En la lucha

‚ÄčIndigo has accompanied us to two demonstrations in ten days. Yesterday I was so frustrated with Senator Dianne Feinstein: her approval of all of the Cabinet appointments so far. Her equivocation on whether she’ll vote for Jeff Sessions as Attorney General today. Her silence on the demotion of the Director of Intelligence and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the elevation of Nazi sympathizer Steve Bannon (she is the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee; also, she’s Jewish). Her quiescence on the question of foreign interference with this election. The impossibility of reaching a staffer, or leaving a message, at any of her five offices.

So after school and 90 minutes of after-school and her violin lesson, I treated Indigo to ice cream and we went downtown for a brief protest at Feinstein’s SF office. I hope she doesn’t burn out or grow up to hate this stuff because she was dragged to it, like the way Joy, her Mommy, now suffers an induced allergy to the Nutcracker. She has strong opinions and likes expressing them (in fact, I had used a stronger adjective about Feinstein’s phone, and I had to talk her out of putting it on this sign), but she was tired, too. We only stayed for 15 minutes. People were great, pausing in the rush-hour, financial-district crowd to ask questions, share opinions, and give high-fives.

On the bus ride home, I said to Indigo, “If you have kids, one day they’ll ask you, ‘How old were you when that Trump guy became president?'” (“Nine!” she said.) “And they’ll say, ‘Do you remember it?’ And you’ll say ‘Oh yeah.’ And you’ll tell them about how when he tried to do bad stuff, you were there fighting back. That’ll be a great thing to tell your kids.” I hope that thought sustains her, as it does me. I think it must, because she added, “Or my grandkids.”

What is success?

Yeah, I posted this article on Facebook, with its irresistible headline, Want to Raise Successful Daughters? Science Says Nag the Heck Out of Them. And I made the requisite joke (“I’m on it”), because I have a daughter, and not surprisingly, she complains about my nagging. But can we get serious for a moment? The researchers’ definition of “success” is so far from mine I barely recognize it. (Fortunately, I’m not alone–all praise for Challenge Success!)

Sure I want our daughter to be able to stay employed, and I hope she doesn’t get pregnant until she wants to. But “attend college” and “have high-paying job” don’t even make it into my top ten wishes for her successful life. Here they are, in no particular order:

Be loving, my darling. You give your heart so readily. I hope you always do, even as you resist anybody’s attempt to take advantage of your openness.

Be happy, and be okay with not always being happy.

Take care of yourself, take care of others, let others take care of you when you need it.

Do something–lots of somethings–to make the world a better place for your having been in it.

Weep for the suffering in the world and rejoice in the beauty in the world.

Challenge yourself: learn things you didn’t know and try things that scare you. Don’t stop!

Be honest.

Don’t tolerate injustice, even when you aren’t the one getting the short end of the stick–do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Be courageous. Courage takes many forms, but often what will require the most bravery is questioning your own assumptions.

Wherever you glimpse meaning, pursue it wholeheartedly.

If along the way, you want to go to college, Mommy and I will help you do it, and if you want to get out of a job that others might call “dead-end,” we’ll be here to cheer you on. But I don’t give a rat’s patootie about job titles and diplomas. I will be happy and proud beyond words if you are successful in the ways I’ve just listed. If I ever nag you about lesser things, like making the honor roll or pursuing a promotion, do me a favor: just roll your eyes and show me this blog post.

Visual interpretation of music

In Oaxaca our only music players are our laptops. So I often pull something up on YouTube just to listen, paying no attention to the video, slide show, or whatever is on top of it. That was the case when I typed “beethoven quartet” into YouTube early this morning and picked the first one that popped up. I noticed it was some kind of animation, which I figured was gimmicky, but I didn’t care. I was making art, I was in a late-Beethoven, chamber-music kind of mood, and I wasn’t even going to look at the screen.

Until I did. And it was riveting. After a few minutes I called to Mookie and gave her one of the earbuds. She was so taken with it that I gave her the other one, too, and went back to my art, in silence, smiling. A few minutes later, this child who says she “isn’t that into music” except perhaps the Beatles said, “Look at this–you have to see how it does slurs.”

The animator is Stephen Malinowski, and he has a YouTube channel with many more animations of music he loves.

More tattoos!

This time our henna tattoos started fading much faster and we almost didn’t document them in time. Mookie has the dandelion turning into birds, and I have the yin/yang and sun.

We had the nicest conversation with the artist while he worked. I’m looking forward to the next one, a couple of Fridays from now when these have faded completely and we head to the market in El Llano again so that Mookie can go to the Minions bouncy house they always have there and we can get new tattoos.

The talk, chapter 4

We have had “facts of life” talks at least three or four times before. This time I was the one who brought it up, noting that if Mookie’s school is like mine, this is the year when the girls have a session on menstruation, which Mookie may miss since she won’t be back until after Christmas. Mookie was stunned that this comes along at such an early age, but I explained that while it’s not likely that she’ll get her period when she’s nine, some girls do, so we don’t want them to go to the bathroom one day and be terrified. She got all that, and has in fact known for several years that monthly “bleeding” is normal and painless. (Explaining cramps can come later.) So that launched another conversation. Mookie wanted to know why on earth this happens when she has no intention of having a baby for a looooong time. Actually, she is quite firm on “never,” but she does grasp that some women would like to be ready for this project eventually–but why at 9, or even 14?

I think I should produce an animated film using my approach, since it amused Mookie, especially when I offered a comparison with the usual way these things are explained.

Usual way, in pamphlet from Playtex with a soft pink cover:

Meg and her mom had a long talk over a cup of cocoa. . . . “But why does it happen?” said Meg. Her mom said, “When a girl is becoming a woman, her body makes a special place for a baby to grow” . . . “This is called a sanitary napkin, or ‘pad’ . . . ” (They’re always big on pads, which no woman outside the Playtex marketing department has ever called a “napkin.”) “Thanks, Mom!” said Meg, hugging her.

Feh. My way:

We’re animals, right? And one of the things animals are geared to do is . . . make more animals. Cats: Let’s make more cats! Jellyfish: Let’s make more jellyfish! [Producer’s note: Can’t you envision the animation here? Very Finding Nemo, right?] Humans: Let’s make more humans! So when it’s mature enough, your body says, “Okay, time to make some more humans! Uterine lining . . . ready to go! Whoa, no baby this month? Okay, out it goes. We’ll do it again next month. It’s next month now, still no baby? Okay, bye bye lining!” You’re right, it’s completely crazy. There really ought to be an on/off switch. I’ve been doing this for 35 years and I only wanted one baby in all that time! And you’re it–no more babies–and it’s still happening! Yeesh!

Mookie asked a very reasonable question that’s on everyone’s mind but that the pamphlet doesn’t think a fourth grader needs to hear about: What do you do if you don’t want to have a baby? The abstinence-education-only folks would be pleased to know that the first thing I said was that if you don’t have sex, you won’t get pregnant. They would be less pleased to know that I included the all-important phrase, “with a man,” and that the conversation went on from there. Not with a lot of detail; we didn’t figure she was really interested in the full list of Ways People Keep from Getting Pregnant, and sure enough, she was content with the basic fact that there are a bunch of different ways.

Joy joined in to explain abstinence-only education. Even Mookie, who is nine and thinks the whole idea of wanting to do this stuff is a little odd, grasped that other people do want to do it and that telling them “just don’t” is about as helpful as saying “just don’t eat chocolate.” She also understands something the abstinence-until-marriage “educators” don’t: that once married, people still need to know how to keep from having babies. Unless they take the easy route and marry someone of the same sex.

Back in Mexico

When Mookie was three we lived in San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico, for six months. Now I have another sabbatical and we are doing it again, except living in Oaxaca this time.

As we were sorting through our belongings before coming here, Mookie released the beloved blue dress that she’s wearing in the cover photo of this blog. When she first got it, on our last Mexico trip, it was very long on her.

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Three years old, San Miguel de Allende, 2010

Now it is not. So “new pretty Mexican dress for Mookie” was on our shopping list for our first weeks in Oaxaca, and here it is. She is posing in the courtyard of the beautiful short-term apartments where we stayed for the first two weeks.

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I’m pleased to notice that the water bottle in the background in the 2010 picture is still in her possession; she’s got it with her again on this trip. She also still has the beautiful yellow poncho that her guidemother Darcey made for her. Some things aren’t outgrown so fast.

On self-loathing, violence and children

One of the saddest things I learned in this sad week after the murder of 49 people at a gay club in Orlando was that the killer, despite his openly gay-hating rhetoric and his eventual massacre of a crowd of gay people, often went to the club and was on a gay dating site himself. Homophobia was well-named in his case. He was deathly afraid of something in himself and enraged by seeing it reflected in others. Earlier in the week, I accidentally referred to the “50 people” who were victims of this homophobic, homicidal rage, and a friend deftly reminded me that the number was 49. But my slip turns out to have been correct. All 50 were victims of a hatred of queer sexuality.

When I encounter adult homophobes, I admit I am without patience. Whatever they need to process is between them and their therapist–if only they had one, which would be good–and I don’t want to deal with it. But as out, queer parents of a school-aged child, we run into it from children more often, and it’s opened up patience and compassion in me. With them, I try to remember that when they say something like “You can’t have two moms!” or “That’s gross!” they are often begging for someone to say to them, calmly, “Yes, you can have two moms” or “There is nothing gross about two men who love each other,” because what is underneath the insults may be “I think I might be one of those. Is that wrong and bad and disgusting, the way some people think?”

I want these kids to hear, from me, from other adults, “You know LGBTQ people. You love them. I know and love them too. They’re good people.” In case their clumsy lashing out is the sign of the first stirrings of queer sexuality in them, as it may well be, I want them to know that the answer to the question they don’t dare to pose is “Yes, I accept you as you are.”

 
Our school is blessed with a wonderful social worker who takes homophobia seriously and responds in this loving way. When a kid wrote some homophobic graffiti and poked fun at Mookie last year, the social worker brought them in and said to him, “Do you know anyone who’s gay?” He said, “My cousin.” And she said, “When you say things like that, it hurts people like your cousin. We don’t want to do that.” I don’t know if this kid will turn out to be gay, but what he took away was surely a message that if he is, he already has friends and supporters. And if he keeps hearing that, then he will not pick up a gun to try to blow his homosexuality to smithereens and try to wash it away in a tide of blood.