Tuesday, February 13, 2018

UNITED NATIONS OF CHILDREN

Among others, I read humor bloggers, political bloggers, and inspirational bloggers.  I love them all.  I never quite know where I fit with this blog....I just write.  Sometimes I think I'm funny, sometimes I hope I'm inspirational, and sometimes I can't help but be political because I am passionate about politics as a tool for ensuring a healthy democracy (when politics isn't broken, anyway.)

Today I sit to write with a full heart, some concern, and immense gratitude.

This morning I volunteered in my 8 year old granddaughter's second grade classroom listening to kids read.  I do this every Tuesday.  I did the same, reading and spelling with kids, last year in her first grade classroom as well.  Last year I was part of the classroom, sitting at "my" table calling kids back one at a time usually to work with me, but still keeping an eye on what the teacher was doing, what they were working on, how the kids responded (or didn't) to her and the subject.  I helped remind kids to pay attention, gave them a wink or a nod or a finger wag as was appropriate, tied shoes, cleaned up desks, high-fived, chatted, laughed, even graded papers sometimes, and felt loved and appreciated by the kids and the teacher alike.  It was a beautiful experience.

This year I'm having a slightly different experience.  I'm not really part of the classroom.The teacher  has asked me to take one student at a time out to a desk in the hallway where we read together.  I am then to ask them comprehension questions about what they've read. I miss being in the classroom and wondered if I should request that she make room for me, but I realized this isn't about me; it's about working with the kids.

So, I show up and go down my list of about a dozen kids she wants me to work with.  I get through 4 or 5 each week.   Some blow me away with their advanced reading skills; some still struggle with the easiest of books; most are average and at grade level.  They all seem to enjoy reading, love library time, and are eager to share their books with me.  And it seems like 95% of them are "children of color" -- their ethnicities a veritable United Nations hodgepodge of mostly brown/black/Asian kids.  (Including kids from the middle east, which I found out is considered part of Asia, which I didn't know.)

Today I worked with a girl who only speaks Spanish at home; a girl who was born in Pakistan but lived for her earlier childhood in Dubai; a boy from New Dehli; a girl from Mexico who told me "We might have to go back."; an African-American boy who cut his dreds and now sports a short Afro, which he likes.  I ask them about their lives outside of school, what they like to do, what their families are like, their favorite foods and TV shows; about their friends and favorite subjects; about customs and languages.  I try to speak Spanish and Arabic and they laugh at my mispronunciations.

When I show up on Tuesdays, some cling to me and ask "When is it my turn to read?"  I think these kids are starved for positive attention and a friendly adult who talks to them like people, not just students. Some are annoying, some are sweet, some are wicked smart, a couple have trouble behaving appropriately in a school setting --- all break my heart with their vulnerability.  Eight years old and many from single parent homes, some where siblings may be scattered, many where aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents live half a world away, some who don't get enough sleep, some who wear thick glasses, or have crooked teeth, or already feel like the 'nerd' or the 'troublemaker' at recess. Some tell me their parents work 2-3 jobs.  One girl says she has to wake up at midnight and go to a different apartment to sleep when her dad goes to work.

The whole school is full of these ragtag kids in mismatched clothing, fly-away hair, all shapes, sizes and colors, all creating a patchwork of cultures, experiences, and dreams.  The principal announced at a recent "Reach Around the World" family event (classrooms were set up featuring various cultures represented at the school:  Iraq, Mexico, Russia/Ukraine, Philippines, Guam, China, India, and more...) that 27 languages are spoken by the families of the students at the school.  I was amazed.  I tell every bilingual kid to always remember their original language.  Never forget their traditions.

But I worry about them too.  Especially now in this time of anti-immigration frenzy.  If only people could open their hearts and minds to these kids.  If only they could see the sweet, shy smiles; the open-hearted desire to fit in; the excitement for learning; the longing for friendship and community.  When I think of any of these kids being the target of discrimination or bullying or belittling or denigrating, my heart breaks and my blood boils.  How dare anyone say these kids and their families don't belong?  Don't deserve a chance in this land of opportunity?  How can they ignore that (in my experience) it is these "foreign" kids who are among the brightest, the ones who read all the time at home, (staying inside and safe in neighborhoods that are rough around the edges), their books as their constant companions?

Maybe one day I'll write a funny story about working at the school.  But today I hope I've written something inspiring, and yes, political.  When you hear about ICE raids, or immigration crackdowns, or that brown-skinned people come from countries that our president has deemed "shitholes", I hope you'll call me up and ask me to tell you the stories of these kids -- and then make your voice heard on the political stage in support of sane immigration policies that welcome instead of exclude.

We all came from somewhere else....except my granddaughter, who is partly First American.  My daughter-in-law's first husband was Choctaw/Cherokee.  We white folks often forget that this country wasn't ours to begin with, so let's open up to a diversity that will enhance our country, not ruin it.

At least, that's the view from here....©

Saturday, February 10, 2018

GENETICALLY INCAPABLE OF COOKING

I was getting seriously worried about myself yesterday morning.  First, I was having a little teeny tiny anxiety issue rear it's familiar, yet fearsome head, which throws me off-kilter, so right off the top I'm gonna blame it on that.

On the other hand, Hub and I had recently had a long discussion about whether we wanted to open the "closed" door on our "23 and Me" genetic testing results -- the door which holds the information on whether one has a genetic predisposition for late-onset Alzheimer's and/or Parkinson's disease.  You can find out, but they don't make it easy.  You definitely have to "opt in" at least 3 times to see the result.  "Are you sure?  Are you really sure?  Are you super-duper really and truly sure?  Do you have a genetic counselor and mental health professional standing by?"    So maybe I was already primed for feeling that every lapse of memory was likely the beginning stages of the slippery slide into dementia territory, even though I don't have my results yet.

Anyway, as is my new habit I got up, dressed, headed to the kitchen and put a pan of 4 cups of water on to boil with 1-1/2 teaspoons of Indian spices thrown in to make a "detox tea".  I'm following a Ayurvedic cleanse regimen that promises to cure every ailment I have and then some, plus encourages weight to fall off effortlessly.  I'm 10 days into Phase 1.  No weight loss yet.  But maybe I'm just impatient.  The entire process can take 2-4 months to complete, depending on how quickly one moves through each of the four phases.

So the ritual I've adopted is to boil the water for my tea, let it simmer and steep, then strain it into a bowl, dumping the seeds, leaves, and detritus of the spices down the sink before filling a large thermos to sip all day.  

The first pan of tea boiled nearly dry as I put it on and forgot about it while I sat at my desk in another room, scrolling through Facebook.  I dumped that out and started over.  

I set a timer for the second pan of tea, turned off the heat, remembered I had to strain it, so turned to the sink and dumped the entire batch through the stainer and down the drain.  I'd forgotten to capture it in the glass bowl.  On to the third attempt.

That one was successful, but by then I was feeling rather sheepish about it taking three tries to make a batch of tea that is so easy to do I fully believe my three year old granddaughter could master it if she was allowed to be near the stove.

At dinnertime I successfully sauted some veggies, baked a piece of Mahi Mahi, and steamed some Jasmine rice -- which I also forgot and it sort of burned/stuck to the pan, but was not ruined, so Yay Me!

I have a few talents, but kitchen wizardry isn't one of them.  Based on the day's fiascoes it seems I have the most problem with cooking foods in boiling water.  I wonder if that's a genetic trait that will be revealed in my "23 and Me" test result?   I've definitely decided not to open the scary door -- missing the cooking gene is startling enough for now.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Sunday, January 21, 2018

WOMEN'S MARCH 2.0

Well, I'm about to run into a buzzsaw here.  I'm gonna be labeled a whiner and a wimp; judge-y and sexist and lazy -- and probably defensive as well.  There could be truth in all of that -- and I say "bring it on" anyway.

One thing I am ramping up this year is my practice of self-compassion.  It's hard because I have high expectations of myself.  I often fall woefully short of my self-imposed job description.

For example, yesterday's Women's March 2.0.  I got all squishy about it; ambivalent, bordering on disinterested.  I'd been in a bit of a funk anyway; both of my feet were in a flare up of my occasional plantar fasciitis affliction; and it was supposed to be cold and rainy.  Plus, we had our monthly Tribe gathering scheduled for the evening and Hub and I had some organizing to do around our topic facilitation, not to mention brownie baking as our contribution to the meal.  It's not all that easy to open a brownie mix, believe me.  You have to add stuff, like eggs and oil!

Known in some circles as the Queen of the Resistance on Facebook, how could I ditch the March and retain any credibility?  And truthfully I didn't want to ditch it...I just wanted my feet not to hurt, for the weather to be sunny and warm, and not to feel rushed from one event to the next.

The compromise seemed to be to skip the big Seattle March and do the loosely organized one in my town instead.  It was a longer route but easier to navigate a late entry or early exit if my feet gave out.  I'd be home in 5 minutes from the end of the march rally and have those brownies in the oven and easily be on time for the evening gathering with no time stress.

So, at the 11th hour on Friday night, after being interviewed in the local paper and saying I'd be at the Seattle march, http://www.heraldnet.com/news/everett-events-part-of-national-march-to-impeach/,  I decided to stay local.  I went to the smaller march close to home.  Hub wanted to join in this year, so we both got up and made signs.  I posted an invitation on FB for all to join the local effort, hoping to drum up more support, and we headed for the meeting place.

Pulling into the parking lot was the first letdown.  We counted about 30 people.  We live in a city of 110,000; not known to be a hotbed of activism and perhaps on the conservative side historically, but seriously???  30 people!  We did run into another couple -- good friends of ours -- who were planning to march as well.  We all shrugged and contemplated our commitment.  I may have sworn a bit; I do tire of the lack of enthusiasm here for public civic engagement.

After a while, more people began to arrive, lifting our spirits some, but not enough for me.  I bailed right off the bat.  Hub and our friends marched on without me.  I decided to drive further into the route, babying my sore feet, and joining up closer to the end.  I found a spot up on an overlook where I could see the strung out line of marchers and counted about 80 people, some carrying signs, most older, few younger, few children.  They walked single file or two abreast chatting together, like on a Saturday waterfront stroll.   As they approached me, I took photos and got lots of smiles and waves and saw some happy, familiar faces.  That was fun.   My woman friend bailed at that point and I drove her back to her car.  Her husband and mine continued on.  I thought that was sort of wonderful and hilarious.  Husbands representin' at the Women's March!

Then I went to the store for the brownie fixings and ice cream and went home until it was time for the rally at the end of the March.

I found about 40 more people waiting at the County Building for the marchers to arrive. By the time they did maybe 50-60 people were gathered.  There was an awning and speakers stepped up to the poor PA system microphone.  The first speaker was a man.  I'm sorry....a MAN?  He's actually someone I know and respect for his activism in environmental causes, but still....  This is where I may sound sexist, but I think a woman might have been a better choice for kicking things off at the WOMEN'S March.  This is not about him, or a man speaking per se, but about how it was organized;  the flow, if you will, and who is featured and who is in a supportive role.  Then a woman did speak, and I didn't know her or her organization, but the gist of her remarks were a diatribe against the current health care system.  Not the message I was there to hear.  I thought we were celebrating the rise of women's leadership in the Resistance, the influx of women into the political system, the unity of all toward a common goal, the necessity for taking back the Congress in the mid-terms. (Power to the Polls!)

It was raining and I was cold.  Hub was cold and tired too. He had walked 5 miles and we still had work to do for our evening commitment.  We left.  So did others.  I don't know who else spoke or about what.  Maybe what I'd hoped to hear was said in my absence.  I hope so.  I do know there was at least one more male speaker.  No local politicians spoke, to my knowledge, although one male city council member was in the crowd.  (We have a woman mayor and three women council members...where were they?)

It was a disappointing experience and I only have myself to blame for wimping out on the Seattle March, which drew tens of thousands and was a lively, energetic, multi-generational, ethnically, and racially diverse celebration of the Resistance and the rise of women's political clout.  Watching coverage of marches all over the country and the world brought tears to my eyes -- images of power, strength, and hope.

In the end, though, a March is only a symbol of unity; it doesn't result in much but a feel-good moment in time.  The real work happens in the every day effort we all expend as individuals to make the calls, send the faxes, the texts, and the emails to our elected representatives; it's in the support we show for candidates by writing checks, making calls, ringing doorbells.

So, I forgive myself for my wimpy, judge-y, lazy efforts around the March this year.  I spent Friday hitting up legislators via FreeFax and phone calls to support the Net Neutrality repeal legislation and to support the Dreamers.  I did it alone, at my desk, in my home office, quietly, with no fanfare and no (now controversial) pink hat or waving sign.   I just did the work of democracy.  If that's all we do, that's enough.

At least that's the view from here...©






Friday, January 12, 2018

TRUE CONFESSION

I've been putting this off for awhile.  Well, for 45-1/2 years to be exact.  But this being a new year and me leaning into Fierce Optimism when it comes to our political situation right now, I'm going to reveal one of the deepest, darkest secrets of my adult life.  Brace yourselves.

I voted for Richard Nixon in 1972.

Dear god, I already feel everyone in my circle fleeing in horror.  When I sign back onto Facebook, I will discover I've been unfriended en mass.  If I hadn't already stepped away from my Unitarian Universalist church, I'd be shunned on Sunday morning. (Not really -- they are a very welcoming group, but they'd be shocked nonetheless.)  My bonafides -- Progressive, Liberal, Feminist, Peace-Loving, Diversity-Embracing banner-carrier -- are now called into question and found wanting at best, lies at worst.  I fear being drummed out of the Resistance.

But you see, this admission also allows me to take a long, hard look at my own judgementalism.  (Is that a word?  Well, it seems another "ism" to fight against.)

I have railed against, denigrated, and blamed every single person who voted for the current president for their ability to accept, or overlook, certain aspects of his demonstrably piss-poor character and outrageous racism and misogyny.  I still hold some blame toward those who were "I hate Hillary enough to vote for an unfit, unhinged, inexperienced reality show host to lead our country".  And toward those who STILL support him, after the year of living dangerously we've just endured, I am speechless and we can probably find zero common ground, ever, on this topic.

But to those who were willfully, lazily, ignorant; I guess I offer grudging understanding.  Been there, done that.

I first knew of Richard Nixon during the 1960 election year, when I was just shy of 10 years old. I'd spent the campaign cycle amongst my fellow 4th graders, whose parents were predominantly former "I Like Ike" Republicans and just transferred their allegiance to Nixon.  I recall only one little girl in my class who was "for Kennedy".  She was seen as weird and sort of exotic, even after JFK visited our blue collar factory town whose visit, in my family, was characterized as merely an annoying traffic tie-up downtown.  We little girls even gave our Girl Scout leader the endearing nickname, "Nikki" -- short for Nixon!

My parents never discussed politics; I didn't have a clue where they stood on the issues.  I just knew we were Republicans -- like every single other person I knew except that one little girl.  Nixon lost in 1960 (robbed by that scoundrel Daley, mayor of the big, bad city an hour east of us).  But he went on to win in '68 and it just seemed natural.  I grew up with the idea that Richard Nixon was Presidential.

In the 60's I had awakened to the horror of the Vietnam War, which seems awful, but I didn't really question it or take the initiative to understand it.  I was drawn to the appeal of the "hippie culture" and flirted with that by listening to "psychedelic" pop music, wearing bell-bottoms, hanging out with long-haired guys, and smoking a bit of weed.  I'd come to find the Kennedy clan exciting and good-looking and I watched Bobby Kennedy with some modicum of budding interest in politics.  I cried when he was killed and the world seemed to be moving out of it's familiar orbit.  But mostly my life was still comfortably conservative, small town, and unworldly.  I did not "fight the man".

So when Nixon ran in 1972, I was a month shy of turning 22 and four months into being a newlywed.  I had mostly left my counter-culture flirtation behind and turned my concerns to "keeping house" like a grownup and perfecting a chicken fried steak recipe prepared in my new avocado green electric frying pan in the yellow-walled kitchen of our second story walk-up apartment.  I was also on a bowling league.

Still, I was excited to vote for the first time (voting age was still 21 then).  The polling place for our precinct was, oddly, in the basement of a private home as I recall -- that does seem weird, but it's how I remember it now.  I stepped up to the voting booth, closed the privacy curtain, and voted for Richard Nixon, because he was already president, so he must be a good one and he'd been around most of my life, so yeah....that was that.   I never gave it another thought.

Until late 1973.  We'd moved by then into Chicago for Hub's med school adventure.  I was working as a secretarial clerk at the medical center, a virtual United Nations of docs from all over the world.  I also started college for the first time at age 23.  The world around me suddenly went from black and white to color.  YOWZA!  There was so much to learn!  By the time Nixon resigned in 1974, I had a year of college under my belt, was a newly-minted Democrat, liberal, feminist and cheered his departure with my supervisor, sitting in front of a small TV she'd brought into the office for the occasion.  She was my first political teacher and I was the model student at her knee.

Was I willfully ignorant in 1972 or just disinterested?  That's where it gets tricky in my judgementalism.  I think disinterested ignorance, especially in this day and age of internet access to a wide variety of thought, opinion, and information is willful.  These days ya gotta actively avoid being educated about the political landscape and that is a choice.

But didn't I make the same choice in 1972?  I was so immersed in my own life of work, friends, and newlywed-ness; so surrounded by a conservative, Republican community; so sheltered from  diversity; so immune to critical thinking, that I just went along.  I may have glanced at the one local newspaper and may have switched on Walter Cronkite in the evening, but none of it seemed relevant to me.  I was working my way through my new Betty Crocker cookbook and trying to improve my bowling average.

So, I get it.  I get that some people are still just like I was at a certain point in their lives and since I forgive myself, I have to forgive them too.  Immaturity, self-absorption, and/or lack of experience in the wider world all contribute to choices that later on seem impossible, even grossly embarrassing.

My optimism comes in the form of hope that just as I found an awakening through education, experience, exposure to diversity, and even maturity, others will too.  They will discover that an informed and active populace, with critical thinking skills, is essential to a functioning democracy.

I'm not saying everyone will follow my lead and vote Democratic.  But my FIERCE OPTIMISM is that the disinterested will awaken and that never again will the voters elect a wholly unqualified, dangerous, authoritarian-wanna-be to the White House, nor tolerate those who prop him up for their own (and their corporate donors) self-interest.  Be a Republican if you must, but be a good one.

At least, that's the view from here...©