Friday, November 16, 2007

One Laptop Per Child | My Christmas present

This year, I'm finally getting something very cool for Christmas. When asked, I usually say, "surprise me." Or I say something like, "I have everything I need." This year, anticipating my typical response, my husband has chosen me the perfect gift for me and our son.

One Laptop Per Child is a company which has designed a durable, rugged laptop for children. The keyboard is smaller. Things can get spilled on it. It can be dropped. It can connect to the internet. AND....

they are giving them away to children in developing countries! For kids in remote developing countries, it doesn't even need electricity. It can be charged by a hand crank! The best thing, however, is that kids can control their own computer environment by learning to program it to do what they want it to do. Best of all - they are cheap!

http://www.laptopgiving.org/en/index.php

How it works. Buying a laptop for your child funds the cost of giving a free laptop to a child in a developing country. This is going to be our big Christmas gift. (Even though he may not get it by Christmas.) So, this is my Christmas present. I'm sharing this tremendous gift I've been given. I'm sharing the privilege of being able to commit to providing a personalized, inventive, stimulating education with a child in a developing country. I love the idea that I can give my son an important learning tool and that this action benefits another child far away.

Recently, I read a powerful case study about their efforts in Peru & Nigeria. The pictures are touching! The stories are even more amazing!

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Galadima

http://wiki.laptop.org/go/OLPC_Peru/Arahuay

Geeks all over the world are scrambling to write programs for this thing so that it can be fun. This weekend, in my hometown, Carnegie Mellon University was having a fun, educational programming challenge for One Laptop Per Child.

There are only 11 days left to order. (Not that it really matters, but, about 1/2 of the purchase price is also tax deductible.) So, it's something to consider.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Halloween Shine

After much anticipation, Halloween cam. My son, Winston, dressed up as a bat. Out and about during the day, people would ask him what he was going to be that night. His answer was a very enthusiastic and confidant, “BAT! Because, they’re coooool

Eyebrows raised, throats chuckled, hands quickly leapt to curving lips. From time to time, people said, “How scary!”

“No. Bats aren’t scary. They’re cooool,” he asserted, “they eat bad bugs and they don’t fly in your hair.” (Thanks Grandma Elizabeth for the cool bat tape.)

More controlled expressions of mirthful amusement. Meanwhile, he grows more and more excited for the evening revels.

Let me not fool you. Finding a bat costume was a major feat. Few and far between are the manufacturers who want to produce a simple animal after size 3T. Fortunately, it was one the cheapest costumes I’ve ever put together! A vampire cape and some cat ears did the job. His imagination filled in the rest of the details. In fact, he almost refused to wear the black turtleneck I’d purchased because he” didn’t need it to be a bat.” Much to the amusement of our friends and neighbours, I dressed up as the Ottoman Empire’s Empress.

Last night, brought a smile to my lips as we traversed the streets of our neighbourhood seeking only treats. After we overcame the shock and amazement - that this indeed was happening to him - Winston’s arms spread wide in the waning light. From time to time, he caught a glimpse of his shadow on the footpath. Dancing there, in silhouette, were his head, fluffy hair and ears topping the black shadow of his bat body. Oh, the glory of transformation! He was a bat!

It was a tremendously validating experience. We encountered some older kids passing out treats who gave him extra candy for his costume. (Lots of extra brushing the next few weeks.) One boy piled some candy in his bag and said, “You win the prize for best costume.” Self-conscious and unsure, he smiled and ran to the next house.

I suppose he stuck out. His costume demonstrated some imagination. Simplistic, lacking attention to special fx, and fuelled by an unfailing belief in in his own transformation, it had shine.

Lately, I’ve been trying to help him come to terms with the facts of his life: random children spontaneously take his hand on the street; strangers need to touch him; and the arbitrary person remembers him from a previous visit to their shop and wants to have a conversation with him. I’ve been calling it his shine. In London, it meant what I am now calling “the-old-woman-pinches-cheek- then caresses-then-pulls-hair-scolds n’ compliment manoeuvre.” (Often delivered with lollipop.)

But, there was a downside. So many children don’t shine today. Above the age of 3, we saw pirates, brand-name candies, and every media character produced in the last 25 years. In the 8 to teen bracket were the children who have a need to personify evil. (If only for an evening. Scary, ghouls and devils were actually rare compared to horror movie characters. And it took the shine out of me and my boy,

Before Halloween, we stumbled across a lovely illustrated version of the e.e. cummings poem “Hist Wist.” He fell in love with the text and evocative images. So much so, that he has committed part of the poem to memory. He adores snarling the “devil, devil” part. This book - of course - brought about a discussion of devils and what they are. I said that they are bad spirits who are invisible and can’t get to our world without help.

Then, I carefully steered this conversation with a discussion of angels and the power of shine. My theory was that he’d already watched Kate Bush - his favourite music star - performing in a music video about making a “circle of fire” by calling on your angels. I felt pretty secure about his ability to centre and feel powerful and competent when faced by evil. The weird, foreign, evil, costumes shook that underpinning of control.

We did have a lovely time that night. But, our sleep was fitful and filled with fighting. His vividly dreaming body committed - literally - to the battle. Thrashing, punching, kicking until my husband and I woke him and offered him the idea that he could control his dreams. He had to make his circle of fire and call on his angels.

In the morning, there were more discussions about devils. Suddenly, a creeping sense of discomfort crawls across his inner self regarding them. So, I talked a bit about his shine. But, thanks to my daughter, I remembered a song she and I used to sing 15 years ago. I think I got it from a book called “The Joyful Child.”

Sung to “The Farmer In the Dell”

Energy follows thought.
Energy follows thought.
My thoughts will take form in life,
‘cause energy follows thought.

Form follows energy.
Form follows energy.
My thoughts may take form in life,
‘cause form follows energy.

My thoughts bring me joy.
My thoughts bring me joy.
Because I choose them carefully,
My thoughts bring me joy.

He liked that song, especially when I reminded him about a scene from book we’d read recently, “Zen Shorts. ” (Thanks, Karen.) The monks encounter a haughty, arrogant, selfish woman. The elder monk, joyfully carries her across a mud puddle even though she berates him and assumes it is her right to be carried. The younger monk is still angry about his treatment hours ago. The elder monk replies, “I put that woman down hours ago, why are you still carrying her.”

I’ve been using that phrase a lot lately. He gets stuck in some perceived transgression. I ask him, “Is it that important for you carry? Should we spend our next few hours talking about this?” He often thinks about it. Then, states, “I can put it down.” Sometimes, he can’t put it down. That’s okay also. But, when we’ve been reviewing some small thing; and suddenly it is time for bed; and he missed his opportunity for play, then he truly learns the value of letting go. Some things can’t be let go. That’s okay and they shouldn’t be. Somethings are worth giving up play time until the resolution you desire is achieved. But, most things - three chocolates rather than four, forgetting to let him open the door for me - can be let go.

And here is where his shine lives. And this path we are on are all about strengthening and preserving his shine.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

25th High School Reunion

for Sharon and Abby
"second star on the right, straight on 'til morning"

Everyone asking. How

it went. Lead up

more interesting

than the event.


I

hesitate.

Slowly, cautiously

state:


It was

empowering. I am sad.

Poetry found here

is worse than bad.


I have nothing left.


Come. Left,


then, left into letting

go. And follow me.


Left.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Unraveling A Tangled Skein | News, HS Reunion, Slavery & Capoeira

Everyday the inbox has a link to something which both infuriates me whilst renewing my dedication to the path we’ve chosen. The "Lap Of Luxury" project is one of those links. Read it here: http://cbs13.com/topstories/local_story_276081210.html Yesterday’s link came at a curious time - the advent of my 25th high school reunion for the prestigious prep school I attended. A place, I am learning, scarred more than just the six Black girls who attended. The link, the reunion and our efforts to grow capoeira here cause some curious loops in thought - something like a pile of yarn at the bottom of a basket. And right now, I’m determined to unravel and roll it neatly, so I can create something beautiful out of it.

As an African-American educator, I think a lot about how I plan to teach the era of enslavement. I’ve always had children examine people within the context of of their time period. So many historical figures are not the heroes we'd like to believe they are. Educators often make the mistake of teaching history as a list of heroes and villains. The “heroes” brought some small value or lasting relevant change. The “villains” opposed what we currently think is appropriate thought or behaviour.

But - history is the true stories of people. It is not a fairy tale where good and evil are clear cut and easily recognised. This is why it is important for our children to learn the truth and also to think critically enough to salvage the good from the bad.

In all generosity, this is what I hope these misguided teachers in new Jersey thought they were doing. That doesn’t mean I don’t find their “Lap Of Luxury” abhorrent, ill-conceived and naive. I can only extrapolate what damage was done to the few Black students in the class.

I don’t clearly remember the introduction of the slave trade in elementary school. I only remember two things, a profound feeling of shame and a White girl in my class saying, "my family could have owned your family." Almost as if slavery made her somehow better than I was. Those few words had the effect of a time machine which instantaneously jolted us back a century. They reduced me whilst elevating her.

I shrugged off that shame talking to my parents after school. They explained our family history and our voluntary immigration to The States from the West Indies in the early 1900’s. Fortunately, for me, I went back to school the next day and informed this girl her family could never have owned ours. I remember how disappointed she seemed.

I can only imagine what my parents would have said had our family history been different. "Yes, dear, very likely they could have. It wasn’t right. But, things are different now." This, combined with the disappearance of African-Americans in the classroom until the mid 1920’s, doesn’t take away the shame. Slavery, brutality and jazz - that’s what my classroom experience of American history always seemed. (MLK, Jr. had just recently passed when I was in grade school.)

Despite all of the biographies my parents provided, (Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver) I alone, had privileged information unknown to my peers. This shaped me into a strong young woman. It also made that information seem nebulous, mysterious and unreal. It never fully removed the continual attempts at shaming in the school room. And I suppose that one small contributing factor which continues to compromise the advancement of African people in America - the shame born of invisibility’s ignorance.

Much has been done to remedy the invisibility of diasporic Africans. This year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain. Events are occurring all across London to explore, remember and understand this part of history. This is something I loved and hated about London - the ingrained taboo of the British regarding rudeness or giving offence. The impact of this taboo on multiculturalism has taken on some absurd practices all over the country. Recently, Muslim supermarket workers are refusing to handle or scan alcohol in a customers order. Muslim medical students are refusing to learn how to treat illnesses related to sexual activity or alcohol. (Read it here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/health/article2603966.ece ) And many - not all - of the British are shrugging their shoulders and saying, “that’s okay, it’s their culture.”

There’s a certain beauty in true embrace of plurality, versus this “melting pot” we strive for in America. Now that we’ve returned to The States, we don’t stumble upon swaying capoeistas in the open air markets or the parks. Nor do we happen across African men dancing with fire and Arabic men dancing with swords to drums and long, shiny brass trumpets. There are no waves of tinkling, chittering sari clad girls like darting schools of tropical fish or strong, thick African women with geles piled high on their heads heavier than the bearskin hatted Queen’s own guard at changing. No sweet, round, soft-faced women in burqas smile with their eyes at my son on the bus. But, coming home is a reminder of who many of us as are.

We are hard workers, survivors, and staunch individualists. We are innovators who create for ourselves the things we need to thrive. We are magicians who conjure resources out of thin air. Women who can make a feast for hundreds our of a twenty dollar bill and good planning. And this is how we survived enslavement in the Americas. Through diligence, perseverance and finding the right allies and resources to resist in whatever small way we could manage.

Regardless, a single glance at the news shows us how much these skills are needed more than ever. And the first step is the way in which we position our children to understand and internalise the complexity of our history with pride. The way our family has chosen to do it is through the incorporation of capoeira as a focal point of our curriculum. Considering the recent news, I feel this has been the right choice.

We’ve had to work hard to keep capoeira a part of our curriculum. In our area, capoeira is hard to come by. We have a school with an absentee maestre and a malfunctioning board of directors. There are a total of three consistent families in Pittsburgh which attend the classes. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it is that my children are worth whatever struggle it takes to serve their needs.

I have rarely encountered home educators - or even African-American parents - who are as excited about capoeira as I am. For me, it is a one-stop shop. (And I’m all about maximising every minute!) Recently when I was trying to get people interested capoeira to I explained, capoeira provides:

a. a martial art practised with the spirit of playfulness whilst remaining a means to protect oneself with deadly force if necessary;
b. a graceful dance form which is the origin of break dancing;
c. exposure to Portuguese, a second language;
d. non-European musical education which will stimulate the brain functions which process mathematics by physically internalising and producing poly-rhythms;
e. exposure to a different culture;
f. exposure to and understanding of different religious ideas;
g. new insights which challenge the method by which history is taught.

In essence, every skill set which African-American children, particularly - and children in general - need to compete in the modern world. Especially a world in which civil liberties slip away daily with unconstitutional laws misinterpreted or applied with improper use of force - whether emotionally debilitating, injurious or deadly.

More important, this discipline is a distinctly African-American form. It is something beautiful which has been forged from the necessity of preserving cultural heritage and surviving against all odds. It is the art of remembering and the dance of replacing what has been lost.

Let misguided educators sweat pustules of liberal guilt over greasy xerox handouts and spread the disease of poorly thought out lessons elsewhere. I do not want my son to approach history shamefully.

When I introduce the idea that our people were stolen and enslaved, I want my son’s body and his mind to understand that we resisted. I want every fibre of his being to connect throughout generations to the idea that we resisted; we rebelled; and we ultimately gained our freedom. This is the muscle memory capoeira gives my son.

Wole Soyinka said, “A people who do not preserve their memory are a people who have forfeited their history...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Bringing Light | Racism At Borders Bookstore

Tonight, I was prepared to write something sweet, positive, warm and uplifting. Instead, I find myself frustrated and saddened that I feel compelled to discuss something else - a recent incident of racism at Border Bookstore.

Still, I can't let go of describing the lovely lanterns we made with wax paper, pressed leaves, tissue paper, paint and old brie boxes. Lovely luminescent things which give the daylean an extra glow. I had hoped to describe the banners we made by pressing sponges covered in fall coloured fabric paint onto muslin around leaves gathered from a nature walk.

This project took weeks of gathering, executing each stage, and patience on behalf of the 4 to 6 year olds in our group. As the Autumn Equinox brought an early twilight, we arranged the lanterns in front yard and hung the banners from Mrs. Redbud. The banners seemed to make the limbs of dear Mrs. Redbud - an ancient tree who shaded the children all summer with her heart shaped leaves - stretch stronger and taller.

The next day, we took our extra lanterns to the neighbors we thought could use a "little extra light." It was a wonderful lesson. preparing for darkness; creating your own light and sharing it with others. But, this is not what I find myself writing about tonight.

Tonight, I'm writing to call your attention to a brave sister's struggle against racism at Borders. Amanda Johnston is an educator and superb writer. Two things inspire me about this story. First, she is not just letting it blow over. Second, is that she has devised a comprehensive strategy to cure the insidious and calculated exclusion of Black poets from mainstream booksellers. Her strategy for redress is strong, positive and could benefit Borders in the long term. She has made her concerns logically and politely. And she has has climbed the customer service ladder with consistent diligence in the effort to get an appropriate response.

She has obviously ruffled some feathers because the Borders Union is sending "anonymous" haters to her blog in order to demoralize her. They are being offensive, racist and hostile. Read that rubbish here:
http://www.bordersunion.org/node/13853?page=0%23comment

Find the whole ordeal here:
http://amandajohnston.blogspot.com/

SOME EXCERPTS FROM THE ORDEAL:
http://amandajohnston.blogspot.com/
"Please Don't Call The Manager, I Just Want To Buy Some Books"
On Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2007 during my lunch break I went to Borders (the Westgate location on S. Lamar, Austin, TX) with a friend to use my birthday $50 gift card. You know I was happy. I looked for the literary journals, as I always do. I found that they had moved the journals to behind the counter. Way behind the counter. I couldn’t even read the spines. I asked the man why the journals are back there. He said they had been having problems with people messing them up and taking them. I explained that I couldn’t read them. He called his manager. She came to the front, I explained and she gave me a copy of each to flip through at the counter. While at the counter I heard the other clerks asking customers if they are educators because there is a special 25 percent off if they were. When folks hesitated at the question, I heard the clerks say, “Well, have you every taught anyone anything in your whole life?” Of course the customers then remembered the time they taught a Sunday school class or that time they taught their Boy Scout troupe how to fish. The clerks gave them the discount; they took their books and left.

As I stood there flipping through the journals, I noticed that the line was getting long. The man called his manager for “back up.” I’m standing right next to him and heard him say, “Oh no, it’s not that, the line is just getting long.” I raised an eyebrow; made my selection from the journals and moved on to the poetry section of the store. I came back to the counter with an arm full of books and proceeded to check out. I heard the same conversation about the 25 percent off and watched more people get the discount and leave. I’m next at the counter with the same man that “helped” me earlier; he started to scan my books and said, “Oh, I’m supposed to ask if you’re an educator.” I said yes. Now……wait for it…………..he asks for my I.D. to prove it. What the fuck!!! I knew it was going to happen. I knew it, but I didn’t want it to. I hated wasting energy processing the question before it happened, thinking of my St. Edward’s University Staff I.D. in my wallet (yessir, I got papers). I hated every minute of it. So I stopped and pointed out that no one else had to go through that, no one else was asked for I.D. He called his manager. She tells me, and I kid you not, “Miss, you were not treated differently than anyone else. I’ve known him for a year and that’s not like him.” Then she asked what she could do to make this better. Am I wrong for being even more offended by this? The wink wink, nudge nudge, come on lady, we know you just want some free shit so tell us what’s it gonna take to make this go away.......

From "What I think will 'rectify the situation.'"
Unfortunately it has happened and there is no undoing that. The idea of accepting a gift certificate secretly through the mail adds further insult to injury. It is a red stamp that I am a "situation" being handled and not a person being cared for out of respect and genuine concern.


WHAT YOU CAN DO:
1. Stop by her blog and offer just a small positive comment to keep up her spirits.

2. Contact Borders saying that, if needed, you will boycott until they have honored her requests.

By web
https://www.bordersstores.com/care/care.jsp?page=7

Snail and phone:
1-888-81-BOOKS.
7:00 AM-9:00 PM CT (Central Time) Monday-Friday,
8:00 AM-7:00 PM on Saturday and 10:00 AM-7:00 PM CT on Sunday.

Borders Customer Service
100 Phoenix Drive
Ann Arbor, MI 48108

Remember, you have a unique power as a home educator. We are an audience who is indispensable to them.

In conclusion, think about what those employees are really saying:
1. Blacks are neither educators or educated.
2. Black literature is sub-standard.
3. Racial profiling is an acceptable practice.
4. Blacks are consumers who should have no real expectation of service or respect. We are all simply potential situations.


This goes against the grain of every concept I have been teaching for the past month. Tonight, I will light our lantern. Tonight, I plan to support Amanda by bringing a little light to Borders. I hope you'll join me.

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

American Rite Of Passage | The 21st Birthday

my blonde african princess’

blue eyes in the headlights


a black S.U.V. careens down the cul-de-sac

tight white denim and chortling bullet belt


disappear into cacophany

hey Girl, love the ‘do!


this is so and so and so!


midnight chokes my ancestors


after the obligatory drink

lead to honest complaints:


my sex life is better than hers;

my thoughts are too free


she'd rather not think

and for her, tonight is full of being real


identification happily surrendered.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Surreal Pocket In This Universe I Create, Hello!

The saga of “London Mouth” draws to an end. A few weeks ago, we dealt with the “minimal” decay our dentist helped us stave off during our last year in London. We were lucky.

After that major ordeal over a year ago, our dentist sent us back to London armed to fight decay. Those of my friends there will remember the obsessive brushing; the restriction on certain types of sweeties; and the super toothpaste. And we won, mostly.

Winston only had to get 3 caps and a few fillings. And he had to go under general anaesthesia again. But, our dentist is phenomenal! His staff is equally excellent. And even though he had major dental surgery there, he still looks forward to going into the dentist. Winston actually nags me to go.

So, when we went in a few weeks ago, Winston was well prepared. We used Sleeping Beauty as our reference. He would go in. His leg would get pricked. He would go to sleep. And the Great Wizard, Dr. Pechersky, would make his teeth stop hurting. He would wake up and get a diamond ring and a spider.

Things didn’t go according to plan. He woke up and there were no spiders. As he emerged from anaesthesia, I held him upright as he wobbled over to the prize table with great determination. He got his diamond ring. There were no spiders. He took home a snake instead. He collapsed into my arms clutching his snake. I drove him home. He slept and wobbled most of the day. He was mostly satisfied. More importantly, he still loves Dr. Pechersky. I mean, the man is a genius, he gives people silver teeth!

Today, a package I did not order arrived in the mail for Winston. It had Dr Pechersky’s return address. I thought - eeegads! A bill for something else the insurance didn’t pay.

But, no, it was a spider. The enclosed note read:

Dear Winston,

Since you were such a good buy at you last visit. And we didn’t have your favourite prize. We just got the spiders in last week, so we thought we would send you one.

Hope you’re brushing and flossing everyday!

Love,
Dr. Pechersky & Staff


Winston had forgotten all about the spider. He was content with his care and his participation in caring for his body. Children forget ---- sort of. He was okay with not having a spider. he was content with what he did get. What is important here is that they didn’t forget. They held his idea. They care enough about their relationship to him and his teeth to take an extra moment out of their day to honour and remember him. And all I can think is...

”How surreal. How bizarre. This small action resonates and echoes within the chambers of my secret heart. How thankful I am that my heart core burns with an undeniable belief that people in the world do still care. What a healing balm for this rage I’ve been writing. Perhaps this gentle holding, rocking and letting go has opened me to receive tangible actions which are in harmony with the things that prevent me from accepting serenity.

This is a truth. Decent people do care. Decent people make the smallest most inconsequential actions. Those tiny actions have power. Those irrelevent actions have the power to transform into a memory which changes another person’s life forever.

We all create our own reality. Lovely little pocket of the universe I create.....Hello! I love you! Thank you for being a small cosy place in which my children and I are safe, healthy, and comfortable. Thank you for blessing me!”


Those who want more info about The Great Wizard Pechersky will find him at:
Mark Pechersky, DMD
170 Jamison Lane
Monroeville, PA. 15146
(412) 823-2450

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Still. Born. Rising.

This rage of mine is so precious and irrefutable

I'm gonna hold each of her incarnations up
to the constellations like a 1977 mini-series

Weep Clutch my inner arms so the scars don't show
Call her true name out during my day sleep

Hold her fists until she walks alone away Wipe
my eyes Witness the devestating results of her natural

wake


It Can Make You Crazy:

Jena Six
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jena_Six

W. Virginia Black Woman Tortured
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/12/us/12captive.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

Dunbar Village
http://www.wpbf.com/news/13633857/detail.html

Glamour Magazine Editor's Racial Slurs
http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1188161099761

Katrina, Vick, And on and on and on

Friday, September 14, 2007

follicle garden

dead cells

play the dozens.

a convention of double helix

flaunt their antiparallel attitudes.

eat pi on my mind’s front porch


swing twist

bungee snarl

these ropes do anything


but nap? ridiculous




NOTE:
There always seems to be a hair poem at the end of my dreads. I'm always wondering why. Then, something like this comes along. "Natural hair Is a corporate No-No," according to a Glamour Magazine editor, "dreadlocks are dreadful." Black women in corporate America need to get rid of these "political hairstyles." She made the huge mistake of announcing this during a slide show for 100 women attorneys at a large firm.

http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1188161099761

So - good bye Glamour - I won't miss reading you because I never did.
Now, I know why!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

For A Troubled Sister

Daylean steals sharp light.

Quick cerulean ukulele twangs
blue the sultry orange half notes

of this central star’s french horn
announcing sleep

comes. when we chastise
and deny. it laughs. fades.

dies like lungs grabbing the last
breath. sneaks round to the other side of

the world. waits for our hovering lashes
before peeping over again like a piccolo

chirping. The universe says: “let go.
let me. let God/dess

Light! Dayclean.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

View Between The Chain Link Fence: How Can We Be A DiversCity and Exclude?

an open letter to Duane T. Ashley
Director Of City Of Pittsburgh Parks & Recreation


Dear Mr. Ashley,

I shouldn’t even care enough to write this letter. I’m not Muslim. I don’t have any disabilities. I’m not a recent burn victim. I’m not the nursing mother of new-born baby whose breasts are still leaking. And,

thanks to some hard work by people I don’t even know, I can take my African-American self and family to the first pool integrated in the City Of Pittsburgh - the Highland Park Pool. To be honest, most days, I just enjoy the sun, my family, the water. I admit that I’ve never stopped to give thanks or blessings that I can be there legally and comfortably. Until today.

I arrived at the Highland Park Pool. In the dressing room, I discover my husband suit is in the swimming bag, not mine. I looked at my outfit: tight leggings and a lycra blouse which resembles half the suits at the pool. I could easily jump in the water if needed. It is my mistaken belief that this is no big deal. So, I dress my son and out we go.

Fifteen minutes later, I was politely confronted about breaking Rule #2 - all persons in the pool area must be in swim wear. Being honest, I inform them I mistakenly packed my husband’s suit. If I had wanted to be dishonest - I would have slipped off my trousers and sat in my matching black lycra knickers for the rest of the afternoon - minus the sanitary napkin. But, since I was honest, I was told that I’d have to leave.

Just out of curiosity and in a non-confrontational manner, I asked if I had a suit under my clothes, could I keep them on. The answer was no - I must “display” some portion of my suit. Okay, it was easy for me to leave my son with friends; zip home change into the suit and dash back. Which is what I did with a smile on my face.

On my way home, I became a bit agitated. What if I were Muslim and needed to wear a modest bathing suit? What if I had a medical condition and took medicine which prevented me from being able to withstand direct sunlight? What if I was a burn victim and couldn’t display my fore arms or upper thighs? The list kept churning and churning.

Alongside of the scrolling mental list of whom else this policy excludes from using a public facility, my personal observations set in. Why is it that men are allowed in the pool wearing “swim trunks” and t-shirts. Why is it that only women must “display” their pelvic area or breasts? And no matter how long a woman’s “big t-shirt” is, there isn’t enough seating by the kiddie pool not to display some of her vaginal area. Sometimes, it is discomfiting to know exactly how much pubic hair my neighbour has. And why does this policy only apply to patrons? Why aren’t the glorious, ample women of African descent who are staff members obliged to “display” their wares? The rule says, “all.”

I just recently returned to Pittsburgh from living in London, England. I have expressly chosen to make this city my home. It is my firm and unyielding belief that Pittsburgh is the greatest city in which to live on this planet. In London, I made my feminist peace with women and children in burqas. I watched girls splashing and laughing in modest bathing suits side by side with nude British children. I often watched mothers in full burqas drinking tea by the pool side next to mothers of all sizes in bikinis swigging a pint. Neither group ever looked sidelong at the other. I am grateful to have the experience of a truly inclusive and diverse community. On my way back to the pool, I began to understand that Pittsburgh may be diverse - but the pools are not inclusive.

I arrived back at the pool. I enjoyed my son. As we were leaving, I stopped at the front desk to inquire as to whom I might call or write a letter. The woman at the desk wanted to discuss the issue further with me before giving me the information. Here are some of the highlights of our discussion:

ME: What if I were a Muslim and I wanted my children to swim?

CITIPARKS: You’d have to wear all that business like the tights and shirt and then put a regular suit over it.

(SIDE NOTE: Please stop here and bring up a mental image of a woman in a burqa or hijab with a bikini on top. Now, get serious and follow along.)

ME: Define “regular.” Do you mean a bathing suit derivative of a European design?

CITIPARKS: You were raised in this culture, you know what regular means. It means a bathing suit. A one piece or a bikini.

ME: So, if I got a Muslim approved modest bathing suit and wore it, I wouldn’t be allowed to wear it?

CITIPARKS: If you want to go through all of that business you should just go to a private pool.

ME: But, that just makes it an issue of religious intolerance and classism.

CITIPARKS: It’s for your safety. We’ve had gang fights in here because people aren’t wearing bathing suits.

ME: I understand you’ve had to deal with a lot of knuckleheads. Including people with disabilities or a relgious mandate is different.

CITIPARKS: We’ve been all through this and the rule is never changed.

It made me wonder how many Muslim families have just decided that the battle is not worth it? But - the battle is worth it to me. I’m angry. I’m furious that my son is being denied the right to swim at a pool with children of all religions, abilities, races, classes and genders. It made me furious that a mother would be denied the right to properly supervise her child at a pool due to the same reasons above.

None of this affects me personally. So why should I give a single thought to anybody else and their issues? Because having all kinds of people in my community makes my life richer. It makes my life full. I enjoy sharing inclusive, accepting, non-judgemental space with other human beings. ’m not leaving Pittsburgh again. I’ve come too far to turn back now. I believe the beauty of Pittsburgh lies in the fact that we have the power to make it to be whatever we need it to be. I need to raise my son in an inclusive and diverse city.

This weekend I was really looking forward to the “DiversCity Festival.” This City Of Pittsburgh event promised to reinforce my vision of this city as the perfect place to live, raise children and live well. But, now, I wonder, exactly how inclusive will they really be if they can’t even modify a rule about attire at a public pool. But, I will turn out and support the vision - even if it is not truly enacted in all city-wide spaces.

Because it seems that, according to Citiparks, if you want to be modest for health or religious reasons, you have to stand on the other side of the gate looking in.

I’m open to all suggestions about action. But, in the meantime, if you don’t want to leave mothers and others on the wrong side of the chain link fence, please call:

Duane Ashley, CitiParks Director
412 - 255 - 2539

Or email Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:
mayorcompl@city.pittsburgh.pa.us

Remember:

1. Be polite.
2. State that Citiparks Pool Rule #2 needs to be revised as it discriminates against people due to their religion and/or physical ability.
3. Ask him to clarify to you why the policy requires only the “display” of female erogenous areas.
4. Ask him why Rule #2 only applies to patrons and is not applied equally and unilaterally across the board.
5. Ask him to consider sensitivity training for all staff members regarding intolerance.

Thanks.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Winston Rewrites Rap

It is amazing how people hear what they want to hear.
Winston's taken a fancy to a song by Baby Boy Da Prince.
The lyrics read:

"This is the way I live.
Lil' Boy still pushin' big wheels
I stack my money, lay low, and chill.
Don't need to work hard that's the way I feel, I feel, I
This is the way I live.
Lil' Boy still pushin' big wheels
I stack my money, lay low, and chill.
Don't need to work hard that's the way I feel, I feel, I
This is the way I live."

Winston's rewrite is :

"This is the way I live.
Lil' Boy still pushin' big bills
I save my money, lay low, and chill.
I work hard that's the way I feel, I feel, I
This is the way I live.
Lil' Boy still pushin' big bills
I save my money, lay low, and chill.
I work hard that's the way I feel, I feel, I
This is the way I live."

I think my four year old has a better message. Perhaps, it's not just because I'm his Mommy. And is this a case of nature or nurture?

Monday, July 30, 2007

That Critical Curriculum | Antioch Lives!

an open letter to the Board Of Trustees

I have been silent about Antioch College closing since June. Perhaps the silence is representative of where I am at in the grieving process. It definitely looks like denial. But, I think not. I believe it to be something deeper and more profound. Regardless, I invite you to witness my journey since I heard the news.

Ambivalence - of the “shrug your shoulders and chalk it up to fate” variety. I got an e-mail out of the blue from someone who was virtually my neighbour whilst I lived in London. She was an Antiochian. Just like me. She was doing what all Antiochians do when something unacceptable happens. She was organising; building community and preparing to take action. It made me smile and say, “Gee, I learned a lot there. We all did.” Most of all, it made me smile.

Ambivalence - of the “getting fifty thousand things done here, wait a minute” variety. The e-mails kept coming. I swished and swooped across the web. Between flights to London for my job at Historic Royal Palaces at the Tower Of London; being present in the lives of my twenty and four year old children; managing a transcontinental marriage and developing a fund-raising strategy for my local home education group’s curriculum lending library, I looked at everyone’s epinion. I didn’t have one. I was tired.

Ambivalence - of the “hit the school motto crescendo 10 years ago and still living it” variety.
I haven’t been ashamed to die since I was 33. The forty-three years in my life expectancy have begun to seem trivial and anti-climatic. What else can I do? There has been so much! It’s quite frankly overwhelming. But - there is Horace Mann forcing me to put one foot in front of the other everyday.

Antioch may die, but, in an exceptionally European framework. In the cosmos of my ancestors, Antioch will live forever. It’s name will continue to be spoken. The myths and fables and doctrine live within it’s alumnae. And it is contagious. We infect others. The disease of do-gooding is a disastrous and diabolical infection.

Relief - If Antioch dies, does this mean I can no longer be embarrassed to pursue a career as a ruthless, eccentric, narcissistic and evil billionaire because no one will challenge me on my dubious and questionable background? Does it mean I am released from the untenable geas of Horace Mann?

Relief - If Antioch dies, will I succumb to a frenetic and unabashed joy at choosing to be a stay at home mom - just like all the Princeton, Harvard and Yale ladies of my generation? Will I get to stop tap-dancing whilst spinning plates on poles, singing opera and serving 54 course meals? Will they write about me in the New York Times because I’ve made this choice?

Relief - Is Antioch's death a harbinger of the Apocalypse? Does it mean Bush has finally won? Does low enrolment mean we should give cows the vote? After all - they demonstrate more spunk than we do as they approach the slaughterhouse.

Despair - If no one bothers to witness what young people will do once they’ve been informed that they are responsible for their education, their lives, their communities and their government....will just saving one life matter anymore? I used to think transforming one life was a miracle. Some other folks seemed to think this was a good idea too. It paid my bills. It gifted me with satisfaction. It made me unashamed to die. But -the piece of paper credentialing my right to this belief in under attack from dragon fire!

Despair - I used to think about pond ripples. I used to see ripples and waterfalls as interconnected. I never contemplated the arbitrary vindictiveness of fire. Glory! A physics intro! But, wait, oh, yeah - wasn’t there a class at Antioch which offered science/math for the art majors? Oh, yes, didn’t I publish a poem years later about the calculus of menstruation? Oh, yeah - and that other poem I published about the chemistry of .........

Despair - When the last of us go, who will speak the name? Will the name Antioch become as obscure as the names of Gods beaten out of African tongues? If no one is there when they hold out their hands to receive the necessary tools, will the patient - our world - die?

Despair & Hope- How will the cows vote? Surely, they would want Antioch survive. They are spunky - those cows.

So here I am. Plodding through life. Wishing. I believe that right eventually triumphs over wrong. I think that words have power and I teach this idea. I am a product of fairy tales who trusts that the Hero’s Journey is readily available to any young person who desires the path. My small and unremarkable hero’s journey was the cumulation of my time at Antioch. That is the critical curriculum - teaching young people to accept the call; gifting them with tools they’ll need along the journey and allowing them come out on the other side as the mistress of multiple worlds.

Antioch took a girl who lived in an even tidier version of “The Cosby Show” and transformed her into a woman who skillfully navigates between worlds we haven’t even begun to allow into our collective consciousness.

Words have power, so, these are my words.

Antioch will not close. The Board Of Trustees will open themselves to wisdom. Antiochians will move from ambivalence to action regarding the donor who gifted them with the very tools they needed to navigate this curious blue plant in the light of positivity. We will pull together. We will reorient ourselves to this new world and revise Antioch’s place in it.

Amen. Ashe. So mote it be. Harambee. Namaste.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Milestones

a hasty, lacking post

The weather cools. Our bodies can contemplate more activity. Since Christmas, Winston has wanted a scooter. He had it all figured out in his head. He would show me again and again exactly how he would ride it. I would nod and watch him balance on one foot and sweep the other dramatically from front to back.

Years ago, when I was a dancer, I was introduced to the Feldenkrais method. What I remember of that time is that our muscles store memory. What I also remember was the idea that visualisation could reinforce muscle memory. Since Christmas brought the Great Move Home, we did not get him a scooter until his birthday in April.

We couldn’t get that scooter unpacked fast enough! His eagerness propelled his imaginary scooter all through the living room whilst we unpacked it. Delighted, we handed him his first scooter. My husband got him all “protected in helmet, knee pads and elbow protectors. We handed him his scooter. After five minutes of disappointment, he abandoned it. He had “failed.” Needless to say, we didn’t make a big deal about it.

What we did do was make the scooter available and visible. He didn’t touch it again for another two months. Whilst my husband was away on business a few weeks ago, Winston indicated interest in the scooter. I was tired that day. (Being a single parent every other week can be draining sometimes.) So, I handed him the scooter - no elbow or knee pads, no helmut. Back and forth in front of the house, he tried and tried and fell. I smiled and praised his experiments.

I recall the first time he sat up and hit his head on the floor when he was three months old. Within the hour, he had learned to fall and then roll with it. Since that monumental moment at three months, he has had an uncanny ability to figure out a way never to injure his body in that specific manner ever again. Since he has been taking capoeira regularly, his innate agility has been reinforced profoundly. He kept trying - day after day after day.

I suppose Feldenkrais was right in that way. Winston discusses his “failures” extensively. Mostly I listen and keep nagging about the way in which people have to make mistakes in order to learn anything. Regardless, I try to bear witness to his constant visualisation, self-critique and problem solving in a positive way.

About a month ago, it clicked. I think we had some help. We have a new friend. He is a five 1/2 year old boy we met through our homeschool group. Ian loves his scooter. He can do tricks. He can go fast. He loves to involve Winston in “military manoeuvres” where they have to get away fast together. At first that meant Winston on foot chasing behind Winston’s scooter. (We haven’t had a dual scooter play date recently, but I can’t wait.) But, after every meeting with Ian, Winston attacked his scooter with renewed carelessness.

He is close to stopping my heart now. He’s gotten good! He gets it going fast and then squats and wiggles the handle bars. He rides with his head back skimming along faster than the clouds. He’s trying to make the scooter hop and jump. He makes daring curves. But, he is not content in his victory.

Today, he needed a bike. Imagine my surprise. Since we moved back, I’ve been pushing a bike on him. We had bought him one of those expensive Like-Bikes in London. After the first failure, he gave up completely on bikes. But, every yard sale, every adventure to Target would find me looking wistfully at the bikes saying: “Are you sure you want a princess dress? Look at these lovely bikes!” No! Today. Today was bike day. I’m thankful I planned for this eventuality - or I’d be manoeuvring through detritus on the River Styx tonight.

So, we bring the bike home. We pull it out of the mini-van. It does not “work.” It rocks from side to side. Every tilt sends Winston into a panic. He thrusts his foot down. Then, he has to get back up on the seat. But, he wants to, “Ride!” He wants me to take the handle bars and pull him along the pavement.

“No way!” I say, “This is your bike. You have to make friends with it, just like you and your scooter got acquainted. Quietly. Slowly. Remember?”

He nods his head. But, his eyebrows are stubbornly set in a frown.

I sit on the front stoop. I ask him to remember, “Your scooter and you didn’t get along very well at first.”

He nods his head. The eyebrows disagree still. “I want to ride,” he states empathic ally.

“Well, I have an idea. Want to hear it?”

He nods his head, eyebrows sceptical.

“You remember how you spent a long time making friends with your scooter?”

He nods.

“Did I push you along on your scooter?”

“No.”

“Who taught you to ride your scooter.”

Pause. Pause. Pause.

Slowly, with hesitant humble pride he states, “Me.”

“Yeah,” I smile, “You taught yourself to ride the scooter. Who’s going to teach you to ride the bike?”

Less firm now, “Me.” Shy smile.

“That’s right! And who is going to watch and be so happy?”

“You.”

“Right, and - before you do that, can I show you something?”

“Yeah.”

“I want to show you how the training wheels work. Want to see?”

He nods. Eyes already assessing what else is available. He is suddenly not sure again.

I go inside and bring out the scales and a basket of mosaics. I reposition his bike to line up with the scales. I show him the centre wheel, the right and left training wheels. then I show him the centre of the scale, and the right and left baskets.

I put a mosaic in the right scale. “When you get on the bike, it looks like this.”

Then, I drop one mosaic into the left hand basket. The scales balance. “But as you shift your weight on the seat, it looks like this,” I say as I drop another mosaic into the left basket.

“I want to ride.” He is determined to do this tonight.

“Okay,” I say. “I think you need to spend time just sitting on your bike rocking back and forth.”

“Okay,” he acquiesces reluctantly. I feel awful.

But, he climbs up on his red, rocket flame, go-fast bike. Right as he gets “centred,” it tips. He thrusts his leg down to catch himself and I catch him.

“Have you thought about the scales?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“You know, the way they rock a lot but always end up balancing or catch themselves just before they crash?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s try that.”

“Okay,” he says with an edge of frustration and whine in his voice.

So I tip him to one side. I just barely catch him the second before the training wheel hits the ground. And then tip him to the other side. He trusts me. Eventually he feels the rhythm. I say, “go this way. Go that way!” And he rocks back and forth until I completely remove my hands. There he is, rocking back and forth, back and forth all by himself. Suddenly confidant again, he wants to ride.

I push him. He pedals and ends up in the lawn. I straighten the wheel. I push him and pedals again into the lawn. This goes on and on past dinner. But, eventually he can pedal 8 times without crashing into grass. He is tired. I am more exhausted than if I had spent an hour pushing and steering him up and down the block. He is filled with fatigue because he had to think. Feldenkrais had the right idea. He had to see himself doing it. He had to make muscle memories in order for him to relax in the balancing act.

We have reached a milestone here. We are beginning to learn about riding bikes. He is getting better at it than I ever was. This is, of course, what every teacher must always hope for.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer Lacksidasical

The summer slips away silkily. Sticky, sweltering days find us pool side. At home, Winston seeks shelter from Mrs. Rosebud in the front yard. Even the children are keeping out of the sun.

Time slides sideways during the summer. Weeks tesseract. Before I know it, a week has gone and then another. I’m not busy or doing anything - just being in the heat and sunshine. The promise of rain fills me with a peculiar hopeful joy. Real cool wet - not pore slime and skin grease.

There is something about this season which just invites you inside of your body. We are all at home here this summer. Our minds are disturbingly quiet.

+ + +

Tonight, I ran to the shop for some things. Outside a young brother was selling his cd’s. I sorrowfully said, “Sorry, I’m a bit skinned until Friday.”

“That’s okay,” I’ll be here Friday,” he said.

I marched into the shop and picked up my stuff. But, he stayed on my brain. When I came out I asked him about his cd. Midway through the conversation he said, “I don’t need you to buy my cd to show that you support me. There’s all different kinds of support. Thanks.”

Turns out, of course, he wants to be a hip hop artist. But, he wants to say different things than bling and bludgeoning. I told him that was a very important mission. I told him I was an old timey performance poet. He nodded and smiled, he’d never heard of me. It was nice.

Anyway, I raced home, grabbed my cd and ran back to give it to him. The shock on his face was worth the petrol. But - I figure - the old have to support the new.

I’ve been finding it alarmingly charming that I’ve only been gone 2 years and nobody remembers me anymore.

+ + +

But, my son thinks I’m the most fantastic creature in creation. I don’t think he’ll ever learn to swim. Why should he bother when he can loll about in my arms and be swish swirled through the water? There is one human being in the world who thinks I look stunning in a bathing suit. (Okay - I’ll grudgingly and graciously say two and count my husband. )

I had business cards made the other day. They read:

Springer-Nunley Associates
a 24/7, 365 full service provider

Christina Springer,
Winston’s Mum

It’s a fantastic job.

+ + +

I can’t wait to hear Eater’s cd on Friday. Even distant, my fingers like pots. I have a good feeling about this little brother. And maybe his beats will be something appropriate for Winston to sing along to...rather than, "girl you're too beautiful, you'll have me suicidal, suicidal, suicidal."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

independence day check list

like my firstborn
hate my firstborn
forgive my first born

repeat

forgive me
and my husband
forgive the first born

repeat



breathe.

tally the sum of my shortcomings
add the failures of every partner
multiply oestrogen. divide testosterone.

subtract

two grown women walking arm-in-arm in Gatwick
as brother pirouettes to keep up, then
laughing and tickling the boy-intrusion

multiply

laughing and tickling the brother;
pretending not to see him jiggling the curtains,
slapping the easel with painted hands.

repeat

two days in a row... repeat
three days in a row... repeat.
four days....plead exhaustion.

subtract

taking one’s plate to the kitchen;
putting one’s shoes in the foyer;
being civil.

add

fat cheek dimpled brother smiles;
woman placing each heavy foot before the other;
distant man scowling and refusing technological assistance

add
curling up in a womb red chair and watch anime. repeat
play loud music, dance and teach brother hot new club songs.
blow bubbles in the pool with brother

repeat.

breathe.

get a job. pay for Mama Shuttle Service. repeat.
have a party. clean the house. repeat
be confused and vulnerable.

repeat.

scream a lot and observe the way
it becomes ice cream melting across Mama’s body
and the way Step Father cleans it off.

repeat.

forgiveness. acceptance.
hate. love.
a child jumping on your body crowing,

I love you wake up!

Friday, June 29, 2007

a moment

i hope
the rage turns

into a cherry blossom, so
I can brew

wine from sunset ripened fruit.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Moving Into The Antiquated & Charted Unknown

A few months ago, Number 1 apologised
for temper tantrums - 4 years later -
after witnessing her brother’s glorious display.

Now, we are turning a corner. It is dark.
A poorly lit three lane highway or alley.
She has gone ahead of me.

Her stilettos click-tick betwixt the cobblestones
and grout. My sensible shoes squeak.
I am announcing our arrival

in spite of my precautions. She forges ahead.
I’ve already encountered what might be there.
I have developed the habit of knowing

how the story ends. She wrote:

for feedback on her poems;
for a recipe last week;
about cooking a community-building meal.

Later, laughed at my public joke
about how happy we are
that children eventually grow up

and go away.
This is what we do.
Practice leaving each other behind

for 20+ years. Witness
the serial killers of connection:
first steps, potty training, school......

She states:

I just thought
about how much of your family
you will always carry with you

no matter where you are.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Menfolk

thanks Jax

Two nights ago, we watched Kirikou And The Sorceress. I have nothing more to say than, “don’t bother renting it, just add it to your personal collection. Go to http://www.kirikou.net/quickorder.html and buy it right now. “ Seriously.

I have been looking for quite some time for a hero for my son. Not these mambi-pambi Disney pseudo heroes. Not some bam-bash-bonk hero. Certainly not the pedophile stalking Stephanie on Lazy Town hero. A straight up, old fashioned, honest-to-goodness out of a fairy tale hero. The kind of guy who says, “Darkness, okay well that’s scary, lemme find a match.” Africentric - preferably.

My search has ended. Now, I just want more. More Kirikou, please! And if not, more storytelling in the same manner in which this film is done. Yesterday, I had to vote with my dollars (by buying the film and eliminating juice boxes from the grocery budget this week) so I could make sure this maker will continue to give me some more.

I’m not going to go into a blow by-blow description of the stunning animation; or the culturally relevant manner in which the characters are portrayed; or even an analysis of how easy it can be to portray male strength without denigrating women. (And yes, I am blithely skipping over some pertinent feminist interpretations because - to be honest - the current PC media is emasculating my African-American son. And I do believe we can celebrate male strength and female strength and sometimes it won’t happen in the same movie. Boys and girls have different emotional and imaginative needs. Diversity - celebrating our differences - is strength. Right??

Okay - what I want to talk about is one specific image in the film. Kirikou must find his grandfather and discover why the sorceress is evil. After the end of a deep analytical and intellectual conversation, Kirikou asks his grandfather to hold him. His grandfather laughs and says, “Of course!” Kirikou crawls into his arms and shares that sometimes he feels very small and afraid. His grandfather validates these feelings and they just sit for awhile in silence. Kirikou is just wrapped up in calm, loving, supportive male benevolence for maybe 30 seconds. (That’s a lot of screen time by the way.) It was the most powerful screen moment I have seen in a long, long time. It beats even the image of Julie Dash’s unborn child skipping along the beach in Daughter’s Of the Dust.

I guess if no one’s noticed, I come from a very busy family. Agendas must be met. Time tables rigourously adhered to. Save the world, we must. And sometimes that means we can’t sit and have a five minute phone call. But, recently, things have been changing. There has been an influx of positive, nurturing male energy in my life. Maybe we are pulling in this energy from all of the various shifts in our life.

The capoeira classes we’ve been attending are lead by the sweetest, most loving man. He can kick your ass in a heartbeat and hug you the next second. I like Mr. Matthew, he is a good teacher for my son. And of course, my dear husband with his quiet, patient ways. Being on the run to Berkeley ever other week has helped him begin to see how critical it is to be present in every moment home. But, most of all, my father.

Something powerful has happened with this wise, powerful, kind and busy old man. In a previous post, Spirit Level I documented an afternoon where my Dad had come over to “do some things around the house.” Instead, he got sucked into Winston’s imagination. They fought with foam swords, laughed and played for a long time. And for the first time, the agenda for the rest of the day was forgotten because a little boy felt very small and playful. A little boy needed his grandfather to hold his imagination and validate it. Just like Kirikou.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Has Health Care Fallen Apart While I've Been Gone?

So - I dutifully schedule my son for his 4 yr check up as soon as I hit the ground in Pittsburgh in February. I happened upon Metro Family Practice through The Midwife Center, got Katherine Patterson whilst embroilled led in our first crisis. She saw my son the next day (when I was positively assured by ER HP that breastfeeding was not in our future) - and she instantly rectified that situation. She was so supportive, nurturing! But, she only works on Wednesdays. I love her. She has proven to be the most competent MD; exceptionally respectful of my questions; exuberantly supportive of my lifestyle choices; willing to give me a list of URLs when I'm in doubt....I can go on and on about why she is my MD of choice. The woman is the singular definition of Healer/Shaman embodied. So, I'm willing to work around her schedule.

But, today I get a call saying there has been a family emergency...she'll be away for a week. Okay - these things happen. I'm dreadfully and terribly sorry. How awful for her. I wish her all strength and wholeness. Jiminy Cricket! I was actually looking forward to the doctor's visit! I am so disappointed!

But - here is where I get cheeky about Metro Family Practice. I can not be anything other than vague, non-committal, verbally generous within the confines of polite conversation and generally non-plussed when it comes to their receptionists. The whole lot of them really need to up and move to London. They would thrive. They would excel. They would get the jollies that their private lives are not giving them by fucking up the lives of sick people because they are in a position of unique and deadly control. My father always taught me that I should understand that very few people experience anything resembling power in their own lives. As a result - they exercise it viciously at any moment there is an opportunity. Therefore - we should understand where they are coming from and give them no excuse to exercise it on us. But - I have given these bitches no reason to exercise it on me!

So - she calls today to cancel. I'm devastated and confused. I ask when we can re-schedule. She says June! So - an appointment I've had for 4 months is serendipitously changed because of fate. That is unfair! It is un-ethical. It is is Un-American - rather as you define it after living in the willy-nilly, deny-you-for-chuckles, laugh-as-you-hobble-from-ER-with-a-broken-toe UK health care system.

I want - and am paying for - something different. Recommendations?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Spirit Level

on the birth day
of this man-child who transforms
heavy ancestral

names into an average
- or above - boy,
the grandfather feints

and dodges the new

special fx foam broadsword
catches a cardboard shield.
laughter. surprise

the day’s tasks release.
in a living room empty of all
furniture except a chess table

Dad crafted over 40 years ago,
leaves his spirit level -
a 24 inch florescent green symbol.

connecting.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Home again! Home again! Jiggity Jig!

Subzero temperatures.
Six inches of snow - more or less.
Occasional freezing rain.
Inhospitable grey and more grey.
Still and quiet - our lives have been anything but this solemn contained seasonal hibernation to which we’ve become accustomed.

All of this business about the colour green and other people’s gardens seems more wisdom than cliché. Suddenly, I understand why it is hard to leave Pittsburgh. It revolves around expectations. Our life there whirled and crashed against my perceptions of things to which one becomes accustomed and assumes. My life there was constantly thudding against an ingrained rigidity demanding that things be as they are supposed to be.

And as unadaptable as I may have been - somehow, my inner heart tolls a mantra which sounds something like:
okay, okay, okay. you tried. you tried. you tried.
this is you. and that’s okay. you are you and that’s okay.
it is not bad to follow your soul. your soul,
your soul is wise and holds.
the truth which is right for you.


Welcome home, me!

I love you England! I always will - like Robert Dudley and Elizabeth loved. Untimely. Forbidden. Hidden. Passionate and doomed.
Like Henry loved Jane. Lancelot loved Guinevere.

Yet, I am thankful for the soul-affirming lessons life in London afforded me. For one, we found a new house. It is much smaller than the lovely one on which we initially made an offer. It has 3 bedrooms - not six. It has a living room, dining room and kitchen - no den, office or sewing room or 3rd floor lounge space. It has 2 1/2 baths - not 3. It has a cosy, tiny garden - not one the size of a house. Our new house is less than half the size of the house which we originally intended to buy. Am I unhappy?

No! No! No! I began to remember the $600 winter heating bills we had in the house we owned before we moved to London. I'm grateful not to have to heat so much draughty space. It remind me to remember this life goal of voluntary simplicity. I’m happy that we currently own exactly 320 cubic feet of stuff. (I’m dreading owning more. - but one needs a place to sit and eat - so these things do fit into what we think we believe and as yet must struggle to practice.) The house we chose should be nice and cosy and affordable. It limits our ability to consume - fill space - seek more. It challenges us to be aware of our behaviour, buying patterns, and consumerism as a method of ego stroking.

Since we’ve returned, we've been very busy. Winston is going to a Spanish immersion nursery, La Escuelita Arcoiris 3 days a week. Whilst I am conflicted about “school,” I am thrilled to offer him the gift of a second language early in life. La Escuelita is a fine place filled with wonderful people - many of whom I knew before I even had Winston. It has all of the feeling of being a co-operative community effort whilst simultaneously being an established school. The school actually grew out of the founder’s living room!

He's also doing two classes on Wednesdays through People Always Learning Something (PALS), a
the co-operative effort and non-profit organisation formed by non-denominational, home educating parents in Pittsburgh. In the mornings he attends a “2 hour Montessouri-inspired prepared environment play group.” After lunch, he takes Mandarin Chinese.

Through PALS we attended a school matinee performance of Peter Pan performed by The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre - at discounted school ticket prices! This was the ideal introductory ballet for a boy who loves ballerinas and dressing up in princess dresses. (More on that later!) It was a real boy ballet. Two strong male corps de ballet, strong male principals and phenomenal dancing! Wow! I am so grateful to PALS for affording this (inexpensive, transforming, evocative and life-changing) opportunity to us.

After all of this excitement - we go to the museums, friends or The Center For Creative Play. I am ashamed to say that we have availed ourselves of only three of the wonderful child friendly places for children in Pittsburgh. But, these places are so large, so engaging, so supportive of children from birth to age ??, that I feel comfortable allowing him to claim, explore and exhaust these resources before moving on.

At The Carnegie Museum Of Natural History, he didn’t even notice that the dinosaur exhibit is “not open.” He saw some bones and spent a better part of the afternoon digging up dinosaur bones. (Yes, they’ve buried bones in some easy, non-toxic stuff which is easy to chip away. They hand out goggles, a chisel and a brush. Then the kids get to excavating!)

At the Carnegie Science Center, we have four floors of activities designed just for him which include: air play, water play, light play, sound play and the planetarium. We attended a fun lecture/demonstration - geared towards little kids - about freezing. It involved a lot of cool stuff using liquid nitrogen? (I forgot! I am such a bad home educator.) The only thing I felt awful about was that they flash froze marshmallows and Winston couldn't have one because of his fillings.)

(If you visit the web pages - do notice that they have classes designed just for home educating families.)

Finally - whenever we can’t handle that much stimulation - we always have The Center For Creative Play It is a place where children can run, scream, laugh, play, be quiet and creative or just make a friend.

And of course - our old friends and new. Pittsburgh is a place of lasting relationships always evolving into new ones. Generally, we come home, eat dinner and collapse. Winston's making the transition like a champion. But, I think he is just so thrilled to have such constant stimulation. My only worry lately is that he seems a bit over-stimulated. And we have yet to explore a dozen other places equally as well designed. And soon Spring and Summer will come - and we won’t want to be there anymore. We’ll be in the garden or at the park.

And I’ve come to realise - that in relation to my children - I am biased and opinionated. I have rigid and unyielding expectations of my community, my city and my peers. And this is not necessarily a failing on my part. It is what I grew up with - values I hold inviolate - such as working together, building relationships, developing community and making the environment one in which all can thrive. This is my heritage. And I am peaceful - for these are not values alien, anti-social or contradictory to most people. It is good to be in a place where others activily work not only on sharing them - but realizing them.

Home again! Home again! Jiggity Jig!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Dragon Over Field Of The Cloth Of Gold

did fair ....................... outshine

those dandelions .......... boasting gold .......... folding

sleeping .......... thrusting .......... some ephemeral

airborne virile .......... comeback. .......... daggering

fallow fecund fields .......... churned by steel spurs

and silkworms married unwillingly to earth’s glittering bowels.

metal and air .......... flaunted .......... displayed

paraded. .......... here...................... I soared

over chivalry .......... pageants .......... athletic feats

meaningless .......... rutting. .......... feral bones

twisted .......... undulant ................... quickening

majesty above this small matter of mortals.