Gene Mark’s Mind-Boggling Ingorance

I resisted reading this week’s Forbes piece by Gene Marks “If I Were A Poor Black Kid” until today. I knew it would enrage me, and boy it sure did. But I was surprised about how very sad it made me.

After looking at some of the comments and his response to them I think Gene Mark’s heart was in the right place. So how did he miss the mark so completely? Well, he showed a complete lack of imagination and empathy. He outlined what he would do if he were a poor black kid who was actually a middle aged white man. Yes, I think his heart was in the right place, but his astonishing naïvety, his inability to understand the realities of poverty in this country were breathtaking and left me completely disgusted.

I’m embarrassed to say that he reminded me of who I was in high school. I grew up with parents who coddled me so completely that I didn’t have a job (other than babysitting) until the summer before I left for college. I barely did chores, had no idea how to do my own laundry when I went away to school. Every moment was spent doing schoolwork, or activities that would enrich my resume and get me into a good school. The summer between my junior and senior year I even attended a theater program at Northwestern University. And when I landed at Sarah Lawrence I was sure that discrimination didn’t exist. Why would we possibly need an ERA? I was a woman and nothing held me back! I have written about my IBS, my mental illness, my assholic-ness, but admitting who I was back then is the most humiliating disclosure I’ve made yet.

We are all products of our upbringing. Yes, I got into a terrific college. But I was groomed for it my whole life. I did work hard. My parents didn’t do my homework, write my essays, or do my extracurricular activities. But they made it easy for me to succeed. And I was too myopic to comprehend that the circumstances surrounding my achievements were as significant as my hard work. Just like Gene Mark has disregarded the realities and nuance of growing up poor in America be it hunger, homelessness, unsafe public housing, crime, no parents, drug addicted parents, foster parents, parents with multiple low paying jobs who want to be there for their kids but can’t because they are trying to put a roof over their heads. It is fantastic that Gene Mark had his basic needs met and was able to concentrate on education, but does he really think that school can be a child’s number one priority if they don’t know where their next meal is coming from or if they have a bed to sleep in? That sort of callousness dressed up as concerned advice truly nauseates.

So yes, I used to think the same things as Gene Mark back when I was a teenager. The thing is, I grew up. I gained the ability to look beyond myself and understand that even if I didn’t face discrimination that doesn’t magically make it not real. To understand I live a charmed life. To know that any success I achieve cannot be credited to me alone. To wonder what choices I would have made if I grew up as a poor black kid and to reach the uncomfortable conclusion that it is easy to make good choices when you have a safety net the size of Montana, but if I grew up in poverty chances are I would still be there as an adult. I am astonished that he hasn’t been able to realize the same things. Shame on him for not growing up.

Alrighty, got a little serious there. How about some happy pictures? T put this hat on my head yesterday and said, “You look like Daddy!” 

And looking at a picture of my sweet, sleeping C makes my blood pressure drop after getting all riled up. 

The Next Tattoo

Last Christmas Z gave me a gift certificate for a tattoo from the only guy I want to work on me. My very first tattoo wasn’t done by him, but all my others were, and he actually added a bit to that first one. When you are a dork as big as I am entering a tattoo shop and procuring a tattoo is pretty stressful. Even though I am an enormous baby when it comes to pain, I hold it together while being tattooed. It would just be too humiliating to be that girl that couldn’t hack it, I’d be confirming the suspicions of all the too-cool-for-school folks in the shop. But Charlie never made me feel that way, I’ve never seen him be anything but kind. He worked at a shop in Brooklyn when I was going to him, but a few years ago he moved to Baltimore and opened his own shop. When Z bought the gift certificate he was hoping we’d stop in Baltimore on the way home from our visit down south, that was before we knew I was pregnant. I called and asked my doc if it was cool for me to get a tattoo in the first trimester and was advised against it. I’m sure it would have been fine, but I was so spooked from my miscarriage that I wasn’t willing to risk it. So we’ll try and do it this year.

I’m thinking this will be one of my last pieces. The plan is to get something for the boys. I’d also like to get something small to remind me of the twins I lost. I’m on the hunt for a font I like. Because T was born on August 13, and C on August 31 I’d like to do a circle of the numbers 1 and 3, no ending, no beginning. Not sure if I want it around my arm just below my elbow or on the inside of my wrist. I do want it to be delicate, not the traditional lettering like my “vote” piece. Any and all suggestions of font and placement are welcome. I’m at a loss for the remembrance tattoo. Perhaps the date I found out I’d lost them, perhaps an infinity symbol. That one I want to be small and not as noticeable. Because it will be for me, rather than a public declaration.

So I’ve had tattoos on the brain. My parents really hate mine. It bothers me because I respect them so much, but I’m an adult and I am well equipped to make decisions concerning my body. I didn’t get my first tattoo until I was 28, it wasn’t an impulsive action. At this point my folks just try to ignore them. But shortly after I got the first one my mom told me what bothered her and my dad was they thought my body was perfect the way that it was when I was born and it pained them to see it altered. At the time I thought it was such a bogus reaction.  Eyes were definitely rolled. But a few weeks ago Z and I were bathing T. And I was marveling at his sweet and perfect little body. The thought that he might get a tattoo some day flashed through my mind. It was like a physical pain. I might have them, love them, and not regret them for a second, but the idea that my lovely little son would make the same choice? There were tears in my eyes.

I keep thinking that C is looking more and more like his own little person. But then I take a picture like this. And I get a strong sense of deja vu.  

Until I remember a picture I took two years ago. Does my uterus only know how to make one type of baby?

A Trip to Main Campus

Z and I were discussing an acquaintance of ours (Not you, I promise is isn’t you. It’s someone very much on the periphery of our lives, this person has no idea I blog) who seems to alienate people over and over, yet who doesn’t have an understanding the problem is him/her rather than the other people in his/her life. Z pointed out that the the hardest thing in the world is to be self aware. I smugly thought to myself that after many years of therapy surely I was one of the few who was. Later that night I was rereading my posts since C was born (See? Told you I was self absorbed) and although there were only a handful of them there was a painfully obvious pattern. I’d talk about how well things were going this fall, and then I’d talk about how the anxiety is increasing and I’m scared it is going to take over. The funny thing is each time I’d write about it would feel very much like I was making a great revelation, rather than rehashing the same story and probably boring my kind friends who are gracious enough to read this.

It has been a good fall. It can be a good fall while my anxiety is increasing. The anxiety is going to be around for the rest of my life so it is nice to realize good times and the crazy can occupy the same space. Even if I have to realize it over and over before it sticks. At least this fall I’ve been making an effort to not let the crazy take over. The effort might increase my anxiety in the short term, but I am in the game. I’m not giving up.

On Thursday I dropped T off at nursery school, which is on the south campus of SU. South campus is very spread out and dotted with ugly housing probably built in the 50s. It is mildly depressing and not at all intimidating. Main campus, on the other hand, scares the shit out of me. It is huge and imposing, there is a chapel for god’s sake. I went to a tiny college where you recognized every face on campus. And there certainly wasn’t a chapel. But I promised Z I’d go to main campus on Thursday. After kissing T goodbye C and I got back in the car, I ended up parking only 8 or so blocks from our house, but the neighborhood feels very different that close to SU. My car sat in front of a rambling house with a screened in porch that was lined with empty liquor bottles. I rolled my eyes and made C promise to decorate with less predictability when he was in college.

I swallowed the fear that was bubbling in my stomach and rising up my throat, marched onto campus and emerged 15 minutes later with an SU ID in my wallet. Only took me two plus years to do it. One of the perks of working at a University is free classes for you and your dependents. Z has been begging me to take classes since we moved here. It is time for me to stop dragging my feet, time to start figuring out what the hell I want to do with the rest of my life. There are a bunch of things I’m interested in pursuing. I could continue with baking, go to school for psychology or social work, or try to get an MBA. And then there is my crazy fantasy of enameling and metal working classes as a way to become a jewelry designer. It is easy not to make a decision because I get to feel like all the options are open to me. I’ve been not making a decision for years. But the reality is life is passing me by while I do nothing. The spring semester begins on January 17th. What the hell should I take?

The new ID!
Adorable C. It’s hard to tell from this picture, but his eyes are so blue they are almost violet a la Liz Taylor. I fervently hope they stay that way, they are lovely.

My incredibly handsome boy rockin’ out on the banjolele his Daddy made. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.

My other incredibly handsome boy. Photo by Ellie Leonardsmith.