Posts Tagged ‘family’

72 ideas in 72 days: Day One – What is important to you.

September 2, 2015

Make a list of your top 4-5 important things. What’s most important to you? What do you value most? What 4-5 things do you most want to do in your life? Simplifying starts with these priorities, as you are trying to make room in your life so you have more time for these things.”

Simple right?  The typical answer should be family, faith, work and exercise (or some non-sense variation).  For me, since I did this project the last time, a lot has changed: some for the good, some for the bad and all of it hard.  The question is interesting what is most important to me is not what I value the most (time, I value time the most).  What is most important to me?

  1. My family comprised of most of the people I’m related to, a few who I should be related to.  The people who I’d drop anything and get on a plane for.  The people who know when my mouth says “I’m fine” that it’s a lie: even over email, texts, and other forms of communication that lack inflection and body language.  There is really nothing better than hysterical texts from 9 and 10 year olds who while wishing you luck on something also announce they plan on beating you at an activity.  Or coming back from a meeting to your phone having been blown up by a crazy debate on what an 18 year old and 16 year old would buy with a million (or was it a billion) dollars for a perfect NCAA bracket.  Or being able to just not pretend everything is OK with friends.
  2. Travel: From wandering through small town USA to taking bullet trains in Japan, there is a world out there.  Most people are good.  Everybody makes salsa different.  Travel forces my introvert self to be more extroverted.  Travel restores me.  Travel decorates my house (seriously).
  3. Exercise: I know.  Who would have thought?  I try to walk between 4-8 miles a day.  The activity decompresses me.  I love the way  I feel afterwards.  I listen to books on tape (www.audible.com) while I’m walking.  My walks are my carved out ‘me time’.
  4. Being selfish with out guilty:  Maybe because I am female, but I feel guilty when I can’t be everything to everybody.  No is an answer that is perfectly acceptable.  It’s ok not to want to go to bridal shower, to spend a weekend visiting somebody you’d met for coffee.  Leaving the office after 9 hours.
  5. My friends: E-friends are great but I need to be a better friends with sending real letters, meeting for meals or coffee.

Happy #FathersDay to my favorite feminist

June 15, 2014

I was raised by a feminist: but not the one you think. Truth be told, my dad was probably a better 70’s era feminist that my mother (and she was a feminist). My parents raised three children in the chaos that was the era of bad car seats, no helmets and toys with lead. Amazingly, we all survived (although sometimes my sister and I wonder if feeding my brother lead based paint because we were told kids liked the taste explains some of him).
My dad has never found it necessary to use a monosyllabic word when an uncommon polysyllabic word sufficed. More importantly, after stating whatever SAT worthy sentence he was discussing, he’d then explain the statement in normal human language (it’s because xxx). He never spoke to us as children: he translated adult into kid. One of his favorite stories is about a toy I had as a toddler: it had various shapes (circle, rectangle). My father taught me alternate words: rhombus, parallelogram, trapezoid. My grandmother played it with me once asking me the shape and instead answering rectangle, I provided ‘parallelogram’ as the answer. My mother said it was the last time my grandmother played the name the shape game with her daughter’s children.

Having daughters in the early days of Title IX meant that we could participate in the various sports leagues. Let me be clear: participation was playing the minimum, as catcher in T-ball because we had a tendency to pick flowers in the outfield or otherwise be disinterested. And we were bad: really bad. Our team didn’t lose – but that was not due to the contributions of my family. My dad would spend parts of each weekend playing 2-1 basketball games. Dad is 6 5. We were under 5 feet. He blocked our shots: he didn’t let us ‘win’ per se: if we scored before time was up we ‘won’. He also shot sky hooks (seriously). Barbie dolls, baseball bats, books: all were fair game. He taught me how to keeps score at a baseball game, he let my sister have peanuts and whatever else she ate. He didn’t view one over the other: he nurtured our interests and spent time with us.

Once, somebody made the comment to my father about how my dad had to ‘babysit’ the three of us: my dad said, you don’t babysit your own children: unheard of 30 years ago. He gave quirky advice as we headed to college “don’t ever call home after a night of drinking”. We would call my mom for the idealism: we would call my dad for the pragmatism. But the pragmatism wasn’t gender based: it was reality based. Take an economics class, take statistics. He raised two daughters and a son who work STEM based careers before it was trendy (and the one with a history degree finally figured out math).

I’ve always thought fathers receive the short end of the parenting stick. My dad cooked, did some of the housekeeping, gardening, helped with the canning. He avoided the laundry (budgetary reasons) and wisely stepped away from the decorating the house for Christmas. I’ve been told ‘most’ men don’t do this. The feminist ones do: and they are responsible for many of the cracks in the glass ceiling.

Love you Dad.

Peanut butter sandwiches and other strange things I’ve heard

March 23, 2014

I sat at my desk and tried to book a flight to Knoxville around two storms that were about to converge on the greater Boston area. A few co-workers were checking various options when it became apparent to everybody something horrifically had gone wrong. As tears streamed down my face, a friend said her mom died and we are trying to figure out the best way to avoid flight delays. One of the guys I work with looked at me, he’s about 24, and said I don’t know what to say. But I can make you a peanut butter sandwich because you might get hungry and not want to talk to anybody at the airport or something. I think I shook my head. I know I didn’t leave with a peanut butter sandwich.

I wish more people offer peanut butter sandwiches. Like anybody who has had a loss that isn’t quantifiable, dumb comments abound. I wish I could say “oh, they’ve never experienced the loss of a parent, spouse or somebody intrinsic to their life, they don’t understand the numbing feeling that fluctuates from time to time.” But when a 24 year old knew that he didn’t know what to say? I’m short on giving people a pass. Especially those who I know have had such a loss.
Most of these were met with blank looks or uh-huh comments. But if somebody reads this out in web-world, just think before you offer advice:

1) I said I was going to my parent’s the first part of next month. A co-worker corrected me. “You mean your Dad’s since your Mom is no longer with us.” (Ok, note, my mother NEVER MET THIS PERSON so she was never with ‘us’) Give me a break. My parents were a couple for over 50 years. This one is going to take a while. Sometimes, I can catch myself and say dad where I’d normally say parents. It’s hard: and it is like turning a screwdriver in my gut. If I’m low on energy, I let whatever form of nouns fly.

2) “Wow. Your mom’s death doesn’t seem to bother you that much. I’d be devastated.” COME AGAIN? Let me describe my time since I came back to Boston. Go to work. Go home. Sleep for a few hours. That’s it. I made it to church once. I did a half marathon once. This is the first weekend I’ve even attempted to make my place not look like an episode of hoarders. I’ve been known to cry my entire commute. But when I’m at work, I try get myself into auto-pilot. Why? It’s easier. I’m devastated. I went to text my mom about Dayton upsetting OSU on Friday and caught myself.

3) “Your mother wouldn’t want you to be/to do x.” Ok. Probably. My mother didn’t do mourning much. But she also understood that people are different. My mother would understand that I would understand that things upcoming on my calendar would cause trepidation. The Final Four in Nashville, my nephew’s high school graduation, going to New Orleans. Places and events that she should have been present (or would have had a few texts about) but won’t be. It will be hard.

4) “Rely on God and His Plan”. Ok, that just stands on its own: my mother and I had the same views on “God’s Plan”.

5) “It could be worse.” Your right. I could have lost a child. (Ok, I don’t have one). I could have caused the death of a child. Wait. Fuck that idea. Just take that statement and shove it. Or if your are going to be so damn moronic as to say it IN my presence, you had better not BITCH about one DAMN thing for a year.

I know people don’t know what to say at times: I’ve seen the panicked look on faces when I say the word “Mom”. I remember probably looking the same way at times. The entire process is hard: life moves on; the good, the bad and the ugly. The healing comes in phases. And it is revisited from time to time: that is the nature of the beast. It’s just the re-visiting is less painful (or so I’ve been told). I know I’m less numb. I can’t decide if that is “better” (I know in the long run it is – I also know that being less numb is also making me less tolerant of stupidity). I know I can hold conversations with my siblings and my dad without dissolving into tears which was not possible for the past few weeks.

Luckily, most of my friends have offered various forms of peanut butter sandwiches. I try to remember that when the advice columns start.

What I’ve learned in 33 days

March 9, 2014

It has been a month. A month? Really? It feels like yesterday. It seems like a decade. At various times in my life as a corporate drone, I’ve heard “this is going to get worse (name of issue) before it gets better”. I hope this gets better. I’m making a list; partially as a gentle nod to my mom and mostly so I can remember. In no particular order:

1) Sadly, I have family and friends who have lost their parent(s) too early, too quickly, and/or without warning. I need to remember when they say “I get it”: they do. They may not get the complexity of a relationship but they get the watching Law and Order at 12:43 am while writing a blog post.
2) This sucks. It sucks because even in the hardest, most complex times of a complicated mother-daughter relationship, I knew, somewhere, that if I needed shelter, she would have welcomed me (and the cat collection) home.
3) I have wonderful, amazing, beautiful friends. I have people in my life who I have known since Girl Scout days who have made sure I’m ok. I have college classmates who reached out and continue to make sure I am ok. I have friend who DESPITE bad news checked in and kept checking in (person who turned me on to half marathons and your spouse, I’m looking right at you).
4) I struggle with the mitzvah’s. From the randomly strange to the sublime love (the asking if I needed a peanut butter sandwich as I tried to get back to Knoxville, to the making sure I had cash, to a pet sitter cleaning my home, to a friend spending 3 hours helping me remove 3 FEET of snow from my car, to the TSA guy helping me get through security), I have no idea to how to repay the kindness.
5) The pain, I am told, is a good pain. It shows the love. Ok, whatever. File that under one day I’ll understand.
6) As painful as this is for me, my grandmother buried a child, my father buried his wife. It must be worse for them. No matter the age, even I get that your child dying before you must tear you in a way that makes no sense.
7) I am lucky/blessed/grateful for my friends. The ones that just sent random insane texts to try to make me laugh, the ones who understood when I said “I can’t talk”, the one who listened to me babble for an HOUR while stuck in rush hour.
8) There are people who came out of the woodwork to show their love and support. There are people who never acknowledged my mother’s death who I thought “would always be there”. Both surprised me; one day, maybe I’ll let go of the anger regarding the second part.
9) My paternal cousins. You’ve been there. You know where we are. You’ve called, e-mailed, texted, Facebooked and poured wine into a glass.
10) I’m learning what is important. No crazy changes for a year: but I’m learning.

Next week March Madness starts. As crazy as my mom was for college football, she loved basketball. She’d call me: Are you watching Boise State vs Alaska-Fairbanks? (um, no). You need to be a student of the game! I’d laugh. I like my teams. She loved the sport. I’m flying back to Knoxville and will be attending the women’s Final Four in Nashville. In my fairy tale ending, it’s The Ohio State University vs University of Tennessee and it goes to 5 overtimes (I don’t care who wins). Or Uconn (then it better be UT) – my mom liked the program Geno runs in Storrs. I know sitting next to my dad will be hard: my parent’s and I would met for the Final Four in various locations even when things were hard in our relationship and have a good time. I know my Dad and I will have a good time. I know we will have a hard time. And I know we will have a good time.
This month has been hard. I completed my second half-marathon. I feel myself un-numbing from the death of my mother. I’m trying to remember the advice somebody gave me: one good step at a time.

Goodbye Mom. We will miss you.

February 15, 2014

Here is the eulogy I mostly delivered at today’s service of my mother’s life. Sometimes being an adult sucks.

On behalf of my siblings, Sarah and Nathan , their spouses Don and Evie , the grandchildren Donald, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily and Lauren and Evan , we wish to thank you for the love and support you have shown our parents throughout course of our mother’s battle with breast cancer. As the Boston daughter, I was often asked by my friends why I did not have my mother seek treatment at Dana-Farber in Boston or Sloan-Kettering in New York. I truly and honestly believe that the care my mother received at the University of Tennessee hospital by Dr. Timothy Pinella, her primary nurse Ruth Borden and countless others including Merritt Brakebill was equal to or better than the care she could have received in Boston. For this, I am truly grateful.

Cancer never defined my mother. Approximately 15 years ago, we received the crushing news that my mother had a 3% chance of survival after one year with the return of her cancer. As her children and probably her spouse, sister, mother, in-laws, nieces, nephews all tried to wrap our heads around the probability, my mother in her mom way simply told Dr. Pinella “I don’t have time to die, I have grandchildren.”

While others may have faced the odds presented with complacency, my mother fought cancer. In my eyes, she won. She continued to teach through chemo and radiation and she learned. She learned and re-instilled into her now adult children the lesson of a cancer diagnosis. Learn what is important: and if it isn’t important, it doesn’t matter. For her, this was simply her family, her faith and teaching. I’ve reached the decision that being a teacher must be like being a mother: you never give up the role.

Others will speak and have spoken about my mother as an educator: To me, she was simply, complexly Mom. Looking back through the pictures that were shown in the fellowship hall with my siblings; we laughed at the bad 80’s hair, the horrific 70’s plaids and discovered our parents as a couple before they had kids and cried at the pictures of graduations, weddings and baptisms.

Sorting through wedding pictures from nearly fifty years ago, I am reminded how my parents lived out their wedding vows: for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, sickness and in health, to love and cherish. Dad, she loved you. She loved telling the story of how, in vanity, she didn’t wear her glasses at her wedding and couldn’t see when you stuck out your thumb instead of your ring finger and the minister smacked you. She couldn’t stay mad (for very long) if you winked at her. She took great pride in causing the great Philadelphia Phillies collapse of 1964 and reveled in the fact that Yankees triumphed in the 2011 World Series over the Phillies. As hard as it is for your control freak daughter to admit, mom died how she wanted: at home with only you by her side. You were truly the love of her life as she was yours. As parents, you taught us the most important lessons: family, faith, service and the love of college sports.

Sarah and Don, Mom marveled at your ability to raise your family, volunteer, work in time consuming demanding jobs. Sarah called me and said “oh, Don just made a big mistake, he told me he wanted to collect cast iron. What’s going to happen when mom finds out?” Don, Mom took pride in converting you into a cast iron collecting college football fan. I think it’s time you raise the white flag of surrender; you’ve been assimilated. Sarah, mom was amazed at your ability to teach Kindergarten to Algebra II and just about every subject in between. Seeing you and Don as a couple, is like looking back at Mom and Dad. You have faced the challenges set forth in wedding vows and as a couple have met them. She was so proud of you. She admired your ability to be calm in the face of adversity and take one step at a time. It is a skill I wish I had. She told me this fall you two were probably the proudest parents in the state after Donald, Patrick and Kathryn lead worship: I know she was probably the proudest grandmother on the planet that day.

Nathan and Evie, well, let’s face it. Mom bought Nathan at a garage sale and then got mad when I sold him to a friend for some baseball cards and jacks. She made me take you back AND grounded me. Evie, I told somebody this week that the only s who can sing are the ones who married into the family. She loves the fact that you and Crystal sang today. She appreciated how grounded you were by your faith. Nathan, you totally inherited the rabid live and die with your team football mentality. She loved laughing at your Saturday antics and she never quite got how you became such a rabid UT fan especially when there was a perfectly good team located up I-75 in Columbus. She was thrilled that you took Evan to the Horseshoe last year for his first Ohio State home game.

Donald, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily, Lauren and Evan, Grandma loved you with everything she had.

Donald, Grandma always shook her head in amazement at you. From your helping any kid with homework, to standing up for your beliefs she was proud of the young man you’ve become. Her favorite stories of you, though, are from when you were a toddler: when you tried to mow the grass with your toy mower and you couldn’t quite figure out why the grass wasn’t getting mowed, to cutting your own hair because your head was hot and playing all positions in a one person football game, she was always impressed with how you managed to stay occupied.

Patrick, Grandma loved your inquisitive curiosity. She had so much fun finding odd ball treasures for Patrick’s collection (I mean, how many grandmothers would buy a blow dart?). Your voracious reading is just like Grandma. She loved your explorations in linguistics and vocabulary. She would often tell people about one of your teacher’s making a “Patrick vocabulary list”. She always laughed when remembering how I caught you climbing up a ladder to the roof and when I asked the 4 year Patrick what he was doing, I was promptly told “Climbing down”.

Kathryn, you are your mother’s daughter. Your mother was her mother’s daughter. I think, by extension, that makes you grandma. Grandma loved your fierce competitiveness. Your glare cracked her up. From the time you could glare, you glared: from not wanting to share kiwi, to a server taking your plate too early or simply clearing the table after dinner, we all know the glare. Somebody, usually your mom, could get Grandma to stop glaring. Nobody has been able to stop the Kathryn glare. Grandma marveled your adventures at Russian and Chinese camps. She loved watching you play softball. You have amazing artistic ability. She probably told everybody she knew that your carving won an award at the Oklahoma State Fair.

Emily, you are a fireball of energy that Grandma loved to enjoy. She called me last summer to tell me you cartwheeled UP the hill from Tic-Toc without getting hurt! She told me she didn’t think she could turn that many cartwheels ever. She was so impressed with the dress you made last summer.

Lauren, Grandma loved your library. She loved how organized your lists were. She made lists and thought it was the best way to stay organized. She loved the letters you wrote Grandpa. You are a much better letter writer than Grandma (and she’d always remind me how busy you were when I kept saying ‘Lauren owes me a letter’).

Evan, Grandma loved how you thought everything was awesome. She smiled every time you shrieked with enthusiasm. Your joy and happiness makes everybody happy. That is very special and Grandma loved it.

Emily, Lauren and Evan: Grandma loved Camp Chaos. She loved playing cards (she did not like losing to the kids), watching the dance competitions of kids versus adults (I think she secretly cheered for the kids’ teams since she didn’t dance) and having you at her house playing, laughing and breaking some of the rules. I know that Grandpa will be great at leading Camp Chaos this summer. Take turns, but each day one of you needs to make sure he wears his hat while working in the garden.

You six are her legacy. Continue to stand up for what is right as your parents have taught you. Do justice and love with all your heart.

Dad, Sarah, Don, Nathan, Evie, Donald, Patrick, Kathryn, Emily, Lauren, Evan and all of those who loved my mom, in the immortal words of Dr. Seuss that I was reminded of by my cousin Matt, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” We aren’t quite there yet. But we are working on it and that is all my mother would ask as a parent and an educator. Via con dios, Mom, go with God.

You say #Trayvon, I hear Evan.

July 14, 2013

Every time I hear the name Trayvon Martin, my mind changes it to Evan.  Evan is my towheaded perfectly adorable nephew who happens to be bi-racial.  There are plenty of times I’ve been out with my brother and his family and observed racism.  I’ve wanted to scream (on more than one occasion) after I’ve noticed my brother and sister-in-law being followed in box stores “They are BOTH better educated than you!”  (I know, way to counteract racism with classism.)

I spent a few hours coloring with my nephew on his 6th birthday.  Coloring a family picture, he was matching up skin tones to crayon colors.  Innocence.  I wonder when he will learn he is seen as “different” than his cousins: not for his unique characteristics but because he is not white.

My nephew is being raised bilingually (or, better stated, my sister-in-law is attempting to raise him bilingually, Evan is known to state his Spanish ears aren’t working).  His parents are instilling in him to be proud of his unique heritage that spans European, South American and Caribbean roots.

And I worry about them.  I worry about them as they travel in this country, where all three of them were born, what happens if they are pulled over because of profiling.  I tell my brother he needs to travel with passports when they leave the area where they live since how else can he “prove” he is a citizen? (Not that they should have to!).

But most of all, I worry about the day when my nephew discovers he is “different” and some people a suspicious of him because of how he looks.  I wonder what will happen when he is a teenager and he goes to the convenience store to get something to eat.  I hope by then we will have evolved as a country so that his parents won’t have to hear a knock on the door letting them know that somebody thought their child didn’t belong in the neighborhood.

North Carolina and Amendment One: A Chance to Say No to Bigotry

May 4, 2012

Most of the time, state ballot intaitives amuse me: should we repeal a liquor tax? What about letting people smoke pot in public? I tend to think of it is the great political revenge of letting voices be heard on some entertaining issues.

Not so next week in North Carolina.  Next week voters in North Carolina are seeking to define relationships.  Currently, the Tar Heel State is does not recognize gay marriage. Now, they are seeking to ban it.  The legislature this year managed to place on the ballot the following:

Constitutional amendment to provide that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.

If this amendment passes, North Carolina’s Constitution would read as follows:

“Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.”

Marriage, not civil unions, not domestic partnerships, is the only legal union.  To some people, there might not be a distinction between only allowing heterosexually married couples to receive the government benefits of marriage.  There is: this proposed amendment has the potential to impact domestic abuse charges, custody and support rights in non-married heterosexual couples.

There has long been the stereotype of the ‘narrow minded Southerner’.  This amendment promotes that stereotype.  In a telling quote, Majority Leader Rep. Paul Stam (R-NC 37) stated “They’re going to bring with them their same-sex marriages. They’re going to want to get divorced and have custody issues decided”, he said. “We’re not equipped to handle that.”  Rep. Stam, let me personally assure you, the gay community is not interested in rushing to North Carolina to get divorced.

Maybe one day I’ll understand how individuals can think my decision on who to marry has any impact on his/her relationships (aside from the obvious affair).  Passage of this amendment would be a giant step backwards.  Not just for the LGBT community but for every citizen of North Carolina, and by extension everybody who knows and loves somebody in the Tar Heel State.

I find it bemusing that the political party which staunchly opposes perceived intrusions into our personal lives supports such a reaching decision.  This is bigotry.  This is fear mongering.  This is hatred of the other.

My only hope and prayer is that the people of North Carolina see this for what it is worth and refute the amendment.  We all deserve better.

Lenten Ramblings

February 26, 2012

People who know me … and have known me for more than 4 years, probably know the issues I’ve had around going to church. There is enough fodder there for a good-bad reality television show. Seminary, for many reasons, lead me away from the church. And by away, I mean only-when-visiting-my-sister-and-can’t-fake-food-posioning-again away. There are many complex layers that really are not fit for a public discussion (read, I’m not the only one involved and part of it, I flat out don’t want flying about the interwebs). There has always been a sense of missing the collective gathering (probably more of a Jungian archetype than I’d care to admit) for ritual.

I am sure that part of the need for ritual for me has been how ingrained church has been in my life for many years. My grandmother’s memorial service was held at the church my parents were married in. People at my sister’s church still tell the story of when my sister conned me into dressing up as an angel to hold the baby Jesus (that would have been a now 13 year old niece) while trying to keep a 2 year old from removing all the ornaments off the tree. Her wise words to a friend “my sister is going to kill me.”

Somewhere, I think, in this blog is about how most of that was taken away: not the memories. But the sense of belonging. The sense of being able to sit in community. Part of the training in seminary is a collection of mostly unpaid internships. One place noted that they would have not offered me the position had they known I was gay. Because the church is exempt from most hiring practices, this is not an uncommon stance. Hearing that comment, as part of a performance review, in an exceptionally liberal Christian denomination to this day remains one of the more painful aspects of my journey. In the span of 2 weeks, I went from a contract renewal to a concern of “deceptive” behavior because I did not tell somebody I was gay. During my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Experience) (read, unsupervised chaplain), during the discussion on human sexuality, I wound up being prayed over by 4 very conservative students from a different seminary that I might find “God’s grace and forgiveness”. When I tried to discuss this during supervision (the time when you met with the people who “supervise” (word used very casually) you), I was told I needed to bring it up with the entire group: that it was my job to educate them on equality. Huh?

After I graduated, the last place I wanted to see, be seen, hear, think, ever go to again was a church. Despite trying to bring attention to what happened to me, I received a clear message from the seminary, the CPE program and others: being gay was an issue.

And yet, the yearning for collective ritual remained. Some times, the pull was stronger than others. The Lenten pool is always the strongest. For me, Lent is a period of reflection: individual, collective over who we are as people. It’s that selfish period for me where I can reflect on where do I need to be. Where I can struggle with the questions of meaning in my life, where I can find a pause to think, reflect and try to find the balance.

I made a promise to somebody that I would attempt to attend church during Lent. I *like* Lent. I went today. A straight male minister criticizing one of the denominations in the federated church for upholding the excommunication of a minister for performing legal same sex unions (tied back to the promise of the rainbow). a congregant voicing concern over the burning of Koran in Afghanistan by members of the US military and stating that all religions have sacred texts and none is more sacred than another (and for the record, no, I was not in a UUA church!) and a singing bowl.

Healing words. It’s ok to be who you are here. We recognize different traditions or no tradition. We stand together in trying to make this crazy backwards world a better place.

Why It Does Take a Village

January 22, 2012

I watched the South Carolina primary returns last night.  Most of the speeches recycled stump speech with the “call your friends in Florida”.  Rick Santorum gave his babblific speech where he recycled his line about writing a book in response to Hilary Clinton’s It Takes A Village called It Takes A Family.  Ok, how about both?  Does it take a family to raise a secure child: yes.  Do the historic family structures exist in most cases? No.  Using my family for an example: I live in Boston.  My parents and brother live in Tennessee, my sister and her family live in Oklahoma.  Is it ideal? Yes and no.  We all like the area of the country we live in: aside from some weather issues!  No because to get to see each other it’s a 1-2 airport shuffle.

Santorum is living in this world where people can stay in the area they are raised, close to their families.  Look, I work in biotech.  My brother-in-law works as an engineer in telecom, my sister-in-law is a university professor.  None of these jobs can easily be moved to be close together.  Does that mean that we are not close? Nope.  It means that when a family member need help, we often rely on the village.

What Santorum seems to miss is that we are all in this together.  If a friend (or a friend of a friend) needs a meal delivered, clothing donated.  I do what I can.  Why? I want somebody to do the same if something was to happen to one of my loved ones.  Santorum seems to forget that we don’t live in an era where there are 3-4 generations of the same family in the same village.  As we have become a more mobile society, with smaller families, in many ways we have become more interconnected with others.  If I need a ride from the mechanic, calling my family would be useless: calling a friend, easy.

The underlying aspect of Santorum’s statements are disturbing.  There is a decline in the ‘traditional’ family: how much of this is tied to the high levels of incarceration of minority populations? The lack of adequate education available in rural and inner city areas?  Santorum doesn’t get it: when we work together to improve the quality of life for everybody, our social structures improve and we increase opportunity for everybody.  I don’t want Rick Santorum defining my support system.  I’ll take my whacky village of friends and family.

A meal that tells your story

October 30, 2011

I watched Top ChefAll-Stars while the weird October Nor’easter blew through the Bay State last night.  One of the challenges that I loved from the All-Star season was the Ellis Island challenge.  Part of it is the romanticized myth of being a welcoming nation to immigrants personified (see Irish need not apply to realize that one is a creation of our communal, idealized national persona).  The challenge was to make a dish that represented your familial history in the United States.

Once, in grad school somebody was ultra snarkish to me and stated “that I was ‘new to the area and didn’t understand”’ whatever drama was being discussed.  I flung back I’m not a transplant, I’m a replant.  True, my dad’sfamily DID leave Massachusetts after the Revolutionary War for their reward of a chunk of Ohio but they are only half my family narrative.  I’ve always felt a somewhat complicated relationship with immigration/opportunity and the narrative that is woven by so many people.  Yes, my dad’s family has this wild and strange pedigree (a signer to the Declaration of Independence (see, it comes naturally!), the person who surrendered Ft. Sumter, a long line of Quaker farmers, a longer line of people who stand up for beliefs even if they are unpopular or can cost jobs.   In short, a family that probably was at the 1% at some time in the story of the nation (put it this way, my dad’s side of the family could always vote).  My grandmother received her MBA from The Ohio State University in an era when most men didn’t graduate from high school let alone college.  And yes, I qualify as a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  I have the paperwork, somewhere.  My paternal grandfather’s family (in addition to giving me my weird name), collects PhDs. There are a few university buildings name after them; long tenures at Nebraska, Wyoming and Oregon.

My mom’s family is the other side of the American coin.  Little is known about her family history.  She was the first person in her family to graduate from college.  She worked full time at a grocery store while taking a full load of classes and graduated in 4 years with a double major: including student teaching.   My maternal grandmother was raised in the coal towns of rural Kentucky.  Her mother was (probably) illiterate.  Her father wandered away one day and never returned (he had been gassed during WW I).  She had a hard life: moving where the jobs were at the time, eventually ending up in Indiana where she and my grandfather were high school sweethearts. His was an equally difficult childhood: neither of my grandparents knew the world “play”.  My grandfather carried ice on his back during the depression as a child to support his mother and brother.  I know little about his side of the family.  Both of my maternal grandparents knew going to bed hungry as a child.

My maternal grandmother’s family has a colorful past: they were run out of Virginia into Kentucky over an issue of horse thievery.  The hazy legend of an Uncle Scarface released
from the penitentiary with several notches in his belt: the type that suggested he killed that many people. There is Cherokee blood in my mother’s side of the family (you can see it in the pictures of her grandmother, my sister).  One of my mother’s uncles and his wife had the most education of their generation: 8th and 6th grades.  They moved with the TVA and helped to construct the Hoover Dam.  My mother tells of her relatives struggling with Civil Rights: including one line from a family member “I know I’m not better than a black man, I just wasn’t raised that way”: a startling, truthful admission of an insanely complex issue (the man in question? Martin Luther King, Jr.). I bristle when individuals broad brush southerners as uneducated, racist or backwards.  That is part of my family: and really, it’s the more interesting side of my family, I mean, what kid doesn’t want an Uncle Scarface?

The two people I’d love to have dinner with together were both named Mary.  One, my dad’s mom, you always had to tell her what you learned.  When she died a few years ago, I realized that how I traveled was so influenced by her: what is new, what is different, what did you learn.  There is more to the world than the national boundaries.  She always hosted students studying at Ohio State from all over the world.  There is complexity and beauty in the world.

The other Mary was my mother’s great aunt by marriage.  She called every male Bud and every female Sis.  She was a tiny feisty woman who travelled her husband building dams all over this country.  She lost siblings and friends in the dangerous coal mines of eastern Kentucky. She turned cards (as in a fortuneteller) but stopped shortly after I was born: my mom says she thinks she saw her husband’s death. She also never stopped learning.  She always sought a variety of opinions on an issue.  She didn’t know a stranger.  She was a character: she attended
a very strict non-denominational church.  She didn’t like the “new” preacher but liked his father.  One Easter, she announced she’d heard enough of the son’s “fool preaching” and walked out.  In the middle of the sermon: she stood up, said she heard enough and we were leaving.  The town she lived in was dry.  We used to bring her a bottle of Jack Daniels every summer.  One year, we had to run an errand, she told my mother to speed through town so nobody could smell her breath (through rolled up windows). Everybody in the town knew that if times were hard, you could get a mealwith her: there wasn’t a lot, but there was always enough.

So I started thinking, if I had to make a meal to represent both of these women, both powerful driving forces in how I think, what would it be? First, I’d have to cook: both were horrific cooks.  I know there would be copious amounts of coffee.  The protein would have to be chicken.  Part of me thinks, that for the hodge-podge American mutt genealogy that I own, I’d want nothing more than a roasted chicken, root veggies and pie and a bit of Jack in that coffee.  And a really interesting conversation between two Marys who grew up vastly different, both would bristle at being called a feminist but both were amazing pioneers and never stopped learning.

Perhaps it’s just me and my weird and wonderful family history: I’m uncomfortable with broadbrushing any group.  My family has taught me better and both sides come from very different parts of the American story.