Sunday, March 21, 2010

You might be on welfare if...

With all the talk of the federal government taking over our lives, it’s important to remember that we all benefit from federal money. “Welfare” comes in many forms.

You are a recipient of federal aid if:

1. You attend (or attended) a state school

2. You drive on interstates

3. You use 911 or the police for emergencies

4. You have (or have had) an FHA loan

5. You fly in airplanes

6. You visit National Parks

7. You work as or for a farmer who receives farm subsidies

8. You work for a military contractor

9. Your children go to public school

10. You are the CEO of a big bank

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Days We'll Remember

I always think of men as the ones who use dog walking to escape the reality of their beleaguered home-life. That 15-minute break from the chaos and monotony of being married with children. But recently, as I walked my dog, I was amazed at the contrast between the din in my living room and the quiet of a cold, wintery day in early March. Dead, wet leaves and litter were scattered across brown grass and the blackened remains of snow. I knew that, back at my house, the one-year old was banging on a metal bowl and the two year old was screaming at the top of her lungs. Outside in the chilled air, trotting along next to my white shepherd as he sniffed and urinated, my migraine, which had been brewing all day, was receding. My shoulders were relaxing. I thought of the men who go out for cigarettes and never come back. I had no desire to leave my family. I just thought about those men, who couldn’t handle the noise, the tedium, the love mixed with fear. Then my MP3 player started playing a song that dropped me right back into my life as a single 29-year old in Albuquerque, New Mexico. You know how songs can transport you back, to the 8th grade dance, the first week of college. Or life as a single woman in another state? Another life, practically.

I walked the dog and remembered that life. I compared it to my life today. I was very happy back then. But I wanted to someday have the life I have today, minus the 8-5 job. I think that, when you marry later in life, (in my case, I met my future husband when I was 37), you have lived alone for so long, that it feels like a very permanent part of your world, even after you are married.

Later that day, I was out to dinner with just my husband. It happened that we were celebrating my 42nd birthday on that wintery March day, and his sister was watching our kids. It was our first anything alone, without the kids, in about three months. I said, “I think that the thing I miss most about being single is the amount of time I had to reflect on my life and think deeply about my world.” He felt the same.  He was even older than me and thus had spent even more time than I had in the solitude of single life.

“But, as you always say,” he said, “this is temporary.”

Our time with this one and two year old, that is. Children grow, and as they get older, they get more independent. We wouldn’t live in this non-stop chaos forever. In fact, it would be over quickly. Within a few more years it would all be gone: our daughter saying, as we carried her, “Oh Aggie, you’re getting so big!” Or our son, standing on tippy toes to reach the piano keys. Or handing us his teddy bear in the morning. Or saying “dada” for the first few times. Our daughter, hitting the high notes of the last verse of happy birthday. Or running as fast as she could but taking only the tiniest little steps, like children of that age do. Or saying "Dammit!" and watching for our reaction.  Or any of the hundreds of heart wrenching, smiling, tears to the eyes with joy moments of life with very little children, that we experienced every single day.

When I came home from my walk, my son ran to the baby gate to greet me with chatter and a smile. My daughter called from across the room, “Welcome home mommy and Seeky-dog.” Our dog. He’s another remnant of my single life. He was mine. His name used to be Seeker. Sometimes I called him Seek. It used to be, Julie and Seeker. When daughter was 17-months, she started calling him “Seeky-dog,” just as she called her father “Baby-daddy” and me “Baby-mommy.” My son’s first word was “Seeky-dog.” Now, Seeker will forever be Seeky-dog now, just as I will forever be “mommy.” This age won’t last forever, but the remnants will. I hope I remember them all. I look forward to the songs that will drop me back into this world. Someday someone will probably look at me, and just see an old lady. Maybe I’ll be hobbling along on a walker. But I expect I’ll have some headphones in my ears and will be listening to some music, which will be dropping me back into this moment, with this noise, and these children, and this husband, and this dog, and house. And I won’t want the song to end. And I won’t want to play it so often that it’s transporting quality loses its effect. Because I won’t want to forget these days. These wonderful, exhausting, magical days.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Upside of Gun Control

I live in a small enclave of about six residential blocks that is surrounded on all sides by busy, major roads. People sometimes cut through our neighborhood to avoid traffic lights. Recently, construction re-routed every south-bound vehicle off the interstate and around our neighborhood to get back on the interstate, an exit away. The city did this without making any changes in the traffic light pattern, so the re-routed vehicles often waited through 2-3 red lights before they could make the two left hand turns needed to get back onto the interstate. Many of these drivers, already irate, cut down our street in order to by-pass one of the lights.

I walk to work. On average, five cars speed past me for the five minutes I’m on my street. Three out of five drivers are on their cell phones. Our neighborhood is poor. Most of the houses are rental properties. About 70 percent of the sidewalks have not been shoveled since the first snowfall in December, so now, in early March, everyone is still walking in the street as cars with angry, distracted drivers, fly by.

Our street has several school bus stops. Kids wait at these bus stops, in the pitch dark, because it’s winter. They stand in the street, because the sidewalks aren’t cleared. The drivers who speed past them aren’t thinking about the kids. They probably don’t even see the kids. They are just thinking about how much they hate construction.

I called the police, to see if they could set up a speed trap, but the officer, a Lieutenant Gonzales in Traffic, never returned my phone calls. I called the city’s snow removal line eight times to report the rental units with un-shoveled walks. If no one has shoveled 48 hours after the snowfall ends, the city is supposed to shovel and bill the owners, but they don’t. At least, not where I live.

I’ve taken to yelling at cars as they speed past me. I know this is foolish but I can’t restrain myself. I just yell, “SLOW DOWN, this is our neighborhood.” Everyone ignores me. They might not even hear me. The other day, I yelled at a car. A second later, I heard its tires squeal as the driver stopped. “Uh-oh,” I thought. She backed up and rolled down her window. “What did you say?”

“I said ‘slow down.’ Kids play on this street.”

She had two kids in the car with her. “You don’t tell me about %^#@D kids. I have two of my own. So you just shut your %$#@ mouth.” At this point, her kids, two boys who looked to be in elementary or middle school, started laughing.

“Okay,” I said. And she drove off.

This is why we need gun control. People get enraged, even when they are in the wrong. It’s bad enough to be berated and sworn at by someone who is breaking the law on your street. It would be worse to be shot, and people who are that angry could shoot someone, even if they wouldn’t normally dream of doing it. I shouldn’t be afraid to tell people to slow down in my neighborhood. But I am. People should be able to have guns, I suppose, except, they shouldn’t, because I don’t want to get shot by some belligerent jerk who’s having a really bad day.