activism, community

Dear School Board: You’re Getting The Transgender Thing Right

Dear Fairfax County School Board,

Please don’t stop.  You’re getting this one right.  When you decided in May 2015 to add “gender identity” to the non-discrimination policy, you took a step that will put our schools on the right side of history.  You’ve been facing some pretty loud resistance to the decision, and I want to tell you that those voices are not the only ones out here.  Also here are parents who are thankful that our kids go to schools that recognize the dignity and worth of all people. Continue reading “Dear School Board: You’re Getting The Transgender Thing Right”

Family, Home, Love, Relationships, Things I Can

96. Things I Can Witness: Sickness, Health

My mother was in a severe car crash yesterday. I say “crash” because of course it was an accident. Also, two drivers slammed their vehicles into each other. Damage and injury ensued. Crash it is.

I learned about this crash from a text. “I’m sorry I won’t be able to walk Noodle today. I’m at the ER waiting for a cat scan.” This is my mom. The request for help is ever-so-gently implied and braces itself for disappointment. Also, she cares always that others are okay. Concern for everyone else gets top billing even when she’s just wobbled out of an ambulance.

I called and texted to dead air. I was already en route (though it was anyone’s guess which hospital), having left a garbled message for my supervisor about missing our afternoon meeting. Then my mother called back.

“I’m mostly okay.

“Is Dad there with you?”

“He’s at a lunch meeting. He said he’ll come when they release me. I just got out of X-ray and now I’m waiting for the scan.”

“So you’re there alone?” I’m already turning off campus and heading north. I have to press because I know she’ll cover for him. It’s a ridiculous charade. Hell, Bug and I were their housemates for three years. She knows and I know that my father puts work first, so I ask again and she half apologizes for him even while pinching her lips at his absence.

“Oh, it’s fine. I was worried my teeth were broken, but it turns out I only had a mouthful of glass.”

We hang up and a few minutes later she pings me back to let me know my dad is out of the meeting and on his way. Sure enough, he arrives before I do, so I turn back and land at my office in time for my boss.

After a diagnosis of bruised ribs, a goose-egg, and random surface havoc, they send her home. When we talk later, Vicodin drags her speech out and she assures me she’s fine. “The shower stung a little.”

“What do you need?”

“Your dad’s here. I had a can of soup. Really. I’m fine.”

I’m sure she is, though I’m less than certain of his capacity to keep her so. She takes very good care of my father. Even around the edges of her own career, she always stocked the fridge and made the vacation plans and supported my sister and me well into our respective adulthoods. She tends to her chaotic extended family, schedules the carpet cleaning and window replacement, and feeds the cat. She keeps everything humming along.

My dad has his own ways of contributing, and I see this a little more clearly now that the fog of my adolescent daddy issues has (mostly) lifted. When my mother’s frustration with her husband’s obliviousness makes her want to explode — she was in Scotland for 2-1/2 weeks and returned to a fridge full of rotten food — she repeats her mantra: “He is a good provider.” Indeed, he is better than anyone I’ve ever known in this regard. He would have made his own daddy proud.

True to the gendered roles of his generation, my father takes care of all the outside chores and most of the structural/mechanical/HVAC aspects of the house. True to the equality rebellion of that generation, my parents work towards their financial and retirement goals together.

It is as surprising as it is obvious that my father would leave off work halfway through the day to care for my mom. In his way, he is her warm (if itchy) blanket. As she convalesces, she’ll have to give him a grocery list and remind him to take out the garbage, and he may forget to follow through on both. Even so, behind her voice on the phone, I hear his. He’s there next to her on the sofa, cracking jokes and laughing with her at Bill Maher.

For most of my life I have run in the opposite direction of my parents’ relationship. I’ve sought out intimacies that were so dissimilar, they may have been a different species altogether. Certainly my marriage was an odd imitation. It outgrew its costume in less than a decade.

The friction my parents generated in the first half of their marriage led to a separation and almost-divorce when I was in my teens. The concessions they both made to repair that rift seemed far too pricey. I have been determined to be more communicative, less gendered, more adaptable, less childish. Along the way, I’ve build expansive and byzantine and ornate and enchanted romances with people who were wildly unsuited to me.

But I have yet to build a home.

And this, I hear through the phone, is where my parents live.

My father is there for her. Sure, this comes after a pause to complete the work which occupies at least 75% of his attention. Nevertheless, he comes. And she asks now for only a smidge more than she ever hopes to receive. Sure, the longing for a more complete union is forever pressing from beneath, stretching taut the skin of her diplomacy. Nevertheless, she accepts what he has to give.

He stayed and worked from the house today. They took a break and he ferried her to the lot where the tow truck stashed her totaled Honda. After emptying the glove box and trunk, they headed back, stopping at the supermarket together to stock up. He will be with her when she starts test-driving new cars. She will be with him when they review their bank accounts to decide what they can afford. He’ll go back to work. She’ll return to her book clubs and volunteer ESL classes and (fingers crossed) walks with Noodle.

For as long as this chapter of their lives together lasts — and we all see with more sharpness today how instantly the book can close — they will be the ones who take care of each other.

Here I sit, quiet and a little stunned in the solitary place that contains the whole of me. It is night here. My son is at his father’s. The dog dozes by screen door. A retreating rain and the thrum of the interstate are the only voices that pass by. They dance at the windows then slip away.

It’s a marvel. Somehow, for all their mistakes and failings, my parents have fashioned a partnership, a love, a home. I pick up some of the discarded garments and turn them over in my hands. Split seams, yes. Stiff stays and rough hems and oversized buttons. Still, they could fit. If I arrange them to my form, if I piece them together with my own tattered wardrobe, I might find they suit me after all.



Living in the Moment, Poetry

First Light

A drainless shower
Of light is poesy; ’tis the supreme of power;
’Tis might half slumb’ring on its own right arm.

-John Keats, “Of Sleep and Poetry

“Get up, Mommy. Get up!”
I roll over and click on my phone to check the time. Four months in this place and I still haven’t bought an alarm clock. He climbs up on the bed and squooshes in next to me.
“Come on. It’s time to get up!”
“Okay, okay.” I slump back over and giving him a cuddle he endures for all of 3/10ths of a second. Then I click open the link from The Academy of American Poets. Every morning, verse lands like a charm of goldfinches on the windshield of my new day. If there’s time to idle on the shoulder for a minute, I can watch them flit and preen there, flaring necks and inflating the frills of their wings. Most days, I am in 5th gear before even one has a chance to alight. My gaze glances off the buttery blur as I brace myself for oncoming traffic.
My thumb moves to delete this one but I stop it short. “You’re not going to believe this.” I scootch in under the covers and show Bug the phone. “Do you see that title? This poem is called ‘Get Up, Please.’”
“What is it?”
“I don’t know. Let me read it.”
The problem with opening the Poem-A-Day on my ancient Blackberry, especially when it’s 7:20am and we were supposed to be walking out the door five minutes ago, is that I never know what I’m getting into. Will it be a 3-line haiku or the whole of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”? Do I dare dive in without the weight of ink to gauge my descent? This one begins, “The two musicians pour forth their souls abroad.” Bug listens. The lines have no shape on the matchbook-sized screen. Where one breaks and another begins is anyone’s guess. I read it as I hear it while Bug, in a rare moment of stillness, listens to me render Kirby’s story in verse.
The poem tumbles from the music to the makers then out past them all, from a santoor which looks like the love child of a typewriter and a hammered dulcimer (only with a lot of extra wires) to an Econolodge in Tifton, Georgia where Mrs. Patel explains the reason her children bend to kiss her feet before leaving for school. When the narrator bursts into tears, I come close. Bug looks up into my pause. “What, Mommy?”
I gather myself and go on.
On to the bus carrying the fourth grader to long division, on to the parents whom we never honor enough and then we are ready and then they are gone. On to Keats who claims finally to understand how martyrs could die for their religion because love is his, and he would die for it, for his You. Then comes the end (and I know it is coming because the ground is rising up under this poem, fast and nothing like soft) when squandered time meets surrender – too late for sure, but what choice do we have? – and we finally inhabit the shape of what we’ve always loved, even when we didn’t dare, even when it wasn’t enough. Even when it still isn’t.
In a final act of mercy, Kirby lets his poem “brush across the feet of anyone who reads it,” and this time, I really do cry.
I turn from Bug for a breath, unable to make my mouth shape the final line. Then I can and so I do, poorly but it will have to suffice. Bug is watching me closely now, taking the measure of this surge. His fiery mama. His sometimes far away mama.
I say, “Wow, what do you think of that?” Coming back to him, smiling as best I can.
“I don’t know what any of that means,” he tells me. Now it’s his turn to look away.
“Yeah, it’s pretty long. Also, poems sometimes loop all around to get at what they’re trying to say. Do you want to know what I think it means?”
He surprises me with his nod.
Even though it’s a school day and the sun is already up, even though we will surely be late, I put my phone down and begin. I try to make my own words do justice to what I heard. Music, gesture, the mighty dead. Mrs. Patel and Fanny Brawne, the kiss. The bow. In each of us, the god. I tell him what I believe to be true (at least this morning. Another morning is anyone’s guess) that it’s hard to decide what’s important enough to die for. That it can be even harder to decide what to live for.
Then I say, “Those kids bow to the light within their mama. Would you do that to me?”
“No,” Bug says.
“Oh, come on. Let’s start our day like that every morning. Let’s start right now.” I sit up in the bed and spread my arms over my son. “I bow to the light within you.”
“Stop it!”
“No!” I dip down and nuzzle his belly. He squirms away. “Your turn,” I tell him. “Bow to the light! Bow to me! Respect the distance I’ve traveled!”
“Stop, Mom!” He cries. Giggling, he twists off the bed. “Get up!”
Please,” I say.
“Get up please,” he says.
“Okay. “ I pull back the covers. “Since you asked so nicely.”

Visit the Academy of American Poets site,, to see the full text of David Kirby’s “Get Up Please” and to register for Poem-a-Day.

Children, Outdoors

Ancestry (abridged)

He cranks the handle of the umbrella. It creaks open like dragon wings after a long winter. The skies have been emptying themselves over this place for days. Underfoot, the ground is no longer differentiated. Soil? Water? It all pools together and pushes up around the feet. Slog and slop. The green is shameless now, cascading wanton curtains of thrilled leaf. Bug neither cares about the soggy seat cushions nor acknowledges that lasagna isn’t exactly patio-dining fare.
The rain has paused. We will be eating outside.
The four of us scoot in around the green iron circle cluttered with linen napkins, big porcelain plates, and parmesan cheese. The pansies behind Bug pop in violet butter from the boxes. He devours the slipping, fat noodles and wipes up the remaining sauce with garlic toast. We talk easy and only half about anything. My mother is wearing the necklace my father sprang on her at the tag end of Christmas day last year. It is a silver-and-stone replica of the solar system.
“Which one is Pluto?” Bug asks.
“It’s the littlest one, isn’t it?” She lifts the chain and examines. Bug reaches out and touches the polished tigers-eye sphere suspended in a silver ring.
“Is that Saturn?”
We go through the planets one by one. He does not see the sun. “Grandma’s head is the sun,” I say. She strikes and pose and we all chuckle.
“I bet the hippies are still out there in the Arizona desert selling those things,” my father says. “You know, they make every single piece by hand.”
“What’s a hippie?” Bug asks.
Silence. We all consider.
“An ancient civilization,” I finally say. My folks both laugh.
“Hippies were a strange tribe of people who broke with tradition long ago,” I go on. “They created their own rituals and ways of worshipping the things they held sacred.”
“Yeah,” my dad snorts. “Unlike every other civilization in the world?”
“They made wild, new music and wore beautiful costumes.” I explain. “Some of their songs and stories are still with us today.” I take a swig of my ice water and reach the professorial conclusion. “In fact, you could say it was a renaissance.”
My mother laughs. “Yeah, a renaissance of hair.” She smiles at Bug. “Everyone grew their hair long then.”
“My hair is long,” Bug says.
“Yeah. It wouldn’t be if not for the revolutionary ways of the Hippie,” I say.
Bug ponders this. Behind him, the tiny duckpins of the fuschia plant are popping open and splaying their purple viscera. “What kind of hair would I have?”
“Short,” say my folks together.
“Army short,” says my dad.
“And you wouldn’t be able to wear jeans to school,” explains my mom.
“You have much to thank the Hippie for,” I tell him.
“Why?” Bug reaches for more bread but I block him with a carrot. He takes it and gives it a crunch around his loose tooth.
“Because before that, people had ideas about doing things only one way,” I say.
“Everyone had to follow orders,” my mother explains. She gestures towards the rest of the lasagna and my dad reaches for it. She slops out extra helpings on the smeared plates. The dog snuffles near and I give her a firm point down the steps.
“Hippies were big kids like your aunt and uncles,” I explain. I wave off the offer of another helping. The evening is just too light for more. “Young people. Tired of being told how to be. They decided they were going to do things their own crazy, artsy, colorful way. And so they did, even if it got them in trouble.”
“Okay,” says Bug. He tucks into the melty cheese. His shirt is spattered. The capacity of his stomach stuns me, as does the fact that he is just so very tall.
“You should have seen your granddaddy’s hair,” my mother says with a faraway look in the direction of her husband.
He grunts. “Yeah. It was really something. Down to there, hair.”
“Where it stops by itself,” she says.
It goes quiet except for the sip of wine, the slurp of sauce. A borer bee dips low and Bug ducks away. I remind him that bees prefer nectar over tomato sauce and that she’ll be off to find something sweeter. She should have no trouble lighting upon an ample source in this fecund pocket of earth.


Happy 100 Days: 81

Packs of boys running wild. Moms grooving as they lower the limbo stick. Dads stalking their prey with the video camera. Pizza. Costumes. Gaggles of girls squealing between whispers. Two DJs in Hawaiian shirts, their strobe lights purpling the gym. Half a dozen conga lines crashing into each other. Justin Bieber. The walls thumping Gangam Style. Kids reaching their hands up, up, up, as they bounce ever closer to the sky.
Bug’s first school dance!