First Day of Kindergarten, So Help Me God
Have you ever seen anyone shinier and happier than my little girl on her first day of kindergarten? Me neither.
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This morning we arrived a speck late and I heard them start the pledge of allegiance. Staff and students took it so seriously: stopped, even in the hallways, faced the nearest flag, hand on heart, recited the hallowed words.
In high school as I was healing from early childhood I adored William Safire’s essay on mondegreens:
I led the pigeons to the flag
Of the United States of America
And to the republic, for Richard Stans,
One naked individual,
With liver tea and justice for all. Amen.
I have not been civic as a widow. The world outside was “one more damn thing.” I cancelled the paper before the memorial service; Gavin was the one who understood Bosnia. (I have a weakness when it comes to understanding “sides,” political or in dramatic movies. And I was the household’s economics department.) I pared down. I pretended I couldn’t care. To this day I barely follow health care reform, though I know it’s vital and even have a strong sense of mission about it.
But let’s be honest, I’m not an ironic teen any more; I feel the oath in my bones. I’m the kind of person who cries when singing the national anthem, even at a baseball game.
And here we are with a black President.
I’ve had such a hard time figuring out how to talk about the dread I’ve felt as my daughter approached her first red brick schoolhouse. Elementary school was almost hell for me and my sister; we were in a white minority, our parents too blinded to the virtues of the civil rights movement to apprehend anything. We learned of the holy saints Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, and trilled like good Castillians over “rrrRoberto Clemente.” We grew gnarled inside, wishing for black-is-beautiful cornrows.
Outside this home, every person had their own ideas and motivations. In second grade, a little boy showed his penis under the table and told me he’d kill me if I didn’t meet him in the playground after school. I believed him. It was a crowded classroom after a teacher’s strike. My parents wouldn’t hear, couldn’t have helped, given their own serious limitations. I fabricated a conflict with the teacher in our overcrowded classroom and managed to just barely escape. I receded into a cocoon of depression because those above didn’t think I was worth protecting. This event shaped the damages in my life. I’m still working, still hurting, still showing open wounds as I plead for help from above.
It’s not right to talk about it when I'm protecting my own precious jewel of a child, in her perfect pink raincoat.
But it was real, and it was then, and I’m not a child. I’m a mother. I can own my pain and accept it’s only my job to heal.
I know that my parents’ blindness, and their histories, which I’m still uncovering slowly, were more of the culprit than that little boy was. I know that growing depressed kept me intact, safe, from what was much worse. It was adaptive, now it’s not, and I’ve taken about a millions steps through and out of the pit.
I can take care of my girl. Remarrying (and a big macho man, at that) demonstrates that I can act appropriately. She’s not me, and I’m not my mother.
I was isolated. My mother felt contempt for the world. I’ve just been through enough of that, and I’m starting to love it, warts and all, again. I trust it (but require that all others pay cash). I like the complexities of our differences enough to look at them straight.
My daughter will be part of the world. As everyone reminds me, her challenges will be in some area that I can’t even imagine.
Will I be awake?
I face the flag of our land, which I’m so lucky to love. Let me not be afraid to ask for help. Let me know my limits. Let me be a good enough Mom for my joyful, secure daughter, keep my eyes and ears open. May we be safe. Please.
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