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I Say High, You Say Low…

… You say why, and I say I don’t know
Oh, no
You say goodbye and I say hello
Hello, hello
I don’t know why you say goodbye
I say hello

– The Beatles

“It’s an acquired taste.”

For the first fifteen or so years of my life, when I would hear that statement attached to description of food, I would immediately assume it tasted weird or bad. I never even took the time to break down the meaning of the entire sentence. It just entered my mind phonetically–its eyn uh-kwahyurd teyst–then my mind would spit out meaning: don’t bother.

Can you blame me though? Think back to your eight-year-old palate. Now, think about how you felt about beer, asparagus, salmon roe, brussel sprouts, coffee, licorice, and liver. Did you like these foods? Well, I sure didn’t. They were foreign and unpleasant flavors to me, and when grown-ups described how it tasted, they used the word, acquired. Maybe I just assumed it was a word with double meaning like fine, or right.

"No thank y--I mean, thank you!"

In any case, as I got older, I developed a liking for many of the aforementioned foods, and the meaning finally clicked: Ah, you acquire a taste for the food over time. Now, I cannot imagine turning down liver pate or fish eggs of any kind, and asparagus and brussel sprouts are among my favorite vegetables.

Looking back on it now, I think I was jarred by the unknown. I was uncomfortable with the new experience of consuming these unfamiliar flavors, and I immediately cast them aside, categorizing them as other, weird, disconcerting, and ultimately not worthy of my time.

I have come to realize that people, too, can be an acquired taste. A perfect case in point would be one of my good friends, whom I met six years ago, roughly around this time of year.

I was working in Burlington, Vermont at the time, and I was finishing up my last day at work. It was blazing hot, and I was just trying to put in my hours, which were all but pointless, since there was little I could do on my last day. It was explained to me that this particular day also happened to be one of the first days of work for the office’s new summer intern from Maryland, and we were to share an office space for about six hours. Honestly, I did not care. I was heading off to my new job in San Francisco in a few days. It was hot. I was in the office, but not present–just going through the motions while in a bit of a foul mood due to the circumstances.

After getting settled in at my desk, trying hard to move as little as possible so as to avoid sweating further, a tall, thin Black man, with neatly trimmed hair, and a big smile came walking into the office. It was the new intern.

Two things struck me immediately. First, despite the fact that this man seemed to be over six fee tall, he took remarkably quick, tiny, careful strides; it was as if he were literally walking on egg shells. Secondly, along with a snappy polo shirt and matching belt, he was wearing the tiniest shorts I had seen on a man, since the 1980s. His long legs, which had clearly been treated with liberal amounts of body lotion (as the chocolate glossy shine suggested), and deck shoes worn without socks (coordinated with the outfit, of course), actually made the shorts look tinier (if that was possible).

The Intern and the Captain shopped at the same store for shorts.

So here I was, in the midst of a pointless day of work, with sweat dripping down my brow, and I was being greeted by a giant chipper pair of legs from straight out of a recent J.Crew catalog.

He introduced himself with a kind handshake; his giant, cool, dry hands made me even more insecure about my sweaty palms. We exchanged pleasantries, and I began to take notice of his pronounced and intentional Southern twang.

Sitting about six feet away from me, at his desk, the intern engaged me in a bit of small talk. I commented on how hot it was. The intern explained that he was from North Carolina, and it was, “hot as Hades,” back where he grew up. I asked him about going to school in Maryland, and he told me that it had been a challenging transition, but the journey had been rewarding, he was appreciative for the learning he was experiencing, and I am pretty sure he mentioned that God or Jesus put him on this path for a reason. When I asked him how he felt about his new internship, he poured on the praise for the woman who helped him secure this opportunity, and he accentuated his complements with, what sounded like, a bible reference. All the while, the intern did not show a sign of discomfort with the heat. Maybe it was the shorts.

In any case, I pegged him as very Southern, conservative, religious, exceedingly positive, with teeny-tiny shorts. For this Berkeley raised, hippy-influenced, decidedly nonreligious, pragmatic wearer of over-sized shorts that extend below the kneecaps, the intern was very foreign, and completely indigestible. We spent much of the rest of our day in silence. And, while we were both at a gathering that weekend, I pretty much avoided him.

Flash forward one year, and I am coming off of some time away from work. My supervisor tells me that the division has a new hire, and this person in the new position mentioned that he knows me. She mentions his name and nothing clicks. She mentions that he interned at Vermont, and… it clicks.

“Ah,” I say with a smirk, “that guy is… special.”

"I'm sorry, what's not to love here?"

When his first week comes around, I go down to greet him. He is very well dressed, and on this occasion, wearing pants. One thing leads to another, and for some reason, I end up offering to take him to lunch later that week. The day of our lunch comes around, and I take him to pick up Good Luck Dim Sum, one of my favorite bargain bites, down on Clement Street in the Richmond District of San Francisco. Knowing he is from the South, I do my best to pick out the items that are most palatable for the every-day person. We leave with three huge boxes of dim sum–enough to feed a small family. Upon arriving back at work, we find a place to sit down, chat, and eat. He is polite, but eats very little. Apparently he does not have a taste for dim sum. I’m a bit put off, as unadventurous eaters easily annoy me. He does little to change my opinion of him. To me, he still is not quite my cup of tea.

Over time, we continue to find ourselves in each other’s company. By the end of the year, I realize that he is one of the brightest professionals in our division, and I want to work with him whenever I can. By the end of the next year, he ends up being one of the few people from work with whom I feel close enough to invite to my wedding. By the end of the following year he becomes one of the only people in my life with whom I can argue, debate, and/or engage in authentic dialogue. We mainly argue about the compatibility of a conservative agenda, and social justice, and it does get heated, but we stick with it. Now he is one of my closest confidants, and I cannot really imagine my life without him.

My perspective on the “Intern” has clearly shifted over time. I do not think I would describe my friend as weird. Rather, I would say he is quite unique, especially by California standards.

I have adjusted to his cyclical way of speaking, and now recognize that his style is conducive with great storytelling. I find it charming, the way he uses similes to explain everything under the sun. I smile inwardly as I watch him tiptoe around situations in which he is tempted to speak unkindly of another (“Well, his inability to finish his end of the project provided me with an opportunity to explore creative options within a short window of time”). I have begun to repeat many of his favorite sayings, such as: “teamwork makes the dream work,” or, “it takes a village to raise a child.” When my friend references his Christian faith to thank me for something I may have done–“Brother, there is a place in The Kingdom for you”–I take it as one of the highest complements I could possibly receive. I have witnessed him become a more adventurous eater (though he still wouldn’t touch the tuna tartare when we went out to eat the other day). We laugh together often, reenacting the scene with Randy Watson and his band, Sexual Chocolate, from Coming to America. We greet each other every day with another Coming to America reference, asking one another if one’s “soul is aglow,” in honor of the infamous product from the movie. I have even mastered the Southern art of carrying on a conversation with him about one thing; when in reality, we are speaking about something else all together. The two of us can carry on a twenty-minute conversation about coffee, while we are actually talking about his dating life.

Clearly, over time, I have come to acquire a taste for my good friend. I now realize that my previous distaste for him had less to do with how weird or foreign he was to me, and more to do with my own xenophobia and bigotry. I may have thought of myself as open-minded, but in reality, I viewed him through a lens of judgment, bias, and perceived supremacy. I was the one with an unadventurous palate.

Only happenstance brought us back together. Had our interactions been limited to those few hours in Vermont, I would have missed out on developing a relationship with one of the kindest, funniest, most brilliant, and most thoughtful individuals with whom I have ever had the pleasure of crossing paths. He has changed me. I am a better person for having known him.

Alas, our time together is now limited. My good friend will be headed back to the South for graduate school in less than a week. He will be missed.

Recently, during a conversation about his upcoming migration to the South, I asked him if he was excited about being closer to home, and around people that were more like him. “Aren’t you excited about blending in? Aren’t you looking forward to being with your people?” I joked.

“Well, Brother,” he exhaled with his Carolina drawl, “I worry about that,” he said, adding a long pause. “I think they may not get me. My ideas might be too liberal for their liking.”

The irony of his statement was not lost on me.

I hope that he finds a home in the South. For as Maya Angelou says so eloquently:

The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.

My good friend shared that quote with me. He taught me that this understanding of home should guide the way we co-construct community for all. He is very wise.

If I could write a letter to the people of the community for which he will shortly be a part of. I would kindly request that they sooth my good friend’s ache for home. Moreover, I would ask that they give my friend time to grow on them. For in my opinion, a taste for my good friend is well worth acquiring.


Grandma’s Hands…

… Used to hand me piece of candy
Grandma’s hands
Picked me up each time I fell
Grandma’s hands
Boy, they really came in handy

-Bill Withers

It was my grandmother’s 90th birthday recently. Our family made a trip down to Los Angeles to surprise her. She was definitely caught off-guard by the unexpected presence of her bobble-headed great grandson… in a good way.

Despite the fact that I tend to downplay my own birthday, I do like how the tradition of birthdays forces me to stop and celebrate the life of people close to me. I enjoy having the opportunity to do things with the people I love; things that make them happy; things that make them smile.

Usually at some point in the celebration, the guest of honor will do something or say something that reminds me of something they did or said in the past–usually a funny story–and I find myself smiling inwardly; wading blissfully in the nostalgia.

In the weeks leading up to my grandmother’s birthday, I found myself reflecting early. Cherry picking stories about her turned out to be more difficult that I expected. For some reason, I had trouble peeling away individual stories, as they have mostly seemed to congeal into a single collage of memories.

I spent the better part of a day feeling guilty about not being able to recall stories about my grandmother. I found myself picking bits and pieces out of my mind; but not just a few, tons of them! They were like an infinite number of  little rice-sized pieces of spaghetti–taking up a lot of space all together, but not the fully intact strand that I could wrap methodically around my fork; not the fully fleshed-out story I was looking for.

The segments of memories of Grandma or memories I associate with Grandma came in flashes:

Grandma calling the dogs back when they came to welcome my brother and me as children, with their somewhat scary jumping and slobbering.

Grandma feeding the golden retrievers cooked vegetables.

Grandma taking me to the museum.

Branch’s strawberry candy in a bowl on the coffee table.

The smell of chlorine-treated water drying on hot concrete by the swimming pool.

Grandma talking about how wonderful Trader Joe’s was when the first one opened up.

Grandma toasting my brother and I egg bagels and serving them up with peanut butter.

Grandma being a very careful driver.

Water wings!

Rye bread.

Picture collages.

Throw pillows.

Lavender scented hand soap in the bathroom.

Vibrant orange and purple birds of paradise.

Matzo ball soup in shallow bowls.

A jar filled with chocolate almond squares in the refrigerator.

Grandma just smelling sweeter than anyone else in the world…

… the list kept going.

After I took a step back and began looking at the memories, not as individual specks, but as a collection, I noticed a reoccurring theme. I tie all of these memories to feelings of nostalgia and comfort.

I have, absolutely no memories involving fear, guilt, anger, or trauma tied to my grandmother. While Grandma was never a push-over, I cannot recall ever thinking she was mean, even in my most immature and self-centered days.

For me, I now realize, Grandma was, and still is, the living embodiment of comfort and kindness. She always did her best to foster a sense of home away from home when we went to visit her.

This ethic of care actually ties to one of the stories of Grandma I eventually unearthed:

Throughout my childhood, probably since the age of four, I wondered why my dad bothered making chunky tomato sauce with spaghetti. I hated big chunks of tomatoes, and I yearned for something with less texture to pair with my pasta.

Eventually, I learned that ketchup, which regularly acted as a dip for the food I deemed the pinnacle of eatable excellence–french fries, was actually a product of tomatoes; the same tomatoes that made up the chunky sauce on my pasta.

I remember regularly asking my mom and dad if I could have pasta with ketchup, since it seemed like a logical enough substitution to me. They would both reply, with scrunched faces, “No,” giving little justification for their resistance; only going to far as to say that the idea was “disgusting.”

"Culinary genius, no?"

Little did I know, Grandma would provide me with an opportunity to experience this ketchup-laced concoction in due time…

When I was about eleven years old, my brother and I came down to Los Angeles during our annual summer visit with the relatives. For some reason, we stayed for one night in a house my grandparents were occupying for the days in between moving out of their old house in the San Fernando Valley, and moving into their new house in Santa Monica.

I do not know why it was only one night, nor do I remember why only my brother and I stayed with my grandparent that night, but I do remember the house being filled with boxes stacked so high that navigating through it all made me feel like I was in a labyrinth.

We got in fairly late, and it was already dark outside. My grandmother knew we had not eaten dinner, so she went to the kitchen to prepare us a meal. About half an hour later, my brother and I sat down at the kitchen table and my grandmother brought out a heaping pile of my culinary theory put into practice–spaghetti mixed with ketchup.

I was excited. The sharp scent of the ketchup’s vinegar still lingered in the air. This, was my moment! This was my opportunity to prove my long-standing culinary hypothesis, which had been thwarted for years by my parents, who clearly lacked the common sense and vision to combine these two ingredients in an effort to facilitate this flavor and textural dynamo.

Eager to confirm that which I already knew to be true–ketchup and pasta would be awesome together–I clumsily spun a large clump of noodles around my fork and slurped it into my mouth. My resulting state: confusion of the senses. How could something that looked like pasta and tomato sauce produce a flavor so distant from this savory dinnertime staple? Slightly tart and almost sugary sweet, even as an eleven-year-old with a palate that was easily satisfied by Skittles and Doritos, I knew the combination of ketchup and pasta had gone completely awry.

My brother and I quietly consumed the rest of the food on our plate, brushed our teeth and went to bed. That night I went to bed… confused.

Now, it would be easy to preserve the story in my mind as a culinary  disaster perpetuated by my grandmother. However, context, and a few details I neglected to mention actually help make Grandma even more endearing to me.

First of all, it was pretty late, maybe eight thirty or nine in the evening when we got in. It was time to go to sleep. She could have sent us to bed without dinner, but she didn’t. Grandma could have quickly taken us to McDonald’s, which was right down the street, but she didn’t. Grandma provided us with a home-cooked meal.

Secondly, how on Earth did she pull that meal together? We were practically staying in a storage space! She pulled that meal out of thin air! Did I mention there was meat in the dish? Now I don’t remember if it was chicken or turkey cold-cuts, but I do remember there was meat in it, and I think she might have sprinkled in a little dried basil too.

My mom later told me that Grandma felt really bad about feeding us that meal. I feel bad that she felt bad. Grandma did the best that she could in the situation she was in with the time that she had.

So I will always remember the night of spaghetti and ketchup, not as the failed meal, and not for the crazy laberynth of boxes. Rather I will always associate the night of spaghetti and ketchup with Grandma’s successful efforts to create a feeling of home within a moment of chaos.

She Said Don’t I know You From The Cinematographer’s Party?

… I said who am I
To blow against the wind

-Paul Simon

It was like a scene in a movie.

Our family is waiting for a table at Jerry’s Grill in Union City, and a waitress is gathering beverages behind the bar. I walk into her line of view as she is pouring coffee, and she freezes, only to be brought back to reality by scolding hot coffee burning her hand. The mug crashes to the floor. She apologizes profusely.

Eventually she gathers herself together, and realizes, “you are not him.”

Who is “him?”

“You look just like the guy from American Idol,” she tells me, “and I wanted him to win, too.”

Since I haven’t seen a second of a meaningful moment of American Idol in well over a year, and based on her comments, I assume she has poor eye site and thinks I am David Archuleta (can we talk about how nonsensical that sentence is on multiple levels? Meaningful?).

Truthfully, even I know she couldn’t have confused me with David Archuleta; I don’t care how bad her eye sight is. I mean, this is David Archuleta:

And this is me:

There is absolutely no conceivable potential for mistaken identity here.

If left unresolved, I know this case of mistaken identity will gnaw at me for a while.

Serendipitously, that night, I happen upon an online piece on American Idols: Where are they now? I cannot help but laugh out loud when I stumble upon a picture of this guy:

Danny Gokey: apparently, to the waitress at Jerry’s Grill, my celebrity doppleganger. Glorious.

By the way, the fried beef ribs were phenomenal.

Still When I’m a Mess, I Still Put On a Vest…

… With an S on my chest
Oh yes, I’m a super woman

-Alicia Keys

This past Monday marked the day that our son turned one month old. He is gradually getting bigger, but I cannot, for the life of me, figure out who he looks like. I think his face changes every few days. The good news is, he does not look like a wingless bat anymore. Sadly, as it was to be expected, he does not do to much beyond crying, sleeping, pooping, and eating (in that order… maybe with some extra crying and pooping in between).

During this past month, I have discovered learned a bit about my own limits, which mainly correlates with our son’s sleep patterns. My main realization: women are stronger than men… well, at least my partner is stronger than I am.

How did I discover this? By trying to rock our son to sleep.

Last week, I get home from work, and our son is crying. My partner had been getting tiny fragments of sleep over the previous twenty hours, so I take it upon myself to put him to sleep, thus allowing my partner to grab a bite to eat and maybe a few extra consecutive hours of shuteye.

After swaddling the little one, I whisk him away to the other room, where I assume the relative darkness and silence will quickly put him to sleep. Goodness gracious, I could not be more wrong. The blanket-wrapped infant will not go to sleep. He cries, grunts, then relaxes–staring off at the shadows on the wall, then repeats the cycle again.

I try a variety of repetitive movements to lull him to sleep. First I rock him back and fourth by hinging my arms at my shoulders–the universal movement for rocking a baby to sleep in sing-alongs. Doesn’t work. Next I try twisting back and fourth. Unsuccessful. Next I attempt walking. No dice.

As my frustration grows, I begin reflecting on the considerable lack of exercise I have been able to fit in since his birth. It was at this moment I decided to kill two birds with one stone–I will rock him to sleep while doing a series of yoga moves I have learned from our “Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss” DVD.

Gradually, I begin incorporating lunges and twists into the rocking. Making sure to “breathe deeply in through my nose, and out through my nose,” while “feeling my feet rooted to the earth,” as instructor, Suzanne Deason likes to remind me.

Ten minutes pass; he is staring at my hair like it is the most fascinating entity on the planet–isn’t that cute. Fifteen minutes pass; the little one is nodding off a bit, but can’t seem to commit to sleeping, and my joints are cracking. Twenty minutes pass; our son seems to be fighting the sleep just to spite me. Furthermore, I am attempting, without any success, to

Are you amused by my discomfort derived from the incorrect practice of your teachings, Ms. Deason?

“focus my intentions without hardening my mind,” and wondering what the f#c% Suzanne Deason means when she commands me to do such a thing. Forty minutes pass; he finally seems to be asleep, which is good since my back hurts, and I am barely able to make any discernible rocking movements at this point as I am seriously fatigued.

Upon exiting the room, I pass a mirror. Perspiration is dripping down my sideburns, my cheeks are a bit flushed, and my shirt is sticking to my back and chest due to the sweat I have just worked up. Nevertheless, I am feeling pretty good about “working out.”

Just as I am about to sit down to relax, I hear a cry from behind. Our son is awake again.

I will spare you the details of this particularly epic diaper changing and just sum it up with the following statistics: one swaddling blanket change, two outfit changes, five diapers used, in a seven minute time frame; plus forty more minutes of hushing the little one to sleep.

Once he goes to sleep, what do I do? Take a nap? No. Lay down for a bit? Nope. Zone out on the television? Uhh… negative. I sit, hunched over in a chair, doing useless things on the internet.

Now, in a previous life, this would have been semi-acceptable. I mean, I might sleep in a bit the next day, maybe wake up a bit more fatigued. But on this night, such a simple act turned out to be a major miscalculation. I stay up for the eleven o’clock feeding, do yoga-lite to put him to sleep, and finally hit the hay at midnight.

Three in the morning marks the moment of painful enlightenment for me. Our son cries out for a feeding. I jump out of bed and my lower back locks up into one giant knot. Simultaneously, I am hit with a severe spell of dizziness, and I almost crash to the floor. With my stomach clenched to stabilize my back, and the room reeling a little bit less, I scoop up the little noisemaker, and make my way to the kitchen to prepare a bottle.

Everything hurts–my back, my head, my ankles–and wait, do I need to pee too? Shifting my weight from one foot to another, doing the rhythmic pee dance I have been practicing since I was two years old, I clumsily get a glass of water in the microwave (man, I need to pee). Dropping the small container of breast milk into the warm water, I spin in search of a clean nipple (why won’t you stop crying?). In a state of near-panic I try to unscrew the breast milk container with only one hand as the other side of my body is committed to the task of getting a hungry baby to refrain from waking the entire neighborhood (please don’t spill the milk).

After what seems like an eternity, I make my way back to the couch–baby in one arm, bottle in the other. My partner passes by silently on her way to her scheduled pumping.

“It hurts,” I whine, in a state of borderline delirium. My bladder feels like it is going to explode, and I am somehow, through the fog of relative insanity, weighing the relative merits of: a) rocking back and forth to keep myself from peeing, but disturbing the feeding and evoking the wrath of the back spasms; b) engaging my back muscles to stay still enough to feed, which will certainly be painful, while putting me in risk of peeing in my pants; c) engaging my stomach muscles as I recline, which will place baby in reclined position as well, which usually leads to hiccups and gas, and does nothing to keep me from using the floor in front of me as a urinal.

From behind me in the kitchen, I can hear the rhythmic, almost techno-esque, beat of the breast pump at work. Using the bass line as a distraction from the need to relieve myself, I stabilize myself enough to feed the little one. “It hurts,” I whisper to nobody in particular; referring to no specific pain in particular.

The breast pump, masquerading as an electronic drum machine, goes silent. “I need to pee,” I say, my stomach cramping. Through the darkness I can see my partner giving me a knowing smile. Gracefully, with outstretched arms, she gathers up our child in one fluid motion.

I rush off to the bathroom to take care of one of my numerous pains. Upon my return to the dark room, in between gentle hushes, I hear, “go to sleep.”

Feeling a mixture of relief, defeat, gratitude, and shame, I make my way to bed, and fall asleep. During the few moments between the instant I laid my head upon my pillow, and the second I fell asleep, only one thought repeated in my head, she does this every day; man, is she strong.

Baby You Can Drive My Car…

… Yes I’m gonna be a star
Baby you can drive my car
And maybe I’ll love you
-The Beatles

Sometimes I feel like Samir (of Office Space fame)

Sitting in a car, moving at average to below average highway speeds, making my way to and from work is one of my least favorite things to do. Spending between an hour and a half to two and a half hours staring at the back of various vehicles sometimes makes me consider taking a huge pay cut to open up a lemonade stand in front of our home, just to avoid the ten-plus hours I waste each week scanning radio stations for semi-palatable music in an effort to keep myself moderately sane during my commute.

Lately, I have taken to entertaining myself with anything people have decided to do to decorate the back of their car. This pastime, if nothing else, may make for awkward small talk fodder if I ever find myself in such an undesirable position, and at its best, may make for semi-entertaining storytelling.

There are, of course, numerous fairly clever bumper stickers:

“If this sticker is getting smaller, the light has probably turned green.”

“If you can read this, you are getting too close.”

“Suburbia: Where they cut down trees and names streets after them.”

“I BREAK FOR… Oh, $h!t, no breaks!”

“You! Out of the gene pool!”

“My other car sticker is funny.”

“Republicans for Voldimort”

Yet, bumper stickers are not the only way one can express one’s self through the usage of the back of one’s car as a palate. I haven’t witnessed any incredibly clever uses of this space yet, but I have experienced numerous entertaining moments made possible by my inept interpretation of other drivers’ messages.

This morning I was driving behind a pick-up truck with a hard shell cover for its bed. On the shell’s window was a giant orange decal of a flaming soccer ball speeding towards the iconic bust of Che. I imagine this person was a fan of both Che and soccer, but isn’t it a bid disrespectful to depict a scene where it looks like Che is about to be decapitated by an errant meteoritesque piece of sports equipment?

Two days ago I passed a mini-van that had a giant decal adorning the upper third section of its rear window professing their enthusiasm for underwater hockey! Of course, I thought this was wildly cleaver and ironic, as hockey would be impossible to play underwater. Apparently I was mistaken, and according to youtube, people actually play this wildly exciting and extreme sport.

Yesterday, as I was munching on my second donut of the morning, I got caughtbehind a truck with a a huge sticker  in the window pleading: “CURE DIABETES.”

Well, that was ironic.

However, my favorite misinterpretation of a message came a few weeks ago as I was driving behind a Ford Bronco from the late eighties or early nineties. While stuck in traffic on my way to work, I glanced at the license plate frame, which had a partially obstructed bottom line due to its massive chrome bumper. I read it slowly:



WOW! I thought to myself, That is beautiful. Only in San Francisco would we see a bumper sticker with such affirmation for one’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered grandson. If my son or daughter were to come out, I only hope I can be just as supportive.

I continued to move along at a snails pace, unconcerned with my inevitable tardiness. I was in a state of  euphoric calm, certain that the world was a beautiful place, and secure in the knowledge that all other concerns in my life were trivial. Continuing to peruse the back of the Ford Bronco, my eyes moving from bumper sticker to bumper sticker, I read:

“Proud to be an American,” written in giant white letters over an American flag waving in the wind.

Ummm…  okay. Interesting juxtaposition with the license plate frame, but not unheard of.

“Gun control is a steady hand,” written on one of their bumper stickers.

something doesn’t seem to be adding up, I thought, feeling a bit guilty for stereotyping conservatives, and my accompanying disbelief that patriotism, the NRA, and gay pride could coexist harmoniously in the same space.

I glanced back over at the license plate frame of utopian origins for answers. What am I missing here? How else could I interpret this partially obstructed message?

The answer:

The license plate frame actually read…



With a quiet chuckle to myself, and a couple shakes of my head in disbelief, I slowly made my way to work with slightly less hope than minutes before, but with a little more humor to lighten my day.

Teach Your Children Well…

… Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.

-Crosby Stills Nash and Young

Last week my mom was honored with an award for being teacher of the year in her school district! Alas, distance and baby care made witnessing this event unfeasible, which was sad, because my mom said that the people who preside over this event wear hats that look  like upside down ice cream cartons. So not only did I miss my mom’s big day, but I missed seeing people in ridiculous hats.

While I was not physically present at the banquet, I’d like to think that I was there in spirit. On the day leading up to the event, and during the evening of, I thought about my mom and what a truly great teacher she is.

While in middle school, I tagged along with my mom to work when my vaccation days didn’t quite line up with my mom’s. Mostly, I think I just played with legos in the corner. However, I do remember the kids seemed to get their work done when it was asked of them, and they seemed to be happy and entertained in between assignments.

Not a stellar review? Well, seeing my mom teach on two random days isn’t really a fair way to evaluate her teaching. Moreover, the smiles and engagement were just subtle indicators of that which I already knew–my mom loved teaching, she approached teaching creatively in order to best figure out how to help students learn, and students reflected her passion and effort in their own love of learning.

How did I know my mom loved teaching? How did I know she approached teaching with out-of-the-box thinking? It could be that I developed this knowledge over time as I would be part of my mother’s captive dinner time audience. Every night my mom would talk about what she was doing in class–what one particular student said, the upcoming project she was looking forward to–as she literally could not keep her excitement to herself.

"Cheese, Gromit! Cheeeeeeese!"

One night she would talk about one of the boys dressing up as Coco Chanel for the class report and assignment during Women’s History Month. Another night she might talk about the puppets they were making for a show as they learned about storytelling. Some nights she would talk about how she got the entire class to imitate Wallace’s reaction to cheese from the claymation series Wallace and Gromit. Other nights she would talk about how epicly inept she was at math, yet she was finding ways to teach them nonetheless. On occasion, my mom would talk about story time–I believe she called it “Stupid Story Time”–which she would use as a reward when the entire class behaved well. Stupid Story Time consisted and continues to consist of less than five minutes of my mother improvising a story with almost no point whatsoever. There was no end to her sharing.

Still, my mother’s utilization of oral tradition during dinner time to chronicle her adventures in the classroom does not fully inform my knowledge of her excellence as a teacher. I know she is a great teacher because, along with my dad and brother, she has always been one of my best teachers.

Story time was a staple in our home before it became a regular element in her classroom. My mom would read us stories, changing her voice, and infusing emotion and excitement into the dialogue. My brother and I had nearly every Roald Dahl book read to us. I think we asked her to read The Phantom Tollbooth to us about eight times over. Had the Harry Potter series come out during our childhood, I don’t think there would have been any way that my brother and I would have not become writers, as I am sure my mother’s readings would have become mesmerizing events.

It was my mom, not my elementary school teachers, that truly taught me how to write. She always told me, “Make it easy. Write the way you talk.” And in order to assist me in in writing “the way I talk,” she would explain how a comma was “a short pause,” and a period was “a breath.” So while I may not be the most creative, competent, or grammatically excellent writer, I definitely have her to thank for being able to string words together in any sort of semi-coherent form.

It was my mother that was my primary teacher of empathy. Whenever my brother or I wronged another person (and usually it was the two of us wronging each other), it was my mother who asked us to reflect upon how we might feel if the wrong had been done unto us.

She might have actually been too good at teaching us empathy. My brother, during his toddler years, actually took to repeating my mother’s rhetorical questioning when he found himself being scolded. With his fists pinned to his waist, he would ask, “How would you like it if I yelled at you for not putting away your toys? How would you like it? Would you feel good?” I, on the other hand, now often internalize the hurt of others so deeply that I am paralyzed with guilt for causing others even the slightest bit of discomfort. Yet, I probably wouldn’t change a thing. As one of my mentors once said, “Your weaknesses are often your greatest strengths gone awry.”

Yes. It was my mom who taught me my multiplication tables in the car, as we would drive from place to place. It was my mom who taught me mnemonic devices in order to attach dates to important events in history, and to remember the correct spelling of fundamental words (“You wouldn’t want to fri the end of your friend–friend.”). It was my mom who taught me my sense of humor (for better or for worse).

So congratulations, mom. The award you have just received is long overdue. A committee of people wearing ice cream cartons as hats has finally validated that which hundreds of children and parents already knew: you are a truly extraordinary teacher.

Just remember, before the ice cream carton hat people, two decades worth of students, and their accompanying parents had any clue that you might be the most excellent teacher of all time, your children were already well aware of your greatness.

Why Don’t You Do…

… what you do when you did what you did to me?

-Jermaine Jackson

I heard this song the other day while I was riding along in the car with my partner. Maybe I’ve been living under a rock for the last twenty or so years, but this was the first time I have ever heard it. I now know that, noneother than, Jermaine Jackson is responsible for this gem. Yet upon hearing the chorus to “Do What You Do,” I couldn’t help but laugh and exclaim, “Those have got to be the vaguist song lyrics of all time!” Actually, that may be the vaguest proposal one could make to another human being.

This got me thinking… What might a conversation look like with that proposal as the crux of the dialogue? Here is what I came up with: