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We did it

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It took five years and nearly cost us our marriage, but my husband has finished his B.A. degree. He starts his new job as an internal auditor next month. And in the meantime…we’re doing a lot of day drinking and lazing around in our pj’s all day.

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The kids and I attended the graduation ceremony together, just the three of us, and I couldn’t get over it…it was exactly the way I’d hoped it would be. They were both so excited to see their daddy dressed up in his cap and gown and loved all the streamers and music. It was such a proud moment for all of us. I can’t believe we really made this happen.

Written by GRSeim

June 13, 2012 at 6:13 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

Bucket List

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1. Meet someone special.
2. Settle down.
3. Pop out some babies.
4. Decide what I want to be when I grow up.
5. Finish school
6. Get a job
7. Write something awesome
8. Retire
9. Travel around a bit
10. Do whatever the hell I feel like doing because I’ve already had my babies and don’t need to attract a mate so who cares if anyone else likes my make-up or my muscles or my hair or my attitude or my clothes, it is ME TIME.

To be completed in whatever order I want because no one’s the boss of me, so there.

I wonder if the Purple Hat society would take me on as an honorary member, at 24.

Written by GRSeim

May 9, 2012 at 4:16 am

Waste Not

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We were walking out of a restaurant downtown one day when a middle aged woman stepped into our path and boldly demanded, “Are you going to eat those leftovers?”

Jon and I shifted uncomfortably, glanced at one another -because, yeah, we were going to eat them. We were still teenagers, I was pregnant, we had no car, and we were only eating out because I was too sick from hunger to walk the remaining mile and a half to the nearest grocery store. We were in a pretty bad spot ourselves at that point. But we’d also had our eyes opened to the complex reality of poverty, how easy it is to fall into destitution and how hard it is to claw your way back out.

So we handed our takeout boxes over and a tradition was born in our family.

Waste not.

A few years later I found out through my reading that this is a pretty common practice in other countries, sharing leftovers to prevent good food from going to waste. It’s a good habit, one that is surprisingly easy to embrace.

Here’s how it works at our house:

We do not leave food to rot in the refrigerator; if things are sitting around, likely to go to waste, we make a post on freecycle or Craigslist, or spend the afternoon hunting for Jimmy and Elizabeth. They always appreciate our cooking.

When we leave a restaurant with a take-out box, we do what we can to pass that box off to someone before we leave the parking lot. If that fails, my schizophrenic friend, Curtis, is easy enough to locate at his usual haunt at the corner of the highway, and he is always thrilled to get a box full of warm, good-quality food.

Now, I have to admit I do not feed people indiscriminately. The scary-looking guy who hangs out by the university and screams for help all day long? I double check that the doors are locked before I drive by. The war vet who throws things at cars and roars about the injustice of his situation as the traffic zips by? Yeah, I feel bad, but I avoid the intersection where he hangs out altogether.

You can’t just prance up to any person, homeless or not, and assume that they’re going to turn out to be nice people. You have to trust your instincts. However, it’s also important to recognize that there is no correlation between having money and being a trustworthy, decent individual.

Conversely, we’ve got to cut the “noble savage” crap that gets thrown around so much when the topic of homelessness comes up. Homelessness is rarely a lifestyle choice, and most people are not too proud to accept help, even of the half-eaten variety. I’ve only had a person refuse food I offered them once, and that’s because the guy was seriously allergic to the food I was offering him.

It boils down to having a can-do attitude. I can’t end homelessness in my community, but I can end hunger, easily and at no extra cost to anyone.

I can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but that doesn’t mean I’m helpless. Not by a long shot.

Written by GRSeim

May 4, 2012 at 6:42 pm

I hope I remember this day when I’m old and gray

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This was one of those perfect days when everything just went right. Even the weather was perfect.

Jon spent most of the day at a case competition where he and his team won second place. We’ve been giddily discussing what to do with the $500 prize.

While Jon was off making us proud, I took the kids downtown via public transit to celebrate the Space Needle’s 50th birthday. What a blast!

I decided to try to beat the crowds and had us all downtown at 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning. It worked out fantastically well, because it was really just us and the street sweepers for the first hour. We played on the escalators at Pacific Place, chased pigeons around Westlake and had Pike’s Place almost entirely to ourselves. It reminded me of when Corduroy the bear got to explore the shopping mall at night. Pure magic.

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The Blue Trees at Westlake Park at 7:30 AM

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The Market Piggy Bank

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The giant orange sculpture in front of the science center disappoints another generation of Seattle children by not being an enormous slide. Believe me, son, I share your pain.

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D’s first real experience of the mesmerizing International Fountain.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, we came home to this:

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That’s right, the best (or second best, depending on who you ask) pizza place in the city gave us dinner for free today! It just doesn’t get better than this, really, life couldn’t be any better than it is today.

Happy birthday, Space Needle!

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Written by GRSeim

April 22, 2012 at 2:43 am

Dawdling

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Springtime brings dramatically variable weather in Seattle; newcomers and visitors to the area are always astonished at how well the word “capricious” suits our weather patterns at this time of the year.

“This outfit was perfectly reasonable for the weather when I got dressed this morning!” they’ll protest. Rookies. Everyone knows that your springtime survival here depends on your ability to master the fine art of light layering. (And you thought Seattle folks didn’t care about their clothes…we do! We are huge fans of all the big names: REI, Patagonia, Columbia…)

Today was a very typical Spring day; it started out with a downpour, and my phone buzzed constantly with texts from my husband saying things like, “I look like i just got out of the shower,” and, “Dammit, I forgot to bring an extra pair of socks.”

My little neighborhood bird friends took cover on my patio and chirped pitifully at me while they shook the water off of their feathers. They were gone again before I could get myself together to clean the soggy birdseed out of the feeders, though, tempted away from their breakfast by the sparkle of warm sunshine. Fifteen minutes later a hearty wind kicked up and knocked my feeders over entirely; it brought a thick cloud cover along with it, which had burned off completely by the time we’d finished our breakfast and morning story time.

On days like this, those in the know head to Swanson’s Nursery. It is probably my favorite spot in the city, particularly the little cafe, which is nestled inside a greenhouse.

The kids and I enjoyed a light lunch of salad and sandwiches, perched at our table by the koi pond.

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Later, we wandered through row after row of native plants whose names and uses I learned from my own mother: bleeding heart and salal, kinnikkinnick and camas. I hope that I am able to give my children the experience of maintaining a real garden before they move out of my home. I’ve kept a modest container garden going ever since I’ve been married, but I get a bit lustful when I start pursuing the colorful array of plant life not entirely suited to patio gardening.

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Later, we made our way up to the North greenhouse to check in on the baby chicks the nursery raises each season. We happened to be around when they first arrived this season and D has become very attached to them. I have to say, they are awfully cute.

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The kids were both drowsy from the lulling warmth of the greenhouses by the end of the afternoon. I tucked them into the car with our lovely new garden additions and enjoyed one of the most luxurious experiences of modern motherhood: the peace of a car full of nappers. It was all I could do I keep my own eyes open.

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Written by GRSeim

April 19, 2012 at 4:54 am

Birth and the Patriarchy

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I am so sick of seeing women policing other women. Controlling other women’s choices through fear and shame is, and I can’t stress this enough, NEVER ACCEPTABLE.

Women approach childbirth with intense fear because doctors rape us, slice our vaginas with scissors without warning or concern for our pain and suffering, tell us that we/our babies will die if we don’t obey them to the letter, leave us out of the decision-making process when making vitally important and intensely personal decisions about our births, force us to take medications or have surgeries that we do not want, ignore our requests and pleas and routinely injure us and our children, sometimes fatally. And before you suggest going the natural birth route to solve all of these problems, let me just say this: I was raped by my midwife while attempting a homebirth. So don’t think that there’s an easy answer. Don’t tell us that if we would just obey you instead of obeying someone else, everything would be fine. Our poor judgment isn’t the thing causing the maternal health crisis in the States. Our fear is not irrational and it is not the problem. Our trust is not the problem.

The problem is that medical professionals have serious authority issues.

When you start obeying us, the crisis will be over.

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Written by GRSeim

April 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm