Archive for July, 2008


Another one of the unexpected pleasures of living in IC as opposed to CR is that IC is set up for cycling.  Not only are there designated bicycle paths, but riding your bike on the nicely-maintained roads is no big deal.  Most drivers are used to encountering people on bikes, too.  CR is too bumpy (read: ankle-deep potholes) and sometimes too dangerous (intersections designed only for cars, so walking can be dicey, too) to use your bike for anything more than an evening pleasure ride along the levee.

Here I have the opportunity to become a bicycle commuter, and two weeks in I am a total convert.  Aside from taking the Snapper to daycare, which would involve a busy, hilly road during rush hour (no big deal for me alone, but with the trailer and precious cargo, forget it!), I can ride anywhere I need to on my bike in good weather.  My PA readers would be stunned at how many sunny days we have here in Iowa.  I will probably someday become hard core enough to do my errands in driving rain, but I’m working up to it so nice days will have to suffice.  If I can keep my driving to daycare only, I will be down to only 12 miles a week in the car.  That’s A LOT of fossil fuel, and A LOT of gas money.

I love how I feel physically, I love integrating exercise into my everyday life instead of trying to carve it out of a too-busy schedule, I love being truly outside instead of trapped in a car, and I love the example I’m setting for the Snapper.  I encourage everyone who has the resources and the opportunity to do the same.  It’s fun, it’s easy (no more challenging to strap the boy into the trailer than into his car seat), and you’ll never have to diet again!


Read Full Post »

Playground Invasion, cont.

Cloudscome’s question to my original post is a good one, and one that I meant to address initially but forgot. I don’t think it’s only White Middle Class entitlement that compels people to ask about a family’s racial/ethnic background or to inquire about how various members are related to one another. There’s straight-up class entitlement, and then there can also be group entitlement–that maybe the black folks who inquire about Cloudscome’s kids feel a right to know because her kids are in some ways one of “them,” to put it roughly. And I don’t know if I feel as bothered by that because transracial adoption, even in the best of circumstances, carries with it a lot of residual (and real-time) power differentials. On the other hand, there’s a way to do it kindly in that case and there’s a rude and judgmental way to do it, too (and I’ve heard plenty of white parents of black kids cite examples of a.a. people who came up to them and did have a problem with the situation and were rude enough to impose hefty judgment, so of course there’s more than enough rudeness, presumption, and entitlement to go around). Actually, I think a white person could ask probing questions about race/family makeup but it would definitely depend on how the conversation is going and how one asked. I’m just not comfortable enough with my own newly-discovered flaw to venture into nuanced territory in terms of my approach. For right now it is better to err on the polite side.

I guess my point is that you can be rude on the playground for lots of different reasons–this is just one of them.

Read Full Post »

Playground Invasion

One of the things I like best about our new neighborhood is the opportunity it affords me and my son to interact with lots of people who don’t look like us or share all parts of our racial and cultural background. Most evenings we visit our lovely playground the Snapper is either the only Caucasian kid or in a distinct minority. Every night it’s a little different; sometimes he is playing with A.A. kids, sometimes with Hispanic kids, sometimes with immigrant kids, sometimes with kids from family structures unlike his own. I remarked to a friend recently that part of my residual racism is how surprised I was that a neighborhood this nice (which I defined without examination as tree-lined, quiet-ish, well-kept and safe) was largely minority. Egads–of course a neighborhood could be all those thing AND multi-racial/cultural. I understand there is some overlap between the poverty rates among minorities and the persistence of sub-ideal living conditions in poorer communities, but that does NOT translate to minority neighborhood = bad neighborhood. I am ashamed at this particular feature of my until-now buried-to-me stereotyping, but there it is (and hopefully WAS). I just can’t keep it here–it doesn’t hold water. There are as many kinds of black families as there are black families in this neighborhood, as well as Hispanics, foreign-born, etc…

I have had nothing but positive encounters on the playground (in general there are a few people on our walks that I have stopped trying to say hi to, because they are so surly, but this is rare). I find this side of the minor highway that runs alongside downtown far more easygoing than the university side, which doesn’t surprise me (and this is true in other college towns in which I’ve lived that were majority white). I have really enjoyed my evenings here with the Snapper. I’ve met so many nice people who are kind to my son and eager to chat while our children play.

I feel comfortable asking relatively socially acceptable fact-finding questions, such as “so do you live on this block?” or “how old is your daughter?” or, if the conversation moves forward, “do you go to school or work here in IC?”

But I never, ever ask questions like, “Where are you from?” (unless the person says, “we just moved here,” in which case I might ask where they’ve moved from, which is a different question), or “what is your son?” or “are your children adopted?” or the hideous, “what are you?” or any P.C. version of the above. For awhile I’ve just felt uncomfortable asking these questions. As time progresses I find that my burning curiosity has turned into mild interest, but I no longer feel this sense of entitlement to know what exactly is UP with every family I run into. Because seriously? A family’s specific racial/cultural makeup and sexual activities is none of my damned business. Sometimes it comes up naturally in the conversation, in which case there is usually a comfortable opening for gentle inquiries that the person in question seems open to address. But mostly when these encounters are casual and polite–as they are especially at this stage of our newness in the neighborhood–ages of kids, location of domicile, and place of employment or university department is all one can really push for, and even then it’s a matter of polite interest and not probing. As I contemplated my feelings about these conversations, I realized that I have abdicated a very important White Middle Class entitlement, which is the right to go anywhere and everywhere. Like this article that Kohana linked to recently from Racialicious, “going anywhere” can also mean, “knowing anything,” which from my studies smacks of old-fashioned colonialism: that it is your assumed, unexamined right to satiate your curiosity no matter how offensive or invasive it is.

Now I suppose one could argue that one’s racial or cultural background is not an intimate matter. After all we very often look different from one another and it is not wrong to wonder where someone was born or who their parents were. But what makes it presumptuous to ask is that there is such a wide variety in ways of being, and people should have the right to define that for themselves as in as nuanced a way as they please. “What are you?” asks for a single-dimensional answer. More importantly, racial and cultural background are intimate details, especially if a minority person (or a non-minority, for that matter) has experienced a complex and painful journey surrounding those details. It may be hard to say what one “is” or where one is “from” when speaking with a relative strangers. Those details can slowly unfold as people get to know one another.

The other day the Snapper and I met the sweetest family. They shared their ball with him and spoke kindly to us both. I could tell by their appearance and accent that they were probably South* East Asian, maybe Indian. But maybe they were Pakistani? I didn’t ask. The history of Indian/Pakistani relations is long, complex, and fraught with strife (as well as lots of positive interactions and exchanges, I’m sure). It would have been incredibly rude to ask. Besides, what is it to me? I will not pretend that they aren’t brown or that they speak perfect standard English. That is interesting. But it is not my right to know anything else about them. I hope over time that we will get to know them better, and them us. I secretly hope every time we go that they’ll be there again. No use pushing anything. The difference between the me of now and the me of ten years ago is that what would disappoint me is not getting to know them better as people rather than “finding out” what their “deal” is.

I’ve wondered about the family make-up of groups of people there, I’ve wondered about racial background and even of disability. But I’ve just wondered.

I hope this is growth.

*Believe it or not, this is what I intended to say–just left out the ‘south.’  Thanks, anon.

Read Full Post »

Sster wrote on March 12, 2008:

Can I please just rip the contents of my house out like a tablecloth after a feast?  I do not have time to clean it and there is no one else to do it.  Most days I can either be a good parent (outings!  attention!  games!  singing!  art!) or have a clean kitchen.

If we could just start over maybe I’d have a chance…

So maybe I didn’t envision quite this kind of a do-over, but I have to admit (don’t tell!) that I am enjoying starting over in terms of organization.  Our old house was sooooo so messy and all over the place.  Part of the problem was that it was weirdly designed–the storage for the things you needed in one room was almost always in another, and usually too high or too deep to get easily.  We ended up with stuff in storage (in places like over the shower–who does that??) that we never used, and stuff lying around that we did use until it got lost under a pile.

THIS apartment will be, IS already, different.  For one thing it’s laid out sensibly, with wider rather than deeper closets.  Even the crawl space designated for storage is easy to get to, and if smartly organized, easy to get things out of (key: pile things on either side so you have a path in the middle).  The kitchen is actually big enough to keep everything you need to cook and clean.

For another, I am determined that it will STAY clean and organized.  I have a pretty sweet gig right now.  I work on my dissertation two days a week and on the weekends and evenings when I can get it, and I stay home with the Snapper the other three weekdays.  When he goes to bed I have the evening to myself.  Starting from scratch, that is more than enough time to keep things tidy.  For the past two weeks they have been, even taking the extra dog care into consideration.

This time around everything goes into a labeled bin or attractive basket.  On the laundry room shelves there are bins for tools, hardware, misc. utility, bath toys, emergency supplies (flashlight, etc.), and cleaning supplies.  In the linen closet (first real linen closet of our eight-year marriage), I have three baskets: hair stuff, bottled stuff (lotion, sunscreen), and medication.  In the bathroom medicine cabinet there is a shelf for me, one for Attic Man, and the top one is reserved for cleaning supplies (no more trying to babyproof lower cabinets.  Putting cleaning stuff higher than he can reach even if he were to scale the counters is easier and safer, in my opinion).  On the inside of the coat closet door (a coat closet by the door!  what a revelation!) are a set of over-the-door hooks I got for a bargain for dog leashes, keys, and slings (we saved my favorite one from the flood :))

So if you had to (or got to) start over again, what would you do differently?  What would your new rules or systems be?  This stuff does NOT come naturally to me so I would love your ideas.

Read Full Post »

Sam with Weeble Tree in the old house

Old normal.

In our little family today, all five of us are doing what we were made to do: I am dissertating, Attic Man is lawyering, the Snapper is at day care playing with other kids (which he loves; we have a tantrum for every leave-taking), and the dogs are sacked out in the living room after having had two good walks this morning. We are all doing so well. I am amazed that we are this OK mere weeks after being suddenly uprooted and losing almost everything we owned.

Then from extended-family land, we have a new niece this morning! She is the first granddaughter on Attic Man’s side, following five grandsons. I’d better set immediately about sending girl clothes. She has three older brothers.

And now, as a testament to the goodness of people, is the incredible (and still-growing) list of things people have done for us in response to the flood. I KNOW that we would not being doing this well were it not for the kindness of lots of people, from long-standing friends and family and strangers alike.

-Everyone who bought something from the registry. Having baking supplies in the cabinet makes it feel like home here, as is being able to take a shower behind a curtain and eat off of real dishes. Our house is coming together so quickly because of the kindness of these friends. We are giving the UPS man a real workout.

-Meg, who bought two of the most important books on the Amazon registry, the Yeats Reader and Modern Irish Drama. Meg is a dramaturgist I met while studying for a semester in Ireland as an undergrad. I carried Modern Irish Drama home with me from that semester, and while I can’t replace that exact copy, it made me cry to receive it.

-The vets at Park Towne Animal Hospital in Cedar Rapids, who conferred at their board meeting and gave us free boarding not only for the extra week the dogs stayed after the flood but the week before when we were just traveling. It was a gift worth several hundred dollars and enabled us to pay for gas to and from Madison, where they stayed for another week and a half, as well as new leashes, collars, crates, and a dog food container, all things lost in the flood. I know that vets do not make a lot of money so this was an especially generous gift.

-Speaking of money, all the family members who sent checks. We keep needing these dumb little things that one seems always just to already have around until one’s entire home gets buried in toxic sludge, like bath mats, baskets, shower curtain rings, etc. It has also helped with our more major refurnishing efforts.

-Our new landlords, who showed me the place on a Thursday, and when I returned with Attic Man on Friday, had the lease and keys on the counter. We moved in the following night. What we now understand about the housing shortage around here and rapidly rising rents (as well as the arrival of FEMA temp housing) makes us wipe our brows in relief. They really helped us dodge a bullet.

-Local friends who gave us their spare mattress and box spring and a dresser. I am not that keen on used mattresses from strangers, as crunchy as I am, and a new one would have broken the bank. It is nice to have something to sleep on. The man of the couple also helped us clean out our stuff and breathed in toxic fumes to do it.

-Our old landlord’s maintenance man, who was sent to the old house when the flood started to put in a back-up sump pump, but who stayed to help Attic Man move stuff to higher ground. When it became clear that the flood waters were going to crest at record levels, this man took the cedar chest that Attic Man’s grandfather made that was full of wedding stuff and other memorabilia, loaded it into his truck, and kept it at his own dry house.

-The Snapper’s teacher, who watched him all day the day we emptied out the upstairs and would not take a check from me for it.

-The cop who pulled me over for not having a license plate on the front (you have to do that in IA, and I was one day past due for putting mine on) and let me go to fix it. I am not proud of using the flood card but in this case it was the actual reason I hadn’t done it. I got it put on that same day.

-My brother and his wife, who let me stay an extra day at their house when the flooding started and offered to house us longer should we have needed it, and who fed, walked, and put up with our dogs for over a week.

-My sister-in-law and husband, who offered the use of their house in Michigan while they traveled elsewhere. We did not end up staying but it bolstered us to get the offer.

-My sister, who asked me what my favorite spices were and sent every single one by mail as well as brown basmati rice, baking powder, and baking soda.

-The amazing Catholic volunteers who, when Attic Man was in Davenport interning away and I just couldn’t step into that house again, cleared out all of our damaged things. It took them five hours. I baked strawberry-banana bread, which seemed like a weak gesture indeed in light of the work they did. I was glad not to have had to pick up muddy items like the Snapper’s crib mobile or that dress I loved or the books I’ve spent a lifetime collecting.

Everyone who sent words of encouragement and support. It helps more than anyone realizes.

Flooded Weeble Tree

The Snapper’s favorite toy. Within two weeks Attic Man had a replacement found on a used toy website sent to the apartment.

Read Full Post »