Sunday, July 10, 2016

songs of innocence and experience

1. inconsolable

Several people in my feed shared a news clip of Alton Sterling’s son bawling and crying out “Daddy!” I try not to be a look-away type, but I couldn’t bring myself to turn the sound on. The headline and a few seconds of silent video was enough.

I kept thinking of last year’s Homeboy Family Picnic, when a little boy temporarily lost his dad, a Homeboy trainee. The boy was maybe seven. He had a chubby face and a buzz cut; a smear of barbecue sauce had defiled his ribbed white tank. He was in tears, calling out “Daddy!”

“Who’s your dad?” asked the crew of women who quickly gathered around him.

“Raul,” he said.*

Raul had to be nearby, playing volleyball or grooving to oldies in the shade. But his son was inconsolable, despite the women’s assurance that we’d find Raul momentarily. He sobbed and sobbed until finally he stopped and threw up on the grass.

This year's picnic. Families lost and found.
As a kid I’d been quick to panic when separated from my parents, but this was a whole other league. This was PTSD. I knew without knowing that Raul had left him before, maybe intentionally, maybe to go to prison, maybe both.

Do you want to know what generations of institutionalized racism, poverty and the prison-industrial complex looks like? It looks like a seven-year-old crying so hard he pukes.

Someone found Raul, of course. A few months later, he was in a car accident that left him paralyzed. I heard he was having trouble summoning the desire to live. I can imagine how he might feel like life was too much of an uphill battle. You get your shit together, you leave gang life, you get a job, you raise your kid. And then this? I can’t blame him for wanting to give up. But I hope he hasn’t.

2. imaginary

As America goes, so goes Facebook. Which is to say, it blew up. Yesterday my Parenting for Social Justice group was full of people trying to figure out what to say to their #AllLivesMatter aunts and uncles. I got into a thing on a friend’s page with a white guy who started calling Alton Sterling a thug. A black woman replied that her son and others had been harassed by police despite being well behaved and well dressed. The guy said every thug’s mother thinks her son is a good boy. I told him “Even yours, Henry” and dropped the mic no one had handed me.

Another friend posted that she wished she could give her daughter the world she grew up in, the safe one. For some reason that post in particular got under my skin. Maybe because I couldn’t dismiss it as a crazy racist rant—who doesn’t want their kid to run free in a safe world? Also because what she was really writing about was her own privilege and denial of history. She’s roughly the same age as me, and while we were kids, the Cold War was still kind of hot, we trampled through Iraq the first time, gang violence peaked, Rodney King got beaten and L.A. exploded and the McMartin preschool trial dragged innocent teachers through the mud. Just as many kids got killed and molested then as now.

I remember driving past this school so many times, envying the amazing playground.
But if my friend missed it, it was for the same reason I did: Our parents sheltered and cared for us, and had the ability to do so. Chances are, her daughter will emerge relatively unscathed by ISIS, police and the imaginary kidnappers that lurk behind every corner. And if her daughter fails to educate herself, she’ll grow up believing that the 2010s were a more innocent time.

3. home

I was going to tell you about our move. Last weekend we packed up the cats, the furniture, a million pairs of Cheryl shoes and a half million oversize toddler Legos and moved a mile southeast of our old place.

There are so, so many things I love about the new house, from the shady carport to the dishwasher (!) to the hot dusty attic, where you can tell it really is a hundred-year-old house.

But I think my favorite thing is the open kitchen/dining/living room area. This renovation was clearly part of its 2012 flipping. I remember learning at the Petersen Automotive Museum that you can track the role of the automobile in people’s lives by how garages got closer to the house over the years, until they became a part of it, in many cases at the very front and center. Kitchens are the same. Once upon a time, they were housed in separate buildings, mostly because they had a tendency to catch fire. Then they were kept behind the dining room, so diners couldn’t see the servants at work.

"Servants' daily routine was considered hardly worth photographing."
Now that most middle class families don’t have servants (because of technology, not because we’re nice), the kitchen is the heart of every party. Domestic goddesses don’t want to be lonely and isolated, and neither do I, as I cook frozen salmon in the toaster oven.

So I love love love that I can wash dishes or make tea while keeping Dash in my sightline. It’s safe, practical and homey, as all childhoods should be.

*Not his real name.


Anonymous said...

I would strongly caution you against stating that the McMartins Preschool trial drug innocent teachers through the mud. Also, that the playground was a happy place to envy. As someone who grew up in MB and attended that preschool, I can tell you that sexual abuse occurred there. I have struggled with various aspects of being a survivor of sexual abuse, similar to those you notice in the trainee's son. Although it is by no means a core aspect of my identity, the trauma that occurred in that preschool is unfortunately undeniable. If you are to mention it as an example, possibly allow for doubt or possibility if you do not know for sure.

Jonathan said...

I've been keeping Facebook at the end of a very long stick for a while now. I haven't closed my account, because I have so many family and friends there - but I very rarely interact with anybody there any more. It's a shame really - back when it first started, it was a good place to meet online with friends - but then *everybody* arrived, and brought their arguments, prejudices, and so on with them - and ruined it for everybody else...

Cheryl said...

Anonymous, I tried to reply to your comment earlier, but for some reason it didn't post. I wanted to thank you for sharing your experience and say I'm sorry that happened. I obviously don't know firsthand what happened at McMartin. I do know that a lot of innocent teachers were implicated in what turned into a witch hunt, including one of my own teachers at a nearby preschool, who ended up having to leave the country. It was a terrible chain of events for any kids who were abused and any innocent people who were accused.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. I always feel the need to highlight that abuse did in fact happen there. It isn't often what is focused on in the media when McMartins is mentioned. The teachers on trial were guilty. Other teachers who may have been at nearby schools and were accused or suspected...I'm sure that must have been a terrible experience for them. But, my focus is always the children and the truth of what happened. It is true the interviewing techniques were flawed and the legal system wasn't prepared to properly handle that type of case. Thankfully, good came out of it and procedures and interviewing techniques have evolved. The case also was one of the first to be widely publicized and to discuss childhood sexual abuse, which we know about a quarter of the population experiences at some point.

I do know that is not what your post was about. I apologize for taking it off topic, but felt the need to share this aspect of the McMartin trial.