Category Archives: Parenting

Relics: Artifacts My Daughter Doesn’t Know How to Use

Trigger warning: I’m going to refer to some racially offensive language (and high fat content foods) in here.


“Why does every show start with the stuff we JUST WATCHED on the last show?” Vivi asked me in frustration. She was several episodes deep into the Transformers.

“Well, sweetie,” I chuckled, “back in the OLDEN DAYS before Netflix, TV shows only came on once a week or once a day, so they did that to remind you what had happened last time.”

In a world of binge-watching streaming video and On Demand cable TV, my daughter has never needed the “On our last episode…” recap to pick up the thread of a show. We had discovered a relic.

rel·ic
ˈrelik/noun
  1. an object surviving from an earlier time, especially one of historical or sentimental interest.
  2. an object, custom, or belief that has survived from an earlier time but is now outmoded.

She is growing up in a different kind of life, a life where recaps are “now outmoded.”

This has not been lost on my family. I remember when she was about 3 and we were all sitting around the dining room table at Daddy and Gay’s house. Her Uncle James looked at Vivi across the table and blurted, “That child does not know how to eat a drumstick.”

Every head turned to witness Vivi gripping her fried chicken leg by the meaty end while she gnawed for purchase on the bony little knobbly end. My firstborn, not one generation removed from walking out into the backyard to procure a chicken for the frying pan, didn’t know which end of the drumstick was the handle.

Daddy was aghast. “Don’t you feed this baby CHICKEN?”

I rotated the drumstick in her hand and Vivi bit into the meat like she had struck gold. “Of course I do! It just…doesn’t have any bones in it.” I bake chicken breasts or chicken tenders or chicken nuggets. I don’t cook non-specific chicken parts chicken. I don’t fry it. And I sure as hell don’t cut it up.

Daddy set his own drumstick down on the edge of his plate. “How do you make STOCK if you don’t have a carcass???” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t make stock, I don’t own Crisco, and I have never in my life cooked a dumpling. And as God is my witness, I will never be hungry enough to mess with giblets.

That night taught me that drumsticks, a staple of my life, might be a relic for my daughter. An object of purely sentimental interest.

She figured out the business end of a drumstick.

She eventually figured out the business end of a drumstick.

So many things that are normal to me don’t really make sense to her. The other night we were out of body wash at bath time. I handed her a bar of $8 goat’s milk and honey soap that I get special for myself from the farmer’s market. This child who is in the gifted program at school did not even know how to work up bubbles with a bar of soap–all she could do was stare at it and chase after it every time it slipped out of her hand. She sat there in the tub with her Mr. Bubble, Kidz 2-in-1 Shampoo, a pink sponge…and a relic.

Photographic evidence of how little my children know about bar soap.

Photographic evidence of how little my children understand bar soap.

Remember that story from last summer when she was away at camp and I couldn’t wait to get a letter? Then when it arrived I realized that I had never taught my daughter how to use an envelope, so an unsealed envelope was all I received? She has two different email accounts in fourth grade and takes coding classes but doesn’t know that you have to lick the envelope to make it hold the letter inside. Envelopes are from an earlier time.

Oops.

Oops.

My kids don’t know what a phone book is, much less how you can use the Atlanta Yellow Pages as a booster seat when you are eating fried chicken around your Grandmama Eunice’s Sunday table (but you better wash those hands first and use SOAP).

Relics. I get sad when I consider how differently my children are growing up. We had it pretty good, what with the drumsticks and the rotary phones and the weekly episodes and the Ivory soap that was so pure it floats.

But it’s not all wistful memorializing of my glorious past that she won’t ever experience. Some relics are signs that we are making real progress.

Like the day Vivi and I went to a Sunday afternoon showing of Hidden Figures. We had seen the preview at Moana so she recognized the early scene of the three women repairing their broken down car. Vivi leaned over to me in the dark and whispered, “Three neh-GRO women chasing a white police officer…”

From "Hidden Figures"

From “Hidden Figures”

I didn’t understand her at first and said, “Huh?” with one eye still on the screen.

“Remember when the lady says ‘Three neg-ROW women chasing a policeman…'”

“Oh right!” I laughed quietly with her and nodded. She went back to watching the movie while I had to put my hand on my heart and catch my breath for a second.

My Georgia-born-and-raised daughter doesn’t know how to pronounce “Negro.” That word is a relic to her.

I read somewhere that you shouldn’t make fun of a person who mispronounces a word because it means that they learned it by reading instead of by hearing it. I’m sure Vivi has read “Negro” in books, but she’s never heard it in conversation while sitting around her grandmama’s table at Sunday lunch.

By the time I was her age, I had heard enough to distinguish the difference between Negro, n*gger, nigra, black, colored, redbone, high yellow, and blue gum. And that was from listening to mostly nice people talk.

We didn’t say n*gger in my family, not even in the older generations. Only coarse people used that word. My grandparents said “colored” or “nigra.” After my wedding to Fartbuster, I blanched when my grandmother–a self-taught painter–recounted a delightful conversation about painting she had had with “that nigra art professor” at the reception. “His name is VINCENT!” I scolded her. Grandmama didn’t understand why I was getting worked up. Mom reminded me that, for their era, using “nigra” was polite.

Not good enough for me. I lived in the modern world and their terms were relics. The world changed around them, yet they held on to their words. My beloved great aunt even coined an adjectival form: when I bought my first car, she said, “I wouldn’t buy a red car. It’s too nigra-ish.”

The one and only time I got my mouth washed out–speaking of soap–involved these n-words. Coming home from school one day when I was 5 or 6, one of the older boys dared me to say n*gger. I didn’t do it then, but once we got home, I said the word within earshot of Quicker, who looked after us. My memory of the event may be hazy, but my memory of the taste of Ivory soap is 99 44100% Pure, because my mama soaped up a blue wash cloth and had me sit there and suck on it until I had learned my lesson.

I did learn my lesson that day. Flash forward 40-something years to that dark theater, where my daughter puts the accent on the wrong syllable of Negro. I felt something move, something shift across generations. One word. It’s such a small thing, but it gives me hope.

 

Women’s March Part 2: Can I Swap Places With You?

I wore my new shirt to the Y to walk today. Yes, it’s been THAT long since the March that my shirt has already arrived.

Women's March: Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

Women’s March: Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.

This part of the story has taken me a while to stew over. All of those things I was worried about? None of them mattered.

I didn’t hear a single dynamic feminist icon or fired-up celebrity because the speaker near us was broken. I couldn’t see the stage or a Jumbotron. Jean and I got separated and it took two hours to find each other in the throngs of people. The cell service crashed so we couldn’t communicate. Jean dropped one of her bottles of water in the portapotty not 15 minutes into our day.

None of that mattered.

Because I have never experienced such love in one place. Such fellow-feeling. Such kindness among strangers.

You’ve seen photos of the crowd size and read the statistics. I would not be surprised if the DC crowd alone numbered 1 million people. I’ve been in football stadium crowds before, and London Underground at rush hour crowds. This crowd was different, not just because it was 10 times larger than any crowd I’ve ever witnessed. This crowd was NICE.

The Mission Statement of the Women's March. I saw it played out in real life.

The Mission Statement of the Women’s March. I saw it played out in real life.

Jean and I got there early but it was already crowded. We staked out prime seats on 4th Avenue, on a low wall outside the Museum of the American Indian. Great people watching. Jean decided to make one last potty run before the line up started. Being people who are older than technology and therefore aware that it can fail, we agreed that if we ever got separated for more than an hour, we would meet at the tall totem poles by the museum.

Pick a landmark that is tall enough to be seen from a distance.

Pick a landmark that is tall enough to be seen from a distance. Raven and Bear.

Good thing we did. I didn’t start looking for her until after the speakers had begun. I craned my neck to the right and scanned the ever-growing crowd for her…pink hat. Yeah, that wasn’t really helping. And y’all…Jean is SHORT. It’s easy to lose our pocket-sized friends in a crowd like that.

I started getting nervous after she had been gone an hour. I checked for a text–nothing. Then I realized that the cell service had given up because there were just too many people. Jean could have been calling me and I wouldn’t have known. I slipped into Southern Mama Mode: SHE COULD BE LYING DEAD IN A DITCH AND I DIDN’T PICK UP THE PHONE!

Finally, I got to Facebook and saw that Jean had posted a message that she couldn’t get back to me and she was going to the totem poles. Sweet relief–we had a plan. Unfortunately, our plan lay on the other side of this:

march wall

I gave up my prime position on the wall to a nice older lady (I mean, older than me). But there was nowhere to go. Jean and the totem poles were only about 50 yards away. That day? It took me 45 minutes to go 50 yards. CRUSH. People weren’t moving at all because there was simply nowhere to go.

This is where I learned my first lesson from the crowd. I couldn’t ask people to get out of my way. I couldn’t just bull my way through to my friend. Instead, I would touch a person on the elbow and ask, “Can I switch places with you?” We would literally pivot in a tight little circle to swap places then I would repeat the maneuver on the next person. That way, no one felt like they were getting shoved or had to fear that they would get separated. All I was asking was to swap places.

One step at a time got me to the totem poles…but no Jean.

march lost

I knew she was too smart to have given up and abandoned the plan. She had to be there but she also had to be SHORT. I climbed up onto a low wall around a flower bed. And bumped into the hilarious political comedian, John Fugelsang, which was highly entertaining. Y’all should follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and through a crowd because dude is TALL. Seriously, in this next picture, I was on a wall and he was not.

march john

 

I spent another 30 minutes balancing on that wall, slowly rotating in search of Jean. A tiny lady next to me introduced herself as, “Penny, from Raleigh, North Carolina–but I ain’t like most of ’em down there.” I told her I couldn’t find my friend and she said, “Well, why on’t you wave your sign around? Surely she can see that easier than she can see you.”

That’s when I learned my second lesson from the crowd: when you are in need, tell someone. Other people have different perspectives and can offer solutions that haven’t been obvious to you. They want to help. Thank you, Penny! Within a couple of minutes of waving my giant neon green sign in the air over my head, I heard several people not 20 feet away scream, “ASHLEY!!!”

There was Jean!

Reunited and it feels so good. I'm Peaches and she's SHORT.

Reunited and it feels so good. I’m Peaches and she’s SHORT.

Once we swore to never leave each other again, no matter what, Jean left. She had found a nice stand of bushes that kept people away from her so she planted herself right in the middle of them and got some breathing space. Because see that crowd over our heads? That’s the Mall and it was FULL. I stayed on the wall with my new friends Penny and John.

Here’s the part of the day that I don’t ever want to forget, so I’m writing it down here.

As I teetered right on the edge of the wall, two young people came up to the edge of the flower bed and tried to climb up. I said, “Oh honey, there is nowhere to go up here. There’s a line of shrubs right here and people as far as you can see.” The girl in front didn’t answer. She ducked her head farther into her hoodie and stared at her phone. Her jacket was mint green and the other kid’s was blue.

They both froze there, stopped by the wall and the crowd…and me. They didn’t say anything, just kept fiddling with their phones. I figured they were just hanging out like the rest of us, waiting for the crowd to start marching.

Twenty or thrity minutes passed by. Since we couldn’t hear what was happening on the stage, we chanted “Let’s march now!” and “This is what democracy looks like!” and Fugelsang started “Impeach Pence FIRST!”

During a lull, another message got passed along by the crowd. Just like Jean had asked strangers to yell my name, people to my right started yelling, “Zoe and Bobby! Zoe and Bobby!” I turned to my section of the crowd and yelled “Zoe and Bobby!”

The girl right there next to me jumped like she had been shocked and looked straight up into my eyes. That’s when I realized how YOUNG she really was–about 13.

“Are you Zoe and Bobby?” They both nodded urgently but still didn’t say a word.

I turned back in the original direction and yelled, “We’ve got Zoe and Bobby here! Zoe and Bobby are here!” The message traveled through several people until it stopped at one man. He was a dad-aged African American man, as tall as Fugelsang but as wide as a bear, and wearing a hot pink Women’s March shirt. We made eye contact and I nodded as hard as I could and pointed down to the kids. The look on his face, the relief that transformed his entire body. I’ll never forget that moment.

Every person in that flower bed pulled themselves in a little bit and swapped and wiggled until a path was cleared between Zoe and Bobby and their dad. Once they got to him, all of that frozen fear melted away. There was a big family hug and dad started crying. Hell, we all were, even little Penny from Raleigh North Carolina because she ain’t like most of em.

I’ve lost Carlos in a crowd before for 30 minutes. I know that feeling of scanning every face and not finding the one I need to see. I looked at that dad and thought about that method I had used to move through the crowd–Will you swap places with me? For an instant, I swapped places with him and the only natural response, one parent to another, was to help.

march moms

Zoe and Bobby and their dad taught me the third lesson of that crowd: THIS is who we are. It didn’t matter that I didn’t hear a word from the speakers or see a single performer. I got to meet US, the U.S.

Hundreds of thousands of people in one place can be a dangerous situation. We could have gotten angry or selfish. We could have panicked. We could have shouted each other down. Instead, we got kind. We took care of each other. We sang the national anthem and we cheered when the trans flag flew from a light post. We chanted and we shared water and snacks. We didn’t bump the old people and we watched our language around the kids, mostly.

We practiced being our best selves in challenging conditions. We the people.

That’s what people who weren’t there will never get. We chose to be our best selves, to each other, and for each other. That’s what America can be.


Gate A-4, by Naomi Shihab Nye

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning
my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement:
“If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please
come to the gate immediately.”

Well—one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just
like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,”
said the flight agent. “Talk to her. What is her problem? We
told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly.
“Shu-dow-a, Shu-bid-uck Habibti? Stani schway, Min fadlick, Shu-bit-
se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly
used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled
entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for major medical treatment the
next day. I said, “No, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just later, who is
picking you up? Let’s call him.”

We called her son, I spoke with him in English. I told him I would
stay with his mother till we got on the plane and ride next to
her. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just
for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while
in Arabic and found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I
thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian poets I know
and let them chat with her? This all took up two hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling of her life, patting my knee,
answering questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool
cookies—little powdered sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and
nuts—from her bag—and was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the
lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered
sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.

And then the airline broke out free apple juice from huge coolers and two
little girls from our flight ran around serving it and they
were covered with powdered sugar, too. And I noticed my new best friend—
by now we were holding hands—had a potted plant poking out of her bag,
some medicinal thing, with green furry leaves. Such an old country tradi-
tion. Always carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.

And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and I thought, This
is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that
gate—once the crying of confusion stopped—seemed apprehensive about
any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those otherwomen, too.

This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.

Oops!

Vivi got an “Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook” for Christmas. It’s a lovely deckle-edged tome of completely indirect references to the books paired with public domain recipes for traditional British foods. The recipe she wanted to make today was called “Queen Victoria’s Soup.” I read the whole series pretty thoroughly and couldn’t remember an appearance by Queen Victoria (or specifically soup). The note attached to the recipe read like: “Remember in that scene when Ron has a chill and says that soup would be good right about now? Here are 9 recipes for soup…yay, Harry Potter!”

At least the recipe only called for two ingredients that I didn’t have on hand: pearled barley and heavy whipping cream. Could anything SOUND more like Queen Victoria–fat and pearls? One quick trip to the grocery store and we were in business.

I pulled the tab off the carton of chicken stock and handed it to Vivi. I rotated the big Pyrex measuring cup so that she could see the markings and put on my best Mother Of the Year Finds a Teachable Moment voice. “OK, we need six cups but this only goes up to four. How many more cups will we need to add? Two, right! So if this is 4 of the 6 cups, what fraction is that? Go ahead and pour it to the four.”

And that’s the moment when I learned a messy lesson.

Vivi held the carton of chicken stock about two feet above the measuring cup then flipped the spout straight down. Chicken stock plummeted into the Pyrex cylinder, described a parabolic arc around the inside then rushed right back over the rim and all over the counter before I could even say, “Careful!”

She jumped away from the mess like it had scalded her. “Sorry sorry sorry sorry!”

My heart squeezed up. She’s been doing this a lot lately–apologizing madly if I correct her in any way. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. That’s the last word I want my daughter to practice. We all need to learn how to apologize when we’re at fault, but that kneejerk “Sorry!” that women overuse isn’t the same thing.

I’ve tried to talk to her about the “sorrying” in a couple of ways, but tonight I think I hit on the right word.

“Sweetie, this isn’t something hurtful that requires a ‘sorry.’ This is an accident while learning how to do something new, so how about ‘Oops!'”

Vivi laughed and tried it out, “OOPS!” That giggling word was music to my mothering ears and my heart unclenched an inch. When she and I are learning together, I don’t want SORRY to be the word she associates with me.

I worry at least once a day that I’m using the wrong words with her, that I’m screwing this mothering thing up, that I’m making a gigantic mess. I feel like I should say “Sorry! I don’t know what I’m doing!” when maybe what I should really say is “Oops! Learning this as I go along!”

I hope you’ll listen for “Sorry!” and see if “Oops!” might serve you better.

P.S. – The soup was terrible, but it was a valiant attempt at something new that devolved into a bland white mess. At least it was a mess we made together. Kinda like life.

Try this next time you want to say "Sorry!"

Try this next time you want to say “Sorry!”

Ready I’m Not

Carlos invited me to play Hide and Seek in his room yesterday afternoon. “Mumma? Mumma? I count to ten and you hide, Mumma.”

Ten? That didn’t give me much time to find a hiding spot. I tip-toed across the hall and hid behind the open door of my bedroom.

“Seben, eight, nine….TEN! Ready….” He paused then shouted, “Ready I’m not…Here I come!”

My son, trying out a new game and trying to remember how the words are supposed to line up. And BOOM–his version was even better than what was supposed to be. My heart cracked open with a little more love for him than I ever thought possible. There we were, filling up a Saturday afternoon with playing. Him using new words. Me letting him boss me around. Shrieking and giggling and tumbling around, together.

Ready I’m not…Here I come.

Hide and seek

Hide and seek

That’s how we head into parenting. I don’t care if you’ve been a big sister to twelve kids, or spent 10 years as a nanny, taught second grade, worked as a NICU nurse–not one of us goes into parenting READY. For the first couple of years of Vivi’s life, my therapist’s main message to me was “You don’t have to be perfect, just good enough. Good enough parenting is what parenting is. Stop trying for an A+. Shoot for ‘Satisfactory.'” You’re in it, ready or not.

I had spent the first part of my life hiding. Hiding anything that I messed up. Hiding from anything that I might mess up. Hiding my shame. Hiding my own needs. Hiding myself because I had become absolutely convinced, somewhere along the way, that I wasn’t enough. Good enough, kind enough, smart enough, pretty enough. So I hid. Ready I’m not.

But here I come. Parenting is urgent and tedious, immediate and theoretical, all in one moment. It’s incessant. Still, I keep showing up. Less hide, more seek. I get up every day reminding myself that my good enough is enough. We’ve gotten this far and we’re having a pretty good time of it. I pour the milk and I add a blue bendy straw because blue is his favorite color.

So, today? Ready I’m not…here I come!

Tight Shot/Wide Shot: Dark and Stormy

Two years and four days ago, I wrote a story that got great reaction: Tight Shot/Wide Shot. In a few photos taken around my palatial showcase of a home, I illustrated the disconnect between what we share with the world (the carefully posed tight shot) with what we actually live in (the messier wide shot).

I had another moment like that this evening, when the stress of the day drove me to spend the last of my weekly Weight Watchers points on a mixed drink. This beautiful cocktail is called a Dark and Stormy:

14100378_10208868495582704_8490821825284651910_n

Dark and Stormy: Gosling’s Black Seal rum from Bermuda mixed with the strongest ginger beer you can find. Serve over crushed ice at sundown.

Richard and I discovered this drink in Bermuda, at The Reefs. We two damn near perfect vacations there. We planned to get married on the pink beach beneath the cliffs. Every evening at about sundown, we would mix up a couple of soda bottles filled with Dark and Stormys then drink them in the hot tub on the side of the cliffs.

Yeah, that was a while back. Waaaaaaay back. Today, I mixed my Dark and Stormy then took it outside to the deck to take a deep breath while the Ore Ida french fries cooked in the oven and some turkey burgers sizzled on the indoor grill. I took it outside in hopes of getting a little sip of Special and Exotic and Vacation because today has been a whole heaping dish of Another Damn Monday.

Tight shot: I could have shared the photo and left you thinking that this is what my life looks like.

But writing and sharing isn’t about the tight shot. It’s about the wide shot:

Real life pool

Those towels are from Saturday, which was the last day that the pool wasn’t too green for swimming.

Sooo glamorous.

By 9:30 this morning, I had already been up for 3 hours but still late for work, because I had school drop off, a conference with Carlos’ special ed teacher, and a booster shot appointment at the veterinarian for the kitten. Which cost me $80 and five minutes of crying in my car because when Biscuits got scared before the second injection, the vet said, “Settle, settle” to her and it hit me right in the heart because Daddy always said “Easy, easy,” when an animal started to panic.

I got to work in time to get caught in a pissing contest between two smart and capable people who have very different expectations. Work these days feels like so much of life, where the things I know how to fix I’m not allowed to fix and the things I’m supposed to fix I don’t know how to fix. But there was lunch with my friend and a free cookie and for a little while, we talked about writing and ideas and how it all comes together. We walked in the sunshine.

I got some stuff done, because I’m a bitch and bitches get stuff done. Because I was so good at getting stuff done, I left late to get my kid so the whole way down the staircase I switched from victory to guilt.

I gave hugs and kisses and answered questions about imaginary worlds and puberty and what’s for dinner. I corrected math homework. I started the laundry and added chemicals to the pool and I forgot to call the water office about our $400 bill from last month. I looked through the mail and worried about college savings accounts, small bank failures, neighborhood meetings about schools, and the half-life of our 18 year old mattress. I worried that we weren’t doing anything special for Labor Day. 

I served french fries because the locally sourced organic okra rotted AGAIN while I dithered over finding a way to cook it other than frying us all to death. I cooked with low sodium, reduced fat, slim bread and fucking french fries in hopes that my son will eat something that isn’t a cracker or a chip. He didn’t eat any of it. He doesn’t eat anything but his pants are too small. Which reminds me that he needs clean uniforms. And who ever thought that white shirts were a viable option for kindergarten uniforms? OxiClean, that’s who.

Screen time and vitamins and grams of protein and signed behavior sheets and kitten fights and french fry guilt and work emails and steel wool scrubbers and fabric softener and bills and …and underneath it all I feel that pull to write, to make something, to create. To make something other than dinner. To create something other than a finely crafted email.

So I made a drink and I stepped outside. When the wide shot hit me and my brain started chasing all the things I needed to do to make that wide shot perfect, I narrowed my focus. I brought it back to my breath. To my senses. To the cold wet glass in my hand. To the bite of the ginger and the warmth of the rum. To the smell of the neighbor’s cut grass. To the sparkle of sundown through those pine trees that I was looking at when Richard told me that he needed to know I would be happy again one day, after he was gone.

I drank it all in.

Know How to Receive This Gift

I owe y’all an update on the kitten! If we’re friends on Facebook, you already know the surprise ending (spolier alert: WE GOT A NEW KITTEH!) As with just about everything in my life, this adventure got me to thinking Big Thoughts that I like to share through Barely Adequate Words.

As soon as I wrote that blog post about the kitten in the tool shed, the kitten left the tool shed. And like the 100% sane and stable person that I am, I  started thinking, “Great–now that I’ve told everyone about the kitten, Huck probably ate it. This is all my fault!”

Nevertheless, the kitten showed up again. Turns out, it was living under the deck, in between the decking boards and the tin roof of the screened porch down below. I caught a photo of the teensy baby one morning when it came out to explore the sourwood tree. One golden leg like something out of a classical myth…

kitty tree

And then I made the mistake of giving Vivi my phone as a distraction at lunch and she saw the photo.

THE CAT WAS OUT OF THE BAG!

kitty vivi

Operation Kitty Katcher was launched about 20 minutes later when we got home. We deployed cheap tuna fish, long crinkly ribbons from Vivi’s birthday balloons, leafy twigs, and flashlights after dark. Vivi sat on the deck with her tablet in hopes of catching a photo. We got close a time or two, but kitten was too wily.

kitty ribbon

We dropped chunks of tuna fish through the railing and onto the tin roof below. Slowly but surely, the kitten began to trust us. I taught Vivi to tap the spoon against the wood every time she fed it to call the kitten out. We brushed our fingertips against the kitten while it ate. We wiped tuna fish on our fingers and eventually the kitty licked them clean.

kitty catcher

It was so stinking hot that weekend. Yellow jackets like tuna fish–did you know that? Me either. But we kept at it.

At one point, Vivi said, “How do you think the kitten ended up here?” I told her that Nana said Papa sent us the kitten. “I know that’s not really what happened, but I like to think of it that way,” I told her. Vivi knows I don’t believe in any kind of afterlife. Her thoughts flickered across her face then she smiled, “I agree with Nana–I think Papa sent us the kitten.”

We sat there together with our arms contorted through the deck railing, dangling our stinky fingers over the edge in hopes of luring the kitten out. “Well, even if Papa didn’t actually send us this kitten, he taught me everything I know about catching kittens. He taught me where they hide and how to feed them and ways to get them to trust us. He taught me that it’s good to take care of hungry little kittens. So in a way, Papa is part of us getting this kitten.”

This is the first kitten I’ve had in my lifetime that wasn’t handed to me by my father. There were allllll those kittens when we were growing up–Slick, Jasmine, Farrah, Wildfire (I gave my cats stripper names). When I was out on my own and ready for another heartbeat in the apartment, he found Jane for me. The most beautiful meanest butterscotch bitch you ever reckoned with. I thought she might be lonely when I started working full time, so I went back to see Daddy. He reached blindly into a cage of stray gray tabbies and put Mr. Kitty in a box for me. Jane bit him on the neck as soon as he climbed out of the box then she spent the next 15 years hissing and spitting at him. When Jane and Mr. Kitty both passed on, and Richard’s Nixon followed a year later, I went back down to Griffin for Thanksgiving and came back with Rufus and Jinx. Someone had thrown Jinx in a trash can when she was three weeks old, and Rufus had been dropped off in the parking lot. Daddy got an earful when Rufus gave Vivi ringworm right before school picture day. Anyway, I’ve had a good run of cats, thanks to Daddy. But now I’m on my own. And my daughter has been begging for a kitten. I’m the grown up in charge of kitten procurement now.

There are two things we can do for our children. We can give them gifts, and we can teach them how to receive gifts. My dad did both. He gave me kittens. He also taught me how to see kittens as a gift. How to receive another mouth to feed with joy and a light heart. How to see a kitten as an increase in love, not an increase in burden. How to spend a sweaty Saturday stinking like tuna fish and getting a crick in my neck because my daughter wants a kitten to love on. And her mama can give her that gift.

On the Monday before school started, I pounced.

kitty carrier

It’s a girl. She was Socks for a couple of days. She was Sammy Socks for a while. But she does that thing that kittens do–kneading her front paws back and forth with her purrbox cranked up to 10. One time I asked Daddy what the clinical name for that motion was and he said, “Makin’ biscuits.”

Meet Biscuits.

Thanks, Papa.

kitty puzzle

kitty biscuit portrait

This Space Is Yours: A Message For Our Daughters

nasa carlos

Four years ago, G and I took the kids to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch a real live rocket launch. Not just any rocket–we got to see the launch that carried the Curiosity rover away from Earth on its way to Mars. For a geek like G, this was a once in a lifetime deal. (I thought it was pretty cool, too.) The kids? Carlos was 11 months old, Vivi 4.5, Victoria 12. They were mostly thinking about getting back to Disney World.

From the closest observation area, we looked out across a mile-wide lagoon to where the giant white rocket waited on its scaffold. The red countdown clock ticked each second as it passed. An announcer explained the built-in holds as each came up. They are cushions of time that give the team a chance to calibrate the launch to hit a specific window. After each hold, the clock started down again.

Rocket Family

Rocket Family

When the countdown clock dropped below 10 minutes, things really got exciting. As I put headphones on the little ones, the launch director started the “go/no go” poll of all the teams who had played a part in coordinating the launch.

Excitement swelled as we listened to the launch director call each team and its leader responded “Go!” Talker? Go! Timer? Go! FSC? Go! ACC? Go!

Years of work, billions of dollars, so many mistakes and so many victories–we got to hear it all distilled into two joyful letters–GO.

And I started to cry. A suburban mom standing there in the Florida sun with her kids gathered round and looking across the water at something that would leave this world and go to Mars. To get to witness people as they revel in the successful completion of hard work–what a privilege.

But what really got me crying was the fact that my daughters were hearing female voices declaring “Go!”

Want to be an astronaut? Go! Want to be an engineer? Go! Want to write a program that steers a robot on the surface of another planet? Go!

Go!

Go!

Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon in the summer of 1969, when I was about the same age as Carlos was that day we watched the Curiosity launch. My mom took me out into the yard to look up at the sky. “There are people up there!” She wanted me to participate in this historic event, even if I wasn’t old enough to comprehend.

I did something similar tonight. While Vivi used Scratch to code a game about cats, I switched the TV from Netflix cartoons to the roll call of delegations at the Democratic National Convention. We tuned in round about Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi. She poked her head up and said, “Is this for President?” I explained that this was how the Democratic party decided who they would back for president. “Sounds like Hillary Clinton is winning,” she said, her eyes already drifting back to the keyboard.

Jerry Emmet, 102 yr old delegate from Arizona. Image courtesy HillaryClinton.com

Jerry Emmet, 102 yr old delegate from Arizona. Image courtesy HillaryClinton.com

I walked into the kitchen to start dinner and found myself getting misty-eyed, just like that morning in Florida. The voices that stepped up to the microphone to declare for Sanders or Clinton–so many of them were female voices. One woman had been born before women won the right to vote. My daughter gets to hear people who sound like her cast their support in favor of electing a President that looks like her (albeit a little older and wiser).

We got to the moon before we got to here. But it’s progress.

I didn’t try to stop the tears. Rainbow leis in Nebraska. Puerto Rican accents. Black Lives Matter t-shirts from Wyoming. Native Americans recognized as sovereign groups by the delegates from New Mexico. Senator Sanders, a Jewish socialist, pulling us all together for the finale. All of those voices rising together to shout “Aye!” This is the country I want my daughter to see. This is the voice of America that I want her to hear.

Even if they seem busy with other things, our daughters are listening. I want mine to know that this is their space. Here. There. Everywhere. On the podium. In the laboratory. Pushing the stroller. Pushing the envelope.

Check out this photo of some of the women currently working on Mars (they tele-commute from Earth but they work on the Mars Science Laboratory):

Women of Mars Science Laboratory

Women of Mars Science Laboratory

One last thought from Sally Ride, the first American woman in space:

Sally Ride

Sally Ride