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For the first time since a teenager, I question going to Mass. Am I condoning the abuse of the Brazilian child? Nine years old, raped by her stepfather, pregnant with twins, her life endangered--her mother permits an abortion. The Church excommunicates the mother, the doctors--not the rapist. A spokesperson says abortion is worse than rape. Would the stepfather have been excommunicated if the girl died? Were the fetuses more important? What did the rape do to that child's spirit--will she ever be happy? Is breathing in and out, having a pulse, all there is? I am furious.
I have a message on the on-line dating site, but I hesitate. The guy seems OK--no obvious jerk tendencies--but I don't sense kindred spirithood. I barely have time to keep up with friends, be a mom to my son, finish work deadlines, and meet my own writing goals--National Novel Writing Month, National Novel Editing Month, and now 100words.com. Do I have time for romance? And yet, I dream of true love, like that of the O's--after twenty years of marriage they're like a teenage couple, immersed in each other, leaving you feeling like a third wheel.
One out of ten Americans are now on food stamps. I remember being on welfare as a child, the cashier berating me: "You're supposed to tell me you're using food stamps!" My voice had been too low. I was fifteen, guilty I hadn't quit school to work. We discussed welfare in history class; I cringed while classmates complained: "I work, why can't they?" "They should be more humble!" "They're buying sweet rolls, not vegetables!" Mrs. K. was dumbfounded: "I'm surprised at my idealist honors class." I stumbled from the room, wanting to hide. Most people on public aid are children.
How should I attack "R. and the Cousins: 7th grade"? The draft is a quilt, patches in barely recognizable order, scraps still waiting to be assembled. I may delete turquoise, substitute violet. I'd planned to go chapter-by-chapter, perfecting each. But I feel blocked. Some chapters are lightweight, some characters stick people. Why perfect chapters that don't excite me, that may end up in the recycle bin? Time to change plans--I'll set a new goal each week. Maybe I'll work on Chapter 13 next, or do research. I aim to finish before November, but if I'm bored, readers will yawn.
People talk about settling down twice--when ready to stop partying and go from one-night stands to marriage, and later in midlife. The first settling down makes sense--forsaking shallow relationships for deeper ones. But friends my age talk of settling down as though we should no longer want success, happiness. "We should give up the stage to the new generation," the professor said at the conference. Can't we share? A reporter told Bruce Springsteen, "You probably don't jump up on the piano as much these days." Bruce retorted, "Oh yeah? Wanna bet? You against me, buddy!" You go, Bruce!
I was against abortion for years. Why should a child's life be totally at the whim of its mother? Growing up, emotionally abused by my mother, it angered me that children had no rights. But when a friend of mine became pregnant; I saw her distress, couldn't tell her what to do. And the narrow focus of the pro-life movement on the mere survival of the fetus offends me. When I reconnected with my father, I discovered he was adamantly pro-life. But he had abandoned me at birth, knowing how disturbed my mother was. Wasn't that abortion, minus physical pain?
Tomorrow night my son and I go to our first White Sox game of the season. I bought us the Ozzie plan of thirteen tickets, cheapest nosebleed seats possible. A scary extravagance, so many now unemployed or underemployed--but it's my son's last summer at home. Next summer he'll be working, getting ready to go to some college dorm--after that, everything will be different. I wanted another summer of sitting with my son, munching bagels from home or hot dogs or Mexican corn, watching his joy at home runs, the screaming camaraderie of the Red Line train ride home..
A. and J. board the subway car, hesitant, this screeching monster, amidst people carrying Chicago Marathon signs: "Run Chicago Run." White-haired women in green "Cheerleading Squad" T-shirts contrast with younger runners in shorts.
A. wipes her eyes with a piece of tissue--we're enroute to M. Hospital to see her son, in a coma, brain dead. Relatives will be fighting—burial or cremation? Which cemetery?
We exit the train at Chinatown; so does everybody else. Younger people emit breaths of annoyance at our slowness up stairs, laugh at A. when she says, "So fast! Too many people!" If they only knew…
Early tomorrow morning, E. and I will travel with our sons to K. College for a campus visit. Years ago, E. visited Holy T. kindergarten with me; we talked to the principal, watched children learning ABC's. But the secretary rushed us out of the office, made sure we didn't dally observing the class. I decided against Holy T. If this is how potential paying customers were treated, how were parents of actual students treated? If I wanted to discuss a problem, would I be similarly rushed away?
But tomorrow, it is my son that K. College will have to impress.
I'm grateful for my home-made extended family. As a college freshman, I lost the childhood "bunch" I'd loved. My mother threatened suicide because I'd moved out; not one relative agreed to call her once a week, as the school counselor suggested. I realized I had no family. Now, though not blood-related, A. is my mother, Anna my son's sister. I am L's daughter's Auntie D. I'm connected to half-siblings I hadn't met at eighteen, am godmom to my brother's kids. My apartment is jam-packed for my son's birthday celebrations. Abandonment by relatives still stings, but I rejoice in real family.
A. came over today and dyed Easter eggs with us and helped us build a gingerbread house. In December, A. was recovering from chemo, using a walker; her family didn't have a car. I told her, "We won't build it without you--if it has to be an Easter gingerbread house, fine!" So we made Easter-pink confectioner sugar frosting for the house, then dyed eggs with cheap Paas kits. Afterwards, we played Deal or No Deal, Wheel of Fortune, and Pictionary; our shy cats who usually hide from strangers came out, sniffed A.'s walker. "They smell my cats," A. said.
After 8 a.m. Mass, my son and I head to U.S Cellular. With almost religious intensity, we watch the Passion-Pride-Tradition video, clips from past White Sox glory flaunted to "Pirates of the Caribbean" music. My son munches on nachos, I eat Mexican corn, and he educates me about sacrifice flies and hit-and-run plays. It's Kid's Day, and green furry Southpaw is dressed as The Easter Bunny. Nancy the organist plays "Easter Parade" and "Joy" (a speedy version of "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring"), and her rendition of "Nah Nah Nah Nah Goodbye" has gusto when Minnesota Twins pitchers are replaced.
Back in married days, I remember coming home, the apartment pitch dark but smelling of green pepper and onions, grease popping and water boiling in the kitchen. My husband (now my ex) was totally blind; he needed no light to cook spaghetti or do anything else. I always fear people will think I wasn't able to deal with his blindness--that that's what wrecked the marriage. But just as blindness did not stop my ex from cooking, it didn't stop him from wanting more than just one woman, or from freaking out at the responsibility of being a new dad.
Morning, September 11, 2001. My nine-year-old son was excited--the first meeting for the school newspaper that afternoon. On the Damen bus, I let Walkman Beethoven block out loud-talking women bragging about beating their kids. The music became somber but I was reading, didn't hear news reports. At work, J. greeted me outside the cafeteria, where I'd bought my coffee and muffin. "I'm in shock," she said. Why? "Didn't you hear? Planes crashed into the Twin Towers--one tower already collapsed." Did we know then that it was done on purpose, by terrorists who hated us and wanted to kill?
Susan Boyle walks onto "Britain's Got Talent" stage, audience expecting the British version of William Hung. How could anyone forty-seven years old, "never been kissed" and unglamorous, sing? A young woman rolls her eyes as far as they could roll in their sockets. Until Susan opens her mouth--audience members jump to their feet, amazed, as notes of "I Had a Dream" hit the rafters, the words even more poignant sung by someone not gorgeous or young. I think of how I feel at NaNoWriMo write-ins, everybody else under 40. Let me sing with words and aim for the rafters.
I hated NW, but were feelings skewed by family turmoil? The first week, I took a psychology class test about happiness; I thought, of course I'm happy most of the time. Later I was miserable--was it NW, or my mother hammering on dorm room door at 1 a.m.? Needing to routinely take phone off hook so her calls wouldn't wake us? Home dysfunction I'd kept separate from high school barged into college. Relatives refused the counselor's advice to call my mother weekly. "She won't change--" "I keep away from her." If they'd helped, would NW have been bearable?
L. has her baby at 36, the age when I had T; her marriage starts falling apart after S. is born, just as my marriage collapsed after T.'s birth.
The new neighbor is a mom of a nine-year-old; T. was nine when we moved here in April 2001.
Tomorrow is my son's half-birthday--he'll be 17 1/2--and my half-brother J's birthday is tomorrow. Today is E's birthday; E. and I met at NW, which was J's school, too.
Synchronicities hint at a plan--we're part of a mosaic God is creating, though we can't see the entire design.
Tax Day, was our cats Helinda and Helenore's eleventh birthday. We adopted them from Harmony House, a no-kill shelter for felines. I picked Helinda because she immediately jumped on my shoulder, purring like a miniature motorcyle; I had to pry her nails off to leave. Helenore is her litter mate, but they're not close; if human, they probably wouldn't exchange birthday cards--as it is, they're roommates. Life is pretty peaceful, considering--each stakes out her own territory, Helinda the living room window and T's clothes basket, Helenore my bed. The world would be harmonious if people were as accommodating.
When I remember volunteering with the UFW in California years ago, I feel guilty I didn't rebuff J's flirtation, even though it never got beyond holding hands once on a bus trip when we were both drunk. He was married with a baby, but I didn't get, back then, why some relationships had precedence over others. Why was a marriage vow more important than friendship or attraction? Just as I never got how relatives chose to focus on their biological children, giving up on the child of their mentally ill sister. But though no actual adultery occurred, I am sorry.
I like Art Institute outings with my nine-year-old niece. We head for the Thorne Miniature Rooms, admiring the New York living room with lit skyline, the sparse New England kitchen, the Japanese ornate garden. I test my braille knowledge in the Touch Gallery; in Asian art, G. ahhs over Buddhas hundreds of years old. In the cafeteria, tables inexplicably have three gray chairs, one red one. "Ah," G. says, placing her tray down, "now I can have dessert first." At the store, she picks a treat, and I choose a magnet--Renoir's "Two Sisters" or Caillebottle's "Paris Street: Rainy Day."
T. is plopped on his bed, SCORE sports radio on, laptop to White Sox Interactive, cat snoozing on his chest. Contentment, in a room wall-papered with Sun-Times headlines of White Sox wins, especially from the 2005 World Series.
"Mom ! Come here! Come here!"
He's bursting with news--McDougall, who my son thinks is lousy, has been sent back to the minors.
I smile--joy in my son so great it is bittersweet--how I wish J. were here to share his sports excitement. She'd be his phone buddy these days; how I'd love to overhear their screaming baseball chats.
I slept poorly last night, probably anxious about today's meeting at the LH. Whenever I'm stressed--even if I don't realize I'm stressed!--sleep eludes. Going back to the LH is like reentering a Dickensian world of starkly-drawn heroes, villains. So tonight, instead of writing or anything productive, I put up my feet, watch old Perry Masons online. I tell my son, "Of course all the women are secretaries." He responds, "Well? There are no minorities." Still, I like the trio of Perry Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake; mysteries offer comfort--good always wins, problems untangled to show truth.
I call L. and find myself complaining ad nauseam about our old workplace, about being unappreciated. Why do I have such a need for appreciation? Was I hoping that L. would exclaim, "You did a great job, D!" I think of Louisa May Alcott's words: "There is not much danger that real talent or goodness will be overlooked long; even if it is, the consciousness of possessing and using it well should satisfy one." If I believe I did a good job, to the best of my ability, shouldn't that be enough for me? Don't I trust my own opinion?
Why are people required to take courses in reading, writing, arithmetic, driver's ed--but not parenting? What job is more important than raising children to be happy, good, and self-sufficient? Yet we are expected to wing it; for lack of any training otherwise, most of us simply do what was done to us. My ex-in-laws believed "spare the belt and spare the child"--that's how they were brought up, as were others in their world. Yet studies show most people in jail were recipients of corporal punishment. Teaching how to parent may not change people overnight--but it's a start.
The Red Line train lurched around the curve, right above Graceland Cemetery.
"I'm so sorry!"
Coffee-with-cream had spilled on her jacket. The young man next to her, steel-gray business suit, frantically pulled kleenex from his pocket.
"I'm sorry--everything going wrong today!"
"It's OK." She accepted the tissue. "I'll throw it in the wash, no biggie." He was lucky--her sister would have demanded name address credit card number.
"I can't believe it. Job interview, now a spot on my suit."
He rubbed a coffee stain the circumference of a dime near his buttonhole.
"It's not big," she told him.
Riding the Metra to work the day after Obama was named Democratic party nominee for U.S. President reminded me of the morning years ago after Harold Washington won the Democratic primary for Chicago mayor. Riding the subway to work, the train stalled in the tunnel somewhere around Division and Ashland, or maybe Grand. Anonymous strangers shuffled newspaper pages or stared into space; I heard workers with hammers, but there was a pause, and from somewhere in the barely-lit tunnel a disembodied African American voice cried out: "Free at last! Harold Washington, Democratic candidate for mayor of Chicago. Free at last!"
At the Art Institute, I looked closely at "Acrobats at the Cirque Fernando." Renoir's painting shows two acrobat sisters, one grasping a whole bunch of tissue-wrapped oranges--the other is intent on bowing to the crowd. I think I read somewhere that the contrast is between the one girl selfishly clinging to material things of the world, while the other is the true artist. This time I see something different. I look at the face of the girl grabbing oranges--she doesn't trust the ephemeral nature of applause. The other is too delicate, too dependent upon praise, will be broken.
For years, my son hated Halloween. One Halloween weekend, when he was three, we were at the Brickyard Mall with Auntie J. Strolling about, we began to notice more and more people in costume--clowns, witches, princesses. Suddenly a man in gorilla outfit approached: "Grrrr!"
My son, riding along comfortably in his stroller, screamed in terror. The gorilla man apologized--too late! I tried to convince T. that he was a nice monster, a "friend of the Cookie Monster."
For months, for no apparent reason, my son would suddenly look at me and repeat, "A friend of the cookie monster..."
Obama's 100th day in office; my son's Junior Leadership Mass. Both milestones, yet both, as Obama put it, Hallmark holidays--excuses for headlines or celebration, but no different than the day before or after. Obama still needs to fix the economy, improve foreign relations; my son still needs to keep up his grades. And yet...Since Obama, torture is no longer condoned, Guantanamo on schedule for closing, and the ridiculous trickle-down theory--pretending a raindrop is a thunderstorm--abandoned. My son ends his junior year, will begin his last year of high school, will change into an adult before my eyes.
Ideas for National Picture Book Writing Week:
A little boy finds a kitten, but the family who lost it reclaims it.
Billy, Easter-Bunny-in-training, has no sense of direction.
Tony and Tux: boy and his cat solve mysteries.
Best friend moves away.
Little boy discovers baseball and falls in love.
Magical exercise bike takes you places.
Magical doll house. where dolls have adventures.
Magical book store, where characters come alive after dark.
The Weirdest Kitten in the World.
A little boy's father breaks promises about visiting.
A kindergartener needs glasses.
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