Sunday, November 27, 2016

EXTREMISM



I vow to fight off EXTREMISM with quiet isolation. I will take vaccines of turned off screens and paper books, newspapers, magazines, conversations, dirt, grass and the company of oak, pine and maple trees. I will not allow the Internet to infect my mind, mouth and ears. For it is a deafening disease, EXTREMISM. I capitalize the letters to show you how big and scary it is. EXTREMISM makes it nearly impossible to think for oneself; let alone to empathize with others. It doesn’t allow conversation, but yelling with covered ears. It is seeking for same and destroying, humiliating and denying anyone different. EXTREMISM is growing, spreading rapidly. The widespread World Wide Web, I think, is partially to be blame. For EXTREMISM is quite contagious. It spreads by rhetoric but hides inside stories and ideas and opinions. They convince and collect believers by the billions. And what happens when one clan of EXTREMISM attacks an opposing clan of EXTREMISM? I fear the answer is war. Because if no one is listening to the shouting, then both sides will seek to silence their rivals with bullets, cannonballs and atomic bombs. So please, be wary. Don’t believe everything you read, hear or say.









Thursday, November 17, 2016

To Baby,

Your newest word is happy.  You keep saying it, aaaPeee. That's how it sounds.  It feels like a sign from God or my heart or the whole universe - because while it is an important word, it isn't a common one in our house. So it feels like you or something or everything is telling me: Be it. Go ahead, be happy. I know it isn't always easy, but as best you can, be happy. 

Well, that's easier said than done, baby, for you don't know it yet, but the world is a frightening unpredictable place and I can't figure out how to fix it. I'm sorry. Once you were born, I tried. I did everything I could, but I've been completely unsuccessful. I haven't been able to eliminate nuclear weapons. Nor am I able to adopt all the wandering, homeless refugees. I can't feed all the hungry people either...not even just the starving children. And I tried, I swear I did, but I couldn't pick all the plastic out of the oceans nor could I rub all the pesticides off the produce. I couldn't blow all the smog away either. I couldn't save the rain forests or the rhinos or the honeybees or the children in Aleppo. I couldn't cool the atmosphere or end bigotry, racism, homophobia or bullying. I can't even convince anyone of anything, which makes me feel silly for trying.

But you're right, I can still be happy. And I can suck all the air in from around me and throw it back out again. I can rake the leaves, while you kick the piles and fall in the dirt and carry sticks, pine cones and rocks in your small hands.  I can wash the dishes. I can clean the floors and I can feed you. And when I feel frightened, I can suck all the air in from around me and throw it back out again. I can call my mother. I can hug my brother. I can kiss my father's cheek and I can soothe my sister. And I can suck all the air in from around me and throw it back out again. I can walk the dog. I can sing and dance and bake and teach and read and laugh and make you laugh. I can smile. And whenever I'm scared or sad or cross, I can suck all the air in from around me and throw it back out again. I can weep. I can fight. I can fail. And I can run, leap and stomp. And I can suck all the air in from around me and throw it back out again.

Tonight you stand on our hope chest, built seven years ago by a dear friend, and you jump onto our bed where I've piled blankets and pillows, giggling as you land on your belly. I help you to somersault and I tickle you and kiss your face.

I can't do a lot of things I'd like, but I can try to be happy. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Seriousness and Silliness





This year Bob Dylan won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature. This timing is so good. We need to remember and sing his songs of protest, injustice and peace. Recently someone told me how it feels like we're back in the 1960s. When I see the protests now, I think, Look children, this is how you stand up to a bully. Sometimes it takes parades and protests, handwritten signs and song. It takes face paint and walking sneakers and courage. It takes so much courage, such bravery to tell a bully 'NO'." I've decided to share this video of me playing Dylan's tune, The Times They are a Changin'. I film it Sunday, five days after the election. Here, my daughter wears white like the suffragettes and squeals as she crawls around me on the couch. I am so grateful for her gaiety. This little taping is an accurate snippet of my life right now. While I worry and search art and the news and my heart for understanding, she lives, blissfully unaware. I need her now more than ever, to distract my seriousness with silliness.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Election Night


I put our little girl to bed; wash the dinner dishes and go to the Internet. Polls are closing across the country. It is Tuesday, November 8, 2016, Election Night. I am watching and waiting for states to turn Blue, but when many go Red, I abandon my screens. My heart feels like a cassette tape unravelling, tearing and tangling my breath and blood into a mass of illegible scribbles. My stomach aches. My hands shake. My head is so full of thoughts I worry they might burst through my skull and skin to spill out into the air like a jumbled mess of wails and incomplete sentences. I stand up and go downstairs. The dog follows. I lift my guitar and play. I need a drink but all I have are these cans of hard cider. It's too sweet, but I gulp one down anyway. My anxiety doesn't leave me then, but it prevents fear from completely pillaging me of my hope and sanity.

Late into Election Night, I am folded at the belly, holding my knees and weeping. "I feel like someone's died." I say to Scott as the news commentators tell us how unlikely it is that Hillary Clinton will win. It is midnight, the start of my 33rd birthday.

Upstairs, at 2am, baby cries for me. As soon as I hear her, I decide that I'm done. There's nothing left for me to see or do tonight. I need to try and rest. Scott stays in the basement and falls asleep on the couch. I sleep with our girl until morning. I get four hours before the sun rises and she wakes me. We all go out together to walk the dog. We are slow, dragging our broken dreams behind us in sacks full of sleeplessness, disregarded history books and harassed progress.

We go out to breakfast. It is my birthday, after all, and we need to see people. The restaurant is quiet, but crowded. We hug our waitress. Scott worked here a few years back, with her. She wears black. She looks like she's been crying, but she manages to smile a little. She tells us she's in shock. We all are, we assure her. We are all tired too, sick and tired, but we need to eat and we need company. We need each other. Our 14-month-old baby girl is happy, walking around, opening and closing her soft hands in waves and pointing to the paintings on the walls and to the pictures in a book. By the time the food arrives, she's hungry, grabbing at the banana, oatmeal and egg I cut into bits and place onto her plate. I have to keep taking deep breaths to slow my heart from rattling me unconscious. I eat my breakfast and drink my coffee.

"I think, more than anything, we all need to love each other harder right now." I tell our friend, hoping it will somehow heal us.

Later, when she clears the table, she says that we're all set, that she's taken care of our bill.

What? No way. We tell her, feeling guilty and grateful.

"Love harder, right?" She says before walking away.

Yes, love harder.







Sunday, November 6, 2016

Heard in my Privacy

I trim her hair for the first time while she sits in soapy warm water. She has wispy strays that pass her ears and form a curly little tail in the back of her neck. Just a teeny trim is all I want to do. I am giving her a midday bath because the egg yoke on her lip won't wash away with a wet cloth and I'm cold and tired and sad and don't feel like leaving the house for awhile. My coffee is on the bathroom sink. It is my third cup, I think. Baby is splashing and I am singing little songs to her about boats and turtles and bubbles.............. My mind goes and goes: I know the history of my home and yet this feels like an alien occupation. I want to hide inside with my cell phone turned off, but I keep turning it back on because I am addicted to my fear, searching for a cure to calm my nerves by scouring the burning internet for camaraderie and reassurances. I want to hide and I want to seek. I want to stand on my roof and preach into every microphone and telephone and ear on the street. I want solitude. I want celebrity. I want to be heard in my privacy. I just want us to try for equality. And I want so badly for all the people that I love to understand me. I want them to listen. I will listen if they want to talk. I can't not write about this election. Even when I try to write a few simple sentences about bathing my baby, here I am again. If there is a revolution, how safe are we in these woods? If there is a civil war, my dog will not be able to protect us from bullets and looters and the lynchings of liberals. Should I keep quiet and never write again? I'm not breathing properly. It's as if my stomach has shrunk even though I keep eating nervously. They tried to tell us. Black Americans have been begging us to see the racism that is still here, but many of us whites hadn't seen it or we didn't believe that it was, or rather, is so widespread. But this disease of supremacy is real and it is like a plague except it is a disease that doesn't die with death for it is passed to children who have children who have children who have children... I wrap my child in a towel and hold her close. Her fingers and toes have wrinkles. Her teeth chatter. I hold her in my arms and take her upstairs; diaper her bottom and zip up pajamas (I'll dress her when she wakes). We read books in her bed. She is smart and strong. People say she's pretty, but I don't really care. I care mostly that she's smart and strong. So she drinks my milk, then sleeps for hours in the middle of the afternoon. When she cries, I open her door and lift her up.


It is midnight now. I wish I could sleep, but those three cups of coffee are looting my insides and stealing all my hope.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Cars and Clocks


Today while driving over our local four-lane bridge, a big white pick-up truck nearly hits me head on. I am in my left lane. He is in his left lane, right behind a little car he's trying to pass. Baby sleeps in her sunlit carseat behind me when the driver swerves into my lane, sees me, and swerves back before hurling himself into his right lane and flooring it. The thundering of his engine and the bellowing of his impatience stays with me. It sours my stomach and shakes my hands. I rarely need to hurry these days. I don't work very much. We have few appointments and meetings and so I see everyone speeding around me and it all seems incredibly silly and trivial and yet, reckless, selfish and stupid. There are mothers and babies and fathers, sisters, brothers, friends and lovers in every single car and truck.  So let's all try and honk a little less, slow down a little more and realize that our clocks will kill us if we let them. 





Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Some nights

Tonight, she falls into sleep, screaming as she plummets toward slumber. I am singing. I am humming. I am stroking her forehead and cheek until her wet eyelids finally land and her mouth goes slack and soft. The second she reaches silent sleep, I miss her.

Some nights, she fades into sleep like a fog dispersing after sunrise.  Some nights, she nurses until I am sore and empty.  Some nights, she pulls my hair or bites my arm or kicks her feet.

Some nights, she climbs off her mattress and runs for the door where the crack between our bedrooms might reveal her father lit by the desk lamp and computer screen, working..."Daddeeee" she says. He turns. The chair creeks. A sigh slips from his smile. He stands and walks to see her, crouching to press another good night kiss to her cheek.

Some nights, she stares at me until her eyes flicker shut. Some nights, she pushes my face away.
Some nights, my nose touches her ear and her whimpers turn into deep breathy whispers.

No matter how it happens, as soon as she is asleep, I want to stay. I lie beside her, lingering for a minute or for many, staring at her still baby skin. When she is asleep, I somehow seem to love her more.



Saturday, October 15, 2016

She Doesn't Know What She Doesn't Know

"There are many who hold, as I do, that the most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is the time when man's intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed. But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic powers." 
Maria Montessori: The Absorbent Mind

"Bear!" Baby says pointing toward the woods, while her father carries her down the path to buy milk from the gas station. There is no bear. However, she is convincing enough to frighten her father into spinning around and scanning the shaded tree trunks and brush for black bears. She knows bears from picture books, from soft stuffed teddies and from the pictures of panda bears, polar bears, brown, black, and grizzly bears we see in nature magazines.

"Dawwwwgeee" she says every morning when I slide open her pocket door and the dog goes in to greet her. We see so many dogs: leashed dogs, car dogs, big dogs, little dogs, sweet dogs, barking dogs, and the illustrated dogs in her books... so many fluffy, silly, droopy-tongued dawwwgeees.

"Da-deee" she calls her daddy, which she has been joyfully saying and squealing since before she reached 12 months.

"Baybee" she says, pointing to her short, round reflection.

"Mahma" she says to me now. After going off to work for a few hours, subbing in a nearby school, I return to her finally saying it, standing beside her father, pointing with pride.

"Kit-eee" she calls cats and the photographs and drawings and paintings of cats. We find cats on calendars at the grocery store, cats beneath cars in our neighborhood, cats in houses and cats in apartments... lots of cats. She likes to follow them and point and if she's close enough, she'll slap their silky backs until they run away.

She loves words just as much as she loves gravity and the sound of things crashing onto the wood floor. She loves covering her head with a blanket and running (perhaps because the game always ends with me catching her before she crashes into the coffee table). She loves reaching her fingers to the back of her mouth until her gag reflex takes over and her eyes water. She loves turning paper pages and biting cardboard pages and she loves the feel of pillows and blocks and bricks and soft noodles and shoelaces. She loves throwing a ball ("Baah") for the dog. She loves grabbing handfuls of dirt and pebbles and sand. She loves slapping the bathwater until my pants are all wet. She loves listening to her food splat on the floor and loves even more to watch the dog eat it up. She loves to sneak sticks, leaves and pine needles into her mouth. She stumbles, trips, stands and sits and would touch the whole earth if we had the time. She points and points and points, silently, waiting for me to name the object, animal or person she is staring and smiling at.

If Maria Montessori were here, she would remind me to walk slowly beside my toddling daughter as she explores the sky and ceilings above; the walls and landscapes around and the ground and floor beneath our boots or bare feet. She would remind me to be slow and patient. She'd say that she, baby, is a new person and busy with the work of natural curiosity.  She has that unconscious absorbent mind, Montessori wrote about, and she only has it until she is three years old. This time is precious. During these first years of life, she doesn't know what she doesn't know and so she spends her days, feeling her way, licking her way and babbling her way through life, stumbling into discoveries and accomplishments, which to her, are all fascinating, exciting surprises. She hunts for these experiences, satiated only when sleeping. By three years, she'll have what Maria Montessori called the conscious absorbent mind. She'll start to see that there are things she wants to learn, tasks she wants to know how to do, so she'll try then to teach herself by watching others. I'll give her lessons, but mostly she'll learn by observing and trying, fumbling, failing and succeeding.

In selfish moments, I fail to give her what she needs. I catch myself thinking that I'm the one who needs something, when really I just want it. I'm bored or busy or tired. I want us to get somewhere faster.  I want to stay sitting longer. I want her to touch her head to her pillow and immediately fall asleep. I want us to go somewhere different when she so badly needs to be right where we are. When I prevent her from doing the thing she needs to do she arches her back; digs her feet into the floor; shoves my face away from hers and she wiggles away from my hands. The first time it happened, I actually said aloud, "Oh, she's having a tantrum." It happens when she needs more time to see and touch and do something. When these moments happen, she can't move on until her senses have swallowed that knowledge. So I wait. It isn't always easy, but it is so lovely when I can sink into the slowness of presence.  Therefore, whatever she wants to do, if it is safe, I try to let her do it. She is her own explorer, discovering this life for herself, but for now I am her guide, providing maps, seat belts, snacks and a compass. 

"What an adult tells a child remains engraved on his mind as if it had been cut in marble...Since children are so eager to learn and so burning with love, an adults should carefully weigh all the words he speaks before them. A child readily obeys an adult. But when an adult asks him to renounce those instincts that favor his development, he cannot obey. When an adult demands such a sacrifice to his own personal interests, it is like attempting to stop the building of a child's teeth when he is teething. A child's tantrums and rebellions are nothing more than aspects of a vital conflict between his creative impulses and his love for an adult who fails to understand his needs. When a child is disobedient or has a tantrum an adult should always call to mind the conflict and try to interpret it as a defense of some unknown vital activity necessary for the child's development. We should remember that a child loves us and wants to obey. A child loves an adult beyond everything else, and yet the reverse is usually heard: 'How those parents love their child!' or 'How those teachers love their pupils!...' Instead, it is really the child who loves, who wants to feel an adult near him, and who delights in attracting attention to himself: 'Look at me! Stay with me!"
-Maria Montessori, The Secret of Childhood




Thursday, October 13, 2016

The American Suffragettes

On November 8, 2016, I will carry my daughter into the voting booth with me. She'll be 14 months old. On August 18, 1920, (95 years before she was born), women in America got the vote. Before that happened, however, there were many men who tried to stop the inevitable progression toward gender equality. Below is a gallery of cowardice anti-suffrage cartoons that were drawn, printed and distributed to keep women quiet. They depict the suffragettes as either ugly old spinsters or child neglecting snobs.  These images are hostile, unfair and untrue. They are old and yet they are new.

"SUFFRAGETTES WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN KISSED." 
"ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF A SUFFRAGETTE
At 15 a little Pet.....
At 20 a little Coquette....
At 40 not married yet! .....
At 50 A Suffragette" 

"WHAT IS A SUFFRAGETTE WITHOUT A SUFFERING HOUSEHOLD?
ELECTION -DAY" 

"My wife's joined the Suffrage Movement, (I've suffered ever since!)" 

"WHAT I WOULD DO WITH THE SUFFRAGISTS" 


"IT WON'T BE LAWFUL FOR A MAN TO REMAIN SINGLE." 

"THE WILD ROSE, which requires careful handling" 


"With St. Valentine's Greetings,
To stop your tongue from wagging
There seems no mortal Law,
So we are glad, there's one thing left,
That can make you
HOLD YOUR JAW!" 

The 19th Amendment gives me, an American woman, the right to vote. I want to know who to thank for this nearly centenarian privilege so I've done a little research. Here's who I found. These are a just a few of the prominent suffragettes who picketed peacefully; spoke eloquently and passionately and were arrested, jailed and tortured for me and my rights.

But first...a palate cleanser from the foul posters above. 
"VOTES FOR WOMEN
For the work of a day,
For the taxes we pay,
For the Law, we obey,
We want something to say." 


1869: The National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) was formed in New York City by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.

"The best protection any woman can have... is courage."
-Elizabeth Cady Stanton 



1872: Susan B. Anthony, along with many other women demanded the right to vote. They were arrested. Only Anthony had a trial. She was 52 years old. 

"There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers."

1884: Susan B. Anthony appeared before the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives to submit an amendment to the Constitution, which would give women the right to vote. 

"It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people -- women as well as men."
-Susan B. Anthony 










Inez Milholland was a labor lawyer, an American suffragette, a public speaker and a World War I correspondent. "I am prepared to sacrifice every so-called privilege I possess in order to have a few rights." She collapsed during a speech in Los Angeles and was rushed to the hospital. She died from pernicious anemia in 1916. She was just 30 years old. Inez Milholland's last public words were, "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?" 


Inez Milholland at the Woman Suffrage Parade in 1913. 


1916, Inez Milholland...the year of her death
"FORWARD OUT OF ERROR
LEAVE BEHIND THE NIGHT
FORWARD THROUGH THE DARKNESS
FORWARD INTO LIGHT" 


1913-1920: The Suffragist, a weekly newspaper, acted as a voice for the Silent Sentinels and the National Women's Party. It was started by Alice Paul and the first editor, Rheta Childe Dorr (pictured). 


1916: Alice Paul, along with Lucy Burns, started the National Women's Party after meeting in Europe and assisting Christabel Pankhurst with the British Suffrage Movement. Alice lived 92 years, spending more than half of it as a leader for the N.W.P., fighting for equal rights between the genders. She was vocal, smart, organized and brave, enduring violent arrests and imprisonments.

"It was shocking that a government of men could look with such extreme contempt on a movement that was asking nothing except such a simple little thing as the right to vote."
-Alice Paul 


1913: Alice Paul organized the Woman Suffrage Parade. Thousands of citizens from across the country gathered and walked in Washington D.C., the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. The Parade's program stated: "march in a spirit of protest against the present political organization of society, from which women are excluded" 


1917: One night, prison guards decided to make Lucy Burns an example. She was leading a hunger strike and they didn't like that very much. So they cuffed her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her there for an entire night. Fellow suffragettes joined her by holding the bars above their heads and suffering the whole night along with her. After a few days of refusing to eat, Lucy was force fed by five people. They held her down; shoved a feeding tube up her nose and watched as she bled and bled. Lucy was arrested many times for her protests. 

"It is unthinkable that a national government which represents women should ignore the issue of the right of all women to political freedom."
-Lucy Burns 



"There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it."
-Alice Paul


1917-1919: The Silent Sentinels (with the National Women's Party) picketed the White House six days a week starting in January 1917 until June 1919. They were peaceful and silent, but unjustly abused and arrested. 



"WE SHALL FIGHT FOR THE THINGS WHICH WE HAVE ALWAYS CARRIED NEAREST OUR HEARTS - FOR DEMOCRACY. FOR THE RIGHT OF THOSE WHO SUBMIT TO AUTHORITY TO HAVE A VOICE IN THEIR GOVERNMENT" PRESIDENT WILSON'S WAR MESSAGE, APRIL 2ND 1917..." 


In 1920, The 19th "Anthony Amendment" was passed, granting women the right to vote in America. Susan B. Anthony died in 1906, but her efforts and leadership have never been forgotten. 


On November 8, 2016, I will carry my daughter into the voting booth with me. There, I will vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton, America's first female nominee (of a major political party) for President of United States. It is a vote for dignity, peace, intelligence, experience and equality. It is a vote for an America where LOVE wins over puny, red-faced fear (and all its manifestations: racism, misogyny, islamophobia, elitism, violence, fascism, ignorance, ignorance, IGNORANCE). This election feels like a fight between the past and the future. And I so hope the future wins. I want this wicked past to be written into our history books, titled Never EVER Again, America, printed prominently for our children to study so that they won't repeat this massive, horrid wrong. It will take incredible willpower not to scratch out his name until there is a hole in my paper ballot and pencil markings on the table, but I will restrain myself. I want my vote to count. For I vote for every suffragette who sat in jail. I vote for every sign they held; parade they marched; and feeding tube they choked down. I vote for every letter, newspaper, speech, pamphlet, poster and amendment they wrote. I vote for every woman who saw a piece of anti-suffrage propaganda and felt unworthy, voiceless and misunderstood. I vote for my future and the future of our country. 


I can't wait to show my baby girl what liberty looks like. 

Thank you suffragettes for your stamina.

This vote is for YOU.




"The day may be approaching when the whole world will recognize woman as the equal of man."
 -Susan B. Anthony







*most of the pictures are from the wonderful Library of Congress



Sunday, October 9, 2016

There is a dead bird on our deck.




I don't let baby see. It crashed into her window the day before with that surprising and yet familiar thump, but I had forgotten to look around for it. It's either a warbler or a hairy woodpecker: black beak, black eyes and black feathers with white specks. After I put Amelia to nap, I step out onto the porch, gently, as if I might startle it alive. Its insides have been cleaned out by insects. Two black flies buzz off when I take a stick and a metal bowl's edge to the fragile bird body. It shows me its smooth red gut, which looks like a halved peach after its prickly pit has been plucked from its flesh. It's beak is sharp and still, pointing down to the planks of wood beneath it as if he is averting his eyes, afraid to see that his heart is missing. After his body flies for the last time, limply landing among the dead brown leaves in the mouth of the woods, fuzzy gray feathers stick to my bowl, which I then carry inside to soak in soap and water.