***trigger warning***

(This started out as a comment on a Facebook post that shared this article about the difference between black and white styles of parenting. But then I found myself seven or eight paragraphs into it without being anywhere near done, so I decided that this might as well be a blog post…)

I am glad that the article points out the difference in the “why” here. Sooo intrigued by the idea of permissive parenting as white privilege…profound and absolutely true. I get “those looks” when I am out with my black godson in public…it seems that I might be a leeeeeeeettttttttttttllllllllllleeeeeeeeeee tiny bit overly permissive…but I get that children of color, and particularly black children, need to be raised differently. I “get it” enough that I never try to tell them that the police are their “friend”. I know that they can’t afford for me to teach them that lesson.

(My godson was in his second year of Head Start – so maybe four years old?-and he was telling me about a policeman who had visited his class (in what was likely a “policemen are your friends!” and/or teachable moment about safety type of thing) and the first words out of his mouth were, “He didn’t do nothing to us, though”.

Four. years. old. This is the world a black boy’s parents have to raise them in. And Mona ([Cecil] Elijah’s momma) and I disagree sharply about spanking, but I have to admit that he is a really good little boy and I struggle sometimes with how much the threat of physical punishment has shaped that (in a positive way).

BUT I also subbed in a classroom yesterday where a five-year-old, two weeks into her kindergarten career, punched another child in the nose. Children are taught in school that hitting is not okay, that we shouldn’t put our hands on each other in hurtful ways–but then purportedly go home to quite the opposite message. A neighbor of a friend has a girl of maybe 14 watching her younger cousins, third and fourth grade. She was walking around the street yesterday, in broad daylight, with a man’s leather belt, threatening (half in jest, but there was a seriousness underneath it) to handle them if they didn’t get it together.

I was mortified the other day to hear that 75% of Americans think spanking is okay. (This study from 2013 shows the numbers to be even higher.) This was presented as sort of a side note on NPR, and I don’t know if there was any differentiation between “open hand on bottom” and the myriad of other ways that children are disciplined. But it’s not okay to me, and it never will be. I know of a child who was punched in the eye, but because he was pre-verbal, there was no way of proving it. I feel the same way about physical punishment of children that I do about any other form of violence (war, guns, football itself): Those who live by the sword” (or the switch, or the leather belt) “will die by the sword”.

And here’s the thing: I KNOW that this all comes from my own scars. I clearly remember two spankings (white folks’ verbiage?!) I received as a child. I suppose there were more, but maybe not…who knows. One was my mother in a rage, cursing (which I never heard her do) and hitting my bare bottom (it was summer, and I was running around the neighborhood in a bathing suit) with one of my father’s leather belts. This was followed by her telling me to leave the house and not return.

I can’t remember if I was 7 or 8 at the time, but I was either going into or just out of second grade.

The other spanking I remember is from my father, only because it was done reluctantly (my mother had delegated it, since whatever I had done she deemed to have needed a heavier hand). I remember that one because he did it reluctantly. It might have been the only time he ever spanked me. And he did it without being in the rage I saw him in whenever he beat my brother.

I believe that I am scarred emotionally by my own limited memories of being the recipient of that belt, but much worse was what I witnessed in terms of my father’s behavior towards my brother. (My brother who, like me, was adopted. I never saw my oldest brother, their biological child, get hit, but granted, I was six years younger. Maybe he experienced it when he was smaller. I’ve never asked him.)

What I remember of my father, in contrast to his reluctant and almost gentle spanking in my case, was his rage when he beat (and I use the word “beat” because to me, it was more than spanking) my brother. I remember my brother being on the roof of the garage and my father dragging him down (his own parents were there, and I have a vague sense of feeling like he was more angry that my brother was acting up in front of them). I remember walking into the kitchen and seeing a wooden cutting board, broken in half and bloody. My brother, who has a “tough guy” exterior and has been in all kinds of situations in his life, told me not too long ago that he was never in his life as terrified of anything as when there was a bad snowstorm and he had to call our father for help with his paper route. He was maybe 12 at the time. He is 48 years old and he still remembers this as clearly as if it were yesterday.

Part of the difference in our case is that we were not having these experiences in the context of any knowledge or certainty that we were loved. We knew that we were what people in our community called “lucky” to have been adopted. My parents “got” my brother when he was about a year old, after another failed placement. No idea what happened there; I just knew that his bronzed baby shoe was much bigger than mine and my oldest brother’s. What I have learned from my brother, and only in the last dozen years or so, was that when he was younger and misbehaved, my mother would sit him down in the back porch and tell him that they were going to send him back. My father would come home from work, and apparently would join her in shaming him. “We’re going to send you back wearing only a diaper, the way that you were given to us”.

It’s safe to say that both my brother and I came into this family with attachment issues, something that wasn’t talked about in those days. With that said, I am still bewildered by the fact that my parents passed whatever constituted a home study in those days, and wonder often if they ever would have been approved in this day and age. But I digress…

In my early twenties, I would watch young black mothers (on the ferry or the train going into the city) interact with their children. What I saw was something I couldn’t fathom. They would be so harsh and strict with their children, but at the same time, I could tell that they loved them. Five minutes after a scolding, they would smile or laugh at something the child did. I could not reconcile this in my mind. Would I feel differently if I had been spanked as a child by people whose love I was certain of, by parents who didn’t have the threat of “sending me back” to hold over my head? I don’t know.

And I read these words as well, and they resonated with me:

The pernicious, toxic and inescapable lifelong effect of being disciplined physically – either to the point of abuse, or to the point that the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable blurs in your mind – is that you almost have to say you turned out fine, just to redeem the fact of being who you are. That you “turned out fine” is the only way to make sense of having once felt total terror or uncontrollable shaking rage at the sight of one (or both) of the two people expected to care most for you in the world. The thought that you might have ended up relatively OK or perhaps even better without all that fear is almost unbearable: the suffering only doubles if you admit that it truly had no purpose.

The thing I always say is that I (almost) can understand physical punishment if it is separated from rage. But I don’t believe it ever is. I think it’s a rare thing for parents to lash out at their children in a calm manner. with perhaps the exception of Michelle Duggar-oh wait. And again, maybe it’s different for children who have some level of confidence that they are loved by their parents-but the above quote seems to prove otherwise (although I don’t know for certain that the author is actually a biological child of his parents).

AND I cannot say this often enough: I get that I don’t know what it is to be raising a black child in this society. But this doesn’t mean that I think that a belt, or a switch, or anything else used against a child (I respect, to some extent, a parent’s right to use an open hand on a bottom, but that’s as far as I can take it), is okay, no matter what color you are. (<—-the recovering racist in me shudders at the use of this phrase, as I know it’s not that simple…but then, in some ways, it really is. I could take this further and talk about the generational PTSD that people of color are dealing with, but like the author of the original article that started this rant, I still don’t think it’s okay.)

A thing people sometimes say to me when they don’t agree with my views on something is “You are just seeing this through your own scars”. Yes I am. That’s because those scars (in my case, more emotional than physical) are still there. I was spanked. And it wasn’t okay.

Apparently 75% of Americans disagree with me. But I’m okay with that. It doesn’t mean that I will ever stop speaking out against what I consider to be child abuse, pure and simple.

A football player’s actions have sparked a heated debate in this case…but lots of kids are living this on a daily basis, and that’s barely in the news. I am speaking out, not because I want this to be about me, but because I need to let it be known that some of us do NOT think it’s okay. Not for any parent, at any time, famous or not.

I don’t know what it’s like to be black in this society, but I certainly know what it’s like to carry the scars of childhood abuse. And I hope that this somehow gives me, white as I am, some credibility in speaking about the subject.

Hi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(forgive the ridiculously long space…trying to see if I can psych out RSSGraffiti. Still here? Good, thanks!)

It’s been a crappy week. Unfortunately, it’s been a crappy week that immediately followed a very large paycheck, thanks to both overtime and my quarterly bonus. I have been shopping almost non-stop. Oh, and birthdays. Two birthdays this weekend…how to bank up the sleep ahead of time?

A shopping addiction is even more of a joke in our society than ADHD is…but I can assure you that it’s no laughing matter. I’m obsessed…it’s never enough. I truly fear that I am going to become one of those people who carries around one of those creepy life-life dolls, just so that I have a little girl to dress as I please.

One thing that sucks. I still want a baby. I want someone that belongs to me. My therapist tells me that this is an adoptee thing…maybe she’s right. But it doesn’t make the ache any less real.

I’m supposed to be doing schoolwork…did I mention that? Truth be told, although I am loath to admit it, I am feeling more than a little bit manic.

I should be cleaning the house.

I need to do something with my pictures. I need my walls to be covered with them, rather than just having them piled up in boxes. I need more of those magnetic photo holder ropes to put in different places. Oh wait, I could make my own.

I should go through the hand-me-downs and get stuff ready for the people I will see at party #2. They are all over the place.

The last seven days’ worth of shopping vomit is all over my floor, in different bags, unsorted. There is stuff for party #1 in there…I need to figure that out before tomorrow.

I need to bank some sleep because birthday parties, and human interaction in general, are exhausting.

I REALLY need to do laundry. I am out of underwear. And I have a LOT of underwear.

My sink is full of dirty dishes and the clean dishwasher needs to be emptied.

I don’t write enough. Not just blogging, but writing for myself, journaling, saying the things that don’t get said on Facebook or via my blog. If I don’t do this, I will not have the full story when I look back on these days. I almost bought (!) a new notebook at Target yesterday…it was a pretty raspberry color, and petite…and only $1.99 (but I can stop anytime I want, really!). But I didn’t buy it, because I already have notebooks, and I need to pick up the ones I have and utilize them. I need to, but I won’t.

I am also really bad at emailing my friends. Staying connected when people are so far away. I have friends who are hurting, and I am not tending to that hurt. I need to do that. And laundry. And presents.

So much to read online about how badly this country sucks.

So much war everywhere. So much destruction. Guns are stupid. War is stupid. Hating each other is stupid. Racism is exceedingly, monumentally stupid and yet so many people don’t understand how deep it goes and how very much work we still have to do.

And I am behind on my schoolwork. I am officially a full-time student as of July 1st. Ahead of schedule because I tested out of my first course, but stuck…behind…paralyzed. I can’t fail at this. But I might. And I need a paper calendar to get myself in order, but which kind? Not another store…but how else can I find one?

But I just started the laundry, before even finishing this. And my course is open in my other browser, so I just need to go there and start.

And what I must always remember: God is bigger than all of this bullshit. He will have the final say, will have us beating swords into plowshares, and there will come a time when people will not hate, when (mostly various shades of brown) children will not be bombed and shot and idiots on the Internet will not say that those children deserved to be killed.

That day seems a long way off…but I know it’s coming. And it’s something to hold on to, weary though we all may be.

And now, the homework. Thanks for reading, if you’ve gotten this far through today’s rant. I am thankful for you, as well! (Unless you are that annoying spam-bot leaving comments…not so thankful then.)

 

(This is part of my ongoing effort to blog, even if it’s bad blogging. Because bad blogging is better than no blogging at all, right? Maybe?! Also, I need a tag for these – #nottrying? #phoningitin? #badblogger?)

In light of recent news, I am reminded that there are two groups of people in my life…the ones who know about me, and the ones who don’t.

I’m not ashamed of where I’ve been and what I’ve been through. On the contrary, I tend to wear it as a badge of honour (<<—-bad spelling habit picked up working for an international company). But it’s just a different world, a different experience, when I am interacting with people who “know” or “don’t know”.

It’s always been a “thing”. For so many years, it was a point of shame. Such an odd thing, though, because I always thought it was so much of what makes me “me”. How strange to have to hide one of the most integral parts of who you are…because it’s embarrassing? because people won’t look at you the same way? because nobody can know that you have had this inside of yourself?

I’m not easily embarrassed (well, allegedly I’m not), but I do hate the idea of people looking at me and labeling any and all behavior (<<—-Americanized spelling, but I was tempted) as evidence that I am what they now know me to be.

And now? Today?

I am reminded that there is a whole new batch of people in my life who are in that “don’t know” column. And I am suddenly reminded of what that means.

If they knew, they would be cautious with their words.

If they knew, they might feel like this was a good time to give me a lecture.

If they knew, they would try to bond with me over it all, just as people tried to bond with me on September 11th, spilling out all of their own thoughts and trying to work out their own drama across the gaping scar of my own experience.

In September 2001, I had just been back to New York to visit less than three weeks earlier, but I hadn’t lived there for more than a year and a half. It didn’t matter to people, though. They knew that I had lived there. They knew I had walked those streets, and they wanted to know what it felt like to have walked them.

 

It will be the same way now, if people know. They will want me to interpret, to translate what they can’t understand. They will tell me that once, for a very brief period of time, they visited New York too, or thought about it. They will try to fathom it, try to get me to help them understand what it’s like, why someone might make this choice.

But here’s the thing. I can’t even begin to tell you why this or that person made this “choice”. To be honest, I really don’t like you calling it a “choice”, or a “decision”, or a “selfish act”. Because you don’t know what it is if you haven’t been there. You can’t say that you understand the magnitude of those towers collapsing like dominoes when you have only seen them in pictures and you don’t know someone who’s inside of them as they fall. You don’t know what it’s like to have walked through that place on a daily basis, to have worked there, *lived* there. You think you know New York. You don’t. 

If they knew, I might be more or less subject to their judgment. They might ask me to explain, or to justify, or to make them feel better about themselves, or to apologize for the actions of all of those like me, past, present, and future.

But when they don’t know my story, they don’t know me. And yes, I suppose there is a place for boundaries and conventions and building up trust over time and in small parts, but at the same time, I am me. I have been to that place, and while my experience there will never be the same as anybody else’s, there are things that I know for having been there. This is why someone I’ve met “in person” maybe twice in my life is someone who feels like a friend I’ve known forever. This is why I am trying so hard to embrace the discipline of blogging, because there is so much left for me to say, and the story isn’t going to tell itself.

 

pierre22

 

I called Mona last night, and had the unexpected pleasure of having a certain goofball answer the phone.

“Hi Lovey!”
(with excitement in his voice once he realizes it’s me) “Wait a minute – WHAT DAY IS IT TODAY?!”

“It’s Tuesday. I guess you remember where we’re going on Thursday, huh?”
“To see DONOVAN!!!”
“Yes, we are!”

farmer's market, summer 2013(I proceed to lay out the schedule for him, because, you know, every almost-six-year-old loves an impromptu Franklin Covey reading…)

He is certain he cannot wait a moment longer:
“You have to come get me today!”
“I can’t, Lovey – I’m at work.”
(like the idea has never occurred to him:) “You’re working today?”
“Yes, I have to work so that we can afford to go have fun!”

The conversation continues, complete with a full recap of the owie on his toe (I thought he said at first that he hurt his stomach, which with Elijah always makes me nervous) and a little bit of random poop talk thrown in just because he’s a boy…just because he can.

I ask if I can talk to his mama, and he informs me that she is at his granny’s house. “Do you wanna talk to my daddy?” 
no“No, your dad’s not going to know where to look. I need you to help me…I need you to find your green shirt with the white stripes. Do you know which shirt I mean?” 

He assures me that he does, and promptly walks over to his plastic dresser and starts pulling things out, narrating as he goes along. “Oh wait…that’s my orange shirt. I gotta look in all my clothes!” “Wait, what’s this?” and any number of precocious Elijah-isms.

(I wish I could write these conversations down, every single one of them. I wish conversations could be snapped like a photograph, framed to cherish..)

I try to tell him that he does not have to find it right. this. minute. He just needs to find it before Wednesday evening.

It’s important to me that he find his shirt. Don-Don already knows where his is. I need the green striped shirts, because they me keep track of two little boys when we go to places like the zoo. And to be honest, I need them too because they freeze a moment in time for me.

green striped shirt hailing a cabIt seems like I am always finding matching shirts, or hoodies, or…it is my homage, perhaps, to the brother-like bond they share.

And as much as I would like to, I don’t have language to express to this little boy how precious these days are, how little time there is to soak up all of these memories along with the chlorine that will turn their legs to chalk.

Because Donovan leaves in September. For Texas. Not like Chicago this time…not a day trip…no more impromptu visits at random times.

Texas is a long, long drive. Texas is a plane ride away. It’s a greater distance, and not just geographically. It’s another thing that feels like it will weaken the bond between these two little boys that has been so strong.

(And don’t tell anybody, but it’s a gigantic loss for me, too. Donovan gives me so much joy, even in his pouty moments…they both bring me joy, and never more than when they are together.)

How do you explain to a soon-to-be first grader that these are holy moments, and that, like most things in life, they are so very impermanent?  How do you tell them to cherish every moment, to not waste precious time on minor arguments or initial shyness? I’m not sure I can. Half the time I can barely tell myself this.

I need more hellos.
buddies forever

“Maybe I shouldn’t be here.”

The doubts came on almost instantly, brought about, no doubt, by the fact that I wasn’t seeing as many familiar faces as I would have liked or expected to see. (Cue social awkwardness in 3…2…1)

The church was emptier than I had anticipated. Not an aching, slap-in-the-face empty like Marlene’s funeral had been, but my guess would be that there were not more than 200 people present. It didn’t feel like it was enough.

It also felt so disjointed in a way that I don’t think Rick would have wanted it to be. Skot Welch‘s eulogy gave much honor to Rick’s work, but I felt like the message of racial reconciliation was too sanitized overall…as if the message was muted. Dear God, at my funeral I want people to be pounding their fists on the table, shouting against injustice, breaking the uninitiated out of their kum-ba-yah complacency.

(Someone later pointed out to me that this wasn’t Rick’s way…he approached these issues with grace and gentleness…so probably this is my bias. Also, I do need to acknowledge that some people (most normal people?!) would think that this was not the time or the place for such a rant.)

But if others I’d been expecting to see weren’t there, should I really be? I started to doubt myself. I had asked to leave work early so that I could sleep a few extra hours before the funeral. I had struggled to articulate to my boss the relationship I had with this…friend? colleague?  We had worked together, had common passions, spoke the same “language” when it came to issues of white privilege and injustice. But sitting there, alone, I was starting to feel like a fraud.

I’ve long wrestled with the vagaries of funeral rituals. The question I posed once of whether it’s more appropriate for a casual acquaintance to go to the wake* or the funeral itself was never quite resolved, with people landing solidly on either side of the issue. Today’s funeral was one of the type that seems to be more common this days…no separate visitation time, just a time to greet the family in the hour preceding the funeral. I debated whether or not to come and “greet the family”. I’ve never met the family…except for his “brother” and co-host Skot Welch. I came most of all because I wanted to hug Skot, to tell him how very much I ache for him, how I of all people understand how important friends are, and that there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother. If I could do that one thing, perhaps my presence there could be redeemed.

I wrote most of this (up until this point) during the funeral…on my phone. I imagine that the people sitting behind me were glaring at me disapprovingly, thinking I was on Facebook or some such nonsense. How to explain to them–to anyone, really–that I need to write in order to process?

The service was over, right on the hour, and I made my way out of the sanctuary. Skot was standing right near the door, and in my typical rude fashion, I cut in on a conversation he was having to give him a hug and to tell him how sorry I was. I ran into a few other friends, brothers and sisters in this work.  I almost felt redeemed. I was simply showing up. Whether or not I felt I had the “right” to be there, it was done. I had been there.

And hopefully, just showing up was enough.

*I had a friend tell me that calling it a “wake” is antiquated and conjures up images of drunken Irishmen. East Coast friends would disagree, and old habits die hard.

It’s March 4th (Mona’s birthday!) I’ve just spent twenty minutes writing about my experiences as a substitute so far, and in keeping with my earlier decision, I want to start posting them.

I am a writer and a perfectionist (or maybe those two are synonymous), and it’s hard to share things that are less than “perfect”. But perfect never comes, so I’m trying to force myself to just. write. And I think there’s some good stuff in my random ramblings about my subbing experiences…too much for one post, really. So I think to myself, “I should just start posting them as snippets and at least start the work”. Do not despise these small beginnings, blah blah blah.

But wait. I was going to post my resolutions. That I sketched out the first week of January. And it’s March. Did I mention that it’s March?

So I can’t post the stuff I’ve just written now, because first I have to finish what I started two months ago. Only the best of what I hoped to write is no doubt lost by now…but then I remember. Just. write.

So here, as I start to feel sleep wanting to overtake me, are the resolutions I identified back then.

1) Send out Christmas cards (right. this one is a joke. But maybe next year?!)

2) Eat more slowly. This is a resolution that is entirely independent of any other attempts at making better food choices, and it’s fantastically difficult to achieve. Eating is most often an afterthought, something that gets in the way of everything I have to do. It is an inconvenience and feels like too much work. I ate yesterday…and now I have to think about what I’ll eat today?

Too many days, I wake up for my 6pm shift at 4 or 4:30. It’s never enough time to plan out what I will bring to work for lunch. I’m never quite hungry enough (or together enough) to get something to eat before I go to work. And eating in the car, or at my desk, between phone calls, is not conducive to eating more slowly.

I have been failing miserably at this one. But I’m not giving up.

3) Purge (more) clutter

If things progress as they have been, I may be starting an online degree program fairly soon. This has me itching for a fresh start…not just with external clutter, but with the life-crushing and meaningless stuff that is neatly packed away in boxes, or with the utterly redundant closet that sorely needs an overhaul.

Fresh starts make me happy…if only I wasn’t so bad at starting.

4) Write more – that goes without saying. “Write more” is a resolution for my entire life, not just for a given year. I’ve not been moving towards that goal, but I am always “blogging on the inside”. The words are there…why do I not spend time doing something that I claim to value so much?

5) In the minor leagues, but worth mentioning…stop re-posting stuff on Facebook without vetting it first. It’s far too embarrassing – me, who has made it a life goal to debunk urban legends, and yet I’ve gotten caught up in far too many in the past few months.

So I guess I want to blog without thinking too much and at the same time stop retelling stories UNLESS I’m thinking a little too much about them.

Sounds like me…all of it. So here we go…

January 1 was to be my cut-off date for being done with meat. Two weeks into it, I find my resolve is weakening…

I know *why* I want to do it…the impact on the environment, the inhumane treatment of the animals, the fact that there is all kinds of weird stuff lurking within the meat…I could go on.

The problem, it seems, is that as much as I believe in those reasons for saying good-bye to meat, my heart (or perhaps more accurately, my stomach) is not in it. Meat. Tastes. Good. And I am not yet creative enough to think beyond pasta and cheese, which leaves me feeling hungry and a bit bored with my food choices.

So here I stand, stuck in the bargaining phase of my grief over the loss of this relationship, and I think to myself, “Chicken. Maybe I’ll just eat chicken.”

And I like this idea. In fact, my mouth waters just thinking about it. Never mind my brain’s insistence on recalling an article I read that said that giving up chicken would have a greater benefit to the environment than giving up beef would…never mind the images in my mind of the cruel way that they are treated, or the fact that their feed contains ground-up Other-Dead-Chickens…somehow, it still feels like a fair compromise to me.

Sure, I could eat only free-range, organically grown (and priced) chicken, but given the reality of my lifestyle, that would be almost as difficult as eating no meat at all.

So I am being drawn more and more towards compromise…and maybe I just need to accept that this is where I’m at right now. Baby steps, right? And in the meantime, I will keep an open mind and be willing to be made willing, as the saying goes…forcing myself to do it before I am ready does not seem to me like a recipe for success in this regard.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I hear some delicious wings calling my name…

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