Fleeing from a Truth Too Deep

My ex-husband and I once had the occasion to rush our then four-year old to the emergency room for treatment of a deep gash in his forehead. Although the wound was cavernous, and watching the technician place the stitches was practically un bearable, an abomination of another kind occurred while at the hospital.

Since the accident happened so quickly, and we were terrified that the injury could have resulted in long-term residuals, we scooped our son up and rushed him to the emergency room. In doing so, obviously neither my ex or I took time to put on ‘the Costume.’

You know…the makeup, suit, heels and hair that supposedly mark our membership in the professional ranks and make us immune from the disses, slights and insults tossed our way like so many chewed bits of gum. All in my mind, you say? Let me recount the story and you be the judge.

As we arrived at the hospital holding bloody towel to the forehead of a limp toddler, an emergency worker yelled at us to enter through another door: “This entrance is for emergency personnel only!!” He bellowed. In my natural plus-size lawyer Barbie mode, I’d have taken him out in one breath, given that I’m not one to back away from anyone’s mistreatment. In my fear, however, I just ran down the walkway and went through the other door.

Once inside, given the circumstances, the usual triage protocol was expedited, and my son was immediately taken to an emergency bed. That should have been the end of the story, but that’s where the real atrocity began.

The emergency room physician introduced himself and the suture technician. I found his relatively matter-of-fact demeanor reassuring.

As he described the procedure to close the wound and the lack of findings on the x-ray, I felt more comfortable that my beautiful baby boy would not be physiologically impaired or horribly scarred by his accident. When he asked if we had questions, I asked: “Will the wound granulate up from the muscle tissue, or will it close from the skin down?”. He looked at me, took a breath, and asked: “How do YOU know that word?”

I explained that I was a medical malpractice attorney at one time, and that I spent many years working as a disability attorney. He then launched into a lecture about how they disliked treating the children of attorneys, and how hard trial attorneys made it for them. I stayed nice and calm, and explained that I was only there in my capacity as a Mom.

I understand that the average urban hospital ER physician meets dozens and dozens of people who may have little or no exposure to medical terms or concepts, and that with curlers, dirty t shirt and shorts, I surely wasn’t wearing the usual symbols of my profession.

That said, what would have happened if I’d taken offense at his question, instead of internalizing the pain that it caused? What was the implication to be taken from his question? That someone who looks like me is so inherently ignorant that I should be patently unable to comprehend anything he had to say? Was I rendered unworthy of a straight answer because I hadn’t had time to put on the ‘face’ that morning? The little indignities that we hurl at one another all add up to a monstrous truth: We make assumptions about each other based on superficial factors, then back up those assumptions with hurtful or harmful actions. Because America’s social hierarchy still clings to the value system that places people of African descent at the bottom, we continually inflict harm or suffer. When will it stop? When can people connect to each other spiritually without regard to race or class? I have no answer, and since this is not a polemic challenge to the system we live in, I’m posing these questions simply because our survival as a species depends on our ability to take stock of our collective pain, get past these issues, and develop more compassionate, loving ways of dealing with each other.

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Playing in the Schooltime of Others

A typical day in the life of an American toddler might include a trip to the playground, some television, snack time and perhaps a play date with a friend. With a few inexpensive additions to the normal routine, a youngster’s pre-school experience could be transformed from mundane to spectacular. A field trip to the museums, or a day at a petting farm are just two of the many exciting adventures that might spark a child’s imagination and eventually make an enormous difference in his or her performance in school and on standardized tests.

Very young children learn best when exposed to information that is visual or tactile in nature, that is, if a 2 year old can feel a bunny’s fur or hear a donkey braying, he is likely to recall those events, even unconsciously, when asked to make word associations on standardized tests. Observing the patterns in the veins of a leaf, or watching the legs of a caterpillar as it crawls, or listening to the chord progressions in a Bach melody are mathematical learning experiences more valuable than a thousand classroom hours could ever be.

When my oldest child was an infant, my law school professor suggested I try the Glenn Doman programs. “Teach Your Baby to Read”, and “Teach Your Baby Math” are effective strategies to introduce letters, words and numbers to young children, and we had lots of fun with them.

Aside from the educational value, the time that parents invest in their toddler’s early learning experiences will reap priceless psychological benefits. The emotional bonds developed between parent and child are the foundation for the child’s self concept. A healthy, well-adjusted sense of self is critical in the child’s later efforts to build positive relationships throughout life.

For parents, the seemingly childish act of laying face up on the grass to observe white clouds pass across the sky could be a profoundly relaxing departure from the challenges of the grown-up world. For a child whose parents took that time to spend with them, it could mean the world.

Book Review: War Anthem by Keith Andrew Perry

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My rating: 5 of 5 stars

War Anthem, A Review

From the evocative use of language to the stirring plot, this novel provides an insightful analysis of human behavior and politics.

The rich emotional life of the main character, Jason Diggs, is the backdrop for a description of historical events few have known of before now. From the rise of Washington, D.C.’s Black intellectual class to the development and implementation of DC Home Rule, the writer, Washington, DC lawyer Keith Perry, chronicles the dazzling changes which occurred in Washington from the late 1950’s to the present time.

War Anthem takes an unblinking look at the superficial value systems and shortcomings of the Black middle class, much like E. Franklin Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie. However, Mr. Perry also makes a largely positive and optimistic critical analysis of the way in which unique challenges and opportunities were confronted by Black Washingtonians.

Many DC political figures will recognize themselves on the pages of War Anthem. From the late Dave Clark and Walter Washington to Marion Barry, the personalities and behavior patterns of well-known individuals are clearly described. Without exception the writer treats individuals characters with respect and kind detachment.

Like all good literature, War Anthem tells more than one story. This book is a beautifully-written memoir about coming of age in Washington, D.C. as a fully conscious, self-aware Black male who understands the leadership responsibilities placed on gifted individuals.

“I understood how death changes both the future and our understanding of the past.

Gray images flashed before me of mother’s heroism during her illness and I considered the vacuum she was leaving behind. Had I been a weaker man, I might have passed through this time immune to my suffering, spurred by some grief induced amnesia; but like my mother, it was my privilege to consciously endure.”

Mr. Perry amplifies many archetypal themes in War Anthem, and in so doing provides a great service for us all. His achievement in this book is that he has woven a magnificent human tale regarding rites of passage and manhood with a story of political intrigue and municipal history. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I most assuredly recommend it as a piece of literature which I suspect will soon be required reading for young men matriculating through colleges all over the world.

Julianne Robertson King

When Disrespect is the Status Quo

I admit it, I’m fascinated by the national celebrity status recently conferred on DC School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. With the powerful Oprah Winfrey media machine and the blessing of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, she appears headed for an illustrious career as the national poster girl for educational reform.

There’s only one problem:

The objectively quantifiable data shows that her efforts have hurt student progress in District of Columbia Public Schools.

Math Proficiency Scores:

-14 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007 with declines as high as 25% and an average of 8%
-41 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 35% and an average of 11%
-61 schools (52% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 30% and an average of 10%

Reading Proficiency Scores:

-40 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2007, with declines as high as 45% and an average of 6%
-58 schools are worse off in 2010 than in 2008, with declines as high as 36% and an average if 9%
-66 schools (56% of all schools) are worse off in 2010 than in 2009, with declines as high as 41% and an average of 9%

(source withheld)

Other performance facts:

-AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) under Leave no Child Behind, results for DCPS: 10 schools achieved AYP in 2010 a 70% decrease from 2009, when 34 achieved AYP.

-The achievement gap between White and African-American 4th grade students for Math has increased to a 58 point gap in 2009 from a 53 point gap in 2007.

-DCPS tested 14% fewer African-America children in 2009 indicating that many African-American families are leaving DCPS for charter or private schools.

-Since 2007 DC School construction shows favoritism toward Wards 2 and 3, where outlays average between $118 and $152 per sq. ft. compared to Wards 7 and 8 where expenditures drop between $40 and $54 per sq. ft.

(source withheld)

The truth is that systemic educational reform is holistic in nature. The history, economic development, and social structure of the student population has to be accommodated before lasting change occurs.

Positive educational outcomes for all children require analysis of the learning styles, and teaching strategies that work best for each demographic group. I strongly urge that educators study a focus group created by DCPS in the 1970’s called The Innovation Team, which was formed to study the challenges and opportunities specific to Urban education.

Washington, D.C. was decimated by the crack and gun wars of the 1980’s and 90’s, and some of those lost were among our most vibrant, creative and intellectually curious. Domestic and educational policy of the Reagan Bush years has had the effect of stifling the momentum of the 1970’s as related to Black consciousness and upward mobility. The collective psychological development of the Black community is diminished as a result. The children we see in the classroom today are essentially postwar survivors, yet we haven’t developed a plan that faces that excruciating truth. The sick joke is to send Rhee here, to insult and demean and blame our community for failing to effectively protect our young people.

If Oprah cares, and I believe she might, if properly informed, she needs to focus, not on personalities and style and money, but on history. Refugee and post-war children around the world have to be nurtured in a very focused way to be returned to their natural brilliance.

We Don’t Need Another Hero

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My blog has become a very personal examination of my emotions, including the ongoing transition from married suburban mom of 4 to divorced professional mom of 4. By externalizing the sorrow, I can reflect on events that led to this change and continue the inner work necessary to create a joyful life.

I don’t like labels, because they oversimplify the qualities they describe, but when I tell you I’d branded the word “hero” onto my ex-husband’s chest, believe it. He’s brilliant and articulate and for many years we shared a wonderful vision of our future. We used to talk for hours and hours, never tiring of each other’s company. Gross as is sounds, I used to pick his socks and clothes from the floor and bury my face into them to inhale his scent. I adored the man. A previous post refers to this relationship as a ‘tsunami’ of love. I’m now in the midst of its destructive aftermath.

Somewhere along the way doubt, discontent and betrayal crept into our relationship. It’s easy to blame the powerfully destructive college girlfriend who never let go, or the alley cat childhood friend who needed to prove her seductive influence. I could make an easy escape and blame his male-ness; postulating that the male psyche dictates the urge to…ahem…’connect’ with a wide array of females. To do that, however, would indict the men who make and keep a commitment to one woman for life. 6ce3c1aabcacc8f8dissapointedlove

No. Betrayal, and it’s twin, disappointment, are a double edged sword of pain that’s rooted in each person’s personality. On the other hand, I believe in owning my role in the failure of my marriage. I was probably attractive enough, and accomplished enough for him, but I wonder what role my unconscious fears played in creating the debacle we are living through. I always feared he didn’t really love me enough to stay true. I’d feared that his upbringing, his self doubt and his need to prove himself would cause him to stray.

My fears could not prepare me for the utter and total lack of respect shown in the 200 emails I found on his work laptop. Think of history’s most despicable, hated figures. I assure you if Adolph Hitler or the Devil himself found himself discussed by a loved one the way I was discussed in these e-mails, we would pity him. Driven practically insane with grief, it has taken me years to discover and pursue an independent path that will maintain stability for my children.

Betrayal, disappointment, fear and grief are the four horsemen of the apocalypse as it related to my marriage. Any one of these feelings would have been be difficult to overcome. Together, they were a toxic stew that destroyed my relationship and threatened to extinguish every bit of joy from my life.

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Bah Humbug!

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Weaving the disparate strands of my life and belief system has been a challenge this holiday season. 11 months of the year, I can ride comfortably in the gap between society’s standards and my own. At Christmas, however the contradictions between Martha Stewart’s world and Julianne’s are a bit overwhelming. The commercialization of the holiday creates pressure that I resist each year.

Aside from making sure my home is festive, cooking the requisite holiday treats and wrapping and tagging the kids’ gifts, I will try to avoid the trite holiday rituals and commercialism of Christmas in order to focus on what feels real to me. My childrens’ excited smiles, the spiritual harmony associated with the advent of Christ, and the warm greetings offered by random strangers every time the words: “Merry Christmas” are uttered are the things that get me into the Christmas spirit.

I may never visit a nearby Lexus dealership at Christmas, and that Mercedes Benz with the huge bow on it belongs to my neighbor. I am not expecting a gift of a carat or more, and I’m okay with that. What I want for Christmas, and what I want to give to others…is a reflection of the healing power of Christ and the universal love he ushered into the world. Those are the real gifts of the season. Last time I checked, those things are still free.