January 30, 2012

Don't Blink!

February's here. It's the shortest month of the year and it's designated to recognize all of black people's contributions to America.

Shortest month of the year. All of black people's contributions. Ummmm...How do the historical contributions of an entire people get crammed into 28 days? (or 29 days, since this is a Leap Year)

Is it obsolete? Granted, Black History Month came about because of Carter Woodson's desire to see recognition of what black people had done to build the country and build pride in a discriminated people group. But that was way back before voting rights, desegregation and all of the other civil rights stuff.  It made sense. For that time. Given the fact that so many boundaries have been crossed, is a singular month still needed to highlight one group?

And what about the other people groups that have a made an historical impact on America?

I don't know...maybe we still need it.  At the risk of outing my ignorance about current school curricula, I don't think history textbooks are all that different from when I was a kid.  The black history we learned was pretty much relegated to a page margin where there'd be a "Did You Know" followed by a snippet about Benjamin Banneker or maybe even Daniel Hale Williams; and of course, there were two or three pages dedicated to MLK.

Had it not been for my dad taking me to a black historical museum, that's probably where black history would've ended for me.  That field trip wasn't even intentional; it's not like my parents were Angela Davis and Huey Newton or anything. In fact, I think it only happened because my mom had enough of my endless chatter one day and told my dad to take that kid someplace.  He in turn, remembered that his friend Robert had opened up this place and turned my mother's moment of sanity into an impromptu education for me.

But it was all natural.  And I guess that's what I'm getting at.  Going to that museum with my dad felt normal. Natural. What I learned in school felt natural. It didn't seem like anything was missing; but at the same time, I could never quite put together the fact that there was one history at that museum, but another one in my textbooks.

Listen, I love history. I love thinking about people way back when and what made them tick; the music they listened to; how they eked out a living without IPads, computers or ready-made butter.  I especially love American history because so many ethnicities and races, all with their own stories, have built it.  And no one should be left out of it.

So as we approach Black History Month, I've got to wonder: do we really need one month to spotlight one people? Or do we just need to revise the history curriculum so it's always naturally encompassing every people group who have made this county what it is?

My guess is that we need to revise the curricula.  But until that happens, February's here. Don't blink, or you'll miss it.

January 26, 2012

And Now There Are Three

The television's volume was at Old Man Levels all the while I made dinner, which shouldn't be a big deal; but it is when you live in a small house whose living room is in close proximity to the kitchen.  And when making dinner is the first thing you do upon crossing the threshold after an eight-hour day, it's really a big deal. An even bigger deal when two people are talking to you over the television, which is now screaming, about two different topics. At the same time. While you make dinner.

But I pushed through it because I'm a trooper. Who am I kidding; I pushed through the screaming television, the chorus of conversation and even occasional dog barking and got dinner simmering/baking or however I was cooking whatever I was cooking because I had to potty. And I also had to free myself from the man made constraint that we women call a bra.

Finally I was freed, unencumbered and in comfy clothes (go ahead & call me George Costanza). The momentary relief was enough to make me forget about the TV's Old Man Levels; and I exhaled for the first time in about ten hours. It was rudely interrupted by BEEEP!! BEEEP!! BEEEEP!!  Dinner was ready. I retrieved it, served it, my family supped and then praised me accordingly.

Flopped down again when all was said and done...but something was wrong: the television was still screaming.  I grabbed the remote and mashed the volume down button.  Nothing.
"That's not the right remote." His voice instructed from somewhere in the distance.
I blinked and remembered, that yes, yes, there is another remote. I crawled under the now blaring noise like a soldier under razor wire and grabbed "the other" remote. Aimed it firmly at the television and mashed down hard on that volume down button.  But the clamor only mocked me.
"That isn't the remote, Rochelle." [said in a rather irritated tone, which is wonderful to hear after an eight hour day, after another hour in the kitchen while wearing a bra that squeezes the very life out of you while you reeeeelly have to potty while two different people talk to you about two different things while the dog is barking while the TV's at Old Man Levels.]
I bit my lip and fought back the urge to accuse him of trying to Gaslight me even as he grabbed yet another, different remote control. One that I remembered from once upon a time long ago when the television was new, before we had cable or surround sound.
He pointed it at the object of my misery and mashed the volume down button. The screaming, the blaring finally ceased.

Then he went to bed and I exhaled. Uninterrupted. In silence.

January 23, 2012

Little Lambs

No pontificating. No bloviating

Just this from my nine year old daughter.
"Mom, I just don't understand kids. They...they...just follow. They're like sheep."
Group Think. Third grade is about the time when that stuff starts to emerge, so I guess it's normal...but not for Georgia. She's a square peg like her mother, and she finds it frustrating.

And very confusing.
It relieves me to a certain extent, because I'd rather this kind of "sheepishness" be her confusion -- not her aspiration.

January 19, 2012

How I Got My Giggle Back

Working for a nonprofit has many upsides, not in the least is knowing that, in some infinitesimal way I'm helping people who are living with hunger, homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse and a whole host of other challenges.  Everyone is vulnerable to crises like these; and I feel blessed that our family hasn't fallen off the edge.  Knowing that I'm blessed: definitely an upside.

But there's a downside to this nonprofit work too.

Wallowing daily through the seas of stats about people -- including kids -- going hungry and being homeless and abused and drug-addicted can leave me with a certain darkness that crouches just beneath the surface.  And near enough to the surface to do this: I was talking to someone who works with homeless people the other night. In mid-conversation, I found myself getting glassy-eyed [this was supposed to have been a professional conversation!] The darkness was so close to the surface that all it took for a tear to eke out was the person saying "Oh...you're getting teary." That kind of just beneath the surface.  Embarrassing.

I decided that I have to lighten up and find my giggle again.

So, with this in mind I say:

Thank you, Casey.
Your lamentations over glitter nail polish gave me a good, belly-hurting laugh that I sorely needed. When I watch your video, I believe that Divine Providence must have orchestrated that loss just so I could get my giggle on again through your tears. Rodgers jersey or not, the Packers can shoot for the Super Bowl next season.  

Thank you, Would-be Track Stars.
You reminded me of the time I tripped over a rope in gym glass, and after what seemed like a five-minute hang time in mid-air, went flying at least ten feet across the floor.  My BFF laughed so hard she cried.  In fact, she laughed so hard she got in trouble.  She's probably laughing right now about it.  Come to think of it, she's the one who sent me the link to your video.

Thank you, Kelsey Grammar.
The mere thought of you gallantly falling off stage so suddenly puts me in tears. Yes, I know it happened a long time ago; and yes, I'm sure it was quite humiliating for a distinguished actor such as yourself, but think of the joy it has brought to the nonprofit sector.  Well, at least this sector of the nonprofit sector.

Thank you...ME. It get's REALLY funny in the last few seconds. That's all I'm going to say.
'Nuf said...and there's more where that came from.

If you needed to get your giggle back, I hope these videos did the trick.

So...what is it that makes you giggle?

January 16, 2012

Racism & Prejudice: Brothas from a Different Mother

Next week I’m attending  a seminar on defining racism.

Should be interesting because: 1) I’ve been living in the skin I’m in for nearly 43 years and I’d like to hear about any advancements on the topic; and 2) back in college, some class I took defined racism as movement, advancement or otherwise being prevented and/or restricted based upon race.  Embedded in the definition was that racism took two parties – someone in power (the racist) and someone whose rights were being violated.

So according to that definition, racism is an action, not an attitude. One is a disabling trespass while the other is prejudice. I tend to agree.

It’s my belief that Martin Luther King and the thousands of civil rights fighters stood up against racism. They stood up against actions that prevented people from the pursuit of happiness – whether that meant voting, drinking from a common bubbler, or not ending up as Strange Fruit on a Poplar tree when all they wanted to do was get from Point A to Point B.

I don’t think these folks gave their reputations and in some cases, their lives, to stop prejudice. Prejudice is an attitude – it’s a heart thing. This doesn’t mean that I condone prejudice or racism; all I’m saying is that I think we’ve got to get this stuff straight or end up in perpetual litigation or always have our noses out of joint because someone looks cockeyed or says something offensive.

So, like my college course, I’ll administer a little test. Figure out whether the following scenarios are Racist or Prejudice.  Here we go:
  1. You’re out with your biracial family and someone gives you  an obvious disapproving glare. If you chose Prejudice: Ding-Ding-ding-ding, you’re right! The Glarer’s got a bug up his or her hiney. They’ve got a problem, and it’s not yours. Remember, you’re not here to change their heart (that’s God’s job). You’re here to be the best mate to your spouse and best parent to your child. Now move on…nothing to see here.
  2. You give a presentation and an attendee excitedly walks up to greet you afterward and says “You are so articulate!”  No, no , no…it’s not racism. I’m not even sure if it’s truly Prejudice. The person probably just thought you wouldn’t look/act/sound like they thought you would. Take it as a compliment, and pat yourself on the back for opening someone’s eyes.
  3. You’re driving in one of Milwaukee’s swanky suburbs, knowing full well that no – and I mean  no – black folks live around there. You get pulled over for DWB (Driving While Black). Yup. It’s probably Racism. Here’s what you do:  1) Get your license and show it to the officer; 2) Get mad; 3) Get over it and drive off. It happens, but it really doesn’t stop you from “the pursuit of happiness” does it?  Important:  if it happens more than two times, get a name and call the police station to complain.
So…when is it really Racism?
It’s racism when you’re a ten year old ballerina. You’ve taken lessons since first grade with the same people and they’re all advancing to Pointe’ and you’re not. It's goofy, so you tell your mom. She recognizes it as racism and she knows this is your first true encounter with it. She tells you to talk to the teacher about it, so you do. This is what the teacher tells you:
Black bodies weren’t meant for classical dance. The tendons in black people’s feet aren’t as long in the ones in white people’s feet. So there’s no way they’re able to point like they should for dancing on Pointe’.
You tell your mom. She doesn't file a lawsuit and she doesn’t contact the ACLU to close the place down. Instead, she asks if you believe any of what the teacher said. Through tears, you tell her “No.” She asks you about your part – your responsibility in reaching your goal. You know that you need to practice more and tell her so. You practice more, and three months later, you’re picking out Pointe’ shoes.
Prejudice is about attitudes, and God will change the people who want to be changed. Racism is about action. Some actions you let slide and you use the other actions for personal growth, or if they're grievous enough, you wave the red flag on 'em. Neither one is good, but that’s the reality.

I think MLK would want us to know the difference between the two…don’t you?

January 10, 2012

Thoughts on Survival

To think that providence would take a child from his mother while she prays, is appalling 
Who told us we'd be rescued? 
What has changed and why should we be saved from nightmares? 
We're asking why this happens to us who have died to live, it's unfair 
This is what it means to be held 
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life 
And you survive

This is an excerpt from the song I listened to on the ride home from work. It’s a pretty song, very melodic and “singable” as my mother would say.

But today the lyrics hit me especially hard after yesterday’s news about the drowning of a young man. His dad happens to have a pretty high-profile job in the community and Twitter was buzzing with well-wishes, prayers and condolences for this young man’s family. Rightfully so. I thought about how terrible, how nightmarish this must be for his parents. Then my thoughts turned again to the young man who was a victim of homicide in one of the city’s most impoverished areas. His parents don’t have high profile positions and no one, except maybe their neighbors, church members and family know them. No Twitter condolences for them. But yet, the grief is the same.

This hand is bitterness
We want to taste it and let the hatred numb our sorrows

Losing a child is unthinkable...unspeakable.  I found myself choking back tears for these families…and for some reason I remembered August 7 of 1952. It’s just a date to most people, but that day is part of my family’s narrative. It was the day of the accident that wiped out all of my extended family: my mom and my aunt’s other sister, brother, father and Mary Jane – a six year-old who was my aunt’s only child -- all died in the crash. How my aunt and my mom survived that, I’ll never know, especially when you consider that all this happened before people – especially black people – used therapy to work things out. But they survived.

The wise hand opens slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow 

It’s odd. My aunt’s been gone for about twenty years now; and although I’ve always known about “1952”, it was always a "remote" kind of memory.  Until today, I never completely made the connection between her grief for Mary Jane and the lifelong scar she carried over her loss...and her survival of it as well.

If hope is born of suffering
If this is only the beginning
Can we not wait, for one hour
Watching for our Savior
This is what it means to be held
How it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life
And you survive

Hoping peace and survival for the families that have lost so much.

January 9, 2012

I Can't Blame Her...or Take the Credit Either

She was sitting on the sofa this morning, contentedly watching Kick Buttowski as I finished up my primping and scraping together low-cal soup and a piece of fruit for lunch.

I hope you've got your coat ready to go. She popped up and raced in her room to get it. Came back and plopped back down again.

Well, I hope you've picked up those socks I saw on your bedroom floor. (I knew they were still there from when I told her to pick them up the night before) Rolled eyes. Popped up again. Back in a flash. Plopped back down.

So, there aren't any clothes down that should be folded or hung up, right? (Saw them on her shelf, still there from when I told her to fold/hang them yesterday afternoon) Sighed. Rolled eyes. Popped. Back. Plopped. Sighed again.

Then we argued about her not wearing a thin nylon jogging jacket with her frog winter hat and gloves to school. (Seriously, she looked like a psychotic pink amphibian.)

It wasn't the coat, the socks and not even the nylon jogging jacket with which I was frustrated.

I was frustrated with Jamie and me for caving in too easily too often.  We work. We're tired a lot. It's no excuse, but its the truth; and she's sooooo good at hammering -- hamm-er-ing -- away at our will to say "Do it now" or "Not right now" or  "Because I said so" more often. (BTW: That is a valid reason, if you must give one)

After an uncharacteristically quiet ride to school, she kissed me goodbye as she exited the car. On the drive into the office, I kicked myself for falling down on the job and ruining her chances of having a normal, productive adulthood.

We talked it all out once I got home from work. Then I checked her homework, and saw this:

Yep. She'll do just fine despite us.


January 7, 2012

And So It Begins

Sure I've railed about the annual onrush of diet plans and unbelievable celebrity endorsements, but I'm not bitter.

Okay, I lied. I'm bitter. Or jealous. Or a combination of the two.

Or just plain freaked out because, at this point, the only things that look semi-acceptable on me anymore are stretchy pants and empire waist blouses. The thought of Pajama Jeans has even entered my mind.

So like a zillion other people, I've decided that 2012 will be the year that I lose the weight I wanted to lose last year.  And the year before that.

On January 2, I dusted off the long-dormant Wii Fit and fired it up. It proceeded to tell me in its own snarky way that it had been a long time since it "saw" me. I cussed at it.  On the inside of course.

Then I let it weigh me.
Yeah.  That.

It's now been seven days of eating like I should, eschewing the stuff that I know is bad, throwing in a little movement for good measure and logging everything into MyFitnessPal - a calorie and exercise tracker suggested by someone who's had success at losing and keeping off 50 pounds. Read her story here.

Today I fast-walked the three-mile route that I used to wog (Walk + Jog = Wog). A little huffing here, and a little puffing there, but its a start.

January 5, 2012

We've Got to Begin Somewhere

This month, I’m taking the NaBloPoMo Challenge.  The challenge is to write every day for the month of January in your personal blog, which is a great exercise for me as someone who’s new to personal blogging.  Each day writing prompts are provided, and you post something in your blog.
Today’s prompt is: What is the hardest part about a beginning?  As the reigning queen of procrastination, my first inkling is to write a post long enough to rival War and Peace…tomorrow, of course.
Today’s local newspaper featured an article about Milwaukee’s fifth homicide in the first five days of the year. 5 people in 5 days: that’s one family per day suddenly, violently losing someone they love.  Today’s casualty was a sixteen year old boy.  I looked at his picture and my stomach churned, because I thought of how horrific it will be for his family and his friends to see him lifeless on the day of the funeral.  I don’t know whether he had history of problems, trouble at home or school; all I know is that his picture showed a chubby-faced kid who wouldn’t get the chance to “fill out” during his twenties.
Judging by some of the article’s reader comments, some people believe this tragedy is The Old – just the norm that happens everyday in “the hood.” Try and tell this young man’s family that.
So as the idea of “…the hardest part about a beginning” ping-pongs around in my mind, I can’t help but wonder – especially as a mom – Where do we begin, how do we begin to help these kids understand that a life is worth so much more than Facebook barbs or high school romances (supposedly at the root of the incident)?
As a community, as individuals, we can’t let beginning something be so hard that we do nothing at all.
I have no idea about what needs to happen or where to even start.  Do you think these kids can be helped, and if so, how do you think they can be helped? Or is this a parental, school, church, nonprofit or "other" issue?

January 4, 2012

The It

Broken mirrors, black cats, spilled salt and other superstitious don’t faze me.  Broken mirror? Someone’s going to end up with a teeny glass shard stuck in a bunion. Nothing peroxide and tweezers can’t handle.  Black cat? Heeere, kitty, kitty… Spilled salt?  Meh.
But then again, there is my left eye. It blinks and functions just like its partner on the right, but sometimes…it twitches.
Oooh!  Gives you shivers just thinking about it, doesn’t it?
If you felt no shivers, it’s probably because you didn’t grow up with a mother who, despite being a sane and balanced person, would let an eye twitch – a left eye twitch -- rock her world.  For her, the Left Eye Twitch was a portent of The It. The It was sure to cause the Twitchee to become deeply grieved or vexed with frustration in the very near future.
How she came to believe it, I’ll never know.
Yet here I am at forty-two years old, and when my left eye twitches or tics, I can’t help but think of mom’s goofy superstition.  Probably because somewhere deep within, I kind of believe it to be true.  Then before I know it, I’m dreading, looking, waiting for The It to happen so when my apple cart does get upset, I won’t be as upset about it.
Pretty silly, huh? But isn’t that what superstition is about anyway? Blinking here, tossing salt there, hopping out of a cat’s way, blessing sneezers – all because we’re trying to avoid or cushion the blow of bad luck on one level or another?
Listen, bad luck, or real life or The It – will happen.  We live in a broken world and to some extent, we’re broken people.  The It happens to everyone.
Sometimes The It will hurt.  Sometimes The It comes out of the blue.  But if you’re like my mom – and to a certain extent, me, you just look for The It when your left eye tells you to.

January 3, 2012

Flipping Over and Flipping Out

Have you ever not wanted to flip the calendar page into the new month?  It's a strategy akin to burying your head in the sand, or in the old month, if you will.   That's what I do sometimes.

Something in my brain says to leave the old month exposed because it will magically postpone the board meetings, volunteer commitments, teacher conferences, days off school and doctor & dentist visits scribbled in on each of the new month's rapidly approaching days.  It's just some silly psychological game -- just like hitting the snooze button so you feel like you've gained a whole extra nine minutes of sleep.

A silly strategy if ever there was one.

If Dr. Phil was here, he'd probably ask in that Texas drawl of his "So how's that workin' for ya?" and I'd have to hang my head and tell him that it doesn't work at all.  Ready or not, those days still come -- and most of the time, I'm more Not than I am Ready.

So two days before Christmas when I found myself in Target at 10:30p because of this failed strategy, I saw something that could possibly cure my ostrich-like tendencies.

Without thinking too long about it, I scooped it up...
...and now I can hardly wait to get to February.

January 2, 2012

The New Year's Day Compact

At thirteen, I wanted it.  My mom said I didn't need it; and in the hindsight that only middle age can give, I realize that she was right.  Nonetheless, I got it; and I abused it for the next twenty nine years.

Now, I'm dependent on it.  Addicted.  And slightly resentful of it.

I'm talking about make-up.

It isn't that I'm applying fake lashes or other appendages, just the basics: foundation, cover-up (oh yes, the cover-up), a little cheek color, lip gloss and Mascara Almighty.  Once upon a time, the transformation process used to be fun.  I reveled in the Before-Plain-Jane to the After-VavavaVoom.  Nowadays, once the foundation's on,  I look in the compact mirror and think "oh, my word...there's so much more that needs to happen here."

Over the past few weeks, we've gone to every function where both people of blood-relation and strangers alike have gathered; which of course required me cracking the compact and proceeding toward VavavaVoom so small children and the elderly wouldn't be frightened.

And that's where I found myself on the first day of 2012.  While Jamie prepped the Bloody Mary bar we were taking to yet another function, I looked at the compact...and wished I could turn back time and tell Thirteen Year Old Me to enjoy the days of optional, non-addictive make-up use.