Conspiracy: It’s What’s for Dinner.

Through it all, Barack Obama has held tightly to his cool, unflappable persona, leading me to believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

I think it’s fair to say that in the wake of the government shutdown and the laughable antics of the Tea Party, the GOP had their asses effectively handed to them in this latest election. Tea partier Ken Cuccinelli of Virginia was summarily defeated. So too Dean Young of Alabama. New York City elected its first democratic mayor since the early nineties. Democracy reigned across the land, despite voter ID laws designed to keep minorities and Democrats from voting.

All of it: the shutdown, Ted Cruz’s filibuster, the obstruction led by Tea Party wing-nuts has badly shaken the President. Except – it hasn’t. Through it all, Barack Obama has held tightly to his cool, unflappable persona, leading me to believe that there’s more to it than meets the eye. As it stands, this fringe element of the GOP shouldn’t have nearly the voice or the power to sabotage the US government. Yet, thanks to redistricting and gerrymandering, they have infiltrated congress to wield their strange and horrible revenge.

obama-coolBut something about it doesn’t sit right in my stomach. I suspect the story goes deeper than we’ve all been led to believe and that maybe Obama’s calm exterior is the clue we need to put it all together. Remember Syria? That country somewhere across the water from us, in the middle of a whole bunch of other countries that I can’t pronounce/know who they are? Remember how they were going to throw us into a third foreign conflict that had conservatives beating the drum wars (have the ever stopped?) and liberals picketing, recycling our fathers’ protest-wear of the 1960s?

In short, it was a chess game, the likes of which none of us saw clearly until the hand was dealt in John Kerry’s “slip” that if Syria was willing to give up their chemical weaponry, we were going to launch the missiles that were aimed at Syrian targets. It sounded to the world like an offhand comment, an impossibility, and an excuse to pacify the itchy fingers at the helm. But Syria, with Russia’s support, surprised us. They agreed. And most of us let out a sigh of relief.

And it was only after the smoke cleared that the public was able to see why Obama was able to keep his cool in the face of another bloody war: he knew what he was doing. He saw three steps ahead of any of us and played it out. Nothing to get all nervous about folks. I got this.

And so when I see that coolness in the face of domestic conflict in Congress that has organized opposition to every single thing he has ever proposed, I wonder how he doesn’t snap. Just once. Just a bit. An eye-roll. A bitten lip. A shouted obscenity.

But no.

So let’s look deeper at the actual result of the Tea Party’s invasion of the GOP. They have hijacked a powerful political party and taken away their credo of fiscal responsibility and small government and replaced it with a religious dogma that would stump Jesus. Conspiracy theorists have only grown more staunch in their assertions that Obama is really a Muslim socialist intent on waging war against the very country he purports to love. They’re waiting for the axe to drop. They think it might have something to do with his healthcare reform, that there has to be a sinister element to his attempt to revamp a disastrous and corrupt system and put affordable provisions in for the less fortunate among us.

Ted Cruz and Michelle Bachman haven’t stopped to take a breath in their campaigns to enlighten the people to his evil doings. Fox News, in their fair and balanced efforts, pauses naught in their anti-Obama “news,” and Mitch McConnell has vowed to never stop his wave of obstruction. It’s enough to make a leader flip the eff out.

But not this guy.

Consider for a moment how his calm exterior has been a Teflon cover to which none of their vitriol sticks. Consider how the Tea Party-led GOP has succeeded in defeating food stamps for the very poor in hard economic times while clinging to tax breaks for the very wealthy, how redistricting has made their racist motives apparent to the masses, and how they shut down the entire government just to stage a temper tantrum that served only to illustrate how contemptible their positions have grown. Finally, consider how the Tea Party has succeeded where no Democrat ever could: in dividing a once-powerful club whose power was unmatched by anything the world had ever seen. Consider Obama’s ability to play a long game. Consider his chess-playing acumen.

Then tell me that Obama isn’t the biggest sponsor of the Tea Party “patriots.”

(Slow clap, Mr. President. And don’t worry – I’ll keep this between you and me.)

A Parent’s Acceptance

I love him for who is and who he is becoming every day. I love him despite the fact that he is showing early signs of Republicanism.

I had my first suspicions about my son when he was around three years old, which is consistent developmentally with what I’ve read about it. Although he was raised on a steady diet of folk tunes a la Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul, and Mary, he started showing signs early on. I remember tantrums that lasted for hours when he wouldn’t get his way, full on displays of anger and frustration. And though I’d try to meet him halfway, like saying, “The red sippy cup is in the dishwasher, here’s a blue one,” he’d be  unresponsive and uncooperative.

Later, after his sister was born, I noticed some more troubling tendencies. If I asked him to share, he sometimes flat-out refused. When pressed, he might comply, but he’d divide his spoils in unequal proportion. He seemed to want all the goods for himself: toys, sweets, attention. Now, don’t misunderstand, he loves his sister. He believes that she deserves love, affection, and even protection, but he just thinks that these should be gotten of her own volition. That he is bigger and has easier access to the toys on higher shelves or a brownie on a counter where she can’t reach isn’t an unfair advantage to his point of view. He even once said that if God wanted her to have these things, he would have made her the older, taller, stronger one.  He thinks his birth order is the natural order of things.

He loves toy soldiers. He sets them up on the landscape of my dining room table, complete with all terrain vehicles, tanks, and jeeps. He’s accumulated hundreds of these plastic guys that hurt bare feet just as much as a legos when you step on them. But it’s not enough. It’s never enough. Every Toys R Us gift card results in more military accoutrements. And no matter the state of our budget, he refuses to curb military spending.

I have one firm rule in my house. No guns. I hate them. Hate. Them. When he was born, that rule carried over to toys, but like most children, he found a way to make them out of sticks in the yard, legos, his fingers. And after he received his first Nerf Strike Blast Rifle purchased by a well intentioned friend on his fourth birthday, he’s been stocking up his arsenal at a steady pace. The fact that my husband loves the Styrofoam darts as much as he does doesn’t help my cause. Once, when I’d had enough, I attempted to confiscate his weapons, but he threw such a fit, saying that it was his right to own them. He thinks that right extends to even the NERF® N-Strike Elite Rapidstrike CS-18 Blaster, which has a clip that holds 18 Elite Darts. With a range of up to 75 feet, it’s got long-range striking power and a lightning rate of fire.

My firm rule has met nothing but obstruction.

His father works in the mortgage industry, so it’s understandable that he would show an interest in finance. Yet, in a manner reminiscent of Alex P. Keaton, he seems to favor the big banks. “Bank of America looks good, right Dad?” he has been known to say. “How about Chase?”  He is not put off by the slicked back hair and unnatural coloring of Angelo Mozilo or the posturing of Jamie Dimon.

I love this kid. I love him with a love that encompasses the entirety of my heart, that knows no boundaries. I love him for who is and who he is becoming every day. I love him despite the fact that he is showing early signs of Republicanism. (We don’t talk about it much in my family, but his maternal grandfather was a Republican. It’s one of those things that skips generations.)

He doesn’t realize it. In fact, he attempts to mask it by telling us what we want to hear, by voting for Obama in his school election last year, and in his homework.
Nothing but a cover-up

But I know it. I knew for sure last night when we went shopping for Halloween costumes. Among the zombies and witches, the make-up kits that let you recreate blood and gore, there sat the masks. Clown masks, skeleton masks, that one from the movie Scream. And Obama. He picked that one up right away, then set it back down, looking under and beside it.

“What’s the matter, son?” I inquired after him, thinking something was wrong.

There was.

“Where’s the Mitt Romney mask?” he asked, not-so-innocently.

Romney.

I wanted to tell him the truth. That the world is pretending Mitt Romney doesn’t exist anymore. That we want to pretend he never happened. And that the politicians rising in his wake are even more extreme, more outrageous, more zealous than he was. And that Paul Ryan is even still employed by the US government.

But that was a horror story too scary for even those surroundings.

Instead I took a long look at my son. And with a deep breath, I readied myself for all that is to come: his own self-realization when he figures out what this is inside of him, the bravery that it will take to come to us with this truth, the truth that he was born this way. I tried to imagine and accept the day when he says that he wants to marry a Republican.

But I’m not ready for that.

Let’s just say I’m evolving.

How the Grinch Stole America

Inspired by Ted Cruz’s reading of “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Senate floor.

Every Who in America

Deserves healthcare,

But a faction of Republicans

Think that isn’t fair.

Boehner/Grinch

That faction hates Obama, his whole administration

They’ll be happy with nothing but psychic castration

of the Democratic party and all that they’ve worked for:

Especially entitlements that are aimed at the poor.

But healthcare, “Oh this comprehensive bill

That is the one thing we really must kill.

Even though it’s been watered down,

Negotiated and shredded,

And made into the law of the land where it’s headed!

No, we must stop it! And right in its tracks!

We’ll come up with a plan that’s light on the facts.

Fervent obstruction – that’s what we do!

Blatant destruction of all that is good.

And when it’s all over,

When the smoke clears,

When the Whos realize we’ve preyed on their fears,

We’ll make something up

And put it on Fox news.

We’ll all get behind Bachman and Cruz.”

It might be that Boehner’s head isn’t screwed on quite right.

Some say that his tan was sprayed on too bright

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his balls were two sizes too small.

But whatever the reason – his balls or his tan,

Boehner sat on the Hill without a plan.

And in came the Tea Party with crazy beliefs

To cave to the rich and to give no relief

To the people out there who got them elected

Who saw in Obama not Christ resurrected

But a man with dark skin who was their greatest threat

The biggest socialist that they’d ever met.

Whose father was Kenyan and who hid his college papers.

It was enough to give old Southern women the vapors.

But the worst part of all wasn’t the unprovable facts,

But the fact that this left-leaning commie was black.

That’s the one thing they hated – the blacks blacks blacks blacks.

They hated that more than corporate tax.

boehner

His legacy was healthcare, so they vowed to defeat it.

Personal responsibility was their idea! They felt so cheated.

So instead of supporting it as they had in the past

They vowed to kill it and with it, the middle class.

“Repeal it again!” they cried, (forty-two times)

And they took up their time, not preventing crimes,

By legislating the laws that focus on safety

Like restrictions on guns – no that would be crazy.

They took over the House and made it their business

To obstruct and destruct and to ask no forgiveness.

They were deaf to the voices of people who need it

Welfare recipients could all just go beat it.

No matter that the people, like Cindy Lou Who,

A girl without money, just like me and you.

Whose mother is sick and they aren’t insured.

Because if you’re poor in the US there isn’t a cure.

And Cindy Lou has been home all semester

Her Head Start program was lost in sequester.

Her mother can’t work because they can’t afford a sitter.

And the steady decline put her health in the shitter.

She always worked, paid her taxes, did her fair share,

And now, when she needs it, they wanna defund Obamacare?

“You have the right to pursue happiness –

Whatever that means.

But healthcare is not part of the American dream.”

But the law was held up by the highest court in the land,

And Ted Cruz, well he got up to take a stand,

A filibuster to defund it – and he was sober.

But it was all set to start in October.

His idea didn’t work, the wheels were in motion,

But Cruz is playing a long game, he wants his promotion.

They would take the whole government and shut it right down!

Boehner’s like, “This isn’t a game, I’m not fucking around.”

But it’s too little too late, it was out of his hands.

He was backed into a corner and gave into demands.

large

And Obamacare came,

And in all the confusion,

The Whos failed to see it was just a delusion

To keep them from seeing the hostile takeover

By those who wanted to give a makeover

To that old paper that started it all

That said that we should be governed for all

And not a small faction

That represents one percent

(A very small fraction)

And quiets dissent.

But when a small group plots against us

That’s called sedition.

Like a cancer, it’s a preexisting condition.

The tyrannical forces didn’t come from the left.

It was gotten in plain sight, it was a blatant theft.

It came without guns, it came without tanks,

It started when they deregulated the banks.

We opened the door for the Tea Party bigots

And now the current’s too strong to turn off the spigots.

We need is to issue some slips that are pink

To start over in Congress before the ship we’re on sinks.

What we need is what they call a market correction –

We need to remember in the midterm election.

The End

 

 

Over Our Dead Bodies

And while Congress busies itself by threatening to defund Obamacare at the risk of shutting down the government, we lay more Americans to rest.

Capital flag at halfmastIt was almost perfect. Or as perfect a mass shooting could be. The assailant was a black guy first of all, which helps the narrative that fuels the bottom line: Fear. If we could stay afraid of black guys, then we could feel justified in arming ourselves. And then it came out that the Navy Yard in DC where the shooting occurred was a “gun free” zone. Which plays even more perfectly into the hands of the NRA. “See that?” various right-wing news sources alleged. “The idea of a gun-free zone is a joke. It invites massacre. It is the opposite of a solution, which is, as we’ve been saying all along: More guns. Not less. Never less.”

Except there are some holes in that narrative. The first is that the Navy Yard was “protected” by gun-wielding guards. Just like Virginia Tech was. Just like Columbine.

The second was that the black guy obtained his gun legally. This throws a chink in the armor of one of the underlying threads of logic on the right that says that gun control is a fool’s errand because it only robs the good guys from getting the guns to protect the rest of us from bad guys with guns. Because we’re supposed to believe that black skin and bad are synonymous. This proved unfortunate when so many other American terrorists were white guys.

What the Navy Yard shooting actually does is to bring light to insufficient gun control laws. Because we have evidence – evidence that we don’t need time after time – that armed guards are not bullet proof. That they are not the lone answer. We know this, but we are not loud enough.

What we also know is that obtaining ridiculous multiple round assault weapons is too effing easy. That the background check safeguards are not enough. The assailant had multiple red flags including gun incidents and mental heath deficiencies that did not prevent him from obtaining a legal weapon. And while Congress busies itself by threatening to defund Obamacare at the risk of shutting down the government, we lay more Americans to rest.

So how about this? What if we go back to Congress with this equally off-the-wall idea that they can have Obamacare. They can dismantle it and defund it. They can rob the people of this country of their right to affordable healthcare. They can eliminate the right of Americans to be covered for pre-existing conditions. They can tell their twenty-five year old children that they are not eligible under their healthcare. We can continue to overpay in criminal capacity and max out our emergency rooms with non-emergencies. If they will do one thing: give up their guns. Australia-style. Turn them in. All of them. Rescind the second amendment, effective immediately.

Never happen, right? Pie in the sky?

Absolutely. And the left usually doesn’t work that way. We pass common-sense legislation through trickery and negotiation, through force and trial. And it comes in millimeters, and so watered down from its original form that it is unrecognizable. And the worst part? We’re grateful.

Enough.

Because the Tea-Partiers have gotten a stronghold on the Republican party not by making sense, but by being loud and insistent. So much that their ridiculous ideas get credence in the mainstream just by wearing everybody down. Vote to repeal Obamacare forty-two times? Threaten to shut down the government? Fine. Give up your guns.

Let’s meet them where they are. They are not meeting us up here in rationality. Let’s start at batshit nuts and get the conversation that needs to be had out there. Remember in Lethal Weapon where Mel Gibson’s
character outcrazies the criminals? We haven’t tried that yet. What if our Democratic congresspeople took on a new persona that said, “I’m surprised you haven’t heard of me, I got a bad reputation, like sometimes I just go nuts,” Mel Gibson-style (minus the anti-semitism.)

7143.0.570.359

Might we bring serious gun control discussion to the forefront of the American conversation? Might we scare the right into doing what they know is the right thing by intimidating them with our own brand of crazy? Because twenty children mowed down in Newtown didn’t do it. So I say we go extreme. We’ve been so careful to say, “No one is taking away your guns,” to the right. And it hasn’t worked. So let’s start there and maybe we’ll negotiate ourselves down to something that actually makes sense. At the very least, might we expose them for what they are: excruciatingly irresponsible. And nuts.

And then let’s consider this. Is the idea of gun confiscation as crazy as shutting down the government unless the Affordable Health Care Act is defunded?

The answer to that shows just how far off course this country has gotten.

 

America’s Exception to the Rule

What separates us from the third world and from the tyrants that run that world is not that we have weapons of mass destruction and that we are prepared to deploy them, but rather the opposite. We’re exceptional not for military might but for our restraint.

obama/putinKnow what’s funny? The conservative protest against a peaceful solution to the Syria conflict is absolutely consistent with the commonplace bloodlust of the party of “life.” And by funny, I mean disheartening. But I will give them this: unlike the flippity-floppity liberals, at least they have consistency on their side. In the wake of yet another mass shooting, the right come out en mass against gun control.

Let’s take a look at some of Obama’s changing positions. First, he says he won’t get involved unless they cross his self-imposed red line of use of chemical weaponry. Check. Then, he actually wants that threat to have teeth. He follows up like he said he would. And his position is this: unless Syria is willing to give up their chemical weapons, we’re going to start killing some people up in here. And then they agree. And Obama has the wherewithal nerve to agree. Punk.

The idea that John Kerry made a blustering mistake that “accidentally” led to a peaceful resolution is disingenuous. Say what you will about Kerry, ketchup, motorcycling photo ops with Assad, the man has put his time in. They don’t misspeak at that level, not with war at stake.

And to say that Obama was played for a fool by Putin says more about the “patriotic” right than it does about Obama’s intelligence level, which has never, through two elections and a near-constant six-year litany of insults, ever been called into question. But that’s okay. We need opposition to hold our leaders accountable. We need to question the motivations of our politicians, and we need to speak up when those questions meet with unsatisfactory answers. That’s the duty of the electorate.

In his Op-ed in the New York Times, Putin disparaged the United States in general and Barack Obama in particular for considering this country “exceptional.”  He asserted that this kind of attitude is dangerous and while it may seem unpatriotic to agree, I see his point. This kind of untouchable mindset, the kind that wallows in superiority, is a breeding ground for ignorance, which could be very dangerous indeed. And yet, America is exceptional. We are a country born of conflict and debate, and have built into our founding documents the elasticity to grow in fits and spurts. We foster disagreement here.  We might not like what people say about us. There is no way that Putin’s words appearing in a mainstream newspaper didn’t irk the shit out of a big portion of our populace. But find me a pissed off citizen who doesn’t equally believe in his right to say it. That’s our exception. It’s what makes us different.

What Putin actually meant, by throwing Obama’s words and those of the preamble back into our faces, is the word “superior.”  But that’s really beside the point, isn’t it? And the fact that Putin is wrong about us, doesn’t mean that Barack Obama is right. If you take a look at the people of Walmart, it’s hard to make a case for the hierarchy and evolution of humanity with America at the top of that food chain. But let’s take a look at Congress. They don’t make it easy either  – yet what separates us from the third world and from the tyrants that run that world is not that we have weapons of mass destruction and that we are prepared to deploy them, but rather the opposite. We’re exceptional not for military might but for our restraint. Putin said, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States.”  We can take this not as fact – commonplace? Really? But as food for thought. The times where the US has lived up to its place in the world have been when our leaders were thoughtful and analytical where others have been knee-jerk reactors. And this mindset carries down from a Constitution that promises thoughtful action into our legal system which tries to enforce that view.

Barack Obama has the dual obligation to be commander-in-chief and also to uphold and protect the Constitution. These should not be in conflict but as of late, they often are. Let’s take a look at the credo of United States to which Putin refers: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” This was a credo born in revolution, asserting that we, the underlings of the modern-day world, had the same inborn rights as those abroad. It was the cry of the vulnerable to the strong. The fact that we have risen up as one of the world’s superpowers absolutely suggests that we have a responsibility within that world. As we are now one of the biggest, that very credo allows that we need to offer our help to those in the position from whence we came: vulnerable, small, and un-equal. Exceptional, but not in a good way.

On a micro-scale, this is the way we need to address the growing problem of gun violence in this country. If the victims are the little guys, the gun manufacturers are the tyrants. And the inherited role of the United States is not to kowtow to the big guy, but to help the vulnerable. We have muscles upon muscles in this nation, and sometimes the smartest action is to flex them. The right would have us land a punch with every conflict. Or pull a trigger.

Yet, we might do well to remember our roots. And by doing so, become the exception.

 

Will We Remember?

I was a quiet observer, trekking uptown through swarms of people who smoked in the streets of a midtown packed, like it was a street festival. We looked up and the day tingled with a feeling of something different, new, no school today.

And the pictures of the towers started to go up on Facebook last night. And as we are counseled not to forget, I wonder what it is that makes us hold on so strongly.  I understand that this was important, that the towers were not only physical structures that held the flesh and blood of so many people who lived and loved, were fathers and sons, daughters and mothers, but perhaps more. Perhaps they were the force field that was supposed to signify the divide between us and them and that what shocked us all so much, myself absolutely included, was that the divide was so easily conquered. They  broke in with a fiery hellish fury – into our country, and into our consciousness. To some, into our conscience. 9/11 was the day that a war began. To some, it is much more personal than that. And to many, it will never end.

There’s a part in us all that likes to take ownership of tragedy.  To say, “I was there,” to stake a claim that we feel more than the guy next to us, or across the country from us.  It’s a cousin to that original feeling, the one that held us separate, that divided us.  I don’t know what you feel. Though I was in Manhattan that day, my ears were turned off to the screams of sirens, my heart to the fall.  I was a quiet observer, trekking uptown through swarms of people who smoked in the streets of a midtown packed, like it was a street festival.  We looked up and the day tingled with a feeling of something different, new, no school today.

No, it wasn’t until my train peaked through the tunnel eastbound and my exodus was complete that the sound came rushing back into my ears. In the safety of my bathroom that night, in a shower that washed the smell of soot from my hair, I felt.  I felt terrified.  And I felt that the world of foreign policy and boring pages in front of the style section of the New York Times were coming to get me, to shake me into wakefulness, so that I knew that it was all real – that people in pictures or who moved across the screen from me in the blue light of the television were actual. That speeches made from the pulpits of politicians held meaning. That legislation was connected to something that could affect even me.

Lines were drawn that day. Divisions that had been invisible then are now etched in permanent marker. Divides crept into our country dressed in red and blue, invading our neighborhoods, and working their way into our hearts and minds, disguised as truth.

And I think that maybe the towers didn’t signify divisions between us. Maybe they were buildings full of people. Maybe projecting symbols on them does a disservice to the people who loved – and lost – them. Especially as we’ve seen near endless death ever since.

Of course we won’t forget.

But will we remember what we learned?9/11

I Don’t Give Up

It’s been a rough week. But I found some inspiration from an unlikely source.

Last weekend, the blog I didn’t post was about giving up. It seemed like the divides between us were too wide to traverse, the boxes we put ourselves in too sharp, our labels too embedded in our consciousness. In the wake of the George Zimmerman verdict, I was exposed to more violently racist opinion than I’d ever feared existed, not this far north, not in these 2010s. But I heard it spewed within earshot of my children and what surprised me was my reaction. It wasn’t anger. It wasn’t righteous indignation. It manifested itself in slumped shoulders and resignation. It took the wind out of my sails for a little while.

I was also subject to the bloodlust of conservative arguments, Rush Limbaugh talking points, and the gotcha verdicts of some friends and neighbors who concluded, after finding me reasonable and my thoughts nuanced, “Well, then you’re not a liberal.” I am, though, to my own definition. Probably not to Rush’s. I don’t adhere to everything left. I don’t support every Democrat. I don’t villainize every Republican.

Believe me, it would be easier if I did.

The truth is, labels are bullshit. We separate each other based on differences of human construct and pretend that they are the truth. Republican, Democrat, Christian, Jew, black, white, brown, gay, straight, male, female. There are so many shades of difference within each of these labels that they really fail to conform to what we want them to mean. But it makes it easier to dismiss someone if they’re in another group. Why do you think Columbus called the Indians “savages”? Because it made it easier to slaughter them than if he recognized their humanity. The same with slaves. And so on, with each label, collectively and separately, in different capacities in every stage of human technological “progress.”

And it’s easy to preach inclusiveness. To say that to recognize love and goodness and humanity in everyone could solve the world’s ills. I have a hard time doing it myself, even with some family members, let alone with the George Zimmermans and Mitch McConnells of the world. It’s the transition from recognizing a truth and what needs to be done and actually doing it that’s so difficult. As a whole, we know what needs to be done here. Now. We know that corporations have taken over, that money should not be protected as speech, that the safety of our children should be a higher priority than the profit margins of gun manufacturers, that those who expose war crimes should be protected over those who perpetuate them, and that the convenience of SUVs and plastic water bottles should be curbed to save the abstract idea of a future beyond us.

But making the transition from “I should” to “I am,” is harder than I sometimes imagine. Because anger sometimes gives way to resignation. It makes the shoulders slump. It writes blogs called “I give up,” even though we’re young and smart and savvy. We hold the power to change in our collective hands. We are, quite literally, the future. And if we’re lucky, we haven’t been hardened yet into un-moveable rock. Our minds are malleable. We absorb the blows of indifference and hateful ideas and overwhelming circumstance and then we keep going.

I like to let older generations off the hook, to excuse them for outdated opinions or stalled evolution of thought. Because I really, really like old people. It’s kind of my thing. I have an older friend who I’ve known for my entire adult life. A man whose decisions and opinions I vehemently disagree with, more often than not. But I respect him. And he does me.

Last night, he told me something. He watched his son as he lay in the hospital, sick of a terrible virus that’s ravaging his organs. He watched his son’s husband come and go, the man he referred to as his “daughter-in-law” for as long as I’ve known him. And after thirty years, he recognized the truth of love between them. This tough-as-nails man, in his hard-formed rock of a mind compounded by decades of experience and opinion, changed. Just like that.

I said, “But I thought you’d always accepted that your son was gay.”

“No,” he told me. “I did because I had to if I wanted a relationship with my son. But I never accepted it.”

He opened his eyes to see what connects us beyond labels of what is right or left, or right and wrong. And I realized that I’d put him in a box of my own making. That I’d written him off as too closed to change. That I was the one who wasn’t open to the possibility of someone of that generation surprising me. Not him, not this.

I hung up and changed the title of this post.

 

Top Ten Things I Do Not Care About

Don’t kill me for #10. This is just my opinion. So, shush.

1) Chris Christie’s lap band and his weight before or after. I care more about what comes out of his mouth than what goes in it.

2) Where Tamerlan Tsarnaev is buried. I saw a group collecting money to ship him to Russia. Sorry childhood cancer, I’ve got more important things to donate to? Bury him in Boston. Piss on his grave if it makes you feel better. Or throw him in the Hah-Bah.

3) Hillary Clinton’s wardrobe and/or haircut.

4) Where the Obamas vacation.

5) Who Mark Sanford’s mistress is or where she lives or why he considers her his soulmate. How he got the majority of votes over Elizabeth Colbert Busch,however, interests me immensely.

6) Ariel Castro’s bad childhood, his drunk mother, his abusive father or whatever sympathetic tidbits the media dredge up.

7) What you think Thomas Jefferson would have thought about AR-15s.

8) What you think Jesus thought about homosexuality.

9) What she was wearing the night she was raped.

10) Sports

For Mom

When I asked you what you would like for your birthday this year, you said “just one kindness” and left it at that.

Anything goes at Grandma’s. But that’s not why my daughters delight in their time with you. Oh, don’t get we wrong, it’s part of it. Telling secrets, eating M&M’s, snuggling back-to-back-to-front in a multigenerational sandwich… All part of “anything goes.” A grandparent’s prerogative.

No, they love grandma’s house because you live there and they love you. It’s safe and it’s warm. It’s non-judgmental and silly. Sure, there are rules, but only to be broken. Like French toast for dinner – our secret meal when I was just a boy and daddy worked late in the city. A little bending of the rules never hurt anyone. In fact, it makes anything seem possible. Breakfast for dinner? Preposterous. And delicious.

There’s a stretch of time between leaving the nest and building one’s own when a young person forgets what adolescence was like. A solid decade thinking little of what your parents did for you and caring even less about what’s happening in their lives. Parents, you see, don’t really become people until you have a child of your own. They’re walking, talking ATM’s, co-signers on loans or perhaps landlords. They’re advice-givers when solicited, droning nags when not.

Amazingly, parents learn all sorts of new things when their children enter adulthood, because they clearly knew nothing beforehand. Even if they claim to possess knowledge of a subject, it’s likely incomplete, outdated or flat out wrong. Just ask us.

Then when your baby has a baby, something happens. Parents become people again. Mind you, it doesn’t happen right away, it takes a few sleepless months for this revelation to settle in. It happens late at night when the world is still and the only light in the room as you hold your newborn daughter peeks in from the moon. Feeding her and rocking her gently your thoughts are consumed with what her life will be like. You whisper your hopes in her ear, blow gently on the top of her head and beg Father Time to slow his hands so this moment can last forever. And as she coos and stares unblinkingly up at you with her tiny hand exploring your face it hits you.

I was once a baby too. Rocking gently in your arms washed only by the light from many, many moons ago.

As the years passed, we rolled all over this Island, bombing around in Betsy singing 70’s country songs at the top of our lungs. “You could be a professional singer, mommy,” I would say. “You can do anything my baby boy, pride and joy,” you would say back. In the evenings I would yammer away in the backseat until we were minutes from home then magically fall “asleep” so daddy would have to carry me upstairs and you would have to tuck me in. I was sure you were fooled. Now I know that you weren’t, because my girls do the same thing.

In the morning I would dilly-dally. Sitting on the bed in just my underwear you would tell me to lie down so you could shimmy my pants on and get me ready for school. At this, I would shoot upright and giggle when you pushed me back down. Over and over again until we laughed so hard it hurt. I remember this well because I play the same game with my girls.

They’re at the age now when my wife and I have begun shuttling back and forth to practices and parties, play-dates and rehearsals. In the car we sing at the top of our lungs and they tell me I could be a professional singer. And I tell them they can do anything.

Sometimes they’re quiet, especially in the morning on the way to school. Occasionally, I tilt the rearview mirror down and watch them silently stare out the window, fixing their gazes alternately between their own reflections and life’s passing parade; wondering what they are wondering and winking slyly when their eyes catch mine. Just like ours did when I was their age. The years have changed but the eyes are the same.

In these moments I question what exactly they will remember. Will they remember all that we do for them and ever know how much we break inside over every scratch and every tear? Will they remember how little we slept and how much we did and does it matter so long as they are healthy and loved?

What will they remember?

They’re too young to realize just how much their mother and I love them above all else in the world. Too young to possibly comprehend how much sacrifice and dedication goes into building them piece by piece, moment by moment, in the hopes of cementing a masterpiece hard enough to take on the world and beautiful enough to get it to notice them. And yet I know it’s the tough stuff that will remove the innocence from their eyes like a sculptor who pulls back the cover from his art for all to see, come what may.

Every year we speak on the anniversary of that day in September my cover was pulled. The day we found out you were ill. It was the beginning of doctors with needles, black liquid, and pills – leeches and wigs, indignity and tears. So many tears. Infections and reactions, weight loss and then bloating. These are my memories from high school. I remember the day you welcomed me off the bus at the back door like you always did. Stooped over in your pink robe, cold but sweating. Bald. Too tired that day to lift your battered arms to cover your head. That was the day I said goodbye to you in my mind. That was twenty-four years ago.

When I was seventeen I left you for college. I remember how you didn’t make the trip. Couldn’t make the trip. And as I watched daddy’s car wind down the road from the hill where my freshman dormitory was, waving long after he disappeared, I wept at the poignancy of my life beginning while yours was coming to an end. That was twenty-two years ago.

Shortly after my graduation, you had your graduation. The bachelor’s degree you never got because college wasn’t a possibility for a poor working girl from Brantford. Nineteen years ago. And then a master’s degree in Victorian literature, the first in the family to get such an advanced degree. Seventeen years ago.

Through love and through heartbreak, you were the touchstone I could always return to. And when the time was finally right, when I had met the woman I would spend the rest of my life with, you knew before me. That was fifteen years ago. When we had our first child ten years ago, you were there and the center of the universe became visible to us all. And when the heavens opened once again and delivered our second daughter, seven years ago, you were there.

Three years ago, the doctor’s aide told daddy and me that it had been a “good run” and asked if we needed to pray. We declined to do so because you declined to go, quietly, stoically as always. There are graduations to attend and weddings to plan. Girls who will be women. Girls who will need a place to retreat; a place where anything goes.

Though illness continues to haunt you, no one would ever know. That’s not your way. All of your efforts and all of your attention are reserved for your family. Today, nearly a quarter of a century has passed since I first said goodbye to you, a Canadian goodbye if ever there was one.

Would I have such an appreciation for life had I not grieved for the one who gave life to me? Would I be grateful for each passing day had you not redefined the concept of borrowed time? Would I possess such deep optimism that quiet determination bests unfortunate circumstances had you not proven it with such grace and humility? I should think not, on all counts.

You are my great and powerful Oz, the human miracle worker who reveals what already exists by allowing us all to be and believe. You gave me a heart that allows me to feel and pumps blood to the brain that allows me to write. My courage comes from witnessing yours. And you are, and have always been, home.

When I asked you what you would like for your birthday this year, you said “just one kindness” and left it at that.

I’ve though a lot about it. Why is it the simplest requests are the hardest to fulfill? How could one simple kindness be enough? Perplexed, I marshaled my heart, brain and courage and sat down to write as I frequently do when faced with a problem. And, as always, it has produced the answer. The above is prologue to my gift, my way of explaining the “one kindness” you should know.

I remember. I remember it all.

Scout’s Honor

If my son was raised in a loving home with me and a female partner, then I would not be allowed to wear the uniform. If I preferred soft breasts to hard chests, the Scouts would disapprove, and I would not be invited to be a leader.

I’m going to preface this by saying that I am no Angelina Jolie.  While you might find yourself tempted to draw comparisons between me and that sexy orphan-saving woman of the world, try to remember that although there are some striking similarities, I’m just your average, you know, soccer mom.

But where Angie and I overlap is in how we’ve sacrificed in our daily lives in deference to a greater cause.  Whilst Angelina had put off her wedding to Brad Pitt until every citizen of the United States could exercise their own equal rights to marriage (I would totally have done that too – Brad would just have to wait for me), I too forfeited personal advancement in pursuit of the greater good.

September has always acted as the start of the New Year in our household and this September I began the school year with some resolutions.  I would be a better, more organized, more involved mother.  I would make my kids proud.  I would volunteer at bake sales, join committees, show up to PTA meetings, and sign on as class mom. My daughter started Kindergarten this year and was excited for her first year of cheer, which met for practice twice a week from August through November.  My son played soccer, attended religious school, and moved up from Tiger to a Wolf Scout.  Since I work from home, I have the luxury (on good days, I call it that) of taking them to and from each practice, game, event, and meeting.  By the end of December, I’d stuck to my resolutions, for the most part.

It turns out some people had noticed.

At the December monthly den meeting for the Boy Scouts, speeches were given at the beginning, per usual.  We were all a little anxious for the leaders to finish about fund raising results and for belt loops to be given to mark accomplishments in bowling and good manners.  Santa Claus was expected to ride in on the town’s shiny red firetruck with presents for the kids, and they were all rowdy as a result.  My daughter was practically vibrating next to me, so I was only half-listening when they called for a new committee chairperson.  It seems some of the Webelos will be moving up to Middle School next year, and they’re taking their parent volunteers with them.

In between the Scout Master’s disappearance and Santa’s magical appearance, my son’s Scout leader turned to me.  “He was talking to you, you know,” she said.

I looked to either side of me.  “To me about what?”

“To be the next committee chairperson,” she said, a smile on her face atop the beige scoutmaster button-down she wore, decorated with patches and buttons, each marking progress made by our troop.

“What does a committee chairperson do?” I asked her, for two reasons.  The first was to stall, and to process what was being asked of me.  The second was also to stall.

“They organize all of the den meetings, coordinate activities, that sort of thing,” she told me. And then she waited, expectantly.  I looked at the current committee chairperson, a gentleman dressed impeccably in his own beige uniform.

I shook my head.  My throat constricted a bit as I realized that I could not ever consider taking a leadership role of any kind in the Scouts.  That meant that I was breaking the resolution I’d made early in the year. But there was a stronger resolution inside me that knew, with certain finality, that participating would break something in me.

“You can’t be a leader if you’re gay,” I said to her.

Her eyes widened, as if I’d just come out.

I hadn’t.

“Are you gay?” she asked me.

“No,” I said.

She shrugged as if to say, “Then it doesn’t matter.”

But it does matter.  If my son was raised in a loving home with me and a female partner, then I would not be allowed to wear the uniform.  If I preferred soft breasts to hard chests, the Scouts would disapprove, and I would not be invited to be a leader.  The fact that the Scouts approved of me, deemed me safe even as news of a 23 year old scout leader from Garden City was arrested for possession of child porn, filled me with discomfort. It seemed that “safety” and “straight” were synonymous to the Scouts.  I didn’t feel like I deserved some kind of extra bonus for inclusion into their club just because I happened to prefer men over women, sexually.  And if my son ever voiced a preference for the same sex, he would be unceremoniously rejected, no matter his prowess in bowling, or his sparkling manners (the sparkle might be the first tip off), or years of service to an institution that has shown him only the merits of community, hard work, and honor.

I tried to explain this to my son’s leader, and realized I sounded overly serious in the festive atmosphere.  She said she would probably agree with me, if she stopped to think about it.  My conclusion was that she didn’t.  Maybe most of them didn’t.  I didn’t believe that I was in a room of hard-hearted bigots.  Most of them probably felt the same affection for their gay brothers and sisters as I do.  I took a look at the leaders around me, decorated with badges and pins.  The women didn’t seem especially feminine, nor the men masculine.  They pronounced “we-blow” without any sense of irony. They just seemed like people who loved their kids.

Like I do.

So why then, do I feel so conflicted?  If my son wasn’t so excited to be a part of the Scouts, didn’t enjoy the camping trips and the projects so much, if the kids weren’t so cute and earnest, if the leader didn’t introduce so many interesting projects, I would have pointed my kid way away from an organization that has taken such a strong anti-gay stance.  But he does.  And I do too.

But I cannot put on that uniform, to wear that badge that says I support their bigotry.  I don’t. And for the first time this year, in breaking the resolution that I would get more involved in my children’s activities, I felt like it was working.  My cupcakes were found lacking at the bake sale and my class-mother duties suffered because it turns out creative craft ideas are not my strong suit.  Yet, I finally felt like I was a mother my kids could be proud of.

As for Angelina, she ended up marrying Brad Pitt after all, at the behest of their children, despite the lack of nationwide same sex marriage legislation. Just like me, her kids propelled her to an institution where not all were welcome.

Chalk that one up to another in our long list of similarities.