Shattered Glass, Mended Hearts

My daughter is a force of nature. Wild and at times reckless, crashing through life boldly and without fear or restraint. She is intrinsically joyful. She doesn’t walk, she bounds.

Alice broke a cut glass bowl that belonged to my mother’s grandmother today. It was early this morning before my coffee had a chance to fully wake up my brain.

I was downstairs getting my robe on when I heard a crash that I knew was glass breaking. Oh no, I thought what broke? 

That bowl had been sitting on my mother’s counter for as long as I can remember. As a child I used to marvel at the edges and how the light was refracted through each one creating a kalaidescopic effect. Tiny rainbows in sunlight. I’d run my finger along those edges imagining how each one was cut by hand. “They’re slightly uneven do you see that? That’s how you know it was made my hand and not machine. It was my grandmother’s bowl. I’ve always loved it. One day it will be yours to pass down to your daughter.” My mother’s words were wistful and seemed full of purpose. I felt important holding that bowl. I would never have let it break.

My daughter is a force of nature. Wild and at times reckless, crashing through life boldly and without fear or restraint. She is intrinsically joyful. She doesn’t walk, she bounds. Because of this I have lost treasures. Others have been broken and had to be repaired. A snow globe with Cinderella and her prince that played the theme from the movie was shattered. Dolls my father gave me as child of 6 and 7 have lost fingers and toes. Sometimes entire limbs. A winged angel my mother gave me for my 20th birthday has one wing glued back on. Several books I’d saved that were favorites of her brothers were torn apart or scribbled in. But she’s never touched the cut glass bowl.

Never having raised a child like this (her brothers were not this way) I kept having to adjust the location of anything and everything that she could possibly destroy. Pictures were moved higher and higher on the fridge. Anything fragile found higher and higher homes as she would scale the shelves, counters and anything else climbable like a tiny monkey. We called her curious Georgina. We learned to grab her paintings and drawings from her before she had a chance to tear them to pieces. We learned to laugh at the destruction she’d leave in the wake of her play. We turned ourselves inside out teaching her to care for the things around her. That she didn’t need to break everything open just to see inside.

Lately she’d been good about breaking things. Too good perhaps. Yes there was the occasional climb on top of the refrigerator to steal candy or the endless glasses of water tipped on their side, but she had gotten to a place of understanding how to love her things while they remained in one piece.

The shattered bowl was an accident. Ironically what she was doing when she knocked it over was destructive on purpose. Trying to pull the leaves off my African violets that were given to me by my Aunt and Uncle when I was in the hospital. My mother told her to stop and she pulled her hand back sending the bowl careening to the floor where it shattered into bits of glass edges and dust. It would no longer make its tiny rainbows. No other child would marvel at its edges. “Go downstairs I cannot even look at you right now!” My mother could not bear the full realization of the loss in that moment. After hearing the glass break I was on my way up the stairs when Alice was on her way down. By the look on her face I knew.

”What did you do, what did you break?” She didn’t answer me and ran for her room. I reached the top of the stairs and my mother was sweeping up the remnants of the bowl. Her expression unreadable.

“Alice broke my cut glass bowl. It was my grandmother’s.” I couldn’t speak at first. “It’s just a thing and she didn’t mean to but I just had to send her downstairs I didn’t want to say something I’d regret.” She began tearing up.

You see there’s more to this story than a wildly curious little girl and a cut glass bowl. My mother’s sister is dying. It’s only a matter of time. After years of estrangement they’d finally begun talking.  My mother’s childhood memories are all around her right now, including her grandmother and the glass bowl.

In addition this is Alice’s first day home from preschool since her father and I pulled her out after we were unsuccessful in getting her school to do anything about an older girl that was bullying her mercilessly. Doing things like telling her spiders will bite her and turn her into a wolf, giving her nightmares. Convincing her to bring her toys to school, stealing them from her and lying about it. Teaching her to say butthole repeatedly. Sending her home with paper fold outs saying things like poop your pants and sit in your poop and cut your pants and many other gross and stupid things. Telling her Santa Claus isn’t real. My husband and I had actually gone to the school together and talked to the teacher after his talk with the front desk did nothing. She assured us they would be kept separated since this child was years older than Alice, in foster care and already a source of problems. I found this little girl and got down on my knees and I told her to stop stealing my daughter’s toys, telling her to poop her pants and swear, lying to her and bullying her or she’d have to deal with me personally. The look she gave me confirmed everything I suspected. My Alice was not her first target and would not be her last. I walked over to the teacher and I said this is the fifth time we have come to you guys about this girl and how she’s bullying our daughter. I’m so angry right now I’m holding my breath so I don’t say something I’ll regret. But you need to follow through on supervision and age appropriate groups. (This school shuffles their preschool children back and forth between rooms of practically toddlers and kids as old as 8 and 9 because they have inconsistent staffing, poor organisation and a whole host of other problems I will outline in a another post called BRIGHT MINDS IN WASILLA IS A SHITTY FOR PROFIT PATHETIC EXCUSE FOR A SCHOOL. No I won’t write that post but you get the idea: massive late fees if your child is not there exactly on time despite the fact that you’ve already paid almost $700 that month for her slot whether she’s there or not. Why is this you might ask? Because if your child is sick, even though they’ve already been paid for that day, they will take a drop in for more money. So if you show up late you screw up their ability to charge two families for one slot. And that’s just the tip of the horrible preschool iceberg. And guess what? If you’re late they won’t even let you in the building.

Needless to say Alice starts kindergarten in a month during which I will be repairing the damage done to her by this awful school. Having to re-potty train her. Sorting out behavioral problems. And now teaching her about bullies.

She had a timeout for what she did this morning. More importantly she made her grandmother a picture to show she was sorry. I even had her trace the words. When my mother stopped back home after a meeting to drop off the vegetables I asked her to get she saw the painting and she and Alice shared a hug. The bowl would remain forever broken. But at least their bond was strong. Their bond is forever.

More than just the cut glass bowl has been broken today. My daughter’s trust in an older girl she thought was her friend. My trust in the school system of this rough town, with its massive meth and opioid addiction problem running rampant throughout the community and its non-existent budget for quality public schooling. For profit preschool is one story. Public elementary school is another. I was viciously bullied for years in a school that I fear could be very much like the one my daughter will be attending. You’d better believe I’ll be volunteering in her classroom, keeping a close eye on her progress and making sure she’s not held down by the throat on the playground like I was. God help the child that even tries to to do that to my daughter.

Sometimes the things we pass down to our children are not the things we choose. Instead of passing down a cut glass bowl I will instead be passing down my experience in fending off bullies. How to hold your head high after someone lies to you. How to never forget that sometimes glass breaks. But unlike glass, a broken heart can always be mended.

Yours To Keep

Crack in your heart
Crack in your head
Little lies creep in
And you can’t help it you broken girl
Star-shaped dreams keep you awake at night
A lover with a heavy gaze and fingertips like feathers
Who makes you forget yourself
Who makes the earth fall away
And the sky open
Who éclipses the labels they’ve given you
Can you imagine this?
A world of stars and the absence of the need for reality
Dreams with beating hearts.
All they are…are dreams after all
Lovely at night
Stupid in the light of day.
But yours after all. And isn’t that the point?

Kimkoa 2018

Sent from my iPhone

The Other Side of Beautiful

She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

This was an ugly time for her. The laundry lay in a messy pile, the sink was full of dishes. Her teenage son slept lankily on the couch, his limbs hanging off the edges. She cursed the tiny one bedroom but it was all she could afford. In fact she’d be lucky to make rent this month. She ran her fingers through her curly hair, grey at the roots, dark brown at the edges. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been to the salon. She looked at her hands, her bitten fingernails. She sighed and decided there were more important things to worry about. Like yesterday when she saw her son squeezing his feet into his shoes, wincing slightly. She’d have to come up with the money for new shoes and soon. She wondered if her boss would give her an advance on her paycheck. They could eat ramen and hotdogs for a month if they had to but he needed new shoes now.

She shuffled over to the coffee pot and pushed the button. The familiar gurgle gave her some reassurance she could make it through another day working the checkout line. She never thought she’d be scanning other people’s groceries at forty-one but life happens and she found herself with few if any other options. The coffee pot was full enough to pour a cup so she grabbed her favorite mug from the shelf and filled it with the hot liquid. After adding the milk she put it back in the fridge. The coffee was hot and perfect. If only she could stay there in her slippers and threadbare robe with the hole in the side drinking coffee at the tiny kitchen table. If only she didn’t have to change into the formless black polo and slacks, affix her name tag and drive her old, blue camry to greet the line of impatient shoppers.

”Mommy! I peed!” Her daughter’s voice rang out through the silent apartment.

“Did you pee in the potty Maisie?” She prayed for a yes.

”Yep and I wiped front to back!” Maisie’s pride in her accomplishment was palpable.

“Good job baby! Now go start getting dressed!” She looked over at her son on the couch starting to show signs of life.

“Luke! Maisie is up, she’s getting dressed. I need you to get her breakfast. Remember you’re on duty today. I have to work.” Luke groaned and reached for his cell phone.

”Jesus mom it’s Saturday.” He scrolled his Instagram, his eyes half closed. “Are they ever going to give you a fucking weekend off?” His voice was annoyed yet protective.

“Luke don’t swear! And I know what you mean. We’re short people right now you know that. There’s nothing I can do.”

”What about Dad why doesn’t he ever take her? It isn’t fair.” He threw his phone down on the couch in disgust.

”It’s complicated baby you know that.” Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment and anger. Life was a lot of things but fair was not one of them.

”I love you!” Maisie bounded down the hallway and jumped into her brother’s lap.

”I love you too Maisie girl.” Luke smiled at his sister. “Are you my supergirl?”

“Yeah!!” Maisie began jumping up and down on the couch. “Pow, bang!” Luke started laughing. “Supergirls need clothes Maisie! Not just underwear! Gross go get dressed!” He lifted her off the couch and led her down the hall to the bedroom she shared with his mother. “Go find a shirt supergirl!” She watched them head down the hallway and wondered what things would be like if Michael hadn’t left them. She wondered if Maisie even remembered the way things used to be.

The way things used to be. She almost laughed. She knew exactly how they used to be. She could forget a lot of things but never the afternoon she’d come home early from the caterer. She could never forget hearing the barely audible sighs and whispers from her bedroom as she made her way up the spiral staircase to the carelessly half open door. She could never forget opening the door the rest of the way to witness the rise and fall of a pale, freckled back in a swath of turkish bedclothes. Bedclothes she’d picked out; pale grey sheets and a deeper grey duvet cover with tiny, yellow flowers.  She could never forget that image, that moment. The slender, white back that wasn’t hers stretching and curving with an unfamiliar passion her bed had never known. She watched with morbid curiosity as her husband’s dark familiar hands held the girl’s hips gently, guiding them. They were oddly quiet, serious almost. Passionless but for the occasional sigh. Followed by a hushed reassurance as though they were both complicit in their lie. Their shared pretense that their orgasms held no consequences.

She closed the door gently and made her way back down the stairs. She set her single package on the counter and then her forehead, the cool stone stilling the the fury of betrayal thundering through her mind. Hadn’t she seen this coming? Could she truly say she cared? Their marriage had been dead long before this latest betrayal and she knew her husband cared even less about this woman- not even a woman- than she did. The thought brought her some comfort, but not enough to override the humiliation. She felt broken. It was only a month before that the IRS had started looking into their finances. She had seen the notices on the counter, by his bedside table. “Is everything okay?” She asked, knowing nothing was okay.

“Of course babe, they audit everyone eventually. I got this.” He had it or so he said. She had to admit she knew he’d had nothing. But she didn’t care. She knew that the car, the house…even the endless parade of women was merely a front. She knew he couldn’t let them see that barefoot boy he used to be and still was with his tightly curled afro and overalls two sizes too small getting knocked to the floor by his angry drunk of a father, glasses shattering on the dirty floor. “Get up and clean that shit up, you good-for-nothing excuse for a son!” White foam grew at the corners of his father’s mouth. “You heard me! I said get the fuck up and clean up this mess!” Through a swollen eye he watched his father loosen his belt and head towards the bedroom where he could hear his mother softly crying. He knew she’d be screaming soon after each whip of the belt. He cut his fingers on the broken glass on purpose each time she cried out. It was his penance for being born.

*To be continued*

The Purity of Love

When we are seen out together our family is a box of crayons. A rainbow. An astonishing example of the rare combination of purity and love.

Love is never what they show you in movies. It’s raw, exhausting, unforgiving and also the purest thing you’ll ever know. These days people confuse purity with beauty. They confuse it with intellectual prowess. They confuse it with youth. But purity and youth don’t go hand in hand as any parent of a tantrum throwing, toy destroying, wall-kicking child will tell you. No. Purity is its own entity separate from any other reality. It exists in the pupil of the eye just as a tear falls. It wafts through an evening Christmas party past the clinking of glasses and the low hum of small talk. It rests on the surface of water and on the fragile, fragrant petal of a rose. It is always alive inside the heart of the truly in love.

Love can humble the grandest egos or lift the meekest souls. Love means your first teenage kiss. The gentle breeze over the grass, the moon half full, the porch light just about to turn on. Love also means empty shoes at the edge of the bed. A suit laid out. A bouquet of flowers wilting on the dining room table next to a yellow pad with a eulogy written in cursive, several lines crossed out.

For those lucky ones of us, we are surrounded by the many, happy versions of love. We are at ease in our lives. At peace with our surroundings. Truly it is a fortunate existence. But for many of us we are not so lucky. We must placate our greedy hearts with the sanitized pretend-love of the silver screen. A fake-love designed especially for the lonely consumer. For the loveless fan desperate to fill the cavernous space meant to hold their passion and desire.

My husband is Scottish. He even has a red beard. His eyes are the color of a cloudless sky and he’s tall enough to touch the ceiling. His voice rumbles when he talks and his gentle snoring calms my worst nightmares. I’m at least 60 nationalities probably more, but for the ease of description I’m multi-racial. You could call me bi-racial but you’d be incorrect. Not that people who aren’t of mixed racial backgrounds care about that kind of thing, still it is true. You could call my skin color butterscotch or caramel. Toffee works, coffee with cream.  You could be racist and call me high-yellow. I’ve heard it before. Mulatto too. (Just a note white people. Don’t call us mulatto.) My kids are absolutely beautiful and every combination you can imagine. I have two boys from my first marriage and one little girl who was my husband’s gift to me. My oldest son has my skin color and dark eyes, with thick wavy hair. My middle child who was born with straight blonde hair and blue eyes now has hazel eyes and curls that excitedly leap from his head. My daughter who is only five and still finding her place in the kaleidoscope of images has dark blonde ringlets and copper colored eyes. Her eyes were a perfect metallic grey when she was born. She fascinated the nurses.

When we are seen out together our family is a box of crayons. A rainbow. An astonishing example of the rare combination of purity and love. Of course not everyone sees us this way. My husband’s family is a prime example. His parents are in town. They’ll be leaving soon. They’ve decided not to visit their beautiful granddaughter who has been talking about seeing them ever since she found out they were coming. Yes, it’s horrible and they’re horrible. They’re in town for my husband’s sister’s wedding. They didn’t go to ours. Yes it’s gross and sad and everything else you can think of.

It’s these moments I have to stop and think about what to tell my daughter. because of course I went through the same thing. I remember my mother asking her father if she could give me her dollhouse that he made her. I remember him looking over at me with disgust and saying no, not for her. I remember watching my cousins unwrapping their christmas presents at age seven while my grandmother coldly handed me a check and said I don’t know what girls like her want. I felt like part of the floor that day. I knew my father wasn’t allowed in the house. I don’t remember getting a present. Just that stiff paper check and that feeling of “less than they are.”

I had that same feeling when my husband’s mother banned me from her house and my husband would take our daughter to visit without me. I suppose this was before my daughter grew old enough to shine her multiracial light. I watched them drive away and felt that same awful feeling of “less than they are.” I felt it every time he did it. The worst feeling in the world. The opposite of love.

Once I took my sons to my husband’s parents’ house. I was pregnant at the time. We were invited for his sister’s graduation dinner. It took his mother 45 minutes to acknowledge we’d walked in the room. My sons inched closer and closer to me at the table the longer the silence went on. You see my husband’s mother and sister were busy playing with the children of my husband’s ex-girlfriend. So busy I guess they didn’t notice us. Perhaps we weren’t white enough to be noticeable. My husband’s ex-girlfriend is basically vanilla pudding. A pile of snow. As white as it gets. They have wood walls so apparently we blended in. Needless to say I was furious. As I would be every time I saw them. Because not only had they made me feel “less than they are” they did it to my children and I found that unforgivable.

They continued to do awful things and we continued to love each other despite them and the details are less important than the toll it has taken on us, to have such close contact with the opposite of love. I still haven’t recovered and now that they’ve lied to my daughter about seeing her and are continuing their campaign of making myself and my children feel “less than they are” there’s no way I can risk allowing them to poison her life more than they already have. They’ve also hurt my husband terribly although I warned him this is what happens when you marry outside your race, class, parental expectation. He thought his family was different. I knew they were just like all the rest.

So where do we go from here? How do we move on? I already know what I’ll do. I’ll tell my daughter the truth. The same truth I’ve told her since she understood my words. I promised her I’d never lie to her and I never will. I found out the whole ugly truth about my racist grandparents when I was fourteen and I was so angry I never spoke to them again. I would rather have known right from the start who I was dealing with. I’m not letting my daughter go through what I went through. She’s not going to feel “less than they are.” She’s going to feel loved, cared for and never, ever lied to. There’s another special place purity can be found. In the clear reflection of honesty. I’m going to tell my daughter the truth and the fragrance of purity will swirl around us, delighting our senses and building my daughter’s trust in me. Ultimately filling both our hearts with that rare mixture of purity, trust and love.

And as for my husband’s sister who still lives here I suggest she stays far, far away.

 

Venom

You mother in law you
The cars go by and I hear you talking
He’s MY son I think
As the rain falls.
You dirty rat
Nothing equates us
Except a shared lifetime of pain like a mournful rainbow arching across a quiet sky
A sad note
A good son
Stop trying to stand in front of me,
Just because you knocked it over doesn’t mean you get to watch the pieces crumble.
I dreamt this already
And at the end you kneel.

Kimkoa 2018

Sent from my iPhone

 

A Summer of Roses

You cannot breathe in and out without accepting death hides in every corner. It follows us on the wind whispering our name.

Roses make sense to me. Beautiful; all the colors of the rainbow. They smell heavenly. Try to pick one however and you’ll end up with fingers full of thorns. I love that. It’s as if they say you may look…but never touch.

I feel like the stem of a rose lately. I don’t want someone’s hand on my back. I avoid affection. It’s not a good feeling, being covered in thorns, but I relish my sharpness. I embrace being off-putting for once. For the first time I’m completely aware of what everyone wants from me. I just don’t care.

I spent half my life hanging in midair, waiting to be told what to do, where to go, how to feel. I smiled on command. I pleased people. I’m just not that girl anymore. I’m not interested in meeting other people’s needs. I need to soar unencumbered by the pressures of fitting in.

I have few friends. I think this is on purpose. Most people don’t understand me. I’m unusually kind, generous and fun to be around. So when they cross a line, when they hurt me, my kids or just piss me off in general by being inconsiderate, selfish or (my favorite) racist, and I tear into them mercilessly, they are genuinely shocked. How can she say those things? they ask themselves. I of course have an easy answer: Because they’re true and someone had to let you know eventually. You can’t just walk around being an asshole for the rest of your life and not have anyone call you on it.

Everything about the world is changing. That’s really the only constant. You never know what you’ll wake up to. It’s unsettling. However that is life. To live is to be unsettled. You cannot breathe in and out without accepting death hides in every corner. It follows us on the wind whispering our name. We none of us know when the clock strikes zero. This makes for a very strange and macabre existence. We dance on the tip of a blade in this life. Eventually we all stumble and fall.

My sons ask me questions I truly have to think about the answers to. Sometimes I feel pressure from them to be better than I am. But it never lasts. I give them my best answers and for the most part discuss with them what they think the answer is. I never forget they are old enough to alter the course of history. I remember being their age and full of questions. Full of hope. Excited about new developments, theories, discoveries. Adolescence is a magical time when truly anything seems possible. I miss that feeling.

There’s no hiding from a teenager. They see everything you think you’ve concealed so carefully. There’s no use protecting them from your pain. They just feel lied to. Most of the time I feel like I have my hands tied behind my back when it comes to my sons. They spend the school year with their father in Oregon and the brief time I have with them during holidays and part of the summer is almost a slap in the face. It’s not even enough time to feel like they’re wholly mine. That they haven’t chosen some other different, less colorful family to latch onto. Another mother to replace me with. An entirely different life I’m only allowed to see the edges of. Like a child standing on tiptoe desperate to see through the tear in the tent. The lions leaping through flaming hoops. The trapeze girls. The giant elephants with their daintily swinging tails.

This loss of so many moments of my sons’ lives will always be one my greatest sorrows. There are days when the pain is so great I try to swallow and it feels like knives in my throat. Those are the days I don’t talk to anyone. I give one word answers and make no attempt at conversation. Those are the days I feel hollowed out, so broken inside that it is as if all of my feelings have trickled through the cracks in my heart and made a crimson arc on the floor beneath my feet. I leave my feelings there, wet and sad. I want them to show, not me.

My daughter of course forces me to seal up the cracks in my broken heart. She has no patience for grief. She is too young to have lost profoundly. She makes me laugh when I think it least possible. She is not the least bit uncomfortable when I cry. She remains ready with kisses and little fingers that wipe away tears and with them my self doubt. Her belief in me is astonishing. I want to tell her how terribly flawed I am except she’d never believe me.

This summer had some beautiful moments. I breathed them in as deeply as I could. I swallowed them whole. There is no substitute for all of my children together laughing, smiling and being free. It’s a rarity now that I never take for granted. Each time I wonder if it will be the last. I think one day I’ll realize all I have are the memories and I’ll retreat into my thorny stem. Like the rose I’ll bloom for my children no matter how old they get. But no matter how beautiful my flower, once my children go their own ways my thorns will drive the world away without hesitation or remorse.

Planetary solitude and the power of individual expression

My words are mine. My feelings are mine. My expression is mine. I will wear what I want. I will say what I think. I will write what I feel.
My stories are not literal blocks of concrete meant to be carried around on one’s back. Rather they are pictures of emotions wrapped in my poetic language.
Do not censor my voice. Do not bind my fingers with your fear and misunderstanding. Your need to control. Allow me my freedom. My freedom to say what I want, when I want, how I want.
If you cannot understand metaphor. If you cannot understand the power of writing to release that which binds up inside and its ability to soothe the soul than say nothing to me. Because we exist on different planets and to bring us closer would take an act of God.

Kimkoa 2018

Problem Child

At forty-one I don’t bend myself into weird positions just to get people to like me anymore. I’m just over it. My daughter doesn’t bend herself for others either. You can choose to follow her lead or get the hell out of her way.  

So my daughter has become a “problem child” at preschool. She started out her preschool career as an “angel.” In the beginning I would go to pick her up and her teacher Miss Cheryl would tell me her days would be perfect if the class were made up of little Alices. Needless to say she does not say this anymore. After talking with her this morning and hearing about Alice’s behavior in school my heart sank. Of course I came up with a million and one reasons why this was my fault and after ruminating and coming up with a million and one reasons mentally why my daughter was failing preschool on the way home from dropping her off, I pulled into the driveway, ran up the stairs and talked to my mother who luckily happened to be home sick from work. (Let me tell you, having a mother with a doctorate in psychology who used to teach preschool can really come in handy.) After relating the troubles Alice and a friend of hers who is the same age is having in the classroom to my psychologist mother she listened intently and simply said- “she’s bored.”

“Bored?” I said, not having considered this as a possibility but instantly agreeing with the idea.

“Of course. She’ll be five in less than a month. She’s going to school with three year olds. She’s bored out of her mind! She should be in the school-age room. She starts kindergarten at the end of August. It’s June.”

“Ohhhhhh.” Duh. Why did I not think of this before? When her well-meaning but over-worked teacher was telling me how she won’t stay on her cot at nap time. Well, yeah. Because she’s outgrown it.

“You need to call them and tell them to put her in the school-age room. Especially if she’s having problems. She’s only got a month left and she’s going to give them hell. The other day I was there watching her trying to color and a little girl who must have been about 3 years old kept stealing her markers and Alice finally had enough and pushed her. Her teacher said ‘Now Alice we talked about this, she’s never been in school before.’ I was like, Oh my god, no wonder she’s running out of patience. She’s going to school with babies!’ “ My mom had an excellent point. No kid is going to stay bored for long. They’ll entertain themselves one way or another. Jesus, I thought. Why don’t they move them at four and a half at least? My daughter reads. She can do simple math. She paints her nails. She swears. (You want to judge me about that, guess how much of a shit I give) She has fashion sense. She wears lip gloss. She is well beyond a room full of three year olds. Again I really don’t care if you think there’s a problem with that. I think you know what you can do with your opinion.

Of course I’ve long given up on the structure of this particular daycare. They put more energy into their appearance than they do into their actual program. And of course it’s the staff working with the kids that suffer. They don’t get they support they need, it’s like a revolving door for workers and for the ones who have been there consistently and are depended on it truly isn’t fair, they really get overworked. The admin staff sure wants parents to think they’re dropping their kids off into some kind of preschool/kindergarten hybrid, but its just a daycare. A daycare. Oh they want you to think it’s a real school. They spin you a yarn about curriculum and training and certification. They have a lot of stupid I repeat STUPID policies to make you think it’s a school. But truthfully, It’s a daycare just like any other daycare where the kids run around and smack each other with barbies and toy cars and eat orange slices and fill their pockets with rocks on the playground that then end up on the floor of your car. Sure they memorize a word or two in Spanish and practice counting to 20 and glue cotton balls and felt to construction paper, so you feel like your money is spent on something more than just glorified babysitting, but truthfully it’s not. What you’re really paying for is socialization and the ability to do things without your child. Honestly your child won’t emerge anymore of an Einstein than the child who stayed home with their parents until kindergarten. And depending on the parents that other child who stayed home just might be farther ahead. Like way farther ahead.

So anyways I have no illusions about my daughter’s daycare. She’s there because she loves being around other kids, she’s easily bored and I need time to get things done during the day that don’t involve her. Things like writing and gardening. And sitting on the couch for longer than ten minutes without hearing “Mommy play with me!”

This is not to say there aren’t excellent preschools that don’t have fancy curriculums with detailed, well-thought out programs that are designed to enhance the development of the preschool brain at each level and my daughter has actually had the benefit of participating in one such program. But it lasted only a few hours a day, it was extremely expensive, and every kid in there came from such a wealthy and un-relatable family she didn’t end up making a single friend. She just didn’t fit in with such a demographically homogenous group which is a fancy way of saying “all rich white kids” and I definitely did not fit in with their rich stay-at-home mothers. Nor did I feel like trying. At forty-one I don’t bend myself into weird positions just to get people to like me anymore. I’m just over it. My daughter doesn’t bend herself for others either. You can choose to follow her lead or get the hell out of her way.

Anyways she’s got until the end of August and then she’ll be in kindergarten, raising hell and challenging her teachers with her wild and witty wonderful way of learning, understanding, becoming, experimenting, leading, being fierce, being beautiful, excelling, exceeding, paving the way for the rest of the ones who love her and follow in her footsteps. She’ll be creating new avenues her teachers never thought of and they can fight her or embrace her just like every problem child that ever was.

Making the World Over

Raising children in this society parents are faced with the challenge of teaching their children to learn how to manage the delicate balance of individual expression with social acceptance.

The worst thing about makeover shows is that they focus so heavily on our innate fears about what other people think about us. The people on the shows are sometimes truly helped but at what cost? Losing their individuality? How much does it matter what the general public thinks about an individual? Sadly, it does matter, one might argue it matters greatly for the individual’s survival. Even if someone exists on the fringe and becomes successful for being a sort of antihero, feeding off the negativity of some and the praise of others, that praise keeps them afloat. However praise is earned it is necessary. There are those who remove themselves entirely from society and live “off the grid” subsisting solely in nature. This might be the only answer to the pressure of social norms the rest of us face, and not a thing possible or desirable for the great majority of us.

Raising children in this society parents are faced with the challenge of teaching their children to learn how to manage the delicate balance of individual expression with social acceptance. We have to teach our children how to create the kind of world they want to live in which does require challenging and changing social norms. However, it is not so easy changing things. My father used to tell me that if one wants to effect change, one must do it from the inside out rather than from the outside in. His mission was to change the way people viewed him and other black people by empowering disadvantaged youth of color through increasing their educational opportunities. He wanted the world to see that anyone could achieve with the right set of circumstances. He himself was something of an anomaly having suffered through a terrible childhood, yet he took the example set by his mother who died when he was very young and used it as his reason to achieve in life. Not everyone is able to push themselves in such a way. As an adult I can see the wisdom in his words and how they guided the way he lived his life. In the same way my father wanted to effect change from the inside out, focusing on working with children and educators, I find myself wanting to do the same.

Another lesson both my parents taught me is that it isn’t about the cards you are dealt but how you play the game. Like my father, my mother is a shining example of this, as someone who pushed herself forward to achieve despite personal hurdles, someone who has given me every reason to believe that it doesn’t matter what cards you are dealt, what matters is what you do with them. I have watched her teach this lesson over and over as her work has been with people struggling with addictions, mental and physical illnesses, disabilities and disadvantaged youth. She also worked with the criminal element of society and the same lessons apply. In her own way she is also changing the system from the inside out as my father did, showing the world that a woman can work successfully as a psychologist in various fields while at the same time raising a daughter and climbing mountains both literally and metaphorically. I myself am now climbing my own mountains, as I fight to change the stigma associated with mental illness in our society. I realize this is a thing one can only do when one has a foot in both worlds. You have to be able to get yourself heard by those in positions of power. Not everyone can do this. For those who are so profoundly affected by their mental illness, or who are for various reasons unable to speak for themselves about their mental illness, I feel a great sense of duty to speak out about mine in the hopes that someone powerful enough to change things will hear my soul’s cry.

Raising awareness about the struggles of managing mental illness in this society is a passion of mine since I was diagnosed with bipolar I with psychotic features. Before this diagnosis, before my bipolar had worsened to the degree where I found myself hospitalized, I lived with a sense of ignorance in a way. I was unaware of how difficult life really is for people battling mental illness. It’s not just the illness that profoundly affects one’s life but the social stigma that goes along with it. It’s a double whammy so to speak. I have written before about how so many of us are afraid to speak out about the struggles we face because of social pressure. This is a very real and legitimate concern because since I have “come out of the closet” so to speak about my illness, I have faced judgment from people who don’t understand and actually lost friendships. The process has been worth it though, because the friends who are still standing by my side are my true friends and I have no doubts that they love me. I’ve also had people reach out to me and tell me that their lives have been changed for the better by my activism and that is worth a thousand rejections from the ignorant masses.

Another factor when considering effecting change is that it be real and lasting. I often wonder when watching these makeover shows how many of the people go back to their lives and resume their old fashion habits. There is a new show on Netflix called “100% Hotter” and the makeovers are designed to bring people who make extreme fashion choices closer to the norm. I was watching it and one of the people getting “makeunders” received a haircut and color that I couldn’t imagine her maintaining after leaving the show without paying an arm and a leg. It seems cruel to create an ideal that is impossible for the person to achieve on their own without the assistance of the show. Likewise another girl’s makeup was done by an expert with expert techniques and expensive makeup that she likely would not be able to recreate or afford on her own.

Similar to the trouble with creating real and lasting change for someone on a superficial level, it is even more difficult to create that level of change on a deep and meaningful level. Change requires effort. You have to try. You have to move long stuck ideas from the back of your mind to make room for new ones. In my case, when I got sick I realized I had friends who could not accept me with an illness. It was a sobering and painful realization to experience. They could not make room in their lives for someone with bipolar even though that person was one of their closest friends. They had beliefs about people “like me” that they were either unable or unwilling to let go of. The difficulty is how to move those kind of people forward mentally. For me, it is less about them and more about empowering other people like me and educating those people who are willing to grow and change and accept new ideas that may challenge social norms. Once enough people who are able to embrace change do so and break down the old stigmas and barriers, creating a new social norm, the people who were so stuck will have no choice but to change or face being the social outcasts they once hated. Until then I will keep fighting the good fight. I will keep working to change one mind at a time and make the world over until it is a better place to be.

Wildflower

It pleases me to see her zest for learning, her desire to master her world. I think she will not be easily daunted by disappointment, rather it will simply drive her to try even harder.

My daughter has been asking me so many beautiful questions lately about being multiracial. She’s very vocal about it, much more so than her brothers were at her age. “I’m a mix of you and daddy right? I have cream skin like daddy but you are on my inside right?”

“Yep that’s right little one.” I smile because she is so confident with this. She does not yet want herself to change. I wonder how long this will last.

My daughter is a confident child. She is quick to point out her strengths and if there is something she cannot do she simply says she “hasn’t learned that yet.” She is my child who is always saying “let ME try, I can do it!” Sometimes it’s horribly inconvenient and I have to grit my teeth while the cookie dough splatters all over the kitchen or the macaroni and cheese takes twelve years to stir. But I know how important it is for this particular child to be allowed to “do it herself.”

Alice has a need to be able to physically manipulate her world the way adults do. She sees how we deftly open cans, pour glasses of milk, slice apples. For her this is fascinating. I see how kinesthetic she is in the way she will touch everything as she moves through life, her fingers brushing objects, picking them up and putting them down or just shifting them slightly. I wonder if I was this way. It pleases me to see her zest for learning, her desire to master her world. I think she will not be easily daunted by disappointment, rather it will simply drive her to try even harder.

For the past six months Alice has been asking for another Hello Kitty birthday party. Her fourth birthday had this theme and she has been quite clear and insistent that her fifth birthday also be Hello Kitty. Until this morning.

“I want a dinosaur birthday!” (I of course have already bought Hello Kitty balloons to be filled with helium later in anticipation of what I thought we had already figured out.) I hear her say this brightly to my husband, both of them downstairs as he is about to leave for work.

“You’re having a Hello Kitty birthday party.” My husband says this kindly and matter of factly expecting that a simple reminder will be enough to squash this deviation from the plan she had already set in motion, Of course with Alice nothing is ever that easy. She immediately starts crying.

“I want a dinosaur party! Whaaaa!!!” This is her whine-cry. the most annoying sound on the planet. I sometimes think this sound could be used as a torture device to elicit confessions from the most hardened criminals.

“Alice, you’ve been saying you wanted a Hello Kitty party for months and mommy already bought balloons!” My poor husband tries to rationalize with what once was a little girl and is now “The Beast.” 

“Daddy, you’re mean! Whaaa-aaaa-aaa!” She is inconsolable.

“Alice you have to talk to mommy about a dinosaur party. I love you very much, I have to go to work.” My husband has given up, he knows as well as I do that once The Beast has reared its ugly head, there can be no winning. He begins making his way out the door.

“I’m never gonna love you again!” Alice yells this as the door is closing. The door stops short of closing shut.

“Don’t say that, not as I’m leaving!” My husband is audibly agitated and hurt. Alice is already stomping up the stairs crying. My husband sighs. “I love you very much Alice.” He shuts the door. My daughter can be such an asshole. Ah, the effortless cruelty of children!

“Daddy is mean!” Alice is crying as reaches the top of the stairs.

“Daddy loves you, he’s not mean.” I’m firm with her, deciding how best to handle The Beast. I can tell how tired she is. I wonder why, she wasn’t up that late.

“Daddy says I can’t have a dinosaur birthday party!” I can’t tell if this is a passing desire of hers or if she’s actually serious. I do know someone with an awesome air powered tyrannosaurus rex costume.

“Daddy didn’t say that, you can have a dinosaur at your party. Now you need to eat your cheerios.” Still crying Alice shoves a bite of cheerios into her mouth. I quickly start Reading Rainbow on grandma’s laptop silently thanking God for technology and walk over to the counter to get my tea. I make a mental note to text my husband later and make sure he’s ok after this morning’s encounter with The Beast.

As I’m drinking my tea I notice the tulips on the dining room table. They are a mix of white, pink, and lavender, The white ones have opened fully, the pink are open but not as widely and the lavender are just beginning to open. They are poking out at different angles giving the impression of flowers leaping willy-nilly from the vase. This image makes me smile. I decide I love tulips and wonder how long the blooms will actually last. I look at Alice grumpily eating her cheerios. Her hair is as wild as the tulips. The thought makes me giggle. I head to the bathroom to get the brush. Alice starts to whine-cry as soon as she sees the brush. This has become routine for us. “Alice,  now I know it doesn’t hurt because I haven’t even touched you yet! Enough of that noise or I’m turing off Reading Rainbow!” This is something of an empty threat because we both love watching Levar Burton teach us about harvesting cranberries or mixing clay for native american pottery. Alice quiets down and lets me brush her hair into a bouncy ponytail. I think to myself how she has no idea how lucky she is. My hair took three times as long to do and hurt a hell of a lot more when I was her age. My mother had to learn how to deal with my unruly mass of curls. They have better products for mixed race hair now. My children are lucky.

After Alice and grandma left for school and work I was typing at the counter and looked back over to the table to get a glimpse of the cheerful tulips and noticed something Alice had left on the table. Then I remembered she had something clutched in her hand when she stomped up the steps and kept it with her through breakfast. Ironically, the entire time she was throwing a fit she was holding a hello kitty party hat from her fourth birthday. It’s the same little hat she has been carrying around with her talking about her Hello Kitty fifth birthday she is going to have since Christmas. I think about how perplexing that must have been for my husband. I wonder if any other moms have ever done a Hello Kitty dinosaur birthday party before. I realize I will have to check the internet for ideas. I decide my daughter is awesome. Perhaps it is fitting for my mixed race child to have a mixed character birthday party. It could be like subliminal messaging for the single race people who attend. Not that anyone is actually single race anyways and now it’s being argued that it’s merely a social construct but that’s a whole other post. I’m laughing now as I go back to typing on my laptop. I think about how my mother exclaimed yesterday that she hopes I don’t run out of things to write about. Oh no, I told her, there is always something, Especially when you’re raising one of Alaska’s purest wildflowers.