Hosting Highlights Week One

Our guest from the Dominican Republic is teaching us as much as we’re teaching her. Today, after telling me how underwhelmed she is by not recognizing any of the food and not liking what she’s tried, she told me she’ll miss our country.

I asked her why, since she’s only been here a week, she would miss the vastly different culture.

“Because it’s comfortable,” she said. “Is that the right word?”

I tried to hide my surprise, since she seems decidedly uncomfortable with our 50 degree mornings and bouillon-free cooking. I asked her what she found comfortable about Berkeley.

“Because people here follow the rules. When I walk on the street I’m not worried about motorcycles driving over me or cars accelerating to hit me if I try to cross the street. Here I can walk and enjoy and look.”

That’s a pretty big cultural difference. I don’t even know what to do with that, really, except let it wash over me. Taking for granted being safe on the sidewalk (though I don’t, actually, since I lived in Santa Monica when the farmer’s market accident happened and since a friend was hit by a car right in front of the school as he picked his kids up for the day) is a rather large reason we are, in fact, comfortable here.

Rosí also told me she thinks it’s funny that my husband handles the laundry and most of the dishes. I asked what she meant.

“In my country, men do not clean. That is the woman’s job. Not very many men help.”

I told her something that might be common here, but is certainly foreign to her. “But I don’t think what he’s doing is helping. The house is not my job. It’s the whole family’s job. Everyone who lives here needs clean clothes and dishes and good food.”

To my surprise, she agreed. “This is exactly how I feel!” Well, then. I guess I only have to work on the whole grain bread and you’ll be as Berkeley as anyone else.

There are less heady matters, too. She taught me the Spanish for peanut butter. I taught her the curbside  difference between reuse and recycle. And that it’s “a few minutes” or “a little while” not “a light minute.”

We’ve taken Rosí hiking and berry picking, to a museum and several grocery stores. And long the way we’re polishing her English a bit.

She told me that she needs to eat more to gain weight. She says that she’s unhappy being thin, but that her whole family has this problem. In fact, “The fattest person in my family is my mother. She’s about as fat as you.”

Um, we need to work on the phrasing a bit. But as long as we’re being honest…

We’ll see as the weeks wear on whether I’m willing to ask her questions that puzzle me. For example, each time she meets a man in my life, she asks if he is in the military. There have been five different men about whom she asks about military status. I don’t understand this. Perhaps she came into this arrangement thinking that some man I know is in the military; or maybe she thinks a high percentage of American men are military personnel? I feel as though I should walk her to the Navy recruiting office and introduce her to a petty officer or two. Just to be able to answer “yes, he’s in the military. And so is she. Because women here do that, too.”

You owe them

Stolen wholesale from an email sent to me by a brilliant woman:

“Recall Abigail Adams who gently reminded her husband, John, to ‘remember the ladies,’ as the founders crafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Women in Wyoming, the first state or territory to enfranchise women, won the vote in 1869. One hundred years ago today, women in Oregon secured the vote, and nationwide, suffrage did not occur until 1920.

For almost 240 years, women before you labored to give you this sacred franchise.

Stating that I don’t care how you vote is false; I do. But more importantly I care that you participate in this democracy as your foremothers did. These noble patriots’ sacrifices are innumerable.
Honor their steadfast commitment to the future, equality, and faith in you and your judgement. Vote.”

May your vote not be suppressed. May the lines be short and the volunteers knowledgeable. May your employer or children be patient.


Robert Thurman on Buddhism and women

Today was the second interview I’ve heard with Robert Thurman (Jon Carroll interviewed him at Herbst Feb 9, 2009 and though I could have planned to go I didn’t know until today that it happened, so I heard the podcast instead) and I was once again captivated by his voice, manner, and intelligence. First lecture was on Tibet and the geopolitical implications of Chinese rule there. Made me think of the globe, of capitalism masquerading as communism, and of debauched ethnic greed in whole new ways. This more recent City Arts and Lectures podcast  included bits I found fascinating, especially about Buddhism and messianic heroes.

One was that Buddhism qualifies as a messianic religion because it has room for the self-sacrifice of making others’ suffering less by taking on the suffering oneself. That, by definition, is messianic. So, he announced, is the work, worldwide, of women who suffer the slings and arrows of society and their own families to bring peace to their homes. He argued that the planet and the countries within it will only get healthy when women take over, since they know how to take everyone’s strengths and apply them for the greater good, and are, unfortunately, willing to suffer themselves to make others’ lives better. His argument was not essentialist, nor was it entirely womanist. But he made it very clear that we don’t appreciate what women do, everyday, in every country, to ensure a liveable life for their families.

check out some of his other podcasts here

and the lecture itself here

You say, russet? I say, leave the kid alone.

What is wrong with people?

My son loves painting. The day he saw me paint my toenails (he was in the bath, Spouse was watching him carefully, I was bored, the polish was nontoxic-ish) he fell in love with a new artform. He paints his own toenails about once a week now. He paints his father’s toenails. He tries to paint the cats’ toenails. He loves using a different polish for each toenail, then covers most with “russ-sit,” his favorite.

He paints a lot of toe with toenail. We pretend we don’t care. At first we quickly wiped off the excess, horrified at all the chemicals seeping into his otherwise Dr. Bronner’ed body. Then we stopped caring. ‘Cuz wiping tiny skin next to itty bitty toenails leads to smudges, and the boy hates having his art mucked up. Plus, since we’re trying to be all green and organic and nontoxic, we figure he has a few healthy liver cells to spare. It’s like we’ve been all hyper-organic just to save up purity credits so he can formaldehyde himself once a week. Sigg bottles all the time, with nailpolish on a third of his body. Like drinking organic Coke.

So yesterday we’re walking the ‘hood and a neighbor points at his toenails. “What are you doing with this girlie stuff?”

Um, he’s two and a half. He doesn’t know there are things society reserves for girls and for boys. He doesn’t know because we don’t feel the need to tell him. He doesn’t know that small-minded people will close off half of his joys in life soon enough. He doesn’t know why the shoe lady resisted, for a moment, bringing him the pink butterfly boots he asked for, or why when he asks for purple clothes, there aren’t any in his section. (Yes, most of his jammies are pink and purple…HOLD THE PHONE. What East Coast freaks are in charge of Word’s spellchecker? Because since when is jimmies a better guess than jammies? There’s no such word as jimmies. They’re sprinkles. It’s a shopping cart, not a carriage. It’s a freaking purse, not a pocketbook. At least give me the West Coast version of Word, not the Boston edition. If I type milkshake is it going to correct to frappe? Or better yet, cabinet? Geez. Come on. They look like sprinkles. They act like sprinkles. Why in the hell would they be jimmies? And why, you stupid little paperclip freak, would I have my kid wear jimmies? Jammies. Now I have to go teach autocorrect a lesson or two in California vernacular. Damned thing probably says PEAbuddy instead of Pea-Body.)

(Wait, do they mean jimmies as a verb or a noun? I guess jimmy as a verb occurs more than jammies…no it doesn’t. Nighttime is every day, and jimmying things open is rather rare. If not, get yourself in good with a locksmith or a carpenter. Because life’s too short to jimmy things open all the time. Or to have to recorrect jimmies to jammies, when you typed what you wanted in the first place. Meddling coder geeks.)

Anyway, why do strangers feel the need to put their ubermasculine malarkey on my kid? So he polishes his toenails. So? So he likes butterflies and ladybugs. So? He likes pink. A lot. Used to be, parents were told to dress their boys in pink because red was too strong a color for girls, who were conventionally dressed in blue. (Note that it all changed to blue/boy, pink/girl when the Baby Boomers showed up. Dagnabit, could more of the world revolve around that generation?! When will they go away and let someone else have a chance at determining the nation’s priorities?)

My parents gave me a dump truck when I was in the hospital at age 2, and the nurses thought we were from some cult. I liked freaking trucks, y’all. And I didn’t turn out anything except open minded. All toddlers like trucks and trains and bugs and dolls, so why do we have to be wiping half of that off the map-o’-funness for them based on their plumbing? Spin mama’s son erupted from the bathroom five years ago and pronounced, with his hair wrapped in a towel and nothing else on, that he was a beautiful princess. “Yes, you are!” we all fawned, and went back to our conversation.

I love that Spouse goes to the playground with his son, both of them in sandals and toenail polish. Spouse doesn’t think twice about saying “yes, please” to our little painter. And when friends give him hell, he just looks at them without flinching and says, “My son did them for me.”

Gives me a tangible reminder of why Spouse is the best spouse for me and the best dad for Peanut.

So all y’all who have a problem with the two men in my life painting their toenails, you can just shove off. ‘Cuz I like them more than I like you, anyway.