Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A pretty good lesson

Some new fancy arts-focused private school is opening up near us next year. My immediate reaction when I read the news was, hmm wouldn't it be cool if Katie got to go to an arts-focused school. For shits and grins I checked to see how much the tuition at this new school is. $10,000 per year. Katie will be in sixth grade next year, so if we enrolled her in this private school through high school we would have spent $70,000 BEFORE she'd head off to college, where, more and more, I hear you can barely get a degree without going about that much into debt.

It pisses me off that kids with wealthy parents get to attend whatever school best suits them, while those of us who live paycheck to paycheck pretty much have two options: our neighborhood public school or homeschooling. I don't have the personality to homeschool well. I'm not good with routines and plans and anything higher than fifth-grade math. I like variety. I like new ideas. I like librarianship. I like kids. I like singing storytime songs with preschoolers. I try to sing with my fifth-grader. I'm lucky if she rolls her eyes at me. It means she's looked up from the screen long enough to acknowledge my presence.

Plus, I like the idea of public school. You're guessing I'm a fan of public school because I myself went to public school? People tend to gravitate toward the known even when the unknown might be better. But I had a shitty public school education. I'm not blaming it entirely on the school. I was at the worst point in my life, emotionally-speaking, and my teachers and parents just did not understand me. I could have benefited from twice-weekly therapy sessions with a wise, trusted Judd Hirsch-type shrink. Instead, I sat on the sofa under covers, sick day from school, watching "Ordinary People" for the hundredth time. I've seen a handful or two of therapists a dozen or so times from the time I was diagnosed with anorexia at age eleven until the last one I saw after my brother died five years ago. I stuck with none of them longer than a month or two, tops. Again, I'm bad at math. What it adds up to is this: my high school experience could have been better had I not tried to deal with my PTSD by drinking bottles of Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill with my equally self-destructive misfit friends and, instead, had I gotten professional help for my mental illness.

Anyhoo, I try not to let my past ruin Katie's future. Just because I had a miserable experience in public school doesn't mean she has to. So we're giving it a try, public school. I like the idea of staying where you are and making your surroundings better just by being there, doing your little bit. Instead of paying a private school ten thousand dollars for my one kid, I'd rather send that money to public schools so the entire community of kids has the opportunity to flourish.

And I get it. I want what's best for my kid. I want my kid to grow up healthy and strong and empathetic. A critical thinker. I want her to be a good citizen. A good spouse. A good parent. Someone who makes this world better just by her being in it, doing her little bit. I want her to be curious about the world and question the hard questions and focus on the details that matter and find herself by losing herself in creative expression. I want an education for my child that best suits her. I wish I'd had that kind of education. But I didn't. So I want it for my child.

Instead of a great education, I had the library. One good thing my parents did was take me to the public library at least once a month, often more. My mom and dad both read. Mostly mysteries and entertaining reads. I like the heavier stuff. More emotional. More philosophical. More suited to me. I read self-help books by wise women such as Harriet Lerner and Linda Bacon. I read fiction about dysfunctional families by amazing healers and creative thinkers such as Alice Walker, Anne Tyler, and Alison Bechdel. I've muddled through. I take medication. I treat my body well. I do what I'm passionate about. I worry less about what others think of me and more about how I can leave this place in better shape than I found it.

But I can't afford to send my kid to the best schools, tailored to suit her best. So we make do with what we have.

I bring her home library books. Will teaches her sciencey and life skills lessons just in their day-to-day interactions. We give her lots of time to explore her own interests. We listen to her. We laugh with her. We send her off to public school where she has her good days and her not so good days and we hope for the best.

Last night Katie and I went to the public school board meeting to show our support for the speakers addressing the superintendent and board members about the safety pin issue. It was a great education. As we left, Katie said, "It's nice to see so many adults sticking up for us kids, trying to make our schools the best they can be."

Several times during the board meeting the speakers said, "our children are watching" and when they would say this Katie would raise her hand and shake her head yes.

"I'm glad you got to witness it. We can do that anytime you like. If you ever want to talk to the leaders about ideas you have for ways to improve the schools, we can always go to the board meetings and you can talk to them, or I can talk to them for you if you'd like," I said.

"Thanks, Mom," Katie said. "Mom, you know what I like about my school? I know that the Blue Valley schools have more money and stuff. So they can have gifted teachers in every school. Instead of having to bus their gifted kids to one school that has the gifted teachers like they do with me. But you know what? Us gifted kids have to come up with ideas for ways to improve things with what we've got. And that's a pretty good lesson," my wise fifth-grader said.

I think her public education is working out just fine.




Tuesday, November 22, 2016

An open letter to the Shawnee Mission School District regarding safety pins in the classroom

I am the parent of a student in the Shawnee Mission School District, a taxpayer, and a PTA member. Our daughter is in the Enhanced Learning program, Y Club, and choir. My family has been active, attending and making treats for most class parties and participating in after-school programs. I volunteered every Friday morning for Ms. Sharp's kindergarten class as the Reading Helper. I've been a parent helper on numerous field trips. Our daughter is in fifth grade and has attended the same school since kindergarten: Apache Innovative School.

My husband attended Comanche Elementary, Westridge Middle School, and Shawnee Mission West High School where he sang with the Madrigals and won numerous awards. I attended Milburn Junior High and Shawnee Mission North High School. Needless to say, we are proud Shawnee Mission School District alumni and parents. Many of our friends have moved south so their kids can attend the better-funded Blue Valley School District, but we have chosen to stick it out with SMSD. For the most part, we are happy with that decision.

I have a concern about something I read in The Shawnee Mission Post regarding the ban from teachers wearing safety pins: http://shawneemissionpost.com/2016/11/22/shawnee-mission-move-to-ban-teachers-from-wearing-safety-pins-after-election-causes-swift-backlash-among-parents-57992

I wholeheartedly agree with district parent Jennifer Howerton's statement:

“It’s a statement that the wearer will stand up against anyone who uses the election as a validation of their white supremacist, or misogynistic, or racist, or homophobic feelings and acts upon them,” Howerton said. “The wearer is a safe person (hence safety pin) who can be relied upon to help. The district clearly lacks willingness to understand this gesture. This is a slippery slope, where uninformed parents can complain to the district, and the district makes a decision not based on facts.”

There are many great things about educating our gifted child in the Shawnee Mission School District. We could homeschool her, or send her to private school, but I think it's important for our child to learn how to get along in a world full of different people. I am a librarian, so I could easily bring books and videos home for our child to consume, but sending our child to public school gives her a broader education. She learns from teachers with multiple viewpoints and interacts with a wide array of people whose experiences enrich her life. One of the things I like so much about her school is the diversity of our daughter's peers. Our daughter is white, middle class, and Presbyterian. She has friends who are biracial, Latino, African-American, and Asian. Some come from families that are more lower class than our family, some more upper class. Some are mainline Christian, evangelical Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and some are irreligious. All of them are kids I have grown to love as my own, many since they were little five year olds reading to me in Ms. Sharp's kindergarten class.

I am concerned that as our children grow they will begin to feel lost, misunderstood, and alone. Especially kids who come from historically marginalized groups. Our electoral college will vote for Donald Trump--a man who is on record bullying the disabled, Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, people in the LGBTQ community, and women--to be the President of this great nation. I am a sexual assault survivor. I live with PTSD, and the election of a man who brags about grabbing women by their genitals triggers my anxiety in ways only others who have experienced sexual assault can fully comprehend. If I were still a student in the Shawnee Mission School District, I would find comfort in the subtle sign of safety that is a teacher or custodian or principal wearing a safety pin. I would feel like I could trust them. I would feel like my experiences and concerns about the world are valid and understood. 

The purpose of a great public school education is to raise citizens who think critically and who are ready to get to work to make our community the best it can be. I encourage you to rethink the decision to ban educators from wearing a simple safety pin. Our children, all of our children, deserve to feel safe at school.

Sincerely, 
Becky Carleton 

Voice your opinion at the next board meeting:

Board of education meetings
fourth Monday of every month at 7 p.m.
next meeting: Monday, November 28 at 7pm

McEachen Administrative Center board rooms
7235 Antioch Road
Shawnee Mission, KS 66204
(913) 993-6200

"The board values maintaining communication with all constituents. The public is urged to contact board members..."

Friday, November 18, 2016

Do I live in a bubble?

Take this quiz before you read further. It's pretty fascinating. It's called Do you live in a bubble? A quiz

Bubbles have been on the brain ever since Trump won the Presidential election in one of the biggest political upsets in history.

According to this quiz, which was published by PBS, I live in an upper-middle class bubble. At first I wanted to argue that no I don't--I'm just middle class, just two generations off the farm--but the fact that I even took a PBS quiz in the first place makes that argument pretty pitiful.

My quiz results: "A first-generation upper-middle-class person with middle-class parents."

Honestly I thought I'm more second-generation middle-class. I just happen to be a big honkin nerd who prefers to read and geek out on the internet over watching TV and mainstream movies. Less classy, more nerdy. I'm a paraprofessional librarian. No MLS for me. Just a love of lifelong learning and a passion for institutions that help educate and enrich people's lives.

Which is harder than you'd think. It challenging to help ALL SORTS of people. Rich and poor. Black and brown and golden and peachy. Pissed off and joyful. Readers and video gamers. Often the same person. You just never know who the person is that's going to ask the next question and you have to be prepared to help them if they're a business man in a suit or a two year old with a booger in his nose.

Once a patron called Telephone Reference and asked something about The Big Bang Theory, meaning the TV show, which I had never heard of, and so my answer had to do with The Big Bang Theory, meaning the origin of the universe, which he had never heard of. We were both so confused! Two bubbles collided on that day.

But the more I think about it, maybe I am upper-middle class. I do loathe Walmart. I tolerate Target, but my favorite place to buy my clothes is this thrift shop near an affluent neighborhood. Rich folks donate the best stuff. I've found some amazing pieces from Talbots and Lands' End there at a price that doesn't break my frugal librarian budget. When I'm desperate I do buy from Lands' End online--if it's on sale. It's like, I don't have the money to be "upper-middle" but I have the taste of someone in that category. And I don't mean to put positive connotations on the word "taste". Taste schmaste. I wholeheartedly believe people should ignore fashion trends and what society says is proper attire and wear what they love because they feel great in it.
"Refuse to wear uncomfortable pants, even if they make you look really thin. Promise me you’ll never wear pants that bind or tug or hurt, pants that have an opinion about how much you’ve just eaten. The pants may be lying! There is way too much lying and scolding going on politically right now without your pants getting in on the act, too." --Anne Lamott
From what I've been reading the main difference between lower-middle class and upper-middle class is education level. I am not the most well-educated person if what you consider to be well-educated is a college degree. But I've always been a big reader, a deep thinker, and a person who questions authority. An autodidact with an attitude.

I have an associate's degree from the community college. Between that, my hard work and experience I landed my cushy children's librarian gig. I am incredibly lucky to have worked for the same public library for 23 years--virtually my entire adult life. But because I don't have a bachelor's degree, let alone a master's degree, if I lost my awesome job it would be difficult to find another one as good and as decently paying as the one I have now. I can't just pick up and move to San Francisco on a whim, so here I am, living with my man in Kansas.

I married a man from a lower-middle class family. He didn't go to college (even though he's one of the most intelligent people I know) but his brother did. His mom drives a forklift and his dad is a retired manager of a pizza chain. (I knew who Jimmie Johnson is because my father-in law is a huge NASCAR fan.) My husband has an open-mind, a quick wit, and he's deeply curious about the universe and all that makes it tick. He reads, but not textbooks. Mostly Fantasy and Science Fiction, but occasionally a nonfiction book about a man who escapes a detention center in North Korea. He watches things like Parks and Rec and Metalocalypse on TV in his free time when he's not fixing our dishwasher or retiling the roof. He's a renaissance man. I dig him a lot.

I have a funny family history, class wise. A big mix of lower-and-upper-middle class. My maternal great-grandfather was a doctor (a chiropractor) who loved Victor Hugo so much he named one of his daughters Jean Valjean, only they pronounced it Jeen Valjeen. My maternal great-grandmother was a stay at home mom who lived in the country and baked the best lemon meringue pie according to my mom. My maternal grandfather was a plumber who read, both fiction and nonfiction, incessantly. He probably would have gotten his PhD had he not been orphaned at age 11 and kicked out of school after eighth grade because he couldn't afford the textbooks. My grandmother was a stay at home mom until her kids left home and then she owned a beauty salon. My mom was a stay at home mom until she divorced her first husband (a salesman) and married my dad (an office manager/accountant) who got laid off in the seventies and so my mom went back to work as a dental assistant, a sales clerk at Wards, and later as a bookkeeper for a dental company. No one in my family, except for my great-grandfather and one of my five siblings has had a college education. Well, and me, with my little ole two year degree that took me eleven years to get around to finishing.

My dad's side of the family is much more cut and dried. My dad is a first-generation middle class man from a working class family. His dad grew up on a farm, the oldest of 10 kids, and he moved to the city (St. Joseph, MO) to work in the slaughterhouse. His wife, my grandmother, grew up on literally the farm next door to my grandfather. She was the oldest of twelve and she moved to the city with her husband and one-year old son, my dad. She was a stay-at-home mom, but their family struggled to pay their bills, especially since my grandfather struggled with alcoholism.

My dad got drafted into the army, and when he got out he used the GI Bill to pay for an accounting certificate from a local business college and went to work for a truck line. After twenty years, he was the office manager and made $20,000 in 1970, enough to support his first wife and daughter, his second wife and kids, and have enough to buy himself a bitchin Camaro when his mid-life crisis kicked in. Then he got laid off and my mom had to work to make enough money for us to afford our mortgage payment. I think deep down my dad felt ashamed. Men of that generation took far too much pride in their occupations and not enough in being a kind, decent man.

I married a guy who makes less money than I do, but he does way more housework and upkeep on the house. We split child-rearing about fifty-fifty. Maybe sixty-forty, but only because I'm a tiny bit more of a helicopter parent than he is.

So, what class am I?

My favorite restaurant is Cafe Sebastienne. It's local, and located inside the Kemper Contemporary Museum of Art. Definitely upper-middle.

My second favorite restaurant is Elsa's Ethiopian restaurant. Also local.  Located in an up-and-coming mixed-use, affluent neighborhood. More upper-middle.

But the first time I ever got a pedicure was a month ago when I had to take my eighty-nine year old dad in to get his nasty ass diabetic tough as NAILS toenails trimmed and I thought what the heck, why not. Plus, Dad paid. Frugal!

I get my hair cut about once a year at Great Clips. Definitely lower-middle.

I shop at thrift stores (lower) but I buy Talbot's and Lands' End (upper).

I read incessantly and stay well informed of current events. I hate watching TV. It bores me to tears. Unless it's Futurama or Portlandia or Bob's Burgers (upper, upper, and more upper.)

I want my kid to go to college because I think she'll love learning ALL THE THINGS, not because I want her to train for some high-wage job. I'd rather she be broke and work with Doctors' Beyond Borders than get a business degree and make a living by making a profit off of other people.

I love art, and philosophy, and political science. I hate shopping, and beef, and reality TV. But I also don't mind hanging out with smokers and drinkers and people who place more value in authenticity than wallet size. I don't think that having a college degree means you are necessarily smarter than someone who lacks a college degree. When my blinds broke I didn't hire someone to replace them. I hung blankets over the windows and appreciated the light streaming through the colorful fabric.

I'm a blend. I'm more than a label. I'm a mixture. I'm me.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Swept under the rug

This is why I'm still grieving. It feels like the issue of sexual assault has been swept under the rug, just as I was getting excited to see so many women speak out about their abuse. I'm afraid survivors will stop speaking out for fear that no one will believe them, or worse, nobody cares. From the article:
"For many women, the presidential campaign had an emotional dynamic that was more immediate and uglier. One in six American women has been sexually assaulted...In day-after interviews, women who voted for him said they didnt believe his accusers or weren’t bothered enough by his sexist remarks to vote for Hillary."




Friday, November 11, 2016

Feelings are substantive

"You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better."
I've been uber chatty online this week. Under normal circumstances I'm an opinionated badass activist, so I'm prone to many social media posts per day. Sharing my feelings and thoughts on important issues is the most therapeutic way I've found to stave off the panic attacks and depression I've lived with since I was a child.

The election of a man who brags about grabbing women by the pussies has upped my anxiety and depression, and therefore increased my social media rants. To the dismay of one of my closest family members, who sent me this message:

" Status updates. I had 34 from you today.  I quit reading the last twenty for now. All they said was how you felt.  Sorry to be so mean but I'm doing less Facebook now.  I do read your substance ones."

This is my response.

Feelings are substantive. I have learned as a sexual abuse survivor that when I share my feelings with others I feel less alone. I've had so many people I've lost count reach out to me and tell me how the feelings I share on social media have helped them feel less alone. I will not let anyone silence my voice. If you don't care to read about my feelings, unfollowing me will turn off notifications when I make a post. Or, simply block or unfriend me on Facebook and we can go back to having our conversations in person, on the phone, and via email.

You once told me that I have your permission to write anything I want about you, and I appreciate that. I also intend to write anything I want about myself. I don't expect you to be my audience or my fan. You are my family and I love you. But I won't stop sharing my feelings on social media because I also love myself.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

No!

As a champion for underdogs, the results of any presidential election in favor of a republican usually upset me because it's generally not the party of social justice. But I didn't feel panicky when Ronald Reagan won re-election in 1984, just pissed off. Neither did I feel panicky when George HW Bush or George W Bush won their elections, just super effing annoyed.

I was pissed and annoyed because it meant I'd have to work harder at being the badass social justice advocate I am, but I didn't feel panicky because, for the most part, I was an ally to the underdogs I championed rather than the direct recipient of the social justice causes I was fighting. As a white, middle class, cis-gender person, my fight to elevate kids out of poverty and to achieve racial and ethnic harmony didn't feel particularly personal, just like the righteous thing to do. I've always been a fan of how Jesus stood up for the least and I felt called to follow his lead.

As a woman I've always been drawn to feminist causes, just as by being bisexual I've felt called to act for fairness to all people in the LGBTQ community. But because of my whiteness and my middle-class status and my ability to pass as straight, I rarely felt terrified of my racist, classist, sexist, homophobic brethren. I felt pity for them. Anger. Sadness. But not terror.

But this election is different. Millions of my fellow Americans voted for a man who trash talked women who didn't live up to his standards of beauty, calling them fat dogs and worse. I'm a fat nonstandard beauty, so Trumps words against women stung. Still, I didn't feel much more than disgust. Not terror. But when I found out that Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussies, I felt terror. Panic. Flashbacks to when I was a five-year old girl getting my pussy grabbed by my older brother and our neighbor.

Yes, I am angry and sad about the results of this election because of what it means to the Muslim families that will be broken up because the person with the most power in our nation thinks that they don't belong here. And the LGBTQ families. And the Mexican-American families.

But as a sexual assault survivor, the election of Donald Trump is terrifying. The fact that so many of my friends and family and neighbors voted for someone who brags about sexual assault is terrifying. Triggering. Traumatic. It feels like my country has told me to shut the fuck up. Silenced into submission.

No!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Big Fat Voice

I dig this quote:

''I think midlife is when the universe gently places her hands upon your shoulders, pulls you close, and whispers in your ear: I’m not screwing around. It’s time. All of this pretending and performing – these coping mechanisms that you’ve developed to protect yourself from feeling inadequate and getting hurt – has to go. Your armor is preventing you from growing into your gifts. I understand that you needed these protections when you were small. I understand that you believed your armor could help you secure all of the things you needed to feel worthy of love and belonging, but you’re still searching and you’re more lost than ever. Time is growing short. There are unexplored adventures ahead of you. You can’t live the rest of your life worried about what other people think. You were born worthy of love and belonging. Courage and daring are coursing through you. You were made to live and love with your whole heart. It’s time to show up and be seen.'' ~ Brené Brown

 I did something brave yesterday. I attended a focus-group for my employer-paid healthcare. It was a candid discussion of our wellness incentive program. If you qualify for the program, you get something like fifty bucks deducted from what you pay for health insurance. I'm no financial expert. I don't really understand all the details, but basically it goes like this:

You go to the doctor for a biometric screening during your annual wellness exam. They draw your blood for lab tests. They test your glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure--the usual suspects. You discuss your lab results with your doctor, who signs a form that you return to the HR department. If you "pass" three of the five tests, you get a discount on your insurance. If you don't, you can sign up for health classes and explore alternative ways to prove you're trying to save Big Insurance the most money possible by being a good little employee and letting a corporation dictate how you live your life.

The reason I wanted to attend the focus group is because I wanted to argue that they eliminate one of the five tests: your BMI or waist-circumference. BMI is just bad science. One of the other focus group attendees pointed out that because a couple of her co-workers were muscular, their weight put them into the "obese" category on the BMI scale. I pointed out that as county employees we're required to take harassment training in which we learn that it's inappropriate to discus our bodies at work, and yet having our wellness program focus on our bodies, specifically those of us who have big bellies, causes anxiety in the workplace for many of us.

I talked about the book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon. I've written reviews of the book and talked to individual people about it, but this was the first time I talked about it in front of a group of strangers. I was scared. I was brave. I'm glad I had the opportunity to let my big fat voice be heard. It felt good to show up and be seen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

My White Face

I generally prefer to use this platform to bash all the people in my life who have done me wrong. Today I am going to focus on my own wrongdoing.

I was twenty, twenty-one, maybe. So we're talking twenty-five years ago. I was not in a good place. I was two years into a three year relationship that was doomed. We fought all the time, and it wasn't always her fault. We were both emotional basket cases. I was a community college dropout, working as a nanny. I'd been out on my own for a couple of years after my mom had kicked me out of the house for fucking up in school. Barely an adult myself, I had developed a deep hatred of authority figures after spending my adolescence fighting with my asshole father. One of my shrinks tried to tell me I had bipolar disorder and put me on Lithium, but it made me feel like a zombie. At least Angry Becky got shit done. Zombie Becky was worthless and there was NO fucking way I was going to rely on Mom and Dad to support me. I had to make it on my own.

It was winter. My girlfriend and I lived in midtown Kansas City because it was cheap and, at that time, it was the only place in the Greater Kansas City area where gays and lesbians felt safe, or at least safe-ish. The family that I nannied for lived in southern Johnson County, about a thirty minute drive on a good day. This was not a good day. It had snowed the night before, and I was running late, for no other reason than I was a worthless piece of shit who'd stayed up too late the night before, probably writing in my diary or working on my stupid fucking unpublishable novel or some such shit.

I was supposed to be at my bosses' house by 7:00am so that they could leave for their upstanding citizen jobs. He was a lawyer, she was a paralegal. They had a twelve-year-old, a two-year-old, and a newborn. She was one of those supermom types, left over from the eighties. Mall bangs and everything. I'm not shitting you: after she gave birth and returned from the hospital, she was up early the very next day exercising to some celebrity workout video in their home gym. I was like some fat fucking babushka over in the corner of their "hearth room" balancing the new baby on my belly as I fed her a bottle and sang Frère Jacques "again, again!" to keep the two-year-old occupied long enough to stay out of her mom's frosted hair.

It had snowed heavily overnight and many of the streets were still unplowed. Even though it was freezing outside, I had the driver's side window to my Ford Festiva cracked to help the windshield from completely fogging up. There were streaks everywhere from my gloved hand trying to wipe away the condensation. The heater/defrost on my tin-box car barely worked. I guess they don't need 'em much in Mexico in the factory where it was made. I'd spent a whole two minutes of what should have been a twenty minute job scraping the snow and ice off my windows because I was in such a hurry to get to work.

I was about ten minutes from their house when I noticed red lights flashing through the four-inch section of my back window that I'd managed to scrape off. I slowed down and pulled over as far to the right as I could manage on the snow-covered street to give the cop some room to pass me on his way to wherever the hell he was going. As far as I knew, there weren't too many criminals in this affluent neck of the woods. At least not the kind that got caught.

It took me a moment to realize he wasn't going to pass me.

"Nooooooooooooo!" I shouted.

He was after me.

"What the hell did I do?!" I pulled over on a side street where the snow was even deeper. My pathetic car could barely make it. I put the gear shift into neutral, pulled the emergency break, and killed the engine. I could feel sweat developing under my wool cap. No matter how cold it is, I always get sweaty when I get upset.

The cop knocked on the driver's side window.

I didn't even bother to roll it down any further. I was so pissed this guy was going to make me even later to my job than I already was. "What did I do?" I shouted through the three-inch crack.

"Umm, could you roll down your window, please?" the cop asked. He sounded a bit taken aback. Like he wasn't expecting to encounter any shrieking banshees in this neighborhood. This guy had no idea.

"Why? What did I do?" I asked. I could feel my face flush like it did whenever my dad would start in on me.

"Umm, well," he paused and began using an ice scraper on my window.

"What are you DOING? I NEED TO GET TO WORK?!" I shouted.

"Hold up, now. Lemme get some of this ice off your window..."

I cut him off, "Man, I NEED to get to work. My boss is gonna yell at me. Can you just tell me what I did?!"

He chuckled a little and then proceeded to begin scraping my front windshield. He raised his voice, not in anger, but so I could hear him through my still barely cracked window.

"You do realize that I could give you a ticket for driving this thing in such hazardous circumstances, don't you?" he said. "Did you even bother to scrape your windows before you headed out?"

Great, now I'm getting fucking lectured from a cop.

"YES, I DID," I gritted my teeth. "But I'm in a hurry and my defroster doesn't work very good."

"OK. OK," he said, shooing his hand at me like I was some annoying fly. He'd scraped off my entire front windshield by then and was working around to the passenger's side.

I sat there and fumed as he finished up the back. Thinking back on it now, what an ungrateful, spoiled brat. Here I was, sitting there like a pissy bitch while Officer Friendly made sure that my car was road safe.

"OK," he said when he made his way back to the driver's side. "That oughtta do it." He thumped my roof and said, "be careful out there" as he stepped away from my car.

I didn't even thank him.

I rolled up my window and made a big dramatic exit, my spinning tires flicking grey snow all over the officer as I maneuvered my car back onto the main road and sped up to make up for lost time.

There's been a lot of incidents in the news lately of young black men getting pulled over for minor traffic violations and ending up dead, shot by yet another bad cop. Maybe they were disrespectful. Maybe they were uncooperative, although most of the video evidence I've watched shows otherwise. If I had lived in an era of constant video surveillance I have a feeling my video evidence could have been used against me in court, or at least the court of public opinion. I was an ungrateful, spoiled brat. I didn't even get a ticket, let alone shot and killed. Despite my horrible behavior, my cop did his job helping me out, making me safe. Even if some would argue I didn't deserve it.

Maybe the cop who helped me on that shitty, snowy day was a good cop, and he would have treated anybody the same as he did me. Or maybe he would have treated me differently if, when first peering through the crack in the driver's side window, he had seen a black face instead of my white face.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Pinko Commie


I don't recall what started the argument, but at some point it got out that I did not, in fact, support Ronald Reagan's presidency. I was, like, 14. A few months prior, Mom brought home a poster of President Reagan that someone was handing out for free and I took it and put it up in my bedroom next to my Duran Duran and Smiths posters. 1984. It was the first year I recall feeling any interest in politics and foreign affairs. I was reading about vegetarianism and pacifism and it lead to stories about conflict and war. I didn't know much about American politics, but I knew President Reagan was my country's leader, so I figured it'd be cool to put his poster up in my room.

The more I paid attention to the news, the less I wanted Reagan's poster on my wall. I found myself disagreeing with nearly every policy he stood for. Soon, I ripped the poster off the wall.

When Dad found out, he called me a Pinko Commie. It was the first political argument I ever had. It ended with me bursting into tears, running to my bedroom, and lying in bed listening to "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now."

Who knows why I was drawn to liberalism. My dad's a conservative and my mom's an independent. Probably that's why. Wanting to be my own person, with my own ideas and beliefs. That's what adolescence is all about, breaking free from your parent's bullshit. Right?

As I've matured I've met many friends who in fact didn't rebel against their parents' political persuasions. Most of them are apathetic. Most Americans--old and young, gay and straight, people who watch  America's Got Talent and people who get caught up in Good Mythical Morning--are apathetic about politics. I get it.

My dad's not, though. When I was growing up, Dad read the newspaper every day. He watched the evening news during weekdays and 60 Minutes on weekends. He watched the presidential conventions like Mom watched the Tony Awards. He voted in every election. Some of my favorite memories of my dad are on election day when he'd come home and hand me his "I Voted" sticker, which I'd wear proudly as I pretended to be big enough to vote.

I guess that's where I get my passion. My interest in what our political leaders are doing and feeling like I have some say in the way they govern.

I could never talk to dad about politics without getting into a heated argument with him. Dad is a yeller. I'm a recovering yeller. We did not have dispassionate dialogue which left us feeling empathetic and well informed. We yelled until our faces grew red and we could no longer stand to be in the same room as each other.

I moved out of the house when I was eighteen. Dad and I talk less and less, and when we do, it's rarely about politics. The other day I visited Dad in the hospital. He's 89. His kidneys were failing. The chaplain had been in and held hands and prayed with us. I thought he was going to die. I mean, I know he's going to die. We're all going to die. But I thought he was going to die REALLY SOON.

After the chaplain left to pray with some other family, Dad and I sat together and watched the TV turned to some news channel. It was something sporty, so I wasn't paying attention. Plus, I was thinking about Dad and wondering how he felt and imagining what it would be like to know your time is soon and all you can do is think back and remember the good times.

"Who are you going to vote for?" Dad broke my attention.

"Huh?"

"You said you were going to vote for Bernie Sanders last time I saw you. Now that he's dropped out, who are you going to vote for in November?" Dad's face looked goddamn jolly. There was no animosity. Just curiosity.

"Oh, yeah, I'm gonna vote for Hillary Clinton," I said with a little lilt. Still a little afraid of what Daddy thinks.

"Yeah, I figured," he said and dropped it.

GUYS! MY DAD DROPPED IT.

No comment. No follow-up questions. He just smiled and turned his gaze back toward the TV.

"Yeah, Trump's crazy. There's no way I'm voting for him," I clarified my position, even though I wasn't asked.

"Who are you going to vote for, Dad?" I said. I think I was so stunned by no lecture from my Dad that it helped me work up the nerve to ask him.

"Ah, I won't live that long. I'm not gonna vote this year."

"You don't know that. Nobody knows that. If you get a chance to vote this year, who do you want to vote for?"

"Trump."

"Trump? What?" I shouted, but it was more of a laugh-shout. A surprised-shout. Not an angry-shout. Like when your kindergartner says they voted for Trump in the mock election at school and you shout out in amazement at how fucking ignorant they are.

Oh, shit. I'd become my dad. The yeller. 

I forced my eyes to look at the TV screen and said, as calmly as I could muster, "Why are you going to vote for Trump?" I wanted to say, "Because you don't want to vote for a woman?" to poke at some old wounds, but I refrained.

"Ah, I dunno. Joyce's got me thinking that's the way to go," dad said in a quiet voice. He sounded a little bit embarrassed.

Joyce is my dad's live-in girlfriend. Evidently Dad does what his girlfriend says now. And you know what? Good for him. When Joyce came to visit Dad in the hospital he sat up in bed and began to glow. His kidneys have improved and are functioning on their own. He's supposed to get released from the hospital in a few days. Hell, he might even live til November 8th.

I may be a pinko commie, but I'd be glad to see Dad live long enough to vote for Trump.