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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

City Mom in the Jungle: Signed confession

City Mom in the Jungle: Signed confession: Virginie and Lily are using expert tactics on me here in the jungle, something I think all intelligence agencies should consider when hoping...

City Mom in the Jungle: Signed confession

City Mom in the Jungle: Signed confession: Virginie and Lily are using expert tactics on me here in the jungle, something I think all intelligence agencies should consider when hoping...

Friday, May 12, 2017

Back to the Suburban Grind: Fallen: Dead Baby Birds

Back to the Suburban Grind: Fallen: Dead Baby Birds: Spring: such beautiful things and dead baby birds.  I have spent hours each day walking the puppy child, our new baby, and listening ...

Fallen: Dead Baby Birds

Spring: such beautiful things and dead baby birds.  I have spent hours each day walking the puppy child, our new baby, and listening to podcasts.  That he has to go out, HAS to, has been a blessing.  I'd been slowly descending into a muted-colored and muffled depression, the kind that for me comes in cycles related to the moon and the mood of the last phrase read, music absorbed through the skin, line in a drawing or slight from a family member who either doesn't care or doesn't recognize their callousness when I discovered the podcast, "The Hilarious World of Depression."*  While listening to PLACEBO: A Conversation with Ana Maria Cox (5/5) , walking through an open field full of clover patches, dandelions and "wishes" I nearly tripped over one, then two dead babies.  They were featherless, with bulging closed eyes that were black and blue.  Their skin was 70s-band-aid flesh and their tiny beaks and claws looked like baby finger nails.  They were so plastic and so still and so hopeless.  The sight of them caused me to gasp and dart in another direction.  I didn't want to stand by too long, to stare too long, to come so close that their lost hope might touch me.  It was drizzling, preparing for rain, so I put up my hood and stared across the field.  And then I walked back.

The day before I'd seen a bird and a squirrel quarreling above my head in my own yard.  I'd never seen an interspecies battle like this so was drawn to all the desperate, violent chatter between the two of them.  I understood, even from my vantage point, that something wasn't right.  The blackbird was beside herself and the squirrel seemed so caustically aloof and reckless.  I found myself getting annoyed with that damned squirrel. But the puppy found something more curious and interesting across the yard and I walked with him to find someone else's shit to roll in (yeah, I pulled him up before that could happen.). 

Early the next morning, I'd raced behind Ivan as he bolted down the stairs and out the door to relieve himself after a long night of "holding it in."  He was playful and fluffy and so early-morning baby sweet so, even though I was in my nightgown with a sweatshirt over it, pulled on haphazardly as I tried to protect myself from the morning's cold, I let him tour me through the open yards that sprawled behind ours and our neighbors' houses.  As we left the wall that holds the creek that runs through town, he discovered what all the fuss had been about just the day before. Two babies had taken a long, miserable fall to the ground.  Below the nest now lay lifeless a developing bird and the head of its sibling.  Ivan licked the head and I pulled him more aggressively than I'd meant to get him away from it.  I couldn't bear to look.  And then I couldn't stop.

I studied the lifeless body, saw the articulation in its exposed wing, considered its fall, looked up to see the nests that dotted that tree and wondered from which it had fallen.  I thought of the hysteria in the mother's cawing and flapping as the squirrel had teased and taunted.  I wondered for how long an animal mourns or if it does at all.  These two babies were dead but were there others?  Could she love the others more fiercely because they'd survived or was she just meeting the task at hand, the imperative, keeping them alive?  I remembered the first time I'd seen little baby birds, they'd been tiny chicks in an incubator, I and thought of their smell and the warmth that surrounded them and the peep-peep-peep of all of them hovering close to one another.  I wished for that for this dead bird.  Warmth.

Against my better judgment, I took my family to my parents' home in sunny Florida for spring break, the Florida weather promising a break from the bleak, rainy April we'd been having.  We'd had to leave Ivan who'd not been with us so long and I considered for a moment staying behind.  I have been torn to shreds by how much of a relationship I should allow between my parents and my children.  On the one hand, I'd rather just suck it up and not have to explain the intricacies of dysfunctional family dynamics to two little girls who have felt the fullness of my love and protection from the moment we'd promised ourselves to one another, and on the other I am shattered to endure the aggressive, palpable disdain and contempt in which my parents hold me.  It's only warm outside in sunny Florida.  I'd fallen out of the tree.

While searching through old photo albums, I found my baby book where I learned that I'd not left the hospital until 18 days after I was born. Eighteen days in Vassar Hospital in the cold of a Poughkeepsie winter in January.  I knew I'd been born prematurely and that I'd been placed in an incubator for care and protection in my early days but was told very little else. When I first learned as a child that I'd been in an incubator, I thought immediately of myself on a tiny tray, cuddled up trying to get warm and become strong enough to face this thing called life.  I also thought about "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble" (a movie starring John Travolta as "the boy" that I'd watched as a girl) because I imagined in my frailty and sickness, I could not and should not have been much handled.  I sat in isolation with visits from my mother when she was dropped off at the hospital by my father each morning.  And how did I miss her touch?  How did I feel in that silence?  Those first eighteen days have marked me, imprinted me as a fallen bird.

Nature is not sentimental.  The fittest survive and the others perish.  Animals and plants and we humans have to adapt and evolve or lose our one shot.  The grass beneath the birds was so lush and green after weeks of rain, and pollen from all the beautiful flowers in bloom coated the world chartreuse and yellow.  The green of the whole scene swallowed up those tiny bodies until I was right upon them.  I felt a responsibility to them, a need to bury and protect their brief moment here.  To honor their attempt to live their tiny lives.  Perhaps they'd stuck their necks out too long to reach for their food or been knocked over by a squirrel or the wind.  Maybe they'd arrived too early, when the spring thaw had not quite happened and it was too cold for them to survive and their mother had long abandoned the nest.  Maybe their mother felt the environment too unsafe to risk caring for them where she'd built her nest or knew they were too weak to survive and had flown away.

When humans touch baby animals that have been lost or fallen or hurt they doom them to never be lovable or acceptable to their mothers.  It had always terrified me, the thought of the baby animal picked up and returned to its nest or burrow or clearing, saved, only to be rejected by its mother and left in the world to defend itself and surely die.  It seemed so cold, so callous, so heartless, and so unfair that a chance moment could change the course of a new life. 

As the drizzling developed into a steady rain, I turned away from the birds along the path.  The green of the spring dotted with the vibrant colors of the flowering trees and well planted tulips and other blooms gave my walk back an other-worldly haze.  I stopped abruptly as the hosts of the podcast quietly uttered the pain around the suicide of one's brother and the failed attempts of one of the hosts.  There was silence and grief and palpable pain.  The silvered light of this grey day sharpened and I caught my breath.  The sound of my gasp in my ears as my headphones shielded me from the noises outside of my personal space echoed and stilled me.  I felt so suddenly alone.  The emptiness of navigating the world alone shook me.  I was vulnerable, unguarded, stealing oxygen for my tiny lungs.  Motherless.  I'd fallen from the nest.

And once you are out of the nest and find yourself alive you have to make a choice.  I took a little longer at first to meet the milestones that are the bullets on any mother's checklist.  I was small but met the developmental challenges easily.  I don't remember much contact.  I suppose one wouldn't but the continued lack of it throughout my life hints that there wasn't very much.  It is as crushing to write this as it is to know.  I have never had much emotional, psychic, or physical connection with my parents, often feeling indifference or active disdain.  I have always believed it was because I arrived as imperfectly as I did, premature, small, fragile, and sensitive, because I fell.  It has made me profoundly sad and secretive.  I have hurt so deeply and so silently, have faded into life's lushness, felt small and frail and alone.  I have listened to countless explanations and excuses from others as though what I feel and experience in my heart could not be truth enough.  My heart that beats and mourns the tiny, dead baby birds along my dog walking route couldn't possibly know.

Now the rain was coming at a steady clip and even Ivan was ready to go home.  It's warm inside.  Our house has pillows and blankets, delicious smells, soft light, private spaces and nooks, communal tables and couches.  It is plush like the swelling comfort of spring's garden and every place is safe.  I finished out the podcast with my headphones over my ears, sitting on the floor of the kitchen with Ivan and his toys.  I stroked his soft white fur and kissed him on his pink nose and let him lick me.  The licks to my face and mouth that I swore I'd never allow now covered me.  My puppy licked my salty tears and fell over on his back for me to rub and pet the fur on his belly.  We'd found him in the shelter, in a viewing room with his sister.  Though my husband had seen pictures, we'd never known his parents.  They weren't with him anymore.  We are his new family and I am his mother.

(c)Copyright 2017.  Repatriated Mama:  Back to the Suburban Grind.

*"The Hilarious World of Depression" is a podcast hosted by John Moe that offers frank, funny, smart conversations with well-known comedians and humorists about their battles with depression and other mental health issues. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

Back to the Suburban Grind: The skin I'm in

Back to the Suburban Grind: The skin I'm in: It's been a tough few weeks in our two towns.  A number of extraordinary curricular missteps regarding slavery (a mock slave auction and...

The skin I'm in

It's been a tough few weeks in our two towns.  A number of extraordinary curricular missteps regarding slavery (a mock slave auction and runaway slave posters presented in two separate schools' 5th grades) and pathetic racist and anti-Semitic scrawls and scratches on the walls of some of the elementary, middle, and high schools in the area have risen from the ground like a septic spill and gotten everyone all up in their feelings.  Myself included.  As the black mother of two black girls of mixed heritage, I have become both the sounding board and the rubber wall off of which white friends and acquaintances can bounce their feelings, their fears, and their embarrassment.  I have read posts on a town Facebook page and gone down the dangerous, thorny hole of defensiveness, divisiveness made more infuriating by a focus on semantics and description rather than on empathy, connection, and apology.

In navigating my anger and my hurt and the confusion and fear of my girls, I have struggled with what has always been my belief, my truth, and with the hope I have wanted to instill in the hearts of my children.  We have paid lip service to the idea of community in these two towns.  We have congratulated ourselves for our openness and inclusion, and with a bit of side eye and tongue planted firmly in cheek, I have allowed it, but the truth is, no matter that I am married to a white, French man, I have not ever believed that the collective "white people" are my community.  I have always felt that my otherness would never allow me space in "their" communities.  That sucks and I hate to admit it.  But I have always been prepared to be disappointed by even my allies.  I have been prepared to lose them, to let go, to be assaulted, humiliated, abandoned by my white friends and colleagues.  I have steeled myself for their indifference, their insensitivity, and their ignorance.  The events of these past weeks have triggered that sense.

My otherness, my black, my skin/culture/race has placed me outside for much of my life because I grew up in the mostly white township of a mixed town in which most of the people of color lived in the borough circling the town.  Defining and defending my otherness within this community became my job, and one that I was not particularly good at because I was a child and because my parents had grown up with only black people and really had no idea what these white people were getting into.  They may have known in theory but had no practical application of growing up and living amongst the very people they'd always expected would not include them.  We'd been given no tools other than "do unto others" and watching and studying their white moves on TV and in real life.

Though surrounded for much of my young life by pink and tan little girls and boys, I always marveled at my brown skin.  It was coppery and gold when the sun hit it and shiny with oils and lotions after a bath.  It amazed me that my mother all butter cream and cafĂ© au lait could blend with my father's coffee bean and chocolate to make the different browns that covered my siblings and me.  My grandparents, save my dad's father, were all fair-complexioned black folks.  My mom's mother was often mistaken for white for those not in the know (white people).  The skin we were in made us black people, all of us because one drop made it so*, but there was not shame in that, not instinctually.  Only one thing could make it immediately so to young me, could blush the brownest cheeks mauve and purple.  And that was the dreaded slavery section of American history in social studies.

All the lessons and stories told by our families, the reunions, the family trees, old photos, black church, roof-raising hallelujahs could not inoculate me from the burning eyes of my peers and my teachers who needed me to feel some kind of way, show some kind of reaction to their gaze when they told me that it all began here.  With someone with the same coppery skin as mine or dark coffee bean of my father or buttercream meringue of my mother or white coconut of my grandmother sold into or born into slave to toil and suffer abuses named but not discussed, certainly not felt.  We'd move past fast enough to keep the pain and the anguish at bay.  I'd burn and blush, feeling my cells vibrate with that truth in my body and my classmates would consider it for as long as it took, usually the slowest reader, to get through those two paragraphs.

That the enslavement of my ancestors is abhorrent is not and was not questioned.  That my family tree and the stories of my past are filled with tales of horror, rape, assault, abuse, beatings, degrading humiliation, division and separation of families and names never to be traced again (and further receding as each older member of my family, those who kept the stories and the secrets alive, pass on) isn't either.  But it is not quite understood either.  So hideous is this reality to all of us in these United States, the modern world really, that we refuse to sit longer than a few paragraphs with it.  Refuse to share the reality of our foundation, of the roots of this nation with our future.  Allow our children to interpret what we as parents can barely discuss with one another.

I asked my girls last night to consider this.  We are sitting together in a room, spending time after a long day when we are brought outside to the yard and told by our master, the person who owns us and uses us for his will, who keeps us in this cold house in these horribly tattered clothes, that tomorrow, he will send my oldest daughter to another family where she will work and toil for the rest of her life, and that we will more than likely, never see one another again.  I tell the youngest that years later, the same will be done to her.  I tell them that we suffer and that we cannot read or write, have no comforts, and cannot escape this truth as our lives, as what we will live and endure as long as we are on the earth.  I tell them that the same would have been true for those who came before us and those who came after. 

As I talked, we were all in tears.  I was choking them back as I described to them this horrific scene.  This one horrible moment that does not include epic cruelty, rape, maiming, whipping, torture, starvation, actual breeding of human beings like chattel.  I cried into their hair as I hugged them and said, "This is not the story of where black people began.  We are and have been so much more.  This is how the story of us begins for so many white people.  This is slavery and it's not all that we are." 

When I heard about the mock slave auction that was to be included in the presentation of a child in my 5th grader's switch class, I at first tried to logically connect the dots that would lead a child to this place.  How in the teaching of slavery did going on the auction block seem like a schoolyard game or play?  How did kids end up dancing and dabbing while singing Negro spirituals learned during Black History Month while pretending to be slaves?  How did children feel compelled to participate in this charade?  What had they missed?  My daughter was doing a report on the Southern colonies and while she mentioned slavery as it is not possible not to, she and her partner met the topic with the gravity one would expect.  To be honest, I could feel their fear around talking about it together.  And that's the problem. 

It's fear.  It is always fear.  Looking at one's self directly in the mirror, facing the truth about one's nature, one's motivations, one's soul is incredibly hard work.  When it doesn't look pretty, we don't want to be who we are.  When I look in the mirror, I cannot deny my brown skin and the history it tells.  I can no much cover the blemish of the world's slave trade with concealer and powders as I can the truth of our history that predates that scarring and the advances and re-centering of ourselves in our own narrative rather than in peripheral characters in a white story.  I'm looking and I see myself.  I see our brown and black and meringue and cocoa and peach and tan skin.  I see our tales told on my body, feel them run through my veins, taste their breath in my soul.  I stare into my tired, knowing eyes and I refuse to meet this moment with shame.  The shame is not mine to claim.

My purple blush at my family's history, my people's story relegated to a 1/2 centimeter on the world's timeline.  The story of the soul-crushing, body-breaking, psyche-wounding, intentionally cruel, inhumane centuries of torture on the people of the diaspora told as a Disney tale with singing and dancing and runaway slave posters drawn by 5th graders and then defended as childhood innocence, has knocked the wind from me.  That forty years after I was taught this hideous tale as my truth, my children and their white counterparts are learning it as though history lives outside of our bodies, outside of the bodies and lives of real people is a travesty. 

Perhaps my anger is getting the better of me.  Perhaps it is about time.  I have sat idly, quietly, cautiously, listening to mostly white people, but also other minorities, with a different story to tell.  I have seen various groups "become" white, claim white, be deemed "model minorities" and turn their heads from the mirror, no longer seeing their otherness in the reflection but a clear, unblemished patina of respectability one foundation shade lighter and rouged lips telling the same stories about black people and the lies of our brown skin.  I hear them all describe and define and explain anything and everything but the privilege their white skin, their acceptable otherness has allowed them.  I hear them demand that I, that we, promise that we are greater than the story of us that starts with slavery, that their othering of me/us is not my/our fault, that their othering of me/us is not THEIR fault, that we can discuss the man in the mirror but that they cannot be made uncomfortable and even more, that THEIR children cannot be made uncomfortable.  So my children look in the mirror and have to ask and I have to tell them every time and yours, only when they get in trouble and we can hope they "learn from it."

And so we sit again discussing slavery, the very root of the systemic racism in the United States of America that has and does threaten our role on the world stage with the rise of Donald Trump and his white throngs terrified of looking in the mirror and seeing themselves clearly.  To see that there are many shades of foundation to cover their pain, their blemishes, their scars, their hate, their privilege, their lies, their denial but that we know they are wearing makeup and that the emperor has no clothes.  You are too scared to look deeply past your white cheeks, your furrowed brows, your clenched fists, your pursed lips to see that you cannot blur the reflections of the people standing next to you, that no matter how you try to fade us from view, we are still standing next to you.  

There were meetings of a coalition on race and there was a town hall meeting.  There were "teachable" moments and recordings of bias attacks and petty crimes that were dissected on the towns' Facebook page.  There were cries of "not me" and pleas not to "see us as just white people" and reminders that "no one living now was/is a slave owner."  And I begin to burn in my own skin, to itch, and to fidget.  I am hot, heated, but not from my own shame.  It is because I must ask again that you look at your folded hands, bite your tongue ready to lash out with explanation, stare into your eyes in the mirror or those of your children and tell me, again, that we can all learn from standing on the auction block, that white children participated too, that the runaway slave posters really had a purpose, that you have more to say and still no time to listen because your discomfort of confronting our hideous past is worth more than our sustained and repeatedly opened wound.  It is because I blush purple with hurt while you do all you can to avoid seeing your cheeks flushed by your complicity in this racist system.  It is because we are teaching our children what we learned and what we learned was not good enough.  It cannot be that I know this just because of the skin I'm in.

*The one-drop rule is a social and legal principle of racial classification that was historically prominent in the United States asserting that any person with even one ancestor of sub-Saharan-African ancestry ("one drop" of black blood)[1][2] is considered black (Negro in historical terms). This concept evolved over the course of the 19th century and became codified into law in the 20th century. It was associated with the principle of "invisible blackness" and is an example of hypodescent, the automatic assignment of children of a mixed union between different socioeconomic or ethnic groups to the group with the lower status.  (Wikipedia, One-drop rule).

(c)  Copyright 2017.  Repatriated Mama:  Back to the Suburban Grind.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Back to the Suburban Grind: Ivan: Promise kept

Back to the Suburban Grind: Ivan: Promise kept: I didn't let myself fall for him right away but the girls did.  I watched him from across the room and saw how much everyone wanted to b...