Sunday Morning~

Washington DC.  It is the week of my annual professional meeting, where 2,000 midwives converge for education and political meetings. It’s the week our estrogen levels rise dramatically.  There’s a lot of love in this place. Working in a solo practice I’ve been professionally lonely for a long time. I rarely miss this meeting as I gorge myself on sharing with my tribe; a frenetic reunion with fellow students and past colleagues. We reminisce, brainstorm, collaborate, party, and nurture each other.  I can’t live without it.

This year I was one of the presenters and spoke about caring for women affected by war.  My presentation was early this morning, and since Zack’s distillery opening was yesterday in Boston, the timing was off, to say the least.  I couldn’t miss either event.  Out of the question.

So early on Thursday I headed to Boston with my–––what do you call boyfriend at this age? (Guess I’ll leave that for another blog post when it’s been a slow week.)  Here’s a quick synopsis of activity since hitting the road: Arrive at distillery and see there is A LOT to be done before Saturday.  Survey the scene and decide we need food before we get our hands dirty. Walk up to fabulous Brazilian bakery for great sandwiches. Throw car keys to panicked son who needs to run to Home Depot for supplies after hearing he has 1.5 hours to fulfill new requirements for the health inspection. Realize we will be eating quickly. Industrial cleaning chores for the next several hours––satisfying but disgusting.  Walk to nearby brewery for much-needed and well-deserved beer.

Friday. Haymarket for cucumbers, mint, and lemons. Nursery for flowering plants. Decorating, cleaning, cleaning, rearranging, cleaning, stocking, cleaning.  Place looks pretty good!

Saturday.  Unavoidable awkwardness with ex-husband having me in the same location. Relief to see this is possible. Chop cucumbers, more rearranging, pick and clean mint, do what we are told. Move operation outside to sidewalk after they hit capacity and need our bodies removed.  Over 500 people with a 49 person capacity. It was a dance.  A bit of a nerve-wracking dance, but wonderful time with family and friends waiting in line, sharing my new love, pulling together, bursting with pride, relishing accomplishment. Short Path Distillery. How thrilling to see this become a reality after all the years of planning and hard work.  Couldn’t have missed that.

Six pm head south to DC.  A seven hour drive should be cake after the week we had.  Just get in the car and drive, listen to music, and rehearse my presentation.  It was a good plan until Connecticut when the torrential rain started. So the seven hour drive turned into nine and a half and I was never so happy to have that GPS.  I’d have been driving around trying to find this place until the sun came up. Find my room after finding the hotel. Crept in, trying not to disturb my roommates, dropped my bags and collapsed. Three hours of sleep, up and shower, find the speaker ready room, get my presentation loaded onto the system, do the talk (oh good! people showed up!), food, meeting, keynote speaker, Capitol Hill lesson for our lobby day (700 of us going there on Tuesday!), and now the final push to regional meeting and an movie about birth trends in America.

Been busy.

Then sleep. Happy sleep.

Sunday Morning~ Summer Solace

It’s pouring rain after the brilliant day we had yesterday.  I sat at mass this morning moved by the faces of people passing by after communion. Graceful, holy, kind faces. What were they thinking as they walked by? The church was full today.  Maybe the rain had something to do with that or maybe people wanted to come together, worship, and be grateful for that freedom. Maybe it was solidarity for the nine who died this week in South Carolina. Nine people shot as they worshiped in a place they deemed safe and sacred. This morning I never once worried that someone would enter the church and kill us. I could sit peacefully and meditate. I thought of how many people worried that I would be killed when I went to Congo. I wondered if they worried about people going to church in South Carolina, or the movies in Colorado, or first grade in Connecticut.

I listened this week to our president speak with overwhelming grace and grief about the hatred and destruction that prevails in this country. Again I wonder how this can still be happening? How can we as a higher life form still find reason to kill one another?

Human beings are all the same race.  We all originated in Africa and our skin color has only to do with climate. We are all the same. Why then did we evolve with so much hatred? What happened to our species? When did greed enter the timeline? What purpose could that have served? Why isn’t enough good enough?

I realize that the Catholic mass has language that can be archaic and dogmatic. I listened today, not only to the scripture, but the hymns, in a different way.  One father of all. Okay, paternalistic, sure, but today is Father’s Day so let’s go with the same father for everyone––for today. Tomorrow it can be mother, or spirit, or whatever.  That’s not important to me. What is important is the idea that we are all the same family.  Not just the people in this church, but all of us.  All of humanity. All the same family. How can we help our family members who have gone so far off the rails? How can we protect the victims they harm?

The faces I saw this Sunday morning give me comfort. And hope.

Sunday Morning~ Punished by Rewards

My friend came over this week to catch up. It had been way too long and there was much to tell. The only night we could manage was when she was committed until 9 at the high school awards night, and though I’m an early-to-bed girl, I said, “Come afterward. I’ll rally.” When it approached 9:45, I figured she wasn’t coming.  I was getting ready for bed, when she called from the car saying, “I just got done! Can I still come?”  I happily shifted out of park, said Yes!, put my toothbrush down and pulled out the nice wine glasses.  The days are longer and sleep could wait.

She arrived, removed her heels, and gave an exasperated sigh. She started describing the ceremony and I realize that nothing much has changed since I last went to one.  I asked, “Did ten kids win all one hundred awards?” She looked up at me, “Yes! Exactly!  It was so sad!”  Oh really?  Sad that the entire graduating class must march in full regalia, sit for three hours, and watch organizations give out awards and scholarships? When the few lucky winners are mostly kids who are already advantaged? Someone else finds that sad?

I have two experiences of high school graduation. My own and my childrens’.  We didn’t have an awards ceremony at my high school.  There were a couple of scholarships that were given out to graduating seniors but they were done at the graduation itself, and the few other awards were given at a school assembly.  So when my oldest son graduated, I experienced a new phenomenon: Awards Night.  This is a grand ceremony, held the Thursday evening before graduation. The seniors march in cap and gown as the band plays Pomp and Circumstance and weepy mothers look on with pride.

My oldest was the first of his generation to graduate, so it was a big thing.  Lots of family came and we all settled into the bleachers for the ceremony. I was excited. My son was smart. He was popular. He was the only student in the history of the school to take four years of two languages and become proficient in them.  Ok, he had his issues, and wasn’t valedictorian or anything, but I was proud of him. Why I thought his name might ever be called, was what?  Wishful thinking? The language award at least?

We sat for hours, while the same ten kids went up to that stage over and over and over. I was mortified. Why on earth would they make all these kids sit here like losers? And the description of the recipient before it is announced!  They read all these glowing qualities, and one thinks, yes, that’s my child….oh, no, wait, that’s not my child.  That’s the same child that won the last award.  And the one before that. At one point, my seven year old niece turned to me and said, “Wow, they have a lot of Brittanys in that class!” I said, “No honey.  That’s the same girl going up there over and over.”

I entered that gymnasium a proud parent. I left an angry, bitter, mamma bear. I brought it up at the next PTA meeting. I asked why it was necessary to have a whole evening of embarrassment for students and parents before graduation?  It sounded like sour grapes, I’m sure.  Oh, just because your kid (and this would become kids, plural, over the next six years) didn’t win anything? Well, it’s not that my kids didn’t win anything (though I thought he, at least, deserved the language award!) , but most of the kids didn’t win anything!!!! Why do you make them sit there to watch that?  The principal, presiding over this meeting, said all the kids have to do to get an award was to fill out the application, and only a few of them do, that’s why there are so few recipients.  My response to that was, then why is it such a big fucking achievement? One that deserves making hundreds of people watch?  Oh! That’s because the organizations that give the awards like being recognized. It’s good public relations. (This was actually used as a rational explanation.)

I never got anywhere with this over the six years my kids were in high school, though I brought it up every chance I got. I quoted Alfie Kohn, The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, somehow thinking observations and research by an expert in education would add weight to my argument. Nope. Deaf ears. My own sour grapes was seen as the motivator there. I continued to suffer through, what I called: Awards Night aka The Public Shaming of the Majority of Students, and after my twins graduated, I dropped it.

So my friend arrived Thursday night and I learned that nothing has changed.  Not sure if I’ll add this to my list of social injustice causes, but I reveled in seeing someone else be upset about it.

Sunday Morning~ Free Time

My employment history starts at age nine when I was a paper girl.  I was in fourth grade and had an afternoon route delivering the Lowell Sun to twenty houses in and around my neighborhood. I had a canvas sack that went over one shoulder and I’d reach in, pull the paper out, fold it into thirds, and tuck it into the prescribed location.  Some people wanted it inside the screen door, some just on the porch, some on the front step.  I don’t remember how long it took, maybe an hour or so, the houses were not far apart.  I did have some customers up on Wilson’s Hill, and that was a slog, but as I recall, those tips were good.

I don’t know how I ended up with that route.  I know my brothers had it, and I took it over from them, but don’t remember why. There was a morning paper as well, but I didn’t deliver those.  That was when the news was hand-delivered morning and evening, and major events were discovered that way.  Incredible to think that little people with canvas bags brought world news to your doorstep. It always seemed someone was at home.  Some houses had empty driveways and locked doors, but those were rare.  Working mothers were a rare breed back then–––well, those who worked for pay. Most mothers I knew worked hard doing thankless chores with talents and gifts barely appreciated.

On Sundays, there was no evening paper so it was a morning job. Sometimes my mother would drive me so I could get it done before church. Those papers were heavier, and being a scrawny kid, I couldn’t even carry them. If I walked the Sunday route I had to leave half at home and go get more when my bag was empty.

Saturdays, the man would come to collect the money and give me my pay.  He’d come to the kitchen door during morning cartoons and interrupt my Road Runner time.  Someone would yell, “The Paper Guy is here!”  (that’s what he was known as, The Paper Guy, I had no idea what his name was) and I would get up from my perch in front of the TV, go to the kitchen counter and stand there while he counted out the cash. From that vantage point I could still look to my left and catch Wily Coyote action. Directly ahead I could look down the hallway, where my sister, looking for live entertainment, would to try to make me laugh in front of The Paper Guy, who, yes, was very cute. When the funny faces didn’t work, she’d do a geisha dance or something different every week, always dissolving me into giggles.  She stopped the week I told him it was my sister making me laugh, and he turned to look down the hallway to see her dive into the living room in her little pink bathrobe.

I wasn’t allowed to keep that money.  It had to go into my bank account for some future important purpose I never questioned.  We weren’t poor.  In fact, I think we were rather well-off in that town, but my father had come from abject poverty and saving pennies was never open for discussion.  We did as we were told.

So here I am on the eve of leaving my job, without a solid plan for a paycheck and it is very uncomfortable. When one has had steady employment since age nine, this is a little unsettling. There’s a whole role change, a persona shift, just like becoming a parent or having an empty nest. I didn’t see myself as a kid who was doing something important delivering those papers, but it did give me a sense of accomplishment. People were kind to me and seemed to appreciate having their paper handed to them.  That was nice. In high school (having handed off the route to my sister), I worked in a local tailor shop doing alterations and hemming pants for the men who worked at Digital. That was satisfying and paid well––a whole $1.15/ hour (which was more than double what I got for babysitting). Retirement seemed so far away it was like never. At our last national conference, the midwives my age all sat around wondering why they don’t offer any lectures on how to retire? What do you do when you don’t have to complain about going to work? That’s going to be a bit of space to fill.

I got an apology this week for not having been “sensitive to my concerns.” Progress?  Maybe.  Desperate plea? Probably. But it’s a chink that I might be able to tap a wedge into.

The process of saying goodbye is heart wrenching and time consuming. I should write a letter to everyone, and will, but that seems impersonal and inadequate. I want to explain to everyone individually what brought me to this, what’s wrong with our system, how I was enabling by putting up with it, on and on.  I need to let them know I’m not abandoning them, though it may feel that way.  Most have been incredibly understanding and I’m grateful for that.  I wish I had a little sister to hand this off to.