Monday, October 26, 2009

It Is True

It is true that in death, there is life and renewal.

My cousin, Michael, is gone. But in the week that he lingered, during which those of us still living said our good-byes, each in our own way, a little seed was planted.

A woman, so often embittered by her conflicted relationship with her daughter-in-law, found common space to occupy, as both women sorrowed and suffered together. They had both lost a love.

A daughter of sorts became a daughter without question as she came forth to trade doubt for adoration, dismissal for devotion. When there is time to grieve, the time for distance expires.

A sister brought to learn the tapestry of a life woven despite her absence recognized threads bearing the scent and color of her early days. So, too, she was connected.

A family disregarded wandered instinctively toward its members, reaching out to touch and hold and share, finding that no matter the differences, the sameness matters more.

Michael, despite his unique, awkward and charmless life, left behind a treasure of grace and gentility which if nurtured and tended may bloom long after these days of pain and grey. In fact, his departure ushers in the bright light of a new day filled with possibilities and potential. There is life. There is hope.

So then, it is true.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Random is as Random Does

A few random thoughts of the less vitriolic kind than previously expressed:

When everyone else in my generation hears the word 'ditty' do they start instantly humming "A little ditty. About Jack and Diaaaaane. Two American kids growin' up. In the heartland."?

If I wasn't fat when I was younger, because I see pictures and can objectively say now that there's no way I was fat then even though I thought I was fat, then am I actually fat now or am I just as thin and think I'm fat like I did before? (Clearly, yes, I am fat now, but it's fun to fantasize!)

Why do you have to ask for water at nice restaurants? I get it at McDonald's. But at a $30-an-entree gig? No. If the point is to not waste, give me a small glass of water and buzz off. I hate having to ask for water.

Along those lines, does everyone who goes into a restaurant critique everything from the pattern on the rug to the flavor of butter in the dessert? Or is it just me? (Is this blogging thing supposed to be interactive?)

Ever notice how you never notice a certain kind of car until you know someone who has that car and then every car that's even remotely like that car catches your eye? That does happen to other people, right?

Guys should not wear glossy lip balms, straight or not.

Am I the only one contemplating cashing in all my chips (worth approximately dog drool) and moving to some po-dunk town in a rural community to just S L O W D O W N? I probably couldn't stand it for more than a month, but I wonder how good that month'd be.

Are pocket-coin jangly people aware that they are incredibly annoying? Gaaaahd.
Our company colors are blue and white. Our office is decorated in 80s pine green and fancy-lady-pants' beige. I'm going to go ahead and own the fact that I'm the only one who finds this annoying. But it is and others should be annoyed.

I want to suggest that my kids' school add 'musical productions' to their music-instruction program. I was playing Hangman with a group of kids and none of them had heard of 'Oklahoma!' or 'West Side Story' although one of them wanted to know if Zac Efron was in that last one. You don't know 'surrey with the fringe on top'? Is it just me? I should probably stop asking that question.

I love apple-baked things, don't you? Mmmmmm.

When my mom says, "whippersnaappers" is she putting me on? Or is she serious?

At what point do I have to stop proving to people that I am -blank- enough? Smart enough? Cuban enough? Mom-ish enough? I'm so tired of being tested on that crap. I get some answers wrong, I don't know every Cuban saying and sometimes I'm a terrible mom. Satisfied?

I can never decide when its too late in the season to stop wearing socks. I think it's too late now, but I couldn't find any socks to wear. Behind on laundry. See terrible mom reference above.
That guy David Schuester on MSNBC is having a good laugh at all our expenses given that he hasn't been laughed off the airwaves for using the 'mock journalist voice' as his everyday voice. Nobody really talks like that, or jutts out his chin and sucks in his lips like that. It's a put-on and I'm ON TO YOU David Schuester!
My kids are on this track right now where they ask me 'what's the -blank- you ever -blank?' So, things like 'the worst day you ever had?' or 'the best joke you ever heard?' I've found these questions near-impossible to answer. I wonder why I don't know my absolutes.

Ever since Tony got a ticket for turning before coming to a complete stop my kids yell 'ROLLING STOP!' every time I come to a stop sign. Makes me want to jump out of the car and scream 'ROLLING (something else)!!' Again, just me?

Also, the 'punch buggy' thing bugs me because I just don't have the hand-eye-mouth coordination necessary to compete effectively. Survival of the fittest is totally fixed against me.

I don't mind the Christmas decos in the stores this year -even though I think they started in June. The colors are festive, makes the stores look alive - unlike Halloween decos which are, I'm sorry, yicky. Seeing the stores look so upbeat makes me think 'somebody must be happy'. Someone else being happy makes me happy. And that makes me happy.
BTW, look at the carpet in nice restaurants and tell me they don't all use Christmas colors in their patterns. They do! They do it to make you happy! It's an industry-wide practice. (So does this work on non-Christians? Put that on your tree and light it!) And now that you're thinking about that, you'll check the carpets all the time and I won't seem like such a nut when I do it. Hah!
I thought about ending on that silly little item and then this occurred to me: 'If that gal doesn't stop laughing I'm going to stab her.'
It is me talking, after all.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Michael, I Hope

My cousin, Michael, is dying. It's not a huge surprise. He's had a series of ailments over the past several years, been in and out of hospitals, and has been so ravaged that he has become virtually unrecognizable. Illness, however, is really the least of his hurt. Over the course of his adult life, Mike has been on-again, off-again estranged from his parents, at last call his brother and sister have no contact with him at all, and most of us in the wider family circle haven't seen him for ten years or more. His wife is odd with him, at best. They never had children. He did help his wife raise her nieces after a terrible accident left the girls orphaned. The girls don't speak to him now. Michael, as you may have gathered, is alone. He has always been. He is the kind of person who could be in a crowd of thousands and still be alone. A single drop of water, lost in the sea.
Michael is the oldest of my cousins. He was a beautiful baby with a perfect round head, smooth, pale skin, a swoop of brown hair across his forehead and clear, sweet eyes. In a different time, perhaps, he would have been a golden child, showered with love, affection, pride, joy and the delight of all the adults in his life. The baby pictures I've seen of Mike make him look like the kind of child who's pictures evoke automatic 'awwwwws' - they certainly do in me. And in the very earliest of these pictures, he smiles.

Later, smile-less photo after smile-less photo serves to remind those of us who were there that Michael was not the adored child he should have been, and those soft, sweet eyes have been hardened and unhappy for most of his days. I will not pass judgement on my aunt or my uncle, whose choices would not be my choices, but both of whom I believe did the best they could. I will say, however, that their choices did not land well with Michael and he suffered greatly and quite obviously when we were all children.
By the time I was a young girl, Michael had developed an incapacity for looking people in the eye. He always shuffled his feet and wore an almost physical fret and stutter. He spoke in a soft monotone followed by bursts of nervous laughter attached to some joke played on a loop in his own mind. Mostly, though, he spent his life retreating into himself and never delivering himself into any conversation or any relationship. He was clumsy, prone to becoming red-in-the-face, and slight - the very definition of socially awkward.
When Mike got married, there was a near-audible sigh of relief across the familial countenance. No one particularly liked the woman he was marrying, but the act of getting married was so uncharacteristically normal that everyone hoped it was the start of some new chapter in his life. But just like the hope that existed from the very time he was born, this path didn't take Michael where he might have gone - where we might have hoped.
Instead, his marriage was marked by culture clash, depression, isolation, despondence, anger and disconnect. His wife has been alternately cold and overly possessive. Over the years, Mike has done his part to fill his life with darkness and murk. He has had terrible bouts of temper, both the warranted and the unbeckoned. He has lurched between drinking and food binges that were worn painfully, uncomfortably, but no less so than anything else. And most hard for his parents to watch, he's neglected his health -and then his deteriorating health - to this point of no return. If I had to draw a picture, I'd say Mike is the living definition of the word 'wince'.
For this, and many other reasons, I stopped long ago having any communication with him. Mostly having it and not having it have resulted in virtually the same level of closeness - none.
That said, I have longed more times than I can count, to call Mike and tell him that I love him. I love him for carrying all his burdens so awkardly and still trying to stand - there is great valor in that. I love him for being in so much pain when we were little and surviving for as long as he did - there is a lesson to be learned. I love him because he is owed something that he has never received and he hasn't known how to collect... or how to let go. I think we all do that to some degree.
I love my cousin Mike because he is my family. He is one of the men - whether he knows it or not - who this fatherless young girl looked up to as a child. And when she did, she saw a boy whose eyes were a faultless, flawless blue with a world of promise in them. Today, in her mind's eye, they remain the same. And in her dreams - in my dreams - Michael will not die but be renewed. He will shake away this clouded world and emerge a new man, strong, healthy, tall and full of life. He will hold on his shoulders where pain once rested the hopes and good wishes of those who believe in him. He will not be 'maybe' he will just 'be'. And as such, his promise will be fulfilled and his eyes will shine with the love and joy of a good life. So, Michael, I hope.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Let It Snowe Let It Snowe Let It Snowe

Fresh and refreshing, the first snow of the season is always greeted with some grumbles in Chicago, but also with great wonder at what natural beauty the sky can render. So, too, Olympia Snowe brings a refreshing, if ire-inducing to some, newness to the political season. It has been widely reported today that Senator Snowe will vote to approve the Senate Finance Committee's bill on health care reform. And while the great majority of politicians only mimic the folkloric right of a woman to change her mind, Snowe has the rare distinction of actually being a woman, and so retained the right to enter a different vote if circumstances change.It is, of course, not entirely shocking that she is willing to vote with the committee. Most of the summer was spent covering Snowe and her looming decision on this subject. The conventional wisdom had it that she'd be the only Republican to vote affirmatively. The hair-sprayed, blue-suited, talking manikins on cable news spent a good long time discussing it, the possibility of it, the likelihood of it and the consequences if she did or didn't vote as they had prescribed. Now that she's made a decision, there's something new to be reported upon and discussed.If she does, indeed vote to approve the bill, it will be a huge step in a gigantically new direction for the United States. We could debate endlessly about whether or not this bill is the right bill. I'm not interested in that conversation any longer. What I am interested in is making a decision and moving forward. What's more, if Snowe's decision causes others to pause and re-evaluate their motives then she serves an even more valuable role in the process than simply offering a vote. She'll serve to lead the way, just as others in moments of historical import have done.Others like John Hancock. I recently had a conversation with my children about one of the world's most famous signatures, explaining the term "Give me your John Hancock." I pulled up a copy of the Declaration to show them how Hancock fearlessly wrote his name in big bold letters across the document that gave us some of that freedom we so petulantly bicker over today. I imagine his signature meant 'I don't care what others think. I believe in this. And I am not afraid to do what I believe is right.' In so doing, Hancock attributed his brave signature to these fine words which open the Declaration of Independence: When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.In the context of the discussion on health care reform, I wonder if anyone other than Olympia Snowe has thought about the less severe, but no less necessary, need for a dissolution of political bands to assume a station that the laws of nature and God entitle them to assume - a station with fair and accessible healthcare, a station where the compassion of one's fellow citizen is not viewed as encroachment on liberty but rather as birthright and certainty. I applaud Olympia Snowe for dispensing with the irrelevant political ties to which she could have felt obligated in order to draw a stronger bond between herself and her constituents. She places her convictions above bias, declaring as cause for her separation from her party "when history calls, history calls".I'll have another conversation with my children tonight, about the importance of acting on your beliefs. I shall remind them never to be quiet signers. I will impolore them to sign boldly, stand firmly, and declare themselves with the strength of their beliefs behind them. And I'll make sure to tell them that Senator Olympia Snowe is doing just that.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Trust Me, Avert Your Eyes

A look inside my head, reveals a short stream of thoughts so far today. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

People make me so mad.

At least today they do.

Who am I kidding?

People make me mad all the time.

I'm mad, mad, mad.

Crabby, crabby, crabby.




I hope that damn phone doesn't ring.


Oh great.

Never mind, someone I like.

Done. That was nice.

Oh great.

Now I have to work.


Totally behind schedule.

I'm so damn ugly today.


I'm hungry but I don't want to eat.

Why shouldn't I eat, again?

Because I'm fat, obviously!



Oh My Lord That Gal Was a Total B*&$#

Not me.

I'm very reasonable.

Boooorrrriiiinnnggg. This desk is so boooorrriiinnnggg.

Ooooh. That's not a good number.

Maybe I'll ask him.

Never mind.

He annoys.

I'm so damn crabby!

Time for chocolate.

I don't want M&Ms.

It's so cold in here.

I want to go home and go meemees in my snuggly cama!

Frickin bedroom at home is a mess.

Is that rabid phone ringing again??


Even blogging sucks today.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Potpurri of Emotions

Early this morning, on my way into the kitchen to start breakfast, I found a series of post-its tucked behind a vase. These were notes written by the same author who penned (really markered) yesterday’s inspirational message. Eagerly, I set out to devour them - smiling before I started - expecting nothing but joy. Here’s what the notes say, verbatim, in what I think is the right order:

Hi, my name is Sara. You may know me, but may not. So if you do please listen and the others should listen too. I am here to talk about gang people. You shouldn’t turn into them. I am only nine but you don’t know what many nine or ten year olds can do. I feel like I can change things when it comes up to gangs. I will always be people’s friends. Unless it is someone I hate. Then, some day we might be friends. It seems that people who seem popular that really aren’t want to be, but they just can’t. They try to but all that happens is they have to dress pretty and pretty much act all cool until they think you are. And popular people seem like they don’t have to do any home work. They think they will pass the third or the fourth grade. But, most likely not gonna happen. I am Sara. Thank you.

Not exactly Yates, I know. But for some reason this series of notes didn’t elicit a simple, or even singular, response. Instead I was flooded with a potpourri of emotions. I was overcome first with an oversized apple of pride. She is empowered and confident! That’s good. Then, the moment became bittersweet. She is strong, yes. But she longs to be accepted and feels left out. This made me sad, melon-choly is it? (I thought about blue-berries, but that was more predictable, no?) I wondered if I’d been there all the times she wanted to talk with someone who would show compassion instead of impatience, or interest instead of distraction. As I contemplated my anger inward, a fire-red fruit, I imagined my vengeance against those who had hurt my baby.

All the while, I held those soft, crumpled notes in my hands, running my fingers across the letters and feeling, in my own mind, the tender heartbeat of my baby against her chest as she wrote the words, smelling the perfume of her sweet, sweet soul. The more I held onto those notes the more wistful I became. How I longed to go back to myself at that age and tell myself I was doing everything right, because some day I was going to have a daughter as magical as this one.

And as I stood in the kitchen with those remnants of a day gone by in my hands, a new day spread across the room and washed slowly over me, temporarily bleaching the words from the page until it seemed I was holding nothing at all. In truth, I was – I am – holding every single bit of it tightly and closely. Through the swirl and sway of emotions one stepped through and took command of the room, blinding me, overwhelming me.


Love, love, love. In every single possible way, I love this child with all my might. And the full, rich, satiating scent of this love stays with me all the days I endure.

Monday, October 5, 2009

In Her Own Words

I have this posted on my office wall; a little note from the lovely Miss Sara, left behind after a day of doodling at Mommy's desk. It fills me up every time I look at it. Hope it gives you a little something too.

Dear Mommy

You Make My Heart Beat.

I'd Never Be Here

If You

Were Not Married

With Daddy.

I'd Rather Be Here

Than Not Being Here

I'd Hug You

When I See You

And Jumping Up And Down

I Go!

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Color of Gun Control

So we're watching the news the other night, my honey and I, and he flipped to Fox News as he often does during his tour of the evening news. A real comedian, my husband. I like to think of Fox News as the Jerry Springer Show of cable news, whereas your 360 with Anderson Cooper is more your early-Phil Donohue. (Later he became a total warm glass of milk, but early Phil was a rich, chocolaty, berry-filled cab. Look it up.) We usually end up with Jon Stewart, who is the modern-day Walter Cronkite. It is what it is. Stewart takes the news about as seriously as he should, given the content, but like Cronkite he actually informs his audience with depth, thought, and a perverse sense of respect for the truth.
Anyway, I ramble and trail.
We were watching Fox News when they started blaring some infomercial for the NRA... I mean a 'news story' about gun control laws being revisited by the U.S. Supreme Court. Daley's ban on hand guns in Chicago was mentioned and as the reporter droned on indignantly about the loss of civil liberties, a video played of lawful, red-blooded Americans doing fun things with guns. In the background, boot-wearing dads helped their blonde little sons aim at cans in the backyard, they walked with their freeze-dried-haired wives through gun shows, and stood up against their faded red trucks holding rifles and spitting tobacco as they lamented the attack on their gun-toting ways. Very apple pie-ish.
As I'm watching all this I'm thinking the same thing I always think: "They're just so rural. They're not bad people. They don't understand city concerns about guns because they live in rural places where guns are as normal and doorknobs." I'm nothing if not devoted to seeing the other guy's point of view. It usually doesn't change my mind about a damn thing, but I'm willing to see his point.
But then Tony turned to me and said, "Can you imagine what a reversal you'd see from these people if those pictures were all of black men with their little black boys aiming guns at cans? Or Mexican men with their wives at gun shows? The whole conversation would be turned on its ear. It'd become 'They're taking over our country, threatening our womenfolk and our boys with guns everywhere!'"
I snickered back, "You're right! That would change the conversation, wouldn't it?"
And he said, "You want to effect gun control in this country? Have Acorn start registering poor, uneducated blacks and Hispanics for gun licenses. That'd do it."
And the more I thought about it, the more I thought he was right! The image we all have of people defending their gun rights is a Charleton Heston type, wearing flannel and sporting bad hair or a worse trucker cap. We don't think of a young black man in jeans and a Sean John tshirt. We certainly don't picture Julio and his son Paco toting guns through the mall on the weekends.
Maybe what it comes down to is that we figure Trey and Jorge aren't going to read the constitution. Because - have you read it? The 2nd Amendment states that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Militia. Context schmontext, right? The origins of this amendment may be in dispute by some, and the current interpretation even moreso. But I'm sure we can agree that the right to bear arms was not intended to preempt the right of school-age children to travel to and from school without being in fear for their lives.
That's what's happening in Chicago, though, and our pathetic laws and even more pathetic enforcement devices are complicit in the murders of our children. Funny, though, that most of the children we are killing don't look like the kids in the gun rights videos. They're not blonde or freckled. They are black. They are poor and black and live in the city. And their mothers weep inconsolably, as would I if I lost my son. And their younger siblings grow up in fear, as would mine, if their big sister were shot down in the street near our home. Their communities suffer the loss of them, as would mine if my child were not able to grow up, work and re-invest in my neighborhood.
Its almost as if minority children are under attack by a persistent and dangerous threat that the army and the police cannot seem to control. Its a good thing, then, that we have rights under the 2nd amendment to protect our families - set up a well-regulated militia, if needed - and that right cannot be infringed. Now, all we have to do is make a video.