Flipping Out

Mychael shows off his skills...

And then offers some guidance while tailgating for Purdue vs ND game in West Lafayette...


Halloween Drama 2001

I check on Mychael, who’s sitting on the front porch handing out free food to the treaters. I fill up his bowl with the remaining candy and resume my cleaning efforts. While I’ve already “passed” the home inspection, I still want the house to be as clean as possible when the social worker arrives. You never know when a dirty rug could end up being a deal breaker.

I’m vacuuming when I hear pounding on the front door. Confused, I open it. “Trick or treat,” a handful of treaters scream, holding their bags, plastic pumpkin buckets and in some cases, bare paws toward my face. I look at the porch and note that Mychael isn’t sitting where I left him. I walk out farther and don’t see him anywhere in the vicinity of 3365 Meridian Avenue. I watch as an even larger mob of candy hunters walk up the driveway. I suddenly remember that I gave Mychael the last of the candy.

I panic. “Hey…my son had the bowl of candy, and I don’t know what happened to him,” I explain, backing away slowly.

They stare back: Less talk, more candy, bitch.

I dash back into the house and dig through the cupboards until I locate the snacks designated for Mychael’s lunches. I grab five Little Debbie Nutter Butters, four Rice Krispie Treats and an unopened twelve pack of Kudos before returning to the unruly crowd that has assembled on the front porch. I dispense the goods before slamming the front door and shutting off all the lights.

I’m going to kill him.

This is the kind of passive aggressive stuff that Mychael likes to pull when he’s upset about something and usually, I’m sympathetic. However tonight, I’m not in the mood. For God's sake, there are candy hunting children crawling the neighborhoods!

I call Mychael's friend Andrew to see if he's seen him. He doesn’t answer, which tells me that Mychael must be with him since Andrew always answers his cell phone when I call. For the hell of it, I try his friend Jessie, whom I like to call Jessica, and have no luck with him either. I draw no conclusions regarding the fact that he doesn’t answer, as he’s still mad at me for changing his name to Jessica.


Excerpt from Chapter 9--The End of San Diego

Three hours before the freedom plane is scheduled to depart for South Bend, Indiana, we load into the car and set out for a final lap around the county. I snap one last photo of the kids in front of our beloved, transformed home. The home that bore witness to the stress and anxiety of Motherhood. The home upon which the kids built their self esteem and established their character. The home where we became Black and White, Moore and Thompson. The symbol of the beginning of we over me. Our home—the home of our Real Family.

Excerpt from Chapter 5-Urban Farm Kids

I’m raising Mychael and Malcolm to be like any other humble farm kids. I want them to have the peace of mind that comes with being hearty and self sufficient, and to know the freedom of being evaluated solely based on the sum of his efforts. “You don’t want the actual stuff, you want the ability to get the stuff,” I always tellt them. “People can take away your belongings, but they can’t steal your willingness to work in order to get them back.”

The unique thing about farm kids is that they're not pretentious and they don’t care about a person’s background. As long as the person is willing to lend a hand and help the team move forward, then nothing else matters. Fortunately, when it’s all said and done, the results are tangible: a wagon full of wood, 100 bales of straw or a freshly painted barn. One could spend all day using words to try and heal emotional pain, overcome insecurities or build confidence. However, at the end of the day, evaluating intangible success is a feat of its own. There’s something to be said about the ability to touch, feel and gaze at progress.

Looking out over the span of our 8,000 square foot backyard, I’m reminded of just how far we’ve come. The jade cuttings that we planted en masse at the top of the hill have finally begun to take root, and the cactus we planted nearby has spawned at least ten new arms. The orange tree that was nearly dead a year ago is growing new leaves, and the web of ice plants stretching the full length of the canyon has exploded with purple and yellow flowers. After a long day of working in the yard, I’ll stand at the top of this hill and stare in awe at the progress we’ve made. And sometimes, in moments like this, I’ll sneak out here just to be reminded.


How it all began-1998

From chapter 1:

“If Mrs. Ford kicks us out, can we come stay with you?”

“You’re not going to get kicked out. Just make sure you keep doing what you need to do.”

I almost believed myself when I said it. It really could be that simple, right? You do all the “normal” things a kid is supposed to do and in the end, you’ll still have a place to lay your head that night-and if you’re lucky, it will be the same place you laid your head the night before?

“Okay, but if we get kicked out, can we stay at your house?”

A few more volleys of “you won’t get kicked out” and “what if we do” later, I cave.

“Yes, you can come live with me if it doesn’t work out at Mrs. Ford’s.”

What am I supposed to say? No, in fact you can’t come live with me because I am really happy with my life of relative privilege, and it would be a real inconvenience to have you come and stay in my home?

I’ve always lived the life of relative privilege-always known I had a home and that the people who cared about me would keep me safe and give me a place to call my own. As a result, it took me a while to fully appreciate the seriousness of what the kids were asking. Frankly, I think they were so used to being let down that their questions were more the result of compulsion than any real effort to actually secure housing.

Regardless, it wasn’t as if they actually believed me when I said they could stay in my home. It was a mutual unspoken agreement that if we all said what we were supposed to say, then that would be enough for the time being. No strings attached; let’s just tell each other what we need to hear in order to move on to the next topic.


Two very different worlds...

I was reading these two stories (Out of tragedy, sportsmanship has a shining moment and One Armed Host Scaring Kids, Parents Say)and couldn't help but to notice how very different they are in terms of tolerance, acceptance and compassion (or lack thereof). It really is amazing what a compassionate society can create and vice versa.

Malcolm's senior year of high school, the student body elected a student with severe cerebral palsy (who was unable to walk or speak verbally) as their homecoming king. This kid could always be seen on the sidelines of sporting events, sitting in his wheelchair alongside his Dad. Prior to the homecoming game, I didn't even realize he was a student at St. Joe. I earned a lot of respect for the student body that day, and frankly, for their parents as well. I was touched that these kids (teenagers for God's sake) would make such a thoughtful and considerate choice for their homecoming king; and for a few hours, my faith in humanity was restored.