Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Thousand Words Aren’t Much

Perhaps you have noticed that I have taken down my class schedule. That’s because I’m not really teaching anymore. I’m allowing myself the use of the adverb “really” because I am still going to do a workshop in June or July- I think- but my regular gigs are done. I ended them. Homeschooling four children is difficult enough without having to run from gig to gig. If you’re also a parent, you understand.

I will miss my special adult time, but the math has always been problematic. I get a good wage for this line of work, but it’s not enough to make up for the billable time my husband misses when I work.

When I tested out for my Pilates certification in January- right before I pulled my children out of school- we had to show our stuff on the apparatae and then take a written test that included both multiple choice and essay questions. I like tests as much as anyone else- not that much- and I get excited by multiple choice questions. Good, I’ll be out of there soon. I groan a little bit at timed essay questions, but I usually do well on them. I was told when I called for my results that I did very well, and it gave me an inkling that maybe I could write about Pilates. Maybe. I asked some people I knew about the opportunities, and I was unimpressed with the economic potential. Hmm, maybe, but nothing I was going to chase.

Then, out of the blue, a friend of mine asked me to write a guest post on her blog about Pilates. Hmm... okay!

Explaining what Pilates is, why it’s a good thing, what makes a good instructor, what proper alignment is- books have been written about these things, so I hope I’m forgiven for needing three blog posts to cover those topics. (If I had to explain the exercises... that would take an entire website.) The first post went well, but my friend wanted me to break up what was supposed to be Part 2 into Parts 2 and 3. I’m windy- shocking, right?

I was pleasantly surprised that she liked it- editing on five hours of sleep might be ill-advised. I clicked over... and then made a face when I saw some of the pictures she used. You can judge for yourself. I will only tell you that my husband said that I looked heavy in one picture, that another picture was a good shot of a certain part of my anatomy and that I looked really good in the third picture. All of those shots were taken the same day.

I started thinking about another picture of me, one I sent to another friend when I put something up on her site about body images. (Damn, I’m a media whore all of a sudden.) Have you heard about My Body Gallery? Take a look, please. Women are putting up pictures of their bodies, then others can search by height and weight, with optional filters for body type. It’s a reality check to see what real bodies look like, and how different two people of the same height and weight can look.

Some of us posted our stories. Here is mine. (But please, look at the others. This one broke my heart.)

Technically, the pictures at the Studio are the “Befores” and the one on My Body Gallery is the “After”. So... which is the fitter Deb? If you said the last picture, you’re wrong, and not just because I’m obviously tired in that one.

Clearly, I’m thinner in the picture of me in my hallway (I didn’t pick the paint colors, the condo association did) than I am in my trainer’s studio. I don’t have to worry about any bad angles there. But my body is dysfunctional here, and that’s what I wrote about. At some fundamental level, it wasn’t working, and who cares what you look like when almost everything you could eat hurts your body in some way? I did like myself despite that- I still do- but I liked myself when the other pictures were taken too.

I fondly remember the day we took the pictures in the studio. Some people may think I look like a sloppy mess in the first picture, but what you’re seeing is me concentrating on a movement I’d never been able to do before and that felt AMAZING after I got it down. I felt more open and comfortable in my body than I ever had. I was strong and limber on the inside, and I felt good.

Right now, my size is somewhere between both pictures, but I feel much worse. My hips and hamstrings are tight- I have never had tight hamstrings before- and my sides are achy. Part of that is where I’ve been sleeping, part of that is that I’ve been carrying around a big, heavy double-bass twice a week, and part of that is that it’s been hard to get in a functional workout with everyone all over me- and trying to find more time to write. (Go figure.)

But who cares what I feel like?

This morning I taught my last kid’s yoga class. I wanted to cry a few times. I love those kids, and I wanted to take a few of them home with me. It was the right decision for me and my children, but correctness doesn’t make for less sadness. Sometimes it makes the sadness worse. Everyone understood, and we’re all hopeful that I can come in at least a few times next year. To soothe my achy heart, they gave me a beautiful bouquet of colorful daisies, which I held to my heart as I walked to the Farmers’ Market.

As I was walking, three men- one of them on a bike- came up to me and started a conversation. They insisted, actually. Where was I going? Was I giving the daisies to my boyfriend? What did I teach? Oh, yoga, that’s much harder than the Iron Man Triathalon one of them did. Could he have a daisy? At this point, I would have given him the whole bouquet to go away, so I let him pick one out. Thought I’d get out scot-free, but of course they got in the predictable yoga position joke. I cannot leave the house these days without having some kind of unplanned adventure, but I guess that’s better than being bored.

I told my husband what happened, and he was mad that I didn’t hit the guy on the bike. I was too busy wondering what the Hell some twenty-something- purported triathlete, no less- was doing wasting his time with me. My husband looked at the tank top I was wearing. “Must be the shirt.” Except that I had my jacket on at the time.

I was getting enough- too much- of the same when both sets of pictures were taken, too. I guess I’ve got "it", no matter what I feel like.

But I’d rather have my flower back.

Deb in the City

To NYC and back

Yesterday I took my four children to New York City. I had been planning this for over a month, but still there was last-minute craziness and negotiation. The focal point was getting to the American Museum of Natural History, but I had also promised Sam that I would take her to a vegan restaurant. We settled on Peace Food Cafe. Then I made plans to visit with my sister and two friends, two of whom had last-minute schedule changes. But we got it all done- in eight hours.

Actually, make that seven-and-a-half hours, since the bus got in late. The boys were, predictably, little loudmouths in the morning, but our fellow passengers were bleary enough that we didn't rate too many nasty looks. Why bus? Because I didn't want to pay that much extra for a train to have to wait an extra two hours to get back, as I did last time I took the train.

We met with my sister first. We would have walked, but the bus got in so late that we would have kept her waiting, and she was a busy, busy woman on a schedule. So we took a cab. I don't do that a lot in Boston, but the cabs are much cheaper in NYC. Who knew?

The boys were excited to see my sister, but they were disappointed that their cousins weren't with her. That's okay- she's been a mom long enough to know that no one really cares about her anymore.

After our quick visit, we walked over to Bryant Park to meet an old friend I hadn't seen in almost twenty years. God bless her, she was very patient with tantruming Simon, and we managed a few minutes of uninterrupted chat while the three little ones went on the Carousel. It was wonderful to see her, and nice to sort of catch up. (She has great hair, by the way.) Eh- that's what email is for until my children can safely amuse themselves.

Now off to lunch. Sam had really been looking forward to this. She got a quinoa salad- which took forever to arrive. I got a juice- it was almost 90 degrees, and I was exhausted. Jaz and Jacob got pizza, Simon got a sandwich, and we got soy nuggets and chickpea fries for the table to share. Simon didn't want his sandwich, so I ate the vegetable filling while he shared the pizza with his siblings.

How did I like it? I felt the same way I felt after Grezzo: it was just okay, but because I paid a premium price, a little less than okay. It didn't help that one of the servers banged my juice on the table, but everyone else was otherwise polite. I didn't *get* the fries. They were basically rectangular pakora batter, but part of what makes pakoras so yummy are the potatoes- which this didn't have any of. I thought it was sort of bland, but better with the sauce. But who cares what I thought? Sam loved her salad, and all of them loved the vegan cheese on the pizza, as well as the nuggets. We'll take it.

And then, at long last, the museum. I knew we wouldn't be there long, but I paid full price anyway. Support the things you like when you can. The kids were eh about the planets- although Simon liked the ecosystem in glass- but everyone livened up in the whale room. When Sam had been just a little older than the boys, she had run out of that room screaming. I didn't blame her. It was her idea to go back, sort of like Ahab going after Moby Dick. She did not run out this time, and neither did the boys. They were awed, and the rest of the hot, hurried day was worth it.

The dinosaurs weren't as fabulous, but they liked the mammals. The boys loved the amphibians. I tried to find the Neanderthal exhibit, but we ended up in primates and the boys were too frustrated to go on. Simon had a break down because we couldn't go into the Butterfly exhibit, but we were able to get out in one piece. Just about an hour and a half- a minute more would have been too much.

We walked about 15 blocks, then tried to get a cab. We waited at least 15 minutes, then waited about ten trying to get through Times Square traffic. Grr.... next time, more walking.

We met up with my friend near Penn Station, fifteen minutes late. Bless her, she came with us into the station, figured out where we needed to go to catch the bus, walked us around to find food and stood outside with us for about ten minutes even though she was turning red in the heat. That's my buddy, and has been for twenty-three years. Love you, K!

And then, finally, on the bus. Within half an hour, the boys were asleep, then the girls, then me. Ah, sleep. As awesome as that was, it didn't make up for getting back to Boston 40 minutes late. What the Hell? Michael was there waiting for us, with a cold drink to boot, but it didn't make up for getting home after 12.

Opportunities for improvement next time. Still in all, a good trip. Anything to see the look of awe on my children's faces.

Deb in the City

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Farewell, ghosts

When I was in college, I was in a relationship with someone who was clingy, controlling and manipulative. You know the type. This person isolated me from my friends and monopolized all of my attention, sometimes at the expense of my studies. But never at the expense of his.

You know about the knocks to self-esteem, and the way everything becomes off-kilter. Now add constant criticisms of my body to the mix, and you can imagine how much I grew to despise this person.
When I entered college, I was somewhere between 120 and 125 pounds, skewing more towards 120, at 5'5". I stayed very thin- I might even have gotten thinner- my first two quarters in college because I was in a musical production that required me to dance (as well as I could). I was also commuting and I had no money, so I just didn't eat that much.

Then the production ended and I started dating this person. Slowly, I gained weight. This person did not let me forget it, whether through words, deeds or looks. So you know, I got up to about 155 pounds- overweight, to be sure, but probably not obese.

The relationship ended as badly as you might imagine. On the way out, he tried to cheat me out of a good sum of money. That was life-changing. Of course I didn't let him, and I went from seeing myself as something of a victim to knowing that I was a fighter, no matter what happened. I felt like I had won the final battle in a war, and I spat every time I said his name.

This went on for years, even after I married someone who thinks I'm the best thing since a pint of Guinness.

In the back of my mind, I still felt like this person had taken something very precious from me- namely, one and a half years of my life, and that wide-eyed trust that so many young people have. If I heard about any success of his, I seethed. Where was the justice?

And then, over 17 years after we'd broken up, I saw him again. I was walking with my children in The Commons, and he was behind me. Oh. My. God. He looked every bit the curmudgeonly, negative, domineering and prejudiced jerk that he had been before. But now he could pass for someone ten years older... and it looked like he had a little bit of a paunch to go with his double-chin. I'm assuming that's why he was dressed in workout gear and using an iPod.

Um... Ha!

I know that's a little shallow, and I apologize. For the record, I've dated only person that everyone else thought was gorgeous. That person is my husband. When most of my relationships ended, friends and family frequently shook their heads. Most of the reactions I garnered were, "Can't you date someone good-looking and nice next time?"

(Hmm. Maybe that's part of what makes someone treat others so badly.)

That day in the Commons, I saw the last 17 years pass by in a whoosh. I was so lucky I hadn't been with him any longer. And I was, in a way, free of much of the nagging doubts and negative self-talk that had echoed things he'd said. Who cared what someone like that had to say about me? But...

I used to frequent a website called about fitness. The site has a forum where people talk about dvds, fitness philosophies and favorite instructors. Diet talk is off-limits, although people still manage to squeeze in "clean eating". There is also more than a bit of chatter about instructors' bodies, and it's been said more than once that people didn't click with an instructor because they felt she (always a she) was out-of- shape.

I'm not there as much anymore.

This morning, however, I clicked on as I do occasionally and saw someone post "I am so upset." I opened the thread- how could I not?- and became upset myself.

The poster had recently had a baby. She's lost all of her baby weight, which a lot of new mothers don't. However, she still has "saggy" breasts from nursing, and her skin is stretched from the baby. The problem? Her husband had yelled at her about her body the night before.

A woman is most vulnerable to domestic violence when she's pregnant or when they have a young child, in part because it's such a stressful time for everyone, and in part because she is so vulnerable. I was afraid for this woman when I read this.

Other people chimed in. They, too, had been in relationships where they weren't good enough for their partners, no matter how heavy- or thin- they were.

As I posted my reply, I told my story about my ex. I pictured her, tired and trying to take care of a baby, and then on top of it getting yelled at by some jerk who isn't satisfied because she doesn't meet an airbrushed ideal of what a woman should look like. I pictured those words going more deeply into her mind than they would have if she had a decent amount of sleep, and didn't feel on unsure footing as it was. I pictured the person yelling at her being just like my ex. She shouldn't make my mistake and let someone like that get to her.

And then it hit me- someone like that had gotten to me for over 19 years. That person had dominated me for one and a half years, but I had let him work his poison that much longer.

He's not the only one. I was haunted by other relationships for years until I caught up with people online or sometimes in person. And not just old boyfriends, but old friends gone bad as well as old bullies. Once I saw what someone looked like in the present, almost always, the spell was broken. Not because everyone has aged so badly- a couple of exes have done quite well- but because they looked like people, not ghosts. In my mind's eye, I imagine interacting with them not just as they are now, but as I am now. And the person I am now would never take as much garbage off of anyone as I did when I was younger.

The problem is that I don't usually look these people up. If anything, I've avoided all contact with them. A good strategy if I'm afraid of blowing up. But maybe not-so-great if I want closure.

I could beat myself up over what else I could have been doing with my time, but I'm not going to. I'm proud of who I became in spite of my ghosts, and I'm proud of other things I've done. All of the negative experiences haven't kept me from making friends or having a good marriage. On the contrary, they've helped me choose my current friends well- and I have. And they make me appreciate the handsome husband who thinks I'm hot even after giving birth to four children.

Farewell, ghosts. Excuse me as I live the rest of my life.

Deb in the City
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Marie's Story (Part 2)

Part 1

Marie couldn’t stay in the program in North Carolina for more than three months, and without the ability to apply for housing, she had no place to go. She was in touch with her family in Boston at this point, and they told her that she should come to live with them. They’d take care of the kids while she looked for a job.

A cousin brought her and her children to Boston, and almost immediately Marie was concerned. Her mother’s sister and her husband resented that Marie’s mother had left her an inheritance, and they were unsympathetic to Marie’s explanation about what happened to the money. In addition, they wanted some kind of remuneration for her stay. Marie had no money, so they wanted a portion of her food stamp benefits. Taking someone’s food stamp benefit is illegal but common.

Marie was that much more motivated to find some work, but in 2009 Massachusetts was in the middle of a recession. Worse, her relatives were unwilling to provide her with the childcare they had promised while she went on interviews. She set about trying to get a childcare voucher as soon as she could.

Before she could, her relatives were increasing the pressure on her. At one point, they demanded that one of her children go to time out for the majority of the day. Marie refused. Another time, when her uncle was scolding her children, he made a move to take off his belt as if to hit one of her children with it. Marie, given her own history, was unnerved.

All this time, she thought that she was going to be in Massachusetts temporarily. Her boyfriend was in touch again, and he promised to get her out as soon as he could leave his current, government job assignment. But, for security purposes, he couldn’t tell her where he was, and he wasn’t being given a date to be released. So all Marie could do was act as if she were on her own.

She was able to enter a shelter in Cambridge- her uncle drove her. Maybe things were going to get better?

The part of Cambridge she was put in was isolated (and rodent infested). Under good conditions, it’s difficult to get around the area she was in on foot. With three young children, it’s simply dangerous. She was receiving some money, but without a car she had great difficulty buying food to cook and doing the laundry. She continued in her job search, but still there was nothing.

After a few months, Marie was moved to another residence, this time in Framingham. Because of the move, her benefit amount was cut. It was even more difficult for her to get around Framingham without a car, and many times she needed to go to the smaller, more expensive stores for food. It was just one way that poverty made her life more expensive. As such, she ran low mid-cycle, and at one point was without funds for diapers and sanitary pads, not to mention warm winter clothing for her children.

She was moved again, with very little warning, to another site in Framingham. She braced for the worst as she put her possessions into garbage bags yet again, but now she was pleasantly surprised. It was an apartment, with enough space for her and her children. She was also fast-tracked for a program to obtain her own apartment, based on her income potential.

The job market was picking up, finally, toward the end of 2009. Marie got a job interview with a good company. But she couldn’t keep it, because she had no one to watch her children while she went.

One bad move could also still set her back. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, she cashed her EBT benefit, as she always did, but misplaced the cash on her way to the grocery store. She and her children had enough to eat for those two weeks, but just barely.

Since her move to Framingham, Marie had been without a case worker. So she needed to deal with various program administrators herself. At one point, she was in danger of losing access to an apartment. She had been told she would be responsible for a certain percentage of rent, but upon review the contract said a different, higher amount. She brought up the discrepancy, and the administrator screamed at her. This did nothing to encourage her, and she was leery of doing anything with this program. All she had done was try to clarify a misunderstanding. But this was the kind of treatment she was getting used to receiving from the people who were supposed to be helping her.

Miraculously, an apartment came through, but even then she wasn’t free and clear. Marie would have to do all of the moving herself with no one to watch her children. She looked to old friends for help, but no one could watch her children. So she did all of it on her own. It was exhausting, but at last she had a place that she and her children could call their own while she looked for a job.

One of the requirements Marie had to fulfill in order to receive her benefits was that she go to mandatory, weekly job training. This is one of the legacies of the Clinton administration’s push to “change welfare as we know it,” and in theory it’s a good idea. You can’t expect people to get a job and get off of public assistance if they don’t have basic skills. But the strict requirement for this program doesn’t take into account the influx of people in the last few years who are seeking benefits because they have lost jobs they had for years in a receding economy. Many of these people have skills, they just don’t have a place to practice them anymore. For Marie, it was a waste of time, but she went.

During this time, she heard more frequently from her boyfriend. She still hoped they could be reunited soon, despite his increasingly unbelievable explanations for why he couldn’t come to her. Then, once he realized that she was receiving benefits, he began asking her to send him money, despite the fact that he was supposedly gainfully employed. Marie didn’t blink. She broke up with him and eventually severed all contact with him.

Were things finally getting better? The company that had wanted to interview her before asked to see her again. Marie couldn’t believe her luck. The only catch: the interview was scheduled for the same time as the job retraining. Marie did a common sense calculation- surely missing a training session for an interview for an actual job was understandable. She let the administrator of the program know in advance and went on the interview.

The interview went well, even though it’s for a job that’s professionally a step down. It would be a good salary that would enable her to get off of welfare. If she got the job, she would work under contract for two months, then become a permanent employee. Permanent employment- the holy grail for many people in my generation.

But there’s one last catch. Last week, she received a letter in the mail that stated that because she had failed to make the training session, she was going to lose $200 of her monthly benefits. Despite the fact that she had told them she couldn’t come, despite the fact that she had missed it for an interview. Marie has filed an appeal, and that means they can’t take anything away until it’s resolved. But it’s one more step to go through.

There are many ways that Marie’s story parallels mine. My home life was not as violent as Marie’s, but it was volatile. I was separated from my parents and my sisters a few times before I was eighteen, and I didn’t have real independence until I was out of college. Like Marie’s mother, I had a child when I was very young. In 2002, I was laid off from my job after my company had already shed about two-thirds of its workforce. I, too, used that as an opportunity to enter the less secure field of yoga and Pilates instruction. I have even had trouble with a discrepancy between my daughter’s social security card and her birth certificate, one which prevented us from applying for financial aid for college.

But I had a couple of lucky breaks that made it unlikely I would suffer Marie’s fate. I went to a university for free because one of my parents worked there. I had no debt hanging over me when I left school. That made it easier for me to build up enough money to buy a home, which I bought when the market was at a low point. My family was nearby and only too happy to spend time with my children, especially when my first child was born. One family member pointedly reminded me of my rights to terminate my pregnancy through my first trimester. That person, however, was genuinely concerned about me and became one of my child’s strongest supporters from the day they were born. Perhaps most importantly, I married a man who was a dependable partner and father. Our economic circumstances have not been perfect, but having two parents in our household meant that we have rarely been caught short for childcare. Considering what kind of judgment most twenty-year olds have, I think it’s fair to say that a good bit of luck was involved.

“There but for the grace of God go I.” There are many people in my generation who remind me of that adage. They did well in school and they worked hard. Or they just worked hard. They did what they thought they were supposed to do, and many of them did their best. But many of them were in the wrong place at the wrong time at least once, and just enough to push them past their resources.

Some people will read Marie’s story and question her choice in men. She’ll be the first to admit she could have chosen better. She also understands at least some of what went into her acceptance of erratic and shabby treatment from someone else. But other people have made bad decisions about partners, and it hasn’t screwed them.

Marie was in an industry that was- is- undergoing major upheavals at a time when social safety nets were disintegrating, and for a variety of reasons she couldn’t depend on family and friends. I’ve known people with similar circumstances, but they had stable jobs. Many of her jobs were temporary positions. Someone can criticize her for not having gone after permanent jobs, but those are becoming more scarce in every industry. Much of the time the calculations people have to make suggest that taking the first job that’s available is better than waiting for one that’s ideal.

It must be said that Marie has also been the victim of dueling prejudices. On the one hand people look at an African-American, unmarried mother of three on welfare and immediately think drugs, lack of education, bad choices and/or a lack of responsibility. Aren’t those people bad investments of time, money and energy? On the other hand, other people who know about her academic accomplishments and job history- be it social workers looking at her records or old classmates- shake their heads disapprovingly. How could someone so intelligent be on welfare?

There are countless ways that choice, chance and circumstance can come together to put someone in a vulnerable position. It’s just too easy to come up with a reason to blame someone for their own troubles. What’s the point in that? Maybe then we don’t have to help- or care. But we should care, if only because that could easily be us.

Marie, despite everything, has stayed strong and hopeful. She is resilient. She’ll survive, and she’s already giving her children a better life than she had. But it would be nice if she could catch a break.

Deb in the City

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Marie's Story (Part 1)

I want to tell you about my friend Marie. Marie isn’t her real name, but this is a true story. Her story is about what happens when timing, family, friends and social safety nets fail you. I think many of her contemporaries will feel, as I do, that her story could have been theirs but for just a little bit of luck. A little bit of luck goes a long way.

Marie is my age, 37 going on 38. I met Marie when we were in the sixth-grade. We were both in an accelerated academic program. She went on to high school and then a prestigious university in Boston. She graduated with a degree in Engineering and found work in her field many times in positions that she stayed in for years. She doesn’t use drugs, but she, like many adults, enjoys a nice glass of wine with her dinner.

Marie is African-American, unmarried and has three children. She was born when her mother was 20. Her biological parents never married, which is just as well because her biological father was abusive. Her mother’s family did not feel that her mother was qualified to take care of a baby, so Marie was taken away from her mother to live with a great-aunt. Her great-aunt abused her into adulthood. A sad beginning, to be sure.

Last year, she was with another part of her family that was threatening to both her and her young children. She left because she didn’t feel safe. After spending the last year bouncing between housing facilitated by the Department of Social Services, Marie and her children are now in more permanent housing. As of this writing, she is in danger of losing some of her benefits.

There are easy assumptions to make, but most of them are either incorrect or inadequate as an explanation. Marie has a long story, as do we all. Here are the highlights.

Out of college, she got married and moved to Indiana, on her way to a good job in the automotive industry. Several years later, she still had the job but dropped the husband, a serial cheater. A little while later, she began dating someone else and ended up pregnant. After her boyfriend made it clear that he didn’t want more children- he already had more than one- she dropped the boyfriend but kept the baby, a little girl. She also still had the job, despite the volatility of the industry.

Around 2002, that job dried up. The economy was in a bit of a recession, and the automotive industry was an unsure place to be. (She took a job as a chauffeur to make ends meet.) Maybe engineering wasn’t Marie’s passion. She saw the job loss as an opportunity to pursue something she’d always loved: cooking. She packed up her baby and moved to Pennsylvania to enroll in a cooking school.

Before she could, her biological mother in Boston died suddenly. Her mother left her some money, but a chunk of it had to go towards settling her affairs, including travel back and forth to Boston. After, Marie had some money left over, and she used it to live off of while she tried to attend cooking school and work part-time. One month into it, it was clear that she wouldn’t be able to make her bills, so an advisor suggested that she work full-time. She might have been willing had it not been for her young daughter. For now, cooking school was over.

The money ran out, and Marie didn’t have anything worth staying for in Philadelphia. A friend said she could stay with her in Virginia. Marie moved in, then discovered that the couple she was staying with was using drugs. Fortunately, she found another place to stay.

A little while later, she met another man. They lived together and she depended on him to make the rent payments (mostly with her money). She discovered that instead he was using the money on drugs, but it was too late for her to fix the situation. She, her boyfriend and her daughter were evicted, and they stayed in a hotel until they could find other housing.

Marie discovered that she was pregnant at about the same time her boyfriend’s ex was released from prison. They were in contact, and they were thinking about getting back together. When Marie told him that she was pregnant, he demanded that she have an abortion. He already had other children with his ex, and this was going to make things more difficult. Marie refused, and he became violent. He tore a phone off of the wall and threw it at her, cutting her leg. She called the police, and they advised her to take her daughter to a domestic violence shelter.

She and her daughter were at a shelter for a few months, but she ended up going back to her boyfriend after she had her baby, another little girl. He had said he was sorry and he was going to be better. He wasn’t. She left him again, this time for a job in Tennessee.

After she left, Marie discovered that she was pregnant again. The stress from the moves and the relationship took a toll on her, and her blood pressure was 270 over 110. Her doctor was very concerned about her stress level. She couldn’t leave her stressful job- she needed the money- but she was ordered to get help taking care of her children. She hadn’t been in Tennessee long enough to know anyone who could help her. She called her aunt and uncle in Boston. They said they were unable to help, and advised her to have an abortion.

Marie was out of options, so she did what many women in a similar position do: she went back to her ex. Again, he was apologetic and promised to be better. His contribution is open for debate; it must have been helpful to have another adult to help her care for her older children, but she was still under such stress that towards the end of her pregnancy and during her delivery her son almost didn’t make it.

After the baby was born, her boyfriend wanted to bring his other children into their home. Marie refused. His other children were badly behaved and unmanageable- at least, he didn’t manage them. Shortly after she refused, he started breaking things around the house, including a window. When the landlady saw the damage in the apartment, she evicted them. A tragedy, to be sure, but enough to make Marie realize that she didn’t need to give this man any more chances.

For the next year and a half, Marie worked. She found some work in her field, but the majority of the time those jobs were temporary contract positions. At one point, her job search brought her to Arizona, again to stay with friends. When she couldn’t find work in her field, she took a job as a dispatcher.

While she was in Arizona, she reconnected with a man she had met in Indiana who was interested in her. Initially, she wasn’t interested, but as her loneliness and struggles got to her, she changed her mind. This man was solicitous and kind, which she wasn’t used to. After a while, she couldn’t believe her luck.

In that area, at least. She lost her housing, and she had nowhere to go. Her boyfriend said he could set her up in Durham, North Carolina with his brother. Desperate, she agreed. When she got to the airport, he wasn’t there. She called the boyfriend, who had no clue. She had some money she had been hoping to use to set herself up, but instead she had to stay in a hotel. Suddenly, the boyfriend was very hard to get in touch with.

Two weeks into her stay, one of her children developed ringworm. She took them to a nearby clinic where a nurse took an interest in her family. She set Marie up with a contact in a faith-based organization that could help with housing.

Marie had what she thought was a safe harbor while she got her bearings. The case worker had access to a petty cash fund and used some of the funds to get her glasses fixed and obtain her son’s birth certificate. The latter was a necessity, as they needed the birth certificates of everyone in the household to apply for housing. They also needed her younger daughter’s birth certificate, but thanks to an error on her child’s social security card, she couldn’t get it immediately.

While in the middle of trying to get the certificate, it was decided that Marie’s family would be better served in a different part of North Carolina. They were all moved into a group home. Marie just needed that birth certificate and then she could apply for housing.

The case worker in her new location was, for reasons Marie never understood, hostile to her. She felt that it had something to do with the fact that she was the only one in the group home who had a college education. Why did someone like her need help? It was a long story, and most people don’t have the patience to sit through it. The case worker and her church board were unwilling to release the funds to get her daughter’s birth certificate that would enable them to apply for housing. The birth certificate would have cost, at the most, $40.

To be continued tomorrow.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Define overreaching?

I had good intentions to write about my lovely Saturday with my boys and the pretty little journal and used Bulfinch's Mythology I bought from Brookline Booksmith, but then my husband had to read me a quote this evening.

I just want to be clear: Barack Obama was never the candidate of my dreams. I wanted Gore- I wanted Gore up until June of 2008, I think. When I had to accept that I couldn't have him, I wanted Edwards. Yeah, he's filled with hubris, but he was the only one talking about poverty. When I couldn't have him, I wanted Clinton. Then, finally, I settled for Obama- I didn't have a choice- and was willing to throw down for him. I did NOT want McCain.

In light of my history, I think it would be unfair for me to express disappointment with Obama- but I'm not going to apologize for shock. Had I been someone who *believed* in Obama, I would be disappointed., which I know is not much better than wikipedia, had the following to say about Obama relative to his nomination of Kagan for the Supreme Court:

'Obama made clear that he shares this constitutional vision when, in comments to reporters at the end of April, he challenged liberal orthodoxy by suggesting that liberal activist judges in the '60s and '70s had been "guilty" of overreaching with a judicial approach that "ignored the will of Congress, ignored democratic processes and tried to impose judicial solutions on problems instead of letting the process work itself through politically."'

To be clear, they make the point that he now accuses conservative Republican legislators and justices of the same thing. Perhaps he was softening his criticism of them by making this statement. I don't know. But, having recently read up on some cases which the Supreme Court ruled on during the 1960s and 1970s, I have got to wonder what he is referring to. Here, with the help of, is a list of some of the highlights:

+ Gideon v. Wainwright (1963). This case guarantees a defendant the right to counsel, even if he or she cannot afford one. Yes, you're right, I may be a little biased, as this is what my husband does. But, if I may, give me a little credit for wanting to see people receive an effective defense against the state.

+ Reynolds v. Sims (1964). This case establishes the requirement for legislative districts to be equally populated. In effect, non-white urban areas couldn't be less represented than white suburban or rural districts. It is the potential inclusion of this case which offends me the most. Tell me, Mr. President, how is it that problems could work themselves out politically when the political system was not only broken but biased against a solution?

+ Grisswold v. Connecticut (1965). You're married, you can use contraception. (The potential for overreaching in this case is where, exactly?)

+ Miranda v. Arizona (1966). As of last week, the Obama administration has begun to make it's feelings about this case clear. Some might argue, perhaps, that we already know that we have a right not to incriminate ourselves, so why do the police have to take the step to remind us? Because some of us don't, especially those like Ernesto Miranda who didn't make it out of high school and may have been mentally challenged.

+ Jones v. Mayer Co. (1968). Racial discrimination in the sale or rental of public or private property is banned by federal law. Interestingly, in spite of this ruling, my Jewish father-in-law still had a door slammed in his face a few years later when he and my mother-in-law went to look at an apartment for rent- after he had returned from a tour in Vietnam.

+ Roe v. Wade (1973). Abortions are legal for the first trimester. Is the overreaching here, Mr. President?

+ Frontiero v. Richardson (1973). Benefits on the basis of gender are unconstitutional. What's the problem?

+ Regents of University of California v. Bakke (1978). Racial quotas are unconstitutional, affirmative action isn't necessarily. Oh, yeah... it's this one. I would like to point out, however, that when President Kennedy first uses the term "affirmative action" in 1961, it is in the, well, affirmative, as in federally funded projects take "affirmative action" to ensure that hiring and employment are free of racial bias. I would also like to point out that Executive Order 11246 "requires covered contractors to take affirmative action to ensure that equal opportunity is provided in all aspects of their employment." If we live in a country that has gone out of its way to deny equal rights- and jobs- to certain people then, forgive me, I think it's reasonable to say that we now have to go out of our way to make sure that we're *not* doing that.

I would also like to point out that although the Civil Rights Act did pass in 1964, it was only after a block of Southern Democrats filibustered and delayed the passage of the bill. Senator Robert Byrd, you are unforgivable. This was not a matter of mere politicking- this was a matter of life and death for many. Given this climate, I am very glad to have had a Supreme Court that was ready to "overreach" when the political system was reluctant, in many cases, to lift a finger.

I think many of us have been disappointed by what a politician, be it Congressperson or President, is really able to get done. When independents shrugged during the 2000 debacle, "eh, who cares, they're all the same," people like me were ready to tear our hair out. The President appoints Supreme Court Justices, and that matters well past a Presidential term. If Gore had won the 2000 election, we would not have had an Alito or Roberts appointment. I know I was not the only one thinking about that during the 2008 election cycle.

Believe me, I'm going to be thinking a lot harder about it during the 2012 cycle.

Deb in the City

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Just another day in the life

This was a day of excitement. In keeping with either my age or how much sleep I've been getting, that made me appreciate ritual and regularity that much more.

Thursday is, dependably, the day that I teach children's yoga, take Jaz to her bass lesson and clean my kitchen and bathroom. I'm spoiled by the freedom in my schedule and sometimes make a face right before those events. No, I want to stay home, talk about Greek myths, sew, cook or chat with my kids. But that's silly.

This morning I taught children's yoga and loved it, as I always do. The kids are adorable, and the teachers are wonderful with them. And the bits of meditation and relaxation are doing something- they're chilling out a little bit more easily with each visit.

When I came home, I got the three little ones ready for the pool. All three of them love being in the water, and I'm not sure why I waited until it got nice out again to take them. Simon is gaining skill, but Jacob is the one who really thrives in the water. Good- he needs to feel like he's the ace at something.

Straight to the point: the boys swam. Not for a very long time or distance, but multiple times. Oh. My. God. I didn't learn to swim until I was 8, and the girls were about 6 or 7. But my little lion-monkeys are pretty much teaching themselves. I am amazed, and thankful that for once I had the good sense to stay out of their way. I can't wait to take them back, and I'm sorry I have to wait until Monday to go again.

In the middle of getting everyone ready, I was fielding calls from dentists. I have an appointment, and I need to make one for the kids. But how is my coverage? It took quite a few phone calls, but I was able to establish that we are still covered, so I'll confirm my appointment and then make some for the kids. Because nothing bites you like having to make up for lost time at the dentist's office.

While we were at the pool, Sam was tying up some loose ends at her school for the summer quarters. Yes, she can take the math class she wants, and yes, they need full payment. By tomorrow.

At that point, my heart stopped. Why? Because my husband is a public defender.

For the last few months, Michael has been getting a big check and a little check every month. Sometimes the big check first, sometimes second. That was pretty much the case for this month, except that Michael missed the window he needed to bill through last month so the little check wasn't scheduled to come, it was all coming through as the big check. I was annoyed- I like paying bills like the mortgage on time- and gave Michael a tongue-lashing. He was very sorry, and now he has an alarm to remind him when he needs to bill by. Yeah, okay, great, I sniffed. And then I reluctantly stopped being so irritated. Lesson learned, and I could pay everything with the big check.

Except that the organization Michael contracts through decided to audit one of the cases he had submitted billing for. Suffice to say, nothing personal and no perceived irregularities. They were doing this to a random sampling of their lawyers, and Michael was one of the lucky. Just as he had been last year when he was employed by this organization and they decided they just weren't going to pay him. So now we were back to little check, big check, but two weeks later than they should have been.

Fine. At this point, I'm speaking through gritted teeth, and it's suddenly hitting me why I've been having trouble taking deep, full breaths sometimes over the last two weeks. The little check arrives, and I celebrate yesterday by paying most of the bills- everything except the mortgage [sigh] and Michael's student loan. Ah, the student loan. Our legacy bill, but nothing compared to what the kids walk out with today. It pains me every month... I could pay it, but then I wouldn't have much leftover before the big check. Hmm...?

Sam's news settled that pretty quickly. I checked balances, I sent text, and then I came up with a bunch of smaller expenses I needed to pay (including dentist co-pays) between now and the big check, and I was wondering if maybe Sam should practice Italian online this summer. But not seriously. She worked hard this semester, and she did well. She wanted to take classes- she deserved to.

Michael thought of a source I hadn't, so those harrowing few hours are behind me. Sam is taking her classes, and I can afford those theoretically optional expenses in the next two weeks. But I still have to wait to pay the mortgage and student loan bill, and if the timing Michael was promised for payment doesn't come through, my long anticipated trip to NYC is a no-go.

Through all of this, what am I thinking? I *really* wanted to clean the kitchen and bathroom. That little bit of ritual- which I was too emotionally exhausted to fulfill- seemed like such a luxury. Once the problem was resolved and I had that spring in my step, I happily filled my bucket with hot water, added coconut oil, vinegar, half a lemon and some baking soda, and cleaned away. It didn't make me feel like everyone was perfect and wouldn't go wrong again, it just reminded me that life went on.

While Jaz was in ensemble rehearsal, I dropped off food scraps for compost- life is good!- and went to tutor a friend's child in math. I thought it was going to be all quadratic formula, but no, it was back to basics. How do you multiply exponents? How do you add? How do you FOIL? (I don't care how badly you did in math, you probably know exactly what that stands for.) Well, that makes my job easier. And working with this young person just reinforced what I've always thought about math: anyone can do it. You just need to learn the rules and then practice them until they're second nature. Like the multiplication table. And don't BS me about the new-new-new math or TERC or whatever the umbrella name is called. Teach kids the theory of numbers after they have a chance to learn some of the rote, or at least while they're doing it.

Best part of tonight: during dinner I actually got to listen to a radio talk show about the Neanderthal story. In case you don't know, you're descended from them if you have any ancestors from Europe or Asia. I am a little surprised that no one in my circle is not only not as excited as I am but completely disinterested. (I need more science geeks in my life. In case that's you, here is a link to the story.) But maybe I'm not the only one who doesn't like getting blown out of the water.

Boring and loving it,
Deb in the City

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

"... because I have to be able to live with myself."

“I do not take this step because I want to be able to live with my friends. I do it because I have to be able to live with myself."
-Simon Sobeloff, Solicitor General to President Eisenhower, as an explanation for why he refused to support the government in Peters v. Hobby. It is believed his refusal cost him a Supreme Court nomination.

Today I'd like to talk about Elena Kagan, Miranda rights, Arizona, the audacity of being in Maine and the Mexican American War, in no particular order.

President James Polk was elected into office with the promise of "Fifty-Four Forty or Fight!" That was the latitude he wanted to bring the United States up to. Problem 1: that territory was already part of Canada. Problem 2: the British were in no mood to lose anymore land to us, and we were exhausted by previous wars with them.

Coincidentally, before his term was over, the US engaged Mexico in the Mexican-American War, and this was the end result: New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, and much of Colorado. Many who fought in that war, including Zachary Taylor, the next President, thought it was one of the most shameful episodes in our history up until then, and many of them had fought Native Americans.

What's really important in that story is that Arizona now belongs to the United States, and we decide who stays and who goes. A few weeks ago, Arizona reaffirmed that and passed a bunch of laws in which the net effect was that if you look a certain way, you'd better have your birth certificate and/or passport handy at all times. As Mother Jones put it, they now join the proud company of places where people can be asked, "Papers, please."

Is that unfair? We're not Nazis. But we do mistreat others because of what they believe or how they look. And we've kidnapped people or used extraordinary rendition to get information about our enemies. We've had concentration camps, and we've suspend long-held legal doctrines such as habeas corpus, whether or not you're a citizen. We also have two Senators currently trying to pass a measure to revoke someone's citizenship if they are accused of an act of terrorism. Way to go... New England?

Maybe those are holdovers from the last, evil administration. That's not *us*. The man *we* elected into office is good and stands for the American way, updated for the 21st century and appealing to our international friends. He wasn't the one who suggested this Sunday that we suspend Miranda rights for terrorism suspects. It was his Attorney General.

Since the would-be attack on Times Square (spelled it right this time) on my husband's birthday, we've been kicked back into a lather. Never mind that the guy couldn't get a bomb going that my ten year old probably could have gotten to work (wait, am I going to get a visit from the FBI or NSA for that joke?). We got him, two days later, and it turns out he's a naturalized citizen who was trying to do the dirty work of the Pakistani Taliban.

He's a monster, idiot, misfit, whatever you want. I'm just pleased that he was as ineffective as the would-be Christmas Day plane bomber.

Whatever else he is, he's an American citizen, and he should be read his rights. (I think everyone should be, but it seems like we're prone to using citizenship as a cutoff these days to humane treatment.)

Attorney General Holder would seem to disagree. Never mind that the jerk in question did have his rights read to him and then waived them. As did the last guy they caught.

At this point, I'm not disappointed. This is what I expect now. Do you know what Obama's Solicitor General has argued for? Disavowal of prosecutorial responsibility and indefinite imprisonment for sex offenders who have served their time and exonnerated but unwanted terrorism suspects, among other things. I know- she's just doing her job, and it's her boss that wants these things, not her.

Good thing other Solicitor Generals haven't always used that excuse (see above, among others). Pity, though, that Solicitor General Kagan is the one that Obama has tapped for the seat Justice Stevens is retiring from.

Why should I care about any of this? I'm not Latina, I don't live in Arizona and I'm not a terrorist. I look a little "different", but I've been told I pass. (No, seriously.)

Because: If Miranda rights are suspended, I don't actually have to be a terrorist to lose them. I just have to be suspected of being one. I'm pretty well-behaved and keep my nose clean, but no one has ever heard of someone being wrongly accused or suspected of something? Those are *my* rights, and I want to keep them. The same for habeas corpus. If you're going to put me in prison and keep me there, you'd better have an unimpeachable reason, and I want my day in court. Yeah, I know Lincoln didn't always agree, and I don't care.

It's reasonable to assume that I'm not going to be arrested or imprisoned ever, so as a point of fact these issues probably won't affect me. But it's still wrong.

A friend of mine was in a car this weekend with three or four other friends. I don't know how they know each other, but they were all Latino. For some reason, they were in Maine. They were pulled over by a cop. The driver was asked for proof of identification, as were all of his passengers. I wonder what would have happened if they hadn't all had their licenses, or if those hadn't been good enough and someone wanted a passport or birth certificate instead. The cop asked if the driver had ever been in California. I am not making this up.

I am indignant for my friend. Driving while Latino should not be a crime. I am indignant for me. This should not happen in my country.

They were free to go. They hadn't done anything wrong. But I don't think anyone can guarantee the same outcome again under the same circumstances.

I am unmoved by anyone's claim that "they" are trying to keep me safe. Safe, perhaps, from an extraordinary incident, but not safe from constant and unwarranted scrutiny and intrusion which, depending on who you are and what you look like, can be much more dangerous. And I am genuinely confused when I see the people who demand this heightened scrutiny scream bloody murder- sometimes literally- when they feel the government is invading their financial lives.

I suppose we all define liberty differently, but is our definition of decency to other people really so different? How much of a deviation from that can we live with?

Deb in the City

Monday, May 10, 2010

Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

I had thought I was going to talk about why I want to keep my Miranda rights (I'm very territorial and possessive) and why I'm so distressed about the Kagan nomination (I just don't like lawyers who seem to disavow prosecutorial responsibility and don't have a problem with endless incarceration), but I realized this evening that I needed to talk about something much more fun: race.

I have read two books in as many weeks. I know- I can feel your shocked silence from here. For reasons probably relating to my natural perversity, they can't be easy or fun books. I need to read about economic or legal issues or history. Yeah, I read a bunch of stuff about food almost every day, but that doesn't count. And if it's less than 200 pages, I don't even want to pick it up.

The book I just finished, Race Results, compares the Supreme Courts "race-relevant" (my term) decisions with the treatment of African Americans in film, decade by decade. I haven't gotten out as much as I should have, and now I feel a little vindication. Many popular and/or acclaimed films do or say things that reinforce old stereotypes. Yeah, fine, go ahead and show African Americans in tenements, which some of them live in. Every ethnic group has lived in a tenement. But then also show them having a normal family life and going to work every day. Or just... show them period. The author made mention of a number of movies that took place in urban Northern cities where you can't see one African American on the street, and if they do appear in the film, they're a servant or a shoe shine boy.

I can't enjoy Indiana Jones nearly as much now, and I'm feeling a little vindicated that I never really got into Star Wars or E.T. Thank God this book was confined to film, because I don't want anyone to ruin Star Trek for me. (Do NOT get me started on why Deep Space Nine was the best series of the franchise, and coincidentally had an African American lead.)

When I get excited about something, I like to talk about it. My usual audience is my husband. You can ask him how much he appreciated that at 6:45 AM this morning when I wanted to quiz him about Kagan, habeas corpus and Comstock. 12 hours later, he was more responsive when I wanted to talk about the author's argument that a lot of Whoopi Goldberg's films reinforced negative stereotypes and that it was a travesty that Denzel Washington won an Oscar for playing a sociopath but not Malcolm X. As we're trying to talk, Jazmyn keeps interjecting. The substance of her comments were, "Mom, you [and the author] are paranoid,", "White people aren't worse than black people," and "This is all anyone ever talks about." I was, at first, annoyed. The boys were at tumbling class, and Michael and I almost never have an opportunity for adult conversation. But Jazmyn was getting very frustrated, even emotional, and I realized something else was going on. "Jazmyn, was this all people talked about when you were at school?"

I want to be clear: I think it's a good thing that a school is constantly engaged in conversations about how people are treated, especially when one group of people has been so badly treated for so long. But it is not a good thing when everyone isn't really included in that conversation.

There are many myths about Asian Americans. We're all good at math. We are either extremely polite and reflexively defer to authority, or we're wise ass rebels (definitely more the former than the latter). We're hard-working, and we can't be less than perfect or our parents won't love us. We like martial arts. And then there's the weird sexual stuff which, like all sexual stereotypes are... weird. But the best myth is that we are "the model minority", and we've never been treated like second class citizens. No, better- that we've been respected like we're people, despite the fact that we're not white.

The truth is that Asian Americans were as subject to Jim Crow laws as any other non-white group in this country. In certain parts of the country, we had to use different water fountains and we couldn't use public pools at the same time as whites. We've been paid less, taxed more, forbidden to own property and our children have been denied access to public schools. We've been interned, not just on the West Coast but on the East Coast. We've had people strip us of our citizenship (or at least try to). Oh yeah, we've been killed when people thought we were taking their jobs or otherwise threatening their way of life.

Some of us were brought here under less than ideal circumstances, but we weren't shipped over like animals the way most African slaves were. But almost everyone who came here from Asia or the Pacific Islands left because they felt they needed to. You know, the way most people immigrating anywhere do. Some of our ancestors were starving, some saw their home country as a dead end.

And a lot of us were just treated badly in that way people are treated badly by other people. Called names and made to feel like we were less intelligent (go figure, given the stereotype)/attractive/American.

Do you think any of that might have been worth talking about at my children's school?

Jazmyn, on some level, doesn't believe that her old African-American and Latino classmates have been made to feel like they are inferior. In a way, I think that's a good thing. I think that's at least in part because she's been in a community where those groups are dominant, and as far as she knows, they're the norm. Good. If she got nothing else out of being there, that means the world to me.

But she felt, on some other level, frustrated and invisible. Why, she wondered, was everyone talking about African Americans like they were victims of racism when they were the biggest group? Why, when she read a book about a black slave, were there no good white characters? And, I bet, where were the stories about the Asian-Americans?

When I was growing up, my father loved Quincy and Hawaii Five-0. What did those two have in common? The presence of Asian faces. (Strangely, though, I don't remember him ever watching Star Trek reruns with us to see Mr. Sulu. Fool.) I'm not sure where he could get his fix now if he were so inclined- Lost? An occasional episode of Law and Order: Special Victims? Many years later, when I visited my relatives in Seoul, I showed my uncle a popular American soap opera that starred a Korean-American actress. My uncle, a very sophisticated, very accomplished man, was fascinated. Imagine- an Asian face on American television.

When Jazmyn's art teacher left two years ago after a long and distinguished career, she wanted me to know that she felt for Jazmyn and how much recognition her ethnicity wasn't getting. She told me about an art project that Jazmyn had completed. Everyone made their version of a family crest, putting on symbols of what was important to them, with the most important thing being in the center. She had a picture of a dog, a picture of her sister, and in the middle was a Korean flag. I almost cried.

I don't know where I could have put my children where this wouldn't have been an issue. There are very few communities anywhere that are dominated by a Korean-Jewish-Irish population that wants to honor all of their histories. In this way, perhaps, homeschooling is even that much better for her- and I don't feel any joy saying that.

Deb in the City

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Never so happy to see home

Lights went out last night, and Michael and I were down by 9:30 (as were the boys). Which is good, because that let me be rested enough when both boys climbed into bed with us this morning before 6. I tried to go back to sleep- that never works, and this morning it really wasn't going to work because the thunderstorms were a little out of control. I got up, worked out a little bit, then went through the process of getting Jazmyn and the boys ready and out the door (Michael helped) so we could get to the Museum of Science by 9 AM.

I had heard about an exhibit about Israeli technical innovation at the museum this week. I have a dual interest in that subject, one of them being that the kids could learn something from it. I don't know what I was picturing, but it wasn't there when we got there. Someone tried to talk to me and Jazmyn, but the boys were having none of it and came up with their usual mayhem. Someone offered to give Jazmyn her own guided tour of the exhibit, and Jazmyn warmed up. The boys, though, were only too happy to leave.

We wandered around through the museum a bit more. Wandered is a poor word, because we didn't get to sit down and eat a snack until 12:30. They would have stayed longer, but I had things to do.

We met up with Michael at about 1:20 so I could finally take him to Haymarket Pizza. He ordered while I picked up some cheese and bagels for everyone else. Michael was impressed enough to eat two pieces, despite the fact that each piece was bigger than my head. He'll be back.

Back to our homebase, then off with Sam to her solo music festival. Three hours, but there was a lot of downtime. I took advantage of said time to collect my thoughts on one of my installments with a pen and two wrinkled pieces of paper I had left over from the Israeli exhibit. Did I mention potential hypergraphia before?

Sam and her classmates played well- really well. I was impressed by everyone and couldn't help but compare them to the stereotype used in entertainment about the kids playing the squeaky violins at the mandatory recitals. People would have paid to hear these kids play.

Amazingly, we ended on time. Great, because that meant we had just enough time to get back for Havdallah and then for me to start dinner before my mother and sister came over. Yes, yes I was tired, but Sam kept me company in the kitchen while she made truffles for my mom. Jaz also made her a card. I have sweet girls.

Editing is not going to happen tonight, but I look forward to tomorrow for that, possibly while the boys are at Hebrew School.

Wow- they have to be at Hebrew School by 9:30 tomorrow. What am I doing up?

Deb in the City

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Something for everyone

There are three stories in the news this week that have caught my attention. There's the fun story, the liberal story and the conservative story.

The fun story involves David Boreanaz, the actor who used to play Angel on "Buffy" and is now the romantic lead on "Bones". He's married with two young children, and he recently made an admission to the media that he has been cheating on his wife, allegefly with one of the same women who was seeing Tiger Woods. This is the fun story because it involves a successful actor (the star of the story), a former Playboy Playmate (his wife), a celebrity... mistress and, by extension, a sports star, if not *the* sports star (Tiger Woods). So we now we get to keep talking about Tiger Woods' sex addiction spiral, why a former Playmate isn't enough to keep an actor faithful, and what are these people expecting out of a marriage anyway? Celebrity, sex, scandal... it's all there, and since it isn't our lives, it's fun to talk about. It has mass appeal.

The next two? Well, they should too, but I think they skew a little differently, judging by my very unreliable sample, my friends. Two Fridays ago or thereabouts, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. 11 rig workers died. That wasn't the end of the story. Oil is now leaking at that site at an ever-increasing rate, with the potential to leak up to 60,000 gallons per day. That's unimaginable. No, really, try and picture 60,000 barrels. Now try and picture that amount of oil, in a body of water. Now add that much more with each passing day. I can't do it, maybe because I don't want to.

This comes not too long after Copenhagen disappointed the many who have been waiting for years to use that event to kick off the vital work that needs to be done to try and control and- dare we dream it?- possibly reverse some of the damage that has already been done. It wasn't nearly as productive as it needed to be, and many committed environmentalists and activists are scratching their collective heads, wondering how they're going to get around the setback.

The Gulf of Mexico BP oil disaster has been described as a catastrophe, but it does have some advantages. For one thing, it's making the complaints about the newly approved Cape Cod Wind Farms sound as petty as they are. For another thing, it seems highly unlikely that Obama will further alienate his base by continuing to pursue new offshore drilling at this point. But what do I know?

I'm calling that the liberal story because my non-liberal friends were conspicuously silent about it. There could be many reasons why, and I'm sure there are. But never fear- now my more conservative friends have something else to talk about.

On Saturday night, someone left a homemade bomb in Time Square, NYC. The car was spotted and reported, the area was cleared (and that's an understatement, I know) and the bomb was removed. Scary and brave. Also worth noting that the bomb, in essence, didn't work. Also, "bomb" may be the wrong term. Had it gone off, it would have been more of an "incendiary device" than a bomb. Which doesn't mean that it would have killed people near it, but it does mean that it wouldn't have killed as many as the other type of device would have.

An incompetent would-be terrorist. From my perspective, I'm grateful for such an enemy. But I groaned when I found out that the presumed terrorist was originally from Pakistan, now a US citizen. Now, it's an Al-Qaeda story, just one of many in the long litany of such stories since 2001. Good. Now my more conservative friends can talk about suspect's rights and the need for the war on terror.

I'm calling that the conservative story because my more liberal friends have been conspicuously silent about that story. You know what? So have I.

There are things both groups are talking about, particularly the immigration legislation passed in Arizona. But conversation between both sides? Not so much. They're talking among themselves for the most part, and when they do talk to each other, it's more talking at each other.

I don't think it's just my not-so-large circle. If anything, I think the people I am around are more polite; I imagine the talking at is a little bit more hostile elsewhere.

So thank you David Boreanaz, and thank you Tiger Woods. Oh yeah, thank you sports in general. And "Glee". And television. And movies. And celebrity marriages. I've been looking down my nose at all of you for distracting us, but now I get it. You're the glue that keeps us together. What would we look like without you?

Deb in the City

Life returns to normal, for better or worse

The boil water order has been lifted for all but one of the affected communities (poor Saugus). Now Bostonians and those in the surrounding communities who needed to boil water for drinking, add bleach to their dishwashing water and had to think about their showers can go back to life as usual. Hmm.

While this drama- Drama? Is there a better word for something that was described as an "inconvenience" as opposed to a "danger"?- was playing out, I was reading Portfolios of the Poor for review, as I noted a few days ago. The book answers the question "How do the poor live on $2 or less per day?" It was not a perfect book- I gave it 4 stars on Amazon- but it was very good, and I hope to see more studies of this kind. It wasn't maudlin by any standard. They couldn't help but talk about the issue of health care- something as mundane as a broken leg can ruin a family for months, but most of us in the US can pretty easily get a cast on- but they only mentioned here and there issues of sanitation and hygiene. Still, I couldn't help but think of how those people would cope with our need to boil water. Is it something they cope with every day? It's probably much less than they have to worry about in a slum with untreated sewage. The lack of sanitation is probably a huge contributor to the health problems these people were at the mercy of.

I was joking when I made mention a few days ago about Starbucks, but wouldn't you know that was what a bunch of people were tearing their collective hair out over yesterday. That, folks, is a sign of a well-developed civilization.

My three younger ones managed, despite the water ban, to have a great time at the Children's Museum yesterday. I am finally beginning to understand what makes an event successful. In a nutshell, allow them a lot of time to meander and explore, and try not too attached to a schedule. Yesterday was a good day for that, and the venue fit well. Not perfectly- Jaz needed to be in the Art Studio by herself for a few minutes because the boys wanted to touch all of the musical instruments- but very well.

The activity must have done something, because we got good reports from Tumbling Class this week. That's good, and due in large part to the wonderful teacher.

Today swimming, a little library and Hebrew school. I am crossing my fingers that we can avoid the thunderstorms when we go to Brookline and I can let the boys play in the playground for a bit. Oh, what does it matter? They'll just play with dandelions and trees if we can't.

And... I'm going to do some editing, and then get some feedback. The big benefit of normal is having more time for that.

Deb in the City

Sunday, May 02, 2010

No, really, I didn't want this.

One of the things we have to do as adults is become honest with ourselves. What are the things about ourselves we have always shrunk from? What are the things we would like to change? What are we ashamed of? What are we unable to change?

If you've read my posts in the last few months, you know that I'm trying to conserve resources: money, electricity, time, gasoline, plastic, paper, etc. Using fewer things has made me happier and given me more time. I'm still adjusting, but I like it. As long as there is one big caveat that's understood.

I need water. I really, really like modern plumbing. I like bathing, I like drinking water at will, and I like toilets that flush. (Yes, so much so, that last year I'm pretty sure most of our tax refund went to ensure the latter.) I know what I can handle, I was hoping that maybe I could work on a few things, but right now... I just wasn't there.

Lights out on Friday... but I made an exception for Sam, who was going through some pangs of adolescence that could be readily soothed by a little texting with a friend of hers. A little texting on Friday night, and then a little when we got home on Saturday, right before we were going to celebrate Michael's birthday. Crazy about that water thing, huh? What water thing? Just some water main somewhere. Um... what? Michael and Sam both looked it up, and yep, all of Boston's drinking water has been affected. And not just Boston. My mother called soon afterwards to confirm. (I believe there are quite a few get-out-of-jail-free-on-Shabbat cards for emergencies like this.)

I held my breath until one of them announced that while we needed to boil drinking water, we could bathe. All I needed to know (and, of course, my flushable toilet was not going to be affected either). The boys would need sponge baths because they aren't trustworthy enough to follow instructions to keep their mouths closed, but that was actually quicker this morning than their usual baths.

Yes, I am aware of what a big fat spoiled baby I am. I want to help it, but I can't. I like showering every day. I like brushing my teeth. I like drinking water from a tap. I like that flushable toilet. I'm willing to conserve water by other means... so I can keep on doing those things.

This is, deep down, the environmental issue that bothers me more than anything else. Clean water is everything. If you can't access it, we are way past not being able to get your clothing or dishes clean. It's a prerequisite for health and hygiene, and about a billion people don't have it. I think about people like that and laugh at Social Darwinists. If you can live to forty without clean water, you are a genetic superhuman. We, the citizens of the First World, are the weak.

But mark me, Boston and all other MWRA customers east of Weston won't have to boil its water for long, and not because our citizens will revolt. Starbucks- and a bunch of other restaurants- couldn't make their drinks today. There's just only so much a population can handle.

Deb in the City

P.S. And whoever left the would-be bomb in Times Square is not only a bastard but a moron. Almost as moronic- sophomoric?- as the Pakistani Taliban group that claimed responsibility but most likely didn't do it. Jerks.