Relationship 

Day 11: your current relationship; if single, discuss that

I am definitely NOT single. In fact, truth be told, I haven’t been single for almost exactly 28 years. It was right around this time in 1988 that John and I rekindled our previous flame which had ended back in 1986. In the two years we were apart, there was so much crazy relationship nonsense for me that I can’t even begin to tell it all. Aside from all the frogs I kissed and strange places I woke up during my so-called “lost semester”, there was a physically abuse relationship, a summer romance that ended with a marriage proposal, a nine week whirlwind fling that ended on a rooftop during midterms, and the game of cat and mouse with the man who wore me down and then decided he wasn’t interested.

And then there was John.

I don’t know why we work, but we do. We are such radically different people, but we fit. We are great people on our own who are exponentially better together. On the surface, we don’t look like we should work on paper. When I’m with John, all is as it should be. The good times are greater and the bad times are bearable. Life wouldn’t be the same without him.

We’ve learned to meet in the middle on the issues that would separate most folks. He smoothes my rough edges, but doesn’t file them away. My directness has rubbed off on him and he is more open and expressive than when we first met.

He makes gorgeous babies. I truly believe that our kids are stunningly beautiful in their own right, not just because I’m their mom and that’s a requirement. Even with all of the difficulties we’ve faced with the kids, I can’t imagine doing any of it with anyone else.

We strengthen each other’s strengths and help with each other’s weaknesses. We fight for our love, our family, and our marriage. We’ve faced some very serious adversity, and we are still together and stronger for it.

We love each other’s company and miss each other when we’re apart.

I can’t imagine life without him: going to bed and waking up next to each other, growing old together. There are no guarantees in life, but I’m happy to live it to its fullest one day at a time

I love him. He loves me. No flourish, no pretense, no bullshit. Of our own free will, we belong to each other. It is my life’s greatest blessing.

In May, we’ll mark 24 years of marriage, which will be half of our lives. We’ve grown up together. Hopefully, we’ll grow old together.

Our love is no fairytale, but it is magical in so many ways.

My John, my love, you are every beat of my heart. I love you, Boo Boo.

Day 4: 10 (Interesting) Things About Me

 

I’m going to cheat a bit on this one…

Nearly seven years ago, back when publishing notes on Facebook was a thing, I responded to the request from a friend to post 25 Random Things About Me.  I was surprised that I had 26 things to post, even though I probably could’ve condensed a few of them into a single item.  So, in the interest of conservation (reduce, reuse, recycle), I’m going to use some of that list here.

I put interesting in parentheses in the title because I’m not sure everyone will find these 10 things interesting.  Here’s hoping!

  1. I found out that I was adopted when I was nearly 30 years old and my firstborn was about 4 weeks old.  My “Aunt Cheryl” is really my mom.  Needless to say, this was some pretty earth-shaking news, especially in my hormonally challenged state.  Two years later, John helped me find my birth father.  So now I have four parents (though one is deceased), and my kids have six grandparents.  I’m also now no longer the only child I thought I was.  I have 5 brothers and sisters (again, one is deceased).  In the end, finding all this out was a tremendous blessing.
  2. I met my husband in 8th grade.  We sat across from each other in home room.  He thought I was cute.  I thought he was weird.  In 9th grade, I dated his best friend (who turned out to be gay — just my luck…).  We did eventually begin to date, right before he moved to Vermont.  I broke up with him on Valentine’s Day.  It took nearly two years and the kissing of MANY frogs to get me to see the mistake I’d made in dumping him.  We’ve been together since 1988 and married since 1992.
  3. Our daughter was born in the back seat of a 1997 Lincoln Town Car at the corner of 104th Street and Riverside Drive in NYC.  John delivered her.  This was the first of several diva moments she’s had in her nearly 18 years of life.  Giving birth to her was a life-changing experience for me.  I’ve never been the same since.
  4. Singing was my first musical expression.  I first remember “being caught” singing by my mother when I was 3.  We had just recently gone to a wedding, and the two musicians sang the song “September” from The Fantastiks.  That’s what I was singing to myself in my room as I played with my blocks.  Mom thought it was the radio.  When she figured out it was me, she carried me to her bedroom and made me sing it again for my dad.  I still remember the look on their faces; they looked at me as if I were some kind of freak.  That has, unfortunately, followed me since.
  5. I am a violist today, and have been since I was 16, but I started off playing violin.  Violin wasn’t even my first choice of instrument.  I wanted to play French Horn like my Aunt Mary Ann, but my parents didn’t want me to do ANYTHING  Mary Ann did.  So I talked them into letting me play violin.  They never really supported my love of music, often telling me that Black folks didn’t play stringed instruments or play Classical music.  Again, they made me feel like a freak for loving music and wanting to do it professionally.  They never have understood what I do.  This had been one of the saddest things in my life for many years.
  6. I wore braces on my teeth from the age of 22 to 25.  I still had on my bottom braces on my wedding day.  While it really sucked at the time, the investment in my smile was worth the pain.
  7. I love to practice and perform solo Bach more than any other music in the entire world.  It is the purest expression of who I am as a musician.
  8. Beethoven is my favorite composer.  When I was in Germany, I took the train from Cologne to Bonn to visit the Beethovenhaus Museum.  On the top floor, there is the room where he was born.  I remember standing in the doorway and crying like a baby at the thought of such greatness coming into the world in such a tiny space.  I also cry every time I hear or play the third movement of his Ninth Symphony.  I’ve been a musician for decades and I’ve heard and played a lot of music, but I’ve never heard anything more lovely and moving than that.
  9. I had an out of body experience the only time I ever performed the Shostakovich Viola Sonata.  I dedicated that particular performance to a friend of mine who had just died of AIDS.  While playing, I burst into tears during the climax of the last movement.  For many years, I remembered every note.  It was a really powerful experience.
  10. My son’s autism has been the biggest challenge for me.  Every view I ever had on raising children, education, and the way the world views the differently abled has been challenged, tested, and reevaluated.  There have been times when I literally thought I couldn’t raise him and that God had given him the wrong mother.  However, I have come to see that his triumphs outnumber his defeats and that he does benefit from my presence in his life.  Sometimes I think he’s raising me because he’s taught me so much.  He’s a beautiful boy and I love him so much.  It’s hard to watch the world misunderstand him, or to see his peers going on to do things he’s not ready to tackle.  All I can do is pray and do everything I can to make him as strong and capable as possible.  No one will limit this child as long as I’m alive.  Only the sky is his limit, no matter what anyone else may think.  I will never give up on him.  He is my sweet young man.

So, there are the 10 things I chose to share/disclose.  Interesting?  Perhaps.  Good for me?  As an exercise, this was absolutely perfect for me, especially on New Year’s Eve.  Tomorrow is a new day and a new year.  Maybe I’ll have a whole new list to share next December 31.

First Love, First Kiss

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Day three

This prompt got me thinking and I must admit I’m at a loss.

My first kiss was extremely inappropriate because it came from a 19 year old when I was only about 5. This young man molested me and left an invisible scar that took years to heal. His name was Jessie.

I’d rather not think about that.

The first kiss I chose to give was to a boy in my first grade class named Steven. He had dark auburn hair and a few missing teeth (we were that age). His face was full of freckles and his brown eyes sparkled. I had only ever had one other major crush in my brief years: the late Bruce Lee (come on, he was GORGEOUS!). Steven and I sat together and sometimes ate lunch together before playing together at recess. I can actually remember the feeling of my heart fluttering when he smiled at me.

One afternoon on the slide, which was shaped like a big pyramid without the point on top, Steven and I were sitting and talking. I timidly confessed that I liked him and he said he liked me too. I seized the moment and kissed him gently on the cheek. Steven smiled at me right before he turned to go down the slide. He smiled at me!

He missed the next week of school. Chicken pox. Luckily, I didn’t get it then.

That kiss may not have been the stuff of romantic legend or passionate lore, but it has stuck with me for over 40 years. We probably wouldn’t recognize each other after all this time, and Steven may not even remember that day at all. That memory is mine to keep.

What of my first love? I have been in love many times, and each of those loves were dear to me in unique ways. There was the one to first open my heart and then break it to pieces when he left me for someone else. There was the first man I loved just as I was becoming a woman. There have been those who first spoke to my mind on the way to winning my heart, and those with whom the chemistry was so strong it was like being consumed by fire.

The only one of these loves that truly merits discussion here is the one I share with my husband — the love of my life.

He was not my first love. Our love was not the passionate conflagration that burned out before it had a chance to take root. We began as friends. Over time, we came to love each other more and more. It became clear that our bond was strong enough to withstand the stresses of the world around us, and that nothing could ever break it. That love has been challenged many times over the years. We are still together.

It doesn’t matter which love was my first. My marriage to John is my last love, and my greatest. The others before got me ready to receive this gift. I am thankful for all of them and the lessons they taught me. Most of all, I am glad to have found a kind of love that not everyone finds in life. First isn’t always best. True love is worth waiting for.

Daddy

Dear Daddy,

It’s been more than two years since you died.  I’m still pissed at you.

You left me before we could figure out how this relationship was supposed to work.  You left me before I could prove to you that I was a grown-up and not the little girl you insisted on seeing when you looked at me.  You left me to deal with Mom, knowing that you were the only thing that kept us from fighting constantly.

Daddy, there was so much I wanted to say to you.  I wanted to tell you that I forgave you for all of the silence and absence.  I wanted to talk with you about the drinking and the legacy of pain and resentment it left behind, and how I was able to let all that go as I walked my own path to sobriety and recovery.  I wanted to be honest and open after years of secrets and lies.

I wanted to tell you that I loved you in spite of it all.  I’ll never have that chance now.

You’re missing so much, Daddy.  You never got to meet our dog Michael, which we got just a few weeks before you left us.  Now we have a girl doggie named Lola.  The kids love the dogs so much and so do John and I.

You missed two summers of your grandson playing baseball.  He’s not very good, but he finally got a hit toward the end of his second season.  The team gave him the game ball.  He was so proud.

You would’ve been too.

Iain cried like a baby when I told him his Granddaddy was dead.  He was devastated.  He loves you so much still.  You are still a powerful presence in his life.

You’ll miss your granddaughter’s high school graduation next year.  She’s worked so hard.  You missed her school plays and her second trip to Europe.  You missed violin recitals and orchestra concerts.  You’ve missed the growth spurt that took her to nearly six feet tall.  She’s more beautiful today than she was as a little girl.  My baby, my firstborn, is almost a woman —  and you’re missing it.

Mom misses you too.  Her grief was huge and overpowering.  She almost wouldn’t let me see you to say goodbye.  She lashed out at me because she was angry with you for leaving her so close to your 50th wedding anniversary.  I had to hold her together and keep my grief locked away in my heart until I nearly exploded.  She was mean and selfish and cruel to me, but I promised you that I would take care of her — so I did.  I hated you for leaving me to deal with her.  I hated you for dying.

In my heart, I still don’t believe you had to die.  I think you were stubborn and proud and it killed you.  You should’ve gone to the hospital.  You shouldn’t have refused help.  You weren’t tired.  You didn’t need to rest.  You were bleeding internally and you needed help.  Why, Daddy?  Why did you have to be so stubborn?  Where is your pride now?  It’s gone and you along with it.  It availed you nothing.  It took you away from the people who loved you the most.

Your pride deprived me of my first true love and the most complicated relationship I’ve ever had with a man.  It’s been said that pride comes before a fall.  Yours was one helluva fall.

Your pride sucks.

I’m sorry to still be angry after so long.  I hurt more than anything else.  My heart hurts because I miss you.  Your death made me a member of a club that no one wants to belong to.  I hate that I feel this way.

Now that you’re gone and there’s nothing to be done about it, I’m glad that I am finally able to tell you all this.  Perhaps now you can hear my words in a way that you never could in life.  Maybe now we will finally understand each other.  I hope so.

I am comforted by my faith which tells me that we will meet again someday when it is my time to leave this life.  Then you and I and Grandma will all be together again, laughing and eating as we once did.  Then our love for each other will have no conditions or obstacles.  It will be as perfect as God’s love for all His children and as Jesus’ love for His father.  That is a great comfort to me and it eases the pain of your loss.

Daddy, I don’t want to be angry anymore.  I don’t want to resent you for leaving me behind.  I want to accept that you’re gone and only hold on to the good things that remain.  I would not be who I am today without you: the loud music listening and occasionally foul-mouthed North Philly girl who survived and got out.  I want you to be proud of me.  It’s all I ever wanted.

I want you to rest in peace.  I want to live in peace.

I love you, Daddy.  I miss you.  And I’m sorry for everything that was ever wrong between us.  I really am all grown up now.  Thank you for loving me as a little girl and helping me grow into the woman I am today.

You are always in my heart, Daddy.  Your memory truly is eternal for me and I will keep it alive for your grandchildren.

Goodbye, Daddy.  Until we meet again with the angels.

Lisa

Grandma

I have struggled with this particular post for a really long time. Telling my grandmother’s story is a daunting task. She lived a long and rich life marked by poverty, tragedy, and adversity, all of which made her remarkably strong and resilient. There was no way to tell the whole story in one shot without leaving out some pretty important stuff. No draft looked right to my eye or seemed to do her real justice. So I decided to talk about only one part of the story — the part with which I am uniquely familiar. I decided to talk about something that is at once really painful and really wonderful.

I’m going to write about the day Grandma died.

There is some back story to all this, so please bear with me a moment.

I am almost the age now that Grandma was when I was born. I grew up in her house until I was 13. I saw her nearly every day of my life until my parents and I moved to a new house in 1981. She taught me about unconditional love, but she also taught me how to be tough and strong. She doted on me and spoiled me. She told me I was as good as, smart as, and capable as any man. She told me nothing mattered more than my getting good grades in school and going to college. That was my biggest goal in life. I wanted to go to college more than anything else in the world, because it was what she wanted me to do. I would’ve done anything to please her.

My Grandma loved me with all her heart and it showed in everything she said and did. There was no one else in my life that I loved or counted on more. Grandma was my everything.

So, I finished high school and graduated high in my class. Grandma was at my graduation. I went to Oberlin and did well. Grandma was at my graduation. I went to Juilliard and did well there too. Grandma was at that graduation. It was the last one for me, but I was so happy that she could see them all. Her health had been so fragile that I wasn’t sure she’d make it, but she did. It was so amazing to see the joy and pride my accomplishments brought her.

Grandma was at my wedding and she adored John nearly as much as I did. Once again, her face was alight with happiness. Every picture of her from that day shows a gleeful little girl smile. I’ve never been sure if her happiness was for me or for herself. I was living the dream she had for me, and she was living to see me do it.

Soon after we found out we were having our first child, John and I drove down to Philadelphia to tell my family the good news. I had asked my folks to gather at Grandma’s house because I had news to share with them. Once we’d spilled the beans, everyone was buzzing around and chatting noisily and congratulating John. Grandma and I were sitting quietly with our foreheads together, crying and laughing and commiserating. John later told me that we were alone in our own little bubble, completely oblivious to everything going on around us. As it was so many times in my life, it was just her and me.

Grandma got to see Imani after she was born. Her heart expanded to love my little girl as much as she’d loved me. Once again, there was the look of incredible joy on her face and the joy in my heart. She had lived to see her great-grandchild. It was so wonderful to bring her these gifts of life and watch her smile.

When Imani was about two years old, my Grandma suffered a series of small strokes. She was never quite the same after that. It was the beginning of a long slow decline that slowly took her away from all of us. My little family was living in NYC and we rarely got to go down to Philly to see my family. Every time we did, I could see how she was changing. She didn’t recognize her own family members much of the time, but she did recognize me. By the time Iain was born, she was mostly gone, often speaking clearly about utter nonsense. It hurts me to think that she wasn’t able to know my son. I can only imagine how much she would have loved him too, and I hate that he was robbed of the opportunity to be loved by her.

When my Granddaddy died in 2004, my Grandma wasn’t really sure what was going on. She sat and smiled through the whole funeral. She looked confused. Later she asked where “Peaches” (my grandfather) was. She was rarely lucid and often mean. She was still alive in the body, but her mind was gone. My dad, her oldest child, was in complete denial which was equally painful to witness. Grandma was the glue that held our family together, and her deterioration was tearing us apart inside and out. The pain was sometimes excruciating for me, but I tried to remember that it was more important to honor who she had been to me rather than dwell on what was happening to her now.

About a year after my grandfather died, Grandma fell and broke her hip. She had been living alone with her niece who was also elderly and was suffering from cancer. Grandma had been taking out her demented rage on her niece and my family was turning a blind eye to her decline. Now they couldn’t deny how bad things had gotten. Grandma went into the hospital in 2005 and then went into nursing care. She never lived in her house again after that, though she did visit once or twice.

I visited her in the nursing home a few times, when I could. It was hard, but I needed to do it. I owed it to her for all the love she’d given me. One of the last times I saw her, after the memorial for an uncle of mine who had died, she couldn’t speak. She could only giggle. She looked at me and babbled incoherently, smiling the whole time. The staff served dinner while I was there, in the dining room with Law and Order on the TV. In true Gladys Berkley fashion, she tried to feed her dinner to me. Instead, I helped feed her. In that moment I realized that I was the adult now and she had become a child again. It was my turn to take care of her as she had doted on me for so many years. I fed her and I wiped her mouth. I tried not to let her see my tears as they tumbled down over my smile. I saw the handwriting on the wall.

I didn’t know how much time she had left, but I knew it wasn’t long.

By July 4th weekend, she’d been hospitalized with pneumonia and MRSA. She was released from the hospital just before John, the kids, and I arrived to visit her. She lay motionless and quiet in the bed with a breathing tube down her throat. She could say or do nothing. It was awful to see. I felt so helpless. I wanted to shout at her to get up and make us all something to eat, if only to feel normal again. But this was our new normal. She was making her way to a place I couldn’t go. No, not yet.

We went home and waited for news. We waited a few weeks. Around July 20, my dad called to say that my uncle was coming back to Philly from Afghanistan where he was setting up a women’s hospital. Uncle Vincent had medical power of attorney and was responsible for being sure her wishes were being respected. She was on a breathing tube for the pneumonia, but the pneumonia was now gone. The tube needed to come out. I had to be there. I knew what was coming. I needed to say goodbye.

I got in my car and I drove from Oberlin to Philly. I drove like a crazy person. I drove like a woman possessed, on a mission to get there before she was gone. I had to be there. Deep in my heart, I knew she’d wait for me.

I drove straight to the hospital and saw her laying there, again motionless. My Aunt Mary Ann was there already, putting lotion on my Grandma’s feet and legs and talking to her. She’d been there everyday for a week, coming after her long work day. Mary hugged me and we sat and talked a while. She knew too.

I went to visit my uncle before I headed off to my parents’ house. My cousin Andrew was there. It was so great to see them after so long. I only wish it had been under better circumstances. I hadn’t seen them since my Granddaddy died six years before. I wondered to myself why it was we could only get together when someone died. Sad how that happens.

Saturday, July 24 was spent going to funeral homes and making potential arrangements. No one knew for sure how long she’d survive without the breathing tube, but we wanted to be prepared in case she didn’t last long. My dad was nearly catatonic. My uncle was all business and charm. My aunt was pissed that we were planning her mom’s funeral before she was even dead. Andrew looked pained and awkward. He was only 19. I was 42. I’d had her all my life and lived with her for a lot of my early years. Andrew and his twin brother Matthew had grown up in Arizona and only seen Grandma once or twice a year until she went into nursing care when they were about 14. I could see the pain on his face. I knew that pain. While our dads and their sister bickered about their dying mother, I took Andrew out for coffee so we could grieve our grandmother.

We gathered at the hospital that evening. Her morphine drip would be increased over the course of a few hours before the breathing tube was removed. My mom and dad were there. Mom hadn’t seen Grandma in over a year. Mary Ann was there. Uncle Vincent and Andrew were there.

I was there.

It was a long night. Mary left first, unable to watch the tube come out. My parents left next because my dad, also in ill health, was really tired and stressed out. When the tube came out at around midnight on July 25, only Uncle Vincent, Andrew, and I were there to witness it. We stood there quietly as the machines were turned off and the tube was taken slowly from her throat. Then, an odd thing happened. Her lips began to move. It was almost amusing to think that Gladys’ salty tongue was cussing my uncle out for taking that tube out. There were no words, but her intention was clear. Trying to kill me? I’ll fix you!

Something inside my mind spoke to me clearly: this will take a long time, so sit down and rest. I sat in the recliner in the corner and closed my eyes. She was speaking to me: get some rest, baby girl. Close your eyes and sleep. Every couple of hours, I would wake up and look at her vital signs on the monitor. Having worked in a hospital in my teens, I knew what I was seeing. She was stable. Nothing had changed since the tube was removed. Her vitals were pretty strong and very stable. This was going to be a long night.

Once I woke up and saw that Andrew was asleep too. My uncle was sitting up, holding my Grandma’s hand and talking to her — telling her it was okay to go. Her vitals were steady as a rock. I closed my eyes.

I awoke again when the nurses came to bathe Grandma and kicked out the two boys. As the female member of the party, I was allowed to stay put. I looked at her vitals again. No change. Steady as she goes. I closed my eyes.

I awoke for the last time around 6 or so in the morning. Her vitals had stayed steady all night. Perhaps this wasn’t the end. Maybe it would happen while I was back in Ohio. It was Sunday and I had to go back home that day. I was exhausted. What was I going to do now?

The nurses changed shifts. My uncle and cousin needed to go back to their hotel. My uncle needed to sleep and Andrew needed to catch a plane back to Arizona. Uncle Vincent said he would call someone to come relieve me of our vigil so that I could go home to shower and change. He was happy that I would stay until he could come back. They left around 7:30.

I typed on Facebook, chronicling how strong and stubborn Grandma was. I called John and some friends for moral support. I chatted with the nurse who had been there Friday when I arrived and was back again on Sunday for her shift. The nurse from the previous shift hadn’t left yet. They had both been amazing to me while I was there. They really took care of our family in addition to caring for my Grandma.

At one point in my small talk with the arriving nurse, she and I both turned to look at my grandmother. We had both noticed that her breathing was getting slower and becoming more labored. I knew what this meant. The nurse checked Grandma with her stethoscope. I said to the nurse, “please let me know when I need to start calling folks.”

Now, she said. Do it now.

How long?

A minute or two.

Suddenly, shit got very real very quickly. I put on the hospital gown and gloves required when dealing with a MRSA patient. I called my uncle and told him to call everyone else because this was happening now. NOW. Right now.

And then I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

I held Grandma’s hand and talked to her while the doctor monitored her. Only the doctor could officially pronounce her dead. I stood there feeling like a lost little girl and the pain and sadness and grief all hit me like a tidal wave. I said what I knew to say. I told her it was okay to go. I told her I knew how hard she’d worked all her life, but that she could go on to be with Granddaddy, her parents, and her siblings who had all gone before her. I told her that her work was done here and she could rest now.

I told her one lie. I said that she could go and that I would be okay. I knew it wasn’t true, but I said it anyway. I wanted her to go in peace and not hang on for anyone she was leaving behind. She had worried over us long enough.

While I was talking to her and sobbing in horrible agony, the doctor told me she was gone. It was secretly exactly what I had hoped for. She waited until it was just her and me. Once again, we were in our own little bubble and the world went on all around us. This was her last gift to me, her last lesson to teach me. I had stayed with her to the end. She was always afraid to be alone. She had not died alone and I had seen to that.

The nurse who had just gone off duty came to hug me. The doctor asked if I needed a chaplain. Suddenly, I was the focus of their care. They could do no more for my Grandma. I sat and cried tears that were bitter with the deepest grief I’d ever felt until then. The other nurse asked me what I needed. My reply was simple: a shower, something to eat, and my Grandma. I wanted my Grandma back.

Most of the rest of the day is a blur. My uncle and Andrew arrived. Uncle Vincent went straight over to his mother’s side. Andrew ran straight over to me and threw his arms around me. He knew. He understood. We had lost our grandmother, but I had lost my life’s guiding light. He asked if I was okay and he tended to me for the rest of the time he was there.

My parents came. My dad was desolate. My mom kept trying to boss me around and be the center of attention. I am not proud of the fact that I swore at her, but she wouldn’t leave me alone. She couldn’t understand what I’d been through. She kept asking when I was coming back to her house to get my stuff and drive back to Ohio. Didn’t she understand?

I couldn’t leave Grandma alone. I wasn’t leaving her side until they took her from the room. I had promised I would stay with her until the end and it wasn’t over yet.

Mary understood. She had been alone with Granddaddy when he passed. She knew the anguish like no one else around me knew. She stayed with me.

I helped remove the tubes and IVs from Grandma’s body. I helped clean her up and put her in the body bag. I zipped the bag myself. Closure. I didn’t leave her. I kept my promise and stayed until the end. It was all there was left that I could do. I watched as they wheeled her away.

The blur of grief continued in the next week as I went home and prepared to go back with my family to Philly for the funeral a week later. I sang “Grandma’s Hands” while my cousin Matthew played guitar. I played solo Bach as a prelude. I broke down as I followed her casket out of the funeral home. The preacher was reciting Psalm 23. It was the first Bible verse Grandma had taught me so many years ago. I watched John carry her casket to the hearse, just as he had done for my grandfather six years before. I fell down and wept and my heart broke to pieces. How could she leave me? What was I going to do without her?

Go on. Just as she had, I have gone on. She had shown me all I needed to survive. She had seen me grow up, marry, have kids, and be happy. Her job was done, just as I’d said to her. I may have lied when I said I’d be okay, but she knew it was true because she’d given me every tool I needed to be okay.

Grandma isn’t really gone. She’s with me every day. I see her sometimes, smiling at me. I hear her laughter. I hear her voice coming out of my mouth so many times. She lives on in me. She lives on.

There are no words to express the love she showed me. All I can do is love those around me as fiercely as she loved. All I can do is keep trying to make her proud. That is the only thank you worthy of her love for me and mine for her. After all, it’s what she taught me.

I love you, Grandma. Memory eternal. Be at peace.

Losing the Race

I have struggled to write anything coherent in the last few days. I’ve started and choked on a few posts that never made it off the ground. I’ve become self-conscious as a writer and made the mistake so many writers, artists, entertainers, and performers make — I worried more about pleasing my audience than telling my truth.

Not today.

A few nights ago, out of nowhere, I found myself in an argument on Facebook with someone whose friendship I had recently been questioning. This person sent me a private message regarding a post I’d put up earlier in the day about the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland. Without thinking that someone might take my comment in any way other than what I actually said, I posted that his death hit me close to home because he was 12 and my son was almost 12. Apparently, that comment was a problem.

The message to me said, and I’ll paraphrase, that I didn’t have to worry about my son because he looks white and the police wouldn’t shoot him.

Gobsmacked. Completely. Gobsmacked.

I’m still not really sure where this came from, but I know it floored me. Is Tamir Rice’s shooting supposed to matter less to me because my son is light-skinned and therefore “safe”? Is the racism I face, or the racism my kids face, somehow less valid because of the lightness of my skin? The conversation that ensued left me feeling damned if I do and damned if I don’t. All my life, I’ve dealt with people of my own race pushing me aside because I wasn’t Black enough, or saying that I was turning my back on my race if I didn’t say or do things in a way that met their approval. Somehow some folks with darker skin assumed two things about me: that I thought I was somehow better because I was lighter, and that my experience in the world was so different that I could not possibly understand what really being Black meant and that I should just keep my mouth shut and enjoy the privileges my skin color bought me.

Bullshit. I’m calling bullshit. And the bullshit is flying from all different directions, from people of all colors, and hitting me square in the face. I’m sick of this shit and I’m tired of having to deal with any of it from anyone. Enough is enough.

Will my son experience the world the same way that boys with brown skin will? No. I never claimed he would, nor should I. Does this mean I can’t be upset that young Black boys and men walk in fear in this country? Does this mean that I think my son is somehow at an advantage to these other boys? Black lives don’t just matter to me because I’m Black. They matter. Period. All of them — mine and my children’s included. Black people’s experiences of racism are different based on skin color and I would be a damned fool not to acknowledge that. However, just because it is different doesn’t mean that it’s better for me.

Here’s a news flash: White people say dumb shit to me too. In fact, I think they say dumber shit to me because to them I don’t look, talk, act like, etc. the Black people they think of as Black. So, in acts that they either think of as compliments or don’t think about at all, they strip me of my Blackness, absorb my identity into their own, and assume that the lives of my darker brothers and sisters are meaningless to me. Then, when I bristle at this or say something that pointedly reminds them of who and what I really am, I am branded: angry, defensive, sensitive. I become confusing to them because they, like so many people, make the assumption that lighter skin, “good” hair, education, and exposure to “culture” make me less Black. So, I gain the world and lose my soul and become a part of the white wash and I should be happy to be a part of this little club of acceptable Negroes.

In short, I’m not Black enough to be Black, but I’m definitely not White. I am clearly losing the race on both sides.

Black people, haven’t we been divided long enough? Isn’t it time we stopped making assumptions about each other and came to the understanding that our experience of racism is multi-faceted and deeper than most people know and understand? Isn’t it time we stopped invalidating one another’s experience of the world based on skin color? Surely, we need to put down the color distinctions imposed on us from the outside with the express purpose of separating us and causing dissent among us to weaken us. Surely, we need to stand together because we will all surely hang separately if we don’t. We need to listen to each other. We need to be able to speak our truth to each other freely. We need to stop blaming and shaming each other. As Wanda Sykes puts it so well, “White people are watching us.” And they are laughing. We are the same to them — NOT White. The distinctions we draw for ourselves don’t help us. They hurt us. And our pain doesn’t matter worth a damn to anyone else if we don’t make it important to ourselves.

The loss of any one Black boy or man should matter because a life has been taken. I wish the world were that simple, but I’m not naive enough to think it is or ever can be. The loss of so many Black males is a tragedy, and it should be everyone’s concern regardless of color. White mothers don’t worry that their sons are targets for the police because of the color of their skin, but I am overjoyed to see that some of them are standing up for the value of the lives of the sons of their counterparts of color. Their concern is no more or less valid because they are White. It’s important because Black lives should matter to us all. Because Black people — men and women, boys and girls — should matter as much as anyone else to everyone. All our children should be precious to everyone. This is why I get pissed off watching the news about yet another (innocent, sweet, etc.) little white girl who’s been abducted, raped, or murdered, but all I see of my own people are criminals who are big scary monsters to the “respectable” world. Where are all my little sisters who’ve been abducted, raped, and murdered? Why don’t we hear about them? Why don’t we see their parents clutching photos and pleading for the lives of their precious children? Why? Because we don’t matter. How do I know that? Because the media tells me so.

Blacks lives matter is more than a cause and far more than a hashtag. It’s the truth. Our lives have always mattered. They didn’t begin to matter when White people came around to believing it. If we think that way, then we will cease to matter as soon as we are no longer the cause that is en vogue. We must not lose focus on what is really important: the importance of Black lives is about human rights. This cannot become a fad or a fashion. We are fighting for our lives. That is serious business.

For Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and all the other boys who will never become men, I say enough is enough. None of us win this race as long as we see it as a competition. Either we all win, or we all lose.

Lord have mercy.

(Wo)Man in the Mirror

There are many things I miss about living in NYC. One of those things is my commute. That may sound strange, especially in the car culture of North East Ohio. You have to remember, NYC is not a car culture — far from it. My commute was by bus, subway, or commuter train, and I was able to get a lot done. Over the years I got really good at putting on a full face of make up. I also graded a ton of papers, wrote a lot, studied a lot of scores, and knitted several hats and scarves. In fact, there were times when other folks commuting on a schedule similar to mine would comment on the progress of my knitting. Commuting was not wasted time, it was some of the most productive time of my day.

Now commuting is very different. I can’t knit and drive. I can’t read or grade papers and drive. While I’ve seen other drivers doing it, I can’t put on make up and drive (seriously, ladies?). The only thing I can do to calm my nerves and keep my road rage at bay is to listen to music. My iPod has become my co-pilot.

I have extremely eclectic taste in music. As a classically trained performing musician, I am extremely fond of symphonies, concertos, and chamber music. I also like music from around the world: Irish fiddle, Klezmer, Russian Orthodox church music, to name a few. I love popular music: everything from the show tunes of Gershwin, Porter, and Sondheim to the fantastically hip fusion of the Dave Matthews Band. Music is my life’s blood, my nourishment, and (in some ways) my religion. Nothing else (legal) in the world can transport so many people to so many different places and express everything from joy to despair. I consider myself blessed to be a musician. It has been a gift in my life.

So, you can imagine that my car rides are full of music. I tend to go on binges. I wore a grove in my Adele cd, 21. Then I played The Cars to death (“Here she comes again…”). The Police (“Don’t Stand So Close to Me”), Sting (“Seven Days is all she wrote”), and now my latest earwig — Michael Jackson. Michael takes me right back to my childhood, back to The Jackson 5 on television in those bell bottoms and news boy hats. Michael Jackson was this amazing little kid who could out sing and out dance all of his brothers. He was a star who stood out, even among the immense talent his brothers brought to the table. Michael was everything. His fans got to watch him grow up before their very eyes. He went from I’ll Be There (“Just look over your shoulders, honey”) to Dancin’ Machine — and THE ROBOT! And then came the solo albums, especially the early collaborations with Quincy Jones. Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad — works of pure artistic pop genius. That’s what I listen to in my car these days. It makes dealing with the insanity of driving in North East Ohio tolerable, but only barely.

There are very few songs I skip, especially on Thriller. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, Thriller, Beat It, Billie Jean, Human Nature, Pretty Young Thing (I will NOT make an ironic comment here, no matter how sorely I may be tempted…). I could hear them 100 times each today and still be dying to hear them again tomorrow morning. I was less familiar with Bad, which came out when I was in a decidedly anti-Michael Jackson phase (ill conceived, I know), but I’ve gotten to know that album better over the last few years. Of all the songs, my favorite — by a long shot — is Man In The Mirror.

I’m gonna make a change
For once in my life
Gonna feel real good, gonna make a difference
Gonna make it right

It starts so simply. You may not even know what the song’s about until the second part of the verse when he explicitly talks about the homeless. But that opening hooks you. “I’m gonna make a change” — who doesn’t relate to that? How does that change happen? He tells you: “That’s why I’m starting with me. I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. No message could’ve been any clearer: if you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”

It’s so damn simple. I’ve been surrounded by this concept for years. Oberlin had a slogan that I love: “Think one person can change the world? So do we.” The Serenity Prayer talks about change: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” “It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change gonna come.” Change is hard, but change is inevitable. The hardest part is figuring out what needs to change, and then changing.

Even at the beginning of Joss Stone’s album, “Introducing Joss Stone” (which I had the pleasure of playing on), Vinny Jones talks about change: “I see change, I embody change… but the truth is, you gotta have the balls to change.”

In the last six years, change has played a pivotal role in my family’s life. We picked up and moved from NYC to Oberlin, OH, where my husband changed jobs and my kids changed schools. My life in particular has been marked by change — my hair, my weight, my career, my sobriety. At 40, I walked away from life as I knew it into an unknown life that I could not control. Change was, as I said before, inevitable.

Today, I look at the woman in the mirror and I ask her to change her ways. I want to make the world a better place, and I know it starts with me. I do believe one person can change the world. I do believe that change begins with each man and woman looking in the mirror every morning. We each need to ask the person in the mirror to make a change today. That’s the only way we will ever fix this broken world and get anywhere near where humanity should be.

The end of the song is incredibly emotional for me. The gospel choir implores us, “Yeah, make that change!” as Michael riffs: “You got to start with yourself, brother”, “gotta make that change today”, and “you got to stand up and lift yourself up”. By the song’s end, I am fired up and ready to be that force for positive change in the world. I am inspired. I am lifted up. I am ready to make that change.

At those moments, I don’t miss my old commute quite as much. I’d look like a lunatic singing out loud with this song on the subway. In my car, I don’t care who sees me. What’s most important is that I get inspired to go in to work and be that change. That’s what looking in that mirror does for me.

Like Michael says at the very end of the song: “Make that change.”

I believe we all can.

Micro-aggressions

“But, I don’t think of you as being Black. You’re just Lisa!”

Yes. That’s been said to me, more than once by more than one person. And I’m supposed to smile and let it go. Heaven forbid I verbally challenge someone who is already challenged by my very existence. I don’t fit their understanding of what it means (to them) to be… you fill in the blank, so I’d better start explaining myself in a hurry. It is imperative that I make sense to them or else they won’t know what to do or say.

That simple phrase, “I don’t think of you as (again, fill in the blank)”, is not a compliment. Do you not think of me as Black because you like me but you don’t like Black people? Do I not look or act like the Black people you’re familiar with (like the criminals, gangsters, rappers, or welfare queens portrayed in the media)? Are you afraid that knowing me will cause you to have to readjust the way you see the world? Saying that you don’t think of me as Black, or anything else that makes you uncomfortable, says less about me and more about you. It tells me you live in a very insular world that doesn’t include people that aren’t like you. It tells me you’re afraid of certain groups of people. It tells me that you enjoy a certain feeling of superiority because you aren’t like “those people”. It tells me that you are not only ignorant, you are willfully ignorant. You don’t get it and you are totally okay with not getting it.

It also tells me that I’m the one who has to change or conform in order to be okay with you.

Why? Is that fair? I have to contract myself into a little box rather than your having to expand your understanding to get me, and that’s okay?

I’m not claiming to be perfect, not by a long shot. I have character flaws that are mine to deal with, but they come from my being human and not from my being Black, female, etc. There’s stuff I need to improve — just like there’s stuff you need to improve. We are connected by our humanity. In that, we are the same.

Perhaps it is naive of me to believe that the world is a better place because we are all different. I for one can’t imagine a world that is all one race, one gender, one religion. I love this beautiful world of ours because it is a many colored quilt. We are better for our differences, not worse. The variety within human existence should serve to broaden our acceptance and understanding, not to narrow it. I believe we are all God’s children. Perhaps we don’t all understand each other, but God understands us more deeply than we know ourselves. He draws no comparisons and sees no distinctions. He loves us perfectly and accepts us completely. We have much to learn from that example.

So why can’t we accept each other as we are? How can one group of people justify calling themselves correct and condemn everyone else to either a life of conformity or exile? Who are we to do that? It’s not a question of right or wrong, moral or immoral. It’s about being secure enough in ourselves to believe that there’s room for many points of view. It’s about not being threatened by the “other”.

When you tell me you don’t think of me as being Black, you deny a huge part of who I am. I am a Black woman raised by Black people. My experience of life has not been one of membership in a privileged majority. Even the most economically challenged and uneducated White person can enjoy the privilege of being White, while there are Black men with PhDs who still can’t get a cab in NYC or face violence or death at the hands of the police. Don’t get it twisted: I am a highly educated person, trained to play an instrument at a level achieved by only a very small percentage of the population. Yes, I speak like an educated person and not in some stereotype of Ebonics that you’ve seen on TV. As a Black woman, I have learned to live in and navigate the world of the so-called majority. As comic Dave Chappelle says, all Black people are fluent in two languages: hood and job interview. I am of two worlds by necessity. But I am a product of the people and culture that nurtured me.

It is amusing to me that folks think that I am some sort of anomaly. Nope. There are tons of other folks like me, more than you would think. We read Shakespeare and enjoy the creative and scientific disciplines, but we also enjoy the ways and traditions of our people. I love Beethoven and Brahms and Bach, but I also really love Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”. I have a Masters degree from Juilliard, but I can still appreciate the creative artistry of Usher, Pharrell, and Beyonce. I love ballet. I love Klezmer. I love African dance. I love the music, art, and scholarship of the whole world because I am a citizen of the world. My vision is broad and all encompassing and none of it frightens or threatens me.

I only fear evil, and that can be found anywhere at any time. There is no one culture or tradition with a monopoly on evil.

So, don’t tell me you don’t think of me as Black. It only makes you look bad. Expand the way you think to include all that you don’t understand. Believe in people, not in stereotypes. Look for the good in everyone, but don’t look for everyone to be like you in order to be good. Embrace me as your sister and don’t ask me to be anyone other than who I am. Don’t try to “figure me out”. Just accept me and love me. It’s just that simple.

Mary, Michael, and Edith

Last night, I did not do a blog entry because I was completely exhausted and in desperate need of sleep. An email I got late last night kept me from getting that sleep, unfortunately. I’m not sure this entry will be in English or gibberish, but I’ll give it a shot.

This is what I would have written last night:

Today (11/5/14) is my aunt Mary Ann’s birthday. Even though I call her my aunt, Mary Ann and I have always been more like sisters than aunt and niece. My grandmother (who isn’t even biologically my grandmother, but that’s a REALLY big and complicated story!) adopted Mary Ann when she was a baby. Mary Ann was the child of my grandmother’s niece (confused yet?) who was unable to care for a baby at the time. So, Mary Ann joined the family as younger sister to my dad (20 years older) and my uncle Vincent (9 years older). I asked her once when I was about 4 or so if I should call her “aunt”. At 13, she shut me down pretty quickly. Mary Ann was an aunt, but not an aunt — a relative, but not a relative. Despite what the relationship looked like “on paper”, we maintained a really close bond that is still going strong.

As a small child, I thought that Mary Ann was the most beautiful girl in the world. Anyone from a black (yeah, I still say black, because African American is so awkward sometimes) family knows that there are often issues surrounding color that have their roots in slavery’s “house nigger” and “field nigger” divide. (N.B. If you are bothered by the word nigger, please understand that its use is not the same for blacks and non-blacks. That is a conversation for another time, but it is a word that will appear within a certain context in my writings from time to time. It is not meant to shock or cause debate. Please read everything rather than being repulsed by a single word.) I was a light skinned kid which brought with it the taunts of so-called friends and family alike: lite brite, high yellow, uppity, etc. Mary Ann is the most luscious shade of dark chocolate. I wanted that gorgeous dark skin! My family, on the other hand, made sure to remind her every day that she was ugly and unworthy because she was dark. Light skin and “good” hair (holy shit, I HATE that term!) made me the favored child. Mary Ann, by all rights, should have hated my guts. Instead, she loved and cherished me like no one else in our family did. We shared a bond no one else understood, and there was a lot of time and energy put into breaking it.

Epic. Fail.

I once alluded to the fact that I saw more violence in a day than Law & Order showed in an entire season. It’s true. A lot of that violence was right in my own home. I’d rather not share too much about that out of respect for my relatives, but I will say that an inordinately high percentage of that violence was directed toward Mary Ann. I used to cry when I heard, or sometimes saw, Mary Ann get her ass beat. Even after it was over, I was an inconsolable mess. How could anyone want to hurt my beautiful beloved Mary Ann? What could possibly deserve such a beating?

So, even after being beaten half to death, Mary Ann would come and comfort me. She would do the funniest (I mean, really damn funny!) impression of Lily Tomlin’s character Edith Adams (I’m showing my age now… who remembers Edith Adams?). She would start in on that impression and slowly my tears would fade into peals of laughter. Without fail. No one made me laugh like Mary Ann. I wanted to be just like her.

My family did NOT want me to be anything like her. She was demonized by them for reasons I really can’t understand, even 40 years later. This is the kind of sick family pathology that psychologists get their PhDs on. I wish someone would explain this crap to me.

Some of my absolute favorite memories of Mary Ann involve music and dancing. She had an amazing singing voice and she could dance like someone on the Soul Train line (OMG, Soul Train… a moment of silence for the late great Don Cornelius, please). My Uncle Vincent was also an amazing dancer. If I can dance at all (which lots of folks say I can), it’s because I spent hours in rapt awe watching these two tear up the dance floor. They were amazing and inspiring, and these were the bright spots in a very scary and unsure childhood. These are the moments I hang on to.

I remember when Michael Jackson (another moment of silence, please) released his first solo album, Off the Wall. Mary Ann ran out to get a copy. She loved Michael Jackson! They were only about a year apart in age, so she was convinced they’d be married one day (no snide comments, okay…?). I ran downstairs to join her in the living room at my grandma’s house. There was a big old stereo console in one corner, more furniture than sound equipment as we think of it these days. I remember the album cover. I remember the centerfold. I remember the socks! I remember the sound as the needle touched the vinyl for the very first time and my life and hers were never the same. C’mon, y’all. Don’t act like you don’t know what I mean. You remember what the first track on that album is…

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough! The force has got a lot of power. It makes me feel like… OOH!

To this day, I can’t hear that song without remembering the ecstatic dance Mary Ann did that very first time she heard it. I have always maintained that there are a few absolutely perfect songs in the world: Something, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Shout, Flashlight (y’all feel me, right?). Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough is at the top of that list. Michael’s vocals and Quincy Jones’ production? Shut the front door! That shit is relevant, funky, and fabulous to this day — almost 40 years later. I dare you to find better arrangements than Quincy’s on that album and the two he did with Michael after that.

Go ahead. I’ll wait…

I didn’t think so.

So, flash forward to June 2009 when Michael’s great talent faded into his untimely death (I still get choked up thinking about that day). The very minute I heard the news, who did I call? Yep, you can probably guess that my Mary Ann got the first call. We shared that tragedy together and reminisced about all those dance sessions in Grandma’s living room, where we really did wear a groove in the floor. We talked about the late 70s and what life was like before Mary Ann had my cousin Vincent and moved out of my Grandma’s house. Once she was gone, life was harder for me. There was no longer that bright beacon of love and hope. My Mary Ann had moved on, gotten married to her husband James (an amazing man who loves her down to the ground), and had begun a family of her own.

Lots of life has happened since then. “Little Vincent”, who my husband once carried on his back across Tappan Square here in Oberlin, is now nearly 36 years old and big and strong enough to almost carry my husband! My cousin Melissa is nearly 30. I’ve been married close to 23 years and my kids are inching up on 17 and 12. Grandma’s gone now. So’s my dad. Mary Ann and her family are pretty much my last connections to my childhood home in North Philly. Little Lisa is little no more. I’m about to celebrate my 25th college reunion.

Time has flown. I’m edging up on 50 and Mary Ann on 60. Where did those years go?

No matter where they went or what happened in between then and now, Mary Ann still makes me laugh like no one else. I still think she is one of the most beautiful women in the world. Period. She’s built like an African fertility goddess, for crying out loud! And that skin is still the deepest, darkest chocolate. She still looks the same after all these years, and she says I do too (black don’t crack, honey…). We are still like sisters, and she’ll still do her Edith Adams impression for me if I ask her to.

On your birthday, my most marvelous Mary Ann, I want to wish you many more years of happiness and joy, and in the words of Mr. Don Cornelius himself — peace, love, and SOUL. I hope we grow old and keep keeping it real together for a long time to come. I will always love you. Always.

Taking it to the Woodshed

I first heard the term “woodshed” with regard to music when I was about 11.  For those who don’t know, woodshedding a piece of music means to practice it and learn it.  Here in Oberlin, the Woodshed is the name of a local music studio where Kevin Jones and Aidan Plank teach music lessons, host jam sessions, and provide access to musical education and performances to the community.  Many kids in the area come to the Woodshed to study guitar, banjo, bass guitar, drums, and keyboards among other instruments (I once saw a friend of mine taking a dulcimer lesson!).  Even adults in Oberlin come to the Woodshed to take lessons and (perhaps) realize long held dreams of playing like a pop star.  Clearly, the Woodshed is a community staple and asset, giving so much to so many.

Why, you may ask, am I providing the Woodshed with such glowing praise and free publicity?  It’s simple, really.  My son takes lessons from Kevin Jones, and today was my little man’s first recital.  While most folks wouldn’t consider this a reason to write a blog entry, I do.

My son Iain is autistic, as I have shared in previous blog entries.  Iain was diagnosed with ASD (autism spectrum disorder) at age 5, after having been evaluated as a child with PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder — not otherwise specified) at age 3.  He has been evaluated and re-evaluated many times over the years.  We have told many things about what Iain’s limitations are and what he would never do.  We have been encouraged to “mourn” the child we thought we had.  We were told our son would never be what folks consider “normal”.  Essentially, we were encouraged to give up on Iain and treat him like an invalid.

I wasn’t buying it.  These psychologists and neurologists may know about autism, but they did not know my son.  I knew him from the beginning of his life, and I had seen him grow and develop like any neuro-typical child until he was two and a half.  Right around that time, Iain’s development slowed down and he began to have trouble focusing and making eye contact.  While he never regressed, it was apparent that something was going on that needed medical attention.  John and I endured years of not knowing exactly what what was happening with our son, fearing that he would be lost to us forever and locked in his own world.  We spent hours every week dealing with the NYC Board of Education and its bureaucratic bullshit — just to get our son into kindergarten.  In New York, Iain would have been doomed to an education that was spent segregated from neuro-typical students.  He would have been put together with other students (almost exclusively all male) with the same communication impairments as him.  There would have been no contact with kids who not just like him, so there would be no true glimpse into the “real world” for him.

While I was afraid of how our move to Ohio would effect him, Iain was able to go to “regular” school for the first time.  He has been mainstreamed since entering kindergarten.  The school district provides him with a paraprofessional to help him negotiate his way through the school day, and with small group instruction in reading and math.  In this atmosphere, included with all the other kids, Iain has thrived and grown.  He is able to do what all the other kids do.  Yes, he is different.  Iain sees the world in his own unique way, but he is funny, loving, and sweet.  He has friends.  He is a cub scout.  He swims and rides horses, and he loves art.

About 15 months ago, Iain asked for drum lessons.  I was worried about his ability to focus and commit to music as a discipline.  Focus is a big challenge for him, and I was torn between hoping music lessons would help and worrying that he wouldn’t be able to do them.  A close friend of mine studies with Kevin, as does his son.  I met Kevin and spoke with him about Iain’s special needs.  Kevin seemed up to the challenge and we started the lessons in June of 2011.

As always, I worried about Iain and how he was doing.  Something inside me has always worried that folks would treat him like he was slow or stupid.  I have always worried about whether or not he was in the realm of “normal” like the other kids.  Perhaps this is not healthy for me or for Iain, but I truly believe that he will live up or down to whatever is expected of him.  If he fails, fine.  I’ll help him learn to accept failure.  But he’ll never know what he’s capable of if folks pity the handicapped kid rather than pushing the kid who’s different.  So I push him.  Hard.  He’s never failed to amaze me with his intelligence and talent.

Kevin pushes Iain too, and he pushes me.  Kevin pushes me to let Iain go and do things for himself.  He has very kindly and gently asked me to back off of my vigilence and let him be Iain’s teacher.  As a teacher myself, I know he’s right.  As a tiger mom, I needed to hear him tell me it was okay to let my baby go.  So I watch Kevin work with my son, and I watch the magic happen.  Kevin is so patient, but firm at the same time.  He holds Iain to a high standard while still acknowledging his quirks.  He once took away Iain’s favorite part of the lesson — playing the drums — because Iain had been so unfocused and uncooperative during the keyboard portion of the lesson.  I didn’t mind at all.  It showed me the respect Kevin had for my son.  He knew Iain could do better and he chose to discipline him rather than coddle him.  He made Iain deal with the consequences of his actions like any good teacher would do.  While this might have angered another parent, it couldn’t have made me happier.  Kevin saw my son, not his handicaps or differences.  He saw what I saw and he challenged my boy.  The next week, Iain snapped to it.  Mission accomplished.

Today, Iain got up on stage at the Woodshed and played his first recital.  He paid attention, focused, and performed admirably at the drumset.  As I stood there taking a video, my heart swelled with pride.  There was my boy doing something I’d been told he wouldn’t do.  He was, once again, defying the odds and proving wrong every naysayer who’d written him off.  I fought back tears as I watched my baby have yet another victory over the disorder he has that doesn’t have him.  He was right there in the moment with Kevin — smiling, laughing, and having a great time.  He was not only in the world with the rest of us, he was giving us all something that made our world a little brighter.  He was sharing his talent and hard work with us.

At the end, he clearly enjoyed the applause.  He even took a bow — the cutest one I’d ever seen.  He left the stage beaming.  John, Imani, and I were all proud of him, but (more importantly) he was proud of himself.  Perhaps no one else in the room knew how huge this was for Iain, but John and I knew.  We truly knew how special this was.

I cannot thank Kevin enough for his patience and kindness toward my son.  The Woodshed is a blessing in the lives of so many folks because of what Kevin gives to all of his students.  We are grateful for the special blessing it is in our Iain’s life.  We are happy to take it to the Woodshed, week after week, and to get better and better every day.