if i had a daughter

I grew up a tomboy with four older brothers and a sister, all children of a strict, working father and a stay-at-home mom. Dad and Mom raised us all to be self-sufficient. There was no division of labor between boys and girls. We all ironed clothes, washed dishes and mowed the lawn. Dad spent hours under the hood of our cars showing us how to tend to an engine, change the oil, lube the bushings and change a tire. Dad taught me how to defend myself against would-be attackers, because he knew that women are targets. I wasn’t afraid of boys, and I held my own in playful brawls with my brother—my small size, speed and agility were to my advantage.

In junior high I was one of two or three girls in my science and shop classes, and I earned a varsity letter in swimming. In high school I managed the boy’s swim team, was a lifeguard and played on a co-ed water polo team as one of the faster swimmers. I became the head coach of a summer league swim team, taking it from the bottom of the league all the way to second place in the champs. The job paid well enough to enable me to put myself through college. After college I backpacked solo through Europe for seven months on a shoestring budget. I grew up feeling as though I could accomplish anything if I simply desired it enough and was willing to put in the hard work.

Then I entered the work force and, though I was eventually promoted from every starting position, I began to see inequity between the sexes. It was the first time I’d heard the sorry news that women made about seventy cents for every dollar a man took home. I worked in the garment business, and though it is an industry largely made up of women, most at the top are men. At one of my jobs I was privy to the company salary information, and I saw for myself the discrepancy in pay between my male and female colleagues, even though the company was owned and run by a woman.

I always dreamed that if I had a daughter, I’d raise her to be confident, assertive and strong and to defy the gender roles imposed on her by a patriarchal society. I’d show her how to stare down and boldly greet a row of lunching construction workers to best diffuse their hawkish glare and tendency to jeer. I’d encourage her to speak up for justice and not to act subordinate because of her gender. I’d tell her she is as capable as her brothers in most any situation and, likely, better in many. I’d teach her to be proud of her body and to call out those who would subjugate her because of her gender or the clothes she chooses to wear. I’d teach her the history of women’s suffrage and stress her right and her duty to vote. I'd tell her not to limit herself and to never give up on her dreams.

And if I had a son who could understand, I’d teach him all the same things. Alas, Calvin is incapable of such abstractions, but if he were, I’d like to think he’d be a feminist. Some of feminism’s best are progressive men.

I say all this because I think I did have a daughter for eight weeks or so until I miscarried, and if she had survived I’d be telling her why I hope a woman will be our next president.

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, feel the Bern, as Sander’s supporters like to say. He’s got a lot of bold notions and he's coming from the right place, it seems. But I can’t shake the feeling—not that I want to—that it’s time we finally have a woman leading our nation, as the face of the USA. Like I said, Bernie is fine and good, and the two have a lot of the same ideas and would likely accomplish similar things, but at this place and time when folks on the right want to take us backwards and rewrite history in so many ways—men trying to legislate women's bodies and limit our access to healthcare, for instance—I feel the need for us to crush that glass ceiling to smithereens. I mean, it’s 2016. C'mon people! Now is the time. Besides, we've clearly had our share of male presidents, some who've gotten things done, others not so much. Goddammit, for once lets show the world what a woman can do!

I've little doubt, coming from experience having been a girl and a woman all my life, that much of the hype, scandal and contempt against Hillary can be explained away as gross examples of misogyny, by men who fear and scorn her brilliance and power and by women who, perhaps, envy it. If you aren't sure, just watch an hour or two of the Benghazi hearings where lawmakers hazed the former Secretary of State for eleven hours, trying their best to wear her down and burn her at the stake. You will witness her formidable mind and resolve, her stamina, confidence and calm. In her you will see the makings of an amazing Commander in Chief.

In what some call a man's world, I'm tired of hearing assertive women described as bitches, sick of people like Donald Trump describing women's bodily functions as "disgusting" and other conservative politicians coining cruel terms like "legitimate rape." What the hell is that supposed to mean? I'm sickened by stories of women being abused in their homes, assaulted at work and attacked on the street, maligned by the sick likes of Rush Limbaugh, neglected by the work force, criticized for their attire, and of female geniuses lauded for their cooking rather than for their brains. I'm disgusted by male conservative politicians chipping away at women's access to birth control, cancer screening, family planning services and legal abortion when really, if men could get pregnant, it would be a completely different story. I'm so over the white male dominated film industry and the lack of important roles for women—and people of color, for that matter. I want the world to come into some sort of balance, and I begin to think it is possible when I hear people like Gloria Steinem speak. She says things like:

The more polarized the gender roles, the more violent the society.

And I see the gross level of violence in this country, and I ponder all the good that is possible simply by having a smart, amazingly qualified, determined woman at the helm.

As much as I like Bernie Sanders' idealism and passion, and for all that he may or may not be able to get done in Washington, he is yet another white male (not that there's anything innately wrong with that.) Consider, however, Ms. Clinton's wealth of experience with foreign policy and world advocacy for women and girls. All other things being equal, I believe Hillary will be able to accomplish as much, if not more, than Bernie, while at the same time being a beacon of what is possible for our daughters. She is strong, capable, brilliant and experienced.

If I had a daughter, she'd be about thirteen, and perhaps in a year she'd be looking at the President of the United States, seeing a face familiar in ways, and knowing—for real—that dream could one day be hers.

Originally published 2.1.16

Hillary Rodham (Clinton)


hopalong cassidy

Our little Hopalong Cassidy gets his cast off tomorrow! First thing he gets is a bath.


day three

The blue light of dawn crept behind the blinds as I cradled my shivering child. I heard the chirp and caw of cardinals, jays and crows, while my little bird was silent in the wake of a grand mal.

On day three since his last grand mal, it is eighty degrees. Some leaves wilt in the heat while others thrive in the shade of trees. The house is quiet and cool, the open windows allowing a slight breeze.

I feel weary, having woken before dawn several days this week. With this kid, I never seem to catch up on sleep. Calvin has not been himself and I wonder, as always, if it is virus, infection or benzodiazepine malaise. The boy is listless, and I hope there is nothing festering under the cast that is on his leg.

His breath smells sour, his fingers too; he fishes them around in his mouth and they get covered in drool. Black circles linger under his eyes. He has a temp of one-hundred degrees, which might be due to withdrawal.

We’re at least a year away from his last dose of clobazam, the addictive benzodiazepine we’ve been weaning for over two. If we decrease too abruptly or too fast, he suffers worse affects, as do we. So we take his wean slow and, if possible, steady. It won’t be until he is completely of the stuff—free and clear for several months—before we’ll know if the side effects will abate, before we know if he’ll suffer fewer seizures. For now, he’s in an active state of withdrawal which will last, in total, over three long years.



Just a very quick post—I haven't much time this week to write—to mention that my brother, Scott, came for a visit from his home in Tucson by way of New York. His stay in Maine overlapped with the Kolster family reunion. He fit in well with the crowd, drinking beers and shooting the shit with my in-laws, cracking jokes with the gang.

His visit was too short; four days go by far too quickly. The last time I’d seen him was over eighteen months ago, nearly a year before Mom died. We talked about her and what a long and happy life she had lived, even with the Alzheimer’s. Over the few days we had together, we discussed life, triumph, guilt, remorse, responsibility and loss. We reminisced about childhood a bit, but mostly touched on a myriad of other topics such as relationships, the universe, and other things of non-political nature; Scott insisted politics was off limits.

Though Calvin has only met my brother a few brief times before, he took to Scott immediately. I think Calvin likes his scratchy head and deep voice, not to mention Scott’s fondness for hugs. I melted seeing them snuggle together, big smiles on their faces just chilling out.

When I dropped Scott off at the airport this morning I wept. Now that Mom is gone, I wonder if we’ll see much of each other. Our family has not been one for reunions; too many deep rifts between certain siblings. The last reunion we had was over twenty years ago when my dad turned seventy, the year before he died. It was pretty much a disaster, complete with harsh words and judgement, impatience, tears.

But what I’ve lost in one family I’ve gained in another: Michael’s. Scott reminded me of that same dynamic when I openly lamented the deep loss I feel daily having a child so seriously impaired as Calvin; he’s also been a gift.

As I look at the photo below I am reminded again of what my parents told me growing up, that Scott, as a six-year old, used to change my dirty diapers and feed me my bottle. It's no wonder he makes an amazing uncle.


another milestone

If you are wondering why I am not writing much lately it is because, a) Calvin was home from school for three weeks without a nurse to give me a break, b) Calvin has a broken foot, making it slightly more difficult to care for him than usual, c) I’ve been deep in thought and lamenting the ongoing rash of African Americans shot by police and the subsequent sniper killings of five officers in Dallas, d) Michael’s family is starting to arrive for a reunion here in Maine, and e) though Calvin began a brief session of summer school on Monday, it only lasts three hours a day four days a week; he’s home by 11:30 a.m. leaving me little time to get much done.

But since I’ve found a sliver of a moment while Calvin plays happily in his bed (safety netting secure overhead so he doesn't fall out and break his other foot), I can tell you about his most recent milestone: We took Calvin out to dinner for, essentially, the first time in his life. I say, “essentially” because when he was an infant, a few times we took him to dinner in his carrier and rested him at our feet. But he has never sat at a table with us in a restaurant for dinner. For a number of reasons—Calvin’s erratic behavior, his seizures, the drug side effects, his inability to sit safely in a chair, his early bedtime—it’s a luxury we’ve been hesitant to indulge.

Yesterday, Michael and I ventured to Sebasco Estates, a local seaside golf resort where his parents are staying in a tiny cottage for a few days before the reunion formally begins. We lounged on a sloping lawn for an hour or so eating crackers and cheese while Calvin mostly amused himself with random toys to bite and chew. When he became restless, we decided to give dinner a try. We figured, if he had a meltdown, we could always take our food in doggie bags. I reasoned that if we didn’t risk giving dinner a go, I’d be limiting my already meager opportunities to get out into the world.

We sat in the outdoor patio area facing the sea. Wind whipped our hair and sun stroked our necks. Calvin sat patiently in a grownup chair at the corner of our table eating the food I’d prepared for the jaunt. The four of us talked politics while sipping from cold beer and bourbon on ice. We managed to finish our meals while Calvin, by then in the upright adaptive stroller we’d borrowed from friends, sat mostly content.

Finally, we got up to leave, gathered Nellie who’d been penned up in the cottage, and said our goodbyes. We were home by 6:45 p.m. in time for Calvin’s evening meds and cannabis oils.

I felt proud, like we’d accomplished a great thing: We had stepped outside of our comfort zone, a zone in which remaining can be a dangerous thing.

hanging with The Fam at Sebasco Estates, photo by Michael Kolster


to be colorblind

When I study The New Yorker cover, I feel hope, but mostly pain. Tears well in my eyes seeing the image of a handsome family, the littlest sitting atop his father’s shoulders. Their brown bodies are clad for the beach, standing closely in the sand with a crisp blue backdrop of sky. Three children gaze out to sea. Dad seems somehow intent on the viewer, like a papa bird minding his chicks. Despite the flawless sky, clouds pool in his dark glasses. His strong body emerges from red, white and blue trunks laced tightly at his waist, bars of blue crossing his hips.

White folks in the distance have their backs turned.

I clutch my son and caress his belly, keenly aware of my privilege. I grieve the recent killings of decent black men. I grieve for my American sisters—mothers of brown and black children who’ve been gunned down so violently, needlessly, brazenly, mothers who have been robbed of the embrace of their child, of the chance to see them one last time, while I hold mine with impunity.

I am not colorblind. I see their beautiful hues. Far different from mine, they move me—everything about them: their history, their strength, their humility, their tenacity, their courage, their wisdom, their stamina, their love, their calm, their rage. I bear witness to their murders. The blood and pain in countless videos stains a nation already steeped in too many egregious deeds.

My son seizes weekly, his crooked arms stiff and shaking above his head. His father and I hold him, kiss him, whisper loving words that we hope somehow he can hear. Alton Sterling was shot in the chest by a blue-uniformed stranger. His body cramped, his arm rising in that same arced tremor while he lay—alone—expiring on hard cement.

Through my tears, I ponder those—and there are many—who like to declare their colorblindness, or who deny that racism exists, who resent, misinterpret and discount the claim that black lives matter, who blunt and derail the conversation by stating the obvious, that all lives matter, who resort to scapegoating rather than addressing the epidemic of violence and oppression against our nation's precious, darker skins. I ponder how one justifies an act of murder—of execution—yet condemns the act of driving with a broken tail light or of selling loose cigarettes or questioning authority or waving a toy gun or wearing a hoodie or standing up for civil rights or fighting for life? Too often it comes down to the color of their skin, and to some that means the victims, who they insist are culpable, are somehow fair game for shooting at point-blank range.

Is that what it means to be colorblind?

What if we were to imagine our children being choked to death or beaten by police or bleeding out in the middle of the street or a passenger or driver’s seat? I wager colorblindness doesn’t allow for minds to travel to that kind of place. It’s unsafe territory for the willfully blind, for cowards, for racists.

Perhaps this apathy and reproof stem from some lack of capacity, or perhaps from mere satisfaction of wallowing in the comforts afforded by white privilege braced by erroneous and harmful notions about minorities, which fill sorry voids of dark-skinned comrades. Perhaps, in that void bubbles blame, hatred, fear and contempt. I see the vile memes, read and hear the same old lame retorts, the hard edge of prejudice pressing through the fear of conceding that skin color in this nation has consequences, has privilege, has meaning.

Kadir Nelson, A Day at the Beach


on the mend

Thankfully, my boy is on the mend. Tuesday morning we saw Calvin's awesome orthopedic specialist who put him in a sleek green fiberglass cast that he can bear weight on, complete with a simple cast shoe. Turns out that the metatarsal fracture, a straight, green break like that of a sapling, will heal in just three weeks because it is unlikely to shift position and it extends into the growth plate. This was the best news we could have asked for.

Today, Calvin is recovering from yesterday's grand mal yet still enduring several partial seizures in its wake. The kid just can't seem to catch a break, except when he falls out of bed and lands right on his toe.