I was part of a movement of "dinosaur moms" when I lived in Maryland (Astrodon Johnstoni is the Maryland state dinosaur.) Which is nothing more than this -- dinosaur moms delight in the half-feral nature of the beasties they parent, even as they whisper Shakespeare and Kierkegaard in their ears at night.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God

I have never belonged to a church. My parents would sometimes take us when they got to thinking we were growing up to be rudderless heathens and easy prey to cults, but the fervor quickly flamed out and Sundays were reclaimed by Bugs Bunny. Any denomination of non-threatening Protestant would do. We attended the nearby Presbyterian Church long enough for me to memorize a few Bible quotes, learn some cute camp songs, and perform as Joan of Arc in a saint’s pageant. The kids I knew from that congregation would later become the Young Lifers of high school.

Later, when race became a ground of conflict between my parents, my father would take us to an old-school Black Baptist church. He enrolled me in the choir, in hopes that I would thereby gain some soul. There was a lot about that experience that I imprinted on. I liked the way it got hot and bright when the morning light shone through the stained glass windows; the sweat flying off the brow; the grandmas getting the spirit and needing to be fanned.

I liked the message, which was always some variation on the theme of our abject wretched unworthiness of God’s attention and utter gratitude for even the basic fact of our existence – our breathing, our waking – let alone our other blessings too enormous to be contemplated. Seen through that lens, the deprivations which were so evident in that humble Black community on the outskirts of our prosperous suburb seemed insignificant. And the otherwise meek girls sang with the power to make the walls come down.

Homely and yet exotic, this community was my birthright, if I’d stayed long enough to learn its peculiarities. Which I didn’t. And then I spoiled it by thinking too much. It got so I couldn’t see past the minister’s petty agenda and the congregants’ mindless head-bobbing.

And then in college, of course, I was militant agnostic to atheist and rather a snot about it. I came to identify with Shaw's book. Ironic, given how very White that particular pastime turns out to be.

And now, in mid-life, I am joining a church.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Facts of Life Are All About You

Reading my dear friend Mrs. Y’s facts o’ life blog has put me in mind of my own first forays into the birds and bees talk. My father was in public health, so I grew up as sort of the local authority on the subject. I was even a little political about it. I had a responsible fatherhood poster on my wall with pregnant men, which I thought was deliciously subversive.

At an impressionable age, I read in Cosmo that every woman should carry a passport and a diaphragm in her purse at all times. I could proudly report that I’d been carrying the “three for free” in my purse since I was old enough to drive to the free clinic. “Three for free” were the tropical colored (and reportedly snug) condoms that were discretely placed three to a paper lunch sack and kept in a bowl on the counter. I considered it a feminist rite of passage to dare myself to walk up and lay claim.

It was my pride, but it was also my cover. If I was the tween and teen set’s answer to Margaret Sanger, then I could talk about these things in the abstract, keeping the spotlight off of my own personal choices. I was assumed to be too worldly-wise to be the dreaded “V.” On the other hand I was accepted as so above-it-all that it would have been as childish as snickering in sex ed class to speculate about the specifics.

Thus, the only peer pressure I ever felt about the matter was to read up on the latest perversions, lest someone get hold of a copy of Forum and scoop me. I envisioned Girl taking after me in this respect, though with a touch more class (as I did have rather a potty mouth).

So it was with this in mind that I busted out the graphs and charts on my little homegirl at the tender age of 8. She had always been fascinated by guts and gore, so it was only a matter of time before the expurgated children’s anatomy books were to prove insufficient. She asked. I said ask me tomorrow. She asked me. We went to the library. Thus armed with sensitively rendered pen and ink drawings, I launched in.

And it was really really hard (as it were). There was so much I wanted to shove into my little presentation -- my baggage, my ambitions for her, and just the sheer volume of data -- that it all came out in one earnest sweaty monologue. It wasn’t so much discussed as it was sort of soldiered through. Beats me if she came away from it with anything useful at all; beyond this is neat stuff; it’s not anything you need to be bothered about for a long time; it’s to do with these parts; love and babies are part of the story…

I’ll have other chances, but considering how comfortable I thought I was about this stuff, I was really all over the durn place.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

In praise of the humble house party

Jones just recently had a birthday. Girl is about to have one. Both milestones will be rung in by a good old-fashioned house party.

Said party will take place from 1 pm to 3 pm on some Saturday reasonably close to their actual dates. We’ll put up a couple of balloons and put on some inoffensive party mix. Every kid in the class and every kid in the neighborhood close to your age is invited. Exceptions are allowed after third grade or so.

Said party will consist of 30 minutes of arriving, a craft, some punch, some pretzels and such; 20 minutes of breaking and looting a piƱata, 30 minutes of decorate-your-own cupcakes with several kinds of ice cream, more punch, blowing out the candles; 20 minutes of opening the presents, which devolves into playing with the presents, which devolves into running around like sugar spaz banshees; and 10 minutes of collecting up your goodies and saying goodbyes.

The themes have been more or less inspired (Make-your-own superhero was a hit.) The fare has been more and less healthy -- though seldom rising above the level of celery with peanut butter on it (Once, we made our own pizzas.) But after some experimentation with Chuck E. Cheese and his brethren, this is the formula I’ve come to.

I am bourgie enough that I essentially do think of a birthday party as a right, not a privilege. And I am proud enough that I do try to be clever. I have had my moments, but I’ll never out-do my writer friends (Let’s play Calvinball and then go geo-caching!) But I also deliberately try to tamp it down.

I'm with Dinosaur Mom. I mean, why mess with it? It’s not your debut. It’s not a field trip. It’s not a statement (Unless the statement is -- Get me. It’s my birthday.) It’s a party -- cake, ice cream, goodie bag -- what?