March 22, 2013

Lessons from a Staycation

It’s taken nearly a week, but I’ve figured it out: Staycations are overrated. And people who happily tell you that their family wanted to staycation are lying on two counts:
  1. They wanted a staycation. No one wants a staycation, but sometimes you must Staycation.
  2. That the time off is staycation in the first place. It’s not staycation, it’s time off, and that’s all it is. If a name must be attached to it, it’d be whatever the snappy pun is for “Of course we’d like to leave this crappy weather and spend our time off school and work someplace tropical, but we just can’t aford it."
So there it is. My family is on whatever that snappy little pun is, but we’ll call it Staycation because I haven’t come up with a snappy little pun yet. The truth is that we would’ve loved to escape to Jamaica or Disneyland or anyplace without snow, cold or the threat thereof, but it just wasn’t in the cards for us. Or more specifically: the bank. Or our wallets.
I put a good face on our staycation status and mused that, for once we’d all be unchained from school or work schedules for one full week. We’d have time together. Best of all and selfishly, there’d be no more fuzzy math in the wee dark hours of the morning when I subtract minutes from the time she has to be at school from the minutes it takes us to get there from the minutes it takes both of us to get ready, leaving me with the remainder of the number of minutes I can linger under the blankets before peeling myself out of bed.
So that first night of staycation, I stayed up late, as is my practice, but this time instead of stifling the voice who always chides “It’s getting late and you know you have to be up early tomorrow,” I told it to shut up because I didn’t have to be up early. So there. Then I sighed contentedly and reclined to soak up my late-night quiet time and thought “Yeah...bring it on Daily Show.” And that’s when Georgia tromped through the living room not even in pajamas. Then it was Jamie’s turn. He planted himself on the sofa across the living room from me, remote control in hand. I checked the time: nine o’clock. Both were up an hour past their bedtime and it looked like they had no intention of turning in. An hour later, Georgia joined Jamie on the couch. I knew the Daily Show was on, but that’s not a show for little eyes or ears, so I pulled the mom card and said it was bedtime. She indignantly sighed, but thankfully Jamie backed me up and she got ready for bed. I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard him tell her that they’d say bedtime prayers together because that’s a sure sign he’d turn in too. I tried to hold in my “Woo-hoo!” as best I could, but something might’ve sneaked out involuntarily. I kissed her goodnight, they said bedtime prayers and…he returned to his place on the couch. I stared cock-headed the way our dog stares when he doesn’t understand something. Twenty minutes later, Jamie retired for the evening.
It was the first of many lessons learned about the difference between Vacation and Staycation. Sure, more stories could be told, but they’d only bore you and perhaps elicit a tear or two from me. Please enjoy the nutshell versions instead.
Quality Time: On Vacation, you want to stay up late with the people with whom you live because you’re in a different environment. After all, there’s a beautiful sunset that shouldn’t be missed and millions of stars that would otherwise be blocked out by the city lights. On Staycation, the only thing sunset means is that dinner’s probably late and you’re the chef. The millions of stars can’t be seen anyway and the people with whom you live need to head to bed as long as their bellies are full. Nothing to see here, just keep moving toward sleep and away from designated Quiet Time.
Meal Planning: On Vacation, you have nothing to do with the meal planning. Friendly exotic handsome strangers ask you what you’d like to eat. If you don’t know what you want, you can say “Surprise me” and they will! With something wonderful that would take you hours to create. Then the exotic handsome strangers take your plate away when you’re done and you never see the dirty plate again. On Staycation, meal planning is an individual sport. It’s your sport. No exotic handsome strangers, friendly or otherwise, are concerned about your palette. In fact, the people with whom you live have a tendency to hover around the lunch and dinner hour, while looking wistfully in your direction. They say things like “What’re you gonna do for dinner” even as they bite the sandwich you just made them for lunch. No fine china is involved either, and you and the people with whom you live lug the plates, pots and pans to the kitchen on your own power. The utensils then wait patiently for you and Dawn dishwashing liquid to tend to their needs.
Housekeeping: On Vacation, Housekeeping means that your bed is magically made daily with fresh, crisp sheets, the bathroom is daily scrubbed sparkly clean and replenished with plush white towels and mini soaps, shampoos, lotions and potions. On Staycation, you rally – no, you beg for -- the people with whom you live to “throw your stuff down the chute or it’s not gonna get washed.” You are also regularly reminded that you are woefully behind in your duties with statements like “Mom, I don’t have any clean underwear.” And then later, thankfully, you are also reminded that you are supported in your duties with offerings like “Hey…whaddya say we both tackle those loads of laundry that need folding.” Ah yes: romance does exist on staycation.
Productive. On Vacation, the word “Productive” does not exist. You are there to. Do Nothing. Except sightsee, surf, read, party, sleep or whatever tickles your fancy. Productive has no place on vacation. On Staycation, the goal is to get done what you usually can’t get done during the work week. Which makes Staycation feel a lot like five straight days of Saturdays with the push of pressure to “make hay while the sun shines,” and the pull of “but it’s my time off – it’s my STAYcation for cryin’ out loud! Why do I have to clean? Or comb my hair? Or wear something besides yoga pants?” and the additional pull of feeling like we ought to do something fun because, after all it is Georgia’s Spring Break.
So we capped off the week with a daytrip to Chicago’s Willis Tower and Shedd Aquarium. It wasn’t Jamaica, mon, but it was a little vacation from our staycation. Which was really, desperately needed.
Because a staycation’s no vacation at all.


March 15, 2013

Six Words

You’ve got six words to tell me about yourself. Six. Only six. Could you do it? Even though I know myself relatively well, I’m not sure I could because I have a penchant for flowery language and on occasion: bloviating. Six words sure doesn’t leave a lot of space for bloviating.

But it leaves just enough space for. The Truth.

Now let’s spin the question a little: You’ve got six words to relate your thoughts on race. Six words. No flowers, no bloviating. Just. The Truth.

It is possible; and, in fact thousands of people are posting their six word thoughts on race via author and NPR contributor Michele Norris’ Race Card Project. The online project invites everyday people to submit their thoughts, their stories on race. These thoughts and stories are intended to act as a catalyst that stimulates conversations about race, a particularly touchy subject and sometimes sorespot in America.

Race makes us shift uneasily in our seats.
We dance around it.
Don’t talk it about in mixed company,
Or in polite circles,
Or we go all Steven Colbert ala “I don’t even see race.”
Or we say Why even bother with the conversation to begin with?

We bother about it, because if we’re being realistic, we’re all checking boxes on those What race are you demographic forms, right? We’re all something. And I’ll go so far as to suggest that we all have an opinion – at least about our own race if not about those that are different from ours.

And here’s another reason: just the act of thinking about what you really think of race, and boiling it down to six words is an excerise that forces you to masticate those unfiltered thoughts, swallow them, and then see what kind of taste they leave in your mouth.

And because if you’ve grown up in a segregated community like this one and found yourself being, as my mom would say, “the fly in the buttermilk” you know that we are different from each other.

And because you realize that your once-two-year-old child who once only recognized race as a descriptor – e.g. that man has brown skin – is now a ten-year-old who’s beginning to catch onto to the subtle and not so subtle characteristics with which adults saddle race.

So why not talk about race instead of treating it like the elephant in the room?

Fourteen months ago, I went to the Race Card Project’s website anxious, but confident in taking on the challenge of condensing flowery and deep thoughts into six words. But I learned something before my fingers reached the keyboard’s homerow. As I scanned what people had already written, I realized the reflections from people about their own race were from those who were Jewish, Native American, Middle Eastern, Bi-racial, Hispanic, Multi-racial and more.

Funny.  There I was, a black woman who’s married to a white guy, living in a neighborhood of people of every stripe and color, and who made the conscious decicion to send our bi-racial kid to the school where she is partially due to its ethnic and racial mix. I mean, hadn’t I straddled the racial divide pretty well? But reading the thoughts and stories from the rainbow of respondents nudged me in an uncomfortable way and revealed that:
I reflexively thought of race only in terms of black and white.
DUH. Nothing's black and white, especially people. Talk about shifting uneasily in my seat.

Only my laptop knew how embarrassed I was, so I submitted my six words anyway.
Without flowers or bloviating. Just. The Truth.

So...the question is: What are your six words?

March 12, 2013

Oh, Everyone Can Sing

Oh, everyone can sing. That was the encouragement my musician mother gave many a reluctant choir member who claimed “I just can’t sing solos” throughout the years. She nudged me along with the same admonishment when I joined the high school choir and offered the same protest. Mom knew I was keenly aware that my voice was nowhere near the caliber of her classically trained soprano and that of my sister’s pipes with an insane range of tenor to alto to coloratura. Oh, I could carry a tune in a bucket, but it was clear that Carnegie Hall wouldn’t call for a command performance anytime soon.

My voice was different from theirs. Not bad. Just different. Fortunately for her musical charges -- and for me -- one of the many wise things about my mom was that she could see the beauty in The Different and open your eyes to see it too. So...her reluctant singers would sing.

Including me. Not sounding like her, not sounding like my sister, but sounding like…me.

Today, thirty years after finding my voice, I was selected to participate in the Listen to Your Mother Show. The production brings together a patchwork of bloggers and parent-bloggers of varying ages, ethnicities, abilities and backgrounds to speak the words we have confided to the online world, but have not yet given voice. Our stories and the ways in which we deliver them in this spoken word performance will be as different as we are from each other.

While an honor and exciting, this selection is also humbling. Better writers than me auditioned; not all were selected, and certainly better writers than me are in this show. Realizing all of this, my reluctant-singer-self whispered "But what if I’m not like the others…what if I’m different, what if…"

Then mom’s encouragement echoed in my mind "Oh, everyone can sing…”

She was right: everyone...

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a voice; and there’s beauty in them all. Not because of their likeness, but because of the richness their differences bring. The neat thing is that Listen to Your Mother weaves all of these differences together to create a tapestry that reflects who we are as individuals, as families, as friends, and as a community built on different, beautiful stories and voices.

And I get to be part of cool is that?

Thanks mom…even now, you’re still helping me find my voice.

P.S. You're invited to the show because my mom would want you to be there. Okay, maybe I'm putting words in her mouth, but you should come. Click here for show info.

March 9, 2013

A Woman's Attitude Adjustment

What I’m about to say may put me at risk of being drawn and quartered by an angry, torch-wielding mob, but before I go on, a preface:

I love women. In fact, I am a woman who comes from a long line of women. My mother was a woman, as was her mother before her, and her mother’s mother’s and as far as we all know, so was her mother’s mother’s mother.

However when I found out that March 8 was International Women’s Day, I rolled my eyes and sighed heavily. I was not moved nor was my heart aflutter.

I get it. We’re women. We function and think differently than men. We don’t well up at the mere thought of a male dog being neutered, and yes we are aware that our monthly hormonal shifts make no sense to anyone, including us – so don’t expect logic and/or ask for logic during those times.

We accept that, with each passing year, our breasts slide downward, yet we sojourn on wearing constricting contraptions to veil gravity’s sag, er…I mean pull…uh, perhaps effect is a better choice of words.

But a whole day that celebrates our womanhood?

It isn’t that I don’t recognize or appreciate my female forebears who waged hard fought battles for suffrage, education, equal pay for equal work; nor do I believe that women’s rights are a given for every woman everywhere in the world. But there’s just something about the whole sisterhood thing that smacks of I am Woman, hear me roar.

Frankly, I don’t roar, and I don’t wanna roar. I barely have enough energy to stay awake for ten o'clock karaoke on our date nights. And the whole roaring thing hearkens back to the women's movement of the 70's and the Enjoli Lie born of it. You remember the jingle:
I can bring home the bacon,
Fry it up in a pan,
And never, never, ever let you forget you’re a man.
‘Cuz I’m a WOMAN.
Seriously, lady? You’re not only going to find the proverbial pig, butcher and dress it, cook it, and then…that too? Either Enjoli Lady is lying or she’s younger than thirty-five with no kids.

Thus, it was with this attitude that I began March 8. Facebook and Twitter feeds were abuzz with pictorial and eloquent messages of Sisterhood. The word itself makes me shudder. Maybe it’s because I have a crazy-making sister, or maybe it’s because the term plants that Sisters are Doing It for Themselves song in my brain.

Maybe it’s because I believe that Sisters and/or the Sisterhood have always been doing it for themselves – without or with men’s permission and an International Women’s Day. And I’m not talking about Sonia Sotamayor, or Amelia Earhart or Sally Ride.

I’m talking about the ones you won’t find in the history books. Like my third great grandmother Milla who was born in 1795 and owned – yes, I said owned – by the Godley family. When her owner died, she was bequeathed to another family member, but somehow in between all that, she fell in love and got married and had ten children. The records lose track of seven of the ten children, but I imagine they were sold to other families.

What must that have been like for Milla? Growing a baby inside, feeling it kick and sometimes touching her belly to feel its tiny heels, only to deliver her baby and have it sold like a yard sale treasure. Inner strength and tenacity doesn’t begin to even describe it.

Once emancipation was granted, Milla and her remaining children moved across the country to Missouri, and that family became the core of founders who settled a thriving black community. The historical records show that Milla was a respected member of that community.

But Milla isn’t among those whose photos you’ll see or whose name is on International Women’s Day memes because she and all her peers who are forgotten to history were doing it for themselves when – and because -- they had no other choice.

As these thoughts swirled around in my head, I realized that Sisters are Doing It for Themselves had become a nightmare of an earworm. Still irritated by, and rolling my eyes at every promotional tweet tagged #InternationalWomensDay or #IWD, I tuned into Spotify to plant a new, Non-I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar-Song in my brain.

And it worked….until I they played Slap My [expletive for a woman] Up.

And that’s when I tweeted:
Well played International Women’s Day, well played. I get it now.