Longing for the Days When We Held Music in our Hands. . .

Reflection #2

I am unapologetically a Generation Xer. Born in 1972, I take tremendous pride in being a part of the generation that straddles the divide between the Baby Boomers’ tumultuous sixties and the Millennials’ digital era.  I remember the struggle of dialing a rotary phone and having to get up from the couch to change the one of seven channels on the television. Out the door first thing on a Saturday morning and back before it was too late with our parents not having a clue where we’d been.

But the coolest thing about us Gen Xers is that we have been on the frontlines of music’s evolution throughout the decades. Our early years were defined by vinyl records in cardboard jackets. Some were our own, most were our parents. Either way, we spent hours learning how to lay the needle just right on the record and then we’d sit with the jacket in hand and read the lyrics or scrutinize the artwork. I remember when my friend Christy got the The Family album, Prince’s first project band with Paisley Park. They sang the original version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and we would pass that record jacket back and forth to catch every lyric or to try and style our hair like the female lead.

We were adolescents and teenagers when music ushered in the portability of the cassette tape and the emergence of the boom box. Now we could bring Prince, Duran Duran and Madonna every where we went and even though the cassette jacket was reduced in size, we still read and reread it to get the story behind the music.  From the jacket, we learned that even though MJ became a solo act, his brothers sang back up vocals on his Thriller album. All was still well in the Jackson family.

The compact disc changed our lives. We said goodbye to all of that rewinding and fast-forwarding and were introduced to the concept of “shuffling” on a multiple disc platter. Oh, the joy!!! But even though the technology got a little more sophisticated, the jewel box was still everything. It was thinner, sleeker and it brought the artwork from the cassette back to a respectable sized booklet. The jewel boxes also made such a cool clicking sound when you rifled through them at the music store.

It was actually my long neglected collection of CDs that prompted these meanderings. As a middle-aged Gen Xer, I’m down with Pandora, Spotify and iTunes. Most of the forty-somethings I know seem to have weathered music’s transition to the Digital Age pretty well. So much so that I had an entire debate with myself on whether or not to pack the CDs. I knew that I could access any song in that collection with some keystrokes and a click of a button. . or if I was really lazy, I could just say, “Hey Google.”

But, as I picked them up and started to look through the booklets, I remembered how good it feels to hold music in my hands. I began to remember where I had been when I bought certain CDs and why. The mad dash to Tower Records, trying to get that stupid sticker off on the side so I could open the jewel box. The best was discovering a song on the LP that hadn’t yet been debuted on the radio and realizing that IT is the best song on the album.

Some of my best memories are of driving into New York City with my dad to go to J&R Music World. It felt as big as a city block and I would just watch him walk around looking at records, reading jackets, talking to salespeople. At first, I didn’t understand why he would drive 40 minutes into the city for music, but I quickly learned that walking around a music store, holding that music in his hands allowed him to slow down, to savor the art and to share it with me.

There is a novelty to sitting at a computer and creating the ultimate Spotify playlist of 90’s R & B hits or perfect songs for a cookout. And the convenience and speed with which we can do it is amazing. But, perhaps there is a cost to how we create and appreciate music today.

I don’t know for sure.

I do know that I am not much of a consumer of popular music these days. Between all the garbage that is put out there, there is some real talent. . .Adele, Bruno, Kendrick.  But there’s something missing. Now, it is possible that this is the start of a Gen Xer’s slow drift into grumpy old person phase.  But I have to say, downloading a bunch of songs just doesn’t compare to holding an artist’s work in your hands. Records, cassettes, CD’s. . they made us slow down and listen and look. They gave us a space to connect with our friends and our families. . .even ourselves.

I decided to save those CDs.

Cheers to all of you fellow Gen Xers out there with your dust-covered vinyl, tapes and jewel boxes. I see you.

UP NEXT: Reflection #3: The Irony of the World Cup in the Era of Trump

Reflection #1: The Inventor of the Stuffed Animal was a Genius. . .and 4 other reflections while packing up our stuff.

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The Inventor of the Stuffed Animal was a Genius. . .and 4 other reflections while packing up our stuff.

Once one commits to making a move, the dreaded reality of packing soon follows. I decided to get an early start on my packing so that I wouldn’t experience that last minute frenzy that typically comes with moving. It is funny the thoughts that come to mind when we grudgingly put the things we’ve collected along the way into boxes.

Reflection One: The stuffed animal industry is the most brilliant racket EVER!

You’ve been there. You’re at the zoo or a museum or a street fair and you find yourself being stared down by a cute, little furry animal with those button eyes that make you melt. You pick it up and squish it and pet it and make high pitched noises because of the cuteness and next thing you know, you’re at the register buying yet another stuffed animal for your kid because they have to have it. . .because it’s so cute and what better way to remember that you saw a hammerhead shark at the Georgia Aquarium with Grandpa than to buy one.

And how sweet when your kid names it “Sharky” because he names all of his stuffed animals by their actual animal name. . .”Mr. Bear”, “The Other Mr. Bear”, “Orcy”(the killer whale), “Snakey”..the list goes on and on. (We ran into a little snag when we got a second shark, a Great White . . .Sharky was taken, so he named it Whitey. . .problem solved). I shook my head every time I heard him say how much he loved Whitey or that he was going to play with Whitey or how much fun Whitey was. These just aren’t things you expect to hear from your six-year old Black son on a daily basis.

But it was okay because he looked so cute nestled up to Whitey in bed, surrounded by all of his other animal friends. Big ones. Little ones. Famous ones. Well-worn ones. Friends representing all of the adventures he has had in his life or a souvenir from a stop on his father’s Spearhead tour or a hand-me down animal from family and friends.

But, then he turns 13 and suddenly, all of those adorable animals are relegated to the top bunk, never to be hugged or pet again. Just like that. And in a fit of denial, you find yourself making your son hug Mr. Bear and Sharky because they are probably lonely. (Yes, I actually did that and Emmanuel was certain that I was crazy). After having traveled through all of the other stages of grief, you finally get to acceptance and go animal by animal with your son deciding which ones to keep and which ones to give away. It’s heart wrenching.

So, the inventor of the stuffed animal was a GENIUS. . .and the biggest con artist. How cunning to create these adorable, furry, lovable replicas of animals to lure family and friends into spending hundreds of dollars on them without ever letting on that one day, your kid is going to grow up and be like, “meh”.

I did not see it coming.

I’m sure in an effort to appease me, Emmanuel decided to keep about 6 of his stuffed animals to ship in the move. He even took Sharky with him to California. The rest are in bags ready for the Goodwill.  I have not mustered the will to drop them off yet. I contemplated throwing them in a box and surprising Emmanuel with them when he joins me next year, but I’m afraid that just might push the boundaries of my crazy with him.

People, if any of you have kids in your lives that are still of the stuffed animal buying age, it’s too late for me, but save yourselves.

And if you can’t resist that adorable limited edition, vintage Pooh Bear that you know is going to be released in conjunction with the upcoming Christopher Robin movie, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

TOMORROW:. . . Reflection Two: Longing for the Days When We Held Music in our Hands


Parenting Out Loud

As I prepare for this great adventure, it’s not lost on me that the other side of this “mom”bbatical is the reality that my son’s father will be actively parenting our son full time for a year. It’s one thing to have your kid when he’s on vacation and free from the demands of school and friends and the other random stresses that befall a thirteen-year old boy. It’s another to manage his wants, needs, moods, messes and smells on a regular basis. Sometimes, a teenager can be nothing more than an annoying roommate who doesn’t pay any rent.

In the midst of confirming the plans for the “mom”bbatical, Emmanuel’s father texted me saying “If you have any thoughts, feelings, advice and/or experiences to share about him, the door is always open, Tara. I wish it was in a Zip drive that I could load in my brain. . .info to help me better support his growth.”  I found it to be a very humble and gracious sentiment to communicate as he reflected on what he was about to undertake.

Of course, there is no way to download every experience, insight or challenge, but I did offer him this:

“My secret is that I parent out loud. I’m totally vulnerable and transparent with him in my process. . so he knows I’m not trying to front like I have all the answers. I think it has helped us to stay close…”

I’ve learned over the years that vulnerability in parenting has been so critical in my relationship with my son. It has opened deeper levels of authentic connection and trust between us and has provided the space for honest communication about everything.  And let’s face it, kids can usually sniff out the BS anyway.

One of our most memorable exchanges came courtesy of his fifth grade health class. One day, Emmanuel walked in the door from school, dropped his backpack on the floor, looked at me and said, “We learned about oral sex in health class today.” That was his lead in. No “Hi Mom.”, no hug…just the words “oral sex.”

My response: “Uh, okay. Give me a minute, Emmanuel. I’m not quite sure what to do with this one.”–Poor kid had probably been thinking about this conversation his entire bus ride home.

Emmanuel: “Why would anyone want to do that?”

Me (sweating): “Well, it may not make sense to you now, but it’ll be something you’ll understand when you’re older.”–Oy vey. 

I did my best to spare us both from some ridiculously uncomfortable lecture about sex, oral or otherwise, but I had to acknowledge it was a legitimate question and I was grateful he came to me with it, as opposed to going to Google.

But, I have had less refined authentic moments.

When the George Zimmerman verdict was announced, I went into a rage. I was on the phone with my mom, dropping the F-bomb here and there, completely oblivious to Emmanuel’s presence in the next room. I just couldn’t accept that this young man was harassed and murdered for walking in his neighborhood while Black and there would be no justice.

When I emerged from my room after my rant, Emmanuel looked at me and said, “You used a lot of really bad words, Mommy.”

I don’t remember my exact response to him and I’m certain I was raggedy as hell with it, but I owned up to it and I let him know that sometimes things happen that are so outrageous, those words just come out. And then the door was opened for us to have “the talk.” The “talk” that Black parents have to have with their children about racial injustice and how we are perceived in the world. We hate that we have to have “the talk”, but if my moment of unbridled anger helped my son see and understand my commitment to advocating for him and our own, then let the f-bombs fly.

Telling our kids who to be, what to believe, what to do or not to do only goes but so far. When they can see us as our authentic selves, we give them the space to be theirs as well. And when we have the courage to make mistakes and tell them that sometimes we have no idea what we are doing, we free them to become the beautiful, imperfect humans we all are.

I’m proud of Emmanuel’s father and of the humility he is bringing to this process. I know it will be a beautiful journey for both of them.

But what will become of (y)our souls?. . .

Being apart from my Boo is hard. I miss the way he makes me laugh, his pubescent inability to get out of the bed in the morning and his singular obsession with eating. This is why the continuous flow of details about the children who have been forcibly separated from their parents really has me shook. . .don’t even get me started on the travel ban.

Make no mistake, the reality that our government is actually doing this is traumatizing all of us. We are being abused. . .our collective psyche, our sense of humanity, our national identity, our very souls. I don’t believe that anyone, including those who have not seen the photos or heard the cries is immune to the damage. Not a one of us.

In an interview about his role in the film, Twelve Years a Slave, Michael Fassbender spoke about how his experience playing “a sadistic plantation owner was so harrowing, he passed out during filming. He said that the scene when he has to rape and beat a slave girl was too much to bear and he ‘keeled over’ in front of the film crew. “(Thompson:Sunday Express: 2013).

Take that in for a moment. An actor, who knows he is merely carrying out a scene, saying lines he had memorized and rehearsed, performing under the glare of lights and the commands of film crew members, was so overwhelmed by the act of inhumanity and violence that he had to simulate on a fellow actor that he PASSED OUT COLD.

As a black person in the United States, I am well aware of the legacy of the trauma of slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, mass incarceration, redlining, discrimination in housing, education and healthcare. And it takes a long time and a lot of work for black people to remember that we are, in fact, the descendants of kings and queens and scholars. The work and determination it takes to recover our souls from the trauma of white supremacist institutions is herculean, at best.

But what becomes of the souls of the perpetrators and the beneficiaries of this system?

What becomes of one’s soul when you call the police on an 8 year old black girl selling water?

. . .or when you yell “all Muslims must die” at two young Muslim girls on a train?

. . .or when you overlook a job candidate because of their seemingly Latino name?

. . .or when you gentrify a neighborhood, yet protest the diversification of the local school?

I used to believe that the way black people fought against the forces of oppression was to be the best, to work twice as hard and to prove to those in power that we had exceptional examples that defied the narratives of black pathology. It was a moment to moment discipline of minding what I said, minding what I wore, minding the condition of my hair and the prominence of my backside. Not anymore.

White supremacy is the pathology.

It is the air that we all breathe in the US. It alters our cells. It changes who we are and who we are meant to be. It traumatizes our psyche. It is a disease in our souls. . .individually and collectively.

Michael Fassbender’s own body could not deny that fact.

It is only through the persistent dismantling of white supremacist thinking and being and doing that we can recover our souls. . .individually and collectively. It has to be a moment to moment discipline of examining one’s thinking and being and doing. . .led by the white people in this country.

It is only in recovering your souls that you will help all of us save ours. . .individually and collectively.


Collateral Damage

The first couple of days of the “mom”bbatical were difficult, I’ll admit. I’ve had “mom”cations before, but this felt completely different. I knew that in a year, my son and I would be changed by our experiences. Physically, he’ll likely look like a different kid altogether. His voice will have completely changed and I’m sure he’ll have added a few inches.

What I didn’t really think about was the impact this decision would have on the other member of the family. . .our cat, Ruby.  A house guest once shared a theory with me about Ruby. She said that based on her behavior, Ruby thinks that she and I are both raising my son. . .that she’s his mom, too.

I was surprised to learn that I was in an inter-species, same-sex relationship with my cat. But, as I observed more closely, it made sense to me. Ruby would curl up beside “our” boy while he did his homework, protecting him until I came home from work. If I was out of town and my mom was staying with my son, Ruby would abandon her usual sleep spot on my bed and park herself on his as protection. And if he didn’t come home from school at the expected hour, she would show her displeasure by peeing on the couch. . .worst nightmare.

Alas, Ruby was none too pleased when Emmanuel didn’t come home those first nights. When I woke up each morning, there she was sitting on the floor in front of his door, looking up at me as if I had betrayed her. Her meow was deafening as if she was asking, “What did you do with our kid?”

It’s hard to explain to a cat the changing dynamics of family life and co-parenting. She’s since transitioned from sitting on the floor in front of his door to laying on his bed, so I’d say she’s not buying it…

For Ruby, it’s going to be a long year.