Picture Day 

Today is picture day. You are wearing a new blue button down shirt and we packed a more durable, comfortable shirt in your bag for you to wear at after school. I have my suspicions as to whether you’ll change, though. You are so proud of yourself today and you know you are handsome. It doesn’t occur to you to be bashful, to quell your pride. You smiled this morning and you were excited. Today is picture day.

Picture day is a day for us too. It’s a day to get a snapshot of you in Kindergarten. A chance for us to attempt earnestly to do the impossible. To capture you as you are now, to freeze you in this moment. We do it so we can share this moment with the wide world of people that love you. To capture and disseminate your joyful boyishness so that even a tiny bit can be transported across space and your Grandma and Koba and Nana and Papa can hold this part of you from hundreds of miles away. So they can put you on the fridge and look at you whenever they wish. So they can show their friends and your relatives, ones you don’t even know yet, how well you are doing. So they can feel pride. Not only in you, but in us.

We also take these pictures so that we, your mommy and daddy, can travel through time to right now. It’s important. We dress you in your finest and we do your hair especially carefully. I think you may have even had your first encounter with hairspray this morning. We do it as it is our wont. We want you to look your finest and be happy. So we can find this picture a few years from now when you are perhaps a bit self conscious and less open to us combing your hair. When you try to comply and smile, but when that smile is put on, something to think about and not so much your default facial expression. We will come back in time to this picture and the others like it to remember who you are inside, at least the part of who you are that we first met. We’ll always see that part, even after you’re convinced it’s not there anymore. We’ll know it’s just dormant. You will never look like you do now and that’s important to memorialize, but you will feel this way again, but it will be tempered by life and what it teaches you.

Innocence is highly overrated. But it is also a real and wonderful part of being five and while you are a more mature boy everyday and while we love that you can be quiet and contemplative from time to time, there is something we will miss about this time you are rapidly graduating from where you are earnest and honest with us and yourself by default. You haven’t gotten too caught up in fitting in. Too caught up in trying on identities you conjure. Instead you look at the camera proud because you are handsome, funny, smart and loved and you know it. And so do we.

We’ll know it when you are away at college and going on adventures to find yourself. When you are busy developing and defining your purpose.  We will look at this picture and the others, the ones from every step on the way and we will be recognizing ours. We will see all that went in to getting you to picture day and take pride in us, all of us, for doing what we did together. We will still be doing it, but it will look a lot different than it does now, all of us smooshed together, experiencing it as one and interpreting it individually. There might be times when these interpretations are deceptive and we struggle to stay positive. You may need to distance yourself and we may reactively hold tighter. You’ll surely have to push us away someday, just like we will surely have to nudge you along from time to time. It will all be from love, but it might not always feel that way. When it doesn’t these pictures will help.

They’ll help you too. You’ll look back and remember vividly some things. I remember my mother wetting the comb and working with my cowlick. Trying over and over to supress my hairs natural desires in an attempt to look my best. Licking her thumb and cleaning the smudges from my cheek. I remember the brown bags we used for lunches that my father would sit at the table at night and decorate. I’ll remember the joyful pink elephant sitting under the lone palm tree on the tiny island on a lunch bag that I used repeatedly that I loved so much that he made for me. It’s another framed talisman from a time gone by that I cling to, though after my many adult moves I can’t say I know exactly where it is. I’ll find it someday, probably too late, and when I do I’ll cry tears of love and joy.

Hopefully when you look back, from a great distance and see your picture you’ll see love. The love and time and unabashed joy we took in giving you what we had. In doing our best to make sure you were taken care of, that you knew you were loved. Because when we look at them, when we travel through time and space to see the you you are now it will be with joy. It will be with love. It will be with longing for the time we had with you and the many journey’s you are surely going to take.

How To Put Your Kids to Bed in Whateverthef*ck Amount of Steps!!

Hello! I’ll be your child sleep guru. Leave your exhaustion and frustrations at the door because I’m here to help!

First a little about me. I’m a once proud man who has given himself over fully to parenthood. I’m a tad too heavy (actually it ranges from a tad to ‘grossly’, but that’s just a medical term) and happier for learning how to cry and doing it 5-7 nights a week. But don’t fret, these are tears of exhaustion and we all know there are different kinds of crying. I have very little sorrow these days and a great deal of joy (and exhaustion. Did I mention exhaustion?)

Like most parents we struggled with getting our children on a sleep schedule. There were tired, sleep deprived days and restless, exhausting nights. We struggled. But eventually we found ourselves in a routine of sorts. I don’t really know how, but there were a few months, I think, a couple winters back, maybe, when we were done and the house was cleaned up (a relative status during these early years) by say, 9 o’clock. These were the glory days. But then we did what any smart parents would do and changed who put who to bed. I mean, I wanted some time with the little one and she was missing the big one, so we switched it up. Shouldn’t be a big deal, but they disagreed. Both of them. So, there we were pulling our hair out. Trying over and over to get them to accept going to bed alone. Together. Apart. Whatever. Nope.

Then we figured it out. Here it is. The fail proof plan for getting your kids to sleep.

  • First things first. Have a healthy late afternoon snack. I find this is a good time to reward positive behavior with sugar. It’s not that I don’t get the dangers, it’s just they love it so much and surely they’ve sat still or played together or at the very least spent a portion of time not hitting anyone or throwing anything. That kind of self control deserves a reward. Besides, bedtime is far enough off for them to really be able to burn off anything you might give them. Salty processed snacks work as well.
  • Ease into dinner with some screen time Nothing big, but mine are 5 and 3. Perhaps they can do it on the deck. Get some fresh air.
  • Get the table ready for a good old fashioned family dinner At least that way they will have a sense that there is another way, not plopped on couches in front of the TV. Occasionally me and the Mrs. even sit at the table al0ne and catch up. It’s nice. Plus nothing goes with nuggets quite like Octonauts and Lego Batman programs.
  • After dinner let’s all go to our separate corners After you’ve devolved into trading m&m’s for bites of string beans there’s a natural tension that needs to be released. We tend to hide in the kitchen gorging on the m&m’s they didn’t earn while they go slightly banana’s in the living room and backyard.
  • Now that we’ve all calmed down let’s bribe them into a bath This works about 50% of the time. Frankly they’ve developed enough methods to get all the rewards they could want and by now they usually are tired of candy.
  • Sure. It’s 8:30. Let’s get one more show in.
  • Okay. I blew that one. I should have been putting on PJ’s and brushing teeth… But on the bright side I’m all caught up on Facebook. One more show. A quiet one.
  • Okay, NOW I’m all caught up on Facebook. Final show, Sarah and Duck, it’s the right thing for bedtime. I will skip over the professional wrestling moves often incorporated in subduing a 3 year old to brush his teeth. He’s stronger than you can imagine.
  • Hit the sheets. And of course by that I mean we bunker down, literally lying in bed with them. Some will say this is not the right way. Many actually. That’s all.
  • Bathroom. Can’t say no and we don’t want them wetting the bed Also, we have one who has made it his strategy to power down as many liquids as possible at about eight. It’s just good policy to let him go when he asks.
  • Lie in bed with them as they wear themselves out with a thousand stuffed animals that they only play with in bed. As I read this I’m starting to wonder why we even keep them. At the very least we shouldn’t keep them in their room. I’m pretty sure I have this thought every night.
  • Snap. Yell. Bark at your three year old that you’ve had enough. GO TO SLEEP. The predictable tears are the worst because it was your own lack of self control that brought them. Now you are both emotional wrecks. Kids recover quicker. This becomes the guilt and shame that weighs your shoulders down and gives you cravings for ice cream
  • Apologize. Make boundaries. One big stuffed dog and one more animal. And that’s it.
  • Buckle under and allow them all the stuffed animals they want.
  • Cry in the dark. As long as you control your own breathing they shouldn’t notice.
  • Fall asleep while they play in the bed. Let’s face it, you’re exhausted anyway.
  • Finally, now that you are unconscious and non responsive, somehow, they fall asleep.
  • Wake up, eyes puffy from crying yourself to sleep.
  • Look over and see your sleeping three year old. My goodness. He’s an angel.
  • Take pride in his development. Technically he fell asleep on his own!
  • Go back downstairs and cry the tearless sobs of a parent starting to clean a disaster area just before midnight. Cleaning, though annoying, will ease just enough tension to allow you to relax into a slouch on the couch in a half cleaned living room with a thing of Ben & Jerry’s or some Pringles.
  • Wash it all down with a giant plastic tumbler of boxed wine.

The best designs are simple. Elegant. Give up. Give in. Eat Ice Cream. Drink wine.

The best we do so much of the time is to keep them alive and get out of the way. I’m good at the first part, still working on getting out of the way..

 

Grabbing Life, Holding On

img_2962With every age and stage there comes certain signs. Signs that my little boys are running out of time to be ‘little boys’. It’s not such a bad thing. In fact, for them it’s the most exciting thing you could imagine. The walls are starting to come down. Well, perhaps not, but they are certainly moving further and further out and for my sweet rambunctious boys this is very, very exciting. From time to time they will pretend they are babies. Not in any real way, but they will say, ‘I’m a baby…’ in a silly voice, smile, giggle and laugh at the absurdity. They are decidedly little boys and we are accepting as best we can that we’ll never have our babies again.

img_2921Like so many parents before us, we know they will always be our babies. It’ll be a metaphor to them, but it won’t be to us. They will be our two and only babies and we will hold them, if only in our hearts, as closely and tenderly as if they were newly wrapped and leaving the hospital for the first time for the rest of our lives.

But that will be it. The rest of our lives. The seemingly inexhaustible but ever diminishing time we have left with them, here amongst them, able to hug and be hugged is also being put into stark relief with each barrier breached and each new independence learned and granted. As they go through life reveling in the ever greater autonomy of being a ‘big boy’ another tiny tick passes and we are closer to the end. Not noticeably so, not always, but the big ones can pierce the bubble we’ve so happily stayed in during these early years. Can make us aware if not of our own ticking clocks then those of their time left in the bubble we’ve created and cared for and patched up and loved. As they grab life that is out there waiting for them we are hard pressed to let go of another tiny piece of it that we’d give anything to keep in our grasp til the end of time.

img_2930It’s joyous. I don’t want you to misunderstand. It’s a faint feeling of time passing and is easily overwhelmed by the joys we share as they start there journey’s. But it is a real feeling. A real sense of life’s passing. We are older parents and we aren’t so quick to let feelings slide passed as we once were. I suppose that’s true for all parents, regardless of age. But with the years we bring to the task comes a thought that this second act that will happen when they no longer need the minute to minute, the meal to meal, the day to day or week to week attention they once did may be more on the down slope of our time here, our time with them. It’s jarring to think, but comforting as well. As long as we can make it long enough to know they are safe, to know they are loved and to know that they know how wonderful this all is, than knowing this is the thing, being a parent and doing our best to make foster this family, we’re pretty happy having that be the thing we go out on. The last and best of what we did while we were so lucky to be here.img_2978

The Golden Age of Pre-Facebook Parenthood on The Good Men Project

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Don’t get me wrong. I love all the connections I’ve maintained via Facebook. Not to mention those that were born there. Still, I can’t help but think that something has been lost…

The Golden Age of Pre-Facebook Parenthood is on The Good Men Project. Please head over and give it a look and let me know what you think!

 

 

Our Boy’s Day

img_2836I didn’t really appreciate a clean house until I had kids. Before they came around I kept things pretty well in order. The rotting vegetables in the fridge were rare and spotted early. The floors and surfaces were always clear, though I will admit, corners were, well, utilized I guess would be the right word.

After we had kids all that took a back seat. We are catching up and have a house you could walk into without causing us great embarrassment about 4 or 5 nights a week. We both work full time and don’t have the spare cash to pay for people to clean. So when my wife asked if I’d like to take the guys out for a few hours this past Saturday so she could do a ‘full clean’ I jumped on the opportunity.

It was a super hot and steamy morning and I lured them out to the car with a promise of driving to the playground. Now a playground offer has a 90% plus hit rate with my boys. They love a playground. But when it’s a playground we have to drive to there is no stopping them as they hurtle out the door and hustle into their seats. Today was no exception. There was a brief moment of curious concern when I started the car and mommy wasn’t in it. ‘Where’s mommy?’ Teddy asked. ‘She’s staying home to clean. We’re having a boys day!’

We tend to travel as a pack on weekends. It’s a cool stage of life, right now. For all it’s inefficiency the fact that we do everything together is cool. I’m still able to get some quiet time at night and we get as much cleaning done day to day as our energy will allow us after we’ve gotten them to sleep for the night. This boys day was a departure from the norm. A notable one.

The park was fun and dangerous and exciting. Evidence of the differing nature of ‘boys day’ came early.

‘Daddy, I have to go to the bathroom.’ Charlie said.

I scanned the perimeter. No bathrooms in sight. There was a treeline, though. Hm…

‘Okay, buddy. We’re going to the woods. Teddy!’

So off we trekked to learn a key skill of boyhood, how to effectively and respectively relieve oneself in nature. I would never have guessed this, but it felt fatherly to be in the woods with the boys, making sure they were out of sight from the other kids and parents. Making sure that they were off the trail sufficiently and coaching them on how to position themselves so they had the best cover. Also, walking back it felt like we were the cool kids. The rebels.

It really was the biggest of big playgrounds and there was plenty of fun and exploring to do. But the day had to move on and we had to run an errand. We were heading to the mall to get a replacement line for the weed-eater because there was supposedly a good deal at Sears. Not the type of thing we’d make a special trip for typically, but we were giving mom all the time she needed to clean and it was the mall with the indoor playground so it was enticing all on it’s own.

There is no greater place to entertain to little boys then in the section of Sears where we looked for and failed to find the weed-eater line replacement. It was heaven. They were climbing on and pretend driving the ride on mowers, hiding in and around the sheds for sale. Teddy actually stopped at the push mower, the kind with no motor, and gasped, ‘So cool!’ Mind you, he had no idea the utility of the thing. He just knew he wanted to play with it. It was actually harder to get them out of there than it was to get them off the playground.

Thankfully, the ‘indoor playground’ has taken up a spot in there imagination over the years that has magnified it’s scale way out of proportion. I get it. I remember the excitement of coming across a McDonald’s with a playground on vacations when I was young. It’s so much fun to get caught up in these small extravagances with these guys. Excitement may be fleeting but it has yet to become something they control. When something, anything, hits them as exciting they burst and beam and giggle.

img_2842It’s a great thing this indoor play station. A chance to sit and let them roam free. Increasingly the generation so many lament who spend all day looking at their phones and seeming disengaged are the ones having kids and this little respite in their day, a chance to scroll and to check in with the world they miss is as exciting for them (us!) is pretty exciting for them to.

Before too long we were off. Turned out that no one could assure us that there wasn’t soy or sesame or peanuts or tree nuts in any of the mall food so our attempts to grab lunch failed. So we went where the ‘food’ was safe for my guys. While the disappointment of not being able to get a doughnut (soy) was real, it being replaced by a trip to the candy shop was more than enough to compensate. That’s how we ended up with two bags of cotton candy. The little one doesn’t even like cotton candy. No bother, he just wanted to have the chance to hold the same big bag his brother had.

So the day was over and we were headed back to our clean home and some fun times with mommy. The clouds had appeared and we weren’t upset to spend the afternoon watching movies.

Boys days won’t last forever and they don’t honestly come around enough. But the truth is that I can’t get enough of them. Won’t get enough of them. Ever.

How I Understand Privilege

‘I wish I was black.’ 

I was probably 12 years old or so when I said this and I was 100% sincere. In that moment, looking out the window as the rural landscape of western New York flew past, barely undulating and never ending I couldn’t have been more sincere. 

My life was basketball and I was a Piston’s fan, Isaiah Thomas was my all time favorite player. Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall’ was my first record. And I mean vinyl. Might have been my last as well. Tapes were on their way. All the guys I watched on the playgrounds and at the college, whose games I emulated and whose styles I mimicked were all black guys. I was into early rap through my older brothers. We had cardboard taped to the floor in the basement and we spent hours a day working on all the moves we could remember from ‘Breakin’. I’m not sure I could ever windmill but I could do everything else. I was a badass little pop and locker. I remember someone getting a hold of a tape of Eddie Murphy’s ‘Delirious’ and hearing it and thinking I’d just heard the coolest and damn near funniest thing ever. ‘Gooney goo goo’ had me rolling, and for the life of me now I can’t remember what the joke was to that punchline. Whatever, his stories were so clearly real and it felt like a sneak peak into a life that I was fascinated by. A life I could only imagine. A life I couldn’t stop imagining. 

The appeal was made only stronger by the sense that they were fighting a battle I couldn’t really fight. My team, the one I was on not by choice, was the opposition. The ‘man’ and I didn’t want to be ‘the man.’ I wanted to be cool. Black people, to me at 12, were cool. I can’t remember which comedian I heard more recently who said, and I’m most certainly paraphrasing here, ‘God knew that black people would have to endure countless and endless suffering and to make up for it he gave us a lifetime supply of ‘cool.’ It’s kind of a joke and kind of a sad statement of the reality of what a lot of people have to face and how a certain number choose to counter the reality that won’t seem to change for the better without changing doubly for the worse at times. But at 12, for me, it wasn’t so nuanced. 

Beyond that I had a couple of role models in the house, older brothers who were the guys I looked up to most. I had two other brothers, actual brothers of mine, born of the same parents and all, and I looked up to them like crazy, but for some reason, perhaps my aforementioned affinities, I was drawn to my brothers who were ‘brothers.’ 

Eventually after processing what I’d said my father replied to my non sequitir calmly and wisely.

‘You probably shouldn’t tell anyone that. It’s okay for you to feel that, for now, but you should probably keep that to yourself.’ 

‘Why?’ I asked. 

To my mind it could only be taken as an honor, right? I mean I was saying I envied blackness. How could that be wrong? 

A thousand ways. Trust me, it didn’t take long for me to see that after enunciating my most sincere wish. 

‘Well…’ My dad thought. How do you tell your 12 year old that they are being so ignorant of life’s realities in a moment when they are trying, sincerely, to understand people different from them. 

‘I don’t think you are thinking about this, but it could come off to some people like you are not really appreciating all that you have been given. Might seem a little unaware of all that black people have had to go through.’ My dad said.

My dad’s not a ‘race’ guy. The issues confronting his own ‘kids’ would be dealt with when they would come up, but it was largely not a thing he thought about. He’s often surprised by how much I will think about race and the unfairness I’ve seen as I’ve grown up and watched. I’ll remind him, it would be hard for him to have my perspective, he didn’t really grow up in an environment like the one I did. He didn’t grow up in an integrated home within a largely homogenously white community. He didn’t see all the dads who’d go out of there way to drop the ‘n-word’ in front of me, just to, I don’t know, check if I was cool with it? Remind me that they thought my brothers less for it? Just to shock me? Maybe they were like that all the time, I don’t know, but from my house growing up it was the single most hateful sounding word ever. When I was a kid it was just barely starting to be reappropreated by black culture and these grown men weren’t aware of that. It was the ugliest of usages of the ugliest word. 

That day my dad stopped me cold. For him he was just responding to a sensitive issue, trying to steer me clear of saying something so wrong, but what he did was get me thinking. I knew instantly what he meant and it started me on a train of thought that has been a thread through my life. It didn’t change my heart in that moment, but it changed my head. Eventually my heart caught up and I came to understand how truly wrong my wish was. 

I’m still learning to understand my great good fortune. I’m so thankful I said that to my dad. So thankful that he answered the way he did. Through the years and phases of my life I’ve seen how it’s made me see things, things that are now so obvious to me that are so hidden from so many white men. About how much is taken for granted. 

When I was in high school and we were all sitting in suburban living rooms drinking forties of O.E. with our shoes off and watching Boys in the Hood and playing out fantasies that were others nightmares I knew the privilege. When we aped the style and patois of emerging disaffected young men who society rejected before they even arrived we were drowning in entitlement and dismissing and glorifying that which was exotic to us young men who would never have to face it. I recognized it, many of us did, for what it was not long after. 

When I was in college and heard truly vile hate speech being bandied about by the future executives of the world I was disgusted. The truth was there weren’t too many of them that did it, it was the tolerating of it all and the occasional sick deep indulgence of it all. I remember my mother, sitting at our kitchen table on a summer evening when I was home from school after my sophomore year telling me to love the people I loved for their good qualities and stick around to try to influence them positively when it came to the ugly parts. I don’t know. I didn’t really do that all that well there. Made some friends but I still have a lot of bitterness too. 

What I know is that ‘wishing I was black’ while sincere, was a privilege. It was a child’s understanding and I hope it came from a place of empathy and a desire to connect with and understand other people and their experiences. But it was definitely a privilege. The reality is that if a 12 or 15 or 28 or 45 year old black person were to ‘wish they were white’ it likely wouldn’t be from the same place of privilege as my wish came from. It likely woudn’t be naive. In fact I suspect it would come from a place of far deeper understanding than I may ever know. 

Deliberate Diversity: A Family Story

My mother’s birthday was last week. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I’ve been remembering a story she once told me. I’m fuzzy on the details but I’ll do my best. 

She was a young girl of about 17 when one of the nuns scheduled a meeting with her in her office. This was at my mother’s school, Notre Dame Academy. It was a new world and there were new conversations that needed having. I’m sure for my mother, young and brave and unafraid, it was no big deal. I’m not sure how prepared these nuns were to advise these young women, however, about entering a world that was evidently and obviously changing while they were largely committed to persevering in their calling.

Regardless, it was the good sister’s job to have a counseling session with the young ladies in her charge to discuss each girls future plans. It was right around the landing of the Beatles at Idlewild and performing on Ed Sullivan and what changes were coming could hardly be predicted. What was evident however was that young women had options. So the meetings were designed as an opportunity to ask these girls what it was they intended to do upon graduating. They were discussions that perhaps were designed to elicit answers of no real variation from the choices that were laid out for young women prior to this time, asked by folks who expected girls to hew to the norm, to lean in to ‘safe’ and to impose on themselves the restrictive, narrow set of options that had been thrust upon their moms and grandmothers. Surely they assumed this exercise would teach these girls that any ideas of rebellion were silly and not to be bothered with. Well, as is often the case when asking what one thinks to people who haven’t been solicited before, surprise abounds.

So few would answer in ways that the nuns expected. I can’t imagine what they thought when the plans included anything beyond teaching of small children, secretary school, nursing or looking to marry and have children. Surely many would still want some of these things, but many didn’t. My mom was somewhere in between.

‘Barbara. It’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ve known you for years now and I know who you are and whatever you are thinking will surely be less alarming to me than you can possibly imagine. Allow me to assure you, your answer will not be the most shocking one I’ve received. Now please, tell me what you imagine your life will be. What do you intend to do after leaving school?’, asked the good sister.

My mother, a decidedly ‘good’ kid, wasn’t afraid at all that she would shock her interviewer. She might surprise her, sure. Her concern was that she would tell her it was impossible. She would tell her she was silly for having such a dream, such a vision for a life.

‘I’m sure I’ll go to secretary school. The one in the city.’ She replied, avoiding eye contact.

‘Yes, Barbara, you’ve said. What do you intend to do with your life. You can’t be a secretary forever.’

To be fair to my mom, these questions weren’t really answerable. She was seventeen(ish) and her plans for what she’d do ten steps down the road were as unknowable as they were unlikely to turn out true. Still, she had an answer and at this point it was a power struggle. After fighting her way through the interviews with the girls who dreamed of marrying floppy haired British musicians and others that thought they could run entire companies or fly airplanes or do whatever it was they had gotten into their heads, well, Sister was not going to let Barbie Monohan skate by without engaging.

‘Tell me, Barbara. What is their to be afraid of.’ She asked.

‘You’ll think me silly.’

‘I will not.’

‘You will. And you’ll tell me it’s a fantasy and not a plan.’

‘We’ll see if you are right only when you tell me.’

So my mother, having developed a touch of the courage, answered the good sister.

‘I’m going to have a family. A huge family, with 12 children. They will be of every color and from all over the world. I want to be a mother to a rainbow of god’s children.’ She said.

Well. She was right, thought the good sister. That is silly.

‘Barbara, I don’t think you understood the question. Are you even dating someone?’

‘I did understand your question and no, I’m not dating anyone. You want to know what I intend to do. My answer is that I plan to have a big family filled with children of all colors, I want to be a mother to a rainbow of God’s children.’

After some serious scowling, a few more attempts to knock her back on course, the sister dismissed my determined mother. From the room and from her head. She dismissed her as a silly girl who didn’t know anything and still imagined fairy tales were real. She dismissed her as someone who had a lot to learn.

She dismissed her wrongly.

My mother ended up with a big, diverse, multicultural, multiracial house full of children. She stayed open to her hope coming true and woke years later exhausted, exuberant and with the life she could see that no one around her could have fathomed.

We were an odd lot in the pew. Six tall kids with complexions that reflected our (very) Northern European heritage, two black boys (if it was summer and D was up) and a teenage girl from Vietnam. We rolled nine deep, with at least 4 differnt heritages and at minimum 4, if not more, color’s on the rainbow of god’s children. Perhaps it wasn’t an honest to goodness Roy G. Biv rainbow, but it was a pretty damned great approximation of a youthful dream.

I don’t know what’s happening in our world. I’ve been writing a lot about race relations for the past year or two. Sadly a great many reasons have kept it at the top of my mind. The most recent tragedies come in the midst of a public conversation that no longer seems to adhere to the rules of decency that at least kept the truly ugly stuff behind closed doors. I’m of two minds about this. On the one hand allowing the truly awful, secret hatred to be spewed out allows us to have the conversation. Compels us to acknowledge realities many of us have been able to ignore for far too long and in the end perhaps these conversations being had in the light of day instead of behind millions of closed doors will ultimately help us evolve and truly change. On the other hand hate has never had such cache in our communal discourse and it’s getting to where you can hardly avoid it. How can this be good. How can we ever hope to change when the truly ignorant are empowered by the truly powerful indulging in hateful, small minded, shameless racism and brazen sexism.

My children live in a diverse world, to some degree. There are kids at their daycare of many shades and backgrounds. That said, it’s not as diverse as my house was growing up. We have family over for birthday parties, uniformly white family. The kids on our block are largely white as are the kids we saw at the kindergarten orientation that Charlie went to a few months back. I worry about how we got here. The schools were literally ranked first in the state when we found the house and that’s the main point of conversation we had around whether the town was a good place to grow up. Diversity didn’t come up in any real way. It wasn’t a part of the calculus.

I don’t know how my mom did it. I should note clearly at this point that she did not do it alone. My dad was of course steering the ship as well, but to some degree, just based on how everyone arrived at our house, it was a function of my mom. She’s a much more social being than either my father or I. Or really most people you’ll come across. It was her relationships as far as I can tell that diversified our world. Many of her friends were different looking than her. If their was an organizing principle it was faith, but even that was diverse. 

My mother wanted to see a different kind of church and in doing so met a mentor and friend, Algerene. Algerene was a foster mother to dozens over the years, a committed and hard working, and an incredibly gifted servant of her faith, not to mention a gourmet Chef.  My mother met her when she had the opportunity to cross lines and go to the church where she stuck out as the ‘other’.

On a very sad day, the day we buried Algerene’s son, my brother, John, another brother, D, was at the house as we celebrated his life after a service where so many tears were shed. Well, John had an older brother, I believe he lived in Chicago and he wasn’t a huge part of John’s adult or even teen life, but he was of course there for this. Well, when D introduced himself he did so by saying, ‘Yeah, you ever get pictures from John. Yeah, well, I’m the other ink spot in the milk bowl.’ Funny and true. Well, in the church where she met Algerene my mother would have been the milk spot in the ink bowl. She did that. She was curious so she went. Didn’t think twice about it. Didn’t think it particularly notable. She was curious so she went. In the end she made a dear, life long friend. For a number of reasons that friend had a son that moved in with us and stayed.

D is another story. Without going into all the details, from what I know D came up for the summers through a program that paired city kids with non-city families. We were that non-city family. The program ran for years. Maybe 5 or six. We’d always schedule our vacations around when he was gonna be there. Turns out the first couple years he was nervous around my mom. When she finally asked him why he said it was because every time he showed up the baby had a black eye. I was that baby and I liked to fall on things at a very early age apparently. The story is good for a laugh now that it’s long ago as my mother is gentler than anyone you’ve ever known. In the end My parents kept bringing D up for Summer’s on their own accord after the program expired. When D was looking to finish his studies he came back to live with us.  He’s been up there ever since.

Our vacations were always in the camper. My dad drove the wagon and we all loaded into it and drove and drove until we got to where we were going. We went to campgrounds, amusement parks, Baseballs Hall of Fame… We got everywhere with that thing in those early years. It wasn’t until years later that I found out that one of those trips when we had the adventure of staying in the trailer it was because those folks we were visiting weren’t comfortable with the make up of our family. My mom and dad could have chosen to take vacation at a different time. We could have been more ‘acceptable’. They didn’t do that. We stayed in the driveway and had our wonderful visit and some ideas might even have gotten changed in the time we were there. No big deal was made about it. Only figured it out as an adult.

My sister, who is Vietnamese, let’s call her May, came to live with us when I was five and not ready to have another person to compete for attention with. I’m afraid I may not have been that nice to her when I was very little. But all that was behind us when I was 16. That was when we all loaded up in the minivan and made our way to King of Prussia in Pa. That was where May was marrying a young Vietnamese man she met at school.

May is amongst the strongest people I can imagine. Her story is hers and I would never relay it, but it speaks to a person who had to be stronger than I ever imagine I’ll ever have to be. When we were asked to be in her wedding, well, snot nose that I was, I said no. I feel terrible about that. I said I didn’t want to wear a tux. I don’t know what that was about. Thankfully my brothers are loving and kind and caring and were happy to be ushers. The plan was for my dad to walk May down the aisle and give her away. It was going to be beautiful. Well, as it turns out, May’s family of origin, who she hadn’t seen on over a decade, were granted visa’s and were going to make it to the States in time for the wedding.

I remember it being a late afternoon wedding and my parents taking us all, dressed up, to a McDonald’s on the way. It was going to be a while until dinner and it was going to be all Vietnamese food and we were a family of at least 6 at that time, 6 kids that is. They had to do something to ensure we didn’t starve. Then we went to the wedding. I felt terrible for my silly stance and wished I was there next to my big brother helping guests to their seats. I might have even asked if I could, but I probably didn’t.

What happened in that wedding was beautiful to me and still is to this day. My dad, May’s American dad, walked her down the aisle, stopped at the front pew, and released her where her dad who hadn’t seen her grow up from a young girl to the young woman she was now, but who moved heaven and earth to get back to her, took her the rest of the way to ‘give her away’.  Like watching the movie Glory, or speaking in public about acts of selflessness or my family, whenever I tell this part of the story it makes me well up and brings me close to crying.

I don’t think my parents would ever say they were intentional about being inclusive. They would never think to. If you asked them they might say yes, but it wouldn’t cross their minds to think about it.  But they were. They were intentional. Right from the time my mother told that Nun that she wished it, there was intent to be inclusive. To integrate their lives.

I want to give my kids the same experience. A life soaked in differing perspectives unified by the common thread of shared experience. I want them to know that differences are to be celebrated. That seeing someone that may appear slightly differently, who might speak another language or have different traditions is nothing to be threatened by, but rather is something to feel excited about.

I can’t say that I’m without bias. I can fully say that I want to be. I can say that if I’m ever to catch myself I immediately, consciously work to alleviate bias. I fear that the events that have transpired are the result of segregation. I worry that we as Americans, as white Americans have come too easily to accept that this separation of large parts of us is due to organically occurring circumstances and that we shouldn’t think about it. That if people wanted to move in next door and go to the same schools as our kids and live in the same town as us all they’d have to do is choose to do so. We have well maintained roads, good schools, ample security and we assume it is the same for those in areas we choose not to live in. 

It’s not true. No less than Newt Gingrich, scion of the Republican revolution said as much. He said that after long conversations, ones where he acknowledged he was not informed and in which he had, for a long time denied the reality that he now was sharing. That white Americans, many of us, can’t possibly know what it’s like to be black in America.

It’s hard to see what you aren’t exposed to. It would be nice if the default that we all fell to was empathy. It would be nice if we all reverted to a position of identifying with the despair of others. We’ve all felt despair. But it’s starting to be made clear that is not where we default to. Not all of us. When confronted with these humans, these people who have different pigmentation, some of us see first with minds that are fueled by fear. Fear of the different. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the other.

I don’t want this for my children. I don’t want this for their friends. I don’t want this for children and freinds having a different experience than ours. I want so badly to be intentional about diversity. But I am failing. 

Of all people, I should know better.