Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Kelso's Choice

My son's first grade class was lining up to go to swimming a few weeks ago. It looked like what ants do when you drop a piece of watermelon at a picnic. Mrs. F was trying to get them settled and into some semblance of order when a bit of a scuffle broke out.

"Carmello, what's the problem?"
"Alex called me a girl."
Mrs. F is a good teacher, but time was short and she just needed to get them moving.
"Well, think about Kelso's Wheel of Choices and decide how you think you should respond. I would suggest ignore or walk away."

Carmello was disappointed that vengeance was not exacted for the insult to his character, but swimming won out and he stood sulking in line.

I sidled up to him and whispered in his ear: "Kelso would probably decide that being called a girl is not an insult." He looked at me as though I'd spoken to him in some foreign tongue and quickly turned back to standing in line.

I can't go to Carmello's house and explain to his parents that they should teach their son that being called a girl is not an insult. I can't go to Alex's house and explain to his parents that not only should he not spend his time in line trying to insult other people, but that calling someone a girl as a pejorative is just wrong on so many levels. That would be incredibly obnoxious.

So instead, I whisper in a little boy's ear and plant a seed of something foreign that I hope takes hold and will mean something to him one day.

So instead, I whisper, rant, beg, plead, holler, laugh and rage with and at my own children - a boy and a girl - about what it means to treat people with respect. Equality means seeing everyone around us as people. Real people with feelings and fantasies and pasts and futures; as souls encased in bodies of all different colors, genders, shapes and sizes. The kids don't need the labels that go along with this kind of thinking. The only label they give it is "normal". I detest the word normal in most cases, but if it is normal to treat the man begging for change on the corner with the same respect you show your teacher or your preacher or your parent or the president of the United States, then so be it. If it is normal to find beauty everywhere you look, who am I to argue?

A few months ago, we went to a little party that a friend threw for a bunch of girls to get together and watch Frozen. I did a lot of eye rolling and huffing and general cursing of Disney and then took my daughter anyway, because she's a pretty smart kid. After the party, there was the chaos of picking kids up and saying good night and eating just one more piece of blue licorice when one of the moms started screaming and sobbing. Her car was stolen with her sleeping baby in it, right out from under our noses. The adults (who, I might add, were an amazing group of strong and diverse women I am blessed to call my friends) sprang into action, calling the police, walking and driving the neighborhood, comforting the mother who was standing there in a quiet suburb, living out her worst nightmare. I found out later that inside the house, my daughter gathered all the girls in a circle on the floor and held them tight and prayed through pleading tears that the baby be returned. I would be proud enough of her for that, but she continued her fervent prayer. She prayed for the person who stole the car. She prayed that he or she would soften their heart, that they would be healed from whatever had hurt them so badly that they felt the need to steal, that they would do what was right and turn around and come back, that they would find peace in doing the right thing.

I tell you this story because in a world where people still feel the need to shoot people, and belittle others on the internet and steal cars, and where little boys are still learning to insult each other by calling them girls, there is hope. Of course I think my daughter is special. I'm supposed to. But she's not that special. There are a lot of other kids like her out there, learning how to live with compassion for everyone - everyone - even car thieves and kidnappers. There are kids learning to seek out the ones on the playground that no one else is playing with and ask them to join in. There are kids learning to stand up for what is right and true in the face of mocking opposition. There are kids who apologize when they've hurt someone. There are kids who are learning to accept responsibility for their own thoughts, their own words, their own actions. There are kids who value people over possessions and know the difference between the two. There are kids who love without prejudice and who don't feel the need to hurt others to get attention. And there are parents who are working hard to raise them that way.

There are ugly, ugly problems in this world. They are huge and systemic and hard to see around sometimes. I
am not a politician or a mover on the world stage. I am a stay-at-home mom with some strong beliefs and a set of moral standards and a whole heap of faith. I am a mom who is working to raise these children I've been given to make these ugly problems just a little bit smaller, a little bit further in the past. I have very little actual influence in this world. I can rant until I'm blue in the face. I can hashtag and post the crap out of things and the fact remains that only a handful will even hear me and of those, perhaps one or two will be moved or even agree. But I have the same choices of conflict resolution every day that the first graders have: talk it out, share and take turns, ignore it, walk away, tell them to stop, apologize, make a deal, wait and cool off, go to another game. I would add that in my own life, all of these choices are accompanied by falling to my knees in tearful pleading prayers for healing and peace. And I have these kids, you see. They listen and they learn and they make it their own and they are already better people than I will ever be.

And so I have hope.

My son came home from school the other day and told me: "Alex called me a girl and I told him thank you because girls are strong." Maybe one day Alex will get the message.

And the car thief? After thirty harrowing minutes, the four-time convicted felon parked and locked the car, returned the keys to the front porch, and turned himself in to the police. He wrote an impassioned apology letter to my friend whose car and baby he stole.

Please nobody tell my daughter that she can't change the world.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Was I Saying?

It's like a drug. I can't get anything done.

Back up. Let me set the scene.

My mom gave me a wind chime for a housewarming gift when we moved into our house two summers ago. It hangs on the corner of my house near the kitchen and catches all the breezes that try to sneak past. It's called "The Chimes of Pluto" and my mom thought that was just the sort of spectacularly hokey nonsense that I would appreciate and she was right. Whenever I hear it, I think of my mom and I think of the sound of Pluto. Poor, maligned Pluto. You'll always be a planet to me.

My dearest friend from college moved to Seattle last summer and we pulled up lawn chairs in the garage of her new house and acted like landed gentry while the movers unloaded the truck and we directed them which way to go. I got a big, lime green patio umbrella out of the deal. I've never owned a patio umbrella before. It seems such a decadent, unnecessary thing, like a fish knife or paper towels. But it thrills me and lives stuck in the hole of my picnic table on the back deck. I painted my picnic table the same bright blue as my front door last summer and I feel like a grownup lady with my matchy-matchy and my patio umbrella.

We have limited direct sunlight in our yard and a flair for the dramatic, so we planted little vignette gardens all over our property to take advantage of the sun. I have my Bad Breath Garden by the garage: chives, leeks, onions, & garlic. Next to that is my Scratch and Sniff Garden: oregano, sage, lemon thyme, basil, rosemary, lavender, mint and nasturtium. I also have a Peter Rabbit Garden (kale, lettuces, spinach, carrots), a Cheeseburger Garden (lettuce, tomato, peppers, cucumbers) and my Ina Garden (planted much more for its aesthetic quality than its actual usefulness - succulents, lavender and strawberries on a rock wall.) I cannot emphasize enough how much all of this delights me and occupies my happy thoughts.

Royal Blue Batik Bearded Iris:
smells a lot like grape soda and does not look
at all like lady parts as some have suggested.
So it's beautiful today. High 60s, sunny, light breeze. The stuff that postcards are made of, you know? And it's the first day in several weeks that I've had all to myself with no appointments, no expectations, no nothing. I will write, says I, for I have so many things about which to rant and ruminate. Someone bit my son at school. Bit him! Like an animal! My daughter turned 10! Exercise pants! Feminist things! Something else I forgot... and I just watched a chickadee eat a spider... what was I saying?

Because I'm sitting on my back deck, under my decadent, lime green patio umbrella and the breeze comes through. It rings my Chimes of Pluto and carries the smell of dirt and green and there on the very periphery, the last of the lilacs and the delicious grape soda smell from my ridiculous bearded irises. With fingers I can't even see, this breeze ties up everything like a sweet-scented sachet for me: bits of family and friends and happy memories and hard work and brilliant anticipation and grr... frustration and utter exhaustion and ambition and all this happens in one instant of inhaling. And I've forgotten everything except this. This right here. This sitting here and letting the breeze carry all this nonsense away.

It's like a drug. I can't get anything done.

Maybe I'll just take another sniff of the breeze and then I'll get back to work...