Thursday, March 13, 2008

Finding Good Stuff

I've been struggling with my depression quite a lot lately. Sometimes, you have to find cool stuff where you can, and today I did just that.

Today, I drove the kidlet to another town for a track meet.

It was a perfect, sunny March day in the South, outdoor thermostat set on "just right."

I got a snowball at one of those little snowball stands, and we got pints of fresh strawberries right off of some guy's truck.

On the way into the track meet, I saw two little girls, one black and one white, both beautiful and wearing pigtails. They were holding hands, skipping, and giggling. Watching them, I was transported to a long since forgotten time, when my best friend was black. This was back in elementary school, before anyone had gotten around to teaching me that such friendships are "supposed" to have limits (sigh...). Her name was Leslie Parsons. She wore glasses and was quiet, except with me. Sometimes we joined the other girls at jump rope, but mostly, we played jacks every chance we got. We were both really good at jacks, better than anyone else in our school; no one else could beat either one of us, so we mostly just played each other. We laughed and held hands like those two I saw at the track meet today, until I asked if she could spend the night at my house. That's when I got "the lesson" - it's okay to be friends at school, but we don't invite "them" to spend the night.

Trying to figure out racism, I have sometimes thought that, okay, maybe people have a natural tendency to seek out those who look most like themselves, that a tribe mentality might have some evolutionary purpose (although surely, we could EVOLVE beyond that by now!). In the end though, I still believe the truth is that "you have to teach a child to hate." If tribalism were so natural, such an evolutionary imperative, why would two innocent little girls be drawn together in friendship to begin with? The truth is that children will make friends with other children, regardless of race - at least until an adult comes along to "correct" them.

Oh, the things I think about just sitting in the sun at a track meet.

Good things about the day:

  • ordering jambalaya from the concession stand right there on the track field (where else but South Louisiana!)
  • warm, sunny weather in early March (just set my new plants out this weekend)
  • locally grown strawberries in March
  • spearmint snowballs in March
  • kids who say "yes ma'm" and "yes sir" (a Southern sweetness I really missed when I lived up North; my NOLAfugee mom is now teaching in the Northwest and when she recently showed her kids an article about the law requiring schoolchildren to call their teachers ma'm and sir, they really acted like that was child abuse, despite her best efforts to explain the word "manners")
  • teenage girl atheletes getting all competitive and fierce, focused on working hard and winning instead of on appearance and getting boys

One mom at the track meet made me think of "Sticks" by Alix Olson. The woman was blonde and bean-pole skinny. Even when I was younger and weighed 102 pounds, I was never stick skinny like that. I always had curves - a 34/24/34 body. But this woman was so tiny, perky, blonde. She had a flashy red handbag, splayed open on the bleachers, filled with everything a well prepared mother might need. She had coloring books and markers for the younger child. She had a stash of big, bright bows so her daughter and her daughter's friends could constantly redo and readorn their little ponytails (geez, my kid was lucky to get a plain stretchy thing for her ponytail; I suck). She had little ziplock baggies full of kid friendly snacks like grapes and Cheez-Its. Sigh:

...We stick baby boys’ lips on our nipples- to relieve them,
stick big boys inside our lips- to relieve them,
suck until we swallow their stickiness.
We tell our sons ‘only sticks and stones
will break their bones,’
then call each other bitch, knowing it sticks
more than hurled knuckles ever could.
We are ignored when our butts stick out,
admired when our chests stick out.
We chant "stick together, stick together", until
size six bitch walks by-
"sick", we whisper, menacingly, to each other,
"Stick", we think, admiringly, to ourselves....

So, yeah, that's how I caught myself thinking about her ("bitch"). I was wondering why I'm not blonde and perky, why my purse contains crumpled ATM receipts with messily scribbled lists on the backs of them (compiled while standing in the bookstore - lists of books I want but can't afford, titles to try to find at the library), pens that don't write, lipsticks I hardly ever use, and two cigarette lighters (even though I haven't smoked since I had the flu in January). I didn't plan ahead, hadn't brought Gatorade and snacks for my teenaged athelete, was lucky I had managed to find matching socks for us to wear.

Then, I thought about the poem, about how expectations pit women against one another and decided that Ms. Perfect Mom was probably an interesting and nice enough woman. Then I got really radical and decided that I'm an interesting and nice enough woman too, just a different kind. Unlike Perfect Mom, I couldn't stay enthusiastically focused on the many track and field events. On the other hand, at least I can say I set a good example for my child by letting her see me read books! Unlike Perfect Mom, I hadn't packed fabulous snacks. On the other hand, I did have one hell of a rocking conversation with my teenager in the car on the way to the meet - about sexism, racism, Clinton, and Obama. As usual, she had absorbed more of my newswatching than I ever dare hope, had strong opinions of her own and wanted to discuss them.

So, yeah, I thought about the poem and decided it was okay that I wasn't Ms. Perfect Mom, that being Me Mom was good enough.

At least today.

After all, it was cool yet sunny and there were fresh strawberries, snowballs, bowls of jambalaya, and giggling little girls.

It was a good day. I managed to find good stuff.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry you've been depressed lately. I've been reading here for a while and am really enjoying your blogging. In regards to being naturally suspicious/conscious of 'other', yes I totally think that is something you have to teach kids. Kids just don't see skin colour, they see people *until* they are socialised into regarding 'otherness' with suspicion. I never noticed that my grandmother was black until I was quite an old child. I think I was about nine when I said in surprise to my grandmother 'you're black!' It had to do with me asking her why she didn't have wrinkly skin like all the other grandmas that I knew.

I totally had a moment like the one you described when I went to an International Women's Day event on the weekend. There was a young white, middle-class, political, uni girl at the event that didn't like it when I talked about prostitution as slavery. I found it really difficult to argue with her. I got tongue-tied and nervous because she was so confident and sure of herself. She was part of Amnesty International, she had been chosen to speak as a young woman at the conference, her voice was better, more important than mine. And yeah she immeadiately got my back up. So I wrote a poem and submitted it to the 'Coming Together' over at Women's Space and Tami's.

Anyway, thanks for this post and for your blog.

secondwaver said...

This post has so much in it, I liked reading it. In my mismatched socks. :)

NOLA radfem said...

Yeah, the never-ending quest to be, at least, a mother who can produce a pair of matching socks!

Did you see the Steve Martin movie in which he was raised by a black family? I can't remember the name of the movie; it was very popular in the eighties, but I thought it was pretty lame. Even so, there was a great scene in which Martin's character, about eighteen years old, is finally informed by his black parents that "son, we have something to tell you - you're white." Martin started checking out his hands, mumbling, "I'm white? OH my GOD!" I just loved that, the way it pointed out that someone really could grow to that age and not notice difference (as well as, of course, turning the tables so that, for once, WHITENESS was the "difference").

On the other hand, I have a white friend with an adopted Korean son. She was once asked to do an article about interracial adoption and set out writing the "we never notice he's different from the other kids" piece. Her son walked by and asked her what she was writing about, so she told him it was about interracial adoption and how in their family no one noticed he was different. Her son, about twelve at the time, got very sad and said, "Oh. Well, I notice. I notice every day."

Still, I think he DIDN'T notice when he was younger, and I suspect that if he lived in a society in which adults were color-blind, he would never have noticed much. I think it's that society pointed that out to him (or, more precisely, society points out racial difference constantly, and he finally reached an age where he began to notice society's racist wallpaper).

Is your poem up yet? I'd like to read it. Thanks for speaking up at the conference. Whenever you do work like that, you of course have lots of invisible people standing behind you!

Thanks to both of you for reading, and for the comments. You both have such amazing work on your blogs!

Anonymous said...

No, I haven't seen the Steve Martin movie. I'm a bit phobic of mainstream American movies because the misogyny and race hate in them terrifies me.

When I lived in Finland for two years: from the age of ten. I sure did notice that I did not have the right coloured skin. In Australia, most people have a tan and I am just read as a tanned white. But in Finland it was pretty darn obvious we weren't white. We were read as gypsies and were followed around in shopping centres. We had a lot of trouble making friends. Yep, I noticed every day.

It is really strange actually. When I was younger I was really, really dark. And my mother is quite light-skinned even though she is half-black. My parents would always get asked whether they had adopted and Aboriginal child! I wonder how they felt about that. My father is very racist (he is Finnish and pure white) and my mother has a lot of internalised race-hate. My grandmother was raised by white nuns and pretty much has little connection to her culture so my mum feels like she is white and does not identify with her blackness and does not want to know about her black history. She is really confused by the fact that I really desperately want to know. Everything about my grandmothers life, our black heritage. But yeah I know the feeling of that Korean boy.

Thanks for the compliments on my blog. Yours is awesome too.