Monday, December 15, 2014

Seven nights to go

But considering that my last three shifts involved two RRTs and a fifteen hour night, I'm not cracking open the (pointless non-alcoholic) champagne just yet.

I don't know how I'd feel about nursing if I was less tired. I do know that right now I only feel broken. Completely broken. Dangerously, hormonally, on-the-edge-of-mood-disordered broken. I would advise individuals with a family history of severe, unrelenting depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, and bulimia to avoid night shift when possible. Particularly when a chunk of that history was written by said individuals and the professionals paid to manage them.

If you're interested, my fetus supposedly is five inches long now. I can feel her move. I alternate between being distressed about the havoc this has wrought -- wreaked? -- on my previously somewhat-flat abdomen and feeling like the possibility of the kid effing off at this point is manageable because I haven't yet crossed a hundred twenty pounds.

Because, discouragingly, it still seems to bear pointing out: what I described right there is pathological. That set of feelings about one's pregnant body is not "real talk" so much as it is progress notes for a professional helper of some kind. Please do not take from this that the expectation of maintaining a flat abdomen or one's ninth-grade weight into one's second trimester is appropriate.

When I read "news" features and links about baby bumps and baby weight, I feel like an alien, because no matter how thin I were to become, I wouldn't ever consider my body "bikini ready".  Not because I dislike how it looks but because I value the person living in it too much to evaluate her based on what some stranger thinks her body parts look like.

But I do feel like if I can just keep my body un-soft, I can keep myself from being broken by loss if the pregnancy doesn't work out. It's there, a worry as I drag my exhausted self to work and back, how my default is to confuse lack of affect with invulnerability and invulnerability with strength, and to beeline for the lowest common denominator at all times. It reminds me of girlfriends and boyfriends who I identified as such only after the fact, when I realized that you can become pretty cruel without expressing a single emotion.

I feel like this is a more interesting experience of the pregnant body, as grim as it sounds and feels, than the distress calls about boobs that fail to regain their elasticity -- which, I don't know. I don't feel capable of strong feelings about my breasts, prepartum or post. I.... don't really spend much time looking at my boobs, because I have yet to learn Russian or finish Game of Thrones or pay off my student loan debt, and because life is finite.

I don't know if my kind of fears are also what other moms and women are actually talking about when they fret about their bodies, or if there exist women for whom the expectation that they bodies look a specific way segueways into straight-up shame and doubt and not cynicism and dark humor.  I'm not afraid of my body not being sexy,  first, because if you feel entitled to have an opinion on my physical appearance and you are not financing its maintenance, you and I have radically different views on women and what they owe you; second, because my ability to live comfortably in it is predicated on my belief that my body isn't sexy, and isn't required to be or supposed to be. But I am very afraid of my body being out of my control. Of the fact that my body is out of my control. And of the reality that at some point I may come to count on it to do things -- make it through another night shift; carry this child; keep it alive -- and it won't.

My body's not a good body. It's just bad for a set of reasons entirely distinct from those Facebook persistently opines that I "might like" to read about.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Micah 6:8 fails

Well, now I just don't know what to think.

We -- meaning me, and all the people producing Newsweek covers and clever Facebook memes on my behalf -- have come to excel at marketable, apolitical, existential kinds of tragedies. Remember how much we all loved each other after 9-11? Remember two Decembers ago, how the silver lining for those of us without actual dead children was the general sense that everyone we loved was so real and our differences and pettiness receded to make room for all our love for Sandy Hook and its families?

I'm only feeling a little ugly as I write that. Really, it does matter, in a good way, how certain kinds of tragedies bring helpers and  hope-ers out of the woodwork.

But I am just lost here. Because when other people's husbands and dads and sons are being slaughtered like they are not real - less like animals or "unborn children", each of whom we launch crazed campaigns to defend, than like abstractions, Goombas to stomp on our way to the real enemy -- my impulse to to grab at my husband, my son, my dad. I want to take my kid home and watch The Nightmare Before Christmas on a loop and ignore any coming moment in which I cannot encase his entire body in my own. I want to remember that life is short and precarious and to be grateful for what I have.

But that response seems wrong when the disaster that inspires it impacts me so much differently than it does other people. By "differently", I mean less; by "other people", I mean black people.

The reality is that while we all are at risk of losing those we love, what's actually going on in our country puts me in a much less vulnerably position than lots of other moms/daughters/wives, because the people I love most in the world are white people. Because my father's body just got done occupying the attention of a team of neurosurgeons and anesthesiologists and lasers and robots, bent on keeping him alive, and Eric Garner's body -- similar to my dad's in a lot of ways, different in one apparently game-changing one -- got crushed into the street by a kid I cannot think of in any term more generous than "punk". Because when my dad, never one for histrionics, allowed that he was in pain, my mom and I badgered his nurse for better drugs and the nurse pushed them into his vein and I hovered like a Snoopy vulture over the monitor tracking his breathing as it dipped and then rose. Because my dad never had to say "I can't breathe", much less gasp the words out while one public servant choked him to death and three more held him down.

So we're not all together in this. And I don't really know how to be a bad guy, but I can't stop feeling complicit because what's happened in Missouri and Ohio and now New York makes me feel shitty and stressed out on the one hand, and actively threatens to destroy and/or end people's lives, on the other.

I guess this is what white people are getting at when they #crimingwhilewhite . It's hard for me to get into that, partly because I did grow up afraid of cops; because white privilege looks radically different for different people and doesn't actually make cops your friends, especially not if your particular shade of "white" is most commonly a modifier for the word "trash".

I don't have any stories about breaking laws and getting away with it. I was twenty-five before I stopped crossing the street to avoid police. But that's the thing about individual good fortune versus institutionalized privilege: my experience doesn't have to be a stereotype of getting away with shit and free rides home for our criminal justice system to be unfair. The challenges that individual white people face does not speak to the reality or unreality of racism and injustice, and arguing over how hard or easy specific white lives are is most useful is you are trying to avoid the issue of how to un-fuck our system and its unchecked assault on black ones.

What actually matters is not how privilege functions in my life but how my privilege functions in the lives of the Garners and the Browns and the Rice's -- how things not being so bad for me (where by "so bad", I mean, my husband is on his way home and my dad's saturating well on room air and watching Fox News) perpetuates a system where this is the result we get.

That's what I have to remember -- not because "white guilt" is useful to anyone, but because maintaining the belief that this is affecting us all the same way turns an actual problem demanding correction into an emotional journey or existential crisis.

I am very sad and afraid and confused. And also, if I really want to love mercy or do justice, I have to be able to go past that to finding a way to resist this. Even though doing so is uncomfortable, and even though I don't really know how, and even though insofar as I benefit from this ugly paradigm in which the bodies of the people I love are ascribed a greater value than those of other people's loved ones, I am implicated in the system we are each called to take apart.

I'm don't know how, and I feel like it's presumptuous even to assume I can figure it out. But I do think it's encouraging that people -- including those of us whom racism may distort, but isn't actively in the business of killing -- are trying to think this through. It's irritating to me that my first step seems to be working out my own screwed upness and complicity in order to find a way to usefully move forward. Dragons are more fun to slay than darlings. But then, times are hard all over these days.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

white mom thoughts

I want to preface this by saying that if you haven't already read at least a fat portion of the blogs, op-eds, and essays black writers have produced since the shootings in Ferguson and in Ohio and since the grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, please go do that now. Because there is no way I'm the voice anyone needs to be hearing about this shitshow; I just happen to need to process it for myself so I can get some sleep.

I am a mom, though. And while I don't like the kind of "women are magic" essentialism inherent in the idea that moms have some sort of special knowledge other human beings lack, I do know that now I am vulnerable in a way I wasn't for the first three decades of my life. I can imagine a world in which I sustain the loss of my parents, my brother, my best friend, my husband. But the day my child is gone, I'm essentially just biding my time until I can extract myself from this world without causing similar ruin for my own parents. 

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

Pretty much, Auden. 

Is that why it's so easy to talk about whether or not Mike Brown was charging or stumbling towards Darren Wilson, how likely he was to have taken away his gun, and so apparently hard to acknowledge that a woman's life might be over now? Her child is dead. Exactly which choice are you claiming was so egregious that his death is made any less insane, any less obscene? Why did we work so hard to call for help for Adam Lanzas and Dylan Klebolds and Eric Harrises and shrug at Leslie McSpadden? 

Again, this is a painfully obvious question, I think, if you're not white, which is why a lot of us seem to be talking about two entirely different stories with two entirely different sets of characters. I'm asking this now because my son is not in the same kind of danger as his classmates and neighbors, so I could take my time figuring it out. There's one definition of privilege. 

It seems now that the forensic and ballistic evidence don't support the initial image of a kid with his hands up, begging Wilson not to shoot. But it's a pretty vast fucking leap from that discovery to the conclusion that what "we" need to do is for black parents and their black kids to act differently so they don't get gunned down in the street. 

And I feel like the people I hear talking now, the people white people are kind of lining up to listen to now, are the ones who want to talk about that, rather than about what seems to be the more immediately relevant issue of how we need cops to stop shooting black kids. 

Wilson may have acted out of fear for his life; he may have been doing what he was trained to do. He doesn't have to be a demon, himself, for this loss to be unbearable and unacceptable. 

But it is. It is unbearable and it is unacceptable. 

Mike Brown may have been reckless or aggressive in the minutes leading up to his death; I don't know. It is unacceptable that he died. 

Darren Wilson might have believed -- because of this behavior, or because of his attitudes about young black men, or both -- that he needed to shoot him to protect his own life. 

And it is still unacceptable that Mike Brown died. 

It may have been the case that Mike Brown was attempting to take Wilson's gun, and Wilson's actions were necessary to protect his life -- and it is still unacceptable that Mike Brown died. 

Whoever is training and supporting and regulating police officers in the  United States has to do so in a way in which cops are not shooting teenagers, whether out of personal racism or lack of resources or both. Because even if we assume that Wilson exercised the only option available to him -- a proposition I'm hardly convinced of, but which I'm also not in a position to refute, since I wasn't there and since so much of the testimony is contradictory  -- he should have had other options. 

If Mike Brown's life mattered enough to the people staffing, training, and regulating the police force, Wilson would have had other options. As scared as I am for my own child, I can't think of one red headed white boy who has been gunned down by a cop, under any circumstances. Not even the ones who kill other children. The school shooters whose deaths generated conversations not about their parents' behavior but about mental health resources died at their own hands. 

If we -- our society, which claims to value everyone equally but which seems unable to come up with anything less outrageous than parenting advice for the parents of the black children we shoot -- if we want to be better, I believe we can. We can make it unacceptable for police to kill black teenagers, even ones playing with toy guns or "charging at" cops. I know this because currently it is unacceptable to kill white teenagers. 

But I don't see how it will happen as long as we keep focusing on -- in the case of kids like Tamir Rice, shamefully digging up -- perceived differences between our white kids, who we want so badly to believe are safe, and other people's black kids, whose vulnerability we want so badly to distance ourselves from. 

To the degree my son is safe from this particular danger, he is safe because he is white. Not because he, or I, or his dad, have done anything different or better than other children and and their families. 

Either this is acceptable to me or it isn't. 

If it's not --  and evidently, it has been acceptable to me up to this point, because here we are -- it needs to change. 

But there's no way to change it while imagining the issue is something other than what it is -- something to do with Mike Brown's behavior, or kids playing with guns, or black on black violence. The issue is the relative value afforded to kids like Mike Brown and Tamir Rice versus kids like mine. And while I have no idea how to recalibrate, it's apparent to me that we have to do this. The alternative is to hold my son's skin color like a talisman, banking on its magic ability to keep him safe while his brown-skinned friends die and we keep talking about how they should have known better.