When You Have An Absent Minded Parent You Might Turn 6 Twice

Let me just tell you that I am often a complete disaster. I’m terribly disorganized, can be very scatter-brained, forgetful, and impulsive. As I’ve gotten older I’ve developed strategies to combat my absentmindedness, but every now and then it creeps back in. For instance.

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This week was my youngest son’s birthday. The night before the big day, we told him that the birthday magic was coming while he slept; that when he went to sleep he would be 5, but when he wakes up he would be 6. We hung streamers outside his bedroom door. And when he woke up he was so excited. We had birthday pancakes. He announced to everyone at church that today was his birthday. We went to a special lunch with the grandparents. And then on our way in my mother-in-law said, “Okay, I’m just confused. Is today not the 24th?” I looked at her. Furrowed my brows and said, “No way.” It was the 24th. My son’s birthday is the 25th.

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Owen heard us talking and got slightly concerned. “Wait, wait, wait,” he said. “Can I still open my presents?” I mean, at that point we were committed to it being his birthday so we continued on with pizza and cake and presents. I was so dead convinced that Sunday was his birthday ALL WEEK. But, in all honesty, there were a couple of moments where I almost had to pull out his birth certificate because I couldn’t remember if his birthday is the 25th or the 26th, so when I ended up getting the day wrong anyways, I guess I really wasn’t all that surprised. It is me after all.

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But thank god that kids are so forgiving and gracious. There was none of this “Ugh, she forgot my birthday and messed it all up, poor, poor me,” thing that adults can do. We just whispered the magic in his ear again the next night and made him a special bowl of sugary birthday cereal and he declared that “today was his real birthday, actually.”

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I hope that they don’t grow up to resent or hate my often absentminded personality. We all just can only hope that we don’t screw our kids up too much. I’m a terrible keeper of anniversaries and birthdays. But I do love them and I always want them to feel loved and appreciated. This won’t be the last time or the worst time that I mix up a date or forget something important all together.  But I do hope that they always feel loved despite my many imperfections and flaws as I always ask them for forgiveness and grace. It was pretty hilarious that I got his birthday on the wrong day. We all had a good belly laugh over it. I hope he remembers it and remembers how much we love him. Our little Owen who turned 6 twice.

 

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Child Like Bones

Lying in his bed, my son grabs at his
shin trying to stretch out the pain
that we tell him is from growing.
I keep from him that it will only get
worse with age, growing brittle and
hard, cracking under sadness, grinding
at the joints. Folded up
down the center as a piece of construction
paper ready to be snipped into a finished shape
and opened to the world, his bones are
limber and flexible, still ready to spring back
into the shape of the womb. Round back curved
over at the hips, forehead to knees, heels to
butt, is a seven year old fetus on the top bunk
scared of growing up. And how can I blame him?
A world created between the threshold of heaven and hell
how do you sell that kind of real estate to a child?
For every baby thrown in a dumpster there is a kind
and charitable person feeding the poor, so buy today
with 0% financing, though I hide the fine print.
What kind of a home breaks you from the inside
when it is on the outside? A ghost haunting
your bones, rattling them as you grow, cold
fingers around bent joints, soft tendons,
knocking around empty corridors
where shoulders meet ribs. This
world is as valuable as the youth
who will inherit it then gobble it up
for themselves, just as those
before them. But I tell the
aching, growing boy that
this world is his and he
can make it beautiful
if only he remembers
his aching bones
as a child.

Moving On

Last night the moon rose through our window sweeping in the tide, alive with emotions that I haven’t wanted to confront for fear of an end that I’m not ready to face. This was the month that we were supposed to move. Classes start at universities next month and I was supposed to be a new doctoral student. Not an adjunct working working working to make below the poverty line. I answered an email last night telling my boss that I will not be returning this fall and I scrolled through lines and lines of emails that brought up a sour pit of sadness that I had forgotten was planted. My inbox was filled with students requesting to be written into my classes, alerts that doctoral students will be defending their prospectuses or dissertations, meeting requests for professional development workshops, textbook seminars, the comings and goings of the English chair, and my god what despair. Oh, how I love to teach. And write. I just love to write. I so wanted to teach and read and write and fill my days with doing what I love and be valued for it. But adjuncting just isn’t that job. It’s a shadow of what I wanted. An under paid, over worked, devalued shadow.

There is something, I don’t know, honorable about telling people that you teach at a university. I feel it every time I’m asked what I do and when I answer with my reply “I teach at Old Dominion University,” their eyebrows raise in reverence and esteem. “Oh really!” they say. I feel proud and valued in those moments. And the university knows that. That’s why they think that they can pay me $18,000 a year for teaching 6 classes, because it brings with it some type of cultural esteem that working at Wal-Mart just doesn’t. But my mom made more working at Wal-Mart than I make as a teacher at ODU. So, I quit. And I didn’t quit just because of the money. I’m too much of a romantic to quit over low wages. Walking back through the halls into the adjunct pit past the offices of associate and tenured professors is just too hard. People who I worked for as a graduate student, who wrote my recommendation letters, and who equally wanted to see me go somewhere will be on committees that I’ll never be invited to, will design courses that I’ll never teach, will write books that I’ll never write, speak at conferences with authority that I’ll never have, and I’ll walk by their offices every day with my head down, stuck, ashamed. I quit mostly because I can’t go back. Because I don’t want to be a part of an adjuncting system that exploits people for low wages in exchange for some sort of imagined cultural esteem. No thank you.

I’m really going to miss the students, those little shits. I’m going to miss thinking of creative ways to teach literature and engaging students in their writing. There aren’t many, if any other places to do that kind of work. However, I’m not one to stop at an end pass. I’m applying my creativity towards myself and my community by attempting to make a job for myself almost out of thin air. I’ve been working all summer to create a non-profit that builds, maintains, and supports learning and productive gardens at local schools. It’s a slow, bureaucratic process, but it’s going so well. Eventually, the goal is for me to be paid in the position as it’s executive director, to research and write articles on its behalf, to speak to the community on its behalf, to inject a passion for activism, social justice, and a love for our children on its behalf. That’s what I have been excited about all summer and it has made me move on from what I lost and wasn’t to be. I have an amazing education and skills that actually are valuable. There are so many things that I can do. I recognize that I am in a position where I can go months without earning any income, thanks to my spouse. That’s something that a lot of people can’t afford or have the luxury to take advantage of. But because I have this opportunity, I will not devolve into sackcloth and ashes. I will not accept what I don’t have to. I will push into the unknown and use my privilege for my community.

So. Here I am. My board of directors has named me the president of The Norfolk School Garden Collective. When I’m asked the question “What do you do?” that will be my answer. It’s what I’m building and creating. And I’m excited! I have no idea how it will work out or how it will be shaped, but I’m going to press into the unknown and what’s uncomfortable for me. I’m not used to working in this capacity. I have to adopt a new vocabulary that can speak to city leaders, school administrators, parents, food advocates, government agencies, and parents. I have so much to learn, I have so much to do and I have absolutely zero idea what I’m doing. But I’m up for the task.

I’m not sure how to symbolically or metaphorically close ones of life’s doors, or how to turn a page and start a new chapter. Those images are stupid and cliché anyways. I’m just walking. Living faithfully. Accepting what comes.  And moving on.

Accepting the Risk of a Trump Presidency

We have to talk about liberating minds as well as liberating society– Angela Davis

I’ve been spending my time these few weeks immersed in reading; poetry, essays, books, articles, mostly written by black women. This is the process of liberating my mind. Expanding my borders. Everywhere we look our world is on fire and I don’t want my mind to go up in a blaze with it. So I read. And I read what isn’t instant. Online writing has become largely a space of immediate gratification and self aggrandizement, not often a space for contemplation or intellectual exercise. And I do realize that my writing on this blog places itself in that discourse. Though, I hope in some small way that it contributes to deeper thought and contemplations. To read words that have been carefully crafted, thought over, and critically created in the context of other similarly thoughtful writing is the work of actively liberating your mind. The distress that I see over the Presidential election has naturally captured my attention and I can’t help but wonder if we are enslaving ourselves with continual, non-stop streams of immediate information. In the furor of news articles, cable news programs, live streams, blog entries, memes, and tweets filling our consciousnesses, the discipline of being still and contemplating our own thoughts, reactions, and understandings become chained to what flashes in front of us. We then begin filtering buzz words through value systems that aren’t actually our own, but rather through what is new and current. Voices get lost. And they are usually the ones that have sat and read and thought critically, having not yet moved on to the most current news cycle. I’m also considering how I contribute to and participate in this cycle of enslavement on social media and on this blog. How do I latch onto what is inflammatory and immediate? Or how do I reinforce binaries of liberal/conservative, democrat/republican, racist/anti-racist, christian/non-christian,  American/non-American? That’s what I find that online writing and information sharing typically works to do and how it enslaves: it works to reinforce binaries. Having spent some time reading Angela Davis, I am considering her philosophy of not endorsing politicians, but rather engaging in independent politics that places pressure on candidates by engaging them in difficult conversations, pressing them on their weaknesses, flaws, voting records, and platforms, and is not interested in electing specific parties. I want to be much more intentional and conscious of how I help to dismantle a political system of binaries instead of reinforcing it. And I am aware of how this sentiment is scoffed at. The current political system that we have constructed and reinforce is a binary that I am constantly uncomfortable with. As Davis suggests, there is no party that is rooted in labor or has the vocabulary or the desire to effectively address sexism, homophobia, transphobia, or racism. The current system works by pandering to those issues in return for votes; eventually progressive work does slowly get done, but only as a result of political pandering, not active resistance. What I find most disturbing in this election cycle is the broad dismissal of cries for a third party candidate (who are not the ineffective Green Party or Libertarian party), specifically the dismissal of women and people of color who are not satisfied with the current parties or candidates. We must remember that this current binary political system works to organize people into systems of oppression. Nowhere in this system is there an adequate place for issues that concern the labor class, people of color, women, queer, trans, or the disabled and dismissing those who are dissatisfied with the current system and how it oppresses is not only harmful but an oppressive act itself. I find that the same people who get uncomfortable when black feminists begin to organize and suggest that white feminism has worked to oppress them for decades, are the same people who get uncomfortable when liberals and democrats are also criticized for oppressing women and people of color.  When a black woman expresses her concern for both a Trump and a Clinton presidency, we cannot dismiss that concern. Her mind and body has been oppressed by both political parties and it is not a simple matter of choosing the worse of two candidates. Arguing that she choose between two candidates in a system that has actively worked against her for generations is itself an oppressive act. We must realize that the experiences and voices of those who have suffered most need to be considered and we must work to create a political system, from the local to the national, that rejects binaries and encourages independent politics. Because what I have seen a lot of on the internet, that immediate and quick information stream, are white, middle class people who are scared of a Trump presidency deriding women and people of color for not accepting Hillary Clinton. These people who are not willing to support Clinton are then assigned the responsibility of avoiding a Trump presidency. That is not anti-oppression. That is not liberation. That is not anti-sexism or anti-racism. That is oppressive and enslaved politics. We must recognize how our democracy and two party system is oppressive in that way and reject it. Even at the risk of a Trump presidency. What is most striking is that for the first time in a long time, we see white people scared of an oppressive power from above. We are scared of how a Trump presidency will not only hurt minorities, but us as well. We then turn to those who have been systematically oppressed by our government for generations and tell them to choose someone else who they are equally afraid of and tell them that it’s the lesser oppressor. That’s privilege and arrogance if I ever saw it. And it’s what I’m concerned that I’ve engaged in and am reinforcing. That’s what I’m trying to liberate myself from and research how to support and implement governing systems that reject systems of oppression. However, that’s a slow process and it is a process that may risk a Trump presidency and that scares the crap out of liberal white people. Including me.

Already Undid Villanelle

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Hey, when you gon’ wake up and take care of your kids?
There’s a thankless day woke and waiting for you
And nobody cares you can’t lift open your lids

Sleep ain’t nothing but a dream that’s gone off and hid
In another house where diapers and debt don’t accrue
Girl, you can’t undo what you already did

You turn on the sprinkler to ignore the kids
So you can spend some time with only just you
But certain days you wish that you hadn’t done did

Today you’ll try to do something like work amid
Their fighting, and whining, and crying at you
When you look back at the days that can’t be redid

Maybe regret itself is kinda like a kid
Leaving of trail of things that you only half knew
After you wanted to do what you didn’t done did

But really, if only that sperm had just hid
When we did the thing that we do that created you

Though, it is fun, doing that thing that we did
And that’s what happens when you have too many kids.

The Silent Mile: The Privilege Of Choosing To Be Silent

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Am I too cynical? Disillusioned? Unbelieving? Hopeless?  That when I march with a crowd of hundreds for the shared belief and desire for peace I can’t but not roll my eyes? What is wrong with me?

I’m wondering if this is a safe space for me to process an event that I participated in yesterday in my city. How can I explore my own beliefs and experiences in a way that is both honest, healing, and works to dismantle the minds and beliefs of those like me who also marched?  Because the work that I am MOST interested in doing is confronting and dismantling systematic oppression, misogyny, and white privilege. And I’ll tell ya, that pisses a lot of people off. It means that those of us in positions of power and privilege have to take a good, long, difficult look at ourselves and our work and confront how we support and benefit from these systems. Even when we march. No, especially when we march. Solidarity, unity, allyship is more than a held sign, a shared Facebook post, an identity. It is a process of rejecting our privilege and giving it away without receiving approval, praise or acknowledgement for our work. It is the work of humility and confession, putting others before ourselves. We become lower so that others can become higher. Isn’t unity and equality supposed to put us all on the same level? I’ll go ahead and answer that question for you: No. No it’s not. We should be putting those who have been made less than in our system on top at the expense to ourselves. So, yeah. It pisses people off.

What I am going to do here is explore and examine my own experience at The Silent Mile NFK march that I participated in yesterday afternoon. These are my thoughts, my observations, my experiences, my confessions and they do not represent anyone else who attended. I don’t want to take away from the good work that was done yesterday and I do not want to disparage anyone that attended. But instead, what I do want to do is point out that the racially and class privileged people at the event were not confronted with their complicity in systematic racism and oppression; a message that is vital to dismantling it.


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I stood on the Hague walking bridge yesterday with hundreds of people waiting to walk single file down Brambleton Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Norfolk, during rush hour and block it for about 20 minutes while we crossed. Most of the people who stood around me appeared to be from Ghent and ODU; they’re not very difficult to recognize. I didn’t feel in the least out of place. I felt like I belonged, though slightly less tattooed than most. I felt safe, comfortable, almost good about myself for being there. Before we marched, each of us were given the name of a black person who has been fatally shot by police in the last year and we were instructed to Google them before the walk began. This is when I first started to feel uncomfortable. Let me digitally introduce you to Kevin Hicks, the man that was put on my shirt and who I was walking in silence for. I don’t know any more about him than what that link produces. What I do know is that he was shot and killed by a police officer after he assaulted his wife in their car while their kid was in the back seat. While he was assaulting her, she called 911 and approached police at a gas station for help. Video surveillance shows him assaulting the officer who initially attempted to use a taser to subdue him, but it escalated to the use of deadly force after the officer’s hand was broken and bitten by Kevin Hicks. I was marching in a funeral procession for him. I will have to be honest with you and say that it took everything inside of me to keep his name on my shirt. I wanted to throw it off. He was a misogynist. A wife beater. He physically assaulted and harmed the officer who was trying to protect his wife and child. I felt ill just looking at his name, let alone wear it. My experience at the event never recovered from that moment.

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In that moment I was immediately confronted with the complex layers and intersections of this very important issue and I was uncomfortable with continuing. As I was internally grappling with Kevin Hicks we began filing in and silently marching. I held up a sign that was provided to me by organizers that said “Break The Silence. #BlackLivesMatter,” as I walked past dozens and dozens of police officers that stood by and blocked off streets for us, directed traffic, and boiled in the sun. I couldn’t help but to feel deeply ashamed of myself, ashamed of Kevin Hicks, ashamed of this broken system, and ashamed for feeling ashamed. But still I marched. Each step troubled me and I longed to reach the end where organizers were waiting for us with a planned demonstration. I hoped for some consolation at the end, something, anything, to assuage my grief. But it never came. We packed and filed into rows on the empty lawn while organizers called out the 144 names of black people who have been fatally shot by police officers this year. There were some people who placed the piece of tape with their person’s name on it over their mouths. Silence. Reverence. A life lost. My piece of tape seared through my shirt, into my skin and boiled me into shame.
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There I was. Standing with a large group of people, most of whom were very similar to myself in both class, race, and privilege, and I was alone. When I look at racialized and classist police brutality from the outside I can’t understand it. I’ve never experienced it. I don’t fear it. I struggle to believe that it exists. If there weren’t videos of it and if my black friends didn’t keep reminding me of it’s pervasive existence and affect on their own psyches I would go about my days unaware and unchanged. Hell, I see and hear it in the news and online and I’m still barely changed. I’m still grappling with what it means to support someone who has made criminal decision, like Kevin Hicks, and then ended up dead at the hands of the police. These aren’t isolated incidents in people’s lives. These aren’t isolated “racist” cops gunning down minorities.This is a system of oppression. One in which we’re are all interwoven and complicit in. And this wasn’t addressed at the demonstration. The group of people who marched and demonstrated were not confronted with our place in this system of oppression, racism, misogyny, and police brutality. The organizers of the silent mile said that one of the things they want is accountability of police officers. Do you know what I want? I want accountability from our community and the people that marched yesterday. We all identify as allies. The good guys. The anti-racist people against other bigoted, racist people. And that is a false dichotomy. We all make choices in this system that benefit ourselves and harm others. We choose where to hang out, live, get coffee, send our children to school, who we vote for, if/when/where to volunteer, to be silent or to speak, and to protest or not, in a system that works for some and against others. And if we don’t locate ourselves on the spectrum of that system, if we don’t confront the choices that we make and the privileges that we have, then we are not allies. Because the truth is that we had a choice to be silent. If we don’t recognize that there are others who do not have that choice, that there are others who are silenced, then we are going nowhere. The Black Lives Matter activists are often silenced. The Silent Mile activists chose to be silent. There is a difference. A very important difference that needed to be recognized and confronted.

Only 4,000 feet away from where the march ended yesterday is a public housing community, Young Terrace, where crime, violence, poverty, and fear exists in an incubator. Those of us on that were on that lawn barely know that it exists and are complicit in the system that put the people in that community and works to keep them there. It’s the work of our local laws, regulations, policies, policing systems, social systems, education systems, voting systems, business systems, on and on and on, that work to benefit a few and oppress others. The ones reaping from and collecting those benefits stood in solidarity on the lawn, a stones throw from the people to whom we stood in solidarity with.

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I will end with reinforcing that this was a very good and needed protest. It drew attention to a very important and deadly issue. I’m thankful to those who organized it and showed up. But there is so much more to do. We need to collectively confront our privilege and the systems to which we benefit from and work to shift the power. That means marching with and lifting up Black Lives Matter activists. It means demanding that our local officials and representatives focus their time, money, and resources on our most desperate neighbors and neighborhoods and not just the light rail lines, shopping malls, trendy grocery stores, art districts, coffee shops, and schools for our most privileged students. It means putting our time, energy, and money where our mouth is. You want to end systematic oppression and racism? Then we need to own our place in the system of racism and privilege and displace it. Spend time in these neighborhoods. Spend your money at black owned businesses. Demand that grocery stores are put in our food deserts. Grow a community garden in a dangerous community and then DON’T COMPLAIN when the people in that neighborhood reject you and trample on your plants. Keep working. Keep loving. Keep dismantling. Form relationships. And keep marching.

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A July Summer

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Those July evenings, the hot sun dangled on the edge
of a never ending day and simmered wet mud made
by squirt guns, a dank funk gripping the humid air,
attracting flies. Boney shirtless seven year olds, sticky
from sweat and sugar, stalked each other around blooming
bushes, took aim through fence posts, and fired streams of warm
plastic steeped water onto their unsuspecting prey. At times
they’d laugh at being caught, while at others they’d scream
at the injustice of being shot in the back by a friend, water
stabbing skin. Dusk spread mosquitos thick at days end,
feasting on high fructose little boy, forming itchy bulbs
for later. Red eyed and thirsty, they bounded in, their wet,
grass covered and itchy feet stretched prints across the kitchen floor
and into the living room where they left shadows of their wet butts and
bottle caps on the couch. Tucked inside herself, the agitated vestige
of a mother closed her eyes and traced the outline of childhood
from memory until, through laughter, she sat down beside them.