Monday, October 24, 2016

If you have ADHD, read this,

It just plain super-sucks to live inside a being unoccupied by a functioning brain.

This is what it feels like:

The doorbell rings and you go into full-on panic about what appointment you forgot. By the time you get to the door you are cursing yourself AND your pits are sweating profusely. Thank GOD it's just an annoying walking political groupie. Then, while you are still getting your heart regulated and not listening to ALL THOSE WORDS, he freaking has the nerve to give you a pop quiz... Except you don't know it until he paused expectantly, waiting for an answer. You go with a safe bet: "The economy?"

You wake up every morning truly not knowing what to do with yourself... From the routine obvious (getting yourself and your kids ready to leave the house) to what to do with open, free down time (so many choices!!!). Inside my not-functioning brain: do I shower first, or brush my teeth first? Think. Think. Think. This didn't seem so hard before! What do I usually do? Wait. What am I going to do when the kids finish their morning show? I'll need to pounce into breakfast duty... But what if that interrupts me from deciding whether to shower or brush my teeth first? Then that question will HANG IN THE BALANCE... And, meanwhile, Campbell might wake up any minute so there goes personal hygiene altogether. What's that? You'd like fuckimg eggs for breakfast? A) I forgot eggs when I had them WRITTEN ON MY LIST at the grocery yesterday, b) I don't trust myself to cook anything that uses anything that needs turning off, and c) Campbell just woke up. You're on you're own.

You keep hearing a still small voice saying that you need rest, yes, rest, that's what you need. That's what will make your functioning brain return to inhabiting your body. So you commit to it like ITS YOUR JOB. You politely say no to things you'd normally say yes to, all the while not liking the way this comes off since you generally like socializing and don't want to be written off as inconsistently flighty... But you remember that not everyone needs to know about or hear your ADHD struggles so you commit to using words like, "Just in an overwhelmed place right now and pairing back temporarily" which is true. But really you JUST PLAIN FEEL LIKE A CRAZY, IRRESPONSBLE, INCOMPETENT, IDIOT who gets ovwhelmed by brushing her teeth or completing a sentence. That's what you really want to say. But you don't to the outer ring. To your husband and your inner ring, you start to share what you want to say, but you can't even get THAT out. But they know. Because this has happened before. And they know what you need: to be handled very tenderly while you feel so unsettled, confused, and moronic. So you now have said no enough to have the space to rest, so you can heal that "overwhelmed" place you're in. But GUESS WHAT? Since almost every single solitary thing there is to do in this life - including resting - involves your brain, it's hard to find respite in rest. You try going to the coffee shop - BUT ALL THOSE SENSES ARE OVERSTIMULATING. You try reading, but - seriously - the words don't make sense. Forget about even glancing at your phone or scrolling through Facebook: information, information, information. Where to file it? What to do with it? The best things, you find, are headphones with music, meditation, and napping. And even though you feel a bit like a mental patient fighting for her sanity (since nobody else seems to find READING stressful), you know you need it. You try to tell yourself it's temporary and the fog will lift and rest won't be a full time job.

You go to book club because you are having a somewhat clear afternoon leading up to it. You pride yourself in being authentic and real. And it feels somewhat shitty to have to weigh whether your cognitive faculties are in tact enough to go, when really you know you ought to be ok with yourself enough to go-and-be-stupid and everyone-else-can-just-deal. But part of ADHD is not being able to pluck the right words from the sea of them (did you ever contemplate HOW MANY there are???). You've got a bunch to express, and the modality to express it... And yet both your filter is not trustworthy (imagine turrets, except with ideas) AND your words are all wrong, going off on these paths you didn't want them to go on... So that, GUESS WHAT!!? Your attempts at being real and authentic only lead you to misrepresent yourself, which feels the opposite of real and authentic.

Your sense of humor... where'd it go? Turns out you need your brain to be funny too. And your sense of humor is something you love about yourself!! But when you try to be sarcastic or witty or cheeky during this period of time, it comes off at best as not funny and at worst at reaching and trying way too hard and likely both. Your timing is all off and your word choice is messed up and - furthermore - you can't figure out what IS funny. And besides that, funny tequires creative juices and when your using up every last drop of juiciness in you just to manage yourself at the basic level, there's no moisture left over for creative. Worst of all, you lose your ability to laugh at yourself - because nothing about how you feel inside is funny. It's scary. Scary takes the zing right out of funny. There's no room for it. 

You've instilled in your children the importance of responsibility and harp on them to manage their belongings. And you're wandering around the house every moment that you are awake, hollering, "where is my fucking phone (but really- fill in the blank)?" Except, for the kids' sake, that's only what the inside voice says. The outside one is silent while you suffer with the shame of your hypocrisy as you discombobulatedly race around mindless and crazed when you could just use the "find my phone" feature on the iPad sitting right in front of you. And when you can't follow the basic guidelines you've set for your children over and over again, feeling like a child yourself, you wonder "how the hell am I equipped enough to parent these darlings?" And the insecurity of that gets to feeling REALLY REAL. 

And time. A complete quandary. While you struggle with it even in clear times, when the ADHD fog is there, it is an entity that eludes you. You take turns obsessing over it, setting timers, back planning to consider it, making pick up and drop off and practice start times and end time as rigid and unforgiving as ever and ignoring it altogether, being sloppy with it and facing the consequences ashamedly. How to figure out just how important time is? How much respect to assign to it? You become the ultimate philosopher on all the things you-can't-figure-out, and setting your mind out to solve such unsolvable nonsense means it's even more absent for the things right in front of you you already feel ill-equipped to handle.

And since you can't size up which mistakes are the normal ones - the ones that everyone makes - and which ones are the ones that are annoyingly specific to you and your brain chemistry, you assume that everything you do wrong is uniquely your problem... and then you're on a little shame island. 

And then you have a night here and there where you drink. Alcohol. And when you are feeling the affects, everything gets better. Not because alcohol makes you do better cognitively, but because you don't have to be so damn concerned with your state. You are probably behaving just as frazzled as your sober ADHD self, but you simply don't give a shit. And you think about the people who are mentally ill, some with ADHD perhaps, who are roaming the streets homeless or lost or in debt or running from the police all while abusing substances and you think I GET IT. You get why one would want to feel this medicated way more often, and here You are with a family who loves you, friends who care about you, money to pay the bills and more, and a life that is full and whole and wonderful. This doesn't make you feel guilty for being not-homeless. And it doesn't make you feel guilty for going through internal battles when so much goodness and so many blessings are right at your feet. Mostly, it makes you super-sucked into the intimate awareness of the hardness of life. If you feel like your problems are big and get scared by the wonderfulness of the aid of alcohol during these episodes, life for these folks must be un-freakin-bearable. 

And then your husband (probably because he got freaked when you confessed the drinking thing) says, "why don't you try Ritalin again?" You tried it back when you went bat-shit-crazy after Campbell's birth and felt the benefits were inconsistent and, besides that, you were not liking having to be on TWO medications since lexipro was prescribed for the accompanying anxiety. So you didn't give it a fair shot, but you had a couple left over. Now, where were they? Oh yeah, still in the zippered side pocket of your purse. PHEW, good thing you kept this purse. And you take one. And you feel a difference. And then the next day you take another. And then the next. And then the next. And now you're a Ritalin junkie. Not because it means you're hooked on speed. You're hooked on feeling normal again.

Well, at least somewhat.

And like your brain decided to join the party that is YOU again.

And that's a lot less unsettling.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Mixed messages

The other day one of my children (youalreadyknowwhoitis:Sullivan) wore his shirt backwards to school. It wasn't a generic t-shirt, mind you. It's important to clarify, because I want you to get the image right in your head. It was a bold-blue collared shirt. Imagine a stiff collar sticking upright in front of Sullivan's throat. He looked reverently priestlike and flamboyantly idiotic all at once. I don't care how clueless 2nd graders generally are... NObody could've missed this wardrobe malfunction.

Now, Sullivan is Sullivan: dreamy, marcher to the beat of a-drummer-nobody's-ever-heard-of, careless, uninterested in 99% of the details of life but obsessively rigid about the 1%. Shirt appropriation, clearly, falls in the 99%.

I am all about my kids doing their own thang with their clothes. Ain't nobody got time for outfit planning four kids. (Correction: Three kids...I do dress Campbell - BUT ONLY CUZ SHE'S ONE I'M CUTTING HER OFF NEXT YEAR - and she is dang cute **most** of the time).

I'm getting to my point.


I mentioned to Sullivan on the way to school that he had his shirt on backwards and...would he like to take a moment in the van before running out the door to school to switch it around?? I got the rushed, "No, no." Like I often do, which always sends the signal, "I got bigger junk going on in this here head... I can't be bothered with these ridiculously petty concerns."

Out into the world he went...

As is normal for me, I moved right on with my day. Didn't think a thing of it. And there he was at pick up, 6 hours later, looking the exact same way.

I slept great that night.

I happened to have a check-in meeting the following day with one of the teachers pulling him for special services. The meeting was hugely informative and helpful. But I'm not writing about the meeting. I'm writing about society. And this teacher, let's call her Zelda, started out our time together, asking tenderly, "So... Did you know Sullivan was wearing his collared (there it is, again) shirt backwards yesterday?"

I answered that yes I did.

And I coulda stopped there, but I still seek approval and want to appear competent, so - for good measure - I added in cheerfully, "I asked the little guy if he wanted to switch it around before school and he was resistant!" (Can you hear me being cheerful?)

I smiled. And so she smiled. And then she stopped smiling, lowered her voice, and said, It's just that... I didn't want him to... You know...get made fun of."

Zelda is a rock star special Ed teacher, and I know that she totally loves my son. And she is totally tuned in to elementary school culture. And wanted to have Sullivan's back on this topic...

So know that Zelda and I are 100% cool.

But it got me all tripped up inside...

It just so happens that, additionally, I have had a couple mom friends share with me on recent ocassipns that they are worried their kids will get made fun of for this reason or that one. So, there it keeps coming round...this question of how and in what way we out to redirect our kids' choices or behaviors in order for them to be spared teasing.

And it seems to me we are looking at it all wrong.

Especially, ESPECIALLY, when we are simultaneously shoving messages about inner strength and individuality and approval-seeking only from within DOWN THEIR THROATS. At home (we love you exactly as you are), in books (to thine own self be true), on inspirational posters (be yourself, everyone else is taken), from the counselor at school (I don't know what the hell she tells them, but I imagine the previous three examples smushed together). We feed them this. And then we contradict it with subtleties, "You're going to wear that with that?" "Maybe it's time to look at how the other kiddos do their hair" "Have you noticed kids looking at you funny when you say ___ or ___?" "You gotta turn that shirt around, or else you might get teased." They pick up on these inconsistencies. They hear: Be yourself, but if that's too far different, reign that shit back in." Or at the very least, "Learn what it means to be same, learn what it means to be same. Learn what it means to be same. Then follow that. It's your (and everybody else's) due north"

The question in my mind isn't, HOW DO WE GET OUR KIDS AROUND being made fun of??  It's HOW DO WE PREPARE THEIR HEARTS for when it actually does happen?? Cuz, let's face it, when it comes to getting made fun of... Or, to take malicious intent out of it... When it comes to just benign unwanted attention... It's not a matter of IF it will happen in a child, adolescent, adult, or senior citizen's life, it's WHEN.

So, back to Sullivan's shirt. Sullivan being Sullivan, his wearing it backwards wasn't a statement of self-ness, knowing and understanding the convention of front-wearing shirt society and consciously choosing "other". It is very very very likely, just as he noticed for the first time the other day which door we are talking about when we say "front" door (vs. the back one), that Sullivan's ineptitude for detail combined with comprehension issues and a dreamy noggin left him fully unaware about how he had dressed.

Now that's different than indifferent.

The way I see it, there're three ways one arrives in the space of "different," the space of not comfortable:

We have:


The first is the most-awesome-feeling vehicle for finding oneself in the space of "different." NOT HARD to own being different when you were the driver who got yourself to that place. I just finished a weekend in New York City, where convention is nowhere to be found, or at least the worship of it is smaller, quieter...and people wear what they want, say what they want, sing that they want when they want to, and the hair. THE HAIR! So many colors, lengths, styles, smells... Backwards shirts here are tame. And the people wearing them, and anything else I perceived as CRAZY, just straight up don't care. Uninterested. In. Convention.

But then there's the other two: UNAWARE and UNABLE. These guys are trickier vehicles in which to arrive at the space "different", because most of the time an individual didn't really plan to arrive there. They just arrived, sorta without choice. And may not like that they did. That doesn't feel good. At least not the first few times. It takes mucho practice being good with where you are when you find yourself in a spot you didn't plan on going.



Not how to avoid arriving at different when you want to. Not how to avoid arriving at different when you DIDNT want to. How to be ok with different, even comfortable with it and familiar with it and mushed up against it, regardless of what got you there. Because it's GONNA FREAKING HAPPEN. And. IT WILL DRAW ATTENTION. That's how emerging homosapiens developing language decided on the definitions to those antonyms. SAME: other cavemen don't look at you. DIFFERENT: other cavemen look at you. Attention is an accompaniment to different. It just is.

UNAWARE is what Sullivan was with his shirt example. Unaware is what I was when, at my 8th grade graduation ceremony when I was called to the stage to speak and I was dressed to the nines in a brand new royal blue form fitting dress that made me feel me and beautiful and wearing my first pair of short little heels, it was called to my attention that I was dragging 4 to 25 squares of toilet paper behind me, lead square stuck to the base of the high heel of my right shoe. If I had had the choice between no toilet paper trail and toilet paper trail on that day, I DEF woulda gone with no. But I arrived at different via unaware. And it was practice. (PS. That's about all I can scrounge up about that memory but I am guessing an additional detail might have been a flushed face... But no teasing, no meanness...I  moved through that experience unscathed...again, practice!)

Now I'm gonna give you an UNABLE example. I was having a conversation with my father in law about his childhood experience of bullying. He has talked of it in general terms before, but I now was pulling out specifics... When I asked what his antagonizers did, he said they mainly threw his books out the window or tripped him in the hallway... No physical brauls or fights, per say. When I asked him what he can recall was the onset of his unfortunate position in middle school as "the kid who gets picked on," he didn't pause. He remembers in gym class in Jr. High the start. At that time and place, apparently, athleticism for a boy was a convention. It was "same." So, in  gym class, the kids were tasked with cartwheels. and Ric couldn't pull out a single solitary cartwheel. The teasing began. Mastery of one's body -  the ability to run, jump, catch, and be coordinated -  for a boy in his era...well, it was everything. Ric's abilities in this area at this time were few, and so, well, he came to believe he was "few" in worth, too.

He WANTED to get those legs up. He WANTED to get the momentum to form that circular movement. He WANTED to land on his feet. He just couldn't. He was unable. He was unable to remain "same" and so he arrived at "different" kicking and screaming. Doesn't feel good for "unable" to drive you to "different." Just like the  vehicle of unaware. It doesn't feel good, that is, until it feels familiar.

So I'm done with hearing adults talk about their fear of kids getting made fun of. KIDS WILL NOT GET MADE FUN OF (ongoingly) IF SAID KIDS GET PRACTICE WITH THE DISCOMFORT OF DIFFERENT. Mean kids (or rather, kids who are acting mean because their hearts are either overly hardened or overly fragile) leave COMFORT WITH DISCOMFORT alone. They leave that invincibility syrum  alone. They don't touch COMFORT WITH DISCOMFORT  with a ten foot freaking pole. CUZ, for teasers of our society (young and old and all that is in between), it's cryptonite to their ambitions: to inflict,  then watch,  discomfort with discomfort.

So, here's the response to uninterested (or indifferent) in convention . This one's  easy:

"You don't like my ___ (hair, shoes, attitude, book, laugh, choice of snack, choice of shampoo, choice of tattoo).

Got it. I do."

Here the answer to unaware of convention :

"Holy shit! I just walked the length of that gym with a mile of toilet paper dragging behind me!" And then you hold up the strip like its a streamer and twirl it around 720 degree, but no more, because then you'd have to give your speech looking like a mummy.


"Y'all, I SUCK at dressing. I don't even remember underwear much of the time. The fact that I even HAVE a shirt on is a gift to High plains elementary school. I'm just gonna leave it."  Or replace that last statement with, "I am glad you let me know. I'll change it back at lunch."

Here's the answer to unable to meet convention :

"I'm just gonna say it. Cartwheels. Aren't. My. Thing. I could practice till I'm purple in the face and mine wouldn't look even close to your beauties. But you oughta see me in math class. I can work it there."

So that's what I'm gonna focus on in my parenting: Teaching my kids how to gracefully encounter and mush up next to the disomfort of different, NO MATTER  HOW THEY EACH INEVITABLY ARRIVE THERE...  Press right up against it  and have  so much practice with it until it doesn't feel uncomfortable that it holds no power over them.  I'm gonna redirect  all my time and my breath from  teaching them how to avoid the moving target of adolescent and teenage conventions to  role playing and rehearsing and conversating about and grinding in  this lesson of comfort with discomfort. SO that if/when they choose "same," it's because they truly want it, not because they are avoiding its opposite...

OR listening to their parent.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Five Things I Learned the Hard Way This Summer

Five Things I Learned The Hard Way This Summer

1. The library is not free (for people like me).

There should be a sign on the front door reading, "WARNING: This establishment's services are free ONLY if you are responsible and organized and On Top of Life." I owe $33 and some change on books and [mainly] DVDs I cannot find. This is one situation where having a bigger family is helpful; I keep opening up children accounts to dodge fines that have accrued. Since I'm working in descending order, my goal is NOT to have the 1-yr-old blackballed from the public library before she can talk. Or read.

2. I wish I had never introduced hand sanitizer as a viable form of hand cleaning.

It all started as my lazy approach to keeping entering-from-the-outside-world filth controlled (after our whole family kept getting sickness after sickness last school year). To avoid a battle each time we came into the house, I bought a four hundred ounce pump of hand sanitizer and set it right on the inside of our garage door. But now... now that we spend our days around like.all.the.time, the kids try to pull hand-sanitizer trick on me to clean their chocolate-frosting-hands and their mud-caked-hands and their GOD HELP ME poop-spotted-hands (it happens). No no no... CHILDREN... you cannot shortcut on poop. You gotta immerse under water with foam soap and sing the damn alphabet all the way through. Maybe twice.

3. The dentist ain't half-bad.

I was dreading our annual (**this is NOT the recommended frequency**) dentist visit last week where I had loaded in all three of the teethed children's appointments, plus mine. I got all of them through their appointments with bribery reminders and without major incident, and then it came time for mine. Sweet Lord above! I am reclined. I have my eyes closed. I can't yell or reprimand my children, even if I wanted to due to mouth-wide-open position. I don't know where they are or what they are doing. My dental insurance includes receptionist oversight of minors, right? I told my dental hygienist that I have been playing my cards all wrong by avoiding the experience... Next summer I will schedule weekly appointments.

4. A solution to the laundry situation = swimwear.

I don't know about yours, but my kids cannot seem to master the "Can it be worn again or is it dirty?" discernment required to know what constitutes a toss to the hamper. I swear I've explained the rules... If it has no spots and does not smell, it can be worn again. If you have not come into contact with an infectious disease, it can be worn again. And least of all - if you've had it on your body for less than an hour, it can be worn again. With All Of The Water that comes with summer (sprinkler games, water balloon antics, squirt gun wars, pool trips), my kids are in and out of dry clothing faster than you can say LAUNDRY NIGHTMARE, each time without consideration of "can it be worn again or is it dirty." I JUST figured out the solution days away from the summer's end: skip clothes. They go straight from pajamas to swimsuits. And pretty much stay this way the remainder of the day. That is, until they come into contact with an infectious disease...

5. Reading programs motivate kids but moreso obsess them.

I want my kids to read during the summer. I want them to do it, just because. But those are not my kids. My kids are the ones who fixate on rewards. They are fixators. And obsessors. And collectors. Put before them a summer reading program which draws young people based on their need to be positively affirmed with collectables and trinkets...and we have a match made in hell. Because "unlocking" each of their ridiculous reading rewards is on them. But driving them to wherever they pick them up is on me. (Never mind additional time-sucks of educational Scavenger Hunts that lead to the cheap little plastic whatevers). If I had to do it all over again, and it is between digressing in their reading over the summer or going through the hell that is Summer Reading Programs, I might have chosen illiteracy.

P.S. School starts today, so remind me about these discoveries in 9 months, K?

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Invitation to My Dinner Party

I have learned, finally, that I do better when I pay attention to my heart. Not the emotional life of my figurative heart, although that's entirely true as well. I actually mean my Heart. The physical one in my chest. It beats faster sometimes, like all hearts do. But it has taken me a lifetime to sharpen my awareness surrounding my physical heart's increases in tempo.

My heart has been a freaking yo-yo for the past week. I've calmed it, then recalmed it... Then read facebook. Then  calmed it. Then watched the news, then clicked on links connecting me to articles. Then re-calmed it. Then re-calmed it again. Then, again.

And I sure as heck know better than to write when it's going gangbusters in there. My experience of a fastly beating heart is lower functioning reasoning skills.

It's finally even.

So here I go.

I think pontificating about sensitive topics in the absence of sharing personal experience with the charged topic is like shoving a plate of food in someone's face instead of inviting the individual to your home for dinner. It's an intrusive, abbreviated version of what could have been a meaningful experience. We are good at not-framing...and getting better. We post and tweet and like and blast and shove all sorts of dinner (often with fastly beating hearts) into recipients' faces, whether hunger is involved or not, without them having the slightest clue about what got us there. Of course, they return the favor with an equally large plate of food. As much as we care not to admit it - particularly when others arrive at places different than where we are standing - I would argue that folks come to conclusions for reasons that would resonate with anyone put in their shoes. Their history, their stories, their relationships, their family of origin, their city of origin, their baggage. Brene Brown is quoted saying, "Maybe stories are just data with a soul." If we separate the soulful data attached to our personal life stories from our talking points, we lose. It takes time, but I'm a believer in STARTING with the story.

I'm starting with my own. And it's going to be a dang long dinner party. Find a comfy chair.

The events in our country's post-Independence-Day-week meant a lot of soul searching for me (in-between fastly-beating-heart episodes), and I needed to go on a wild goose chase for both my deeper, difficult-to-retrieve and right-on-the-surface memories in order to trace the dusty footprints leading me to my beliefs about race in this country now.

NOTE 1: I feel very, very confident that I screwed this up. I am not a real writer or researcher. I have not read one academic book on Race In America. I'm just me. Little ole me. I feel certain that I made at least one inference that was unfair and formed at least one conclusion based on faulty connections and made at least one blanket statement based on lazy generalizations. At best (and what I'll hope for), this will come off as dumb and at worst, potentially offensive and insulting. Please forgive me ahead of time. Whatever this writing experience lacks in smartness, it makes up for in honesty. Focus on that. Honesty. Of the author. Not her stupidity.

NOTE 2: I am not expecting this to change the world. Telling this story to myself is, as it turns out, what mattered the most. So, I wrote it for me. I'm just inviting you along if you choose.

NOTE 3: Memories are crazy things, in that they are often all wrong. Or, at the least, not reliably accurate. I suppose my whole point in encouraging "the telling of the story" is to demonstrate how we all come to the place we are in because of our life-acquired perspectives. Memories are not short of those, either. I haven't filtered my memories through any sieves but the sieve of me. Sorry if you were there, and I got it wrong.

NOTE 4: The statistics about population and demographics almost all came from, so as to keep the numbers comparable. When a suburb was too small to be noted on that site, I turned to Wikipedia. I only included four race groups (White, Black, Latino, and Asian), only because those were the most prominent of all represented.

NOTE 5: I began this entry the week of July 12th, thinking I'd hammer out a thoughtful account in one night. When that night turned into the next morning (Sweet Jesus, was that day of parenting tough) and I hadn't scratched the surface, it became clear to me this was a long-term project. It has taken a few weeks, pecking away, to get to publishing.

The Elementary Years

Raised in Louisville, KY.
Population: 597,337  Race breakdown:W(hite): 70%  B(lack): 22%  L(atino): 4% A(sian): 2%

I went to elementary school with a lot of black kiddos, a few black teachers, and one black principal. Mrs. Hodge-Trice, my 1st grade teacher, was my favorite teacher of all time. She was black. But I remember her most because at the end of each grading period she would buy a slew of toys and place them out on a table and, based on our work ethic in math activities, we were allowed to go select one. What kid doesn't like toys? Truly, human children are shallow creatures.

My principle, Mrs. Johnson, had the longest, most glamorously long legs and wore her hair in a highly-perched bun nearly every day. If I'm being honest, I thought Mrs. Johnson was the most beautiful woman I'd ever known up to that point.

I tell these stories because they said to me, while still color-blind, "Mrs. Hodge-Trice sure is nice. She likes me. I like her. She buys toys." and "Mrs. Johnson is who I want to be... she is smart, happy, and tall." (P.S. When I was in kindergarten, a girl on the bus said that I ought to check to find out if I was a midget... I mention this, because I have always been hopelessly short-legged and in elementary school particularly pip-squeak-like. Tall women made me salivate.). So, there really was no valuable take-away at the time outside of toys and height. But I do think visiting Mrs. Hodge-Trice every few years in her classroom all the way until she retired (The last time I returned with a fellow student, Rachel Jacobs, when we were young adults) sure was cool. And I think observing a black-AND-woman in a position of leadership as a child (principal may have well = God) had to have gone a long way. They were both ladies I admired and respected. And they are both black. That's not novel or all that unique. But it's a very special part of my story.

Hillary Jackson was one of my buddies at Chenoweth Elementary School. Maybe I was an idiot, but I don't think I did the best-friend-thing in elementary school. I had lots of girl pals. And Hillary was One Of My Girlfriends. Hillary is black. Things were honky dory until I remember that at recess one day during whatever-game-it-is-that-3rd-graders-play, I must have somehow left her out. Did I not tag her for re-entry into a freeze tag game? Not invite her to do clapping games? Not pick her for my kickball team? Or maybe a group of us kept her "it" too long without offering to switch out? I didn't know what I did then, and I do not know now. But Hillary knew. And she told me about it. Her words were something like, "You're going to be like that... I see," and stormed off. You have to know that I didn't do Be Like That. If I hung my hat on anything as a young tike, it was least-likely-to-get-into-trouble-or-cause-a-rift. I was the essence of innocence, compliance, and non-conflict. Basically, I was a weenie. And so, I was dumb-founded by this. The next day was science fair day and my stand-up presentation board was right next to Hillary's. So I approached her about her earlier words, wanting to understand. "You know what I'm talking about," she responded. I SWEAR I DID NOT KNOW WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT. What I do know is that although we remained friendly with one another for several more years, Hillary and I split up on that day. Something inexplicable was between us. And I let it happen, because I didn't know what else to do. I'm pretty sure I processed this out with my parents, because it bamboozled me so. I have NO CLUE what they said. None. But I, to this day, have a sad spot in my heart for having lost Hillary. And for her having lost me. It took a few years for me to reflect on this life event with any degree of clarity. But at some point I concluded that Hillary was noticing something that I had the priviledge not to
notice. She was noticing that we 4th graders were slowly ceasing to be colorblind. Perhaps her wordlessness surrounding it reflected that she hadn't quite put all of her observational pieces together yet either. But it was clear that she FELT it.

I tell this story, because it said to me, "Black kids notice stuff white kids don't." Even as I still assert
that Hillary's beef with me that day was most certainly something done unknowingly on my part, it still matters. It STILL matters. It still deserved examination. And discussion. I only wish there had been an opening to do so.

The Middle School Years

I went to Westport Middle School for grades 6-8. Westport, as I remember it, was a pretty colorful place. It was also a relatively rough school, although I do not mention those statements back-to-back to connect the two. I do not know how the aggressive behaviors (read: fights) related to race (black vs. black? white vs. black? white vs. white?) or if there was a relationship at all.

But I do have a pretty clear picture of the attendance grid on the gym floor in P.E class.. You know what I mean? When the gym teacher, who has like 45 kids to manage at once, can only take attendance civilly if we are separated out, cross-legged on little masking tape dots, equidistant from one another, and told to be silent until further instruction... I was sitting in my little spot, when I heard from behind me the word, "Cracker."

Yum! Snack time! Who knew P.E. could be so great!

Did I already mention that I was a naive soul? Before too long I realized that it was me who the black girl two grid dots away was talking to and that she was calling me one, not offering me one. My memory says that we did not know one another's names or favorite colors or boy crushes. Acquaintances, we were not. I do remember smiling. Because, that's sort of my thing when I don't know what else to do. And waving, looking into her eyes,  I hollered "Hello." Black-girl-I-didnt-know-two-dots-away looked at black-girl-one-dot-away-from-her (likely her accomplice in the ordeal) pretty confused; they were searching each other's faces for what was next. And there was no next. That was the end of that. I didn't know it, but I think I diffused something. Why were they messing with me? Were they looking for a reaction? Where they hoping to feel some power over a shy, intimidated soul who would shrink and do nothing? Or were they hoping for aggression, excited at their chances to engage in a fight? When I offered neither weakness nor anger, instead nice... there wasn't much else to do.

Again, I know I brought this home to my parents. And AGAIN I haven't the foggiest notion of how they coached me. My guess is that I laid on the nice, with a smile, "hello" and eye contact, ever day thereafter to make it impossible for me to be seen as rude or racist or whatever they deemed as cracker-like.

The reason I tell this story is because it counted as the very first time in my twelve-or-so-year-old life that I remember being part of a REAL, bonified racial moment. And because I learned the power of head-on, looking-someone-in-the-eyeballs, unexpected "nice" in response to a charged moment. I wish I could tell you that I learned those girls' names and sought - at the very least - acquaintance with them. That would have been an even braver and more productive response. Glenn Doyle Melton wrote recently that "fear cannot survive proximity." I believe this. But even though I didn't get closer than the couple grid-dots away during attendance and all I could muster at the time was a smile, "hello," and eye contact, I suppose that counts as proximity when cowering was an option. Even today, when faced with the choice between silent, distant retreat or aggressive, in-your-face rage (the ole fight or flight model), I try really hard to choose neither. Not when the third option of nice proximity is available.

At the beginning of summer, I had a tradition of inviting my schoolmates to an end-of-school-year party in my back yard. We lived in a brick house in St. Matthews, a highly sought-after inner ring suburb to downtown Louisville composed of older, sometimes historic, homes. Although it was modest in size (3 bedrooms), my house's location and charm spoke, "We are well off." I didn't know this for a long time, but we were only able to swing that house because my father's parents had lived in it before we did. We became owners after they passed. All of my neighbors were old and white. I hankered for playmates. When I went girl scout cookie selling each year, since my parents taught me to be respectful to the geriatric community, I had to say "yes" when each neighbor invited me in and consequently satisfy each and every one of their unmet social needs. Lots of Old People = Lots. Of. Stories.

I remember the year Turquoise White came to my party. She was one of my black classmates. I remember her as the most talkative and bubbly soul. Everybody liked Turquoise. And, as far as I could tell, Turquoise seemed to like everybody. When Turquoise's mom picked Turquoise up that afternoon, she lingered for a long time on our back porch, where Mom had set out snackie foods. I only know this story, because Mom retold it lots of times. Otherwise I would be clueless, since Turquoise and the rest of us were busy milking all the play time we had left. My mom had invited Turquoise's mom to help herself to the snacks. And she ate and talked and ate and talked. And Mom kept politely chatting, too. Mom was beginning to wonder if she were planning on staying all afternoon, when all at once she began loading up a paper plate WHILE talking on and on. (It's worth mentioning here that, while everyone loved coming to our house and eating my mom's food, she was NOT a fancy host... I imagine brownies, turkey sandwiches, pickles, and maybe cheetos on display). Turquoise's mom piled high and deep. High and deep. And concluded it with a paper napkin, unfolded and draped over the top layer. Then, finally, off Turquoise and her mom went, perhaps to feed her whole neighborhood. My mom always told this story with warmth. I think she really did think Turquoise's mom was a stitch, just as I had always thought Turquoise was.

The reason I tell this story is because it stuck out to me that Turquoise and her mom were out of their element. I remember it took quite some time (over the phone! imagine that!) to give directions to their family to my house. And that, heck, since it was an ordeal to get there, maybe Turquoise's mom figured she may as well stay a bit. And get a meal in in the process. And maybe one for brother and sister. Although I had several black peers to my house over the remaining years I lived at home (SHOUT OUT TO HIGH SCHOOL TRACK AND FIELD END OF SEASON PARTIES!!!), this might have been the first, and it made me recognized how pale my whole neighborhood looked. I may have gone to a school that taught me the richness of socializing with lots of kids different than myself, but I came home every day to a lot of people looking just like me (except with a lot of wrinkles).

The High School Years

duPont Manual High School was a magnet school in our very large Jefferson County School system, meaning one had to apply in order to become accepted as a student there. It was located in downtown Louisville. If it helps at all, imagine my school bus snatched me up, got me to the local neighborhood high school (which would have been my assigned school) where I transferred sleepily to a different bus, and then made my way along interstate highway to my final destination, a Gothic-style three story building. The whole rigamarole lasted about an hour and a half (for other friends 2+).

It Was Worth. Every. Single. Minute. And then some.

My Manual experience held two magical qualities that I later came to discover were not to be found in most of my college and adult friends' high school experiences. The first magical quality was that everyone wanted to be there. They had written compelling essays and submitted detailed transcripts to ensure it was so. We wanted to be there to get smart, do well, and be successful both there and beyond. It wasn't spoken. It was in the air. In my insecure moments, the full-of-expectation air was sometimes hard to gulp, but - man - once airborne, greatness is viral.

The second was that it was wildly diverse. In. Every. Way. I do not know if this is true, but it felt to me that the minority populations combined came close to equalling the white population. Since it drew from the entire Jefferson County district (which is a very, very large place) and since neighborhood and proximity-to-building had nothing to do with how the demographics shook out, it was like the United Nations. Blacks, Indians, Asians, and on and on. Non-racially speaking, Manual also celebrated as one of its magnet programs The Youth Performing Arts School (YPAS), which drew in whimsical ballet-dancers, piano prodigies, theater nuts, and aspiring painters - so there was an artsy crowd, too, along with all the other typical-high-school subgroups: goth, gay, skater, computer geeks, pot-head, preps, jocks... held together by the common thread of wanting to get smart.  This slice of heaven was where I called home for four beautiful years.

In addition to classes, I ran Cross Country and Track and Field all four of those years. And although my Cross Country Team was composed of only gangly, cooky runners who were white, my Track and Field experiences yielded lots of black friends. Two of my four years running distance for the Track team were under the leadership of a black coach. At some point Coach somehow got his hand on public transportation vouchers and transfers, allowing those who used it to get home free. Because my parents loved that I chose Manual but did NOT love what it was doing to their gas budget and personal time, I rode the public bus home most days (before my driver's license and beater car replaced it). I remember being the only white runner who stood in line when those were getting handed out. Again, part of my story.

While at Manual, I built social skills that made me feel confident talking to any single soul I wanted to talk to. I lifted weights and small talked on strength training days right next to Line-Backer-Looking shot-put throwers (did I mention I'm little?). High School was when I learned all sorts of super-un-important-but-interesting-to-me facts about black people's skin (it CAN get sunburnt) and hair (it is generally NOT washed every day) and was exposed to public display of gay affection and what people act like when they're high and that guys in ballet leotards in Calculus class can be totally fly. On longer bus trips to and fro track meets at different schools, I remember all of us athletes, exhausted from an afternoon exerting ourselves in humid-heat, found time to give shout-outs and high-fives to EACH member of the team, from the mostly-white 1 mile and 2 mile runners to the mostly-black 100 meter and 200 meter runners. And when it came time to pick a senior prom theme song, the Student Council Steering Committee, of which I held office, had bold conversations about how to make selections. In the end, it was voted on by the entire class, but the Steering Committee was responsible for the choices. I remember that it was very on the minds of leadership how not to pick songs that lent themselves too strongly to one population of students or another. We had LOTS of populations, so song-choice deliberation was tedious.

We could roll with differences at Manual High School. And race was just one of them.

I tell this story (of my general high school experience), because it frames my obsession with diversity ever since. It was like crack-cocaine. The growth I experienced from 1993-1997 had a lot to do with Magical Quality Number One. But I give Magical Quality Number Two the same, if not more, credit for the shaping of my launch-into-the-world status on graduation day. Truth be told, it was the hybrid of the two that formed Magical Quality Number Three: young people of every walk of life accepting each other and concurrently working toward the common high standard of greatness for themselves.