Saturday, March 13, 2010

Buying Time

From my Reading at Oakland's Rock Paper Scissors, March 11, 2010

It all started, much like most parents’ fears, at the onset of my oldest daughter’s puberty. Her hormones raged, mildly at first and then swelled into tsunami-like waves- ebbing and flowing like a madwoman, charging forward and then crawling away; ranting and then crying. Demanding milkshakes and turning away from my hugs. Her half-ass attempts at dressing for school turned into hours in the bathroom. Weekend mornings pleading for pancakes and cartoons were replaced with groggy breakfasts at noon… which were followed by extended naps behind closed doors. Then, came talk of boys- and then girls- and then boys again.

Throughout those oh-so-magical first years of puberty, a deep and desperate panic crept up from somewhere inside of me. As I caught our reflections passing by a window one morning, I realized that my sweet little girl, who once nestled herself to sleep in my arms and came running and sobbing with skinned knees and gravel-embedded palms is not a little girl anymore. At all. Instead of climbing on my shoulders to see through the crowds we sometimes find ourselves in, she stands nearly eye-to-eye with me, wearing my clothes and make-up. As a parent, I have accepted and even come to cherish the constant changes in my kids and the stages of development they weave in and out of. But I also more-recently realized, with much less confidence, that someday in the not so distant future, this little girl who is quickly becoming a woman is going to fall in love, have sex and quite likely going to have her heart-broken.

Now, upon this realization, all of my self-righteous ideas of raising strong, ass-kicking, take-no-shit, tough-as-nails, sexually-liberated feminist daughters immediately switched to fear and dissipated. I managed to keep my anxiety under-wraps for the most part and expressed it casually at first, with my sweaty palms shoved firmly into my pockets. I’d hint, nonchalantly, that “eh- boys, shmoyz: you’ve got the rest of your life to deal with them. They actually take a lot of time and patience to deal with. You should focus on your art and get your math grades up first. Spend more time with your friends instead of worrying about them.” Eventually, however, I found myself desperate with a sense of control that I had never imagined and began, with much neurosis and embarrassment, to offer my sweet teenage daughter, cold hard cash to avoid relationships all together.

First, I dished out an offer of $100 to not kiss a boy until she turned 16. Easy enough, I thought. I could buy her obedience, right? Super easy with teens, right? Next, I stepped it up a notch and offered her $300 if she waited until she was 18 and suggested an increase in funds if she could hold it together through the following years of college. My worst nightmare was for her to let the Twilight series inform her world and have her get all wrapped up in a co-dependent relationship with a whiny, starving emo vampire guy or some aggressive, angry werewolf guy (no matter how sweet his abs are). So I pushed the money her way. Her response, complete with the stereo-typical “are you fucking kidding me?” teenager facial expression only fueled my inner madness as she began making counter-offers, “well, if I do get a boyfriend and start kissing and stuff, then, like, I guess I’ll just give you some money, ok mom?”

I was screwed. I talked to friends and listened to advice, which made me feel mostly better. Then, I rehashed my own behavior during my teenage years, which really did nothing other than motivate me to find chastity belts and chains to lock her up with. Finally, after much obsessing, I understood that I had to let it go. More importantly, I realized that I couldn’t afford or justify forking out cash for something so ridiculous when what she really needs are braces and a new pair of shoes. But I did arrive at a place of really understanding my motives around this issue. Becoming this dreadful, overprotective mother would essentially rob my daughter from experiences she needs to have to become the amazing woman that I know she is. I’d be robbing her of all of the fun and magic and awkwardness of first kisses and late night phone calls and eventually giggly girl-talk over rug burns and tear-jerking, soul-shaking passion.

As I began to loosen my death grip on her, I also faced my own issues. What I was trying to do, mostly on a subconscious level but also because I am mildly nuts, was to buy my own way out of the hurt and abuse and soul-crushing heartache I had fallen victim to. As parents, we will quite often go to ridiculous lengths to protect our kids and I found that I was a willing and eager warrior set out to battle against some mythical future that I hadn’t even caught a glimpse of. I never want her to worry about whether or not she is good enough for some guy. I don’t want her second-guessing herself or believing that she should change to accommodate someone else’s media-influenced beauty standards. What I lost sight of in focusing in on the troubles I’ve seen, are the kisses that cause knees to shake and go limp, late night whispers, the adventurous thrills of vacation sex, Sunday afternoon rendezvous with secret lovers, and the empowerment that comes along with allowing pleasure and connection with people in our lives.

I know I can’t protect my girls from everything, despite a natural mama bear instinct that wells up inside at just the thought of them shedding even a single tear. What I can do- and should do, is continue to encourage and empower them by example. The best I can do is to be honest and available and show them that I am worthy of the love and passion that sometimes comes my way. This will hopefully pave the roads with confidence, regardless of which direction they take. I also know that I need to let them live their own lives while I balance between stepping back and opening my arms to them when they need to come crying, cracked hearts and bruised egos. And, just as a back-up plan I have stashed that $100 bill away in a Swiss bank account in case my new found humility ever takes a back seat.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Radical Parents LOVE Radical Allies!

From Rad Dad Zine #17
I had a lapse in judgment with the company I was keeping, in boyfriend form, about a year ago. One of many, a heated argument arose around the topic of politics and my often-radical parenting approach. The dispute arose when I mentioned tabling at an Anarchist Book Fair. I elaborated about my children’s participation and he about lost his shit.

“You know Anarchists? And you allow your kids around them?” He asked, wide eyed and stunned. “You don’t consider yourself to be one of those people, do you?”

Here we go again, I thought, attempting to keep my eyes from rolling back into their sockets.

This wasn’t the first, nor I am sure, will it be the last time that I felt the need to carefully and thoughtfully defend and explain myself and my parenting politics. The terms radical and anarchist tend to invoke unwavering disapproval and fear when coupled with the word parenting and somehow manage to ironically place those using the terms into an isolated box.

Anarchist parenting has received the worst of raps. Many an assumption is made about the parenting practice, most of which revolving around the idea that Anarchist parents refuse to discipline their children, leaving them free to wander the streets, armed to the teeth with Molotov cocktails and spray-paint cans. Parents can thank the negative stereotypes portrayed on the evening news when reports of violent protesters are used as scapegoats in order to deter viewers from the deeper issues that need attention.

For me, radical parenting consists of keeping an open and honest dialogue with my children in regards to the many often horrifying and seedy situations that my government enters into. This also means that I try to focus on alternatives to government involvement through community building and supplementing institutional education with stories of untold histories and unexplored lands. Without discovering and creating alternatives to the current institutions, history will in fact be doomed to repeat itself- and who doesn’t want more for their children than the flawed systems we’ve all had to work within?

Discipline is also a part of my parenting practice, though I tend to lean more toward boundary-setting, correcting behavior and the natural consequences philosophy. I absolutely demand respect as an elder, a provider and as a woman, which tends to create some interesting challenges with me, as a single mother of two little girls. No one ever said it would be easy raising radical feminist daughters in our patriarchal society and I have found that patience, consistence and flexibility are priceless attributes that have taken me nearly fifteen years to cultivate. I have been called on my shit by my girls more times than I care to admit and am constantly needing to remind myself that these girls are the newest generation of leaders and that I’ll be sent my karmic payment points in the near-distant future.

In addition to creating authority-questioning children that tend to assert their anti-authoritarian ideals at inopportune times like bedtime or in line at the post office, radical parents are often confronted with their fair shares of challenges. In a society full of nosy strangers just dying to gush out unsolicited advice and ask personal and intrusive questions like: “Is the father involved?” or “Don’t you think it is dangerous taking them to that rally?” parents of all walks of life can quite often feel under attack for choices made on children’s behalves. It is also a tough act to teach our children to be allies without being overbearing and controlling about behavior. It can be exhausting to constantly be “on” and continuously deconstructing the countless societal myths we, as a community, are up against. Myths about beauty standards, elections, gender roles, class and race struggles- it can all be overwhelming. This is where the importance of a radical community of allies- both parents and non-parents alike- is crucial.

Parenting can be isolating without these allies. Sometimes the unsupportive outside forces can be family members, boyfriends/girlfriends, co-workers or even friends. Oftentimes, the judgments do come from total strangers. Regardless, knowing that the community as a whole is there while tough times present themselves and through the many dilemmas we are faced with is the only way the radical parenting community- and its varied parenting practices- can thrive. None of us can do it alone, no matter how strong and innovative we think we may be. We also need to remember that radical parenting takes many forms- whether the practice is presented in a tie-dyed, unschooled, vegetarian package or with parents that speak open about sexuality and encourage children to do a history report on the prison industrial complex or Malcolm X instead of Unicef. Families that live outside of the mainstream boxes are confronted with enough shit without being judged by other radical parents. There is room for us all and with open minds and support, together we can change the world.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

“I’ll Meet You In Albuquerque”

It never ceases to amaze me how death and loss and grief tend to shape and control the mind. Those first weeks were quite the testament to this and I am continually amazed at the shaping and controlling that has taken place in my head through it all. The most hurtful, painful, anger-inducing memories I had of him became grey and fuzzy and I was immediately brought back through a series of snap-shots that were shiny and pretty. Then suddenly, after the static-covered events of those days were set on fast-forward, he was dead.

I don't know if my mind and my heart took charge and rearranged things in order for me to protect my girls from the gruesome, violent and horribly awful ending of his life and the incidents that slowly led up to it over the last several years, or if this is one of those mysteries that I will never quite understand. I could blame his family, the lack of mental health services, the person who sold him the guns or the people who first introduced him to drugs. I could even blame myself, but there was no one who could take it back and change what happened. Regardless, the most random and wonderful memories crept up repeatedly over those first weeks- along with the most excruciating pain I have felt in my life.

I kept remembering details of my trip across the country with my girls in our old VW van and how I was anxiously looking forward to meeting him in Albuquerque on our way to our new property in Arkansas. I had never, in our entire relationship, been so excited to see him. I remember the fox and the coyote running across the freeway late that night in the middle of the desert with my girls asleep in the back seat, wishing he was there to see it so we could have some philosophical conversation and laugh about the significance of those two animals and what it must have meant. That was the last summer we spent together and the ending of his only year of sobriety. We spent that summer sitting out on our porch every night, surrounded by fireflies and thunderstorms before we headed back to California where everything quickly unraveled... where it all went grey and ended in that place of sleepless nights, chain-smoking and gut-wrenching pain; two little girls with too many questions to answer and too many emotions to comprehend.

I still have my evenings of visiting insomnia, along with bitterness and heartache on behalf of my children. I spent months with the girls in my bed, surrounded by his childhood toys and even his clothing that I had held onto; books on explaining suicide to kids and social security paperwork along with a death certificate stacked on my nightstand as a constant reminder, a psychic sucker punch that would greet me every morning. The memories I was so painfully flooded with those first weeks morphed into a pre-sleep collage that my mind set up. A repeating reel of images haunted me every night and consisted of both the best times of my life and the details of his sudden relapse and suicide.

My daughters were eventually ushered back to their own beds and the books and papers have been filed away, replaced by a small box of his ashes and pictures on our hallway altar. Chauffeuring to soccer practice and play dates transformed to shuttling to after school therapy appointments and planning weekend trips to grief camp. I worry about how his suicide, which happened immediately before he had planned to visit and take them camping, will influence their lives and their relationships. I worry about the extra burden I have been weighed down with as their mother and I worry that I will never be able to make it all OK for them. This is one injury that a kiss and a band aid can’t repair.

My mind has slowed down to a more tolerable place over the last several months and I am sleeping more, threw out the cigarettes and began putting food into my belly again. I am no longer holding it together in a false tower of emotional stability during daylight hours and then sneaking into the laundry room at night to crumble and sob in a heap on the floor. Thanks to hospice counselors, I don’t have to do this all alone and my lovely girls have someone other then their exhausted, mess of a mother to talk to. I can focus on the "bright" side of things like the unwavering friendships I have been blessed with, my plans for more traveling and this unknown future my girls and I have ahead of us. I am no longer desperately trying to understand the reasons behind his death. I no longer torture myself with futuristic visions of my daughters in dysfunctional relationships or addicted to drugs. And though I refuse to let his loss define or shape us as a family, it has changed us forever. We’re taking as much time as we need- one foot after the other- and will surely come out on the other side stronger and more powerful than ever before. Much like the Miwok legend of the fox and coyote, we’re creating a new world for ourselves and nothing can stand in our way.

Crazy accidental double exposure photos of Dave and Ava by Sara Sanger 2001 and Jessamyn Harris 2009.
Mourning photo of girls and I at Dave's memorial in the Phoenix Theater by Jessamyn Harris 2008

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Letter to Howard Zinn

RIP Howard Zinn 1922-2010

Dearest Howard,

The world is mourning your loss today and attempting to comprehend the vastness of the empty space you leave behind. I can't stop thinking of the ways in which your wisdom and dedication to sharing the truth of America's history has forever changed me and carved me into the person I am today. I want to thank you.

It was in the early 1990's, while eagerly attending my first junior college courses that I was introduced to People's History. The instructor of the history class I was enrolled in informed us that your book was required reading, that it would shed lights upon the often forgotten and untold stories of those in our country who were not the winners; those who were not the heroes of the various battles we, as a nation, have faced. Your book shined a light on my own personal history as well and for that, I am forever grateful.

You may have heard this hundreds, maybe even thousands of times through your 87 years on our planet, but your teachings were the catalyst that shot me directly into my life as an activist. I devoured your book. And devoured it again when it was revised in its newest editions. And I cried. I cried in mourning of the people who stood so bravely before my time, only to be shot down- oftentimes quite literally- for working for a better world. I cried for the forgotten immigrant families from around the world and I was determined to somehow, in my measly little way, make sure their struggles were not in vain. A series of lights also ignited on a personal level when I realized that the uncontrollable angst and self-loathing in me weren't merely the norm for the youth of the day, but rather a result of the social constructs that were erected in order to keep poor women like me in our place. I no longer felt isolated or "crazy" for having the questions and feelings that came up in discussions about race and class and gender. And most importantly, through the knowledge I gleaned from your book, I found a community of others who were feeling the same.

Through the years, you came up repeatedly in conversations. After the war in Iraq began, your quote, "There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people", was secured to the bumper of the van that my children and I lived in while looking for housing. Strangers would often follow me to my destinations only to ask where the quote came from and so came opportunities for open dialogue about the state of the world- and so came a deeper sense of camaraderie and community in an often troubling and painful time in my life, and the life of many others across the planet.

I could write you volumes and critiques and reviews of the specifics of what you have written and how it has changed the course of history here in America, but somehow part of me knows- beyond a doubt- that you are cashing in your karmic currency and basking in the glory of the beautiful unknown for the work that you've done in all of our lives.

Cheers to you, Mr. Zinn. May you rest in the peace which you have earned.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Skunk Love

The icy air pours through nearby windows as I write. A hat is pulled down to cover my cold ears, and a fleece blanket is around my shoulders to protect me from the elements. I am cold and exhausted from another night of restless sleep, and sip my coffee in hopes of managing a productive day. No, I am not writing from some impoverished refugee camp, but rather from the long-gone comforts of my Santa Rosa home where I have found myself the unwilling madam of an under-the-house skunk brothel.

According to Marin County's WildCare, skunk breeding season is in full swing. During this time, they say, male skunks are more excitable and spray more readily, while the females often spray to get rid of potential mates when they aren't feeling the love. With the weather miserably wet, skunks seek refuge in dry places like basements or crawl spaces under homes, emitting a romp-fest-induced stench of gaseous clouds along with all-night torturous screeching and thumping. It's enough to push patience for the furry little lovers over the edge.

When the aromatherapy candles have burned down and the boiling vinegar—meant to neutralize the wretched odor—can no longer be tolerated, it is time to evict little Pepe le Pew and his stinky concubines. Though first instincts are to call animal control and have the pests removed, this is not the most humane of choices. Not only are trappers legally forbidden to relocate the animals, and therefore will usually release the critters within 100 yards of the trap site, many are required to exterminate the animals. DIY eviction is an alternative.

Wildlife experts give this advice: scatter flour or baby powder around all possible points of entry in the afternoon. As the creatures exit the open spaces, foot prints will be detectable, indicating that it is time to tightly cover these openings to deter the skunks elsewhere. With rain and wind fairly prevalent this time of year, these attempts may be tricky and do indeed take patience. After confirming that the annoying intruders have vacated the premises, get to work boarding up entryways and maybe installing skunk-sized electric fences. Finally, the windows can be closed again and cozy, indoor wintertime activities can resume.

For more information about humane animal removal, call Marin County's WildCare, 415.453.1000; Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, 707.526.9453; or the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County, 707.224.4295.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fresh Breath

Rose Logue, known to fans as Rose Harting until 2008, has won the hearts of many through her magnetic stage presence and her deeply soulful rendering of pop and R&B melodies from a petite 5-foot-6-inch frame. A native of Sonoma County, Logue has been singing and performing since childhood, most recently with the eponymous band she formed in 2007. Logue's spark has even graced the stages of Paris, France, where she lived and performed for several months in 2008. With her signature sparkly smile and untamable upbeat energy bursting from her, it is difficult to comprehend that Logue, nearly 34, suffers from cystic fibrosis (CF).

To date, there is no cure for CF, a life-threatening genetic disease that affects mucus levels in the lungs and pancreas, causing chronic infections and difficulty breathing. According to the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the average life expectancy has increased slightly over the years to age 37, up from age 32 in 2000. With often grim statistics about battling CF, Logue continues to beat the odds and is one of many who depends on medications, air-clearance techniques and proper nutrition to maintain quality of life.

Diagnosed as a child, Logue is no stranger to the various complications and health issues that arise, and recently spent several days in a Santa Rosa hospital. "It is a part of living with the disease," Logue says, refusing to let it hinder her positive attitude. She instead focuses energy on family and friends, music, a fairy-tale romance with her long-lost high school sweetheart, David Martini, and, of course, finding a cure for the disease.

Until now, Logue's disease-curing efforts for CF organizations have concentrated primarily on fundraising through her musical contributions (she has participated in Detroit's Rock CF concert and recorded on an album for the Seattle CF Foundation, among others). This year, though, Logue has stepped it up a notch, aiming to kick CF to the curb by training for a half marathon to benefit 65 Roses, a CF charity that pays for research projects, medications and other treatments for those living with the disease.
"I am running those 13.1 miles to raise money for people with CF," Logue says. "But also to celebrate and be grateful for having the health that allows me to still do this. Having CF reminds you to live!"
The 65 Roses marathon takes place on Sunday, Jan. 31, in Miami, Fla. Donations can be made at

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Love Laws for 2010!

Though we've mostly managed to keep laws off of our bodies and rosaries away from our ovaries, it is increasingly difficult to keep the church and state out of our bedrooms and away from our otherwise intimate relationships. Though many new and updated laws blast into effect as we ring in the New Year, the most interesting in the lot tend to focus on defining and protecting domesticity.

Starting on Jan. 1, 2010, same-sex Californian couples who can't legally marry in the Golden State can now jaunt off to such exotic and progressive states as Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire and, yes, even Iowa to obtain marriages. Upon return to California, these unions will be recognized as legal and valid with the same rights, protections and benefits except for the right to legally refer to the contract by the title of "marriage."

While the bill, known formally as SB 54, won't legalize same-sex matrimony and abolish homophobia overnight, it is viewed by some gay-rights defenders as another tool to whittle away at the discriminatory laws against same-sex partners. Along with the Federal Supreme Court challenging Proposition 8 on Jan. 11, 2010, and the recently signed Hate Crimes Prevention Act (also known as the Matthew Shepard Act), which increases sentencing for hate-based violations starting in 2010, rights-advocates hope to have a stronger case for legalizing love in the great state of California.

Furthermore, to step the marriage rights movement up a notch, the proposed 2010 California Marriage Protection Act (CMPA) intends to crusade against the evils of divorce by deeming it illegal for couples in California to end marriages. By honing in on the hypocrisy around the issues of Prop. 8 proponents' desire to "protect marriage," the CMPA—spearheaded by comic John Marcotte and featuring such slogans as "Hell is eternal—just like your marriage was supposed to be"—hopes to gain enough signatures to secure its place on ballots later in 2010. What began as a satirical strategy for fighting discrimination has gained to support of conservatives and liberals alike.

Other relationship-related laws ringing in the California new year include new laws AB 532 and AB 14. While AB 532 allows police to secure search warrants in order to remove guns or other deadly weapons from homes in the case of suspected or reported domestic disputes or mental health incidents, AB 14 grants police the right to declare any vehicle suspected for use in prostitution a nuisance and can impound it for up to 30 days, therefore inviting lawmakers not only into our bedrooms but also into our cars.

North Bay Bohemian: