Monday, December 29, 2014

The Perfect Gift

Here's the way I see it:  By the time you're 70 you've gotten every sweater you'll ever want to get, and you only wear two anyway. You have every household item anyone could want. Twice. You're trying to clean crap out not bring more in.

Generally speaking by the time you're 70 you're practical in your needs, simple in your tastes, wise in your choices. If you're not, you probably missed a step.

You don't wear tons of jewelry, you don't eat crazy foods or care for expensive venues. You don't appreciate tight, uncomfortable theater seats. You do everything you can to avoid being cold.

So my mom is turning 70 and I've been really killing myself to think of the perfect gift. I've wanted her to be able to celebrate in a big way - or at least a memorable way - with as many people as she could. But it's been impossible, precisely because she's at an age where she doesn't want much. My dilemma is made all the more challenging by her struggles with health issues, which make it hard to take her out or have loud, busy parties with lots of people.

Then it came to me! The one thing my mom loves more than anything else is to read. And while I do my best to provide supply, she devours everything you give her and she has read so much it's hard to find new things.

That's where you come in: I'm asking - I'm begging - could you write me a letter for my mom? It could be to her if you know her, or to no one in particular, or just the re-telling of a funny little story, or a joke (clean, please), or any little thing, a favorite saying and why, a memory, an ode. I'll collect all the tidbits into a book and give it to her for her birthday, and I'll sign your name (if you'd like) to the card. You can send to me via FB comment or PM or send to my email: carrodcares@gmail.com

I know this is a big ask, but I'm desperate to show my quiet, introverted, sweet, kind, gentle, and generous soul of a mother that she is deeply loved and appreciated for her 70 years on earth. I think this kind of gift might just do it. In fact, it might be the perfect gift.

We are celebrating her big day on Sunday January 11th so I'd need your note by Friday, January 9th to get it done.

Thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me make this day special.

~Carmen

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I Bought A Crooked Christmas Tree

I bought a crooked Christmas tree this year. He's terribly crooked, actually. So much so that his crown appears to be standing behind him.

I'm usually very particular when I select a tree - just the right height, it has to be, not too broad, not too narrow, only a certain green will do.

But when I saw this tree, he just took my breath away.

I recounted tearfully to my son, why I absolutely had to have him. 'Imagine being a tree,' I told him. 'Full, and lush and green in some forest somewhere. And everyone around you is growing straight and strong just as they should. And you are warping and twisting, trying as hard as you might but still going entirely the wrong way. I would think your mother would watch over you even more carefully. Imagine then that you were cut down, taken away from your comfort, knowing you were going to your death. The only reward for this suffering would be that you might get to be a Christmas tree for a family. You would be brightly lit and decorated and sung around and adored. And then imagine that when the families came to select a tree, every time you were passed over. No one wanted you. Can you imagine that? So I just had to bring him home.'

I was sobbing by the time I finished. My son looked at me like I'd grown a fish out of my forehead. He hugged me nonetheless, being the good boy he is, and when the girls came down and looked at the scene he just waved them off and we stood there until I shook off my melancholy.

The thing is, it's not just about the tree.  It's about an imperfect world, my city so worn and weary from its troubles, my children's schools, a million things. All of these things capable of great glory and wonder, broken in places, entirely wrong in others. I wish I could fix all of those things. I wish I could get people to see.

The message of the season is not, 'Be pretty, even if you have to pretend. Love and appreciate only the right and righteous in life. You must pass by the ugly, disregard the broken.' 

What good is there in that?

The message of the season is, 'Love even the twisted and failing. Love before all other things. Love as He loves, completely and without judgement of your flaws. You are all ways beautiful.'

So I bought a crooked Christmas tree.  And I love him. Isn't he grand?





Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Party is Over

Fairness and Righteousness are shy cousins. Until you get to know them.

Anger is bold in the room, first in line, and full of fire. But she burns quickly and dies. She cannot stand. Revenge can be slow to arrive, but he is childish, and sullen. He's often sent to sleep early by Justice, left to sulk, unspeaking. Lazy cannot be bothered from the couch, let him sleep. Talk is cheap, she's been told, no matter her power to persuade. She winks at you and sallies off. Truth talks only to her twin in her sleep, rarely heard in shine. So when Pain and Hurt arrive, all rush to the center (save for Lazy, dozing as her norm). And while these banter, Fairness and Righteousness sit quietly in a corner, huddled. Until Justice weakens at her knee.

Casting aside their plain and wear these are the goddesses bright in the place, standing giant and unmovable, tremors at their steps. You can bluster, foolish, past all the rest but these hold the walls that keep safe, and strong in their shadows are we all. You can tire of waiting but they come to the fore only on their own calling. Throw your bricks, so what? You do nothing for the better.

Bring yourself to the guardians and stand, fair and righteous. That is the end.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Not Just Decoration

My home is decorated with my family.


 In fact, I try to make sure their photos are in every room, so you can't miss them.



It's important to me that both you and I know, and remember,
where I come from.


Because although I was born here, my great grandparents, my grandparents and my dad were not. 


So when you see me, and I am not brown or dirty or unable to speak English clearly, you may get the impression that I'm one of "us", not one of "them".


But that hand holding my handsome husband back when he was a beautiful baby is an immigrant hand. His parents were not born here. He is one of "us" but they are one of "them". The man sitting beside me here as I take my first steps is my dad, an immigrant, a "them".


The smiling silver-haired gentleman in the picture here, with my lovely grandmother, was also a "them", didn't speak a lick of English (except to curse you out if you beat him at cards). 

And these are my children. I couldn't have these - 

looking all American and fabulous - without those who came before. They were brown and dirty and did not speak English. And they worked wicked jobs and tore their skin in cold and muck so that my children could be treated with a softness in life my grandfather only dreamed about. They were beaten down in deed and in word, hurt and cold and undeterred. And with all that, they had the bitter dignity of calling themselves American, so that I could, so that my children could.

I believe in the rule of law, and I am loathe to see it trampled for any reason. Where the law fails, where it has failed many times and the weak and meek have failed to step forward to make a change, some must come forward to light the fire. We all know this, which is why when we see someone being robbed we shout and rush forward to help. There's a crime being committed, after all. But when we see someone tending to a neighbor's garden, we smile and wave and walk on. We buy our produce without pause, we lean back when the young man comes to bus our table, we tip the man who comes to our door with take-out, many of us buy elotes from a cart outside our child's baseball game. Have you ever called the police to report the undocumented housekeeper who tends to your hotel room?

The weak Republicans and meek Democrats who have had the power of legislation in their hands for generations, and who will keep it long after this President has become a dusty page in a book no one reads, have a responsibility they have failed to meet. The hour has long gone when it was time to do something to address the impotence of our current immigration system. Pomp and bluster no longer entertain. Action is the call of the day. 

Hush your hypocrisy lest you shame the ancestry that offered you the very right you have to dishonor. Self-awareness is your gift, if any can repay. When you step into the arena, fresh with your American hair, your American clothes, clean with your American soap and healthy with your American food, upheld by your American good fortune, remember who you are. Be thankful and lend your hand to the next. That is what it means to be an American. 

Patriotism, like a photo, is not just for decoration.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

It's On Me

Before I immerse myself in the season of thanks and goodness allow me a moment? Blame this on the fact that my doctor has insisted I switch to decaf and I believe the months of detox are having some sort of reverse effect. In my head, all day, I've been screaming.

SHUT UP.

SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP. 
SHUT UP! 

I wish I could shout that loudly enough for all the inanity in the world to hear it and shut itself up. Unfortunately, I can't rile myself to stand much lest shout from treetops. I'm stuck under the weight of all the stupidity that has left its silt on me so far in life, such that I fear I may be slug-like in my gait by the time I'm 50.

While there are students being taken, raped and murdered in parts of the world, we here are struggling to give as much air time to assholes like Ted Cruz as possible. Because that's what matters to us. If your child had been taken, raped and murdered would Ted Cruz matter to you? If it would, you frighten me. (And I'd argue one of your own has been taken, as we are all children of the same world.)

You know what else frightens me?  People who are surprised the holidays are here 'early'. Again. Hey guys! It's cold in Chicago in the winter, it's always Christmas after Halloween now, and has been for years, and Christmas music is sickly sweet and tiresome after a few days. What makes all of it unbearably Groundhog Day-ish is everyone walking up to one another on a daily basis saying, "Man it's cold out there - I can't believe it!" and "I can't believe they already have holiday decorations up - can you?" I can believe it and so should you. 

Moving on.

I am up to here (top of my curly little head) with the presumption of sinister motives behind every single thing anyone does. The current Pope is talking like he knows what Christ was all about and our out-going Cardinal's response to that is, essentially, "Don't be fooled. He's a hardliner just like me!" Gee, thanks, George, wouldn't want to get my hopes up. While I pray for the Cardinal's peace and comfort during his illness and his passage to the next life, I really wonder what this guy is thinking.

Cue the awkward and embarrassing overhead announcement at my most recent visit to a Catholic church. There are not enough young men moving into the priesthood and the church is now engaged in a marketing campaign that replaces the personal homily of the priest in mass with the droning announcement over a loud-speaker, trying to sell the church and trying to get you to sell the church. 'Tell the young men in your life who you think would make good priests that they should consider this life.' The young men I think would make good priests I wouldn't steer in that direction if they were standing in the parking lot of a Catholic church facing the door. Why? Well, for one thing, why the simulated, boilerplate homily? Don't trust the priest to say something meaningful that connects with the congregation? Don't think the congregation is connected to the church's real teachings? Or afraid they are and that the church is no longer connected to Christ's message? Think that booming in some disembodied TED Talk will fix it? Hashtag: YOUSTILLDON'TGETIT

I want desperately to be focused on loving my family, being kind to my friends, helping my community, succeeding in my business, and becoming the person I'm striving to be. Most days I work hard at all of that. But some days I'm so distracted by stupidity I can't manage to stay on the priorities. And that makes me so mad I just want to scream: Shut UP!

Decaf? No, dammit. I'll take Venti with a shot.









Thursday, November 13, 2014

Service For a Boy

The real tragedy is that he'll never smell like aftershave. He'll never have a cold cheek when his mother kisses him, rough with stubble. He will never feel the tiny hand of his daughter in his.

That is pain, we find, because we are certain those are the things that bring joy, fulfillment. Without them there is dark, he is in the dark. So naturally, we hurt for him in his fade away from what we know to be good. We are fair in that we share our hurt, grief spent over his mother's loss, the family at large. We hurt for everyone's loss.

But really, what is lost is faith.

Where faith resides there is no dark, no drawing away from what is pleasing and joyful. There is only peace and acceptance, warm water to soothe, sun to smile. If you address the unknown with uncertainty you are right in your fear. Where there is a sure spirit there is relief.

So I sat at the back of the room, watching the simple service that preceded the final rest of a baby who has gone, inexplicably gone, and I tried desperately to be the sure spirit. Even later, when friends came to me with their doubts I repeated what I know to be true. There is a path lit only for the knowing, and one must not be among the knowing in order to trust the path. One must only know the path is there and that what is needed will be given without even asking.

Quiet. Then rising. The men of the community, tall and strong, hunched and frail, carried the boy as a sea might move, in waves and ripples across the room, each one straining to touch. Absent the mother and father who continue in pain of a different sort in a different place, these were the mothers and fathers of the moment. I was a mother. I am.

And I was screaming inside my head. "No!" I was screaming for that poor mother who will never return to norm; how could she? And for his father - my God, his father - and his younger brother and sister. I searched frantically for the way. I wanted to get that baby back and just squeeze him to myself and transfer my heat and make him live. I was wretched and wracked, in silence, not the sure spirit. A haze. And just as I was certain I might blare my foolish mistrust out loud, an older man approached me and took my hand and thanked me.

Sincere and crinkled, he was warm and kind and not at all perturbed. He was in the moment with me but not at all like me, not jittery or doubtful. He saw me and knew me and accepted me. Clean.

In his confidence I was at once moved to peace. My heart yawned and steadied to its normal beat.

I could tell you I imagined him and maybe I did. I won't know. I am hardly lost in the blind. I am still weak with questions and fears. Together with these, I know little that cannot be made surreal.

Still. Even when I seem lost to my own self, I find.

There is a path and what is needed will be given without even asking.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Hear Me Out: Blueberries Are Not In Season. Deal With It.

A new article in Rolling Stone Magazine Rolling Stone. The $9B Witness tells you something you already know: banks lie. In fairness, it's not just banks. Banks lie about how much they can do for you, grocers lie about the quality of the food they sell you, politicians lie about the services they can afford to offer you. There's a good bit of lying going on.

You already know that.

Why? Why so many lies?

Because when you go to the grocery store you do not want to see a big sign that says

"Blueberries Are Not in Season. Please Enjoy a Kumquat!"

No grocer in his right mind would put up a sign like that. You came to get blueberries, so neither he nor anyone else wants to tell you you can't have them right now. The truth remains largely irrelevant in the exchange. Blueberries are not, in fact, in season. They'll be in season again in late July and you probably know that. But knowing the truth has become conveniently ignorable in light of the public's penchant for offering a lie and and the equally healthy hunger for consuming the lie. If blueberries are out on display, we're happy to take them, not caring one whit what chemicals and witchery got us off-season fruit.

"Yay! Blueberries, right now when I want them!"

The same has been true of the banker who should not offer you the loan or the politician who knows even as he campaigns on a message of truth and transparency that when he is elected to office he will be forced to lie or disappoint. They choose the lies and we choose to accept. They keep their jobs, we get to clap for phony progress, and our problems persist. Why? Because the banker thinks you won't remember to come back to him when you've saved enough to afford the house and the politician doesn't trust you to vote for him if he tells you you can't have what you want right now. They assume, rightly, that we only want what we want to hear, future be damned.

So the results are in: we're slow-witted morons with a disastrous affection for the now.

But let's not blame ourselves individually.We have cultivated a national impatience which is crippling us, suffocating our chances, killing us, and the remedy we've agreed upon by our inaction to correct it is to actively ignore it. That, after a few choice words on social media, of course, wherein we turn on one another and expend our steam with a cousin or neighbor rather than the true culprit. We don't have the patience to find the procedural solution that would actually get at the problem and solve it. We do vigorously comment on Facebook, though, with all the commitment of a Kleenex. Insert angry-smiley face here, tinted red to show how really mad we are! For 2.3 seconds until the next blinking headline dispatches us like nervous cats from leap to scatter.

And it's only getting worse.

Attention deficit is no longer a disorder. It's a way of life. Only 36% of eligible voters went to the polls in my home town, despite weeks of open voting for anyone who could get two blocks from home, the availability of absentee voting, and the twelve-hour voting window on election day. I'm quite certain more than 36% of us have an interest in how we are taxed or how badly our streets are paved, but we can't focus long enough to tie the thread between public service and public servant to know that our vote matters immensely.

Even in the mundane we are disturbed. We can't sit at a stoplight for the few seconds it'll take to move again without glancing at a smartphone or turning to a new radio station. We cannot endure the thirty minutes of boredom in the waiting room at the Jiffy Lube without watching news, listening to bad piped-in music, and flipping through a dated magazine all at once! How much time do we spend staring at a neon-bright video game, swiping, swiping, swiping? Just to be doing something because we can never be doing nothing. It used to be that fidgeting was the domain of the toddler. It's now the institutionalized norm among the suited and stately.

But what does that get us? Read the article linked above. We reap what we sow, one of many lessons we could learn from the farmer (not to be confused with the chemicalized farmer brought to us by the good folks at Monsanto) whose truth is patience and long-term sacrifice for future reward. Our national laze and indifference is poisonous to our country and constitutes a near-treasonous public acceptance of corruption, and as we continue to devour lie after lie for a short-term high we doom our children to the inevitable consequence.

We must, must, must - and can - do better.

So I am working to develop the patience necessary to both say and receive 'no' with grace and a view to the long-term. (I've also thought about this a lot and, slightly on, but slightly off, topic I think we all need to decide we'd rather not have cable than put up with Comcast's truly terrible customer service. Another rant for another day.)

I am challenged to say 'no' to myself and my children to see what comes of it. I am bent on setting a long-term goal with my family to see if we can all help one another earn and spend the patience necessary to achieve it. I am desperate to change the trajectory because I believe each bit of the progress we can and should make on the national level must begin with the individual effort of every patriot.

I encourage you to do the same. Buck up. Be patient. And have a kumquat, it's good for you.




Thursday, October 23, 2014

I'm Too Old for Wristbands

I went to a concert last night with my husband and some friends and
came away with a few important revelations.

I'm not at all disappointed that I'm too old to be doing stuff at midnight on a Wednesday. I like that I can, I'm glad to be in a city that offers it to me, and I may still do it occasionally. But, I have come to realize that sleeping is awesome and I like it way more than lots of other stuff.  When given the option, more often that not, the better choice for me will be to sleep rather than stand in a crowded room of hot, questionably bathed people bent on bumping into me, and badly singing the tunes I was hoping to listen to the band play.  Also, stop putting sticky paper wristbands on me! I'm too old for that crap. Revelation Number 1.

[As a sub-set of this revelation I'll reiterate that night baseball is puzzling. I still enjoy the games, but I'm stuck on the idea that baseball should be played in the sun. You don't get sleepy at the end of a day game. Just sayin'.]

The second revelation comes from something I've been mulling for some time: I don't want to win. I am so, so, so argumentative (read that as "rabid") about some things that some who know me might think that impossible. But it's not. It has struck me that I do not, not at all, want everyone to agree with me. Think about it: What if you won and everyone was a Republican? What if everyone was a Rangers fan or a vegan? What if every single person on the planet threw in the towel and said - 'OK. Jesus. Right on. I'm all in!' I would have no friends with differing opinions, there would be no Jews or monks or Muslims, no fun in sports rivalry, no one to learn anything new from. Can you imagine it? Yuck! The world would be a boring, terrible place. So Revelation Number 2 is I'm not just glad for our differences in theory. I am deeply glad, truly, for everyone who thinks differently than I do.

The third revelation should belong to my husband and children, which is: Revelation Number 2 does not apply to you. That is all.

The fourth? Anyone who is not a Cub fan, I'm looking right at you, Michael: Number 2 does not apply to you, either.

And finally: I want to live, which is a revelation only insofar as I've now articulated it to myself. This one goes in hand-in-hand with the first two. I've spent a lot of my life focusing on the micro - this argument, this moment, winning this battle. And I've insisted to myself against any doubt that all those little bits were important and I needed to stay there and dig there to make stand. I'll cede that those moments belonged to those moments and they brought me here, so they were all valid in their time. But now, I find it so much less necessary to battle than to relax a bit and enjoy what I can of the day without war. Of course, if I can effect a change for the better by my work, I will, no question. The shove against the wall, however, seems less important to me. I'd rather turn the corner and find the sun.

It might be a perfect day for baseball.




Thursday, October 16, 2014

Picture a Turkey Staring at a Beautiful, Delicate Bird.

Wherein I am the turkey, an aging one, and it's all good.

The poster on my bedroom wall growing up was funny.  As I grew older I knew there was deeper meaning, or maybe an inside joke,  I just wasn't wise enough to really get it. Now, I realize I've been living with it and by it all my life.

Picture a turkey staring at a beautiful, delicate bird. The caption: "To thine own self be true."

Good advice that has served me well at every age.

Now, as the curls grey and the smiles wrinkle, I find the more immersed I am in the roles of my age, the more myself I have become. And I'm enjoying every bit of it, not worried or wallowed as some my age might be. I'm a different kind of beautiful, not concerned with how I 'should' look, rather happy with how I do look. I'm a better kind of passionate, informed and directed at results. I'm an intentional wife, a devoted mom, a well-practiced professional. I don't have all the answers, but I don't have to. I'm my own version, flawed and still trying, succeeding some times, knowing there's always a next day to repaint the sky. I am confident and relieved to be so.

I am blessed again and again with the love of my family and the kindness of my friends. I have no where to turn because all that I need is here beside me and what is mine is truly mine, because I have gathered it all as my own self. What is lost belongs to the wind anyway. There is a watch over me which is whole and constant.

It's a good, good life, with lots to sweet and taste. And, still, among all the many things I savor in my better-wine years, lessons from my mother linger on my palate.

Picture a turkey staring at a beautiful, delicate bird. "To thine own self be true."

Friday, October 3, 2014

This Is What I Do



I didn't ask for permission to post the picture with their faces, which are beaming, so here are the (quite adorable) shoes of a beautiful family, happily sitting on the swing of their new front porch. This is what I do for a living.

'You match shoes to front porches?' you ask. 'Yes.'

I match moms to kitchens and dads to yards and children to secret cubbies on the second floor. I match retired people to the house near their grandkids and I match the Bickersons to the object of their agreement.

I am the pathfinder to Home and the keeper of the American Dream. It's not a bad gig.

It takes care and thought and constant development. I am a professional. I may not be the best (but probably I am... honestly?... I am... others are great, too, but really I'm pretty kickass). I strive and am determined. The days can be long, seemingly endless, and I work when others are at rest.

With all that, my job has allowed me to be at nearly every performance my children have ever had, to take my mom to the doctor's office, to still read the paper version of the paper. I get hugged at the end of the day, pretty often. I am treated like family in homes all over the city, and I get to be in, see, and show off all the great bits and pieces of my beloved hometown. What more could a gal want?

I love my job.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Still, I Live in My Promise

With edits and updates since the original post...

On September 11th, 2001, when all the world was burning down around me I was stunned into silence.

On September 12th, 2001, when all the world was stunned into silence around me I was numbed to the point of inaction. 

On September 13th, 2001, when all the world was grappling with what to do next I walked into my new home for the first time.

My husband was working from home. He wandered aimlessly from office to kitchen to nursery, where little ones breathed in and out, blissfully unaware that the world had been forever changed.

When he returned to his desk it was only to continue dulling his day away. The phones were not ringing and, for once, we were thankful.

I spent nap time washing dishes, wiping, drying and then rewashing because of some invented flaw in the original cycle. On that day, and for many days after, resting when so many others were restless with terror and tears seemed awful and unfeeling. I couldn't rest so I just washed dishes.

As the babies were waking, my husband came to me with false enthusiasm, brimming with it rather garishly given the circumstances, and insisted we go see a house. He'd come across an oddball listing and decided we needed to see it right away.

We'd talked a little bit about buying a house after the twins were born, but soon settled into a routine and the issue had been back-burnered. Now, all of a sudden, it was the most important thing on my husband's agenda. He persisted. And I was too beaten down to refuse.

So we packed up the kids and made our way to the property, just a few blocks away.

I think, my husband's initial idea was just to get out, to revive the family, wake us up and give us some sense of purpose, even if only for a few hours. But stepping out onto the sidewalk, being in the dead air of those silent days following the burning of our arrogance was no comfort. Speaking to fill the air with noise and nonsense seemed irreverent. So we walked in silence.

When we got to the front of the house, we all looked up, as if called to the roof's peak by some herald. I won't blather on about the creepiness of the upside down cross that trims the front of the house, ending in the crux of the roof. But it was creepy. Years later, when we had the roof and trim re-done on the house, the 'capper' asked us if we wanted it removed. We both looked at each other and shook our heads 'no'. It belongs to the house, and to us, and to that moment when we first looked up.

We stepped in and breathed in the aura of someone else's home. It was plain, worn, a little odd in places, and old. But being inside seemed to captivate all of us.

The twins did everything they could to climb the stairs despite each step being about waist-high on their tiny, 13-month-old bodies.
Lucy did what all little girls do in huge old houses - she pretended princess and bowed delicately to her imagined prince, before she escaped into a one-sided ballroom dance in the middle of the living room.

I hemmed and fussed over the kitchen, hands on hips, and Tony went straight to all the mechanicals. It really wasn't much of a house, all whitewashed and creaky.

When I looked out the dining room windows and noticed a faded red patio set and bushes practically encroaching on the spot where I stood inside, I called to my husband.

"Look," I told him, "you could probably make the house workable, but I don't want to be on top of my neighbors like that. I want space. We talked about this. I want a yard."

He smiled at me, a genuine smile. It took us both a second to enjoy it, because we were well into day three of having no ability whatsoever to express happiness.

"Come with me," he said gently. "You don't understand."

And he led me through the dining room, into the kitchen and out the back door.

"That is your yard," he motioned across the expanse I'd just frowned upon. "And so is this," and he swept his arm across the other side. "It's just what you've always wanted. I found it."

And I was overcome. The babies spilled out behind me to claim territory. There were roses and vines and trees and flowering plants and all sorts of pines and firs. This yard, this little secret space on this pained planet, was so full of love and life and beauty. I was overcome again.

Did you ever read 'The Secret Garden'? This was it, but somehow with an air of Gatsby too. It was serene and splendid, but alive and tingling. You could hear the tinkle of glasses from parties past and you could discern, barely, a perfume in the air, as if the remainder of a courtship still lingered among the flowers. You could feel the life in the garden and for the first time in days I - we all - felt alive again.

Needless to say, we were sold. It probably wouldn't have mattered what we had to do, we had to get it. If the garden hadn't done it (and it totally did) the fact that the small finial on the staircase leading up to the bedrooms came off in my hand - ala 'It's a Wonderful Life' - would have completely sealed the deal.

We went home awake, talking, jabbering really, because the rush of language that had been pent up for so many days came tripping out of each of us in gush and gab. Even the babies, I'm sure feeding off of our excitement, participated, filling the walk home with the music of happiness and hope.

While my husband hurried to complete forms and sign documents, I tended to the spiritual element of the home purchasing process. I closed my eyes, clasped my hands together, and promised.

I promised God, of course, more out of practice than anything else, but with an element of urgency usually reserved for medical crises.

But more importantly, I promised all those babies who lost their parents two days before, all the parents who lost their babies, all the weepers who posted futile notices and waited in vain, and the sweepers who tended the debris left behind by blameless and suited souls. I promised probably as deeply as I am able.

I promised I would live out loud, for all those whose lives had been muted. I would make that house a place where every day, the love we have for one another would be remembered and acknowledged, and spent generously, in case the day's events halted the next day's chance to do it again. I promised we would open that house to as many as would come, with all we could give, for as long as we could. I promised my babies would grow up in that house and, when they left it, it would be to change the world, even if only in the smallest ways, with their sunshine and shimmer. I promised I would tend that garden to the best of my ability to make sure that its secrets were kept and its magic was kept alive. I promised that if God saw fit to give me that house, that gift would be repayed in every way I could, with every breath I have, until I could pay no more.

I've had days when I've thought the day when I could no longer pay might come sooner than I'd hoped. But for now, for as long as I can, and every day, I live in my promise.



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Observations, Attributions and Musings

"I'm a middle-aged Indian gay man with a paunch, who would want me?"

"I would," said the obscenely tall white gay man with complimentary paunch, smiling.

He wears the royal purple in a pleasant plaid.

He carries an umbrella, looped casually around his wrist. They said rain, he knows.

And they are fine together, walking in synch, as I stall against the passersby.

I'm going to the store. I'm going to the store. I'm going to the store. I'm going to the store.

WHOOP!

Almost tripped that curb.

What was I saying? Oh yes!

I'm going to the store. I'm going to the store....

The slight man in the silly shorts and fanny pack - front facing - urges himself to Target with serious intention.

He has spilled something green on the white of his shirt. No matter.

He is fine, too, bottle-thick glasses focused on his feet benevolently preventing him from noticing the stares.

"GURL, you should have seen him!" only a dash of original color peeking through the shocking yellow and orange tint on that head of pointy, implausible hair.

Against the red of his shirt and blush it is at once garish and becoming.

Hand splayed. Voice now hushed. Gossip the only item on the agenda.

Her blush and lowered lash replies.

And back to the racks they go. Teenaged and tender.

And they are fine.

As are we all.

If only we allow.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I'm At 55% - A Day in Doctors' Offices

There's an ant on the floor and his aimless meander maddens me.

And fascinates me.

I'm too tired to rile, though.

This man's mustache is at once comical and a nuisance.

He's nice enough.

But he doesn't even acknowledge my ice-breaking jokes.

I miss my mother's comfort.

I miss being able to be comforted by my mother.

Now the gloss on the tile smiles brightly at me and makes me wish.

The cush of waiting room chairs is false; I'm here for the hard.

And why should I pay for parking?

An unnecessary dash of salt, I'd say.

In the end, rather
matter-of-factly, I'm very common.

So my scare, the kind I have not shared?

I cry in the parking lot, just to get it out of my system.

And go home to what is normal.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Things I Dare Not Say

I still can't tell who's right, Israel or Palestine, so I don't say anything at all and I fear that makes me, in part, to blame.

I can't tell who's to blame, the people who live in the shoot-'em-up neighborhoods, for letting it be like that or the people who don't live in the shoot-'em-up neighborhoods, for not helping those who live there.

I understand my kids' anger because it comes from me.  I am more sorry for passing along that trait than any other I can think of.

Illegal immigrants are committing a crime by entering our country illegally and that's the plain truth.

We are permitting illegal immigrants to enter this country because we want them here, and then we treat them poorly and shame them for being here, which makes us disgusting.

I believe public education is a good idea that's being managed badly but I'm o.k. with its inadequacy because I think it mirrors the dysfunction in real life, where good ideas like being a country of immigrants or sharing a holy land among more than one religious culture can get pretty tangled.

I'm afraid of my own potential, so I keep it tamped down as best I can and then laugh it off when it escapes from me anyway. (And no, for the love of peanuts, I am not running for office.)

I think we'd all be better off with more lives of faith rooted in love for one another than lives of faith in higher powers that lead us to be in conflict with one another.

I don't think Hillary should be President because the woman who breaks that barrier has to be her own person, not someone we know because of her husband.

I'd rather be a little fatter and happier than a little thinner and miserable.

I'm a lot poorer than I look but I don't give a damn any more.

I'm disappointed when my children do not get the honors or prizes they are aiming for, but I'd rather they get kicked in the shins and walk with a limp than never get kicked and not know how to stand on their own two feet.

All babies are beautiful, pure and deserving. Some don't get a chance and we all bear some responsibility, both for that fact and the change we could effect if we stopped being comfortable with that fact.

The fact is, I do what I can but it is never enough.

I dare to say first, because I hope to change my own self and be better.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Here's What I Don't Get

I heard a woman on the radio today talking about why she's camped out in Arizona protesting attempts to bring minor children from a detention center there into other parts of the U.S. for housing and care. The children are 'illegals'. She said it was a shame that they were children, but "clearly their parents didn't care enough about them to keep them and take care of them so...

Left hanging in the air was the end of the sentence which was "why should I care?"

I don't get that.

My son is away for a few days at a friend's house and the longing I have for his face, his warmth, his presence in my house is absurd and painful and silly, but potent and consuming nonetheless. I cannot even fathom the pain of looking that boy in his sweet face, holding his hands, putting my arms around him and his sisters and saying 'I think this is the best thing for you. I love you. Please, please be safe. Go. Stay together. I promise you I'll do my best to get to you if I can. Don't ever forget that I love you.'

Can you imagine that pain? That terror? That self-doubt and fear? What would drive you to that? Anything? I might not ever have the courage. But to save my starving child, I would pray for the strength.

So what was that woman on the radio saying? What kind of filth was she thinking? My first reaction was to call her disgusting. I said that, out loud, in my car. "Disgusting!"

And then I caught myself judging her the way she's judging these parents, without knowing what her pain is.

I don't know what it's like to live in Arizona. I don't know what it means to have to deal with so many strangers just trapsing through your town. It might be frightening or nerve-wracking or downright aggravating. It might be more than you could bear and you might lose your sense and think that little children coming to a new country with no family, no security, no sense of what might happen to them deserve to be yelled at and scared and detained and shipped back, without regard for where they might land when they get back 'home'.

You might be so mangled in your thinking by all the stress you're dealing with you might get on the radio and suggest to the world that I don't love my children.

I may be wrong to send them to another country; God help me so I never have to even contemplate such a thing. But you are wrong - wrong, wrong, wrong - to believe I don't care. And should fate ever ruin me to such a degree that my children must go away from me for some condition like the ones those parents suffer, I should pray with great passion that they do not meet that woman on the radio. I should call to God to deliver them into the hands of compassion, understanding and love that we should all enjoy when we are at our lowest. Isn't that the damn point of being an American?

I just don't get why we all don't get that.




Monday, June 30, 2014

Oh No They Dih-Int!

But yes, yes they did. In the typical nutcase-versus-hippie split decision the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a 5-4 decision which favors private companies' rights to exempt themselves from portions of the Affordable Care Act. Medical treatment or prescriptions otherwise allowable under the law, and decided upon by a licensed physician in consultation with a patient, can be excluded from coverage if a for-profit, private business can demonstrate the treatment's conflict with the business' religious views.

Because in yet another stunning victory for stupidity, our highest court has underlined the essential passage from the Rich White Man's true scripture: Chapter 1, Verse 1 "Corporations are people, my friends."

That's right. You heard it from Mitt (ironically, a Mormon) first, but the Supreme Court has generously donated tons of credibility through its display of complete disregard for history, our constitution or a freaking dictionary. A corporation's ability to act as an individual has now become its identity. I suppose corporations can have color preferences, allergies to legumes and dating habits, too?

What I find most fascinating about the absolute dirtiness of this decision and its implications is the trading of one kind of morality for another. So we say, in the voice of our highest secular authority:
It is more moral to support a corporation's desire to wear the cloak of human characteristic than it is to afford every citizen equal rights under the law. 
I can just hear Jesus giving up the "what what!"

Are you surprised that women are the subjects of this degradation? I'm not.  If corporations attempted to wear religion in order to deny men a service or treatment you'd be hearing the laughs for miles.

Are you at all taken by the fact that the 'winners' in this case are Christians? I'm not. Because you'd be hell bent to find the Tibetan monk who would get this case heard in the U.S. Supreme Court and you'd never find him. Same for the Orthodox Jew or the Muslim who might want to win the argument to have you cover your women up when you bring them into their shops, their restaurants, their offices.

The whole thing is embarrassing.

Americans do not win this one. Christians do not win this one. We fail. We fail to love one another as He loved us. What greater sin against God is there?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Where I Reside

I haven't talked to the man I think of as my father for nearly thirty-five years. I should wonder if he cares, but honestly the years have worn away the care. Now, it is nearly bore.

That is what I will tell you. I am loud out here so you cannot see me in the quiet.

The man my mom married was not my biological father but for as much as it mattered, he was. I had aunts, uncles, cousins, a grandmother. A whisper. When the marriage ended, the relationships carried on for a while. Then days and distances and no more.

They are my family. But then, too, for as much as it matters they are not.

And all the accoutrements of family -

the comfort and taste of my aunt's food

the familiar ripple of my uncle's gold chain against his neck

the laugh that shares and shakes cousins on a couch too small for all to fit

those are for dreaming days in a waking world.

And there's no one to blame and no tonic but your own.

I'm currently on a path to reconnect with my father's family, a ride on an un-beckoned wave. For what purpose? Really, I will not know.

I'll say I go to show my children. I do not urge them past their own fears or deepest weakness capriciously. I travel in the direction of my hurt as I would point them in the direction of theirs, to face it. When for them, I hold them firmly against me so my heat can be felt through whatever armor, so they know they are loved. We walk together.

Still, I fail in that I do not believe it for myself.

That is the damage that cannot be undone.

Most people look at the family I have made and think it's idyllic. I am cured with that irony and laugh for its deliciousness. It is real. And then, despite my wanting not to, I brace for the hurt and return to the quiet.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

For JB. And The Rest of Us Who are Being Ruined by Education.

My friend JB found herself at once pleased and alarmed that she was able to use the word 'rigor' in a game of scrabble. Pleased, because, heck, any well-placed word feels good in a game of scrabble. Alarmed because she found herself using the buzzwords of the edu-world in her non edu-life. JB is a teacher.

As such, rigor is really the least of her worries. She could find herself trying to ALIGN everything in her life. Alignment's a big deal. Check a teacher's pantry... it's either eerily OCD, bordering on the 'needs medical attention' or rebelliously chaotic - jars and cans facing opposite directions for no apparent reason, on the same shelves with boxes and bags, madness! Edu-speak is ruining them.

Then there's the question of SCAFFOLDING and let me stop you right there! This has nothing to do with construction or window-washing downtown. If that's what you're picturing, you don't know squat about education.

Are you familiar with all the PIECES? When you try to fit that piece in or when you talk about that piece or think about that piece you need to be aware that there are lots of PIECES in education. Lots. Not for the weak or weary, the pieces.

JB ought to be pleased she didn't find herself blurting out ROBUST! in answer to a question. Sure, people of a certain age will remember a coffee commercial with an excellently placed nose over a teaspoon of Sanka grounds, but those people should banish that image from their memories and replace it with an image of curricula. How do you picture curricula? That's not the point. The point is curricula should be robust. If you don't know that, back away from the education.

Speaking of backing away, I might suggest a little BACKWARDS PLANNING. This one kills me. 'We are intentionally backwards.' Really? That explains so much.

In fact, we're INTENTIONAL a lot. Very important. Be intentional. (Don't accomplish anything - 'accomplish' is not an important word in education. Just intentional.)

Everything is about METRICS and MOVING FORWARD, even though you are backwards planning, which may explain why often you are traveling right off the edge of a cliff. Irrelevant. Just measure and move.

And make sure you're NORMING and ASSESSING all the while! If you're not, get out of the game. You have no VALUE-ADD.

Something we don't talk about too much? TOUCHING. You have to look at how many students you touch, whether or not you touch them at all, whether you failed to touch. Interesting, isn't it? Because you have to do a lot of touching, but you can get pulled off the floor for hugging a kid.

And don't forget to address the needs of your DIVERSE POPULATION. If your population is not diverse, make that up, because having the needs of a diverse population is mission critical. Then, you have to address the needs. You don't get resources or support in doing that. You just have to do it. Like magic! Isn't that fun?

Last but not least, make sure you are DIGGING DOWN if you plan to get into the edu-world today. You need to really dig deep. Big deal.

In fact, invest in a shovel. It'll come in handy for more than one thing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Exercise is Good For You

Reprinted from an earlier post on another site:

I had an interesting day in the city today, one which reminded me why I love to live here. I attended a meeting downtown and as part of an exercise was presented with a quote from John Holt, a well-known author on education

 “The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” 

I had this rumbling in my mind as I headed to the train and the repetition of the phrase took on an almost musical quality in my head. Then I realized there was a gentleman playing clarinet at the corner under the tracks. Jazz. It was sultry and sweet as a slow rain seeped over the city. I kept his rhythm with me as I headed up the stairs and waited for the train.

I found a seat headed back to the office and busied myself with emails. So immersed in my own importance was I that I barely noticed when an older gentleman sat down beside me. I did notice when he offered his seat to a gal carrying several packages, only so long as to be mildly annoyed at the thought of her clumping down next to me, and then to smile at the gentility of his offer. I thought it quaint, and pleasantly uncommon. She demurred, however, so I returned to my urgent emails about nothing urgent at all.

A few moments later our overburdened friend found a spot right across from us and fumbled with boxes and bags on her lap. She smiled sheepishly and the gentleman who’d offered his seat took the occasion to smile broadly in return, flashing a full set of brown and broken teeth.

I hope I didn’t shudder obviously when he turned to me and said, “You must be so pleased to still be able to read such fine print,” motioning to my phone.

 “It’s getting harder and harder,” I confessed.

 “I had to get glasses shortly after I got one of those,” chimed in the box and bag lady.

I had a choice at this point to return to my silent, imaginary space or to engage a bit more and see what came of it. I didn’t know what to do. She might be too gabby. He might be more brown teeth than genteel. I might tire of the conversation and then – since mine is the last stop – I wouldn’t have a way to extract myself politely. But there was something so sincere about that moment I couldn’t help myself. 

“I’m reading an article about voter apathy. I just can’t stand it!” I blurted.

“Ugh! In this day? I can’t believe it!” he fumed.

She shook her head, too.

Past the pristine and prominent, through the most pricey and on to its most humble abodes, the city offered a sometimes vibrant often grey backdrop to a conversation that traveled from politics to the economy to immigration and baked goods. It was funny and real and sometimes uncomfortable.

Our gentleman friend had served in Vietnam, spent time in Germany and had traveled the states and now, in his 60s, was back in school. The gal with the accoutrements was sympathetic to those who’d grown tired of the political system but, weary and wary, was still committed. She was taking flyers to an event.

I got off the train giddy, bade my companions farewell and good luck and headed out under a more persistent patter to my car. And then I sat there for a few moments collecting myself. I know an awful lot of people, as do many of us. But it’s not often that people I don’t know impact me so profoundly. I’m so glad I had the opportunity and good sense to enjoy that clarinetist’s serenade on my way to the train. I’m so grateful for the rich and robust conversation with the two strangers on the ride back to work. And mostly, most deeply, I’m so thrilled to live in a city that lays this feast of opportunity at my table every day. I simply love Chicago.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mom. You're bugging me.

I can't count the number of times I've said that. Out loud and to myself and to a closet wall and to the pillow I'm screaming in. Any number of inanimate victims has suffered behind the force and tire of my "Mom. You're bugging me!"

Sadly, I've been brash enough to say it directly to my mom, sometimes in a tone less-than commensurate with that owed such a fine and worthy person. (I mean, if you're going to be mean, you should at least be polite. Can't say I have always held to my own standard.)

But there are reasons!

My mom picks lint off of me, still. That bugs me.

My mom talks too long on the phone. Then she calls back two minutes later and talks more, because she finally remembered what she meant to say when she called the first time. That bugs me.

My mom never says what she means directly (unless she's pretty fired up).

Instead, she asks, sweetly, "Are you going to leave that there?"
 
  'Yes, mom. I'm leaving it right there. Don't touch it.'
"Oh. Do you think it's a good idea to leave it there?"
     'Yah. Mom. Leave it. It's fine.'
"Hmm. I bet if we put it over here that would be even better."
     'MOM. LEAVE THE DANG CUP RIGHT THERE!'
"You know you've gotten so angry as you've gotten older. Fine. I'll leave it there"

That bugs me. And as soon as I turn my back, she moves the cup. That bugs me!

My mom mutters a running commentary on everything that pops into her head, all the time. "Now let me see... yes... OH, I know... Sam... are you going to leave that there?... Sara where are my glasses? Can you go in my bag... Don't put your shoes there - ooh - I gotta remember to call Josie... I don't suppose you have any bananas? Carmi are we leaving now? I can't forget I have to go to the bathroom--Did you read that article about those girls? Oh I just love these flowers you have all over the house. How is Eileen doing? Remind me when it'stimetotakemymedicationisanyoneupstairs..."

This stream of consciousness and the oral history it has perpetrated on all the memories of my life? Bugs me.

My mom says, "the Jewel" and "K-marts" without affectation, even though I distinctly remember she and I making fun of her mother doing that. She was thrilled to learn that there was, in fact, something called "the Face Book" but deflated to realize that "the Face Page" was her own invention.

My mom keeps kleenex tucked in her sleeve, over-garlics and under-salts everything she cooks, and wraps everything in about twenty-seven plastic grocery bags. Everything. That bugs me like crazy.

She has a little lisp (actually, that's kind of cute) and articulates every word like she's speaking a love letter to annunciation. She still corrects my grammar and tells me when to 'ssshhh--beeee quiiieetttt--'.

My mother has the softest hands in the world and taught me how to be a mom and loves me so deeply and genuinely and so effortlessly that I've known exactly how to go about getting good love for my own self, and how to give that love to my children and share it with my husband, in-laws and friends. If you've known me for any length of time you've heard me say a million times "My mom always said..." because even now with all I have lived and learned as a grown person no one has or ever will be a more valued teacher, companion, co-hort or confidant than my mother. She's amazing.

That said, she's annoying. I think I've made my case. So, it's true, mom. You bug me.

And I love you for it.

Happy Mother's Day ~ 2014

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I Was Going to Let it Go

Everyone and their next-door neighbor has had something to say about it. So I was going to let it go. I was going to let it go and let everyone have their say and just let it go.

And then the Tribune reminded me: therein lies the trouble.
The owner of the LA Clippers was recorded by his female companion making racist remarks. Shortly after verification of his identity on the recording, the NBA's commissioner made a public statement fining the owner, banning him from NBA games, and encouraging other owners to insist on his sale of the team.
Round of applause, please!

What?

Why are we congratulating the NBA for late-to-the-party decency? Do you think this owner's viewpoint on race and its place in his life has never been expressed prior to this episode? No one knew he is a racist? Uh. That's a lie. That's a lie and I won't let it go.

It's a lie that the NBA deserves credit for being the most progressive organized sport in the country, or the most moral. One gay guy doesn't cure the league and little boys in Englewood are not killing one another over tennis rackets. 

It's also a lie that racism doesn't exist in the NFL or MLB or any other sport. Writer John Smallwood with the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote this last year regarding racism in the world of FIFA: "It is the most popular sport in the world, so it only makes sense that soccer would be infected with the universal virus that exists and thrives everywhere. Intolernece based on race, religion, sexual orientation, secular origin and other factors was the world's game long before humans decided to kick a ball into a net." 

So really, save your artificial shock, it's wasted on me. You know it's a lie. And we don't even care.

As the Trib editorial in today's paper succinctly sets out, what we care about is money. When racism does not interfere with our profit, we are rendered mute. When our recorded bigotry is exposed and infects our potential earnings? Then! Then we are moral, upright and serious.

We banned a millionaire from a game and we're hugging and kissing like cousins at a we-solved-the-problem-of-racism-in-America reunion. Kind of a low threshold, but o.k., let's tell the kids on the West Side they can breathe easy. Situation handled. 

Of course, while we're at it we should be fair and tell women that the sports-loving public doesn't condone racism (yay us!) but treating women like trash is another subject. The young woman who recorded our friend Don during his bigoted rant? She has been alternately described as  a "hoe", "gold-digger", "b**ch", and "girlfriend from hell".  Thanks for that.

I probably can't solve these problems alone. Heck, I know I can't. And neither can you. But that Frozen gal got it all wrong, at least on this subject. There's no way in hell I'm going to let it go.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Sweet.


I named you for the thing that brings me most joy. Smart, am I, even in my accidents.

So I don't surprise; light when I see you, in wake and in slumber, the warmth of you resting beside me is completion.

What thrill! I, unwitting gardener, tend to your growing years knowing as I do that you ease away with every season.

Still there is no more for me; this is what I am for.

And glad, glad, more than filled am I with gladness at my fortune.

Do I thank you, you ask?

In every breath and blink

so deeply

I am thankful

you are my baby.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Still Babies

We have three sets of twins in our family. The first, Isabelle and Elizabeth are 15 today, which in our culture, marks their passage from childhood to young adulthood.

That means different things to different people, but to me it means they go from being self-focused to being world-focused, on a path to finding their own place of value and contribution, serving a purpose within the conditions around them, changing those conditions as they may see fit.

These young ladies have long been on that path, have always been kind and compassionate, thoughtful and empathetic. In practical matters, they are willing and competent cooks in the kitchen (a must in a Mexican family), nurturing and playful with babies (also a must in our family, but any really), whip smart and accomplished in school (it is gross to hold a brain, Isabelle - gross!), and eternally fair-minded and loyal. If they just keep up the good work and do nothing else, they'll be women of great substance living extraordinary lives. I'm actually expecting a bit more than that, based on who they are already.

When Isabelle and Elizabeth were babies, they insisted on being held to fall asleep - no matter that there were two babies and sometimes only one adult on duty. The family struggled with these little stinkers to make them fall asleep on their own, in their own beds. I, book-read and bossy, would constantly give my brother- and sister-in-law advice on how to handle this. (That was before I had my own twins and realized books don't know crap about babies.)

During one particularly difficult night, when my brother- and sister-in-law were out, I told my mother-in-law I'd handle it. The girls were wailing in full voice - screams that might bring the neighbors over to investigate a crime scene. I went upstairs serious and bent on business. As soon as I rounded the corner the tears stopped and when the girls could make me out in the darkness, and I them, they lifted their arms, reaching for me and - in unison as twins are wont to do - smiled "TIIIIIAAAAA".

I held them both, one in the crook of my left and one against my right arm, and rocked them until they fell asleep. Then I leaned back and slept myself. It was a good, deep sleep and when Tony shook me awake to let me know that Kim and Eddy arrived, I grudgingly gave up my sweet babies to their beds and went downstairs.

"How'd it go?" my sister-in-law asked tentatively.

"Great!" I tried not to look sleepy, "I don't know what you guys are always complaining about. Your girls are like angels."

Still are.

Happy birthday, babies.

C.

Friday, April 25, 2014

On Chicagoland and the Leader of Russia

I've lived in Chicago for forty-five years. There is crime here, despair and poverty. There has been all of my life. There is also grace, irrefutable decency and good. There is wealth - in material and culture -innocence and fine etiquette. There are those who give themselves over to the darkest places and others who bring clarity to every soul they touch. Most are well entrenched in the middle. Oh! And we have the number one high school in the state (in my neighborhood, actually), top 40 in the country, and two of the top-ranked universities in the world.

That's the reality.

The portrait of my city in the CNN series "Chicagoland" is an embarrassment, not to my great town, but to the clearly biased and ill-prepared team that put that drivel on and gave my name to it. In the modified words of my current mayor, 'They can go flower themselves.'

In some ways similar to my
Photo: homesicktexan.com
current mayor, the current leader of Russia finds himself in an interesting predicament. He is a jerk, in a world that is leaning away from jerk-based foreign policy. Unlike his despot-counterparts in other parts of the world, Mr. Putin is not quite Don Cheadle enough to earn himself a movie, though he flaps and flails eternally in this pursuit. Sadly, and much to his own chagrin, the man is a bore.

Could he use his enormous power to propel his country forward, leading a charge for some great new era of discovery and success? Meh. Been done.

I'm entertained by the idea that our staring at him incredulously, as he pouts about using 80s style tactics on a world stage that no longer permits the cover his predecessors enjoyed, is perceived as weakness. I feel like it's a generous (I'll allow maybe overly so) pause. Kind of like when your mom tells you you can't have that cookie and you slowly walk to the table and reach out, trembling over the plate while your mom glares holes in your head. Never mind that she may not clobber you before you get your hands on it - she's giving you a chance, after all. If you grab that cookie and shove it in your mouth you will get nailed.

Perhaps someone should get Vlad a plate of cookies.


Monday, April 21, 2014

A Little Wallow

I am sad, little baby. The smile that was once mine, no more.

I am sad, little sunshine. You walk in hurried step away, away from my door.

I am so sad to go unnoticed, preening in vain.

I am sad my sadness is foolish, wasted pain.

What is this layer between us? When did it arrive? How can I dispel it?  Pest, weed in its thrive.

A little wallow for today.

I am too prideful to let more than this show.

I am so sad, my little baby, to watch you, watch you go.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cold Water for a Lost Son

Each year, I find some strand in the fabric and focus on it, keeping it in front of me for all the days of Lent and - when possible - from there forward. It's complicated, obviously. The Easter thing, Lent, the whole thing. There is so great an intimacy with pain and faith pressed into this ritual, if you tried to consume it all - even academically - at once it would make your head infinitely spin.

So as an adult, having come upon the need to reflect at about the same time I realized there was no way to ever resolve my complex feelings about the season, I set upon a different, more directed system.

This year I was particularly drawn to finding connection with the loss of a son.

It has left me sad and serious, filled with doubt.

I wonder how a deity could offer his son in sacrifice for the benefit of others. Would I do the same? Would I watch my child's deep pain, his abandonment, abuse and injury and not intervene? Could I allow him to accept my order to lose himself so that others might be found? As a deity would I know for certain that I could get him back? What if I had erred? Did the Lord have any of these doubts as he cast His son to the wicked?

Even while I have had this on me, in me and consuming my thoughts, I've held it all at bay, because I can honestly say I'm not strong enough to think about it any more deeply than what an arm's length examination allows. The loss of my own
son would ruin me in ways I am certain I am too feeble to even imagine.

I know I would doubt. I would doubt and likely choose, selfishly, cruelly, to keep my son to myself. I am weak, even though I convince myself of a real and abiding faith. I suppose we should all be grateful I'm not the gal who had to make the call. Then, too, we should be grateful that the truth is the truth and we shall all know it, whether for good or worse, some day.

I gave up hot water showers during the days of Lent. This, because I was trying to find a way to remind myself daily of the shock and despair of a lost son, so that I could in some tiny way empathize with that pain and bring myself closer to the true sacrifice. I failed, obviously, because I still can't take in that searing pain; no cold water could compare.

I am humbled (often) but always on this day as I am, again, unworthy of such sacrifice on my behalf and unable to recompense for such loss.

Perhaps I won't return to the hot-water shower tomorrow as I had planned.

Perhaps I could endure just one more day of cold water for a lost son.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sometimes It's Right to be Crazy

So you hold our citizens hostage for over a year and in response we don't give you permission to travel to our country. And you're walking out of that deal feeling offended? I'm not sure you should be a negotiator for a living.

The Chicago Tribune today reports that Hamid Aboutalebi will not be granted a visa to enter the U.S. Mr. Aboutalebi is the person Iran has named to represent their country as a United Nations Ambassador. He also happens to be a guy who participated in the hostage crisis that for 444 days kept 50+ innocent Americans trapped inside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. OH! You're a diplomat now?

Sorry, Mr. Aboutalebi. There are consequences.

When you terrorize, brutalize and bully my brothers and sisters for over a year, ruining them and their families, and then continue a pattern of arrogance and defiance toward me, you do not deserve a soft admonition and a short attention span.

If Mr. Obama was even tangentially involved in beating, starving and terrorizing a group of Iranians for over a year would he be received with good grace and a handshake in Tehran? What message does Iran send to our country when this individual is selected to be their chief diplomat?

It may well be a violation of some rules to refuse this visa and there may be consequences to using legislation in this manner. That's fine. The first message that should be coming from this stance is: our commitment to justice does not mean you can use our rules to your benefit and our detriment. That would be crazy. The second message that should be coming out loud and clear is: we know crazy and you do not want to test our crazy.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I Remember Your Mother

My old boss' mom just passed away. She was about a million years old, I think. (OK - almost 102! - but that's really, really OLD.) I hadn't seen her since the late 90s and, as luck would have it I was unable to join the family in sitting Shiva, a custom this old Catholic rather appreciates.

So I didn't get a chance to hug my boss and tell him how I love him and am thinking of him. I didn't get a chance to hug his wife or his daughters and I didn't get to share the stories or smile at others' recollections. I didn't get a chance to tell my boss: I remember your mother.

When I first started working for this boss he was at the very top of his game - young, ambitious, not a little bit cut-throat. You had to be in his line of work, and I was at once attracted to and a little repelled by the force with which he managed to shut people down or inject frenetic action into a room. A warrior, he was, fully armed and charged for battle every day.

That is, until his mother called.

You could almost hear the armor falling behind him, clanging like abandoned toys as he would turn and walk to his office.

'Ohhhkaaayyyy,' he'd heavy sigh and, head hung, trot off into the dark, wood-paneled room, casting aside piles of files and urgent messages to hear her admonitions, answer long, thickly-accented questions, and so on.

When he was in a particularly brave mood, my boss would ask me to ask her if he could call her back - never 'tell', just 'ask'. Over the years as she and I got to know one another, she'd sometimes rather prefer to speak to me than to him.

"Don't bother him. He's busy, I know," she'd tell me.

So we'd chat for a moment or two and without fail, most of her chatter was about her son - asking me if he was eating enough, in rain if he was carrying an umbrella, in brisk weather whether he had a scarf, boots to keep his feet dry.

Here was her son, just fifteen feet from me, talking to some of the greatest captains of industry, a stone-and-steel expression on his face, critical transactions being bandied about the office, stacks of importance against every wall and the constant ringing and clacking of a busy, busy operation...

And here I was, reassuring his mom that the boss had a sandwich and that I would send him home with warm, dry clothing. There was so much humanity and vulnerability in her need to watch over him even in that late stage of her parenting, and there was so much grounding in knowing that part of his life. I've sat across from millionaires often in my life since then, and always I smile to myself wondering if their moms call their offices to check on their well-being.

I'm a mother now and I have a son. I cluck and fuss after him and try to make sure he's eating well and staying warm. Every so often, as the winter months forge new generations of Chicago survivors, I pull my son to me and wrap a warm scarf around him and give him a kiss because I love him so, so much.

And, EB, I remember your mother.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Truth: Why I Am a Cub Fan And Always Will Be.

"I feel sorry for you," they say to me. "Why on God's good earth are you a Cub fan?"

Because I remember the truth.

I remember sitting on Ricardito's lap. He smelled like soap. I'd begin to doze, plays and pitches running softly in my dreams. And then UP, prompted to a full sit - sometimes an unintended stand - as a particular play might warrant.

"Mira eso chica!" would ring out behind a "Hey Hey!" or a "Holy Cow!"

I remember my mom pointing to her elementary school literally shadowed by the giant walls where, inside, our team played. "You were born a Cub fan," she'd smile at me, revealing sacred lineage.

Dave Kingman hit a grand slam at my first game. I can close my eyes today and feel the rush and roll of 30,000+ fans coming to their feet as he rounded the bases. I define exhilaration by that memory.

Every baseball fan has their memories, their moments that connect them to their team. In that way, mine are no exception. These are just some of my favorites.

The difference for me is that I believe the experience of being a Cub fan is a commitment to the truth like no other fan experience is.

The truth is I can't remember how many games the Cubs won when I sat on Ricardito's lap. I remember love. I can't remember if we won that game that Kingman slugged his way through. I remember jumping up and down, cheering him home, blurred with bliss.

The truth is, most days you're not the champion. You do not strut into the office, applause propelling you to great and further success. Most days you're mediocre, you're regular.

But you get up and do your job. You brave it, no matter the deficit you bring to the morning. You don't just do that one day. You do that every day. And you love through that and smile and celebrate through that and you feel joy. That, after all, is your life.

There is no great glory in the winner winning.  He is already cast in gold. The truth is, after a time, he bores.

But the day the faltering arrives - when tired and defeated he succeeds - oh joy! What love there is in that moment!

You can't be committed to the outcome if it's known to you. You have to struggle - even when you're beaten down again and again, you have to get up. Get up and get up with a full heart. Go at it full steam again. Today might be your day! That is why you live. That is living.

Most days I'm not a winner. I'm just plugging away, doing the best I can. But some days - some close-your-eyes-and-smile-just-before-the-tears-come days - some days I am a winner. A screaming, jumping, joyful winner.

That's why I am a Cub fan. In my lifetime I will be that witness. I will see that game and I will feel that thrill that only a Cub fan can feel and I will share it with all those who know, like I do, what the truth is. And if you're not like us and you're not committed to that truth...

The truth is, I feel sorry for you.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On The Drive

I'm not a patient driver.

I'm not a patient, driver.

I said this to myself once one way, once the other, over and over.

Oh for the love of spinning and sins MOVE your damn car!

I was trying to get out of a parking spot in a crowded little grocery store - it's ethnic and chaotic but it has the best fresh bread around and carries the neck- bones I need for my sauce (which they don't have at the big chain - bah!) so I had to go there even though it was Sunday midday and I knew the lot would be a mess because people who like good bread and neck-bones simply don't know how to drive, honestly!

The man coming into the parking lot had used the entire driveway to position himself into my spot after I left, without giving consideration to the fact that I couldn't get out whilst he occupied the whole space, fence to fence like a woman wearing a dress that had long passed the saucy and gone on to press embarrassingly against her seams.

Making matters worse, he was waving at me impatiently to move out of his way. I had words with the air between us, let's say.

Finally, I escaped!

As I passed, I saw he was an older, grandfatherly man. He smiled at me, tiredly, through the grey of our tinted glasses and I wondered what she'd sent him to the store to get and how many trips alike he'd made in his life.

Not three blocks away I was caught again. Slowly, painfully the silver tin-can-car in front of me plodded. Brakes for no reason. Stops. Stifles. Starts.

'Oh Peter!' I called in vain.

Finally, again, escape!

As I passed, I saw she was a middle-aged woman, clearly frantic, her husband seated patiently as passenger-teacher beside her. I could see she had even skin and a soft swoop in her hair, caught in a tidy bun behind her. She was dainty - not meant for Chicago streets.

And then, now, how brave she must be, to be learning something new at this time in her life.

I continued my hurry home.

To eat and enjoy the warmth of my family, reflecting all the while on the drive.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

I Just Unfriended You

It's a click now, instead of an uncomfortable phone call or an awkward date. Still, un-friending someone is an unpleasant affair. When you have to do it in person you have to look at someone, face them and express yourself. Often, especially if you are un-friending outside the heat of a rabid moment, you parse words, hem, haw, look away. But if I had to face this person I might not be able to quiet my anger over her disgusting attitude towards the president and his family.

In her most recent rant, one my un-friend borrows from someone else because she can't even inarticulately assert her own point of view, she "demands" respect for the office of the presidency. Irony abounds.

Few things, as we part ways:

1. The U.S. Constitution affords us the right to be disrespectful - even to the office of the president. In fact, that's kind of the point - so get your facts straight about how American you are. You're an idiot. Really.

2. I rather prefer respect for the office of the presidency too - we agree! - so stop your piggish, racist, ignorant and ill-informed condemnations. Mr. Obama is the President of the United States of America and the holder of the office gets to have a say on policy and spending. It's kind of the job. (See 'idiot' reference above.)

3. You and I went to Catholic school together. Maybe you ought to re-acquaint yourself with some of the tenets of our faith. Try "love thy neighbor as thyself", for one. Or "judge not lest ye be judged". Or "don't be such a jerk". That last one was mine.  (Dare I say it again?)

4. You make me so MAD! You don't want the country to change? We might become communist because we have -GASP- healthcare? So you think all property will become publicly owned and we will all work in grey uniforms in a vocation of the government's choosing? Because the government has imposed rules on one of the most decadent, wasteful and arrogant industries in this country? Yeah. That makes sense. You're more like Putin than Putin. The 80s called. They want your dated, head-up-your-rear foreign policy knowledge back. Upward mobility - a foundational pillar of the American capitalist system - has been crippled, SUFFOCATED, by our appallingly archaic healthcare system.

You should want the country to change. All of life is about change. If we don't move, grow, adapt, refine and continue to pursue our 'more perfect union' we are failing the purpose of our country. We'll wither and die as a force for good in the world. In fact, we are the elevated version - if you believe all the horse-crap about American exceptionalism - of societal organization. What organization can you think of that doesn't change in order to continue to succeed.  Are you still writing on parchment with an ink pot and quill? I give you too much credit. If you could think we'd be having a different conversation. Maybe you should get back in your carriage and go home. GRRRRRR!

But the truth is I didn't unfriend you - really - because of your political views. I suppose everyone's entitled to be an idiot, even me.

I unfriended you because of your personal attacks on the President and his family. Every President and his family serve us at great personal expense: there is no anonymity ever again - a child's privacy, a normal life, is never returned - they cannot err without ever an entourage of cameras and recordings broadcasting each misstep. Could someone listen to everything you say, take pictures of every outfit you wear, videotape every cough, sneeze and blink in exchange for insurmountable pressure, responsibility for billions of dollars in debt, millions of lives in your hands, nuclear weapons in your charge and others aimed at your neighbors, the possibility of an assassin at any moment targeting your babies, and the despicable ingratitude of racism focused at you personally and your young daughters by your own constituents?

You'd collapse under the weight after just a split second.

You are weak in mind and in spirit.You embarrass me, as an American, a woman and a human being.

So we can't be friends.

Click.