Living White

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of race lately. That might seem like an odd thing for a middle class white woman to think about but it’s been on my mind nonetheless.

One of my cousins recently posted on Facebook that she had just finished watching The Help and the ending had made her cry. A friend of hers posted “The ending made me laugh. Stupid white guilt.”

The comment made me sad. True, I’ve never treated anyone like that and I never will, so from one angle, any guilt I feel is stupid. But sadness is not the same thing as guilt. Furthermore, the people depicted in that movie were living what they thought was normal. What am I doing right now that feels normal but is actually deeply wrong? How will that “normal” be portrayed in movies 50 or 60 years from now? What impacts are we still experiencing from the damage done so long ago? And do those of us benefiting from white privilege have no obligation to address those impacts?

White privilege is a difficult thing to define and a difficult thing to see if you don’t know where to look and it’s a term that surely makes a lot of people roll their eyes. People like that Facebook commenter, without a doubt.

But acknowledging white privilege is not about feeling guilt. It’s about noticing the advantages you have that others don’t, big or small, simply because of the color of your skin.

A black woman sits in the cubicle next to me. In addition to talks about work, our weekends, movies, family, and everything else, we have frequent talks about race. She, along with a couple of other black friends, has opened my eyes to the disadvantages of being black. Being stopped by a police officer because you don’t look like you belong in the affluent neighborhood you are driving in. Being followed by a store employee as if you are about to steal something. People making assumptions about your socioeconomic status and family history.

One of my best friends growing up was black. It wasn’t until recently that I learned why her mother never let her go to the mall with the rest of us. She was afraid that if there was ever a problem – claims of shoplifting or something – her daughter was the one that would be assumed guilty.

This makes me sad. I don’t feel guilty, just sad. I wish it wasn’t this way. I wish my black friends didn’t have to warn their children about dangers that I don’t have to warn mine about. I wish they didn’t have to put up with things that I don’t have to put up with.

I noticed a subtle form of racism and white privilege in the cafeteria at work recently. A fairly sweet and friendly woman runs the short-order grill. She jokes around with most of the customers and is pretty accommodating.

Last week, a black man waited for his omelet to be prepared. She was preparing it as she usually does, spreading the egg out thin, then adding the contents to one half and folding the egg over. He asked her if she could scramble it all up together, demonstrating with his hands what he wanted.

She did as he requested but rolled her eyes and told him dismissively that it’d taste the same either way. He didn’t respond. She started harassing him. She sometimes sounded like she was trying to joke around but there was an edge to her voice and animosity in her manner. At the end, she adopted a falsely sweet voice and loudly announced, “Here you go… SIR.”

I found her behavior rude and when I had the opportunity, I slipped away to tell the man that I prefer my omelets scrambled too. She accommodates other odd requests without the kind of belligerent behavior I witnessed that day, but I didn’t make the connection to the possibility of it being motivated by race until today.

Today, I waited in line behind quite a few people. I had a lot on my mind and wasn’t paying much attention. Someone had apparently asked to have his sandwich put in foil instead of the styrofoam box. A woman, black, said that she’d like hers wrapped in foil as well.

I didn’t see the first person get his food but I watched as the grill lady wrapped the woman’s sandwich in foil and then place it in the box. I mentally shook my head, thinking I bet the woman wanted the foil instead of the box.

Sure enough, when she handed the box to the customer, the woman said, “I didn’t want the box.” She then removed her wrapped sandwich and returned the box. She wasn’t overly friendly or demonstrative or apologetic about it but she also wasn’t rude or upset. She was just matter-of-fact. I don’t want the box. Here it is.

When she walked away, the grill lady rolled her eyes at the next customer and said, “As if she expects me to be able to read her mind.”

I was taken by surprise. The customer had not expected her to read her mind. She had misunderstood and the customer had clarified. So why the animosity?

I thought back over the many times I’ve stood in that grill line. The only two times I can think of her being disrespectful to a customer’s wishes was with these two people, who shared one distinct trait.

Was I experiencing a small form of white privilege? Were all of us white people going through that line being afforded more respect than the black people? Did we have more right to express our wishes? To be served by friendly and helpful staff? To ask for something special?

I believe we were. Now, there’s always the possibility that when you start looking for something, you’ll see it even where it isn’t. I recognize that. And maybe I’m doing it now. Or maybe I’m finally waking up and truly seeing what’s going on around me. What I’ll do with the enlightenment is still an open question.

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Seeking Wisdom

What happens when one control freak delegates a task to another control freak and then takes it back? Well, for the second control freak, the results are not pretty. She’s highly likely to have her feelings hurt and be extremely angry. She’s liable to cry and rant to her spouse about the problems of being micromanaged, of not being allowed to do the task, of how she could have done the job and done it well. No, not just well, better than it’s ever been done before. She wants to call the first control freak and tell her about the terrible thing she has done. She wants to make the first control freak feel badly for what she’s done to the second one.

But if she has a modicum of wisdom buried deep down in her brain, she’ll recognize her response is not rational. She’ll carefully consider her husband’s question, “What do you want?”

If you call her, what result do you hope to achieve? What do you want? And are you prepared for the unintended consequences? Because they are always there. There will be unintended consequences to the conversation. Are you ready for them? Can you accept them?

This was my situation this morning. I had been given a task for a group I am involved in at church. As I tried to gather the information I needed to do the task, the leader of the group kept interfering, telling me it should – no, not should, would be done this other way. She asked for intermediate information and then dismissed me, saying she would explain when she saw me, but she was going to go this other route. I never got a chance to put together my brilliant plan. I was devastated.

What do I want?

I want to build the plan. I want to solve the puzzle. I am a problem solver, an optimizer, an engineer. I am logical and organized. She is frazzled right now. I know I can do this better than she can. I know it.

Realization #1

As I ranted to my husband, he commented, “You’ve been here before. In fact, I’m convinced that if you didn’t have me in your life, you’d be just like her in 30 years.”

He’s right. Why am I so upset? Because she wouldn’t give me the control. She offered it but then took it back. And. I. Want. The. Control.

Ok, so part of my problem is that I’m dealing with an older version of myself. A version that never had the moderating effects of a spouse and children. So what now? I still want to confront her. I want her to know she hurt me. I want her to know how her behavior stifles the willingness of the people around her to volunteer. To give her the help she needs.

She did it to my husband too. When he came back with the rough draft of his assigned task, she brushed him off and said she’d decided to go this other route and had already drawn it up. My husband, being who he is, was hurt for a few minutes but then embraced the freedom of no longer having the responsibility and the even greater freedom of knowing that he wouldn’t be volunteering for anything else in the future. And he was content.

That’s not going to work for me. I can’t let go of the task that I want to do. And I still want to talk to her, even though I suspect that everything I would say would go wrong. Unintended consequences.

So I pondered the situation some more. I became convinced that while I wanted to be blunt with her, I shouldn’t. Any time I have stepped up to be blunt, it has gone poorly. But what about Christian accountability? Don’t I owe it to her as her Sister in Christ to let her know how her behavior affects the people around her? Don’t I owe it to her to help her be a better person? Didn’t I just write about this?

My husband is not enough like me. He gives good advice, most of the time. But sometimes, even when the advice is good, I implement it poorly. I needed another perspective. So I contacted a friend in the same church group. And I hit wisdom gold.

She sat quietly on her end of the phone while I explained and whined and ranted. I poured my heart out about what had happened and how I had reacted and what I wanted and then I asked her opinion and shut up and listened.

Realization #2

Control freak number one is freaking out right now. My friend is also a control freak and she can relate to what number one is going through. She explained to me that number one knows she needs to delegate and she tries but there is this constant swirl of stuff that must be done going on in her head and she just can’t stop it. And she actually can’t delegate it, even though she tries.

My friend talked about how she knows her mother raised children and she knows she is competent and able. Yet when my friend was trying to master the new mother thing a couple of years ago, she was convinced that no one else could change her son’s diaper as well as she could, even when she needed the break.

Realization #3

When my friend was in that mode of trying to keep all the balls in the air all by herself, she went with speed, not diplomacy, in her interactions with those dear loved ones trying to help. That’s why I was hurt. Because number one didn’t (couldn’t?) take the time to let me down gently. She felt an uncontrollable urge to make sure it was done right and there’s simply too much going on in her head to consider how her actions would affect others.

Realization #4

I told my friend that my urge to do the job was so strong that I was tempted to develop the plan anyway and then show it to number one. In her calm patient voice, she responded, “From everything I have heard you say so far, if you did that, and she rejected it, you would be devastated and hurt again.”

She was right. I didn’t want to just do the job. I didn’t want to just solve the puzzle. I wanted to do the job and have it be accepted. Have it be used. I don’t want praise. Praise, in fact, makes me very uncomfortable. But I want to be useful. I want the most efficient process in place. I have to live with it too, after all.

And if I succeed. If I succeed in developing a more efficient plan and then it gets rejected anyway, I will have to follow the other plan with the full knowledge that mine was better. Ok, the full belief. I am wise enough to know my plan might not actually be better. But if I feel it is, the effect is the same.

How much more devastated would I be if I spent my precious time developing the plan and then had it rejected? Wouldn’t it be better to stop now? To set aside my desire to implement the solution? To live with what number one comes up with?

Realization #5

I told my friend that I wanted to ask number one why. Why won’t she let me develop the plan? Why? This has always been the most important question to me. Why? Why do people do what they do? It’s what I’ve always wanted to know. Who, what, where, and when have never been as important to me as why.

My friend then dropped a bombshell that I’m pretty sure I’ll still be processing months from now. She had learned something while working at a psych hospital. You never ask why. Why immediately puts someone on the defensive. Ask them why and they shut down. They have to defend their actions. There are ways to get at why without asking why. “What am I doing that isn’t working for you? How would you like me to proceed?” Questions like that. Questions I’m not very good at.

There’s a feeling I get deep inside when someone tells me something that I had never understood but I now, immediately, know is fundamentally true. I got this feeling several times in the course of this conversation and this was perhaps the biggest.

Number one doesn’t know why. If you ask her if she wants help, she will say she does. She believes she wants help. In fact, she does want help. She just doesn’t know how to let people help. If I ask her why she won’t let me, she’ll think I’m accusing her. She’ll get defensive. And that’s when I realized… that’s exactly what I’d be trying to do with the question. Asking someone why they are doing something or why they are not doing something is an accusation phrased as a question to absolve the accuser of the guilt of making the accusation.

I wanted her to feel bad for not letting me do the task. And asking her why she won’t let me is a way for me to accomplish that. But now that my friend has enlightened me to number one’s state of mind, I don’t want to hurt her. I don’t want to make her feel bad. I don’t want to contribute to the chaos and stress.

But I still want her to know she hurt me. I still want her to have the opportunity to learn from the situation. To be better. And I told my friend that.

Realization #6

“Then tell her. But do it after the event. Do it once it’s all over and the stress is passed.”

Oh, man. I’m a gotta-do-it-now kind of person. Shoot, I’m writing this blog right now instead of taking care of several other more important things because I feel I’ve just got to get it off my chest. She hurt me. And I want to let her know. Now.

But now’s not the time when she can hear me. Now, I would be contributing to the problem, not helping her be better in the future. The “you hurt me” talk needs to wait.

So now I need to decide what to do. Do I call her? If I do, what do I say? What do I want? If I can’t have what I want, can I settle for something else? Can I let it go?

Here’s what I want. I want to develop the plan. But more than that, I want to stay in the group. In my anger and frustration this morning, I contemplated not showing up this afternoon. I even contemplated dropping out completely. Those thoughts stabbed me in the chest. I couldn’t breathe with the thought of not being part of the group. It is seriously a highlight of my crazy, overbooked existence. I can’t imagine life without it. It. Is. That. Important. To. Me.

So compared to that? The plan is not that important. My desire to confront is not that important. I can’t jeopardize my participation in the group. Moreover, I can’t jeopardize my typically positive interaction with number one. To some extent, I have to accept that an idea will not be a good idea until it comes from her. That is who she is. Perhaps she can change, but right now, that’s who she is.

Now I have to consider who I am. Can I keep offering help under number one’s parameters, as my friend suggested? Or do I need to follow my husband’s lead and not volunteer in the future? I’m only human. I have to consider what I can handle. And I don’t think I can handle being rejected again. And now we get to…

Realization #7

I want to grow. I want to be a better person each and every day. To do that, I have to learn; I have to listen; I have to be willing to critique myself as much as I critique others. More. And I have to know the right people to talk to. My husband and my friend made a good team today. They talked me away from the edge. They forced me to look at what I wanted and why I wanted it. They helped me see the other person as a flawed human instead of a frustrating beast.

And I learned, as I have learned before and will probably have to learn many more times in the future, that I can only improve myself. I might be able to help others improve if they are willing. If they approach me, like I approached my friend. But I can’t make someone be better. I can only make me better. I can’t fix number one and her issues. No matter how glaringly obvious they are to me, I can’t fix them. I can only fix me and my issues. And I can only do that when I calm down and listen to the people who know me and who have a healthier perspective on the matter at hand.

It’s a humbling experience and I am not, at my most fundamental, a humble person. But if there is one thing I want to master before I die, it’s this. To humble myself enough to hear the wisdom of others. To seek that wisdom. And to be wise enough myself to see and implement that wisdom.

UPDATE: I wrote this on my lunch break. That afternoon, I went to church. She had modified my spreadsheet, added identifying stickers, and was having everyone record the information I had already recorded instead of verifying what I had recorded. It soon became apparent that she still intended me to develop my plan, but only after she had collected the information the way she wanted to.

When I requested that people record certain information that I needed to know, she glared at me and said no. A friend (different from the phone friend) reminded me to breathe. Just breathe. Breathe. And don’t volunteer again. But right now just breathe.

By the end of the evening, she had explained herself in a satisfactory enough way. I was still frustrated, but not angry. I was still being micromanaged. I had my job but I was not empowered. I still don’t know if I will ever volunteer again. As frustrating as the situation has been, however, I’m glad it happened. I’ve learned a lot. About her. About me. About navigating the sea of humanity. And I’m a better person for it.

Not A Laughing Matter

Aside

Dear Nurse Practitioner,

I understand you guys get backed up.  I get it.  Especially when you had to reschedule my appointment for the following week after you got sick and had to cancel my original appointment.  I bet you packed the schedule tight to get us all worked in.  And my 11:15 appointment was likely at the end of the morning batch of patients, so I knew I’d bear the brunt of all the little delays that built over the course of the morning.  But I also knew that my time with you would be brief so I was hopeful that I’d be back at work by 1:00.

So when I wasn’t called back until 11:40, I was mildly annoyed but not upset or worried about my time.  These things happen.  The nurse took my blood pressure and then told me to strip from the waist down.  You’d be in shortly, she told me.  So I wrapped the little pink paper blanket around my waist and hopped up on the table.

I played Candy Crush until I ran out of lives and my back began to hurt.  I laid back on the table, propping my feet up in the stirrups to relieve pressure on my lower back, altered the time on my phone to get more lives, and continued to wait.  By 12:20, I was beginning to wonder if I needed to call work and reschedule my afternoon.  Eating lunch before my 1:15 meeting was looking very questionable.  Still, these things happen.  So while I had hoped the appointment would go faster, I still wasn’t upset.  Just resigned.

And then you walked in.  Forty five minutes after I stripped for the exam.  I suppose you were nervous about how I might react to having been kept waiting for so long.  You probably thought some humor would defuse the situation.  If you could just laugh and get me to laugh with you, then you could believe everything is ok.  We could be friends.  Or at least friendly.

You have a strange sense of humor though.  Let me suggest that when you have left a woman lying half naked on an exam table for so long that her hips and back have seized up to the point that she isn’t sure she can scoot that bare bum to the edge of the table, you might want to just apologize for the delay and promise a speedy conclusion.

Joking with her about how long she was left waiting is a terrible idea.  I bet you were wondering how long you were going to have to wait, huh? *chuckle* *chuckle* Silence from me.  Probably thought we should feed you lunch, huh? *chuckle* Silence.  That’s the least we could have done, huh?  You’re probably getting pretty hungry.  You ought to at least be offered a soda, right? *chuckle* Silence as I struggle into position.  Even airlines offer you a soda for a one hour flight, right? *chuckle* *chuckle* More silence.  I was on a one hour flight the other day and they rolled out the beverage cart!  I couldn’t believe it! *chuckle* Silence.

I was silent because I didn’t want to “make it all ok” by laughing, even fake laughing.  And I didn’t know how to respond.  What did you expect me to say?  Yes, in fact, I was hungry.  And about ready to use the bathroom again, as I said when you asked me if my bladder was empty and I said it was when I entered the room some time ago.  And now that you mention it, wow, it would have been kind of nice if the nurse had offered me something to drink.  Or at least come in and told me how much longer it was going to be.  Or check that I was ok.  Something. Now that you mention it.

Please remember that I was not particularly upset before you walked in the door.  But after you went on and on about the delay, you convinced me.  It was excessive.  And uncomfortable.  And your joking about it obnoxious and a bit offensive.  And now I’m upset.  So thanks.  And please do me a favor.  When I come back in about five years, just come in and say, “Hey!  Sorry about the delay.  I’m going to get you out of here as quick as I can.”  That’d work swell for me.

Sincerely,

The Girl Who Waited

(Sorry, couldn’t resist a nod to Doctor Who in the signature line…)

Why do I?

“How cold is it going to be today?”

“Cold.”

“Colder than the last time I ran in a race?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure? It was pretty cold that day.”

“It’s 36 degrees right now.”

“How cold will it be when the race starts?”

“Maybe 40.” He checks the weather, “No, only 36 still. Oh, and it’ll feel like 28. It’s windy.”

“Why do I do this?”

“Do you want me to be honest? Because you are dumb. ‘Here, let me give you money to go run on a street when I could just run on the treadmill at home and watch TV.'”

“I’m supporting the fight against racism.”

“You could send them a check and stay home.”

“I’m showing my support publicly.”

“You could take out an ad in the newspaper.”

I glare at him.

“I’m doing something with my friend Rachel.”

“You could invite her over for a glass of wine.”

“Why do I talk to you?”

“Because you love me.”

It’s a good thing he has all the answers. *grin*

Accountability

In my recent blog post about Writing Letters, I mentioned that I never write to the grandmother that would probably appreciate it. I received an email the next day from an online friend. He first quoted from my blog:

The article on the radio today made me see just how important it is. And not just for older people who remember letter writing as a primary form of communication. Young people enjoy getting mail too. I think she’s hooked. And I’m glad she’s forging this relationship with her great grandmother. And I think she just might be having an effect on me. Maybe I could take the time to write a hand-written letter to Grandma too.

And then he gave his opinion:

I think it is sad that you can’t take the time to write to Grandma, but you have plenty of time to write several times a week to total strangers.

Ouch! When I say this is an “online friend”, I mean it. I’ve never met him in real life. We have never spoken on the phone. Our relationship has been forged completely on the web. Assuming his presented information is accurate, he’s old enough to be my dad. And in this situation, he played the role of an older, wiser mentor perfectly. Actually, he played the role a friend should play better than most of us do with our real-life friends.

Needless to say, I was convicted by his remark. I went home and found some stationary and a pretty card. I sat down and wrote to Grandma, stuffed the letter in the card, added a copy of a recent newspaper picture of Jane’s volleyball team, put it all in a stamped envelope, and drove to the post office.

His wife was purportedly angry with him for saying what he did the way he did. We talked a bit about it and it got me to thinking about friendships and holding people accountable. It even got me thinking about our general reactions to other people on a larger scale.

I work with a guy who was good at saying what needs to be said. We both like to talk and some of our conversations years ago tended to get long-winded. He came into my work area one day with a look on his face that made me nervous.

“We need to talk,” he began. He went on to make it clear that while he enjoyed the conversations, we needed to curb them. He was very serious and I was very uncomfortable. What he said needed to be said and I appreciated him having the character to do it.

I have still not grown up enough to be able to do the same for others. Out of worry for hurting feelings or a sense that it’s none of my business, when I’ve either had a problem with someone or noticed a flaw in their character, I’ve said nothing. Worse, I’ve often vented to others instead of approaching the offending character. What kind of a friend is that?

Now, I recognize there are limits. You shouldn’t just pop off anything that enters your head. And the way many strangers interact online is offensive and unhelpful. But if you have a relationship of mutual respect, like this online friend and I do, you can (hopefully) say what needs to be said without doing damage.

I have always appreciated the blunt people in my life, even when they anger me or embarrass me. At least I know 1) how they feel about me or what I said and 2) that they will let me know if a problem develops. Carefully avoiding hurting people’s feelings is a significant part of who I am. I’m not sure I can change that so I’m hoping to find a way to gently and oh-so-politely return the favor.

{NOTE: With my encouragement, this “blunt” online friend started blogging. He’s got a lot of funny stories to tell, which you can check out here. Having never met him, I sometimes wonder how true some of these fantastical tales are, but just like in the 2003 movie Big Fish, I’ve decided it doesn’t matter. I enjoy them all the same.}

Remembering Alice’s Restaurant

Most of my blog posts are easy and quick to write. I’m retelling a true story that happened to me – typically that day. Occasionally, I will philosophize about something, which takes more work. But rarely do I desire to write about a topic that takes planning, research, outlines, etc. And on the rare occasion that desire presents itself, I take a few notes and then wait for the feeling to pass.

I’m not intentionally waiting. It’s just that writing takes time and energy and that kind of writing takes a lot of energy and more time. As a married mother of three, working full time and then shuttling kids around, all while trying to find time to finish remodeling projects and handle other commitments that I perhaps shouldn’t have made, I rarely find a large enough block of time to give those ideas life. Eventually, I move on.

One of those ideas concerned my favorite songs. I made a tentative list, trying to force myself to narrow the list down to ten. Eventually I decided that there was no way to compare Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony to Joe Walsh’s Life’s Been Good. Then my husband suggested I consider why I like the songs. Do they have some great import? Do I like the lyrics? Or the music? The list grew. And then sat. And now it’s misplaced somewhere on the computer desk. At least, that’s where I hope it is.

A song that I knew, without a doubt, would be on that list regardless of whether I categorized the list in any way was Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie. If you aren’t familiar with it, you should stop reading this and go watch it on YouTube. Actually, don’t. The song is like 23 minutes long and you might not come back to me.

Anyway, I considered this song to be a cultural icon. A song that everyone knew and all the cool people could sing along with. It’s huge and surely only the hopelessly clueless or the young had failed to hear it. I had had very little opportunity to determine my view was mistaken.

That brings me to a recent conversation with two coworkers, both originally from Louisiana, which might have explained the problem if I hadn’t found the problem pervasive throughout my workplace, including some Oklahomans who without question should not have been living in this particular ignorance. One of them made a comment about something being “horrible”. With his New Orleans accent, it sounded like “har-ible” (the ‘har’ rhyming with ‘car’).

I was transported to the end of Alice’s Restaurant where Arlo tries to get the audience to sing along with him. They don’t do a very good job so he announces “That was har-ible. If you want to end war and stuff, you have to sing louder. We’ll do it again the next time it comes around on the guitar. This time with feeling.” (That’s a rough paraphrase, for any of you purists out there).

So I commented on it and they both gave me blank looks. I started talking about the song. More blank looks. I gave them the title and Arlo’s name. More blank looks. I began to panic. “Arlo Guthrie?” I asked. “Folk singer from the sixties?… Um… Woody Guthrie’s son?… Surely you’ve heard of Woody at least?” One of them had not and the other looked uncertain.

I turned to the Oklahoman in the cubicle across from us. He at least knew Arlo and could name a song of his but did not know his seminal work. I asked another Oklahoman as he walked by. No. A couple of other folks. No.

My boss, originally from some place north, knew it but admitted that it was only because his father-in-law forced him to listen as he sang it, that he had never heard Arlo sing it and had obviously never gotten to the end, as he deemed it pointless. Technically, most of the song is pointless (although entertainingly so), but the ending makes it clear that there is a point. It was a war protest song during Vietnam.

Dismayed, I turned to my Facebook friends. I was soon able to make some generalizations. If you had been an adult or near-enough in the late sixties or early seventies, especially if you were in the folk song or hippie crowd, you knew it. If you were not around back then but had a particularly hippie-ish parent or are a major music buff, you knew it. Or if you spent any of your life in Oklahoma City, listening to KRXO, the classic rock station, you knew it because they play it every year at noon on Thanksgiving.

I’m still amazed how many people are unfamiliar with the song. It was a significant part of my childhood. We’d listen to it in the car on the way to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving. When my husband and I found it on Thanksgiving while riding in the car with our kids, we made everyone stay seated when we reached our destination, so that we could sing along. Every lyric. Exactly. Our kids thought we were insane.

So go check it out now. I really don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

SIDE NOTE: Even the people unfamiliar with Woody Guthrie’s name, knew one of his songs: This Land Is My Land. What many don’t know is that Woody was a bit of a subversive and that song, now one of our great patriotic songs, was actually a protest song of sorts. He originally titled it “God Blessed America” and considered it a direct response to Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America”, which he despised. He hated “God Bless America” because he felt that it was demanding more blessings on a country that was already covered in such extreme blessings that it was obscene to request more. I’ve often wondered what he would think about his song’s position in society now.

Colorful Counting

My five year old son doesn’t yet know how to read but he does know Algebra. He doesn’t know that he knows Algebra, but he’s got some of the basic concepts down instinctively.

While riding in the car the other day (seriously, I think our best conversations are in the car), Hal announced to me that red plus red equals yellow.

“How’s that?” I asked.

“Well, red is one and yellow is two.”

“Ok. If red is one and yellow is two, then yes, red plus red equals yellow. Although if you were talking about mixing colors, that would not be true.”

“I know. I’m using red to mean one and yellow to mean two. So do you know what yellow plus yellow is?”

“What?”

“Black.”

“And what is black?”

“Black is four. Do you know what four plus four is?”

“What is it?”

“It’s um… um… hang on, I’m trying to think of another color. It’s… um… blue! Yes, four plus four is blue.”

“And what is blue?”

“Eight.”

“Very good.”

“And eight plus eight is… white.”

“These numbers are getting big,” my husband whispered to me. I nodded before asking Hal what white was.

“Ten.”

“Not quite. It’s sixteen. I think you might have reached your limit on big numbers in your head. You’ve done a great job though.”

“A plus A is B.”

I looked at my husband and smiled.

“And B plus B is C.”

“Actually, B plus B would be D, wouldn’t it?” This comes from my puzzling days where each letter in the alphabet has its numerical equivalent. From an algebraic perspective, he can be right until he gives two rules that contradict each other.

“Well, C plus C is E. And do you know what Z plus Z is?”

“What is it?” I asked.

“It’s ‘Now I know your ABCs.'”

Nice, kid.