Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Hello again.  It’s been awhile.  Sounds suspiciously like the beginning of a sappy pop tune from the 70’s…

The last two months have been very busy here and I have missed blogging a lot.  It’s not that I haven’t had things to write.  I just haven’t had two seconds to rub together to write anything.  Life has been full of the little details that make our days full.  Life is, as John Lennon so aptly put it, what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.  Blogging must have been my other plan.

A few weeks after I last wrote, John and I celebrated 20 years of marriage.  Ten days later I turned 44.  We celebrated with a vacation to Savannah — just the two of us.  It was wonderfully relaxing and fun.  I don’t get to relax much, so I tried to savor every second.  Mostly, I tried not to feel really old.  Sometimes I do feel old, and sometimes I look at my face and can’t figure out how it’s changed.  To me I look exactly the same, and to most others too.

Now I find myself in a time of transition.  I am finishing up one job that I am leaving and preparing to move in a new direction.  I am doing what I can to help smooth Imani’s transition to high school in the fall.  I am keeping tabs on Iain and his new meds.  We are thinking of refinancing our mortgage and making other decisions about money.  My china pursuits have slowed as my flower buying/landscaping pursuits have flourished.  I have successfully started to make this house my home.  Baby steps.

I am unsettled in my heart.  This is not an unfamiliar feeling.  Actually, it is an old friend.  I have been an unsettled soul most of my life.  It is an effort to sit back and enjoy the moment I’m in.  My mind races with thoughts.  I am examining my heart and uncovering some deep and painful resentments.  I want to be a better person and move on.  The spirit is willing and the flesh is so weak.  Tomorrow is another day.

Thank you, Scarlet.

Maybe it’s just late and I need to sleep.  Maybe I need to practice.  Maybe I miss my Boo Boo (gone again…).  Maybe I’d rather do anything else but look at myself honestly.  It’s so hard to engage in self examination without feeling like the biggest asshole on the planet.  Still, I have to remember, the world doesn’t revolve around me.  I am not the center of the universe, neither when I’m good nor when I’m bad.  I am unique, but in the common way in which we are all one of a kind.  The fate of mankind does not depend on my mood or actions.  I am just another human seeking salvation and peace.  I only hope to have a witness to this life of mine.  We all need a witness.

Frank Sinatra said it best: mistakes, I’ve made a few.  I’m still doing it my way, Frankie.  No other way for me to do it.

I wish I could write some startling revelation or the answer to the deepest questions of the universe, but tonight I’ve got nothing.  All I have are the self indulgent ramblings of a middle aged woman with tired feet and an exhausted mind.  I’ve just missed putting it all down on paper (in a cyber sense…) and letting it all go — uncluttering my very cluttered brain.  Perhaps the greatest observation one can make is that life is made up of the earthshattering and the mundane, that the time between the moments we call “defining” are defining moments in and of themselves.  Each moment is its on miracle, its own revelation of something to someone.  There is beauty and significance to every breath we take (cue Sting).  Even in the chaos of the the world in its fallen state, we can find moments of heaven and peace.  It’s right there, just out of reach and only attainable if you’re willing to seek the quiet within.  All you risk is having to face your true self and forgive yourself.  Doesn’t it all begin with forgiveness?

Perhaps there was a point to this after all.

Being Mama

Happy Mothers’ Day to all my mama friends!  It is good to take a day to celebrate the women who should be celebrated everyday.  I have great respect for women who don’t have children, by choice or circumstance, but we all owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the women who bring kids into the world and do their best for those children.  Today, I celebrate my mothers — plural.

The beautiful woman who gave birth to me was just shy of 19 when I was born.  While she loved me and wanted to raise me, she realized that she was not equipped to deal with being a mother and a full time student.  She made the difficult decision to give me to her older sister who was married and had a more stable life to offer me.  While I wish things had been different, I truly appreciate the courage and selflessness it took for her to do that.  I know her well and love her dearly.

The woman who raised me was not able to have a baby herself, though she really wanted one.  To her and her husband, I was a blessing.  While my parents and I have had tough times and many disagreements, I know that they gave me the best of what they had to offer and that they both love me as if I had been born to them.  My mom and I are a lot like oil and water, but she is my mom and I love her.

My grandmother, Gladys, was the driving force in my life.  She is the truest example of unconditional love that I have.  There is nothing she wouldn’t have done for me or for any member of her family.  She showed me how to be strong in the face of adversity, tough in tough times, and how to love fiercely.  Everything I know about how a mama loves her kids I learned from her.  She was not perfect, and as an adult I realized how flawed a woman she was, but she helped make me the woman I am today — warts and all.  I was privileged to be alone with her as she passed from this life nearly two years ago.  I believe in my heart that she wanted it that way and that it was her final gift to me.

My nana, Mildred, died when I was five.  I don’t remember much about her, but I do remember spending time with her.  Mostly I remember bath time.  I loved going to her house and spending time with her.  I’m sorry to have lost her so early in my life, but I’m glad to have known and loved her in my own way.

Fourteen years ago, it became my turn to be mama.  “Mama” was actually Imani’s first word.  Both of my kids still call me that, and it warms my heart to hear that word.  I am their first home, and I hope to always be the place that they feel most safe.  I fed them from my own body, cared for them, cried and prayed over them, and felt pride in their every achievement.  My kids are my greatest masterpieces, my collaboration with God in creation.  I know that they do not belong to me, and that they will leave me someday to build their own lives and families.  Still, I will always be their mama, for better or for worse.  I hope to have given them all they need and even some of what they want.  I hope to have built them strong, compassionate, and loving.  I hope, despite my mistakes, that I have helped them become good people.  Nothing else really matters in the grand scheme of things.

Thank you, John, for giving me these beautiful children.  Thank you, Imani and Iain, for making me a mama.  Thank you to my mothers and grandmothers who shaped and formed me and made me Lisa.  Today, as we celebrate mothers, I am truly grateful to be a mama.  It has been a wonderful blessing in my life and I am proud to be called mama.

Shame

It’s been a while since I’ve been here.  Lots to do at the end of the school year.  It’s a busy time.  Still, I needed to come back to the blank page and put down some thoughts.  From the title, you can probably guess what’s been on my mind.

Shame is something I carry a lot of, and it has hurt me a lot throughout my life and career.  It clouds so much of my daily life and my relationships: with my husband, my parents, my kids, my colleagues, my friends…  I don’t think that most people see me as someone who deals with shame, but — like so many others — I am.  Some of it is just silly stuff.  Some of it is big, scary, and heavy stuff.  Still, the point is I carry it and it colors how I see the world.

Some of this shame comes from the constant feeling of having to be perfect.  As a child, I felt that I had to be good all the time.  Actually, I believed I had to be better than good — I had to be perfect in every way.  If I was perfect, then my parents would love me and they wouldn’t fight or be angry with me or each other.  I had to be the perfect student, the perfectly polite little girl, and the perfect representative of our family.  I never felt I measured up to that expectation or that it fit me at all.  I lost sight of myself and what I wanted, and I fell prey to unscrupulous people who saw my weaknesses and victimized me in a variety of ways.  I was so busy trying to be what others wanted me to be, that I had NO CLUE who Lisa was.

These days, I still feel uncertain about me and who I am.  I want to be a good wife and mom and I have a tendency to place very unrealistic expectations on myself and others.  I am quick to anger, mostly at myself.  Deep down, I still want to be somehow perfect.  I am still the little girl, eager to please and dying inside because I feel inadequate to the task.  What really hurts me is the idea that I may have unwittingly passed this legacy down to my own daughter.  In my heart, I know that I have never wanted her to be perfect.  I already thought she was awesome just the way she is — and my opinion is corroborated time and again by folks who know her and spend time with her.  But I worry that she thinks she has to be “perfect” in order for me to love her.

No, baby girl, you are the perfect you, just as you are.  You require no fixing to be acceptable in my eyes or anyone else’s.  While you may need to learn to adjust your attitude and behavior to fit certain situations, you do not need to be someone you are not.  I love you as you are, whatever your talents, whatever your faults.  Be you, and rest assured you will always be loved.

Hmm…

Did I write that for my daughter, or did I write that for myself?  I know she needs to hear those words and believe them, but are they the words I’ve needed to hear all my life too?  I think so.  I know so.  I have needed to believe that I am okay just as I am for a long time.  Every argument with my husband, every meeting with my employer, every disagreement with my kids has made me feel like I am at fault — and the feelings of shame wipe me out like a gigantic wave.  One little problem at work can make me feel like I’ve committed some huge and horrible crime.  I feel worthless and small, and like I’m the worst (fill in the blank) ever.

I can never fully regain the childhood that was taken from me.  I must keep moving forward and seek to heal myself as well as I can.  Somehow, in spite of all the pain and shame, I have forged ahead and created a pretty good life for myself and my family.  I am the only one who can keep the hounds of shame at bay.  While it may not be my fault, it is my responsibility.  I have to stop it within myself in order to stop the cycle from going forward into my daughter and beyond.  It is hard work with heavy lifting.

Another me thing I have to work on.  It’s all a process.  We are all works in progress, all God’s masterpieces.  I’d like to think he’s just not done with me yet.

My Little Man

  Imani was 3 when she came to me and begged for a little brother.  “Mama, please have another baby!  I want a boy…”  It seemed so simple to her.

John and I started trying for baby number two in 2001.  I was 33, and it had not taken me long to conceive Imani, so we were not thinking that this would take long either.  We were excited about the possibility of growing our family, and things for us were good.  John was doing very well at his job and making good money.  My freelance and teaching career was going well.  We had just bought an apartment in a wonderful neighborhood.  Life felt easy for the first time ever for us, so we planned to have another baby.

You know the old saying: man plans and God laughs.  Well, God cracked up for sure on this plan.  He may still be laughing…

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a gorgeous day.  Neither John nor I had to work that day and Imani had not yet started pre-school.  The phone rang early and woke John.  It was my mom in Philadelphia, telling us that it seemed someone was dropping bombs on the World Trade Center.  In his very groggy state, John assured my mom that he would go check the news to see what was up.  Was my mom serious?  How could anything like that happen?

John stomped down the hall and around the corner to the living room where our tv was.  Within a few seconds, I heard my normally soft spoken husband scream — yes, scream — my name.  I flew out of bed and arrived to see the second tower hit by a plane (John says it was footage, but I believe it was the actual occurence).  Regardless, that sight changed my life forever.  We learned quickly that both tower of the WTC had been hit, and then we learned about the Pentagon and the field in PA.  It was all shocking and devastating.  Imani, though we tried to keep it from her, was traumatized by it all.  Our family was rocked back.

The rest of this experience is for another time and another blog entry.  The main point is that John and I put our baby plans on hold after this horrifying experience.  The world just didn’t seem like a safe place to bring another life into the world.  We decided to wait.

Within a few months, it was clear that our financial situation was beginning to falter.  For various reasons, both John and I lost large amounts of our annual income.  Also, the quest for a baby, which resumed in early 2002, became questionable.  I couldn’t seem to conceive.  I wondered what was wrong with me.  Stress?  Age (I was only 33…)?  I couldn’t figure it out.  Then, a friend of mine who was pregnant suggested that I stop drinking coffee.  Crazy, right?  I did it anyway.

I got pregnant in June.  My pregnancy was difficult from day one.  I had fatigue and morning sickness to beat the band, all while I had lots of work to do and no way of putting anything on hold.  At 20 weeks, I had a sonogram and learned that I was carrying a boy.  Imani and I were overjoyed!  John, having been the man of the house, had wanted another girl (to be surrounded by women… go figure.).  So, we prepared for the arrival of our Iain Alexander.

My pregnancy continued to be difficult throughout its duration.  The sciatica was excruciating!  Still, I played a full length solo recital at 32 weeks of pregnancy.  I stopped working well in advance of my due date of 3/21 (Bach’s birthday!).  Iain, ever the imp, was born 9 days early!  I’m glad he was.  He was still 8 lbs. 3 oz.  Had he gone to term he would have topped 10 pounds!  No thank you…

The early days of having two kids was hard for me.  John was working long hours and was really stressed out about his work.  I wasn’t able to bring money in for the family, and taking care of a five year old and a newborn was remarkably hard.  I took solace in the beauty of my babies.  They were a blessing.

All along, I tried not to compare Iain to Imani.  Imani had been so advanced as a baby and toddler.  I didn’t want to put that on Iain.  So I constantly asked the doctor, is he normal?  He was the whole time.  He reached every milestone on time.  All was well, but something nagged at me.

At 2 1/2, I began to notice that Iain wasn’t maintaining eye contact as much as he had.  So did my friends.  He also seemed to be slowing down in his development.  A friend who works with kids suggested that I have him evaluated, so I made an appointment.  That appointment was the beginning of years of evaluations, tests, trips to the neurologist, and two years of special ed preschool.

I was told that Iain was autistic.  It felt like someone had dropped a house on my head.  I was devastated and John, God bless him, was in denial.

We were told to mourn the child we thought we’d had.  We were constantly told to lower our expectations and that there were things Iain would simply never do.  My response was simple: bullshit.  They may know autism, but they didn’t know my son.  I did and I still do.  My little man was not going to be pushed aside and treated like a disabled kid.  He had more potential than anyone could see and I wasn’t going to stop fighting for him.  I never have.

Everything we were told he couldn’t do, he has done — in spades.  Today, Iain is integrated into a regular ed classroom, with some small group time and a para pro for support.  He has friends, he is a cub scout, he does art, swimming, and takes music lessons.  Yes, Iain is different, but he is far more “normal” than he is different.  He talks and communicates very well.  I think he’s pretty freakin’ brilliant, and most folks agree with me.

This morning, I walked him to the end of the driveway to get the bus.  I told him I love him.  He said, “I love you too, mama.”  I waited until he was four to hear him say those words.  Now he says them every day.  Everyday is a miracle with Iain.  He is a blessing in my life and I know he will grow up to do great things.  I have no doubt that he can marry and have a family someday, if he wants to.  I know there is a woman destined to love my son as a man, just as I love him as my little man.

My little man is a success story.  Not every day is good, but most days are just fine.  I will never stop fighting for him to have all he needs.  I will always be here to love him, guide him, and to tell him never to give up.  He may have autism, but autism doesn’t have him.  The world isn’t ready for the awesomeness of my Iain.  They’d better catch up.

Not Much Time

Yesterday, I attended the Oberlin Choristers concert at the Breen Center in Cleveland.  My daughter has been a part of the organization for three years, two in the Touring Choir.  Last year, she got to go with them on tour to Ireland.  This summer we will go to Chicago, and there are great plans already in place for next summer (not sure I’m supposed to tell!).  I sit on the Board for this great group, and I volunteer as much of my time as I can — chaperoning, playing, consulting, etc.  The concert yesterday including Touring Choir, the most advanced treble choir, and Youth Chorale — the 4 part choir of high school students.

I got to see the kids fill different roles on stage.  My daughter played violin on one of the pieces.  One young lady played recorder on another piece, while two other kids played percussion on the combined choir piece.  Each choir has a small ensemble of its members that performed yesterday as well.  Every child on that stage did a beautiful job and brought many in the audience, including myself, to tears.

At one point in the concert, the director of Youth Chorale honored his seniors in the group.  This was their final concert as members of Choristers.  It was a bittersweet moment for him and for them.  One of the young ladies honored had been with Choristers for 12 years!  I watched as my friend Shelly, the Executive Director of Choristers and mom of three Choristers singers, cheered on her eldest child who is one of the seniors.  I could feel her pride and the small pang of sadness that comes from realizing one of your babies is leaving home.

I don’t have much time.  My girl begins high school in the fall.  I remember her first day in preschool at age two.  She walked in the door confidently, turned to me and said, “Bye, Mama.  I can do it by myself.”  I was a wreck!  Yes, she could do it by herself and that’s what scared the shit out of me.  She didn’t need me like she had as a baby.  Everyday since, she has needed me less and less — although even my girl needs some intensive mama-time occasionally.  Pretty soon, my baby girl will learn to drive, graduate high school, go to college…  The list goes on and on.  It all happens in the blink of an eye.

Whenever I see a new mom with a baby, I make sure to give only one piece of unsolicited advice — take pictures of everything, all the time!  I have an entire album of my girl sleeping as a baby.  I don’t regret a single shot.  I always have to get my hubby to take pics of the kids at every event, every milestone.  I don’t want to miss a thing because I know how precious and fleeting this time is.

I love the band The Cars, and I was happy that they released a new album last year.  On it there is a song called “Soon”.  It has a lot of very appropriate lyrics that apply so directly to my life, but one pops into my head right now: “Soon, the time will run away from us like time it will do.”  Yes.  The time runs away from us.  My 8 lb. 6 oz. baby girl is now 5 foot 8 — a good four inches taller than me!  She is smart, beautiful, and talented, and the sky is the limit for her.  I don’t have much time to enjoy her, or her little brother.  I hope I don’t waste a second of it.

Today, on my Boo Boo’s birthday, and just a few weeks away from my birthday and our 20th wedding anniversary, I want to take just a moment to say thank you to John for this beautiful life and these beautiful children.  Baby, we don’t have much time.  Let’s enjoy it together, with them and with each other.  I couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Hug your kids today, my friends.  I wish I could hug my brother Grant, but he’s been gone eleven years.  You never know what tomorrow brings.  Do it now.  Love them now.  Be here, right here — right now.  As hard as it is, that’s what I intend to do today.

Why Mama Cries

Dear Baby Girl and Little Man,

Mama loves you so much.  I remember the two days I gave birth with great joy and happiness.  You two are my greatest works of art, my greatest moments of collaboration with God.  How else could I have created such amazing people!  What blessings you are!

Yes, I love you and I marvel at how you grow and change every day.  You are both so big now that it is almost impossible to imagine that you both began your lives inside my body.  It is so wonderful to see you spreading your wings and going out into the world, to see you develop your talents and interests.  I am so proud of both of you.

So, you may ask, why does Mama cry?

I cry because I will have no more babies.  That time is finished for me.  I loved having the two of you and I had hoped for more babies, but it was not to be.  As you grow and become your own people, I know that you will eventually leave our house to make your own way in the world.  As I was for you in the very beginning, I hope you will always know that I am your home, your comfort, and your refuge.  I am so glad that both of you still love to cuddle up on the sofa with me, and I hope you will for a long time to come.

I cry because you are going through challenges in life and I can’t take away the pain you feel.  Every tear you cry in anguish rips my heart out.  I want to stop whatever it is that’s hurting you, and I know that I can’t.  I’m powerless to help you with so many things, things you must go through to become strong adults.  I want to tell you that things will not always be this way and that you are tough and will survive.  I can see in your eyes the disbelief and skepticism.  Trust me, my loves, I have been where you are and I have cried those same tears of pain and anguish.  Life changes, and with those changes come new challenges that will make these seem small in comparison.  I hope that you know, deep in your hearts, that I will love you and be here for you no matter what may come — no matter what mistakes you make, or failures you face.  Your friends may come and go, but Mama will never leave you.  Mama never, ever let you fall.

I cry because I’m proud of you.  I cry because you are both so beautiful, inside and out.  I cry when you achieve things you’ve worked hard for.  I cry for you, my Little Man, because I was told by doctors and specialists that you would never do so many things.  I never believed it.  They did not know you like I do.  I know the secret hearts of both of my children.  I know your bright lights and darkest corners.  I know your fears and your dreams.  I know you may feel like you will crumble under the weight of the world, but I know you are fighters — and champions!  Every day you step out into the world and give your best effort, you win.  The only way to lose is not to play.

I cry because I miss the little things you used to do.  I cry because I know the things you do now will pass.  I cry because sometimes I am overwhelmed by the beauty of what you are and the promise of what you’ll become.  I cry tears of joy and tears of pain, tears of sacrifice and tears of selfless giving, tears of understanding and tears of frustration — and I wouldn’t trade a tear for a life without you both.  No matter what challenges you’ve brought to my life, I cannot imagine life without you.  The two of you made your Daddy and me a family, and you made our house a home.  I would not be the woman I am today if I weren’t your Mama.

Ever since you first spoke that simple word, Baby Girl, Mama has been the most beautiful word in the world to me.  It is the sweetest music to my ears.  Being your Mama is the one thing in the world I’m most proud of.  I can fail at everything else, but I will have lived a meaningful life if I succeed at loving you and raising you the best way I can.  I have no greater gift or more important job.  Everything else is a bonus.

If you see me cry again, don’t ask why.  Just know that I love you more than life itself, and that I look forward to crying at your graduations, weddings, etc. — and I look forward to the day you have kids of your own and can truly understand why I cry.  Then we can cry together because we share the secret joys and sorrows of parenthood.  I can’t wait for that day, but don’t hurry.  There’s plenty of time for that.

My babies, I love you so much.  You are worth every tear.

All my love,

Mama

Letting Go

Ah, sweet surrender, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  I’ve always thought of myself as a fighter — I’ve had to be.  Then, in the wake of some sweeping changes I’ve made in my life in the last three years, I had to come face to face with my limitations and give myself over to a higher power.  I had to tackle the third step.

Yeah, I’m a friend of Bill.  I’m glad to be.  It’s brought a peace and focus to my life that I hadn’t ever had before.  The rooms have been good for me and have helped me to shift my focus away from my pity party and on to more important things.  My husband and kids are far more important than anything else in the world. Now I can appreciate them so much more than I used to.  Life is simple, but not easy, and it’s good.

I’ve also had to learn to let go of some people in my life.  It’s not that I did a friendship spring cleaning and said, “Peace, out!” to anyone.  Not at all.  I simply had to acknowledge that I am powerless to change anyone other than myself.  I love my husband, but I cannot change him (don’t really want to…).  I love my kids, but they have their own unique personalities that are only peripherally influenced by their parents.  I love my parents, but they drive me bat shit crazy.  I have dear friends in my life, and I see some of them careening into miserable existences — and all I can do is watch.  What I can hope to do is to write my story, my truth, and maybe someone will read it and the light will go on.

I have a dear friend in NYC who is one of the first friends I had from the Program (I will not mention her name, but I hope she reads this).  I met her years before I went to my first meeting, but I cannot deny that her example was always there for me in the years that preceded it.  In my darkest moments of depression in the last 3 years, she’s been there with a kind word and encouragement that I could get to the other side safely.  She was willing to listen and willing to share her experience, strength, and hope with me.  She is my cheerleader and I am one of her biggest fans.  She is a huge example of how it is impossible to know how someone you meet will impact your life in the long run.  I thank God for the day we met.  Love you!

This is another scary admission for me.  My sobriety is a great gift to me and to my family and friends, but it is scary to talk about it so openly.  This is the bravest thing I’ve done, openly admitting that I have a problem and I’ve taken steps to tackle it.  I have a disease, but I am not my disease.  Through God’s grace, I am able to be a living example of what we can all be if we want — healthy, whole, and happy.  Yes, I am, for the most part, happy — for the first time in a long time.

I used to think I’d be happy when… (fill in the blank).  At forty I found myself with all the trappings of a “successful” life — a house, two cars, and a whole bunch of stuff I thought would do the trick of making me happy.  I was always living in the future, the “everything will be better when…”.  Ironically, that’s when I realized that I was the only common denominator in my misery.  There was no outside person making me unhappy.  I was making me unhappy.  I had a full set of designer baggage and I needed to unload it.  Rather than face myself, I turned to every quick fix I could think of, every available band aid for my gunshot wound.  It wasn’t until I looked up and saw my life was on fire that I made the decision to change me.  It’s been a long painful road, but I can see that it was the right one.  My life is my own now and now I can share it with those I love.  I no longer have to give myself away to find myself.  I’ve been here all along.

I can do things for me and not feel guilty.  I can give my family what they need and not resent them.  I can listen to other folks’ problems and not focus on my own all the time.  I may not be the most awesome person in the world, but I can be the most awesome me in the world.  All I had to do was give it all away  — the stress, the pain, the depression — and know that it would all be okay.  And it is okay today.  I am okay today.

I will put my head down to rest tonight (soon, I hope, to make up for the 2 1/2 hours of lousy sleep I got this morning!) knowing that I’ve done my best today.  Tomorrow, I’ll try again.  It may sound Pollyanna, but it works for me.  I just gotta be me!

Let it go.  Let it all go.  Give it away to the higher power you believe in.  God has held me in the palm of His hand for so long.  I know He will never abandon me, and I trust that I will get through anything with His help.  I’ve been to Hell and back, and I’m still alive.  As long as I get up in the morning, I have a shot at life.  I can’t be anything but grateful.

Peace and love, my friends.  I love you all.

Sleepless Sans Boo Boo

It’s 2:38 in the morning, and I have an alarm set for 6:30.  In fewer than 4 hours I have to drag my ass out of bed (not that I’ve gone yet…) and help get my kids on their way before I head off to my long day’s labor.  I am sleepy, but restless.  It is always in these wee small hours of the morning (ah, Sinatra — yeah, I like Frank Sinatra, and I HATE Elvis, so sue me!) that I think about why exactly I can’t sleep.

It may be because, as my mom LOVES to remind me, that I am pre-menopausal.  Joy.  I’m nearly 44 years old and I’m just finding myself in so many ways, and now I gotta deal with this shit?  Really?  I’m still crying at the idea that my childbearing years are behind me, and now I have to acknowledge that they are really behind me, like not even in the freakin’ rear view.  Dude…

More likely, I think, I can’t sleep because I’m alone.  My kids are upstairs and snoozing, but my bed is empty.  Hubby is away (again) and I have not enjoyed sleeping alone for many years (since the summer of 1986, but I digress).  I just can’t sleep without John.  He and I have shared a bed for over 20 years and I miss him.  I miss the weight of him, the smell of him, the warmth of him.  He is my teddy bear and I, like a child, feel lost without him.  He is, and has long been, my Boo Boo.

I have never written my man a love poem, though I have written plenty of them over the last 30 plus years.  I used to worry about that — that maybe I didn’t love him enough.  Now I realize that we are living our love story.  I don’t have to write it.  I have always written about love I long for and can’t have.  I live a real love, not a fairy tale.  There was no white knight (per se, ha ha!), no damsel in distress, and the story didn’t end with our wedding.  For the sake of our privacy I won’t go into the hairy details of our lives, but I will say that there have been troubles and that I have made mistakes.  By his own admission, John has too.  Neither of us is perfect, but together we are closer to perfection than either of us could ever be separately.  I don’t want to go all Jerry McGuire on you folks, but we do in many ways complete each other — not in a codependent and sick way at all, but rather in the way that two parts with rough edges knit together to become a whole.

I have never understood what he saw in me.  We are so radically different as people, and I am so far from anything John knew growing up in rural NH.  I am a girl who grew up in one of Philly’s toughest neighborhoods in the 70’s.  I saw more violence in a day than Law and Order showed in a season.  My family put the “funk” in dysfunctional, and I consider myself lucky to have loved them and survived them.  The most unconditional love I had in my life came from my grandmother.  John has come a close second to that.

John and I met in eighth grade — really.  We sat across from each other in homeroom.  I dated his best friend.  He finally bit the bullet and told me he loved me, right before his family left Philly for VT.  I dumped him for another guy two years later — on Valentine’s Day (yeah, go ahead and boo me — I deserve the hit on that one).  Then John and I, along with the other guy and John’s best friend all ended up at Oberlin together.  I always laughed about that and how it gave new meaning to “all roads lead to Oberlin”, a popular slogan on campus at the time.  I won’t say how many frogs I kissed before I realized John was prince charming.  No one needs to know all that about me, yet.  Give me time, though…

He asked me to marry him on November 4, 1988.  How do I remember?  First of all, it was my friend Heather’s 21st birthday.  Secondly, it was the date I voted in my first Presidential election.  George H.W. Bush won over Michael Dukakis that night.  To cheer me up, John proposed.  I thought he was kidding until I saw the look on his face.  He was deadly serious as only my man can be deadly serious.  I said yes…

… conditionally.

My only condition was that my grandmom give the okay.  My parents didn’t matter nearly as much as Grandma.  She needed to give the final approval on that one big relationship decision.  She loved him from the moment they met, especially when she saw him eat!  (That’s a big story for later.)  She loved John down to the ground and loved him for giving her two beautiful great grandchildren.  John carried her casket at her funeral, as he had for my granddaddy six years earlier.  His grief was as deep as my own.  The love they had was based on respect and appreciation — his because she had practically raised me, and hers because she saw how much he loved me.

I remember when the reality of impending fatherhood really sunk in for John.  It was the first time he heard Imani’s heartbeat.  He got this wonderfully sheepish look on his face as tears welled in his eyes, and he asked the midwife, “can I hear it again?”  It was only fitting that his hands were the first to touch our daughter as he delivered her — in the back seat of the car service on the way to the hospital (again, another story for another time…).  He was there again five years later holding me and keeping me strong through the birth of our Iain.  He has had his struggles over the last few years, as have I, but he is always here even when he’s gone.  He is Daddy.  He is hubby.  He is the head of our house (but I’m the neck, if you know what I mean…).  John is the man of this house, my equal partner in every way.  I love him so much.

You see, I don’t need to write him a love poem.  This is our story, at least part of it.  There is love in every word and every memory.  There is joy and sorrow, pain and forgiveness.  This is not some fairy tale.  This is life.  This is a 20 year life of two people entertwined by love.  No silly sonnet can outdo this.  This is the stuff life is made of — the stuff John Lennon says happens while you’re busy making other plans.

I miss you, Boo Boo.  Come home to your Baby Bear soon.  I love you.

In the Cold Light of Day…

… I have absolutely no regrets about what I wrote last night.  I thought I might, mostly because I was afraid to make such a strong statement.  Then again, anyone who really knows me, and is therefore my friend on FB, knows that such strong statements from me are not uncommon.  I only hope that I am learning to step back and think before I speak.  My beloved Granddaddy, of blessed memory, used to say about me, “You know Lisa.  If it comes up, it comes out.”  It took me years to figure out that those words were not necessarily meant as a compliment.

I have a short fuse and a sharp tongue.  Just ask my husband, who has seen more than his share of my blow ups and heard more than he wanted of my passionate rants.  I am trying, and sometimes failing, to wait a beat (or two, or three…) before I open my mouth.  My goal is to respond, not to react.  I want to be seen as someone with a reasoned opinion, not as some hot-headed and sassy black girl with an attitude.  I may be the latter, but that is not all I am — there is so much more.

I am overwhelmed by the positive feedback on my blog in general and about “Trouble Afoot” specifically.  I felt I took a big risk in writing all of that so openly, but I’m so glad I did.  I do get so tired of having to explain my existence and of hearing folks say dumb stuff around me because they “forgot” I was black.  Yeah, sure you did.  Uh huh…

Those who know me may also notice a distinct lack of something they know I use often — profanity.  Yes, I am a world-famous potty mouth for sure, but I am trying to clean up my act.  I’m not saying I won’t drop the f-bomb at some point in my writings, but I am trying to express myself more often without it.  Profanity in writing should be more of a seasoning than a whole meal.

I am at work now and have to get to teaching my young charges.  I may check in again, but I’ll be thinking of what to write next if I can’t get back to this today.

I am learning to live my life with no regrets — a la Phoebe Snow (one of my favorite tunes of hers — check it out!).  Last night, I laid down some heavy stuff.  Thanks for reading, identifying, and understanding.

Trouble Afoot

I will take a moment to weigh in here about the hot topic among African American students and alumni.  I don’t yet feel that I have enough info to sign the letter the alums have drafted, and I don’t want to do anything in haste — as I have been wont to do all my life.

Let me say this: as someone who lives in Oberlin as a “townie” and no longer as a student, I see things I was blind to when I was locked in my own world in the Oberlin Ivory Tower (my words, no one else’s).  Yes, there is racism here.  I say that from my personal experience and not just as something I have witnessed.  No one I know of has called me a nigger, either out loud or on the web, but there are assumptions that are made, comments that come up, and a whole host of little things that white people just never have to deal with.  I had a woman ask me, out of the blue, if I was Puerto Rican.  I understand why.  Because of my racially diverse and rich background, I don’t look like someone white folks think of as “black” — I don’t fit their image or stereotype of “blackness”.  Still, though I hope I handled the answer to the question with grace, I was pissed!  What white person do I know that has to endure a question like that?  Why are blacks constantly asked to explain themselves in ways that whites don’t even know are offensive?  Do I assume that all the white folks I know grew up in rich suburbs?  No.  Then why do they assume that I didn’t grow up in the ghetto (which I did, by the way) because I don’t look, act, speak, or otherwise carry myself like someone who came from the ghetto?

I am a black woman.  Both of my parents are black, though one of them had a white father.  I know who I am and where I came from.  I am not decended from kings and royalty in this country or in Europe, but I am not ashamed of anything in my heritage.  My hair, my facial features, my body, and my mind are shaped and formed by genetics — my character is shaped by the dents and scars that life has left on me.  I stand as one with my sisters and brothers of all colors who want to be heard for what they have to say, and not have their words invalidated, twisted, filtered, or dismissed.  My experience is the black experience, just as the experience of my brothers and sisters is the black experience.  We have a voice and it must be heard equal to all others.  We fight until it is.

Then, there are those who will say, “Aren’t you married to a white guy?”

Yes, I married a white man.  We have two children.  Our daughter is easily mistaken for a white girl — until she turns around and you see her very obviously African posterior.  Our son is my olive complexion and looks exactly like me.  I fell in love with a man, not a skin color.  Yes, there are things I have had to explain to him, just as there have been things he had to explain to me.  This tall, handsome white man is my lover, my friend, my rock, and my support.  He is my life partner and we have weathered many storms together.  The house and family we’ve built are strong because they’ve been tested and tried.  There is racism and bigotry in both our families (and we’ve experienced it within the last year — we’ve been married for 20 next month), and it could easily have driven a wedge between us.  Members of our families have tried to use our children to divide us, but we will not be divided.  My husband is not black, but he has never tried to make me “white”.  He has had to separate himself from members of his family who refused to accept me or our kids, and he has done so without hesitation.  He knew what he was choosing when he chose me, and he continues to make that choice happily.  He is not black, but I have never known a white person who loved and understood black people like my husband.  My husband is often more comfortable around my family than I am, and he has been accepted by the vast majority of them with open arms and without condition.  Our difference in skin color is not irrelevant, but is not the focus of everything we are and do.

So, how do I feel about the goings on here on the campus I love so much?  I’m not shocked, but I am sorely saddened.  The sign from Afrikan Heritage House that was defaced was one representing the 7th principle of Kwanzaa, Imani.  Imani means “faith” in Swahili, which is still spoken as a trade language in parts of east Africa.  Imani is also the name my husband and I gave to our first born, our beautiful daughter.  When I heard that that particular sign had been defaced, my heart was broken.  My faith in God was so strong, and my love for my African heritage was so strong, that I gave that name to my daughter — I felt as though her name had literally been dragged through the mud.  Defacing that sign was a cowardly act by someone who either understands what “Imani” means and doesn’t care, or by someone who is truly ignorant and just wants to lash out at what he/she is too small minded to understand.  To me, that and the phallic grafitti on the House’s artwork are the acts of a mind full of hate, prone to being influenced by stereotypes, and of someone who does not deserve a place on Oberlin’s campus.   If these are acts perpetrated by a student, that student needs to leave this campus and never be allowed back.  Obviously this person does not subscribe to the Oberlin ideals of tolerance and understanding, so why should Oberlin waste time trying to educate someone who doesn’t want its ideals and philosophies as their own?

As for the Oberlin mythology — yeah, I said it! — the African American alumni of Oberlin know that there has always been a discrepency between the public Oberlin legacy and the private Oberlin’s struggles with race.  I myself saw a tremendous example of racism on this campus while I was a student, though it was, admittedly, an attack by citizens of a neighboring town (so we were told).  I was likely one of the first people to see the banner, words painted crudely on a white sheet, that said, simply, “Niggers Go Home!”  It hung like a plague over the front porch of Wilder early in the morning the week before fall break in 1987.  I was tired from studying and lack of sleep, but I know I saw it and I still shudder to think of it.  Now, 25 years later, it is appalling to me that students on this campus actually feel comfortable using the word nigger to describe their classmates, their professors, and even the President of our country.  That these are college students anywhere makes it appalling.  That they are Oberlin students makes it a tragedy.

What good is our legacy in educating black students if we cannot protect them, if we cannot keep them safe on a campus that is their home too?  I don’t give a damn if every single black kid on this campus pays a full ride or has it paid for them by someone else, this campus is everyone’s — black, white, and every other color of the damn rainbow!  Every student on this campus has a right to feel safe here and to feel that they are judged only by their grades and conduct.  There should be no divide on a campus this small, yet I know that there has always been something dividing us (I’m especially thinking of how I was shunned because I was a Con student living with College students who thought I didn’t belong).

President Krislov is a remarkable person and I respect him a great deal.  I hope that he makes every effort to tackle this problem and to, perhaps, be the president of Oberlin who finally can bring all facets of this campus together.  I know that the president during my time here was not the man for that job (no names…), but I believe that Marvin could be.  That is not in any way a challenge, but rather my opinion only.

To my alumni brothers and sisters, I understand the impulse to shut your purses and not give money to Oberlin until there is a “resolution” to this problem.  As long as there is racism in our world, there will never be a complete resolution to this problem on campus — at least not one that will fully satisfy any of us.  I think we should work toward progress, rather than resolution.  I would encourage us all to look at the problem this way: we as a group need to put our money where our concerns are and give to the areas of the College that are ready and able to address the problem.  We should unite and give as one to a specific cause.  We could earmark the money for the Multicultural Resource Center, for the benefit of the African American Studies program, or to the 1835 Fund.  Right now, the College does not necessarily see us as a united constituency of alumni givers.  What an impact we could make if they did!  Pointing a single finger will do nothing, but putting together all those fingers into a fist can strike a mighty blow.  We must take a step back and organize ourselves so that we can have the maximum impact on this problem.  The letter is a good first step, but I believe we need to know more of the whole picture before we react out of our emotion.  I’m enraged at what’s going on, but I want to channel that rage into a wave of truth and justice that cannot be denied or ignored.  I believe we can do that long term and effect real change here at Oberlin.

I know several of the black students on this campus.  Some have been to my home just to unwind and eat real food, and also to hear my stories of life here 20-odd years ago.  In telling my story to them, I realize that much has changed and that much has not.  I want to be an instrument of positive change for the alma mater I love and have supported as an alumna for 22 years.  I want young black girls from Harlem, Bed Stuy, Detroit, DC, Baltimore, the Bronx, Atlanta, my native North Philly, and anywhere else to come here if they want and can — and have peace in knowing that I have helped smooth a way for them to have better than I had when I was here.  We may not all have the same cards, but we should all be playing with the same number of cards…

I don’t know what my next step will be, but I know there will be one.  There has to be.  I’m an Obie — and I can’t just sit here and watch this go on.  None of us should.