that the rash had spread to the little guy's hips, and looked much worse.

All of a sudden it hit me that I did not know what chicken pox looked like. And that BB was not due for his chicken pox vaccination until later this year.

I Googled for chickenpox, found some truly disturbing images, and decided that BB's rash looked like a less-severe version of it. So, I put in a call to our pediatrician's answering service so that the doctor-on-call could contact me.

I have used this service a handful of times over the years: once when LO was very congested, once when BB had a 102° fever, and once for a sunburn (that I really did not have to call for but I was just following the rules according to my Google search). In each case, the doctor on call responded in under 10 minutes.

On Sunday, the pediatrician took over 20 minutes to call back. There was a slight huffiness to her voice as I asked her about what we needed to do for BB. I understood that chicken pox was no big deal to her--having seen cases upon cases upon cases during her career--but since this was my first go-round with the ailment (other than when I had the pox as a child myself), I was hoping to get  slightly more sympathetic answers to my questions.

At one point, the pediatrician actually said to me "I don't know what you're hoping to get from this conversation."

Again, she was thinking of the fact that there is nothing to do for chicken pox but wait. I was thinking of the fact that I did not know exactly how contagious it was and didn't know if BB should be kept from seeing the light of day for two weeks, or if I could take him grocery shopping with me if I was careful about keeping him from chewing on other people. (Or, at least their exposed skin.)

The subtext was clearly "You mean I left the bar for this?"



We were not able to get BB in to see our regular pediatrician (who was not the doc-on-call, by the way) until Tuesday afternoon, at which time it was determined that the child has come down with hand-foot-and-mouth disease, despite having no pockmarks on his hands, feet, or mouth. He always did like to march to beat of his own skin rash.


As for how he got it, I think I know. The Tippecanoe County 4-H Fair was set up right next door to his daycare last week. BB was clearly hanging out with the horses when no one was looking.

I just hope to eventually be as amused by our pediatrician's subtext as I am by Father Flanagan's.

Doesn't seem likely, though.


Image source and source

Friday, July 18, 2014

Like Moths to a Flame

On Wednesday, LO had his second ever dentist appointment.

We had a quite a difficult time convincing the young man to sit in the exam chair and let the dentist count his teeth. (We're still not quite ready for a cleaning.)

To reward the young man for doing an excellent job of not biting anyone, the nurse filled up a yellow helium balloon for him, and tied it to his wrist. He was delighted, and looked a little something like this:

LO and I then headed to the Y to pick up BB.

The balloon, of course, was still tied to LO's wrist. It followed him like a bright yellow piece of rubber that has been filled with helium and tied to a child's wrist. (Sorry, I'm a little too tired to come up with an actual simile.)

The babies in the baby room at the Y daycare were enchanted. Babes-in-arms all swiveled their heads to watch the progress of helium-filled joy. Those that could walk drifted, zombie-like, toward the magical balloon.

There was something slightly threatening about it all.


The babies made a circle around LO--who was unconcerned and watching his balloon bob in the air conditioning.

I grabbed BB and hustled LO and his magnetic balloon away from the children, who looked like they were going to start getting grabby.

I'm glad to report that it had lost its helium--and its intense power over otherwise innocent children--by the next day.

Next visit, I'm asking for a sugar-free lollipop for LO.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Quack

Back in April, when LO and BB's Little Cousin (who is actually bigger than BB, but that's what happens when I come up with nicknames before all the heads are counted) was visiting, we were introduced to the show Peep and the Big Wide World.

This show features Peep the Chicken, Chirp the Bird, and most importantly to LO, Quack the Duck.

You see, Quack is quite the comic relief in this little show. Bombastic, egotistical, and possessing of a truly funny walk, Quack appears to our young LO to be the star of the show.

Soon after discovering this as his new favorite program, LO started introducing himself as Quack to anyone and everyone he meets. When I call him by his given name, he'll tell me "My name's not LO. It's Quack!"

When going to bed at night, after wishing us good night, LO (err, I mean Quack) will immediately start fake snoring, finishing with a muttered "quack quack quack" as his favorite purple duck does when he sleeps.

But although being Quack has offered many an opportunity for unintentional hilarity for LO, my favorite Quack moment occurred last week, while we were on vacation on Mackinac Island. Our hotel room overlooked the pool, and one afternoon we were putting BB down for a nap while LO sat in a chair at the window watching the goings-on at the pool.

That particular afternoon, there were only two pool denizens: a couple of pretty young ladies in their late teens or early twenties. They noticed LO watching them, so they trilled out "Hi-ii!" in a the flirtatious way that pretty young girls will often talk to children.

"Quack," LO replied.

I've got a way with the ladies....