Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day

Last Father's Day Israel weighed twenty-four pounds and clung to my husband, calling him Papa in a tiny French accent.  I couldn't pry him off his Papa.  And he was so sick, he had night sweats from TB, and he slept on Scotty all night, soaking him and kicking him.  There are many good reasons for newborns to be small.  Israel, when he was newborn to us, wasn't small, and his kicks landed and bruised us, and we hadn't had any time to learn to love him yet.  Adoption can be a difficult road.

We didn't go anywhere to celebrate Father's Day because we were in shock just like brand new parents with a newborn.  We worried all the time that we were freaking him out.  We shouldn't have worried so much.  He was totally freaked out, but he has almost no memory of it at all.

We took him to Vermont.  Papa taught him to fish, and he taught him to swim.  Papa played shark with him in the water, and let him ride on his back and play whale-rider.  Papa was the father in the pool with whom all the other kids tried to play.  Papa also taught him to ski.  Now Izzy wants to learn to snowboard, and he just calls him Pop.

Israel had a low of awe for Scott when they first got home.  Scott ran a mile, carrying luggage and Izzy on his back, at the airport to make the plane.  Scott carried Israel out of the Congo and fed him pizza.  Now Israel knows that I am the person who will feed him, but he is starting to grasp the idea that even though I buy and cook all the food, it is Pop's money that pays for it all.  In this year's Father's Day card, he thanked him for Costco.  

Here are a few things that Scott did as a parent for Israel this year.  He sent him to violin school.  Israel had music theory classes, group music lessons, and private lessons all year long, and he is now learning his seventh song.  Scott attended his two big concerts, including one at Carnegie Hall, plus three recitals.  Scott also had Israel converted to Judaism with a ritual mikveh bath and a naming ceremony.  He paid for small group French classes every week.  He also spends time with him over the weekends and in the mornings before work when they play ball or ride bikes in the park.  Scott has stood by Israel in the emergency room and shared his iPad with him.  Most of all, Scott supports our choice to keep our family as close as we can  through homeschooling.  So Israel was not sent to daycare or preschool this year, and he won't be starting kindergarten in the fall.  He is with his brother Eddie and me all day long, and we try to help him learn what he wants to learn.  The most important thing Scott is helping him to learn is that we are his family.  

This Father's Day Israel weighs forty-six pounds and really looks like the five year old that he is.  He is cured of TB.  He has lost his little French accent.  Not a newborn anymore.  No longer new to us either.  He is our Izzy.  He still insists we are not his real family, and he threatens to leave us the minute he turns eighteen, but the next moment he is hugging us and hanging on us and hard to pry off, telling us how much he loves us.

One of the first things that Eddie did when Israel arrived was to sing to him from the Broadway show, Oliver! "Consider yourself at home!  Consider yourself part of the family!"  So Izzy quickly got to love that music, and I'll never forget when Scott sat down to dinner one night, and Izzy sang to him.  "I'll do anything, for you, dear, anything, for you mean everything to me!"

I hope for Father's Day that Izzy will sing it again, or if not, at least Scott can remember it as part of his first year as Izzy's Pop.

Balancing on the Tree Railings Again

This particular block between Broadway and Columbus in the West 60s is apparently not where I should be walking with my son Israel, because one week after the incident I described with the doorman and the super, we were balancing on the tree railings yet again, when we were passed by a well-dressed grandma-type, with a gold and turquoise Mogen David around her neck, and except for that, she could easily have been my own mother or mother-in-law.  My own mother and mother-in-law would never wear visible signs of their Jewishness the way this woman does, but then my mom and mother-in-law didn't and don't live in New York City.

She stared at us.  I thought, doesn't she think we're cute!  She glared at us.  I thought, oh no, not again!  Then she passed us, and I thought, phew!  But then she turned around and stopped.

"Is he yours?"  she asked.  She didn't smile.  She wasn't asking nicely.
Since we were on our weekly mission to balance on every single railing on the south side of the street, we continued forward.  She had to turn and keep up with us.
"Yes, he is!" I said, proudly with a big smile.  "Isn't he cute?"  I challenged.
She smirked.

"He's been home a whole year now, from the Congo!"  I told her, again with pride, again with a big smile.
She softened.  Maybe she thinks: war, famine, charity.  I am not trying to get her to feel badly for my son who is doing great, no longer licks his plate clean, would prefer bread without crust these days.  I am just trying to get her to think.

"Mama, no talking!"  Israel tells me.
"Oh Israel, this nice lady wants to know about you.  She's curious."
I know Israel hates it when I tell people stuff about him, and yet, I have a hard time not letting people know who he is and how proud I am of him.  I believe that there are people who need to know.  

"What is his name?"  She now wears the look of horror that I prefer not to take in, so I keep my eyes on my little guy.
"His name is Israel," I tell her, emphasizing the three syllables distinctly.
"Isn't that a bit, uh, ironic?" she asks.
"Actually it was his birth name, and yes, I think it's very ironic, since although I am Jewish, I am not a Zionist."  I let that sit in her craw for a moment.
"A lot of orphanages give biblical names to the children.  I think it has to do with hope," I say, and again, she softens.  And I notice that in myself I have softened too.  I am no longer angry with her for intruding.  I smile for real now.  She smiles back.
"Well, good luck, Israel," she tells him and leaves.

I think we all have these softer and harder places, like lakes often have warm and cold spots, and it is really just a matter of finding them, noticing if we get stuck in a cold spot, or, if we are in a soft spot, learning to stay there, to let compassion be where we live.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My Adorable Miracle

So I was walking with Israel down the street where we go to get the bus to violin after dropping Eddie off at Hebrew School.  It is a tree-lined street in the West 60s, and the trees are surrounded by wrought iron railings that designate the trees's space and presumably provide protection to the flowers planted there from trampling dogs and other creatures.

My boys love to balance on the wrought iron.  Eddie does this easily now, occasionally grabbing the tree trunk or leaping off the iron onto the sidewalk.  Israel needs my help.  Since he is new to this, I have pointed out that he should try never to fall toward the tree, because he might hurt the flowers. He knows the names of many flowers now, and he loves daffodils, and he told me, "I don't want to hurt the daffodils, Mama."  I was pretty confident that he wouldn't.

The first building we pass, as he balances on the wrought iron, holding my hand, being very careful, is a doorman building.  The doorman is a white man in his forties.  He has an accent that I can only say is from somewhere in Eastern Europe.  The doorman yells at us, "hey!  There are flowers growing there!"

Very calmly, without shouting, without losing my focus on Israel, without dropping his hand, without turning to face this man, I say, "yes, I know, and there are also children growing here."  We walk over to the second railing and begin to balance there.

The super arrives and speaks with the doorman.  Here is a man in a white undershirt and workpants who is younger than the doorman and also has an Eastern European accent.

"What are you crazy?" he yells at me.
I smile at Israel.
"Should I get down, Mama?"
"You're fine.  You can do this."
"Lady, didn't you hear the doorman tell you to get off the flowers?"
"I'm not on the flowers.  My son won't hurt the flowers."  We continue to the next railing.  The super follows us down the sidewalk.
"Do you want me to call the police on you?"
"You are free to do whatever you want to do, sir."

(When I lived in Paris, one good rule I picked up was to always be nicer and more polite than the person with whom you are arguing.  If you don't win the argument, at least you have raised their blood pressure higher than your own.)

"Don't worry.  Keep balancing.  You're doing fine.  You are not doing anything wrong."

A well-dressed white woman is walking toward us on the sidewalk.  The super goes up to her.

"Do you see what this crazy woman is doing?"
I don't know what she says to him because I am afraid to catch her eye, so I keep reassuring Israel that he has every right in the world to walk on the railings since every child I've ever known has always done exactly what he is doing, and he is doing it well and carefully.  We are now well away from the doorman's personal daffodils, at least half-way down the block, but it seems that the super has business down here too, because he moves with us and stops on a brownstone stoop.

"Crazy lady!  Hey, I'm talking to you!"
"You are yelling, sir," I tell him, in a very controlled normal tone.
"Don't you get what I'm saying to you?"
I shrug and smile at my son.  "Whatever his problem is, we don't have to let it bother us."
The super goes into the brownstone.  Israel and I continue down the street at our slowest pace, and Izzy balances on every single tree railing.  When a bus comes down Columbus, he starts to jump off the railing, but I hold him on the rail and show him that it wasn't our bus anyway.  When we do get to the corner, our bus arrives at the same time.

On the bus I remind him that he didn't do anything wrong, that he can be proud of himself and ignore people like that on the street.  It takes me well over five hours to even begin to think of this incident as motivated by race.

At home that night, we run into our super who is a white man of Polish descent.  Every time he sees Israel, he cracks up laughing.  As a playwright, sitting in the back of many theatres, I have known happy laughter and laughter that might turn into tears, and I know the sound of embarrassed laughter.  My super's laughter is that awful uncomfortable kind.  I am not faulting or judging him for it.  I doubt he can help it.  I rarely even think of it anymore, but I heard it when we got home, and I realized that some people do not gaze on my child as if he is the adorable miracle I know and love.  Some people see a black kid and get angry.  Are they more angry to see that he is being raised by a white woman?  Is there anything I can do about this sort of reaction?        


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Israel's First Shakespeare Play

So he's been home a whole year now, and I haven't taken him to see any Shakespeare at all yet, but tonight we had to plunge in, because it was Scott's night out, and Edward and I are scheduled to see fourteen classic shows this summer (mostly Shakespeare with a few Greeks, a Chekhov and a Moliere), and we are behind already due to crazy sickness last week, so off we went (Eddie, Izzy and me) to see The Merry Wives of Windsor by Hudson Warehouse at 89th and Riverside.

I brought lawn chairs, because they stage on the marble steps of the war memorial, and I can't bear to sit there for two hours, but Eddie preferred to climb the walls and watch from up high, while Izzy was happy to sit on the free cushions.  I worried that the boys might be bored, but Izzy was really into it, asked appropriate questions, referred often to the photos on the program cover -- "she is married?  she is getting married?  he likes her?  he is funny?"  He laughed in appropriate places, carefully absorbing everything the audience did in response.  He was surprised by the humor and the physical comedy that the actors provided.  He will do the hip-thrusting "Dr Cassius dance" for the next few years I'm sure!

Afterwards, Izzy was thrilled that love won out, and the girl got to marry the boy she wanted.  Eddie, my romantic, couldn't understand how the actors could stand being pawed on stage by people they didn't really love in real life.  Izzy got to punch Falstaff in his padded belly.  Eddie got to quote Shakespeare all the way home calling himself "an ass"!  Izzy recounted most of the play accurately to Papa before bed.  Eddie loved how Ann Page's true love recited Shakespeare's sonnets to heavy metal music.  And I have two Shakespeare fans at home now, happily fast asleep!