Wednesday, November 19, 2008

morning yearning

'morning yearning' is the title to one of my favorite ben harper songs.

i've been dreading this post for awhile, but also hoping to glean some sort of therapy from it.
i know this may sound dramatic, especially when most days i fume about how mad my chillin' are making me, but the reality is i'm such a softy at heart. the older they get, the harder it is for me to leave them.
perhaps its the speech- the fact that they too now have their words (words are undoubtedly the way to my heart), or maybe its just the time spent, a solid 3.5 years for lils and almost 2 for oz. whatever the reason, i am just sick about having to go on vacation without them.
one of b's best friends from college is getting married in oaxaca, mexico this january. although there was no mention that it was a kid free event, we somehow made the decision back in april to go solo. the tickets purchased (award mileage!), the deal done. after much thought we decided the kids will stay at our house with b's parents, and my mom will be available at a moments notice to help. i'm aware i couldn't ask for a better way to leave them (at home with not one, but two sets of grandparents!!), but the crazy thing is, is most days i have at least one solid hour of anxiety about it. things like, what if they don't know that morning smoothie goes in a straw sippy, and juice goes in an ozzy sippy, or how many naps will oz have to wake without me to ease him out of dreamworld, or what if my in laws can't find a park to take them to.
when i think about it in depth, i realize that perhaps it isn't even that their needs won't be met in the perfect fashion they are day to day with mom and dad. maybe its more that i will miss them so terribly i will ache. my mom tells me of the time she left my brother for the first time. he was 3, and i was 4 years away from even being born. she went to hawaii, and described her time as, "restful at first, but then a yearning came over me that was so intense, that my body and soul literally ached for him..."
i know. we're a dramatic lot. most of you are thinking- "i'd leave my kids with anyone to be able to go on a trip alone with my spouse.." yet i can't quite get there. i know i'll miss them terribly, but the thing that seems to irk me the most is knowing that they will be missing me. that just kills me. as a mom i never knew that my desire to see my kids happy would outweigh everything- from the mundane to the major, i really just want to see them smile.
often times when i'm laying with lily after i read her books, i began to write out the 15 page manual in my mind i will undoubtedly compose before we leave. yet i can't ever sit down to write it because i'm concerned things will be different in two months. nothing major, but even two months ago we'd rock oz to sleep for his nap, now we just lay him in his crib. or that lily only wears shiny pink shoes to preschool then immediately puts on her flip flops. kids love routine, and they love when you know what they love. will they really survive 5 days without me???

whatever the result, the time will ultimately present itself and b will likely have to pry me away. our drive to the airport will undoubtedly be me trying to stifle my cries, while b wonders if this was really such a good idea. and once i get over being convinced we will die on the airplane, i might muster up the strength to have a margarita to take the edge off... at that point b will likely have to hide the phone so i don't start drunk dialing my own kids. oh mexico, will you really be worth it?
so my dear friends, think of me the second week of january and if you get a chance, throw one up for my kids... and well, me.

i guess ben nailed it, cause the last refrain sums up my sediments....
like a summer rose I’m a victim of the fall
But am soon returning
Soon returning
You’re love’s the warmest place the sun ever shines
my morning yearning

Sunday, November 9, 2008

craving culture

when i was seven my dad moved out. what proceeded over the next year was your basic divorce. in my little mind it seemed amicable and surprisingly pleasant. i never felt torn or scared, almost as if my child likeness was a blessing. my brother, 15 at the time left to go live with my dad in a small apartment on the other side of town, while my mom and i stayed in the "big house" until it sold. because the big house demanded a bigger mortgage my mom began to entertain the idea of having a roommate to help cover the expense. it seemed logical, we lived close to cal poly and the house was plenty big enough for us and another person. she put an ad up, and we quickly began to get responses. because i was young, i obviously didn't have any say in the matter, and before i knew it my mom introduced me to john carter. looking back i wonder if i was in her shoes would i have allowed a college age man to live with me and lily? would i have felt safe and confident that he would act responsible and upstanding around myself, but more importantly my daughter? its hard to say, but looking back it is so clear that john carter was undoubtedly sent by god. the impact he had on our lives is so vivid and relevant in my life today.

when john began moving his things in, our neighbors began to talk in hushed whispers. ironically, to the left and across the street from us were devout mormons. growing up with them, it mattered little that i wasn't mormon, or even remotely religious (that came way later). i spent countless hours playing across the street with leslee keep- with our birthdays 1 week apart- we were destined to be friends. i loved her family, and they were such a source of stability for me as my parent's marriage began to unravel. when barb, leslee's mom confronted my mom about john, my mom simply said that she felt totally confident in her decision.

why the fuss? john carter was african american.

sometimes i wonder how my mom managed to not only secure a man to live with us, but a black man- demographically speaking the odds were entirely unlikely (less than 1% at cal poly). john lived with us while we lived in the big house, and after it sold, he packed up alongside us and moved into a little 3 bdrm house on pismo st. the front room johns, the middle moms, and the last mine. in tow came oscar- the dachshund- my consolation prize for losing my dad. the funny thing about oscar is he never got used to john, though he was also brown- he was more racist than any of us- barking incessantly at john any time he came through the door.
john lived with us his entire college career- 5 years. At the end he graduated the first black man magna cum laude in math. those were formative years for me. i have so many memories of life with him and my mom...

i remember he used to spend a lot of time in his room. i only went in there a handful of times, he was protective of his privacy. the times i did i wanted so bad to look through his books, and inspect his prized watch, instead i just stared and imagined sneaking in when he left (i never did). john studied a lot. i never once saw him drink alcohol and his beautiful girlfriend, erica never spent the night. he went to church every sunday... and a few times managed to drag us along.
john cooked a lot. our house was really old, so when he'd get going in the kitchen, the smell could be so intense. i used to feel embarrassed about all those smells- from the "exotic" foods, to the creams and lotions he used for his skin and hair- i knew my house didn't smell like my neighbors and friends. sometimes i'd wish so much that we could be normal- that my mom would cook and it would smell of fresh baked bread or chocolate chip cookies- not leftover hushpuppies and black eyed peas...

i'll never forget the time i was playing in the creek (it was literally our backyard)
and i somehow managed to fall in a bush and get probably 50 little briar balls all ratted up in my hair. when i came up to the house, my mom was so overwhelmed, she got a brush and was using it and her hands to try to get them out. john came home, and seeing my mom's frustration, immediately got a bottle of conditioner and got to work. he spent an hour and half getting all the briars out and getting my hair combed. talk about a labor of love... and patience!
sometimes my mom would ask john to tutor me in math. i remember being so frustrated that he made me figure out the answer- he'd never just show me the formula, or give me the answer, he'd always make me work for it!
i can also remember walking into the kitchen and seeing my mom near tears talking to john. i always steered clear, but she's since told me that he was such a huge support to her as she went through the divorce and navigated her way through life with a pre-teen daughter. my mom told me that john told her when he moved out that she was the most beautiful woman inside and out that he had ever met... my mom savors that.. i would too.

having a black man live with us quickly became something we didn't even think about. rarely even behind closed doors did we talk about what it might look like. in fact john never brought up race. in retrospect, i know that he felt strongly tied to his african american roots. i remember talking about martin luther king, and he kept correcting me to say, Dr. King. i would ask him crazy questions, like, "what if dr. king was white, wouldn't that have been better- then people might not have killed him right?" and john would just look at me and say, "why does it matter what color he was?"
the one time i remember john being really upset was when he came home from gottschalks. obviously not a place he frequented, he went there one evening to find a birthday gift for his mom. he said the moment he walked in the door, till the time he left, a security guard followed him. he never went to gottschalks again.

this morning while i was running with oz in the stroller my thoughts kept meandering to the election. i passed many yard signs, about half for obama and half for mccain (i was in the burbs of LO). my mind wandered to john, i wondered what he thought of all this, and if he was voted for obama. i began to think about where he is now. i found myself wishing he still lived here. wishing that i could have his kids babysit mine, that we could have him over for dinner and chat vigorously about raising kids, the economy, price of homes, and of course politics and religion. i crave culture, i long for more diversity. but then i realize that for him, living here would likely make him 1 of 5 black families in los osos, and all that culture i long for could be oppressed if felt he had to subdue it. i imagine he's happier in mississippi- i picture him married to erica with five or six little kids running around. i like to think of him with lots of aunts and uncles and cousins around, going to church on sunday, teaching math at the local uni, making egg pie and grits... as i lost myself in john's current life i couldn't believe my eyes, i looked up and right there walking down pecho avenue was a black man. at first glance i thought maybe it was just a guy wearing a black beanie, but as i quickened my pace i caught up and sure enough walking by was an attractive black man probably in his late twenties, walking down the street with the cutest little five month old in a baby bjorn. seeing as how i'd never seen him before in los osos, let alone my little neighborhood, it took everything in me not to stop and try to talk to him. with restraint, i instead ran on by imagining what smells were being conjured up in his kitchen tonight, and wonder if he ever got the opportunity to live with a divorcee white woman and her pre-teen daughter?

so this is for you john... wherever you are. i wish you could know how much you shaped and defined who i am. i am eternally indebted.