Friday, November 11, 2016

Step Up

I originally wrote this post for my Facebook feed -- which explains the first paragraph -- but am hopeful that by posting it here I might reach a wider audience, however small.

I realize that this post will seem to contradict my previous one (about everyone needing to calm down as none of us have the ability to foresee how things will play out), but while the presidency is one thing, the reaction of a citizenry already needing little provocation to act on their thoughts is another. 

Some of you know this, but most of you don't:

My child, Emma, is gay and identifies as non-binary, and is in a relationship with someone assigned male at birth who identifies as female and is in the process of transitioning. During election night, I received text after fearful text, was called at 2:30am, Facetimed again in the morning, and texted throughout the day. Emma was so distraught that they (Emma) didn't get out of bed to attend classes. Emma is worried about many things, but right now mostly about their girlfriend who attends school in Michigan and who is terrified to leave her room, as she had been subject to threats long before yesterday. Worse yet, her mother and stepdad moved to, of all places, North Carolina this past summer. Her father lives in Texas and is not part of her or her siblings' lives.

Emma’s own decision not to leave their room had little to do with fear, because they attend a women's college in Massachusetts (Mount Holyoke) that admits students transitioning in either direction (MtF or FtM). It is an outstanding institution not only academically, but for engendering an  atmosphere of inclusion and acceptance that is not to be found in too many places (a women's college is the safest place for a transgender student, and which is why Mount Holyoke doesn't discriminate between MtF and FtM). Emma's girlfriend (who is wonderful and who we adore) doesn't want to change schools to join Emma as she wants to finish her degree in genomics there. Meanwhile, I told Emma that her girlfriend is welcome to live with us here in NY during breaks, but both feel that no place is a safe place any more. Still, some places have got to have less risk attached than others, although it's sad that one has to even think in those terms.

It isn't just legislation that they are both worried about, although that is of great concern on so many counts (health care but one of them). It's the same thing that worries me, and this is it: In a country run by someone who openly mocks those who are "different" (the quotation marks are intentional); who chose as his running mate a person with an anti-LGBT agenda high on his list; and who has never throughout his campaign addressed and condemned those supporters who are proudly racist, xenophobic, and virulently LGBT, his supporters will feel that much freer to harass, discriminate against, and physically assault anyone they want with the belief that they will get away with it. And it’s possible that they just might.

All of us have some amount of bigotry in us, and we can deny it all we want. Some of it, I imagine, is simply a result of the accident of birth; depending what color we are born or what ethnic or religious group we are born into may sharpen our perception as much as it may obscure it. We might not blatantly act on our biases; in fact, we may not even realize that we have them. If we do recognize them, it might be that much easier to justify them especially if we've been on the receiving end of bias ourselves.

Being straight, white, Christian, and U.S.-born (I’m talking all those elements combined, and being male doesn’t hurt, either) is to live effortlessly, moving through society without having to think about what others might be thinking about you. I’ve lived with that realization my entire life. You may think that growing up Jewish in New York City, and in Brooklyn in particular, was considered a norm, and that it wasn’t an issue. You would be wrong. There were adult neighbors who spewed slurs at me and my family. One even tried to hit one of us with a stick as we passed their house. I had to take a circuitous route home from Hebrew school (which was across the street from my elementary school and only a few shorts blocks from my house) to avoid a gang of kids who knew when I’d be passing their street and were waiting to jump me. They called me a dirty jew, a monkey, and lots of other lovely appellations. And even more unfortunate, their street was the one before mine. Once one of them even chalked slurs on the sidewalk directed at me, in case their spoken words and fists didn’t speak quite loudly enough.

Many of us are familiar with the words of Edmund Burke, the Irish-born 18th century statesman and member of Parliament: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

It’s time for all of us to do something. Don’t look the other way because it doesn’t affect you. You just might be next.

Step up.

Saturday, April 02, 2016


About an hour ago, I received from my son's AP Environmental Science teacher a copy of an email sent to all students reminding them to start saving all their trash beginning tomorrow (clearly part of a current or soon-to-begin lesson plan).

Being the reigning Queen of High Sarcasm (more like a Supreme Leader, say, in the spirit of Kim Jong-Un), I feel compelled to somehow respond to her email, because the moment I read it I burst out laughing just imagining the contents of the typical suburban teen's personal trash. Then I began laughing even harder imagining the kind of trash generated by the typical suburban teen in our particular town (which is the real location of what was named "East Egg" in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby). Although not all of us live in homes for which the yearly property tax bill reaches well up into the higher five figures, and for a select few, six figures (we -- my family and I -- live in a very average neighborhood; that is, average for around here), teens here still share many of the same likes, styles, product preferences and spending habits of other teens throughout our nation.

However, most other teens have long stopped believing in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, Justin Bieber and the idea that if you work hard enough you, too, can become anything you want even if you have no idea what a legacy student is or don't have a parent or grandparent who "knows somebody."

So here goes -- a brief list of what I imagine might be found in the trash of these AP Environmental students:
  • Loose change (because coins are so annoying)
  • Crumpled dollar bills ("My nose was running and I didn't have any tissues; I mean, they're only worth a dollar, anyway!" (and at least twice the number of crumpled bills if the student in question is male)
  • This week's busted ear buds
  • A few glass phone screen shards
  • The absence note they were supposed to turn in last week
  • A scrap of paper in their mom's handwriting, with a three-digit number, then a dash, and then a four-digit number, but they can't remember what it was it like, an old morse code thing or something?
  • A used home pregnancy test wrapped up in (ironically enough) a maxi pad, because who would ever touch a used maxi pad?
  • The ignition key that they declared lost three weeks ago, costing their parents $175 to replace and reprogram, so better to throw it out than say that you found it, because now you'll REALLY be in trouble (got that right...)
  • An empty ZigZag or Tops rolling papers pack, torn into the tiniest of unidentifiable pieces...unidentifiable only if one or both parents can remember the excitement when Harry S. Truman was re-elected to serve a second term. Or maybe a partly-used or even unused pack, because who uses rolling paper anymore? Their parents?

You may wonder why I can only imagine what might be found in the the personal trash of my own high school student rather than actually know what's in it. I have some pretty valid reasons, believe me. The first one is that I don't want to know what's in his trash. I don't want to know not only because ignorance truly often is bliss when you're the parent of a teenager, but because inquiring about a questionable item or items will result in a huge blowup (at best) or even worse, could bring about that one eye-roll too many requiring the emergency surgical skills of The Top (of course) ophthalmologist.

Another reason is that except for kitchen trash, I don't actually empty the many small trash baskets throughout the house. That, believe it or not, is my son's chore. Albeit, he only does it (and it usually only needs to be done) once a week, and sometimes after multiple reminders, but no empty, no money. Did I, at his age, have more chores -- or a single but more time-consuming chore -- and did I do them without fail? Yes and yes. One weekday afternoon beginning in third or fourth grade, it was my job to clean all the bedrooms. The rooms weren't large ones, but my mother was a cleaning fanatic who cleaned these same bedrooms and every other room in the house the other six days of the week (as well as worked outside the home) and her standards were high and not to be messed with. They included using damp cotton bud tips to clean every groove and carving in every last piece of furniture; dust and then polish the furniture and make sure not to leave a single fingerprint behind; lift potted plants out of their outer decorative pots and clean the insides of the decorative ones until they were spotless; vacuum the carpets and pick up and discard even the tiniest speck that might remain or appear...the list goes on and on. And I did them, because I was told it was my job and I knew that my allowance was something to be earned, not bestowed. I also carried out these exacting instructions with a sense of dread, which wasn't unfounded, because one spot missed and there was hell to pay. My son often leaves behind a stray scrap or two (sometimes on the floor just outside the emptied trash basket), but other than perhaps mentioning it the first or second time it happened, I have not since made an issue of it. I would say that I wish he was aware that it still happens and yet I don't mention it, but coming from his mother I doubt it will mean anything to him.

Neither one of my kids ever had major chores; Emma was always eager to help out, so if I needed something from the basement or in another room all I had to do was ask. Sam needed a more structured approach, and thus the baskets. Why have neither of them cleaned as my mother did, and as I did for my mother? The answer is because I don't clean as my mother did; someone else cleans for me. I clean up, I tidy up, but I don't clean. At first, it was because cleaning the house myself eventually became something I was fortunate enough not to have to do; now, it has become something I really should be doing with one child in college and another soon on the way. Except now I actually can't do it. At the age of 55, following a lifetime of puzzling symptoms, recurring respiratory illnesses, strange inabilities, anatomical oddities and finally, increasingly diminishing mobility with no answers until I finally left my longtime physician for a new one, I learned via genetic testing that I have a form of muscular dystrophy known as Nemaline Myopathy (or Nemaline Rod Disease). My variant is a rare one within what is already classified as a rare disease in general, but as many are dead by the age of two or spend their lifetimes (long or not so long) in wheelchairs, often trached and on vents 24/7, I'm pretty fortunate. The trajectory in my case is an unknown because it has been so strange and erratic to begin with, so ending up in a wheelchair sooner or later is hardly the stuff of tragedy. And I'm also happy, because I finally know something. I've put up with a lifetime of nonsense, from parents who constantly criticized the fact that I fell a lot, or yelled about my posture or made fun of how I walked and ran, to incompetent doctors who assured me that I was simply de-conditioned because I didn't exercise, despite explaining ad infinitum that I was in pain all the time, fatigued beyond all reason, and struggled to rise from a seat.

How did I manage to go from teen-generated trash to this? I have no idea, but you know what? Trash is trash. Sometimes it's tangible, sometimes it isn't, and sometimes we are equally responsible for generating the latter as we are the former. When examined up close, out in the open and piece by piece, both kinds say a lot about us, and sometimes they even tell a story. Many of us are warned from a young age not to "air our garbage" and pay a heavy price for leaving even a tiny stray bit behind that others might chance to come across.

That was my childhood. It was even a good part of my young adulthood.

And then I kicked over the garbage can.