May 8, 2016

Expecting a Baby - How This Mom's Mother Day Began

It's Mother's Day, an appropriate time to not only give a nod Heavenward to moms who have gone on before us, but to also acknowledge how we got here as moms. And by we, I mean women, men, adoptive moms, aunties, uncles, grandpas, grandmas and a whole host of people whose path brought them to motherhood.

It's in this spirit I share a story I had the pleasure of telling at Milwaukee's fourth annual Listen To Your Mother Show.

Because it's all about the journey; and sometimes, despite all the preparation we think we've done, we find out that getting to the destination we call Motherhood is half the fun...depending on your definition of fun.


Expecting A Baby
13 years ago, my husband and I found out we were going to have a baby. Actually, we were expecting a baby. I was going to have the baby. I’d be a first time mom; and my body - this baby’s first home.
When the doctor gave us the news, I thought to myself:
There’s a tiny human inside of me.
Can it hear me?
Is it bored?
Do I tiptoe while it’s napping or sit perfectly still?
How do I even know when it’s napping?
CLEARLY, I was clueless. 

So this clueless mother-to-be began reading the Rosetta Stone of pregnancy otherwise known as What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
I was like a college student cramming for finals. I read that book first thing in the morning, during my lunch break, before dinner, after dinner, memorized passages and highlighted paragraphs.
And soon, I was thee subject matter expert on all things pregnancy. And like a schoolgirl who makes everything about her latest crush, I could turn any topic of conversation into a pregnancy factoid:
Sorry about your headache. You know…headache discomfort reminds me of the tightening of the abdomen that happens as pregnant women approach their delivery date…
Yeah. That.
But there are things What To Expect When You’re Expecting doesn’t to tell you to expect.
Like labor. It says you should expect pain. Like it’ll just be good old generic pain. It doesn’t tell you this pain feels like the tiny yet-to-be born person is twisting on your innards.
It also says you should expect pain will increasingly make it hard to carry on conversations. Like you’ll be chatting it up with Jimmy Fallon while you’re in labor. The fact is you won’t want to carry on conversations because the tiny yet-to-be born person is twisting on your innards.
It tells you to pack a bag for the hospital in advance to make check-in easier. Packing was easy, but the hospital check-in was another thing not covered in the book.
We arrived at the emergency room, and soon, I was in a backless hospital gown reclining on a labor and delivery room bed. An admitting nurse came in to gather information.
Name? Rochelle Fritsch
Address? I gave her our address.
And you are? . . . Tired of this tiny yet-to-be-born-person twisting on my innards?

What was she getting at, anyway? She went on…

You’re black...right? Uh yeah…last time I checked.

Now on to my husband.
You’re the baby’s father? Yes.
Same address? Yes.
And you are?...Seriously wondering if we’re being punk’d right now.

My husband responded: white.
And the baby will be?

Now, what I really wanted to say was:
Healthy; or,
Loved; or,
Someone who will make the world a better place.

Instead I said “We’re starting this and the baby isn’t even here yet?”
I’ll just say both black and white.
WELL, DUH.
The tiny human twisting on my innards didn’t get here by immaculate conception. My husband didn’t click his heels together and magically make a baby for me to birth. We both were…involved in making the baby, so yes the baby is both!
Soon, I was pushing. As suggested in Chapter 9 “Labor and Delivery” my husband was my coach. With the final push, there was another thing the book didn’t cover.
What To Expect When You’re Expecting says nothing about this – the announcement your husband makes, as if by surprise, when he witnesses the very moment your child is born.
He’ll say  IT’S…IT’S A…BABY!!!”
Which is all we wanted our admitting nurse to understand in the first place.



May 2, 2016

Bus Stories From the Sidelines and the Stage


Nearly twenty years ago, I climbed aboard the city bus I always took to get home. I said hello to the driver and smiled at a lady sitting across the aisle. As the ride continued, I could feel her eyes on me. Staring.

You’re The Babygirl, aren’t you? You’re Geneva’s Babygirl.

Here I was on the brink of 30 years-old, but someone knew that I was The Babygirl from long ago. She was a long-time church member who I didn’t recognize or know.

She began to tell me about my grandparents, my great-grandparents, my only cousin and an aunt and an uncle – all of whom passed long before I was born. The bus rattled on, and I sat open-mouthed as she then told the story of my siblings and me being born.

…and that oldest boy, Geneva nearly missed the Christmas program having him. She went on about my sister’s birth, then my other brother and finally me. …we didn’t even know Geneva was pregnant, and one day she came to church with a baby. That was you.

Past generations told stories face-to-face or experienced them from the sidelines like my bus friend. Nothing about anything I had done hopping on the bus that day earned her endearment; her smile and genuine warmth toward me was purely because she knew my story.

I thought of this as I remembered walking in an auditorium yesterday as a fresh-faced young man held open door. I loved him right away and wanted to hug him because I knew his story.

He’s my friend’s son, and I had never met him before, but I knew him through my friend’s stories and from social media pics (albeit few) of him, as well as his sister. Which is why I had to hold myself back from instinctively hugging him. That would’ve just been creepy.

I felt like what I imagine my bus friend from twenty years ago must have felt when I politely smiled at her from across the aisle.

The irony of it all is that this happened yesterday at Milwaukee’s Listen To Your Mother Show, a nationwide series of shows that give a microphone, a spotlight and a stage to moms and non-moms who tell stories of their motherhood journey.

Photo credit: K. Miller
We told stories – some of them painful, others redemptive and introspective, and still others, funny. The audience connected to our stories, and took away whatever resonated with them personally.

We felt the freedom that goes with telling our personal story and having it be heard, and the opportunity to be known – not defined by -- our occupation, or to whom we're married or if we're married at all.

But I’d like to think yesterday’s storytelling even went beyond that. It fell on ears of people who will know our children through us and love them because of the stories we shared.

Who knows? Maybe one day twenty years from now, our unsuspecting kids will have a bus friend of their own to remind them of the stories that make them who they are.


Preshow Shenanigans

April 21, 2016

Prince Brought Out The Florida Evans In Me

We didn't watch a lot of Good Times in the 1970's because my mom didn't approve of the way it portrayed black families as poor, uneducated and living in substandard housing.


But for whatever reason, we did watch the episode when James Evans, the family patriarch, died.

His wife Florida, true to the strong black woman trope, unflinchingly carried on with life. No tears, only work and shouldering the burden of children in mourning over the loss of their father.

Until...until she broke. She broke not in tears, but in anger.

I was too young to understand the many layers of Florida's anger bursting through the screen that night, but I could feel it; and I can still feel it even now, some forty-odd years later.

Today, I felt Florida's anger when I heard that Prince died. It came to me as an overheard byline while I was about to scoop up the salad I brought for lunch.

Internally, I broke down like Florida:

damn!!!
"Damn, Damn, Damn!!"

But I swallowed it back, and for the rest of the day, I was irritated and stumbling for a reasonable explanation why I was angry over a stranger's death, untimely and unexpected as it was.

The reason hit me in waves as I listened to streamed coverage of his death, his music and celebs interviewed for reaction: his music served as ties that bound me to a different place in my life's arc -- whether or not I realized it then -- that are slowly, but surely being erased.

I saw Purple Rain at Capitol Court Theater. Back then the Capitol Court complex was the place to be. Now, it's just a shadow that hovers in one of the ZIP codes with a high poverty rate. Now, if you're a certain age, you don't even remember Capitol Court because it's been renamed.
It's gone.


Then there was the song Purple Rain. I never understood what it was talking about, and it was always kind of a sleepy song in my head. Yet, when I hear it now, I remember my mom loving it. Outside of Bohemian Rhapsody (because chorale, and she loved chorale) and the video for Atomic Dog (I don't understand it either), there were no pop songs she liked.
But mom's gone too.

And then there's Let's Go Crazy. If I close my eyes, I can still see myself in stocking feet, lashes caked in electric blue mascara under dimmed lights and dancing like a maniac to it with Jenny and John at one of the junior year sock-hops. I didn't have a clue that life's downs (and ups) would knock on my door in as little as eighteen months later.
That invincible feeling: gone like Capitol Court and gone like my mom.

The feelings that whispered security and invincibility to me are slowly fading one by one; but I guess there's something in remembering what they felt like and that they were even there to begin with.

But still: Damn, Damn Damn!!

March 24, 2016

The Least of These


"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Matthew 25:40

The breeze whispers through open windows on a clear summer day. It carries with it the aroma of freshly cut grass and the lawn mower’s steady drone as my husband paces back and forth, following our backyard’s perimeter.

The drone abruptly stops. In minutes he appears at the back door.

Get out here NOW, he shout-whispers. I race outside following where he leads, praying we’re not looking for detached toe in the grass.

There were no toes, just bunnies.

We coo and fight back every urge to pick up the baby bunnies because we know their mumma will return for them. And she did. Thirty minutes later, they were gone.

*********************

The skies are purplish gray. Scattered spots of orange promise sunshine’s return after the afternoon’s violent windstorm. Sidewalks are littered with snapped branches too weak to cling to their mother trees; and my husband goes out to rake them curbside, each scrape of concrete breaking the eerie silence of the storm’s afterglow.

The scraping abruptly stops. In minutes, he shout-whispers in the front door. Get out here NOW.

This time, I don’t worry about detached toes. He leads, I follow, and he points to the small and hairless baby squirrel siblings, probably blown out of their nest during the storm.

We place them in a makeshift NICU made of Tupperware so they can warm each other.
We station it at the home tree’s base where their mumma can get them. And she did. She scampered down, grabbed a baby, then scampered up, then back down, grabbed another and so on until the NICU was empty.


*********************

That’s a person. Why is she there?
It's past midnight on a subzero night when we see an elderly woman standing motionless behind a parked car. She's wearing a spring coat, is gloveless and her head is protected only by a kerchief.

We stop our car and I get out to talk to her. She isn’t an English speaker, but we know she’s disoriented.

We know her mumma isn’t coming for her.

We bring her in our house and out of the cold, call the police and they help her get back home.

*********************

HELP! HELP!
First it was a scream in my dream, but soon it cuts through my sleep and startles me awake. It’s 4:30 in the morning and I sprint to the living room and blink back the sleep crud to see my husband at the front door.

He’s startled, speaking – questioning loudly to the person – a woman about my age -- who screamed for help.

She says she's having a seizure. Call 911.

I call and he interrupts my conversation with the dispatcher: She’s unconscious.

EMT’s are dispatched. I wait for help with her as she lays unconscious on our threshold. I hear her take short breaths. I know her mumma isn’t coming.

*********************
With so much going on in the world -- in my own community -- so often I wonder What can I do? How can my voice matter? Should I be protesting? Should I be volunteering?

How should I be giving more than I take out of this life?

Then I remember the bunnies on that sunny day, the squirrel siblings after the storm, the immigrant elderly lady in the polar vortex’s grip and the woman – my peer -- who literally showed up on my doorstep.

Of all the backyards, front yards and porches on our block, it was ours they all found and we helped in whatever small way we could.

Maybe part of the answers to my wondering can be found in all of them -- brothers, sisters -- even animals -- in the least of these.