Third grade

February 24, 2012

I was up at 4:30 this morning. That’s a little earlier than usual, but I do like to wake up before dawn. I need an hour of unscheduled time in the mornings before I do anything else. Usually I spend that hour drinking coffee outside in the darkness, looking at the moon and the stars, talking myself down from my various disasters and anxieties. Once I put my thoughts in all their right places, I am ready to wake up the children and start our day.

Some morning sessions are stressful. Sometimes they start in bed, and I spend most of the morning talking myself out of bed.

This morning was a particularly helpful morning, though. As the twenty threads of thought wound themselves around each other, I caught a passing thought and brought it into focus. It was a thought that surprised me, and I had to spend some time examining it more closely.

“At least she’s almost safe, we’re almost there,” I had thought to myself.


“She” is my youngest daughter, who will turn nine years old this coming summer. And pretty soon, she will be safe from the Horrendous Things that happen to little girls.

Her age is important to this thought process. She is in third grade. She is 8. Horrendous Things happened to me when I was in third grade, things so Horrendous that I have spent decades erasing the memories.

And that might explain some of my responses to the life stressors from the last few years in my life.

2009 was a big year. It started with a job loss that ended my career as a librarian. My health was seriously compromised in a dramatic fashion. And also my father died. That was three years ago. I’d like to say that I’m picking up the pieces now, but in actuality the pieces are still falling. I have developed an arsenal of skills to cope and have found love and peace in delightful places with extraordinary people. But I have also been isolating my daughters and myself from the world that can and will harm us.

Significantly, my oldest daughter entered third grade in 2009.

I have spent the last three years fiercely protecting myself and my children. I didn’t need to do it like that. But that’s ok. I have hope for the future.

Fern frond

October 17, 2011

A childhood memory:

I was with my mother in downtown San Diego. We were always riding buses back then, to the hospital for Mom’s prenatal visits, and to visit Jim.

It was rainy. That was unusual, and the streets were gray and shiny. A florist at his stall handed me a Boston fern frond. He showed me the underside, the tiny raised bumps of seeds. I ran my fingers over the bumps and smiled.

My mom let me push the button for the pedestrian signal at the crosswalk. I pushed it 3 times. But then I couldn’t remember if I’d really pushed it 3 times. What if I’d really pushed it 4 times? Then the light would never change. You have to push the button an odd number of times to make it change. So I pushed the button again, just in case. A panic set over me then. What if I had really pushed the button 3 times, and by pressing the button again just in case like I had, what if I had messed it up? So I pushed the button again. I was paralyzed. I was terrified that the pedestrian signal wouldn’t come on, and it would be my fault.

The forward motion of my mom as she moved to cross the street pulled my hand that was in hers. The light had changed. I hadn’t broken it. I rubbed the undersides of the leaves on the fern frond, the tip of my finger tracing the lines of the fern seeds. We crossed the road.


August 12, 2011

Because this is the Internet, let’s just say I have a lot of mental anguish, and I’ll keep the details to myself.

Because I am a woman with a currently-functioning reproductive system, I also have monthly cycles. Y’know, I get my period.

The Common Wisdom holds that women get emotional right around That Time of the Month, which is a bad thing. I’m a bit of a late bloomer in understanding my personal cycles because I went through a period in my early 20s when I only had one cycle over the course of three years. That was due to two pregnancies plus two bouts of on-demand nursing (the natural birth control!) The Extreme Feminist in me, however, has never held truck with the idea that women being more emotional at certain times in their cycle is a bad thing. For a while I didn’t even believe that really happened, and I thought that it was possibly a cultural construction. I still don’t know about that.

But really, how many times have you heard someone say, “Oh that it explains it, her period just started.” How many times have you said it? How many times have you heard it crudely and disparagingly stated on television?

But back to mental anguish.

Some days my mental anguish gets really bad. I don’t necessarily control when those days are. I try to be aware and prevent things from getting too bad. That’s the best I can do right now. I do pay attention to the calendar, though, and I can’t find a pattern to suggest that the bad days happen with greater frequency when my period is about to start. Some months, my period starts, and I think, “Hmmm, I was feeling totally fine this last week. No bad days at all.” Other months, my period starts, and I think, “Oh, that explains it, my period just started.” That’s a pretty dismissive statement I make to myself about real events in my life.

I tend to think my body chemistry and my monthly cycles do affect the way I feel. I’m sure there are a lot of smart science people figuring this out at the molecular level.

Regardless of the observations on my own cycles of reproductive health and mental anguish, I want to ask why is it OK to dismiss the way a woman feels because it’s due to her period? This American culture seems to think that it’s OK. Does being on one’s period make a woman’s responses and behavior less real or important? It’s called biochemistry, and it’s real.

Been Down So Long

July 11, 2011

(In which I loosely construct paragraphs that are thinly related to each other but that all together have something to do with a feeling I wish to express this evening.)

Poverty comes in many forms. Some are more dire than others. Years ago I was a daily reader and contributor to an online message board for parents that leaned toward the radical, politically speaking. It was a fascinating experience, to be a part of that, and some of the strongest convictions I have were nurtured there.

One of the most profound things I read on that message board was a quietly held belief that it is not constructive to battle over what group of people is most discriminated against. I have read, in other places, political commentaries on the lack of cohesiveness in the American Left that claim different groups within the Left have a tendency to value their own interests to the detriment of others. This tendency, it is claimed, leads to fragmentation with people working against each other rather than with each other.

Anti-consumer groups can work with environmentalist groups, who can work with women’s rights groups, who can work with immigrants’ rights groups, who can work with anti-death-penalty groups, who can work with ….well, yes, and so on. I believe this to be true.

But back to poverty. I understand that when I say “I’m poor,” it is not the same as being poor in Afghanistan or poor and Black. The fact that other groups or individuals are MORE poor in ways I cannot fathom doesn’t take away from the fact that I am poor and that my poverty is not fair or right or good. Nobody, in this world of plenty, should have to be poor. And yet most of the world’s people are.

I’ve fronted pretty well, and I’ve passed as a Middle-Class American for years at a time. It took me a lot of living to realize I wasn’t middle-class and never have been. I suspect a lot of poor people don’t realize they aren’t middle-class. I suspect there isn’t much of a middle-class left in the U.S.A., and that is a shameful thing.

In the grand scheme of things, I have some things going for me: I’m White, heterosexual, from California. I was smart enough to do well in school, and my parents cared for me deeply and did not harm me. I have an imagination and a lot of dreams. Some of those things matter even though they shouldn’t, in this culture of mine. I’ve visited many kinds of poverty – I’ve been welfare poor, solid job but deeply in debt poor, grad student poor, recently divorced poor. I’ve managed through it, but it gets old after a while.

I’ve been falling down particularly hard the past three years, and just when I think I’ve made the right step to start standing up again, things get even harder, money gets tighter, the future gets scarier.

I have now reached the lowest point in my ability to Keep It Together thus far. Money’s not just tight, it doesn’t exist. The scary future isn’t two or three or seven months away, it was last month. I didn’t think it would go this deep, I’d fall this far. Of course I still have dreams. I’ll be fulfilled and secure, someday. I’m still alive. But right now, all I can do is laugh. I used to work in a used bookstore when I was in college, and one of the titles of the paperback books that often came in and out of the store has stuck with me, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me. It’s by Richard FariƱa, who died two days after the book was published. I tried to read the book once, but the masculine 1960s counter-cultural vibe I perceived was boring and obvious to 19 year old me. I don’t know what the book is about, but the title is really superb, don’t you think?

Well I’ve reached that Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me point. I really don’t know how I’m going to make it, but I have to, so I shall. And I’m going to laugh with every step, up or down. Because now it’s just absurd.

Sun in Gemini, Moon in Cancer, Leo Ascendant, with Sun in 11th House, etc. Free horoscopes on the Internet, I glance at ’em every now and then. From Astrodienst (

The course of events in your life will unfold themselves swiftly, and a life full of chance and circumstances will be the outcome of your desire to rule, to organize, to hold the keys of authority. You should be aware that as a result of overly strong impulses there is the danger of failures and upsets in life.

You are very self-assured and you implement ideas with a self-assurance that lets nothing get in your way of success. It would be beneficial to you, however, if you were not so candid and frank and if you did not expect others to act and feel as you do.

This is not a very favorable astrological circumstance for the general course of financial matters in your life.

Oh yeah, Internet? We’ll see about that.

My father and I, 1992

March 29, 2011

Today is Day 1 of my Spring Break trip home to California with my daughters. This morning I found this photobooth strip in an album, and it made me cry.

I would have been newly 14 in these photographs. My dad would have been newly 40. My mom thinks this was taken at the Del Mar Fair.

He is so dark. I know he spent so much time in the sun, but they do say the Welsh are dark. Look at my striped shirt! Madchester! That was the year I tried to do without bangs, an experiment that didn’t go too well. Later that summer, right before school started, i think I finally chopped my hair off into a bob.

My father died in August of 2009. I loved him so much. We had a tenuous relationship throughout most of my adulthood, but I miss him and still grieve for him.

Do we look alike? I find myself searching the images of his face for signs of me.

In so many ways I am so glad to be home. I’m remembering a lot about what has made me me.


June 13, 2010

1. Let the wild rumpus begin., 2. Day 364/365–Deflated, 3. 11/52, 4. Running with Balloons, 5. balloons 3, 6. die welt steht still…., 7. 03, 8. Up & Away, 9. Held By Strings

I am pondering balloons tonight.

When I was a little girl my mother would decorate the ceiling with helium-filled balloons for the occasional party. I enjoyed having to push the hanging balloon ribbons aside while walking through the room.