- In three days we leave for Boston, not to return until 5 days before school starts. It simultaneously feels like summer is almost over and like it’s just about to begin.
- I am getting my car detailed for the first time ever on Friday. It has always felt much too extravagant a thing to do, but actually, I have spent $100 on things that don’t add to my quality of life at all, so.
- My hair is shorter than it’s ever been in my life. She used clippers, even. I feel like I have so much to say about hair — about hiding behind long hair, about coloring or not coloring it (mine still isn’t colored and now that it’s so short, it’s fully gray), about societal expectations, femmeness, dykiness, fatness, change, commitment, comfort, fear. This is the post that keeps rattling around in my head, but it’s still not fully formed.
- The Who is getting ready for second grade.
- We are about to embark on Harry Potter, Book 5. We only began reading them one year ago.
- Everyone’s got trip anxiety and while The Who’s makes him want to be with me/play with me/baby talk to me/challenge me, mine makes me want to be all alone all the time. It’s not the best mix.
- My time is up. Back to the to-do list.
As I am guilty of making assumptions, jumping to conclusions, and not wanting to believe the worst, I paused after each name in this video so I could google each incident and learn the story of each death. Some I knew already; many I did not.
Nearly all of them involved some kind of resist of arrest, intoxication, or other criminal activity, but none called for the violence imposed by law enforcement.
I’ve heard the argument that “they shouldn’t have gotten killed, but it’s not like they were angels either.”
That argument holds no water.
Sure, one is not entitled to drive drunk, possess drugs, resist arrest, sell illegal CDs, etc. without consequence. But that consequence can’t be being shot in the back, in the head, in the chest, held down, choke-held, or beaten to death. Somewhere between restraint and arrest of a criminal and murder. That is the line we’re looking for.
And it’s not just a coincidence that those who were killed were black people. Black people are targeted, profiled, antagonized, and never given the benefit of the doubt. I promise that if I reached into my pocket on a traffic stop, no one would ever think I was reaching for a gun.
We have to stop making excuses for the killing of black people by law enforcement. There is no explanation worthy of mitigating or excusing these murders.
Stop killing black people. They’re not expendable. Their lives matter.
Sometimes when really bad and tragic and scary stuff happens, I try really hard to keep it on the periphery. Like when the student-athlete rapist got that shit sentence. I only vaguely knew the story for a long time. I scrolled past stories on Facebook, deliberately not diving in to get the details. Same with any of the racially charged killings by white cops, murders of trans people, refugee crises, and church and school shootings. I know about them — but not the details. They’re like photos with intentionally blurred backgrounds. I keep the sharp focus on my family, my life, my kid, my job.
Eventually, when the initial wave of trauma passes, I look for details. Search news archives, google images of things from months past. I find out the story, but only after the world has stopped acutely grieving.
This time was no different. I’d scrolled past articles and posts and hashtags last night and all morning. Another shooting. Terrorism. A nightclub. Far away. Not here. And that was all I knew for hours. For some reason, though, I sharpened the image sooner.
This afternoon, The Who and I went to Panera for lunch. While he was up at the register ordering and paying for his brownie, I quickly scrolled through Facebook. Yesterday was Pride in Philly and friends of mine posted photos of their families marching in the first parade we have skipped in years. There were all the queers and allies they were smiling in the photos like they always do, but the joy was missing. And then something caught my eye. The word “Orlando” in rainbow colors. I hadn’t noticed before then that this far away tragedy, this remote incident of terrorism was at a gay bar. In my hasty scrolling until then, I hadn’t realized that this was a direct hit. I clicked on one of the stories and in the five short minutes that The Who was off buying his dessert, I brought myself fully up to speed. And then, somehow, when he came back, it felt like I was keeping something from him. He knows so much about so much already. He does harder math problems in his head than I can do. He told me the other day about a rule of baseball I had never known. He’s understood artificial insemination since he was three.
“A really sad and scary thing happened yesterday,” I told him as he took a monster bite of his frosted brownie. He looked at me earnestly, his mouth ringed in chocolate. “What happened?” he asked. So I told him. I told him about terrorists and what it means to want to make people afraid. And about hatred and fear and ignorance. About intolerance and anger and impulsivity. Gun control. Politics. Airports. 9/11. Choices. Fear. Love. Goodness. It was a much deeper conversation than I had expected when we set out for a casual mac-n-cheese date an hour earlier.
He asked a lot of questions. “Why didn’t they rebuild the World Trade Center?” “What happened to the terrorists? Did they go to jail for the rest of their lives?” “Did you know anyone who died in the nightclub?” “Did any of the runners die in the marathon bombing or just people watching?” And then: “You and Mommy are so lucky you don’t live in Orlando. If there was someone here who wanted to kill people just because they loved someone who was the same gender, you could have been killed.” So we talked about luck. And location. And fear some more.
“Why would anyone want to kill people just because they’re gay?” he asked on our way to the car. I answered him, as I always do, as honestly and directly as I could, but it was hard when I didn’t have all the answers. “I don’t know why terrorists do the things they do,” I told him and I was reminded of something we recently heard on a kids’ science podcast about space being infinite. About how no matter how far out you go, you will always be able to go further. That just when you think you’ve gotten to the end of space, more space has been created as you’ve been traveling and so there’s even more. And more. And more. The idea of infinity is simultaneously exhilarating and terrifying. And this is why, I think, I scroll by the stories. Why I keep the edges blurry. The more I know, the longer I think about it, the closer I get to understanding, the clearer it becomes that there actually is no end. Every time I think I’ve heard the worst, steeled myself against the worst, thought about the worst thing that could ever happen, I find that more happened while I was traveling.
Not wanting to leave The Who with the same sense of despair that I have, I thought about Fred Rogers and his comment on looking for the helpers. I reminded him that the good thing — the thing that we can hold onto — is that even though there are these terrible people and these terrible things, the world has way, way, way more good in it than bad. “Yeah,” he said, eagerly. “Like, there’s probably only a million bad people in the world, but there are 7 billion people in the whole world. That’s like barely any bad people when you think about it.” His pragmatism is staggering sometimes. Maybe I can find a way to take a page out of his book.
We were hotter than we wanted to be. We spent too much money. The Phillies didn’t win. But it was one of the best family days we’ve had in a long time.
Today we took The Who to his first Phillies game. It was actually his first major league game ever (he has only ever seen the Paw Sox and he only vaguely remembers it.)
We were lucky enough to sit in the Hall of Fame club section, which came complete with cushiony seats, an amazing view of the field, and separate air conditioned food stands, bathrooms, and tables. Plus, (sorry, Phils fans) since the team’s not doing amazingly well these days, all the seats around us were empty, which gave us lots of room to hang out. The Who could stand most of the game, looking out over the field and we were all able to put our feet up on the chairs in front of us.
I had packed a bag full of entertainment, expecting The Who to tire of the game eventually, especially because we got there two hours before the first pitch was even thrown.
But, as it turned out, we didn’t need any of it. He declined offers of writing and drawing and playing on the phone because he was actually completely enthralled by the game.
It was a great day. We cheered a few early home runs, double high-fived in the air, and ate ice cream out of a tiny souvenir helmet. If that’s not everything you’d want a kid’s first game to be, I don’t know what is.
Today, I told The Who he was a “tough customer.”
As a kid, I was called “bossy” and “stubborn” and while I’m not saying those terms didn’t fit, something about them seemed so…limiting. Like, they didn’t encompass the whole of me. Or they only spoke to one or two parts of my personality. The Who is a tough customer. So was I. So am I, in fact, which is why we butt heads all day long sometimes. His friend X, on the other hand, is an EASY customer. Everything is always a-ok with X. We sort of joked about it on the way home from basketball tonight, The Who, X, and me. Two tough customers and one easy one.
“You are a tough customer!” he said back to me. Like he was telling me something I didn’t know.
“I know! I am!” I responded. “And my best friends through the years have been easy customers. Tough customers need easy customers — otherwise you’d fight all the time.” He took a minute to think about this. “Like with Y (another good friend of his),” I continued. “Y is a tough customer. Y wants what he wants and you want what you want and you both demand to get what you want. Two tough customers.”
“Yeah!” he said, nodding. “That’s why we fight all the time.”
I want to find a way to convey that I don’t value one kind of “customer” over another. And that being an “easy customer” doesn’t mean being a pushover. Nor do I want to suggest that he can’t have friends who are tough customers, too. Because, honestly, while many of my friends are very laid back, I have some very opinionated friends, too. Those friendships, while more volatile and complicated, also bring me a lot of joy. There’s value in hanging out with all kinds of people. At the same time, I worry that this personality of his will challenge him in all the ways it challenged (and continues to challenge) me over the years. It has not been easy to be a perfectionist, to believe your way is the best way, to want to be the leader of everything, to want an ear in every conversation. It was not easy on me and it was not easy on the people around me and I often feel like I should change who I am so I can be a better model for The Who as he develops his friendships. But, every time I wish he responded to situations differently or eased up a little on what is important to him, I recognize that I am sending him a message to change who he is. To try to change the kind of “customer” he is. And that is not the message I want to be sending. To him — or to myself.
So, now the challenge: how do I help him to be his authentic self, yet not allow his opinionated inflexibility to make enemies wherever he goes?
Those of you following along at home will recall that we have been reading the Harry Potter series. We are on the fourth book, where, arguably, shit starts getting real. There have been scary parts in all of the three previous books, but he’s been largely unaffected. He did have a spate of nighttime wake-ups accompanied by whimpering, but they seemed unrelated to the pre-bedtime reading we had been doing. But then when he had a vivid and obvious nightmare from the first chapter of this fourth book, we decided to change up our routine and read it earlier in the day instead, sticking to innocuous storybooks and songs at bedtime.
Of course, anyone who has read the books also remembers that after that first chapter of doom, there are several chapters of hum-drum harmless Quidditch World Cup storytelling. So inoffensive were these chapters that we switched back to reading at night. Of course, again, anyone who has read the books remembers that after the World Cup immediately comes some serious business, such that at the end of tonight’s chapter, he said, “Maybe we shouldn’t have read this one right before bed…”
In order to turn it around before leaving him alone in his dark room (and because, as he recently reminded me, his current dream-catcher must be full by now, so we need to make a new one) I reminded him about driving now his own dreams. We had recently learned on Brains On!, the science podcast we listen to, that you can set the tone of your own dreams and that if you think something right before you fall asleep, sometimes you can dream it.
To that end, I helped him create a scenario in which he is playing baseball with his best pal and hits one so hard and so well that it sails over the neighborhood field, over the concession stand at the other end, over the fence, over the entire school playground, and lands with a thunk in front of the doors to the kindergarten classrooms. Promptly, his beloved kindergarten teacher from last year comes outside, picks up the ball, hands it to him in amazement, and says, “great job!”
The smile on his face was magnificent as he drifted off to sleep with this scene playing out in his head and I have not heard a peep out of him all night. Maybe we have found the remedy to bedtime scary Potter chapters.
Yesterday, I told The Who and his friend that I would take them out for ice cream after basketball, but the caveat was that they had to have their math homework and their reading done. Through no fault of their own (really, poor time management on my part) the math homework wasn’t done on time and so we all agreed that they would do it in the car, while eating their ice cream (both of them agreeing to get it in a cup instead of a cone to facilitate easier homework-doing.)
As they were both quietly working, his friend said (to The Who, not to me) “I don’t understand this last word problem. Do you?” The Who took a minute to read it over (he hadn’t gotten to that one on his yet) and said, “Yeah, I understand it.” And then he proceeded to explain it by breaking it down into parts and prompting his friend to answer smaller questions until his friend was able to put it all together to understand and solve it.
There were so many things about this exchange that I loved. First, that his friend felt comfortable and confident enough to say that he didn’t understand something without fear of judgment. Second, that he asked his classmate and friend and not me. And, finally that The Who’s instinct was so spot-on in terms of coaching his friend to break it down as opposed to just telling him the answer or how to do it.
To each of them, this exchange was barely worthy of note, but to me, it was extraordinary. And while some of the credit can go to each kid and his personality, I know that a lot of it goes to their teacher and the ways in which she must have fostered this type of interaction in the classroom. It reminds me that there is so much more that they are learning in school above and beyond “Reading, Writing, and ‘Rithmatic.”
It’s Teacher Appreciation Week and I am appreciating the hell out of all The Who’s teachers today.