Sunday, November 27, 2011

Innocence Lost

I'm not a big Pollyanna or anything, but I try to see the best in people.  That can sometimes lead to disappointment, but I try.  I teach my kids people are inherently good, even if that particular day is making me bite my tongue until it bleeds.

Maybe it's because I grew into an adult way too young that I try to shield them as best I can from the fact that--and I believe this--there are some people who are truly, at their core, evil.  I explain with the least amount and most gentle facts I can terrible events.  Now that my children are 10 and 7, that's becoming more and more difficult to do.  When we'd talk of my mom's passing, it was framed with she's living in heaven, and it's SO beautiful, and God needed her, lalalalala!  When, in kindergarten, my son learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it was civil rights for all!  Happy day! with no mention of pesky assassinations, lalalalala!  September 11th?  Bad people crashing into buildings.  Crazy individuals, no need to fear, lalalalala!  That's why it was one of the hardest things I ever did to stand back and watch my daughter realize there's evil in the world I can't fix.

About a month ago, we went with a girl scout group to Springfield.  Not having been there in quite some time, it was a nice trip.  We had the nice comfy bus, pleasant chatter, saw the capitol building, the old capitol, all good.  Then we went into the Lincoln Presidential Library.  They have done an AWESOME job of it, and if you haven't seen it recently, I highly suggest it.  The shows they have are stunningly done, and there are life size replicas of many points in Lincoln's life.  Do not touch, however, as many, many alarms go off, and you will be searched (don't ask me how I know this for a fact).  There's even a play area where kids can play dress up and experience toys of the era.  Really big fun, could have spent all day there.  One of the best things was seeing how the Civil War fit into the scope of Lincoln as a president and a family man, even if the face of a cabinet in near full opposition.  It was a truly enlightening experience.

It was the fact that there were so many exceedingly lifelike wax sculptures of people that gave my daughter pause.  We'd talked about slavery in bits and pieces, since many of the posters and textual areas of the library mentioned it.  She knew there were once people who thought it was ok to own others like property, and they were bad for doing so.  I think she thought of "owning" someone really as more like roommates, but I don't know for certain.  At one point we turned the corner, and there it was.  On a stage was a complex wax sculpture.  It depicted a kind of town square, where slave auctions were being held.  It was obvious a family was being broken up.  Whomever decided on the actual placing of the sculptures did it in a way that anyone would understand but that was also most apt to pluck at people's heartstrings, especially my 7 year old daughter's.  See, whenever I've seen pictures of this particularly heinous act, I've seen the big, strong Black men being sold.  Reason and logic say slave owners would want a strong pair of hands if they're buying slaves, leaving the women and children, as they pose too much of a burden on a plantation budget without the reward.  This depiction was different.  There were the slave owners or auctioneers on stage.  There was a man and a woman and a young boy all sobbing and reaching out to one another.  But in this case, the boy was with the man, and the woman, the mother, was being taken away.  The mother was being led away.  While her child screamed out for her.  While her husband reached out for her and cried too.

As adults, we know this is not an uncommon story.  We find sadness and empathy and heartsickness in this horrible page out of history.  This was my daughter's first brush with the up close and personal details of history.  I couldn't do a thing to shield her from it.  Had I hustled her away, my little quiz master would have asked questions about it all day.  Even as I stepped back and watched her little face, I expected questions in her rapid fire way, one after another, before the first one was even answered.  She said nothing.  Her eyes darted back and forth, and a frown formed on her face, as she tried to figure it out.  After a while, she asked "why can't the boy be by his mom?"  I had to remind her what this was a depiction of and then I knew I had to tell her this boy probably wouldn't ever see his mom again.  I've never seen a more terrified look on her face.

She recovered from her shock and terror, and she asked a few more questions that I answered as best I could.  Later, she was playing like her regular self.  In the weeks that have followed, I know she's thought of that day, because she's asked me other questions I can tell she's been mulling about in her head.  I know this isn't the roughest thing she'll ever learn, and I know there are so many moments to come where bad things will happen or have to be explained.  I don't live in a bubble and think nothing bad will ever happen, or I can make all the bad stuff go away.  But as a parent, to stand helplessly, while my child goes through anything difficult, even learning a concept or idea, is torture beyond measure.  I'm sure the real-life counterpart of the wax statue of the mother would say of her situation that watching her child experience a moment of pain was far, far worse than the lifetime of sorrow she endured.  I think that's the saddest part of this whole thing, the knowledge that mom can't make everything better, because kids should always believe moms can change the world.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I must be a magnet

I have been fortunate in my life to meet a wealth of interesting people.  There are SO many I could just sit and chat with for hours on end because I am simply fascinated by their lives and personalities.  Yep, I'm a tell me your life story, and I'll sit with rapt attention chat junkie.  Always have been, always will be.  If you're not late for your next appointment because we were shooting the breeze, there's just something wrong.

A weird little outgrowth of my deep interest in humanity, however, is that I get into the ODDEST conversations with people.  I'm not saying these people are odd--well, any more than I am--but for some reason, people feel compelled to bare their odd little details.  I'm always interested, don't get me wrong, but afterwards, I'm thinking "well, how did we get THERE on that conversation path?"  Like the time my new pastor and I had a conversation about his daughter. . . and, um, porn. 

Yes, that's right.  This great church, with great people that we're officially going to be members of this weekend had a family picnic recently at one of the longtime members' homes.  They have a fabulous pool.  This meant my behind was stuck next to said pool while my children refused to come out for love or money.  At one point, the pastor sat down and started a conversation.  He's a great guy, and I'm not one of those who thinks clergy can't be regular folk, but I'm a reformed Catholic, y'all.  I'm still weirded out that he's got kids.  Grown kids, in fact. 

He has kids, I have kids, we start talking kids.  He tells me his oldest is a junior film producer in California, and she's actually got a bit of cache now, because she's worked on some popular network shows and a successful documentary. She's now moving to get that "junior" off her title, and it's exciting.  His pride in his daughter's achievements was obvious.  He did share with me that times were not always so great for her, and she once lamented that there was a guy in her apartment complex who made really good money and kept offering her gigs, but she wouldn't take them, and she was afraid some day it may come to taking him up on his offer of production work.  Apparently, it was a year or more before she admitted to her dad that this quasi-friend was a producer for a different kind of industry (and this is where the story nearly stopped, he started stuttering, until I had a brain buzz, leaned over and provided in a whisper tone the words "adult erotica").  He--beet-faced agreed and recovered his composure--and apparently from then on, whenever things were really bad with his daughter, and she was crying on the phone about how she'd never make it in this business, he would respond with, "well, dear, there's always porn."

Did I mention I LOVE these people?!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I think I've sent my ancestors spinning.

Before you read on!  This is a post that has a religious theme!  I'm an accepting, hippy kinda gal when it comes to religion!  Don't dis mine, I won't dis yours!  Do not attempt to solve the religious questions of the ages by gnashing your teeth over my bones in the comments!  I do not play those games, and I will happily delete you!

This is the blog post where I acknowledge that I've been riddled with guilt for the last few years for being a very lapsed Catholic and dragging my children into a lapsed state.  I've never lost faith in God.  As a matter of fact, I consider myself very spiritual.  I pray daily, and I know the good Lord gives me truckloads of patience to deal with my life (read children and husband there) on a daily basis.  I am, however, disillusioned with the leadership of a church that felt it was good reasoning to keep moving known pedophiles around, hoping they would avoid detection.  That doesn't sound very Christian to me, on any level.  To be totally honest, I have issues with most organized religions.  I figure Jesus was a pretty loose-thinking, accepting guy, savior or not, yet many of the Christians I've met seem to relish in excluding others, and it all just doesn't make sense to me at all.

I come from a strong Catholic background.  My grandfather deserted his pursuit of the priesthood only because he could not reconcile the way he felt about science and discovery with the way the church treated those advances for humanity.  He felt called to help as a doctor instead, but he once admitted to me it was the one decision he was never certain of, even at the end of his life.  My grandmother was equally faithful.  There wasn't a day that began or ended for her without praying for her family members in turn.  When asked what she hoped she'd passed on to her children and grandchildren the most, she answered her faith.  The Catholic church was a part of my life in a very real way.  My first communion was at home.  The bishop who performed my confirmation was a personal friend of my grandfather.  My grandmother played violin, without fail, for midnight mass at a local convent, and I was a fixture there since the age of 10.  One summer I read all four volumes of The Lives of the Saints and picked my favorite ones.  Can we say "immersion" with a capital I?

Really, it was when Cubby was of the age to begin religious education that the heavy guilt began.  I had little nagging bouts, but up until then, it wasn't flaring or anything.  I've always believed that really most religions are aiming for the same thing, and that children need to be raised with some belief system larger than themselves.  I mean, it would be pretty egotistical--and slightly depressing--to think we're the only life in the universe and we know everything there is.  We did briefly considered sending Cubby to one of the Catholic schools, but a well-timed job loss put the kabosh to that idea (maybe God was already trying to tell us something!).  Even the prospect of signing him up for religious education apart from public school filled me with dread, making me physically ill.  I hated, I mean HATED our local parish.  The huge parish with all their little cliques that didn't open for newcomers, the letters about how much money we SHOULD be giving, the general air of unhappiness everyone had while at church, I couldn't subject Cubby--or any of us--to all of it.  Scout was ok with whatever I wanted, but the trouble was, I didn't know what I wanted.

We did a lot of church shopping in the coming years.  Yes, I said years.  And it was more like my loving family suffered my incessant church shopping, and I LOVE to shop.  Nothing fit.  Nothing felt right.  Everything felt forced.  It was like those times when you've got pockets of money to spend, but nothing looks good on you, so you end up going to the spa and calling it a day.  It was, by truly (I think) devine intervention that there was an art class on Wednesdays that was inexpensive and close to home advertised in our school.  It happened to be held at the local Presbyterian Church.  I figured in grade school, all they'd do is talk a little God and Jesus, and that wouldn't be bad for the kids.  As a part of this art class, 4th graders and up could join the Jr. Bell Choir, which Cubby wanted to do.  Part of joining bells was going to worship a few times when they played.

I will tell you, from the first minute, I felt at home in this church.  The small congregation, the friendliness, the way people seemed genuinely happy to be there (my kids included!) all made me think that art class was put in front of us for a reason.  We brought Brownie and Sport, and they felt the exact same way we all did, that we'd found a place we were all comfortable.  We've spent about a year attending this church, and that feeling hasn't changed.  In a couple weeks we're going to be officially welcomed as members of the church, and I feel completely guilt-free about that decision!  I feel certain I'd make this same decision for my family, even if my devoutly Catholic grandparents, whose opinions I valued immensely, were still alive.  Yeah, they might have wrung their hands a bit and had lots of questions, but given how I would have answered them, I'm also certain they'd be happy with those answers.  One thing I know for certain, they would have begun and ended their days praying for God to bless my family, whichever church we chose to call home, and now, we have a place to pray for them too.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Who dat? or What's in a NAME?

This is my first foray into blog-dom, so I thought I'd start out with really trying to explain all the conglomeration of personas I have running through my life right now.  The blurb at the top doesn't really define who I am, as blurbs really aren't meant to do.  I'm taking this longer space to try to muddle that out. 

If I start from now and move backwards, the first persona I have revolves around my kids.  Since they were born, they've been the focus of my world, the things I consider first when making any decisions.  I've filled out countless forms with their names and mine.  I even remember the very first time I listed myself as "mother" on one of those forms and how it brought me to tears (granted, I was one week post-partum, but still).  What struck me recently is that my kids are starting to get things addressed to them and not ME!  I don't mean the stray holiday card or magazine subscription from Nana, I mean an actual email!  My little girl scout--who'll be known in this blog as Brownie (can't be too careful with the internets and all)--is attending day camp this year, and all the messages have been sent to HER, Brownie Rumplestiltskin.  I mean, that's just wrong, on so many levels.  My son--let's call him Cubby--at the tender age of 10 has an email address too.  He communicates with friends who have moved and sometimes with family out of the area.  How did my kids move from beings totally reliant on my planning of their every move to people who have CONTACTS?!  I was preparing for this when they entered junior high, but not now.  I've started the task of officially separating my name from theirs, which is like ripping a thousand band-aids off, one. at. a. time.

My professional persona revolves around my name and is kind of funny.  I hyphenated my last name, really as a compromise to my husband--Sporto--when we married almost 12 years ago.  My reasoning?  I really wanted some form of myself to stay intact.  I married in my 30s and had created a whole life long before I met my husband, and I simply wasn't ready to throw that away.  Plus, he didn't have to change HIS name, and I'm all about the fair in relationships.  Granted, I'm not a freak.  Our kids carry his last name, Rumplestiltskin, because we do live in a patriarchal society.  And I didn't want any of those cutesy "let's make up a NEW name" configurations.  If you do, good on you, but it's not for me.  I will say, my main reason for retaining my maiden name had to do with my professional life, however, my employer for the last 17 years has really taken that to heart.  I mentioned I was married almost 12 years ago, yes?  My mailbox?  With my "new" name?  Just happened three years ago.  It only happened then because they reconfigured and completely moved our mailboxes. My students have were known to wander the main office, highly confused, if they didn't ask.

I've found I really embrace the changes my different names force upon me.  In my persona as a college educator, I'm not picky if my students use my whole Ms. Badass-Rumplestiltskin when they address me, or any version thereof, as long as they're respectful.  Many just say Professor or use only one side of my name, either Ms. Badass or Ms. Rumplestiltskin.  My favorite is when they use something like Ms. Rutabaga, which only has a first letter in common.  Those are the ones who don't usually stick around for long.  Plus, I have to say, at first, I'm a hard, hard teacher.  I've learned that I can back off of hard if someone has an issue, but I can't back off of nice if someone's taking advantage of my good nature.  The person my students see, by necessity, is a much tougher person than I am in real life, at least to those I LIKE.

With my kids' school activities, and as a co-leader for girl scouts and awards coordinator for cub scouts, I just tell the kids I'm Mrs. Rumplestiltskin.  The change is more significant on the title than the name.  If you've ever been around kids, you know that ALL women of authority are Mrs.  I don't care if you're a Miss, Ms. or anything else.  Even if your child was raised to address every woman in their lives as Ms., as soon as they hit school, all authorities are Mrs.  I can't tell you the number of times I've heard single teachers correct kids.  At some point, it's not a battle I care to fight over.  The really interesting thing is, I think Mrs. Rumplestiltskin is warmer and fuzzier than Ms. Badass-Rumplestiltskin.  You might be saying inside, well, of course she is, she's ditched the badass part!  But it's not just that.  Is it the fact that moms are "supposed" to be warm and fuzzy (which, really, I'm just. . . not.  Ask my kids.)?  Is it that surrounded by a bunch of kids who are just happy you're there, I get warmer and fuzzier?  Is it just plain old age?  I don't think that last one, because when provoked, i.e someone messes with my kids, Ms. Badass comes out in full force.

There are also those people I've known for 15 years or more--read even longer than I've known my husband--who to this day will ONLY refer to me as Dee Badass (not my real first name, but it works nicely, don't you think?).  I kind of like it, secretly, because it means to me that when my name is mentioned, the image they will forever call up in their minds is a younger, thinner, more open to adventure, without a care in the world me. . . with bigger hair.  It's nice to know that person still exists somewhere.  Then again, these are also the people who knew my secret bar name.  You know, the name you'd arranged with your friends when you were younger and frequenting drinking establishments where members of the opposite sex might be?  If you used the bar name--mine was Paula--that meant "Run! Hide! Evacuate! Loser alert!"  There's danger in letting those people talk to your friends of today, because, well, they know where the bodies are buried.  But these are also the people who probably helped bury them, so it all evens out.

So I've been thinking about all the "people" I am--writer, reader, music lover, wife, parent, teacher, neighbor, etc.--and how some blend, some overlap, some don't want anything to do with each other.  Who are the people YOU are?  Are they different like mine, or are they all co-existing in a happy little stew?  Hey, I'm a writing teacher, I had to give an assignment.

Have a great day!