Saturday, October 17, 2015

Faith,  Family,  and Freedom

Friends, please excuse this five-month absence. As I mentioned in my last blog, this motherhood stuff does not come naturally to me, having had no practice in my first 62 years. Indeed, the Summer of 2015 slipped right past me. 

So on this glorious fall day, I’m back at my keyboard. Slight breeze blowing, few leaves falling, sunshine streaming low through the trees.  These are the aspects of Autumn that I appreciate. On the other hand, driving west after 4pm and the earlier sunsets are not among my favorite traits of the season. Still, fall is a great time to reduce the pile of “to be read” books on my nightstand. 

It won’t surprise you that I had been gifted some months ago with another wonderful book by my friend, Anne. It is not a new publication (the copy I have is a Tenth Anniversary Edition), but the New York Times Book Review Section is not the first part of the Sunday paper I reach for. ((You know me, it’s the crossword puzzle in the magazine section.))  

Please welcome to your own "must read" list James McBride’s The Color of Water. I opened the book on Wednesday, and chided myself for having waited so long. I put it down to run errands for two days, and finished it this Saturday morning. Engrossing? Yes. Enthralling? Yes. Compelling? Definitely.  An excellent investment of your time (which will fly by)? Without question!

The sub-title is A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. His dedication reads "... for my mother, and her mother, and mothers everywhere." But his story is different, just as each one of our stories is different. 

His mom was Jewish, born in Poland in 1921. Her Jewish name was Ruchel which was changed to Rachel when they moved to America, and eventually to the even more American-sounding Ruth. Her father was a traveling rabbi, her mother, a polio victim. When he stopped traveling, he opened a grocery store in the black neighborhood of a small southern town, where the whole family worked every day but Saturday. 
               Ruth's family said kaddish and sat shiva when she married the author's black, Christian, preacher father. She was dead to them.

What is the book about? Race? Yeah. Faith? Sure. Education and opportunity? That too. But mostly it's about facing challenges, training the next generation to do the same, and daring to stand up for one's inalienable rights, even before a government body takes it upon itself to decide who has them. Ruth raised twelve children, put them all through college, and counts among them doctors, educators, college professors, and ... oh, yes... a musician/composer/writer.  

The title comes from a conversation the author had with his mom about whether God was black or white. 
         "He's not black or white. He's a spirit." 
         "What's a spirit?" 
         "Stop asking these questions! What color is water? That's the color God is.”

There can be no broad-brushing of the issues "of racism, sexism, classism, and socioeconomics” without diminishing the importance and impact of this book. As the author notes in the Afterword:

“… hard-line intellectuals have already had a field day with this book, using it to promote every sort of sociopolitical ideology. But at the end of the day, there are some questions that have no answers, and then one answer that has no question: Love rules the game. Every time. All the time. That’s what counts. 
 “For me, this book has always been, and will forever be, a book about a mother and her children, and how that mother raised her children with love and respect and God.”

Like I said, different, like everybody else’s.

At the end of Chapter 21, Ruth recalls a particular Yom Kippur ritual where her mom waved a chicken over their heads:

 “I don’t want to do that in America,” [Ruth would] say.
 But [her mother would] say, “That chicken is just showing God we’re thankful for living. It’s just a chicken. It’s not a bird who flies. A bird who flies is special. You would never trap a bird who flies.”
         She used to sit in a little rocking chair in her room upstairs and watch the birds. She’d lay crumbs on the ledge of her window and the birds would gather there and eat while she sang to them, but she’d always shoo them away and make them fly off so they’d be free again. She had a little Yiddish song she used to sing to them. “Feygele, feygele, gay a veck.” “Birdie, birdie,  fly away.”

To all moms and honorary-moms who have birdies in your lives and on your ledges, feed them, sing to them, but be diligent
  to shoo them away, 
  to their freedom, 
   to go where they are supposed to go 
                                  to become who they are supposed to become.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Not everyone is cut out for this Mom gig!

My sincerest apologies for being incommunicado for Lo, these five months. Please accept my Happy:
New Year
Valentine’s Day
St. Patrick’s Day
May Day
… greetings, and my really good excuse:

I got drafted… for motherhood. As a child of the ‘60s, I know about the draft!

Yes, as I was making plans for my friend’s daughter’s baby shower, for a former trainee’s wedding, and for my 45th high school reunion, I got my draft notice, with a 1-A classification for Honorary Mom. In my wildest dreams, I NEVER imagined this would/could/should happen to me, and certainly not after my child-bearing years

((You’ve heard the politically-incorrect contention that “As long as there are exams, there will be prayer in schools”. Well, as long as 60+year-olds find themselves called to become first-time parents, there will be prayer everywhere!))

The Kincaids have a 21-year-old in the house. 
When I mentioned this to a 40-something girlfriend, she responded, “A 21-year-old? Really? Wow, at least I had 21 years to learn how incompetent I am! You got thrown in the deep end!” 
That’s exactly how I feel, and not that Abby*** has ever pointed that out to me, I am daily convinced that motherhood really needs to be approached … slowly …from the shallow end.

Shortly after she got installed in our guest room, I was chatting with my mom on the phone, catching her up on the latest household developments. As the daughter who never gave her grandkids, I’ve never had this topic to discuss with Mom before. Given this opportunity, I was amazed at how smart Mom was, even about 21-year-olds. (I don’t remember her being that smart when I was 21.) Without having yet met Abby***, Mom played devil’s advocate, asking wise, delving, pragmatic questions about this “new thing” we’re doing.  Thankfully, she’s still in my corner.

I have several moms in my social circle, some of 20-somethings, all much younger than myself. When the conversation turns to Abby***, they seem to rise high above me, as if on a cloud, seated in an easy lotus position, ringed by an other-worldly light. 
               They have wisdom to bestow. 
              They have experiences to share. 
              I should take notes.
As I raise my novice questions, I see their eyes glaze over as they do the math, and - in their heart of hearts - thank God that they were allotted the full 9 months and 21 years. Others escape the conversation altogether (I can tell by the smirk on their faces), thinking only about how they’re going to turn their departing 21-year-old’s room into a craft room. 

No, motherhood is way too intimidating, way too demanding.
I can’t do this,  … but I can’t kick her out either. 
I KNOW, I’ll become her life coach! That will be much easier.

 - We’ll talk about living on her own, and time- and space- management.
- I’ll counsel her about giving 100% to her job, even on the bad days.
- I’ll ready her for her driving test by letting her drive the car when we run errands.
- She says she wants to get a car, so we’ll set up a budget.
- She’s already good on the computer, so pushing the right buttons on the clothes and dish washers should be easy.
- Our freezer is too small for a lot of frozen dinners, so I’ll involve her in meal prep so she can get some recipes in her repertoire. 
- She doesn’t need to learn to like coffee, but we can stay up to the wee hours talking about movies, God, careers, and self-image over mugs of hot chocolate.
- I’ll point out opportunities to her, and encourage her to pursue her dreams, to take risks, not to let other people throw wet blankets on her hopes, and to be brave.
- I’ll cheer her successes.

Oh, yes, life-coaching will be much easier than mothering!

Maybe I'll interview hubby for my June blog… get his perspective on being a first-time dad. He's pretty brave.
Happy Mother’s Day greetings to all you courageous souls, no matter how deep or shallow, honorary or undeserved, easy or intimidating, your motherhood is. I tip my green beret to you.

***name has been changed to protect the not-yet-criminally-insane