Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Tipping My Hat

I grew up right across the street from the Jeter family on Cumberland. When he first started playing with the Yankees, his parents would come to our house to watch him on TV, because we had a satellite dish that showed the Yankee games when they didn't air locally.

Derek and Sharlee went to my school, St. Augustine's. Derek was older than me, but Sharlee was just in the grade ahead of me. Sometimes we played together after school with Abloc Maikoski and Kaiti Marie.

Derek came back one year to speak at our school. No one believed that he knew me. One little snot head (there's always one in every class), raised his hand, then pointed at me and said, "Do you really know her?"

I was mortified, but Derek smiled at me and replied, "I've known her since she was this high," and he pointed to his knee.

I have never swooned like I swooned that day.

And every time Derek would come back home, my brother and I would go over to his house and ask shyly for an autograph. Sometimes we brought our awestruck friends.

Derek and his parents were not only welcoming, but they would invite us inside and chat with us as Derek signed baseballs, magazines and tee shirts for all of us.

My biggest memories of the Jeters on Cumberland Street were simple ones: his parents, Charles and Dottie, taking walks every evening and holding hands. Derek playing basketball in his driveway with his dad. Sharlee just over the fence, playing softball on the Kalamazoo Central fields, which at that time was our second home and playground.

Derek is an extraordinary athlete and role model. His career has gone beyond anything anyone could have ever imagined.

But the best part about the Jeter family, to me, will always be how simply normal they were, and that they raised two really amazing kids with kind hearts.

Godspeed, Derek! What a joy it was to be a witness to your talent.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The 3rd of July

Out of sheer determination, I found a parking spot near the beach. Then Matt found a perfect spot: a big tree on a bluff overlooking the lake. Hardly anyone around, save a grouchy old woman who informed us gruffly, "this is private property."

But she didn't ask us to leave, and soon she tottered downhill to join some others while I cuddled Taz and Matt cuddled me and the big tree hovered behind us.

We stayed until Taz cried when the fireworks got too loud. Then we got in the car and careened carefully through the neighborhood full of mothers pushing strollers, teenagers exchanging phone numbers ("OMG you should text Josh!" screeched one girl), and children wrapped in towels, hair glistening wet in the moonlight, holding gold sparklers like wands in their pudgy hands.

We happened upon the most perfect spot during the fireworks finale, right over an architecturally gorgeous house and next to the dark river.

It was spectacular. The little girl behind us shrieked in that joyous way one can shriek when you spend all day at the beach and all night watching fire in the sky past bedtime, and summer stretches for ages and forever.

It was perfect.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Fat Shaming

In response to this article

Dear Food Guy:

You were fat. You aren't anymore. You lost weight. Good for you. It's a hard, never-ending battle struggling with food issues.

But don't forget you were fat. And someday, you might get tired of fighting that uphill battle. You might get fat again. Or maybe not.

Either way: never forget you were fat. Never forget how complete strangers would point at you and make hurtful comments. Remember the way your friends and family try to be "helpful" with their advice, even though it always ends up making you want to just die.

What kind of person encourages someone to commit suicide because they are overweight? Apparently, you. You, who for years struggled with your own weight.

Go get professional help. You clearly have self-loathing issues that you project on others who once looked just like you in the mirror.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Homeschooling: There's a Bigger World Out There.

There are so many people home schooling their children now, and it makes me terrified for our future. Are these kids really getting a well-rounded education?
I have genuinely considered this, because homeschooling has really taken root in the last few years, and I do understand why parents are frustrated with broken school systems.
But is it enough? What are the short-and-long-term consequences of children not experiencing daily social interactions with their peers? Learning to respect, behave and engage with authority besides their own parents? A teacher is close enough, yet distant enough, to recognize behaviors and learning patterns that a parent may be too involved to determine for themselves.
Maybe, for example, being oriented toward science yourself, you may miss that your child has a real talent for writing that should be nourished by someone with an equal love and skill for the craft? Or perhaps your child struggles with reading and suffers from dyslexia, which is a learning challenge that teachers are trained to recognize? What if, as a parent, you fail to see the symptoms and your child suffers academically?
How can you possibly be confident enough to teach basics to your kids? I love reading, and I plan to be active, read to and with my children someday. But does having a love of reading categorically make me qualified to teach a child how to read?
What happens when your child surpasses your capacity in a specific subject? I certainly could not teach math to my kids very long. Don't your children deserve a teacher who was trained to educate rather than a parent stumbling along as the lessons grow?
I could go in an entirely different direction with this post, bringing religion into the topic. Many parents home school because they cannot afford private, parochial schools or because schools don't produce a severe enough curriculum in accordance with specific religious beliefs.
That's a conversation for another day, though.
I just feel like homeschooling is an experiment I couldn't risk on my child's social and academic future.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lies My Country Told Me: How We All Died on That September Day

I wrote my first eulogy when I was eleven years old.

The mother of a classmate passed away after battling cancer. It wasn't my first experience with death. By the time I was in primary school the lights had dimmed absolutely for my grandfather, two cousins, an uncle and my dog.

But this was the first time I picked up a notebook and recorded my thoughts. It was my first real poem. I think it probably rhymed, which is an unfortunate crime only excusable when you're under the age of eighteen, and it was likely not very clever or original.

But it gave me a power I didn't realize was inside of me. I could capture the world around me, like a photograph. This is how life is happening through my eyes. Which is something I struggle with to this day. When I try to recap an event, there is always an identity crisis: am I journalist or am I a storyteller?

People in our lifetime will always want to say where they were on September 11, 2001. They want to walk through every second of that Tuesday morning, every step, every movement, leading up to the first plane piercing the first tower, as though it was our own minute choices collectively that added up to the tragedy. "It's like JFK," my father says with a knowing sadness in his voice, "everyone remembers exactly where they were when he was shot."

And others will tell you how they felt. "I was shocked."

"I was terrified."

"My son lived in New York, he was doing an internship. I called and called but the lines were jammed. I thought I was going to be sick."

"My cousin worked in D.C. My aunt was freaking out."

"Let's just bomb the fuck out of the Middle East."

The last line was me. September 12, 2001.

I admit: I was shocked. I was terrified. Just like everyone else living in the United States of America. I didn't understand and I didn't have the patience to try. We were all angry on September 12, 2001. I remember typing these words as rapidly as they exploded in my mind. I wrote to my good friend Dirk in Australia.

He reminded me that there were millions of innocent people in the Middle East who didn't deserve to get blown up. Just like everyone in the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the planes didn't deserve to suffer and die.

Later, he would point out that while many Americans were burning the Koran, it was becoming a best-seller around the world. Some choose to turn their back and hate, others seek answers.

That's not where I want to go today.

The real reason for my anger was not just fueled by the terrorists who attacked on that certain Tuesday.

I was furious with my own country.

For the whole of my life, which at that point was twenty years, I had been told that America was the Greatest Country on Earth. We were the last Super Power. People all over the world turned to us--for refuge, for hope, for liberty and justice for all.

Soldiers gave their lives gladly for us, fighting bravely and falling gallantly in wars which we always won and which were always fought fairly, with justification. We were heroes to all and righteousness was on our side.

Every day before class, I would put my hand on my heart and pledge allegiance to a country that would never allow us to be hurt because we were invincible. Pearl Harbor? That was a lifetime ago, and so far away, in a place so foreign, in Hawaii.

That would never happen to us here on the mainland. No one would dare attack us and we would always be free.

I grew up knowing we were invincible. That I could walk confidently under a sunny sky without worry that a bomb would drop.

Of course, this was naive and indicative of total historical ignorance on my part. We had Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, the Cold War, schools shootings, domestic terrorism (the Oklahoma City bombing) not to mention Osama bin Laden had tried with less success to blow up the World Trade Center back in the 1990s.

I turned the other way, because I simply believed in our country's invincibility. I was more than happy to believe it because I had no reason to see it any other way.

I am not a journalist. This I know, deep inside myself. I live in constant observation but without objectivity. This will always be my story, my photograph among millions of others. I will always feel through my eyes and see through my heart, and I am not going to take your hand and walk you through the minutes of that certain September day.

When the first plane hit, I simply did not believe it. I watched it on TV. I can still taste the mint as I perched on the armrest of the couch, the toothbrush dangling from my mouth as my mother screamed into the phone receiver "We're being attacked!"

My mother was overreacting, and a plane had accidentally crashed into a building. That's all I decided to know as I dressed and got ready for class.

It was real when the college closed and thousands of us walked out to the parking lot. Slowly, silently, shocked. Maybe this is why I've never cared for Zombie films. Somewhere, a car radio was turned up to full volume. We all stood around blankly, thousands of people, listening to this lone radio announcer choke up.

"Today, the United States has been attacked."

What do you do? I didn't know what to do.

I was on the highway. The Pentagon had just been hit. Three planes and maybe a fourth. There could be more. This could last for hours or days or weeks, months or decades or centuries. This could be the first day of the rest of my life. Or it could be the last day of my life.

When the radio, full of static and voices of solemn men, announced the President had gone into hiding, I felt a betrayal beyond words. Logically, we understand the Executive Branch will take cover during emergencies. But when it happens? When it actually happens?

Chaos. But mostly, abandonment. My country abandoned me.

Not the people, of course. We all know the stories of the firefighters, police officers, EMTs, and brave citizens who ran back as most were running out of the wreckage. Those are the heroes.

But my government abandoned me. Take away logic. Logic doesn't exist in the midst of chaos and that's where we were at that moment.

My government abandoned me and this why I write this eulogy today, a dozen years later.

For the first time in my twenty years of life, I drove and looked out the window for airplanes dropping bombs. If my children someday asked me "Mom, what is fear? What is afraid?" I would say "the moment you start to believe a bomb will drop."

My children will never grow up in a world where the United States is invincible. And in many ways, that kills me all over again. In other ways, it gives me hope that we have broken through the blind patriotism--which was never meant to define our lovely and complicated nation--and really learn to question and shape our government. I hope my children learn that a country grows stronger through questioning it, educating it, and healing it rather than boasting of it.

We all died here on that certain September day. There will always be an abrupt break, a thick laceration in the sinew of my life.

An entire nation has post-traumatic stress. We have divided into fervent, unrelenting political parties and dived into extreme sects of religion, specifically Christianity.

And yet, we've come together as a country in a remarkable way: voting a man of color into the White House. That was a beautiful moment that shows hope for us.