Monday, May 28, 2018

strength, mama

I have been sorting and stacking, cleaning and organizing this long, rainy weekend. 2018 will be remembered as a spring of rain, and the flood has been consistent. The only constant is change, after all. God is change, according to Earthseed. Written on looseleaf ripped from a composition notebook in 1997, I bring you a poem that has so much relevance now, 21 years later, because I am searching for the strength, in so many aspects of my life. I see how strength does come in numbers, much more now than I saw it then, when I was concerned about the units of pain my own body could endure, alone. Growing up a bit has caused me to know that while I hold some strength within, I pull it from others, from the world, from the wet ground and plants that bloom despite the circumstances. I give you strength as I receive it from you - this is the mutual aspect of love that I didn't understand at 17. I am never empty, because the love I receive from everyone around me, of this world and of the ancestors, fills me everyday.

strength, mama

strength in numbers, mama says,
as I’m closing the heavy oak door.
walk by myself to my car,
frosted gloves close minus hands       in

I wish that I could’ve met you when I was
when my mind wasn’t washing
valet-parked cars in Illinois.
when I had some opinion
to share with everyone

strength in numbers
you ring through me
as a reminder

I don’t know where you are, but I want
to buy lamps with you.

I want someone’s name to put on an emergency card
on the “in case of emergency, call _________” line.

I don’t think
I’ll ever have
someone to pull up the covers around,
fluff pillows for,

strength don’t come in numbers, mama
it comes from stomach muscles
and resistance to tears,
detachment from those who
“aren’t good for yr self-esteem.”

so strength me until I cannot strength anymore.
I need a little weakness
drumming through my veins.

-lmf, circa 1997

Sunday, May 13, 2018

meditations on motherhood (again)

days like this always toy with my relationship to society's determinations of what womanhood and motherhood means -- because we flaunt our gifts on social media, as if somehow proving ourselves to be good mothers through consumerism, and long to be away from our children.  or at least, i do.  but it's a rainy day, we are stuck inside with one sick child and the other one napping, it has been a morning of tantrums, screaming and fighting and I intended to go to the park anyway, because my sanity is at stake on a daily basis, but it was pouring too hard to make that a reality.

I woke up, made breakfast, did dishes like I do every weekend morning.  my husband had made me a lovely brunch, there is a beautiful bouquet of white roses and bright violet plumes that I don't recognize, so I am still quite privileged here, friends.  I raise children with my husband, who is a more adept parent than I am and I have significant moral support, but on weekends, I am alone.  Mulay and I make our lives and jobs work by essentially trading the kids off, and rarely see each other.  we are working this hard because we know it will be worth it in the future.

I am not a consumerist, which means that I do not desire gifts, flowers, cards, or candy on holidays.  I want time and memories.  yet, I have been in a funk of sobbing for days, for those who are incarcerated and cannot see their kids, for those who have lost their moms, or lost their daughters and sons, parents of varied genders who don't fit into the binary celebration of parenthood, the loss of my father and grandfather in a short period of time, being stressed at work.   I feel burdened under the weight of motherhood right now, in that nothing I seem to do is good enough, the right way, and my patience wears thin, everyday.  even on days of supposed celebration, I find myself potty-training, fighting two stubborn mini versions of myself through every section of our day; I yell way more than I want, but I cannot stop the rage from exiting my throat.

with the greatest of intentions (often different than impact), I am trying to raise free, black children.  I want them to educate themselves as broadly as possible, in many languages, on many continents, in the world as well as the library and the school building.  I want them to have consent over their bodies and ask for consent from others.  I want them to know their value, their worth, their beauty as well as the history that black skin carries, that they will carry, but that they do not have to stay in America, where this disparity is the most deadly.  I am trying to raise people who value knowledge, who play fair, who read emotions like books, who talk through their frustrations, who use creativity and activity as outlets for rage, who travel and learn.  Creation not destruction is what I want to teach them.

but here's the thing:  just like my students, they teach me far more than I could ever teach them.  how can I preach equality, but not always listen to them?  why do I feel a need to be in control?  nas asks me questions like these, and sometimes I need to put myself in the time-out to consider the answers, because they are right.  sometimes i am unjust, i am dictator of the dining room, parenting is a series of wrongs, and all of the "i'm sorry"s, and "i'm just trying to love you the way i know how", which is never enough, or the right way, or at the right time.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

For Digger

My dad passed away quite unexpectedly on March 20th.  There is a lot of writing to process, more tears than I ever knew were possible or legal, lots of beer drinking and telling of stories about everything that made him such a larger than life personality.  My family has never experienced a loss this close before, and I feel so blessed to have had him in my life for 64 years.  I wanted to share what I wrote and read at his memorial celebration on Sunday, to try to capture in words what an incredible human being he was.  Over 500 people showed up to his celebration, and we received hundreds of more calls, texts, cards, posts, flowers, food and offers of support from our community across the world.  On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support, and thank you also for respecting our need to grieve and process quietly by ourselves, as well.

For Digger
Read at his life celebration - March 25, 2018
Knight’s Steakhouse, Ann Arbor, MI.
By Lauren Fardig-Diop

My dad was the strangest person I’ve ever met, and from him, I learned to never
be afraid to be myself, even if no one else understood.  The strength that he
instilled in me, from not letting me quit a sport or game without trying, from pushing
myself physically on the field, to his honesty, his integrity, his humbleness make
me the person I am today.  I have so much respect and love for his inability to be
anyone but himself. To say that he was a simple man isn’t true, he was very
intelligent, but he was a guy’s guy, a sports guy, a barbershop guy, a guy who never
wore socks and cut his hair the exact same way since the 80’s.  His catchphrases
run through my head as I’m trying to sort through the memories that are flooding
back from 38 years of being his daughter.

The ice rinks he would make for us in the backyard every year.
That he was always up early, going to the gym with the boys.
His chair in the family room, always tuned into hockey, to crime dramas, to golf.
That we used to try to play a game about who could embarrass the other more,
me with dying my hair and walking into Knights, him by showing up at Halloween
High school to check on me.
The videos he would make of us, documenting every moment of our vacations,
hockey trips, ballet recitals that he got dragged to every year.
His wardrobe - dress sweats, golf shirts, loafers, no socks.  
That he has a sandwich on the menu at the Brown Jug.
Getting calls to be his DD at Frasers or Knights when I got my license.
4th of July at the Jacksons every year.
Tubing on the boat on Torch Lake, and watching him water ski with Tommy Ross
at the wheel.
Making Amy take the bus outside of East Lansing because he wouldn’t go to
Sports talk radio and traffic tipster Digger.  
Watching wim watching Danny wear Maize and Blue on the ice at Yost.
Going to softball games in Birmingham as a kid and tailgating with him
and his friends.
Michigan football games every Saturday at the Big House.
Family vacations coinciding with hockey trips - to Vancouver, to Chicago,
and eventually, all over the country when Danny played at Michigan.  
That he named a beer cooler Gary, and traveled everywhere with him -
and we referred to Gary as if he was a member of the family.  

I’m trying to find comfort in this:  He lived more fearlessly than most of us
know how.  He got to see all 3 of his children grow up, graduate from college -
all get degrees from Michigan, get married and find our careers.  He got to spend
quality time with all of his grandchildren, who loved him more than life itself.
Every single child he ever met loved him, because there was a playfulness,
a love of life that radiated from him -- there is no one else like Digger and there
will never be anyone quite as unique as my dad.  As we made the trip here from
New Jersey, I was thinking a lot about how he would want us to have a big party
to celebrate life and not be sad, but the shock of this loss has left me unprepared,
without the right words to do justice all that he means to all of us.

Thank you to everyone here, and everyone who could not be here but has been
touched by Digger’s sense of humor, his love of beer, sports and community.  
Thank you for your support in this most difficult time.

Cheers to Digger, a Wednesday Night Drinking Club legend!

Friday, February 23, 2018

On arming teachers

I have never held a gun, and that is an intentional choice.  I see their incredible power to succinctly end life, I see how obsessively low folks will stoop to retain their power, I see their capacity for murder, genocide, and our civilization's end.  I have never held a gun.  And I never intend to, especially in a classroom.  I think that I should know what to do should the need ever arise, but I am also frank with myself that I am too anxious, consistently set my keys down in the wrong place throughout the day, and the horror of thinking about what responsibility I would have to have a loaded firearm on my person would be too much.  I don't trust myself, I don't want the responsibility and don't I have enough responsibility already?  My job is daily disrespected by a government that continues to take funding and expect miracles with our children, and while I would be willing to give my life to save my students, I could not bear the thought that a firearm issued to me could be stolen, taken and used to inflict harm in the building where I love every single life that thrives. 

More than arming teachers, I am concerned with a culture that cannot put the lives of its next generation before its weapons.  I don't want to raise my children in a place so infected by individualism and greed that they can justify not valuing their lives.  On a local level, I know this is not the case as I have lived and worked in communities rooted in survival despite frequent loss.  So many funerals.  We have been working on policy, on buy-backs, on stopping the violence events, on safe alternatives for youth for years.  But the guns are here, and no one asks how they got here, who brought them here or why black and brown kids continue to die at record speeds, with bullets shot from officers, from peers, from enemies.

That we can look our youth in the face and call them paid actors, or pass laws allowing semi-automatic weapons after tragedies continue to plague our schools, our homes, our churches, our streets is unconscionable to me.   That we have trained our youth with a culture of violence and a spirit of resistance and then seem shocked that they are rising up is the perfect irony.

But more guns to solve the gun obsession is not an answer we can accept.  School budgets have been slashed so much that in my tenure as a teacher, basic teaching needs like pens and pencils, copier paper and art supplies are diminished way before the end of the year.  I am forever needing to Donors Choose and save receipts to attempt to get a tax break for the hundreds I spend each year.  Technology isn't as accessible as it should be in my, and many public schools, and we don't have space to teach tech ettiquette in our curriculum, or adequate funding to train teachers properly on using technology in their classrooms.  Yet, rather than investing in the future of our youth and asking teachers how to allocate budgets, we are instead looking for budgets for weapons and weapons training.

Instead of investing in restorative practices, more social workers and counselors, advisory, special education services and ways to engage and help every single child we teach, we are taking our gun obsession to new heights, still and always.   Instead of asking, as a society, why this is a uniquely American problem amongst first world nations, instead of considering the militarization of police and more guns in the hood aimed at the people by law enforcement as part of the problem, instead of considering that mental health funding is needed, screening is needed (both in schools as common practice and in order to purchase a firearm), our representatives are bowing to the money and signing bills to put "In God We Trust" in school hallways, next to armed guards.

Responsible gun ownership is not under attack with more stringent gun laws.  Banning automatic and semi-automatic weapons will not impact someone's desire to own a firearm, and caring about your community should mean that you are willing to jump through a hoop or two to ensure that only folks who should have guns are able to access them.  Though I think the 2nd amendment is sorely outdated with the ways in which technology has advanced, we can afford to disarm, we need to disarm our civilians if we intend to stop mass shootings.   But until we value life over profit, communal life over individual rights, black lives, Native lives, and brown lives, we will find ourselves in this place.  Right now, I am letting it simmer, basting in the discomfort and grief that has moved me to act for years -- because I still grieve for students and family who have experienced loss due to gun violence.  I save space for them, remember them and honor them in this pause.  Because we must move, we must act, we must resist, and we must let the youth lead us in the direction they decide.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

mom rant #2350938450985460958346098456

Once all of my journals and paper things are destroyed in the inevitable world war (over penis size) that will cause us to need to re-author history, I bet that one notebook will miraculously survive.  Scholars and anthropologists alike will scour its pages for clues about humanity before the apocalypse, and they will get grocery lists, lists of work I have to get done, and rants about my kids' behavior.

My kids are the best people I know, but they show me their worst.  Part of being a mom is being the force of unconditional love and care in the worst moments.  They get my worst, as well.  They get a few hours with me every night when I am exhausted from a tough, emotional job and a long-ass commute.  We all project our best online, and I am not the best mom sometimes.  I try to be honest about my motherhood experience, and to share more joy than complaint.  I have some "private" mom groups that I might vent to, and a few unlucky souls that I might text in an exasperated moment when I am crying in the bathroom about why they don't listen to me unless I yell and threaten to hit them.  I am non-violent in persona and it's literally what I do at work, yet I find myself so enraged by the actions of the little people I created.  I cannot adequately explain the rage, but it is subconscious, guttural, and I believe that children are cute as adaptive survival technique.

Online, in public forums, I try to focus on their cognitive and athletic abilities, cute moments and "kids say the darnedest things" clout, but this bolsters the narrative that I am a good mom.  Most days, I am not.  Most days, I do not love or even like being a mom.  Most days, I am grumpy, I yell, I struggle to be creative about activities to engage them.  Most weekend days, I struggle to leave the house, or shower, because I am constantly cleaning, re-cleaning, cooking, re-cleaning, doing dishes, re-cleaning, sweeping, mopping, doing laundry and attempting to keep them engaged in activities and not kill each other.  It is a straight-up battle for survival from 7am when Sali wakes me up, until 9:30 or 10, when after 2 hours of trying to settle them down, they both actually fall asleep.  Most days, I suffer from massive anxiety about every noise they make, every ball they bounce, every stomp and scream.  I just don't know how to let it go, even though I've spent years trying.

I am making this public, because it's time to admit that I need help.  I HAVE a lot of help in terms of my husband, who has cared for them magically for years at home when they were young, takes Nas to school and picks him up, cooks almost every night and participates in the bi-monthly massive clean-a-thon that is Sunday afternoon.  I am not doing this alone, although there are days when motherhood is incredibly isolating and lonely.  But I need professional help, I need self-care help, I need babysitting help, I need yoga, I need nam myoho renge kyo.  I do not have family here (aside from my husband's brother and sister-in-law, who are also of great help!) and I do not have friends in Jersey.  I am an introvert with an extremely extroverted job, so part of this is by design - I just don't have more to give when I get home from work, but I have to figure out how to have time, energy and patience for my own kids.  I feel like I've dug deeper than all of the oceans to try to find this patience, and I am still short. 

I cannot end this rant without perspective, and admitting that I am extremely privileged to discuss my shortcomings as a mother, in a way that women of color in this country cannot, because white supremacy already narrates them as bad mothers.  The best moms I know are black and Latino, some of them single moms, working multiple jobs, and holding that shit down a thousand times better than I ever could.  They are the real MVPs and I am just whining.  I am also aware that so many women and men desire to have children and cannot, and how dare I complain about something that so many people would die for?  I know, and I am empathetic toward their feelings, which is why I try to share some of the realness of parenthood, because the grass is always greener and we always want the life that is not our own.  I am grateful, I am blessed, but I still need support, and love, and time to be alone, and an uninterrupted shower, and a day without being headbutted in my nose and having it sting so badly my eyes water.

Friday, December 29, 2017

closing lists

I have not failed, though it has been a year of steps backward.  There has been movement, and progress, but it has been hard to feel positive and uplifting in a Trump presidency.  Everyday is a barrage of terrible news, be it fake or too true, and I know many comrades who have found peace and joy in turning off the news.  I can't shut out the world and live in a place of ignorance, though, so I try to be conscious of the time I spend on social media, and save things to read/process in rare moments of quiet.  Right now, Sali is sleeping, Nas is playing a math game (thanks Amy and Mani!) and I am getting a few moments with minimal noise to consider my coordinates.

As with everything these days, I think in lists.  Lists are linear expressions of what I want to achieve, and though I always fall short from completing them, they give me order in the chaos that is this world.  Lists are ways of organizing, planning, which gives me a temporary and oh so fleeting sense of control.  I was a control freak, but in order to survive toddlers, I have relinquished control, myself, my dignity, but not my passion.  Passion I keep in a special reserve, because somethin' has to power this train.

Here are my end of year lists, to set goals for myself and set intentions into the universe.  Because nothing is in my control except my actions and my attitude! (Lynn Malinoff voice)  But at least I can still pretend.

Places I Want To Travel in 2018
- Dakar, Senegal
- Detroit, Michigan
- all 5 boroughs
- somewhere old and beloved
- somewhere new and adventurous
- to an ocean and a lake

Experiences I Want My Kids to Have
- camping in the woods
- gathering kindling for a fire
- catching fireflies
- reading in low light, secretly
- helping people less fortunate
- feeling loved by new friends
- the joy of seeing family

Skills I Want to Learn
- keeping bees
- growing root vegetables and a kitchen herb garden
- digital resumes
- 5 new kinds of circles to keep
- how to perfect a centerpiece

Saturday, September 23, 2017

On gentrification and moving

We are moving again.  I am waiting for the chill of fall to finally find us, but global warming and disastrous weather is keeping the afternoons hot and the evenings only marginally bearable.  As we search for our next home and engage in the vulnerable process of displaying our financial information for brokers and agents across the city to see, gentrification is on my mind.  My husband has lived in our area for almost 20 years, and each time we move, he comments on how we are being pushed further and further south.  The line he used to say was "too far south" has now become the northernmost line of our search area, for the budget we have set for ourselves.

However, we are privileged enough to have requirements for our move - 1st floor, backyard for the kids, recently renovated or new build, near a higher rated public school, with in-building laundry.   We are negotiating, deciding what of our "must haves" are really not musts, and which are non-negotiable (sadly, I see laundromats in my future).  When I'm not obsessively combing rental listing sites, I have been lost in the history of how I have chosen apartments over the years and how what matters now is not nearly the same as when I was in my 20's.

Combing real estate ads and seeing Craigslist still has disclaimers about discriminatory housing, I'm also thinking hard about credit, and how credit has been this manufactured currency to de-racialize the housing search, but maintain segregation in neighborhoods, and thus in schools.  If a landlord is looking at my struggle to pay student loans reliably and makes a decision about me based on that, despite being an adult who has been living in paying rent consistently in NYC for almost 20 years, it will impact where my children are able to go to school and the quality of education that they receive.  I believe in public schools and sending my kids to diverse schools, where they learn about many cultures, faiths and ways of life, but I will fight hard for my kids to go to the best school I can.

Gentrification is a tricky thing, though, because while Mulay has lived here for decades, while I traversed the boroughs in a 4 year cycle, I am a midwest transplant who has only lived in Jersey for a few years.  I try my best to engage myself in the community, but working in the Bronx and being connected to community there, I am often a homebody here.  I frequent parks, have a library card, shop only local businesses & farmers markets, and try to avoid the chain stores, I vote in local elections; I try to make my politics evident in my daily dealings with where I live, but I am still a gentrifier.  This is true when I lived in East Williamsburg, in the South Bronx, Harlem and here in Jersey City.

This year, we are discussing whiteness and privilege as part of PD at work, and I am thinking about the fragility of whiteness lately - how easily we crumble in the face of hardship.  I am a walking hyperbole, and am always lamenting my struggles.  As I think realistically about this move that must happen within the next few weeks, I want to be grateful for where I am in life instead of lamenting and calling myself a mess.   Life can be messy, especially with kids, but I've been struggling to write about my trivial issues, when others are suffering the massive losses of hurricanes and earthquakes.  I feel that even though we must move ourselves, what's more important is reaching out to see what we can do to help those in our community and afar who have lost much more.  So I've been breaking out of my rental research in order to consider what we can give, and how we can let go as we consider our new space.

We've got this; we are a formidable team.