What Trayvon Martin Teaches Us

I don't live in a gated community. It's the opposite, really...two major roads within 100 feet of my house, 5 bus lines. A fairly transient residential population in a mixture of rental and owner-occupied homes. I can guarantee you that criminals walked or drove right past my house last night while I slept. Because lots of people went right by my house last night, and the law of averages says that some of them were up to no good.

As an active member in our neighborhood association since we moved here three years ago, I've been a part of many discussions about starting formal block watches. It's a generally safe place to live, but every now and again there will be a wave of muggings or break-ins and we start talking about how we need to "organize". I could write some fairly entertaining stories about what it's like to live in heavily-traveled urban neighborhood like this, but let's just say I have had legitimate reasons to feel threatened.

The thing is, we never end up formalizing our block watches. We haven't registered with the National Sheriff's Association and we don't have any of the signs posted "Suspicious persons will be reported to the police immediately." Instead, we organize holiday parties and summer picnics, free workshops for residents and neighborhood clean-up events. We try to give ourselves lots of opportunities to knock on doors and talk to neighbors about something other than crime. Our hope is that by getting to know each other, we develop a sense of collective responsibility for keeping an eye out for each other.

However, for me, the fear still creeps back in from time to time. When you live in a heavily trafficked area, you become aware that you are so much more likely to be the victim of a crime of opportunity. You don't take out the garbage without instinctively scanning the dark corners of your yard. Your first assumption when someone knocks on the door is not that they're selling girl scout cookies.

What Trayvon Martin makes me think of is that we don't know each other the way that we should. It's easy enough for me to make playdates with middle class mamas who have college degrees. A bit harder to walk up to the porch of someone who has trash in their yard and ring their doorbell. And I really have to force myself to get to know the grandmother around the corner who seems to be raising a bunch of teenage boys. All in hoodies. And until I heard about this case, it didn't even occur to me to seek out the gun-wielding George Zimmerman's in my neighborhood. But now I will.


There were so many things...

....that I wanted to tell you about Laurel today, and I kept thinking, stop and write this down so I will remember. But I didn't, and those quotes are gone forever. They leave behind a shadow, an aura of a memory, of holding hands and walking by the river. We went to the library and she insisted on crawling up into the window seat "all by by by myself", and then sent me on errands to retrieve books. Have you read Planting a Rainbow? It's fantastic. Eavesdropping, I watched from a distance while she read to herself, messy blonde head bent over, carefully turning pages and with spot on intonation.

I'm jealous of the stay at home moms today, not because they get more time, but because they get time when they are not bleary-eyed with fatigue after nine hours of work, feeling breathless and panicky about the speed at which life passes. My algebra 1 students get my clearest, early morning attention. Grass is always greener, I know. And aren't many of us dreaming of a cocktail and a good night's sleep even as we enjoy precious moments with our children?


Speed of Life

Blink and it's Friday. Inhale, exhale, Monday morning again. Sixty-one days of school left. Turn around and Laurel is suddenly in need of 3T clothes and says phrases like "I won't be patient". One gallon of gas in the tank. Think...did I turn off the stove this morning, before I left for work? What would be better, to sleep or to work on some writing? One is good for my body, one for my soul. Who wins in a contest between your body and your soul? Did I mail that bill? Do we have diapers? Have I called my grandma lately? Why are there 57 emails in my inbox again? Let's eat leftovers for dinner, wait, there are no leftovers. Ok, eggs then. Has anyone fed the cat? Laurel is playing Scrabble by herself in the living room. She needs a haircut. We all need haircuts. Remember to email Todd and Erin a thank you for dinner. In January. How is it spring already? What happened to winter? What happened to 2011?


When I grow up...

Today Laurel asked me if she could be a pink fairy when she grew up.

No, I said. Then I thought about it. Maybe she can. Who am I to say who can be a fairy or not? What does she really mean by that anyway?

Tonight, I hosted the neighborhood association meeting, and we had a very lengthy discussion about bylaws revisions, which is a totally necessary conversation, but also very boring, when it's not a heated disagreement. (We have passionate neighbors.) I'm the president, so it's my job to keep the meetings running along smoothly. I wondered what a pink fairy would do at a meeting such as this, and if it would make for a better meeting.

At school, I'm teaching a section on prime factorization and it's going pretty well in that I can think of all kinds of real world examples and even invented a card game. Video clips, manipulatives, the whole nine yards. Today I showed them pictures of Margaret's farm and we calculated area for planting vegetables. It was a weird schedule, because the juniors are taking the PSSA's so we had 13 periods instead of 9 and they were all kind of short. I'm thinking the administration at my school could use a pink fairy to make a better schedule. They could use a pink fairy for a lot of things.

Laurel talks about growing up all the time. This morning, she told M that when she got big, she would "cut things all by myself".

Pink fairies and knives, that's my daughter.

Leaves, etc.

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We looked for the fish in the pond, but didn't see them. Heard a woodpecker off in the distance. Laurel pointed out every sycamore tree she spotted.

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I have an idea!

Laurel is full of ideas. M and I are the kind of people who act quickly on ideas that seem good. For instance, last night after dinner, Laurel said, "I have an idea! Let's go to the pet store and see turtles and fish."

Well, that seemed like a reasonable request, nevermind the late hour, driving rainstorm, and the fact that it was a weeknight. We needed cat food anyway. So, off we went to the pet store, where we saw a lizard that looked like a snake, some very happy rabbits, and a lot of goldfish.

She tried it again tonight. "I have an idea! Let's go to the zoo. They have monkeys and elephants there."

I wonder if it is confusing to her to figure out when she's going to get what she wants and when we're going to say no or not now. I don't think you can really enforce rules for kids that you don't follow yourself. That's why it bothers me that kids at my school are not allowed to use their cell phones. Obviously, I don't want them to text each other in the middle of math class, but who cares what they do with the 4 minutes in between classes in the hallways? I certainly take the chance to check in with my husband and make sure

Sometimes, though, having a kid around highlights problems in my own habits. Like ice cream for dinner. Or brushing my teeth while walking around the bedroom getting dressed. It's not like there's a rule against either one of those things in our house. But it definitely makes me think, hey why am I doing this?


M is for Museum

"H! I have H! I have H! H! H! H!"

Laurel found a foam letter H in her art supplies. It was the first time I heard her identify H. The first letter she knew was M ("for Mark!"), and L, and then K for Katy, except she calls it "A". She was very, very excited when she found a second foam H in the box. Sometimes she looks at a street sign and says "What are those letters doing, mama?"

We went to the museum this weekend. Laurel asked to look at beautiful paintings and dinosaur bones. They have a kids section now, called M is for Museum, and there are lots of things to touch and do. C is for collection, and at that exhibit, you get a plastic bin that you can fill with whatever you want from this table piled with miniature frogs and rocks and plastic dinosaurs. When you are done, you label your collection and leave it on the shelf so that other visitors can look at it. I love this way of teaching that a museum is a place of collections. It made me think of all the strange museums I've been to over the years, and people's houses that are filled with collections of one kind or another.

When we went to art side of the museum, Laurel was tired and fussy and she kept saying, "No! That is not a painting!" at all my favorite Impressionist paintings until we got to Mark Rothko and then she seemed satisfied that she had seen what she had come for. She fell deeply asleep in the car on the way home and I carried her inside and slipped her shoes off without her even stirring. When she woke up, she wanted to paint. Her paintings were colorful and heavy with paint and featured dinosaurs.

At bedtime, she curled up next to M and recited many lines out of the Lorax, and went to sleep as soon as the book was finished - unusual, but probably due to the fact that we kept her up very late because we were too busy roasting rutabaga and golden beets to pay attention to the clock. (It's a delicious combination, by the way.)

I'm amazed to watch her literacy develop so effortlessly. I've been passing out pamphlets for years, advising parents to do a "few simple things" to ensure school readiness, and it's funny to be following that advice myself and seeing that it actually does work, without it being a lot of work. We've been reading every evening before bed since she was about two months old, usually 2-3 books per day. Over a thousand stories she's heard. It's strange to see how nightly rituals add up over the years. Part of the pleasure is the books, for sure. M and I rediscovered the strange imagination of Maurice Sendak lately. But I think what makes it a sustainable ritual is all of us piled up in bed. Squirmy Laurel jumping from one lap to another. Turning pages. Giving kisses. Best part of the day.


Happy Springer Day

I've got some serious Springer fever.

I cannot believe it has been five years. Life may change, but I still feel the urge to go find a mountain and walk up it. And then walk down it. And then walk up another one.