Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Thoughts in mid-life



(1) For my husband's 48th birthday, I'm giving him the super romantic gift of ironing his work clothes for him between now and his birthday, which is also by coincidence the date his tenure portfolio is due.  Not only that, I'm ironing the clothes to his standards and not my own.  His belief is that that ironed clothes should be wrinkle free.  My belief is that you only need to really worry about wrinkles around the butt, because (a) nobody's looking at you anyway and (b) if they are, are they really going to see anything other than your butt?

(2) I finally signed up for a locker at the college gym today.  The labor student on the desk regretfully told me that I couldn't have a locker in the staff area, but would have to go in the student area.   Do I care about showering with college students?  I don't.  Sometimes people act like becoming a mother transforms you into some mystical being who has qualities no other creature possesses. While that's just nonsense, becoming a mother has given me the gift of the loss of any sense of dignity regarding my body and its functions.  There is not a woman on earth who'd I be embarrassed to share a locker room with. My amount of caring is zero. Let my body be a cautionary tale to college students about the importance of constant vigilance on the exercise front... or a lesson that they should gather ye rosebuds while ye may and while ye still got it because gravity and time comes to us all.  And then there is no dignity without expensive, supportive undergarments. Anyway, I don't care because my locker number in the student locker room is Number One!  I am number one, and I'm sticking with it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Let your life speak

Note: this piece is a reflection of the last fifteen years of my life and the choices I've been lucky enough to make for myself and for my family.  My choices shouldn't be taken as judgement on any other parent's choices or circumstances. If you've met me in person, I hope that you know that I have a zero judgement policy for other parents, and I understand how lucky I am that much of my circumstances are of my own making.  So there's your grain of salt.  Take it liberally. 

It's a cliche. Before you have kids, you know exactly what your priorities are going to be and how you are going "raise" your children. And you do think of it in terms of "raising," of a grand project called Parenthood. And then you have kids and it all changes. That's the trope.

It's true, though, and I'm grateful. I'm thankful that Chris and I got kicked on our asses in the parenting game from almost the word go. Go dark? We learned early on that we couldn't even bring a child into the world in the right way, fully cooked and ready to go. Go light? We were not going to be tied down by gender norms; we were going to fight the pink. We would be all pale yellows and greens. Grandma Rita created bedding with adorable cartoon insects. No pink, no blue. But then it turns out that preemie clothes don't come in gender neutral colors, or they didn't in the early aughts in central Kentucky. Circumstances in the forms of a three-and-a-half pound baby made us accept the pink and the lavender. That fierce baby embraced the pink for the next several years, just as she's now embracing the teen angst of black tshirt, black jeans, and black shoes.

If I'm going to be less facetious and less judgmental, I'll step away from the concept of come-uppance and knowing looks. I'm thinking more of the Quaker phrase, "Let Your Life Speak."  Is the lesson of life that we think one way and then bitter experience turns us around, rueful and wiser? Or is it that if we listen, our lives tell us how to go?  That our paths are wholly ours as we listen for what our spirits are leading us to do.

As I pass through this milestone of midlife, this concept is on my mind. Expressed more caustically, it's the midlife crisis, the moment when we ask: "Here am I in the middle and what do I have to show for it?" It's the pass through the Inferno for Dante, for self-doubt and castigation less any clear view of paradise.

For me, it's hard to ask, "well, what do I have to show for it?"  Because in many terms, the clear answer is "not much." In terms of career, not so much, a meandering resume over 20 years.

When I start to look back through that Quaker lens and asking how my life has spoken so far, patterns emerge. From the perspective of forty-three, I see now that I was an odd teenager in how much I loved to be with my family. I never felt so comfortable and so at home as when I was with my parents and my brothers. I looked forward to family vacations and that yearly uninterrupted time with my beloved family. Now, residing with a teenager of my own, I realize that such an orientation toward family and parents is not typical.

Growing up, the kitchen table and family meals were the center of our home. And looking at the home of my adulthood, I find the center at the table now, too. It's a rare night of the week when we are not together for supper. As the semester cranks up, we'll have at least one night each week when we can't eat together. Our moods suffer, and we feel the loss when our family cannot be together to laugh, quibble, and play cards. We get cranky. Over the last decade and a half of family life and work, hobbies and friendships have suffered for both Chris and me. The dinner table and the center of family life has not.

As I look back on the past decade, my career and jobs have meandered around the family with jobs where I could be home in time to nurse, home in time for the end of the school day, home in time for supper, home in time to tuck kids in. With part-time work and contract work and odd hours funded by grants that will pay for just a few odds and ends, I've been one of the odds and ends. 

Sometimes I would like for my life to speak Accomplishment with a capital A, to speak accolades, to speak on the center stage. Sometimes, as my kids' pursue their own independence, I know that my life may yet speak those things.

For now, my life has spoken family. For the last decade, I've been free to spend hours and days and weeks with my parents, who are not getting any younger, as we say. I've been free to write and to spend long, hot hours on the porch, reading to Paul and Elly. I'm also, alas, pretty familiar with Angry Birds, Plants Vs. Zombies, Disney Fairies, and stuffed animals. When I was twenty, I would not have predicted this life. I hope that when I'm seventy,  I will be surprised again by my mid-life. I hope that, no matter what happens, the supper table will remain at the center. 

I'm listening for my life to keep speaking. 





Friday, July 22, 2016

I really should have expected this

At age 43, I have still not learned to anticipate the worst. I am a gullible person, and I expect the best out of people. I always assume that people mean well, unless they're in a book or scripted television.  My English major trained me well to read nuance in texts. In life, my go-to position is that people want to be good and do good above all else.

But if the RNC convention has taught us one thing this week, it's that I may be wrong about people and their good intentions.  

The rise of Donald Trump and the support of his absolutist, fascist responses should not come as a surprise, but it has.

We are less than 100 years past women's suffrage; we are barely fifty years past the Civil Rights Act. So it shouldn't be surprising that a good number of Americans have responded to our first African-American president and our first female Democratic nominee with a yearning for the past. By the past, I mean that some folks are longing for a world where only white guys are visible. When one group of people have been in charge for centuries, it makes sense that there would be an ugly and extreme backlash when it turns out that having women and people of color at the table makes for a different kind of dinner party.  When women and people of color attend the dinner party, it turns out that we start talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, and state structures of oppression.  It turns out that women and people of color are not just grateful to have a few token seats in Congress or state legislatures, we actually want to do something with those seats. We change the party, and suddenly there's marriage equality and a refusal to shut up about the fact that African Americans are disproportionately likely to be killed by police than white Americans. 

So it makes sense that now we get to have the conversation about "taking back our country" and "making America great again." Lots of good reporters and writers have written about how these phrases are code for the good old days when most of our population didn't get to come to the party and the guys in power didn't even have to see or pretend to see the folks who were excluded. 

I don't need to restate those arguments.  I just want to offer some reassurance to those Americans who are thinking that Mussolini made the trains run on time or that Donald Trump doesn't really mean what he says when he uses words like "we don't want those people in our country" or "America First."

If you are feeling freaked out by a world in which we've had a black president and a world where it's at least possible that we will have a female president, I just want you to take a look at the ways that your lives have not changed in the last eight years.  Remember that women started off our American journey in 1776 with limited property rights and no employment protections.  Birth control wasn't even legal until the 1960s.  Slavery was legal until the end of the Civil War, and it took another century to get to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We are still living with daily racism all around.  The town where I live is still fighting over the Confederate Flag.

So bearing all that history in mind, I'm asking Republicans how much your lives have actually changed for the worse in the last eight years.  I admire President Obama enormously, but he's been a pretty usual American president in a lot of ways.  He's still bombed a lot of countries; American banks and Wall Street are still pretty powerful.  White men are still pretty much in power in the Congress.  What I'm saying here is that white people have not been enslaved or disenfranchised in the last eight years as a revenge move.  Speaking on behalf of the ladies, I feel like I can also guarantee that a Hillary Clinton presidency is not going to result in a Lysistratatype situation.  White men, you're still going get to go to work and buy condoms.
  
Bringing women and people of color into the power structure of our nation is not a big revenge scheme.  It's not a long game.  It's not, "Now's our chance to take revenge on being kept down for CENTURIES." It might be human if that were the plan, but I promise you that it is not. Women and people of color have just wanted opportunity for the last centuries.  We have not wanted to play the same game with the same rules that's been played throughout history.  I don't know how to reassure that we just want a level playing field, but I feel like the "Barack Obama has been president for 8 years and nothing even remotely as terrible as slavery or oppression has happened to you" argument is a strong reassurance. 

Please, please, my fellow Americans, please do not vote for fascism out of your fear.  We know what happens when fascism roosts in a country: slavery, murder, and war.  We shouldn't need a reminder of those consequencesevery century.  But if we can't even figure out that having a woman in the White House is not going to destroy our nation, maybe we will have to learn it again. And the whole world will be worse, noticeably and markedly worse in ways that will make us yearn for whatever oppression people imagine they've endured under the Obama administration.

I really should have expected this

At age 43, I have still not learned to anticipate the worst. I am a gullible person, and I expect the best out of people. I always assume that people mean well, unless they're in a book or scripted television.  My English major trained me well to read nuance in texts. In life, my go-to position is that people want to be good and do good above all else.

But if the RNC convention has taught us one thing this week, it's that I may be wrong about people and their good intentions.  

The rise of Donald Trump and the support of his absolutist, fascist responses should not come as a surprise, but it has.

We are less than 100 years past women's suffrage; we are barely fifty years past the Civil Rights Act. So it shouldn't be surprising that a good number of Americans have responded to our first African-American president and our first female Democratic nominee with a yearning for the past. By the past, I mean that some folks are longing for a world where only white guys are visible. When one group of people have been in charge for centuries, it makes sense that there would be an ugly and extreme backlash when it turns out that having women and people of color at the table makes for a different kind of dinner party.  When women and people of color attend the dinner party, it turns out that we start talking about racism, sexism, homophobia, and state structures of oppression.  It turns out that women and people of color are not just grateful to have a few token seats in Congress or state legislatures, we actually want to do something with those seats. We change the party, and suddenly there's marriage equality and a refusal to shut up about the fact that African Americans are disproportionately likely to be killed by police than white Americans. 

So it makes sense that now we get to have the conversation about "taking back our country" and "making America great again." Lots of good reporters and writers have written about how these phrases are code for the good old days when most of our population didn't get to come to the party and the guys in power didn't even have to see or pretend to see the folks who were excluded. 

I don't need to restate those arguments.  I just want to offer some reassurance to those Americans who are thinking that Mussolini made the trains run on time or that Donald Trump doesn't really mean what he says when he uses words like "we don't want those people in our country" or "America First."

If you are feeling freaked out by a world in which we've had a black president and a world where it's at least possible that we will have a female president, I just want you to take a look at the ways that your lives have not changed in the last eight years.  Remember that women started off our American journey in 1776 with limited property rights and no employment protections.  Birth control wasn't even legal until the 1960s.  Slavery was legal until the end of the Civil War, and it took another century to get to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We are still living with daily racism all around.  The town where I live is still fighting over the Confederate Flag.

So bearing all that history in mind, I'm asking Republicans how much your lives have actually changed for the worse in the last eight years.  I admire President Obama enormously, but he's been a pretty usual American president in a lot of ways.  He's still bombed a lot of countries; American banks and Wall Street are still pretty powerful.  White men are still pretty much in power in the Congress.  What I'm saying here is that white people have not been enslaved or disenfranchised in the last eight years as a revenge move.  Speaking on behalf of the ladies, I feel like I can also guarantee that a Hillary Clinton presidency is not going to result in a Lysistratatype situation.  White men, you're still going get to go to work and buy condoms.
  
Bringing women and people of color into the power structure of our nation is not a big revenge scheme.  It's not a long game.  It's not, "Now's our chance to take revenge on being kept down for CENTURIES." It might be human if that were the plan, but I promise you that it is not. Women and people of color have just wanted opportunity for the last centuries.  We have not wanted to play the same game with the same rules that's been played throughout history.  I don't know how to reassure that we just want a level playing field, but I feel like the "Barack Obama has been president for 8 years and nothing even remotely as terrible as slavery or oppression has happened to you" argument is a strong reassurance. 

Please, please, my fellow Americans, please do not vote for fascism out of your fear.  We know what happens when fascism roosts in a country: slavery, murder, and war.  We shouldn't need a reminder of those consequencesevery century.  But if we can't even figure out that having a woman in the White House is not going to destroy our nation, maybe we will have to learn it again. And the whole world will be worse, noticeably and markedly worse in ways that will make us yearn for whatever oppression people imagine they've endured under the Obama administration.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Orange is not an ethnicity

Life with an eight year old allows a person to explore all those ideas and baggage that rest beneath our conversations.  Eight year olds don't let you continue to rest on common knowledge, common sense, and what we all know to be true.

Take this morning's conversation on the way to STEM camp.  It started, as do all conversations this summer, with Hamilton. Paul wanted to talk about John Laurens and how he died more than 75 years before slavery would be abolished. And that led to talk about the ways that slavery still holds onto us all more than 150 years later.  I told him about voter id laws and how African Americans are significantly more likely to be victims of state-sanctioned violence than white Americans.

And somehow that's when we ended up at this point of the conversation...

Paul: I think Donald Trump wants to kill all black people.
Jenny: Well, he's not saying that. He has not said that at all. He does want to build a wall to keep more black and brown people from getting into the United States.
Paul:  Oh, he can't do that.  Even if he gets President, he can't make that happen.  It would take, like, a thousand years to build a wall like that..... Wait... he doesn't like black OR brown people... but... but... he has orange skin, so...
Jenny: Yes, I think though that his skin is artificially orange.
Paul:  Oh.... so he was originally white...
Jenny:  Yes, originally white.
Paul:  Oh.

A good mom maybe would have directed the conversation toward cultural constructs of race and how no matter orange Donald Trump becomes, he will still be white.  Or maybe a good mom would have used the talk as a jumping point to talk about the bizarre history of white people, tanning, and bronzing.

But this mom was just a little flabbergasted that in one minute of walking, we had gone from talking about how cool John Laurens was to finding out that one of us did not know that Donald Trump is a white dude and that young people are perceptive in thinking about how much work might be involved in walling off the United States.  So I stuck with "Yes, originally white."

As we walked onto the college campus, I did steer us away from Donald Trump and toward John G. Fee and the founding of Berea College.  I told him how Fee, before the Civil War, founded a college in the South where white and black people got their education together.  I told him that was why we were here now, 150+ years later, and that we would continue to work for the same vision.  And then we tried to figure out how old the buildings around us were and whether they could be built before the Civil War (they weren't).  And then he walked into a college building, to learn to make a computerized ball complete a maze.  And I went home to mow the lawn and think.

Get Off My Lawn (Unless you want to hear about politics for the next 4 months)

This is the post where I warn you that it's about to get political.

Those people who know me in my role as kindly parent-advocate around town may not know how closely I follow national, state, and local politics.  So if you don't want to know that I'm a yeller dog democrat and a bleeding heart liberal and former socialist, this may be the time to kiss my blog goodbye for a few months.

A while back, I had thought that I would keep quiet about the presidential election and get to work on building a secret room in our house.  I thought that the Trump Train was steaming so far ahead that it might be best to keep my head low and secretly begin preparing for resistance work against fascism. You think I'm joking. I'm not. Donald Trump is deliberate pouring gasoline on the fires of white supremacy in this nation, and it behooves us to prepare for a worst case scenario.

But now I'm thinking that Mrs. Clinton has a good chance of being elected if people stand up relentlessly against racism and misogyny from now until November.   I don't know what I can do from Kentucky to do my part.  My state is not going to go for Clinton.

All I know to do is to keep writing and putting words into the air.