It was Nikki’s birthday – August 15, 2017. I snuck out of work early to go meet our kids and our Nanny Nikki at the Museum of Contemporary Art and have lunch at Nikki’s favorite restaurant – Potbelly. Oh wait, that’s the kids favorite restaurant.
I should mention the looks that Nikki and I get when we go out together with the kids. I don’t really know what other nanny families do, but we spend a fair bit of time together. Recently, we spent a day road tripping to Michigan to see my friends Sam and Kirsten and go to a fair. I never met a fair I didn’t like. I’m always happy to have a mama/Nikki day, as are the kids. The looks we get are humorous and lovely for the most part. We are very at ease with each other – sometimes probably too much so – and people likely see us as a couple which always makes us chuckle. We are a family, but we aren’t a couple. YET.
I took a taxi from the Willis Tower where I work to the Museum of Modern Art passing Trump Tower along the way where shivers ran down my spine but then the taxi driver started swearing at it and I joined in and then he was yelling at people stopping wrong and turning wrong and standing still wrong and then, “HAVE A LOVELY AFTERNOON!” He delighted me far more than he should have. There’s a way to behave in a big city and if you don’t move or stop when you’re supposed to, you get yelled at. THIS IS NORMAL.
We went to the Potbelly in the lobby of Lurie Children’s Hospital. A place I have visited sick kids. A place friends have lost their kids to sickness. A place I never want to have to bring our kids, but if I do, I’m so thankful it’s there. I paused and took it in and sent out some good energy into the circling whales on the ceiling and thought of all the families that come and go through these walls.
I was 100% sure they got our entire wrong at the Potbelly as it wasn’t looking like they heard what we ordered correctly at all, when to our utter shock and awe, everything was perfect and delivered with a smile and sorry for the wait. We ate outside and little birds gathered at our feet as they know the tables that will bear the most fruit (or grilled cheese as the case may be) contain small children. They showed me their new 3d kitty placemats that Nikki bought them for her birthday(!).
After lunch, Nikki asked if I’d like to visit the MCA and view the Murakami exhibit and since it’s free on Tuesdays, we wandered back across the street. It was remarkable and while I don’t have a cultivated appreciation or words to do art justice, but I was happy to have the opportunity to take it all in and with Nikki and the kids, no less. Some parts had monsters and scared my boy when they walked through earlier with Nikki, but my girl walked through again holding my hand and saying, “I’m not scared. They just don’t bother me”.
We got in trouble for the flash going off on her Polaroid camera. Not once, but twice. I giggled when we got scolded when I shouldn’t have. We began to head for the exit at that point, but not before Nikki caught one of my new favorite pictures of my babies and me.
We had to make a decision if we had enough time to go to Maggie Daley Park or start to wind down and head home before rush hour on the busses and trains. We decided that a treat was in order (and promised because it was Nikki’s birthday after all and these kids hadn’t had a treat yet that day – HOW IN THE WORLD DO THEY GO ON), so we went to the Ghirardelli Ice Cream and Chocolate Shop off Michigan Avenue for ice cream cones. Two small mint chocolate chip cones that they ended up only being able to eat about a 1/3 of. A man stared far too long and too closely for our entire visit.
We walked through a mall and a clearly not all there man mumbled “black bitch” at Nikki as she was holding our daughters hand and walking next to me with our son. We walked into a Cubs store and Nikki jokingly said, “they probably think we are stealing something” because the kids were picking things up and walking around with them and I thought, she probably has this feeling a lot and that fucking sucks.
We finished up and walked down to the bus where our kids got the two last seats available as Nikki and I stood above them holding onto the loops. We laughed and played and tried to keep my boy from squirming too much and annoying the woman sitting next to him. Nikki and I were both sweaty and laughing and ready to get home after a day out and about in the heat with four year olds. But we were vigilant because you have to be.
We got to the subway and the excitement of the train came as it quickly approached full to the gills. A traveling sardine can, as it so often is gearing up for rush hour. No seats. A very nice man offered the kids his seats and then a reluctant woman offered hers as well. Nikki and I again standing over the kids as they played legos and the man smiled in our direction. I think he had eyes for Nikki, but I see that often as she’s quite a vision.
I heard a couple on the phone talking about getting a job at McDonalds so they could have some money coming in until they both got real jobs. Then I saw the man pull a baby wipe and clean his hands which looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in a long long time. Long nails, dirty hands. The kind that say they haven’t had a safe, permanent place to stay in quite some time. I know these hands.
As we progressed and more stops emptied out more and more passengers, we all got to sit and we snapped happy pictures of each other on the train. I go through every single place I’ve lived in this city and each train line that I’ve taken from those places in my head. Lifetimes. Memories. Nikki shows me the new buildings that are gentrifying her area and tells me how so many people had to move because they couldn’t afford their rent anymore.
We got on our final bus of the day and headed home. We get off at the Abraham Lincoln statue that my son thinks is probably a robot and moves inside when it’s winter time.
We walked home and stopped at a local rain water garden to take a bunch of pictures to commemorate the day. And our love for Nikki.
As we were at the last stoplight, we were standing at the crosswalk with a little girl and her mama. The little girl had braids and little barrettes and brand new white gym shoes. Holding onto her mama’s hand, she was smiling and waving at us, her mama lost in her own similar desire to get where they were going.
Nikki gave piggy back rides to each of our kids for a couple blocks as little feet were growing weary after a long day of busses, trains and walking on our own 8 feet.
I took many pictures as years from now I want all of us to remember this magical time we spent with our Nikki. She tells me that sadly her nanny families seem to quickly forget about her and their time together after their engagement is up. When there is some distance. I know it will change and our dynamic will be shift, but I don’t ever want to forget and our kids – well – I won’t let them forget.
There was a time fairly recently where a car drove by Nikki and yelled a racial slur at her. Just outside our neighborhood. Rarely does my blood boil to the point of wanting to physically hard someone, but it does when I think about that. I hear the whispering. I see the looks we get when we are out. Because we are so close with Nikki and spend so much time with her, this is the most exposure I’ve had to living in proximity to hate based on skin color and it is unnerving to say the very least. It’s unacceptable, atrocious, unforgivable, disgusting to say the most.
As we got home and regrouped before Nikki left, I saw the news about the press conference where white supremacy was very clearly said to be fine. “Fine people on both sides”. There is no defense for that. There is no denying or rationalizing or saying anything about both sides here. There is a right side and a wrong side and I want to be on the right side, don’t you?
How does it feel hearing our president say that? Is your empathy in high gear yet?
As I walked around with our black family member, I viewed the city from what she must see and hear each day and largely, it’s lovely. Because she creates loveliness. But there are those looks, those comments, those insinuations, and assumptions that I will never ever really know the full extent of adding up over days, weeks, months, years. Our city is so rich because of it’s diversity and acceptance of so many different kinds of people from so many places and cultures and religions and non-religions and backgrounds. But make no mistake here, I’m the one who needs to keep shouting THIS IS NOT NORMAL. THIS IS NOT OK. Not her. This is on us white people. This has always been on us.
I’m a recovering fall down drunk alcoholic and I get my share of judgement for that and my past but I’m a white lady, so you can’t see it from looking at me. When I was active in my alcoholism, I was an undesirable, but now that I’m sober, I’m all good? Far from it. You don’t know what happens in my heart. So I keep sharing about it so everyone can see it can happen to anyone and change IS possible. Healing is possible but we have to do the work.
Acting like racism isn’t happening doesn’t make it go away. Acting like you don’t see color hurts. Having conversations with your kids as they are growing up, reading books to them repeatedly and allowing them to ask questions (including all the different ways families are comprised), helping them to see and acknowledge our differences and how we can come together is how we raise up this next generation for hope. Exposure to all kinds of people and experiences that don’t cost a thing is how we let them see it. We have to get out of the bubble, if we are in one. We are going backwards. There are young kids – teenagers – kids in your home or neighborhood out there saying despicable things about people of color. I would be MORTIFIED if I heard that about my kid. Do you know what your kids are saying? Do you know the bravado they get when they are in a group and feel emboldened? And as all of us sit here and say, NOT MY KIDS, there are so many kids out there doing exactly this. Spouting this hate. This is our responsibility.
Clearly, the President thinks this is all just fine, so it’s up to us to keep moving forward instead of letting him drag us backwards. None of this is easy. None of this feels good. There is no easy fix here, but we must, WE MUST keep on. If you’re tired of me talking about it, well, maybe you need to hear it even more.
This is on us white people. This has always been on us.
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