I just took one with my family. It is the worst and the best at the same time.
Challenging and almost impossible, particularly if you have more than one kid. What one wants the other doesn’t. What one needs the other can’t stand. There is fighting, yelling, and I find myself having a serious desire to do something extreme to those three human beings who came out of my body.
No matter how hard I tried, I was disappointing someone and making someone mad. Most of the things I am interested in will get push back from all. It doesn’t matter if, in the end, it is the coolest thing. It will suck well because it was my idea.
There are times that my homies push back as hard as my kids.
“You don’t understand, Ms.,” they say.
“In the streets it’s different.”
“You never lived in the streets.”
They put up that resistance wall.
“I don’t want to.”
“It’s not fun.”
“It’s not interesting.”
With my homies I have much more patience than with my own children. Then again, my homies don’t dare talk to me the way my kids do.
“With all due respect, Ms.,” they say.
Believe me, my kids never say that. Instead, it is whining, whining and discontented.
“It’s so hard to do what you are teaching us,” my students tell me.
“Well, I say. “If it was easy, I wouldn’t have a job.”
I smile. They don’t. Same with my kids. Even when they want to laugh, they will not, because I am forever lame. My kids think I don’t know. I can’t understand. I’ve never been there.
To my kids I am a boring, not-so-smart, middle-aged woman.
To my homies, I am the white, Jewish lady, who is nice, but, alas, has no clue.
Here is where they are both wrong. I understand so much more than they think. I see so much more than they are probably comfortable with.
I know more than they can imagine. Not because I am so smart. But because it is my job, and I make an effort. I listen. I watch. I don’t judge, and, most of all, I am constantly learning.
Really, that should be what we all do, all the time. Listen. Learn. Open space for the other. Empower.
As the brilliantly wise Toni Morrison said, “When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”
As a parent of adolescents, I guess my job is to vessel their discontent and hang in there until they realize that I am not as bad as they think, and know that later in life they will look back at these family vacations and see them in a totally different light.
As a teacher, and mentor of people who have been marginalized their entire life, my job is to never stop having faith in my students’ capabilities. My job is to stay so incredibly strong in that belief that they have no other choice but to believe it too. And once they believe in themselves, well then, they can do anything and everything.
“Ms., do you really think I can go to college?” he asks.
“I don’t think you can go to college. I am sure you can,” I answer.
“How are you so sure?” he asks.
“Because I see you,” I say, and then I add, “You are smart and kind and wise, and you will do the work. It will be hard, but you will make it happen. I know you will.”
“What about my record, Ms.?”
“What record?” I say. He smiles a big smile and is suddenly shy.
This man was incarcerated when he was 15. He sat for 20 years. He is now 35 years old. He lost a huge chunk of his life. He is one of the kindest, wisest people I have met.
Read that sentence again. He is one of the kindest, wisest people I have met. I don’t know what he did to sit time. I don’t care. And it doesn’t matter. If he was let out, that is enough for me, not to mention that I see him now. He is a hard-working, wonderful person.
“You know what I want to do, Ms.?” he asks me.
“I want to go on a family vacation. You know, in the car, stop places, do a hike, sing songs. That seems like so much fun.”
I laugh out loud, and spit out a little of the water I am drinking. He looks puzzled.
“Those aren’t always so much fun and/or easy,” I say.
“I don’t want easy,” he tells me. “I want real. I want life. I want normal. Fighting, laughing, hating, loving, calm and tense all at once.”
He basically in one sentence just described my two-and-a- half week family vacation. I know this man served most of his time in solitary confinement. I can’t even begin to grasp the reality of that.
“Ms., you know sometimes when I was locked up, I would imagine exactly that, being out doing stuff, having freedom.”
And it hits me. What insane freedom I have. What amazing privilege. And how incredibly lucky I am.
I want to bring my children to hear this man speak, but I know deep inside they know. Partially because I tell them, and also because they are smart, even though I don’t want to admit it. On our trip I was incredibly annoyed at how spoiled they are, but even being spoiled and whining is a huge privilege.
“Ms., I spent years alone, dreaming about together.” I was embarrassed to tell him that I spent two weeks of together dreaming about being alone.
“Ema,” my youngest crawls into bed with me, jet lag keeping her up and making her hours a little crazy. “That was the best family vacation ever,” she whispers and drifts off to sleep.
I am quiet because in a huge fight literally last week she screamed at me that this was the worst family trip ever and that she hates me and our family. I think of my student, alone in the dark for days and nights and weeks at a time in solitary confinement being treated like crap, dreaming about this, the good, the bad, and the ugly together and not alone.
And I thank God, as cliche as that is. I thanked God, literally, out loud.
“Thank you, God, for all I have. The good, the bad, and the hard.”And instead of counting sheep to fall asleep, I counted every fight, every complaint, every moment of our family vacation and found the funny and the joy in it all.
Friends and readers: Please join us in the ripple effect (Adva) fundraiser Sunday, September 22nd from 5PM-8PM @ the Catalina Jazz Club
For tickets or to make a donation go: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/join-us-to-celebrate-the-ripple-effect-tickets-69247476065