How To Survive An Outbreak: A Survivor’s Tale

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“You feelin’ alright

I’m not feelin’ too good myself”

-Joe Cocker, Feelin’ Alright

I don’t want to be an alarmist. And there’s already enough hysteria floating around like airborne microbes through a misting fan. But you guys- it was bad. Fever. Puking. Other stuff that polite southern women don’t talk about.

Four out of five Kelly’s were sick. No, it wasn’t Ebola. But I feel like I kind of understand it, from both ends. And no, I’m not being coy, I mean I was both patient and nurse. Because I’m a mom.

Patient # 1: It all started with the little one. So innocent and cute. She didn’t understand what was happening. She peppered me with questions in between yakking. She didn’t understand that correct protocol does not involve breathing directly into my face after emptying the contents of her stomach all over the bed.

Patient # 2: My son. Thirteen years old. Vibrant, strong boy. Which means that he gives new meaning to the word “projectile” as the contents of that night’s dinner make a second appearance. The victim: his bedroom rug. This is when things get really ugly. This is when you realize you failed at containing the virus. This is when it’s time to get serious. Luckily for you, I’ve been through it and I’ve come out on the other side to help you. Hopefully you won’t be affected or infected, but in case you are, take heed.

  • First, you must maintain composure. As you turn for help and see your husband’s retreating back, you realize you’re in this alone. You’ll want to panic. But you can’t. This is it. This is no time to lose your shizzm. The faster you act the better. Don’t allow time to think or smell. Paper towels and trash bags are your friend. Do the best you can with these tools. You will likely realize that you have held your breath and squealed and sympathy-vomited through this stage of cleanup only to realize you’ve barely scratched the barf covered surface. Time to improvise. Grab the oldest towels you can and cover that rank. If you can’t see it it’s not there. Truth.
  • Second, employ those killers of the environment, the plastic grocery bag. Yes, you feel guilty that you have an entire closet in your laundry room stuffed with them. You tried reusable grocery bags and you really liked them, but your husband “accidentally” threw them out and you’ve been too lazy to buy more. Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah. Dealing with children who’ve suddenly turned into Linda Blair from The Exorcist. So yeah, those pesky little bags you’ve been hoarding can now be “recycled.” Line the trash can that you put by your kid’s bed with a triple layer of these. Just like lining a roasting pan with foil. Clean up will be easy.

Except it’s not. Your methods are necessary but clean up will be treacherous at best. The worst part is the nausea you feel just from seeing and smelling things that can’t be unseen or un.. er… not smelled. But you must forge ahead. The rest of the family is counting on you to keep them safe. Especially your husband who’s snoring from the bedroom. It’s time to disinfect.

  • Before this step you must protect yourself. You have to keep yourself well or things will really fall apart. You know, take oxygen before you assist fellow passengers. I don’t make these things up. You’ll want a face mask. Surely you have these on hand for the impending pandemics that crop up yearly, right? Good. You’ll need rubber or latex gloves. And an old shirt – or your husband’s favorite t shirt – whatever’s handy. If wretching is still in progress (how much did those kids eat today?) you may want a hat or scarf to cover your hair.
  • Now you will need a bucket and bleach. You will need to coat all door handles, light switches, faucets, toilet handles. All of it. Don’t listen to that crap about 2 teaspoons of bleach per gallon of water. You want to show this virus who’s boss, right? We ain’t playin’ around. So you go halfsies. Your eyes will burn and your house will smell like  an indoor kiddie pool with poor ventilation, but that’s ok. The bonus here is that your nose will be incapable of smelling the foul smells that emanate from those towels on your son’s carpet.
  • The next step is laundry. While still suited up in your homemade hazmat suit, grab the comforter your son managed to soil as well as any washcloths and towels that may have been contaminated. But NOT the towels on the floor! DO NOT move those! You will want to shove as many of the offending linens into your washer as humanly possible. Put in extra soap. Lots of it. Wash on highest heat, sanitary setting. Side note: anything that needs rinsing before putting in the washer needs to be thrown out. I don’t care if it’s wasteful. There’s nothing that is so special that can’t be replaced. Seriously, I don’t care if your grandmother’s wedding dress got caught in the cross fire, there are limits to what one should be expected to do. Throw that shizzle away.
  • Sometimes your methods are met with a little hiccup. A little stumble if you will. In my case it was water seeping from under the washing machine. It’s ok. Freaking out about what curse has been placed upon your pure heart is not going to help. Take a deep breath. Backup plans are in place for such breaches. Take all remaining contaminated laundry that has not been stuffed into your washing machine like a Paula Deen pork chop and dump it on to the floor of your garage. It is out of the house, technically, which is the important thing. Until the washing machine gets fixed, your family can practice holding their breath as they dash through the garage to the car. This is a healthy exercise that will only save them from possible drowning one day.

Congratulate yourself on a sanitized and clean environment in which your family can safely ride out this harrowing ordeal. Rest easy as you drift off to sleep with the comfort that you’ve protected the people you love with your knowledge and fortitude in the face of utter grossness. Drift off to sleep with the last few precious hours left before daylight.

Except you can’t. Because you realize that the nausea you’d been feeling wasn’t imaginary. You’ve been infected. As you race to the bathroom to take your turn at the hurling olympics, grab a towel. That tile’s cold and you’ll be laying on it until this passes.

Eventually the fever wears off and the nausea calms to a quiet roar. You emerge from your oddly comforting enclave curled up next to the toilet, to realize that no one realized you were gone. As your son recovers from the worst of it upstairs, your five year old seems remarkably well and full of all kinds of fun energy. The family went about their business in the few hours since you cleaned and painstakingly disinfected. You try not to be irritated that it looks like John Belushi just hosted a toga party in your kitchen. Because look at them. Healthy. Blissfully unaware. This is why you do it. Then you see your husband. He’s looking a little green…

Just turn around and go back to bed. You’ve done your part. It’s every man and child for himself now.

Do stomach bugs freak you out? Have you been traumatized by cleaning up your kid’s puke? What are your tips for surviving an outbreak?

Is It Time For Dress Codes To Grow Up? A Feminist Friday Discussion

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School is fraught with all kinds of issues. Standardized tests to pass, social and behavioral issues to navigate. Bullying. And clothes. Don’t forget the clothes.

Apparently clothes are a big danger to our children. Specifically our boys. Well, not just clothes. But the girls who wear them. Their bodies and the clothes that they put on them are a distraction to our boys.

This is what the dress codes in many schools imply. It’s also what is frequently cited as justification for singling out girls in violation of dress codes.

Some girls are fighting back. A group of middle school girls from Evanston, Illinois protested when their school banned leggings. More than 500 people signed a petition and students showed up for class wearing leggings and yoga pants carrying signs that read “Are My Pants Lowering Your Test Scores?” Another group of middle school girls from New Jersey started a protest via social media with #Iammorethanadistraction.

Both stories have gone viral. And in doing so have opened up a discussion on the way that dress codes sexualize young girls…

They sexualize young girls.

The bulk of school dress codes are aimed at girls. No tank tops or spaghetti straps. No exposed shoulders. Skirts must pass the “finger tip test.” No cleavage. No tight fighting yoga pants or leggings.

Girls are being singled out at school. They are made to line up and pass the fingertip test  when wearing shorts and skirts. One administrator even asked some of the girls to bend over in their skirts to see if they were “immodest.” This particular “educator” also referred to girls dressed immodestly as “skanks.” One school dismissed all of the boys from an assembly and proceeded to play a scene from Pretty Woman and lecture the girls on dressing appropriately for school.

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Girls are being forced to wear “shame suits” in some schools. They are being kicked out of proms because chaperoning dads think a dress is too provocative. They are being told that walking around in their bodies is too much for boys to handle. They are being told that they will give boys impure thoughts. That they’re very existence, unless covered appropriately, is responsible for other student’s education and behavior.

These girls are being embarrassed.

Shamed.

Sexualized.

Objectified.

It’s a story as old as time. Women and girls bear the burden of covering up. Women are walking temptations. Victorian times had women covering their ankles. Some religions require women to swim in full length dresses. Some tout the phrase “Modest is hottest.” The irony in that phrase is worthy of 1000 words unto itself.

But girls are fighting back. These young girls are reminding everyone that they are more than their bodies. That their bodies serve real practical functions, amazing feats, power and strength. Their bodies are more than objects to be ogled.

And let’s not forget. These are young girls. These are girls just trying to understand their growing bodies. These are girls going through puberty much sooner than previous generations. These are girls just trying to dress comfortably or maybe fashionably.

Let’s try to remember that these are growing girls who’s bodies change overnight. The skirt that fit last week might be noticeably shorter this week. The shirt that wasn’t tight last month might show cleavage this month. Let’s remember how hard it is to go through these teen years with ever changing bodies and moods and temperaments. And let’s acknowledge that girls who are more physically developed than their peers are getting called out more often.

Let’s remember that these are girls.

They are not trying to seduce.

They are trying to learn.

They are not aiming to distract.

They are usually trying to fit in and fly under the radar.

They don’t view their bodies as sexual. They don’t think of their bodies as a means to produce “impure thoughts.” Not until you suggest it, imply it, or outright state it as you wave your sacred dress code in their confused faces.

Many of us rail against objectification of women in media. Many of us rant about the sexualization of women’s bodies and how that contributes to rape culture.

Yet, we’re letting it happen in our schools. To our young girls. By people we pay to educate them.

What effect is this having on our girls? Well, we’re teaching them young. We’re teaching them that society will view them as sexual even as they try to learn.

But what about the boys? Exactly. We’re not giving boys much credit. These policies tell them that they are easily distracted. They tell them that they have little or no self control. They imply that they shouldn’t even try to have self control. It’s also suggesting ideas that may not have been a part of their mindset to begin with. 

A bra strap is not going to send them into a dizzying flurry of hormones that will render them unable to be educated. Leggings or yoga pants or any tight pants are not going to cause such a distraction that they won’t be able to function. No. But do you know what does cause that kind of disruption and distraction? Singling the girls out.

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photo: so basicallylindsayjones.tumblr.com

We’re sending our kids off to school, entrusting teachers and administrators with educating them. We want our kids to learn to follow rules. To show respect. To respect the educators. To respect others. To respect themselves.

I’m not so sure that these dress codes are serving that purpose so well. Maybe it’s time for the school dress code policies to grow up.

We need to remind our schools. These girls are more than their physical appearance. They are more than temptations. They are more than distractions. By the looks of these protests, they are much more. They are a force to be reckoned with.

What do you think about dress codes?

Are they necessary?

Do you think they send the wrong message? Or is this much ado about nothing?

What is your personal experience with dress codes?

Bad Behaviour

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Today I’m opening up my home (because this place is very much like my home) and inviting someone very special in. This is one of those guests you make a of fuss over. You break out the good wine and the best glasses. You light the candles and put on some funky new music because you really want to impress her. You play it cool while trying not to jump up and down and squeal. So in my best casual voice, I’ll invite you to join us. Sit down, pull your feet up and get cozy because our favorite Dilettante, Helena Hann-Basquiat is here. And she has a story that will entertain and delight you. It will leave you wanting more, which is good since the next chapter is only a few days away and will be appearing on Samara’s blog. This is the second chapter so if you haven’t read the first, you must go over to Lizzie’s place and read the beginning. Enjoy my sweet friends and be sure to comment and tell Helena how much you adored her story…

***

“Do you think he could be the one?” the Countess Penelope of Arcadia (which would appear to be a quiet little town where people frequently break into song) asked.

“What?” I laughed. I’d been hearing the name Spenser in association with pretty much everything for the entire week after my brief encounter with the bartender who had been nice enough to find me ruby red grapefruit juice so that I could have a proper greyhound. (I actually had three, darlings, and loosened up nicely).

“You know,” Penny said. “The one to break the curse so that you don’t have to remain a beast the rest of your days and I don’t have to be, um… hey Helena, if I were part of an enchanted castle, what kind of furniture do you think I’d be?”

“A toilet,” I said, rolling my eyes at her. “Now eat your pancakes, Lady Flushington, we’re going to be late for the train.”

“You know, I’m going to let that slide, Helena, because I love you so much,” Penny said, frowning.  “After all, it’s a castle, right, and as all of the humans have been enchanted, the only person who would need a toilet would be the beast – that’d be you, by the way – and so I’m sure you’d have your own toilet. I would be a toilet in one of the guest bathrooms that never get used anyway. So if you want to shit on me, you’ll have to find some other way.”

I resisted the urge to change the subject into the dangerous messages for girls in that movie, or to suggest that the whole thing is akin to Stockholm Syndrome, and should have starred Patty Hearst as Belle.

Instead, I changed tactics.

“You let him call you Penelope,” I said.

“Oh, I didn’t let him do anything,” she replied with an eye roll of her own.

“Yet,” I winked, and Penny had no words. She just gaped at me, her mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. Finally she laughed at me.

“Whatever,” she said, and downed the rest of her coffee. “Let’s go.”

Penny knew already what I hadn’t even considered. Penny is far more attuned to what’s going on than I am – I quite frequently have my head up my ass, and not in a good way.

Is there a good way to have your head up your ass, Helena?

I think there is in France, darlings.

But as for me, I thought that Penny had fallen for the handsome bartender – the way she was going on about him, I’m sure you would have thought that, too.

So when Penny showed up with him that night, I was sure that my suspicions were confirmed.

Here’s where I confess to some of that bad behaviour I alluded to before, darlings. I don’t know whether I was jealous (and in retrospect, isn’t that a laugh and a half) or if I was just feeling maudlin and bitter, but rather than be my charming and entertaining self, I spent the evening complaining about men. In fact, I pulled out my stories, some of which you’ve already heard, as case studies as to why men cannot be trusted, why men are dogs, and why the only good thing about a man is between his legs, and how thanks to modern technology, I could buy one of those at the store.

I got caught up in heartbreak, self-absorbed and full of poison, and talked all about old boyfriends, but most especially Robert, who I’d left my home for and moved all the way to California to be with. I reminisced about a time we’d found ourselves drunk and naked on the private beach of some music producer in Malibu, and how we, as I so charmingly put it, re-enacted the zodiac symbol for Cancer in the moonlight, with the surf crashing on the beach behind us.

A hint for you, darlings – it looks very much like the number that can be expressed by the mathematical equation 70 – 1 = X.

Solve for X.

I got drunk, and railed about love. I was a complete and utter mess. I talked about wonderful things, and I talked about horrible things, and the underlying theme began to slowly come into focus, and that was:

“Why am I alone? What’s wrong with me?”

Spenser looked shell-shocked, but then he did something that made me feel both silly and at the same time a little better.

He shrugged, and then crossed his legs in the Lotus position, and lowered his hands, palms up, onto his knees.

“Om, llama llama llama,” he deadpanned, and I confess I broke out laughing, and then excused myself. I locked myself in my room and cried into my pillow. I was embarrassed and angry with myself. I felt like I’d just vomited all over Spenser, and as, at that point, I was still pretty sure Penny was interested in him, I felt terrible. If I ruined it for her, I’d never forgive myself.

When I re-emerged, Spenser had left, which was the plan all along, and Penny was waiting for me on the couch, watching Sherlock and no doubt fantasizing about her beloved Cummerbund Bandersnatch.

“Well, that could have gone better,” she said, and the fact that she hadn’t slipped into her trademark Dickensian street urchin voice told me that she was serious.

“I’m sorry, Penny, I don’t know what came over me,” I hung my head. “I hope I didn’t screw things up for the two of you.”

“The two of us?” Penny laughed. “Are you blind. Excuse me – are you fucking blind? It’s not me that he’s taken with. God, Helena, you really are rusty. You’re all he talks about – where’s Helena? When are you going to bring Helena back around? Take me to your Helena… and so on.”

“Oh, please,” I said, waving her away with the back of my hand.

“Oh, please yourself,” she snapped back, and then put a hand over her mouth. “Oh, wait, is that what you were doing in your bedroom all this time?”

“Not amused,” I said.

“That’s my line,” the Countess said, slipping gently into a posh, Windsor Castle-esque accent. “Cheerio. Tut tut. Yes. Quite. Off with her head.”

“He’s a child,” I said, not meaning to be cruel, but Penny nonetheless was not amused.

“We are not amused,” she said. See – I told you she wasn’t amused. “Besides, my good woman, he’s not a child. He’s actually…”

She mentioned an age that was almost, but not quite ten years younger than I. He was about mid-way between Penny and I, and to me, the logical choice would have been Penny. Penny’s pretty awesome, and don’t ever tell her I said so, but damn that girl is beautiful. Like, traffic stopping gorgeous. She doesn’t see it, and certainly, hers is an unconventional beauty (you may recall her black, sometimes pink, sometimes blue, sometimes green, sometimes orange hair, and her penchant for dressing like a gothic version of Alice in Wonderland) but for those with eyes to see, Penny is something to fantasize about.

“But what does he want with me?” I asked. At some point – perhaps it was earlier in the evening when I’d spilled all my messy past all over the floor – I seemed to have lost my self-esteem.

“Well, with the way he was looking at you, I’d say he wants…”

Penny mentioned a few things that I wouldn’t find objectionable, and a few I’d never heard of.

“Do people really do that?” I asked her, intrigued.

“Well, I may have made that last one up,” she admitted. “But doesn’t it kind of sound fun?”

“I’d be worried about getting toothpaste in sensitive areas,” I said.

“Yeah, but his breath would be minty fresh afterward.”

“You’ve given this quite a bit of thought, haven’t you?”

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I don’t exactly have a boyfriend,” Penny explained.

“And I don’t know if I’m ready for one,” I said, giving Penny an awkward grin.

“And yet, you’re curious,” Penny said, brightening. “Admit it. You’re like that monkey that goes on an ether bender and bites the man in the yellow hat.”

“I don’t think George ever bit the Man in the Yellow Hat, Penny.”

“Well, not in the actual books, no. It was in one of the deleted scenes.”

“I see,” I indulged her. “Well, sure, I’m curious. Curious enough, I suppose.”

“Great,” she said. “Then tomorrow night, you and I will be going out. There’s this ‘80s cover band called Duckie’s Pompadour playing at a club downtown, and Spenser will be there.”

“Duckie’s Pompadour?” I laughed. “John Hughes is spinning in his grave.”

“Not at all,” Penny said. “You’ll love it. They play pretty much every song from Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller, Sixteen Candles, you name it.”

“Oh, but Penny – I made a fool of myself tonight,” I said, shaking my head. “Don’t you think I scared him off?”

Penny laughed. “I don’t think you get it – he’s positively enamoured with you. It’d take more than a little maudlin misandry to frighten him away. Just wait until he sees you in the midst of a depressive episode, or – hey, you want to get some Chinese food? Huh? Get that all-important MSG headache experience out of the way for the poor guy?”

“Gee thanks, Penny. I don’t know about this. I don’t know if I can face him again after tonight.”

“Yeah, but you didn’t know. You had no idea he was here to see you.”

“I don’t know,” I repeated.

“And you won’t know until you give it a chance,” she said, staring at me with her big brown eyes. “Please Helena? Say you’ll come.”

I didn’t want to, darlings. I tried to say no.

“I am disinclined to acquiesce…”

“Great, it’s settled!” Penny interrupted. “Tomorrow night at nine!”

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The enigmatic Helena Hann-Basquiat dabbles in whatever she can get her hands into just to say that she has. She’s written cookbooks, ten volumes of horrible poetry that she then bound herself in leather she tanned poorly from cows she raised herself and then slaughtered because she was bored with farming. She has an entire portfolio of macaroni art that she’s never shown anyone, because she doesn’t think that the general populous or, “the great unwashed masses” as she calls them, would understand the statement she was trying to make with them. Some people attribute her with inventing the Ampersand, but she has never made that claim herself.

Earlier this year, she published Memoirs of a Dilettante Volume One, and has finished Volume Two and is in the editing process.

Volume One is available HERE in e-book for Kindle or HERE in paperback.

Helena writes strange, dark fiction under the name Jessica B. Bell Find more of her writing at http://www.helenahb.com or connect with her via Twitter @HHBasquiat

All the Stuff… 5 (In Which I Love All Of You)

All The Stuff

I love you guys. Seriously. Every one of you. Sometimes you are lucky enough to feel so much support. So much love. So many people trying to lift you up. Last week I felt all of that.

Last Monday marked 15 years since my brother had died from Cancer. It was a day I dreaded. That morning, through tears, I wrote a tribute to him. Funny stories and memories. It felt really good to write it. I did it to force myself to laugh even though I was sad. I did it because he always wanted us to “remember him with a smile.” And it helped.

What I didn’t expect was the response. From so many people, here on my blog and on FaceBook. From phone calls from friends who’d read it. I had so many comments that were supportive and tender. People saying that they felt like they kind of knew him after reading what I wrote. People laughing at his antics, people commenting on what an amazing person he was.

I spent the day getting these comments. I spent the day wiping away tears, overcome with warmth and emotion. I felt completely lifted up by all of it. I wanted to hug random strangers. I felt something… something I’m not sure my writer’s heart can describe. But it was wonderful.

The feeling stayed with me all week. I realized a few days later that it was kind of like a memorial service for my brother. Only this time I wasn’t in shock. This time I wasn’t keeping a death grip on keeping it together. This time I could hear it and feel it and absorb it.

So, thank you. All of you.

That is all.

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My Daughter’s A Mystery… And That’s O.K.

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“You are the most beautiful thing, I’ve ever seen. You shine just like sunlight rays on a winter snow.

I just had to tell you so. 

Your eyes sparkle as the sun, like the moon they glow. Your smile could light the world on fire, or did you know? 

Your mind’s full of everything that I wanna know,

I just had to let you know.

You’re my butterfly… Fly High… Fly Fly Fly…”

-Lenny Kravits, Butterfly

I get nostalgic and weepy on my kids’ birthdays. I remember every stage of labor…  This time, 11 years ago, my water broke. I watch the clock and think about that day. I drive my kids nuts with my reminiscing. Because I don’t say these things in my head. I say them out loud. To my kids. All day. Every year. They don’t love it.

But this is what moms do, right? We relive moments and cling to our babies at the very moment that we should be letting them go. Because my baby is actually not a baby. She’s 11 years old as of yesterday.

And she’s almost taller than I am.

So I guess I can’t call her a baby anymore. (Though I will. I always will. But that one I’ll do silently in my head.) The little girl who’s turning into a young woman in front of my very eyes. In spite of my holding on for dear life, she’s growing up.

***

She was born an old soul. We could just tell. They laid her on the scale and she stared silently into my husband’s eyes. He still gets emotional if he talks about that moment. The nurse swaddled her up and brought her to me. I wiped my eyes of the tears that were a combination of joy and pain. I held her and started to meet her. Examining her tiny hands, her sweet lips, her intense eyes. They gazed at me in studied  concentration. Searching my eyes. Holding my gaze. She was meeting me. She was checking me out.

She rarely cried. She was a content baby, easy to please. She would wake up in the morning and just hang out in her crib until I would hear her cooing and gurgling over the baby monitor. Her older brother would clamor into her room with me and greet her with his marble mouthed “Hello sunshine.”

I loved her with everything I had. But I didn’t feel like I knew her. She was a mystery to me. I would stare at her, watching her, trying to figure out what was going on inside her head. I had a sense that there was more going on than was obvious to the rest of us. I spent those first few months nursing her, playing with her, singing her songs. Trying desperately to understand her.

This may sound a little crazy. But I need to know my kids. I need to understand them. I knew how my son’s brain worked. I just knew him from the moment he was born. I was struggling with the fact that it didn’t come as easy with my daughter.

At three months old she got sick. It started as a cold and developed into something worse. I couldn’t sleep because I was worried. Something didn’t seem right. She was still smiling, still happy, but her breathing seem labored. One afternoon I watched as her breathing became more raspy. “She’s wheezing!” I yelled to my husband. I packed her in the car and headed to the pediatrician’s office. My heart was starting to race and I was on the verge of panicking. I drove, watching her in the rearview mirror. She looked blue to me. Her breathing was getting worse. Much worse. I made a sharp u-turn and pulled into an Urgent Care.

I ran into the building clutching her baby carrier “I need help, I don’t think my baby’s breathing.” The receptionist stood up to peer over her counter and took one look at my daughter and called the nurses to come get her. As the nurses whisked her into the examining room, I followed in a state of disbelief. I was worried, that’s why I’d brought her here after all. But seeing the concerned look on the nurse’s faces was freaking me out even more. As the doctor whipped past me to assess her, I pulled on his sleeve. “Is she going to be ok? Is my baby going to be ok?”

Her oxygen levels were low but not dangerously so. They wanted to send us to the hospital for chest X-rays and a flu test. They wanted her to stay overnight and be monitored. They offered to have an ambulance transport us but I told them I would drive. They admitted that the ambulance was more for me. They were worried that I was too upset to drive.

X-Rays, tubes down her nose to extract fluid, blood taken. My calm, serene baby was now screaming and flailing, fighting to break free. I held her arms by her head and whispered words of comfort to her.

Soon we were in our hospital room, waiting on a diagnosis. All of the scary tests came back negative. The diagnosis was R.S.V. A respiratory infection. She would be ok. The told me she’d need breathing treatments with a nebulizer. OK. That we could do. They told me that each time she got a cold we would likely have to do the treatments. OK. They said it was not serious and she would outgrow it. Thank god. Relief flooded me.

The doctor and nurse left us to rest. I finally let myself relax a little. I started to come down off of high alert. I was breathing again after holding my breath for hours. I felt the fear start to drain out of me, exhaustion taking up residence where adrenaline had been.

As I was unpacking the diaper bag I heard a noise. I looked up and my daughter was staring at me. Looking me steadily in the eyes, she was struggling to form words. I could hear her little voice, for the first time. Beyond the coos and the gurgles. I could hear her experiment with sounds as she rolled her tongue around and moved her lips. She was trying to talk. She had a look of amusement in her eyes. My three month old baby stared at me and babbled for 10 minutes.

I started to laugh. I walked over to her and caressed her head with both hands as she continued to stare at me and babble. I was laughing and crying with relief. I was weak with gratitude. I responded to her through salty tears. Urging her voice and kissing her forehead. I felt like we had been through a battle together. Just the two of us. We had just experienced some scary moments. And we came through it together.

I cried and laughed. I felt different. All of the questions, all of the searching for the last three months, trying to figure out my daughter. None of that mattered. I knew that she was a part of me. She had a hold on my heart and that was unbreakable. I didn’t need to understand everything about her in that moment. I just needed to know that she was ok. I needed her to know that I would stop searching and would just be. I would let her be and grow into whomever she was supposed to be. I was ok not knowing how that was going to play out. All that mattered was that she was ok and that we would go through the journey together.

***

My daughter just turned 11 yesterday. I’m still trying to figure her out. She’s still a little bit of a mystery to me. I have to be patient with that. She’s brilliant and beautiful and funny and creative. She’s so much more than I ever imagined her being. She’s who I want to be when I grow up. She’s her own person and she doesn’t need me to “get it.” She just needs me to love her. To support her. To be there to guide her when she needs it. And to back off when she doesn’t need it. And to be patient. To be patient with the fact that I’m still figuring her out. She knows that. She watches me. And every once in a while I get that intense soul gazing stare. When I “get her,” when I understand something about her, she gives me that look. It’s her way of saying thank you. It’s her, knowing that I understand one more piece of her that I didn’t get before.

I’m ok with not knowing everything about how her mind works. I don’t think I’m supposed to. I’m just walking through life with her – now just one step behind – letting her make her own way. But I’m watching. Closely. I’m still studying and still trying to figure her out. Only now with more patience. With a little more understanding than yesterday. Some things you have to wait for. Some things, often the best things, you have to wait for. I’ll be waiting and watching and guiding. And I’ll never stop.

Happy birthday to my artist, to my old soul, my pajama pant wearing, book devouring daughter. My “I’m not a princess, I’m an artist”, “I don’t have time to brush my hair”, my laugh at any thing with the word “balls”, dry humored,  crazy girl. My beautiful spirit, my sweet girl, my baby. I love you.

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Today, I Will Remember The Times We Used To Share

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Sittin on top of the world, Sittin on top of the world.

Remember the times we used to play,

We sing and we’d dance all damn day…

-Lenny Kravitz, Sittin On Top Of the World

 

This is an anniversary I never wanted to celebrate. One I wish I could forget or ignore. Fifteen years ago my little brother died.

It’s still impossible to believe. Impossible to adjust. Impossible to ignore.

I don’t want to reflect on that day. Memories will creep back. They always do. But today I won’t let them. Today I will celebrate.

But all I do is sing the blues,

But have I forsaken you, by telling you what you must do…

And all I do is sing the blues,

But I would never lie, let things go by. Leave you in the road to die.

I will never ever say goodbye.

‘Eff you death. Because today I’m celebrating life. The beautiful laughter filled life my brother lived for 18 years.

Never gonna say goodbye,

Never gonna say goodbye…

Today I’m going to remember all the times we shared. All the times we laughed. Because there was always laughter. Even when there was pain there was always laughter. He was amazing like that.

I was eight years old when he was born. I was indifferent at first. I could have cared less about babies. But then I held him. I’d never seen anything so beautiful. I’d never felt love like that. The protectiveness, the awe. The wonder of this little baby who came into our lives and made our family complete.

We had your typical brother/sister relationship. He loved to bug me. But as he got older we became more friends than siblings. We bonded over music. He loved to hear about the concerts I went to. He introduced me to Eminem long before Eminem was on MTV. He loved hip hop. He made me cd’s, mix tapes. Bob Marley, Tupac, Biggie. And Lenny. Lenny Kravitz was our music. We both loved Lenny.

He made me tell him, over and over, the story of my first Lenny Kravitz concert. We were supposed to get hooked up with backstage passes. I was dying to meet Lenny. It didn’t happen. The guy gave them to someone else. So of course me and my friends stalked Lenny after the show. We waited by the tour bus with a small group of die hard fans. Finally, he walked out. A giant crocheted hat on his head, dreadlocks trailing beneath. The crowd was hushed. We had waited for over an hour and no one said a thing. Right as he passed in front of me I yelled out, “Lenny!” He lifted his chin in greeting, “What’s up, ya’ll.” Then everyone went nuts as he climbed on to his tour bus. My brother loved that story. Every time he hung on every word as if he didn’t know how it was going to end. A year before he died we got to see Lenny in concert. It was the only concert we ever got to see together.

Remember the times… that we used to share,

You got to remember the times… that we used to share, that we used to share…

Today I’ll remember that concert. I’ll remember the Halloween party we went to at my friend’s house- that he later told me was the best night of his life. Today I’ll remember how he always had us all laughing. His impersonations. Pecking at his plate like a chicken at Thanksgiving dinner. How he would put his finger up in front of me and my sister and say in the most serious tone, “Hush. No talk-y talk-y.” How it always made us stop whatever big sister lectures we were giving and had us cracking up.

Today I’ll think back on how he invented the selfie way before cell phones were in every hand. He would finish up every role of film on my mom’s camera with extreme close-ups, always making crazy faces. I would always flip through the photos, anticipating the pictures at the end of the roll. The ones that I knew would make me laugh. The ones that were always different. You never knew what was waiting for you at the end of the stack, but you knew it would be funny.

Today I’ll laugh when I think about how he would take baby Jesus out of the Nativity scene my mom set out every Christmas. Every day baby Jesus would be missing. My mom would feign annoyance, but she would erupt in laughter when she would see little baby Jesus perched somewhere unexpected. Sometimes she wouldn’t find him until cooking dinner that evening. Or doing laundry. Or going to the bathroom. It was The Elf on the Shelf way before anyone had even thought of that creepy guy. Baby Jesus was always lurking, hiding. Always some place different. Sometimes completely inappropriate. Always hilarious. A tradition that my niece continues in her uncle’s honor every Christmas.

Today I’ll remember how we got through 18 months of chemo and radiation treatments. How he kept us all laughing through it all. His goal was to make his very serious Oncologist laugh. It didn’t take long. He quickly cracked through the veneer of a man who spent every day treating sick children.

I’ll never forget how he still loved to mess with my mom. He loved little pranks. He would sit at the kitchen table while she would flush out his IV line and right as she was pushing saline into the tube he would scream “It’s burning!” She would laugh every time, right after she had jumped in alarm. He loved to trick us, to pull one off, but he was truly happiest when he was making us laugh.

He had a way of making you fall for the same joke over and over. He would call me at work as he and mom were leaving treatments and doctor’s appointments. He would pretend to be one of my customers. I sold pagers to corporate clients. He would use different voices and accents and call me with crazy complaints, irate fake tirades and real creative scenarios of where he lost his pager. He would always erupt in laughter once he was sure I had fallen for it again, then quickly say “Where do you want to meet us for lunch?” It was impossible to get mad at him.

But the only way for you to survive

Is to open your heart, it will guide.

You wanna stay in this world of music and life,

You gotta turn around, Spread a little love and get high..

So, today I’m going to laugh. I’m going to remember every funny Todd story I can think of and I will laugh. I’m going to hold all my happy memories close to my heart and be thankful there are so many to choose from. I’m going to go to lunch with my mom and eat a giant cheeseburger in his honor. I’m going to remember his smile. His voice. His easy going nature that drew people to him. Today I’m going to remember the times that we used to share. And I’m going to listen to Lenny all day.

 

 

 

Finding Perspective In A Life Under Water

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photo: ThinkStock/Comstock

photo: ThinkStock/Comstock

“Darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable and lightness has a call that’s hard to hear.”

-Indigo Girls, Closer to Fine 

Do you know why I hate drama? Aside from the fact that negativity breeds like a voracious beast, it’s just so damn wasteful. So much time and energy can be wasted on drama. And almost all drama is manufactured, created… and life is full of enough hard stuff.

I DON’T DO DRAMA.

Because I know what it’s like to have good days and bad days. I know what it’s like to have a day so bad you feel like you’re drowning. Like you can’t breathe. Like there’s no way out.

I know what it’s like to watch someone you love live in unspeakable pain. I know what it’s like to spend the night with your brother in the hospital. Watching him writhe in pain. Begging you to put pressure on his spine, to do anything to make it go away. To run down the hall begging nurses to do something. Help him. To pull them out of other patients’ rooms. Because those patients weren’t in his kind of pain. Because those patients weren’t 16 year old kids. Because those patients could wait because your brother was in pain.

I know what it’s like to watch the nurses shake their head in sad resignation because the doctor’s orders don’t include the kind of pain meds he needs. And it’s the middle of the night. And without a diagnosis no doctor was going to call in heavy duty pain meds.

I know what it’s like to hear a diagnosis. To steel yourself before walking in to the hospital room to hear the verdict. To send out positive hopeful thoughts. To will good news. To be full of forced optimism and hope. To have that all violently wrenched away from you in one moment. With one statement from the doctor. With a diagnosis. With the words “Stage Four” with the phrase “We have seen some cases of survival.” To run out of the room and abandon your family because you can’t breath and to collapse in the hallway in convulsive sobs. And to be ashamed because everyone else was keeping it together.

I know what it feels like to find out the next day that the point on his spine that you were pressing on the night before… that you were leaning in to with your entire body -sweating and grunting with all your might because he was begging you to- to find out the next day that you were pressing on a bone tumor that was eating into his spine. I know what it’s like to be hit with the sick realization that you were hurting him. To feel the bile in your throat and the panic of understanding. That while he was in more pain than most of us will ever experience that you were adding to it unknowingly. That you failed at helping him. That your brother, eight years younger, who you had always felt so protective of, that you had let him down when he needed you most. I know what it’s like.

I know what it’s like to have a bad day.

For me, any day that the people I love are healthy is a good day. Any day that someone I love is not in pain is a good day. Any day that is not riddled with worry and helplessness is a good day. Any day that you can reach out and hold someone you love is a good day.

Sometimes I need a reminder.

Last year I got a big reminder. One that knocked the wind out of me. I was having a bad day. The kind of bad day made of small, annoying things that seem much bigger. That can, if you allow it, take over and sour your mood. I was grumpy and caught up in whatever petty annoyances were going on in my life. Stuff so unimportant that I can’t even remember what they were.

I was sitting at swim practice grumbling internally and generally feeling sorry for myself.  I distractedly scrolled through Facebook until I realized there was a private message. It was from my high school best friend. She and I had lost touch after college and had reconnected a few years earlier on Facebook. Intrigued, I clicked on the message, expecting to see a greeting, a “How have you been, let’s catch up” type of message. I started reading and I felt like my heart actually stopped beating.

She told me that her daughter had been diagnosed with a horrible, rare disease months earlier. That she is only just beginning to be able to talk about it. On the spectrum of horrible diseases, this may be the worst. And I’m not being even a tiny bit dramatic. It affects young children. It deteriorates their brain. It deteriorates their body and their muscle function. It sounded like a horrific combination of two of the diseases I had always feared most: ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and Alzheimer’s. Except this happens to kids. Little kids. And there was no treatment. No cure. Most kids don’t live past their teenage years.

I was overcome as I was reading her words. I looked at my son swimming his laps. At my daughters sitting next to me. I felt like I wanted to scoop all three of them up into my arms and hold them indefinitely. I wanted to reach through the ether of cyberspace and hold my friend. My friend who I hadn’t seen in years. With whom I’d shared years of friendship and good times and laughter. And now she was going through unimaginable pain. She knew what it was like to have a bad day. 

My friend doesn’t have time for drama. The world looks a lot different from the perspective of grief and fear and survival. You don’t have a moment to waste on whispers of “He said, she said.” You don’t have time to worry about what other people think. You don’t have time to dissect every interaction and analyze how it might have been received or perceived. Because you are fighting. You are fighting to not drown under the incredible weight of fear.

My friend is amazing. She is fighting for her daughter. She started a blog. She published her very first blog post. It was about her daughter. It got Freshly Pressed (a huge honor in the behemoth WordPress world). The next day it got picked up by The Huffington Post. Donations started pouring in. The community came together. People are raising money. Raising money because there’s a trial for a new treatment that won’t happen without money. A treatment that shows promise for a disease that had no hope until now. One that has shown reversal of symptoms in the lab.

A possible cure.

My friend doesn’t have time for drama or politics or any of the things that get us worked up or angry or caught up. She is fighting for her daughter’s life. She and other parents. When time is precious and every moment is to be soaked up and absorbed, she is spending countless hours raising money to try to save her daughter’s lives. When all she wants to do is cuddle with her daughter. To read with her and watch her play, she is organizing and promoting and spreading awareness. She is fighting to have a good day. A day with a daughter who’s healthy. A good day when she can hear the words “She’s cured.”

That’s perspective.

The good days that I, that you, that most of us, take for granted… she is fighting for that. My brother fought for that. While he lost his fight with Cancer, he had plenty of good days. He made good days… good moments… he insisted on laughter and fun even when hooked up to tubes and machines.

So no, I don’t do drama.

Because life is short.

For some it’s unfairly and heartbreakingly short.

Because we will all have some bad days.

We will all feel fear and pain and loss. It’s inevitable. So on those days when you aren’t feeling pain… when someone you love isn’t hurting… when you’re not feeling crippling fear… Those days where you don’t feel like you’re drowning…

On those days… enjoy it. Don’t let anyone or anything take it from you. Wrap yourself up in the warmth of a positive thought in the face of negativity. Cloak yourself in comfort when the world throws obstacles. Protect yourself and treat yourself gingerly and with love. And when you see someone who’s struggling, even if they’re spewing anger… give them a hand. Chances are they’re having a bad day. Chances are they’re feeling fear or pain or rejection or heartache. Chances are they’re drowning. Be their lifeline.

If you want to hear more about my friend’s daughter and their fight:

http://www.gofundme.com/abbygracecure

Boys Will Be Boys… The Danger of Low Expectations

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“Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight.

Carry that weight a long time…”

-The Beatles, Carry That Weight

Boys are getting a bad rap.

They are being reduced to the lowest common denominator.

They are suffering the permissibility of low expectations.

They have no self control. They have violent urges. They have uncontainable sexual tendencies.

Boys will be boys.

What does this oft cited phrase even mean? Does it mean that because they were born with the Y chromosome that they are inherently impulsive and helpless to their own actions? Does it mean that it is natural for them to be more violent, more sexual?

Or is it an excuse trotted out to dismiss unsavory behavior?

Is it an antiquated notion that keeps boys boxed into a hyper-masculine role while putting the burden on girls to keep order and civility intact?

I know a few boys.

I had a younger brother. I have a son. I’m married to a man (formerly a boy). I’ve had many male friends throughout my life. Most of the boys I have known and encountered have been sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful people. Very much in control of their own actions. Yes, I have known some jerks. I have had encounters with some real assholes. But they truly are the exception in my life, not the rule.

I love men.

I always have. I grew up having more guy friends than girl friends. I sometimes felt more comfortable and at ease with my guy friends. I love masculine, strong men and I love sensitive, artistic men and I love that these traits aren’t exclusive of each other. I don’t look at men as adversaries. I don’t view them as opposition. I view them as friends, as neighbors, as fellow parents-  as people full of good and sometimes a little bad but mostly just human and trying to do their best.

Let’s stop saying it…

Let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.” It is said when little boys fight on the play ground. Instead of breaking up the fight and teaching them that there are other ways to problem solve, some people use this phrase as an excuse. Let them get out their anger, let them blow off some steam. It’ll toughen them up. But we’re talking about children. We’re talking about using an outdated cliche that is used as an excuse to allow children to fight, to engage in an activity that will end in pain and harm to one or both. Does this not seem absurd and un-evolved in this day?

Let’s stop using it as an excuse for boys to grope girls. To say demeaning things to girls. Let’s not speak this phrase to imply that boys cannot control their urges around girls. To imply that it’s natural for boys to be misogynistic. It’s not. Misogyny is taught.

Let’s stop saying it when enforcing a dress code that is mostly thrust upon girls. Shorts must be a certain length. Skirts must be a certain length. No spaghetti strap shirts. Why? The reasons I’ve heard all seem to point to a few disturbing notions. Either that little girls will be viewed as too sultry or sexual when wearing shorts or tank tops or that it will put boys in the uncomfortable and impossible position of having to control their sexual urges. They will be too distracted by the show of flesh. So girls are all sultry sirens of the sea luring poor dimwitted boys to jump in the ocean, devoid of any self control?

Let’s stop saying it when men make lewd or inappropriate comments towards women. When a congressmen grabs the belly of a female Senator and comments on her thickening waist line. When men make crude and laviscious cat calls at a woman walking down the street.

And, dear god, let’s stop saying it when a boy sexually assaults a girl.

‘Cause here’s the thing…

Not all boys or men do these things. These are not behaviors inherent in the male species. Not all boys are violent. Not all boys are lustful. Not all boys view girls as objects. Not all boys are distracted by an exposed shoulder or an extra inch of thigh. Not all boys want to demean girls. Not all boys believe that they have rights to a girl’s body and privacy and sense of safety.

I don’t think any boy is born with these tendencies. They will have more testosterone, yes. And surges in testosterone can lead to feelings of anger or sexual urges. But boys can be taught how to deal with these feelings. How to process them and handle them. They are beyond animalistic instincts to act without regard to others or themselves. They are more evolved than that. To dismiss bad behavior with “boys will be boys” implies they have no control. It implies that they are subject to their worst impulses.

I even have a real life example. A phenomenon I have observed over the last few years. My kids are on a competitive swim team. It is comprised of both boys and girls. These kids live in their bathing suits. The girls wear tight fitting one pieces that are cut low on their back and high on their hips. The boys wear Speedos. These kids spend roughly 10 hours a week together (more for the older groups.) In their bathing suits. My kids probably wouldn’t recognize some of their teammates in street clothes with dry hair. The girls walk around in their suits, run around the pool deck, jump and yell and basically goof off with their friends. They have to get on a block and bend over in what many of us would consider vulnerable positions to dive into the water. They do all this without self consciousness. They are all different shapes and sizes and each and every one of them seem unaware that they are rather “exposed.” Because the boys don’t care. They are used to it. They aren’t distracted by any of this. When they aren’t laughing and talking on the pool deck, they are focused on the roughly 3,000 yards they have to swim at each practice. They aren’t losing their minds at all the exposed female flesh walking by them, swimming past them. True story.

It is insulting.

The line of thinking that goes along with the “boys will be boys” mentality is an insult to boys. It is just as insulting as assuming that women are uncontrollably emotional and irrational because their bodies produce more estrogen. It only teaches boys that not only is bad behavior ok, it is expected of them. That it is evidence of masculinity. This is ridiculous. You know what’s masculine? Being honest about your feelings, showing emotion. Being respectful of others. Honoring other’s rights and needs. Understanding those around you.

I believe in setting high expectations, not shrugging away boorishness.

I believe that most boys don’t want to have to fight on the playground.

I believe that boys are completely capable of self control.

I believe my son doesn’t need to “prove” his masculinity any more than my daughters need to “prove” their femininity.

I believe that boys are capable of functioning around girls, even scantily clad girls, without succumbing to hormonal fueled hysteria.

I believe that if we stop dismissing behaviors and excusing them and expecting them, that we will raise strong, masculine men who respect themselves. Who respect women. Who want to be productive and not destructive. I believe that we can raise boys who won’t grow up to grope women. To make insulting cat calls. Who won’t say misogynistic things to women, to female senators. Who won’t assume rights or ownership to a woman’s body. I know it’s possible. I know many of these men. Many of whom grew up to be great men in spite of society’s banal accommodation of “boys will be boys.”

So let’s give boys some credit. Let’s assume they are capable of the best. Let’s expect more and in doing so imply that we know that they are more than able to do more. Let’s allow them to be who they are, not what society deems as masculine.

And once and for all, let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.”

 

All the Stuff… 4

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 All The Stuff

Oh August, you tricky little bastard. You come in all sweltering and sticky and full of anger and tumultuousness. And when you leave there’ll be a sadness that summer is winding down. The freedom and the carefree days of bare feet and entire days spent in a bathing suit and the permission to have a beer at noon… all a memory as we creep towards fall and schedules and structure and life as we thought we knew it.

Last week my kids went off to school. My youngest in Kindergarten and the older two…  I forget what grades they’re in. Their grades are insignificant in the scheme of school milestones. Lest you think I’m a callous uncaring mother, just know that next year when I have one starting Middle School and one starting High School I’ll be all over them and tearful and doting and clinging. I will become the mom version of a stalker. They will be so smothered with me grasping at their waning childhood that they will look back on this year grateful that their little sister took some attention away from them. They’ll get their time. But this year, right now, it’s all about my youngest. She pranced off to school full of glee and anticipation and wonder. And every afternoon she bounces off  the bus excited and brimming with things to tell me. And I’m soaking up every bit of it because the older two are indication that this will not last.

Anyways, we’re beginning the process of settling in to our new routines and that means…

More time to write, more time to read. Woo hoo! *pops the cork on the champagne*

That’s not to say it hasn’t been a difficult month. Some pretty crazy stuff going on out there. It’s hard to not get down and dejected with all that’s happening. A new terrorist group that seems even scarier than the ones before. A loss of a beloved actor and comedian. A U.S. city that looks like a flashback to 1960. The realization that we still have a long way to go with some things.

Out of all this strife comes the writing. Some pretty amazing words that will be burned into my mind for a long long time.

REDdog at Shed Reflections wrote a heartfelt insight Excuse Me, I’m Feeling Suicidal. One of the best pieces I’ve read on the subject of depression and suicide. “…so much of the talking has been about the talking about it.” He makes it personal and sheds some light in his direct and matter of fact manner.

The wry and funny and seriously real Twindaddy and the so talented I can’t even comment on her poems out of fear of sounding stupid Hasty Words came out against the haters in The Unwitting Villain. I am going to print this poem and just hand it over next time someone brings their negativity into my world.

And there’s Samara…  I honestly don’t know what I can say about Samara without sounding like a gushing fangirl. Her words are some of the most powerful I’ve ever read. Sometimes her words speak to me and get somewhere deep inside my subconscious and wake up a sleeping thought. She leaves me in awe every time I read her work, whether from shock and laughter or from the soul piercing rawness that she lays out when she’s straying from her hilariously snarky snarkedness… She recently posted on Stories That Must Not Die a post titled I Bleed Therefore I Am. I really can’t say anything about it. It is something you need to just go and read.

And last, this post from BlogHer, The Exercise That Opened My Eyes to White Privilege. This should be required reading. It should be an exercise done in every high school and college in the country. It should be done over and over again until people get it. Until people stop saying “Yeah, but…”  Until people stop trying to redirect conversations about race. Until.

And now, I’m done.

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“The Talk” That Proves Racism Is Alive

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*This is a blogpost I wrote earlier this year. Sadly it bears repeating…

unknown, via Twitter

“The police in New York City
They chased a boy right through the park
And in a case of mistaken identity
The put a bullet through his heart
Heart breakers with your forty four, I wanna tear your world apart”

-The Rolling Stones, Heartbreaker

*This is a blogpost I wrote earlier this year. Sadly it bears repeating…

Do you worry about what others think of you? I know I do. I worry about it too much. My worries are there because I want people to like me. But imagine if simply being you made others uncomfortable. Imagine if walking around in your skin caused fear. What if upon seeing you a person’s eyes enlarged, they backed away, they avoided eye contact or even turned and walked the other way.

Last summer I read a post by Questlove (Drummer of the Roots) on the Huffington Post blog. He wrote about how he has to worry, all the time -everywhere he goes, about what others think of him. Of how they may react to his appearance. I cried quietly as I read it. He detailed living his life, walking around trying to not be imposing. He described what it’s like to put fear in people simply by looking the way you look…

“All the time I’m in scenarios in which primitive, exotic-looking me (6’2″, 300 pounds, uncivilized afro for starters) finds himself in places that people that look like me aren’t normally found. I mean, what can I do? I have to be somewhere on Earth, correct?”

He routinely turns down invitations to swanky places because it’s “been hammered into his DNA to not ‘rock the boat’ “

I won’t attempt to summarize any further what he wrote because I won’t be able to do it justice. You’ll have to (click the highlighted link above) and read it for yourself. He wrote this right after the acquittal verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.

I wish I could say that his story is rare, an anomaly. Sadly it’s not. It is so common that African American parents in our country have to explain to their sons at a young age how people may perceive them and react to them.

They have The Talk with their sons.

No, not the sex talk. This is a conversation aimed at preventing young black men from inciting violence or suspicion or incarceration because of the color of their skin. This conversation informs these young boys that they must tread lightly around white men and police and other authority figures. Tragic stories abound of young black men being roughed up by the police for no reason. Young black men being killed because they didn’t defer to authority even in the face of extreme and obvious injustice. Young black men being shot because they were simply there.

Don’t talk back to white men.

Don’t try to explain, even when they have obviously mistaken you for someone else.

Don’t run down the street, someone might think you stole something.

Don’t hang out on the corner with a group of friends, they might assume you’re in a gang.

Don’t reach for your phone, they might think you’re reaching for a gun.

Move slowly.

Keep your hands visible at all times.

You may say that these are reasonable instructions for anyone. But I don’t know anyone personally who has been arrested or killed who did nothing wrong, committed no crime. Because I’m a white woman living in suburbia.

I have never had to tell my son that if he is running down the street that someone may assume he has committed a crime. Think about the absurdity of that for a minute. Don’t run. Your game of tag or your attempt to race to a friend’s house may be perceived as a threat. Think about telling your son not to run down the street. Ever. That is the reality you face if you are the parent of a young black boy.

This isn’t a new thing. The Talk dates back to 1863 following the Emancipation Proclamation. When slaves were freed in rebel states they were told to not celebrate openly, to essentially “fly under the radar” to avoid giving angry rebels cause to go after them. What I learned after the Trayvon Martin case was that The Talk still exists. It’s still relevant and necessary.

The Talk is a sad part of coming of age in the black community. And I had never heard of it before. Such is the privilege of being white in America. You can say you know racism is still alive in our country. You can have your heart ache with each new story of a son and a brother being shot. But if you’re white in America, you don’t know what it’s like. This is a reality that has been around for over a century and most of us have never and will never experience what it’s like to live in this kind of fear.

Right after the verdict in the Martin case, another trial was beginning. A 76 year old man was on trial for the murder of his 13 year old neighbor. He thought that Darius Simmons, a young black boy, had broken into his home days earlier. He shot him in the chest and killed him.

Recently our national attention was tuned in to the “Loud Music” trial. Michael Dunn faces up to 60 years in prison for firing 10 rounds into a car of young black men, killing 17 year old Jordan Davis.

These are just the cases that make the news. How many cases are there that don’t result in an arrest, that never catch the fleeting attention of the media? Democracy Now reported that in a study of 2012 shootings, that “at least 136 unarmed African Americans were killed by police, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes in 2012.”

Becoming numb to these horrific stories, to these appalling tales, is not an option. You can’t be numb if you look at their faces.

The faces of these children who were murdered.

These sons who were loved and adored as much as you and I love and adore our own children.

These are children. And they are gone forever.

Because they went to buy Skittles.

Because they were taking out the trash.

Because they turned the radio up.

For buying Skittles

Walking home after buying Skittles

He was taking out the trash

Taking out the trash

He turned the music up too loud.

Playing music too loud.

You can’t look at these faces and feel numb.

If you’re like me you feel kicked in the gut. Despair.

I see a little of my son in each of them. I feel pain for the parents of these boys. I feel sorrow for them because I know a little bit about what it’s like to lose someone you love at such a tender age.

And I feel enraged.

I feel pulse racing, heat inducing, hand trembling rage.

And I don’t know what to do with that.

But I will have The Talk with my son.

With my white,suburban dwelling, young son.

Not for the same reason and not the exact same talk. I will explain to my son that because he is growing up  as a young white man in our country that this talk isn’t essential to his survival. But that he needs to know that it is essential for many boys his age.

I will explain that some of his friends are having The Talk with their parents because without it they may inadvertently put themselves, their very lives, at risk.

I will tell him that he needs to know that racism, which baffles a young innocent boy like him, is still present. That he needs to know that what goes on around him, even if it doesn’t affect him directly, is still worth his concern and attention. That even if by the time he has children The Talk isn’t necessary, that he can never forget it.

I will tell him that to forget our ugly sordid past with racism in this country is to ignore and deny a threat to our humanity.

That to forget allows it to fester and grow and continue.

Questlove’s story has stuck with me since I read it many months ago. It was heartbreaking. And it illustrates the magnitude of the problem. A noticeable famous figure, on t.v. five nights a week for the last five years, still encounters fear and racism.

Yes, racism is alive and well. And it’s ludicrous that anyone would need to be informed of that.

It’s not obvious to those of us who don’t feel the brutal brunt of it on a regular basis. Many people will scoff and point to our black president. Some will recite all of the ridiculous defenses and excuses that have been trotted out by lawyers and pundits in a lame attempt to explain how and why these children were killed.

But denying it is extremely dangerous.

Denying it or downplaying it allows it to continue.

Sticking our heads in the sand may seem comforting at first. Ignorance is bliss and all.

But eventually that sand becomes suffocating as will the cold reality of who we are- what kind of people we become if we can see the faces of these children who have been killed because of how they look, because of their race- and don’t at the very least acknowledge it. If we do that then we become no better than him:

Michael Dunn, upon hearing his verdict.

Michael Dunn, who shot Jordan Davis,upon hearing his verdict.

We become the personification of self righteous indignation when we shrug off the realities that black families in our country still face.

Jordan Davis’ mom put it best,

“You can’t pretend anymore. The blinders are off now. If there is this level of racism, it can’t be under the table anymore. It has to be exposed so we can deal with it.”

I say that we can’t deny racism as long as parents are still having The Talk.

The conversation that’s been a necessity -a tool of survival in the African American community for 151 years- when that conversation is no longer needed, then we can declare victory. Then we can say that it was a part of our past, no longer plaguing our society.

When it’s no longer necessary to “hammer it into (the) DNA” of young black boys, then and only then, will we have justice for Trayvon… for Darius… for Jordan.

Update, August 22, 2014: And now for Michael Brown.

Big Mike Jr Brown via Facebook

Big Mike Jr Brown via Facebook

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