Thursday, December 23, 2010

Do-over with Pierre

The husbie is at a meeting with an acquaintance of ours who was shot in the head at a pizza place minutes from our house about a month ago. Eric is expected to make a full recovery, thank God, and as a result, he wants Dick to design some anti-violence posters for an organization called High Impact. I question the efficacy of a poster to stop someone with a gun, but being a supportive wife, and being completely shocked at the rise of violence in our neighborhood the past few years, I helped Dick brainstorm a few ideas, and off he went, designs in tow, to meet Eric at the aforementioned pizza place. Godspeed, Eric. You're a braver man than I.

How does this tie into my wanting a Do-Over you may wonder? Believe it or not, it does.

For over a decade, I volunteered as Youthfriend for Longfellow school, an inner-city school not far from work. Every week, I spent my lunch hour with a kid who made my not-so-perfect childhood look like Disneyland.

I'll never forget my first student, a first grader named Pierre. Pierre's dad was in jail, and his mom was a drug addict who'd left him to be raised by his grandma. Pierre was the sole survivor of a set of twins. His twin brother died at birth. Pierre almost died because he was so sick, and he'd lost all his "electric lights" as he explained to me.

Pierre was a handful. Mind you, I had NO experience with kids. I wasn't even an aunt yet, and I knew nothing about how kids, like dogs, can smell fear. Pierre surmised I had no experience in exercising authority over kids from day one. The me back then would say "Pierre, please don't tip back in your chair, Honey, you might fall and crack your head." The me today would say "Pierre, you know better--all chair legs on the floor NOW before you bust your head wide open." Just one of the things I learned about dealing with kids since then. You have to show them you're the alpha in the relationship.

Pierre was my Youthfriend for four years. He was funny and entertaining, and he could do his school work, if he just had someone to help him concentrate and focus. But students don't have that luxury at Kansas City public schools.

Here's my do-over. One Christmas, Pierre gave me a gift. I unwrapped a box to find a dishtowel and two pot-holders with a basket of little gray kittens on it.

Here's what I did wrong. (Remember, I knew NOTHING about kids at this point.) I let a millisecond too long go by before reacting favorably.

"You don't like it, do you," he said.

"Yes, I do, Pierre. I love it. I really do," I back-pedaled.

But it was too late. The moment had passed. I blew it. Now I realize I should have made a HUGE deal about this gift. I should have gushed immediately and showed more enthusiasm. Pierre and his grandma barely had money for food and clothes for that kid, let alone a gift for his 30-something, white lady friend with a good job.

Geeze. Is there anything worse than disappointment in a little kid's eyes? ESPECIALLY if you're the source.

I think about Pierre quite often. When he was in 5th grade, he used to roll his eyes at his buddies when I came to get him.
I said "Pierre, I can get you a new Youthfriend, if you want. I don't want you to feel like you have to do this." I even talked to the principal.

"Find out if he wants to quit but is afraid to say so because he doesn't want to hurt my feelings. Find out if he'd feel better with a guy, " I asked her.

She called me at work later in the week. "I talked to Pierre's grandma. He likes you, Renée. He talks about you to his Grandma. He even has pictures of you two together thumbtacked to the wall in his room. Stick with him. He needs you. "

And then she went on to say "I'll never forget the first time I read about one of my ex-students getting shot and killed in a crime. I hope Pierre doesn't end up to be one of those boys. He could you know. Hang in there with him. You make a difference."

So I hung in. Did I make a difference? I have no idea. The world is a hard place for a black males, especially when they start out
like Pierre.

I know he made a difference in my life. He taught me to be patient. He taught me what it was like to grow up poor without a mom and dad in a questionable part of town. He taught me what it was like to go to school with a bunch of kids whose teachers spent a lot of time policing their rooms, rather than teaching. And he taught me there are some moments with kids that you can't do over. I just hope the good moments we shared made up for that one where I messed up.

Merry Christmas, Pierre, wherever you are. And I hope it's somewhere good.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

#3 In long-list of Do-Overs

I wish I'd never posted what I did yesterday.

Sometimes I misjudge what I think might be interesting
to other people

Another thing I wish I could do over
was trying a new "healthy" recipe for Roasted Cauliflower
with a Dijon Garlic viniagrette. It was tasty but not filling.
It would have been much more delicious had I not omitted the bacon, thereby
totally undoing the whole "healthy" idea.

Why can't anything healthy taste as good as everything unhealthy?

OK, back to trying to thing of another topic
to write about.

Let me know if you want the Roasted Cauliflower
recipe. (I know, Russ, you absolutely do NOT.).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

#2 in Long List of Do-Overs

I'm not the only woman I know who's done this, but I really wish none of us had.

The first time I confessed to a friend that I knew I was making a mistake the minute before I walked down the aisle, she looked at me in disbelief. I thought she was surprised by my confession, but she wasn't.

"I felt the same way right before I got married," she said. "I always thought it was just me."

The more divorced women my age that I've talked to, the more I've discovered that I wasn't the only one who knew she was making a mistake.

Last week, I got together for dinner with a some of my closest friends in high school. We hadn't seen each other in nearly ten years. I brought up the issue again because I had to make sure I remembered

"So, did we all know we were making a mistake the first time?"

The answer was pretty much "yes."

But we did it anyway.


I have a theory.

In the late '70's, if you didn't move away to go to college, that's just what we did. In fact, five of my six bridesmaids and I all married within three years of graduating from high-school. Now all of us are divorced from our first husbands, some from their second.

I can't speak for them, but here's my story.

When I came home and told my parents that my boyfriend proposed, I'd figured they'd say "No, you're too young.
You've got to finish school." And I'd pretend to be all mad but really I'd be relieved because I knew deep down I wasn't ready.

Instead, my mom and dad said "Congratulations and start saving because we're not made of money. We're not paying for the whole thing." Or something like that.

So, I put school on hold for awhile, got a full-time job, and got married. After I got married, I started going to school at night, pursuing my B.A. in English of all things (marrying young wasn't the only mistake I made), and I graduated nine years later.

Here's what I wish I would have done instead:

I should have told my boyfriend the truth--"I'm too young, and frankly, so are you to make this kind of decision. Neither of us even knows who we are ourselves, much less what we want in a life partner," except I would have talked more like I did in 1979, using words and phrases like "bummer," "no jive" and "catchya later." I would have saved both of us a lot of heartache, and I would have saved myself a lot of guilt that I carry to this day.

As it was, I lived with my parents until I got married. I walked down the aisle, knowing I was making a mistake. And when I got divorced at 31, I had never spent the night alone. I'd never made a mortgage payment or balanced a checkbook in my life. I knew nothing about being an independent adult. NOTHING. It was hard. It was worse than hard. It was horrible. Being alone and not knowing how to do it. And having no one to ask how to do it because, oh, by the way, among other things I wish I could change, I wish my mom hadn't died when I was 24.

OK, I'd better stop or my friend Russ will have to say "Another bummer post."

So, that's a pretty big "do-over"--I wish I hadn't married my first husband.

The only thing that makes me feel slightly better is that I'm sure he wished he hadn't married me either.

Crap. Now I can't find a way to tie this all up neatly.

But that's life. Life is all about making mistakes and not being able to tie things up neatly.

And yet, we go on. We pick ourselves up, and we go on.

If you're lucky, you get a chance to say you're sorry. If you're lucky, you get an apology in return. My ex-husband and I exchanged sincere "I'm sorry's" at his grandmother's funeral about twenty years ago. From me, it was sincere. It felt sincere from him. We were apologizing for different things, but no matter. We were both sorry. We'd made mistakes. We'd moved on.

But I still wish none of that would have happened.

My last do-over post was about standing up for myself. This one is about standing up and admitting that I made a mistake. My ex-husband? He didn't make a mistake. It was me. All me. I made a BIG mistake. Two big mistakes. The result? I ended up hurting a really decent, stand-up good guy who did nothing wrong.

What happened? I let someone else turn my head and make me wonder. I let someone else make me think I could be happier.

I left my marriage for someone else who turned out to be an even bigger mistake.

So, yeah. Big, gigantic, embarrassing, shameful do-over. Those are the worst.

P.S. Sorry, Russ. Bummer, I know. They can't always be someone else's fault. Sometimes, they're my own.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

#1 in a Long List of Do-overs

About twenty years ago, I worked on a staff of thirteen people. Every Christmas, a guy in our department hosted an extravagant holiday party at his house. An extravagant, exclusive holiday party. Most of the people he invited were friends of his who weren't on our staff. A few times, one or another of my glamourous contemporaries made the cut, but I never did.

Here's how the annual gala became a bee in my bonnet.

This man would begin bragging insufferably about the festivities weeks beforehand. He'd describe in painstaking detail to anyone within earshot about who was invited, what catering company he'd chosen, which hors d'oeuvres would be served, how much champagne he was buying, and the name, as well as a detailed physical description, of the handsome bartender he'd selected.

And he did it as though it were perfectly acceptable to tell those of us who weren't invited what a great time we'd be missing.

A week or so after the party, he'd gather us together so that he could dramatically unveil the party pics. And there they all were, everyone who wasn't us, all glammed up in their black-tie finery and fancy holiday dresses, toasting, laughing and smiling the smile of the chosen. It was all so "Gatsby."

The weirdest part, in retrospect, was not his boorish behavior, but that the rest of us "uninvitees" acted as though his boorish behavior were acceptable.

Now that I'm older, what I wouldn't give for a do-over. I'd go back in time, armed with my newfound feistiness, and the first time it dawned on me that he was bragging about a party I wasn't invited to, here's how it would play out:

Him: . . . and my holiday party is going to be December blah, blah, blah, and it's going to be more amazing than ever this year because blah, blah, blah, beluga caviar, blah, blah, blah, crudités, blah, blah, blah, Dom Pérignon and blah blah just-kill-me-now blah.

Me, putting out a Max menthol in my crown-shaped ashtray, because you could smoke at your desk back then: So when did you become such an ass?

(He'd look at me speechless, his expression even more surprised than his eye-lift had already rendered him.)

Me: What I mean is, at some point, you must have been a nice guy. If you'd always been this insensitive, you wouldn't have enough friends to have a party, so what happened?

I don't know what would have happened next because it doesn't matter. All that matters is that I would have stood up for myself, and said the right thing and the right time.

Anyway, I've been thinking lately about the past--about things I should have said that I didn't (and vice-versa), relationships that I've hung onto that I should have let go of, people I thought were one way who turned out to be another, and expectations I've held with a death-grip that I'm reluctantly and finally setting free.

So, that's what I'm going to write about for awhile. I'm a little smarter now that I'm in the third quarter of my life. I'm much more realistic. And I'm working on becoming braver. It reminds me of when Piglet said to Winnie-the-Pooh "It's hard to be brave when you're a Very Small animal."

While I am by no means small in stature, I'm still quite small at the brave thing. Someday I hope to summon bravery in the moment, but I've got to start somewhere. For now, rewriting the past seems like good practice. Neurotic? Of course! Satisfying? Absolutely. Really, you should try it for yourself. It's pretty fun.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I've been thinking about endings lately

Maybe because tonight is the last night of a two-week vacation. Maybe because it's fall. Maybe because the kids in my life have grown up too fast and don't come around often enough. Maybe because yesterday in gerontology class, our professor asked us "What age do you think you'll be when you die?" and 73 immediately popped into my mind. Then she said she thinks we all know a lot more about ourselves than we think we do.

Scary, huh.

So . . . I'm in the second half of my 50th year. (Russ, I promise to change my blog name soon. It doesn't take Freud to figure out why I haven't done that yet.) If my subconscious was right, I've got roughly 23 more years. I'm not really all that freaked out, or convinced I guessed right. I'm just a little convinced, you know, for insurance's sake. Like when you think "If I think this will happen, then maybe it won't because I thought it was going to happen, and Fate is always screwing with me."

Or am I the only one who does that?

Besides, for all I know, I guessed too far into the future. You just never know.

Anyway, I have no point. I have nothing funny or wise to share. But if I wait to be funny or wise, you may not hear from me for awhile.

Wish me luck tomorrow. It's going to be a challenging re-entry. Ten days off is a long time to think of where you are, what you're doing and why, and about who really matters.

It's also a long stretch to alternate between two pairs of comfy shorts and big t-shirts, forego make-up and not give a crap about what your hair looks like. And I really hate to see that come to an end.

P. S. Just so I feel like I gave you something of worth, here is a really great poem. Not a real upper, but good nonetheless.

"The Anniversary of My Death"

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

- W.S.Merwin
- The Anniversary of My Death

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Being 11 in 2010 vs. being 11 in 1971

My niece Nicole turned 11 on July 23rd. The party kicked off on a Friday evening with seven of her friends singing karaoke (Lady GaGa, of course) at FunHouse Pizza in Raytown. After that, Tiki torches and a fire-pit were lit for the backyard luau/swimming party. It was quite a production.

As I was taking this in, I remembered my own childhood birthday parties. They were usually on Saturday afternoons. My friends came over in their little dresses, we'd line up for a picture, I'd try not to race through the mandatory birthday card reading so I could rip open the presents--probably from TG and Y or Woolworth's--we'd have cake and ice cream, maybe play musical chairs, and then they'd go home. ( Geeze, is that true or am I confusing myself with Judy from "Leave It to Beaver?" Who knows.)

Anyway, that led me to thinking about how different the world is now, and about all the things my niece has that I didn't. On the flip side, I started thinking about all the things I knew as a kid that she never will.

She'll never know what it's like to only have three TV channels to choose from, or the anticipation of waiting until the one Sunday night a year when "The Wizard of Oz" is on. That was a huge deal at our house. Now kids can pretty much watch anything they want, whenever they want, repeatedly, if they want. Kinda takes the magic out.

She'll never know what it's like to wonder whose calling, thanks to caller I.D. I remember that rush of expectation before lifting the receiver--Would it be my friend Cindy? My mom checking to see if I'd done the vacuuming? My piano teacher calling to cancel my lesson? (Always a hope for me.) Fun little mysteries, gone.

She'll also never know what it's like to complete your list of chores on a summer morning, leave the house before noon, walk to the swimming pool, ("Don't forget to put zinc oxide on your nose!") and not be expected back home until 5 o'clock. Or what it's like to go back outside after dinner, roam the neighborhood chasing fireflies and putting them into a Skippy Jar with holes poked in the lid, just goofing off until it's 8 or 9 o'clock, and your Mom opens the front door, calls your name and says,"Time to come home."

Turns out even though she has a lot more than I did in many respects, I had a lot of irreplaceable things that she doesn't. Like growing up in a world that was much safer, a time that was simpler. Nothing matches the bliss of childhood freedom.

Geeze, do I sound old.

Anyway, even though I feel a little sad for what Nicole's missed out on, I know one thing she'll always have--an aunt who's impressed by her confidence and proud of her fearlessness, who's touched by her thoughtfulness, who's proud of her creativity, who thinks she's funny, and who's grateful for every numbered day she's still considered fun to hang out with.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

i went to church last Sunday--but wait--it gets even better!

Two days ago, I went to Macedonia Baptist Church with my friend Keion Jackson. As I remember it, when I asked to go with him a few months ago, I also asked "Will I be the only white person there?" He answered "No, there might be four or five of you."

Last week, when I reminded him of that conversation, he said "Really? Did I say that? There might actually be two." He paused, "Including you."

But I was still up for it because the mystery behind a gospel church has always intrigued me. Now that I've been to Keion's church, I can tell you honestly I have never enjoyed a church service so much in my life.

Anyway, I tried to be inconspicuous which is challenging when you're the only white person. I sat all hunched down, thinking no one would notice me. Then Pastor Brooks asked the visitors to stand. Reading my panic-stricken look, Keion apologized, "I didn't know they were going to do that." After a slow-motiony minute of standing up in all my Caucasianess, the pastor asked the members of the church to share their hospitality with those of us visiting. I can't tell you how many people came up to me, shook my hand, smiled and made me feel as "right at home" as someone like me can feel at a church.

In case you forgot, I was raised Missouri Synod Lutheran. If you've heard Garrison Keillor make fun of Lutherans, you know why we are such an easy target. But sitting in Keion's church, I kept thinking "This is fantastic!" There I was, in the middle of people expressing joy in their relationship with God through testifying, clapping, "amen-ing" and singing like I've never heard. Lutherans just don't do that.

Here, when the congregation sang, they sang with their whole hearts and voices and bodies. Early in the service, the Men's Choir sang a song so moving, tears rolled down my cheeks. Even members of the Men's Choir had their hankies out. As a matter of fact, so many of us were weepy, a woman was handing out Kleenex. The lyrics were something like "When I think of all the things I've done that I should not have done . . . something something . . . I'm so graceful for His mercy." (Sorry for the bad paraphrasing.)

Watching those men sing and sway and sing some more like they really meant every word, and thinking about my own missteps and moments I wished I could undo, well, everything just came together. Or, more accurately, came apart. It was as if my heart broke open.

After the song, Pastor Brooks said "Something just happened in here. Either some of you all have done some things you feel bad about or you just like good music." Everyone laughed. He went on, "I have a feeling, it was a little bit of both, wasn't it." And before long, he had us laughing all through his sermon.

I'll never forget that church service.

I feel like I should have a point, but I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it's this--if you ever want to go to a church service that will stay with you in all the right ways, I'll put you in touch with my friend Keion. And I'll go with you too. I'll even bring Kleenex, just in case.