Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

What's it all about?

One night this week, I heard a refugee from Rwanda tearfully speak publicly about how he and his five children were almost homeless after he lost his job.  He got help from the amazing nonprofit I work for and saved his house.  To go from refugee camp to home-owner in the U.S. to homeless in the U.S. is a tough idea to grasp. 

I drove a Congolese elder home to her housing complex.  She sat in my car, and we practiced counting from one to ten in English and Swahili.  All I can say is "asante" in her language and that's about all she can say in mine too: thank you.  We drove past a public park where a man had his hands behind his head, surrounded by cops with their guns and flashlights pointed at him.  My elder began pointing at this and sort of laughed while shaking her head.  A few blocks away, we saw two boys walking in the street, and again she pointed.  This was her grandson and his friend, so they jumped in my car.  She invited me in, so I met her daughter and the rest of her grandchildren, one of whom seems to be pretty severely handicapped and another who talked my ear off about school in the U.S. and gardening in Africa.  His little sister was holding my pinkie finger and twirling around me, hugging my legs, and looking at me with snark in her dark eyes.  I told her she should be an actress, but she said she wants to be a doctor.  She is six.  As I left, a gaggle of American kids were hanging out about forty feet away on their bikes in the almost-darkness and I heard one of them say, "Yeah, that's were he lives," referring to the grandson I drove home.  I wondered what that was about. 

I heard a story today about this stoner sort of guy "who could drink you under the table" who dove headfirst into a snowdrift while out snowboarding.  He was without oxygen for twelve minutes until someone with a shovel passed by (what are the chances?) and got him out and to a hospital where a doctor said he wouldn't make it through the night.  He ended up making it through the night and then in a coma for two weeks.  When he started to wake up, the first thing he asked about were his schools.  No one knew what he was talking about.  It's all he was saying, "the schools, the schools."  His sister explained that he had been sponsoring a bunch of kids in India to go to school, and he was worried about what might happen to him if their sponsor died. No one but his sister knew about what he'd been doing in India.  He said he wasn't worried too much about himself because he had "2,000 people praying for me in India," so he knew he'd be fine.

What's it all about, mister?  My sister, my brother, the others?  It's one life we're living here, that's it. Ain't gonna get me another.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Portland

Earlier this year, a very slick and cool video about this city made the rounds.  I was impressed by the production and even sent it to some of my relatives who like it here, but I started thinking about how it seems to leave out a lot of aspects of this city that are familiar to me and many others.  You know, people who don't spend all their time at Powell's and Voo Doo Donuts.

So here are some things about my city that are familiar to me:

Long stretches of this kind of weather.
Green parks where my dog can run free.

Moss on most every surface.

When it's not raining, dudes sitting outside waiting on beer.

Immigrants learning to read and write in English.

Inspiring graffiti.


On clear days, everyone with their cameras pointed up to the sky.

The sand dunes.

Amazing community centers.

Pink carpet in the spring.

This elder practicing her letters.

Urban chicken coops that are way fancier than yours.

Cool architecture even in the boring parts of town.

Waterfalls right outside of town.

Old Russian ladies waiting on the bus.

The smell of the street outside this bakery with the rotating loaf.

The bins of the discount food store near my work.

Little kids riding bikes to school.

Slugs everywhere, including those lying in my yard in mason jars that were captured by my son.

This is my Portland.  I usually go days, sometimes weeks, without seeing the river or a single bridge.  I don't see the downtown buildings, sports games, hipster donut shops.  This is a city full of all kinds of people.  And a lot of slugs.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Baby Feet

Tonight after bath, I sat my towel-swaddled son my lap like in the old days and he stuck his thumb in his mouth and snuggled in to my chest.  He's done this since he was a baby.  My little baby.  I smelled the top of his head, the way I did when he was my little baby.  Little.  Baby.  No.  More.

His feet are suddenly big kid feet.  I remember being so scared of cutting his nails for fear of catching his tender skin.  Now his feet are gnarly almost-kindergarten feet with black dirt under the nails.  I see his feet every day, but for some reason tonight, I was shocked by the size his toes, the length of his foot, how it now takes two snips of the clipper to get each nail.  

One of my clearest childhood memories was when my mom would sometimes come sit on the bottom bunk next to me and hug me or rub my back in the dark as my sister and I were falling asleep.  She'd whisper something about how I'd always be her baby (I was the younger sister).  I do this now to Abe.  I can't help myself.  No matter how gnarly those feet get, they're still the baby's feet.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Public School Teacher

I have spoken often about how much we love Beti's school.  This has been our first year as parents of a public-educated school-aged child, so it's been a learning experience for us all.  

One night this week, there was an emergency PTA meeting called to discuss budget issues going on in the district and the school.  It was intense.  I sat quietly, listened, learned, formed some opinions and continued the conversation in the ensuing days on the playground.  I honestly can see all the sides and am still not sure what I think.

Yesterday afternoon after school, a kid in Beti's class didn't get picked up from school.  His mom is probably the most responsible mom in the class, an educator herself, so a few of us started to worry that something had gone horribly wrong with her.  I was the only one with her number in my cell, so I called.  

I ran up to the school office where her kid was sullenly waiting and gave him my phone.  She had just gotten the date wrong about an after-school program.  It happens to us all, even the most organized of us (whew).  I took responsibility for him until she could get there.  

We walked through the halls to find their teacher to tell her all was okay.  On our way, we found a tall, gangly, curly-haired big kid wandering around.  He stopped us and asked if Beti's teacher was still there.  I answered, "Yeah, that's where we're going now."

His eyes lit up as he said, "Wait, you mean, she still works here?!"  I sort of laughed and said, "Yeah! Like I said, we're going to her room now.  How do you know her?"  

"She was the best teacher I ever had."

He's now in eighth grade at another school.  He came to find her.  A young teenage boy came to look for his kindergarten teacher. 

We walked to her room together, and he waited in the doorway as I told the teacher what was going on with Beti's friend.  She noticed the adorable straggler with us.  He stood shyly at the threshold of her room, hands clasped behind his back, chin down, eyes all sparkly as he waited for her to remember him.  

The moment came when that drawer in her brain where she stores the hundreds of five-year-olds who have loved her through the last thirty years opened up.  It suddenly felt like a private moment, one that caused a lump to form in my throat, another one even now as I write this down.

I took my daughter and her friend into the hallway and outside, my heart full at having witnessed that moment, that magical moment when an awkward teenager came back to see one of the teachers who "loved him into being," the way Fred Rogers said happens.  

I feel so lucky that my daughter is being loved into being not just by those in her past and her family now, but by public servants in our city's school system.  It makes me want to rally for these golden teachers at every PTA meeting and district hearing.

Who loved you into being?  No matter how awkward, it's worth it to let them know.