Monday, June 29, 2015

Reunions: Tia Tracy and James

When my mom was around 22 years old, freshly graduated from undergrad at St Louis, after growing up in New Jersey, she had the opportunity to go to Chile for a year under a Fullbright scholarship. While there, much to the dismay of much of her family, she met a dashing young man who swept her off her feet and convinced her to stay for good (hint: that was my dad. They went on to get married and have us four kids). Mom immersed herself with local friends and her new family, but also eventually got involved in the American Women's Club where she made many friends. Among them was Tracy (or Tia Tracy, as we knew her growing up), who became a very dear friend. 

Then in 1991, after my parents' divorce, we moved back to the US. In those two decades (plus) since that move, Mom and Tracy have probably seen each other a handful of times, I believe the last time being in 2004. So when we heard that Tracy would be not only in the US but to our very own neck of the proverbial woods (one of her sons just finished his PhD at Stanford, and she came out to help him and his family prepare to move back home to Chile), Mom planned a trip to come out and visit us and get to meet her old friend.  

Mom arrived to California on Wednesday, and as usual the boys delighted in playing with Lala. She also set to work making plans with Tracy, who came over on Thursday with her two grandkids. The joy between Mom and Tracy as they reunited and began catching up was palpable and so sweet. I quickly realized my goal was not to socialize, but to facilitate these two women getting as much time to just hang out together as possible, which I was more than happy to do, so I set them up with chairs on the front porch while all the kids and I played and watched movies. They spent most of the day together, and then on Friday Tracy came by in the afternoon to pick Mom up and they went off together to spend the rest of the day together, going for a walk and then dinner.

Shortly after her arrival Mom told me that she had also been in contact with James, that he and his wife and toddler, who live in southern california, were also planning to be nearby this weekend and wanted to get together. James was my brother's best friend. They met in school, I think in 6th or 7th grade in Chile. James happened to move to the US around the same time we did (when he and JC were both around 17), so they kept up their friendship over time, with JC visiting him frequently in CA. It was during a visit with James last summer that JC died, so unexpectedly. I remembered James very vaguely from our childhood, and I met him briefly one other time a few years ago. My mom and sisters and I talked with him on the phone some after JC's death, and we had talked about trying to get together in person sometime. So when Mom planned her trip out here she reached out to him, and James apparently was thinking of coming up anyway (they have a vacation home nearby), so we planned to go see them on Saturday.

We met them at their house, where James walked us through the story of the Frank Lloyd Wright design, then drove into town to grab lunch and hang out at a nearby park where the boys could run around while we talked. We talked about many things, but among them James recounted stories of some of the adventures he and JC had over the years, like going to concerts back in high school and getting mugged while walking home through some seedy part of Santiago, to the more recent trips on JC's to see him in CA and the wild antics they got up to, things I never would have guessed my quiet older brother capable of. We met James' wife, who spoke of how fond she was of him, told a few funny stories herself. Their daughter is absolutely precious... she is 14 months old. That last trip that JC took to see them, was to see their then-newborn baby (the last pictures taken of JC were of him holding the baby, glowing). James commented on how much Donovan reminded him of JC, something I marvel at often myself.

It felt very special to connect with people who had been so important to JC, and who seem to value him so highly as well. It was fascinating to be reminded again of how I guess we all have such different sides, that the JC that we knew as his family was in many ways very different from the JC that came out when he was with James. I kinda feel like I am getting to know him so much better in death than I did in life. I am trying to view that as an opportunity, to feel grateful for finding that deeper connection now rather than guilty for not having seeked it earlier.

Sunday, yesterday, we had a last chance to see Tracy and her family. We drove to Stanford, where her son's family were spending their last days in the grad student housing. All the homes with the shared lawn and communal playscape, and the kids all joining together to play, took me back to our Sachem days. The kids played with snapcircuit solar panels and saw a nest of baby birds on the porch. I collected a several large pinecones from around the playground to bring home as chew toys for Pippin. Tracy showed Mom how to set up WhatsApp on her phone so they can text each other internationally.

And then, finally, it was time to say goodbye. Tracy would be leaving for Chile again the next day (today), and Mom back to Texas. They hugged each other tightly and vowed not to let too many years pass before their next meeting.

Life works in funny ways, and it seems like more than mere coincidence that we had these opportunities to meet up and catch up with these people who have meant so much to members of our family, so closely timed to the one year anniversary of JC's death (a week or so ago). I don't have anything very profound to say about that timing, it just seems worth noticing. And to feel grateful for these chances at (re)connection, after a year with so many reminders of the fragility of life.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

rabbit food

Getting Pippin has inspired us to grow our own herbs as a supplement to his diet. I've never exactly been a gifted gardener, but so far we're doing ok... I even remember to water them most days. ; ) We have a couple pots of parsley and basil, a bit of wheatgrass (the cats enjoy that one as well), and I recently got a small rosemary plant. Our neighbors care for several rose bushes in our communal yard, so Pippin has also been enjoying a few occasional rose petals. 

Friday, June 19, 2015

A few thoughts after Charleston

I've been thinking about how to talk to my boys about the Charleston shooting, or the McKinney pool incident. I'll be honest, I don't want to tell them about it at  all. I shout about these things online, yet I hesitate to mention them to my boys because who wants to tell their kids about those atrocities? That this is the world we live in, where a man walks into a church, sits praying with the congregation for an hour, then stands up to shoot at them and kills nine of them, all just because they were black?

I want to keep them in their safe cocoon. And that right there is proof of our white privilege. I COULD keep them naive and innocent if I wanted to. They don't HAVE to face these ugly truths, at least not till they are older and find them for themselves.

And then there's that 5 year old girl who survived the Charleston shooting because she played dead. What five year old should EVER have to do that?

There's Tamir Rice who was shot dead at TWELVE because he was playing with a toy gun and the cops couldn't be bothered to find out if it was real or not before opening fire. Black mothers and fathers have these talks with their kids at such young ages, because it is necessary. Because even as children they are not safe. They don't have the luxury of shielding their children from our racist world.

My oldest son is 7 years old. He is exploring his independence, and I am trying to provide him opportunities for that. Little things like letting him walk over to the bathroom across the park by himself. There is a part of me that loves seeing him become more responsible and capable, and there is also always a small knot in my stomach wondering if anything will happen to him or, more likely and thus more scary, that some other grown-up will see him doing something by himself, freak out, and call the police on us. I see enough stories of that exact scenario playing out that it makes me hesitate, makes me want to hold his hand for many more years, but I know his sense of self is more important.

But I also fully realize that as a blond-haired, pale-skinned kid living in a nice neighborhood, he will be much safer than way too many other kids out there. Kids who have been shot while playing at a park or walking home with a bag of skittles. Or the kids who get slammed to the ground by police officers for being at a pool party. Whatever my small fears about letting my kids out of my immediate sight, the fears of parents of kids of color are much bigger, and all too real and justified. I cannot imagine that daily terror. I cannot imagine what that does to you, to live with it every day.

Today marks one year since my brother's death. One of the many things that has changed for me in the aftermath is that death, which seemed so abstract before, is so much more real and concrete to me now. I know exactly what it feels like to lose someone who matters to you. These shootings-- by police, by white extremists, etc-- feel so much closer. They hit me harder because of having experienced death at a much more intimate level. I can understand the pain and sorrow of the victims' loved ones a little bit more closely. I think of the anger I felt at the illness that claimed his life, and can only imagine the rage that must come from knowing it was another person who stole that life.

No one should have to live with this. No one should have to look their kid in the eye and warn them about how white people may harm them if they don't walk exactly on that fine line of expectations (and even then). No one should have to fear being attacked in their own place of worship. And these things often get painted as an issue of people of color, but it is the rest of us, we white people, who are perpetrating this culture and who need to stand up to it. We can't let racist jokes and comments slide, because that is what fuels the beliefs and actions of people like the Charleston shooter. We need to talk to our kids about white supremacy. We must examine our racist past, our racist policies, our racist justice system, and do the work to fix them. Only then will this cycle of terrorizing (yes, that is the appropriate word) people of color come to an end.

EDIT: Here is the link to the Mother Emmanuel Hope Fund, which will help with funeral and burial costs for the victims of the Charleston massacre. I was astounded last year to find out just how much it can cost to post an obituary, hold a funeral, and bury or cremate a body. And it's the last thing anyone mourning a loved one should have to stress over.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

end-of-year report

Maybe it's California's lack of seasonal distinction, or just my inability to keep track of time, but it is mid-June and I'm trying to convince myself that yes, it really is summer. The latest reminder came on Tuesday when I forgot to put sunscreen on before going to Quinn's soccer camp, and then playing at the playground afterwards in the middle of the day, something that my easy-to-tan complexion normally forgives but this time resulted in a burn that aches at the tops of my shoulders.

The coming of summer marks a few milestones, including the concluding of the school year. Which means we have finished one "academic year" of homeschooling. It's an arbitrary marker, but still worth a nod. Time is odd-- wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey-- in some ways the past year has felt like it's gone by quickly, yet looking back to last summer feels like it was ages ago.

This may or may not be how we spend most of our time

So we've been unschooling a whole year now and I'm trying to think of what to say about it, and maybe the best way to express it is that I've been wanting to use the #unschooling and #homeschooling tags on instagram except I never know which pictures to add them to because really it should be all of them. I don't know how to separate the pictures showing them "learning" versus other things we do. Everything we do all day is part of our unschooling-- learning is not separated from daily life. When we first started I felt this need to "prove" that what we were doing was "working," showing off the things we did that happened to also fit into "academic" learning. I don't feel that need (as) much anymore, sure it comes and goes, but for the most part I've gotten better at letting go and just enjoying our time. Indeed, when I do that is when I feel the least stressed, the most comfortable and happy, and enjoy my time with my boys the most. It is fun to see the bits of learning that happen and take me by surprise, like when Donovan asks me a question about numbers that shows he's been playing around with them in his head. Or noticing how he's getting a bit of experience with percentages while watching the download progress bar, anxiously waiting for a movie to download. He often surprises me with what he knows, when I start explaining something and he stops me saying, "Yes, I already know that. It's because of blah blah blah" expanding on what I just said. And I've gotten better at seeing the learning that happens in our everyday experiences-- in even "worthless" activities like watching movies or playing video games.

I realize that most people look at what we're doing and how and must think we are crazy, that unschooling is a terrible idea and can ever work, etc. But honestly, this feels natural. When I hear people talk about school and their kids' school schedules and their homework and carpools, especially here in the ever-busy bay area, it all sounds utterly foreign to me and I feel relieved that we're opting out of all that. Which is not to say we will never go back to school or use curriculum, I am not foolish enough to make such long-term predictions. Or that school is "bad" or "wrong" (full of problems, sure, but has its advantages and is great for many people). Or even that I don't have my moments or days when I throw up my hands in frustration, convinced we're making a terrible mistake. But for the most part, it feels natural and good and fun and just the right way to be right now.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

golden light, purple blooms

I was keywording/organizing/uploading pictures from March (I am chronically about 2-3 months behind...) and found these pics that I really like, but never shared. So here they are. These poor flowers are now all dried out (they're from a bush on our front yard), thanks to the California drought. But they did bloom beautifully for a short while... 

Friday, June 05, 2015

tender moments

The boys have shared a room for about 3 years now, an arrangement that has worked amazingly well for the most part. The past few weeks, however, Quinn has been taking longer to fall asleep at night, and been more talkative at bedtime, to the point of keeping Donovan awake. So Quinn and I have been laying down in my bed, instead, where he falls asleep, and then later in the evening I transfer him over to his own room.

I have been surprised at how fond I am of this little ritual now, of moving him into his own bed. There is just a sweetness to it that I cherish. I walk into the dark room and approach the bed, gently pulling back the sheets I reach over to the sleeping figure-- which might be all stretched out, or curled up in a tight ball, or laid out horizontally across the whole bed-- and gently start to pick him up. He wakes up just enough to startle slightly, then wrap his arms around my neck burying his face into my neck and shoulder, hugging me tight in his slumber. His grip is reminiscent of his infant days, back when he wanted nothing other than to be held in my arms all day (and night) long. I slowly, quietly, walk through my bedroom door into the shared bathroom, and then into the room he shares with his brother. As gently and slowly as I can, I lay him down in his own bed and lay his blanket over him. He rolls over, pulls the covers up to his chin, and mumbles something about wanting me to stay with him. He usually goes right back to a deep sleep. I kiss his cheek and smooth back his hair, watching his face which looks so sweet and calm as he sleeps. No matter how frustrated or angry I felt with him at any point earlier in the day, in that moment all I can feel is my heart bursting with how much I love this little person. How beautiful he is— the curve of his nose, the softness of his cheek, the shape of his lips… they are the epitome of perfection, as far as I can tell.

What is it about those quiet moments in the dark, that make and break your heart at the same time?

The other day, in-between his running around and jumping on my back and wrestling with his brother and otherwise being rambunctious and wild in every way he could think of, at one point in the day he paused and looked at me and said, “Mom, am I never going to nurse ever again?”

“No, sweetie. I’m sorry but you will never nurse again.”

I weaned him a good year ago, he was about 3.5 years old. There have been a  handful of times in the past year when he has said something like this, either asked about nursing again or told me he misses it.

“But we can hug and kiss and cuddle as much as we want, for always, ok?” I add, to reassure him. He came over and gave me a hug.

We’ve been listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks in the car, and I don’t think Quinn is paying as much attention to them as Donovan is, but he still is following along with a lot of it. Recently he told me that his favorite character is “The big hairy guy, with the big hands.” I laughed out loud, because while I had not thought of it before, of all the characters in that whole world Hagrid is probably the most perfect match for Quinn. Rough and big and loud... and yet with a tender, sweet, sensitive inner self. It’s a perfect fit.

And I could totally see Quinn wanting a pet dragon.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Currently, I am...

  • very tired. Staying up too late, getting woken up too early, too many days in a row. I'm doing it again, it's past 11:30pm and I'm still not in bed. For shame. But there's just always that one last thing to do before heading off to bed...
  • reading a book on writing "creative nonfiction," which has me thinking about writing and blogging and storytelling, and what/how/when/where I may want to do any/all of those things (me write good, yes?)
  • starting to feel really excited about our summer up ahead. Quinn is done with school in a week, and then our days open up completely for whatever sorts of adventures we want to take. We have a bunch of fun trips planned: a weekend jaunt to the wine country for the birthday of one of my best friends; my mom is visiting us out here in a few weeks; my other BFF just bought tickets for himself and his kids to come visit in July; and we've got our Tahoe family vacation extravaganza in August. Lots of very exciting stuff ahead. 
  • wishing my kids would get over these colds they've been battling the past week (as I ignore the suspicious tickle in the back of my throat), but am also enjoying our lazy days of hanging out watching movies and resting as we try to recover. 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Joe Biden and the double-standard of single parenting

Over the weekend the news broke out that Beau Biden, Joe Biden's son, had passed away. Cancer took another life, the bastard. Amid the coverage and discussion afterwards, I also found out that Biden had also lost his first wife and infant daughter many years ago (I had heard something about his first wife dying, but didn't know the full story). I have always liked Joe, I like his energy and goofyness. Donovan and I saw him and Jill speak at a political rally in New Hampshire a couple of years ago. It adds a layer of meaning to his jovial nature to know that he is that way in spite of living through great tragedy.

I watched the conversations about Biden and his family, and about his past, all the heartbreak he has seen. How brave and strong he was in the face of raising two toddler boys alone with his wife and daughter gone. His resolve at following through with his new job as a member of the senate, his four-hour daily commute to work and back, so he could be with his boys in their hometown.

I don't deny any of his courage or strength or resolve or ambition. I think anyone who goes through what he has more than deserves the title of a Hero. What I will say next is in no way meant to lessen or belittle any of what he has done or been through.

All that said... As people talked about Biden, I saw a picture float through my timeline. The picture was of a young Joe Biden being sworn in to his new position in the senate, right there in the hospital room beside little Beau who was still recovering from the crash. The photo was described as moving, heartbreaking, proof of Biden's resolve to be there for his kids.

I looked at that photo and I couldn't help think, "But what if he had been a mother?"

What if it had been a woman, and her husband and baby were killed right before she was to take office? What if she were the one with a photo of her swearing-in by her kid's hospital bed? What if it were a single mother now traveling four hours each day to go to work, and be back home to tuck her babies in at night?

Would she be applauded as a hero? Praised for her bravery, her ambition, her commitment to both her work and her family?

I doubt it. Most likely people would have criticized her for "abandoning" her children when they needed her most. They would have questioned her competency at work, her ability to commit to her job when she had grieving children to worry about and care for. The backlash would have been immediate and intense, not just in 1972 but even today. Just look at the way Hillary Clinton was questioned and criticized when her grandchild (not her own kid, but her grandbaby) was born. People actually thought that her becoming a grandmother would change her ambitions about running for president.

Single fathers are viewed as brave heroes for stepping up to the plate of caring for their own children. Meanwhile single mothers are a favorite target of many, often blamed as the cause of everything that is wrong with society today.

I don't begrudge Joe Biden being praised and applauded for what he has done-- I think he should feel damn proud of himself for managing to be both the parent and the politician he wanted to be. I like and respect him as a person, and my heart goes out to him and his whole family for everything they have gone through.

But this double-standard where single dads are awesome but single moms apparently suck, all for doing the exact same thing? It's just infuriating.


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