Tag Archives: perception

Duckling

5 Jul

Kelly and I walked along a stream – me with my shoes off, her with them on. The sun was shining. We were just walking in the woods, talking, dreaming aloud . . . happy.

Three girls came downstream giggling, one of them with gym shoes slung over her shoulder, another with hands cupped and held out from her body, the third craning to see and coo over some live creature inside her friend’s (cousin’s? sister’s?) cupped hands. The one with gym shoes called out as she came toward us, “Have you seen any ducks around here? A mama duck? We found this baby – lost – upstream.” There was a worry, an edge to her voice.

I shuddered for the life inside her two hands.

As I slowly picked my way through sticks and stones, Kelly sat on a rock a few feet behind me. I could see the baby – black and white and fluffy, no bigger than a girl’s palm.

“No, we haven’t seen any ducks,” I replied. They worried and chattered. They believed they could help. They wanted to carry the duckling to safety, re-unite him with his family. They didn’t know how. Neither did we.

They decided to set him free. They knelt by the water and the girl with the cupped hands let go. Immediately, that little black and white fluff ball swam out of reach.

Then, he paddled madly, strongly, single-mindedly . . . valiantly . . . upstream.

Where he’d come from.

Before he was carried away.

I ached for him. We all did, I think.

The girls scurried up the trail.

I walked barefoot for a long time with Kelly, mostly silent.

*  *  *  *  *

Two weeks have passed, and still, I can’t stop wondering: Where is the little duckling now?

Gaydar

12 Apr

How do you know that girl is gay?

How do I know?

Yeah. How do you know?

You’re saying I –  ?

You think

everyone

is gay.

*

If I thought

everyone

was gay,

some

non-gay

person would have

killed me by now

for being wrong.

It’s 2013.

Yes.

*

(Is it

poetry

when I

write

like

this?)

*

Winter Spring 2013 165

Explaining Gaydar:

*

I went out to dinner with Dad,

dressed nicely enough for dinner out

with a man who doesn’t live nearby.

Our waiter was

nice

but gave us the sideways eye.

He gave us the

upturned chin,

the chill – until

I found a way

to call my father “Dad.”

Loudly.

While our waiter

walked

past.

He relaxed!

I saw him relax.

He joked with us

next time he came by,

shoulders down now,

nearly a sigh.

You want to know why?

*

You know

what he was thinking

with his sideways eye.

You know.

So

Gaydar is like that.

You know?

*   *   *   *   *

National Poetry Writing Month:

30 poems in 30 days.

white:

3 Apr

white bowl

powerful

pure

soft

snow

harsh winter

blank slate

oblivious

opaque

demanding

simple

bubbly

plain

clean

white

in contrast to color

pale

as in

whitewash

white

directs

blends

runs

condescends

confers

holds

absorbs

light

often

confused with clear

see

white

privilege

use and misuse

see

trust

over

time

*  *  *

~ with love ~

this poem

is for my colleagues who help me daily to understand,

even when my understanding is incomplete,

and for the many friends with whom I’ve collaborated over the years

who do the same.

National Poetry Writing Month – Day Three

30 poems in 30 days.

Sometimes, there is only now.

1 Feb

up to Dec 27 2012 129Something new happens every seven years – or thereabouts – someone told me once.  It’s true.  Look back and tell me if I’m wrong.  Every seven years, something shifts.

What’s taken me longer to understand is the now.  What’s taken me longer to understand is myself.  I bury my head in the day-to-day and plant my legs just so, to keep me balanced when the storm comes, which it will, of course, every seven years if not more and –

In between times, I forget what I’m missing.  I forget how the sun feels after winter breaks, how silence sounds as I slowly wake, how coffee smells on automatic brew.

During those seven years, I forget what it is to breathe air into the bottom of my lungs, to sing loud like no one’s listening, to catch eyes with a three-year-old on the train without her mom catching on, to play peek-a-boo between stops, that chocolate smile, baby teeth.

And after each seven, when I feel my breath leave my body, moving freely in and out as the train whizes by overhead, I notice for that second –

How exquisitely the sunlight flashes across your cheeks, how gently you hold our daughter’s hand, how perfectly our lives come full circle every seven years

When I look up.

My heart beats the rhythm of desire. Every seven years, I fall in love again with myself. With you now, too. With us.

I stamp this place and time, fill space with sound . . . So loud . . . so loud . . .

Then I forget again.

* * * * *

Seven years ago, I pushed our daughter up the hill in a stroller with one hand, holding a fresh cup of coffee in my other. We giggled. She held her toy. She grabbed my hand to show me, pull me, tug me closer, closer, closer to each flower, each spider, each puddle on the ground. She played with my eyebrows, my ears, my nose.  Her little hands wandered all over my face.

Lately, this is how our conversations go:

“Guess what, Mom.”

“What?”

“I had a dream last night…”

“Oh? What was it about?”

“I can’t tell you.”

[Pause.]

“Okay.”

“It’s a secret.”

[Silence]

“Do you want me to tell you?”

“If you want to tell me, I’d love to hear about your dream.”

“No.”

[Pause.]

“What are we having for dinner?”

“I don’t know, sweetheart.  Ask Mama.”

Sometimes, there are variations.  Tuesday, it went like this:

“I don’t want to talk about recess.”

“Okay.”

(I had asked her absolutely nothing.)

“Do you want to know why?”

“I want to know why.”

“Something happened.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t want to tell you.”

“Well, if you want to tell me later, I’ll be here.”

But last week, she said:

“I got in trouble in class today.”

“Can you tell me about it?”

“I was being silly.”

“Was it hard for the kids around you to participate in class?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you find a way to stop?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s great! Can you think of another time in the school day when maybe you can be silly?”

“No.”

“What about recess?”

“Mom, no! Not recess! We talk about important things at recess.”

And here we are inside another seismic shift.

Yes, we are here. Now. Just before, or just after, the change.

We play Boggle. I braid her hair. She shows me a book she made in art class, the story of a dancer-gymnast swinging over the mud, who climbs a super-long scary rope up a mountain to get home.  She is so relieved to be home. She changes her muddy clothes and puts on a yellow dress. My daughter beams, showing me.

Sometimes, there are no words. Sometimes, there is only now.

My Dream

21 Sep

There’s a lot of talk lately in my life about long-term plans, and I’ve come to realize this: I don’t have one.  I am forty-three years old and I do not have, nor have I ever had a long-term plan.

This mystifies many of my friends, who are designing retirement homes in their heads, climbing the chain of command at their various places of employment, and picking out onesies for their grandbabies-to-be.  Still, it’s worked out okay for me.

So far.

In my twenties, I did not plan to buy a house (I planned to buy a co-op) or become a mom (I was an auntie already).  I did not plan to find a full-time job that paid the bills, afforded me some autonomy and connected me to a broader social change movement (I planned to be an actor).

I have always, on the other hand, dreamed.

I dreamed a life for myself in a two-bedroom house, front door hidden behind a wild garden with a twisty path like the flower-trellised front yard on my California block when I was five, a longtime partner and a cat (maybe two cats), a job which sustained me financially and – oh, yeah – tapped my passion for writing, for acting, for directing or teaching, with enough mad money to head to a café or a pub or a show at night whenever I had the urge.

I was not one of those girls who dreamed my wedding at eight years old, or dressed future children in my mind with neckties and frilly dresses for Sunday services.

My dream was like a thought bubble drifting up into the clouds, an image, never quite close, never completely in focus.  It shifted shape.  It bobbed along just out of reach.  It calmed me in my times of need.

* * *

It was never a plan.

* * *

I had a challenging workday this week, more challenging than usual.  I arrived at the office still starving for sleep – thanks to the orange and white cat who slept most of the night on my head, until I lifted him into the air with my pillow clutched tightly in his razor-sharp claws and we knocked the cup of water off my bedside table, after which, with a hiss and meow, he landed on his feet on the bedroom floor and I debated for five minutes the pros and cons of standing, fully awake, to grab a towel to wipe the mess at three a.m. – and thanks to the late-night hemming of my daughter’s pajama pants which I will handle next time with hemming tape because it took me over an hour.

After making it out of the house (a miracle in itself) and into the city for work, I turned on my computer at 8:45 a.m., searching my in-box for final approval on an agency blog post (“Community Superheroes: Donning Our Capes”) which I quickly published.  By 8:53, I was bombarded by a colleague’s awkwardly articulated and yet clearly urgent need to send a communiqué to 3000 people.  I offered an equally awkward reply – something about how this particular framing of our message might confound and confuse its recipients.  What?

Another colleague called four of us into a brainstorming meeting, and immediately left the room.  Ummm…

A fifteen-minute project turned into three hours of struggling with hidden format code which turned black font orange and orange font grey, Times Roman into Cambria and Calibri into Arial… need I go on? Dare I?  It was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day.  We used to have a book about days like these.  You know the one I mean?

I tried a few chocolate espresso beans from my office-mate’s stash as a little pick-me-up.  They were super tasty but I’m not sure they helped.

Finally, just past 6 o’clock, I arrived at the home of a friend, who had picked-up my daughter from after-school care since my partner was out with clients and by then, I was out of my mind.  We chatted for that half a second before my daughter bounded down the stairs. You know the half a second I mean? The one you squeeze your whole day into before your presence is required for whatever it is that’s more urgent than the day’s debrief.  “Hi, Mami!” she said, and then rushed outside in her fuzzy purple monster backpack with a polka-dotted bathrobe flung over one arm, racing me to the car.  I trailed behind, cuddling her unicorn pillow pet close to my chest.  “I had the Best. Day. EVER!” she exclaimed.  Pajama Day, extra recess, music, art.  I felt my mood – slowly – begin to lift – as she gleefully spilled into my heart the stories of her day.

That’s what it took – my little girl in the backseat telling stories about her sunny day – and after weeks of deliberating and chastising myself for the irresponsible approach I apparently had to my own life, it came to me: I am living the dream.

I’m not walking on clouds or anything. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes it’s truly awful.  But mostly it’s not. And when it comes down to it, the life I have – 2 kids (1 grown), 2 cats, 2 dogs, a house just outside Chicago with its bit of sidewalk leading up to our 3-bedroom home, a loving partner, an amazing job connecting me to smart and passionate people who share a vision for social change – is some version of the plan I’ve had my whole life. Some version of my dream.  Coming into focus.

It can’t all be written down.  It’s not all under my control.  But it’s real. And it’s here. And it’s mine.

What’s your dream?  Do you know?

Fire on the Beach

13 Jul

We sat for a long time, a circle of friends around the fire.

Fire on the sand. Red against pitch dark.

Listening to the rhythm of waves.

The embers two hours in – post-marshmallows, post-bedtime – were still very much aglow.

Wood pieces balanced against one another at the top like an open tent, creating a sort of Hobbit World inside, with sand trails where you could imagine Hobbits hiking, their packs stuffed with food and magic, bursting at the seams.  I didn’t read all the books so I don’t know if that’s really how it was – but magical and other-worldly describes our fire on the beach at night.

Our fire master (fire mistress doesn’t have the same ring) lifted a long stick to re-balance flames around one log we could see was on the cusp of crumbling into gray ash.  Her poker stick slipped and she sent sparks – not only sparks but burning embers – towards the lap of a good friend.  “Ow!” our friend screamed softly so as not to wake our children sleeping in tents on the beach, and with lightning speed tamped down all the tiny fires with sand. “Can someone get my shoe?” she asked. It seems one final ember burned brightly inside her new shoe.

Her partner gasped, flicking the final ember out of her shoe and smothering it with sand.

No damage was done to anyone or anything. No children awoke. No friends went up in flames. There wasn’t even a hole in our friend’s pajamas where her knees, bent up, had protected her chest – and her lap – like a fortress.

* * *

Like the fortress my niece had placed around her pillow the night before, surrounding her “lost” tooth with books and a water bottle, one arm flung up over her head and curved around the pillow’s final edge. A tooth fairy test? None of us could be sure, but we consulted and agreed that fairies could move books – not all the way from the top bunk to the floor perhaps, but just enough to get the job done.

* * *

There is a small bird in the morning, a swallowtail, whose wings barely lift him from the sand.  My friend (this same friend) and our niece (this same niece) fill a swimming mask with water for the bird to drink, offer bits of apple which the bird nibbles, and without actually touching the bird, carry him to a nest along the side of a sandy grass cliff. From there, he flies and flaps and makes it – close to the ground, with many stops and starts – quite a way down the beach, where six or seven or eight birds swoop down and fly up, again and again, encouraging this small bird whose wings do not yet carry him up, the whole flock teaching him to fly.

* * *

Balance, birds, Hobbits and lost teeth. Saving one new shoe.

If each of us were to write this story – and maybe this is a good idea – it would come out differently, each of us with a different vantage point, a different voice, emphasizing different things. For me, the point is – We are none of us in this world alone.

We are waves.

We are birds.

We are flames.

We are sand.

We are none of us in this world alone.

—–

Photo Credit: jen9erv on Photobucket

Two Kisses and a Hug

18 May

“Two kisses and a hug,” my daughter says to me as her second grade classmates begin to walk single-file into the school.  I bend down to kiss her – not too far.  She’s grown so much since the toddler years when I couldn’t bend sideways to hold her little hand (both our arms fully outstretched) without cramping my back.  *Kiss.*  She leans in for a second kiss and I understand she’s given me a pattern: “Two kisses and a hug.”  I kiss her a second time and give her a giant squeeze.

With a lightness about her – despite the two hardback books, lunch and full water bottle in her backpack – she dances into line and into school.  This is how it is between us.

My mom spent a lot of time with me at this age discussing the benefits of a “glass half-full” view of the world as opposed to a “glass half-empty” one.  She was adamant that I could choose what sort of person I wanted to be, what sort of view I wanted to hold.  She held firm until I believed her.  Then she came to a spot of emotional blindness (a.k.a., depression) and couldn’t believe herself.  She couldn’t imagine the glass as any part of full; she grew fixated on the empty half – but her temporary blindness only further emphasized the lesson for me.  I could choose.

I have a new ally these days and we are learning resilience together.  We are learning together where (and how) to focus our attention.  Both of us need frequent reminders.

My daughter, for example, has the capacity to spend 45 minutes on a five-minute task.  Do you know what I mean?

“Please go upstairs and do your business.”  She’s had the same business since she was three – maybe longer – it’s even taped to the inside of our bathroom cabinet: Potty, hands, teeth, jammies, stories, bed.  There is no mystery here.

“Just a minute.”

“It’s time, sweetheart.  I gave you a warning two minutes ago, and now it’s time.”

“Okay.”  She offers no sign of compliance.

“Please turn off the TV and go upstairs.  Now.”

“Okay, Jeez!”  She makes a big show of turning the power off and stomping up the stairs.  I follow two minutes later and find her pulling toys into the middle of her bedroom floor.

What are you doing?” I ask.

“I had to get this out – here, let me show you – this is the ballerina who goes on the stand.  Remember that stand, and you wanted to know what went on it?  This is it!  See?”  I would be amused.  On a different day, I would be amused.  Tonight, I am not amused.  Time is ticking.  I have piles of laundry, two phone calls, and a mountain of email waiting for me downstairs.

“Into the bathroom.  Now.  This is too much stalling.”  So how much stalling is just right?  Is it possible to stall too little?

“Fine.”  Such a small word but it packs a punch.

Later, I’m tucking her into bed and she scoots away.  I sit for a moment, still and silent, on her bedroom floor.  “Aren’t you going to pet my head?” she asks.

“I’m angry right now.  I am going to sit here until I calm down.  Then I will pet your head.”  She’s angry, too, I think, but she won’t say it.

“Okay, Mami.  Okay.”  She begins to cry.  “But I don’t like it.”  She isn’t saying anything more.  She is just crying.

I melt.

Because this is how we’ve been for hours.  Because I have been cold and distant.  Because she has been hot and demanding.  Because this is how we are, too, she and I.  Because she’s only ten minutes late for bed and I’m sitting here stewing in anger – for what?

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.  I’m really sorry.  I’m just having a hard time tonight.”  A hard time putting my attention where it belongs.

“Are you my mom again?”  My breath catches.  I look her in the eye.  I kiss her forehead and push her hair away from her face.

“I am always your mom, sweetheart.  Always.  Even when I’m mad, or sad.  Are you still my daughter when you’re mad at me?”  She nods.  “Of course you are.  Same thing.  You know what else?   I always love you.  Always.  No matter what.  Okay?”

“Okay, Mami.”

I settle back onto her rug.  “Now let me pet your head a minute so you can go to sleep.  I love you a whole lot.  All the time.”

“I know.”  And she does.  She really does.

Because we’re like that, she and I.  Two kisses and a hug.  Pushing and pulling, always coming together in the end.

Thank you to Grace, my stepdaughter, for reminding me to focus on these moments of connection.  In the card she wrote me last week.  During finals.

We always have a choice.

Sirens

13 Apr

When I was growing up, my family lived across the street from a fire station.  Firetrucks pulled out of the station at all hours.  If I was on the phone (and as I got older, I often was), I’d stop talking a moment, and then continue as if nothing had happened.  This used to freak out my friends, who would of course hear sirens in the background, hear me pause and then continue, and often ask me in a panicked voice, “What’s that? What happened?!”  Most of the time, I hadn’t even registered the sound – and I’d have to ask, “What do you mean?”  “Why are there sirens at your HOUSE?!?” they’d practically scream in my ear.  “Ohhhhhh…”

My daughter for awhile was the same way.  While she was tiny, taking little cat naps a million times a day, she would often fall asleep on the long stroller ride home from Gymboree.  We would pass the emergency entrance of our neighborhood hospital and sometimes the sirens were deafening to me, but always, without fail, she slept through them.  If I parked her stroller in the shadows, if I began chatting nearby with a friend, if the dogs in our apartment barked, if someone came through our front door while she was napping in the crib, she would wake – but as long as her stroller moved steadily along while the sirens screamed, my daughter remained fast asleep.

It’s astounding what we can get used to ~ and what we can’t ~ each of us with our own rituals, our own attachments to what steadies us, what sets us off, what must be kept “just so.”

With age, my relationship to sirens has shifted.  That is to say: Most of the time now, I hear them.

Just last week, I woke up to the sound of sirens.  They woke me, in fact, from a deep sleep, growing  louder and louder as they approached our street – and then falling suddenly silent.  Again the crescendo, and again the abrupt end. And again.  Two ambulances and a police car.  Soon after, helicopters.  I then heard opening and closing doors in my house – my daughter and her cousin out of bed and curious, although strangely, wonderfully, falling asleep again on the blankets spread out on her bedroom floor.  Up and down, up and down like the sirens, and then out.

It was spring break in our little village.  My partner and I, and our niece’s moms, had stayed out late for a vegan dinner beer pairing at Revolution Brewery while the girls zipped around our house with a babysitter – their favorite babysitter.  And when she climbed the stairs to check on them, to give them a little time for reading before lights out, they were already sitting up in the makeshift bed of blankets on the floor – teeth brushed and books in hand.  A little bit of magic entered our house that night, I think, and stayed through morning.  They’ve never been so cooperative in all their lives.  Or… mine hasn’t been, anyway.

I did not go back to sleep.  I laid awake trying to separate sounds – trying to understand what was happening in my neighborhood less than a block away.

It isn’t that we never hear sirens where I live.  We hear them every day.  And it isn’t that we never hear them at night.  We do.  I do. But since becoming a mom, I hear sirens differently.  That night, I feared for the safety of my niece’s moms down the street.  For our back alley neighbor, classmates of my daughter whose family lives were mucky, rocky, troubling.  My worry rippled out to our other daughter in Madison, to my father in California, to my mother, landing finally on the fragility of life.

Eventually, sunlight broke through our bedroom window.  I let the dachshund outside.  I turned on the shower to start my day while the house was eerily quiet, both girls still sleeping soundly on the bedroom floor.  My partner quietly snored, which was rare for her.  (I blame the beer.  It was so good.)

My sister-friend – my niece’s mom – sent a text message two hours later, and relief washed over me.  The ambulance missed their house last night.  And ours.  The sirens were not for us today.

My stepmom once gave me a statue of a woman curling her knees against her chest in a pose of concentration.  “Write,” she told me after I unwrapped it.  Simple.  Just like she told me, “Be her mom.  Parent her.  Don’t think too much about it.”  Just like she said, when I told her I was gay, “I know.”

We lost her last year.  There were no sirens.  No calls of alarm.

And yet now when the sirens come, I pay attention.  Because she would, maybe.  Because I must.  Because they are somehow more piercing than they were before.  Because I am awake.  Because I understand finally what’s at stake.

The Fit

16 Dec

This week, my daughter threw a fit.  She threw several, actually, but here’s the one I’ll share:

It’s seven o’clock.  My partner, my daughter and I are leaving a party hosted by a close family friend.  My daughter has a skip in her step as the front door closes.  She has spent hours playing with cousins, running around, making up skits and developing costumes, learning new jokes, braiding hair, and practicing a solstice ritual in a large circle with candles and wind and earth and water.  She scans the street for one of our cars and suddenly turns on us both fiercely, accusingly, both eyebrows tilted sternly down.  “We’re walking?!?” she asks, clearly disgusted by the idea.

“Yes,” I say brightly.

“I Don’t Want To!”  She growls at me.

“It’s two blocks away,” I say to her, trying to tease her out of the fit she’s about to throw.  I hear her blood boil.

“You’re mean!” Is it because she knows what I’m up to?  Does she know I’m trying to keep her from getting mad?  I see red splotches on her cheeks, even in the dark.

Suddenly, she hurls her doll to the sidewalk — the 18″ not-quite-American-Girl-Doll who she tucks under blankets every night by her bed and who she must dress each day in an outfit appropriate for the weather.  She hurls this doll to the sidewalk.  Head-first.

My partner says the first thing that comes to mind.  “I hope she doesn’t have a permanent dent in her head.”

“What?!???!!!!”  Our seven-year-old runs forward as if to catch her mom by the arm, and then stops.  She refuses to move any further.  I glance at the doll.

“You might want to pick her up,” I recommend.  She scowls at me, makes some kind of guttural noise and picks her up. Now is when the real games begin.

“I hate you,” she tells me for the first time ever in our lives together.  I am a person whose feelings show like a movie on my face but I am trying desperately to keep still.  “I hate you, I hate you, I HATE YOU,” she continues, growing louder.  “I don’t ever want to touch you again.  You disgust me.”  I say nothing, not wanting to fuel the fire, not knowing what to say.  Where is this coming from?

I glance at her and continue walking, slowing my pace briefly so she will catch up to me at the crosswalk.  She turns away from me haughtily to check for oncoming traffic, and steps off the curb.  I am proud of her checking for cars in the middle of a blood-boiling fit, but I am hurt and angry, too.  “Don’t talk to me.  I don’t want to be with you ever again.  Never.  I hate you!”  Still, I am still silent.  She goes on and on and on, jerking her arms around as if to either make a point or fly away.

“Stop,” my partner finally commands.  “I don’t want you to say something more that you’ll regret later, when you’re feeling better.”  Really?  Our daughter mumbles something under her breath which neither of us can understand.

A minute passes and we are nearly home.  I put my hand on my daughter’s shoulder, thinking the storm has passed. She recoils immediately and runs ahead. “What are you doing?” she asks, mad but no longer out-of-control.

“I’m loving you,” I tell her quietly.

“You’re not supposed to love me.  You’re supposed to hate me.”  I see.

“Honey, I never hate you.  I love you all the time.”

“Don’t.”  That’s been the trouble all along, hasn’t it?  But why?

“I do, though, Honey.  I always love you.”  I am not pleading.  I am simply stating a fact.  I really want to know why she’s hurting, but I don’t ask.  I did earlier, and she told me it was because I was mean. I’ll ask again later, when she’s calm.

The rest of our evening is up and down, but eventually I tuck her into bed and we utter the same quiet loving phrases we utter every night with the lights out and quiet all around.  My partner, her Mama, comes in and gives her a kiss.  Eventually, she falls asleep and so do we.  It is just one evening.

And one long walk home.

A Moment of Quiet

2 Sep

photo by Kelly Fondow

When my daughter was three, she started asking me not to sing.  It isn’t because I have a bad singing voice.  I don’t.  When I used to watch my friends’ kids, or before that when I used to babysit for cash, my made-up bedtime stories and my lullabies were treasured.  I know this because I would threaten to take them away if the kids in my care didn’t behave.  And it worked.  My daughter’s friends used to tell her how lucky she was to hear my lullabies every single night of her life.  Each time, she shrugged.

But it isn’t because of my voice that she asked me to stop singing.

And she didn’t ask me to stop singing just for that one day, when we had some of our favorite tunes playing in the car – Dan Zanes, or Ralph’s World, or maybe Caroline’s Jungle CD – it was that one day,  yes, but then the next day, too, and the next day after that.  Every day.  Before that, we sang morning ‘til night.  I kept her occupied as a toddler on the plane between London and Chicago four times, almost solely with song.  She giggled, she mimicked, she sang along, she joined me in the hand motions and squirmed happily away from me when my tickly hand came for her belly, her chin, or the backs of her little thighs.

She loved my voice.  I know she did.  Not like my breath, which she told me all the time was unpleasant.  “No, Mami,” she used to say when I’d lean in for a kiss.  “I don’t like your taste.”  But my voice, she liked. She still does.

But here was the trouble:  She couldn’t hear her own voice while I was singing.  She needed me to stay quiet, so she could hear.

It isn’t the first time I’d heard that sentiment expressed – although in the past, it was not about singing.  In the past, during community meetings, activist meetings, meetings with everyone fired up to make social change, it came to my attention that I, as a white, middle-class, college-educated person, had no trouble taking up space, speaking my mind, pulling the threads of a conversation together and offering up my own interpretation.  This was never pointed out with malice, but it was true.  And the challenge for me was to stay silent awhile – a bit longer than I thought I could – not only to hear what people had to say, but to leave open the space for other people to speak.  I learned a lot in these meetings, when I stayed quiet a few beats longer than I thought I could.  People spoke.  People who weren’t me, who didn’t look like me, who didn’t have my background, my color, my beliefs.  People spoke truth.  Not my truth, but theirs, and it was full and rich, and exploded inside me while I listened.  People shared their stories, not because I invited them to, but because they were called to share and there was quiet and it was time.

I remembered this – finally – a year after my daughter first asked me not to sing.  Every day now, I strive to meet the spirit of her request.  There is room here for all of us to speak truth, to share poetry and song.

We take turns staying quiet now, a moment longer than we think we can, so we can hear.  A moment of quiet. Will you join us?

What do you hear where you are?

%d bloggers like this: