These Are The Days

Smart ~ Writer ~ Mom

Essence

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I polish like the coin collector
Carefully, intently
But mine is not of rare copper
Silver or nickel

I guard like prized fine art
The kind worth more to the buyer than the seller
And mine is not of oils or watercolors or pottery

I arrange as the thimble enthusiast
Tiny jars displayed neatly, delicately
In a glass case
But mine is not of miniatures

I treasure as the vintage music lover
Blowing clean the dusty jackets
Smoothing faded labels
Feeling gritty vinyl grooves
But mine is not of melodies. Of lyrics. Rhythm.

Mine are treasure
My collection. A deep longing –
THE deep longing of my life
Residing in the edges of my heart amid the
Creases and crevices where light and darkness live.

And warmth.

These heart songs linger as the last whispers of a sunset slowly drip into the horizon
Edging out the last glints of color.
They reverberate
In the echoes of days gone by and of the days

That never were

I hold close the memories
I carry them gently. Cherishing. Agonizing. Wondering.
So I can remember what I never had
What is here now but is also lost
What I see and feel but never lived

About Good Mothers and a Lion

It’s not often that I’m completely blown away by a movie. But this past weekend, on a whirlwind trip to New York City with my husband, we saw the Oscar-nominated film, “Lion.”

And, well?

Wow.

I haven’t cried that hard in a long time.

The themes of loss, guilt, redemption, and longing that run through this film pulled at my heart from the opening credits.

lion-565820_1920Lion is the incredible true story of Saroo, a young Indian boy who, at five years old, becomes separated from his family. He awakens on a train some two thousand miles from his home and, after a series of heart-wrenching and dangerous encounters with strangers, realizes he is lost and alone.

Eventually, he is adopted by a couple from Australia. I held my breath as little Saroo walked out of the plane and into the room where his adoptive parents were eagerly waiting to meet him. He wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t crying either. My guess is that in that moment he was feeling an uncomfortable mixture of sadness and confusion along with a tiny sliver of hope.

Nicole Kidman portrayed his adoptive mom, Sue. In that first meeting with Saroo, she knelt down, smiled at him sweetly, and through tear-filled eyes said, We’re so happy to see you…we’re your mum and dad.

As joyous a moment as that must have been for this couple who longed to adopt a child, my heart couldn’t help but ache for little Saroo and his longing to go home. This ache was deeper than I’d anticipated because I found myself suddenly overcome with emotion. You know the kind I’m talking about. The kind that seems to bubble up from nowhere and spill out through your eyes. Your nose. Your throat. My sobbing was audible and decidedly unflattering and terribly hard to control. As I sat there, embarrassed, watching my husband scramble to find a napkin or tissue for me, I found myself instantly connected to that little boy.

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The story then jumps forward two decades. Saroo, now 30 years old, is a man with a good life and good friends. It’s evident he was raised in a loving home by a caring family. Still, for 25 years, he’s wondered about where his story began. You can sense that something is still pulling at him. A longing to return to India, to the home he remembers in his heart. And so he intensifies his search – using the new tool Google Earth – and slowly begins to piece together his fragmented childhood memories.

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Yesterday, I came across a clip from an interview on Australian TV with Saroo and his (adoptive) mother, Sue. The interviewer asked Sue if she had been worried when her son first began his search. Was she worried he would find his birthmother and leave the life he’d known in Australia? Or worse – would he discover that perhaps his birthmother had abandoned him and didn’t want contact?

Sue wasn’t afraid of any of these things; her response to the interviewer was incredible.

She smiled and said that no she wasn’t afraid for herself, but rather for her son. She didn’t want him to be disappointed or hurt. But she wasn’t worried or insecure about his search for his birthmother. She said that although she didn’t know the circumstances of how he came to be her son, she knew from the first moment she saw him that he had been loved by a good mother. There was a kindness in his eyes and a warmth in his heart, she said, that told her he had been well taken care of.

Although this isn’t a traditional story of adoption (whatever that means), there are similarities that struck a chord with me. In the months following my son’s placement, I often wondered what kind of relationship would evolve between him and me and more specifically between me and his mother. I felt vulnerable and less than. Would the love I have for my son be questioned because of the choices I made? I’m embarrassed to admit being nervous that I would be categorized with negative stereotypes about unmarried girls that get pregnant. As it turns out my fears and worries were unfounded. For nearly 30 years, my son’s mother has never looked at me with anything other than kindness. She’s a good mother. And somehow she always made me feel that I could be good too.

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I won’t ruin the movie’s ending, but let’s just say there are way more tears.

Tears of loss and struggle. Reunion and sadness. Closure and peace.

If you haven’t guessed, I loved this movie. This extraordinary story of a young boy whose name means Lion and his two mothers … it’s easily going down as one of my favorites, although I don’t know how easy it will be to watch again anytime soon. But it will definitely stay with me for a long time.

What She Will Become (Movie Review: Hidden Figures)

Have you seen the Oscar-nominated film, “Hidden Figures”? I’ll jump to the end and tell you right off the bat that I loved this movie. We went a few weeks ago and brought our 12-year-old.  What an extraordinary history lesson for us all.

If you didn’t know already, this film is the true story of three black, female engineers who were vital to the space program in the 1960s. The three main characters worked with other female engineers and mathematicians in the “colored” facility of NASA. The racism of the time is portrayed in subtle ways that hit you in the gut when you least expected it.

When the extraordinary talents of one of the women, Katherine Johnson, were finally recognized, she was moved to the “white” part of NASA to work with the mostly male engineers. The white people were perplexed when she left her desk for long periods of time each day. It never occurred to them that there was no “colored” restroom for her to use. Turns out, once per day she would literally run a full mile and a half back to her old building to use the restroom – since there was no restroom for “colored” people in the “white” building. Gut punch.

In another scene, we see Katherine pour a cup of coffee from the office coffee pot. The white people looked on, in disbelief. How dare she pour from the same pot. The next morning she discovered someone had set up a pot just for her … and they were kind enough to label it so she would know it was hers: COLORED. Gut punch.

While there were many really great scenes, one in particular settled in my bones fairly early in the film. It took place in what appeared to be a school principal’s office.

A young Katherine Johnson and her parents sit opposite the principal, who tells them their daughter has been identified as gifted. The school strongly recommends she move to a more advanced school and, as the parents soak in this good news, the principal hands them an envelope filled with money. The other teachers took up a small collection to assist the family with tuition at the new school. At first, the parents are unsure whether they should accept the money, but the principal asserts, “You must consider sending her to another school. You have to find out who she will become.”

And to me, that is the crux of the movie. How many stories like this one have yet to be told? And worse, how many stories like this were never even possible so many years ago.  How many heroes never made it into the history books?

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When I was enrolled for a semester at what is now UMass Lowell, I took a history class as part of my full-time liberal studies curriculum. I don’t recall the exact name of the class, but I do remember the teacher. He was an older white man who I naively wrote off as ‘out of touch’ and a ‘curmudgeon.’

Couldn’t have been further from the truth.

Although he was kind of grumpy (at least on the days when he didn’t have a Dunkin Donuts coffee cup on his desk), he was one of my first teachers to teach beyond the history books. This was before the Internet (the dark ages, as my daughter would say) and so he relied on literature, poetry, and other kinds of cultural data. His passion? The American Indian. He walked us through the American History we thought we had learned in grades K-12 and filled in the missing pieces of how settlers treated Indians and the state of these groups today. There were tears in his eyes when he talked of broken promises, the struggling reservations, and the near-extinguishing of the language, culture, and traditions of Native Americans.

When I attended UCF, I had many terrific professors, but again, one stood out to me. Professor Jones was kind of hippie-ish. He brought his guitar to class once. And his teaching style was to leverage the power of storytelling. He was captivating and, as my UMass Lowell professor, he enlightened us about various groups that were essentially omitted from our standard K-12 history books.

I don’t remember thinking too much about it at the time, but in both instances I look back and wonder why I didn’t learn about these stories in middle school and high school? Why did my history books focus on the white man’s experience with little more than a glossed-over mention of Native Americans, slaves, women, Latinos and others? How many other stories have literally been white-washed out of our books and our standard curriculum? Why is white history the default history?

Looking back, I now see that the privileged kind of history I learned about in school was for the most part framed within the lens of what was possible for me and others like me. It was framed within the context and from the perspective of white, suburban, middle class folks. Of course, it was tipped to favor my male counterparts, as much of women’s history was omitted save for the notables like Betsy Ross and Susan B. Anthony. Yet in spite of the glossing over of most of women’s history, I never had much doubt about what I could become. About what was possible for me.

After learning about stories and experiences other than my own (like Hidden Figures, the story of Ruby Bridges, the stories from my teachers of Native Americans, the Inuit, Japanese-Americans, Jewish-Americans, and more),  I realize that the privilege of knowing what you could become doesn’t yet exist for everyone.

If you haven’t seen this movie, go. Bring your kids. Have a discussion. And don’t stop talking until every kid knows the possibility of what they could become.

Lessons From the March

16114913_10212584900320701_1699524673494432565_nIt’s been a week since the Women’s March on Washington and I’m still having trouble putting into words what I experienced that day.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to write … maybe that will help me organize and process everything anew.

It was an extraordinary day.

Women and men from all walks of life convened in the nation’s capital to essentially say NOPE.

First observation? Solidarity is the coolest. Just when you think you’re the only one reeling about what’s happening in our country, it turns out a million of your closest friends around the world feel the same way.

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Exiting at L’enfant Plaza station

As we boarded the jam-packed subway that morning, I spotted three women. They were older than me. Perhaps in their 60s or 70s? One wore a rainbow-colored scarf. Another wore shiny peace sign earrings that spun and dangled down to her shoulders. And yet another wore LGBTQ buttons on her jacket. They were dressed in pink and all of them wore the famous “pussy hats.” They were excited to be there and their enthusiasm was contagious and inspiring. The subway train and the terminal at which we disembarked were filled with crowds so thick and deep that my only comparison was to the throngs of people I experienced at Walt Disney World – specifically when the Magic Kingdom is so beyond capacity that the gates to the backstage areas have to be opened to allow the multitudes to safely make their way to the park’s exit. Despite the crowds, everyone was peaceful, helpful, friendly, and ENERGIZED.

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Their sweatshirts read “Truth matters” and “We will not be silent.” He is wearing a Vietnam Vets hat and she, the popular pussy hat.

I had to take a picture of this couple because, to me, they defied stereotype. I hate it when I rush to judgment and stereotype people – but sometimes it’s hard to avoid slipping into old ways of thinking. But this couple? They took me off guard. I saw them when we first emerged from the subway station. They were a few paces ahead of me. I noticed their hats first and as I inched closer (stalker), I read their sweatshirts. I regretted not snapping a picture. But then, about a half hour later, I saw them again as we made our way toward the staging area. A second chance for a photo opp! I woud have pegged them as Trump supporters from a million miles away. Lesson learned – judge not, Kim.

We made our way toward the start of the march and the main stage. Somehow, we were able to edge through the crowds and the police and secure a spot right in front the National Museum of the American Indian. We were at such an angle that the line of sight to the stage was blocked. Fortunately, we stopped in front of a huge Jumbo Tron and thus were able to see the entire event up close.

First speaker: America Ferrara. She owned that stage. You could sense her passion as she shared her fears about this new administration and what it means for people that look like her. She said, “If Trump gets his way, we risk going from a country of immigrants to becoming a country of ignorance. ” Given the events of the last 24 hours, I’d say she was right.

We heard from Amanda Nguyen, founder of “Rise.” She helped helped draft the Sexual Assault Bill of Rights and she spoke intensely about how she turned her tragedy into advocacy and activism. And she inspired us all with the question: What will you do with your fire?

Van Jones challenged us all to live up to the “Love Trumps Hate” signs we were holding and tap into empathy and bridge-building rather than more hate-filled rhetoric. A lesson: don’t just hold a sign if you’re not willing to do the work behind the words.

16195849_10212583496885616_1136648660625175529_nAshley Judd was ON FIRE. She rapped a poem by 19 year old Nina Donovan. If you haven’t seen it, grab yourself some popcorn and a glass of bubbly and watch it RIGHT NOW.

And Sister Simone Campbell encouraged us all to “not be afraid” and to have “curiosity about our neighbors.” I loved her message. Another lesson – don’t pre-judge nuns. They can be pretty badass.

16143057_10212583499485681_1178057081633432843_nI have to admit, I had no idea Gloria Steinem would be there but when she walked on stage I nearly fainted. It was as though she carried the ghosts of marches past with her to inspire the women of 2017.

And the inspirations continued. California’s newest Senator Kamala Harris fights for the economy and healthcare because those *are* women’s issues.

New York’s pistol of a Senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who fights for sensible gun reform and programs to address and reduce sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. (Let the record show, I predict she will the President or Vice President very soon.)

Alicia Keys, who not only sang, but delivered a powerful, spoken word poem about truth and justice. And then there was Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood. There’s been a lot of hullabaloo about the fact that Planned Parenthood was a sponsor of the Women’s March.

I have to say, I did see a small handful of people with “choose life” signs. Some news outlets reported violence toward pro-lifers, but that’s not what I witnessed. These folks marched alongside us, peacefully and respectfully. And honestly? That’s the way it should be. After all, if you’re pro-women’s rights, I believe that includes respecting the right to choose what’s best for you. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating. Personally, I am pro-life. But when I enter the voting booth, I support the pro-choice candidate. Because my personal beliefs aren’t to be imposed on anyone else. And vice versa.

The day left me inspired and filled with a new purpose. Since the election, I’ve called my representatives on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis to express my concern for Cabinet appointees. Their numbers are pre-programmed in my phone. But now after the march, I realize that while calling and tweeting is all good, it’s not enough. This administration requires that we the people hold them accountable every single day. There is simply too much at stake.

The other thing I learned is that not all women were behind this march. It was definitely top-heavy with white women. And while it is comforting to know that we can show up in such numbers, it was also very sobering to remember that 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump. We own this now. All of us.

I also learned that my anger and my frustration – while relatively new to me – is not new to the millions of women of color. Their anger has lingered just below the surface for years. With every broken promise. Every unfair judgment. Every unfair stereotype. Every unfair law enacted to keep things the way they were…when everybody knew their place.

And finally, I realized that if I walk away from this march feeling good about myself, but unwilling to do the required work of what comes next, then it was really just a giant pep rally.

I’m ready to do some work.

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WOMENS MARCH

Post-script: here’s the fabulous sign made by my family to greet me when I got home. 

What She Once Held, She Carries

While others weep, a mother sits quietly in the clean, sterile hallway as others rush past her, and she remembers with specific detail the outfit she chose for her daughter that very morning. Pinks and purples, of course.

She recalls with slow-motion precision every moment of that morning.

The knot in her hair. The fruity smell of detangling spray, which she used to brush it all straight and smooth and then high atop her head into a ponytail, secured with an elastic band and a fancy ribbon.

The high-pitched squeaks and sounds of Disney cartoons in the background as she wiped the counters of their breakfast crumbs.

The minty smell of toothpaste as she stood over her, watching her brush her tiny little teeth, carefully up front. Not so good toward the back.

She remembers hastily emptying the pastel-colored backpack ~ discovering a sea of half-colored papers, one permission slip, and a Scholastic book order form ~ before filling the pack with today’s healthy snack and lunch (and one cookie).

She remembers her sweet ‘fresh from the bath’ smell, which she inhaled while wrapping her in her coat, hat, and mittens to prepare for the cold, winter morning. She kissed her tiny lips and stroked her cheek gently, remarking on how soft and still ‘baby-like’ her three-year old is. She held her tightly – breathing in that little-girl sweetness all the way through her nose and deep into her chest and lungs, so it can occupy a permanent spot in her memory. And in her heart. Holding, holding, holding.

And now, she replays it all in her mind. Wondering if she had just lingered a bit longer … just held her for a few more minutes, perhaps …

If she had let her watch another episode of her favorite TV show, maybe …

But, no.

How strange it will be to see her smiling face in her phone. On her computer. In a scrapbook. On a holiday card. In a frame on her walls and refrigerator. And on other people’s walls and refrigerators, too.

How strange it will be when the room has cleared and life has gone on for everyone else, to return home and see her new favorite doll from Santa sitting ready for a tea party, her still-damp toothbrush at the sink, her unmade bed with the pillow that cradled her dreams.

While others weep and offer heartfelt expressions, all she can do is remember what she once held. What she now will carry. The grief. The guilt. The memories. Waking up every morning from here on out feeling gut-punched as the reality seeps in that your baby girl is gone. The ache of knowing that this cruel turn of fate is also part of motherhood.

And her heart breaks.

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