Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On Elijah's 6th birthday


Dear Elijah,

It has been wonderful to witness your growth, curiosity and love this past year. I can’t believe you are six years old already. I remember when you were a baby, so happy and carefree.

Now, you’ve become a thoughtful, considerate, intelligent little person. You’ve gone from being frustrated by reading to loving it so much that you can’t get enough of words. You read anything you see. It’s fun to watch you ask questions and think about what is before you. It’s fun to watch you want more books or to take over reading when I’m reading to you. It’s a pure delight that you like all types of books. And it’s been one thing that I rarely say no to: if you want a new book, I’m so thrilled that you want it, that I have to buy it for you. I hope this love of books and stories just continues to grow and fill you up.

You’ve been very curious about the goings on in the world. Just last week, you came to me and said, “mama, how can the United States defeat Afghanistan, when the United States is so far away from Afghanistan? Look at my globe, see here is Afghanistan and here is the U.S. all the way over here. How can that be, mama?” You’re a thinking child. I know you will be an excellent critical thinker as you grow older. I’m curious to see what you will use your thinking skills and memory for. I just hope that we can continue to help nourish your strengths and excitement.

You’ve asked to watch the news on several occasions to see what Obama has to say. And when I was taking a picture of a sign advertising a fight party by way of a smiling Barack Obama picture, you asked “why are you taking a picture of that. “ I replied, “I don’t know why his picture is on this fight sign; what do you think about this?” You quickly responded, “maybe because he’s fighting for health care.” Just like most of your smart retorts, I shared this one too. Everyone loves hearing my Elijah stories and they too marvel at your intelligence.

The last amazing thing I’ve witnessed this year is your love for your baby brother. You insisted from the moment we told you we were going to have a baby that the baby was a girl. However, when you walked into the hospital room on February 13th, you eagerly asked, “what is it?” I said it’s a boy and you sulked, averted your eyes and walked away so disappointed. I was disappointed for you. Your daddy was able to give you a pep talk about the joys of having a brother and how you’d be like your cousin Stephen and very quickly you were over it. As soon as you held your brother your eyes lit up and you had this amazing smile on your face. We were all snapping away trying to preserve that moment through a perfect shot.

Ten months later, your face still lights up and now Ezra knows his big brother and his face lights up too, at the sound of your voice, when he hears running and especially when he sees you smile. This has been the greatest joy: seeing you two together. Once when your father and I were just glowing over Ezra’s smile, you chimed right in, “seeing him smile/laugh, makes me smile.” My heart was so full in that moment. Another moment was this summer when Ezra was in his bouncy chair and I was getting ready, you came running to me, “Mommy, when I say on Ezra, he just smiled.” I was able to find a laugh and tell you that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to sit on your brother. You have loved to hug him, kiss him, pick him up and make him laugh. I know as you both grow, your relationship won’t always be this easy. But I hope you two become the best friends and always remain loving to each other. I hope you continue to forgive and forget as easily as you do now. I’m excited to see how you continue to show love to Ezra and how your relationship will evolve.

Finally, I’ve loved when you want me to pray with you before bed. I’ll pray about something that is going on, safe travels for family or helping Elijah to be obedient, to sleep well, to be happy or sheer gratefulness at what we have. I pray in my heart, and sometimes aloud with you, that you will always be happy and loving. I pray that you will be a good man who loves, worships, and serves God. I simply want the best for you now and always. I love you when you eat your peas and when you don’t. You are my sweet, wonderful, smart, amazing child.

On your sixth birthday.



Saturday, December 19, 2009

On the Obama image

When I was in grad school, I had grandiose ideas of writing a dissertation on images in African-American literature. I was curious about actual images present alongside text and described images, i.e. a photograph described within the written text. And although there was definitely a space for such an idea, I simply had an idea with no way to come with an intelligent argument, let alone time, energy or stamina to attempt such a Herculean, impossible feat.

So when I (barely, though barely is still passing) passed my comprehensive exams, I took several months and thought about the decision I had made the moment I walked out of those horrendous exams hysterical: I was finished with this program. I didn't have it in me to continue; I quit pursuing a PhD as all of my friends stayed on.

Yet, I never quit my love of art and literature. And I'm still very curious about images. I use images with teaching as much as I can. I have the students search for images to symbolize themes and ideas within the text. As I become a better teacher, I will have them analyze their choices and write more about the images they choose. Right now, I'm not there yet, partly due to laziness/lack of energy and because my gorge rises at their writing. (It's probably time for me to move onto something else soon. again.)

Anyways, this is supposed to be about my attraction to images.

Several weeks ago, as I was driving, I saw this sign for a fight party with what looked like Barack Obama's picture in the middle. I couldn't understand what I thought I was seeing, so I convinced myself I wasn't seeing it. Until, a few days later, I scrutinized the sign more closely and vowed to bring my camera the next time I took this route, because no one would believe me. As I snapped away from my car, Elijah, my oldest son asked, "why are you taking a picture of that sign?"

I said, "that's a picture of Barack Obama on a sign for a fight."
He telepathically heard what I was thinking and spoke what I had kept silent, "What does Barack Obama have to do with the fight?"
I answered, "I don't know, that's why I'm taking the picture."

Has Obama's greatness and presence in our global scene taken on a new meaning in which we need to keep Obama in our day-to-day living, hold onto him tightly so he won't float away? Are we using his image to garner support for our trivialities? There is an image of brown-skinned woman with hair poofed a little in front like Michelle's and the ad says, "Obama wants moms to go back to school." At a quick glance, the woman looks like Michelle and the advertisers are using the name, the image to sell their product. As I searched for the image I found this one in which Obama's on face is used to sell this online education program.

The reason why I quit the PhD program is I can't come up with a good enough argument to sustain a long piece of writing on this subject. However, I'm intrigued by the use of the Obamas' images in American culture today. I visited a home where the children and grandchildren's pictures were framed and sitting along the mantel and the last picture in the sequence was a framed print of the Obama family. I recognize this as an outward expression of a beaming inner pride. It's a "they are ours," statement. Yet, they are human and I fear what will happen when we put Obama (and family) on this untouchable pedestal. What then does he become? In what ways will our expectations be unrealistic and how will disappointment creep in?

We've co-opted this man's face and used it to advertise small scale fight parties, education programs and to include in our own social and familial circles. And although, I'm proud and sometimes I look at him, at her and can't believe they are in that position or think wow she looks like me, of course she is beautiful and I am.. not ugly. Sometimes, I feel possessive too about this family, "they are mine," as you can see below; I'm thrilled that Michelle is pleased to be in my presence. I specifically chose to pose with her and not Obama, because she is more mine than he. But obviously, I'm not doing anything with this image other than having fun. However, I fear the use of the faces and name for promotion, for familial ties is taking a step down a dangerous path, in my opinion.

On church

Written in church service on 11-15-09

This morning my son ran into my room at 6:30 and said, "church." I had to tell him to go back to bed, it was too early and we had plenty of time to make it to church.
His eagerness came from the last few (many) Sundays I used the excuse of "mommy woke up too late." And other Sundays, the lame "I'm tired." And on Saturdays, the worst of all, "we'll see.." I'm not sure how he was able to set his internal clock to ensure that this Sunday mommy woke up on time. He was relentless and I wanted to go for him.
I've had a hard time with church for many years, boredom or severe feeling of lack, or not knowing where God was in my life, fatigue, wanting to stay at home with my family (my husband doesn't attend), congregation too conservative, not spirited enough, overly dramatic, Sunday a.m. club, no meat, just potatoes, "too real".....
It's quite silly, because I sound like my students excuse after excuse, needing to be entertained in order to receive education. We teachers complain we aren't "ring-masters" and don't want to put on a three-ringed circus. We want students to be serious, to value education, receive it and actively participate.
Church shouldn't be a three-ringed circus (and though I've been to some that are close to that exciting atmosphere--it's not what I'm looking for). A serious Christian doesn't need rockets blasting to have an encounter with Christ.
What is wrong with me that the rituals are annoying, the organ feels heavy, the hymns bland, the sermon paprika or garnish, not even veggies or comforting starches. I want meat, tender and juicy, a full plate and to feel chills when the liturgical dancers praise him and empowered to slay whatever comes my way. I want more.
I've searched and can't find...
There is one place that I thoroughly enjoyed, felt filled, worshiped and praised Him fully, but it's too far away. I've moved twice and both times further away from this place that I've felt like was right for me to worship, praise and receive a good word. Look, I've added another excuse to my roll.
I'm not sure what I'm going to do about this church thing..keep trying...finding other ways to have the encounters I need... I'm just not sure...

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

On the original black-labeled ChapStick

I have a tube of original ChapStick with the black label with white print on my dresser. I have a blue-labeled tube, "lip moisturizer" in my makeup bag that I apply frequently but don't think twice about.

The black-labeled tube smells like hardened vaseline, like my father, like my first encounter with chap stick, like my father's absence. I look at the black label and white lettering as it sits on my dresser or between my pointer and thumb and I see the tube on the wood and glass table near the beveled edge in front of the black and white striped couch in my childhood home. I see the tube lying in the bathroom drawer amongst brushes and hair grease and even strands of my hair. I see my dad pulling it from his overly starched light blue jeans and applying it to his lips. I see this black-tube all over my childhood. I smell my father and good times growing up.

I remember watermelon juice oozing from the rind, from my mouth. I laugh as I try not to swallow the seeds. I taste and smell the watermelon in the heat of July in Nashville.

I taste the mint chocolate chip scoop on a sugar cone from Baskin Robbins. I remember the four of us piling into my father's car, which strangely I can't see the color, make or model. I see us driving less than 10 minutes away to choose from the 31 Flavors on the corner of Bell Road and Murfreesboro Road two doors down from Kroger. I see my brother's rainbow sherbet, a medley of orange, green, pink and sugary sweetness.

I hear my father playing for me Brothers Johnson, "Strawberry Letter 23" on an old album on his old stero, when I play Tevin Campbell's newer version on cassette. I hear him tell me about the originals. I hear him school me on old-school. I listen to the instruments versus the synthesizers.

I see my father smiling, laughing.

We were never close. I'm jealous of a good friend who says she talks to her father as a way of keeping him here.

I never had that relationship. I don't talk to my father. I do try to hold onto the memories, the smells, the sounds, the sights. Sometimes, I feel like I'm missing someone who loved me. When I feel a gaping vacancy, sometimes I let my nostrils breathe in that original ChapStick for a few seconds longer.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On giving

I just put this handcrafted ornament of a brown-skinned baby resting on a cream-colored moon onto our live Christmas tree. I forgot to ask where the item was made when I specifically chose the cutest baby for the free ornament I was being gifted for signing up on Ten Thousand Villages' mailing list. I love this fair trade store and the stories that come with each handmade item. Even though I hadn't purchased it and don't know where it was made, alas, it was Ezra's first Christmas ornament and that made it perfect and that would be its story.

On this past Sunday, we bought our Christmas tree and Elijah had to have a nutcracker ornament and one for Ezra as well. I'm usually pretty conservative with spending. But it's Christmas, how could I resist--well sometimes the price tag can aid in the resistance. When we got home I wrote their names and the year on their respective ornaments and Elijah placed them on the tree side by side. My heart just overflowed with joy.

My mother gave me this gift of a new personalized Christmas ornament every year tradition. I'm grateful to be able to pass the gift to my children. And if Elijah asks for a different ornament next week for 2009, it will be his and this year I'll buy two.

It is now Wednesday night and I don't know why I just got the baby's ornament on the tree, but it was magical for me to place it right beside two of Elijah's baby's first Christmas ornaments. I can't find the words to express what I feel about finding ornaments for both kids, shopping for both boys, loving both boys, seeing Elijah in Ezra's face, seeing them love each other. My spirit just rejoices at these amazing gifts.

This love, Christmas energy translates into a very weird phenomena for me, I just want to give to everyone. I almost bought roses from the lady at the stoplight before I hit the beltway as I left work. I felt bad for her trying walking in the cold, drizzly rain and I wanted her to be encouraged. I just convinced myself that I should make the purchase next time. I want to buy small poinsettias or delectable chocolates for my favorite co-workers and for those I think could use a pick me up. However, I don't want to send my bank account into shock and I don't want people to start feeling like they have to return the idea. I want nothing in return, but to know I helped put a smile on someone's face or made their day. I don't know how to do this successfully without waking that horrific demon of obligation and concern for equity that lies within us all.

I want to be able to put an ornament on someone's emotional tree and light a candle in their memory that they were special enough to be thought of in this unexpected way.

As I've been given so much...
I just want to give a little bit to everyone.