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Archive for May 2012

Big thoughts

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“Mom,” little blue eyes full of concern gaze trustingly into mine as I wipe sticky hands and cheeks with a warm washcloth. “My butterfly is asleep and it’s not moving anymore. I think it needs more flower juice to wake it up.”

“Let’s look at him together,” I reply calmly, but my mind is racing. I intended to let the butterfly loose before this happened; I dearly wanted to avoid having this conversation with my three year old. What do I do, what do I say? What if I get it wrong?

My own introduction to death came at the same age, but at my grandfather’s passing. I was told that he was resting, that we wouldn’t see him again for a long time but that he would be resurrected into his heavenly body on judgment day and then we’d all be together forever, as if he’d been cryogenically frozen rather than the victim of a deadly stroke.

These are not messages I want to share with my son. I no longer feel any confidence in my knowledge of the future and I am okay with that. I want him to experience that humility in me, to understand that the unknown is not necessarily terrifying.

But…how?

We approach the butterfly’s cheery, flower-filled cage together. The butterfly is crumpled on the floor, its wings wrapped downward around its body. I brush it gently with my finger, but it remains motionless and brittle.

“Is my butterfly okay, Mom?” my son asks uncertainly, his voice quavering with worry.

“Yes,” I reply automatically. Wait, no…um…

“He is okay,” I continue slowly, feeling out each word as I go along. “He is just done being a butterfly now.”

“Oh!” my little son’s face lit up with excitement and relief. “Is he going to go back into his chrysalis again now?”

“Not this time,” I reply, gaining confidence as I go. “This butterfly has been an egg, and a caterpillar, and a chrysalis and a butterfly, and it has already done its flying and drank its flower juice and laid its eggs. This butterfly is all done being a butterfly. It has died now so that it can recycle its parts to make something new.”

“Like…another butterfly?” D follows uncertainly.

“Well, we need to have a little funeral for his butterfly so that we can send it back into the planet. The Earth has lots of special bugs who help take old pieces apart and recycle them into great new things like plant food.”

“So the bugs will feed my butterfly to a flower?”

“Something like that,” I have to chuckle at his bewildered expression. I’m not sure how we’re doing here at all, but I keep talking. “The butterfly parts will get recycled into flower parts and they will be part of the flower. And if a hungry baby caterpillar is crawling on that flower-”

“Then the flower parts will be baby caterpillar parts!”

“Right! And if a chicken eats the caterpillar-”

“Then the caterpillar will recycle into chicken parts!”

“Yes! And if a boy eats the chicken-”

“The chicken parts will turn into little pieces of kids!”

“You’ve got it, kiddo!” I’m grinning now. “What do you think about all of that?”

He pauses to think for a moment, and then- “Do any things eat kid parts?” he asks.

“Not really,” I reply. “Sometimes way out in the wild a creature wants to eat a person. But mostly we are the luckiest creatures of all. We live very, very long lives and use our parts all up, and when we are done with our parts the people we love give us back to the planet.”

“And then out parts turn into flower food?”

“Yep.”

“I see,” he murmurs, squinting his eyes a bit as he contemplates this new information.

“But mom,” he continues at last, “Where do all the parts come from?”

“Well,” I answer slowly, “We don’t know the whole story. But a very long time ago, a star died. And when it recycled its parts, it turned into Earth parts.”

“Was it a supernova when that star died, Mom?”

“Well, it was big. It was a big explosion. I’m not sure if it was exactly a supernova or not but it was enormous.”

“And all of our parts are recycled star parts?”

“Yes. We are all made out of tiny pieces of stars. We are star creatures.”

“So what happens when the Earth dies, Mom?” D forges ahead of me, intrigued. “Will the Earth pieces recycle into a new star?”

“You know what, buddy? I really don’t know. The universe is too big for me to know all about it. I think that is a what we call a mystery. No person on the whole planet knows the answer to that question. We can only make guesses.”

D returns his gaze to the dead butterfly and seems lost in thought for awhile.

“What are you thinking about, dude?” I ask at last.

“I was just thinking,” he sighs, shaking his head as if to clear his thoughts. “I’m going to figure out the Earth mystery, Mom, but later. We need to recycle this little butterfly right now.”

“What do you think about recycling your butterfly?” I ask. I’m still not quite sure how D is taking this.

But D smiles.

“I think it’s the coolest of all.”

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Written by GRSeim

May 24, 2012 at 4:02 am

Underbelly

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My mother was present in the crowd the day that Martin Luther King told us about his dream. She lived in Mississippi in a house staffed by a black yard man, an elderly black cook and a black nanny who left her own children behind every day to care for my mom and her three white siblings.

It will shock none of my readers to hear me say that my grandmother was racist. She was a “sweet” racist who believed that employing black people was a charitable thing to do; that they were simple, childish people who benefited greatly from her patronage.

My mother and her siblings have struggled all their lives to reconcile their cherished memories of their mother with the blatant reality of her racism. My uncle has made a career out of seeking social justice. My mother became a public health nurse, eager to find ways to give back to the underserved community that her favorite nanny introduced her to as a child. All of my relatives are slow to talk about racism and quick to point out the good qualities exemplified by the previous generation: grandmother always visited the yard man every time he went to jail. She used to take her kids to visit the elderly cook in the state-run nursing home she ended up in once her declining health forced her to stop working. Her African-American servants liked her; she was racist, but she was a nice racist, and I guess that is supposed to make it all better somehow.

I never met my grandmother. She died of ovarian cancer the year before I was born. I grew up in the South, though, in an all-white neighborhood not too far from where she raised my mother. I remember the first time a black family visited our Southern Baptist church; I was eight years old at the time, and fascinated by the way the light seemed to glow from within their skin, the colors they wore, the way ice purple eyeshadow shimmered against the mother’s perfect eyelids like a frost in early spring. Her name was Christine, and I still feel a thrill when I think of her, so tall, so stately, so perfectly composed and dignified as she graciously ignored my stares, let me observe her and her family without showing any of the completely justifiable fury I certainly would have felt if I’d been in her shoes. She must have guessed that I had never seen a black person before. She was patient and gracious and invited me to her home for tea. She listened quietly without interrupting when I asked her nine year old daughter why all of her Barbies were black, and shook with laughter when her daughter replied, “It’s because they drink too much chocolate milk. We love that stuff around here. Did you know I was white like you when I was born? But then I started drinking chocolate milk and would you look at me now!”

My mother still complains about the vast quantities of chocolate milk I consumed in the weeks after that visit. I mean, deep down I knew it wouldn’t really change the color of my skin, but…it didn’t hurt to try, right?

I will always be thankful for the gift Christine gave me in letting me get to know her family, being patient with my childishness and ignorance, not abandoning me to a de facto inheritance of racism and bigotry. It was because of Christine that I became obsessed with Addy the American Girl doll and devoured her accompanying books, begged to be taken to Civil War reenactments, memorized speeches by Abraham Lincoln and Booker T. Washington. Somewhere along the way I was introduced to feminism through Sojourner Truth. Later, I found myself completely swept away by Alice Walker, Billie Holiday, Maya Angelou, bell hooks, Audra Lorde.

These women’s lives and messages resonate with me in a way that I can’t fully explain. Part of it is what we share in common. I was denied access to education and prevented from making autonomous decisions. I still don’t feel like I’ve been able to claim my sexuality as my own. I have a long way to go, and honestly, I’m never going to fully recover from what’s been done to me. I was taught from infancy that I had a place in society, and that place was at the very bottom of the heap. And I knew in my soul that it was wrong, that I was hearing lies, that if I fought back hard enough and long enough I would eventually succeed in claiming control over my life. Other women’s stories of perseverance and anger are deeply meaningful to me because that same fire and innate sense of truth has been my salvation.

On the other hand, though, as I explore the lives of these great women I am torn apart by our differences. I think the differences between our lives impact me on an even deeper level, because I know that it’s not right. I hear Wanda Sykes laughing bitterly about the racial disparity in prisons and I know she’s right. I can get away with absolutely anything and I know it because I’ve done it. I stole candy from the store all the time as a kid. As an adult, I stole diaper cream when I was too broke to buy it and my son broke out in a painful rash. I have taken off with grocery carts when I had no other way of carrying food home. I have been let off the hook for letting my tabs go a month past their expiration date, snacking on leftover food at work, smoking on our non-smoking building property. I am never, ever carded, not even at my twenty-first birthday celebration. People assume (wrongly, often enough) that I am up to good things when they see me, because I look “normal,” meaning white. I consider myself to be a basically good person and think well of myself and my moral judgment, but when I consider how often I’ve intentionally screwed up it’s humiliatingly obvious that I have nothing to congratulate myself about. I have not had problems with the police because the police don’t suspect me, not because I am morally superior to people who get caught.

I don’t really know how to make sense of my racist heritage, or how to continue the trend of progress in my children’s lives. I find myself agonizing over the most ridiculous things sometimes, like, should I provide my children with multicultural dolls, or does that send the message that other races of people are commodities to be collected? This particular dilemma is exceptionally silly because neither of my kids are even a tiny bit interested in doll play, but I continue to cause myself to break out in hives over this and other questions like it because I deeply want my kids to just see people as people. I want them to feel free to marry a person of color and have babies who won’t share my frizzy red hair and know that that partner and those children will be loved and accepted into the family. I want them to feel free to dislike a person of color without going into hiding for a few weeks to unravel whether or not their negative feelings are fueled by racism. I want race to not be a thing for them. I want them to just have friends and know people and be seriously horrified someday when I tell them how far we’ve come as a family from the days when our ancestors were fighting in the Civil War on Stonewall Jackson’s side.

I don’t know how much progress you can realistically hope to make in one generation, but more than anything else…I just want this to be over.

Written by GRSeim

May 19, 2012 at 7:35 am

Making something of myself

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My dad’s mom grew up in a log cabin in the Appalachian mountains. She was sexually abused by relatives and married her boyfriend when she was fifteen as a way to escape her family life. She divorced twice and had a child by one of her ex-husbands before settling down with my grandfather. They had three kids together, and my grandfather abused them all pretty horribly. The two girls in the family had completely ended contact with him long before he passed away. My own father is weirdly loyal to his dad and defends his memory valiantly against the completely non-existent attacks he worries someone out there may be leveling against his character. It is impossible to convince my dad that, outside of his own little world, no one else knows or cares about his father. Even now as a grandfather himself, he can’t disconnect from his abuser fully enough to put his experiences into perspective and recognize that his dad was human, fallible, limited. The mind control continues to this day.

I have nothing good to say about that side of my family. Alcoholism, anger management issues, racism, homophobia…you hate it, I’m sure we’ve got it in spades. My grandma claims to be a prophetess now. She. has a whole walk-in closer devoted to the storage of ancient, dusty cassette tapes that contain recordings of her “divinely-inspired prophecies,” which are all, conveniently enough, uttered in tongues. I’ve been told that you have to have the gift of interpretation to understand the tapes, which, fortunately, my dad totally has! Listening to the two of them in prayer together is like wasting an hour on the most entertaining online fortune cookie generator ever. It would be awesome except that they will lay hands on you to cast the demons out of you if you don’t join in and try your best to look really super constipated until grandma gets tired of uttering holy gibberish.

The rest of my grandmother’s home, naturally enough, houses her collection of more than 8,000 dolls, most of them porcelain collectors editions. My personal favorites, though, are the 4′ tall, completely life-like looking dolls tucked away in a closet in a spare room that is stacked to the ceiling with boxes of dolls. I ran across the closet full of grinning, unblinking, kid-sized dolls one day while trying to blaze a trail from the door to the window for fire safety reasons. I still have nightmares about those dolls. There must have been a dozen of them stacked in there, dusty but still smiling, staring blankly into my face. I am not one for big dramatic displays of emotion, but those dolls got a good scream out of me. Grandma may not have been crazy when she moved into that house, but clearly anyone sharing a living space with a basketball team of demonic midget dolls isn’t going to stay sane for very long.

All this to say, I have zero positive associations with my maiden name and would have gladly traded it in for a nice last name like Skocdopole or Bhatnagar. So when my now-husband proposed, my first thought (after “FINALLY!”) was, “AWESOME. New last name, here we come!”

I never actually did get around to changing my name legally, though. I go by his last name, but the paperwork…well…initially I blamed my foot-dragging on the hassle involved, but over the years (we’re approaching our fifth anniversary this June) I realized that I don’t like his name too much. It’s a weird German name and it’s a mouthful to say and you always have to spell and then re-spell it for people and it doesn’t suit me particularly well. It doesn’t have any connection to me, it’s just the name of a guy I married and have kids with. I feel completely comfortable calling my kids by my husband’s last name, but I’ve finally realized that I never got around to actually making the switch because I don’t want to. I want something completely different, in fact.

I want to change my name completely.

I want to take my mother’s maiden name, change my first name and drop my middle name entirely. Maybe replace it with something androgynous and weirdly awesome, like Kirby or Wallis, I don’t know. I feel like you can have more fun with middle names…but I digress.

I’ve talked to a few close friends and family members about my desire to change my name and other than one very dear friend who has known me since infancy, they have all tried to discourage me from taking the plunge. They are worried that I’ll experience some sort of weird personality crisis if I start going by a new name, or that this is a symptom of some sort of identity crisis.

Honestly, I’m pretty concerned that people will always think I’m unstable once I make this change, but it is something I need to do. My given name drips with conservative Christian values and no one else ever calls me by my name. It is humorous to observe the verbal gymnastics people go through to avoid calling me by my name. I have wanted to change my name since fourth grade and have never personally identified myself by my given name, so I don’t expect the change will seriously warp my personality. And let’s be honest…it was a little off to start with, anyway.

Now the question left to answer is how to establish my new name in other people’s minds, how to actually make the change real and stop myself from caving to the well-meaning but suffocating pressure placed on me by family and friends. I’ve been waiting for something concrete to come along to make this all feel real, to give me the little kick I need to actually do this, and I think it came today when my son pointed to a letter on a sign and said, “Look, Mommy, that’s the letter M like Margot! That’s your name!”

And…wow. Like it or not, there is no going back now because I don’t care if the rest of the world sees me as unstable but I will be a rock for my kids if it kills me. He knows my name, the name I love to hear, and he’s never going to have to know me as the conflicted formerly-religious person I was before. He’ll know me as I want to be: fierce, dynamic, countercultural. He’ll know me as I’ve always been, beyond the conflict and guilt and shame imposed on me by religion.

So here’s the plan: I’m putting money aside out of each paycheck, and when I’ve saved up $200 (by the end of July at the latest) I’m going to legally change my name. I’ll post the picture of the name change documents on Facebook once complete, along with a 3-5 paragraph long blog post about why I’ve decided to change my name and acknowledging that people will struggle to accept the change, and that will be that. I’ll change all of my documents to my real name and I will have it. Maybe no one will call me by my name properly, maybe it’ll never catch on but I will know. I will sign my checks and get my diploma all with the proper name written on them.

And my son will know. That is really all that matters.

Written by GRSeim

May 19, 2012 at 6:58 am

Summer cold

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I’ll admit it, I really thought we were going to escape the curse of the summer cold this year. We are just so goddamn health-conscious all the time, how could we possibly get sick?

Sadly, being obsessively natural and eating farm-fresh vegetables by the truck load did not render us totally immune from viruses. As a fringe benefit to this newest round of the sneezies, however, I have discovered a new reason to love being product free people.

As I’ve mentioned before, we wash our hair and bodies with baking soda, vinegar and the occasional splash of Castile soap, and I make my own deodorant out of baking soda, corn starch and coconut oil. I do not use any fragrances anywhere in my home and try to make sure that the things I smear, spray or dab on my body are edible and wonderful for my health.

How does this relate to our current bout of illness? Well, weirdly enough, I’ve discovered a new superpower that I did not know I had before. You know how your body goes through a shedding phase a few days before you begin showing symptoms of a virus, making that the most likely time to infect the people around you? Well, since giving up on oil-stripping soaps and shampoos and fragrance-loaded grooming products, I’ve discovered that I can actually detect a distinct change in my children’s normal body smells during this phase. A solid 48 hours before they begin showing any sort of lethargy or stuffiness, I’m able to identify the impending illness by smell and start canceling play dates and pushing the fluids, garlic and sunshine. Nifty, right?!

I tried to read more about this slightly icky phenomenon online, but was able to find very little on the subject. I did find a handful of references to doctors smelling their patients as a common part of their exams back in the house call days, and also a few people claiming to be able to recognize the smell of developing cancer in its early stages. That one really caught my interest, because wow, would that not be useful? To be able to detect cancerous growths before they began to cause troubling symptoms? I have no personal experience with sniffing for cancer, but it does make sense to me. If I can easily smell an impending head cold, I would suspect that the aroma change caused by a potentially life threatening illness would really grab my attention.

Written by GRSeim

May 19, 2012 at 2:14 am

Posted in Hippy Dippy

Lunch TIME

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I breastfed my first born, who is sensory sensitive and was unable to touch solid foods without gagging until he was well over a year old, for the first thirty months of his life.

My second child is turning one next month and we are still going strong.

This is what a thriving breastfeeding relationship looks like.

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This is not a radical lifestyle choice for us, or any sort of political statement. It is what it looks like: lunch. Don’t over think it.

P.S. please note the trickle of milk on M’s chin in the second picture. Milk drunk babies make me giggle. Deeeelightful! 🙂

Written by GRSeim

May 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Abuse

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The little girl rounded the corner too quickly and nearly bumped into me.

“Ha, oops!” I laughed as I sidestepped her.

But the little girl wasn’t smiling. She held her hands clasped to her mouth and began to tremble.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, her eyes flooded with guilt and shame.

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” I assured her. “People bump into each other in stores all the time. It’s okay.”

She stared back at me blankly.

“Hey!” an angry adult voice sliced through the store. “I told you to get paper towels and come straight back! If you aren’t back here on the count of five we’re going back out to the car and then you’ll be sorry! You’re really asking for it today!”

The child’s jaw clenched automatically as she turned to duck away from me, returning to her parents, going back into the hell I know so well.

“I like your headband,” I called after her weakly.

She glanced at me over her shoulder, cold, numb eyes shining with tears that she’s learned to keep to herself over the years. I want to hug her, to let her know that she can get herself out of this, that she isn’t powerless, that even at six years old she is not alone and doesn’t have to take what life is giving her, that people will believe her if she speaks up and that help will come.

But that would be lying, and she’d know it. All I could do was stare after her and hope that, maybe by the time she’s a mother, things will be better.

Written by GRSeim

May 12, 2012 at 7:41 am

When Obama endorsed marriage equality…

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Written by GRSeim

May 10, 2012 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized