Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is Barack Obama My Daddy?

Benjamin has been talking a lot about his daddy. Regular readers know that Ben and I adopted each other, I heard his heartbeat before he was born, he was in my arms at four hours old and hasn't left since. I adopted as a single parent. There is only my name on his birth certificate.

Benjamin says "We have a small family: Momma, Benjamin and Lily."

We have friends, of course, who have daddies. Daddies pick up and drop off at Peach Tree. One daddy named Benjamin lives in our buiding and is our friend, his daughter Tasha went for a walk with us tonight.

A few months ago, he said to me, "I'm sad, Momma, I don't have no Daddy." I thought about the grammar, but didn't correct him.

"Honey, of course you have a daddy, everyone has a daddy. It's just that your daddy doesn't live with us."

"Where does he live?"

"Your daddy lives in Detroit."

"Let's play trains, Momma." And we did.

There have been more questions. The inevitable "Why?" The poignant, "Could my daddy pick me up?" And corrections: Benjamin is often convinced his daddy is in New York. Or that his daddy just got back from Africa. And funny things: his friend Alexander announced to his parents that he wished he had a family like Benjamin's: no daddy (and no little baby brother.)

Not long after our early discussions, Barack Obama was speaking in Detroit. I wanted to take Benjamin. But I was afraid we'd get into a big crowd downtown, and maybe have to wait a long time, and then maybe not even get in. I couldn't afford to pop for the expensive tickets which would guarantee a place at the party. So Ben and I did the next best thing, we snuggled on the couch and watched the event live streaming on my laptop.

We listened to Jennifer Granholm's rousing and honest speech, Al Gore's great speech, looked for friends we knew were there in shots of the crowd. When Barack took the stage, Benjamin looked at me earnestly and said, "Is Barack Obama my daddy?"

I did laugh, I admit. Benjamin giggled. "He's in Detroit, Momma, is he my Daddy?"

"Honey, if you'd like Barack Obama to be your daddy, I think that's great! Let's pretend that Barack Obama is your daddy."

Benjamin laughed, a deep genuine laugh. "No, silly Momma," he said, a twinkle in his eye, "Barack Obama is my PRESIDENT, not my daddy."

Since then, we've had a few other jokes, like when he was being dramatic and saying in his best fakey woe-is-me voice, "I don't have a daddy," I said, "well, I think we should go to the daddy store tomorrow and pick one out for you." The Barack thing sort of broke the ice and made it ok for us to be light about it. Benjamin is processing this issue, just the first of many he will have to grapple with.

But, secretly, I love the idea of Barack Obama being Ben's daddy.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Freep at Fair

15 years ago, I stopped home delivery of the beloved Detroit Free Press in protest of management tactics in the writer’s strike there. Then, the Freep (as it is affectionately known) entered into a Joint Operating Agreement with the Detroit News, known as the "Snooze," the conservative competition for the Freep in Detroit. I was part of a group of volunteer lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild who represented some of the strikers as they fought back against thug tactics with various acts of civil disobedience, like trespassing, lying down in front of delivery trucks. I never went back.

At the Art Fair I signed up for a contest to win a grocery shopping spree before I realized it was the Freep and Snooze booth. The guy hawking subscriptions engaged me with his spiel. Holding up my hand and shaking my head, I said, “No thank you. I quit home delivery 15 years ago, over the strike.”

The young man widened his eyes. “Wow,” he said incredulously, "that was FIFTEEN years ago!” Maybe he celebrated his tenth birthday during the strike.

“Yes, I know,” I said, “I'm a dinosaur. But I am a committed dinosaur.” I know two other Guild lawyers who have held to their boycott over the years, so I'm not the only one.

The truth is I miss it. The Freep was a great paper. I was a fan, bigtime. When I first moved to Detroit to do law school, I would buy the paper every day. I would bring it to Contracts so my pal Sue Shernit could read it too. We’d talk about the stuff in the paper, read the comics. My favorite strip was Brenda Starr, and I still have in my office a panel from that strip: sexy Brenda saying “Justice works out a payment plan for everyone,” her head tipped back and her eyes half closed.

My favorite Freep columnist was Jim Fitzgerald. When I graduated from Law School, what I really wanted was to have lunch with Jim Fitzgerald. Suzy set it up for me, and I ate burgers and drank beer with Jim Fitzgerald at the Lindell AC, a downtown bar known for its burgers and local sports mementoes. (Suzy wanted to have coffee with Robert Jones, a local public radio blues DJ, and I set that up for her.)

All these memories flashed through my mind in a moment standing there at the counter. I love reading papers, and as Benjamin gets older, I have more time for it. I loved the Freep. It’s not the same, but maybe it was time to begin again the civilized practice of reading two papers a day: the Ann Arbor News and the Freep, and on Sunday, the NYT makes it three. My parents always read papers each day, it's always been a part of my life.

The sales guy was going on and on about how there are four unions at the Freep, there’s no more JOA, things are different now.

“And, real newspapers are becoming a thing of the past. I miss the feel of newsprint from Detroit in my hands,” I said. I signed up.

And he gave me $20 in gift cards from a grocery store.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Ann Arbor Art Art Fair is upon us

We went to the Townie Party Monday, our "local" celebration of Art Fair. The actual fair started yesterday, bringing to town hundreds of vendors and thousands and thousands of visitors. I cruised a little yesterday on my way to a meeting: this will be my third AF and already I have favorite vendors. The paper featured a guy, a potter, who's been here every AF since it started in 1960.

The guy with the great wooden earring holders you hang on the wall is here again. This year I'd like to buy one, we'll see. My favorite fabric art person is here too, but her stuff I can't afford, yet. When preschool-which-costs-as-much-as-college is done, maybe.

Then there's Amanda, a Peach Tree School parent of twin girls who does amazing painting. This year I actually set aside a little scratch to buy one. I'll hang it in my new office on the third floor of the courthouse. It'll look elegant, and it will help Amanda's family pay the tuition. I'm also hoping my metal sculpture guy from Pinckney shows up; the crow I bought from him at our first AF is lonesome and I'm thinking she needs a pal.

Friday night, Benjamin and I will gather with other parents in the courthouse parking lot, load some kids in our wagon, and set off in search of corn dogs, treasures and lemonade.

We haven't lived here long enough to hate Art Fair. It's still a first class adventure to us, and I'm hoping it always will be.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

When I am older I will stay still

Tonight, as I usually do, I lie down next to Ben and snuggle as he falls asleep. After he has drifted off, he will often say something: his eyes remain closed and often it's a complete non-sequitor.

Tonight, after we said good night and I sang a couple requests (his current favorite is Java Jive, which he sings with me) he drifted off fairly quickly. He's skipped a nap at school two days in a row. His eyes closed and that sweet, sighing breath came slower and steadier. Then he said,

"Are you going backward or forward?" His eyes were closed tight, but his legs were twitching, as they often are before he is fully asleep.

It seemed a profound rhetorical question. "I'm not moving, sweetheart, I'm staying still." Up on one elbow now, I was studying his face closely to see if he really was asleep.

"I can't stay still," he said. His eyes stayed closed, he didn't move, except for the little twitch of his legs.

"Yes you can, sweetie, you can stay still," I said softly.

"When I am older I will stay still," he said. I moved my arm from under his, and there was no response. His eyes were still closed.

He never awakened, and is sleeping still. There's plenty of time for him to stay still, later, when he is older.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Building with fireflies

The road home flickers with fireflies, a canopy of old hardwoods overhead. This is the last night I will teach our monthly parenting class. It was a poignant one: three couples came together, a college student father and his mother, several single parents. They all had questions and a few of them even said thank you. My favorite teachers were there: Brady Mikusko, my own coach, and Siri Gottlieb, the first friend I made in Ann Arbor.

I won’t be teaching the class anymore because we take a month’s hiatus in August, and then I will move from the Friend of Court to Probate Court, where I have been asked to serve as Register. I didn’t apply for the job, I went up there to help out and they wooed me. It was very gratifying to be wanted and appreciated, and finally they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I will miss my colleagues at the Friend. I will miss the gratifying moments when I actually felt I got through to parents and maybe made the lives of their children a bit easier. In my two years with the Friend, I have had many of those moments.

Ben was asleep by the time I got home, Miss Patti having fed him, bathed him and gotten him into his jammies. All I can do is climb the ladder to the top bunk and kiss him once before I sleep. I think of how much he loves fireflies, and how his life is filled with joy. The other day, I thanked him for making me a mommy. “I built you?” he asks.

So much rides on how we are built, and by whom, and with what love. How we are knit in the womb begins it, and so much more follows: the building continues until the last day we breathe and our lights flicker out. The fireflies seeking love flash in the leaves, my son breathes softly in his bunk, Lily lies sighing and dreaming at my feet, a vase full of brown-eyed susans graces our table. Our life of ease is so good, joyful, and still I worry about building it right, making the right choices for Ben, doing right by him.

In the end, it’s all that matters at all.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Back Home

We are back home tonight. Ben fell asleep about a minute after his bath. He's wrung out. He's had days of biking, friends, water, sun and Mom, and was glad to be home.

It's been a wonderful vacation. I'll be posting about Drummond stuff, but the last few days we've been in Port Huron, connecting with old friends. We spent two glorious days at the beach: Lake Huron is significantly warmer down in Port Huron than in Drummond (my toes were numb after ten minutes up there.) Every person Ben saw said something like "I held you when you were just this big," or "My goodness you've gotten to be a tall guy," all of which made him smile.

He got to spend quite a bit of time with Vincent, a kid who was born on Ben's nine-month birthday, and is now dubbed by Ben his "best friend." Today, Vincent's mom, Laurie, handed us a montage of photos she and Vincent made: Ben at nine months at Laurie's baby shower, me holding just born Vincent, me holding Ben and Vincent. Ben wanted to hang it on the wall as soon as we got home, and we did, on his art wall.

We also got to spend a wonderful afternoon with Jill and "Katie-Cate"--Jill's two and a half year old daughter. Everything about me resists the idea of arranged marriage, but Katie-Cate would be the one. She's so verbal and bright, tall and sweet, and very devilish in a most attractive way. In fact, I suggested to Jill that maybe when they get to be a certain age, we keep our risk-loving, head-strong children apart, and another friend there said, "Yes, maybe from age 8 on."

Both Vincent and Katie-Cate live in trans-racial adoptive familes, so it was really like being home and very comfortable. I feel refreshed and recharged, sweetly tired and sunburned, and ready to tackle the job transition ahead.

Vacations do that.