“Let me fall into the dream of the astronaut where I get lost in space that goes on forever”

Yesterday I dropped E off for the first time at a playgroup where I didn’t have to stay.  As I was driving home, it just felt so wrong.  It was literally the first time ever that I had left him with someone and didn’t then have to race to another appointment or try to cram as many errands as possible into a tiny chunk of time.  I had nothing planned.  I don’t think I had really wrapped my brain around the fact that I was going to drive away without him.  It was thoroughly unsettling.  And it occurs to me that my brain has slowly warped itself into permanent martyr mode.  I need to always be doing something to warrant having time on my own without the kids.  I’m not allowed to just be Me for two hours, not Mom Me.  I mean, I should at least be vacuuming right now, right, Or folding laundry?  Those are both things I could be doing.

But I’m not.

I’m lying in bed writing a blog post while E naps.

And I’m forcing myself to not feel guilty about it.

Which is FUCKED UP.

Human being deserve time on their own, to do as they please.  At most jobs, you get a lunch break, where you can read the internet as you shove an overpriced Panera sandwich into your mouth over the course of a half hour.  If you smoke, you can even take cigarette breaks!  Ahhhhh, cigarette breaks.  I think I smoked at least four years longer than I otherwise would have just so I could take cigarette breaks.

Stay-at-home moms don’t really get those things.  We get to hide in the kitchen and eat as quickly and quietly as possible so the kids don’t come ask you to share.  Because you would have to share; you’re trying to teach them to share.  But you’re an ADULT and sometimes you just want to eat an entire slice of reheated pizza all by yourself in 90 seconds flat.

Stay-at-home moms get to read the internet for two minutes while the water in the shower warms up and your kids cry and scream on the other side of the door.  They don’t actually need anything, they just want to be able to see you; you have dared to leave their field of vision.

Stay-at-home moms get to tiptoe around the house during naptime, watching an episode of Top Chef from three weeks ago on your computer with headphones on, while your cat, your poor neglected cat, starved for attention, settles onto you lap and frantically licks and nuzzles your arm.  My cat likes to knead my chest, like my boobs are made of bread dough.  Knead, knead, knead.  Need, need, need.

Summer feels like it has only just started, and already I’m getting requests from all D’s therapists to tell me her availability in the fall.  I’ve recently started joking (not-joking) that being D’s mom is like being the Executive Assistant to the CEO of a major multinational corporation.  She has school, she has occupational therapy, she has speech therapy, she has in-home behavioral therapy, she has in-clinic behavioral therapy, she has yoga, she has swimming, she has gymnastics.  Half of her behavioral therapy has to be before 3 on weekdays, and I have to be sure to account for travel time since all the clinics are almost a half hour away from our house/her school.  So I started putting together a prospective schedule in my phone and suddenly realized there’s a new wrinkle: E is starting preschool in the fall.  And my head basically exploded trying to conceptualize all the pick-ups and drop-offs, and how to effectively utilize those two glorious mornings where I will be free between 9 and 10:30.  Because that’s really hardly any time at all, but it’s more than I have now.  And it just seems mindblowing.  Again, should I use that time to rest, to do what I know is best for both my physical and mental health?  Or do I use it to dig through the mountain of laundry in the basement or pick up all the crumbs of Play-Doh hidden in various corners and nooks in the playroom?

I finally broke down the other day and called the Respite Center in town.  I kept hearing that word from various parents and professionals who deal with autistic kids.  Respite.  Respite.  But D is so high-functioning!  Aren’t there other parents who need it more than I do?  But then last week, I slipped on a wet spot on the floor at Super Target and felt my back go TWANG, like a spring in a mattress popping off, and I knew I was totally boned.  It took a couple days before my whole spine finally caved in, but sure enough it did, and I hobbled off to the chiropractor like a wizened crone for their absolute latest appointment of the day so my husband would be home in time and I wouldn’t have to take my kids with me.

Because my kids always come with me.  

Because I’m not allowed to be alone.  If I’m alone, I’m slacking off somehow.

That’s what my head says.  And it’s bullshit.

(I blame all my middle school teachers who said I wasn’t living up to my potential, and all my high school teachers who said I was lazy and a liar when I was actually manic depressive.  For the record, any teachers reading this — don’t say things like this to kids.  You may think you’re motivating them.  You’re not.  You’re breaking them.) 

I called the respite center and introduced myself and said, “I have a four year old with Aspergers and ADHD and an almost-two-year old and I was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia,” and I heard a sharp intake of breath on the other end of the line and the social worker said, “Ooooh, yeah, you sound like you probably need a break.”

I need a break.

Moms don’t get a break.

I’m not allowed a break.

I don’t deserve a break.

E is waking up now…

Autoreblargh

A few months back, a young political blogger that I follow on Twitter announced that he will retweet any link he sees that references the song “Return of the Mack” by Mark Morrison. This made me try to concoct a list of pop culture references (other than “Return of the Mack”, because obviously I concur with the retweeting of “Return of the Mack”) that I will automatically retweet, or reblog, or retumbl…depending on what particular branch of my personal Internet tree I happened to be perched on. This list is long but honestly probably not comprehensive. So — Maggie’s Auto-Reblog List! I will retweet any and all references to:

-Ralph Tresvant
-Phil Collins-era Genesis and also his solo work up to and including “Something Happened On The Way To Heaven”
-Tootsie
-Summer School
-Weird Science
-Bloom County and Doonesbury (bonus points if it’s a link about Bloom County ripping off Doonesbury)
-November Rain
-Scrooged
-“How’s Annie?
-Dwayne Wayne
-Theo and Cockroach
-Clair Huxtable and/or any of her various alter-egos from the “Theo’s Holiday” episode. Welcome to Amanda’s Furniture City.
-Tami “Hey y’all” Taylor
-The Kang and Kodos election episode of the Simpsons
-Big Daddy Kane’s “I Get the Job Done”
-The Ewok “Yub Nub” song (RIP “Yub Nub” song — DAMN YOU LUCAS!!)
-The Smiths
-Jeff Buckley
-Cocteau Twins
-Greg Dulli
-Sassy Magazine
-9 to 5
-Mr. Show (excluding any sketches written by Scott Aukerman)
-Lady Elaine Fairchild from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood
-Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal
-The Great Muppet Caper. Occasionally other Muppet movies, but Caper across the board. Animated GIFs of Charles Grodin? Yes.
-Soap
-Soapdish
-“I Can’t Wait” by Nu Shooz
-“Stay” by Shakespeare’s Sister
-“Hit” by the Sugarcubes
-“Too Many Walls” by Cathy Dennis
-Nate Dogg
-Thoth
-JJ Fad
-Young shirtless Paul Newman
-Young shirtless Marlon Brando
-The last two scenes of Sixteen Candles
-Wilson Phillips
-Archie Comics
-Variations on the phrase “Omar comin'”
-“Don’t Eat The Pictures: Sesame Street at the Metropolitan Museum of Art”
-Luke going to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters
-Dory from Finding Nemo
-“Man in the Mirror”
-Trogdor the Burninator
-“Sugar Lumps”
-Reality Bites
-West Side Story
-The small but impeccable film oeuvre of Charlie Korsmo
-Days of Our Lives 1983-1993
-“All The Girls Standing In The Line For The Bathroom”
-Bea Arthur yelling about condoms or cocaine
-Ramona Quimby
-“Freedom ’90”
-Charlie Kelly
-Ghostbusters 2
-The Care Bears Movie 2
-Back to the Future I and II. Not III.
-The Parent Trap (Original, 2, and 3. Not Hawaiian Honeymoon. Too much Barry Bostwick.)
-The Goonies
-“Music Sounds Better With You”
-The Party
-The video for “Babooshka” by Kate Bush
-The video for “Bull in the Heather” by Sonic Youth
-Wearing an onion on your belt because it was the style at the time
-The audition sequence from Fame
-The Hot Lunch Jam sequence from Fame
-“Desdemona” from the tv show Fame.
-A Chorus Line
-Easy Reader
-Neville Longbottom
-Wedge Antilles
-Prince. Just, anything and everything involving Prince.

“Here Is Fruit For The Crows To Pluck…Here Is A Strange And Bitter Crop”

I had meant for this to be a post about the 20th anniversary of the release of “Exile in Guyville” and the effect that album had on my life. I meant to write a post about music videos that stopped me in my tracks when I happened across them on MTV during my adolescence (“Silent All These Years” by Tori Amos, “Hit” by the Sugarcubes, and “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails, for the record). Maybe I’ll still write that post someday. But on this day, I would like to write about something else I saw on MTV during my adolescence that was far more mindblowing, although I didn’t realize it until years later.

Like most kids my age, I watched a lot of MTV. And so like my most kids my age, I ended up watching a lot of The Real World. It’s a little hard to remember now, since the show long ago descended into a swamp of debauchery, showcasing the absolute worst America’s youth has to offer, but that first season is actually a relatively understated little documentary: 13 episodes about young people pursuing careers in the entertainment industry in a still-vaguely-gritty New York. It’s available in its entirety on Hulu+, and watching it without all the blaring pop music that branded it as an MTV product (“Julie’s in church, but she’s a rebel! Play ‘Personal Jesus’! Now they’re about to fight! Play the ominous tinkly piano bridge from ‘Right Now’ by Van Halen!”) but had to be removed for licensing reasons, you’ll find the overall vibe is very chill. There are a couple episodes that are spectacularly mundane. Andre and Heather are trying to record mediocre albums, Norman turns out to be gay and gets a boyfriend and nobody particularly cares, they’re all sad that Jerry Brown loses the Democratic primary so they paint a big Jerry Brown mural on the loft wall that also includes Sesame Street characters for some reason… The producers tried to spice things up by shipping the girls off to Jamaica to “meet guys”, but Julie just gets her ear talked off by a Canadian masonry salesman and Becky hooks up with one of the show’s directors, getting him and his glorious salt-and-pepper mullet fired. Outside of a totally nonexistent romance the producers tried to cobble together from footage of Julie peeing on the toilet while Eric was in the shower, there was really only one source of drama or narrative thrust.

And that was Kevin.

Kevin Powell has gone on to a decent career as an author, public speaker, and activist. He’s also had a less decent career as a politician, failing multiple times to unseat Ed Towns as New York’s congressional representative from the 10th district by making rookie mistakes like telling a bunch of Satmar Jews he would “bring home the bacon” to Williamsburg and also, you know, not paying his taxes. But in 1992, Kevin was a cowrie-shell-necklace-wearing spoken word poet (Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe, y’all! I read about that in the Sassy magazine piece on spoken word! Man, I thought that must have been the coolest place on earth) from Jersey City who was the oldest and most outspoken member of the cast.

Midway through the season, Kevin was made the butt of an extended practical joke meant to highlight how little time he spent in the loft. The show essentially made it appear like Kevin spent the majority of that loft time arguing racial politics with his castmates. The most memorable argument is the one he had with Julie, the 19-year-old ingenue from Alabama, who claimed he had physically threatened her. He emphatically denied basically every aspect of her story, and the production staff apparently inexplicably (and conveniently) had no footage of the blowup in question. I tend to believe Julie here, given that her account was filled with consistent explicit details (he allegedly called her a fucking bitch, threatened to break all her fingers, and threw a metal candlestick), while his rebuttal was basically, “Nope.” So it’s a classic he-said she-said. Kevin’s stance was that everyone made assumptions about his character and potential for violence simply because he’s black. The fact that he says this while physically towering over Julie, thrusting himself into her personal space and shouting two inches from her face tends to undercut his case here a little. But a lot of what he’s saying is clearly true on a systemic level, even if his personal behavior in this particular situation was hardly exemplary.

Kevin was clearly a very angry young man. But on a certain level, he had a right to be. Earlier in the season, he had another fight, this time with a tipsy Becky, who started blathering something about how we live in a great country that’s a melting pot full of opportunity, which made Kevin snort. Becky tried to defend her statement, Kevin made a crack about the land being stolen from Native Americans, Becky said he had a chip on his shoulder, they bicker, Kevin calls her a racist and Becky of course gets indignant, because as we all know being called a racist is obviously way worse than being affected on a daily basis by systemic institutional racism.

And then Kevin says something really important.

K: Race plus power equals racism, look it up.

B: What power do I have, Kevin?

Watching this when I was 12 years old, I thought Kevin’s statement was ludicrous.

Watching it now, 20 years later, I realize that MTV had enrolled me in Critical Race Studies 101 and I didn’t even know it.

Race plus power equals racism. A lot of the arguments about this boil down to semantics. People of color can certainly hold their own prejudices, or be bigoted. But racism, as a word, holds a specific meaning. It means that we live in a country that was literally built on the backs of black slaves. It means that our society functions in a million ways, big and small, even today, that make it almost impossible for black people to succeed. A society where a seventeen-year-old black boy in a hoodie who happens to be walking in a former Sundown Town is seen as a threat just for his very existence. A society where there is apparently nothing criminal about stalking that seventeen-year-old to the point where he finally turns and confronts you and then when he hits you shooting him point blank in the heart. A society where everyone wants to talk about the kid’s record of school suspensions and weed-smoking as though that’s relevant when he was by all accounts walking back from buying Skittles and Snapple, but not about the shooter’s record of both sexual and domestic assault (not to mention punching a cop!) because that has nothing to do with anything and his parents say he’s a nice guy and not a racist so that’s good enough to trust his word on anything he says about the night in question. A country where the shooter’s lawyer has the audacity to assert in a post-verdict press conference that if the shooter was black the whole thing never would have gone to trial. A country where black males are disproportionately imprisoned, disproportionately sentenced, and disproportionately disenfranchised upon release. Sure, everyone would have been ok with a black vigilante shooting a white kid in Sanford, Florida. Totally would have been fine. Knock knock.

Something else the shooter’s lawyer said was equally jaw-dropping:

“There are people who are vicious in their hatred for George Zimmerman. I don’t know which is the one who’s going to walk down the street at the same time George does. They know what he looks like; he doesn’t know what they look like.”

Welcome to Kevin Powell’s life. Welcome to Trayvon Martin’s life.

I could link here to many different first person essays by black men who feel like what happened to Trayvon could happen to them, essays by black women terrified that what happened to Trayvon could happen to their sons. But while Becky and I, as middle-class white women, still face systemic obstacles based on our gender, we can never fully understand what it is like to fear for our lives simply because of the color of our skin. That is a privilege that we have and are able to take for granted.

As an adolescent, I thought Kevin was an angry aggressive dick with a chip on his shoulder, like Becky and Julie did. And you know, my opinion of him hasn’t changed all that much, except now I feel like the chip on his shoulder is valid and his anger is earned. In the last 20 years, LeVar Burton has moved from teaching kids literacy to advising young men on how not to get shot by cops for driving while black. What George Zimmerman did was apparently totally legal, and all the cable pundits talk about the potential for black riots in the aftermath of that verdict. That’s Becky’s melting pot? That’s Becky’s country of unlimited opportunity?

The Real World is basically just a filmed orgy now. But 20 years ago, it was planting tiny seeds for young people to have a deeper understanding of complicated social issues. In the first few years of the show, before I was even able to drive, I saw intense discussions about race, and about homosexuality, and about abortion. We saw a young man living with and then all too quickly dying of AIDS. And we saw Kevin Powell, who was intelligent, and angry, and passionate, and flawed.

“Race plus power equals racism, look it up.”

I wish more people, myself included, had followed his suggestion. Because if what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, and what happened within the justice system following the shooting, wasn’t about power or race, then I would like someone to tell me what it was about. Was it about being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it a tragedy of errors? Was it about how those fucking punks always get away with everything? Tell me. But more important, tell Kevin Powell. Tell the parents of Trayvon Martin, of Oscar Grant, of Kimani Grey, of Kendrec McDade, of Sean Bell. Of Amadou Diallo. Of Emmett Till.