Last born twice.

Me and my Mom have this running joke about how she gave birth to me twice. It is essentially true and ironically the second birth occurred  Mother’s Day weekend of 1992.  The Thursday before Mother’s Day my 16 year-old self had decided that it would be pretty cool to take my Mom and Nana out for Mother’s Day on my own dime. The destination?  Tiffany’s, a restaurant that I had not at the time been too, that was well-known for its ribs and cheesecake.

There isn’t much I remember from that evening at dinner save for the fact that it was my Mom, my Nana,  my oldest nephew, and I that had gone out to eat … and the cheese cake.  I had ordered cheesecake for dessert, a cheesecake that unbeknownst to me,  had ground pecans baked into the crust.  Prior to eating this cheesecake, I remembered that I always felt “funny” when I ate the Little Debbie Brownies with the nuts on them that my older brother would bring me from the corner store. They made my throat itch so badly that I’d stopped eating them all together.

After the first bite of cheese cake that feeling I would get when I ate the Little Debbie cakes started only now it was about ten thousand times worse.  I immediately began to spit the cake into my napkin and told my Mom that I didn’t feel well. She sent me to the car while she paid the tab and gathered my Nana and nephew.  The last thing I remember is getting into the car, taking about 20 doses too many of my inhaler because I felt my throat closing, and then going cold. This would be my last conscious memory for two weeks.

When my Mom got to the car she found me passed out. I was sheet white and my lips were a dusky shade of purple.  Panicked and having little sense of direction, she began to drive around the city of Union, NJ searching for the hospital.  This search lasted approximately ten minutes and by all scientific logic I should have been brain-dead, but this situation would defy any logic you could throw at it.

Upon finding Union Hospital my Mom  pulled into the area on the opposite side of the emergency room. Desperate, she got out of the car flung open the doors and began to scream for help.  Her screaming, I can imagine based on her “normal” conversational octave, was enough to wake the dead and ultimately summon a hospital of doctors, nurses, and therapist to my aid.  I was removed from the car and placed on the ground as the team immediately began to care for what appeared to be a dead kid.

My mom was completely devastated as doctors explained to her my limited odds of surviving the anaphylactic shock I’d endured.  She was advised to call my family members so they could come and say good-bye to me. I was given last rites (it was a Catholic hospital I believe) and my family prepared for the worse. That evening in the waiting room, so I’m told, my Nana held a prayer vigil to end all prayer vigils. She prayed with absolute strangers for the complete healing of their loved ones even though, at least in my case, all hope seemed to be lost.  And just like that I lived through the night … and the next night.

Doctors cautioned my mother about being overly optimistic about my outcome seeing as how the odds for anoxic brain injury due to the delay in my treatment were quite high. These predictions seemed accurate when on Mother’s Day the only thing I kept repeating much to my mother’s horror was “Happy Mother’s Day” probably sounding a lot like Igor. However, over the next few days and weeks I gradually returned to normal (or as normal as I’d ever be again 😉 ).  My first memory? Waking up to a Russian woman who was trying to explain to me her open heart surgery by repeating the words “bad blood” with her thick accent and pointing at monstrous wound on her chest. Good times.

My mother is not a huggin’, squeezin’, excessive sugar givin’  sagely advice dolin’ kind of mom. There are times when I wish like hell she was, but then I think about this “second birth” and how people from the community surrounding the hospital where I’d been sick calling in by the droves to check on “The screaming woman’s daughter”.  I think about the lengths my mother went through to get me adequate care for my asthma even begging a pulmonologist who only saw adults to see me when every pediatrician I’d seen had thrown up their hands. Then I think, here I am,  a living breathing miracle over 22 years after my second birth not only alive and well, but thriving in ways I could never have imagined. Today I give thanks to my praying grandmother and a mother that refused to give up on her sickly little wheezer even during times it seemed the world had.  I love you Ma!

Rosie.

Me and the extraordinary Antoinette Rose

Me and the extraordinary Antoinette Rose

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Suspending Disbelief

There is a blissful dismissal of logic that comes with being a child. It enables them to be the gorgeous pile of mush that leaped, curious and unbridled out of their mother’s womb and into a world hell bent on making them into what they “should be”.  It happens earlier and earlier these days, the domestication of children, but if you browse a playground (that is if you can do so without being dubbed a pedophile) occasionally you come across a group of children locked in a heated debate that sounds something like this:

Kid 1: I gone be a super hero when I get big watch.

Kid 2: What kinna stuper hero you go be?

Kid 1: One dat could fly and a-a-and smash big buildins

Kid 2: Nuh uhn

Kid 1: Uh huh!!!

Kid 2: Nuh uhn Nuh uhn

Kid 1 Uh huh Uh huh!!! But you could be my super hero friend tho

Kid 2: I gone be able to to to PUNCH real hard like da Hulk … GRRRRRRRR!!!!

Kid 1:  Les go practice!

Kid 2: Uh K!

And off they go to conquer evil and place bugs in the belongings of unsuspecting peers.  Now, while no one can argue with the sheer entertainment value of hipster babies in skinny jeans with their diapers sogging full of recycled Pabst Blue Ribbon formula; One has to confess that the freedom that comes with being a child over the years has been severely compromised. The openness to have a the free range of emotions that guides the process of becoming an emotionally well adjusted adult is squelched. The result, stuffy assed adults too obsessed with not seeming “thirsty” or “messy” to feel. Some medicate either legally or illegally, still others seek alternate means (e.g. cars, homes, clothes etc.) so that to the outside world will think they are A-OK. Meanwhile they are dying on the inside.

I was and quite often still can be guilty of just this. I suspect this is what lead me back to theatre and writing.  The ability to play and bring to life the characters that are running around in my head without getting the hell side-eyed out of me by society.  Theatre has brought to my life a level of inner freedom, joy and peace that I don’t feel like I’ve ever knew, even during my bittersweet childhood.  The first piece read at a play reading I held last evening is “Reasoning”.  It was the first vignette written for a show called “The Waiting Place” that  I wrote while at UNC Charlotte and is the first complete theatrical piece that I ever had produced. The show gets its name from an excerpt of  “Oh the Places You’ll go by Dr. Seuss.” The passage goes:

“The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go

or a bus to come, or a plane to go

or the mail to come, or the rain to go

or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow

or waiting around for a Yes or a No

or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite

or waiting for wind to fly a kite

or waiting around for Friday night

or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake

or a pot to boil, or a Better Break

or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.”

This past year has contained enough waiting for me to slay father time.  While waiting I’ve tried to remain open and blindly hopeful as a child. I’ve not always succeeded, but I’ve remained aware of the message in the waiting. The same type of awareness that allows for the adult eye to see the beauty and depth to Dr. Suess’s message and long for the comfort of it’s rhyme scheme and ridiculous creatures when the adult world seems to scary to confront. I escape back to the freedom of childhood every time I sit at the key board, sit in a dark cinema or theatre, or pick up a good book waiting for my disbelief to be suspended so my imagination can run hi-knee laps around my mind.

A young woman named Ira Yarmolenko was in the original cast of “The Waiting Place”. Tragically, the May after the show went up she was brutally murdered under circumstances that I still struggle to understand.  In one of our last conversations we sounded a lot like the two children in my above scenario.  We were at the cast party for The Waiting Place” and we almost simultaneously said.  “What are you gonna do next.”  I’m not sure of what I said, but I’m almost sure the path I’m on now wasn’t even in my trajectory at that point. Ira said, “I don’t know.” and smiled a little. In such a care free self-satisfied way that I thought for sure she’d just figured out the meaning of life. Maybe she did, maybe in that moment her disbelief and any fear had been suspended and she was free to just live.

Rosie.

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Ira Yarmolenko and Joshua Ozro Lucero
“The Waiting Place” UNC Charlotte 2007

 

 

PE: The Unseen Enema!

I’m not sure if I ever feel “special” or “wanted”. I have determined the reason for this is an undiscovered birth defect that children in the future will be tested for.  They may even develop a vaccine.  It’d play out something like this:

(A happy couple with their new baby in tow, walks into a pediatrician’s office for baby’s first appointment. The doctor sits behind the desk, shuffles mindlessly through papers. It is apparent that all tests and labs are normal. Then he stumbles upon a piece of paper that causes him to stop and furrow his Andy Rooney like brow.)

Doctor:  Mr. and Mrs. Happy?

The Happies: (anxious) Yes?

Doctor:  I’ve got some difficult news.

Mr. Happy: What is it?

Doctor:  There is something terribly wrong with little Johnny.

Mrs. Happy:  Oh no!  But I did all the right things during my pregnancy! I exercised, ate the right foods, kept my pot smoking to a minimum, and refrained from contact with undesirable societal elements.

(Mrs. Happy dissolves into tears.)

Mr. Happy: (stiff upper lip) Alright doc.  Lay it on us.

Doctor: Little Johnny has PE.

Mrs Happy:  Oh My God No!!! No no no no no no no nonononononono! aaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!!

(Mr. Happy slaps the shit out of Mrs. Happy)

Mrs. Happy: (to Mr. Happy) Thanks Honey. (to Doctor) Um, what’s PE?

Doctor: Perpetual Emptiness. No matter how much or how little love and affection you shower that little sonnovabitch with, he’ll still feel like a useless sack of shit, and act accordingly.

Mr. Happy: So, there’s a name for that now?  Thanks modern science!

Doctor: Yes, there is a name, and we are mere decades away from a cure!  Aboriginal children at a camp in a remote area of New Zealand are currently being used to test the vaccine.  When those little bastards stop bouncing off walls and spontaneously combusting we’ll know we’re almost there.

Mrs. Happy:  What do we do in the mean time?

Doctor: (ponders) Well it’s too late too abort.  There’s always abandonment or general disinterest in his life.

Mr. Happy:  Does that work?

Doctor:   I don’t know.  Go ask your father.

(Mr. and Mrs. Happy share a puzzled look.)

Doctor: Go on, get him out of here. There’s nothing else I can do for him.

(Mr. and Mrs. Happy leave with Little Johnny in hand.  Three months later, they divorce.  Six months later, Ms. Happy, under the assumed name of “Thunder Clap”, begins a lucrative career in striptease.  Little Johnny?  I’m not sure, but it is likely that he’s well on his way to becoming the savior or condemnation of modern society.)

The End.

(Cue Cape Fear theme music.)

I may suffer with PE, and we may be saying hello to my son’s great-grandchildren before there’s a cure, but dammit I know you like me! You really like me! (Please say you like me 😦 … and want me :/ .)

Alright I’m done being a jackass.  Happy Valentine’s Day to the all the lonely hearts!

Rosie.

Black Mom’s Burden.

I am the mother of an intelligent, articulate, talented rambunctious 13-year-old boy.  As a mother my natural expectation, barring any unexpected illness or accidents, is that I will see him grow, get his heart broken, break hearts, learn to drive, graduate high school, go to college, start a career, get married, raise a family, raise children … in short my son should bury me; not vice versa.  An inconvenient truth in these great United States is that as a black mother of a black son there are other things I have to factor in like:

1. Getting him through a public school system that does not instill in him any cultural sense of self and within which I have to do battle to ensure he receives the basic knowledge he needs to survive adulthood.

2. Teaching him the realities of institutionalized racism.

3.  Keeping him out of the back of a cop car.

4. Preparing him  for the reality that he may end up in one any way because he “fit the description.”

5. Keeping him ALIVE in a society where black boys like Trayvon Martin can be murdered simply because he fit the fear based convoluted description in someone’s head.

… and this is the short list.  I have to fight this fight within a society that refuses to acknowledge any of it or either chooses to lay the blame at the feet of the “black community” and its “leaders”, whoever the hell that homogenous group of folks might be; this society that views the election of a black president as a “game over” for racism, all the while ignoring the rise of neo-racism in the form of “ultra conservatism” that has resulted from that election.

One foot in front of the other, one day at a time; I’m am raising a self sufficient, independently thinking black male that can not only be a productive member of society, but who can also be a vital asset to any community he chooses to be a part of. I pull from as many resources as I can to make sure he gets what he needs. I do everything in my power to instill in him a base sense of morality. Damn it, I am doing my part. It is so fucked up and utterly frustrating that I cannot rely on the society within which I live to do its.

No matter how  hard we as black moms of black sons try it seems we’re still behind the eight-ball. It’s the reality of our situation, but it is by no means a reason to sit in victimhood.  We have to continue, along side our men and any others who would chose to be a part of the solution, to engage and empower our boys. We can only hope and pray that one day society will catch on.

During our ride to school chat yesterday I asked my son how he felt about it all. Unfortunately this type of racism did not shock him. What did bother him, and me for that matter, is the rising level of “anger” and threatened violence surrounding the situation.  To use his words, “What is fighting gonna do? If they wanna get angry and do something there are plenty of other things they could do besides fight somebody.” So true.  I cannot begin to fathom life without my son. Today, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin have to.  They have my deepest sympathies.

Rosie.

 

Growing Old

As I sat in the car today and listen to my mother talk about things she needed to do to get the roof on her house repaired my heart broke a little.  She seemed so … helpless.  Over the last couple years, due to some of the plans I’m making with my own life, I’ve been forced to sit with the realization that my mother is getting older. It’s like watching your favorite super hero give out on super power. When I was a kid, I knew she was invincible. I believed in her like evangelicals believe in seperatist Jesus. Don’t most kids though? Parents seem so “big” when you’re so small. If they’re really good they feel like they can protect you against any and everything.

Society never really prepares us for the emotional transitions of adult-hood, particularly the aging of our parents.  Sure, they tell us what adults should have, what they should wear, how their supposed to think.  Most of which has never served me in any meaningful way. I’m an adult with all the trimmings, but on a lot of days I don’t feel much older than 15. This works quite well for staying young at heart, not so much in the area of being fiscally responsible.  So how is an emotional “15” year-old cope with the fact that her Mom, her own personal Wonder Woman, is fallible?

 

Get Up. Stand Up.

I just had the best conversation with my son while dropping him off to school. A conversation that I wished someone had had with me when I was a kid.

Rewind:  When I was in about the 4th or 5th grade I had a language arts teacher named Ms. Fiaño. (I will not spare her the dignity of anonimity.) Ms. Fiaño had the old iron sides approach to education; “spare the humiliation spoil the child” was her way.  One day while I was busy being a chatty 4th grader with other chatty 4th graders, Ms. Fiaño decided it was time for someone  to pay the price for disrupting her lesson on dangling participles (or whatever the hell she was teaching that day.) She turned to me and said something like “Stacey, maybe if you could get your mouth shut you wouldn’t have gotten a 56 on the last test.”

Stone silence. All eyes on me.

I was mortified. This would not be the only belittlement I would suffer in her class, and I’m almost 100% sure that I wasn’t the only one but dammit this is my blog and we’re going to talk about me!

The point is her battle axy approach to discipline did nothing but further isolate me from her and any desire to learn what she was teaching. No, I shouldn’t have been talking in her class, but that  didn’t give her license to humiliate me.  Contrary to popular belief, humiliation isn’t always the best teacher. I’ve used the tactic myself in parenting, and now I find myself back peddling trying to convince my son that I don’t think he’s a total idiot. Sigh.  At least I finally got it, right?   Zi, if you’re reading this at some point in the future, I’m sorry.  You rock. Always have. Always will. The world is yours. Go get it!

Fast Forward:  My son has found himself in the position of having to deal with humiliation imposed by educators.  While I plan on dealing with it, because as a parent it’s part of my job to protect him, I also told him what I wish someone had told me.  You have a right to stand up for yourself. It doesn’t require disrespect or confrontation, but it does reinforce in you that you are a person worthy of respect when respect is given.

I think I planted a seed today.   I think.

Rosie.

The Zion Chronicles: Eatin’ Lightenin’ Crappin’ Thunda!

I remember my elementary school guidance counselor Ms. Kenney. She was a short black woman with a warm smile, a compassionate temperament, and a no shit taking attitude. I remember loving the way her office smelled. I also remember spending hours on end there in 6th grade. You see, 6th grade was a tough one for me. I was some how elected whipping girl for that year and as such was picked on ad nauseum.

During my time in the fetal position on Ms. Kenney’s couch, eyes damn near swollen shut from crying, I would fix my cloudy gaze on this one “inspirational” poster on her wall. It was the cutest, puffiest, cuddliest kitten clawing for dear life to a rope with a knot on the end. It read: “When you’re at the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” Inspirational posters, I’ve found, are wasted on children. At the time, I had no idea what the poster meant. I didn’t know that I was that damn kitten and that Ms. Kenney was trying her best to help me hang on.

It frightens me to think of what would happen if my story had been set now. With all the suicides among kids due to bullying, I’m sure I would have been another headline. It doesn’t seem rational to the lucid adult mind why a child would want to kill themselves, but being THAT kid in the 6th grade I do. The pain! There was an incredible amount of pain and self hatred. It hung heavy over me like a dank cloud every morning I woke up. I’d wake up hating the fact that I did. I’d wake up wishing I were somewhere, somebody, or something else. Weekends were hallowed times where I could retreat into me, read, watch television and eat until I damn near popped. Monday’s dropped me off at the gates of hell again. I cried every one. If I looked it up I probably had about 45 days out of school that year.

This past summer when I knew I was sending Zion off to the 6th grade all those old feelings came rushing back. “Would his 6th grade year be like mine?” “Maybe I shouldn’t send him. ” were thoughts that raced through my mind from July all the way through August and occasionally still do. Thankfully Zion’s social adjustment has gone remarkably well. Maybe it’s the school. Going to a school full of artsy fartsy mainly free thinking kids must be pretty cool…I guess. Maybe he’s cooler than I was. :/ Anyway, Zion’s major obstacles have come where I least expected them with academics, and in many ways his 6th grade year has been just as rough as mine was.

I’m happy to report that things have improved dramatically. It’s taking a full on team effort with his teachers, his EC facilitator and myself, but I’m definitely seeing some turn around. What I’m most proud of is my improving patience which has resulted in our improving relationship. It took me accepting that my expectations of him were unrealistic. He is not the student I was. He does not like to read like I did. He is not me. To think I bosted how I was never going to be the parent that tried to relive their existence through there child, but there I was doing just that. I wanted his 6th grade year to be better than mine. I wanted to save him from what happened to me, to see him succeed and in his success he would some how redeem my 6th grade year. To my dismay, none of that shit was based in any sort of reality.

Fact is, the 6th grade/middle school is a huge transition for all children it can and often is awkward and painful. I have to hang in there with him and be the knot that he’s hanging on to when he’s at the end of his rope (and some time that knot is my mom. That’s okay too). I strive to be attentive without smothering. I try to discipline without being a dictator. It’s a tricky balance especially being a single parent, but we do just fine most days. When I read about kids who’ve killed themselves because of the sheer pressure of being a kid in this day and age, it scares the hell out of me. I ask Zion a million questions. He answers two. He seems okay. I try to have faith that he is.

I have visited his guidance counselor’s office and didn’t off hand notice any inspirational posters. She, while quite pleasant, lacks Ms. Kenney’s certain I-don’t-know-what. She’s a new generation of guidance counselor. Maybe it’s the sheer number of children and variety of issues she has to deal with on a daily basis. Her office is not the cozy nook that I remember Ms. Kenney’s being. It was quite dark with a slit for a window and had cement walls. No leather settee like Ms. Kenney’s. I have empathy for her plight though, and wish that I could pop in and hang just one inspirational poster on her wall. While I didn’t really understand what it meant, it was comforting to see that little kitten when I went to her office. Say! I’d always been rather fond of Mick the trainer from Rocky. Maybe he oughta have done a series of posters. They would have looked something like this…

…I so would have gotten this one. Yep, me and Zi will just keep eatin’ lightenin’ and crappin’ thunda until we get through it. Together.

Rosie.