Fortunate son

It was a complex day. I’m going into the third week of this cold, the only thing lingering being what I’m pretty sure is a sinus infection. I’m trying to wait it out. I am allergic to so many antibiotics now, and every time I take more of them I doom myself further. But the pain and pressure is getting to be problematic. I don’t know if I actually have a cavity or not, or if it’s just sinus pain, but the dentist isn’t for another week and I can’t take any time off work until then, so I’ve been trying to just dry my fucking head out and wait for the misery to alleviate.

Tonight I decided I couldn’t take it anymore. When I picked up D from school, I took him to get a sandwich somewhere quick and fast, and then we went to “express” care. They said it could be an hour, and I said ok.As D later said, “They should call it stupid care, because this was lame.” Indeed.

We really tried to make the best of the time. First, we touched base on stranger danger again, and our code word, and I playacted different scenarios and said different things and he had to say what he would say or do in response (he’s a pretty good actor for a future dentist), including a scenario where someone wanted to give him a free puppy as his dog had just had babies, and a scene where an ice cream truck comes to the playground and all his friends get on and get free ice cream, but he does not. “That would be weird,” he said. “What?” I asked. “Getting on the truck.” Precisely, I told him. And if anything ever feels weird or wrong, you DO NOT DO IT, no matter what everyone else is doing. Mom and Dad will always take you to get ice cream or candy or whatever it is the stranger is promising. If the person doesn’t know the code word, you don’t even follow them to the edge of the woods, let alone into a vehicle. Then I challenged him, what if it was Will’s Mom or the babysitter, someone you know. He wasn’t sure. I said, that person would have the code word, or you don’t go. Period. And then I told him what “impersonation” means, and told him he’s always allowed to ask to see someone’s badge, as that might put them off, and to go run and find an adult if he is ever unsure about whether or not someone is being truthful with him. Trust your instincts, I told him. He looked at me with big brown eyes, taking it all in.

Then we switched gears and used my phone to look up sight words for varying grades so that he could practice reading. This is an inexact science on the phone but I think he’s somewhere between second and third grade level. He could read select words, with difficulty, from 6th grade but that’s as far as we got. Not bad for almost-summer after kindergarten. This is where you will excel, I told him, and I will take you as far as you can go as fast as you are comfortable getting there, and will push your teachers to do the same. You won’t be this ahead in everything, but this will be your area, just like it was for me, I can see it, I told him. He wanted more, wanted me to show him 8th grade, 9th, 10th, but the letters are so small on the phone and the words too complex, and we were both tired.

After an hour, he asked for physical things to do, so I sent him back and forth up the long hallway in the health center with different challenges – hop, skip, wave his arms a certain way, turn around in circles, go backwards, gallop. This at least burned some of his pent-up energy.

After an hour and a half, the lady at the counter offered him a sticker and he came over to ask me if he could have it, so I told him he could have it if he asked her how much longer. Ha. She felt bad and disappeared and we were finally taken in the back. The doctor we saw, I have seen her before at this place. She has the bedside manner of the Soup Nazi and did the most cursory exam ever. “If you have recurrent sinus infections, you should really be under the care of an ENT,” she said snottily. “I did see an ENT for them,” I told her, name dropping my awesome doctor, who I know practices there part-time. “Steve Houser, in fact, and he did sinus surgery on me in 2012 and I haven’t had ANY since then, this is the first.” “Oh, ok,” she said, and gave me a script for doxy, which isn’t really for sinus infections but is about the only antibiotic I can tolerate any longer. She also told me not to use the neti pot when I have a sinus infection or I can get meningitis. Yikes. So yeah, not doing that. I asked for a paper script. I’m still hoping to outlast it and not take anything at all, but I needed to have something in case the misery worsens. So we’ll see how that goes.

Despite the evening, I’m not complaining. Even though we were there past D’s bedtime and had no time for a normal night, we at least made the best of it and he made me laugh an awful lot when we were fake arm wrestling, and made me marvel at his physical energy and how his mind is leaping ahead so rapidly with the words he read. The big vocab is translating into big reading, and I couldn’t be happier. Reading is the key to everything. If he can unlock that shit, he’s got the door open.

When we finally made it home, I washed the boy’s dirty knees, hands and face, brushed his teeth, read him a story and tucked him in. I know I am so lucky to be able to do that. So, so lucky. Many mothers will not get to tuck in their sons tonight.

As I marched in the protest rally against the Brelo verdict today on my lunch hour (yes, many protestors have jobs, and some of us used our lunch hour for it, some people are retired, and some people work other than 8-5, internet idiots), I felt a thousand emotions, including a little bit of, I guess you’d call it “white guilt” for knowing my son will not experience the prejudice and challenges that the mothers there of black sons (and daughters) worry about. We talk about following the rules and obeying the police, but just as there are criminals who do the wrong thing, there are police who do the same, and this rally was about trying to bring a sharper focus to that through peaceful protest. As a hippie for around 25 years now, I felt compelled to go and lend my voice to the chants of “We can’t wait! We can’t wait!” in looking for justice.

I admit I grew quiet and could not join my voice with the people with whom I was walking, sometimes hand in hand, sometimes with arms linked, sometimes just sharing a smile or a kind look, when those voices belonged to African-Americans who began singing “We Shall Overcome.” I do not have anything like that to overcome. Nor does my son. I do not have the right to sing that song. But I showed my solidarity as best I could by marching alongside those who care, young and old, white and black and Hispanic and Asian, Jewish and Christian and Unitarian, Hindu and Arabic. I was welcomed openly into a group of Universalists and we traded stories and huddled together until the march started, where we then found our own steps and our own voices. At one point, somewhere on public square where we bunched up waiting for the police to clear traffic ahead of us, I walked next to a young black couple holding hands. The guy looked at me next to him, and I couldn’t read what he thought, but he thought something. So I spoke to him. “I hope this does something,” I told him. “It will,” he said. “It has to,” his girl said, and we all nodded and walked together for a bit, and I could feel their energy open to me, and they felt that I loved them back. The girl and I smiled at each other for no reason. One old woman bumped into me on her way to hustle up to the front where all the action was and said, “I’m sorry, sister,” and patted my back. I thought yes, I guess we are all sisters here, no matter what we look like. The color of our blood is the same, and they care about their sons and daughters just as I care about mine, and we need to fix what is broken, though it will be a long and difficult journey.

I can teach my son not to play with toy guns, but he will do it anyway at some point. I can teach him to respect authority and do what he’s supposed to if he is pulled over, but he may be petulant and nasty about it at some point. But he has less of a chance of ending up dead because of the color of his skin, more of a chance of being believed, of being given just that extra second or two to explain himself, to offer an explanation, to show that a gun isn’t real, another few moments to be allowed to pull the car over or lie down when ordered if he originally started to bolt, because he is white.

I felt so conflicted being there today, and yet felt I had to be. To feel you have no right to be somewhere, and yet feel compelled to be there at the same time is a very odd feeling.

On a final note, I felt a huge loss today, and the evening is heavy with sadness at the loss of a great, great professor, someone I had the pleasure to be directed by while in college, and who I got to know on a more personal level over the last few years through his facebook posts. His lovely wife I knew a little in college, but seeing their life play out in his retired years has been wonderful. He was a big lover of bluegrass and I reach a little in that musical direction, and we talked music and blues and country and bluegrass a little online. We very, very recently reminisced about the great, great show I was in which he directed, which remains to this day a watershed moment for me in my acting career. It was an incredible privilege to be selected to be in that show with the stellar caliber of talent represented on that stage, and the material we were given was second to none – it was a stage adaptation of the letters and plays written between Joe Chaikin and Sam Shepard called “The Chaikin/Shepard Project,” and it was a singular and beautiful performance experience. As close to San Francisco’s Living Theater as I would get, and alongside and under some of the cream of the crop of my school’s theater department.

The air is heavy tonight, friends. It is a complex time. Hold fast to those you care about. I’m going to kiss my sleeping, fortunate son.


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