ostracize

True story. Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

2girlsarguing

Abby was a nice girl gone sort of mean. And uncaring. Not intentionally but because her best friend lied to her. Abby had money. Money she had been saving to use toward an investment in a new purse. But. Her best friend took it. Anna took the money. And ran. When Abby asked her friend about it. Did she know what happened to it? Anna just said no.

But, then along came another friend. Not the best one, but the Second Runner Up, and she said that Anna did indeed take the money. Second Runner Up friend saw her reach in and take it. Take it and shove it into her front pocket.

Anna cried. Said no I didn’t. But Abby didn’t believe her. She believed her best friend just lied. To her face. And that made her angry.

So she started to hang out with Second Runner Up. Spent time talking with her. Telling her how much she didn’t like Anna anymore. That she didn’t trust her.

Abby and Second Runner Up told everyone. And everyone told everyone. So now, everyone didn’t want to talk to Anna. Anymore. They didn’t trust her.

So, Anna sat alone. And as she pulled the stolen money from her pocket she wondered if she’d be someone’s best friend. Again. Some day. Soon.

What’s in a Name?

Long ago, naming our children took precedence over everything else…

“I’m pregnant,” I said, in a woo-hoo! kind of way. Rudy smiled that I‘m feeling pretty good right now smile of his as he wrapped me in his arms, and laughed that gentle laugh of his. That laugh that said so much. “¡Gracias Dios Mio!” he blurted, raising his arms to the heavens.

As the initial excitement began to calm, we realized a very important decision was now in order. “What will we name the baby?” we both questioned in unison. We also wanted the surprise element of the baby’s gender, so we needed to be considerate of a boy and a girl.

Fortunately, for the two of us, we knew our children would be given family names. One name from my family, one from Rudy’s. A first name. A middle name. That narrowed down our options, therefore making the process a bit easier.

“If the baby is a boy, how about your name? He could be a junior,” I offered. “No. That’s okay. I’m not sure I like my name enough to pass on,” Rudy stated matter-of-factly.

We pondered the names in our families; the choices: maternal and paternal grandfathers, brothers, and uncles were said aloud. We combined them; one as the first name, another as the middle name, and then switched the order. Nothing felt 100% just right. We moved on to girl names. A just as consuming test – which took months, mind you!

“I really want to name her after my mom, using her middle name, Elizabeth,” I said, as I felt my heart soften, thinking about naming my daughter after my sweet, kind-hearted mom. “I like that,” Rudy said. “I was thinking of Victoria, after my grandma. We would visit her a lot when I was a kid. When it was time to leave I would always run out to the tree in the front yard of her house and hug its trunk so hard that my parents had to struggle to pry me away. You see, I didn’t want to leave Grandma Victoria. She made me happy.” I became teary-eyed thinking of little Rudy crying, screaming. This was going to be harder than we thought, we suddenly realized. Rudy also liked his ambitious, intelligent sister Cecilia’s name. I considered my middle name Anne, too. Anne with an e.

This serious do-not-want-to-pick-a-name-that-will-harm-the-future-of-our-child-by-picking-the-wrong-name job produced two candidates. For a girl baby. Elizabeth Cecilia and Victoria Anne.

After I had delivered our child, Rudy by my side, and him being overwhelmed by, and amazed with the process of birth, he kissed my puffy – just had a child – face. He had a tear in his eye and quietly whispered “That was amazing! I want to name her Elizabeth Cecilia, after your mom and my sister.” I smiled, lay my head back, and sighed with relief.

Three years later Rudy was in Honduras, with Elizabeth and my niece, a full week before I was to arrive. His sister was getting married. Little did he know that I had a surprise for him. “I’m pregnant!” I cried as I fell into his arms when he greeted me at the arrival gate. Rudy hugged me, Elizabeth hugged me. My niece hugged me. “¡Gracias Dios Mio!” he shouted, as he raised his arms to the heavens.

Again, family names filled our daily thoughts. The name Victoria Anne sat quietly in our minds, waiting for her turn, if we were to have another girl.

“I really admire my dad,” I simply stated. “Yet, in my family all the first boys were named John so I think it’s best to leave it that way.” Rudy, too, admired my dad, and also agreed with my thoughts on why we shouldn’t name a son after him. “Well, my brother Bill meant a lot to me. Before he died in a car accident when he was 19, he always made time for me. Maybe we can use his name, William?” I questioned. Rudy nodded, knowing how much Bill meant to me, having heard my many stories. “I like the name Roberto, which is my younger brother’s middle name, and my blue-eyed uncle first name,” he said, seemingly deep in thought about those he cares for. The name Roberto seemed so foreign to me, like those Spanish intonations just didn’t know how to roll on my OC tongue. I kept those thoughts to myself.

Months later, as I struggled to get off the couch, to answer the phone, my water broke. “My water broke!” I yelled, hoping Rudy was near enough to hear me.

After securing Elizabeth with a downstairs neighbor, Rudy drove me to the hospital to deliver our second child. But wait! Seriously, did we forget something?! Yep. A camera to capture the moment (when I held my child for the first time). While Rudy returned home to retrieve the video camera, I began to hyperventilate. Unusual for me, which made the experience worse. I was given, what I seem to remember as a paper lunch bag, but was probably actually an oxygen mask, to help soothe me. Rudy returned as quickly as possible, within minutes, it seemed, of the birth. “Its a boy,” the doctor stated. Rudy hugged me. “So, what is our son’s name?” I asked him. Rudy smiled, that smile that makes him even better looking smile of his. “Roberto William.” Perfectly named. “I love it,” I said with exhaustion. I was willing to work the name into my life, to roll it off my tongue, to make it a part of who we had become – an interracial family.

Eight years later, I handed Rudy the home pregnancy (test kit) wand. He looked at the + sign. He looked at me, wide-eyed. “¡Gracias Dios Mio!” he gleefully cheered, once again sending his arms up toward the heavens.

Naming our last, and final, child now included the involvement of Elizabeth and Roberto. When I went in for a check up and the nurse asked if we’d like to know the sex of the child, before we could even consider our options, the kids – didn’t scream, but were pretty darn close to scaring the other patients – said, “Yes! Please Mom and Dad?” Rudy and I looked at each other, smiled and gave the OK nod and a thumbs up. “It’s a boy!” the nurse happily told Elizabeth and Roberto.

“Bradford,” I said. “Let’s name him Bradford in honor of our marriage. Named after the place where we were married. Let’s have his first name be a surname, like Palmer, on All My Children.” Huh? Rudy’s expression wondered. “Bradford? It sounds like Buford. Like an overbearing rich guy,” he sneered. I laughed. I was really keen on the idea, even though it diverted away from our family names. I figured I had some months to get Rudy used to the idea. “I think Ramon would be good. It was my brother Scott’s middle name. Remember how, a month or so before he died, he shook your hand? A gesture that said ‘I like you. I can see you care for my sister. Sorry if I was ever rude….’. I think to honor his memory would be great. It was also my paternal grandfather’s name. Double great.” Rudy listened, really took to heart in what I was saying. “I want to use my middle name, Antonio, too,” he confirmed. “Well, I have, also, always wanted to give a child of mine two middle names, just as my parents did with my older brother Jim,” I added.

We spent months bouncing names around, listened to the input of soon-to-be big sister  Elizabeth and big brother Roberto.

When our third child was born, our son, was named Bradford Ramon Antonio.

All three children’s names warm my soul when I say the names out loud, or if I hear them as they float into one ear and gently, quietly, climb out the other.

Teach Your Children Well

Parents seem to be very aware of teaching their children about avoiding strangers, those bad people who prey on the innocent. But who’s to say which strangers need to be avoided, and which are simply people we don’t know. I’ve raised my kids with my

Don’t Talk To Strangers

voice-of-wisdom. I said things like

“Don’t accept gifts, food, or candy from a stranger, don’t walk off with someone you don’t know, NEVER get into someone’s car,” etc.

I watched them internalize what I was saying, a bit of fear on their faces as they absorbed the fact that our world is not always wonderful. I watched as my precious words floated into their ear canals, into their memory banks, to remind them to think wisely, to stay out of harm’s way. To stay away from strangers.

Four years ago, as I was driving homeward, after picking up Brad at a friend’s house, he hesitantly began giving me the details of his evening’s unexpected, and worrisome events.

“You’re going to be mad,” he started. “Something happened that shouldn’t have.”

He went on to tell me how he and some friends had decided to play a childhood prank, Ding-Dong-Ditch, within the confines of another friend’s gated community. And how one friend kept pressing a doorbell, over and over, causing the homeowner to rush out, bringing his wrath with him. Maybe kids had been pranking the guy continuously or maybe he was in a bad mood or maybe he was just a mean, mean man. Whatever the reason, he used it to his advantage to control the situation. The boys, all aged thirteen at the time, were scared, and felt threatened and powerless when the man approached them, teeth baring. As Brad told it, the guy grabbed two of the boys within his reach, while yelling to Brad and another friend to

“Get over here!”

as they tried to slip away.

In the end, all four boys felt they should listen to the man considering he was the adult in the situation. So, when the mister asked each of them their names and took pictures of their faces, they obliged. Brad told me he believed they deserved the man’s anger, even when the guy head-locked one of the boys, dragging the kid around the cul-de-sac, chanting

“Now we’re friends, aren’t we?”

When the guy told the boys to get into his car, that he was going to take them to the security guard at the front gate, each hesitated, but then did what they were told. Brad told his friend

“My mom told me never to get into a stranger’s car,”

and his friend said,

“My mom told me the same thing.”

The boys were afraid because they have been taught to listen to adults. Therefore, in their young minds, the man was in charge. They were just kids who should have been behaving respectfully.

As I listened, I realized I never taught my kids what to do, if for some unforeseen reason, they found themselves in a powerless situation with someone. As much as I told them not to talk to strangers, I neglected to discuss what to do if they were, in actuality, confronted with someone unknown, including someone so angry that they used their adult authority to put fear into children’s impressionable minds.

So,

when Brad was in the midst of the childhood prank gone bad, he didn’t think he had the right to simply dial 911 on the cell phone he was holding in his hand. He thought the police would be mad at the boys for playing the prank and say they deserved the angry man’s treatment.

I told him he and his friends were lucky, that it could have been worse.

The guy could have been a psycho.

He could have beaten them up.

I went on to tell him that this should be a hard lesson learned, one that should never have happened. But, because it did, he needed to understand he has rights, and just because someone is an adult does not give them the right to punish kids in the manner that that guy did with the boys.

And just as important,

I told Brad that if ever he finds himself in any kind of non-deserving, uncomfortable situation, run away and call the police.

Oh boy. Thank goodness I have developed a you can tell me anything relationship with my kids. Otherwise, I may never have known what had happened, and I would never have known how important it is to not only teach kids about stranger danger, but also alert them to what they should do if they ever find themselves in a dire situation.

The Turd

There’s this girl. A sixth grader to be exact. My former student. Her name is Cassandra. She has short wavy hair and wears glasses. She’s tall and thin. Quirky and confident. She’s awesome. The perfect description of a character in a book.

Anyway, she walked into my classroom – just as she alway does, every day after school, to say

Hello, how’re you doing?”

or

“How do you like my haircut?”

or

“Do you like your class this year?”

or

“Oh, the state report, I remember doing those!” 

Things like that.

So, like I said, she came into my classroom and plopped herself onto the floor, her face buried between her knees. She was next to my desk, which is next to my chair, in which I was sitting and said,

“Do I look like a turwal?

I didn’t understand what she said.

“What?” I asked.

“Do I look like a turwal?”

“Do you look like a turd?”

Cassandra’s lump of a body quivered with laughter. She laughed and laughed.

“Okay, yeah, you definitely look like a turd lying there on the carpeted floor.” I stated.

Still laughing, she unrolled herself and looked at me with a smirk on her face and said,

“I asked, do I look like a tur-tle? Turtle.” I cracked-up

The next day, she repeated her pose, positioning herself into a lump on the floor and said, “The turd is back.”

I’m a teacher because kids are so great. They roll with the punches and are simply looking for fun, pure and simple.

Imagine

You’re 16. A boy. Hanging out with your buddies that aren’t really your buddies. They are some dudes, gangster-like, having the potential of looking for trouble, who are actually friends of your real friends. And the reason you’re hanging with these hooligans is because your true-blue friends are out and about. Doing their thing. And you figure you know these people well enough, so why not hang with them. For a while. For only as long as it takes to walk to the local mom and pop market to buy some chips and an ice cold drink. Long enough to wait for your tribe to show up.

So what do you do when, after leaving the store, you become part of an encounter that has nothing to do with you, but everything to do with one of the boys you’re hanging with? He’s in deep shit because he’d been tagging the city and from what you can tell, and what you’ve heard, the guy doing the complaining is an infamous gang leader in town. It seems bizarre, unusual, and sorta thrilling, too, but you know you must keep your cool and act like this is just a typical afternoon. So when the leader suddenly  walks up to you and says, Hey White Boy, those eyebrows for real? you, without thinking, reach up and run a finger along a naturally arched brow. Yeah, they’re for real, you say as coolly as possible.

Right answer. Right tone. At least you assume so. Because that leader of the gang, the Boss, turns away, back toward the criminal who’d been painting up the city, and he wraps his arm around the chump’s neck, leading him around in circles and tells that thug-wannbe to keep his city clean, or else.

And, all you could do is watch. Stand still. Be quiet. And hope that nothing bad happens. While at the same time, wishing you could cheer the Leader on, telling him how cool it is that he’s concerned  about the city and its polished status.

Imagine that.

Confidence

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It’s interesting being a teacher of young kids. I tend to reflect on my own youth quite a bit, watching these 10 year old students interact. I don’t remember being so sure of myself. So confident. Waves of emotions roll through the classroom, sure, but I must say, overall, most kids are just that, kids. They cheer for each other, enjoy simple pleasures, and bounce back from problems just as quickly as they arise.

I love it. The innocence.

Today, a student stood in front of the classroom, presenting her How-To project. She was making a smoothie. She was so calm, so matter-of-fact, so ready. She measured out the milk, then added some more. She plopped in some yogurt, sliced bananas, and ice. She laughed, claiming she put in too much milk. “Oh well,” she stated, as she continued. She made a mess, spilled ingredients. She vigorously shook a canister full of her cold drink. When asked why she didn’t bring a blender, she answered, without much thought, in a casual, whatever tone, “Because.” is all she said. And just as cool everyone nodded in response.

When everything was mixed up, she took a big swig of her drink. No hesitation. No worries. No concern what others might have thought. “Pretty good,” she smiled.

Students clapped. She bowed. Gathered up her items, and headed out the door to wash up her dishes.

He Caught Me. Cheating.

IMG_2090Rudy has been, for the past year or so, questioning himself. Wondering if there is any meaning behind the fact he can’t just seem to find a job, in his field of expertise, or anywhere else. With every phone call about his resumé, listing his superior qualifications, to the several interviews, leading nowhere, he’s gone from a high of believing he can do anything to a low feeling he can’t.

People occasionally ask me how I am dealing with his situation, without much complaint. The thing is, I do complain, if that’s what you want to call it, to him, where my words should be aimed. I don’t talk in a way that makes things worse, rather I express how I am feeling, hoping he’ll understand that we are both affected by his lack of participation, in life. His desire to succeed has diminished. He’s frustrated, angry, and overall disappointed in himself. I handle it by looking beyond what I actually, physically see and go deep, observing what is not so apparent. Taking clues from what’s not being said.

The other day, Rudy and I were in the kitchen, talking, but not really, when he needed to tell me about a dream he’d had.

In the dream, he began, I saw you, hanging all over some young guy, your arms wrapped around him, and you were laughing, having fun. I never could see the guy you were with. He was so young, but you were you, the age you are now. 

As I was listening to his tale, trying to understand his reason for telling me his love affair dream, his knees suddenly gave out. He began to breathe rapidly and his eyes widened liked someone experiencing a traumatic, unexpected moment. He grabbed a chair, sat, and lowered his head between his shaking knees. He seemed lost, unsure. I thought for sure he was going to faint, so I walked over to him, coaxed him into a sitting position, cupped my hands on both sides of his face, and gently told him to breathe.

Slowly, I told him. Slow down. Breathe in. Breathe out. Slow.

I wanted to calm him, soothe him, let him know everything was okay. But, also, inside my mind, behind all my kind words I wondered who the heck I had an affair with that caused Rudy so much turmoil. Once his breathing was, again, under control, he looked at me with eyes full of sadness, a kind of heartbreak I had never seen before.

The guy, he continued, never looked in my direction, and when I asked you what you were doing you shouted at me ‘That’s your problem, not mine!’ and that’s when the young guy finally looked my way, looked right at me. And I couldn’t believe who he was.

Again, Rudy cried, smashed his palms into his eye sockets. I stooped, rested my hands on his thighs, and waited for him to tell me more.

It was me! he shouted. It was my 21 year old self! You were having an affair with me!

Tears once again filled his eyes, reflecting the overhead lights, before splashing down his cheeks.

You? It was you? I asked, just to confirm.

Yes. Me. When I was probably only 21. When we first met. You were you, your age now, and you were cheating with me, but a young me, he answered.

That’s pretty intense, I told him.

All that I could think about was the symbolism within the dream. How it was full of meaning. His internal story. But, I didn’t say anything. I remained quiet, wondering what he thought about it. Yet, Rudy couldn’t control his crying. His blubbering. As if he realized the dream was trying to tell him something. I embraced him. Held him tight. Knowing this may be a breakthrough. A turning point. A new beginning.

And then he spoke. It means you miss the young guy I was, he told me. That I have left that not-a-care-in-the-world kind of guy, the ambitious one behind and have forgotten about him. And that is what you are seeking. The real me.

I do miss him, I honestly said, the person I met all those years ago. The guy I’ve grown up with. But, I needed to add, just so we’re clear here, if I was going to cheat, it’d be with you.

I laughed, but it was his smile that brightened the room.