The most expensive T-shirt I own

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I didn’t buy this t-shirt nor did it come with a price tag affixed. But I know that it’s the most expensive piece of clothing I own.

I don’t treat it as such. I don’t handle it gingerly, afraid that it might tear at the seams or unravel at the edges. I don’t wash it irregularly so that its painted letters don’t quickly fade. In fact, I wear it often and with pride because, as I mentioned, it is the most valuable piece of clothing I own.

When I was a youth worker for the City of Boston, I served every day at a community center in a neighborhood I had never been to before, not even driven through once. I didn’t know anyone who lived there, in the patchwork of tidy triple-deckers and eateries that ranged from Salvadorean pupusa shops to Italian eateries to Chinese restaurants to Vietnamese pho houses. The neighborhood comprised effectively an island and most of the kids who grew up there knew one another. They confessed they didn’t bother skipping school because someone would see them on the corner and call their mother.

Most of the youth I worked with lived in a housing development complex. I had never visited a housing development, never walked through the block after block of unimaginatively designed structures and marveled at how there was no green space, how there were so many children living throughout the complex and yet there was no space for them to play that was not concrete.

So the kids came to the community center where I was based, where I did a job for which I received no training, in a place I wasn’t so much as even acquainted with, with a population of kids whose lives were unfathomably different than anything I had known. In my arrogance, I thought that I was the good thing that had come their way. A college graduate, a creative program person, a self-proclaimed lover of kids.

I did everything wrong. I presumed when I should have asked. I got angry when I should have laughed. I muscled through on my own when I should have sought help. Most of the programs I ran were a bust. The boys humored me, the girls came and asked me questions about sex. I thought I had what they needed, if I could just organize a better program of activities. If only they would come every day, I could meet their needs. My bosslady was so patient with me. She would say, “The only problem with you is that yaw not from heeyah.” I laughed and only sort of knew what she meant. I started asking a music shop if they would let me take their leftover sample CDs to give away as prizes. The kids started looking at me like a prize dispenser, popping them out like Pez. I made $22,000 a year before taxes. I still thought it was about me.

During an outdoor program I organized, there were a ton of water balloons which, since these were teenagers, became a ton of water buckets filled and thrown. I didn’t have a change of clothes. Someone handed me this Mayor’s Cup t-shirt, one from a stack that were just hanging around in the closet.

By the time I was a year into the job, I knew that I would be getting married, that I would be moving on. I took the LSAT with my co-worker Kamau. We knew we couldn’t stay making the money we were making. We wanted to do the most good.

After I got back from my honeymoon, I started interviewing for other jobs. I had deferred law school but I still wanted get home earlier in the day to spend time with my hew husband. I soon found 9-5 administrative job that I could walk to from our apartment.

On my last day working at the community center, I had not wanted to make a big deal about my departure. I wasn’t sad that I was leaving, but I was sad that I wouldn’t see how the kids would grow. I wouldn’t know who went to college and who had a growth spurt over the summer. I wouldn’t hear their voices change and watch their girlfriends change and offer to drive them home when they didn’t have enough change for the bus fare.

On my last day, only one kid came back to say good-bye. He had been by far one of the hardest kids to reach. He hated school and just wanted to play basketball. He seemed to break one girl’s heart on Monday and have found a new one to break by Tuesday. I didn’t understand his goals; I didn’t understand how I could help him.

But he came back to say good-bye. He sat with me in the office, his pristine baseball hat with the manufacturer’s silver sticker still on the underside of the wide brim. He looked up from under that wide brim and asked me about my plans. I told him I thought I’d probably go back to school so that I could eventually teach. He nodded and bounced a basketball under the table. We hugged it out and he went to go shoot hoops.

Whenever I wear my Mayor’s Cup t-shirt, I think of what it represents. I think how it was handed to me when I had nothing else to wear because I was a pilgrim. I remember how hard it was to earn respect as a pilgrim. I think how I’d never had to learn how to love kids who were hard to love before. I remember how after nearly two years, they returned that love to me. At least one did. He handed it to me like it was a free t-shirt. One that I would be so grateful to receive, one that still makes me feel so privileged and proud, not only because I got to love but was loved well in the end.

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Why La La Land would’ve wrecked me if I were still 22

There is a gaggle of girls in this coffee bar spoiling the ending of “La La Land” and I take umbrage. They are loud and sighing and I’m annoyed.

But I should warn you that this post probably contains a spoiler or four, as well.

Like the rest of earth that needed to see what would happen if Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling put on tap shoes and started singing, my beloved and I went to Los Angeles last night for a couple of hours. We also went back to our twenties when we were full of friend-roomies and durrnnk parties and all the ideals our 22 year-old hearts could contain. I would not go back to that time on a permanent basis, though. I needed Jesus and a budget more than I can articulate.

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We loved “La La Land” like the rest of the universe. We were wrecked by it, too. From this vantage, though, Loverpants and I can safely wonder and wander through all the What Ifs and not be completely devastated. We are committed to the happiness and holiness of each other and our children and right now that looks like trading off time to write blog posts and play frisbee in equal measures.

However, if I had seen this film when I was 22 and was fully convinced I needed to move to NYC and get an MFA and find my voice in the basement of moody unnamed coffee bars, I probably would have tore a page out of main characters Mia and Seb’s playbook. They decided they needed the space to pursue their own dreams. Their creative endeavors could not come to fruition if they stayed together in the same geography, looking up at the same stars from the same latitudes and longitudes.

And that’s a lie I so wanted to buy when I was in my early 20s. The lie that one can *only* pursue creative dreams when given the maximum space and resources one can afford. It all seemed easier to clean house to make space for more short story drafts than to have to compromise with another whose time and talents pulled equal rank.

I tried to break up with Loverpants and he with several times. I felt ashamed that I was doing the un-feminist thing by moving to be closer to him after college. Even a month before our wedding, I was still fighting to get into law school until I realized that law school wasn’t what I wanted. I just wanted stable professional footing. Even more than than that I wanted a happy, stable marriage. I deferred law school and ultimately never went and have exactly zero regrets.

Throughout our relationship and marriage, we have pursued various degrees, moved to support one another’s professional dreams. I was pregnant and adjusting to life with a baby for much of grad school. Some would say these were not ideal circumstances, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They added a richness and a texture to every pursuit. I worked harder and more efficiently because I had a baby who napped for two hour windows. My degree mattered to me because I wanted to make my daughter proud. Loverpants built a private practice from our kitchen table. I wrote a book while rocking our son to sleep. Time and Fit are the non-negotiable factors in a relationship’s survival, whether starry-eyed millennials or obedient Dave Ramsey-like Baby Boomers.

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Mia and Seb’s relationship is familiar, I’m sure, to many creative dreamers who don’t want to trump one another’s artistic aims. It’s familiar to me but allow me this microphone: It’s not the only narrative that will net a Mostly Happily Ever After. Partnership adds something wonderful to the creative life, whether one’s role is co-author or sideline cheerleader. I’m glad to have been able to play both roles and look forward to wearing a many more hats before the curtain falls.

Here’s to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.

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To Sasha Obama

Dear Sasha Obama,

We missed you last night, but I know how it is. You had an exam this morning. You can’t be howling at the moon, whooping it up with all the Obama llamas. While the rest of us were standing in abject denial that this was really #ObamaFarewell, nobody gave you a farewell from the books. I put some respek on that, as the kids say.

In case you missed it, your dad waxed poetic about virtues and values but mostly he just made time stand still and we all sighed and cried and hoped that you were somewhere duct-taped to the front gates of the White House gates barring exit.

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Your dad is the 44th president but first in our hearts. I can only imagine what it’s like to know that your pops is the same man who inspires millions of people every day, people who have found his strength of character and level-headed leadership style so refreshing. I also wonder what it’s like to be disciplined by a man who constantly speaks with pregnant pauses, while peering into your soul. How does that even work? “Sasha…you will never…ever…have to resolve… with intrepid hope…such as you will today…to turn the key…INTO the ignition.” End: fantasy of President Obama teaching me to drive.

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P080509PS-0410Before you dip out, please let me commend you for the grace you have shown as a First Kid. I found 4th grade to be an absolute battlefield and 7th grade was a hot mess. That was without the Secret Service monitoring my playdates and Suri’s Burn Book running her mouth about my fetch fashions. Props to you, Sasha. I hope you and Malia will call upon your years playing hide and seek in the Lincoln Bedroom as a fond time. I also hope you’ll totally rock it wherever you land, whether it’s Chicago with your folks or Boston with Malia or elsewhere. I also hope Bo lives forever and that you never have to humor your old man’s jokes about pardoning turkeys ever again.

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Most presently, though, I hope you crushed that exam, girl.

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Blessings,
Kendra

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