A Birthday Present, Albeit Belated

Dave and I, San Francisco, April 2015
Dave and I, San Francisco, April 2015

I have been an up and down all-around roller coaster of emotions for several days. The obvious reason is my birthday. I hate getting older. I love being remembered. I hate worrying about being remembered. I do not like being the center of attention. I do not want to be forgotten. And then there is current reality, which is the fact that we currently do not have a home. Here is where my over abundance of empathy gets in the way. Being weighed down by all the other peoples’ shoes I try to walk in paralyzes my joy. I get swept away in the reality that sure, I may live in a hotel, but I can afford to pay for the hotel. I have a bed to sleep in and clean running water. I was not just blown off a tall mountain or had a roof collapse on my home. I am not fighting for my rights, or worried about losing my home. I just do not own a home, that is.

And here is how this very post began. A couple of days ago, really almost a week, I looked at Kyle and said, “I am giving myself a birthday present.”
“What is it?” He said.
“I am going to write on my blog every week day for a year.”
“That is really cool, Mom.” He responded. “I think you should.”

That was last Thursday. My birthday was Friday. I was in Utah until Monday. Now it is Tuesday, I mean, Wednesday.

Still living our vagabond-hotel-room existence, this week I sit in Emeryville, California. I am staring out the window at the condos across the tracks. And between the condos, train tracks, and me, a billboard sporting a scary cow cartoon face screams the words “The more you know, the more you Clo.” For some reason, I want a glass of milk, which is completely weird, because I am allergic to dairy.

Yesterday, our first full day back in California, I made the boys suffer through a room move. Our non-smoking room reeked of cigarettes and the door separating our two rooms had a broken hinge and would not shut. Doors need to close, especially in small spaces.

Today, Eli’s foot is swollen, possibly broken, as a result of making contact with the hotel door last night. Housekeeping wanted to clean our room so nearly three hours ago Kyle and I deposited Eli in the hotel lobby. We instructed him to call if he needed us, and we let the friendly hotel staff know that Eli was there. Then Kyle and I went in search of lunch. Sick of Rubio’s and also Fuddruckers we made our way to Trader Joe’s down the street.

As our very handsome African American cashier placed our groceries in the bag I provided, (of course because this is California) I could not help but wonder about Baltimore, about riots, about race, and about cultural divide. The Emeryville Trader Joe’s resides between Oakland and Berkeley. I am literally standing on the line between hippies and street gangs (stereotypes included for effect). As I stood in the grocery store line watching our good-looking cashier gently load our shopping bag, I can see my friend’s white upper middle class mom roll her eyes as she asks, “[insert silent “ew” sound here] Emeryville? Why Emeryville?”

Oakland, CA is literally an arms length away. I can probably walk to Oakland in five minutes. Of course I think the changes Oakland has made are super cool, but I also hear the words of a local homeschooling mom ringing in my ears. “Everyone here would kill me for saying this. I live in Oakland and the black people make it hard. There is so much crime and I do not feel safe. If they heard me, they would think I was a racist. I do not think I am.”

Like Baltimore, Oakland has highly concentrated African American population and struggles with the consequences of generational poverty. Dave and I have spent many hours walking and talking about the issues of the day and the intersection of social class, poverty, and race that divides us. When people are oppressed, stuck, or do not know how to move forward, they do what they know. And I think the homeschooling mom was trying to say, “poverty equals crime, right?” It is easy and shortsighted to blame a race, a religion or a gender. And it may even be true that in Oakland, CA, that more African Americans break into cars or shoot people than white people. Why is that? How did we (we meaning all of us) get here?

Our car was broken into. Dave’s friend, who lives down the street, has seen four shootings. As humans, we like to self-segregate, and to be around people who are like us. Coming from Utah to Oakland has certainly given us an opportunity to expand our interaction with people of different social classes, and the experiences are neither 100% positive nor negative. As I stood there chatting with our handsome African American cashier, I wondered how he feels about the labels and the weight of cultural expectations that separate us. It is no secret that he is black and I am white. I actually wondered if it was ok to ask. “What do you think about Baltimore?” I wanted to say it, but didn’t. How do you start a conversation when you shouldn’t? Maybe he does not care. Maybe he is sick of being asked by every white person. I am not sure. What I know is we talked about sugar, about why I bought so much fruit. “I am cutting down on the sweets.” I said, and it is so hard.
“I totally get that.” He responded.
He told me that he was also feeling hungry, then looked at my food selection, and picked up my no-chocolate-included trail mix and said, “this will help you get through.”

Lunch is done. We are back in our room. The sun is shining. Eli’s head faces mine as we face our respective laptop screens. Kyle is sitting on the couch approximately ten feet away. I assume he is doing his homework. I ask. “Kyle, are you doing your homework?”
“Yes. I have been doing my homework,” he says as his sits up and looks at me. “A famous Youtuber makes from once sponsored video as much money as someone at an entry level job makes in three years.” Then he pounces on Eli, who is now standing next to the couch. I ask them to stop. They both scream.
“Ok. Bye.” Eli snaps as he stomp limps out of the room.

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