Where Is My Grandparents’ America?

In the middle class houses all being scraped
to build mansions no one can afford?
In the stagnant salaries that ask us to
work harder for less money?
In the moms working two jobs,
the dads unable to keep up?

Where is my Italian grandmother’s dream
of a better tomorrow, a house she and her
Irish husband built and paid for
before they retired?

It is not my dream.
It is not our dream.

I am the working mother,
the disappearing middle class,
I am the two-incomes-barely-making it generation,
the strapped-with-student-loans
cause-we-thought-it-mattered generation,
the trapped in social media comparison
of who has the best selfie, the best vacation,
the best life?

Where is my grandparents’ America,
who came back from the war and
built from the ground up those tiny homes
that we can’t wait to tear down?

Where are the housewives who can sew clothes
and cook duck a’l’orange for a Wednesday evening?
Who are there when their children come home?
Whose husbands could buy pay for this house
on just one salary?

I am Generation X, torn between Baby Boomers
who raised us to be independent
and Millennials who can’t do anything for themselves.
I am the white woman who can never decide
between what is fair for her and fair for everyone.

Where is my grandparents’ America?
In the broken corporate ladder,
in the endless need for greed,
in the generations lost between yesterday and tomorrow.

In the hope lost between King’s improvised speech
and Trump’s rampant ignorance,
in a land I barely recognize,
in the rubble of torn-down houses,
torn-down American dreams.

(NOTE: Inspired by “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes)

Are You Hungry?

My day begins before it begins. With a late-night text, a non-response, and a warning. With cats scratching me awake as the sun just enters the sky. With the complexities of parenthood that bring joy and turmoil to each and every day.

Me: “Hope you’re having fun! Please be home by 8:45 so that we can deliver the cookies to the food bank.”

Two hours later:

Two hours and thirty seconds later: “If you are not home by 8:45, you are grounded for a month. We have been planning this for three months. Please do not ignore my texts.”

Two hours and forty-five seconds after first text: “OK.”

Even as I type the words, I know they are too harsh. And when she cycles around the corner at 8:42 in the bright morning sun, her eyes puffy from lack of sleep, I just want to scream. She goes straight upstairs to change clothes. I bring her her Girl Scout vest, and she silently glares at me. She comes downstairs without wearing it, and I just about lose it.

The last words I heard her speak, after the flurried series of texts and phone calls the moment we arrived home yesterday, after my felt-like-a-migraine headache and hurried “yes” response to her sleepover, after I remembered, already under the down comforter, “You have to be home by 8:45 because we have to deliver the cookies,” were: “Why can’t the rest of the troop do it?” followed by a door slam.

The other three girls pile into the backseat of the Pilot, and I pile it into her. “You cannot have a phone if you refuse to respond to my texts. I’m taking it for at least a week.”

Her tears begin to fall.

“And I just can’t believe how selfish you are being right now. We are going to give cookies to people who DON’T HAVE FOOD. And you’re mad at me for making you come home from an unplanned sleepover at the time we agreed to go?”

“I thought—”

“You didn’t think. Why didn’t you respond to my text?”

“I thought it was just for information.”

“It was. But do you remember the last words you said to me as you left?” (I’m thinking of the pounding headache, the echo of the wooden door slamming). I remind her.

“If you can’t respond to texts, you can’t have a phone.”

Her tears swallow her words now. She swallows them in the brief moments between my harshness and our arrival. The others are already there, waiting for us.

We carry and roll the 43 boxes of leftover Girl Scout cookies into the school. Jacklyn is waiting for us, her heart so big that she practically offers a hug to each and every one of these girls she doesn’t know.

“We’re so happy to have you here! Let me give you a tour.” She points to a girl who is filling bags with loaves of bread. To the tables stacked with clothes. To the halal chicken she found especially for our Muslim students. To the shelves and shelves of canned goods. To the two hundred pounds of rice, the stacks of towels, the cabinets filled to the brim with more for next week.

A man enters, having seen the temporary “Food Bank” sign on the door. He is as small as my twelve-year-old, wearing glasses and a hopeful grin. She immediately welcomes him in her cheery voice, explaining that the food bank is for the students’ families, but he can surely have some Girl Scout cookies and a snack.

“Are you hungry?” She asks him. It is a question that all of us say every day, never even thinking about its weight. Its weight presses against me now as my oldest wipes away the last of her tears and smiles at him.

“Yes.”

Jacklyn hands him apples, the last box of Thin Mints, and before he leaves, he has an entire box of food in his hands because her heart is too big to say no.

Families trickle in, and it turns out I know almost all of them. The mother and younger siblings of Isra, who’s graduating this year after four years of being a shining star in my classroom. Her tiny sister, her purple niqab as bright as her eyes when she picks out cookies for each of her siblings. The father of Ana Maria, whose mother took time out of her busy life to help me improve my Spanish, who spent the day with my girls and I last spring break, who recently left for Mexico and risked everything, even walking, to get back here.

Jacklyn greets them each with a hug, a reference to their last visit, a cooing comment about their beauty, their students, the exciting availability of Girl Scout cookies. Her warmth bubbles up all around her, and I feel my harsh comments and my daughter’s shaky responses melt away into the reality that fills these bags with food and hope.

The girls busy themselves filling quart-size bags with rice, and Izzy perks up enough by the end of the hour to speak to me in a normal, and kind, voice.

Just before leaving, one of the newcomers arrives with a small black backpack on. Jacklyn knows just how to speak to a student learning English. Slowly. Looking at his eyes. Using gestures. She learns that he arrived by bicycle, that he lives near Monaco, and that his bag is too small.

“You just fill up two boxes for your family. I’ll get a pen. You can write your address and we’ll bring you the food.”

Before I can surmise the legality, I mention that we live by Monaco and will bring it ourselves. Moments later, it becomes clear that he is unable to write his address. I hold up my hand in a cross. “You live on Monaco, do you know the cross street, the street that crosses Monaco?”

His eyes brighten. “Iliff.”

We gather our things. Four girls and the food pile into my co-leader’s car. He helps me remove the wheel from his bicycle so two girls, the bicycle, and he can fit into the Pilot. As we make our way eastward, I ask his name.

“Donald.” (only when he says it, it sounds like, Doh-nol-d).

“Hello, Donald. That is my husband’s name!” (Riona snickers, knowing he hasn’t used that name since the moment he was born). “And that is our president’s name.” At this, even Donald snickers, because even he, newly arrived from Malawi, knows that it’s a joke.

Ten minutes later, we drive past our house. I point it out to him. Not because he’ll ever go there. Because I want him to know that, if he needs to, he can. We continue to Monaco and Iliff, and he is able to tell me where to turn, when to stay straight, until we arrive at the apartment complex and gather the food, the girls, and the bicycle out of the two vehicles.

We carry the boxes to the door, and Donald enters with one of the boxes. We set another on a chair on the makeshift patio, and three small children emerge. A girl not older than three tries to lift the box, which is easily as tall as her torso, and then a mother and perhaps a father, emerge from the apartment to shake our hands and send us on our way.

“Every Friday, Donald, every Friday you can have food.” It is all I can think of to say.

It is just past 10 a.m., and I feel as if I have lived a year in these few hours. We return home, and Izzy is her cheerful old self. No dirty looks. No retaliation. She runs to jump on the trampoline at the neighbors’ house. She plays on the hammock. She makes a smoothie concoction and even washes the blender.

We continue with the exciting Saturday of double income, three kids: a dishwasher selection, grocery shopping, fixing lunch, returning library books, visiting the local coffee shop, soaking cedar planks for grilling salmon, sitting on the patio to soak up the mid-spring sun. The girls spend the entire day outside and between their troop members’ homes.

I tell the girls we’re going skiing tomorrow, and the younger two plead their case to stay home.

“Only if you call Grandma on your own and stay with her.”

I haven’t taken Izzy’s phone away yet, and I go upstairs just before dinner with a proposition and a promise: while the younger two are at Grandma’s, she can keep her phone if she goes skiing with me. But when I enter her room, she is dead asleep, light on, with the kitten, and I can do no more than take a picture of the beauty of that moment.

I want to tell her it is dinner time. I want to ask her, “Are you hungry?”

But I don’t. She already informed me, mid-afternoon, that she was up till 4:30 because she wanted to spend as much time as possible with her friends since she had to be home by 8:45.

I don’t wake her. I don’t need to ask my child, “Are you hungry?” because I know she isn’t.

I am quiet for once. I am thinking about Donald, who told me he’d never ridden a bike in Malawi, and now he even knows how to remove and replace a tire, to navigate across town on a Saturday morning even though he can’t write his address, to ask for food for a family of six living in a two-bedroom apartment less than a mile from my $400,000 home.

Instead, I sit on the patio with Donald Bruce and my two youngest, underneath the blooming crabapple tree. We eat cedar-grilled salmon, rice, tomatoes, and beans. We fill ourselves with stories and the evening breeze. I do the dishes for the fiftieth time in the six weeks since the dishwasher has been broken. I don’t complain, because I hate to admit that there is some satisfaction in completing the task by hand, in seeing your work, in soaping your hands.

And my day ends before it ends. With a full belly, a full plate, and this family.

With Jacklyn’s kind voice so much louder than my own, asking, “Are you hungry?” and knowing that all of us are hungry for something.

A text. A bicycle ride. A ski trip. A bright moment in a dark day.

My day begins before it ends. With a late-night silence. A sleeping child. A dish rack full of freshly washed dishes.

And a hunger for a better tomorrow.

Cheers to Tears

on Monday, a beer
because the cafe was closed
and i needed one

it was a sports bar
and the tears she shed were mine
in goodbye moments

(i didn’t share them–
not then, not out on the street–
only in words. here.)

because i’ve been there.
we have all been there. mothers.
sisters. wives. children.

i should have seen it.
the comings, goings of days,
built on loss and fear.

her tears were my tears.
her daughters were my daughters.
we are all the same.

What Sundays Have Become

Nearly nineteen years into our marriage, it is time for new furniture. A friend came over the other night, and as the girls piled onto my lap on the sofa claiming their right to me, the wooden leg busted underneath, exposing the reality of its twenty-year-old, hand-me-down state.

Hence, Bruce and I spent four hours today driving between stores, researching cat-scratching deterrents, and deciding on a leather reclining non-power furniture set… that we didn’t buy.

Instead, we continued our twenty-first century journey to the grocery stores. We bought the usual to feed our family of five: avocados and cilantro for our weekly need for fresh guacamole, bananas, apples, and clementines to fill lunch bags, chicken and sushi to make our dinners.

And something more: a stockpile of nonperishables. Beans. Pasta sauce. Brown rice. Cans of soup. Tea. Flour. Canned tomatoes.

Yesterday, my husband of nearly nineteen years and the man so nonviolent that he cringed at the idea of actually killing an elk the one time he went hunting, told me he thought it might be time to buy a gun.

Today, we decided to save our $2000 on furniture because we might need it to stock up on food and provisions before the coming of the war that inevitably will destroy our democracy.

This is what Sundays have become. There is no joy in errand-running, no hope for a new living room set. There is the impending doom of a future that none of us can predict nor look forward to. There are three girls in our home whom I fear will not have a future at all. There are tweets and executive orders and absent investigations and jaw-dropping obstruction.

Soon there will be food shortages. Rations. Militia.

It is all around the bend as we navigate from city to suburb to city on the highways brought to us by progressivism, searching for what we need today, for what we might need tomorrow.

This is what our Sundays have become: me sitting in my nearly-nineteen-year-old recliner, hoping this marriage, this world, my children, will live to see another nineteen years.

Locationally Challenged

Where is my place in this America? It is the question asked by millions, and so frequently no answer is ever offered. Our collective experiences often lead us to both hate and love this country. It’s a balance, a scale, ready to tip as easily towards hate as towards love.

I am a white woman. It is a blessing and a curse. It comes with white privilege and preferential treatment. It comes with the burden of white privilege and preferential treatment. Because yes, these are burdens. I participate in the historical women’s march and am demonized for the privilege the protesters are allowed by law enforcement since the organizers and protesters are primarily white. I am reminded that “white women voted for Trump” even though I am not one of those white women.

I am trapped between feeling like I want to do everything to stop the hatred that has taken over the world and feeling like no matter what I do, nothing will change. Trump will continue to sign executive order after executive order (ten so far in three business days) stripping every last one of us from our human rights. I have signed at least 100 petitions since election day. I have posted on social media. I have spoken to friends and family about my beliefs. I have supported my students as best as I can while “remaining neutral” (a requirement of the school district). I have called the Department of Justice, my senators, my congress men and women (only to be blocked, to receive a busy signal, or be directed to a full voicemail box).

Where is my place in this America? As a mother of three daughters, a wife of a white man, a teacher of refugee and immigrant students, a Democrat, an atheist, an idealist?

Because white women have betrayed me. Defriended me. Voted for Trump (58% of them??).

Because mothers don’t seem to care that we have a president who brags about grabbing women by their pussies.

Because white men (nothing like my husband)–63%–voted for a man who publicly mocked a disabled reporter.

Because Democrats voted for third party candidates instead of Clinton.

Because I spend my day surrounded by non-whites from every culture and religious belief you can imagine, and I don’t belong with any of them, other than as a figurehead to the white world that is Our America.

Where is my place in this America? I can’t seem to find it. I search in my students’ eyes, my daughters’ artwork, my husband’s anti-government views… And no matter where I look, I feel homeless. Hopeless.

I am searching for what we have lost and will continue to lose. Seeking the solace of activists and friends. Pouring myself into research and writing. Studying law and politics and fact-checking every last piece of media. Taking the time to understand how horribly impactful the violation of human rights can be, how that violation trickles from person to person until the entire society buckles under itself.

And all I can ask, all I keep asking as I am surrounded by doubt and alternative facts and fact-checkers and protests and postcards and last-ditch efforts, is where is my place in this America?

Where is yours?

Real Men Are Feminists

empowered futures
 begin with activism
 when necessary
 
 

Why We March

We march because we have daughters. Because no one has the right to grab them by their pussies. Because “women’s rights are human rights” (God bless you, HRC). Because the world needs a wakeup call.

We march because we have sons. Sons who will grow into men who can learn how to respect women.

We march because we can’t be bullied. We can’t have anyone–male, female, binary–telling us what to believe. What to do with our bodies. What level of education we deserve. What pay rate we should succumb to.

We march because of our mothers who fought their way into the workforce. Because of our grandmothers who balanced households and work during WWII. Because of our great-grandmothers who were forced into marriages with strange men. Because of every woman who was ever mistreated or controlled by a man.

We march because politics matter. Political policies affect our lives, from whether we have birth control choices to being able to play sports in school to having equal opportunities in higher education.

We march because we are women and men, Muslim and Christian and Hindu and Jewish and Buddhist and atheist, LGBTQ and straight, married and unmarried, parents and grandparents, employees and employers, activists and pacifists.

We march because we are human. Because the United Nations created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and we see it as a binding contract with our government. A binding contract with our world.

We march because we are free.

We march to protect that freedom.