Posts Tagged ‘mothers and daughters’

Still thinking about Chibok, still thinking about those girls.  Today, I tried again to articulate my thoughts.

This isn’t an article about what we can do — or what someone should do — to bring those girls back home.  This is an article about education, about the fear of educated women, about the risks all of us take every time we dare to learn something new, to use education to change our situations.  The girls of Chibok were kidnapped because they went to school.

When I first became an adult literacy teacher, I had a student who was a confident, funny, intelligent member of the class.  She was an absolute beginning reader and was making gradual progress.

One night I met her partner and saw my student become small and withdrawn in his presence.  Her greeting and hesitant smile were nothing like the bright, wide smile we saw in class each night.

Instead of a greeting, he tossed her The New York Times, asked her to read to him.  When she told him she couldn’t, he asked why she bothered with school if she couldn’t read, told her she was lucky she had him to take care of her, that she’d be helpless otherwise.

I’ve thought about her so many times since that night, and thought of her as my initial horror and sadness over the abductions in Nigeria churned into anger.  What was that man so afraid of?  How could it have been so terrifying to him that his girlfriend was learning to read?  I know an answer to this question.  He imagined that an education would help her see just how much she didn’t need him.  But while he had every right to be afraid, he had no right to use his fear as a weapon to smash her curiosity, her cleverness, her smile.

In the years after that class, I saw many women for whom attending school was a dangerous decision.  A student in one program withdrew from classes when her boyfriend reported her for child neglect because she left her daughters with their grandmother to attend classes three nights a week.  A GED student missed every test she was scheduled for because as each test date approached, her husband would beat her so severely she couldn’t leave the house.  Another student’s partner destroyed her birth control each time she enrolled in school so that she would get pregnant and need to leave school before taking the test.

We aren’t the missing girls of Chibok.  We aren’t.  We have experienced trauma and abuse, but we aren’t those girls … except that we are, too.  I think about past students as my heart aches for those girls and their families because people around me keep saying they can’t imagine a culture in which girls would be punished, would be terrorized for wanting an education.

No?  Look outside.  Look in the mirror.  We are that culture.  And we, as women learners, teachers, researchers, advocates, and allies are fighting back against that culture.

And so are the girls in Chibok, and Warabe, and other Nigerian villages under the shadow of Boko Haram.  They are going to school.  Now.  Still.  They are asserting their right to learn, their right to determine who they’ll be in the world.


I use the “BringBackOurGirls” hashtag.  It’s one painfully small way to remind people that those girls are still missing, that many may already have been sold into slavery.  I can’t go to Nigeria and rescue them, but I can work here at home to change attitudes and dismantle systems that harm women.  I can continue to support WE LEARN and education for women as vehicles for equity and change, for putting power in women’s hands.


SOL image 2014

Slice of Life Tuesdays are hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

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I saw them again! The lovely mother and daughter from my Cat in the Hat post the other day! We were on the bus again, heading downtown. This time, the mom was doing the reading.  Her daughter was curled up against her, listening intently.  Mom was reading The Wind in the Willows. Put a smile on my face that she had chosen a classic.

The bigger smile on my face came from watching and listening to the way the mom read the story — thinking out loud after she read certain lines so that her daughter could see the way she thought about what she was reading, pausing and asking her daughter to predict what might happen next, etc.  I love how invested the mom clearly is in her daughter’s literacy, how patiently she waited for her daughter’s answers and talked through them with her, how cute they looked snuggled up together on the bus seat, deep in their story, deep in that book.

They made my morning.  And I wonder what I’ll get to hear them read next time!


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SOL image 2014

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My bus was super crowded this morning, and I was squeezed in the center aisle, standing all the way downtown. So much for reading on my way to work. I didn’t even have room to maneuver my bag and get my headphones out so I could listen too some music.

Good thing. Left my ears open for some conversation:

“I have always been someone who knows what they want,” asserted forcefully by a beautiful girl who was maybe 17.  “I always say what I want.  I’m not confused.  I’m complex.”

“Listen,” from a stern-voiced woman to her 9- or 10-year-old son, “you want me to change colors right now?* No? Then sit still and keep quiet.”

“Driver, you were supposed to tell me when we got to Flatbush.

“I will.”

“You were supposed to tell me.  I asked when I got on.”

“I will tell you.”

“Driver –“

“We haven’t gotten there yet.”

“Thank you, driver.  I still need you to tell me when we get to Flatbush.”

And then the best of all:

Seated near me was a little girl who was focused quite intently on a book. She was tracing across the page with her index finger, going over each page at least twice before moving to the next. I couldn’t see what she was reading because it was down in her lap. She was maybe six years old, so I was pretty sure  she wasn’t working through War and Peace, but I was curious.

Then her mom leaned over and asked her to read aloud. “I like hearing how nicely you read,” she said.  (And yes, how much do I love her for saying that?)

The little girl smiled and squinched up her face, concentrating.  She turned the pages back to the beginning and started reading.  I couldn’t hear her at first, but after a few lines, she felt more comfortable.  She lifted her chin and read out, not loud but strong.  And then I heard it, knew what she was reading.

“How I wish we had something to do.”

I’d know that line anywhere: The Cat in the Hat!

“Too wet to go out, and too cold to play ball,
So we sat in the house. We did nothing at all.”

I edged a little closer so I could listen in.  The little girl was wearing a Jayne hat** with an adorable, extra large and puffy pom-pom.  Her skin was such a beautiful deep, dark brown.  Her voice was quiet, happy.  Her face was serious as she focused on the words.  She sat up straight, but her mom leaned in a little closer, almost snuggling against her shoulder.

I will admit, I’m only a lukewarm fan of the Cat.  I find him a bit creepy.  More than a bit.  (He shouldn’t be trusted, not one little bit.)  And he triggers that thing I tried to describe yesterday.  The Cat is all about things that are just not right.  Too much Cat and I think my head might explode!

“No, no!  Make that cat go away!
Tell that cat in the hat you do not want to play!
He should not be here! He should not be about!
He should not be here when your mother is out!”

Hmph.  Tell me that’s not right.  Don’t get me started on Thing 1 and Thing 2.

But my mistrust of the cat notwithstanding, I was utterly charmed by my bus ride reader.  And equally by her mother’s clear pleasure in listening to her baby display her new skill.  An excellent way to get my morning off and running.


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SOL image 2014

(“I saw her — your mother — your mother is here!”)

*  I’ve never heard getting angry described in this way.  I kind of like it.  And I have to admit that, when I heard her say it, I really wanted to see her change colors.  That would have kept things lively on our commute!

**  Oh, that.  You know, a Jayne hat.  That was a Firefly reference.  The hat, as knit for and worn by Jayne: jayne_hat_4

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Melanie enrolled her daughter in drawing and dance classes as soon as they’d settled into the new apartment.

“Culture,” she said to her new neighbor.  “The kid has to grow up without a father, that’s one strike against her going in.  At least I can get her some culture.”

The woman nodded, but Melanie thought she detected a hint of pity, of alarm.

“I mean, I took piano lessons and dressage when I was her age.  It’s the least I can do, say.”  She didn’t wait for the woman’s nod, just turned and went inside.

Piano and dressage.  It was true for what it was worth, but that wasn’t much.  She’d never been interested in learning an instrument, and the riding lessons had quickly turned into easy cover for making out with João, a Portuguese stable hand she fell hard for the moment she saw him after her first class.

But her daughter, April, was different.  She would see to it that April took advantage of the right opportunities, that she never thought letting a 37-year old man play with her in an empty horse stall was a good idea.  April would never drop out of school to follow a man, certainly not one old enough to be her father who — when she reached the Algarve and found him — turned out to have a wife and a house full of children.

She didn’t think she had to worry so hard, in truth.  April was already so different.  Beautiful, for one thing, where Melanie was only pretty.  It pained her to admit, but there was no denying it.  Those looks would give April choices Melanie never had.

“And it’s my job to see that she goes down smart,” Melanie said to herself, watching out the window for April’s return from her first dance class.  “What else is a mother for?”


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PJ, aka my mom, was my travel partner on my little jaunt to New Orleans.  She is, in fact, the reason I went.  She called to say she’d booked a double queen room for the conference she’d be attending and why didn’t I just get a ticket and join her … so I did.

I haven’t traveled much with my mother as an adult.  We had many, many family vacations, sure, but as a grown up I’ve only had two trips with her before this one.  The first was a whole-family vacation to Ireland ten years ago.  And it was wonderful, but it was also a little overwhelming — so much family, so much to do, so little down time.  And then last year she came to Jamaica with me for a week.  That trip was heavenly.  Not only because going to Jamaica is always soul-filling for me, but because it was the first time I’d gotten to just hang out with my mother and relax in that way.  To be in that beautiful setting, to have nothing to do but whatever we wanted to do, to have gorgeous weather and lovely people around us and lots. of. time.  As I said: heavenly.

I knew the New Orleans trip wouldn’t be the same.  She was there to work, after all.  But we had every evening and morning together, and it was great. My mother, for someone who is actually quite finicky and particular, is also easy going. I’m not surprised to know this because I’ve known her a long time and all, but it bears saying as it makes her an easy person to travel with. As long as she’s treated well and folks don’t try to cheat her, she’s up for anything.

We didn’t do anything crazy in our few days, mostly just walked around and found places to eat. But like our Jamaica trip, it was the hanging out that had value (of course, the amazing jambalaya, fried chicken livers with pepper jelly, shrimp creole and chicken andouille gumbo had plenty of value, too). Such a luxury: night after night of talking and talking and talking with my mom. Again with the”heavenly.”

Her job, though responsible for bringing us to town, really got in the way. There were many things I would have wanted to do with her that were daytime-only things. And, too, staying out till all hours wasn’t an option when she had to be at the conference first thing in the morning.

And that tells me we need to look at planning more travel together, real vacations rather than me tagging along on her business trip. Why did it take me so long to realize how nice it would be to travel with my mom? I’m traditionally a solo traveler, and that’s surely part of it. I don’t really think about traveling with anyone. And I’m not saying I never want to travel alone again. Of course not, but how silly that this wouldn’t have occurred to me. I can see us going anywhere.

Stay tuned. This post might turn out to be “Travels with PJ, Part I” …

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Heh.  My computer hasn’t been playing nice with me lately: freezing in the middle of things, announcing that it is infected by some evil malware.  The result, aside from my utter frustration, is that I couldn’t get my SOLs posted for the last part of the Slice of Life challenge. Fox, in her online savviness, found a DIY article about the exact malware that’s hobbled me.  Last night I bought an external hard drive, and tonight I’m taking all my writing, music and photos off the computer and attempting to erase the badness.  (If that doesn’t work, there’s still the Geek Squad at Best Buy.)  It’s weeks now that I’m sans computer.  I have my mini, but it’s just so small to be an every day machine.  My big hands want a full-sized keyboard.  My aging eyes want a bigger screen.  Churning out grant proposals on this little machine made me tired.  But I’ve decided to stop whining.  I have a working computer, so I’m using it.  I missed the last weeks of the Slice of Life challenge, and I refuse to miss my month of poetry.

But what to do with all the SOLs I wrote in the last half of March but never got to post?  I like some of them.  A lot.  So, giving in to my love of the silly blog post title, I’m going to put them up over the next few weeks under the perfect-perfect heading: Island of Lost SOLs.

Here’s Lost SOL #1 from March 21st:

And the kitchen magic?  Well, actually just cooking.  The real magic of today is that we somehow managed to get all three proposals out the door with only an hour to spare before the deadline and got them all submitted.  I still can’t quite believe it.  If not for Mopsy and my boss, it would never have happened.

So, after more than a week of not enough sleep and almost no time off (Back to back weekends in the office is a bad plan, people. Learn from the error of my ways!), I came home tonight and … worked.  I am tired enough to just have walked in the door and gone to sleep, but instead I decided I needed to make some soup and do some baking.  Cooking always makes me feel better.  And not just because I like to eat.  I really like making stuff.  And baking … baking is all that times 10.  So, even on a night like tonight, cooking was a kind of relaxation therapy.

What was on the menu tonight? Baked Winter Squash Soup and whole wheat rolls.  This time I took pictures:

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I have recently felt the urge to bake yeast bread.  I bake relatively often, but I’m queen of the quick breads, the ones that require baking powder or soda, not yeast.  I made a spicy loaf of white bread a couple of weeks ago (really: it had cayenne in it!).  As I was kneading the dough, I realized I hadn’t made yeast bread maybe since I was a teenager, still living at home.  My mom was the bread baker.  She used to make several loaves of delicious whole wheat bread a week — the family supply.  I baked a little then, but never felt any pressing urge to do it.  That was my mom’s territory.  Then Fox started baking, and she was really good at it, so bread baking became her territory, too.  Fear not, I had some territory of my own — lasagne, in particular, macaroni and cheese more recently.  And I like quick breads, but they aren’t the same as the yeast ones.

With both Fox and my mom living three states away, I figure it’s high time for me to step into the territory I ceded to them so many years ago.  And, while I’m not sure where the bread-baking yen has come from, I’m enojoying both the process and the yummy results!

Thick dough yielding under my hands
minute after minute, again.
Smell of yeast is a memory –
my mother and sister knew how,
knew this quiet ritual. Now
that knowledge comes at last to me.
My house smells like family, like love
steam from fresh loaves rising above
warming my face with history.



My eyes need
something easy
come rest yourself
by here

– Ruth Forman

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There is a girl inside

There is a girl inside.
She is randy as a wolf.
She will not walk away and leave these bones
to an old woman.

She is a green tree in a forest of kindling.
She is a green girl in a used poet.

She has waited patient as a nun
for the second coming,
when she can greak through gray hairs
into blossom

and her lovers will harvest
honey and thyme
and the woods will be wild
with the damn wonder of it.

                                       — Lucille Clifton


Years ago I co-taught a creative writing class for 2nd, 3rd and 4th graders in an afterschool program.*  We did a lot of different activities with the kids to get them to see that it was ok to play with writing, to think of language as this cool tool they could use in so many different ways.

One of the activities we did was called, “My Wild Me.”  Each child got a small booklet that was mostly blank, but which had descriptive prompts: “My wild me acts like …” “My wild me always …” “My wild me likes to …”  That sort of thing.  We had a lot of fun with it.  I was happy to see that the kids had no problem getting in immediate touch with their wildness, that they had no hesitation about describing themselves as monsters and animals and mythical beings with super powers. 

This Clifton poem always makes me think of that group and that writing exercise.  Sharing a month of Clifton poems has been a wild experience for me.  She touches so many parts of my experience, my heart, me.  Reading and reading and reading through her work to choose poems for this month has been such a vivid pleasure.  I had to resist including the poem that led me to her because I wanted to share less well known pieces.  But thirty days doesn’t give me enough room.  There were so many other poems I would have loved to share.  But this month of reading has been a gift — sometimes beautiful, sometimes funny, sometimes painful, always amazing.

And then I came home from work last night (after that wonderful time of working with the teen theater group, after dinner out with my co-worker and some giddy planning for our Cayman Islands trip) and checked my email.  Checked my email and found a gift I would never have expected: I’ve won a free week at a gorgeous, beyond-my-means villa in my little corner of Jamaica!  No, really.  I entered a raffle — all proceeds go to the scholarship fund for local kids to go to high school — and I won!

My wild me, that girl inside, is dancing and screaming and singing and laughing.  She is shaking her too-fine hair and already feeling the sun on her skin, the sea washing over her toes.

At some point in the next year, I — along with (I hope) my mother and sister — will be staying here:

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I’m still having a hard time knowing this is true, that I have actually won this excellent prize and all the perks that come along with it.

Into my open hands,
like a glistening Blue Morpho
this enormous, beautiful YES lands
lightly, quietly, just so
perfectly. Shock and joy interweave
and accept, happily receive.


*  No, now isn’t the time to examine what a crazy move it was for me — Queen of Not Knowing the First Thing about Working with Children — to have taken on this job.  Now isn’t the time to talk about how completely those children ran over me.  We are only focusing on the good, on the fact that they were lovely kids and — despite having to work with me — they actually produced some lovely writing.

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