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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Growing Up in Little Oblivion

I remember all those thousands of hours
that I spent in grade school watching the clock,
waiting for recess or lunch or to go home.
Waiting: for anything but school.
My teachers could easily have ridden with Jesse James
for all the time they stole from me.

"The Memoirs of Jesse James," Rommel Drives On Deep into Egypt. Richard Brautigan, 1970.

***

I was riding home from work on the train, actually one of the lucky ones to get a seat on Muni. Staring me in the face was a poster that must have just been put up. I am guessing the poster is new because it has not been instantly defaced with graffiti and stickers.

The poster showed a teenage African-American kid being hugged by his two proud, positively beaming, middle-aged Caucasian adoptive moms. Everyone in the poster looked happy. And looking at the family, I smiled for the boy who had been adopted into a loving home, no matter how "untraditional" it might be to some.

And all of a sudden, I had this flashback to seventh grade, and a friend of mine named Kari, and it dawned on me that she was raised by two moms. Somehow, that year or two of playing at her house and having sleepovers--the two-mom thing never registered with me. Not that it should have.

What I remember most about Kari was that she had really pretty big brown eyes, really long eyelashes, really really curly dark, almost-black hair and a big nose. We got along well, probably being the only two Jewish kids in school, and her moms made things out of wood (I think) and sold them at crafts fairs (deep in the heart of the 70s). I remember the moms had a big waterbed in a dark, wood-panelled room and we used to roll around on the bed and listen to the water slosh inside the mattress.

I think the moms smoked. One of them had an old Porsche. But not for a second did I question why Kari had two moms. I really honestly never think it occurred to me, and perhaps we were good friends because I never asked.

But now looking at that poster and thinking of my friend that moved away, were people mean to her? Did they treat her poorly because of her home life? I hope not.

But now I think that maybe some people did. The 'burbs of San Jose were no place for a lesbian couple and their assorted children.

***

The reason I even bring any of this up is that it is just dawning on me now about the kids I grew up with, the ones I was friends with. Kari's two moms were younger than I am now.

I started ticking off a mental list of kids and then trailing off into the home lives I witnessed but didn't understand. Sharon #1, who lived in our cul-de-sac and had a black dad and a white mom. Even though her dad made more money than any one else's dad on the street, people whispered because they were a "mixed couple." Even I knew that. But what was Sharon's life really like in our little petri dish of a brand-new neighborhood of a California subdivision?

And Jenny, who lived next door to Sharon, and didn't have a mom. Her big sister raised Jenny because Jenny's mom had died of cancer. I remember when Jenny's sister told me I couldn't play there anymore because I was Jewish. I can't remember what else happened, but now I think of a 16-year old girl trying to raise her little sister after school until her dad got home from work. She probably thought she was doing what was right to take care of her little sister.

There was Sharon #2 (I had three friends named Sharon), whose dad traveled a lot and also drank a lot. This Sharon used to have bruises on her arms sometimes and I don't know if they came from her dad or her older brother. She ate a lot. She was fat.

And then there was Sharon #3. Beautiful, charismatic, troubled Sharon, who was adopted by militant Born-Again Christians. The father was a sheriff, the mother a stay-at-home who looked like a mutant version of June Cleaver. She even wore an apron.

I remember their lemon-yellow shag carpet and the bibles in every room. Sharon's mom probably only let me play there after school because she held out the hope that she could convert me to Christianity. I remember her telling me once that it was "too bad I was going to burn in Hell, because I was such a nice little girl." I remember thinking that Sharon's mom was a total moron and that if she knew that I was probably the only person that kept her daughter from flunking seventh grade, that her little girl was already sneaking out of windows at night to meet boys, that all of her preaching about who was good and who wasn't, that that information would come as a bit of a shock.

That last Sharon is the only friend that I know what happened to later on. She ended up having two illegitimate children with different fathers: one black and one a Hispanic gang member. One was in and out of jail and neither one helped her with child support. She lived in a run-down apartment behind a movie theater and worked as a receptionist for an elevator company. I remember how sad I was for her when I took her out to dinner and she told me what had happened to her since I saw her. Since seventh grade.

***

That poster made me think about the hidden lives of children. Perhaps more children were wiser than I was. I think I took in a lot of things but they still never registered with me.

Or perhaps that is just what childhood is supposed to be, until one day the bubble bursts and things are just a little too clear.

Anyway, I hope that boy on the poster, the one with the two moms that love him, has as happy a life as I think he does. I hope he does.

16 comments:

julochka July 3, 2008 at 1:36 AM  

hi tangobaby, thank you for stopping by my blog! mostly because i came and read this wonderful post on yours!

our daughter's (who is 7)best friend has two moms (three actually, if you count the divorce that's involved) and i love that our daughter is growing up finding that to be totally normal.

i love the way you describe this, as if the childish wonder at it all is still there! i'll definitely be back to read more!

:-)
julie

Limerick Tango July 3, 2008 at 3:16 AM  

You'd be surprised what kids are willing to accept as normal. Quite often they are too busy being kids to dwell on issues such as 'being happy'.

Christina July 3, 2008 at 7:07 AM  

Your words struck home in many ways with me. It wasn't until I entered school and my teacher asked me what nationality I was, did it dawn on me that I might be different. I received many stares that made me feel so uncomfortable. I was 5 and for once in my life I didn't fit in.

Although my family tried to prepare me for what I might go through, how much could they really explain, I was a little girl.

I was a 5 year old little girl who had never felt different at home.

A few things they did teach me-

treat everyone with kindness

respect every ones background

you can't cure hate with hate

we are all Gods children

I thank you for this post. It made such wonderful warm feelings of acceptance and peace gently flow through me- I like that to happen at least once a day :)

Johanna July 3, 2008 at 7:41 AM  

Proof, TB, that we are born in love and only learn to hate...

Every time I read one of your posts, I think we were separated at birth. In addition to similar who am I/we childhood musings (gringa growing up in Mexico...?) I even have a picture of me (at more or less the same age) with a poodle that is amazingly similar to the one you posted :-)

RealityPivots July 3, 2008 at 9:45 AM  

Tasty. Great pic.

Annie July 3, 2008 at 9:54 AM  

No matter our particular religious beliefs, we believed in and raised our kids on a long leash. That leash got jerked from time to time just to remind them that we were there but all things being equal, they grew up to be remarkably accepting and non-judgemental human beings.

Your post is proof positive that we adults can really botch things up with our children when we focus only on the narrow path.

studio wellspring July 3, 2008 at 10:50 AM  

everyone is born with basic goodness. judging and hating are distractions we learn from people who don't know any better. and if we're lucky enough to be aware of that, we spend our adult lives trying to unlearn the judging and hating & try to get back to that basic goodness.
thanks for sharing your pre-teen photos & story....so touching!

paris parfait July 3, 2008 at 12:57 PM  

Oh, what a wonderful post. And yes that particular mom with the troubled young girl was a total moron! (But it didn't work. I didn't laugh at the picture. You just look too darn cute). xoxox

tangobaby July 3, 2008 at 3:04 PM  

Hi Julochka,

Thank you for paying a visit here to my blog. I'm so glad you enjoyed the post, and thank you for sharing your story about your daughter and her friend.

I just heard today on the news a report that Denmark is the happiest country in the world (or they have the highest percentage of happy people) and it made me think of you, and made me think maybe I need to visit Denmark!

I hope you're enjoying the strawberry season and that your wrist is getting better. Please do visit anytime.

;-)

Hi Limerick Tango,

I'm sure you're right and it's only us grownups that worry about being happy or not being happy. Whereas kids just go out and do their little things and don't think things to death.

Hi christina,

I am just picturing this sweet little 5-year old and my heart is melting. No matter what else, your parents raised a glorious special daughter and I know she is doing the same to raise her children in such a loving way.

I guess it helps to know that many of us experience similar things. Not that it makes it easier, but just so that you don't feel like you're the only one.

xoxo

Hi Johanna,

Yes, the things we learn (and unlearn) along the way. I am convinced we must be related somehow. If not by blood, then definitely in spirit.

Unfortunately, my hair is naturally straight. That may be our only dissimilarity. The first picture is a perm gone very tragically wrong.


Hi RealityPivots,

???

Hi Annie,

I'm sure that raising kids to be as accepting and open-minded as you have done is a constant effort, but thanks to you and other parents like you, you help to make a generation that is thoughtful and considerate of others. Thank you.

Hi Ms. Wellspring,

I agree. How many things did we grow up with thinking, only to learn something totally different and change our ways (and minds) later? My hope is that all of us can learn to look at where our beliefs come from and decide for ourselves what works for us and what does not.

I think that is a very hard thing to do.

Hi paris parfait,

Looking back at that family, even then I felt sorry for them althought I probably could not have explained why. It just seems like a waste of a family's potential to be happy and to raise generation that move our world forward.

I laugh at the photo, so that's okay. I've been doing it for years.

:-P

Alex aka Gypsy Girl July 3, 2008 at 4:05 PM  

What a cutie!! Loved seeing these pics of you! :)

tangobaby July 3, 2008 at 4:19 PM  

Hi Alex,

I have to admit I almost didn't post that first photo but if you think it's cute, then I guess I am okay with it.

xoxo

Kip de Moll July 4, 2008 at 5:34 AM  

Very nice perspective.

In Vermont, there is much alternative lifestyle and still we are surprised by the less than conventional. In actuality (especially today with headlines about a particularly disturbing murder locally), it sems the "normal" families might be the ones with more problems.

Liz July 4, 2008 at 12:04 PM  

beautiful thoughts... isn't it amazing how we grow into judging others, but we don't start out that way... and I loved the little girl photos too...

mrs. sarah ott July 4, 2008 at 9:48 PM  

i think what you said in the end is hte clearest resolution (the one day the bubble bursts part). same reason you can live with alcoholic parents and feel okay until you get on your own and start trying live better than they did but you dont know how. lol. whoops, suddenly it all seems to clear.
i appreciate your childhood friends. it seems a privelege to have known such diversity at a young age. it might have helped to have shaped your acceptance of people as they are.
i am sorry for what the christian mother had said to you so young. that is a very harsh and pretty ballsy thing to say for a nonjudgemental sinner. but i bet you knew even then, that wasn't true for you. and that you didnt deserve to be cast any kind of stone.
i adore your daydream into childhood friends at the hint of a poster on a train.
thank you for sharing all of this. i really enjoyed it; it was actually calming to read after my hectic 12 hour day.

Vanessa July 5, 2008 at 4:45 AM  

This was beautiful. And certainly, you were a wise, compassionate child. :-)

tangobaby July 5, 2008 at 10:34 AM  

Hi Kip,

Welcome to my blog and thank you for your comment. I agree with you, that what may be traditionally considered as normal may not always so healthy.

Hopefully someday we will be able to avoid the stumbling blocks we place before ourselves and our children to be.

Hi Liz,

And if we can go back and freeze-frame some of those childlike times, where innocence plays more a part of our thinking? It's very hard not to be an expert on something these days.

I'm glad you liked the photos. I was having fun remembering my little dog.

Hi mrs. sarah ott,

I'm not as sorry for me as I am for that mother and her daughter. I might remember an unpleasant comment, but their lives are much more difficult than mine because of how those beliefs affected them.

The daydream inspired by the poster (like all of them) was unplanned but welcome. It's funny how much I don't remember these days...until I do! Still always looking for those moments.

;-)

Hi Vanessa,

I think I was mostly oblivious (or innocent, however you want to put it) more than I was wise. But in looking back, I think it worked out better that way.

I could probably use a little more of that now!