Monday, December 29, 2008

Future So Bright

I don't think I can watch the inauguration. I imagine I'll get too overwhelmed. The effect will be similar to the consequence of looking directly at the sun. I will have to look away lest I burn my eyes. It is simply too much to absorb. An abundance of bright must be as harmful as an abundance of dark, right? I will have to record the inauguration and fast forward through parts or I'll watch it in bits and pieces via media reports and youtube and facebook postings. Out of sequence it won't pack the same punch and then at least I'll be able to stay in control of myself, manage my emotions and maintain my dignity. I want to watch it with everyone else. I do. I want to be a part of this collective experience and take the first new step into this new world. It will be something, right? Of course the only thing worse than my not being able to handle my emotions if my great expectations are met would be my not being able to handle my emotions if my great expectations are not met. I admit I may be putting a bit too much on this particular day and it's meaning and the symbolism but there is a reason. I have a confession to make. I think Barack Obama's historic acceptance speech in Grant Park was kind of a downer. First of all he looked exhausted (understandably), depressed (remember, his grandmother just died) and profoundly world weary. (Duh.) In his speech he reminded the masses over and over again that things wouldn't happen overnight and the country is currently in the crapper. He continually put the responsibility of change on us citizens and he even prophesied that the needs of the country would likely not be met in one term. He was utterly and achingly truthful and real. His feet were firmly planted on the ground which kept me from drifting up to clouds despite the fact that so many others listening seemed to be headed there. A few days after the election I began to float upward on the endless possibilities his presidency could offer. As I wrote in a previous post ("Oh, the Audacity"--posted 11/10)"...from now until January 20th and for some time after I'll track Michelle's fashion trends, collect Obama collectibles, anxiously await the name of their dog and the school the girls will attend, and anticipate Barack's appearances, speeches and actions like a good old fashioned stargazer. I am going to revel in the new "Camelot" and "for the first time in my adult life" I will let myself experience the "audacity of hope"." But January 20th is fast approaching and I grow more cautious with each passing day. I want to be obliviously happy and hopeful and unrealistic and ignorant on the day but I'm afraid Obama's earnest realism won't allow it. I want to hear a speech for the ages that carries me through the good and bad times ahead. I know Obama is capable but I'm afraid his pesky propensity for the truth will get in the way. This country loves to build people up then knock them down. How long will it be until sentiments of "Obama the Great" are replaced with sentiments of "Obama the Terrible"? The first one hundred days will be more scrutinized than any other presidency in history I'm sure and it will be like a roller coaster ride with more twists and turns than the newest ride at Great America. Ah well. I have twenty more days to live in denial or start mentally preparing for the future which as we all know will rush toward us relentlessly whether we want it to or not. There is one guarantee, though. January 20th will certainly be something to remember. The moment will burn bright despite the result. Maybe I'll wear shades.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Audra Running

Audra is running. She is my sixteen month old daughter. On a snowy day my husband is home from work and after finishing errands we have stopped at a coffee shop I've driven by hundreds of times but never been to. We sip coffee in the corner of the cafe and Audra runs from our table to the end of the counter where we ordered. I'm not clear on whether this is a "kid friendly" place or not. There are no highchairs. It's an old school cafe with a chalkboard that informs what they have to offer, cheap coffee and characters like a bearded man who is coloring with crayons and a barista and her friend (apparently a former employee who just broke up with her boyfriend Skylar)who are talking so loud they force everyone to be a part of their conversation. I call Audra's name and she runs back to us with a smile then hugs my crossed legs. I hug her back and she runs away again. This time she gets past the counter and adds a table to her distance from us. My husband calls her name and she runs back to hug my knees and adds his knees to her affection. So far noone has complained and she has earned a few smiles from other patrons on her journey. The third time she travels past the counter, the table and almost into another part of the shop where we would lose sight of her. I get up and retrieve her. When she is back she hugs our knees once more. This time as I watch her leave us I realize we are metaphor. This is the parent-child relationship. With each hug she gains a security that enables her to travel further. My husband and I let her go but reign her back just in time. How many ways will we manifest this in the eighteen years that we raise her? How many times will we do it right and do it wrong? Someday we will have to let her travel out of our sight, won't we? I won't be able to pick her up and bring her back to us when she gets to the part of the cafe we cannot see. Hopefully we'll have given enough to sustain her by then and hopefully she'll occasionally run back.

Audra Spinning

Audra is spinning. She is my sixteen month old daughter. My husband, stepkids Thomas and Nora and I are watching her in our family room. We have just eaten pancakes. It is Saturday morning and Audra is spinning. There is music playing. The tune has a driving beat that is thrilling to her because she carries a grin that suggests there is no place she'd rather be. Audra is also falling. After to two three spins she topples over and lands on her bottom. As soon as she can she is back on her feet and the spinning begins, again. An addition to the spin and fall routine occurs when Audra spins, falls, stands and then attempts to walk a few steps. She teeters to one side with her arms outstretched. She tries another step and her body repeats the action on the opposite side. She falls, stands up and spins again. She is delighted. My husband and I look at eachother with a marvel that non verbally expresses, "Oh my God, we made her. Oh my God, we made her and Oh my God, can you believe we made her?" Every time her butt hits the ground Bill smiles, I laugh and Thomas and Nora giggle as if they had no idea the punchline was coming. Yes, Audra is spinning and her entire being is set to accomplish that task. When she falls she is not disappointed. Falling is part of the act. It holds the same value as the standing up and turning north, south, east and west. On it, she places no judgement. Thomas and Nora's protective instincts cause them to sit on the floor and create a barricade with their arms. The intention is to prevent her from hitting the ground but soon they realize she has no desire to be kept from falling. Their arms become a ring showcasing her movements and in a beautiful moemnt of grace they don't force their will upon her. Audra is still spinning and smiling and now she has added squealing to her repetoire. I've gone from laughing to holding my breath and fighting back tears. Usually one sees art-like beauty when they visit a gallery. The day is planned and they've paid their way. I had no plan to witness aching beauty on a Saturday in my living room. She is poetry, metaphor. She is an example in motion of what what we would hope to be. Determined. Joyous. Inspirational. Free.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Oh, The Audacity!

I'm falling in love. It's not an affair. I love my husband. That's been established. But, still and well, I am falling in love. It's with two people, well, actually four. I'm in love with the Obamas. Barack, Michelle, Malia, Sasha and add to that whoever their soon to be dog will be. I don't even like my own dog that much (just kidding Falstaff) but I will love this one. And since they are choosing a hypoallergenic dog for Malia my love will have no side effects. I want to join the Obamas wherever they go, climb in a suitcase and move into the White House with 'em. Doesn't it feel like we're all going to get to move in with them on January 21st? I have a strong feeling I'm going to meet them someday. Granted it may not be at the Inauguration or at any of the Balls like I've envisioned but I'm convinced that I will shake Obama's hand and hang out with Michelle and discuss Pinto dresses and the pros and cons of straightening ones hair. Perhaps Malia and Sasha will regard me as an Auntie and maybe my daughter will play with them on the White House lawn.

During the election I felt disconnected from the Obamas. Once Hilary was out, Obama had my vote but I couldn't put my finger on him. I wasn't completely sold. On my best day I couldn't rival Michelle's accomplishments. Her superwoman credentials just made me feel bad. But something has happened and now their unattainable qualities have given way to something for me to aspire to when I grow up even though Michelle is only five years older than me. It's nice to have someone to look up to when you're an adult. The older you get the less excited about other people you become. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they have a lot to prove and they may let us all down more than we can fathom by the end of his term but from now until January 20th and for some time after I'll track Michelle's fashion trends, collect Obama collectibles, anxiously await the name of their dog and the school the girls will attend, and anticipate Barack's appearances, speeches and actions like a good old fashioned stargazer. I am going to revel in the new "Camelot" and "for the first time in my adult life" I will let myself experience the "audacity of hope".

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Beauty of the Bride

I love the show "Say Yes to the Dress" on TLC (Fridays at 9p). It's amazing what reality television can dramatize. Who knew it was possible to make a half hour program about the vendors at a bridal boutique and soon-to-be-brides choosing a durn dress? Who cares about such things? I do, for one. I love wedding dresses and weddings and pictures of brides on their wedding day. When the day has gone well and the bride's hopes for her wedding have come to be, there is an elusive joy in her eyes and a smile that is like no other. She has no idea what the future holds and as far as she is concerned, on that magical day, she expects nothing less than perfection for her life. Does that happen? Rarely. Could anyone convince her otherwise? No. The pictures bear witness to a combination of joy, hope and the wonderful unknown. The pictures capture emotions that cannot be replicated because even as soon as the evening of her wedding the unknown doesn't exist anymore. From the church, to the reception hall, to the hotel, from moment to moment she acquires something new about her husband that sends a message loud and clear that the wedding itself is not going to be the marriage and forever is a very long time. I have looked at my wedding pictures and there is that elusive look in my eyes and a smile that is unrecognizeable because I had never been so happy and because I had no idea what was in store. But this truth isn't a bad thing. I wouldn't trade what I know now for what I didn't know then. When I look at my bride-self in my beautiful champagne colored dress I marvel at her but I don't envy her. I embrace what I have learned about my marriage, my husband, myself and marriage has made me a better person and best of all, a Mom. I imagine if my husband and I had another ceremony on Nov 12th, our third anniversary, the smile that would emerge would be just as worthy of my awe. Because I have lived. My husband and I have treated the word marriage like a verb and we have tried our best. Now my smile would suggest pride, anticipation for more of our shared life come what may, and knowledge as well as life's great constant, the unknown.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Secret Life of Stereotypes

Sassy; A word defined in the dictionary as "saucy" A word in our culture that may as well have a picture of a black woman next to it. Ya know, cause black women are "sassy". We're also wise. We also really like to help white people. In Hollywood film versions of us that pretty much is all we like to do. Case in point, in "The Secret Lives of Bees" starring our reigning-sassy-black-actress Queen Latifah, the Academy Award winning Jennifer Hudson (who won her statue for her "sassy" performance in Dreamgirls), Sophie Okenedo and Alicia Keys, these women get to be SASSY four times over. AND!!!! They get to save a white girl! (Dakota Fanning for God's sake) And of course these aren't modern women we're talking about. Heaven forbid. The story is set in 1964 because modern black women aren't half as interesting as those who don't exist anymore. And finally, to add insult to injury the G-D story is set in the South. Do black people in Hollywood movies live anywhere else but the South?!!! Oh yeah, Los Angeles. By the way, Sophie Okenedo plays the part of a woman-child. A WOMAN-CHILD! When I saw this character described in the Chicago Sun-Times I was incensed. Why do people who write black characters love to write about the WOMAN-CHILD? Or the MAN-CHILD? What the hell does this actually mean? Are they afraid to give them an actual conditon for fear that they couldn't create the most generalized, cloying, crowd pleasing character possible if they were confined by the actual specifics that would cause a person to be emotionally stunted? Boy, those pesky details would be a downer. Patooey!

I will not see "The Secret Life of Bees". I hope no one sees it, ever. I am not concerned that lack of attendance will send a message to Hollywood that black movies don't sell because if I never see another movie with black characters that keeps us locked in the same ole antiquated roles played since "Gone with the Wind" it will be too darn soon. Instead of seeing "The Secret Life of Bees" have a conversation with a black woman and find out what's going on in her life right now in 2008. See how see feels about Barack Obama. Don't assume she loves him because he's black. Or if she does love him give her an opportunity to articulate the reasons beyond the color of his skin. Listen to how she may not have a southern accent and does not actually work in a domestic position. Or if she does work in a domestic position ask her about it. I'm going to let you in on the secret to busting stereotypes. Let's stop "buying" into them. Money talks. Let's walk away from the cineplex with our money in our pockets and black women's dignity restored.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

John McCain Has Issues

There are all sorts of theories surrounding McCain's recent downslide. Granted all of the reasons make sense. In the second to last debate he really did look like he was walking around aimlessly. I'm sure the people from his campaign wished they could run out on stage and staple his feet to the ground. His big-bold-superhero move to save the world through economics crashed. Oops! And when it comes right down to it, he just hasn't seemed like he's all that pleasant to be around. Never mind "having a beer" with the guy, I wouldn't even want to be in the same bar with him lest the irascible politician felt tempted to crack a joke. Despite these things, I think there is more at play when it comes to McCain most likely losing in November. I believe he's done it to himself because he has unresolved issues with rage due to unresolved issues with his father and unresolved issues with what happened those five years he was a p.o.w. I think he is prone toward self sabotage and that he only allows himself a certain degree of success before he finds or forces a way to fail. Being a senator is an accomplishment that merits praise but being voted the President of the United States? Does John McCain think he deserves that? Apparently not. How else would one explain choosing Sarah Palin as his Vice President? How was anybody able to convince him to gamble like that so late in the game? They were able, because McCain was already starting to look for an out. Why would McCain rush to Washington on a promise to change the trajectory of our economic situation and then not close the deal? Self fulfilling prophecy. That's why. Why would McCain bring up a solution to the housing problem that was more Democratic in it's ideals, consequently alienting his party even further? Why hasn't he hammered Obama to his face, toe-to-toe on any of his relationships in question or any of his views that threaten the Republican ideals in a substantial manner. Because, he doesn't want to win and if he did that, he might win. He's gotten too close and now he must recede. Granted his flubs give me hope that the change Obama promises is indeed this country's future but I am fascinated by McCain's struggle with his destiny. I was just as intrigued albeit much more disappointed when we all watched Gore crash and burn in his run for the Presidency. Do you remember that horrible moment in the first debate when he rushed his opponent like a bully while he was answering the moderator's question and Bush appropriately responded with an expression that suggested, shock, confusion and disdain? In that moment the hope of Gore becoming Clinton's successor drained out of me and I knew our fate as a country was sealed. It is something to watch someone stand in their own way. No Democrat could've written a better script for McCain's decline. After the third debate his programmed-old school-joe-the-plummer-nonsense annoyed me to the point of disgust then I heard his "stand-up routine" at the "Alfred E Smith" dinner and through humor I was able to at least designate him as a human being instead of a robot. Unfortunately, his human status reminds us that humans make mistakes. I'd call his entire campaign an "oops" that could be a template of what not to do in future campaigns. His loss is hopefully Obama's gain. His loss is a lesson to all of us in the perils of being human.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Motherhood: A Cliche

I have recently become a cliché. I mean a mother. I had a baby recently. Six months ago to be exact. Now I’m going to write about it. Yes, I’m another parent in the world who has had a baby and has got to share the story with everyone. Testify. Perhaps enlighten them with my revelatory wisdom. My daughter’s name is Audra. Audra Odeide (O-day-eed) Her middle name Odeide is after my maternal grandmother whom I never met. I figured it meant flower or something. Turns out it means “used things” So my daughter’s name is Audra “used things” Gaul. At least it sounds pretty. Her face is as round as an apple. Her cheeks are as sweet as pie. I’ve never been more in love. Who knew?

I could not decide whether to have a baby to save my life. I went back and forth, back and forth for months. I’d see a baby and melt but just as quickly come up with the practical reason why I should not get pregnant. I have a flat stomach. I already have two step-kids. I’ll never sleep again. My career will end up in the toilet. Or worse, What if I open the floodgates and let the desire wash over me and then I can’t get pregnant? What the hell would I do then? Believe me, there is no rage like the rage, no hurt like the hurt of a woman who wants a child and cannot have one. I was happy. Did I want to gamble that happiness for a child that would change everything forever and ever Amen? I couldn’t decide. I didn’t decide. I threw my hands up and conceded that no decision was a decision. I opened myself up to God’s will. I prepared my body by getting off the vitamins that kept my skin clear, getting off the birth control pill for three months before we started trying and downing prenatal pills provided by my gynecologist Mother on my six month wedding anniversary. “It’s been six months, now. Time to start trying!” she said. I was pregnant the second month we tried. Decision made!

I believe being Audra’s Mommy was fated. I think it means she is meant to do great things and I was simply a vessel to bring her to this earth. Is that overblown? Perhaps. Hell, stranger things have happened. Being a Mother is the most sensible thing I’ve ever done. It is a task that I’ve taken on quite easily. The biggest revelation I’ve had as a new mom is that it is not a revelation. She is an addition to my experience that feels as normal and as natural as my life before she was born but my life is just better and more purposeful and more fun. Sometimes I feel guilty about it. When people ask me how it is going I say, “Great, wonderful, bliss!” Then I feel as if I have to add a gory detail so I don’t sound like a “Polyanna” or a liar.

I have surprised some of my friends with this smooth transition. It can be said that I have a tendency toward the dramatic. A simple cold is a “rare tropical disease” Why react at five when you can react at ten? As thrilled as they were that I was having a baby we all worried how much it would rock my world. With my history of depression I was a prime candidate for post partum. The first week I brought Audra home we all waited for the other shoe to drop. We anticipated the day my sister and husband would have to drag me out of bed and hold me under a cold shower while shouting “It’s not about you anymore! For God’s sake, Audra needs to eat.” That day never came. I was in a blissful adrenaline filled phase that whisked me to Target and lunches and had me contemplating working out despite the fact that I could barely walk due to my swollen ankles and rotated hip. The adrenaline rush did eventually fade. I grew more and more tired, I was forced to start physical therapy for my hip and working out was something I use to do that I grew to relish not having to do right away. The feeling that never drained was the intoxication of being a Mom.

I am humbled by my good fortune. This isn’t to say there haven’t been challenges. Audra had a bout with gas that made her so fussy and uncomfortable I was constantly on edge. She has refused to take a bottle from anyone so I can’t be away from her for more than two hours which causes great concern for when I go back to teach and I need to be gone for seven hours once a week. Sometimes I am haunted by guilt as I tap away on the computer and she sits in her Boppy seat stimulation-free losing her genius at my hands. I feel responsible for her entertainment as if I’m a court jester and she is the Queen. Yet, all of this is manageable because I’m just so honored to be her Mom especially in light of all the women who want to be Moms and cannot. All of it is manageable when I remember that she is just a baby and she didn’t choose to be here. And oh yeah, did I mention those cheeks?

Lately I’ve noticed that the joy of motherhood is not popular as of late. The difficulty, stress, and burden on one’s identity are aspects of the role that are far more highlighted in modern culture. These qualities are dwelled upon, upheld and dissected to such an extent that they have almost replaced the less negative traits that do in fact still exist. Nowadays “Happy Mom” is reviled like the skinny super model or worse the Hollywood starlet that loses all her baby weight by the time she leaves the hospital. Now, when a woman says she loves being a Mom she is doubted. She is judged as a woman who is perpetuating the myth that motherhood is natural and (dare I say) predominantly enjoyable.

Speaking of supermodels, Tyra Banks recently had a show with a panel of women confessing that they were struggling with their roles as new moms. A panelist described the process of breastfeeding as, “Having the death sucked out of her.” Another mom was so angry when the parenting expert tossed a pacifier aside and stated she wasn’t a fan of them that the mother barely could mask her contempt. One woman described in graphic detail how she fantasized about throwing her baby against the wall. She went on to describe how she imagined hearing the infant’s head crack open as he slid to the ground into a pool of his own blood. The audience listened in horror yet there was a tangible satisfaction and relief. It was as if the members of the audience felt they had license to do no better than the women on stage. This isn’t to say that Tyra’s guests had failed at anything. Their experience was legitimately difficult and they were in fact brave for speaking their truth. The problem arose when Tyra negated and practically mocked mothers who had not encountered the same challenges in defense of her guests. In a high pitched voice she whined, “We hear motherhood like, “Oh my baby it smells so good even the poop smells great it’s just so perfect, perfect, perfect…”

I'm going to say it..."I love the smell of Audra’s poop!" I have snuck whiffs of her diaper when no one is watching. The scent is specific unto her which makes it special. Must my devotion merit public mockery? Because the sound of her breath while she sleeps makes me swoon like a school girl with a crush, do I deserve to be mimicked and discounted? Because I am sizzled and fried by her pork-chop-thighs does that mean I must be roasted by my peers as well? I am in love and I want to shout it from the top of my townhouse and not be disliked, criticized or rebuked.

Women who embrace motherhood without irony must speak out! We are losing status and although we are not better than anyone else we at least deserve to be respected. Let’s regain our place by not being ashamed of how we feel. When asked about our experience let’s be humble but honest. Share the unabashed joy that you feel without hesitation and spread the word that it is okay to be happy and it’s alright to love being a Mom.