Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January 2012

Venturing into the blogosphere like a scared rabbit because it's been so long. Have things changed? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Still teaching at that small college. Still struggling with academic writing. Still being challenged by J but lifted by M and A. My younger children amaze me, my eldest bewilders me. I have found love in a most surprising place. There, I have found peace and impatience and regret and unabashed joy. I am left breathless.

Yes, yes, things have changed. I have changed.

At a time when I thought my name was most ironic... I have found bliss.

Today, I drank a margarita, sitting next to my children, in a suburban restaurant. We laughed and looked at our phones and shared things coming across the airwaves. Just like all the others at the tables. Not-so-little-but-still-little M turned to me with her round rosy cheeks sprinkled with freckles, smiling at her iPod and the games and the music, feeling so grown-up. I wish she could stay eleven. In this moment, I hope she'll always feel as beautiful as she is. I hope she'll always believe she is as smart as she is. I hope the world will not steal her confidence and sense of inner and outer beauty.

The salt on the rim of the glass is good, and I lick my lips. We pay the bill, gather our things, and run to the new red car, yes, yes, red, red as a sun's summer kiss. We flip on the music and drive into the dark.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Arizona and Anti-Latino Sentiment

I have rarely used this blog to share political opinion because I'm not very good at it. I tend to jump with knee-jerk emotions first, common sense second, and deep liberal bias third. Maybe not in that order. Despite that disclaimer, here I am, sharing political opinion.

Arizona's recent laws give local police the power and authority to chase down illegal immigrants, as well as school districts to ban ethnic studies classes and oust teachers with accents. These laws have really gotten under my skin because they nicely legalize Latinos as the scapegoats for our country's problems. My Facebook profile is full of links to these articles alongside my bitching. I'm doing it knowing I've got a slew of conservatives as FB friends. I am desperate, I find, to change their minds even though I know it will not work. They are dug in, their feet stuck in the mud of "patriotism." And when I look closely, I cannot help but notice that the conservative FB friends are mostly white. If they're not white, they are Latino family of mine who grew up in Orange County (pretty much...white) and pretend they are not Latino except when it is convenient.

My mother raised me in a pro-farm-worker environment. She never let me or my siblings forget who picked the food on our table, the lettuce, the spinach, the strawberries, the green beans. She also reminded us that the workers for the most part were not documented and treated very poorly. For years, long past the time of the great Gallo-wine boycott, she would not drink Gallo wine. Even today when I see the name of Gallo, I pull back my hand, opting for something else. My great-grandmother worked the migrant farm-worker routes alongside her last husband on her way towards citizenship. She landed in the San Fernando valley, raising her family to adulthood and then dying surrounded by many generations of Mexican blood firmly rooted now as American citizens.

Today when I read and hear the vitriol towards "illegal immigrants," code for Mexican, and I see the person speaking or see a shot of the writer in his or her byline, I cannot help but see they are not Latino. They cannot connect to these people who have broken their backs for the comfort of these same complaining citizens. It is very frustrating to me. "They" do not know. Now, I am well aware that there are Latinos that support Arizona's efforts, and whites that are against Arizona's efforts. Of course.

But still, I hear the anger, I hear the hate, I hear the denial of responsibility. I think "they" do not know. They simply lift their fork full of hand-picked food to their mouths, scraping their forks against the plates and drinking their local wine made from hand-tended grapes in their little cozy dining room after a day in the office or the store or plumbing someone's house. From that comfort they rail against those people who are invading their country and taking their benefits. It is strange to me the profound disconnect. The denial of their OWN histories. The denial that it is their demand for cheaper products and more interest on their pension plans that corporations will hire the cheapest labor possible who can only be...undocumented workers who will not complain about the wages and the conditions.

Enough railing.

The year is ending for us. I have grading to do, as always. I am looking forward to summer vacation, mere days away. I look forward to lazy times by the pool, a writer's conference in Jackson Hole, catching up on an online teaching certificate, prepping for the fall, contemplating yet some more a law review article. I will not rail about the circumstances of J. That is reserved for another post.

Much on my plate.

Is that a Santa Ana breeze on the horizon? It is too bad that it is not enlightenment; no, just hot air.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Schools are tightening up...

D couldn't get into his classroom at the local middle school because someone stuck something into the lock and broke it off, meaning the door lock was broken. Once inside, he read a memo that let him know that the school district cannot afford copy paper, or tissues. So he has to buy his own copy paper, and buy tissues for the kids. Meaning...god forbid that the swine flu comes around and kids have nowhere to wipe their running noses!

School has most definitely started. Fires are burning, kids are grouchy, parents are tired. Is it Friday yet?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine: Joy

I cannot help but be in awe of passion enacted, of seeing the temple in which a person's heart lies. As J lounged about at the foot of my bed, near midnight, laughing and chatting with me and D, I knew he was happy and proud and satisfied. Rarely do I see this person. Rarely does he allow himself to feel the joy to the point where it spills out, splashing those who love him most. It was a wonderful sight! They were precious moments indeed.

See, tonight he played his music - shared himself at his best with strangers, friends, and family at a humble restaurant-bar in the suburbs - he played his drums, driving the music with his excellent timing and lively fills. J and his band played their fave music, a 45-minute set of good old fashioned rock and roll. At the end of the set, he and his bandmates each got paid 50 bucks, and the restaurant owner wants them back. An awesome night. He was exactly where he wanted to be. He was where his heart truly lies, where he thrives and lives and breathes.

One year ago, J was kicking and screaming as we signed him up for an ongoing, formal "rock band" music program in our city. He didn't want to do anthing that even hinted of "school." The program director was young and hip and yet J proved a major challenge to him. J said horrid things aloud, rebelled against the structure of the weekly sessions, he sometimes didn't want to go to practice. The director would sort of look at J in distress, laughing sometimes, cringing at others. He admonished J. Sort of implied that maybe J shouldn't come back. The director was like a first-time parent (in fact, the session J attended was only the director's second session of his cool new program). Never had he encountered such an unpredictable and difficult to wrangle kid (we were so proud).

D and I figured this was yet another path that he'd burn up. Oh we fought him on it, we pushed for it, but we knew this was up to him to pull off. So J slogged through that first session, concluding the five weeks by playing three or four rock songs with other students at a big outdoor show (part of a music festival in our L.A. suburb). Another five-week session was about to start. D and I prayed he'd sign up but doubted it. J complained about the director, about being older than some of the kids he played songs with, about the time away from his "friends", friends D and I desperately loathed (and still do).

The director (like all smart and loving parents) decided to try a different approach with J. Before the session was to begin, he called J on the phone to personally invite him to the program once again. He used plain words, saying simply, "You're my best drummer. Nobody gets it like you do. I need you to be a leader...not a fucking shit head." Please know, the young and hip director had our full support.

J signed up again. And again. For the past four months, he has not only been a part of the formal program, but got asked to be part of a separate band by a fellow program student. The best of the best, really. These other kids are awesome, great kids. These kids comprise J's band - they have grown to be good friends. Very good friends. The band has played quite a few shows around town. Played at an under-18 club, at a party, played at a couple of fund-raising carnivals. All on their own, with a little help at booking by the parents behind the scenes. And they're good! I knew J knew his stuff, but how cool that these kids found each other, all very talented for being so young, all passionate about music.

Now, yes, they are well-supported by their parents. I worried about that actually. At first, they seemed like five kids stuck together, playing music their parents liked. J, of course, was most worrisome. He would get a bit moody because these weren't HIS friends. He liked them, but they weren't his people. I don't worry any more. He has slowly begun to prefer his bandmates to his friends. Slowly. In fact, they have not only become good friends, but true professionals.

When the lead singer quit (you're not a real band until someone quits!) a few short days before a gig at a carnival, the remaining four buckled down with the lead guitar player taking over lead vocal and let me tell you, they played the hell out of that show. They were in a pinch and they tackled it, without the parents calling any shots. I was most proud of J.

They have a new singer now who played tonight, another great kid with a great voice and that same amazing passion in someone so young. In other words, an excellent match. Mind you, the boys advertised for a new singer, got a hit, auditioned him, and took him on.

Yes, yes, tomorrow we'll get angry at J for more rebellion, for more poor decision-making. He will continue to struggle against those damn boxes until he can get to music full-time. We will struggle with trying to get him into the box because that's our job. We're hoping for a little compliance with the continuation school...for meeting with the school-appointed psychologists...because we are his parents and we have to do the "right" thing to keep him off certain rocky, unpaved roads to which he seems ever-drawn.

Not too long ago, someone commented to me, "Why the hell are you encouraging this rock and roll crap? He needs to be in school!"

We encourage the "crap" because we ARE his parents, and we see where his heart lies. It is a beautiful place. It might not look like YOUR might not offer up a degree...or a corner office...or a pension plan.
No, J's temple is deliciously dark, and moody, with colored lights flashing, tall amplifiers blaring, electric guitars whining, where beers and tacos get carted around by curvy waitresses, and there's a tip jar on a step. His temple smells like cigarette smoke that wafts in from the outside, and there are flirtations happening on the side of the stage where he can't quite see. There are girls in the front dancing and making eyes at the players, and there are grown folks who nod and bob their heads the incessant beat and say, "damn, I remember doing that," or "damn, I wish I'd been able to do that way back when..." The temple is filled with music...and joy.

Tonight J was at his best, he was where he is supposed to be. For that, I am in awe.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Our entertainment for today: putting out seeds for birds.

Saturday, August 08, 2009


Throughout this summer, I've been reading Danny Miller's highly moving story of the premature birth of his twin sons at his blog, Jew Eat Yet? His tale of the loss of his son, Oliver, and then of Charlie's fight for survival in a Los Angeles NICU, has brought his readers along on a harrowing journey that reaches all the amazing parts of parenthood. In reading Danny's heart-wrenching entries, I cannot help but turn to my own children, and see them again as the miracles that they are.

It's not that we, parents of children who are..."out of the box" for lack of a better word, can ever forget the amazing fact of having a family, but rather that we can (at least *I* can) easily lose perspective. And maybe it's just me. Maybe I have unreasonable expectations, maybe I'm so influenced by what we're all "supposed" to be doing, that I cannot see the good parts of children who are not like all the others.

The other day, the Bliss family was having dinner with my sister's family. sister AB, is one of those lucky people who has children who are highly compliant. They follow the rules, they heed the demands of their parents, they perform fantastically at school. Rebellion is simply not a part of their lives, and I'm quite confident, based on obverving their personalities, that rebellion will never be a part of their lives. It's just not in them. this dinner, my son, is trying to explain why he has to leave the party early. Why he has to get up at six in the morning to pick up trash at the local park.

Community service. This simply does not register on the mind of my nine-year old nephew. So J is his special way smiles broadly and says to little T, "I'm helping society and our environment tomorrow morning! It's a good thing to be green."

Yes, it is.

Our summer has been filled with a lot of music, J and A both are in cover bands and they're playing all over town - at band battles, baseball fundraisers, and J's band is playing in local under-18 clubs. They're having a blast and doing well. M is busy with swimming and guitar lessons.

We're all playing lots of Playstation Rock Band gigs. We've been to Mammoth Lakes and have been completely indulgent in going out to dinner. I've done lots of reading, prepping for classes and a presentation in October, and lounging around in idle and funny conversation with the kids. We've watched a lot of tv, our feet up, popsicles in hands, our dog in our laps. The summer has been surprisingly cool. When it's hot we swim in our community swimming pool. We've had few battles this summer since the boy both decided summer school wasn't going to happen, but for the most part D and I have just focused on enjoying the free time we have without the onus of work.

Our vacation is coming to an end and the routine will once again jump up and force us to strive towards "in the box" behavior. But until that day, we've tried to adjust our perspective and soak in the miracle of our little family. Thank you, Danny, for sharing your story and reminding me of the amazing parts of life that get swallowed up in routine and living in the box.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Summer Again

Wasn't it just a couple of months ago when I posted about Summer, 2008? I had big plans and accomplished few of them. Wasn't it really just a few months ago when I posted that J was determined to not fail the semester? Well, here we are, June lurking in the short distance and he is failing all his academic classes. He plans on continuation school in fall. He plays in a band and hangs out with his friends. He has locked himself out of driving, proms; he has no phone, he gets no money from us, or extras. Essentially, he has no life. The school did everything they could, short of doing the work for him. Every teacher sat there with everything they possibly could to get him to give one little shit about getting a "D". We yell every so often, but for the most part we have given up. His future in his hands.

We did everything within our economic means. We did everything emotionally but bleed out in front of him. The doctors have examined him up and down. He's on medications to address his disorders - he skips taking them. He curses us when we don't provide him with money or a ride anywhere. There is no "punishment" that elicits anything, nor any reward either.

It is hard to be supportive because there is not much to be supportive about. That he takes a shower? Good job, son! Oh look, he's walking on the sidewalk! Excellent, he remembers his password for MySpace. Nice job on getting dressed and finding your own way to your friends' houses. I can imagine that for some these would be miracles. I have completely lost all perspective.

I dreamed last night his friends broke into my house.

We simply stand by and watch him fall lower and lower. He wants no help to move forward. He doesn't want to move forward. He simply doesn't care.

I do not know what to do any longer...short bleeding out in front of him simply to end a terrible ache.