End-of-Summer Musings

Summer break 2016 has come to an end, and I feel…a lot.

I sit here in the bed, showered but unpacked, ready for tomorrow, and not, watching Maya in the baby monitor. My last baby. Such a little character! I wonder where she gets it.

I’ve relished the last few weeks being home with her every day. Watching her play with play doh and dolls and plastic bags, try out new words (up to 2-3 new words every day now), sing along to her favorite shows (Bubble Guppies and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse), dance. I’ve soaked in the feeling of her tiny warm body sprawled across my chest for her daily nap. The faint scent of grape seed oil in her hair. Her warm breath on my neck.

I’ve watched her older sister, my firstborn, her once lanky form shape-shifting before my eyes. She moves from couch to couch, room to room, bristling with emotion, switching between energy and ennui without notice. We’ve summered together. We shopped and sang, basked and baked away the days. Concerts and museum visits and Netflix binges.

I want to hold this time in my hands. But as with all time, it slips through my fingers like tiny diamonds. I can’t hold them, but I can remember them, these moments, if not individually, then as a sort of mosaic. Or more like a pointillist painting, a scene best seen when you step back, composed of a million little moments. Points perfect.

I hover between tenses; past, present and future.

Longing for days still warm from my having just been there. Basking in the after-glow. Anxiously awaiting the school year ahead.  Innovative ideas springing into mind like pop-ups.

This time I will..

With this class..

I was made for this.

I’m obsessed with creating the conditions for finding meaning and purpose.

It’s a virus. This desire to evoke. Educate. Educare (latin): to draw out that which lies within.

I’m infected…and contagious. I hope.

It is my protest.

The longing I feel for moments with my own children, for the freedom of summer, for the solace of it is matched with the longing to make learning meaningful for someone else’s.

And so I set my course for another year. Another campus to make home.

And after the day is done, I’ll come back to them. My own babies.

I’m as ready as I can be.

Year 12, a year of magical teaching.

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How to Appreciate New Mom-ness or “Dear Damn Baby”

I’ve had precious little time to write about my experiences as a new mom. That’s because time to myself, moments to write, are few and far between. Maya is almost 6 weeks old. Her schedule is not regular yet. I don’t really know how long she’ll be awake, or how long she will sleep. I don’t know when a screaming fit will start, or when she will be hungry. It makes it impossible for me to plan times to write. For a person who is accustomed to being on a schedule, this is a very difficult adjustment. As a teacher, I follow a bell schedule. Each hour of my day is scripted out and planned in advance. Not so now.

When I wake up in the morning, I have all of these aspirations about what I’m going to get done that day. Fold clothes. Mop the floors. Wash my hair. Read a book. I don’t get it all done. I’m lucky if I get even one or two things on my list done in a 24-hour period. But I don’t blame Maya for it. Well, I do, but..In fact yesterday I was reading a Facebook post by a friend of mine. More accurate to say an acquaintance from my youth. He mentioned how, as a stay-at-home dad, he realizes that he doesn’t like babies very much. That they are,in fact, terrible. I thought about it for moment. Do I like my baby? I think so. I mean, I love her. I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the whole world. But newborns are a lot of work. I don’t know if parents are really honest about that.

Newborns are very selfish and time-consuming. You have to give up your whole self to take care of them. They don’t care if you need a nap, a shower, or a glass of wine. Their new world, though small, is confusing, and at times uncomfortable. But if I really think about it, it’s my job, my privilege really, to help Maya navigate this new world. To help her adjust. Not only that, but also to capture these moments in words. To describe the way she throws her head back, her hands up, and scrunches her little face for a good stretch.To note the way her big sister, Leila , holds her and is so gentle with her.

 

This is what matters. Not that I get a chance to wash my hair today. It won’t be all woolly and wild forever, and Maya won’t be a baby forever either. I choose to treasure these moments. I choose to be grateful for every single unscripted second of it. Even those middle of the night crying fits. Well, maybe not so much of those. But most everything else.

So I am determined to write honestly about her, about me, about this.

And so it begins. 

Dear damn baby…

mommy & maya

The Things I Couldn’t Teach You

(An open letter to my former students)

When you were my students, I taught you how to use a comma, how to develop an argument, how to analyze literature.  I taught you how to cite your sources, how to recognize logical fallacies, how to converse knowledgeably, how to identify anaphora, tetracolon, asyndeton.

But there were things I couldn’t teach you. Things that were not part of the core curriculum. Things I’ve learned about life and love.

Not until you have begun to develop your true self, the self stripped of peer influence and false impressions and solipsism*, can you expect to experience high-definition love.

We use the term high definition to describe a level of resolution and clarity that is substantially higher than the standard. There is love like this.

Relationships you have before this are trials; preliminary tests intended to teach you how to be you in the presence of others.  People might tell you that this isn’t love. That “you don’t know what love is”.

But to an infant, milk is food.

To a teen, babysitting is a job.

To you, now, it might be love. It is, at least, an early version.

In any case, I cannot give you the answers. Only my perspective.

 For my girls

Know that you can catch a man’s primal attention by flirting, twerking, or even playing hard-to-get.  But this is no accomplishment. It requires no substance to be bait. You are not bait.

Making it your mission to catch a man (or a girl) derails you from your true mission: to become a woman of substance.  Instead of devoting your time and energy to the game of cat and mouse, focus on exploring your passion and purpose. Live, give, learn, share, travel. Listen to the wise ones around you.

How can you pursue another person before you have studied and learned yourself?

Let yourself blossom.  Only then will high definition love come to you.  And even if it doesn’t, so what! Look at what you have!

For my boys

You are not a man because you have the parts, the car or the clothes. You are a man when you know without doubt or denial that these things are irrelevant. Side effects, at best.

Real swag comes from accomplishments.  Seek out your purpose and pursue it as one with blinders on.

Money will come to you.  You don’t have to chase the big break. Chase instead the knowledge of self and values that will ultimately power your mission.  Once you have devoted your time and energy to building a life for yourself, there will be something worth sharing with someone else. A partner.  Otherwise, how are you going to share what you don’t have?

My former students, my greatest hope for you is this… that you dedicate this time in your lives to the pursuit of greatness.

No matter where you are right now, I’m here believing in you.

Love,

“Miss”

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Like Cat Hair

God, I hate cat hair.

It lands on every fabric surface in my home and clings there, multiplying into layers, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to walk by, thereby providing a means of transportation to another surface.

This morning, I snatched the king-size quilted comforter off the bed, determined to get rid of the ever-present cat hair if not the two cats responsible for it. The comforter is too big for my washing machine.  I’d have to take it to the laundromat. I decided to take the comforter that has been balled up in the laundry room for months, too, to make spending $4.25 to use the commercial machine worthwhile.

I shoved the offending comforters into the car and drove to the nearest washateria. I live in a part of town that, at one time, was home to baby boomers who kept their 70’s construction homes clean and their yards manicured. The shops and businesses nearby served sensible suburbanites.  Nothing flashy. Over the years, the baby boomers upgraded, moving out to Sugarland or Pearland. The demographic shifted. First and second generation immigrants moved in. Corner stores, auto repair shops, cash advance stores, pawn shops, beauty supply stores swooped in to serve them. Then came the Hindu and Jewish temples, Turkish mosques and Baptist and Catholic churches.  It’s called the international district now, a feeble attempt to gloss over the effects of socio-economic segregation.

The laundromat sits at the far end of a shopping strip, neighbored by a driving school, a taqueria/ grocery store, and an African restaurant. I pulled up and wrestled the two comforters out of the car and inside.  As always, I surveyed the occupants. An African lady and her 4 daughters, doing pay-per-pound wash and fold, surrounded by carts of laundry and piles of folded clothes. Her daughters huddled around a lap-top, talking quietly. Across the room, a middle-aged black man leaning against the folding table, watching Let’s Make A Deal.  A Hispanic woman and her children loading several of the smaller machines.  A few other people. Nobody seemed particularly happy to be there.

I loaded and set the washing machine, and then wandered over to the taqueria to get lunch.  On my way back in, I passed a man, smoking outside, his long-sleeved jersey on backwards. Did he do that on purpose? Surely he knows it’s backwards. Well, it’s none of my business, I thought.

He looked up, flicking his cigarette to the ground. “Good afternoon.”  I smiled and nodded.  He opened the door for me, and I went past, breathing in the smell of stale smoke. I do that sometimes. Smell people when they walk by. It’s risky, I know.  But I can’t help it. I imagine that if I were blind, it would be all I’d have.  That, and the ability to measure objects by reflected sound. So I practice, because, well… you never know.

It was while I was pushing my wet comforters into the dryer that I registered what was going on.  At the back of the laundromat, a fuller-sized woman, her blonde ponytail jerking back and forth like a tail on an agitated cat, had begun yelling at backwards jersey guy.

“Leave us alone, Alex! You ain’t taking the car nowhere!”

His response was too low to hear, but it did nothing to calm her.  Her voice took on the tone of a woman fed up.  Full scale I-don’t-give-a-shit.

“I’m tired of yo shit, Alex.  You always doin’ this. I’m done. DONE!”

She had 3 children, all under the age of 5. They appeared to be his.  The oldest one, a curly-headed boy, reached for the trash bag full of laundry that his father was attempting to pick up.  Backwards jersey guy’s efforts seemed a pathetic denial of whatever had made his woman so angry. The woman continued snatching clothes from the dryer and stuffing them into trash bags.

 “Stop it, Alex! Leave us alone. I’m through wit’ yo sorry ass!”

Two of the 3 children were crying. The middle one looked on, his expression registered a kind of resignation reserved for much, much older people.

I wondered what Alex had done, or hadn’t done. The scene seemed familiar.  A white woman and a black man tangled in a dysfunctional relationship, a relationship so toxic that it poisons everything around them. What about the children?

Everyone in the washateria actively ignored the couple.  All aware of what was happening and equally aware that there was nothing they could do. Unspoken social norms require that we pretend we don’t see anything unless someone is being physically hurt. I turned my attention to the TV mounted overhead. Wayne Brady offered a contestant dressed as a clown whatever was behind door #2.

We have a choice.  We don’t have to just take whatever is behind door #2.  But blonde woman yelling in the laundromat had, and Alex was clearly a zonk.

I remember another life. Almost fifteen years ago. Me, clinging to a relationship with a man caught up in a similar drama.  His baby mama constantly threatening, fuming, reeling him back in. I caught them once. They were holed up together in the apartment that I’d helped him get, lying on the sheets I’d bought. Like the laundromat woman, I’d started yelling at him. I snatched the sheets off the bed, grabbed a pair of shoes I’d bought him, took the broom and dustpan.  I dumped the souring contents of the wastebasket I’d bought into his bathtub.  (<–See what I did there? Good one, huh.)

I made his homeboy, Bang, carry my microwave downstairs to my car.

I was through with him.

Except not.

I kept going back, because I thought I could fix it. Fix him.  But men like my ex and Alex are not really the problem. They are the evidence.

Like cat hair.

If you want to get rid of the cat hair, you have to get rid of the cat.  What is her cat?

I don’t know.  Maybe it’s the belief that having an insecure, shell of a man was better than having no man at all.  Maybe it’s an insecurity of her own. But I’m just speculating. It could be anything.

For me, it had been a misguided understanding of what love is. I believed that I had to be a martyr to love. That others, especially my man, would appreciate my martyrdom. It was the idea that attention, infatuation, would one day turn into love if you just work hard enough at it, if you make yourself what he wants.

I was ignorant. I didn’t know then that the only way to find the love you need is to focus on living in your purpose. Hint: your purpose is not in another person.

“You have a choice,” I wanted to tell the woman.

“Get rid of the cat.  Free yourself.”

The Best of All Possible Worlds

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”  – Maya Angelou

There’s a popular website called F My Life where everyday people (and their idiot friends) post about their misfortunes and epic fails. 

Surprisingly, none have written “Today, I realized that I had the necessary resources, physical capability and mental acuity to type this message, yet wasted it by posting about being shocked by the laws of nature, attraction, and Murphy. FML”.

That’s probably because optimism is not funny. Irony is.

Nobody with a valid sense of humor wants to hear anybody talk about best-case, gee-golly-gosh-isn’t-it-great scenarios.   We don’t laugh when the princess lives happily ever after.  We laugh when Larry David of Curb Your Enthusiasm accuses his ex-wife of not respecting wood…in the middle of a make-out session. We laugh when Jerry hits Tom in the face with a frying pan.

I like to laugh.  The fact that life is NOT perfect gives me plenty to laugh about*.  To pretend that everything is coming up roses would be, uncivilized**.

By definition, optimism is…

  1. a tendency to expect the best possible outcome or dwell on the most hopeful aspects of a situation
  2. the philosophy that this is the best of all possible worlds

Let’s see, I don’t tend to expect the best outcome, even though I do aim for it.   I can’t honestly say that I even want to dwell  on the bright side.  Crazy people live there.

Clearly I do not qualify as an optimist.

Does this mean that I can’t be happy?

Maya said I have a choice. If I don’t like something, I can change it or changing how I look at it.  I choose to be happy, fully aware that stupid sh*t (and people) will happen. I choose to believe that happiness and sarcasm are not mutually exclusive.  I can be a realistic optimist, a person who can say “uh oh, here it comes” with a smile.

I like the idea of healthy balance***.  This, my friends, would be best-case scenario.  So, here I begin my journey as a realistic optimist, defining and redefining myself as I see fit. Yeah, I can do that.

Maybe this is the best of all possible worlds.

-Faith

 

* to keep from crying

** …and unpleasant. Roses, everywhere? Scary.

*** like 2 parts Fruity Pebbles to 1 part almond milk