My Baby

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I think every mother with an African American son was gut punched by the Trayvon Martin verdict. Every time I looked at my baby yesterday, I saw an image of him as a teenager. I kept imagining him with all the baby softness gone, replaced by that vulnerable swagger of the boys who ride skateboards on the sidewalks in front of the mini-mall around the corner. Several times, I had to turn by back to Tariku at the museum, so he wouldn’t see me crying for Trayvon’s mother.

Parenting is living in a constant state of delusion, somehow tending to the minutia of daily life and not thinking about the fragility of our children’s lives. We shove it out of our consciousness, because we need to make sandwiches and do dishes and get through bath time. If we were constantly contemplating the worst that could befall our kids, we’d just stand there breathless with our arms around them. We’d never let them go. But the truth is that at some point you have to let them go to the store to buy Skittles on their own. And when my son walks out into the world, he will face different dangers and prejudices than that of his white neighbor.

The Trayvon Martin tragedy has brought the oppressive sterotypes confronting people of color to the forefront of a national dialogue. My initial response has been intensely personal, of course, but it’s important to allow that emotion to propel you into the game. Emotion has to be balanced with action. I was heartened by the protests yesterday. These students inspire me.

I love this post at Rage Against the Minivan, because it details specific action steps you can take if you want to be part of the solution. Acknowledge your privilege. Diversify your life. Don’t be afraid to get in the conversation. Notice when you’re making assumptions based on race. Confront the assumptions and stereotypes of others.

My heart breaks for his mother. Over and over, it breaks.

Invisible Hurts

You could hear a cracking sound last week, as if the world’s largest tree had just been split down the middle by lightning. The sound of collective heartbreak.

There are far smarter and more knowledgeable people than I talking about gun control and mental health care issues right now. I think it’s obvious where I stand on both. Yes. Yes, gun control. Yes, health care. Yes. Please.

My two favorite parenting-related posts on the tragedy are Kristen Howerton’s Five Things to Consider Before Talking to Your Kids About Today’s Tragedy and Claire Bidwell Smith’s Holding Them To My Bones.

I do feel compelled to comment in greater depth on the issue of trauma. How do we respond to trauma and the resultant fear, both as individuals and as a collective? Do we build a higher fence around our homes and our hearts? Do we vow to be the one with the biggest stick next time, so that no one will ever make us feel this afraid again?

This is a literal question in terms of gun control, but it is also a spiritual dilemma that I believe is becoming more and more urgent for us as a society. Every day our soldiers return from war, PTSD sending shock waves through their lives and relationships. Children flood the social service system, manifesting the emotional scars of abuse and neglect. And, as is on all of our minds, the children who survived that Sandy Hook bloodbath will have to eventually learn how to wake up again in the morning and live- hopefully lives in which they can love and trust and feel safe. We are faced with the frustrating and elusive task of healing wounds you can’t see.

I have had many people look at me skeptically when I discuss the impact of early childhood trauma or the devastating effects of PTSD. I think people have a hard time considering a slippery, invisible emotional problem, with very few black and white answers. It is hard to sit with the pain of others. It is hard to be a witness to the suffering of our fellow humans, especially children, and not know how to address it. But denying the existence of the wounds won’t make them go away, won’t absolve us of the responsibility to heal them.

Trauma treatment is a more complicated subject than I can get into in this internet-attention-span-friendly post, but I can tell you that none of the treatments, none, involve arming people with a bigger stick. Trauma victims are deeply afraid in places to which the conscious mind doesn’t even have access. You can’t treat fear with more fear. You have to go at it with love. With conscious, patient, and fearless love.

If you’re interested in healing modalities for early childhood trauma, Heather T. Forbes and Bryan Post are two of my touchstones. And for my money, Christine Moers at Welcome to My Brain is the sanest, coolest trauma mama around. I also love Pets for Vets.

I wish healing for all your invisible hurts. I wish light for you, in these dark winter days.

Words, Even When There Aren’t Any

An essay about my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau is on The Rumpus today.

It took me a long time to write the essay. I started it twelve different ways and nothing I wrote seemed to express my experience with any degree of emotional truth. But sometimes when words aren’t enough, we have to write them anyway. Because silence isn’t the answer either.

Happy Hanukkah. It’s a holiday about bringing light into the year’s darkest days. I wish light and love to you all tonight.

You Are Here

How’s this for surreal (Dali’s got nothin’ on me)…

Two weeks ago I was trick-or-treating on our tree-lined street in sunny Los Angeles (dressed like a cave family with a pet triceratops):

Today I was freezing my tush off at the haunting, beautiful memorial at Plac Bohhaterow Getta (Ghetto Heroes Square) in Krakow, the site where the Jews of the Krakow Ghetto were corralled before deportation to the concentration camps during the Second World War.

Krakow architects Piotr Lewicki and Kazimierz Latak created the memorial, comprised of 70 empty bronze chairs, representing the discarded possessions left behind after the liquidation of the ghetto.

I experience these things differently now, as a mother. I stood in the square and kept thinking of the mothers who hid their babies in their backpacks, in their suitcases. The mothers who were separated from their children. The mothers who stayed with their children and died with them. I could go on with the ghastly thoughts that nearly made me lose my borscht, but I won’t. I don’t think I need to- you parents out there are with me, I know you are. I said a prayer for the mothers who stood there before me under circumstances so horrific as to be unimaginable, and for the mothers in the world today still suffering similar atrocities. I went back to the hotel and wrote a letter to T. I do this sometimes, when I have something I really want to tell him that’s not developmentally appropriate. I keep the letters in a folder to give to him when the time seems right.

Tomorrow I’m taping an interview for a talk show called Rozmowy W Toku, talking about the Polish translation of my memoir. How amazing that I get to be here to experience this beautiful city that carries, among many other things, this terrible scar on the face of the world. How remarkable to stand and witness all the healing that’s grown up around it.

Stay tuned for more dispatches from Poland…