Thursday, August 30, 2012

Stage Mom

It is a topic that is so mommyblog 101, so pedestrian, you will think, 'oh lord, this is so overdone. I hope she says fuck a lot at least.'

(I can't make any promises.)

What is it with those sports parents? What a-holes! I remember one mom, back when Katie was on swim team. She'd stand at rhe end of the lane, shouting and waving her arms, what a fucking spectacle.

Oh wait, that was me.

There was also this woman who, during Julia's soccer game, was yelling 'GO GO GO! YESSSSS!!! YOU ARE AWESOME!" as her daughter took the ball and scored a goal. Scored because all the other players and coaches were surrounding an injured player. The words in yo face may have been used. The children were four.

Also, sadly, me.

But the absolute worst is the stage mom, with her painfully obvious attempt at vicarious living. The one who really wishes she could audition herself. She'd show those bitches, she would so rock Annie!


Me. Mememememe.

Katie had an audition this afternoon for a production of Fiddler on the Roof. It's the biggest theater she's auditioned for, and there are limited roles. I really want this part.

On the ride over, we talked about eye contact and natural movement and BIG SMILES.

I made her repeat, enthusiastically:


So help me,  I said it. And meant it.

When they called her name, my stomach crawled up into my throat and stayed there while she sang her sixteen bars behind closed doors. I could hear her and she sounded great and I came close to crying. I am a fucking freak.

When she came out, she sat down and said, "I was so nervous and I totally froze and didn't move." but then she laughed and I told her she sounded great and I was confident in her and she did her best and I was proud. And then I started sizing up the competition.

The cute kid in a pink cloche hat. What nine year old wears a fucking cloche hat? Really?

The kid who dressed the part.

The kid wearing the t-shirt advertising the last play she was in. (Guilty of this, not going to lie.)

The boy. One boy which means one of the six roles will go to him. Fact: Boys ruin everything.

But she sounded good, and she's a sweet and fun kid, and I think she glows. I told her she was so good, they'd have to rename it Katie on the Roof. I meant it.

We wait.

Friday, August 24, 2012


Some of you may remember that about this time last year, I wrote a post called Thirty-Nine. I'm not linking it because it sucked. Don't read it. It was a list of 39 things I wanted to do while I was 39. So clever.

I got bored halfway through writing the list and started putting stupid stuff on it. I did go back and update some, but then I got bored with that.


And I mostly say dumb, because on the important things, I pretty much sucked it.

And now I have about three and a half hours left in my thirty-ninth year and I'm not writing another list. Forty is the year of action. Or sloth. I'm not committed.

I am forty years old and I am feeling like I need to do something. I feel like I am at the old shit or get off the pot stage,.I told Sean yesterday that I was busy righting the ship, and that's exactly it. I am getting my house in order.

I am horrible at responding to comments, and I owe you all an apology. I read everything, and appreciate everything, but I am lazy, lazy. Thank you for continuing to comment, despite me being an asshole.

I am horrible at posting photos. I am not a good photographer and I think Instagram looks like the shitty pictures my parents took in 1976. But I know people like pictures, so, sorry. Plus, I'm lazy.

I think thirty-nine worked out all right. My kids and my family love me and we're happy and healthy. I get to tell you stories and read yours. I hardly ever get a zit and Katie told me that, even though my backfat jiggles when I dance, I am in 'good shape for a woman your age'. 

Forty. Bring it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Summer's End

To use the old joke, I just flew in from the coast, and boy are my arms tired. Okay, so we drove, and we came home a couple of days ago, but I am exhausted. It's the pack up all your bullshit, relax, pack up all your bullshit kind of tired that only comes with a vacation with small children. Sippy cups and pull ups and strollers and car seats and 'entertainment bags' for the ride and snacks and meal plans and laundry.

Laundry, laundry, laundry.

But for all the work - sitting by the oceans for hours a day, watching my seababies frolic, made it well worth it. The fact that I read two and one-half books in a week (The Fourth Hand by John Irving, Postcards by Annie Proulx and the 2006 anthology of O. Henry award winners - which starts with a story from Edward P. Jones who wrote The Known World, one of the best books, ever.) was damned near staggering in it's awesomeness.

I did not write, but I thought, and thought of some stories I'd like to tell down the road.

I did not write, because I left you in such capable hands. Thank you again to my wonderful guest bloggers, who had little instruction other than 'tell me a story'. They were pretty good stories, weren't they?

This is the last week of summer, packed with open houses and school shopping and trying to adjust to a schedule that doesn't include staying up too late and eating too many sweets.

I like staying up late, and I like too many sweets.

A week from today, I will send Katie off to middle school and Julia off to kindergarten, and then Henry and I will sit around and wonder what we're supposed to do with ourselves until three o'clock. Over the next few weeks, we will once again find ourselves knee deep in soccer and piano and plays and homework. We'll trade in our flip flops for more sensible kicks, and rotate the bathing suits out and the hoodies in.

We'll get busy with every day, then holidays, then the humdrum of winter will box us in until spring begs us to stretch our frozen white toes into the afternoon sun. We'll rush and tumble through April and May with an eye on June. Then we'll forget schedules and sleep in and sunburn and sweat, for those glorious hundred days.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Family Jellyfish - By Guest Blogger Periphery

Posts by Periphery always leave me a little breathless. I read them too fast, gulping them down, sometimes choking on the images. But she makes me slow down, breathe deep, and drink it all in. She is simply a beautiful writer, with such a light touch. I imagine her fingertips barely touching the keyboard. Maybe it's even done by fairies, I wouldn't doubt it. 


The Family Jellyfish 

A few months ago for a creative writing assignment, my daughter had to write a sentence that contained at least two adjectives and the word "jellyfish". Pretty heavy stuff for second grade. Undaunted, my daughter scribbled and erased and perfected and then showed it to me to proofread:

Once when we were camping, my crazy family stood on a rocky beach and threw stones at a jellyfish to see how high they would bounce.

We live in a part of the country where dogs often take precedence over children, where the neighborhood gets a chance to vote on trees to be kept when there will be construction nearby, where curbside recycling and composting are mandatory, where admitting that you do things like throw rocks at jellyfish is somewhat akin to admitting you drink human blood or drive an SUV. With co-mingled embarrassment and pride, I double-checked her spelling and handwriting and signed her homework, thus cementing that we are, indeed, that family.

We had risen with the birds that morning. The sun is our only clock when we are camping. Our campsite was buried in ancient evergreen forest on the Olympic Peninsula. The mist still loitered around the highest branches and the sun was still a little sleepy and wan in the sky. I am not a morning person. Not at all. But even this Mama Bear has a hard time growling and snapping when she emerges from her nylon cave to the crackling of a fresh camp fire and a symphony of birds; the smell of coffee in the French press and sizzling camp fire eggs, surrounded by the knock-knock of pots and pans that sound different somehow in the open air and the muffled quiet of the world coming slowly alive in the dawn. 

We ate our breakfast and planned our day. A hike to the beach was the consensus, so after we cleaned up our campsite and stowed away anything that might tempt the nosy and tenacious raccoon that lived in the undergrowth around our clearing, we set off on the trail to the beach. I have a friend who is a naturalist. A walk with her, even down a city street, is filled with the names of the birds busily crapping off of telephone wires, the species of the trees whose roots are pushing up the sidewalk, and the plants that grow wild in the median that you can actually forage and eat. This is all very interesting and informative, but when we hike as a family, it goes more like this:

That tree has a face!
Look, it's a Lightsaber plant!
What do you think that bird's name is?
I think his name is Harold.
If there were zombies in this forest, do you think they sleep during the daytime?
Probably not, but I think zombies prefer more populated areas.
Ahh! It's a monkey! Oh wait. That's just a squirrel.
Do you think I could knock a zombie's head off with this stick if one attacked us?

We emerged onto the beach just as the sun began to wake up and burn off the morning mist. The view over the Sound was shimmering into view: distant mountains, fishing boats, barges and gulls, the water rippling softly and tossing around the winking morning light. We had the beach to ourselves. My husband and I strolled along quietly hand in hand and listened as the kids collected shells and rocks, looked for crabs in tide pools and hollered when they saw the jellyfish that had washed up with the last tide. 

What is that?!
It's purple, I like it.
It smells like sushi!
Touch it!
No, you touch it!

Always the practical thinker and problem solver, my husband wandered over and said "Ew! Is it dead?" and tossed a rock at it. We all hooted when it bounced and startled him. So there, in the gathering heat of the day, as the world woke up around us, surrounded by the sights and sounds of raw, wild Pacific Northwest nature, our family gathered around the jellyfish and took turns throwing rocks at it.

Special thanks to Kelly, for allowing me to guest post for her while she’s on vacation with her family. They are probably not harming wildlife, but nonetheless, making the kind of crazy memories that last forever and sometimes turn up in writing assignments for school.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Open Up That Golden Gate - By Guest Blogger All Things Reasonable...

Occasionally, you will see a comment on this blog that is more thoughtful, more well written, more moving than the post itself. That comment almost always belongs to Mike Adams, of All Things Reasonable...Except the Ones I Forgot. A deeply spiritual, incredibly interesting, and always thought provoking, Mike (and his wife, Tara) is someone you just want to be around. I asked Mike to write a story about his time in California, because it reminded me so much of the impact that geographical shift made in my own life. The story that follows is my favorite bit of a much larger story, though Mike has (thoughtfully, of course) included links to the backstory as well.


Open Up That Golden Gate

Continued from:
Part 1 - Something Had to Change (
Part 2 - In Search of a Plan (
Part 3 - From Sandia Peak, a Plan is Born (
Part 4 - I’m Leaving Town, but Where Will I Go? (

The first day of my trip, had taken from Albuquerque into the middle of Arizona. I had chased the sunset, watching it escape, until darkness enveloped me. But I awoke and the sun had taken up post in the eastern sky. It urged me to get moving, so I ate and pointed myself west to continue my travels towards California. I smiled, there was something exciting about the prospect of building a new life in a new place.

The road from Arizona to California was long. It seemed an endless procession of generic cars with miserable passengers, each weaving through traffic, aggressively trying to shave a few minutes from their itinerary. The occasional vehicle of happy travelers blessed me with smiling faces and friendly waves, providing a much needed lift on my journey. One family in particular, had three kids, who continually animated their stuffed animals in the rear window. I followed this muppet show for hours, laughing and enjoying the playful fun. When finally, we went separate directions, they all waved as the driver tooted farewell.

My trek lasted sixteen hours, an arduous task for any motorcyclist. It left me staggering, vacuous and droopy by day’s end. So when I arrived at Aunt Wilma’s and Uncle Charles’ house in Modesto, I needed sustenance and sleep. My mind was dull and I couldn’t construct a proper sentence, causing them to laugh at me, feed me, and show me to my bed. I slept for seventeen hours, emerging late in the evening hungry for food and starved for conversation.

We sat at the dining room table, exchanging stories and laughing. I was happier than I could remember being in years. These two, Charles and Wilma, were my favorite relatives from my grandma’s side. They had always made me laugh, and on this occasion, they shared stories about me as a toddler, about my mom as a girl and about my grandmother as a child on the farm. They lovingly offered advice and genuinely wished to help me succeed in life. I longed to stay with them, so as my departure drew closer, I resisted. But I knew I’d have to keep moving, so I thanked them, hugged them and sadly climbed aboard my bike to head north. One last stop, a visit to college friends in Sacramento.

Though hot, Sacramento was fun. We saw live music, ate Baja Mexican and drank ourselves to sleep each night. This experience was happy and optimistic. I hadn’t felt so excited since the beginning days of my failed college career at the University of New Mexico. I was lighthearted and exuberant. The future excited me and each day, I longed to get going. So after a few days, I thanked my friends, said goodbye and headed West for San Francisco.

Traffic was heavy and the heat was relentless. But as I neared the Oakland Bay Bridge, I suddenly drove into a wall of fog which was unlike anything I had ever seen. It proved a hazardous relief from the cruel sun and surprisingly, as I rode onto the Oakland Bay Bridge, the fog cleared. I looked North and gazed upon the expansive bay, filled with water from the Pacific Ocean. The scene captivated me and when traffic came to an abrupt halt, I nearly crashed into the car infront of me.

A short time later, I left the bridge and found myself in San Francisco, the city of rent strikes and hippies. The epicenter for the summer of love and more recently, the gay capitol of the world. I couldn’t believe it, I had finally arrived and as I cruised through the streets, trying to find my way north to the Golden Gate Bridge, my excitement grew. I knew from my core, that this was where I belonged.

The Golden Gate Bridge was larger than I had imagined. It was majestic and bold. I rode onto the bridge, heading North towards Marin County, when suddenly I noticed the broad expanse of the Pacific Ocean to the West. I stopped on the north end of the bridge to admire the view and then continued to Sausalito where I would phone my friend. “Mike,” he said, “I can’t believe you’re actually here. I’m at Stinson Beach. You should come out here.” He gave me directions and a short time later, as I entered the small beach community, the front tire of my motorcycle went flat. At least it had waited for me to arrive at my final destination, so I pushed the bike to my friend’s house and promptly forgot about that trouble in favor of a meal and good conversation.

Next day found me body surfing and talking to seals who popped up beside me in the waves. I had found paradise and I would make it my home. I couldn’t believe my fortune at finding this oasis of beauty and ease. Though I couldn’t imagine it at the time, this Northern California oasis would provide me with an education in life that would forever alter how I view my purpose and my place in this world.

I thought I had found a place of relaxing beauty and easy living, but I would soon find myself overwhelmed with personal challenges and a hopelessness that made my recent experiences in New Mexico seem happy. I’d have to confront myself in ways I had never imagined and grow emotionally into an adult. I'd have to deal with a spiritual deficit that could kill me if left untreated.

But none of that mattered now. I would confront those challenges soon enough. For the time being, I basked in Northern California’s beauty and dreamt of the wonderful life that awaited me. This land of opportunity seemed limitless and I dared to dream big. Despite the difficulties that lay ahead of me, I had definitely made the right choice. Moving here would be a boon to my personal development. This place would help to define my values and put me on a path to transformation. It would become my home and take up a permanent place of reverence in my heart. It never displaced New Mexico, it simply imprinted itself as another home, a place to love and to miss.

To Be Continued...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Employee of the Month - By Guest Blogger Faith In Ambiguity

Chances are, if you read this blog you also read Faith in Ambiguity. Where I tend to dance around an issue, or make light of it, Tara rips off the mask and lays it bare, then pokes it with a stick. Tara makes you think, even when it's uncomfortable. It's what keeps her readers coming back, knowing that they'll walk away with something to think about. I love this story, because I love stories about people, and I love Tara. I think you will, too. 

Employee of the Month

Before I reached the peak of fame and fortune working as an instructional assistant in the public schools, I worked for many years in customer service. From my junior year of high school to the year I became pregnant with my first son at twenty-one, I smiled, schlepped and mopped. My point is that like anyone, I had humble beginnings. I have worked my way up. America is great that way.

My first paying job aside from babysitting was at Fairfax French Cleaners in San Anselmo, California. It was my job to stand at a counter, to retrieve clothes for cleaning from customers with directions, receive their money and then, having labeled these with name and instructions, stuff them into bags to be sent off. At this part, I was relatively skilled. The problems arose on the other end. A man named Jose would arrive at four each day with large quantities of dry cleaned items, bagged and labeled, which I was supposed to place on a device; a carousel according to number so that when customers came to pick them up, they could be retrieved. I had a nasty habit of joining two hangers together and then not being able to locate the clothes because they were in the wrong location. This caused a certain amount of consternation within management. Myself, I was satisfied to believe that these items had simply disappeared. These things sometimes happen. No one really knows why.

At sixteen, I also had a somewhat skewed sense of the appropriate. I worked six hours by myself at the counter and should I need to go to the bathroom, I knew a customer might be standing up front waiting for me in my absence. This caused me some distress. One day, I hit on a solution. Neatly, I created a little triangular pyramid of paper and wrote upon it:

"In the bathroom. Back in a minute. When you've got to go, you've got to go."

I looked at this for a moment skeptically and then added a smiley face. Perfect. I was very annoyed later to find that the manager had removed my sign from the premises. Clearly, she did not share my commitment to customer service.

On one occasion, a well-dressed gentleman was rude to me. It is a sad truth of customer service that people are frequently boorish. To work behind a counter is to viewed as a Pez dispenser for services, a sort of service-laying chicken that might need to be culled for poor production. I probably made a mistake in dealing with his order. This sort of thing, I'm afraid, was frequent. I don't remember his words, only his tone, which clearly said that I was an imbecile, a nitwit, a waste of land, air and water. I, on the other hand, was used to thinking of myself as rather special. I quietly wrote up his order, gave him his change, and looked up to make the following remark:

"Not everyone is rich enough to be an asshole like you, sir."

"No, they're not," he agreed.

When I was let go from Fairfax French Cleaners, I was greatly annoyed at the injustice. Clearly, my employers failed to appreciate the unique skill I could bring to bear on the project of collecting dry cleaning. So, I couldn't balance the cash drawer. So, what? So, I came to work reeking of cigarette smoke. Picky, picky. I had lots of good ideas. What someone needed was to groom me for management.

When I was eighteen, I found myself working as a kennel assistant. This is a job that is not hard to get. It primarily involves the willingness to scoop up vast quantities of dog shit and to learn how to empty anal glands into a large tub. What I learned from working as a kennel assistant is that everything will wash off except skunk smell. This was excellent preparation for motherhood. Initially, one of my primary jobs was to go to the veterinarian's on Sunday and let myself in, feed and medicate all the animals, clean the cages and runs and generally prevent calamity on the one day the vet office was closed for business. I did OK with feeding, medicating, cleaning, but I let the door shut behind me and found myself locked out. Lacking both a cell phone (it was 1993) and the name and number of my new boss, I thought hard about what to do. To simply fail to care for the animals would be unacceptable. That much was clear. Staring at the closed glass door, I hit upon a solution. The door was labeled with the name and number of the alarm company which protected the office. I found a pay phone nearby and called them, explaining that I was a new employee, where I was, that I had locked myself out, that I had forgotten my boss' name and that I needed them to please call him. They did.

A while later, the pay phone rang.

"Hello," said Dr. Archinal. "I just received a very strange call."

And so continued my work life. Through restaurant service with impatient customers who wanted tofu mixed with pesto instead of beef mixed with marinara, through cafes with women who ordered by way of telling me,
"Let me share what I am visualizing so that you can help create that with me."

I ended up having children. These would frequently try to send their food back to the kitchen, but I was never required to smile politely and apologize about the broccoli.

"Go ahead and get diabetes. See if I care," I tell them.

So, customer service has prepared me in every way to be a better mother and, in dealing with other people's children as well. I never did earn Employee of the Month. I maintain that this is only because this distinction was never bestowed on anyone in the organizations for which I worked. Oddly enough, every year that I have worked at my school, I have received glowing evaluations. Perhaps this is because I have a certain problem-solving skill. Not just anyone, after all, would have thought to phone the alarm company.

Monday, August 13, 2012

That Time We Sold Donuts - By Guest Blogger Mothersofbrothersblog

I'm on vacation this week and am truly honored to have some amazing guest bloggers lined up for you this week. Today, it's MOV from Mothersofbrothersblog, and author of Mom's Had a Rough Day, a collection of essays on the humor in motherhood. Everything about MOV is above average - from her blog to her book to her mad decorating skills to her Virgo approach in everything she does. On a personal note, MOV was one of my earliest followers and remains a constant source of advice and information and support and friendship. I am so grateful to have her in my corner, and for the piece that follows. Thank you, MOV!


Kelly is taking a well-deserved break from writing to focus on what’s really important:  catching up on her Netflix selections.  In the meantime, she has asked me to write a post so that you, her loyal fans, will have something to read while she is on her brief hiatus (definitely rent “Source Code,” Kelly!).  Many of my memories hover around food (not sure why that is), so I thought I would write about that.  Here goes.   

That Time We Sold Donuts

When I was in eighth grade, my school had a fundraiser:  we were forced to sell donuts.  There was no choice in the matter, except did you want to go door-to-door before school or after, too?  The teachers handed every student an order form and told us we were each required to sell 100 boxes.  I think this must be how it works in countries with no child-labor laws (“Come on Nirupa, sew faster!  You need to finish 100 rugs by next Tuesday or you get no food!”).  Except in our case, we were not told what the negative consequence would be. 

As an adult looking back, I can see now that this fundraising effort was very, very flawed.  We had to take pre-orders for the donuts.  We had to capture funds before we even produced a product.  People might not be home for drop off.  The overpriced glazed donuts were frozen, not fresh, and could melt in the hot Alabama sun.  Teenagers were involved. 

Yeah, nothing could go wrong. 

My best friend, Charlene, and I decided to go after school that day to sell the donuts.  We wanted to get it over with, and we were also concerned that other students in our same neighborhood would get to the houses before us and we’d lose our potential sales. 

The first house we came to, no one answered the door.  The second house, no one answered the door.  This pattern repeated itself for the next 20 houses.  Finally someone answered the door, and Charlene launched into her rehearsed spiel.  The woman cut her off, saying, “Donuts?  I’m diabetic,” before abruptly shutting the door.   

Charlene and I realized we were going to have to double-down if we were going to make our quota of 200 boxes.  At the next house, an elderly man answered.  Charlene nudged my elbow, indicating that it was my turn to sell.  “Hello, Sir!” I squealed nervously, surprised that someone was finally answering the door, “We live at Lincoln Junior High and we are taking money for donuts!  How many donuts can you eat?”  He felt sorry for us and wrote a check for five boxes.  Then he craned his neck past us looking at something.  “Do you have a wagon or something behind you?  Where are the donuts?”  He stood staring at me and Charlene, expectantly.      

Charlene said, “No, sir, remember she said we will deliver the donuts in three weeks?  You don’t get your donuts now.  You just pay for them now.”  Then she gave her best fake smile, a smile that said, “Duh, turn up your hearing aid.”

The fake smile must’ve irritated him.  He grabbed the check back out of my hand and ripped it up.  “Wait for donuts?  What kind of scam is this?”  He attempted to slam the door in our faces, but just then a ferret ran out and he hobbled after it.  “Catch Doris!” he cried. 

Charlene chased that ferret as if she was on Animal Control’s payroll.  This man who had been so mean to us mere moments before was going to see what a helpful person Charlene really was, and how selfless she could be, and what a big mistake he’d made by ripping up that check.  The ferret immediately ran up a tall tree and Charlene began to climb. 

I felt like an extra in a very bad movie, a movie about stereotypical things like old men who won’t pay for donuts, ferrets in trees, and an overzealous teenager trying to prove a point. 

Of course this was the moment that Kent Richenberg walked by.  Kent was captain of the baseball team, on the student council, and sat two rows ahead of me in American History class.  He was funny, popular, gorgeous, and had absolutely no idea who I was. 

“Hey, MOV, why is your friend in my grandpa’s tree?”

Just then, Charlene caught the ferret.  I had never before seen a ferret, heard of a ferret, or even known they existed.  It looked like a cross between a very ugly squirrel and a raccoon.  I was terrified of that scrawny creature.  Charlene shimmied down the tree, her arm covered in scratches.  She held the ferret triumphantly by the scruff of its neck. 

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” enthused Kent on behalf of his semi-deaf grandpa.  “Gramps loves that ferret!” 

This would have been enough right here, to end the story with Charlene rescuing the ferret and maybe Gramps buying the five boxes of donuts after all.  But more things happened.  Things involving sharp teeth, a trip to the emergency room, rabies shots, five stitches, multiple bandages, permanent scars, and pain killers.  When Charlene held the ferret out for me to see, it sprang out of her grasp and landed on my arm, taking a good chunk of my flesh off with its jagged razor teeth.  I screamed and fainted. 

The next thing I remember, Kent, Charlene, Gramps, and a few random neighbors who’d been hiding in their houses avoiding buying donuts, were standing over me.  Kent, never to my knowledge religious, was praying.  Gramps was crying.  Charlene had a panicked look on her sweaty face.  I could hear sirens down the block.  The ambulance arrived and I glanced down at my formerly white t-shirt and noticed I was blanketed in blood. 
And that, my friends, is how I got out of selling donuts door-to-door.  (To this day, I avoid donuts.  And fundraisers.) 


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bridget & Me

Tomorrow, my friends over at Triad Moms on Main are running the post I wrote recently about getting Unplugged. If you're clicking over from TMoM for the first time, thanks for visiting!

I write stories. Sometimes they're about my kids, or my childhood, or people I've known. Mostly they're true. Sometimes they're not. If you're not sure if you should stick around, let me tell you a story -

When my friend Bridget moved into the neighborhood she was 12, just a year older than me, but at least 6 inches taller. She was beautiful, friendly, funny, and charming.

She was also a Jehovah's Witness.

She was also black.

I didn't know which was stranger.

Now, I am not a person who has ever said, 'Some of my best friends are (black, gay, Yankees, etc)'. Certainly not as a child, when I lived in a middle class, predominantly white, predominantly Southern Baptist suburb. So sheltered was I that the appearance of this African-American family who didn't celebrate birthdays or Christmas was enough to make me wonder just what else was out in the world. What next? Asians? Buddhists? New Yorkers? I was overwhelmed with possibilities.

Bridget and her family were, despite the no celebrations aspect of their religion, exceedingly normal. We liked the same kind of music and loved to paint our nails and play with makeup. We still liked to play with Barbies, even if we wouldn't admit it to anyone else. She shocked me in the summertime when she wore sunscreen, and explained what being 'ashy' was. I tried to explain the social niceties of being Southern, and taught her every colloquialism I knew.

Bridget's brother Brian was my brother Shane's age, and they, too, became fast friends. I watched in horror as Shane excitedly tried to get our mom to feel Brian's hair after we'd gone swimming. "Touch it!", he was shouting, "It's like it's not even wet!" Brian stood there, skinny and six and dripping wet, while my mom finally, nervously, reached over and gave him a pat on the head. "Pretty cool, right?" Shane asked, and Brian smiled with pride.

"Pretty cool," my mom agreed.

When we moved from that house, I stood in the driveway and held on to Bridget and promised through tears that I'd never forget her.

I was sixteen when we moved from North Carolina to California, and suddenly I was walking the halls of  high school with every ethnicity, nationality, orientation, religion, and opinion imaginable. My classmates seemed to have only a zip code in common, and I walked among them wide eyed and red necked. In one cross country move, every idea I had about the relationships of people to one another was put into immediate practice. I'd considered myself worldly and knowledgable, and found myself, in reality, to be small and ignorant.

But willing to learn.

One Saturday afternoon, I traveled with some new friends into San Francisco. The sights and smells were so overwhelming, they often had to double back to get me, or redirect my stares. I was entranced, I was in awe, I was in love. At one point, I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to watch an elderly black woman dance. She was stooped and wrinkled, but moved with a fluidity I could not have matched. She was dressed in purple and green and yellow robes, which folded and fell around her body as she danced. I held my breath as I watched.

"What's the matter, Carolina?" my friend leaned in and whispered, "Never seen a black person before?"

I thought of Bridget. I thought about what I thought I knew, and what I was learning. I thought about perception, and about truth. "Don't be silly," I said, my eyes not leaving the dancer, "Some of my best friends are black."

Monday, August 6, 2012

You're Going to Need to Speak Up

One time, my dad got into a fistfight on the soccer field of the high school. The fields weren't in use, and there were no known witnesses to Daddy whipping this guy's ass. In the process of said ass whipping, the guy managed to knock out my dad's hearing aid.

Daddy lost his hearing as a Marine in Vietnam, when an explosion near his head deafened him almost entirely in one ear, and significantly in the other. He nearly lost his life, and as he was airlifted out the medic coded him as dead, until Daddy corrected him.

The VA fitted him with increasingly sophisticated hearing aids over the years. Still, the television volume at our house was never lower than a mild roar, and if you wanted to be heard, you spoke loudly. We are excellent enunciators.

You could always tell if Daddy was talking to someone he didn't know, or know well, and they were speaking too softly. First, he'd turn up the hearing aid. Then, he'd cock his head and watch their mouths, trying to match the vague sounds to the movements of their lips. Finally, he'd say politely -

"I can't hear you, I'm deaf. I'm a Veteran."

That last part seemed to explain it all. I'm a Veteran. Don't you know we can't hear?

And if they still didn't speak up, Daddy would smile and nod and do his best to understand. Sometimes, it didn't work out - like the time his boss asked him to rip out a few boards on a deck, and came back to find the entire deck dismantled.

We lived across the street from the soccer fields where Daddy whipped that feller's ass. The soccer fields that belonged to the high school I attended. I was sitting at the kitchen table doing my homework when Daddy walked into the house that afternoon. You'd never know he'd been in a fight; the crease in his Wranglers pressed as sharp as it had been that morning.

"Kelly Marie," he said in his Texas twang, "Come with me."

We walked across the street in fading daylight and he told me what'd happened. I didn't have to ask if he'd won the fight or not, I knew he had.

It didn't take me long to find it, with sharp eyes and a commandment from my father, which was akin to an order from God himself. Find it, he said, and so I did. We were halfway home before I had the courage to ask. He had his arm around my shoulders, and his smell enveloped me - honest work and Aramis. I kept my face down as I asked, "What were you fighting about?". He stopped, and took his arm away, and I turned to look at him.

Tall and dark, even darker in twilight, his face changed. He raised his eyebrows and gave me a half smile and said with a laugh, "I have no goddamn idea. I couldn't hear a word he said."