Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Calm away you submissive bitches

Our new puppy, 11-week-old Juno, recently met our neighbor's half-bear/half-horse (who still somehow classifies as a dog). This giant could have gulped Juno down in two seconds and we wouldn't have had time to flinch. Instead, the 200 pound monster nudged my puppy once with his nose and Juno rolled immediately onto her back.

She chose to become her most vulnerable when she was already clearly not in a position of power.

I, too, feel like it's all I can do sometimes to endear myself to the natives here.

Just nudge, and then lie on my back.

And wait.

And just be. Vulnerable. Really vulnerable.

Juno, were you afraid that the beast would swallow you? You didn't look it. You must have known...that somehow the scary, drueley monster would not take advantage of you. You knew that he would acquiesce to your position of begging for mercy.

I wish I had your trust. You made it look so simple.

It's beyond terrifying to submit to the will and whim of another.

Maybe you are able to submit because you have not yet felt the blows of disappointment--you haven't yet been attacked by a beast.

We humans are much more complex than you canines: we size each other up, we question motives, we speculate a word's intentions and desired meaning, hell, even a gesture's meaning gets the run-down; we offend and get offended and hide and cower and brag and judge and sneer and fear way more than we need to or should. And. We don't sniff out each other's crotches. At least not right away.

Or maybe that's just me.

It takes us humans a long time to find our position of submission. I suspect it may in fact be the last of all of our other postures.

It was your first.

Which made it kind of beautiful. In a sad sort of way.

It's an alignment, a placement, and ultimately, a paradox.

To submit and to be a bitch.

I have carried the "bitch" label proudly much of my adult life (my mother even bought me a bottle of wine with the name, my brother, a beer mug, and others...I have a shrine of bitch relics). To me it signifies my attempt to not let people walk all over me, belittle me, or tell me what to do. My effort to not fit neatly into the "female" label. I speak for myself, I have opinions, and I am assertive (sometimes too much). I challenge assumptions. I question authority. I don't wear a skirt unless I damn well feel like wearing a skirt. I like to play along in the man-game. Usually. Except when I'm trying to make friends. Then I try to be submissive and nice. But then it's awkward. Because it's not normal for me.

I joined a book club here. This past month, it was my turn to choose the book and to host. All present (but me) claimed that the book seemed "very American, but not in the bad way that is usually meant by 'American'." (though no one explained this other meaning to me, I have my suspicions that it involves Kim K, arrogance, flippancy, and way-too-large houses and hair)... I had not seen that one coming.

This "American" book is Gilead, and it is one of my favorite books in the world. I didn't know that it was so "American" but to me it is a book about grace and honesty and a human's fear of submission to another. It is a book about relationships. It is a book about life. And the love we all long for.

And. The book contains a line that makes me cry every time I read it.

One character is speaking of how he longs to connect to this man who is like a son to him...

He recalls:

"I wish I could put my hand on his brow and calm away all the guilt and regret that is exaggerated or misplaced, or beyond rectification in the terms of this world. Then I could see what I'm actually dealing with." -Marilynne Robinson

Perhaps it would be nice if we could all deal with each other in this most honest, vulnerable way.

If we could all become submissive bitches.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Poverty and Summer Camps

My son Thys (the Asian one) got nominated for a special camp this summer. We got a flyer in his take-home folder that told us this news.

"Why did you get nominated, Thys?" I asked at dinner.


End of conversation.

Inquiry ensued:

School secretary? Clueless. Teacher? MIA.

Resource Teacher? "Yes, hmmmm, we nominate kids who can't afford summer camp."


One minute later, WTF?

And the next minute, Shit! All those days I let my children dress to their own whims and this is the consequence? The disheveled hair, the ghetto lunch boxes, and the handmedown backpacks, hell, the handmedown everything, has led them to believe that Thys is impoverished. Holy shit.

I will not reprint the email/inquiry letter that I sent to the Principal.

I will, however, reveal to you my greatest fear--the underlying visceral reaction that I have to such situations.

It all goes back to the comment I have heard since we learned of Thys. It goes something like this:

"You are a saint for adopting him," or "What a great thing you've done," or "He is so lucky."

As if he is a Yahoo headline, and we should have a plaque in our entryway that reads: "People who have adopted and therefore admitted into their lineage a human who was not produced by their own body fluids... live here." Who would volunteer to draw the logo for that copy?

As if we should be commended or applauded any more than anyone else who has chosen to parent.

Because if you choose to believe that logic, and take it to its conclusion, then Thys is a sympathy case.

And if you believe that he is a sympathy case, then you believe that he is in need of sympathy. And if you believe that a young human is in need of sympathy, then you begin to treat him or her differently than you treat everyone else. Everyone else whom you perceive as "normal" and not worthy of your sympathy.

He does not, in fact, need to be treated differently than anyone else. He is smart enough (and has been for quite some time) to know that when you treat him differently, you perceive some kind of inadequacy in him, some hole that others don't have, a deficiency (and even if he were not smart enough to decode this, it would still be unfair. Think of other special needs kids in your life.)

Have you ever had someone else feel sorry for you? Perhaps because you lost a running race? An eating contest? A job you were in the running for? Yes, the sympathy from your friends may be nice... for about five minutes. But as soon as that minute six comes along you want everyone to stop reminding you that you lost. You want everyone to shut up about it. How would you feel if two years later someone came up to you with that hangdog look on their face and told you that they always think of you as "that person who lost the job." Tell me you wouldn't want to smack them.

Nobody likes sympathy for long. Humans need attention for other things.

So please, don't feel sorry for my son. Don't treat him differently than you would if he were born to me. Don't tell him he's "cute" because he's Asian and you haven't seen any Asians under the age of 20 except on TV. Don't tell me that you can't even see the scar from his repaired cleft lip when he's in earshot.

If you do, I may have to... write you a letter too.

My husband and I are neither holy nor saintly nor deserving of any praise--or any sympathy--for adopting Thys. We chose him for the same reason so many others choose to get pregnant (or choose not to abort). We chose to have a child in our lives... to hug, to discipline, to teach how to swim and how to cook, to feed, to have a reason to say: "table for four," to buckle into a car seat, to watch from the sidelines, to hear laughter from, to build lego towers with, to watch kick a ball, to listen to banging piano keys, to capture the pain of tears and relish in the thrill of joys. It is a path we chose consciously.

He is our son. We chose him as much as we chose to conceive our other son. No more, no less. No first, no second choice.

Telling someone they've done a great thing by adopting is like telling them that they've done a great thing by not getting an abortion, or congratulating someone for not cheating on their reduces the humanity of the child and minimizes the real issue: He is a child. We are his parents. Please leave it at that.

Please, no sympathy here. We don't need your camps.

And. We are not in poverty, despite the evidence.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reverse Gap

I know that we've been gone from Denver for a long time now because my memories are fading.

Prior phone numbers are hazy.
Names of acquaintances, all but gone.
What did I used to eat for dinner?
Old routines, disappeared.
What did the sushi used to taste like?

Obscure details are fading like the use of hymnals in a Church--no more wrestling over who gets to hold the side of the hymnal, no more awkward struggle to decide who needs to turn the page.

Public singing is itself, fading.

One of my students asked me where I went to Church on Easter Sunday. I told him I went to a Christian Church. He asked me if we all sang songs together. I said yes. He giggled. As if this ancient practice were as out of date as MySpace.

My memories are reversing just like my thighs. Growing in the wrong direction.

The latest trend is the "gap" between the legs. If you have a young girl in your family, you have likely heard of this. And been very afraid. If you have a young girl in your family, I know that you are on your knees in prayer more than we moms of boys. I wish you the best.

It looks like this:

I looked at myself in the mirror and saw that I have the exact opposite of that. I call it my "reverse gap." When I told my husband, he laughed in a way that sounds like he agrees, but will adamantly protest that I am wrong.

Mine look like this:

And I refer to them as affectionately as I used to refer to my "girls." Now I say things like, "Look. That chocolate Easter Bunny just traveled straight to my reverse gap." And if I'm in public I just say "reverse." I usually say this just to hear that laugh. That one that says he knows, but is pretending he doesn't. As Shakespeare once penned: "I do believe [him] though I know [he] lies."

I never was good at getting into reverse gear in my stick-shift Chevy Cavalier.

It can be a sticky, grinding gear. It isn't natural.

I am that old.

Another student of mine has a screen saver of a sexy supermodel. When I saw it, I gave my best disgusted, gutteral sound, and asked him why he needed to have a picture of me on his computer since he sees me every day. He went with the joke. He thought it was funny too. Too funny. At one point, he went with it as if it was as far fetched as my boys not wanting to play hockey, or as outlandish as Tim Tebow playing in the NFL next year.

Then he went way too far. He said "Look, it's Mrs. R in 1993!"

The assumptions underlying this seeming compliment were wrong on too many levels.

As if there's no return. As if I couldn't possibly recover my smooth skin (okay, I never, ever had smooth skin), or my reverse gap, or my perky girls, or my pimple-free thighs, and who am I kidding, pimple-free everywhere. That they've been gone for at least 20 years.

According to him, I suppose it was a compliment that he recognized that they ever even existed.

We grieve the loss of our young, perky bodies like we grieve many losses.

Things are gone. Things are fading. We are in reverse.

Holy Texting

I'm all for utilitarian texting: "Don't forget eggs,"or "Feed the children."

Or out of laziness like when I text my husband from upstairs: "Goodnight."

But a holy holiday somehow, in my mind, precludes utility.

Someone in Denver texted me on Easter Morning: "Happy Easter."


That was it. It was enough to set me to tears. Days of them.

I thought about it for a long while before I texted back. I carefully and thoughtfully crafted my response: "Thanks. You too."

Because it wasn't what I really wanted to hear on Easter morning.

I mean, c'mon, Jesus rose from the dead, can't we just be honest for a day in honor of that?

And since I can just fantasize with my keyboard here, this is what I really wanted to hear, preferably in person, voice would've sufficed, text would have been the last choice (and really long to type):

"We miss you terribly. Holidays are not the same without you here. We all sit around and cry all day missing you and recollecting memories. Like the time you made us all laugh when you claimed to know something, or the time you beat up your little brother in your favorite game of verbal sparring... The absence of your presence is notable. I wish you well on this day of celebration that our sins are indeed forgiven since our savior conquered death. Happy Easter."

And thank God He did.

I have been demoted to a holiday text message. How quickly we're forgotten.

Yes, I could've called. But impressive and hindering is the weight of sadness.

And lest you worry that I'm just busy feeling sorry for myself here, I have a new companion. She too has recently been displaced, far away from her parents, and her siblings, and her home.

Her name is Juno, after the Roman Goddess, the protector of women.

And though she bites me sometimes, and is still learning to pee outside, we are enduring our sadness together.