Archive for October, 2013

Letters to my children

October 27, 2013

When I was starting out in the newsroom I edited obituaries.

It skewed my perspective on mortality. A good number more than you’d think are young people.

People my age died everyday. They died on the freeway, and they died of heart disease. One woman who went to high school with me died of AIDS. Another had an unexpected seizure. They left behind babies.

I was not yet 30.

It began to occur to me that my chances of survival on any given day could be good, could be bad.

I stopped taking the freeway to work.

I filled out my own obit form with my history and favorite charity. I wrote down the song I wanted played at my service.

Then I wrote letters to my children, just in case. They offered comfort, love and acceptance. They revealed what I saw in them that was good.

It wasn’t enough. I wrote more letters.

I wrote letters to be opened on their wedding days.

It wasn’t enough.

By the time I was through, there were stacks of letters for each child. They included graduation, first home purchase and first baby. Then I had to write letters for  in case one of them didn’t graduate, get married or have a baby. There were some to be opened in the event of unexpected pregnancy or in case they were gay.

I went completely round the bend thinking of circumstances I should lend a voice to.

I was writing to sophisticated people I didn’t even know. During this frenzy, my kids were 3 and 5.

Now they’re almost 15 and 17. I can throw most of the letters out. They know I would support whatever they decided to do about a pregnancy. They know I don’t care if they’re gay. They know I’m proud of the people they’ve become, and they have the strength and confidence to choose futures that make them happy.

They’ve had the benefit of witnessing my values as far as marriage, parenting, drinking and humor. I’ve taught them both how to cook, sew and play poker.

Thanks to this blog, they even have all the family stories.

I’m not ready to die, but tonight I’ve decided something close. I’m ready to relax.

My husband’s student’s death

October 22, 2013

My husband teaches in a high poverty, high crime high school in Southern California.

He’s told me stories about the kids’ not having toilet paper, hunting dinner out of dumpsters, raising siblings.

There’s also a lot of gang activity. One afternoon he called me upset, because one of his students — a 14-year-old boy — had been shot in both knees. The counselor had sent an e-mail to excuse tardiness. The child’s walking was slow.

Another day he was calling me on his cell phone, telling me it was slow getting off campus. “Oh here’s the problem, a child has been stabbed.”

I pictured him stepping over the body with his Razr to his ear and briefcase in hand, but it probably wasn’t like that.

I don’t think a year has gone by when his roll sheet hasn’t decreased because of a shooting.

But this story isn’t about a gang killing. This is about a teacher killing a kid.

A few years ago the basketball coach took her team for a hazing exercise. She tried to drop the girls in a bad neighborhood in the middle of night and have them find their way back to her house during a sleepover.

This would help them bond.

One player didn’t want to get out of the back of the van. She was afraid.

The teacher drove forward and back, slamming the brakes, until the child fell out. She landed on the back of her head on the street.

Coach waited an untoward while before calling for help.

This was the second time in my husband’s then 15-year teaching career he planned to go to one of his best students’ funerals.

He took this one hard, and needed to tell me all about it.

This would lead to some trouble for us.

He told me that this teacher would have lost her job the year before for violent behavior in class (I think she broke a clipboard in a rage or something), but her aunt was a member of the school board, and vouched for her.

The staff had been told not to talk to the media. I pictured them looking at him when they said this. They knew he was married to media. The administration was trying to control the story.

I was in a bad spot.

This is exactly the kind of news the public has a right to know. People send their children to school trusting there is some core concern for providing safe supervision.

Tattling on people abusing power is our job. Protecting the community is why many of us are in the business. I couldn’t not report this. I couldn’t be an accomplice.

I called it in. He felt betrayed.

The parents pulled the plug on the girl Sunday. The injury happened on Friday.

By then, it was a big story without my help. Likely the girl’s family had a thing or two to shout, school reputation be damned.

My husband gave a eulogy at the service, and was on the TV news saying what a promising future the girl had.

Our marriage survived the conflict of loyalties, and the coach was fired.

If anything like this has happened since, I wouldn’t know.

The comma argument

October 13, 2013

My family spent my mother’s birthday dinner in a heated argument about a comma.

I’m aghast that anyone would take a stand against me on this issue.

I am a linguist and an editor.

I may be so confused by science I believe there are little people inside my TV box, but it would be impossible to know more about punctuation than I.

The mark in question is the one often erroneously placed before the conjuction in a simple list: He picked his guitar, friends, and nose.

Today after school one of our closest family friends was attacked by my children. “What’s your opinion on the comma?”

“I don’t care.” Poor kid. He was wondering why he is our friend.

“You must.” I don’t know why they valued his support so strongly. This is a child who pronounces the ‘L’ in ‘talk.’

My daughter, by the way, is for the comma, as is my mother. My son and I are on the side of reason.

The children began to present their positions — simultaneously. My son called me in to define the rule. I used my voice of authority.

“You put a comma before the conjunction in a list only if the last item has a conjunction in it: Myles listens to Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers, and Donny and Marie. This rule is for clarity. It’s a favor to the reader.”

Myles gave me an ugly look.

My daughter insisted, contrarywise, that it’s using the comma indiscriminately that adds clarity. She began to expound, “If I ate macaroni and cheese first, then potatoes,” (big pause) “and steak….”

“Wait a minute!” I interrupted. “No vegetables? You won’t have to worry about commas. You’ll end up with a semi-colon.”

The children sent me back out of the room.

The lady in white story

October 11, 2013

This is another family legend. I expect I will get different versions as cousins and aunts read today’s post. I hope so.

When my grandmother’s mother was 5 she was orphaned. Her father had died in a silver-mining accident. Then her mother died giving birth to what would have been my grama’s aunt or uncle.

She lived in a small village in Chihuahua, Mexico.

At the end of her mother’s funeral, everybody followed the hearse carriage down the dusty road. It was too fast for her, and she was separated from the procession.

No one noticed that she was left behind.

She was lost in the mountains, and night fell.

Then a woman in white appeared and took her by the hand.  They walked together through the village to the child’s aunt’s door.

The woman in white never spoke.

She knocked on the door, but the aunt, who answered the knock, never saw her. When the girl turned around, she had vanished.

I think it’s assumed it was her mother, come to lead to her to safety before crossing into the light.

Either that or it was a hiking lab tech who didn’t know Spanish.

My mother and the blind guy

October 9, 2013

My mom once ditched a blind guy cuz he was scary.

When she was in college, she signed up to read books to him.

She didn’t know anything about him, save he had no sight, when she went to meet him in the university’s library.

He made a dramatic entrance.

He was large and tall, and he came in roaring and waving and banging his cane. He wore a big black cape and a spy hat. His arms were replaced by hooks at the elbow. His eyes were hollow sockets, but he had on one eyepatch. His facial skin had been mostly been blown apart.

I’ve always pictured one of those monsters Abbot and Costello met.

No way was she identifying herself, and how handy was this? She could just get up, and walk past him and out the door.

Naturally, she felt terrible. She had the back and forth of pity and justifications.

On one hand he didn’t have to dress and act that way. Surely he noticed the reactions, the women screaming.

But maybe he didn’t realize people don’t wear capes. And it was the ’60s. All the sighted people were expressing individuality. Didn’t he have the right to jump on the non-conformist bandwagon?

She made a new date, and saw it through.

It became a regular thing, and they became friends. She said he was interesting and smart.

He would tell her to highlight a sentence, then later when she was typing up his term paper, he would say, ‘In this spot insert the thing you underlined on page 43.” 

She learned that when he was 12 he was playing with a chemistry set and it exploded.

I respect that she gathered her courage to meet him again, prepared that go around for his frighteningness.

But I say as a rule, if you’re gonna make those kinds of choices in appearance, learn Braille.