Friday, December 22, 2006
More and more lately I have to simply abandon even keeping track of the body count in Iraq. I can't stay that angry. I can only hope that the change in leadership in Washington will do something to balance the abuse of power, and get us out of that quagmire. I take no solace in having been right about this war: I've had a "No Iraq War" sign posted since before we even got there. If I knew it was a bad idea, why didn't Hilary and the rest of the Democrats who could have voted against it? Why didn't our President know it? Or did he?
As a stark contrast, my life with Ben has been so filled with goodness this year. Making this move to Ann Arbor was scary and exhilarating. I was so fortunate to be able to sell my house (literally at my yard sale I held to clean it out in order to sell it), to be able to afford the move and the incredibly high cost of housing here, and to live in this town that was declared the third brainiest city in the nation. We beat Cambridge, Mass., coming in third after Boulder and Bethesda.
I miss my friends of two decades who stayed behind in Port Huron, and my sister and brother-in-law and nephew, but we keep in touch and Ben and I get back there about every six weeks or so. Ann Arbor is such a cool destination, they visit us too. Jackie and Phil were here just Wednesday, and we had a wonderful dinner, replete with tears and laughter. I really miss them, and I miss having a house full of friends eating and drinking and laughing, the way we did fairly regularly at my house in Port Huron.
My job is rewarding, even today when I basically dealt all day with parents who can't set aside their own grievances to allow their children to have unfettered relationships with each other. It's so sad, especially at Christmas: one mother who had snatched her kids early from school to keep them from going to celebrate Christmas with her ex-husband's family was talking to me with the kids in the car, on her daughter's cellphone. "If they go with him, who will I have at Christmas?" she said, as if, of course, it was all about her. On another call, after I listened to the dad lay out his grievances, I suggested that he needed to learn to talk to his kid's mom. "Oh, I don't talk to her," he said. Job security for future generations of therapists.
My co-worker Jayne reminded me that there are lots of parents who make it work for their kids, and we don't hear from them because they are making it work. Of course that's true--we have 22,000 open files in our county, and I only dealt with five sets of parents today. It's a matter of perspective.
Tomorrow Ben and I leave for my mom's, where we'll be joined by my two sisters and three nephews and one brother in law. I am glad both my parents are living and in relatively good health: my co-worker Sarah is watching her father die in her home this Christmas, with Hospice lending compassion and care. I am so glad my sisters are making the trip so that we can all be together for this holiday. Ben will love it, and my sisters and I always have fun. Two Christmases ago we were all at my sister Melissa's house in Boca Raton, and I confess it was nice to sit on the veranda with a cocktail and look out at green everywhere. It's been so warm here this winter, our grass is still almost green.
I'll be offline for a few days. I am grateful for those who keep reading and encouraging my attempts at writing here in Blogosphere. One of you even traded couplets with me this afternoon, just to keep our spirits up. May each of you find inspiration and encouragement in your corner of the ether.
Peace, shalom, salaam to all of you, and to all a good night!
Monday, December 18, 2006
And yes, I am posting this from work. It's taken me exactly five minutes of a break I never use.
A Potter's Wish
The perfect poem:
flesh and bone,
phrase and memory;
an empty bowl
built to hold words.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
All afternoon I have been looking for the right words while Ben sleeps.
I just went to the mailbox.
There was an envelope from my friend John. In it was a copy of Sy Safransky’s piece on writing from The Sun (December 2006). It is full of good advice for writers. It’s moving and right and makes me glad I spent all afternoon at the keyboard rather than cleaning.
But even better was what John had written in his lefty scrawl on the back:
“Please write some more music for our eyes. Love, John ”
Thank you, John.
to her mother’s pregnant belly,
auburn ringlets fall across her smile
both barefooted in the sunshine
dappled light near fallen leaves
rolling heart below her ribs
drumming child’s fingers echoed.
”. . . Ce jour-la pres de la source Dieu
Sait ce que tu m’as dit. . .”
The quartet softly climbs:
“Comme les chansons qui meurent
aussitot qu’on les oublie . . .”
Round and round
like the windmills
of my heart,
Autumn’s breeze stirs the leaves above us
fleeting portrait etched forever
in the canyons of my mind.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
I have always really enjoyed Advent--that time leading you to the holiday gathering and giving of gifts. I have enjoyed it even more in these last few years, as my siblings and I have all agreed that gift giving is about our kids, not ourselves, and we no longer exchange any gifts among the adults. We keep trying to convince our parents that this is wise, but they insist on giving us all something. They don't need to. They gave us a good start in life, the values of education and compassion. What more could parents really give to children than those things?
Although I call myself a "small c" christian, I have always been drawn to things Jewish. The fundamental underpinning of the Judaism seems to be a celebration of the holy of the everyday. Hanukkah starts this weekend, and I am glad to say that outside Ben's preschool, there's a little holiday banner with a mennorah with little driedels along the border. They're learning about Hanukkah, they will learn about Christmas, and they will learn about Kwanzaa. It's a great place.
Anyway, Christianity, at its root, has such a deep foundation in Judaism. That idea of the holy of the everyday is so pervasive when you strip Christianity down to its core. Jesus described heaven as simply being in the presence of god. To be in the presence of god as if god were the air you breathe, the food you eat.
So Advent, with all the hustle and business, the parties, the shopping, the pressure, should really be 40 days of thinking about the presence of the coming god. That god so magnificently born in a stable amid the lowing cattle and the fresh hay and the manure to very poor, wandering, homeless and bewildered parents. The wonder of finding the king of the Jews in a little wailing babe, the illegitimate offspring of a very young, unmarried mom and her older soon-to-be husband. God is a little kid, the lowest possible class in Jewish society, the illegitimate son of a carpenter, and he outsmarts all the rabbis and pharisees even before his bar mitsvah. It's a great story.
But when I think about the season and how frenetic it is and think about what the story really might mean to all of humankind, I feel like a fish gasping for air.
The fish in my hands
tries to breathe
in the way that fish do:
air from water.
But the fish
is in the air.
I cast the fish
into the water,
to curse me
and thank me,
then disappears into
deep green life.
Dependent on water,
eyes always open,
I wish I could
as the fish feels water:
swim in the presence
Instead, my eyes close.
I try to breathe again
Could I cast my sins
into the pond
after the fish,
be given a chance
to make things right,
to breath god,
as the fish
breathes water ?
Monday, December 11, 2006
Tonight, he was cheerful after his bath and reading our two books. He seemed to want to put himself to sleep. “G’night, Mommy, kiss,” he said.
I gave him the requested kiss and said, “Do you know how much I love you?”
He answered with my phrase, “A million trillion,” and smiled his broad smile.
I kissed him again and said, “I’ll be in the kitchen, doing dishes. Good night my sweet,” and left him in his room.
A moment later I heard his voice. I thought he was calling me. I walked to the foot of our short stairs, and heard:
“ Eee I, ee I oh, a duck duck here, a duck duck there, ee I ee I oh.”
A moment later, all was quiet.
Ben has learned to sing himself to sleep.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
at first, just a slight variation
in temperature, from a rapid boil
to a slow boil.
Then, a simmer.
Soon no bubbles at all,
the molecules slowed,
some steam rose.
A solid layer appeared as a thin skin,
a slight thickening of the liquid,
molten surface less movable than
before, though it still undulated.
The skin thickened and cracked.
Soon there was no heat at all on the surface,
except what came from the sun.
Life began to appear:
weeds and small rodents,
flowers and small trees gave blessed shade.
Now we could build a hut,
hoe and plant food.
We were, at last, able to
sustain ourselves on the land.
I loved the molten days:
the energy, the heat
the fire just beneath
our feet. I knew we
couldn’t walk away :
there was nothing to walk on.
Now we plant and tend,
cook and feed,
build and borrow
and staying close
isn’t a matter of survival.
The making of a family is a complex
thing as the surface cools:
we need work and tools,
we know life depends on us.
In that truth there is an ache,
like sore muscles after weeding.
It is simple, good work,
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Then I realized I had forgotten to order reprints of my Ben's great school picture, and that studio wants at least two weeks lead time. Plan B--my local UPS ship store will do color copies for 39 cents. So, I'll add Ben's picture to a brief Christmas letter, have copies printed and enclose them in the Wonderful Waddell cards.
Speaking of warm Christmas feelings, there's a reader that leaves me smiling everytime I check my sitemeter report. I see that she (or he) checks in just about everyday. That site meter report is like a Greek chorus that chants, "Write something new, keep them reading, keep writing, they'll keep reading." I don't know who it is. I don't know anyone who lives there. But that little dot on the map tells me that someone is reading, getting to know me, looking into my life through these musings. It's a wonderful, weird sort of feeling, like when George meets the angel on the bridge. OK, not quite that dramatic, but it's knowing that someone is reading--a stranger--not my mom, my friends, who check in because they love me and Ben, but someone who actually found something here that resonates with them. It's wonderful.
That loyal reader is located 772 miles from here. I get hits from all over, Malaysia, London, Florida, Colombia, France. Not many of them come back. I know all my other regulars because they left me a comment, or I checked out their blogs, left them a comment and they responded. There's a part of me that loves the mystery of not knowing who it is who checks in. There's the other part of me who is simply dying to know, who are you?
Who are you right smack in the middle of the heartland of this country?
If you'd prefer to remain anonymous, I can understand that. It's just that we've been on the same train now for a while, and I'm curious. I moderate the comments, and you could leave one and ask me not to publish it, and I'll honor that. It could be our little secret. I'm a lawyer, I've been keeping people's secrets all my adult life.
Or, maybe you won't tell me, and that's OK too, tis the season for mystery and marveling at the wonderful gifts in our lives.
Thanks for reading, all of you, known and unknown.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
I was actually really glad to hear from him. We quickly traded 'where we have been' stories and started a great correspondence. He was getting in touch with all the former girlfriends (in his shorthand, the "fgf's") because he was feeling nostalgic, and wanted to have community again.
John introduced me to the internet, and I got my first email account on CompuServe from the disc he sent me. Remember discs? Remember when our email addresses were numbers?
When I started blogging, I discovered this community thing is very important here too, and I think the blogosphere is sort of fueled by an energy created by the connections made.
Bear with me here.
Somehow, a few months ago, I stumbled onto the Curmudgeon's site: he's a lawyer in Chicago who is really a funny writer and a great philosopher. From his site, I found a number of other, most of them linked at your right.
But the other day I was despairing because I didn't have any good Christmas cards yet. I was too late to order the UNICEF ones I thought about, and I didn't want to get Hallmark ones, or buy any in the store.
Then, after chuckling over the Curmudgeon's latest musing, I found this card:
OK, well it wasn't quite that easy. I was stalling and internally whining, and I was clicking on blogs linked to Curmudgeon's, and that's how I found the extra-ordinary site of Bennie and Ben Waddell at http://benandbenniewaddell.blogspot.com/ from there I was able to find my cards.
I also bought some of these:
OK I didn't really buy these. I got an email from Bennie confirming shipment and showing me this lovely assortment of cards, chosen by him: what he added as a bonus.
Then, I was absolutely thrilled that he added a comment to my blog.
Then, my cup runneth over, Bennie actually did a blog post about my poem (I use the term liberally) Thanksgiving, and provided a link in his blog.
It's like the old days, when I would discover a poem, and turn to my pal Susan at the dinner table in Baldwin House and say, "Wow, read this." Only it's all in the ether.
And the surprising thing is it's just as nurturing and just as fine a community. Of course you have to wade through a lot to find gems, but it's really no different from getting on a train headed home at Christmas time, and wandering through the cars, and finding something in someone's face that made you think, OK, I'd like to talk to THIS person.
Thanks, Bennie. And those of you still looking for wonderful, affordable gifts which serve a real purpose, check out Bennie Waddell's art. You can Google him. Or find him through this blog. Or the Curmudgeon's. I haven't learned yet how to artfully imbed links to instantly transport you there, to Bennie's EBay site.
But trust me, he's just one car back, about three seats from the front, near the window. He's got a big canvas in front of him and he's painting with his son by his side. His wife and red-headed daughter are sitting in the two seats across the aisle. You'll love talking with them all.
It's worth the short walk. Let your fingers do it.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Today at our management meeting, our boss told a joke. "Why does divorce cost so much?" it began.
Now, all of us, who work with nothing but divorce all day long, and sometimes we even dream about it if there is a particularly knotty file sitting on our desk, all of us were stumped. There was a delicious (to the teller of joke) pause (which felt to all of the rest of us like we'd missed something, or maybe it was true what our first grade teacher had said, maybe we really were stupid). None of us answered.
I assure you this was not because any of us were afraid of blurting out the answer to the boss's joke. We were truly stumped. We don't stand on that sort of ceremony in our office. The Boss, we know, puts his pants on like the rest of us: quickly in the winter because we all keep our thermostats at about 55 degrees.
But when I asked my friend Joe, who lives in LA, "Why does divorce cost so much?" thinking I was going to tell a really good joke and that he would laugh when I had to tell him the punchline, and he immediately answered,
"because it's worth it," and he didn't even chuckle. He knew the goddamn punchline that none of us-- two lawyers, two MBA's and an MSW-- could figure out. Joe didn't even finish high school, but he lives and works in LA.
The only way I could rescue a comedic moment is to say, "Oh, I can't wait to tell my boss that there are audiences that wouldn't even pause on that one," and Joe graciously laughed at that.
Maybe it really is that we take our relationships more seriously here, and that it doesn't instantly occur to us that divorce is anything but a terrific tragedy to be avoided. There are obviously people who, parenthetically, live in a place where they might actually tomorrow slide into the Pacific Ocean if the earth rumbles a bit, don't think there's anything but value to a divorce.
Or maybe I am being a little harsh. Maybe they are just more funny than the rest of us out there. Or maybe when you do it for a living, if you actually live and breathe divorce all day long, it isn't instantly clear to you why people might acutally pay a lawyer a great deal of money to split things up. People up. Children up.
I used to do that for a living. People would actually say things to me like, "I'd rather pay you a thousand dollars than pay him one penny."
I like it much better now that I can say to people, "Maybe you need to be the bigger parent. The only one who suffers is your four year old son if you decide he can't see his dad until the hearing." And that mom actually thanked me for saying that, today, with tears in her eyes.
So, in a sense, it's true this joke, a divorce costs a lot because it's worth it.
But who really pays?
Friday, November 24, 2006
We share my bed because
Grandpa is visiting.
Ben lies on his side,
one arm bent beneath him,
In that upside down
lies Lightening McQueen.
His knees drawn up,
ear touching shoulder.
I read some poems,
and wonder at the breaking
of my heart.
A small brontosaurus
a green word
Ben’s light blue pajamas
tucked under the lilac flannel sheet.
If it is still warm tomorrow,
I must plant bulbs.
Ben stirs, letting
and rubs an eye;
moving his arm up,
he covers his eyes
from the intruding light
of my reading lamp.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I resisted the temptation to turn to Dr. John, and say, "See? I told you!," because he looked so uncomfortable. The two doctors left the room again, leaving me to gloat in relative solitude. In a moment he returned with a prescription in his hand.
Standing before me with a sheepish grin, he said, "Here, this is a 'script for an anti-viral which should still be effective."
"What's the downside of the drug?" I asked.
"Downside?" he said, truly perplexed.
"I mean, what are the potential side effects? And more importantly, what good will it do? I don't want to take a prescription drug if it really won't change the course of this much," I say, looking him dead in his eyes.
He looks away. Then his gaze returns to me, he's still holding the paper before me. "Well, the virus might last seven days if you don't take this, and five if you do."
"Then I won't take it," I say, reaching for the tendered paper, "unless I don't feel better in a week. Then I'll fill it, because I'll be all worn down," I chuckle, more because I feel like it's time to let him off the hook.
He says, "That's fine, good choice." Then, he makes the statement that makes me understand he's got real potential to be a healer. "I'm sorry I don't have more time to spend with you today, but please make a follow up appointment, and I'd like to know how you came to have a two year old in your life." He smiles broadly and extends a hand to shake.
I take it, returning his smile. "Well, you're not getting away without seeing his picture." Releasing his hand, I reach for my checkbook where I carry Ben's latest picture. As I show it to him, he is satisfyingly appreciative.
"He's darling," he says. "It really is a pleasure to meet you," he says.
A few minutes later, as I am waiting to pay my co-pay in the lobby, John walks out the door and comes up to me. "Could I see that prescription?" he asks.
I hand it to him. He crosses something out, and writes a note in the margin. "I made a mistake," he says, "I wrote it for 100 milligrams, and if you do decide to take this, it should be in a dose which might actually help. It should have been 1000."
This young doctor has, in the space of ten minutes, said two things that distinguish him from so many young professionals, catapulting him into the rare class of people who will acutally help others. He has said "I'm sorry," and "I was wrong." I want to jump up and hug him and tell him to call his momma and tell her he's going to be a great doctor. Instead, I smile and thank him, feeling deeply grateful that someone at this clinic made a good hiring decision, again.
As I write this, my shingles are almost gone. I didn't fill the prescription. And the prognosis for Dr. John is good.
There are many things to be thankful for tomorrow: a good job with health insurance, healers, family, and the passing of a discomforting virus. If every child could be loved and we could just find peace, it'd be pretty close to a perfect world.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
First, I was a half an hour late, because instead of writing down the time I need to leave to make the appointment I wrote down the actual appointment time. When I got there, I read the look on Lorraine's face. She normally greets me, when I have Ben in tow, with a warm smile and our wait is never more than 10 minutes.
"I'll have to see if he can still see you." That's what I like about this clinic, they don't stand on the pretense of saying "The Doctor." Normally, someone like Lorraine might have said, "I'll have to see if The Doctor can see you," the capitals audible. But not here. This is the Ypsilanti Family Practice, and we know the docs are just humans. The huddled masses pass through this clinic, and they are welcomed and healed without regard to class.
I, all apologetic, said, "Oh jeez, Lorraine, did I write down the wrong time?"
"What time did you write down?" she asked, one eyebrow raised.
"1:30--I think the time I have to leave to get here." The clinic is across town, across an interstate, and a world away from upscale Ann Arbor. "I always write Ben's appointments down as the time I need to leave," I add, hoping the mention of The Prince will soften her judgment.
"Your appointment," she said, pausing just there for emphasis, "was scheduled for 1:30." Her regal posture has not moved. She looks me square in the eye. She is not moved by invocation of The Prince.
I look away from her gaze, for a nanosecond, but I know it is enough to signal I am defeated. "God, I hate middle age," I say. And then, genuinely, "I am so sorry. Of course I'll reschedule if I need to."
She softens, just a hair, reaching for the phone. "Let's see if he can see you." It's not even a capital h.
Thirty minutes later, she says, "I am sorry you waited so long, he can see you," and flash, I am into the inner sanctum and The Scale.
The Scale is a dirty liar, but I let it go.
The height is recorded at 71 inches, so I haven't shrunk at all, which is heartening. I could still win bets in bars with men who claim to be six feet tall.
The nurse who takes me to room 9 says, "He doesn't have that many patients, he has time to see you. How's Ben?"
I want to kiss her. I love this place. "Ben's fine. Thanks for that," and she smiles graciously.
"You don't really need to do the gown, I'll just set it here." After my encounter with The Scale, the thought of sitting with my fat apron lolling around the edges of the gown was really getting me down.
"Thank God," I say, and she smiles again, that knowing I'm-an-older-woman-too-and-I feel-your-pain-sister smile.
In walks a taller, thinner, brunette Dougie Howser. I'm "John Stracks," he says, extending his hand, "You're Cynthia Bostwick? We haven't met." I love this place. No "Me Doctor Surname, you Cindy" crap from this guy. We're almost equals.
"Hi, John," I say, feeling emboldened by the sisterhood of the nurse. "Good to meet you."
He asks why I am here, and I explain I think I have shingles. I tell him I called two weeks ago and this was the earliest appointment available. I tell him I have had them before, during my first year of law school 22 years ago. I describe the course of the illness to date. I do not ask for drugs, just confirmation.
He asks me if he can see it. I lift up my sweater and the bottom of my bra, and show him the rash, right there, under my too-ample right breast.
"Are you sure it's not your undergarment rubbing?"
This comment removes any trace of apology I still felt for being late and makes me want to lecture this high school kid about imitating a doctor. Then I think, oh wait, he's acting like a doctor, so he must be one.
I had the exquisite luxury of knowing my doc as a friend for nearly 20 years in St. Clair County. He trusted me, he knew I wasn't a nitwit, he believed I was capable of educated guesses about my own body. We talked about kids, life, politics, the art of medicine and law, and the child welfare system. Paul Bruer was a healer. This guy doesn't know me yet, so he's being a Doctor, not a partner in curing illness.
"I realize I am overweight and my undergarment," I sneer the word, "doesn't fit me like it used to, but I am certain this is not caused by the rubbing of same undergarment on my skin. This hurts. It started as a piercing back pain two days before the rash appeared. I've had them before. It's shingles."
"I'll be right back," he says. I think, from the look on his face, that he might be going to use an emesis basin.
He comes back in with a woman who looks even younger. "Hi, I'm Susan Yost, the Chief of Family Practice here. Would you mind if I took a peek at your rash?"
"Not at all," I lift the tight undergarment and she turns to him and says, "Yep. It's shingles, it's all along the nerve."
(to be continued, it's late, and I have shingles, whine, whine.)
Thursday, November 09, 2006
John Tomlinson will be the new Probate Judge in St. Clair County. This is truly a wonderful moment for all of the most vulnerable of St. Clair County residents. John will make a wonderful judge and I am so glad to have been a part of his support in pursuit of that office.
We sent a strong message and overthrew some of the aliens. No more Rick Santorum. No more Delay crony. No Dick DeVos. Democrats now control Congress, which is part of getting back to balance. No single party should ever control all the branches of government.
However, on the third issue, the voters didn’t share my views. In passing Prop 2, people in Michigan supported the return to an uneven playing field. And we passed it by an astounding 58%, just two points lower of our famous ban on gay marriage a year ago. At least I live in one of three Michigan counties which defeated the proposal, but it wasn’t enough. As I walked into Ben’s preschool with him this morning, Kai’s mom said, “I have such elation and so much heartache over the election results, I am still reeling.” We chatted briefly about how to use Prop 2 tactics to defeat it: maybe we’ll mount a ballot initiative called the “keep women and minorities in their places” amendment, and reinstate affirmative action under that title. The fact that this regressive proposal was entitled the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative made it all the more devastating that people actually voted for it.
BAMN and the U of M are going to fight it, and hope springs eternal. Hail to the victors, to coin a phrase.
Monday, November 06, 2006
I heard two remarkable speeches this weekend. The first, at the Ann Arbor NAACP dinner, delivered by Hilary Shelton, head of the NAACP D.C. office. This is a guy who walks the halls of Congress (a few years ago I might have added “hallowed” in front of Congress, but not now.) He was articulate, acerbic and inspirational. He talked about his debate with Ward Connerly, the man behind that piece of trash known in this state as “the Civil Rights Initiative” or Prop 2. He described Mr. Connerly as “someone who climbed the ladder of success with the aid of affirmative action and now wants to kick the ladder down so no one else can climb.” I thought that was wonderful.
Hilary also told a very moving story about a childhood friend of his, a single father, whose 14 year old son was shot in gang crossfire a few years ago. This was a dad who did everything right and was trying his best to raise two wonderful boys to be men. As he knelt beside his dying boy in the gutter, a reporter asked him what he did wrong, why was his boy dying. What the man had the presence to say was that he’d done everything right for his own son, and his only regret is that he didn’t do it for the boy who pulled the trigger. We can’t build walls to keep “them” away from our kids, so we have to embrace and help every kid we can. Words to live by.
Last night, I drove into Detroit to hear Howard Zinn speak. Howard is the author of A People’s History of the United States. He’s a famous guy in peace circles, and in some other circles because he got fired from Spellman college for sticking with the underdogs. Howard said great things too. He said our country was being run by aliens, and he didn’t mean the people trying to sneak across our borders to find a better life for their families. He meant those people who are profiting from this horrible war in Iraq, and skimming the best off the top for their friends. The people who are stealing our votes and the lives of our kids. They are aliens, an unknown, unrecognizable life form.
Howard also quoted our own Declaration of Independence, and said that the people have a right to form a government, and, when they disagree with that government, they have the right to abolish it. The founders of this country turned the notion of sovereignty on its head: we are the sovereigns and we are only governed so long as we consent to be governed. He said that patriotism was about doing just that, withdrawing our consent, turning it into dissent, and abolishing this government set up by aliens—because it wasn’t what we thought it was. They have stolen our democracy and lulled us into a false sense of complacency. The media have us all entertained into numbness. That we’d better stand up and do something, anything, to stop it.
Howard Zinn and Hilary Shelton give me hope. When I take Ben by the hand tomorrow and walk across the street to Pittsfield Elementary school to cast my vote, I am going to do that one small thing to take back my country. And I am going to keep dissenting, even when my voice shakes.
But right now, I am tired and the right upper quadrant of my body feels like it’s being lanced. And seven more kids died today fighting a war that they didn’t start, that was based on pure lies, and that was started by an unlawful and unconstitutional exercise of executive power. And those nitwits in Congress all went along with it, because there were flags everywhere and they were all afraid of being called un-American.
There is nothing more American than dissent. Look that up on the Google, weep real tears, and vote tomorrow because your life depends on it. And then, Wednesday, give it to the Democrats and tell them they’d better start acting like they care about our country or you’re going to get rid of them, too.
Take this country back from the aliens.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
And I said, "I am. I am a fifty-year old single mom of a toddler and that's pretty scary." He laughed so hard I used the line all day.
All afternoon little kids came trick or treating. Ben's preschool came and when he saw me he let go of his rope loop (an interesting method of getting the little kids to walk with the group-- a long clothesline with little loops tied at about 18 inch intervals and each kid holds a loop) and then cried when he had to go back to school. But they actually got him to wear his costume: James from the Thomas the Tank Engine series. His pal Malcom was the actual big star, Thomas. Haj was too overwhelmed by the whole affair and stayed back at school with the babies.
So, I thought about the Friend of Court being a pirate ship, and wondered what the payors of child support thought of that as they came to the window to kvetch about the amount or negotiate a pay off on a delinquent account. Apparently, not one voiced objection to the irony. Not even the guy there for a custody evaluation whose fingers were tatooted "NECK" on the left hand and "RED" on the right hand in such a way so that if he made fists and held his hands out in front of him you could have known he spent a lot of time working in the garden.
It was good to have the little kids trooping through all afternoon, it reminded us all of why we were there. Maybe it even reminded the payors.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
I helped him climb up, and there was a three or four year old white kid up there already. He looked at Ben, and he said, "No black kids can be pirates here!"
Ben laughed and clapped his hands. I went to the three year old's father, and told him what his kid had said. He glared at me for the longest ten seconds of my life. Then he brushed past me and yelled, "Jason! C'mon, we're going home." The kid ran to him like he knew what might happen if he didn't, and off they walked, across the green grass to the street.
At the time, I was posting a lot of poems on the site Poetry.com. One of my favorite reviewers was Dean Walker, a twenty-somthing coffee salesperson from Sebastapol, California. I wrote him about the incident, and he wrote this, for Ben.
Home Grown Pirates
Boxed in and filled with sand
like an ocean
the towering creosote soaked pilings
take the form of an old shipwreck,
with riggings and planks,
and a captain's wheel.
Paid by the commons
for the children to enjoy.
"Aye scalawags all aboard,"
shouts a portly pint size scoundrel.
And hence heed the call
and came skipping
from his yard none other than
two year old Suleiman.
"Holt boy!There are no black pirates!"
says the patch-eyed little thug,
within ear shot of his parents,
keeping the world of thievery
squarely in the domain of whitie.
Friday, October 27, 2006
The precipitating event was that Haj wanted to get in the car Ben was driving on the playground. At two and a half, sharing is not yet a consistent value. Ben said “No! My car!” “No” and “my” are two of his favorite words lately. Haj tried to crawl through the car window, and when he got within range, he bit Ben’s lower lip to express his displeasure.
As parents, we want to right the wrongs done to our children. I had no desire, however, to punish the other kid, I just wanted the friendship to be repaired and for both of them to thrive. I wanted both Ben and Haj to be equals again, instead of bitee and biter. Of course I want Haj to learn not to bite, but rather to speak his frustration. And I want Ben to learn to share.
I did think, fleetingly, about sending Ben to school the next day with a sign that said: "Don't bite me, my mom's a lawyer."
I imagine James Fett, a lawyer and one of the strongest proponents of Michigan’s Proposition 2, the innocuously-titled “civil rights” proposal, also wants to right a perceived wrong. Mr. Fett feels that his clients, white men, have been unfairly bitten and deprived of rights because affirmative action has given opportunities to non-whites. So he goes around the state trying to drum up support for this misguided notion.
The supporters of Proposal 2 pander to all of our worst fears: a woman will take away a man’s job, a black kid will take your kid’s place at U of M, a Hispanic kid should learn to speak English before they get to our schools. They are just girls, they look funny, and they talk funny. That’s a value judgment for you. This approach focuses on our differences in a negative way and makes us think that somehow those differences mean we’ll be treated differently.
James Fett wants to see us go back to the days when white men didn’t get equal treatment, they got preferential treatment.
Here’s life: sometimes you get bit. There are only so many desks for the incoming class. If you don’t get a seat, you try somewhere else. When I applied to colleges, it was rumored that there was a quota for Midwestern kids at Eastern schools. Apparently, some other Midwesterner kid beat me to Radcliffe and Yale. But I got in at Smith. So I went there. I didn’t think I had a right to take someone else’s seat away at Yale, because they were from New York and I was from Michigan. Life is not about granting all our wishes, or our kids getting everything we want for them. It’s about choices and allocating resources for the greater good.
Affirmative action is less about giving some minority kid a break than it is about leveling the playground for all kids: about taking away an advantage you get just by being born white. All affirmative action has ever been about, in any court case or factory or school is this: as between two equally rated candidates, the one who is non-white or non-male will be given the place. As between two equally rated candidates. It has never been about giving an unqualified person a job because she isn’t white. When we each do better, we all do better.
Ben got bitten, Haj bit him. I can’t change that. When Haj learns not to bite, and when Ben learns to share, they’ll both do better.
I’ve been on a steep learning curve about white privilege since Ben came into my life. Because he is African-American, and I am not, my race consciousness has been sharpened and changed dramatically. I no longer spend days, weeks, years without thinking about race. I am conscious of it every day. Because Ben and I get a certain look from certain people. Sometimes people actually say things. Cruel, unthinking things, like, “My niece and her husband adopted two crack babies.” They say this because Ben is black, so they think he came from a crack mom, and I rescued him because I am white.
And they were making those assumptions about him because he is black from the time he was born!
Nothing could be further from the truth. His birth mom was a responsible mom, who chose me to raise Ben. She wasn’t a crack addict, or a neglectful parent. She made a sacrifice I was not willing to make: she chose to live her life without Ben so that I could live mine with him. She chose me, a single, white, middle-aged woman, to raise her son. We met before Ben was born. We talked about race, about our families, about raising children, about men, our mothers and politics.
I picked Ben’s school because there were teachers who were African-American, Caucasian, Indian and Japanese-American. Haj, his best friend, is Japanese-American. I made decisions based on race, because I wanted a life with more diversity, and I wanted Ben to grow up knowing people of many races, religions and abilities.
Science has actually shown that workers in a diverse workplace are more productive, that companies who can sell to all sorts of people make more money. And so the big companies now recruit in schools where diversity is a value, like the University of Michigan. They don’t go much anymore to California schools to recruit, because Proposition 209 there killed diversity a decade ago. Ward Connerly got that poison passed there, then he turned his money to Michigan to spread his hate. Don’t let him bite Michigan’s kids.
Michigan has the third highest number of hate crimes in the nation. No wonder we were ripe for something like the poison of Proposal 2.
We have to learn to live among each other, not just tolerate each other. We can’t be colorblind, we have to move to an appreciation of each other’s differences. Our children have to play with each other, we need to welcome people of different colors and shapes and sizes into our families. We have to stop biting each other on the playground, and instead learn to share. We need to talk to each other about race, religion and honor our differences. We have to come to the place where we understand that Ben’s pain is also Haj’s pain, and that when Haj improves, Ben improves.
Proposal 2 only increases the pain between us. Vote no, for Haj and Ben. Vote no for your daughters, mothers and sisters. Vote no for yourself, because a life where you aren’t afraid of someone just because they have a different color of skin is a better life.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
There is one political race that may touch your life in the most dramatic way: that’s the race for Probate judge. There’s only one candidate in St. Clair County who will do a good job: that’s John Tomlinson.
Find his website at http://www.ElectTomlinsonProbateJudge.com.
Let me tell you what it means to be a Probate judge. You deal with the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, the criminally insane, the parentless children, the widows and widowers, and thanks to the wisdom of our Supreme Court, you also deal with divorces two days a week. You deal everyday with people in crisis, sad people, sick people, our most vulnerable neighbors.
That means that judge decides who gets locked away for treatment even though they are too sick to know they need it, who gets the kids, how much child support should be paid, which heirs get the money, how much money a surviving spouse can live on, who needs a guardian and what sort of powers does that guardian have, and who takes care of the money if someone can’t manage their own.
It takes a special kind of person to be a good Probate judge, and there aren’t, sadly, that many good ones. John Tomlinson will be one of the good ones, but he needs you. Now.
Don’t get me wrong.
Every political decision is an important one, every vote counts. But your vote for Probate judge can literally save your life. Did I mention the Probate judge also has the power, if asked, to make end of life decisions for you?
I was the chief clerk of Probate Court for five years, and in June I left that job to move to
John Tomlinson knows and cares about real people. He worked at Community Mental Health for a number of years before becoming a lawyer. He has a developmentally disabled adult sibling. He’s the child of divorced parents, he’s been there. He’s served as conservator, personal representative, trustee, and guardian for many people. He's warm and smart and kind and funny. He’ll make a terrific judge and he’s earned it.
If you’re still not convinced, email me, or leave a comment, and I’ll respond in 24 hours. Even though I don’t live there, I am helping John. I am not a person who is given to hyperbole (well at least not every day!) but this vote could save your life, or the life of someone you know, like a little kid or a gravely ill elderly person.
If you only cast one vote this year, make that your vote for John Tomlinson for Probate Judge.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
I first met Mary Beth Black when I was a law student working at Lakeshore Legal Aid in Port Huron, Michigan. I was representing a tenant, she was representing a landlord. She called to see if we could reach a settlement before getting to court. In the way only a law student could, I carefully quoted a court rule and told her she hadn't properly served my client so we wouldn't be appearing at all.
"I don't have to take this shit from you," she said, and hung up on me. Five seconds later the phone rang again and she talked with my supervising attorney, Steve Lockhart. They settled the case, and I learned how to get my client more than she could have gotten by following the court rule.
It was the beginning of a great friendship that lasted twenty years. Both of us did our best to beat each other up, and I learned so much from her. We shared lunches and laughs, and she gave me endless advice on practicing law and, most recently, motherhood. We didn't always agree, but we each recognized in the other a willingness to work our hardest for our clients, but rise above it to be friends at the end of the trial.
Last Sunday night, Mary Beth Black, aged 61 and in her thirtieth year of pratice, put a gun to her heart and pulled the trigger. We buried her today.
The St. Clair County Bar filled six pews in a huge church: her family and a grateful community filled the other pews. It was so hard to say good bye.
Mary Beth started practicing at a time when women lawyers were still an oddity, and an unwelcome one at that. She was smart, and a hottie. The old boys gave her a hard time. And through it all, she kept winning and grinning, and clicking down the halls of justice in her trademark high heels. She was a person who invaded your space. She'd lean in and touch you. If you were in the middle of a case with her and she was out-lawyering you, it would piss you off, frankly. She ran for judge a few times, and she had just survived a primary for the open District Court seat. She'd have made a fine judge.
Instead, she lay in that damned casket looking awful, because only Mary Beth could have done her make up right. It was a final irony that this woman who cared so much about her public face looked awful for this farewell. The torment and sudden severe health problems that led her to shoot herself took a toll.
Mary Beth leaves only questions for me. Her parting was, as one friend and sister at the bar put it, "signature Mary." She decided she wasn't going to take this shit anymore and she ended it.
Her daughter, the pride of her life, eulogized her. At the end of it, Alicia quipped through her tears, "If I can be just half the woman my mother was, I'll be really tired."
It was impossible not to weep. I will miss her, and I will never completely accept that she's gone. In the end, she won. Mary Beth would have loved the celebration of her life that brought all the old boys to church in their dark suits and grim faces. I hope we all remember what a gift to the practice of law she was.
Farewell, Mary Beth. You were a fine friend and a you could be a goddamn pain in the ass. In the end, that's really the best a lawyer can be.
Friday, October 13, 2006
So Saturday I saw two people I hadn't seen in twenty years. The time peels away, and we reconnect as if no time at all had past. Now that I am single and able to freely do what I want without negotiating (except with babysitters) I want to renew these great friendships.
I was reminiscing about the first time I met Ernie Goodman, a co-founder of the Guild. It was a defining moment for me. Now I'm one of the old farts. The Guild's organizer, who could really be my daughter (she's that young), asked me to write something about my memories of Ernie. You know you are old when a person young enough to be your daughter asks you to do this.
So, this is what I wrote:
A irony strikes me now: I started law school and met Ernie Goodman in 1984. Reagan was well on his way to a second disastrous term. I had been a public benefits paralegal with a rural legal aid office in Michigan during his first term, when the term “welfare Cadillac” came into the public lexicon. I didn’t have any client who drove a Cadillac. Law school seemed like more of the same newspeak
The student chapter of the Guild organized a gathering of first year law students to hear Ernie talk about his years as a Guild attorney. Now I recognize that meeting as mentoring: then I just felt as if for the first time since I started law school I could breathe inside that building.
I worked with tireless, dedicated attorneys who were brilliant advocates for the poor: Guild attorneys like Marilyn Mullane, Susan McParland and Kathleen Gmeiner. I had no sense of the work being done outside of Legal Services for social justice. Law school and the private sector seemed like a wasteland to me.
But there in the basement of Wayne Law School, Ernie sat with his wry smile: a co- founder of the Guild, an old guy who still had the spark of young person, a lawyer in private practice who had held onto his ideals and politics through years of practicing law. I can still hear him say, as he pointed at each of us, that trademark twinkle in his eyes, “You really can do well by doing good.”
That initial evening with Ernie blossomed into meeting Bill Goodman, Deb Choly, Julie Hurwitz, Ken Mogill, Neal Bush and Guild lawyers working with Detroit’s peace community as they the protested against Reagan’s foreign policy in Central America. We law students got to work with those lawyers to organize the Civil Disobedience Conference. By the time I started practicing, my ethical and political perspective had been both broadened and honed by gifted Guild lawyers. I had a sense about the wide range of work for justice that could be done.
I’m not saying I would have gone over to the dark side had these lawyers not been present during my legal education, but they gave me something to balance the Oceania of law school.
I probably never said anything to Ernie about the significance of our meeting that night. I know I never thought to thank him. But that one contact with an experienced lawyer, doing good work, and doing well after years of practicing might have changed a lesser person, has stayed with me. The presence of experienced Guild attorneys as mentors during my three years at Wayne was priceless: all of them did good by me.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Such honesty in the face of attempts to categorize.
Are you right handed or left handed?
"I tend to reach out with whatever hand is nearest."
And do you grasp what you reach for?
Or do things continually evade you: ideas, people?
Are there no satisfactions to your hungers?
Do you go wanting? Can you name it?
"I tend to reach out with whatever hand is nearest."
And do you hold it then?
For how long?
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Here's a fall recipe, too.
in the long late
from the cut gems
stains my hand .
Two colors of red
revealed in the slicing,
soaking in the
while garlic browns
and onions become
tiny window panes
in hot oil.
Add the garnets
to the oil and it begins
tart vinegar and garlic
season the kitchen.
Chop the greens:
from the beets
green and burgundy;
then kale, dewy water
rolling off the oddly
Now oiled greens and reds
filled with life,
the suicide drug for
Sunday, October 08, 2006
This morning we spent an hour on the couch, me sipping coffee and reading the Times, and Ben watching Thomas on TV and trying to interfere with my reading. Beside me in the to read pile was the Business section, with an above-the-fold story on Rosa Parks memorabilia. Through my distracted haze, I heard him saying, “Mamma’s hair,” and lowered the paper to see him pointing at picture of Rosa’s silver hair piled in a braid on top of her head. Leave it to Ben to spot race-bridging commonalities.
When he jolted me with his observation, I was reading a piece about the destructive human interaction with elephants. Our disruption of their powerful familial bonds by enslaving, jailing, killing, poaching and encroaching has led to a breakdown of elephant society. Adolescent males of the species are traumatized by the loss of elders to show them the way; rudderless and rampaging, they have killed alarmingly increasing numbers of humans and are known to rape other species. Young females are reproducing without developing elephantine attachment to the larger group and without the extended support network of mothers, grandmothers and aunties.
In a perfect world, young elephants spend their first eight years no further than 15 feet away from their mothers, learning how to attach to the larger group and be elephants. The introduction of elephant elders, male and female, back into the destabilized groups of immature and orphaned adolescents can stabilize them in a year. In some sanctuary areas, human caretakers serve as allomothers: matriarchs to work with orphaned elephant youngsters to develop attachment and cohesion with the larger group. Rosa Parks and elephant matriarchs and saving the world.
Today Ben and I traveled to northern Washtenaw County to the Three Cedars Farm, a touristy but somewhat tasteful pumpkin and hayride place. We petted the goats and looked at the pumpkins and odd gourds, and we wandered off the hayride into the pumpkin patch. Ben did not want to pick a pumpkin. Instead, he went up to each kid his own size, and asked to hold hands. Some kids walked for a while hand in hand with him.
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
and beguiled matriarchs
with chemicals manufactured in the brain.
Dopamine makes us dopey;
neurepinephrine makes us mad with love.
The amygdala governs the mixings:
organs tighten and engorge
lusty attraction before attachment.
A primate learns to grasp
and kiss his mate
from the front;
she learns this is pleasant
like the baby clinging to her breast.
Mother's love for lover's love.
Front to front,
two backs outward,
shielding the inner body,
the soft bellies,
from the world.
Very god of very god
the pre frontal cortex then
lends attachment to the soup.
or maybe like fresh fruit:
the scent of survival.
Wednesday, September 27, 2006
The Wild Cherries
The wild cherries are blooming
in heartbreaking profusion:
sudden pale pink in the
midst of burgundy birch buds
and bright green renewal of oaks.
The wild cherries are blooming.
Every turn in the winding road
not blurred by tears
is alive with floral hope
before blossoms drop like snow.
The wild cherries are blooming.
Gray polyglot mockingbirds sing,
hopeful for remnants of
last year's fruit still clinging
to the blood red branches.
The wild cherries are blooming:
again I am opening
and waiting and waiting,
a taste of spring mocking
my own autumn branches.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Remember those smarmy posters that show the back of a human throwing a starfish back into the sea? This was touted for a while as the starfish theory, that improving the life of one tide-washed starfish would change the world. Well, I always thought it wasn't quite that simple.
We cannot restore our precious earth without thinking about the hard questions, challenging our own prejudices, and refusing to accept conventional wisdom. We cannot survive without asking the questions, and as Rilke said, living the questions long enough to understand, finally, that we have lived our way to the answers. This sonnet was my feeble attempt to live the questions, or describe what it might mean to live the questions, rather than living the slogans.
Upon this tide-washed beach the live star lies
And calls to me with challenge ethical:
Toss her back into the sea or walk away.
Above my head ten hungry terns circle
Carnivores gray and black casting death's shadows.
My quandry: the star's fate at my clay-formed feet.
How oft the query here in tidal shallows
Posed,when maybe greater hearts freed stars from land.
But I thought today the terns, too, depend
On salted bounty tossed by wind-bent brine.
Eons before I walked this littered strand
Ocean-tossed stars upon these sands did shine
And fed the shorebirds hunting in bright bands.
The star? The bird? The ocean or my hands?
Monday, September 18, 2006
my small son dances
at the end of our driveway.
To what music?
No boombox thumps,
no car radio intrudes,
nothing you could dance to:
the roar of a garbage truck,
a passing car, a barking dog.
But Ben feels some
happy, silent beat,
and matches the rhythm he
hears: knees bent,
bounces up and down,
arms stretched, embraces
the moment in the
He looks up at me, beaming,
and reaches for my hand.
As our fingers touch, I hear it:
crickets in the dusk.
I join his dance
in the golden light
of his Autumn dance hall.
The world sings to my son
songs I have forgotten
until he dances them to me.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
my son came early.
His father left before that.
So I drove the pickup
to the hospital,
amniotic fluid soaking the seat.
They gave me pitocin and a hard time.
When he was born
he had trouble.
I spent five days
sitting near his isolette
holding his red fingers:
then we could leave.
I walked us down that long hall,
my shoes squeaking
on the tile floor,
the plastic car seat
bumping my hip.
I thought the green walls
would fall on us,
then we made it out the double doors.
The asphalt was soft
beneath the Texas sun
I could see the pickup
listing at a hundred yards:
a flat. Nothing
to do but change it.
In the rosy evening light, I put him in the bed
and changed that tire.
Bone weary, I drove
us home to my father’s house.
No one fussed over us.
Today my son came home
to a strawberry short cake.
Eleven candles burn in the center.
My father says,
“It seems like yesterday
you came here
a wrinkled little
red bastard. Now
look at you.”
My son blushes at the words.
Tomorrow we will
put our things in the bed
of that truck
and drive away
where a new job waits.
I reach this milestone having done the thing I wanted most: being a parent. But I have decided there must be 50 things I still want to do and which I can do this year.
1. Fall in love like a grown up.
2. See the Grand Canyon.
3. Go to DC without marching in protest.
4. Take Ben on a real steam engine.
5. Write something that gets published.
6. Get close enough to George W. Bush to spit, and do it.
7. Lose 30 pounds.
8. Read all of Shakespeare's Sonnets.
9. Write five decent sonnets.
10. Reconnect with college pals Midge Costin, Annie DeGroot and
11. Take my mom to the Chicago Art Institute and buy her dinner afterward.
12. Learn the names of five native butterflies in Latin.
13. Plant 50 bulbs.
14. Plant 5 rose bushes.
15. Visit Mathei Botanical Gardens.
16. Spend time on Drummond with Ben and my dad.
17. Freeze 5 pounds of stewed tomatoes.
18. Learn Spanish.
19. Spend a weekend with my sister Emily with no kids.
20. Visit my mom in Sanibel.
21. Write 50 letters in long hand.
22. Visit Toronto.
23. Make Ben's lifebook.
24. Visit Phil and Jackie in the Adirondacks.
25. Kayak on the Huron River.
26. Bike to Gallup Park with Ben.
27. Eat at the Common Grill in Chelsea and catch a play at the Purple Rose.
28. March on DC with Ben.
29. Visit Janice and Tim in Baton Rouge.
30. Take Ben to the Battle Creek Zoo.
31. Take Ben to the Hands On Museum.
32. Take Ben to Jazzfest.
33. Go to Jazzfest without Ben.
34. Visit the DIA.
35. Go to a Tiger's game.
36. Go to a Piston's game.
37. See one opera.
38. Buy a case of Raspberry Port.
39. Go Christmas caroling.
40. Go tobogganing.
41. Go to the beach at Point Pelee.
42. Pick blueberries with Ben.
43. Win the lotto and go to Hawaii for a month.
44. Spend a weekend with my nephew Cameron and Ben.
45. Walk along an ocean beach at night with a full moon.
46. Ride a roller coaster.
47. Do the Christmas bird count.
48. Go ice skating more than once.
49. Bake Christmas cookies with Emily.
50. Get a pedicure.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
from the underground,
I take my usual route:
turn left into
the oil-stained alley,
the greasey dumpsters
and over the shining glass shards.
Something soft and brown
moves near the edge of a dumpster.
A young rabbit,
wide-eyed, looks at me,
The rabbit turns and runs,
ducking in between the grease caddy
from Sabor Latino
and the liquor store dumpster
where cardboard boxes,
empty and cut open,
spill over the top.
Hastening, I circle the
big metal boxes
looking for the vanished rabbit.
I think of Alice,
by the March Hare.
Here in August
in the fetid city,
I’ve lost the rabbit.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
The first time he spoke to me, before he was born, I sat outside the examining room while his birth mom felt the jelly and the fetal monitor. Then, over the speakers I heard it: a thready and rapid buff, buff, buff. It's the only time I can remember that I had no words at all: I couldn't think, I couldn't speak. I wept profuse, embarassing tears, there on my orange plastic and aluminum chair in a clinic full to bursting with tiny hearts beating just below big hearts.
Soon after Ben was born, a friend handed me these words, carefully printed in her hand, black ink on a white square: "Never doubt for a moment, my son, that you were born in my heart, not below it." The peculiar pride of an adoptive parent.
Parenting brings unimagined combinations of words to my heart and lips. Sometimes, I distinctly hear my own mother in the words I say. Sometimes, the words are uniquely Ben inspired. Very often, I find myself thinking, "I can't believe that sentence just came out of my mouth."
Do not put your fork on the cat.
No shoes in the toilet.
Rubber Ducky goes potty here.
I love you more than anything.
Do not hit your mamma, ever.
Did you say no to me?
Your rake stays outside.
You are my handsome son.
Say “yes, beautiful Mamma.”
No sticks in your mouth, please.
Use your words.
Tell Grandma you love her!
Stop poking my fat roll.
Not on the wall!
You got up there, you can get down.
Say goodnight to the moon.
Get back to bed, it’s too early.
Lie down with your bear and train.
Don’t hurt the spider.
I am so glad you came along.
Friday, July 14, 2006
Anyway, a friend and I were talking about weeds. How sometimes the weeds mix in and they can be just as beautiful, or at least provide some balance, in a garden. And then I thought about bees, and how some bees aren't really bees at at all, but they pollinate, like bees. So I wrote this.
“It’s a weed, darling,”
he said, looking down
his nose at my admiring stoop.
Tiny yellow flowers,
leaves so narrow they
looked like stems:
a tiny bee fly
one of the blossoms.
“It’s all the same
to the bees, love,”
I said, without looking up.
Monday, July 10, 2006
In the Michigan summers of my youth, for about a month, she was always putting something by -— freezing strawberries, blueberries, peaches, green beans, making pickles and relishes, even one or two years canning tomatoes. One year we called it her “drunken corn relish” because the two of us drank wine, laughing and singing, while we cut to corn off the cobs and cooked the sweet summer harvest in cider vinegar and spices. I can still remeber how the kitchen smelled making that relish, and how I felt ushered into adulthood that year.
I haven’t put much food by in recent years: about the only provision I would make for winter was freezing blueberries. Something about this move to Ann Arbor awakened in me a desire to do it again.
I am quite grateful to California growers for the strawberries we get all year long. But there is simply nothing like a Michigan berry. The perennial plant must need the rest of our harsher winters to produce the little gems. The only way to pick them is ripe: they can’t be picked ahead and then ripened for market. Bright red, and small, with more seeds than the California berry we’ve grown used to, when you first see them your heart leaps. Summer is really here at last, and nothing will do but to cart some home and have shortcake for dinner.
I knew I’d have to put some by this year.
So yesterday Ben and I went to the market and bought 20 pounds of blueberries and 16 quarts of strawberries. When I found the berry vendor and asked for 16 quarts, he said, recognizing the quantity meant I was going to do more than eat a meal, “It’s a good thing you got here, young lady, this is the last day.” By the tremor in his hands, he'd been farming many years, and I was young to him.
For the next three or four hours, I washed, topped, sliced, sugared and bagged, eating a few with each newly washed batch. Ben ate quite a few too. My hands were stained red and wrinkled, my fingers cramped from the cutting. Even the sugar was Michigan sugar, made from sugar beets grown in the thumb. I did the strawberries first, because blueberries are easier.
Today my hands are still stained, but the bright red has faded to a darker color, and only where my fingers were nicked and around the edges of my nails. And in the freezer, I have a whole Michigan winter’s worth of summer.
When Ben and I open that first bag, probably sometime in late November, I will remember again how the first of my mother’s watermelon pickles tasted, or the sweetness of that first taste of her corn relish. You pop that summer bounty into your mouth and the snow outside disappears. All you know is the sweet and tart of your own labor. Maybe more of us should put food by: who knows? It could change the world, one sweet bite at a time.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
I am not responsible for the happiness of others.
I am responsible for treating people with kindness, for helping to relieve suffering, and for making sure there is enough of me left to continue to exist. I am responsible for loving my neighbor as myself.
That means loving me too. In fact, it is only in loving myself equally with my neighbor that I can accomplish this commandment. When asked what was the most important commandment, a trick question designed to make him falter, the clever rabbi Jesus gave his own revolutionary interpretation of Shema. Second only to loving God as ancient law required was this loving my neighbor as myself commandment. In fact, he believed these two commandments to be the only really important ones. That’s why, years ago as a Sunday school teacher, I had the kids build mezuzot and inscribe that passage on a small piece of paper to place inside. Mine is in a mezuzah hung by my front door, and that passage is supposed to govern all my actions on leaving and entering my home. For those of you new to ideas about the Shema, check it out in Deuteronomy 6:5-9, then check out how masterfully Jesus recited this elemental prayer for his audience according to the New Testament.
Of course, Jesus also shared his pearls with women freely, and if even the church canon is correct, included women, gasp, in the most important events of his ministry, albeit in somewhat secodnary roles. Yet many centuries of women, subject to the misogynist Christian church and its oppressive ways, got it wrong: we were told to forget the second half of that important commandment and love only the other. It’s why I say “I’m sorry,” when someone else hurts me. It’s why I say “Excuse me,” and even mean it, when someone else cuts in front of me. Our culture condones that on the part of women, and teaches us to be selfless to the point of actual self-sacrifice, that is the annihilation of self in order to preserve the other. We have been doormats to centuries of people who tromp all over our selves. Often, those with the banner of Christianity held high above their arrogant heads trod us completely out of existence, literally.
If you really take Christianity to its logical conclusion, and if you believe all the stories about Jesus' death and resurrection, then you must also believe that Jesus died so we didn’t have to. Loving yourself as you love others is an essential piece of that puzzle. Reading Christian teaching clearly we can see that god wants us to “self-actualize,” to use a smarmy new-age phrase, as long as we also possess compassion and empathy.
Without the healthy love of self, combined with a true love of our neighbor, we can’t make it at all. We can limp along dispensing pieces of ourselves until there is nothing left, or we can preserve ourselves, making ourselves whole, and then, as whole persons, minister to others the love of true children of god.
You can’t love yourself until you know yourself, either, and that takes time and study.
I can’t love myself until I have the courage to say what I will and won’t tolerate. When confronted with situations which require acceptance of unacceptable behavior, I need to say no, I won’t be tread on this way. Wipe your feet somewhere else.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
And so the most stunning delight, while perhaps brief, can be something that you savor over and over again throughout the years. You can be reminded over and over again of the short sweetness of an experience by almost anything: the way an artichoke lies in your hand before washing, a particular accent overhead as you walk past an open window, the fullness of a mid-summer moon, a broken mum stalk poking through a mound of snow, the thud of a suitcase hitting the floor, a poem.
In an instant, the years peel away and you are standing again in rapture, held by a particular moment when you felt as if your heart would burst and you knew if death took you at that moment you had lived exactly enough. The memory is real enough that you even feel the exact pleasure of that remembered moment, and there is no distance between where you are right now and the former delight.
In the moment when some disappointment threatens to devastate you it is so hard to remember that you will know that pleasure. You walk outside and you think how dare the sun shine now, why can you still feel the warmth on your arms when your heart has turned to stone. Like a blues singer, you’ll wish for rain. All you feel is that you have fallen from such a great height: like a superhero momentarily out of synch with his powers, you jumped off that tenement but then you began falling. You know you will live, but sweet Jesus, you are going to have a mighty back ache when you hit that Subaru below.
But if you are of a certain age, you know that you will, in a while, when grief has softened your heart again, walk outside and feel that sun and remember that wonderful moment when you leapt into thin air, knowing this time you could defy the laws of gravity. You will even remember the little lift as you jumped, making that remembered happiness just a little higher.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
In my family we called it the junior chair.
Sixty years ago, waiting for the first grandchild, my grandmother painted the chair a pale pink, with left over enamel after the bathroom was spruced up. Then she highlighted the features with red nail polish. Raspberry red.
She painted each name on the chair with the same polish over the next thirty years as they were born: first my cousins, children of my mother’s older brother Louie, then my mother’s three children from her first marriage, then my half sister, born when she could have been my own daughter.
The names painted in the same shade my grandmother’s nails always wore: Susie, Sandy, Kathy, Mark, Cindy, Melissa, then Emily.
Each of us spent at least a summer as resident in the chair, elevated above the crowd, seated at the table like adults, the edge of the table mid-belly where it should be. Younger ones sat on a lap, and older ones looked up over the rim of the round oak table their little butts too big for the chair. All of us with hungry eyes, waiting for the pancakes my grandmother cooked almost as fast as we could eat them, her red nails flashing as she scooped batter and rolled the eggy cakes like crepes. Swedish pancakes on summer days hot before dawn.
The paint is nearly all gone: the ash and oak of the chair visible now, along with a deep green paint from some other family, and small patches of the pink I remember surrounding the tub. And here and there, around a turned spindle and on the edge of the seat, my grandmother’s nail polish caresses Ben, my only son, young enough to be my grandchild, here in our new home.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
We watched as a bumble bee lumbered past us, flying between us toward our back door. In one smooth arc, the big bee dropped down to the floor, and squeezed between the deck and the wall by our back door. About five minutes later, another bee came in, this one with legs bright orange and big with pollen.
One of the big bombus flew out of the hive then, and circled me three times: on the third pass he flew right past my face and I felt his hairy coat as he brushed past my upper lip. The beat of his wings—so small yet able to lift his nearly inch-long, bulbous body-- made a breeze I actually felt against my nose as he brushed by me. Ben laughed and pointed, and said, "Bee! Momma!"
I don’t mind sharing our house with the bees. They live sometimes in old abandoned mouse nests, and I like the idea of a succession of wild visitors of the diminutive variety sharing our back door.
And these guys: big and round, silly in their stripes and contrasting pollen, are like little clowns sent to amuse us. As the light wanes, they come in one after another, dropping right past us into their home. We count ten before bedtime sends us into our own hive. The fireflies begin to light the yard as Ben and I lie on his bed and talk about the bees living with us.
There’s a family story about me and a bee. Born in September, the following summer I was sitting out in our dirt driveway. There was a sandy area we all played in as kids, I must have crawled there following my bigger brother. My mother, seated not far away, heard me laughing deeply. As she walked over to see what was so amusing, she saw a huge bumble bee walking on my face. My eyes were closed, my face was raised skyward, and I was waving my arms and laughing, saying “Bee, bite me!”
As he flew away from this disappointing rendezvous with a pollenless flower, my mother scooped me up and examined me for stings. The bombus is said to learn by watching others from its hive: one bee will follow another even to an artificial flower. I have a fleeting thought that that bee tonight that brushed my lips, fifty generations removed from the bee who flew away from my face that summer morning, might have heard the echo of a little girl asking for a bite.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
And we have met some people.
One person we met before we even moved here: Siri, an attorney mediator who heard through the family law grapevine in Ann Arbor that I was coming, and through a strange twist, one of her best friends is my new landlord. Now we’ve actually met her, she lives less than a block away.
Sandy and her Jack Russell terrier, Russell, wandered up the first night after the movers left, when I was panting over a beer on the patio and Ben was playing in the sand and water table—each of us with our favorite form of relaxation. Sandy’s the single mom of a 15 year old and she’s a nurse. She wandered by because her good friend Paul lives beside us, and she was going to cajole him into cooking chicken breasts she'd been marinating.
Paul works at ACE hardware about three blocks away and he’s a good man to know for faucet aerators and grilling chicken. We share a wall, he lives next door. When I apologized about Ben’s meltdown in the wee hours of the morning Saturday, he said, “I don’t mind, it’s just nice to hear life over there.” I believe him.
Bridget is the single mom of an 8 year old who she describes as “you’ve seen him, the kid with the big afro.” I hadn’t seen him but I’m sure I will. Bridget walks with Sandy at night, with Russell and Bridget’s little Yorky-something named Cory.
Alice is an older woman with a wonderful garden and a horrible story about a mud wasp infestation in her bee balm last year. She walked down the long yard we share to meet Ben and me Sunday morning, and we talked perennials. She said I must meet Rose and Dahlia, two women who live across the street and have an even more wonderful garden. I am not kidding about the names.
Ben and I did meet Rose Monday as she stood watering her wonderful garden. She gave me some suggestions for soil amendments before the perennial planting begins.
I am glad to be here, and meeting neighbors helps lessen the pain of leaving our old neighbors. Last night Nunu called to see how we were both doing and I realized how much I missed her greeting Ben, a booming “There’s my Ben” : as he ran to her open arms with a kiss for her I always felt good about leaving him.
Still, with the proper amendments, this seems to be a place where children and plants can thrive.
Thursday, June 08, 2006
How do I say good bye to people who have saved my ass countless times, were fun to work with, and taught me the job? When Ben was sick and payroll had to be posted, Jen did it. When I needed a hearing set and it was too late to do it tomorrow, Bev or Mel would do it. When I got behind on the delinquency notices (oh, the irony of that!) Jen and Martha got it caught up, and continued to do it. When the vouchers needed to be done during an extended absence of a staff member, Kathy did it. Martha continued to do the Guardianship reviews to help out Mel and Bev who were new to their jobs. Monica took on more and more tasks and learned them fast as the need grew, all while answering that ceaselessly ringing phone and greeting people with that luminous smile. There are many more examples, but it happened so often and was such a fluid process, it would be impossible to list all the times someone in that crew stepped up.
When a question came up, there was an open spirit of communication between us. It was understood that problems could be solved by talking it out, and we usually managed to do that. When we didn't know an answer, out came the Estates Code, or the Mental Health Code, or the Court Rules, and we figured it out. We decided together how to change office procedure, or what not to change.
And then there has been the fun: the jokes, the laughter, the parties for each other on our birthdays, the party they threw for Ben when he was just six weeks old. And the hard times where we stood together and supported each other: Kathy's illness and surgery, the heart-wrenching loss of Gabe, Bev's health difficulties, Mel's school work and exams, the various and sundry smaller things that happen where people get hurt and are comforted by the people they work with.
These women have been a true team. I have been working with them during some of the biggest changes of my life, and their caring and competence has been the only constant. I will miss them all so much, it's impossible to really say goodbye.
So lunch was a good thing.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
I hold Ben in my arms and watch him move into sleep: he moves closer to me, dipping his hand into the neckline of my t-shirt, looking for bosomy skin. His eyes blink three times, slowly, then he locks his gaze into a far corner of his pale blue room. The room I made for him in this house we will leave in less than a week. This moment is what I have waited 49 years for: to hold a nearly sleeping toddler in my arms, and I weep.
My friend Jackie calls. I tell her I still need to return her Women's Anthology of Humor, borrowed three years ago. She tells me she can't come to the Quay Brewery tomorrow for my farewell beers. She talks about the current struggle of the faculty at our community college, ruled by an abysmal administration. We swear to see each other before I leave town. I weep.
My sister calls, grateful she can have the electric mower I no longer need. She says my brother in law will be vaulted to heaven by the new mower. We say tonight was wonderful, sharing a meal and watching our two boys race trikes 'til they were exhausted: her boy older and yelling "I MUST win!" as he passed Ben on the boulevard. I weep.
I talk with John, just in from a motorcycle ride and a cool beer at a bike night at a Bay City bar. He talks about getting a trailer equipped with a sink, queen bed and a toilet to make a long trek together. His daughter, sweet Rhea, will be married on Saturday. I weep.
Joe calls, and we chat about Arnold and his Democratic challengers in California, about Mafia lawyers, and moving. His daughter, Nicky, swells with her first child and I think of her basking in her father's appreciative gaze. I weep.
My stepmother Kate lies dying in Florida, ten days without food or water, just morphine. Her heart is still strong. She keeps living while cancer gnaws at her. My Dad's strung out grief is marked in turn by exhausted laughter and weeping. We wait for a thready pulse, the sign that death might bring all of us relief, and I weep.