What you won’t remember

Rachel_Nana_Miles

Rachel Lippolis and her grandmother spend time with baby Miles shortly after his birth in November 2016. Barbara Colina passed away this June at age 95.

By Rachel Lippolis

To my son, in his first year of life:

I feel like I have to doubly preserve each moment with you — etch it into my mind — as you won’t remember these early months and years.

You won’t share my and your father’s memory of driving home from the hospital, me next to you in the backseat, hand on your chest. That night you threw up so suddenly that we called the doctor at 1 am to be reassured that you were fine. You won’t remember us camping in the living room for the next two weeks, barely showered, curtains closed; we watched you sleep, air going in and out of your little body, and we rejoiced in the small moments your eyes opened and looked straight at us as if you knew how happy you had made us.

You won’t remember a time when you couldn’t walk or control your body, but I’ve celebrated each milestone. From grabbing at objects at three months and rolling over at five months to crawling at eight months, I’m in constant awe of your development from a newborn totally dependent on me into a baby who can move where you want to. You love standing against the mirror, touching hands with your reflection. You love scooting onto my lap so I can read “Moo, Baa, La La La” for the fifth time in a day. You love listening to your father play guitar and grabbing at the strings.

Your first tooth arrived in April. My mom discovered it on her birthday. She was so tickled: “Gigi found your first tooth!” You have grandmas and grandpas and uncles and aunts and cousins (and one great-grandfather, age 101!) who celebrated your arrival and continue to love and support you as you get bigger. You won’t remember this fleeting period when you and your four boy-cousins were all three years and younger, but the rest of us were gaga for these little boys.

Rachel_Miles_CliftyFalls

Rachel and her son, hiking in Indiana’s Clifty Falls.

You won’t remember all the times we drove more than an hour east to Georgetown, Ohio, to visit your great-grandmother at the veteran’s nursing home. When she wasn’t upstairs playing bingo or in the dining room eating lunch, she was waiting for us in the front lobby. I hugged her hello, took you out of the stroller, and carefully placed you in her lap. She loved seeing you and holding you; you smiled and grabbed her face. In the spring we’d go outside, a caravan, her pushing you in the stroller and me pushing her in her wheelchair. I’m sorry you won’t get to know her as you grow up, but I am so grateful she got to know you before she passed away. I can’t wait to show you the dozens of pictures I took of the two of you together, telling you stories about her life.

You won’t remember the months you slept in a portable crib next to our bed. Your cries woke me up every two hours, and I nursed and cuddled you back to sleep. Each morning you woke, babbling happily, while I felt like I hadn’t slept since Spring 2016. I may have complained, but I wouldn’t trade one second of the time we spent together those dark, quiet nights. You finally slept seven hours straight the night my grandmother died, as if you understood what I needed.

Right now the world, to you, is a safe place, filled only with people who love you and try to keep you happy and safe. I’m nervous about the world you’ll inherit but hopeful that it will be on a trajectory toward a more just and peaceful place. And I hope you’ll have memories of a calm and happy childhood, full of family vacations, chapter books, bike rides, Lego sets, and hundreds of other quiet moments. Me, I’ll cherish these first years enough for the both of us.

***

Rachel Lippolis and her husband celebrated the birth of their first child last October. After her maternity leave, she returned to work part-time at a branch of the public library in Cincinnati.

Editor’s note: Rachel and I have been online friends since 2011, when I discovered her excellent blog and complimented her intelligent, clear writing on literature, baseball, politics and other topics. We finally got a chance to meet last spring when I visited Cincinnati at the end of a road trip I took to see Major League Baseball games in three Midwest cities.  No surprise she’s a big Reds fan.

Tomorrow: David Quisenberry, The accidental manager

Advertisements

Ohio on my mind

cvg-george

On the Cincinnati riverfront in May 2016.

The Buckeye State and the Beaver State have so little in common that it’s hard to think of a logical start to this post.

Ohio is a typical Midwestern state stretching from the Great Lakes to the Ohio River, a political swing state with a big industrial base but also a big chunk of poverty-stricken Appalachia. With 12 million people, its population triples that of Oregon.

Oregon has the Pacific Coast, the Cascade Mountains and Crater Lake, and is a reliably blue state, one of just five left where Democrats control the governor’s office and both houses in the legislature. We’re so predictable that neither Trump nor Clinton campaigned here last year, knowing that our few electoral votes would go to Hillary.

So I’m just going to dive in and say that as a longtime Oregonian, it’s odd to realize how much the state of Ohio has intruded on my consciousness during the past year.

The connection took root last spring when I spent some time in Ohio at the tail end of a whirlwind trip whose main purpose was to see four baseball games in three cities in the space of five days. I began in Pittsburgh, then shimmied over to Ohio.

CLE.ohiocity

My rental car and airbnb rental in the Ohio City historic district of Cleveland.

I saw one game in Cleveland and spent the night there, then drove to Cincinnati and did the same there.

Before then, I’d passed through Cleveland twice before in the mid-70s as a college student heading to summer internships in Washington, D.C., and again more recently on a road trip with my daughter to get her settled for graduate school in Pittsburgh. We made time to visit the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

Years earlier, Simone and I also got a look at Oberlin College, on the outskirts of Cleveland, as she was considering where to go for undergraduate school. (Thank goodness, she didn’t choose Oberlin.)

In any case, here’s how Ohio has burrowed itself into my mind:

— When I visited in May, the first highway sign that greeted me upon entering the state bore the name of Governor John Kasich. Hey, remember him?

— Arriving early for the baseball game in downtown Cleveland, I was dazzled by Progressive Field, one of the most beautiful stadiums I’ve seen. In the fall, the Indians would return to the World Series and lose a heartbreaking Game 7 to the Chicago Cubs.

CLE.progressive fiel

Progressive Field is a great venue. It was ranked as Major League Baseball’s best ballpark in a 2008 Sports Illustrated fan opinion poll.

— A short walk away is Quicken Loans Arena, bearing larger-than-life images of LeBron James and his teammates. In June, a month after my visit, the Cavaliers would win the NBA Championship in a thrilling Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors. In July, delegates to the Republican National Convention would nominate Trump for president.

— In Cincinnati, I got to attend a Reds game with Anne Saker, my former co-worker at The Oregonian. A native Ohioan, she’s now working as a reporter at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Peter Bhatia, my former boss in Portland, is now the editor at the Enquirer. The newspaper made the news last fall when its editorial board endorsed Clinton for president — the first time in nearly a century that it had backed a Democrat.

 (Click on images to view captions.)

— Before the game, I had lunch with Rachel Lippolis, a regular contributor to this blog over the years. Though we’ve been online friends for several years, this was the first time we’d met in person. Rachel, another native Ohioan, was pregnant then and became a mother in October. For some odd reason, her alma mater, Denison College, is represented among the college and university banners lining one wall of the entrance to the building where I work for an education nonprofit.

— That afternoon, I also explored the Queen City’s riverfront. Looking south into Kentucky, I hadn’t realized the Ohio River had served as the dividing line between the free North and the Southern slave states. It was a powerful, wrenching moment that stays with me still. Part of the reason why is that I spent some time in the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, learning more about the region’s history and viewing museum exhibits that included an actual slave pen with shackles chained to the floor. Chilling.

— Back in Oregon, I became a grandparent in late July. Looking for a suitable gift for daughter-in-law Jamie, I stumbled upon a wonderful book and blog titled “Becoming Mother.” I  bought the book and sent off a complimentary email to its author, Sharon Tjaden-Glass.

sharon-tjaden-glass

Sharon Tjaden-Glass

We became Facebook friends and soon enough, Sharon landed in this space as a guest blogger, writing about life in a swing state and then about the horror of discovering her baby’s due date was Inauguration Day. She lives in Dayton, a place I came nowhere near during my 2016 trip. I don’t imagine we’ll ever meet, but it’s still nice to connect with a millennial who’s a kindred spirit. (Her newborn son delayed his arrival until early February.)

— Two books I read during the latter half of 2016 were set in Ohio. One, by Celeste Ng, is titled “Everything I Never Told You,” and takes place in the late ’70s in the fictional small town of Middlewood. The novel is centered on the tensions within a family made up of a Chinese American father, an Anglo mother and their three reclusive children. The other, by J.D. Vance, is “Hillbilly Elegy,” a memoir of growing up amidst generational poverty and low educational expectations in Appalachia, first in eastern Kentucky and then in southwest Ohio, in the now-decaying steel town of Middletown.

— A Netflix movie that Lori and I rented was filmed on location in Ohio. “Liberal Arts” stars Josh Radnor as a disillusioned New Yorker who returns to campus at the invitation of a retiring favorite professor. The scenery at Kenyon College is breathtaking, reminiscent of Oregon’s many hues of green. And the movie, also starring Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister to the Olsen twins), is actually pretty good.

— Before the year ended, I met with another former co-worker, Steve Woodward, when I was looking for ideas to incorporate into my college teaching this term. Steve was a guest lecturer in two of my classes last week and, wouldn’t you know it, he too is from Dayton and a graduate of nearby Wright State University. Once a reporter and editor at The Oregonian, Steve is now CEO of his own online news startup and one of the most forward-thinking individuals I know.

CVG.queen city

The “Sing the Queen City” 3D Art Sculpture, is the signature piece and part of the ArtWorks urban public art project known as “CincyInk.” (Photography by Brooke Hanna.)

I could go on about my discovery of a little indie band called Over The Rhine, named for a neighborhood in Cincinnati. Or about my newfound love of Cincinnati Chili, a no-beans chili made with cinnamon, cloves and chocolate that’s paired with spaghetti and shredded cheddar cheese. But that might make a person wonder if I’m thinking of moving to Ohio.

No. Way.

U.S. lags on maternity leave

By Rachel Lippolis

My first child is due to arrive just before Halloween, and I’m already dreaming about the cute costumes I can put him in — an Eric Carle-style hungry caterpillar; Nibbler, from Futurama; or a miniature Totoro. My husband and I probably won’t be able to tote him around our neighborhood trick-or-treating (a ten-day-old newborn is too young for that, I think), but maybe we’ll be able to sit on our front porch, greeting and handing Reese’s cups out to ninja turtles and Elsas. I guess we can figure that out later; it’s nothing I need to worry about now.

Still, I do have a lot of things I’m worried about. How will I sleep? How will he sleep? Will he eat? Will I? I’m worried about SIDS, about autism, about ADHD, and about raising a little boy to be generous and empathetic well into adulthood. But one thing I’m not worried about is returning to work right after he’s born. I’m fortunate to be part of an organization that allows me to take 12 weeks off of work and to use my accrued sick leave to get my full paycheck during that time.

I hadn’t thought much about maternity leave before getting pregnant. My mom stopped teaching before having me and my brothers; she didn’t return to the classroom until my youngest brother was three and in preschool. Locally, most of my friends who have had children were either teachers, benefiting from having the summer off near the time their children were born, or otherwise had flexible positions that allowed them to schedule their own hours. I didn’t think of the new moms, married or single, who didn’t have jobs that provided paid time off or that welcomed them back into the workforce.

rachel-pregnant (2)

Rachel Lippolis, first-time mom.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law passed during the first year of the Clinton Administration, guarantees employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave without threat of job loss. FMLA can be used after the birth or adoption of a child, to take care of a sick family member, or while the employee recovers from illness. In order to qualify for FMLA, however, an employee has to have been with his or her company for at least 12 months, and the company must have a staff of 50. These requirements leave about 40 percent of the workforce ineligible for FMLA protection. For those mothers who are eligible to take their 12 weeks of leave, they often face a choice between spending time at home with their new baby and getting a paycheck. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 12 percent of private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer.

Every industrialized country in the world has objectively better leave policies for new mothers. In Canada, for example, new mothers are eligible for 17 weeks of maternity leave, and 37 additional weeks of leave can be shared between both parents. In the United Kingdom, new mothers are required to take the first two weeks off after her baby’s birth, and then are eligible for 52 weeks of paid leave. In Germany, a new mother is not allowed to return to work for two months following her child’s birth (to prevent employers from pressuring her), and she can stay home for up to three years with the knowledge that her position at work is safe. The German government will subsidize her pay during that first year.

Paid maternity leave is associated with lower rates of infant mortality and better health outcomes for both parent and child. That “the United States is the only wealthy country not to have a formalized policy guaranteeing workers paid time off following the birth of a child” is shameful. While companies like Netflix and Facebook are voluntarily offering generous leave packages for both parents, the women who most need it — lower wage, hourly workers — are left vulnerable. Their children enter this society at an even greater disadvantage.

My baby is kicking — unusual, since it’s early in the morning, and he’s typically most active at night when I’m laying in bed thinking about names or considering cloth versus disposable diapers. My husband’s still upstairs sleeping, and the house is quiet. Both our lives will change forever in less than three months, and I feel grateful and lucky to know that I’ll have the time and security to adapt to those changes.

But I wish our government would do more to provide all mothers with that same security. Maybe Congress will follow the lead of states such as California and New Jersey in offering guaranteed leave and protection, and the United States can join the other 182 countries that provide cash benefits to women on maternity leave.

***

Rachel Lippolis is a library specialist in the Outreach Department of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, and one of her favorite parts of her job is teaching nursing home residents how to download ebooks, send and receive emails, and even get on Facebook.  She and her husband of three years are excited to have their first child this October.

Editor’s note: After several years of knowing each other only through our online posts and emails, I finally met Rachel face-to-face this year. We got together for lunch when I passed through Cincinnati in May during my three-city baseball stadium tour of Pennsylvania and Ohio. She was as kind and self-effacing as I imagined she would be.

Tomorrow: Sue Wilcox, Last words

Sarah Grimké’s moral courage

Until the abolition of slavery in 1865, Cincinnati and the Ohio River marked a passage to freedom.

By Rachel Lippolis

I started to tell my friend and writing partner about the latest book I read, “The Invention of Wings,” by Sue Monk Kidd.  After a couple of minutes, she said, “You’re really in the perfect job for you.”

I laughed.  Of course I am — I work in a library.  I spend my days picking out books to deliver to teachers and older patrons living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.  I couldn’t ask for a more perfect job.  After a patron recommended Kidd’s book, I requested it from my library’s downloadable collection, and tore though it in less than a week.

Hetty “Handful” Grimké begins the narrative:

“There was a time in Africa the people could fly.  Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said, ‘Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds.  When we came here, we left that magic behind.” 

When Sarah Grimké turns 11, in 1803, Charleston, South Carolina, she is given 10-year-old Hetty, a slave.  Sarah tries to refuse:

“ ‘……Mother, please let, let me……let me give Hetty back to you.’ Give Hetty Back.  As if she was mine after all. As if owning people was as natural as breathing. For all my resistance about slavery, I breathed that foul air, too.” 

The_Invention_of_Wings_seal-thumbThe narrative shifts back and forth between Sarah—an intelligent girl who devours the books in her father’s library and is stifled by the limitations placed on women of her time and place—and Hetty, a girl who is bound by slavery’s shackles but whose inner life is unbridled.  There is a scene early on, when both Sarah and Hetty lay together on the roof of the Grimké estate, sharing secrets and dreams; this is the closest they will ever be to equal.

The story moves quickly, jumping ahead to the 1810s, 1820s, and finally the 1830s.  Sarah is prohibited from studying her father’s books after it is discovered she taught Handful how to read; she is instead tasked with finding a suitable husband.  She becomes godmother to her little sister, Angelina, and teaches the little girl about the evils of slavery before she can even walk.  Handful, meanwhile, mourns the disappearance of her mother, the house seamstress, who escaped the Grimké plantation but may have been recaptured. Sarah tries to find her voice and Handful struggles to survive in a society that does not recognize her as fully human.

It wasn’t until the book’s afterward that I discovered Sarah Grimké and her sister Angelina were based on real historical figures.  As daughters from a slave-owning family, they could speak of witnessing slavery’s horror first-hand. In 1836, Sarah published an Epistle to the Clergy of the Southern States, hoping she would influence the ministers, who would then appeal to their congregants:

“The system of slavery is necessarily cruel. The lust of dominion inevitably produces hardness of heart, because the state of mind which craves unlimited power, such as slavery confers, involves a desire to use that power, and although I know there are exceptions to the exercise of barbarity on the bodies of slaves, I maintain that there can be no exceptions to the exercise of the most soul-withering cruelty on the minds of the enslaved.”

Unfortunately, the clergy wasn’t ready for such a radical idea.  As passionate as they were about the cause of abolition, the sisters found themselves limited by their sex, not taken seriously by many men, and at times only able to speak to female audiences. Sarah published a series of letters on the equality of women.  In one of the letters she wrote, “WHATSOEVER IT IS MORALLY RIGHT FOR A MAN TO DO, IT IS MORALLY RIGHT FOR A WOMAN TO DO” (the caps were all hers). Her fight for abolition also became a fight for women’s rights.  She and her sister’s letters and public lectures influenced Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who helped organized the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls in 1848.

Rachel Lippolis in California.

Rachel Lippolis in California.

By imagining Sarah’s childhood and trying to illustrate how she became such a forceful advocate for immediate abolition, author Sue Monk Kidd brings attention to a name that should be taught in schools everywhere. I grew up and continue to live in Cincinnati, Ohio.  Our downtown sits on the Ohio River, which forms the state’s southern border and, until the abolition of slavery in 1865, marked the passage to freedom. The Freedom Center opened its doors in 2004, showcasing the Cincinnati region’s historical importance as a part of the Underground Railroad, with a number of churches and private homes providing shelter and guidance for escaped slaves.  The museum not only has exhibits about slavery in the United States, but it also highlights forms of modern day slavery.

Watch a YouTube video “Journey to Freedom.

I encourage anyone interested to read Kidd’s “The Invention of Wings” or, at least, read more about the Grimké sisters.  I think we could use all examples of moral courage we can find.

Rachel Lippolis spends her days in the Outreach Department of Cincinnati’s Public Library, and her evenings nesting in the house she bought with her husband of fourteen months.  Some day she will finish her novel.

*****

Editor’s note: Soon after I started the original Rough and Rede, I found myself exploring the blogosphere just to see what was out there. I stumbled upon Perfect Sand, a beautifully written blog by someone who obviously knew books and current events. That’s how I came to know Rachel Colina (now Lippolis). One of these days, we might meet in person.

Tomorrow: “The Dance” by David Quisenberry

101 comments

Call me weird, but I notice numbers.

When the odometer changes every hundred or thousand miles to a new set of zeroes, I notice.

When I look at my digital wristwatch and it spits out 11:11, I notice the pattern.

When the calendar falls on Nov. 12, 2013, I notice that it’s 11-12-13.

So naturally I notice when the comments on this blog reach a milestone. Even if I’m a day or two late.

18569505

My friend, Lynn, registered the 100th comment when she posted a comment on “42” – my recent musings about what I was doing at that age.

Another friend, Rachel, put me over the top — at 101 — when she commented on ‘Beautiful Ruins’: Beautiful Book.

It’s now been six months since I began Rough and Rede II, hoping for a fresh start after 4 years and 10 months of the original Rough and Rede blog. If you’re among those who contributed to the first 101 comments, I thank you for reading and taking time to share your thoughts.

Soon, it will be time to launch Voices of August, my annual month-long guest blogging project. Though I appreciate all the feedback when I link these posts to Facebook, I especially treasure the comments left on the blog entries themselves as there is a permanency to them that you don’t get with Facebook.

As always, thanks for reading, everyone. Keep those comments, coming. I’ll be sure to notice No. 200 and probably No. 222, too.

Photograph: 123rf.com