Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How Can I Feel Proud?

How can I feel proud of my country right now?

Foreclosures hit 112%.

Greedy mortgage brokers, speculators, and builders inflated the market, targeted the "path of least resistance" by going after elderly and minority (mostly black women) borrowers.

We've been at war longer than my youngest daughter has been alive.

Missouri lost 10,000 jobs in the first quarter.

Wal*Mart announced plans to pull in those stimulus checks - "no fee" to cash the check and reduced prices on grocery staples - like we need to make the world's largest retailer and Chinese business partner any richer!

The media plays games with politics, sound bites, and people's emotions with everything.

Rev. Wright "controversy" hides the fact that white people (hello Pennsylvania) voted along racial and conservative religious lines but where is the outcry about that?

11 o'clock on Sunday morning is still the most racially divided and segregated hour in the country - when is the last time or any time a white person went to an all black pentecostal or Baptist church? Or when is the last time a black person went to an all white Presbyterian or Lutheran church? Come on people, wake up!

Racial division, class division is still alive and well in America. The have's have it and don't want to let it go! The have not's are just trying to survive.

Food prices, gas prices, mortgage crisis, no jobs, no loans, no health care - these are the issues that matter.

Marines are raping 14 year-old Japanese girls in Yokuska and Hiroshima and Okinawa! Should I be proud of those troops?

Big business has privatized prisons and have joined forces with law enforcement, teachers unions, and employers to create a perpetual underclass - cradle to prison population to keep rural America employed.

Italian, Irish, English flags can fly proudly on neighborhood homes but the minute the Black, African, or Caribbean country flags go up - the neighbors are outraged at the "angry black people." Go figure.

White girls, affluent white girls, in upstate New York are part of a middle school sex ring that gives oral sex to the boys in the bathroom - and the media portrays black and brown girls as wanton sex objects!

Big corporate conglomerates are "giving the people what they want" when in fact they are engaging in classic "push marketing" with the oversexed music and books purposely published and launched in black America. We don't want it and legitimate black literature can't get published in the big houses without sexing up the cover on the trades!

Texas polygamist ranches are engaged in incest and rape of 14 year old girls!

Gas is $3.59 a gallon in my St. Louis suburb!

A single mother, working hard, can't afford health care for her three teenagers.

One president was impeached for having oral sex with an intern...between him, his wife,and God...another president is still in office eight years later and hasn't been impeached for an illegal war, not one but three recessions (remember 2001, 2003, and now 2008), too close relationships with oil barons and gas prices are through the roof...shall I go on?

Sex on everything from cartoons to the news and we wonder why middle school kids are having it.

The government got rid of the Pell Grant and Ward Connerly and co-horts are trying to get rid of affirmative action in Missouri.

Forty years since Dr. King was assassinated and garbage workers in my little suburb are all black but the supervisors are all white.

And on, and on, and on...

And we wonder why the world doesn't like American government.

And we wonder why the world is ready for America to change.

And we wonder why the world thinks we are immoral, unethical, just plain wrong.

And we wonder why...

(sources: npr.org, cnn.com, nytimes.com, huffingtonpost.com)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hope

"Ms. Taye, are we meeting today?" This was the early Saturday morning question that rang through my telephone. I could hear the yearning in her voice. She was hungry and I was ready to give her nourishment...soul nourishment.

I meet with a group of promising young ladies at 10am on Saturdays. They are in middle school, one is a freshman, society would say they are "at risk." To me, they are "at hope."

These young ladies live in a racially segregated little suburb of St. Louis. They face the challenges of economic instability every day. Most of the girls are from single mother households, most of their mothers were teens, all of the girls know someone having sex, all of the girls are wise, innocent, and determined.

My heart is filled with them, I see their faces every morning when I wake up, I hear their voices every night when I go to sleep, they have become my daughters. I want to cocoon them from the sexual violence that rings through some urban neighborhoods, I want to equip them with all the knowledge in the world to help them escape from their world. The mental hammer in my head is breaking the fallow ground of generations of status quo.

I met these young ladies through my connection with Hope Unlimited Outreach. They are tangibly putting hand, head, and heart to work to affect the lives of lower income children. Their programs include tutoring, mentoring, and discipling from elementary through high school. My meeting them was like meeting destiny and purpose.

The young men in the program know me as well. They see me and know I am one mother who loves them. When I ride through their neighborhood, they run up to the van to say hello. I encourage them and challenge them. I let them see that I am proud of them. I want them to become responsible, respectful, and resourceful. They will be fathers one day and I want them to be college graduates, entrepreneurs, professionals before they become husbands. One day, they may marry one of the girls in the program, so my investment in them is an investment in the future. And I am not anyone special, I am just one mother, one woman.

All this is what is on my mind this Sunday evening as I sit in the coffee shop with my son. He won't have some of the same challenges because he has both his parents, both of us are educated, I stay home, my husband is gainfully employed. I want all children to have the same promise as my son, the reality is that society will judge some of them because of where they live or how they dress. My son is surrounded by books, by parents who read, by a mom who declares "no TV week," and sits with him at a coffeeshop so he can finish an English essay.

One of my girls told me a story that really bothered me. She wants to be a pediatrician. She is a freshman. She was forced by her counselor to re-take algebra because "all the slots" were taken for geometry. There wasn't a voice to fight for her at registration. She fight boredom and strives to better herself. She and her friend came to a book sale with me and bought books. You can see the determination to be more than the schools, the society, the neighborhood expects of her.

I thought about all of this after I read the Sunday newspaper. I came across the story about Ward Connerly trying to bring his anti affirmative action fight to Missouri. It made me shake my head when I think about the many men and women of color who were able to go to college, get government contracts, and enter the doors of corporate America because of affirmative action and equal employment. I shook my head as I read and thought about the kids I see every Saturday. They will need income and race based scholarships to enter college. Why the mean-spiritedness that wants to keep them in ignorance?

My girls deserve more than a society that wants to keep them in a lower class. My guys deserve more than a society that wants to put them into the private prison industry. The world deserves to hear their voices, benefit from their intellect, nourish their hope. I'm concerned. I wonder about the future. That is why when one of my girls called me, my response, "of course honey, I'll see you at 10 o'clock." And we learned together. Hope.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

When Food is the Enemy

I have a beautiful four-year-old daughter. She is bubbly, has a big dimpled smile, and battles food.

The other day I went to the grocery store in search of something that was soy-milk-egg-wheat-nut-treenut-fish-shellfish free. I went up one aisle and down another and read ingredient after ingredient. My heart began to palpitate and my head began to ache. The food aisle seemed as if they were all closing in on me and becoming a formidable opponent in my war to maintain a good quality of life for my youngest child.

Eosinophilic Gastroenteritis. The name at one time seemed longer than her. This rare disorder - deeply associated with food allergies and tends to run in pairs with its cousins of asthma and allergies - causes the eosinophils or white blood cells to act as if food is a parasite. My baby girl first became ill with violent throwing up episodes at 12 months when I was weaning her from breast milk and introducing more diary. "Perhaps she is lactose intolerant," was one thought. "Perhaps it is the additives," was another thought. "Surely organic milk is better."

I remember calling her doctors and being told "its just a cold." She was throwing up, had a runny nose and had already battled severe eczema since shortly after birth. It is sadly funny to me now that her then primary care physician didn't make a connection that food allergies and me nursing her would've caused the severe eczema episodes. We finally did an allergy test and learned the shellfish, she was three months old. That was no problem for me, her older sister was allergic to shellfish and fish. It was also no problem to eliminate nuts, also because of her older daughter. But milk? eggs? soy? diary? Those things are in just about everything and in some way were a part of my diet when I was her primary source of nutrition. It is the grace of God that it didn't kill her.

My beautiful chocolate drop was like a scene from the Exorcist when she threw up. It was not until she was 15 months old that her intestinal malrotation was discovered. Her rush to surgery and hospital stay ended up being close to three months as her throwing up continued and changed hue from clear to yellow to green. The GI docs at her children's hospital did barium swallows and scopes to discover her disorder. She was 18 months old.

The RAST blood allergy test revealed the food allergies. The main thing at that time was soy. We managed to know that cheese and processed meats would send her running to the bathroom like a quarterback in the end zone. There were times McDonald's fries would cause an eruption like Mt. Saint Helen or when pasta would come back up like molten lava. We learned to laugh in the midst of the frustration, exhaustion, and endless laundry.

It has been over two years now and she is on fairly good control medicines. There is no cure, some of the kids with EGID end up with feeding tubes and formula. Medicine only masks the symptoms and doesn't cure the disorder. We are trying to keep her from becoming malnourished as her list of food allergies is longer than the grocery list. She has finally accepted rice milk on her wheat-soy free cereal. She loves fresh vegetables and fruits. Bread is giving her fits and her love of croissants is hard for her to disavow.

Tomorrow she has another scope. Her reactions to foods lately are becoming more frequent. She has taken to eating rice, grapes, carrots, Cheerios. She is tough though and still runs, smiles, and plays. Yet, I can look in her eyes and see her weariness. She is up in the middle of the night gaging and spends parts of the day running to the bathroom. Her hair is starting to fall out, a side affect of the steroids and "having a major illness" according to her specialist. She shouts "I'm ok!" In my heart, I want to believe it, I want her to believe it. My baby girl and I will continue our quest for a good quality of life. We don't want to have food control her, yet, in ways it does because it can be life threatening.

My trip to the grocery store the other day ended with me picking up some jasmine rice, her favorite, and a basketful of grapes, pineapples, watermelon, and cucumbers. I did a last sigh at the cereal aisle, bid my farewells to the cookie aisle, skipped the bakery section, and waved good-bye to the ice cream. That day, we won the battle.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Hair Washing

"NO MORE!!!!!! SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME!"

"HELP ME! HELP ME!"

"OH, PLEASE IS IT OVER?!!!! MAKE IT BE OVER!"

"I WANT MY DADDY!!!!!!!!"

These were the the pittiful screams if my six-year-old daughter as we endured our weekly ritual of washing the hair.

I wonder if the nurse who gave her the first bath accidentially got soap in her eyes or otherwise tormented her because she has never liked getting her hair washed.

Now, you must understand, as the mother of sons with this one being the first girl, it was all new to me, the sheer hysteria around getting the hair washed. I tried to console her, hold her gently at the sink, sing to her, anything to make it easier.

There are times I think she does it for affect. Even her otherwise brave little sister has gotten into the screaming act because of their minor water torture. She has curly hair and before age 3 1/2 never cried. Her big sister's drama is starting to creep down!

Getting the hair washed and coiffed is a ritual in this black-girl home. We are all natural, I have dread locs, her little sister has curly hair, courtesy of our generations of mixed heritage. My six-year-old has everything from her Afro-Caribbean-Cherokee-French-African ancestry all tightly rolled up in glistening afro puffs.

I've invested in everything from Carols' Daughter, Warm Spirit, and Aveda products that make her hair part like butter. She looks beautiful in any style, especially little two-strand twists. She has the texture of hair that is just-so for any style.

So, now she wants to get her hair combed, the clock ticking for kindergarten. This, the little fashionista and butterfly princess survived her water-torture. All quiet in the bathroom...until next week!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"This is facism!"

"This is fascism!"

"Define that for me Joshua."

"Well," he turned hesitantly and spoke to the wall, "fascism is a form of government (mom) when the people (him) is expected to follow through blind loyalty and when the government controls every aspect of their life and they are subjected to no free will."

In the midst of my hidden laughter, I said, "then I'm your fascist!"

It all started because my husband is in Chicago for a conference this weekend. We normally go to a diverse, large church that has separate services for each age group. I told the children (13, 6, and 4) that we are going to try something different this morning. The weather is yucky outside and I didn't want to drive the 25 minutes it would take to get to the usual church. I should mention here that we just moved to this city in mid-August and have been visiting churches trying to find our "home." Needless to say, the kids like the church that has the video games, cafe, and play incorporated into their worship services for the kids, middle school, and high school. It is lively, interactive, and speaks to the modern kid. This morning, I just wanted to see what was close by.

The church I chose is a community church, currently meeting in my son's middle school. This immediately gave it a bad mark for him once we pulled into the parking lot. We ended up being a little late (I hate that) because the kids (each of them) spent moments arguing, hunting down underwear, and changing shirts (twice). I wanted to slip anonymously into the back pew and get into the very good sermon on Luke 6:24-26. Well, from the moment we sat down, the wiggling began.

My children are born and bred church kids. They have grown up with worship as an integral part of their lives. They know how to sit still! First it was the older two nudging each other and slumping down in the seat. Perhaps they felt uncomfortable because of the about 150 people there - we were the only African-Americans. Talk about that segregated hour on Sunday mornings! Then the youngest and feistiest of the three began her rather loud reading of her story Bible. Should I stop her from reading God's Word? I whispered to her to do it quietly. My stares fell on blind eyes because as that ended, her squirming began. The other two at least pretended to get into the message as its relevance was obvious - they had even opened their Bible to read along. I finally gave the youngest paper and pen to entertain herself, perhaps to emulate me taking notes. Why did I do that? Her sister immediately felt deprived and wanted her own paper. Silently I was praying for the service to end.

They were appropriately reverent during communion as we walked up to receive the Lord's Supper (after I told my son he needed to pray before he took it and I prayed a silent prayer before I took mine). The girls immediately started their questioning as to why they couldn't take communion (you're not ready yet) and why did I dip the bread in the cup (that is the way they do it here) and on and on.

I couldn't get out of there fast enough. I hurried their coats on and wanted to dash out the door. Of course, I appreciated the polite "hellos" of people around me as we were departing. One dad even said he noticed how well I was with my children. I cringed at that a little as I gave my polite, "thank you." I did the frustrated parental quick-step to the van, alternately holding hands and nudging them along.

The short drive home couldn't happen fast enough to me. "That is the last time I am going to be embarrassed by you in public!" My declaration stunned them into silence. Now, they are good and obedient kids - for the most part - it's just that my husband is out-of-town and I think they wanted to declare their dissatisfaction with the whole situation. Whatever it was, they were going to have to shape up.

"Everyone on the sofa," was my declaration upon arriving home. "I have to go potty," responded the youngest. I let them relieve themselves and patiently waited while my son slunked into the sofa and looked at me as if I'd grown three horns. The girls, one after the other, arrived and sat down. I began my laser-eye stare at each one. The put their hands in their laps and knew I was up to something. I made them sit still an entire ten minutes. Then I called them each up one-by-one.

After they each had their judgment time, I sent them upstairs with various instructions. I started with the oldest and finally had the squirming one last. She was the only one who didn't get a little pop on the bottom. She was also the only one who figured the whole thing out and knew if she just stood there and listened to my remunerations, it would all be over. She went upstairs to pick up her toys and proudly declared, "I didn't get a pop on the butt!" To which her sister responded, "that is so not fair." I called them back down.

I reminded them that I'm the one in charge here and that my disappointment in them extended beyond just church. I refrained from recounting all their infractions over the weekend, but just reminded them that I'm HWIC around here (head-woman-in-charge). They got the message and went upstairs. I sat back on my big leather chair to breathe for a second when my son came downstairs.

"What did I send you up to do?" I inquired in response to his presence on the steps. "But mama, I wasn't the one being bad, and besides I'm hungry!" "Joshua, go do what I told you to do!" "This is fascism!" Hence the conversation!

I'm not a hard-line parent but I do expect certain things of them. They know what those things are, even if daddy is out-of-town. I had to remind them that I don't care if they (pick one) hate me or don't love me...my job is to "train them in the way they should go so when they are old they won't depart from it" and to teach them to "honor your father and mother - the first commandment with a promise - that your days on earth will be long." Sometimes, as parents, it is easier to just let them have their way and forever walk out of church, the mall, or the grocery store ashamed, embarrassed, or mortified by some manipulative behavior from a four-year-old. That is not the kind of parent I am nor want to be. I miss it sometimes, like being in a new church where I was the only black woman and could've magnified in my mind the level of disturbance from the kids.

Well, the kids have emerged from their bedrooms to discuss "mommy" in the hallway. I can hear everything they say. The older ones convince the youngest one to come downstairs after feeding her the lines to ask me. I turn and glare at her, she races back upstairs to report my continued displeasure. Then the middle child of the three comes down and uses her butterfly princess charm and best sing-song voice. This moment I'm holding a hard line, that is until I burst out laughing at their efforts to get back into my good graces. Their pleas include, "but mommy I'm hungry," to "what if you ask her if we can go out-and-about." My response has been a stare and attempt to keep a straight face.

My son declared this is fascism. He thinks, according to Webster's New Explorer Encyclopedic Dictionary, that I'm taking a, "tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control" approach with them this afternoon. Perhaps he is right. After I made him define it, my response is, well, yes, until he is 18 and on his own!

I will feed them. Even "facist mommies" have a heart. "kids, come down!"

Race

I've been thinking about race alot lately. It seems as if I have no choice but to think about it. I like in Kirkwood - a suburb with race issues. I live in Missouri - a state with race issues. I live in America - a country with race issues. The whole matter has me wondering if anything will change.

Why am I pondering all this? Perhaps it is because I have children. Perhaps it is because of the 2008 elections. Perhaps it is because Barack Obama is a man, to me, who happens to be of mixed heritage but is running for President of ALL of the United States. I'm not sure. Maybe it is because I read some entries on the Huffington Post or because I watched "Meeting David Wilson" or because my son went to visit a friend on Friday.

My thoughts on race? I do believe racism exists in Amerca. It can be subtle like moving to the edge of the elevator when a black man enters. It can be overt like calling in racist comments to a church that happens to believe in social justice. I believe it is the 800lb elephant in the room that makes it uncomfortable for whites to hear and blacks to remain bitterless.

There are times I wonder if the whole issue is being fueled by so-called leaders - local and national - in order to push their own agenda. I believe it doesn't take a lot of fan-fare to make a difference. It doesn't take a national poll to do the right thing. This could be naive on my part, but I do believe there is a place for personal responsibility along with national responsibility.

If I thought about my own personal responsibilities, they run along the lines of making sure I am deeply involved in the lives of my five children. Three are underage and still at home. I make sure they have a good breakfast before they leave for the day. We set strict rules for their comings and goings - they are not allowed to "run the streets." My son is expected to maintain his high GPA. Homework, reading, family meals, worship, chores, and respect are not optional in my home. These ideals cross class lines, cross racial lines, it is called parental involvement.

My personal responsibilities compel me to be involved in my community. It is the reason I skip sleeping in on Saturday mornings and go hang out with a group of middle-school girls. it is the reason I leave our family dinner table on Tuesday evenings to go tutor a beautiful middle school girl. I believe everyone has a reason to look beyond "moi, moi, moi." I don't need the government to tell me that some kids need help reading. It only takes a little commitment and willingness to see beyond oneself. My responsibilities to the broader community keep me involved in the ongoing discussions on race in my little nine square miles. It keeps me going to the coffeeshop, even if I'm the only black person there, it keeps me saying hello and engaging in impromptu discussions with strangers. It keeps me reaching across the aisle.

When I think about the national responsibilities, my thoughts turn to institutionalized racism/ classism that makes it possible for more white kids to use and sell drugs but more black kids go to prison for drug offenses. I wonder about the broader institutional constraints that mean a suburban school will have computers, more teachers, newer facilities, better books, and resources available that an urban school won't have. The national responsibilities to all the citizens fall by the wayside in favor of political agendas such as the Reagan era "war on drugs" that was code to "protect white America from black America." It is disturbing when the so-called war was actually perpetuated by the power structure (non-minority) that introduced the drugs into the urban community in the first place. I think about the struggling families that, because of institutionalized classism, have allowed the top 1% of the population to advance on the backs of the rest of the population.

There must be a discussion of the responsibilities of the social justice system to administer the law fairly, the education system to value the education of a black or brown child the same way it values the education of a white child, the health care system that makes it impossible to seek medical care without insurance, the economic system that benefits big business and eliminates the possibility of earning a descent wage, the housing system that routinely shifted and redlined black populations to certain areas of town. There is responsibility on all fronts to do the right thing.

So, I'm thinking about race a lot lately. I wonder if the next forty years will be any better. I look at my butterfly princess and warrior princess and think about their future as women of color. I look at my elder prince struggling to be a young man in America and hope for his dreams to come true. I think about my quiet and reflective prince serving America on the other side of the world and wonder what his future will be when he returns to our shores. I think about my youngest prince who is playful, mathematical, and full of potential and I wonder if he will reach the height of his genius in our school system.

I'm thinking about race and perhaps that is a good thing.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Election Day

What is it about election day?

My little suburb of St. Louis, Kirkwood, has been embroiled in a little turf war. The reasons date back to the unfortunate events of February 7th and the murder of one of the favored candidates. The scuttlebutt around the coffee shop is that the majority? of citizens don't want an "appointed" candidate for mayor, but a real election.

I'm new to my quaint little nine square miles so I've been a student of local politics and culture the past few months. It turns out that some people don't like our "at large" representation at City Council. Many people believe we should be divided up into wards, that the current system means power is concentrated into the hands of a few. Others believe the racial tension that bubbled to the surface in the wake of February 7th (Community for Understanding and Healing) have also intensified the focus on the local election.

The City Council, School Board, and several city Boards are 100% white, or almost. The suburb has a smattering of minorities, with African American being the largest. The feels of disconnection ring high for one tiny neighborhood that is predominately black. There is one African-American running for School Board and two minorities (African-American and Middle Eastern American) are running for City Council. There is also one woman running for City Council and one for School Board. Some (black and white) think it is time for a change in the city.

I'm thinking about this little place in relation to the entire country. One fact that strikes me as sad is that the majority of the city won't vote. This suburb has a population of about 27,000. Recent elections usually show that only 10% of the citizens actually exercise the right so many fought and died for. Does anyone remember the Suffrage Movement of early last century and the bloody non-violent push for blacks to vote? It has been 40 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It has been 44 years since Freedom Summer when young college students (black and white) descended on the south to register black men and women to vote.

We don't have the Bull Connors and angry white mobs preventing people from voting in 2008. We do have a sense of complacency that crosses color lines. Why the apathy? Perhaps because people think power is in the hands of the few and their vote won't matter. I'm not sure. I know I must vote, even if, at 1:35pm on voting day, I still don't know who I'll vote for. I know I will go, show my voter card, present my ID, pick up a ballot, enter the voting booth, and punch a hole for someone. My vote does count. It does matter..

Monday, April 7, 2008

What's The Matter Now?????

I wonder if it is the emerging of spring. Perhaps the sunshine has produced this result. Maybe it is the fact that they only have nine more weeks of school. Whatever it is, my daughter is in a tizzzy.

While it is an awful thing to say, "they're back there communing with the devil," I now understood what my aunts meant when referring to my older cousin and I. The two of us, as family lore tells it, would emerge from our shared bedroom in a bit of a funk. We would sometimes come out frowning or whining or emoting something less than enthusiasm with The Funny Farm. 1968-1972, the days of my early childhood and venting of feelings. Do I have 2008-2012 to endure this mini version of PMS?

My elder daughter is perhaps too much like me. She enjoys reading and writing, much like I do. She is thoughtful and caring of other people. She recognizes the "mood" of the room and can adapt quickly. She likes her clothes, hair, and possessions a certain way. She is her mother's daughter. Am I the one who gave her this "attitude?" I wonder.

Today is Monday. We planted flowers and generally had an enjoyable weekend. She had an outing with the Daisy Scouts on Saturday and raced around the neighborhood triangle on Sunday. Maybe it was too much outdoor time and the encounters with the spring trees. Whatever caused this, my daughter is a walking little pout-box this morning.

It all started with her fighting her little sister, the feisty-fearless-four-year-old, over what chair would enshrine them for breakfast. Her sister sat in "her chair" and the possessiveness of the six-year-old was reaching full boil and I hadn't even had a full latte yet! I tried to mediate the impending civil war as my daughter took her pancakes into the kitchens. Her little sister dutifully followed her, perhaps to be near her big sister, perhaps to tease. The result was an emotional outburst reminiscing a dam breaking. The flood of tears started to come with the heaves of "you like her more than me." I shook my head and wondered where did this come from?

My girls are the sunshine of my life but already this morning, a mere 1 1/2 hours since they greeted the day, I already feel like I've put in 10 hours. Who said full-time motherhood was easy? I'm being a chief ambassador and trying to negotiate a peace treaty as they mumble and grumble over who gets dressed first. My daughter is now fussing about wearing a purple sweater over her white polo shirt and tennis skirt. Don't ask me, I had jeans and a nice shirt picked out, she had a mind of her own.

The day is still young, the sun is shining, hopefully I will finish a latte and survive until afternoon kindergarten!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Remembering Cory, Celebrating Life

Today would've been my eldest son's twenty-sixth birthday.

It is hard to believe it has been that long. My eyes close and I can replay 1982 as if it were yesterday. The future, back then, seemed so far away. Today, I sit in my little office with my two daughters vying for attention, and I remember when motherhood began.

Time is a fleeting thing. I was a month shy of my 18th birthday when motherhood visited me in the night and ripped through my being. This chubby, dark haired, slit-eyed, apple-cheeked being was placed into my arms. "He is such a big baby from such a tiny girl," the nurses commented. "She did well for such a young girl." They chatted back and forth while the doctor worked to stitch together the pieces of my femininity and the nurses weighed, measured, and wrapped the baby boy who was to capture all the love I never knew existed.


My journey toward motherhood began on that wee Wednesday morning. I didn't even know I was in labor, not for real. I felt the pains and of course knew my belly was stretched beyond measure. I thought perhaps it would go away, my parents were tired, I didn't want to wake them unnecessarily. Perhaps I waited too late, I don't know, but I walked back & forth in my bedroom and before it was vogue, engaged in natural labor. By the time I woke my dad and stepmother, there was no question, the contractions were five minutes apart and we were all praying I'd make it the thirty miles in time.


The nurse at the University hospital seemed a little disappointed she didn't have time to "prep me" before labor. Looking back, five children later, I'm glad I never had to endure that humiliating practice that mothers endured in the early 1980s and before! She had to help me waddle back to the labor room, another antiquated throwback to a time when labor was considered an illness and not natural. It was definitely sterile in there with the lights and table.

After I realized I was a mother, I fell so completely and overwhelmingly in love with this little creature placed in my arms. I never wanted to be away from him even though those years were when little ones were ensconced in the nursery and brought to the mother for feeding.

Cory had a little heart murmur and was taken to the infant intensive car unit for about a week. I thank God for my father's generous insurance, in the time before HMOs. I was able to stay in the hospital with him and continue my bonding. I couldn't imagine going home without him and for once, flat out rejected my father's request for me to come home. "I'm not leaving him."

When we did leave the hospital and come home, my stepmother redid my bedroom. It looked like a ray of sunshine with new bedding and a crib filled with everything he would need. Their old, southern ways didn't believe in baby showers or gifts before the child was born. We were home.

The early month of his life was filled with me graduating from high school and trying to get my father to hold my son. My dad was a big man and he was probably still saddened that his brilliant, college-bound daughter, had sex outside marriage and got pregnant. This phenomenon wasn't that common in my part of the world in 1981-1982.

I look back now on my first born and wonder what he would be like now. Would he have finished college? He'd still be too young to get married, in today's timeline, but I'm sure he would've dated. I try to see him in his five youngest siblings - three brothers and two sisters - and tell them about their eldest brother. They all know I get a little reclusive, thoughtful, and melancholy on April 1st - the day of his birth and November 1st - the day of his death.

If Cory were alive today, I think he'd be proud. My dad was certainly proud of me by the time he passed away in 1999. I think Cory's legacy continues in the lives of his creative and outgoing next-in-line, the tall and reflective Navy brother, the musical and comical youngest brother, the princess little sister, and the very determined and strong-willed baby sister of the family. He would love the loud and boisterous conversations around the dinner table. He'd smile at the way my husband can alternate from being a big shot at the University to a doting dad with the girls. He'd probably tap my shoulders as I type away the musings of my heart. I'm sure he'd try to intervene between the fighting duo of my youngest son and oldest daughter.

Today is a sunny, but cold Missouri day. My son would be twenty-six. I remember him and I smile. I'm still his mommy.


c



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