Archive for the ‘Memoir’ category

8

Haunted Places of the Mind

{By Jessie Weaver, Vanderbilt Wife}
Enjoy

(photo source)

It’s a sign of my ongoing struggle with body image that I can still see the magazine layout in my head.

A pair of teenage girls roller-bladed in bathing suits in some now-defunct young teen magazine (because I was way too young for my mother to let me read Seventeen). (I think it was, in fact, Teen magazine.)

I couldn’t have been much older than 7th grade. I stared at that page mercilessly, willing myself to be small enough to wear a two-piece bathing suit. When I did get skinny, I would buy the exact one on the right of the spread: still modest, a coral-colored two piece with a unique, off-the-shoulder top. I’m not sure what deluded me to think if I were thinner I would suddenly have the body of a 17-year-old, but I was sure I would look just like the girl in that spread.

I’ve never worn a two-piece. Not even as a child, that I can remember.

The reason I remember that issue of the magazine so vividly is because it laid out a diet. One that WORKED! Of course! I carried the issue around, dog-eared, for weeks or even months. Trying, trying. Coral in mind.

I didn’t drop weight, not even with all the tuna and frozen peas and white-meat chicken.

Somewhere around eighth grade, I hit a growth spurt and thinned out a little. Not two-piece thin. But that magazine was during the lowest point, the hidden years, the year I was bullied and it makes me want to throw up to even think about. Until I had someone call after me the slogan of a popular weight-loss commercial, every day, for an entire school year, I’m not sure I even realized I was truly overweight.

I’m fairly certain not a day’s gone by since seventh grade when I thought of my body in a positive manner.

To remember my solitary focus on one coral-clad model makes me sick. But I still want that now grossly out-of-date bathing suit.

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Discovered by Story Editor, Robin Dance :: PENSIEVE :: @PensieveRobin

10
October 20, 2011 | Featured 2, HeatherEO, Memoir, Tuesday 2

It’s warmer in the water

{by Kaleigh Somers}

We’re graduating and the future is 34 pushpins pressed into a map of the United States.

“Probability says California,” My roommate, Brooke, told me as she cupped her forearms around a cluster of pins.

I nodded, trying to imagine her in California, me in New York City, our other roommate in Washington, D.C. It was too much to think about, all of us spread thin across a country where the only comfort we had was loneliness. We’d take comfort in knowing that, ironically, we couldn’t possibly be sure anything monumental would happen in the next five years.

It’s funny how one home transitions into another. Looking back, it’s seamless. But when you’re at the edge of each cliff and you’re ready to jump, it’s like the first time you realize the world is in constant motion. For three years and eight months, it’s pushed to the back of your mind.

Then you feel it rising up from the pit of your stomach like a sudden sickness that washes over you, forcing you to stop and sit down. To regain a sense of balance and stability. To find yourself on that map of pushpins.

Where will I be in the future?

I wonder.

“You’ll live on the lake,” I told Brooke. “I can picture it.”

Forestation rises up on three sides; a vast expanse of murky water closes off the loop. Children laugh in the background as she stretches out on the shoreline, digging the tips of her toes into the grass and dirt. She stops reading her book to crane her neck, motioning for her daughter to come to where she’s sitting.

“Do you want to go for a swim?” she asks the child.

The girl, whose hair is as white-blonde as Brooke’s, nods vehemently and starts tugging her t-shirt over her head.

She reaches the edge of the water, lifts up one foot, and frowns.

“What’s wrong?” Brooke asks.

The girl shakes her head and starts back toward the spot on the grass where her mother is stretched out.

“It’s too cold,” she whines.

Brooke sets her book down. “How do you know?”

She shrugs her shoulders.

“Come on.”

The two of them walk to the edge. Holding hands, they take deep breaths and wade gently into the murky water. A fish swims by on one side and the little girl squeals, latching onto Brooke’s leg.

After a few seconds, she releases her grip to wade out further and, without warning, dives under the surface. When she emerges, she brushes her hair back and giggles.

“Brr,” she says, and she rubs both hands over the goose bumps on her arms. “It’s warmer in the water.” The initial shock of icy water that had chilled her bones grows into a comfort.

She runs farther out, squats until the water rises up to her neck, and motions for her mother to follow her.

{photo credit}

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Kaleigh writes at Rewriting Life
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Story Editor: Heather King ::: @HeatheroftheEO

29

The grace of interruption

{By Michelle Palmer of One Roof Africa}

“Mama will you lay with me?”

 

I sigh. Why is this glaring screen more enticing to me than her seven-year-old nighttime snuggles?

“In a minute,” I reply, thinking she might just go fall asleep before I get to her. More than “a minute” passes and then, from the bedroom, “Mama?”

I relent. Walk down the dark hall into her even darker room. Grumble as I trip over the toys left out and the Sit-n-Spin rumbles loud under my feet. Will this house ever be mess-free?!

She’s tucked in under her t-shirt quilt, a Christmas gift I had made for each of us before our move to Uganda. I cuddle her close, smell her hair, rub my fingers down her arms, think of how big she is growing and she really should have had a shower before bed and she giggles, “Mama, you’re taking up a lot of room.” In my snuggling I inadvertently took over her pillow and now she’s just lying on a corner. I scooch over a bit.

She asks for a song. “But not a catchy one–I don’t want to be singing it all night.” I begin to sing “Stay Awake”, but she stops me. “No, no, not that one! Less catchy!” Aggravated, I sing “Amazing Grace,” with all the verses. She calls Benny to her side; he lies down and lays his head across her tummy.

The song’s almost over and Noah stumbles in from his room, fortunately steering clear of the Sit-n-Spin. “Mom, will you lay with me?”

I have things to do, yes, but I consent and send him back to his bed to wait on me. I sing another chorus; Benny and Dorothy sing back to me with their snores. My little gift of grace ever-growing, and will there be a day when she doesn’t need a mama’s nuzzle hug and song to find rest?

I kiss her cheek and go down the hall to the one and only, Noah, waiting for me in his bed. He’s nine and still loves a good snuggle time, though he rarely he asks. Everything in me wants to memorize these moments. These too-precious, fleeting moments when hugs and songs are enough to bring rest. I beg/pray that the Father will remind me ever so gently, when I get too caught up in myself, to remember that these days will not always be. That there will be a day free of mess, and that day will also be free of babies and children and scraped knees and silly laughter.

Amazing grace to embrace it all. Always.

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Discovered by Story Editor, Robin Dance of PENSIEVE :: @PensieveRobin

 

 

7
October 3, 2011 | Featured 2, Friday 1, Memoir, Mr Lady

Grey Days

{by Craig Lesley, Bad Chemicals}

I’m zoned out most of the time. The world rifles by and I shuffle and daydream and stare at my shoes and don’t notice much of anything as weeks speed past.

But every so often I catch a sliver, the words “Forgive Me” spray painted on an overpass, the color of my eyes reflected in a shop window, my wife Sally making peanut butter cookies with our kids in the kitchen.

A few nights ago, rooting around for something to read on my night stand, I unearthed a picture, under a pile of magazines and books, taken last autumn at the neonatal intensive care unit. The whole family is in the photograph—Sally, our four-year-old, our two-week-old, and me. I’m holding the infant, who’s wrinkled and weighs barely three pounds. It looks like we’re all smiling, even the baby somehow.

The picture sent my head back, to those grey days, to the fluorescent lights in the sterile hospital, to that tiny boy with the tubes and the wires and the sensors.

That was a tough time. Sally had lost all that blood and our baby was teetering and the leaves were falling and every day I had to walk past the nursery with the plump babies and their proud relatives staring through the glass. Most days, I wanted to growl at those happy gawkers at the nursery window. I wanted to punch their grinning mouths.

But looking at that picture the other night, I realized the anger and worry had dripped away and what remained of those grey days was longing. I visited the newborn every afternoon in the hospital, and I told him about his brother and the pets at home as he laid in the incubator. I mentioned that the nice lady who kept stopping by and touching his feet was his mother. “You’ll like her,” I assured him. “She’s the one who knows what’s going on.”

I found myself missing those quiet afternoons together and the mystery of that wrinkled baby who I needed so desperately to grow big like the newborns in the nursery.

I drove the four-year-old to preschool that fall, and we discussed big trucks and soccer and hard rock as we cruised in the station wagon.

“Dad, do monster trucks like Metallica?” he asked one cold morning.

“Son,” I explained. “Monster trucks adore Metallica.”

I found myself missing those talks, too, as I gazed at that picture.

Yesterday, almost 10 months after the baby crashed into the world 10 weeks early, he crawled for the first time, grunting and stretching out and inching across the playroom to gum a toy. I called Sally in, and as she watched him crawl, she cheered.

Then she looked at me. “And so it begins,” she muttered, almost ominously.

Monday, the four-year-old, who is now the five-year-old, started kindergarten. He lugged his oversized Superman backpack down the stairs and all the way to his class without any help. “I’ve got it, Dad,” he told me.

Tuesday, in the school parking lot, he asked, “Dad, can I not hold your hand? I’ll be very careful.”

Today, he walked to class by himself. I stood at the school entrance as he rolled his backpack down the hallway, shorter and thinner than the other children bobbing along. A few steps in, the boy turned around and waved. Then he continued straight and confidently away.

I wish I could do that. I wish I could just walk away like my kindergartener did. But that’s not me. That’s not how I’m put together.

These boys are growing up, and they need to. They need to crawl. They need to go to school. They need to travel to sunny cities. They need to fall hard for pretty girls.

And I need to let them walk down those hallways and drive away in those cars, but I know I can’t completely. Some part of me will linger there, puttering along in the station wagon with the bad heavy metal cranked up, watching the five-year-old weave his way to class, rocking the infant in the hospital on those grey days last fall.

And that part of me will know that sadness is also a gift.

Story Editor pick by Shannon / Mr Lady

Craig Lesley’s blog, Bad Chemicals, is the stuff of insanity (so sayeth Craig and Kurt Vonnegut). His original post is neither bad, nor insane, and can be found right here.

13
September 29, 2011 | Featured 2, HeatherEO, Memoir, Thursday 2

A Moment Like Any Other

{by Mitchell Brown}

(photo source)

It was a familiar spot and a moment like any other. It may have been yesterday. It may have been last year.

My reflection in the window looked old. The light bulb above me and the absence of light outside worked together to show my face drawn and dramatic in the shadows. I hadn’t bothered to pull the curtains yet and I stared at myself for a moment. I laughed without a sound thinking of how much I have aged over the last four years. I barely resemble who I was then. My hair is long now and noticeably grey. The skin around my eyes speaks of late nights and early mornings. Wrinkles born of worries and joys I never before knew trace my mouth. I look old, but I look happy. And I look tired.

I pulled the curtains shut and turned on the water.

An old friend once taught me about reconnecting with myself as I travel through my day. He would stop as he walked through a doorway to be aware of his body. Feel your toes, he would say. Remember they are there. Wiggle them. Think for a moment what your pinky toe feels like. Then move up though your legs, through your hips, through your belly, your chest, your shoulders, your ears. Reconnect. Center. Then move on. I stood at the sink and thought of him, as I often do, and thought of my toes. My poor, neglected toes. Shoved into shoes because barefoot on my feet all day makes my old knees ache. I allowed my awareness to move past my entombed toes and climb through me, feeling every inch of my body. Every weary muscle and sore joint recalled a moment. My hips were open and loose from squatting down to speak with my girls on their terms. My belly felt empty because it was not the one I was focused on filling at the dinner table. My throat was dry from all of the stories and answers and explanations and singing.

I felt my body. It felt tired.

The steam from the water, now hot, felt like a warm cloth as it reached my eyes. I held my head still to let my face absorb the heat. This is my spa, I thought. Each moment is what you make it. The weight of the water gathering on the sink full of dishes caused them to shift and I grabbed the sponge, returning from my little vacation.

Some nights, standing at that sink with the sponge in my hand, were welcomed and even enjoyable. Agatha Christie once said the best place to plan a book is at the sink washing dishes. I liked that. I liked that there could be some other end in mind when accomplishing such a mundane task. I liked that I got to think about something other than how I would be washing these same dishes tomorrow. I liked that it allowed me to be somewhere else, doing something else.

Some nights, though, each pass of the sponge across a plate or a pan was done absent of thought at all. Some nights I was too tired to think of anything but what my hands were doing. Some nights those dishes were just the physical reminder of the mindless repetitiveness of it all. Sometimes all I was doing was washing dishes. Sometimes all I ever do is wash dishes.

Exhaustion is funny that way. At the end of a day filled with purpose and meaning, exhaustion can convince you that your whole purpose has no meaning. I try to teach and support and love and inspire. I try to cook and clean and wash and do. I try to be the best father I can be. I try to give everything I have. And I usually succeed, leaving me at the sink with nothing left. Nothing left to recall the successes. Nothing left to enjoy the simple beauty of being a father. Nothing left on which to build or create or conceive.

It was a moment like any other. I finished the dishes and did it again the next day.

Mitchell Brown writes at Thoughtful Pop. Read the original post here.
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Story Editor~ Heather King ::: @HeatheroftheEO

8
September 13, 2011 | Featured 2, HeatherEO, Memoir, Wednesday 2

Beautiful Broken Us

{by Michelle DeRusha of Graceful}

They sit on beach chairs, on beach towels rumpled and striped, legs splayed, faces to the sun. They sit while their kids splash and mold kingdoms out of cool damp sand. They sit amidst florescent pink and yellow pails and shovels, amidst half-eaten bags of Cheetos and uncapped bottles of Dr. Pepper. They sit with flesh wrinkled, saggy, taut, bronzed, fish-belly white. They sit and gesture and talk in French and English. And is that Portuguese perhaps?

I don’t often get the opportunity to observe the human masses. The airport is a good place for that, but more often I’m riding the moving walkways with exuberant kids or standing in line for McNuggets and fries. The mall is a fine place, too – settled onto a bench to watch shufflers and shoppers – but usually I’m leaning on the metal rail, gazing dizzy at the carousel as my kids spin beneath colored lights or sweeping frenzied past kiosks in search of the perfect birthday gift an hour before the party.

The beach is the perfect people-watching spot, and two months or so ago I did just that. I sat on a fabric chair low to the sand, book propped on my lap, sunhat pulled low on my brow, legs stretched across infinitesimal bits of coral, and I watched.

And as I watched an overwhelming sense of oneness, an inexplicable feeling of communion and connection spanning race, age, culture and background settled on my chest.

We are separate-connected, distant-close, many-one.

Moms call to kids, beckoning in words I can’t understand but in tone all too familiar. Children play side-by-side, content in ephemeral friendship if only for an hour. Teenagers giggle behind screens of blond, flat-ironed hair. Couples sit reading in quiet.

Our broken-beautiful oneness spools like a satin ribbon from sea to crystalline sea.

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” ~ Ryunosuke Satoro, Japanese poet

Michelle DeRusha writes at Graceful ::: Subscribe via RSS
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Michelle can also be found on Twitter and Facebook

Story Editor~ Heather King ::: @HeatheroftheEO
15
September 1, 2011 | Featured 2, Memoir, Mr Lady, Tuesday 2

Hands Upon My Heart

{by Melinda Wentzel from Planet Mom}

(photo credit: wolfgangphoto)

When I was nine or ten, I remember well my enthrallment with my mother’s hands. They were delicate and slender, sweetly scented and rose petal-soft—so completely unlike my own nicked and scraped, callused and chafed boy-like hands that were better suited for wielding a hammer and throwing a fastball than anything else.

Mine were distinctively earthy, too, largely because remnants of dirt and grass simply refused to be removed. Or at least that was the sentiment I held for much of the summer. It was a byproduct of being a kid, I suppose, literally immersed in a world of sod and soil from sunup to sundown. Never mind my fondness of forests and rocky places, which typified a deep and abiding bond with nature—one that I’m not quite sure my mother ever completely understood.

At any rate, my hands told of who I was at the time—a tomboy given to tree climbing, stealing second base and collecting large and unwieldy rocks. Everyone’s hands, I’d daresay, depict them to a certain degree, having a story to tell and a role to play at every time and every place on the continuum of life. Traces of our journey remain there in the folds of our skin—from the flat of our palms and knobs of our knuckles to the very tips of our fingers. As it should be, I suppose.

For better or for worse, our hands are the tools with which we shape the world and to some extent they define us—as sons and daughters, providers and professionals, laborers and learners, movers and shakers. That said, I’m intrigued by people’s hands and the volumes they speak—whether they’re mottled with the tapestry of age, vibrant and fleshy or childlike and impossibly tender. Moreover, I find that which they whisper difficult to ignore.

Likewise, I’m fascinated by the notion that ordinary hands routinely perform extraordinary deeds day in and day out, ostensibly touching all that truly matters to me. Like the hands that steer the school bus each morning, the hands that maintain law and order throughout the land, the hands at the helm in the event of fire or anything else that smacks of unspeakable horribleness, the hands that deftly guide my children through the landscape of academia, the hands that bolster them on the soccer field, balance beam, court and poolside, the hands that bless them at the communion rail each week and the hands that brought immeasurable care and comfort to our family pet in his final hours. Strange as it sounds, I think it’s important to stop and think about such things. Things that I might otherwise overlook when the harried pace of the world threatens to consume me.

If nothing else, giving pause makes me mindful of the good that has come to pass and grateful to the countless individuals who continue to make a difference simply by putting their hands to good use. For whatever reason, this serves to ground me and helps me put into perspective how vastly interdependent and connected we are as a whole. Indeed, we all have a hand (as well as a stake) in what will be.

Equally important, methinks, is the notion of remembering what was. More specifically, the uniqueness of those I’ve loved and lost. A favorite phrase. A special look. The warmth of a smile or the joy of their laughter. Further (and in keeping with the thrust of this piece), there’s nothing quite as memorable as the hands of those I’ve lost—like my grandfather’s. His were more like mitts, actually—large and leathery, weathered and warm. Working hands with an ever-present hint of grease beneath his hardened nails, and the distinctive scent of hay and horses that clung to him long after he left the barn. And although decades have passed, I can still see him pulling on his boots, shuffling a deck of cards and scooping tobacco from his pouch—his thick fingers diligently working a stringy wad into the bowl of his pipe, followed shortly thereafter by a series of gritty strikes of the lighter and wafts of sweet smoke mingling reluctantly with those from the kitchen.

Of course, my grandmothers’ hands were equally memorable. One had short, stubby fingers and a penchant for biting her nails to the nub. Always, it seemed, she was hanging wash out on the line, scrubbing dishes or stirring a pot brimming with macaroni—my favorite form of sustenance on the planet. By contrast, my other grandmother suffered the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis as evidenced by her hands. To this day I can picture a set of finely manicured nails at the tips of her smallish fingers—fingers that were gnarled and bent unmercifully, although they never seemed to be hampered when it came to knitting a wardrobe for my beloved Barbies.

Not surprisingly, I can still summon an image of my brother’s hands, too. Almost instantly. They were handsome, lean and mannish-looking—yet something suggestive of the little boy he had once been lingered there. Needless to say, I am grateful for such delicious memories—the ones indelibly etched upon my heart.

Planet Mom (or Melinda Wentzel, if you prefer) is a freelance writer, award winning columnist and Mr Lady’s new obsession. Her original post can be found about half-way down her page entitled “The Good Silverware”, and you can follow her on Twitter and Facebook and at Melinda Wentzel.com.

Story Editor pick by Shannon / Mr Lady

 

4
August 29, 2011 | Featured 2, HeatherEO, Memoir, Monday 1

10,000 mistakes

{by Wolf of Just Add Father}

Don’t open the door to the study.
Take down a lute.

Rumi

I wake up too early and lie in the dark, thinking. I have eight unfinished ToDos from yesterday. I go downstairs and open the study door.

On one shoulder sits a little man, saying, Lute! Lute! Play the lute!

On the other shoulder is another little man. This one says, Are you good enough yet? There’s work to do.

I think the lute man was there first, at least that’s the way I remember childhood. But the other man soon followed. He’s pretty much run my life since the first grade, and maybe before that.  My wish for Nick, my eight year old son, is that he listen to his own lute man for as long as possible.

My fear is that the other man is already whispering to Nick. The idea that I can help Nick put this man in his place is a great seduction for me. Perhaps all it means is that I want to help him to be me, doing it right.

Nora and I try not to mindlessly praise Nick, avoiding “Good job” and such when we can. Instead we say things like, “Look at that yellow line you’ve drawn there. It’s twisting like a river.”

Nick likes to draw. But he worries that he’s lousy at it. This worry used to stop him cold, but now he draws and draws anyway, I’m glad to say. For the moment the lute man is winning.

A couple of years ago I got him a book about mistakes that turned into useful inventions. Not-sticky-enough glue that led to Post-Its, and so on. But the book was more for me than for him. It gave me something to say when he complained about himself. I told him he needed to make 10,000 mistakes to get good at something.

“It doesn’t look like it’s supposed to,” he’d say, showing me a drawing.

“You haven’t made 10,000 mistakes yet,” I’d answer.

Today he worked an hour making an elaborate soft-sword out of old newspapers.

“Can you picture yourself two years ago looking into the future watching yourself making soft-swords?” I said.

“I would say that wasn’t me. I could never do it that good.”

“And here you are,” I say.

He ponders this and says nothing. I ponder him and say nothing.

And here we are.

:::

Read the original post
Wolf writes at Just Add Father
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Photo credit:  the_lost_drones via Creative Commons

Story Editor: Heather King ::: @HeatheroftheEO

25

There And Back Again.

(by Stacey of Is There Any Mommy Out There?)

photo credit

I expect it to be like a cloud.  That moment of walking in the door.
A gold-tinged cloud scented orange with an undertone of cinnamon.  It’s more like hitting a wall of thin arms and loud reedy voices, their smiles bright, their garbled tales spilled at my feet like slippery fish from a basket. I am surrounded by noise where I anticipated hugs set to the flicker of a silent movie.

The baby is up.  Quiet time is over.  It’s time for snack.  They played in a tent.  Do I want a cookie?  That one is hopeful.  They made cookies with Daddy.  Might they perhaps, if I wanted one, have a cookie too?

My brain is frozen, shocked and sluggish, like the marble-eyed deer we nearly hit three nights ago on our wild escape through Palouse hill country into the night.  Why oh why does it smell like fish?

It is one of those things they don’t tell you about motherhood.  This matter of going away and coming back again.  Or maybe, to be fair, it is one of those things that can not be taught.  Like child birth and that instinct that tells you this fever is serious and not like all the others, this can not be explained before it is experienced.

It’s not that you miss them.  Or maybe that’s just me – I might be odd in that respect, though I doubt that I am alone.  Three years into sharing my thoughts on mothering this way, I believe firmly that I am never alone.  There is always someone out there searching for this nugget, this truth, this strange fossil of a thing that they find buried in themselves and that they are glad to see someone else hold up to the light and turn around, curious.  Will you look at this?  Isn’t that odd?  Look at how the shell turns back on itself.  A new creature entirely.

It’s not that I miss them.  Truth.  It is that I am bound to them, a middle-earthen pact of blood and tears and need.  I leave them joyfully.  I am glad to be free. Thrilled to wander streets and talk late and sleep long and hard. Thrilled to be unneeded, unfettered from need for sixty short hours.  But they are four cords of unearthly strength wrapped, vinelike, around my soul, that will stretch and stretch and stretch, becoming ever tighter, every thinner, ever tauter until the tension is unbearable and the outcome is a predetermined thing.  The unbreakable laws of gravity and elasticity take over.  I come hurtling back.

I traveled before children. I wandered Europe for months without a tie.  I left Matt to his own devices and meandered through Thailand and India and Nepal.  I missed him with all my heart and soul, but my missing of him was a part of the freedom.  Leaving loved ones behind for a time is a special kind of freedom.  Leaving children behind is a furtive, temporary escape.  He is a soft place to land.  They are the brick wall at the end of the cord.  Their dirty faces and high-pitched demands and grabby hands mortared by whining, crying, hot breath on my face, a nervous baby cleaved to my side.

I press myself into it as hard as I can.  The texture, when I close my eyes, is what I crave.  The crags of their little faces.  The spiderweb fibers of their hair.  The crumble under my fingers of the tear tracks at the corner of their eyes.  The classical melody beneath the scraw and screech.

I can’t explain it either. I haven’t got it right. Maybe I can’t tell you. Maybe you’ll never know.  It’s not a lack of love.  I’m not sorry to be home.  To be a lover is to want to come back quickly.  To be a mother is to have to.

**

Stacey writes the heart-truth of parenthood at Is There Any Mommy Out There?
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Pick by Story Editor – Sara Sophia//@sarasophia

22

My Middle Name

{by Jim of The Busy Dad Blog}

The crowd was evenly split, half of them waving dollar bills while mockingly encouraging their chosen gladiator, Jeff. The other half doing the same, but chanting “Greasy! Greasy! Greasy!”

Greasy Lee. I didn’t choose that name. It was bestowed by the 5th grade bully elite upon the chubby Asian kid who always happened to suffer bad hair days.

I glanced across the makeshift arena, which was nothing more than a clearing between two boulders and a tree stump in the woods behind the school. Jeff and I locked eyes. Not in aggression, but more in a desperate telepathic attempt to assure the other that we were doing this for our mutual survival.

I don’t remember the fight. But I do remember sitting in math class afterwards, unable to write anything on the worksheet in front of me because my hand was trembling uncontrollably. I also remember the dozens of perfect red dots on Jeff’s white polo shirt, which matched the missing skin on my middle knuckle.

There we were. The only two Asian kids in an otherwise white working class New England town, divided and conquered.

* * * *

When we first moved to the suburbs from the heart of Boston, it was every kid’s dream come true. A sprawling ranch-style house with a huge playroom, a circular driveway for unhindered bike riding, and an immense backyard. Which meant I could get a dog. Summer was everything it was supposed to be.

Fall meant starting a new school, but I wasn’t worried. I had switched schools a couple times before, and it always brought with it new friends. Also, this was the first time I was going to take a bus to school. Just like in the movies!

And the first few moments were just as I had pictured. As we drove up to the corner, I noticed a group of kids laughing, chatting and probably catching up, dressed in their shiny, new back-to-school best.

I said bye to my dad, jumped out of the car and made my way over to my new friends.

“Ching chong!”

“ah sooo!”

“Hey, chink!”

I sat by myself, at the back of the bus.

* * * *

Having grown up in a multi-cultural part of Boston, the only ethnic stereotyping I ever encountered was Bugs Bunny putting on a rice paddy hat every once in a while and bowing at Elmer Fudd. When you’re 7, it’s kind of funny. When it’s not happening to you, it’s kind of funny.

Moving to the suburbs in 4th grade taught me a lot about race. Namely, that it mattered. That when you’re different, or your parents speak to you in a tongue no one else can understand, people are allowed to make fun of you. I mean, if you think about it, it is kind of funny when a girl walks up to you at recess, smiles and asks you:

“what do you call a fat Chinese kid?”

(smiling back) “What.”

“A chunk.”

And you learn to laugh along. With every karate chop, ching chong, buck toothed smile, and slant eye gesture they can throw at you.

You also learn to hate your race.

* * * *

“What’s your middle name?”

“I don’t have one.”

* * * *

Eating by myself in the lunchroom had its advantages. On the occasional day when my mom would pack me a steamed bun, shrimp chips or something equally Asian, I could dine incognito, safe from ridicule.

* * * *

“If you don’t practice your Chinese, you’ll forget it,” mom would remind me.

“If it means people forget I’m Chinese, I’ll take it,” I thought.

* * * *

Jeff didn’t look Asian to me. Maybe it’s because I’d never met anyone who was only half Asian. But he didn’t make fun of me, so there was that. Having someone to sit next to on the school bus and eat lunch with is sometimes all you need to quell the stomachaches that well up before you walk out your front door each morning. Also, he had Atari.

We’d still get picked on, but when you travel in numbers, even if it’s two, you take half the punishment.

* * * *

“Why aren’t you wearing green?”

“I’m not Irish,” I replied.

“Everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day,” Chris threatened.

“I’m American, so I’m wearing blue,” I countered.

I think the kids savored beating me up that day, more so than usual. American. How dare Greasy Lee say that? He eats shrimp chips.

* * * *

Jeff and I got into an argument one day. I don’t remember about what. Probably something we would have gotten over the next day.

“Hey Greasy, I’m betting all my lunch money you can beat him up.”

“Kick his ass, Greasy. I’m betting two dollars you can.”

“We’re setting up a fight for you at recess tomorrow. Don’t be a pussy, Greasy.”

I went to sleep that night, replaying in my head the right cross that Frankie taught me on the school bus. While sitting next to me.

* * * *

I was riding the school bus home one afternoon and grateful that I might make it through the day free of being teased. Two more stops. As I sat there, not really looking at anything or anyone, my gaze met Lenny’s, one of the only Black kids in my town. We hesitated for a moment.

“What are you looking at, chink?”

“Fuck you, nigger.”

* * * *

My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Cruickshanks was a World War II veteran. He “stormed Iwo Jima and killed Japs.” His war stories were actually quite entertaining. He had a passion for them. Science? Not so much.

One day, we were learning about lighting, and how you’re safest in a car during a lightning storm.

“Does anyone know why?” he asked the class.

“Because of the rubber tires,” he answered for us.

I raised my hand. “Mr. Cruickshanks, that’s actually not true. It’s because electricity in its quest to be grounded travels around the metal frame of the car and into the ground. In order for the rubber to even be a factor in insulating you from electricity, it would have to be 3 miles thick.” [I had actually just learned this at the Museum of Science.]

Mr Cruickshanks stopped writing on the board, turned around slowly and removed his glasses.

“Jim, go back to Shanghai.”

* * * *

I studied hard that year, and worked harder than I ever worked. Because all I wanted was get into private school the next year. I didn’t do it for the academic challenge. I didn’t do it because it would set me up to go to an elite college. I didn’t do it because I could reach my full potential. I did it so the teasing would stop. Turns out you can motivate an 11-year old, after all.

And after I made it in, the teasing did stop. I even took Chinese my junior and senior year.

* * * *

“What’s your middle name?”

“Oh, it’s just my Chinese name. You’ll forget it once I tell you, so I’m not gonna bother.”

* * * *

By the time college rolled around, I had practically forgotten all about 4th, 5th and 6th grade. I mean, I was doing people a favor not telling them my middle name. I didn’t want them to be embarrassed if they mispronounced it, right?

* * * *

Around when Fury was born, I was chatting it up with some guys at work. Someone made a joke about Asians, but quickly apologized to me. A co-worker of mine jumped in.

“Jim? Come on, he’s whiter than any of us white guys!”

That made me proud. Then a little bit disgusted.

* * * *

The other day, I was packing Fury’s lunch.

“Dad, can you pack me some shrimp chips for snack?”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I want shrimp chips.”

“Ok, but I don’t want the other ki– Ok, I’ll pack you shrimp chips.”

* * * *

My middle name is Ching-Kuo. And you can pronounce it just fine.

Head-to-Head
As a personal rule, Jim Lin doesn’t ever write serious posts…so we’re all insanely grateful that he’s never met a rule he isn’t willing to break. You can find Jim on twitter, at Lunch Box Daily, on Posterous and, on rare occasion, his personal site – The Busy Dad Blog, where you’ll find his original post. You can also find him rocking the Lisa Leonard at most every mom blog conference. He’s cool like that.

{This post is also nominated for Blogher 2011 Voices of the Year. Click here to give your vote.}

Story Editor pick by Jim’s BFF and partner-in-crime, Shannon / Mr Lady

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