On Baltimore and mothers and privilege

by emily on April 30, 2015

I’m seeing a lot of articles about why we shouldn’t call Toya Graham a hero. Graham, in case you don’t have internet access under your rock, is the mother who was video recorded smacking her teenaged son and chasing him away from the looting in Baltimore. The articles I’m seeing are taking (white) people to task for calling her “mother of the year” and a hero because all she was doing was trying to protect her son from becoming another victim of the police.

Excuse my French here, but… duh. I mean, when I saw that video, all I saw was a mom in pure panic that her kid was going to fuck up royally and end up arrested or dead. Did y’all see something else? Is it like that white and gold dress thing?

That video has haunted me this week, and not because I don’t think parents should hit their kids. They shouldn’t, but that mother was getting her kid out of harm’s way by whatever means possible. I get that. I get that fundamentally and deep in my mama heart. It surprises me that any (decent) parent in this country looked at that video and saw anything other than astonishing recognition.

My sons screw up—sometimes big-time. I’ll bet yours do, too. I’ll bet you have a son who has punched another kid or one who has shoplifted or one who has screamed at the teacher. Maybe even stormed out of the school or broken a window. And—although we’re talking sons right now—I’ll bet you have daughters who’ve done some of these things or worse. These are exceptionally annoying and worrisome behaviors, even though they usually happen at developmentally appropriate ages and are part of growing up.

Watching Toya Graham this week, I realized that “developmentally appropriate” is part of the white privilege my kids and I enjoy. When my sons screw up, if the school overreacts, I can argue that they are learning from their mistakes. The school may or may not hear me, but I have a position of privilege from which I can say that. No one looks at my white boys and sees them as juvenile delinquents. (Well, not many.)

Black boys don’t have that leeway. If they fuck up, they may very well find themselves in the back of a police van with their spines severed. They may get shot if they don’t keep their hands visible. They may also get murdered for walking down the street to get Skittles, although that’s not much of a screw up other than that Skittles taste gross.

I talked to my kids about this unfairness this week. I don’t know how much they understood, but I wanted them to hear that not everyone has the opportunity to do the stupid shit kids do without ending up in a cell or a body bag. That the world is so unfair that a kid of exactly their age can face radically different repercussions for the same infractions.

Watching Toya Graham, I didn’t see a hero. I saw a mother terrified her kid would screw up. I’ve been there, and I’ve freaked out. I saw a mother who knew her kid could pay the ultimate price for a minor screw up. And I’ve never been there.

For the first time this week, I didn’t just intellectually understand white privilege. I felt it to the depths of mama heart.



by emily on April 9, 2015

Sometimes, my husband jokes that he married me for my matzoh ball soup. At least, I think he’s joking. He might be a little bit serious.

When we married, I made very good matzoh ball soup. Now, I make freaking fantastic matzoh ball soup. I’d tell you how I make it, but it takes several days, and you don’t have the time to read all of that any more than I have the time to write it. Suffice it to say the process involves two different chickens.

Because I need a showcase for the aforementioned soup, we host the Seder every year. I also serve brisket, which every year has been dry and flat tasting. Most likely because I cooked it in a slow cooker and just dumped some stuff on it. This year, my friend sent me her husband’s brisket recipe. The recipe was two-and-a-half, single-spaced pages. It was a two-day process.

Naturally, I had to try said recipe. It was like the Ron Dermer to the Netanyahu of my matzoh ball soup. No? Too soon?

Anyway, we invited family, who didn’t come, and a number of friends. Benjamin complained none of his friends were invited, whereupon I pointed out that all his friends have big families living nearby. Zachary complained none of his friends were invited, whereupon I pointed out that none of his friends are Jewish.

Both of the families who accepted the invitation had one Jewish and one non-Jewish parent. When I invited the family of Lilah’s friend, David, the dad asked if his mother’s best friend, Nancy—a retired history teacher—could join us. Nancy would be in visiting from Cleveland. It’s rude to leave your houseguest from Cleveland behind. For reasons that have nothing to do with Cleveland.

So, what with getting up at five on Thursday morning to start the brisket and the two-day matzoh ball soup and scouring the internet for the perfect charoset recipe, it didn’t so much cross my mind till on or about Friday morning that we only have service for twelve. And twelve Haggadot. And twelve matching napkins. We resolved this by cleverly mixing one different thing into each place setting. One person got a different appetizer plate, another got a different fork, another got a mismatched napkin. Two people shared a Haggadah. It was sort of a Martha-Stewart Jedi mind trick.

It was a lovely Seder with delightful company. Hebrew School seems to be paying off and all. I missed Miriam’s cup because I was in the kitchen pulling something out of the oven, and I spent good chunk of time serving up soup, and then there was the big reveal of the tszimmis, the quinoa, and the two-day brisket. So, perhaps I can be forgiven for not getting much time to talk to Nancy, the stranger at my table.

And that’s why is wasn’t until after Elijah had come and gone, after the first load of dishes were in the dishwasher, after we’d shared the afikomen, that I discovered I accidentally had a nun at my Seder.

I mean, how many of you have ever gotten to say that? It’s not a sentence frequently uttered. Nuns aren’t particularly common at Seders.

It turns out Nancy was having such a lovely time, she didn’t even realize she’d had beef instead of fish on Good Friday. Or maybe the brisket was just that good.


Why I’m Not Teaching My Son to Put the Toilet Seat Down

March 26, 2015

You may have read the title to this post and thought I had some deep philosophical reason not to teach my son to put down the toilet seat. Or you may have thought, “At least I’m a better parent than that lady.” Or perhaps you read it and shouted, “You know, a pilot intentionally slammed […]

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All My Life’s a Circle

February 28, 2015

It all started with the bananas. I was buying a snack for the after-school activity I was running at the kids’ school. I loaded six large bunches of bananas on the belt. They were fair trade and organic and all that crap, I promise. “It reminds me of ’30,000 Pounds of Bananas,’” I quipped to […]

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White Thanksgiving

November 27, 2014

The Thanksgiving montage I remember from my first decade was deep in snow. We went to visit a relative of my stepmother several years running. This woman ran a youth hostel, and my stepmother’s large Italian family converged upon it for the holiday. What I remember: A long, long table filled with so many people, […]

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The End

September 29, 2014

My darling, as I sit here in the dark, listening to you toss and turn, I want you to know how terribly sorry I am. Terribly, as in deeply and darkly sorry, for I knew this would happen. This is why we hiked for hours today, trying to exhaust your little body so that when […]

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Scene outside the school this morning

September 10, 2014

Me (responding to some question): It was nobody. Zachary: I am nobody, who are you? Me: Are you nobody, too? Zachary: Then there’s two of us. Me: A pair. Don’t tell, they’d banish us, you know. How dreary to be somebody, how public, like a frog. To tell your name the livelong day to an […]

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The evening before Labor Day

August 31, 2014

Zachary had his tenth birthday party yesterday, a week in advance of the day. In contrast to his brother’s party, Zach asked to have a few friends over, order pizza, make sundaes, and watch Episode IV. I told him he’s my new favorite child. He’s going to be ten, which means I’ve been a parent […]

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The Angry Inch

July 18, 2014

“Five feet, three inches,” the medical assistant person noted. “No, I’m five feet, four inches.” “No, you’re five feet, three inches,” she insisted. “No, no. I’m five feet, four inches.” “You’re almost five feet, three-and-a-half inches.” Writing it down. She was writing it down on my chart. It was going on my permanent record. “Well, […]

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In which the novice surpasses the master

June 26, 2014

Some days I don’t feel all that necessary around here. Today was not one of those days. Today was, rather, one of those days in which I felt with great, leaden spears the importance of what I’m doing. I felt more than I have in a long time—perhaps ever—just how unbearably significant and deliberate parenting […]

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