Child goes to a school that is full of poor kids. Child is a poor kid.
I am proud and resourceful, so Child’s experience of being a poor kid is different from some of the poor kids she goes to school with. We are also not always poor. We are never rich, but we are sometimes lower middle class instead of poor. It is the way with freelancing.
Child’s first grade teacher told me that she typically loses about half of her students to moving for reasons of financial hardship.
That totally blew my mind. When I was little, we got maybe one new kid a year, and occasionally kids wouldn’t show up for the following year, but they NEVER left in the middle of the year.
Another thing that blew my mind?
Last year, Child was in a special reading program. So every day, we did the hour’s worth of homework Child got from her reading help and from her regular class. Her reading teacher thanked me repeatedly for helping her with her homework, for holding her accountable.
I thought, “but that’s what parents do.”
I take child to school every morning because we live too close for her to get bussed.
And every morning, we working poor people kiss our kids goodbye in our work outfits, some of us are in our pajamas. Some of us are incredibly young, pushing strollers, or pregnant, or too skinny, or too round, or wear clothes that were obviously somebody richer’s castoffs.
A lot of the parents’ voices rattle from smoking too much. Have kids whose backpacks smell like stale cigarettes. A lot of the parents have stringy, unwashed hair. A lot of the parents leave the dropping off to the grandparents. A lot of kids come with somebody else’s parents. But there’s a real feeling of community and teamwork in these moments.
They feel like home to me. They feel like moments full of people coming together in a ritual.
Yesterday morning, it was raining. I often think it’d be a fun view from the air, all the bobbing umbrellas, then the clusters of them at the entrance to the school while people keep themselves, their kids, other people’s kids dry.
When I was little, I barely had to go ten feet from my front door to another dry spot. I was released within inches of my elementary school, under an awning.
The kids at Child’s school know about trekking for blocks, and they see the value of an umbrella, which is something I had no concept of until I was in my 20s.
And as I crossed High St. on the way to the Pajama Factory, I saw a dad on crutches, getting drenched, shuffling five kids across the street, and I thought, “maybe it’s anecdotal, but there’s a guy who recognizes the importance of getting his kids to school safely & on time.” He stood, impervious to the rain, watching the kids, made sure they got onto school ground safely.
And as I thought more, I think it’s not anecdotal. The poor parents I see interacting with their kids obviously love them. They obviously care about the education. The trouble is, it takes a lot more hours at $7 to make a living than it does at $30, $100.
And all this ridiculous rhetoric about how poor people are lazy, and Romney’s denial that he’s dismissive toward Americans who don’t pay taxes make me crazy with anger and frustration. I wonder how many times Romney, not his hired people, helped his children with homework.
How is there any universe in which somebody parenting multiple children and working full time for minimum wage–regardless of the choices, circumstances, etc that led them to that life–could be considered to be lazy? Working part time for minimum wage and parenting a single child is a greater task than anyone sane would take on outside of parental love.
The fact is that the working poor do not have the time or energy to deal with their kids’ homework. When the greater pressure is making sure the kids are dressed and fed, who gives a shit about a math worksheet?
It’s not right that our world is like this. It’s not right that anybody would complain that people who live in poverty don’t have to pay taxes. It’s not right that there are individual humans who receive enough money annually to pay for private educations for every single one of the underserved kids in my county. Or that those same humans are pointing their bloated, greedy fingers at the poor–of whom they possess no realistic conception–and saying, “You’re the problem. You are. You’re the reason America’s broken.” How can a group with no voice break America?
But people–even the working poor–listen. Why?
I would love to understand. Please help me. Do you understand how it happens that the filthy stinking rich people who hang out in their luxe mansions, summer homes, golf courses, race tracks, and order more food get to blame and criticize people who have so little they can’t even see to their kids’ educations properly? And why anybody with a modicum of sense would agree?
It appears to be a Doberman trapped in a Chihuahua’s body.
Sorta like this:
For some reason, Brutus, this puppy–and puppy he is, he’s only a few months old–has nipped me before, scratched Child’s back another time (though this was when Brutus was put on the top bunk with Child by the other children who live with Brutus in an effort to help Child overcome her fear of Brutus–but Child is not afraid of dogs, she likes them, she is only afraid of THIS dog). Brutus needs to be held whenever a stranger even approaches the neighbor’s yard for it will fly over and attach itself like a cartoon wimp biting into the Incredible Hulk.
Brutus’s family treats it with this queer kind of awe and permissiveness. Explaining its poor behavior, saying things like, “He doesn’t like men.” And, “For some reason, he doesn’t like Child.”
I call bullshit.
But then I’m not really a pets person. I do not understand how people love pets. I find puppies to be more tiring than infants, only puppies never learn to talk and can never do cool things like ride subways or go to State College or read books and snuggle or ham it up for the camera.
Here’s a picture of Child’s wounds from Brutus a few days in:
And I am really annoyed about this. Maybe I am even angry.
Child is lovely and adaptable as always. She’s been noticing how the bruises look like a face and enjoys pretending that they are talking.
I am telling myself not to be annoyed and angry. I am telling myself that kids used to scrape themselves and break arms playing with neighbors and neighbors’ kids and parents didn’t make big stinks about it, and I am nostalgic for a time when neighbors were more neighborly. So I don’t want to cause a bunch of crap, call the police and force the neighbors to execute their poorly behaved pooch.
But I’m not a litigious sort.
But then I wonder if I’m being an okay mom. Should I have raised a ruckus? Am I showing Child that it’s okay for pets to hurt people? Or that it’s okay for people to let other people’s pets hurt them? She’s been forbidden from going inside the neighbors’ house at all, and she is not allowed to go next door if Brutus is out, either.
But then I wonder if I am enabling the neighbors to continue to have a dog that’s a tiny menace? Risking another person’s health and well-being? If I should have been thinking globally–about the neighborhood–instead of about our so far really copacetic relationship with our neighbors, and at least filed a report with the SPCA or something?
But we had a yard sale the other day, and I saw a pair of people walking their dog, first by our house, then an hour or more later back the other way, and they carried a plastic bag of shit the size of my head. And they allowed their dog to piss in our yard, in front of the yard sale, as if it’s a perfectly acceptable thing. Last year, I went to the beach with my mom, and she has this tiny pooch, and it was this whole other sociological order of humans who are beholden to animals, I was and am mystified, and I feel I cannot expect rational behavior from pets people.
What do you think, blog readers? Instead of dispensing advice about parenting, I’m asking for it. Or about pets.
Diplomacy and discretion are two skills that not enough people have. While this is pure theory, I suspect that understanding the value of an inner life, and of recognizing that different sets of people require different sets of tactics for getting along, is tantamount to a person’s success in life.
One can accomplish almost anything if one is charming.
The Effort Word [sic]
Child was playing outside with her neighbors. She came in and told me, solemnly, as if presenting herself to the gallows, “Mommy. I accidentally said the effort word.”
I said, “Do you know what the effort word is?”
“What is it?”
Her eyes got wide, and she said, “Fuck.”
Then she clapped both hands over her mouth and appeared to brace for reprimand. She relaxed visibly when I started to laugh.
“I just said it to myself, Mommy.”
“So you said the effort word in your head?”
Still chuckling, “That’s okay, Child. Just don’t say it at school.”
“You can go back outside to play.”
The end. Or so I thought.
I was so tickled by the whole incident, that at dinner that night, I asked her to tell Fella about the effort word.
She started out differently. First she said, “Well. I just said it to myself.” pause. “We were playing Monkey in the Middle, and I messed up, and I just wanted to say something. So I said, ‘I’m a fuck!'” And again she slapped both hands over her mouth with a look of terror in her little eyes.
“Oh,” I said. “So you said it out loud to yourself?”
“Yes. And my friends told me that was very bad.”
“It wasn’t, Child.” I was laughing again, Fella was silently chuckling, too. “Like I said before. Just be careful. Don’t say the effort word at school.”
I felt so happy to have a kid who is thoughtful and responsible enough to want to admit to me when she said something that she thought would make me angry. I felt like the important thing was her desire to come clean.
Instead of making me angry, the incident made me feel like a good mom of a great kid.
Another day, I’ll post about how linguistic taboos are limiting and unfortunate. Today, I’ll let you yell at me in the comments if you want. Or not. What do you think? How do you handle your kids with swearing?
I’m a big fan of Cake. The band, not the confection. And I’m not one of those moms who has a CD selection of stuff that’s Just For Kids in the car. I feel like, within reason, Child can listen to what I like. And what Fella likes. She’s already been exposed to more different sorts of music than I knew about until I was in college.
So she likes a few tracks from Fashion Nugget, and I generally indulge her desire to be DJ in the car because it keeps her from talking about stuff during which I space out and then she gets upset when I space back in and she has to repeat herself. So we sing together which is good for the soul. One of her favorite songs is, “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps,” and after we listen to it a bunch of times, I let the next song play, and I always skip Track 11, called “Nugget” because it contains egregious use of the effort word [sic].
But on the way down to my mom’s the other week (it’s a 2-hour drive), after making up some new lyrics to The Comanche Song, officially titled “Comanche” from Motorcade of Generosity, Child asked to listen to “Perhaps”, and after about 8 repeats, reminded me during the next track, “It’s Coming Down,” that the one after that was the one with the bad word and that I should remember to skip it. It’d been a while since we listened to The Perhaps Song.
“Thanks for reminding me, Child.”
“But mommy. What’s the bad word in that song? Please tell me?”
“I can’t tell you, Child. But you know it. You just said it the other week.”
“Is it freakin’?”
“Nope, not that one.”
“But it’s the Eff word?” (Where’d she learn that it’s not the effort word? Dangit!)
“Just tell me, mommy. I don’t remember.” (See, people? Swearing around your kids will not scar them for life)
“How about we just listen to the song. You’ll know it when you hear it.”
“Yeah yeah yeah!”
“But before we do, what are the rules about those kinds of words?”
“I can’t say them around grandma.”
“At school.” She thought a minute, “And at my friends’ house, or if I’m at the mall.”
“Very good, Child. You know why we can listen to this song now?”
“Because you understand when it’s not okay to say words that could get you in trouble.”
“Just play it, mommy.”
Then we played the song about 12 times and it was still playing when we pulled into mom’s driveway. Child was visibly proud of herself. I know I didn’t do anything in my last life or this one to deserve such a great kid.
I realized that I forgot to give you a free story on Wednesday. This was an oversight. Largely because I was so excited to tell you about Geekery.
I’m going to switch Free Story day to Fridays both HERE, and on the Blue Lit blog.
There are a few reasons for this.
Free stories are excellent, but my blog traffic is never terrific on free story days, neither is it on Fridays. So I’ve decided to put something you’d rather not read on a day you’re less likely to hang out at my blog anyhow.
Friday is becoming a day in which I must accomplish a BAZILLION things. This is my last old story, so starting next week, I’ll be giving you scenes and chunks from my yet-untitled novel-in-progress. Of course, this is cool for you because you’ll get to see the (likely vast) difference between a novel in draft stages and what it looks like when it’s all finished.
I’m in the midst of three reasonably big projects. I’m happy to report that they’re writing projects or writing-related projects. But Friday brings me some consistent deadlines/times to get stuff done for the rest of 2012, and my psychology of deadlines works best with Friday as one.
This story, “Family Bed,” is definitely one of my best stories to date. I hope you’ll like it.
Mara scooted half-awake to the edge of the bed. Her baby was air-cycling behind her, knocking the small of her back, causing the mattress to shake, causing her to feel a little nauseous, causing her interrupted sleep to recede into wakefulness. She did not want to see the baby’s face. She was a little afraid of it and its contorting mouth, eerily empty in the night, seeking. She hoped that if she held her breath, the baby’s air cycling would stop; the baby would forget she was there. She would be able to relax, to slacken the muscles in her back the way they had not been since the baby was born.
She was never alone and she was very lonely. She caught one of the baby’s feet to stop her kicking, but she did not look at the baby. She looked at the ceiling and felt herself sink deeper into the mattress, thought of the way her stomach looked now, gray and mottled like silly putty that had carboned too many comics, soft and floppy, sagging below her hip bones. She pitied it and herself. She wondered if she would ever have another lover, if anyone would take her and her ugly belly and her gorgeous baby, and if she would be able to figure out how to have lovers and a family bed. It seemed as possible as having a pet elephant. As possible as having the baby’s father, having him the way she had asked him to be had. She remembered when she’d talked about her fear, the way the reality of the baby pressed down on her lungs and her security and her confidence like the fetus did on her bladder. He’d smiled and smoothed her hair behind her ear with a large finger, pretending empathy. He’d said, “You’ll be a good mom.” And then he didn’t say anything else until later, and then he’d said she was too tricky and he left. And she missed him, but only because he was a he.
She wanted a triangle instead of a line. If she could get a triangle, a third point on the chart of her family, she could maybe get a square, and then maybe a pentagon. She thought about the laws getting made at points east and west that said same sex couples were now legally families. No law for her and the baby, she was a fringy not-a-family. She thought of Ariel Gore and Anne Lamott whose books about being sexually liberated women and then single parents she read. But Ariel Gore was an exotic-looking rebel who had her baby at 19 inItalyin a stainless-steel-filled hospital that didn’t speak her language. Anne Lamott was older, established, already successful. She’d had marriages and abortions and loves. Mara wanted just one of any of those things. She would take exotic looking. She would take divorced, even. She did not want to be alone and ordinary.
Mara had brought the baby home from her parents’ house a few hours away late one night. It had been one of the first nights of fall and she’d wanted to roll down the windows and grin into the air so that it would dry off her teeth and they would stick to her lips and ache. But she hadn’t because she was afraid of freezing the baby. She’d pictured a dull blue nose and iced eyelashes and shuddered. Also, she’d been afraid of waking the baby and having to pull over: afraid to pull over because she’d been sure if she did, she and her car and her baby would be hit and killed by a semi. Flexing each of her butt cheeks in turn, she had let her mind relax. She’d tried some yoga breathing, then some Lamaze because yoga was too subtle. She’d become certain that the house would be burned down when she got home. But the house hadn’t burnt. She hadn’t crashed the car. The baby hadn’t frozen.
She went to sleep and dreamed that she lost her down comforter. In her dream, she was angry at herself for missing the comforter because she did not purchase it. It had come with an apartment at some point, and it had some unique stains. She washed it in the washing machine even though the tag said “dry clean only,” and it was the best blanket she’d ever owned. She had many other blankets. But in the dream, she would not settle until she found the feather blanket. She never found the blanket, but a tall bald man with a pointy nose and tailcoat kept giving her clues that led her to odd places like the bottom of a river and the scaffolding around a bank that was sinking because its wooden foundation was being eaten by termites. She dreamed about the way wood looked melted after termites inhabited it.
Sometimes the baby did not seem human. Sometimes, she thought the baby was a very ugly little parasite. Sometimes, she thought the baby would relieve her of her identity. She would become a drone, existing to sustain the baby’s life, sloppy and abundant, a nutrient provider. She would end up more alone and less herself. The baby would wake her, pasted against her back, sucking on something, the back fat her nursing bra squeezed into a mound, the base of her wing bone. A lot of things scared her now that the baby had come. Things she did not predict would scare her. For instance, staircases. Mara had nightmares of falling down the staircase with the baby, losing consciousness at the end of the fall and waking up to find the baby a pool of blood under her. The thing was – the terrible thing, more terrible than that dream – she was relieved in the dream; she was relieved that her baby was dead.
She’d explained the dream to her mother who was skeptical.
“But can you imagine your life without her?” her mother had asked.
She’d thought better of telling her the way she had days of regretting not giving the baby to a good Rabbi. At Seder dinner at a friend’s house, she had been five months pregnant. His mother with fingernails like fenders had said, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“No.” Mara was surprised that she told the truth. So much of getting okay with motherhood had meant tricking herself into believing that she would be fine. That she wanted a baby the way her body did. That she didn’t mind giving up alcohol and cigarettes.
“You’re awfully young.” The mother put her hand on Mara’s shoulder, “I have a nephew out inArizona. He’s a Rabbi. He’s young. He and his wife can’t have children. Your baby would never want anything, and you would know where it is. Think about it.”
“I will.” But the conversation had lain thick on her chest, unthinkable.
She repositioned herself on her side for the baby to latch without waking, peeled back her shirt, sniffed the front of it. She loved the warm, yeasty smell when her breasts began to leak – loved it because she had always loved the smell of babies, and only realized when she had one of her own that the smell of baby was actually the smell of breast milk. She reveled in the idea that she would smell like a baby for the next months. She remembered something she had read about a man drinking his lover’s breast milk, and got angry at herself for not getting knocked up by someone she trusted.
The baby wriggled itself closer and closer to her in their family bed. Mara rolled closer to the bed’s edge. She imagined that the baby was trying to figure out how to get back inside. She wondered about the future, if her deflated uterus and devastated vagina would house and birth another person. She wanted them to. There was cosmic justification in motherhood – a fitness with the world and a peace with Self-capital-s. She’d been at war with her Self since she was ten, trying to figure out which sort of woman she wanted to be, over-thinking small decisions, under-thinking big ones. It was amazing about motherhood the way the gore and indignity of labor and birth slipped from her memory, the way she could hardly believe herself when she told people, “It was the worst pain of my life.”
In the mornings, she watched the baby wake up. The baby rubbed her tiny fists into her eyes and arched her back, made a sweet squeal. The baby’s eyes opened and looked at their mommy. Mara watched her baby’s mouth move from one side of her face to the other, contorting into grins and grimaces and simple, instinctual looks of adoration. Mara smiled and the baby smiled back, exciting her cheeks into rosy puffs. The baby reached for Mara, caught her shirt, thrashed around. Her fists landed on the bed, made a hollow thunk and the baby startled, her eyes widening and looking terrified and wise. Mara offered the baby a breast. The baby lurched for it, latched and ate hungrily, crossed her eyes, gasped for breath between gulps. Mara felt her own eyes go out of focus. There was something ethereal about nursing, something that made her sure of everything and sure of nothing.
She was broke, so she had taken the baby and herself to the Department of Social Services. The room had been large, gloomy, loud, pale green. It’d smelled like soaked beans. Surly clerks behind plexi-glass windows with noise holes had shouted to conduct the lines. She’d felt anomalous but not extraordinary in her education, in her whiteness. During her interview with the social worker, she overheard the woman in the next booth explaining which child belonged to which daddy and felt naïve. Mara always assumed that people exaggerated when they talked about assortments of babies and daddies, and accused them of racism in her head. Her social worker, Mrs. Bennett, said, “They didn’t want to give me your card because they thought you jumped in order.” They were the ambassadors of bureaucracy.
“If I had, the line might have mutinied.”
“I told them you were already here.”
Mara raised her eyebrows, “Oh?”
Mara thought about the way she might become a woman with an assortment of babies and daddies. And then she thought, not me. She was smarter than those people. She had more resources. She would not be guilty about her whiteness. She would be sad about the inequality. She would be humble and unsuspicious about the accusing eyes she saw sliding through the waiting room with her. She would be angry that it had come to this. Ashamed to be here in the first place.
A lot of things made her angry now that the baby was here. Bad drivers made her angry. Alcoholics made her angry. Almost every time she thought of her baby’s father she got angry. She got angry because he loved kids, because he worked in a middle school with learning disabled middle schoolers. He was patient and loving. He would have been a good father. But he did not want to be a father, or so he told her. He did not want to be a parent with her, he said, because she was difficult. Because she was intense. Because she would have made him feel trapped, he said. She picked up the baby who’d begun to cry, held her against her chest.
The woman next to her had a daughter who was about nine. The girl looked at the baby, smiled. The woman pushed the stub of pencil she used into the form on her lap, trying to send carbon through to the bottom.
She rolled over and felt the baby spasming against her back, felt the baby’s leg caught under her back, wondered in her drowsiness how long it would take the baby to suffocate if she rolled over onto her. She was not awake enough to feel guilty for wondering, but not asleep enough to feel she had a good excuse for trying it. The baby caught her hair and pulled. She knew rationally that the baby didn’t do it on purpose, but she clenched her teeth and breathed long and hard out through her nose. She said, “Let go.” She reached behind her and grabbed the baby’s fist. She pulled her hair out of it. She pushed the baby closer to the wall and shoved a pacifier in her mouth. She said, “Don’t be a glutton.” She tucked the blanket in around the baby, hoped it would contain her.
Although the alarm clock said it was two hours later, Mara was sure it was a conspiracy. It had only been moments and she wasn’t fully asleep. The baby sensed her resistance and started to wail. Would you just shut UP! Mara thought. She rolled back over, pulled the baby close and shoved a breast in her face. The baby writhed around for a moment, the corners of her mouth downturned like a bass; she opened wide and latched. Mara counted the baby’s hairs, they were the color of charcoal. Mara let the baby suckle until she just let go and detached, and hoped she could imagine it away, that she would find this was all a nightmare, that the baby was just a photograph lying in her bed.
Listen, other moms, don’t bristle and run away. I know your cursor is hovering over the back button, and you’ve got this wild offended look and you’re almost in tears.
It’s true and you know it. What other group of people can babble, ad infinitum, about poop, school projects that involve pipe cleaners and egg cartons, petty-five-year-old tiffs & inappropriate mom reactions, good or bad teachers, report cards, pencils, after-school activities, and be so interested in these topics?
I’m a mom, and I don’t really think that stuff is interesting. It’s undignified to let our kids take over our lives. Like we help our kids grow into whole other people, we have to maintain our own identities! If we forget who we are, how can we help them become who they are?
When I was pregnant, I used to tell dead baby jokes. I did it because I was rebelling against the mom babble.
I was more heroic and successful about avoiding that when I was pregnant. It’s easy to do anything in theory.
But I reckon that if my fabulous child knows that I have something else going on for myself, she won’t come across any zany ideas when she reaches her late teens and early twenties like that she can’t take that awesome internship in Zimbabwe because if she does I’ll be a wreck.
Hell, I want her to go to Zimbabwe! I want her to travel the world! I want her to know how to be a whole person outside the definition of our family. I want her to have that understanding early, and to take it and run off into the sunset and build herself a mountain of success and experience and heartache and trouble.
There’s this video:
But I think that in some ways it doesn’t get better after the spawn emerges. Us moms have this unspoken club of martyrdom, and nobody without kids belongs OR could understand. And whenever I catch myself clucking my tongue, smiling knowingly at one of my childless friends (who is horrified at how little it bothers me when my busy, busy kid is all in my face about something absurd or interrupts our conversation) and on the verge of some ridiculous statement like, “someday you’ll understand,” I get a little bit sick inside.
I get embarrassed. It’s the equivalent of saying, “I don’t care what it is as long as it’s healthy.”
Listen, I WANT free time. I WANT to be unfettered. I WANT to go back to being April, and not Mom: the grown up who goes with the kid.
And I’ll totally indulge in the conversation about poop or homework or projects, about Mrs. Smith, Mr. Deacon, or the principal. But once all that can be said has been, I want to talk about Breaking Bad or Fresh Air with Terry Gross. I want to go out after 8:00 p.m. and take in things that aren’t appropriate for children, either because of the content or the attention span required.
I want to drink beer and practice my guitar with abandon, and read for three hours without interruption.
I am pining for the day that 75% of my time is not spent on teaching my kid how to get dressed, do her own homework, checking on her when she’s playing with her friends, volunteering at her school, making sure she gets culture, making sure she eats well, making sure she has clothes to wear.
Yes, all that stuff is more rewarding than I could possibly describe.
But, I don’t want to be at a loss when it’s over. I do not want to have to be 75% overwhelmed by the care of another being in order to feel like myself.
So let’s quit being boring, Moms! Let’s be ourselves AND moms. And when we’re done being moms, let’s have a bucket list as long as the distance to the moon of awesome stuff we’ve been dying to do/think/read/be/try.
Our kids will be better for it, and then when they’re pre-parent grownups, we’ll have stuff to talk about with them.