Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Post 9-11 Moment for Oakland?

You have all probably guessed the reason I have not blogged for a rather long time. Let's just say it wasn't the ski trip I took with my son on March 19th and 20th, which was lovely Mom-and-Niko bonding time. That ski trip seems like a hundred years ago now, in a totally different era. Which of course it was, the pre-3/21 era, before four Oakland police officers were shot and killed. My husband knew all four men; even I had met two. Erv Romans was an old friend of B's; Dan Sakai was one of B's patrol sergeants. Our emotions related to this are so raw and difficult that I don't even care to delve into them here. I do thank all my dear friends and family for their calls and support. Our thoughts and prayers go to the families of the fallen.

What B and I have both acknowledged is that this event is like 9/11 for Oakland. It even has a catchy date: 3/21 or "three-two-one." The post-9/11 moment of unity, as we all know, was squashed, squandered and frittered away. But let's hope the post-3/21 is not.

I often wonder about applying the lessons I've learned from my marriage - that even vast differences, of beliefs, politics, and culture - can be overcome and conflict replaced by deep respect and understanding. Note this is not the same as agreement. Without even agreeing, respect softens the space between parties and builds a solid foundation for problem-solving. Obviously larger conflicts are infinitely more complicated.

One of the elements of overcoming differences is both sides have to be willing to listen, and both sides need to express themselves civilly. That may leave out certain extreme elements in this particular conflict. Still I'm trying to imagine. A community discussion between the Oscar Grant protestors and police supporters - what would that look like? I know that Thich Nhat Hanh conducts something along these lines at his retreat center, Plum Village, in France. It also might be something like the Truth and Reconciilation process in South Africa. I promise to learn more about this and report back here.

Of course there would also have to be a leader. Mayor Dellums does not seem up to the task - whether due to age or infirmity, I'm not sure. Some have called for Obama to come, but the economy seems to be keeping him pretty busy. Keith Carson? Barbara Lee? You and me?

I haven't reported back on our meeting with my son's teacher related to her singling my son out for criticism in front of the class and criticizing the portrait of his father in Iraq. Bottom line it went well. The hardest part about it was the anticipation and imagination of things going bad. In the 3/9/09 New Yorker(little guy in big suit on cover, a line from David Foster Wallace's most famous work, "Infinite Jest" was quoted. The character Don Gately thinks "everything unendurable was in the head, was the head not Abiding in the Present but hopping the wall and doing a recon and then returning with unendurable news."

So it was with the meeting with the teacher. When we got there she agreed to stop singling him out, tried to explain it as a technique to exert peer pressure when he had not followed initial instructions, but when we insisted, she apologized and backed down. As far as the art, she explained that early in the school year, my son had told her that he was "a terrible drawer," and she had responded by saying, "I can teach you to draw." And that's what she was trying to do.

While this exchange didn't make everything absolutely perfect in the classroom, it is again, amazing how much it softened things when the teacher 1)responded to our request re the singling out; and 2)gave a reason for the art criticism that wasn't meanness or spite. It's also interesting to me how VITAL it was for my son that we go through this process, how important it was for him to see that his parents listened to his hurts and addressed them. All I'm saying is sometimes the process of communication goes an amazingly long way to solving a conflict. The actual solution part is almost EASY once their is mutual respect and understanding.

I got a nice review of Love in Condition Yellow in Kirkus where they said: "Besides a clear understanding of who she is and what she wants, Raday has a solid sense of humor, an ear for dialogue and an eye for telling detail."

I have seen an actual advance copy of The Book, so it will soon EXIST! Please mark your calendars for the May 1 launch party at Books Inc in San Francisco.

To go to my website home page, please click here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Art Lesson

In an earlier post I talked about one of my seven-year-old son’s drawings, a picture of his father, which his teacher had criticized, saying “Does my torso look like that?” The drawing was an in-class assignment to illustrate a homework project called “the personal timeline.” For every year of my son’s life, he wrote one sentence describing something important that happened.

My son’s drawing is on a small white paper, about two inches square. Back in January, when he first showed it to me, he unfolded it from a tiny tight little bundle, as if he had tried to make it as small as possible. After I’d reassured him I thought it was a very good drawing, I asked if I could keep it. When he agreed, I tucked it among my credit cards.

A week or so ago, I pulled it from my purse to show a friend who directs an arts education program, while telling her the story of his teacher’s reaction. She shook her head, murmuring, “but art is about creating meaning…” She looked at the drawing intently, noting the simple figure, the flower-like hands, the black shoes, a long neck, a round head. A sun in the corner had been erased and then enlarged to take up about a quarter of the paper. “Did you ask him what it is?” My friend inquired.
“It’s his father.” I said.

“But what does it mean?” she said. “Look, the clothes are colored green. Do you think it’s a military uniform?”

I leaned over to look at the drawing with her, an uneasy feeling growing within me. It had been weeks since my son came home, eyes downcast, and handed me this picture, “do you think this is any good?” Weeks since we lay together at bedtime and talked about his feelings of anxiety in his classroom.

Why had I never thought to ask him what the picture meant?

I didn’t think to pursue it further. Why? I guess because… I thought I understood enough to know what action I needed to take. My son had drawn a loving, innocent portrait of his father. I saw my own seven-year-old self drawing and being criticized. My son was vulnerable and I needed to protect him. I thought that’s what was important, that I protect my son.

“Maybe it’s his father coming home,” my friend suggested.

I realized another reason I didn’t ask. I didn’t like to think about the fifteen months my husband was gone, the days of anxiety, the pretending I was okay, the occasional vortex of panic – the day my two-year-old turned off my cellphone ringer, and I ended up with six voicemail messages, the first only a jumble of voices screaming “call 9-1-1! call 9-1-1!” I didn’t know it, but my son had punched his hand through a window, and was bleeding profusely. The next message was my mother telling me she was riding in the ambulance with him to Children’s Hospital. Another time when our car battery died during a snowstorm in Tahoe and the car couldn’t be jumped because my keyless remote battery was also dead, and after hitching a ride with the tow truck, they closed the highway back and I thought I’d be separated from my children. Or the day I saw a newspaper headline, through the vending machine glass, a headline that yet another police station in Iraq had been bombed, prompting me to call my doctor’s office sobbing, “I need valium! I need valium!”

Later, after my friend had left and my three-year-old daughter was down for the night, I asked him. “Sweetie, what’s that drawing about? Is it for Daddy coming home?”

“No, it’s for 2003.” My son had had trouble coming up with an event for that year, and I remembered that I mentioned that was the year the Iraq war started. So that’s what he’d used, “2003: The United States invades Iraq.”

“See Mom,” he explained, happy to be asked. “Daddy’s in the desert all alone, and this is the sun blazing down on him.”

I remember when my son read us all the elements of his personal timeline, 2003 upset him. “Stupid Iraq,” he fumed, his face screwing up in an effort not to cry, “Why did Daddy have to go?” A reasonable question, and one his father answered soberly, “Because I am a soldier.”

For many of the families whose loved ones died, or whose loved ones came home physically or mentally disabled, and even for the lucky families, like mine, who merely suffered from the deployment’s separation, we ask this question:
Why did he have to go?

What does the war in Iraq mean?

It’s hard to listen to someone struggle with a question like this. It may be a lot easier to comment on how the proportions in their drawing aren’t accurate. Or to supply our own answer. But each and every search for meaning should be honored. And each and every answer, no matter how different, should be heard.

To go to my website home page, click here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My New Ski Buddy

Hi All
I thought I'd post some photos of Mommy Sophia and how she skis now, which is to say, backwards on telemark skis. Not to be fancy, but just so I can see the little one behind me is faring. Above is a shot from a few years back as I was getting him ready to go.

And here's how we'd travel down the hill in those days. When I had to hike uphill to rescue him, it was (and still is) a lot easier when my heel is free. ("Free your heel, free your mind," we telemarkers like to say. "Half a binding, half a brain" is the standard retort.)

These photos were from over three years ago. So the video below, from a recent trip to the snow, shows how the little guy is gaining confidence:

Little Guy takes after his father: no thwack-thwacking.