End of the day goodness

End of the day goodness
Backyard travel

Monday, December 28, 2015

A Damn Big Wound

I have been puny since Christmas Eve and it has done nothing to damper what a fantastic Christmas we have had.  What it did do is give me time to lay in bed reading a book Helen brought home.  It is one of those Newbury award winning books that I never read but always meant too.  I am almost done, Helen is on page 82.  It is going to break her heart.  It is fiction, but it really isn't.  It is the story of Mildred D. Taylor's family and what it was like to be a little girl in Mississippi, in 1933, during the Depression and be black.

It has been a long time since I have read anything like this.  Yes, I read the Help but it was different.  It had more hope.  This is a book  that crushes your soul.  Maybe you have to read it in the 4th grade because you have more hope and optimism to retaliate against the awful truths in life.  In today's 4th grade you can have a crush on a very smart, funny brown boy in your class.  You can hear about the black woman who died in police custody on the radio and say to your Mom, "Oh come on, why are we still dealing with this issue?  You have been stopped a million times for speeding and the police man never makes you get out of the car.  Even when you are being grumpy with him.  If we were black would we have to get out of the car?  We are all the same.  Just some of us can get tan and some of us can't."

In 4th grade you can see color.  You don't ignore it. Color is beautiful.  My kids describe to me kids whiter than they are "Poor such and such is even whiter than me, bet she never goes out without sunscreen", "You know she is the color of your cafe mocha, Mom", " Oh, he is that dark brown that looks velvety".  But today's fourth graders are smart enough to know that a mean kid is a mean kid, a sweet kid is a sweet kid.  Skin color has nothing to do with it.

Still, knowing all of that does not make it any easier for a 9 year old to learn that America is not just the home of the free and the brave.  It is home to a society that allowed people to be tarred and feathered, set on fire, shot, hung, bred for labor and treated like animals for a long, long time.  The Civil Rights Movement took years because it faced such fierce opposition, oppostition that resulted in at least 41 recorded deaths.  Racial tensions still exist.  In fact they are rampant.  When I read this book I can see why.  That kind of wound stays open.  It starts to get better then someone pulls the scab off.  Maybe that is what I will tell Helen, this subject is a big open wound for our country.  My Great Grandmother came across Texas in a covered wagon, married a preacher, had four boys and though poor, was well respected in Bowie Texas, the town she lived most her life in.  Had she been black, this never would have been her life.  For one thing she never would have lived in Bowie, until the 1970's there was a billboard on the side of the road driving into town that said "Nigger, don't let the sun set on you in Bowie."

Like I said, it is a pretty damn big wound.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

All the Who's down in Whoville

Last night we went to the Allen tree lighting festival.  Not because I am a good festive parent who looks for engaging activities for the family, no, Helen sings in a choir at school and her choir teacher is one of those people.  Lauren and I dropped Helen off by the stage with her group and quickly capitalized upon the free hot chocolate and churros that the On the Border table was handing out.  It didn't take long before some of the parents from the school wandered up with younger siblings.  It is amazing how young kids connect like magnets.  The jumpers jump together, the runners chase each other, the climbers climb together and we parents stand together monitoring their squiggles.  I have met several of these parents before, one I don't know well but I like a lot.  She posted a picture the first day of school of her four kids looking gloomy about school starting while she jumped in the air with glee.  Yeah, that is a Mom with a sense of humor I can relate too.  Soon the squigglers including Lauren discovered the world's safest trampoline that needed to be jumped on.  Nothing hits the spot after jumping on a trampoline like a lollipop chased with fresh cotton candy.  The siblings were properly wired with enough sugar to launch a rocket into space by the time our choir came out and sang their two songs.  It was brilliant.  I love choirs.  All these different voices coming together, blending, making a music that could never be made alone.

Then this sickening thought washed over me.  We are all sitting ducks.  All of us here videoing our children, focused completely on the moment, enjoying the magic of leaving our couches, stupid celebrity news, the pain of the world, we are all standing here feet frozen, hearts warm.  Someone could take all this joy away.  I pushed out the thought.  Mad at myself for even going there.

Helen finished and the beautiful ballerinas from the Allen Civic ballet took the stage.  Helen, Lauren and Madison sat glued to the performance.  Madison is the cool Mom's daughter.  She had cool reindeer antlers on her head, the apple does not fall far from the tree.  I was glad to see she and Helen had made a connection through choir and sharing homeroom this year.  We watched more performances before Helen realized all the important sugar and jumping she had missed.

By this point, my feet are numb.  It is after 7pm, none of us has had anything that could be classified as real food in hours but, the girls are so stinking happy, and full of holiday cheer I decide to just go with it.  Helen starts jumping up and down, they bring a giant switch onto the stage.  I am focused on the long line I have been standing in so the kids can jump for two minutes on a trampoline.  It is one of the great mysteries of life, why kids want to wait in line for something they can do anytime at the neighbor's house.  But back to the switch, I am not getting why Helen is so excited about this switch.  I look at it more closely and realize it is a three or four foot light switch.  Helen saw this when she was backstage waiting to perform.  She has this ability to put two and two together and announced to her friends, "Hey, we are here for a tree lighting.  That is a big switch.  I bet they flip that and it turns on the tree."  No one, not one person thought this was plausible.  Helen was jumping up and down because she could feel it in her bones, her theory was about to be proven correct.  And it was, all the important councilmen of Allen stepped on the stage, spoke briefly and then counted down with the crowd to the grand moment when.......the light switch flipped and the tree came on.  I thought Helen might hop right out of her shoes she was so pleased with herself.  Then came the fireworks.  We were totally not expecting fireworks.  I thought for sure this was the highpoint of the evening and that we could now get into the car where I could start to thaw out my feet.

We start slowly making our way through throngs of people stopping, by the tree for pictures.  I take a look at the cotton candy line which now extends into Plano.  We happen into a Alexa, a 5th grade girl from Cheatham who we happen into every time we get off the couch and venture into Allen.  Alexa tells us her Dad is in charge of the cotton candy table.  Helen is already super impressed with this girl because she is a 5th grader.  This has just launched her into the stratosphere.  "Have you seen the line?" says Alexa.  "Yes," says Helen gloomily.  As I mentioned, Helen can put two and two together.  She knew there was no hope of cotton candy or Santa at this point in the evening and we were headed toward the car.    

I was imagining the way the heater was going to feel on my feet when Helen said, "Mom, Santa is going to be on stage, we can at least see him on stage.  Pleeeease!!"  What kind of a grinch would I be if we went to a tree lighting thing and I denied my kids Santa.  "Yeah, okay, lets go see Santa."  We head to the stage and it is not Santa.  It is Betty Lou Who with two brightly dressed Who teens with amazing Who voices.  My first thought is that it is a knock off of the grinch.  Here is the story.  These three are trying to have a Merry Christmas but "the grump" has arrived.  I chuckle, the irony of my own grumpiness at this moment has not escaped me.  I really do not want to be here.  But the kids, the kids are completely engaged.  Not just my kids, all the kids.  This little troop of 3 has mesmerized the under 11 set and at a pretty late point in the evening.  The kids in the audience are being given bells and bubbles to try to get rid of the grump.  They don't work.  We all try flashlights and phone lights.  They doesn't work.  Finally, everyone sings together.  First Rudolf then Santa Claus is coming to town.  This, this finally gets rid of the grump.  Then the Who music from the end of the Grinch who stole Christmas comes on.  You know, the song they sing when they all hold hands and gather around the spot where the tree should be but it is not there because the Grinch took it.  The Grinch tried to steal their joy but he could not.  The giant switch goes on in my head.  I think back to my thought earlier about being a sitting duck and it is replaced with the image of the Grinch looking puzzled.  Why?  Why do people still come together when everything is taken away?  Perhaps it is not enough to survive, we want to live and to live we must stay connected to each other.  To have joy, we must experience joy.  The Asian man in front of me turned and shook my hand and wished me happy Holidays.  The Indian woman beside me warmly gathered my hand in hers and gave me well wishes.  The pregnant lady with her busy toddler gave me a weary but happy smile.  The small troupe of Who's had asked us to wish cheer to each other to keep the grump away and it worked.

We headed back down toward the cotton candy table.  The line was much shorter now.  It wouldn't have mattered if it had gone to Richardson, I was feeling more connected now...less connected to my toes but more connected to my fellow man.  There was Alexa's Dad who was pleased to see a little girl who so obviously admired his daughter.  "Make this young lady a cotton candy the size of her head!" He said.  Lauren, for the first time ever, was sugared out.  That in and of itself is worthy of a blog entry.  Not to mention her willingness to stand in long lines so Helen didn't miss out on any necessary fun.  "Mom," said Helen, "I don't ever want this night to end."  "Me either," said Lauren.  "Me either," I said.

Luckily some nights do stick around the heart forever, cemented in place with cotton candy, Who Magic, and children singing in santa hats and reindeer antlers.