* My Neighborhood - Part 1

This is the first of many attempts on my part to flesh out my thoughts on my neighborhood and my place in it, and how to create a community that benefits everyone in it. Please feel free to point out my erroneous assumptions, biases, and character flaws.

I live in a low-income neighborhood. In this smallish college town, a low-income neighborhood is characterized by homes that are not owner-occupied but rentals, and furthermore are rented mostly to Section 8 tenants as opposed to college students. There are some other white people in my neighborhood (my next door neighbors are white) but none of them have children living at home. As far as I can tell, my children are the only white kids in the neighborhood. However, Hercules isn't exactly white, since he's half Hispanic (my stepkids are white as white can be), but since he's been raised around white people and pretty much removed from Hispanic culture (he's never seen his biological father), he's pretty white for a brown kid.

There is another boy of mixed race that used to come around fairly often. His mom is white and his father is black, but the father is in jail in another state(for pointing a gun at his mother's head - an announcement that created an awkward silence in our house). She's single but she has a black boyfriend. I met her at a school function and we talked for a while about the neighborhood and certain kids. That was last year sometime. Since then, I've had some problems with her son and he doesn't come around much anymore. But he's also much older than Hercules and I prefer that he spends time with kids closer to his age, in hopes that they might be less likely to pressure him into activities I don't approve of. I haven't approached that boy's mother regarding any of the problems I've had with him, just because I know she has her hands full already (she also has a 2-year old boy) and she gets a lot of bad reports from school. I know just what that's like and it really doesn't help to have one more person come around to tell you how rude and disrespectful your child is, can't you do something with that boy?

Drugs are also prevalent in my neighborhood. Not so much on my block, but the next block over has a lot of visible dealers that hang around. One man approached me in a car one day and offered me some ice. Hercules was standing right behind me. He was middle-aged and driving a nice car (which means: newer and nicer than mine) with a rosary hanging from the mirror. I was so shocked I didn't even know what to say.

My neighborhood is about one mile from downtown and just a few blocks away from at least two public housing projects, as well as the interstate - prime real estate for poor folks like me. We bought our house in 2004, and it's the first home I ever owned. I work near downtown on campus, and it was very important to me to be able to walk to work every day. That way I don't have to pay for parking ($18/mo they would take out of my paycheck) or gas, so it saves me money, it's good for the environment, provides daily exercise and lots of photo opportunities. It's not much of a house but the price was right. I'm afraid it was a short-sighted purchase, though, because we're already busting at the seams. Three bedrooms and 6 kids makes things pretty cozy. And I'll never buy another house without a basement. But I digress . . .

Both the houses on either side of me are owner occupied, as is the one across the street. The rest are mostly rentals. My neighbors to the west are an older white couple. They're sweet but a bit eccentric. At least, that's my judgment based on the three wooden crosses lit with track lighting in the front yard. But I'll give her credit - she's been very kind and generous to our family, having given us some furniture and a couple of really cool vintage bicycles. However, she's also the person most likely to call the cops on someone in the neighborhood and she has been known to alienate some people because of it. I've also learned that she and her husband are both very involved in various volunteer efforts to help the poor. They have a strong service ethic and I respect that aspect of their religion very much.

My other next door neighbor is a black lesbian single mother of two teenage kids, a girl and a boy. I believe her son just started college recently and is a very successful football player. She and my other next door neighbor are friends. She interests me quite a bit, but she's not very approachable. I've been told by a couple of people that she takes a long time to warm up to people, so I've tried not to take her cold shoulder personally or force myself on her. But judging by her bumper stickers, she and I have common political beliefs and I hope to get to know her better. I sometimes wonder if maybe she's like me in that she really doesn't know how to approach people she doesn't know, so she waits for people to come to her. I'm very much that way, and if she is too then we, or at least I, may have to work at it if we're going to become friends. This is an area I'd like to work on in myself. It is probably my biggest handicap when it comes to becoming involved in the local community and my neighborhood in particular.

The couple across the street from us who also own their home are black, but their children are all grown. They have at least one daughter with children who visits frequently. Their grandchildren are there often on weekends and Hercules has tried several times to befriend them, but he's been discouraged. This doesn't bother me because I think I understand their reasons (though I am assuming a lot). For one, their kids are younger and smaller than Hercules and they obviously prefer that their kids remain in their yard (which is fenced in), a policy I'm very sympathetic to. And since the kids don't leave the yard, Hercules would have to play with them over there, and they don't seem too keen on that idea, either, and frankly I can't blame them. I suspect that many of my neighbors are more than a little wary of my wild pack of unruly boys. I know for a fact that the white lady next door is because she often tells me how she's never been around boy children before and although their antics shock and terrify her, she's being educated. It took her a long time to get used to the fact that Hercules' favorite spot is high up in the tree out front. She's convinced he's going to meet his death on the sidewalk below.

So that's a pretty basic overview of my neighborhood. Next time I'll talk more about the kids that come around, and some that I don't want to come around, and my interactions with them. Stay tuned.

* Updates

I've just updated my two posts that I provide in the sidebar as the About this Blog and About Me and Hercules links. It needed to be done to reflect current events in our life.

* Nana and Papa have arrived!

Hurray! My mom and stepdad have left FL for good and they'll be staying with us until they find a house and a job and all that good stuff. Hercules is ecstatic to have his Papa around, to be sure. And I'm pretty psyched myself, because you don't really appreciate the value of family until you're a parent and 1200 miles away from your family support network. When I was single and childless, I didn't think twice about moving across the country and seeing my family (maybe) once a year. But after Hercules came along, that changed dramatically. Grandparents rock!

Not to mention the fact that I wouldn't be where I am today without their support. Nana and Papa took me in when I was pregnant, and Hercules was born in the middle of their living room. We lived there for the first two years of his life, until I was ready to go back to college and finish my degree. Thanks to Nana, Hercules wasn't in daycare until then, either, which is a luxury few single moms can relate to. Bless them both.

These are things I think about when I consider the topic of reproductive choice. Some people applaud my decision to keep my baby. Some members of my mother's family criticized her for taking me in, claiming I should have been left to deal with the consequences on my own, since I couldn't keep my legs shut. How's that for pro-life?

But my mom, bless her, has been down that road. She was a pregnant unwed mother once, and her family ostracized her. They forced her to give up the baby for adoption against her will. And after the baby was born and she returned home, no one ever spoke of it. Not a word. I can only imagine how she suffered then.

And I know that if my family had turned their backs on me, or if I didn't have a family to take me in when I was pregnant, I would not have kept my baby. I don't like abortion (does anyone?), but that wouldn't have stopped me from having one in my situation.

Normally I don't like to raise this topic around my family, because I know how they feel and they know how I feel and we agree to disagree, out of mutual respect and love for each other. I gave up trying to change their minds when my idealism still had the sheen of youth on it. But lately this issue has risen to the forefront in national politics and frankly the whole situation is depressing. I understand why people don't like abortion, I do. What I can't understand is how those people can deny the fact the making abortion illegal doesn't end abortion. It never did. It only takes away safe abortions. Women will still have abortions, but they will risk their lives to do so. That doesn't have to happen.

*Sigh* I'm having a hard time containing my diatribes lately. I've just about convinced myself to start a new blog. I find myself self-censoring too much because I know my family reads this and I don't want to alienate them. And yet I can't pretend that these things don't matter to me. This is who I am. Thankfully, I know they'll love me no matter what. But I have this terrible aversion to hurting people's feelings, which makes me a very poor radical mama. Actually, I wouldn't mind hurting most any conservatives' feelings, except when those people happen to be people I know and love and care about very much. So there it is.

I started this post with the intention of welcoming my mom and stepdad to my home, and somehow derailed onto abortion. That's what happens when I don't find time to blog enough. Multiple topics get thrown together in messy non sequitors. So, in order to be consistently erratic and nonsensical, here's a photo of Hercules getting in touch with his manhood this weekend, which I found rather endearing. He was so earnest!


* Scattered thoughts

It's been a busy week! Hercules has been on his best behavior at school lately. He had a field trip on Wednesday and returned with all-5's on his PRIDE report once again. This is a major testament to the wonders of medication. Just a few months ago I was required to accompany him on any field trips or he wasn't allowed to participate. Now he is not only allowed to go unchaperoned, he is earning rave reviews for behavior! GO HERCULES!

However, I do want to make one thing clear - although Hercules needed medication to achieve this, I don't think the medication deserves all the credit for this breakthrough. Because what the medication is showing everyone is that Hercules is and has always been a wonderful, sweet, enjoyable and loveable little boy. It's just that now he's able to suppress his most base impulses and let his best efforts shine forth. I always knew he had it in him, I just didn't know how to help him. I can't stop raving about how ecstatic I am now that we have found that help.

Yesterday, however, I kept Hercules home from school because he'd been up the night before puking his guts out, poor kid. What a mess. Ugh. That was NOT fun. So we both took the day off and Herc slept until 7:30. I'm pretty sure that's a record for him! I decided to skip his meds that day, since I wasn't sure he'd be able to keep anything down (which turned out to be good thinking) and besides, Hercules has always been very docile, cuddly, and subdued when he's sick. There's really no need for the meds, so we skipped it. And the day went very well. He was still throwing up that morning, but after that his food stayed down and he gained momentum throughout the day.

We had an unexpected guest for dinner last night, too. Some new kids have moved into the neighborhood, two boy cousins age 8 and 5 and they've been coming around quite a bit. They're polite and cooperative and I enjoy them a lot. Last night the younger one, D, knocked on our door and told me no one was home at his house and asked if he could come in. I questioned him a little, trying to figure out the situation. Apparently he had been at the Optimist Club around the corner and when he returned, his house was locked and no one was there. So I wrote a note with our address on it, letting his mom know where he was when she got home, and had him stick to his front door (or whichever door they use to get in the house). He spent the rest of the evening with us and seemed to enjoy the chili quite a bit (I didn't tell him it had tofu in it;).

He joined Rio and I for storytime (we just started Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and then it was bedtime for Rio. Once I got Rio tucked in, I had D check if his mom was home yet. He looked down the street and saw her car in the driveway and went home happy.

I wonder if she saw my note? I wish she would have come to get him when she got home, but she didn't. These things trouble me. I've been struggling a lot lately with the dynamics in my neighborhood and it's forcing me to take a hard look at my feelings on race and class and socioeconomics and the like. Mostly I want to DO something but I have no idea where to begin. My attempts at befriending certain moms have failed, and I can't help but wonder if they reject me because I'm white? Because they don't perceive me as a peer? Which is not to say that they perceive me as "above" them or "below" them, but just different and so perhaps they don't feel like we can relate to each other. I have to admit I have the same doubts, but I want to try. But when I am rejected, I wonder if I'm offending them by even trying?

I hate not doing something because I'm afraid of offending someone, when my intentions are good. I really want to bridge this divide.

Meanwhile, I just keep on doing what I do - welcoming their kids into my house as much as possible. Since we keep early hours during the week, they don't come around much on school nights. But on weekends when Pa's kids are with us, it's not unusual for us to have 10 or 11 kids at our house, especially when the weather's nice. As my next door neighbor says, they swarm to my house like bees to a honeypot!

I really want to flesh out more of my thoughts on my neighborhood, but I really haven't had the time to do so and I'm not sure I'm going to find it anytime soon. I've also been seriously considering retiring this blog and starting a new one. I feel confined to mommy topics by this one, and there's a lot more I'd like to write about. There's always lots of things I WANT to write about, but never enough time. Which makes me think that starting a new blog is a very unrealistic idea. We'll see. My indecision will likely stall me for a few more weeks, if not longer:) Stay tuned!

* Our leprechaun is famous!

He's in the newspaper!

* Hooray for Hercules!

He passed his belt test in Tae Kwon Do yesterday with flying colors! So he has now officially earned his yellow belt. That means he's moved up two belt ranks in exactly one year. I think that's great progress!

Belt testing is always an interesting experience. Hercules was well-prepared but visibly nervous that morning. But he did great when his turn came around. His instructors praised his pattern and that gave him a real boost. At the end when it was time for breaking (as in the breaking of wood), that's when Hercules really had his chance to shine. Even though they never actually practice breaking in his class (because the younger kids aren't required to pass this part of the test), everyone gets a chance to try it during the test. Everyone ahead of Hercules had a hard time with their break, and a couple of kids weren't able to do it. Keep in mind that they were older but also of a higher belt rank, so the kick they were expected to use for their break was a difficult one. Anyway, when it came around to Hercules' turn, he got up to do a sidekick. As he was setting up his position for the kick, the instructor came around from the judges' table and asked Herc to face the class so they could all see his form - which was perfect. Then the instructor said, "Watch, he'll get it on the first try." And SNAP! He did!

I tried to get a photo but Hercules was too fast and it was all over before I could even click the shutter.

He also made me very proud during the step-sparring portion of the test. For this part, two students face off for a specific series of kicks and punches which are supposed to demonstrate form and control - no contact or force. Hercules had practiced this a lot in class and did a great job. In class his sparring partner is a girl that's older and taller than he is, but during the test he was paired with some younger and smaller boys that had the same belt rank. They're also in a different class for younger kids (Herc's old class) and I don't think they had practiced as much. So when they messed up, Hercules would very patiently correct their form or show them the proper sequence. I found that very endearing:)

Congratulations to Hercules the Yellow Belt!

* Happy St. Patrick's Day!

We found a leprechaun! How about you?

* A little irreverance

I was just wondering how Pat Robertson might explain the recent devastation wrought by the record number of tornadoes in the Midwest this past weekend. I'd like to ask Pat about this phenomenon, since he seems to know what God is thinking at all times. And if Katrina was God's punishment for abortion and other heathen activity, then what about these tornadoes? These storms hit rural Missouri the hardest, and rural Missouri is about as right-wing as you can get.

Pray tell, Pat. What did rural Missourians do to piss off God? God's got some explaining to do, Pat! He's looking rather inconsistent these days and I think it's about time you cleared this up. God can't go around smiting nice white Christian ladies without a good reason. What gives, Pat?

DISCLAIMER: I personally do not subscribe to Pat Robertson's worldview, and I do not think that the tornado victims deserved to die for any reason. Nor do I believe, for that matter, that any natural disaster is an act of God's vengeance.

* Dodging Hailstones

Big Hail
We had some excitement this weekend with some extreme weather. Here's one of our neighbor friends exhibiting a sample of one of the bigger chunks of hail from yesterday.

Today's storm dropped some even bigger hail, and we had more excitement when the tornado sirens went off. Twice. Hercules was really scared, but he handled it pretty well. At the time Pa's bandmates were at the house for a recording session. When the first siren went off we all decided to move the party to another house with a basement. Hercules was not happy about leaving the dogs behind, but since there were dogs at our friend's house, we thought it would be unwise to bring them.

Anyway, we rode out the storm with our little tornado party and watched the hail pelt our cars out the window. We only took refuge in the basement for about 15 minutes, after the power went out and the second siren sounded. We also saw a lot of low, swirling clouds in the sky and figured it was best to take cover. Hercules got nervous again so we told jokes to lighten the mood. When it was over the whole neighborhood gathered out in the street to survey the damage and compare dents in our cars. There was one broken window at a neighboring house, but that was the worst of it.

By then Hercules was giddy with relief, and having a good ol' time romancing the crowd.

And that was our adventure for the weekend! How was yours?

* Lighter fare

After yesterday's heavy-hearted post, I thought I needed to lighten things up a bit. So here's a Randy Newman song that I'd like to share because it reminds me very much of Hercules pre-Concerta:

Change Your Ways

This song used to make me cry, and it still does, but for different reasons (which is not so very remarkable, seeing as how Puff the Magic Dragon moves me to tears, too). Hercules has indeed changed his ways, and it is quite a dramatic change. But he's still my mischievous, ornery, affectionate little warrior and I'm so thankful.

Here's our new favorite game:

Me: Come here and pick up your dirty clothes, Boy.
Herc: OK, Woman. But if you call me Boy one more time I'm gonna love you till you scream!
Me: Oh yeah? Well if you call me Woman one more time I'm gonna hug you and squeeze you 'til you turn red, Boy!
Herc: That's it, Woman! Watch out!

And then we charge each other and collide in a mass of hugs and giggles. Weeeee!

* Hiding out

Things have been pretty quiet on the homefront. Every day is an all-5 day for Hercules lately, which is truly incredible. So I've been doing a lot of self-reflection these days and coming to grips with my own behavior patterns. I'm finally realizing just how alike Hercules and I actually are, because in truth I don't know how to handle my anger either, it's just that I manifest it differently than he does. Imagine that. I've got a lot of work to do.

I think another reason I've been turning inward is because the outer world is becoming too horrific to bear. Not my immediate world, thank goodness, but the greater world that we all share. Not to mention Iraq, Africa, Washington DC. It overwhelms me.

Do me one favor, could you? Please sign this petition: Buying Sex is not a Sport. Because the fact that this sort of thing isn't universally condemned just boggles my mind.

* Such a long time to be gone

I'm home! Yes, it's good to be here. My trip gave me a whole new appreciation for this town I call home. College towns rock, yes indeed. The rest of this red state I find myself in is lame. Lame!

You'll be pleased to hear that Hercules and Pa managed just fine without me. I think it was good for them to have that time together. It certainly cemented my faith in my husband. Bless him. Hercules had a great week, behavior-wise, although there was that one day when Pa forgot to give him his meds. Luckily, his teacher figured that out pretty quick, and Pa rushed over with the blessed pills. Good save, Pa!

Unfortunately, Hercules was feeling a bit under the weather, mostly with a nasty cough and sore throat. He was getting by, though, until Thursday when a coughing fit induced vomiting during PE. Poor guy. Once again, Pa came through and was able to ditch work and get him home (which is not so easy at his job as it is with mine). There was some speculation as to whether the Concerta is causing the cough, or just aggravating it (increased coughing is a side effect). Since he's been on the upswing without any further difficulties, though, we're guessing that at worst the Concerta may have aggravated the existing condition.

So things are back to normal, or better than normal, even. It's great to be home with my family. The only bad news is that last week's business trip has significantly increased my workload here at the Paycheck Factory. That means less blogging, folks. What? Blog from home, you say? Not likely. But with any luck this project I'm working on - which is expected to take weeks - will probably be done in a few days. I'm just so damned efficient! Just don't tell my boss, ok?